Dussehra Festival to light up Capital

Laxman (Deepak Verma), Ravan (Nour Ug-din Jinneir) and Ram (Ravinder Sharma). Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Laxman (Deepak Verma), Ravan (Nour Ug-din Jinneir) and Ram (Ravinder Sharma). Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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BAGPIPES and fiddles will merge with tribal belly dancers and a Bollywood band to celebrate the Capital’s 20th Dussehra Festival tomorrow.

Around 5000 people are expected to gather for the ­annual Hindu festival on Calton Hill, which celebrates good conquering evil.

Symbolic 25ft effigies of the demons Ravana, his brother Kumbhakarna and son Meghnad will be set alight on top of the hill to commemorate the victory, which took place thousands of years 
ago.

The burning is the climax of a day full of activities celebrating Dussehra, along with a fireworks display which takes place against the spectacular backdrop of the Edinburgh cityscape.

It is one of the largest free independent festivals in Scotland – something its organisers are proud they are able to provide to the residents of Edinburgh and further afield.

Karthik Subramanya, president of the Scottish Indian Arts Forum, which organises the festival, says: “It’s our 20th year so we are so excited that we have come this far.

“The buzz across Edinburgh and the community is great. With social media, you get a lot of advance feedback, and the feedback has been really good.

“This is the biggest event for the Indian community across Scotland. People are really engaged.”

The event has grown from more humble roots. Twenty years ago it started out as a simple parade through the city streets.

This year it features a fantastic cultural programme integrating Scottish and Indian music and dance.

The pipes and fiddle performers of the Scott Wood Band will be headlining the festival at 5.30pm.

Indian classical dancers from the Bhartiya Ashram ­centre in Dundee will give a traditional feel to the festival at 6pm. Other performers include Twisted Tails, a tribal belly ­dancing group, flamenco performances by Alba Flamenca and the Bollywood band Swaryatra.

This year there will also be a dedicated children’s ­marquee with arts and crafts workshops by Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop from 3pm to 5pm, designed to help children understand different cultures and diversity by engaging in activities together.

“It’s almost a 50/50 split between the Scottish and Indian performers, and we have young pipers and fiddle bands.

“We have increased the number of kids’ activities this year and we’ve got lots of schools involved.

“They have been learning about it in school, and I think it’s an important part of the curriculum.

“Last year we were surprised by the amount of people we had there.

“People come and go throughout the day because we’re on all day, but we expect to see about 5000 people.

“We will have a huge number of new people coming, as well as our existing audience.”

As well as music, dancing and arts and crafts, spectators will be able to enjoy a host of fantastic food stalls, including those provided by the award-winning Banana Leaf ­restaurant in Glasgow and the Drumbrae-based Spice Lounge.

The burning of the effigies is the climax of the event as it marks the end of the ten-day war between the gods and demons thousands of years ago.

This year, the festival is taking place earlier in the month than it did previously due to the lunar calendar, so the ­fireworks will start a bit later, at 7.30pm.

The towering effigies have once again been made by the inmates of Saughton Prison, who are taught skills in ­carpentry and design.

“This is the sixth or seventh year they have made them for us,” explains Karthik. “They try to make the effigies ­different each year and they really get into the spirit of it.”

To enable the festival to remain free to spectators, organisers have secured sponsorship from SSE Scottish Hydro and TCS Tata Consultancy Services.

Jim McPhillimy, managing director of SSE Plc, ­owners of the Scottish Hydro, says: “SSE is committed to ­working actively in all the communities we serve and we are delighted to support the Scottish Indian Arts Forum’s annual Dussehra celebrations in Edinburgh for the third year running.”

Karthik adds: “The whole community looks forward to this event and we hope we can continue to present this event for the next 20 years.”