Ravan is down with dengue and so is Ram.  Kumbhkaran is bed-ridden with viral fever. Sita is also unwell, while Lakshman fell unconscious during rehearsals and suffered a fracture in the leg.

For the first time in the history of Lucknow, actors enacting different characters in the Ram Lilas that are staged across the state capital have fallen ill and diagnosed with dengue. The organizers are in a state of panic and substitutes are being brought in. Round the clock rehearsals are being held to prepare the new actors to take over the roles and priests see this as a bad omen of sorts.

Pandit Ram Kishore Misra, 78, says, “The Ram Lila is a religious event and never before have I seen the events being disrupted at this scale. Almost 80 per cent of the Ram Lilas in the state capital – and there are about 130 Ram Lilas that are held in Lucknow—are facing a setback due to their actors falling sick with dengue. This is obviously not a good omen”.

The only redeeming feature is that, so far, not a single actor has fallen ill in the Aishbagh Ram Lila that will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Dussehra.

“We are taking all possible steps, including fogging and mosquito repellents to ensure that our actors remain safe”, said Aditya Dwiwedi, the chief organizer of this Ram Lila.

Reports of Ram Lila actors being struck by dengue are coming in from other districts including Allahabad, Gorakhpur, Mau and Kanpur.

With principal actors in the annual Ram Lilas falling ill, there is disappointment all around. With new actors replacing the veterans, the sponsors, in some places, have reportedly pulled out.

“It is the actors that keep the audience spell bound with their performance, year after year. The story of Ramayana is well known and people come to see the Ram Lila because of the performances. If new actors are being called in, why would we spend our money because no one knows whether they will be able to hold the attention of the viewers”, said a sponsor. Dengue in Lucknow has turned into a major epidemic even though the state government continues to turn a blind eye to the growing number of deaths due to the mosquito borne disease.

The Lucknow bench of Allahabad high court has expressed serious objections to the record of the state health department which claims that there has been just one death due to dengue fever in the state capital.“Even the court has held two full court references to mourn the death of two lawyers occurring due to dengue. Then how can the state data be believed?” asked a bench comprising Justice A Shahi and Justice Vijay Laxmi, while hearing a bunch of petitions on the subject.

 Unofficial sources have claimed that there have been more than 150 deaths due to dengue in Lucknow alone in the past two months and hospitals and nursing homes are overflowing with patients showing symptoms of dengue. 

The high court said that the state government was doing only “paper work” to check the outbreak of dengue and issued a warning to the principal secretaries of medical and health departments as well as the urban development department  which is responsible for maintaining cleanliness.  The bench said that if the state government failed to develop a mechanism to check the malady, they would take serious action against the concerned officials.

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