BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE HISTORY OF RAMLEELA IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Ramleela is the epic dramatization of the story of Shree Ram taken from the Hindu scripture, the Ramayan. In T & T, the Ramcharitmanas by Tulsi Das Ji is the chief source.
The Leela or play shows the happy times, the adversities encountered, the triumph over these adversities and the purpose of Ram’s incarnation on earth. The story of Ram’s life provides humanity with a plethora of valuable lessons and many ideals such as the qualities of an ideal son, a brother, a student, a husband, a friend and a King among many others.
Ramleela in Trinidad and Tobago is said to have its roots in the Northern states of India: Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. These are the places from which our forefathers came as indentured immigrants about one hundred and sixty seven years ago . In Trinidad and Tobago, Ramleela was usually celebrated annually in large open air fields in rural Indian villages for a period of ten days, during the daytime in the Hindu religious period called Nauraatri. The ten day celebration usually culminates with the burning of a giant sized effigy of the evil King, the villain in the story, Rawana.
Many changes and developments have taken place throughout the years in Ramleela celebrations: some performances are now done ‘on stage’ from three to five days while other ‘field’ Ramleela groups continue to perform Ramleela for the traditional ten to twelve day period. All group performances may not strictly adhere to the performances being done in the Nauraatri period.
Performances now are not only confined to Indian rural villages. Performances take place in schools and other institutions, in performing centres throughout Trinidad and Tobago such as NAPA and Queen’s Hall. Therefore, a wider cross section of the population of Trinidad and Tobago is exposed to Ramleela. The media is also playing a small part in the promotion of Trinidad and Tobago Ramleela.
Some highlights of the development and role of the National Ramleela Council of Trinidad and Tobago 1991-2012
The National Ramleela Council is now an incorporated institution having being incorporated by an Act of Parliament in July 2012. The development is as follows:
The twelve oldest and largest existing Ramleela groups came together in 1991 and formed an organisation named “The Maha Sabha National Ramleela Council”. The main objective at that point in time was to access State grants for the member groups. In 1995 the Council delinked itself from the Maha Sabha and was named National Ramleela Council. By 2001, the membership had increased to seventeen groups and the organisation was renamed, ‘The National Ramleela Council of Trinidad and Tobago’ (NRCTT) which now has thirty seven groups in its membership registry. In 2003 when an NRCTT constitution was ratified, all known Ramleela groups were members of the NRCTT.
The following is a list of some major achievements and activities of the NRCTT:
1991-1994: Production of Ramleela Magazine annually.
1992: International exposure and growing interest of Trinidad and Tobago Ramleela after Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, in his acceptance speech spoke glowingly about T & T Ramleela.
1993: Twelve large groups assembled at a ’Ramleela Mela’ and performed Ramleela together at a common venue.
2001: Ramleela Council re-invigorated to bring about unity and better organisation to Ramleela Groups. Honourable Mr. Ganga Singh played a key role in this initiative. Membership increased to seventeen groups.
2003: The Ministry of Culture and NRCTT recognised and honoured Pioneers of Ramleela: 1880-1960 at an elaborate function at the RCLRC, Couva.
2003: NRCTT constitution was ratified which defined rules and regulations and aims and objectives of the NRCTT and its member groups. Elections were held which produced the NRCTT’s first female President.
2004: Upgrading skills and learning new skills; graduation and certification by NRCTT and the Ministry of Culture.
- Drama by The Strolling Players.
- Wire bending by Mr. Gomez and Mr. Black of the Carnival fraternity.
- Ramleela movement by a classical dancer- Ms. Savi Ojah-Maharaj.
- Event Management & Team Building by Ms. Lisa Ghany and IOB lecturers, sponsored by the Hindu Women’s Organisation.
Graduation ceremony and certification for two hundred participants by NRCTT in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture at the Valsayn Teachers’ College.
2004: NRCTT’s President represented the Council in a sixteen member business and cultural delegation to India. She participated in discussions and presented a paper on Ramleela in Lucknow, Patna, Varanasi and Delhi sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and the Government of India.
2005: Trinidad and Tobago Ramleela declared by UNESCO as ‘one of the world’s intangible cultural heritage of humanity’. This announcement further strengthened the resolve of the NRCTT.
2006: Workshops were held for a total of two hundred participants in Ramleela: directing, choreography, makeup, set design and props by Indian Ramleela expert: Goswami Sushil Maharaj, which was sponsored by SWAHA Educational Institute. Graduation and certification followed in June 2006.
2007: NRCTT participated in Carifesta IX hosted by Trinidad and Tobago. A comprehensive magazine on the history of the Ramleela Groups was launched to commemorate one hundred and twenty seven years of Ramleela in Trinidad and Tobago.
2008: A nineteen member Ramleela contingent performed at Carifesta X in Guyana. The trip was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture. A similar national T & T Ramleela troupe will be revived in 2013 to perform all year round.
2009: Drama training by the Department of Festivals and Creative Arts, U.W.I.
Graduation and certification of one hundred and fifty participants.
2009: Awards to ‘Families in Ramleela’ at Palmiste Park. Cultural Programme and other activities hosted.
2010: Tassa training re. Ramleela hands for twenty five Ramleela Groups’ representatives.
2011: Ramayan studies and Chaupaie chanting taught by Pundit Ishwar Madho Maharaj.
Workshops on craft e.g. crowns by Gansham Pancharia of India.
2011: Cultural Programme and awards to past and present NRCTT Executive Members at Cunupia Recreational Facilities.
- Ramleela Competition – 1st Place: Satya Drishti Ramleela Group
- Ramleela Theme Song Competition winner Bisram Seewdath
- Ramleela Launch 2012 at Divine Life Society
- Incorporation of NRCTT piloted by Honourable Mr. Chandresh Sharma in Lower House and Honourable Dr. B. Tewarie in Senate.