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Sunday, December 08, 2013
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Felicity—first to pioneer festival
In this the final instalment of this series, we will look at how the ancient festival of Divali found its home in Trinidad and Tobago and evolved. In the past two episodes, we traced the roots of the celebration and its arrival in the west, in the hearts and minds of the Hindus among the indentured immigrants who began arriving as labour for the sugar plantations in 1845.
Felicity can be honoured as the first district which pioneered the large-scale communal celebrations of the festival of lights, as was noted by Morton Klass, an anthropologist who lived in the area in the 1950s. Klass also noted that modern technology was being introduced as he recounted: “Two or three wealthy families in central Felicity tried an innovation the year I resided in the village.
“Strings of vari-coloured electric bulbs were festooned around their houses, forming a major part of their displays, though a few deyas were still in evidence. The saving in coconut oil is of course offset by the cost of the bulbs and electricity.” Today, the Felicity celebrations are heavily electrified and powerful fireworks now light the sky but the time-honoured deyas mounted on bamboo scaffolds are still of key importance.
Nothing, however, exemplifies how important Divali has become to the national landscape (the holiday was officially declared in 1966) than the Divali Nagar. The best way to describe the Nagar is as a grand fair centred around Divali that blends the ancient civilisation of India with the heady pulse and tempo of life that make Trinis world-famous.
Located just east of the metropolis of Chaguanas, the expansive space that is transformed annually into the gaudy extravaganza was designated for this purpose in 1986 after the original location at the Mid Centre Mall carpark proved inadequate. From day one, the Nagar, which opens a few weeks before the Divali holiday, proved to be a wild success, as hundreds of vendors flocked to the area. It has since been upgraded to include a pavilion, an air-conditioned indoor hall, a magnificent statue and landscaped grounds.
An old locomotive and bogie cart, silent reminders of the island’s sugar industry (the original impetus for labour from India in 1845), stand to the rear of the compound. The National Council for Indian Culture is the body that oversees the Nagar and ensures that the fair opens with a dramatic launch that draws a wide spectrum of people from every walk of life, from government ministers to the burgesses of the area and citizens from other parts of the country.
To the first-time visitor, the Nagar experience immediately assaults all the senses. The aroma of pholourie, aloo pies and saheenas frying in coconut oil clashes with the pungent curries being prepared just a few feet away. The riot of colour is almost psychedelic as elegant silk saris, heavy with embroidery, mingle with delicate filigree jewellery crafted locally, as well as imported from India. At all times, the fine sounds of classical Indian music can be heard, occasionally broken by more invigorating Indo-Caribbean beats.
The Divali Nagar is thus an addictive experience, as evidenced by the thousands of cars and buses which converge every day while the festival is in session.
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