Sato Awanti (Bihar): For nearly four decades, Muslims in this Bihar village have been helping Hindus celebrate Dussehra and playing mythical characters in the Ramlila -- a dramatic representation of the life of Lord Rama. The village is an example of India's composite culture and the communal harmony lived through Dussehra.
For 10 days, Shaikh Akleem is Goddess Sita, Guddu Tiwari is Lord Rama while Afzal Ansari is Lord Shiva and Amit Singh becomes Hanuman, enthralling people from far and near with their get-up and performances in Sato Awanti, a village in Kaimur district, about 200 km off Patna.
Shaikh Akleem (19) is thrilled playing the role of Sita, with Tiwari as "Maryada Purushottam Ram".
"I am lucky to play Sita, loved and respected by all. It is a matter of pride for me," Akleem said.
Guddu Tiwari, playing the role of Rama, said that Ramlila here was unique because it was played and organised with the help of Muslims. "Both Muslims and Hindus treat Ramlila as their own, it is special for us."
This is a part of decades-old tradition started by a group of Muslims with the support of Hindus in Sato Awanti. Both the communities enthusiastically participate in Ramlila in the village.
"It all started 36 years ago, in 1982, when a few Muslims, including Jamaluddin Ansari and Nurul Ansari, decided to organise Ramlila. Over the years, this village has become popular for it," said Shaikh Mumtaz Ali, the Director of Ramlila in the village.
In the first Ramlila organised in the village, Khurshid Alam played the role of Lord Rama and Jamaluddin Ansari acted out Kumbhakaran, the younger brother of Ravana. Sharfuddin Ansari, a martial expert, has been helping the troupe depict war scenes.
Shaikh Mumtaz Ali, the father of Akleem, said that "we have successfully managed the Ramlila show for the last six days, and hope to do so for the remaining three days".
The response of the people has been overwhelming, Shaikh Mumtaz Ali said.
During the evening show, loud chants of "Siyavar Ram Chandra Ki Jai" by the audience that has several Muslims can be heard.
"Not just Hindus, but several Muslims from the neighbouring villages and some from far-off villages come to watch our rare show," said Shaikh Mumtaz Ali.
According to Suresh Singh, the patron of Ramlila in the village, both Muslims and Hindus donate money and work together to ensure the success of the show.
"In our village, more than religious, it is a social event with participation from all. It's a positive sign," Suresh Singh said.
This year, Tauqeer Ansari is playing the role of Kumbhakaran. Dozens of children, both Hindu and Muslim, form the "Vanar Sena" of Lord Rama, he said.
The spirit of conviviality can be gauged from the fact that Hindus help Muslims take out the Muharram procession in the village.
"We are proud that Muslims help us, support us to celebrate Durga Puja. They have set an example of harmony. This is unheard of anywhere else," Guddu Tiwari said.
Mahesh Prasad, a villager, said: "We can't think of celebrating the festival in such a big way without the support of Muslims."