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Surajkund Crafts Festival – A Celebration of Rural Grandeur

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April 2006
Surajkund Crafts Festival – A Celebration of Rural Grandeur

As an internationally celebrated crafts and handloom cultural bonanza, the 20th annual Surajkund Crafts Festival proved to be another extravaganza of Indian folk art tradition and talent. Hosted by Surajkund Mela, the Union Ministries of Tourism and Textiles, and the Haryana Tourism Corporation, the fair is a highly anticipated event in the global tourist calendar.

A fair is a celebration of man's creativity and it is precisely this spirit that's expressed and defined at the yearly Surajkund Crafts Festival. Starting on February 1st every year, the fair is held against the background of Surajkund, an enchanting village about 5 miles from South Delhi. Open from morning till night, the fair lasts a fortnight. This cultural festival is a preferred platform for talented artists, painters, weavers, sculptors and craftsmen from all over India. These artisans display their wares in a setting typical of rural marketplaces in India.

Launched in 1981 as a national cultural event to showcase Indian heritage and the skills of Indian craftspeople, the fair soon gained a lofty prominence. "The authorities started this mela with the intention of providing a window on handicraft people and weavers in the remote corners of Indian," explains Vijai Vardhan, managing director of the Harayana Tourism Corporation. Today, it's a colorful mega show covering a sprawling landscape of 28 acres where more than 350 selected tradesman and weavers display their goods. This year, craftspeople from neighboring nations such as Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Burma and Bangladesh also brought their crafts to the mela.

The uniqueness of the fair lies in its theme; each year the d�cor is based on a state theme and highlights a particular craft. Of the total stalls numbering around 400, many of them are dedicated to a particular theme craft. This year's state theme was Maharashtra, and visitors had a chance to admire the commemorative gate with a carved replica of Trimurti from Elephanta Caves, a World Heritage Site.

��������������������������� Blending of Tradition and Talent

Surajkund mela is the Mecca of handicraft lovers. The finest crafts here are not just for display but also for sale. Visitors get a chance to glimpse award-winning artists at work and purchase high quality pieces at affordable prices. Maharashtra has an extensive repertoire of arts and crafts, and the items at the mela included Warli paintings, exclusive wedding ritual paintings created by the tribal women based in Thane. Those interested in interiors had a chance to select hand painted lacquer furniture and light fittings of Sawantwadi crafts. And women could look through Paithani saris to their heart's content. These six yards of pure silk with intricate zari work continue a tradition that is 2000 years old. Amazing as they are in appearance, the brocaded saris take at lease six months to weave. Kohlapuri Chappals, the handmade leather sandals from Kolhapur, were a bargain and they were picked up like hot cakes.

The mela continued to shine even after the sun set. Shaina N.C., the renowned designer, presented a fashion show. The ramp vibrated with models flaunting the loud colors and exquisite fabrics of Maharashtra. The show was as successful as the fair. Months of preparations are the foundation for such an achievement. "To organize such an event and at this level for a fortnight needs meticulous planning. We start preparations almost five months in advance," confesses Mr. Mishra, chairman of the mela. However, all the efforts were rewarded with a turnout of visitors in record-breaking numbers.

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The aesthetic visual experience was complemented by acoustic marvels. Lit up by lights and hundreds of lamps along the roads and tree branches, Natyashala, an open air theater, throbbed with folk dances and musical evenings. Lavani dance, originating from the 18th and 19th centuries, was performed to entertain visitors. Attractive women draped in nine-yard saris gyrated to the pulsating beat of traditional music and dholak. Koli, a dance of courtship set against the theme of fishing and the sea, was also performed by the fisher folk of Maharashtra.

Apart from shopping, the alluring aroma of traditional food attracted the national and global visitor alike. One could get an unparalleled dining experience at various food stalls. Taste buds were more than gratified at a one stop place where the variety of cuisine ranged from Kashmir's Rista to Kerala's Dosa and Gujarat's Undhiyu to Bengal's Rosogulla. To promote the fair, the authorities take all measures to curtail the profit motive. "Craft being a heritage, we have taken care not to commercialize it," notes Sanjay Kothari, vice chairman of the Tourism Corporation. "So there are no banners or advertisements whatsoever."

BY SUSMITA GHOSH


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