The Government of India funds Ramlila workshops for Ramlila groups of the diaspora
The Ayodhya Research Institute of Uttar Pradesh (ARIUP), through funding by the Culture department of the Government of India, has been conducting Ramlila workshops geared towards international Ramlila groups. This initiative was started back in 2012 when the director of the Institute, Dr. Y.P. Singh, came to T&T, accompanied by Ramlila experts from India, to run these workshops. Since this began many international Ramlila groups of T&T have been the beneficiary. The Hindi Prachar Kendra’s Ram Dilla group of T&T only recently returned after participating in the venture in India during the Kumbh Mela festival under the auspices of the ARIUP. Prior to this group the Shiva Gana Organization (SGO) of T&T also had this opportunity to attend this workshop in India.
Mr. Allan Samaroo, the secretary of the SGO, said that the experience they had at these workshops was one that quite fulfilling, informative and would auger well for their future performances. He said that they had the opportunity to participate along internationally professional groups such as; The Disha Ramlila Group from Moscow, Russia; The Hindu Indonesia University from Laos; and a Cambodian Classical Dance troupe. This experience has opened up their networks with regard to international Ramlila performances an their skill set. Allan mentioned that they had the opportunity to perform at the Aishbhag Ramlila grounds in Lucknow where the group received a standing ovation, at the banks of the Sarayu River in the Ayodhya and at the Kurukshetra National Institute of Technology in Hariyana. He said it was quite an experience for the troupe as they would have brought the Trinidad and Tobago Ramlila tradition, an element of culture of the Indian indentured laborers who hailed from India during the period 1845-1917. This tradition, which has assimilated many aspects of local Trinidad culture, was now presented in its unique form to the land of its roots as a testimony to Indo-Trinidadian identity.
Mr, Krishna Murity, the president of the SGO added that they adapted their form of maidan (field) drama, specific to the Ramlila of T&T and other parts of the diaspora, to a stage presentation which seemed to be prominent in India, more so than in T&T. He emphasized that the SGO was also utilizing the Hindustani language of Trinidad, Trinidad Bhojpuri, as the language for the narration of the pieces that were performed on stage. This was the originally used by the indentured laborers and their descendants, to narrate the very first Ramlilas in Trinidad. A language which is closely related to the Awadhi verses of the Tulsidas Ramcharitramanas whose story is dramatized in Ramlila. The Ramcharitramanas is a Hindu scripture brought by the indentured laborers telling the story of the great hero and king of ancient India Shri Ramachandra, who was believed to be an incarnation or avatar of the Divine.
Dr. Visham Bhimull of the online group for the Hindustani of the Caribbean, Caribbean Hindustani, did the narration in Trinidad Bhojpuri. The lead singer of the band Kaveesh The Band, Kaveesh Maharaj did the Awadhi verses of Ramcharitramanas in a unique style of Indo-Trinidadian Hindustani expression. Ms. Sharda Maharaj also used her musical expertise to weave together a musical arrangement that well represented the Indo-Trinidadian identity. Murity said these three elements added to the uniqueness of the drama piece presented in India.
The cast members said that they were well received and evoked intrigue from the audience and officials in India as the locals said that such a pieces were quite reminiscent of an India of the past with addition of other elements from the Caribbean. Firstly, they said that the language of narration was a much older from of Hindustani that seemed to have survived outside of India and that the style of dance and choreography brought on nostalgia of a form of greater antiquity to what is seen in modern-day India.
Mr. Samaroo ended with saying that it was impressed on the group the discipline and dedication required for performing such an ancient drama, the importance of the use of language in such drama pieces, the esteem with which the audience and fellow performers hold for each performer in the drama and the invaluable experience of working with international professionals where drama was concerned.
The SGO has been exploring further opportunities to network among Ramlila drama groups within the Caribbean Region as the Indo-Caribbean identity recognizes Ramlila as an essential part of their culture. They also see Ramlila as an ideal platform to promote and propagate the Caribbean Hindustani language which is currently on the decline in many Indo-Caribbean regions. It sees these two elements as key in establishing a regional network where the Indo-Caribbean identity will be the focus of promotion. Promotion of this identity is crucial for increased investment into the unique culture of the colonial Indian diaspora in the Caribbean. The SGO is convinced that the only way forward for this unique cultural identity is through establishing such networks locally, regionally and ultimately internationally as there is further need of this product in South Africa, Mauritius, Fiji, Jamaica, Guyana, USA and Europe. These are the major places where descendants of this unique cultural expression still live today.
The SGO and other Ramlila groups are indeed very grateful to the ARIUP and its director Dr. Yogendra Pratap Singh for their noble work in reestablishing a link among diaspora countries internationally with its Institute, a shining glory of the roots of the unique Indian culture of the colonial Indian diaspora. It is through such initiatives of networking the culture of the diaspora can find its space on an international stage and assert its relevance globally. Such an achievement only serves to realize the vision and dreams of the Indian indentured laborers who left India over a century ago in search of a better life.