New Delhi: Each year, as evenings lengthen and nights fill with the sweet smell of the ‘saptaparni’ tree, grounds big and small across north India come alive with the sights and sounds of the Ramayana being staged for rapt audiences. Also Read - First COVID-19 Vaccine is Here But do we All Need to be Vaccinated? Here's What we Know

This October is different. The cheer is missing as most Ramlilas have been either cancelled, recorded for digital viewing or recast in the corona mould — the retelling of the epic knitting the age-old story of good vanquishing evil with the dos and don’ts of a pandemic. Also Read - Not Wearing Mask? You May Have to Offer Community Service at Covid Centres, Says Gujarat HC

So, Ram is given a corona test at birth, Shiva’s bow is sanitised in the scene of Sita’s swayamvar and Bharat is behind a mask when he meets Ram in the Bharat Milap sequence at the Vishnu Avatar Ramlila Committee’s staging of the mythological tale in north Delhi’s Shastri Park locality. Also Read - Historic Moment in Fight Against Covid-19, Pfizer-BioNtech Coronavirus Vaccine to Roll Out in UK Next Week

That is the one way to tell the story of Ram and Sita, the loyalty of Lakshman and Hanuman, and the epic battle between Ram and Ravan in the time of a pandemic.

“We left no chance that our Ramlila may get cancelled for not following any rules. With these changes in the story, we are also creating awareness among the public, Prempal Singh, chief of the Vishnu Avatar Committee, told PTI.

The lights strobe in rhythm to the music adding to the atmosphere of dread and drama as always and the actors are dressed in character. But this is Ramlila in a new avatar with fewer artistes on stage and some even wearing PPE kits.

“In scenes where we had 20 artistes earlier only five or 10 are on stage now. Similarly, in the audience, there are fewer chairs, placed at six feet distance from each other. At the entry we sanitise everyone and distribute masks to all the visitors,” Singh said.

With formal guidelines to organise Ramlila in the city announced only on October 11, just a week before the nine-day theatrical production begins, most organisers couldn’t arrange the required licences and permissions in time. We had made some small preparations beforehand, like booking a venue and erecting the tent, getting the coronavirus tests done on the crew. And after the guidelines were announced, we worked day and night to get all the permissions, Singh added.

The Sanskriti Kala Sangam, which has been providing actors, dancers and supporting crew to organisers for 15 years, got no invite from anywhere this year so its director Yash Chauhan decided to tell the story through digital media. The Sangam has performed in places such as Ayodhya, Chitrakoot, Meerut and Rohtak over the years.