Saturday, February 13, 2010

Surajkund Mela – The Craft and cultural Extravaganza

The Suraj Kund crafts Mela or Bazaar or Fair showcases the abundant wealth of Indian crafts – handloom textiles and handicrafts. It is a craft lover’s delight. An annual event, Suraj kund Mela is held from February 1st to 15th of every year. It is awaited eagerly by hundreds of die-hard faithfuls for it brings some of the finest in Indian crafts under one roof. The Suraj kund Mela which started 1981, thanks to Harayana Tourism efforts, has simply grown from year to year. Each year is welcomed with a theme state which also constructs a theme gate encompassing the cultural history of the place. This year, 2010 theme state was Rajasthan and the theme gate inspired from the Shekhawati region of Shekhawati paintings. Yes, the colour and vigour was intact. Since the last few years, five – six years, foreign craft groups have been invited to form international partners. This year’s partner state was Tajikistan showcasing its rich embroidery, appliqué and more. Of course, the Egypt, Afghanistan, SAARC countries – Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka were present apart from Thailand. It was Egypt last year. Silver from Egypt (it is beautiful), Pashmina and Rudraksha beads from Nepal, intricate embroideries and antique panels from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan adds to the colourful fervour.

The fair is spread on one side of the Suraj Kund, a manmade reservoir as an ode to the Sun God, constructed in the 10th century. The fair follows the natural contours of the land, the rocky patches, the hills and low land amidst trees makes it perfect setting. The thatched huts where the craftsmen are housed adds to the Bazaar, Mela ambience. The joy rides, camel rides at the entrance, the Mela is complete. It is a perfect picnic spot, but with so many gorgeous offering, it boils down to a shopping spree. You name the craft it is present – bell metal crafts, tribal crafts, wood, embroidery, woven fabrics, vintage pieces, furniture, pottery, silver crafts, jewellery, sandalwood…. It is however with the crafts on display and sale that the Mela scores. The invitees are well known craftsmen – National Award winners, Master Craftsmen, State Award Winners, Shilp Gurus, Merit certificate holders, NGOs…so the craft available is genuine and from crafts persons directly. The quality of craftsmen this year was excellent though in some years it has been indifferent. The authorities do try out novel placements to see that all crafts are covered, though at times there is an influx from one state to the detriment of the other. The entire Mela ground is dotted with Orissa appliqué umbrellas, lamp shades, huge carved statues. The Chattisgarh partner state theme had excelled at offering tribal handicrafts in the past. The colourful drummers, players of traditional music instruments (ravana tarang from Rajasthan this year), the puppeteers (Rajasthan is omnipresent each year!), snake charmers with their repertoire add to the ambience.

The food is again delicious and a separate enclosure food court is exquisite. It offers a host of Indian, Continental and even food from the participating countries. It is possible to see both common and rare crafts at the Mela.

Location - At the historic Surajkund a reservoir built in the 10th century by Suraj Pal of Tomar dynasty. A worshipper of the Sun God, a temple was also built on its bank. It is located amidst the Aravalli Hills and a manmade lake. It is roughly 8 – 9 kms from South Delhi. The drive from Alaknanda or Tughlakabad Institutional Area is beautiful, there is the backdrop of the Tughalakabad Fort for company, some beautiful minarets. One turns in right into the road leading to the Asola Sanctuary and the shooting range. The drive is beautiful with khikar jungle, earlier one could spot peacocks or the elusive fox on the roads, now it is only the monkeys. The drive is nice as it meanders into a curved slop pattern. One enters Haryana to be greeted by the five stars – Claridges and Charmwood high rise apartment. Opposite of which is the Mela.

Timing – Held from February 1st to the 15th of every year. Morning 9:30 to evening 7:30 pm. Cost of the Ticket – Rs. 50/- per head, children below 5 years allowed free. Parking is available in front of the area and the walk from the Parking lot to the Mela is a HUGE trudge and not in the least enjoyable. Despite the high parking rates, Rs. 50 this year, the parking lot leaves a lot to be desired. It is still mud tracks which invariably gets slushy with rains.

Highlight - Most of the cultural events are held in the evening. When the place comes alive with sounds of the instruments and is beautifully lit. Yes, it rains in Delhi during this time and a few days are invariably lost due to it. There is no real shelter when caught in the rain.

Insider Tip - I have got to see some of the finest Cherial paintings, silver filigree, South Indian bronzes, Chitrakathi paintings, Vyanj puppets, Patola sarees, Paithani sarees, antique / vintage Kutchi embroidery.…The variety is mindboggling and sometimes difficult to cover the entire stretch in a day. During recent times though given the profile of visitors and it being a tourist destination, the prices has shot up and it has become quite expensive. Potential to bargain has come down.
For food, the Institute of Hotel Management, Faridabad formerly called Food craft Institute puts up their stall offering Chana bhatura, Tikki, Samosa, Tandoori roti, thalis…. Which is pretty good as it is made by the students and the stall is also handled by them. Of course, the traditional state cuisine is also available as also pizzas, Thalis and more….

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