Prisoners help organisers banish demons for city’s Dusherra event

Scottish Indian Arts Forum president Karthik Subramanya with the effigies of the three demons that will fire up the festival
Scottish Indian Arts Forum president Karthik Subramanya with the effigies of the three demons that will fire up the festival
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THREE giant demon effigies to be used in a major Edinburgh cultural festival have been created by prisoners at Saughton – with female inmates taking on the job for the first time.

This year’s Dusherra celebration is set to be the biggest yet, with more events and stalls set to take up residence on Calton Hill for a full-day cultural programme, expected to attract more than 5000 people.

The highlight of the event will be the burning of effigies of the demons Ravana, his brother Kumbhakarna and son Meghnad, at the end of the evening on Sunday.

The effigies were constructed by prisoners at HMP Edinburgh, although this year it was all change as the newly installed female prisoners – who moved to HMP Edinburgh in July because of over-crowding at Cornton Vale – were given the task of creating the striking models.

The prisoners spent almost a month on the work, helped out by some of the male prisoners who have taken on the project in previous years, and there was understood to be some “friendly rivalry” between the groups to see who could produce the most striking results.

Jacqueline Clinton, head of offender outcomes at Edinburgh Prison, said: “Edinburgh prison is pleased to contribute to events in the community, thanks to the efforts of staff and prisoners. The creation of these effigies has been a chance for the women prisoners to learn more about cultural diversity.”

The Dusherra festival, being held for the 17th year, is one of the largest gatherings of Scotland’s Indian community, and after last year’s event audiences were asked how they would like the festival to improve.

This year will see far more activities on Calton Hill, including an educational workshop and a full cultural programme.

Highlights include a homage to Mahatma Gandhi, whose birthday is celebrated on October 2, belly dancing from Twisted Tails and Dance Ihayami, Edinburgh’s Classical Indian Dance school, which will present a mixture of Bharatnatyam styles and pieces based on Tamil folk music. The event will end with fireworks and the burning of the three effigies.

While that side of the event has been expanded however, the popular parade has been scrapped, due to a combination of reduced funding – public funding was cut by almost 60 per cent – and problems organising a route in the city centre.

Karthik Subramanya, president of the Scottish Indian Arts Forum, said: “There were tough choices to be made and we have had to sacrifice the very popular Dusherra parade.

“Instead of giving up though we are now poised to see the largest such celebration on Calton Hill in the past several years, and we have listened to our audience, so I’m hopeful it will be a great success.”

The festival starts on Calton Hill at 1pm on Sunday.

gedwards@edinburghnews.com