Indian Heritage Month: Mere Desh pays tribute to Rakesh Yankaran

Rakesh Yankaran will be honoured at Mere Desh 2024. -
Rakesh Yankaran will be honoured at Mere Desh 2024. -


The Ajeet Praimsingh Mere Desh Committee will celebrate 179 years since Indian arrival in Trinidad and Tobago with its 34th annual awards and cultural show.

The event takes place on Indian Arrival Day, May 30, at Passage to Asia Restaurant, Chandelier Hall, St Yves Street, Chaguanas, from 2 pm.

Tribute will also be paid to classical and chutney singer Rakesh Yankaran.

Mere Desh, which means "my country," features various aspects of Indian culture. The event was founded by Ajeet Praimsingh, a cultural icon who inherited the family business – Praimsingh’s Pooja Bhavan Ltd, the first puja store in Trinidad.

Classical singing and folk music play a vital role in the cultural tapestry of East Indians who settled in the Caribbean. The emergence of traditional chutney in the 1940s, alongside the longstanding practice of classical singing, not only laid the groundwork for chutney soca but also provided a lifeline for talented musicians navigating economic challenges, ultimately transforming music into their livelihood.

Over the years, the Mere Desh organisation has been a steadfast supporter of traditional Indo-Trinidadian music, providing a platform for the preservation of these art forms. Praimsingh has also championed children's participation in these events. The competition is open to youth 20 years and under.

Spearheading the event since the death of her father in 2015, Savitree Praimsingh said she believes "the future pioneers of classical/singing and chutney music need incentives and platforms to flourish.

"These talented individuals often lack the resources to express their abilities, and that is precisely where Mere Desh steps in – to provide an outlet for their talents.”

For its tributes this year, Mere Desh will honour Yankaran, aka D Raja, and will feature the classical and chutney singer in a performance. Yankaran was given the title D Raja, which means the king, by the late Praimsingh.

Yankaran's father, the late classical singer Isaac Yankaran, who was known as the Wonder Boy, will also be honoured.

Several other people who have contributed to the promotion of Indian culture will also receive awards.

Special performances will come from the Princess Priya Dance Group, Biraha Raja, Central Youngsters Tassa Drummers, Pardesiya Dance Group, Seeta Devi Dance Group and harmonica player Taramatee Maharaj.

On the rationale used in selecting the awardees, Savitree said, “This year’s tribute was chosen to propagate and keep our traditional artforms alive. All of our recent tributes and themes have been surrounded by this objective, actually.

"The Yankaran family is a very talented family that has made a tremendous contribution to the chutney landscape of TT and the Indo-Caribbean diaspora internationally. Most importantly, they have kept the traditional elements of the genre alive today.

"I think that we do not pay much attention to the championing cause and role that people play in culture until they pass on. This is why it is so important to honour them for their contributions while they are alive.”

The Yankarans' music will feature in the competition. Each contestant must sing a local classical song by Isaac and a traditional chutney by Rakesh, and must use traditional instruments.

Contestants will vie for a first prize of $7,500, second $3,500 and third prize of $3,000.

Over the years, Mere Desh has seen increased participation by young contestants eager to showcase their talents.

Finalists are limited to ten because of the time allocated for the programme and because of funding, Savitree said.

"Although we are very grateful for our sponsors, there is only so much we can do, and so much that we still have to account for that sponsorships do not cover. If we had the resources to do more in this area, we would be doing so much more for the youths.

“We always have contestants who come in to apply after we have reached our quota of participants. Last year, we had parents calling in immediately after the show to find out when the next competition would be, so that they can start preparing.

"Furthermore, the classical element allows for the preservation of the various styles of classical singing and to rekindle interest in the artform.”

She said the competition was tight last year and since the event became youth-centred in 2014, some children have participated every year.

"I call them the Mere Desh children because I have seen them mature in the arts.

"Even the judges, who have been with us over the past five years or so, have seen vast improvements in their articulation. I have also seen the quality of involvement by the parents.

"I must mention too that the Hindu schools that emphasise culture in their curriculum have a major role to play. Children who are familiar with the stage have got their first exposure from their participation in the Baal Vikaas, Hindi, music and Ramleela activities at school. I cannot put enough emphasis on how integral these schools are.

"Again, this is why I think the schools’ and parents’ efforts are so important. I do think that we still have plenty of work to do in this area where youths are concerned. Our cultural interests are always challenged by the mass media and popular media culture."

Praimsingh stressed the Indian Arrival celebrations are inclusive and not exclusively for Indo-Trinidadians.

“In fact, it has never been limited to that group. The purpose of this day is to commemorate the arrival of East Indians in the Caribbean alongside those who share both similar and dissimilar histories. While the event highlights the achievements and contributions of East Indians to our nation, Indian Arrival Day serves as a reminder to Indo-Trinidadians that our roots lie in this history, and it is an integral part of our identity. We cannot alter our history; we must wholeheartedly embrace our heritage.”

As event preparations are under way, Praimsingh hinted at next year’s theme, promising to pay tribute to a female figure.


"Indian Heritage Month: Mere Desh pays tribute to Rakesh Yankaran"

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