As we set about to celebrate the coming of the indentured Indian immigrants, our forefathers, this 2nd November, we cannot but rejoice at the happy coincidence with the joyous occasion of Divali. Is this a mere coincidence or synergy? The return of Rama to Ayodhya or the victory of good over evil, of success over obstacles for our indentured ancestors and the carving out of a niche after days of despair is indeed an occasion to celebrate.
There are two events happening this year at this time. The Aapravasi Ghat which, thanks to the vision, drive, perseverance and determination of Beekrumsing Ramlallah, is today the venue of this commemorative event to remind generations to come that it would become a gateway to success, as those 450,000 indentured climbed its sixteen steps from 2nd November 1834 to 1924, to set the foundation of a new beginning. The commemoration of the coming of Ram to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile too reminds us that it was the Ramayana and its myriad myths and stories which lit a ray of hope in those days of despair in the hearts of the immigrants. That this same Ramayana of Adi Kavi, Valmiki, goes on inspiring the descendants of those brave souls is indeed continuity in the thread of History.
Ram Katha in Bhojpuri
Indeed we salute and welcome the current presence of Acharya Shri Sudarshanji Maharaj and his musical team in our midst. Hailing from the land of our ancestors, and the birthplace of Sita in Sitamarhi, Bihar, he has brought a new freshness and interpretation of the Ram Katha by retelling it in Bhojpuri. His Katha is very down to earth and gripping. Being an educationist, holding MA and PhD degrees, and having taught the Humanities for decades at universities in India, Shri Sudarshanji Maharaj is adept at narrating the episodes of the Ramayana by intermingling his discourse with value education, the problems of day-to-day life and how they can be solved, the art of holistic living, family life – all with musical accompaniment in lilting Bhojpuri tunes of sohar, jhumar, chaiti and bhajans.
After his one week of rendering of the Ram Katha at Nilkanth Shivalaye of Long Mountain under the aegis of the Mauritius Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation and Bihari Connect.Com, Acharya Sudarshanji also delivered his discourses and the message of Ram at Camp Diable and the Surveshwarnath Mandir of Rose Hill. This event has not only given the people of Mauritius a new interpretation of Ram Katha but the succinct use of Bhojpuri in such beautiful and intellectual rendering and above all in simple language has shown that there is a strong connectivity between the Bhojpuri of Bihar and Mauritius. It has laid the basis for a reconnection with the land of our ancestors and our roots. It has given a new dimension to Bhojpuri language and reflects its versatility and its immense capacity to connect to the hearts of the descendants of those swarthy immigrants. No doubt, the closeness between the Awadhi used by Goswami Tulsidas Ji Maharaj in his Ramcharitmanas and the Bhojpuri utilized by Shree Sudarshanji Maharaj can be beautifully established.
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Splendid Ram Lila at MGI
Another joyous event was the rendering of Adi Valmiki’s story of Rama in a unique dance ballet on stage by the Mahatma Gandhi Institute on Saturday 26th last in collaboration with the Ministry of Arts and Culture and the Ramayana Centre. This magnificent dance drama entitled ‘The Splendour of the Ramayana’ grouped some 50 artistes of the MGI, adults and children, in a fantastic show of glamour and art under the maestro Dr SK Pudaruth, Head, School of Performing Arts.
The ancient Ram Katha of Valmiki became a living and vibrant display on stage set to dramatic multimedia effects of sound, décor and lighting. The choreography and stage management indeed was a work of excellence. The costumes were colourful and a delight to the eyes. The conscious effort to bring a fusion between the traditional art forms and modern e-technology produced a superb show of Ram Lila which breathed freshness into the glory of Rama. The accompanying languages in a voice-off were chaste French, English, Hindi, Bhojpuri, Tamil, Telugu, and Marathi. There was a beautiful blending of the different dance art forms of Bharata Natyam, Kucchipudi, and Kathak set also to the different musical varieties in an electrifying ensemble.
This grand show has brought out the capacity of the artistes and staff of the MGI to bring forth the best of Indian music, dance and art forms. But it also reflects their immense potentialities to innovate while retaining the essentials of tradition. It has also depicted the ability of the staff of the MGI to inter-collaborate. There has been a beautiful synergy between the resource persons of the various departments of the MGI, among others the School of the Performing Arts, the Schools of Fine Arts and those of Indian Studies, of Mauritian and Area Studies.
These two events this year have given Divali and the celebration of the coming of our forefathers to Mauritius, Marich Desh, a new dimension, a freshness that has brought new light and a ray of hope in the hearts of Mauritians.
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Mauritius: Marich Desh or Tapu – A Symbology
The new and old waves of indentured immigrants have not only told and retold and enacted the traditional Ram Kathas and Ram Lilas but innovated by creating and recreating their own new stories based on scriptural literature in this alien surrounding where they built solid and resistant pillars of sacred spaces.
A phenomenon that developed around the Depots at the Port of Calcutta by the Hooghly River is that of the mythical story of Marich Desh culled out from the Ramayana. Thus a new story, a khissa developed associated with the process of immigration to far-off lands or countries in the minds of the indentured immigrants, the Girmitia. Marich Desh became a symbology associated with the traumatic experience of crossing the Kala Pani or Sat Samundar – “dur, dur, ego desh ba : Marich Desh”.
Pahlad Ramsurrun has in his Folk Tales of Mauritius retold the story of The Birth of the Pearl Islands which according to him he heard from his mother. In this story, the corpse of Marich, the magician who had created the illusion of a deer in the famous Ramayana to lure Sita, and being killed by Rama which turned into pearls which consequently Ram threw to the South (of India). With a fierce cyclonic wind blowing and a huge torrential rain, a deluge took place. And the pearls were swept away to the Indian Ocean and grew into small islands of the Mascaregnas.
This story became embedded in the minds of successive waves of migrants and as with all oral lore was recreated and took different versions with different storytellers. Thus the phenomenon of Marich Desh is known not only in Mauritius but also in far off Caribbean countries such as Trinidad and Tobago – “Chinidad” for the Girmitias.
Professor Helen Myers, noted American ethno-musicologist having done intensive research on the Bhojpuri songs and stories of Trinidad, at the very outset of her book, Music of Hindu Trinidad – Songs from the Indian Diaspora (University of Chicago Press), brings out the remarkable statement of the East Indians about Marich Tapu. It has a strange resonance with Marich Desh, which signaled Mauritius. The descendants of Indentured Immigrants to Trinidad and Tobago told her: “Old times people thought we were going to work at TAPU where Marich was King.”
In fact, since Mauritius was the post for the first ‘great experiment’ in indentureship, at the Depots of Calcutta this colony became an archetype of the trauma of going to the far-off islands – the TAPU – whether they were Mauritius, Trinidad or other countries. It was the same painful tearing away from one’s own soil to be thrown into the unknown, typified by the myth of Marich and TAPU meaning Island. Hence, for all successive batches of recruits, the one destination that was recurrent in their collective unconscious was Mauritius – Marich Tapu or Marich Desh.
Professor Helen Myers asked her respondents in Trinidad: “Marich Desh? Morisu? Is Marich Mauritius?” The response was indeed revealing of the state of mind of the immigrants at the Depots: “We don’t know that. People had fear. People did not come back from TAPU. As Lakshman left the hut, Rawan came and stole Sita. So, this is our story, our Ramayana.”
* Published in print edition on 31 October 2013