Precursed by tassa drummers, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar made a grand entrance into the Divali Nagar site, Chaguanas, on Monday night. Making her way past murtis of Ram and Sita, Persad-Bissessar was treated to a grand cultural extravaganza. It is expected to continue on the eve of Divali celebrations Tuesday. Deyas flicker across the T&T landscape on the darkest night in the year. Among the highlights were Surinamese singer Kris Ramkelewan, JMC Triveni, Baal Ramleela thespians and dancers.
Spearheading the celebrations which hinge on Lord Rama is chairman of the National Council for Indian Culture (NCIC) Deokinanan Sharma. Interviewed on Tuesday, Sharma said: "It is the 25th anniversary of Divali Nagar. The Prime Minister was treated to a fantastic cultural programme. The theme is on Lord Rama. "There is an exhibition on the theme on Lord Rama. He is the most popular deity among the Hindus in the Caribbean. The book that deals with Rama is the Ramayan. The book is the text that they used to sing and read their Ramayans. That has remained ever since with the Hindus in the Caribbean."
Folk theatre, Ramleela
Among the other highlights was a folk theatre. Sharma said: "Although they are not on the main stage, we will be using talent from the villages and temples. People will be singing and dancing. There is the Ramleela which is re-enacted every night in the folk theatre. Hindu Kendra will be doing excerpts from the Ramayana." Ramleela claims bragging rights as the longest-running street theatre event in the Caribbean.
For nine days, at about 20 venues in T&T, communities came together to act out stories from the sacred Hindu Ramayan. Texts from the Ramayan are read to music, while brightly-costumed dancers perform the narrative about Ram who goes in search of Sita. Ramleela culminates with the burning of an effigy of the defeated villain Rawan. The moral of the play is a graphic reminder good triumphs over evil.
Indian Heritage Village
The cultural melange featuring Hare Krishna Dancers and the Prem Shakti Dance troupe will be complemented by food booths groaning with Indian delicacies like khurma and saheena. Commercial booths vending saris, earthen ware pots, incense and freshly-squeezed cane juice are among the eclectic attractions. Sharma said: "It costs $1.5 million-plus. Things like artwork and the aesthetics."
Commenting on Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan's suggestion that an authentic Indian Heritage Village be set up at the site, Sharma said: "It has always been our aim; essentially the keep-back has been cost. It has to be a permanent structure and properly done. I am happy Rambachan has advised we should do it. "He said he would try and get funding from the Government. This is a welcome suggestion. It would entail a rough design before we can decide the costs. It would certainly go into millions."
Attempt to solve congestion
Sharma said he was keenly aware of the traffic congestion which had plagued visitors to the Nagar. He said: "I am hoping there would have been some paving done on the new car park which has been built to accommodate over 1,000 cars. It would ease up the horrendous parking problems "I would advise visitors to come early to secure their parking. The road on the side of the site is now a main road into Chaguanas, Lange Park and Endeavour."