Burning effigies to bring Hindu festival to close

Effigies burn on Calton Hill to mark the Hindu festival of Dusherra.   Picture Ian Rutherford
Effigies burn on Calton Hill to mark the Hindu festival of Dusherra. Picture Ian Rutherford
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Around 5000 people are expected to watch 30ft effigies of the demons Ravana, his brother Kumbhakarna and son Meghnad burn on Calton Hill during the Hindu festival of Dusherra.

Now in its 19th year, the event tomorrow is one of the largest free independent festivals in Scotland.

It has been expanded from a parade through the city streets to include a day of family-friendly activities designed to integrate Edinburgh’s Scottish and Indian communities.

Festivities will kick off at 3pm at the top of Calton Hill, with a host of dance acts, including the Edinburgh Bhangra Crew and the Scottish Stepdance Company.

Children’s activities will run alongside the performances, with storytelling sessions, mask-making and facepainting on offer to keep the little ones amused, while also teaching them about the traditions of Dusherra.

Karthik Subramanya, president of the Scottish Indian Arts Forum, which organises the festival, says: “When all we had was a parade going through the centre of Edinburgh, people just stood and waved at us, which was great, but they didn’t get involved with the Indian culture.

“Now they can spend some time doing that, with the range of activities we have on offer, and kids can get involved with some culture and arts. This works better for everyone.

“We are expecting around 5000 people for the fireworks and the burning of the effigies. The numbers have been 
increasing every year.”

The effigies are designed and built by prisoners at Saughton, who are said to take a great sense of achievement from their work.

“We have a very good collaboration with them,” explains Karthik. “The coordinating officer [at Saughton] tells me that it really builds their confidence. They feel that if they can build something like this, they can build anything.

“They are also learning about different cultures, and skills like carpentry and painting.

“There’s also the symbolism of them building demons to be burned.

“When they are burned and the fireworks are set off, it’s really spectacular as you have the backdrop of the Firth of Forth.

“It’s fantastic to have Calton Hill as a venue.”

The festival will have a number of performances from bands specialising in both Celtic and traditional Indian music and belly dancing.

There will also be a number of stalls, including those selling Henna, herbal 
remedies and Indian handicrafts.

There will also be food stalls serving Indian foods and sweets.

The fireworks and burning of the effigies takes place from 7.15pm. This will be followed by Bollywood and dance music up until the festival closes at 8.45pm.

The event costs around £15,000 to stage, and currently receives sponsorship from Scottish Hydro and Edinburgh City Council in order to keep it free.

“We have people from all over Scotland and even the north of England coming to the festival,” says Karthik. “It’s the only event of its kind in Scotland and we are fighting desperately to keep it free because essentially this festival was started to integrate the Scottish and Indian communities.

“We believe if we start charging for the event, we would lose the local population and we don’t want that.”

Despite the difficulties in keeping the event free for everyone, Karthik is confident that the popular festival will return again next year.

“Dusherra is a distinct part of the cultural calendar of 

“Next year will be the 20th Dusherra festival in Edinburgh. Hopefully we will be coming back with a huge one.”

For more information on the Dusherra and programme, visit www.scottishindianartsforum.co.uk.