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Ramleela celebrations at Palmiste Park

By SEETA PERSAD Monday, October 22 2012

Chimandath Maharaj, president of the Palmiste-based Ramleela group “The Pandavas,” said he has planned grand Ramleela celebrations in Palmiste Park, San Fernando.

Activities began last Friday (October 19) and will continue nightly until October 28 from 6 pm to 9 pm. Pandavas has been producing the ten-day drama for 11 years, attracting thousands of people.

Maharaj said, “In recent years we have seen better props and better stage shows as many graduates in literature and theatre have become involved in the actual production of this religious theatre.”

He said traditionally characters had to mime the Hindi words that were said by a narrator. However, today the English translation is used alongside the Hindi in the dialogues between the actors. He said a full script for the production is now written and discussed by performers months before the drama is staged. There has also been the introduction of professional theatre lighting and clip-on microphones.

“Over the 11 years we have been in existence, we have seen our audience grown from a mere 100 or so to thousands,” Maharaj said, citing this as the reason why a lot of effort has been placed in producing Ramleela in a better theatre environment.

Temporary “bleachers” have been constructed to accommodate up to 2,000 persons looking at the unfolding theatre on the life and time of Lord Rama.

Pandavas had its nucleus at the Bheekie Dass Mandir, Sir Lamont Avenue, Phillipine. Led by Pundit Vishnudath Maharaj, a spiritual purification exercise recently took place at Pandavas’ headquarters, the Vikash Anant Memorial Ashram also at Sir Lamont Avenue. Pun Vishnudath is the spiritual head of Pandavas and has been the director of the Ramleela production since its inception.

Ramleela in the early days, Maharaj said, would have started during the mid-afternoon and the players would have been all male. “Today there are scores of (women) who act opposite the male characters,” he said. The main female roles include that of Sita (Rama’s wife), Mandodari who is Ravan’s wife and the three queens of king Dasharat – Sumintra, Khekayi and Kowsilya.

The Ramayan tells of an avatar or incarnation of Lord Vishnu known as Rama who acts as a perfect human being who struggles against evil.

The main actors in Pandavas’ Ramleela are Vivek Maharaj (Ram), Gayatri Maharaj (Sita), Anand Khemraj Gheraw (Rawan), Amit Ramsamooj (Lakshman), Anand Buchoon (Hanuman), Aneil Ramsamooj (Raja Dasrath), Nivedita Maharaj (Manthra), Neil Beekhie (Raja Janak) and Devanand Ramsamooj (Lord Shiva). These actors have all taken part in Pandavas’ Ramleela since its inception.

The funding for the production comes mainly from the proceeds of a traditional kitchen that is run by the women’s committee of Pandavas, headed by Nimi Kallan and Kowsil Gheraw. The women’s committee also gets corporate financial assistance from San Fernando businesses. Maharaj said many individuals also make generous contributions toward the production each year. “Some funding is received from the government but this is usually small and arrives late,” Maharaj said.

Maharaj who is also an executive member of the National Ramleela Council of Trinidad and Tobago (NRCTT) said the council presented the budgets and requests for funding to the Ministry of The Arts and Multiculturalism well in advance of the event. However, he said the NRCTT was informed they should not expect anything from the Ministry before the end of October, after the Ramleela period has passed. Maharaj said that the NRCTT is still hoping that some funding will be forthcoming from the Ministry earlier than has been promised.

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