Festival is flaming marvellous

IT was a sight visible across the centre of Edinburgh as three giant effigies burned in the night sky on the top of Calton Hill.

Nearly 2000 revellers had gathered to mark the Hindu festival of Dussehra and its celebration of the triumph of good over evil.

And as the 25-feet-high flaming effigies burnt to the ground last night, hundreds of fireworks were set off above the delighted crowds.

The festival got under way at the Castle Esplanade at 4.30pm, where the parade assembled before leading spectators down the Royal Mile and up to Calton Hill.

The route was agreed with the organisers after they were told they would not be able to use the traditional route along Princes Street due to the tram works.

The Ramlila Parade featured performances by the Lothian and Borders Pipe Band along with the school pipe bands from Edinburgh Academy and Stewart's Melville.

The musicians were joined by Hindu idols, horse-drawn carriages and youngsters dressed as monkeys and demons on the back of three colourful flats for the march.

The parade wound up to Calton Hill for the main festivities at 6pm, which began with a display of traditional dancing.

The effigies – representing the evil king Ravana and his two henchmen – were created by inmates at Saughton Prison for the third year running. They were set alight to loud applause before the fireworks display started.

Many revellers stayed on to dance to music in a tent erected on top of the hill.

One of India's most popular festivals, Dussehra is celebrated all over the sub-continent for several days every October as a symbolic victory of good over evil.

It tells the story of the Ramayana – one of the great Hindu epics, in which Lord Rama and his army try to rescue his wife, Sita, from the evil King Ravana. After a fierce battle, Ravana is beheaded and Sita is freed.

Madhur Chandra, 24, a shop worker from Leith, said: "The effigies were really impressive and detailed.

"It's great that people in prison are allowed to make them because the festival is all about how good wins over evil.

"That's a good message for prisoners to take and think about while they're making them.

"It doesn't matter that they were a bit smaller than last year. They still looked really good and Calton Hill is a great spot for this because it's visible across the city.

"It may make people curious to come along next year so they can get a better look."

Caitlin Rhodes, 19, a student from Merchiston, said: "I came last year as well and it's a really peaceful, chilled-out event. Everyone is positive and friendly, and I love the music. People of all different cultures come along and mix together which is what it's about.

"The fireworks were amazing because everything is so dark on top of Calton Hill and you've got the statues burning, too. They were really nice."

Last year, Edinburgh prisoners created effigies up to 40ft high for the event which can be traced back more than 5000 years.

But while it made for an impressive sight on Calton Hill, the flaming statues also sparked health and safety concerns and were scaled down this year.

Organisers asked the prisoners to make the effigies about two-thirds of the size.