Sunday, May 30, 2010


The process of this Blog is now complete. My Thesis is done and uploaded and I'm starting new things. 

If you'd like to follow my work further, please check out this website:

If you'd like to see the end result of the thesis document, you can download it at this site:

Thank you to everyone who followed this blog and all the best to those who are continuing with their own research. 


Friday, April 2, 2010


Ladies and gentlemen of the cyber world, my thesis nears its end. I got sign off on Wednesday and am in the process of printing copies for people. It's final tally is some 263 pages! I can't believe that this is almost over. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


‘Līlā (Leela) is a Sanskrit noun meaning “sport” or “play”. It has been the central term in the Hindu elaboration of the idea that God in his creating and governing of the world is moved not by need or necessity but by a free and joyous creativity that is integral to his own nature. He acts in a state of rapt absorption comparable to that of an artist possessed by his creative vision or to that of a child caught up in the delight of a game played for its own sake…[i]

After the British Slave Emancipation Act was passed in 1833, many African ex-slaves moved off of plantations, leaving a deficit of labour in a still thriving sugar industry. The British colonials brought indentured servants to the Caribbean who were paid wages and contractually obligated to stay a minimum of 5 years in the Caribbean. A range of different races were brought to the Caribbean including Chinese, Portuguese, Madeirans and free Africans from the United States[ii]. The largest racial group of indentured labourers to stay in the English speaking Caribbean islands were Indians from Utar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu (called “coolies”, though the term is now considered derogatory). They spoke Bhojpuri-Hindi, a dialect common to Uttar Pradesh and lived on the plantations in conditions that were little improved since the end of slavery. The Indians arrived on a ship called the Fateh Rozack[iii] which departed from Calcutta in 1845, travelling across the kelapani[iv] (black waters) to Trinidad. Between 1845 and 1917, a total of 25 to 30 000 East Indians of both Muslim and Hindu faiths travelled to the Caribbean[v]. Thousands of Indians also went to Jamaica, Suriname and Guyana. Today, descendents of indentured Indian labourers constitute 40% of Trinidad’s population, while the rest of the population is 37.5% African, 20.5% mixed race and 2% unspecified[vi]. When Indians came to the Caribbean they brought their language, their religious customs and even plants and herbs. The fusion of different cultures in Trinidad therefore can be seen in culinary flavours, the tone of Trinidadian dialect, artistic expression and national festivals. Some of the most prolific Indian festivals in Trinidad are Divali (Festival of Lights), Phagwa (derived from India’s Holi) and Hosay (derived from a Shiite Islamic festival).

Before considering the physical manifestations of Indian iconography in the Caribbean, we must first consider the basic underlying principle of Hindu religious thought: that of Līlā (leela). This guiding concept of sacred play underscores the day to day life and festivities of Hindu practitioners. Leela also refers to divine theatre, where mythological stories are ritualistically acted out.
“The entire cosmos is a leela, a dance of energy, a drama staged by Brahman, the Absolute. Leelas are also specific celebrations, the most important in Trinidad being Ramlila , the story of Ram (Rama), the god-warrior-king as told in Valmiki’s Sanskrit Ramayana…” [vii]

These plays are presented through dances, drama and songs of narrative poetry[viii]. As is the case of Ramleela in Trinidad, this re-enactment of sacred text becomes a public spectacle which represents communities. Like Carnival, the leela is a way of reinstating sacred narratives in a profane world. The ludic nature of Carnival may indeed be the most formative condition of Hindu thinking that has been translated into Carnival and Trinidadian culture at large. Although a sense of playful buffoonery is reminiscent of the Feast of Fools, leela suggests a depth of purpose through ludic masquerade characters that might lead to a kind of transcendence. The divine theatre and the festival are two of the strongest ways in which this sense of leela is communicated in the broader community. The proliferation of Indian festivals throughout Trinidad has surely contributed to a nationalistic impulse to reclaim public space through festival. This is perhaps why Carnival is so fiercely upheld each year as a cosmogonic re-telling of the nation’s identity.

There are two Indian festivals that are practiced in Trinidad which are strongly reminiscent of Carnival. The first is Phagwa (a Hindu celebration) and the second is Hosay (an Islamic celebration). Phagwa is the Bhojpuri word for Holī, which is a vernal festival that is celebrated throughout India. This practice came to Trinidad with Indentured labourers, regaining popularity in the 1980’s particularly. Holi in India takes place before the spring harvest. In an article on the practice of Holi in India, Crooke considers that:
‘We have seen that the festival marks not only the close of one of the seasons, but also the end of the year in its older form. It is thus a crisis, a No Man’s time, a rite de passage, as M. van Gennep terms it. It is at such times for instance, during intercalary months, that festivals in the nature of the Saturnalia, accompanied by ribaldry and obscene rites, very commonly occur… On the principles of mimetic magic, orgiastic rites are supposed to recruit and re-invigorate the exhausted energies of the year that has passed, and to promote fresh and healthy activity in the coming season.’

The similarities between the Saturnalian Holi or Phagwa and Carnival are quite strong ideologically. Phagwa is a joyous gathering of people where they play and throw brightly coloured dye called abeer at each other. It is a community based festival that is conducted in a mutual public space. Another component of the festival is the pichakaaree competition in which Indian songs are sung, mostly in English. Burton Sankaralli describes these songs as “Indocentric calypsos”[ix] since they are rooted in social commentary. Although there is not a great deal written on the interrelationship between Phagwa and the form of J’ouvert, there are obvious physical similarities between the two in the flinging of paint or mud in a crowd and the joyous revelry of bodies at play. The main difference between the two is that J’ouvert is a procession through the city whereas Phagwa typically occurs in one compound or public square. The similarity between Carnival and Phagwah as saturnalian things is furthered by Hein’s consideration of devotees of the child god Krishna:
‘Their sportiveness has manifested itself in cultic matters that are marginal to social ethics: in the exuberance of their religious assemblies, in the easy emotionality of their pathway of salvation through devotion, in the madcap behaviour that they tolerate in their saints, and in the spirit of abandon that pervades their fairs and pilgrimages and a few saturnalian festivals like the licentious Holī.’[x]
Both Carnival and Phagwa are known for their inherent joy. In both cases that joy and abandon is not confined my masquerade form or religious programme, rather the experience of freedom that they incite arises out of leela; that playful fascination with paint and mud that is exuberant, ecstatic and almost child-like.

[i] Norvin Hein,The Gods at Play, Līlā in South Asia, pg 13
[ii] The Trinidad Carnival, Errol Hill, pg 9
[iii] Freedom, Festivals and Caste in Trinidad After Slavery, Neil A. Sookdeo, pg 11
[iv] Kelapani refers to the Bhojpuri word meaning “black waters” it describes the oceanic voyage from Calcutta to the Caribbean. It is typically insinuated that this was a one way voyage. Indian Presence in Carnival, Burton Sankeralli, pg 77
[v] Indian Presence in Carnival, Burton Sankeralli, pg 76
[vi], information based on 2000 National Census
[vii] Indian Presence in Carnival, Burton Sankeralli, pg 76
[viii] The Gods at Play, Norvin Hein, pg 16
[ix] Indian presence in Carnival, pg 83
[x] Thee Gods at Play, pg19