Ramleela or Ramdilla, an annual re-enactment of the Tulsidas’ Ramayan, is the oldest open air theatre in the Caribbean. The event is held during the Hindu observance of “Nav Raatam - nine nights of the Divine Mothers.”
This 10-day serialised play recounts the journey of the divine king, Rama and his consort, Sita, on earth; and begins with a ceremonial procession of the characters which includes deities, kings, princes, sages, soldiers, monkey troops, forest dwellers and the army of the evil ten-headed king, Ravana. It is the story of Rama’s willing acceptance of 14 years exile in order to uphold His father’s word and eventual victory in war over the evil king.
The open-air performance area is cordoned off and ritualized as sacred “Ramdilla ground” and invested with the names of kingdoms, cities, forests, rivers, mountains and pilgrimage centres associated with the episodes and Rama’s travels.
Bare-footed actors called paatras (vessels) observe ritual disciplines before they enter the ground. Ancient characters in costumes of yellow, red, blue and black dance to the strong rhythms of tassa drums as they enact the episodes which are sung in Hindi and narrated in English from a raised platform situated to the east.
The annual re-enactment is ritual, faith and theatre in four languages; Awadhi, Sanskrit, English and local Trini dialect. It ends on Dashmi, the tenth day, with the burning of a gigantic effigy of Ravan. Rama’s coronation and a festival of lights welcoming his return to Ayodhya marks the eventual victory of good over evil. This Festival of Lights enters contemporary time and local space as a public holiday, Divali, two weeks later on the local calendar.