Studies in Performance:
Anuradha Kapur, Actors, Pilgrims, Kings and Gods: The Ramlila at Ramnagar, Seagull, Calcutta, 1990,250 pp., Rs 320.
Anuradha Kapur's Actors, Pilgrims, Kings and Gods is a pioneering book in the genre of Indian books written about performance. While there have been many scholarly and technical books written about the classical rasa theory, and its relationship with Indian classical and folk performances, none has been able to reflect so suggestively on that experience. To speak in textual abstraction about rasa, that interactive, intersubjective, transactory moment between spectator, actor and the social milieu, because of which performance acquires its social and phenomenological meanings, is quite different from showing how this transaction actually occurs in performance. In order to accomplish the latter one must begin the analysis, as Kapur does, on the material and social ground of performance, on what people say about what they do, and why they do it. Such an analysis requires, as Kapur demonstrates, ethnographic skills, a complex kind of seeing and reading, a hands-down experience with both the seen and unseen nitty gritty aspects of performance, a commitment to detail, and to evoking not the explanatory outlines of performance but the nuances. Her theoretical approach to cultural performance is important in that it focusses on the immediacy of performance, the ever-changing present in which performance manifests itself. She thus calls into question the notion that performative forms can be summarized and explicated, quite like museum pieces existing outside of time and space. She demonstrates that performance is about people, not just actors, but also spectators, who through their creative will and imagination invest the performance with myriad meanings. The result is an amazing ethnographic and phenomenological account of the one-month-long Ramlila performance held at Ramnagar.
Ramnagar, a fort-town across the river Ganga, connected to the city of Benaras by both boat and road, covers an area of 4,125 square kilometers and has a population of 16,088 people. Ramnagar celebrates both Krishnalila and Ramlila, but it is the Ramlila