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Divali Nagar—world’s first Hindu theme park

Published: 
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Dr Kumar Mahabir, left, with Chandradath and Anita Singh.

The Divali holiday will be observed on October 26, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the Divali Nagar, the first Hindu theme park in the world. In the week leading to Divali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, more than ten million deyas are lit in homes, temples, offices, streets and parks. This festival has become the second-largest, open-air, national festival in multi-ethnic T&T, after Carnival. The hub of all Divali celebrations in the island is the Divali Nagar site in Central Trinidad, which was established in 1986. Indeed, the Nagar is the most-frequently visited entertainment centre in the country during Divali, second only to the Grand Stand in the Queen’s Park Savannah during Carnival.

The Nagar provides a public stage for local, regional and international performing artistes. These models, singers, dancers, musicians, choirs and orchestras entertain locals, as well as visitors from the rest of the world. The Nagar has grown to epic proportions, attracting many artistes and tourists to this international spiritual tourist destination. They come from Belize, Jamaica, St Vincent, Grenada, St Lucia, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guyana and Suriname in the Caribbean. Others come from French Guiana, USA, UK, Holland and India. Prominent guests included the president of India, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma and the two presidents of T&T, Noor Hassanali and George Maxwell Richards.

Each year, the Nagar chooses a theme based on Hinduism and Indian culture for its presentation. The theme is researched and exhibited by Baba Satnarayan Mourya, an artiste from India. Various modes of information, including designs, paintings, posters and photographs are showcased. For nine nights, the Nagar is transformed into a blend of the sacred and secular, where the bustle of commerce mingles with the melody of prayer. Booths showcase and sell products and services to approximately 150,000 visitors. Commercial booths sell mainly Indian clothes, footwear, jewelry, accessories, music, movies, furniture, appliances, and religious and household items. In recent years, the Nagar has also accommodated an Indian Trade Fair. This is a flea market operated by about 25 businessmen from India.

The Nagar houses about 150 tents, which include commercial stalls, religious booths, media houses and food kitchens. The kitchens—preparing local, hot, on-the-spot Indian delicacies—are the most popular. Pepper roti made on a chulha, in one of the food stalls, is extremely delightful. At the Nagar, palmists and astrologists are sought and consulted. Mehindi artistes are in demand for decorating the hands and palms of mainly young women with artistic lines of paint. Itinerant salesmen peddle cotton candies, balloons, glow sticks and toys. Hare Krishna performers in the courtyard draw the largest and youngest crowd outside of the main stage due to their captivating renditions of kirtans. They are well-known for congregational singing, ecstatic dancing, playing of musical instruments, and the public chanting of God’s names.

Each year, local theatre groups perform plays in the Bisram Gopie Sangeet Bhavan Auditorium at the Nagar. Brave Heart Productions Theatre Company and the Princes Town Theatre Workshop are two companies that have acted on the smaller stage. It is perhaps the spectacle of fireworks on the last night of the week-long extravagansa which draws the largest crowd to the Nagar. An estimated 50,000 persons converge upon the site to witness the creative explosion of lights in the heavens that appears like meteoric showers of celestial raindrops. Established in 1986, the reception towards the Divali Nagar in T&T has been so tremendous that it has inspired Hindu theme parks and other Nagars in the rest of the world.

In 2005, Toronto in Canada celebrated its first Divali Nagar, followed by Florida in the USA in 2008. In 2005, Swaminayaran Akshardham in Delhi in India, established the second Hindu theme park in the world. This year, plans are being made by ISKON to construct a spiritual theme park in Bangalore, India.
The Nagar is not the only fair which blends the sacred and the secular with entertainment. Located close to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld in Florida, is the Holy Land Experience. Established in 2001, this Christian theme park is a recreation of Jerusalem during Biblical times. Instead of offering wild rides, the park offers lectures and prayers which make the Holy Land appear more like a church.