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Muslims celebrate Ramleela

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    Muslims celebrate Ramleela

    A Muslim family that has been creating Ravana since 19th century

    By Ehtashamuddin Khan

    New Delhi, Oct 26 Every year when Hindus delight in seeing the effigy of demon king Ravana and his cohorts go up in flames in celebration of Dussehra festival, one man who draws immense joy is their creator: Ahmed Farooq Ali.

    The 38-year-old jovial Muslim belongs to a family of artisans that makes intricate effigies of Ravana, Meghnath and Kumbhakarn - the demon trinity - near the 17th-century Red Fort monument for organisers of Ramlila, which epitomizes the victory of good over evil in a mythological battle.

    And the family has been engaged in the profession since the reign of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor, in the 19th century.

    "This is our tradition, and we have been carrying it for ages. It is in our blood," said Ali, seated on a hard bed in a tented enclosure surrounded by heaps of bamboo sticks, cardboards, paint box, silver papers and workmen.

    Ali loves talking about his ancestors and explains the family history like a grandmother tale: "We are Turks. Our ancestors came here during the first Mughal emperor Babur's time. They use to make gunpowder."

    It was his great grandfather, Haji Ismail, who also simultaneously began producing Ravana effigies during Zafar's reign.

    Ali and his expanded family have been pursuing the tradition since then, and do it religiously every year in New Delhi and other parts of the country. It is almost a passion with them.

    Gunpowder has given way to firecrackers. Outside the month-long Ravana season, when they are bogged down by the great demand for effigies, the family puts all its energy in making firecrackers.

    "The first effigy of Ravana was set on fire on this very field during Bahadur Shah Zafar's time," says Ali, looking at sprawling ground that divides the outer periphery of the Red Fort from a busy arterial road. "Effigies then were short and made of grass. Today things have changed."

    Now effigies, some as high as 60 feet, are made out of bamboo sticks and silver paper. The bulging Ravana, the 10-headed demon, is packed with crackers and set on fire on the final day of Dussehra that culminates Friday.

    Supervising his team of about a dozen workers who are giving finishing touches, he looks with satisfaction at the mammoth 60-feet effigies of Ravana and his companions standing erect on the ground, held together by long ropes. His month-long hard work has been successful. The artist in him is complete.

    Ali is not like the average village craftsman though. A resident of Ghaziabad bordering the Indian capital, he is a graduate and takes an avid interest in the happenings in both the country and abroad.

    He is unhappy with Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam or head priest of New Delhi's Jama Masjid mosque, as well as Hindu fundamentalist groups for vitiating the country's communal atmosphere in the wake of U.S. attacks on Afghanistan.

    A staunch Muslim, he says: "We read namaz daily. We are very religious."

    Ali's younger brother, 20-year-old Alam, points towards a bearded man in his 60s directing his colleagues to decorate the stage. "He is a Haji (one who has been to the Haj) and reads namaz five times a day. He loves working here."

    Ali flashes his identity card to show he heads a sprawling settlement called Farouque Nagar in Ghaziabad. He is also part of the management committee of the madarsa in his area, something that makes him immensely proud.

    Ali says about 400 people of Farouque Nagar, many of them relatives, flock to Delhi every year to make the Ravana effigies.

    "We are giving a message of communal harmony to the people," he said.

    But, after a pause, he looks up to the sky and adds: "It hardly makes any difference to the organisers of Ramlilas. We do not get the return we deserve, both in terms of money and respect."

    Looking at his another younger brother, 17-year-old Tabrez who passed the Class X examination this year, Ali says: "But we will continue our tradition." Tabrez agrees: "I am working for the Ramlilas for so many years. I enjoy doing it and will continue doing this."

    it is not celebrating ramlila, just creating effigies. in fact, muslim artisans make good business preparuing rakhis during raksha-bandhan. cracker business during divali is heavily in hands of muslims in western india. they might even be selling colors during holi and selling sweets during dashhera. would not mean that they celabrate these festivals.
    some festivals are getting a bit common. rakhi, for example, has a natural appeal. divali, sometimes kids want to burst carckers when they see neighbor bursting it. and muslim teen-agers are not going to let opportunity of going to dance in dandiya and possibly dance with some gals or chat with them/ see them while moving through town during durga-pujo or ganesh festival or navaratri pass by, just because they are hindu festivals. festivals have many non-religious aspects and most muslims wont mind it.



      friends...pls do not see the negative side of this.....

      where else u can see such a communal harmony than india?