Ramleela is epic street theatre at its best and has the potential to build in all of us a national and international consciousness in the supremacy of a belief that good will always conquer evil and that light will always shine over darkness. The Ramleela story is an emphatic warning that there is no good in being arrogant, power hungry and selfish. Ravan began as a good, kind and God loving ruler and his devotion earned him great powers but ego and lust got the better of him and Lord Rama had to step in when he made that final error and kidnapped Sita, the wife of Lord Rama. This resulted in a 10 day battle between Lord Rama and the ten-headed Ravan.
Just as Lord Rama conquered the evil King Ravan after he kidnapped Mother Sita, so too as individuals and a society we can overcome and rise beyond trials and afflictions that may come our way. I have to congratulate the National Ramleela Council who has persevered over the years, regulating the celebrations and sourcing funding for community groups to stage this Hindu epic in the Ramayan.
Only last weekend, I visited Ramleela celebrations in Matilda Village, Princess Town and I was informed that this wonderful message of Divali has been immortalised through some 27 Ramleela celebrations held all around the country. Ramleela is one of the oldest manifestations of open air street theatre in the Americas, 165 years old and is the oldest in the Caribbean. I am experiencing in Brother’s Road, Tabaquite the same love, cohesion, togetherness and sense of community among everyone here as I experienced in Matilda Village. I am in the presence of street theatre magic, where villagers and community leaders take on the role as actors and actresses, craftsmen, choreographers and costume designers, an elaborate cast playing Princes, Princesses and deities and young children playing the role of sacred animal and birds, finally cascading in the burning of the Ravan effigy in that symbolic triumph of good over evil.
Ramleela was given an emphatic stamp of international approval by no less a person than Nobel Prize Laureate for Literature, playwright Derek Walcott. In 1992, when at the acceptance Speech of the Nobel Prize speech for Literature, in Stockholm, Sweden, he spoke of Ramleela in glowing terms of this production taking place quietly for years in rural villages. He became dumbstruck by the philosophical majesty of this epic folk theatre stating that Ramleela in Trinidad was not just an act but an act of faith and he confessed his ignorance by pleading for its recognition. He stated in his acceptance speech, “I had often thought of but never seen Ramleela, and had never seen this theatre, an open field, with village children as Warriors, Princes, and Gods. I had no idea what the epic story was, who its hero was, what enemies he fought, yet I had recently adapted the Odyssey for a theatre in England, presuming that the audience knew the trials of Odysseus, hero of another Asia Minor epic, while nobody in Trinidad knew any more than I did about Rama, Kali, Shiva, Vishnu, apart from the Indians.” He further stated that the participants in this wondrous epic and I quote, “Were not amateurs but believers. They believed in what they were playing in the sacredness of the text.”
To all of you engaged in Ramleela celebrations here in Brother’s Road, I applaud you for bringing to light what Derek Walcott characterised as a misunderstood event ‘through a visual echo of history.’
To each and every one of you, the Hindu community and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, I wish you all a holy and shubh Divali.