Mahant Babu Boochoonsingh is the embodiment of the struggle for survival of the historic Dow Village Ramleela Festival. For over 80 years he carried the responsibility for keeping it alive while protecting the legacy for the generations to come. Without that struggle, persistence and triumph, the proliferation of Ramleela in contemporary times would have been unlikely.
The first recorded Ramleela took place in Dow Village in 1880, nine years before birth of Babu Boochoonsingh. His relatives, indentured immigrants Gadja Singh and Mahadeo Lalla, are credited with staging the first open-air performance in 1880 based on their memories of it in Uttar Pradesh, India. Born into the festival, Babu Boochoonsingh got involved in the annual performances from childhood. For him, the Ramleela was a deeply spiritual experience. As a devotee of Lord Rama, Babu Boochoonsingh dedicated each performance to the Prince of Ayodhya whose story emphasizes virtues of honour, sacrifice and duty.
Over the years he became respected as the keeper of the Ramleela tradition. His extensive knowledge and experience of Ramleela drew students and researchers from all over the word. His esteemed position earned him the holy title of Mahant.
Babu Boochoonsingh’s reverence of the Ramayana performance shaped the community’s attitudes towards it. For them, as for him, it was a divine experience to be treated with respect. At one stage, the Ramleela performers would spend the entire week at the Dow Village
Hindu Mandir as part of the spiritual discipline and preparation for the enactment of the story of Lord Rama’s travails and triumph.
In 1991, Mahant Babu passed away. Members of the Dow Village community say that he was chanting the Hindu prayer “Hare Rama” as he breathed his last. His contribution has ensured the survival and growth of this historic tradition that has survived over 130 years and which is now stronger than ever.