Taj Mahotsav: Taking account of the legacy of Taj Mahotsav built over 25 years of its existence.
In a religion dominated society like India, it is very difficult for non-religious traditions to deepen their roots. Yet with more urbanisation and modernisation, different cities are trying to add to their cultural capital by organising literary, theatre, music and other cultural festivals. After bigger cities, smaller cities have also joined this trend. For instance this year itself Agra has hosted the third edition of Taj Literature Festival after a two year interlude. Clearly it was difficult for the organisers of this festival to continue this event uninterruptedly over the years, but managed to resume it.
The city however has another festival to its credit; one which celebrated its 25th anniversary of existence this year and through the years has only grown in stature and scope- the Taj Mahotsav. In 25 years it has grown from a small exhibition fair held at a single venue-Shilpgram, 500 meters away from Taj Mahal to a celebration of sorts for the entire city, with theatre, recitals, exhibitions, seminars and much more. Spread across some of the prominent locations of the city such as Paliwal Park (a huge, dense park located right in the centre of the city), Sursadan (a lush auditorium), Sadar Market (the most lavish market in the cantonment area of the city) and also in decades old educational institutions, the festival has transcended its touristy image and become a tradition in which people of the city can also partake.
The handicraft fair that has been one constant since the beginning of the festival continues to thrive with handicraft makers from all over the country travelling long distances to be here. After Surajkund mela (fair) most of these small and medium scale handicraft makers travel to Agra to exhibit their crafts and make a sale. The range of products is diverse and the craftspersonship is exquisite.
But more than anything else it is the melting pot nature of the fair that attracts the patrons of the festival. Just this year one could meet a cotton garments seller from Bihar, a yak woollen clothes seller from Laddakh, a chikankari garment vendor from Lucknow, woollen clothes vendor from Kashmir and a used books’ trader from Palika Bazaar, Delhi, all in one place. In other words it’s not just the products from all over the country that brings people here but also the experience of meeting people from different places, exchanging stories and building relationships.
|Cotton Garments Stall at Shilpgram. (From Darbangha, Bihar)|
|Lamu from Laddakh has for the first time made it to Taj Mahotsav with her woolen range of products.|
|A regular stall at Taj Mahotsav, from Lucknow featuring Chinkankari work on cotton garments.|
|A new addition this time was the used books’ stall from Palika Bazaar, New Delhi which sold books by kilos.|
Then there is also the attraction of witnessing some exquisite performances from some of the most celebrated artists in the country that is an attraction. Although this year it was mostly mainstream cinema artists such as playback singers and comedians who enraptured local audiences, over the years one has had the pleasure to listen to spellbinding performances from artists like Pandit Jasraj at the open air theatre in the Shilpgram and Parvin Sultana at the Diwan-e-Aam at Agra Fort.
But the festival also gives some of the local talents, a platform to showcase their talents. Children from schools, young adults from colleges and artists from the city in general get a chance to perform at local venues and get discovered by the local art patrons. One such discovery was the Ranglok Sanskritik Sansthan (a local theatre group) which over the years has consistently delivered some exquisite performances and kept the theatre tradition alive in the city.
The festival this year was such a huge success that it has been officially extended for three more days. Even on the second last day, Shilpgram was flooded with people even at the wee hours of the evening. From huge lines at entry gates to crowds thronging across the entire venue, to hoards of people crowding at the open air theatre to witness comic shenanigans of artists such as Raju Shrivastava and others, it was clear that the festival was indeed a success. And for a small city the fact that the food joints were open and busy right up till midnight hours, was a big deal. In present times when reclaiming the night for families as well as women alone has been acknowledged as a big social challenge, this is no small feat to achieve.
|Food stalls from different cities were open late till midnight with foodies thronging them all throughout.|
Another important fact is that this is a state sponsored event. For the successive governments to recognise the importance of this festival for over two decades and continuing this tradition and investing time and money to make it bigger and better in times when the slogans of “limited government” are all the rage in a neo-liberal environment, shows that there is still hope for nurturing art, culture and interests of small scale artisans and handicraft workers. Yet there are news doing the rounds that Shilpgram would be renovated in the coming years and perhaps Taj Mahotsav will be shifted to some other location. Seeing how eagerly the people of Agra await this festival and how huge a turnout is witnessed from all sections of society here, it could be a tough act to follow if at all these plans materialise.