Saturday, February 10, 2007


A village goes global

For a fortnight in February, Surajkund becomes the address of master craftsmen from rural India. This year the added attraction has been the participation of Thailand as well as SAARC countries. Surajkund Mela is already a global affair attracting foreign tourists, says Geetanjali Gayatri, but there’s more on the anvil. Haryana’s crafts bazaar is readying to spread its wings abroad, with Qatar as its first halt.

A replica of the Charminar at the entrance of the mela ground
A replica of the Charminar at the entrance of the mela ground.

Riding high on the crest of winter, a vibrant spring breezes in to paint Surajkund in the united colours of diversity.

Come February and rural India comes together at this village in Haryana’s Faridabad district to celebrate traditional crafts and skills of its artisans and craftsmen.

Steeped in tradition and embodying the spirit of celebration, the annual Surajkund Mela, held from February 1 to 15 every year, unveils the faceless artists behind the exquisite crafts.

As rural India basks in the warmth of admiration, the venue — some 8 km from South Delhi — comes to life with the hustle and bustle of enthusiastic shoppers, the resonating rhythms of folk theatre, the ballads of singing minstrels along with the most delightful handicraft collection from all over the country.

Holding endless fascination for art connoisseurs and distinctive shoppers, the mela is a canvas with the colours of the rainbow splashed against a skyline dotted with thatched roof platforms especially created to reflect the ambience of rural India where the art works thrive and bloom.

How it all began

Out of the dust of Delhi was born India’s celebrated craftsmela, the Surajkund Crafts Mela, which began in 1987 though it took off as a platform for local artists and craftsmen in 1981. From being a diversion for the denizens of Delhi, it has gradually made its way up the ladder to become an event that attracts global attention.

The sun pool from which Surajkund derives its name.
The sun pool from which Surajkund derives its name.

Surajkund derives its name from an ancient amphitheatre, the sun pool, which dates back to the 10th Century. This was the time when tribal chieftains were gaining supremacy. One clan that stood out in the chronicles of history was that of the Tomars, who were sun worshippers.

Fascinated by this terrain, Raja Suraj Pal, one of the chieftains, chose to build a sun temple and a sun pool here. But times changed, and the clan vanished. The temple was in ruins. But, the amphitheatre sun pool continues to stand even today. It is after this sun pool that the complex came to be christened Surajkund.

The fact that Surajkund lay close to Delhi but remained unaffected by urban intrusions was yet another dimension that attracted the tourism organisation of the state. It covers 40 hectares. While providing urban attractions for the holiday-maker, it retains its suburban serenity.

What’s new this year

Crafts from Thailand and SAARC countries
were a big draw

  • Showcasing the crafts of more than 300 national and state awardees

  • Colourful crafts from SAARC nations and Thailand

  • Exporters-craftspersons interaction meet

  • The aroma of traditional foods, especially Hyderabadi food and cuisine from Thailand

  • Children’s park with camel safari

  • Kite-flying competition

  • Painting competition to commemorate 2550th year of Mahaparnirvana of Lord Buddha.

  • Designers workshop to guide the craftsmen in product enhancement.

  • Vivacious folk dances and theatre activities at the open-air theatre, Natyashala every evening. This year’s cultural programme includes Tribhangi Dance of South Africa.

As folk artists sway to the sound of beating drums and wafting notes of melodious music, the organisers, Surajkund Mela Authority comprising the Union Ministry of Tourism and Textiles and Haryana Tourism, have tried to capture the nuances of village life down to the minutest details — man with a bioscope, a bullock cart, a village well, and other such rural images are aesthetically placed around thatched huts with mud walls carrying geometrical motifs.

Andhra Pradesh has been chosen as this year’s theme state. And, standing up for the state and greeting the visitors is a scaled-down replica of the majestic Charminar.

The dances by colourfully dressed performers from Andhra Pradesh are a visual treat as musical notes lend a zing to the air. Brij ki Holi from Mathura, Bhanchari’s nagara shows, Rajasthan’s kalbelia-sapera, Punjab’s high-spirited giddha, Haryana’s ragini together whip up magic.

Surajkund is virtually an oasis in a desert, away from the maddening crowds of the city with nothing but a shooting range as its neighbour. On display is quite an assortment — from the Phulkari of Punjab to the Kanjivarams and Dharmavarams of South India, the cottons of West Bengal and Ikkat of Orrisa to the delicate lacework from Goa and Kerala, Banjara and Banni embroidery of Gujarat and Rajasthan to the Kalamkari and Madhubani paintings of Andhra, Karnataka and Bihar, sea shell decorations, glittering brassware, tempting pearls et al.

Comprising the longest ever list of national awardees, 320 this year, the mela, which has something to suit every pocket and please visitors of all age groups, has transformed this village in the boondocks of Haryana into a tourist-haven.

This year an added attraction has been the participation of Thailand besides representatives of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), putting Surajkund on the international map.

Silver jewellery, artificial flowers, perfumed candles, handcrafted jewellery and stone-studded figurines are among the items on display from Thailand, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. The organisers hope to rope in greater foreign participation in the coming years.

Kwanjit Phansomboon from Thailand says, "This is the first time my country has come to this mela. We have had a lot of sales on the first day and the young in particular are interested. While I have brought stone-silver jewellery this time round, this visit is essentially to gauge what the visitors are interested in."

While the stalls of the SAARC countries stand out distinctly given the trendy wares on offer, the Indian stalls too look attractive with their traditional and ethnic displays. While Niyaz Ahmad’s rich Banarasi sarees adorn one hut, Gopal Prasad’s miniature painting on mustard seeds has drawn big crowds.

A little anxious, Manjuben Manubhai Chiara has a tough time dealing with customers. The mela is her maiden venture outside her home state and she has practically no experience in business. "My ajrakh print sarees have invited a lot of attention. I have had a regular flow of customers but they haggle too much. They don’t realise that we are only charging them for the time we have spent to make each of our pieces. Since this is my first attempt at doing business on such a large scale, I am a little nervous," she admits.

Even as the marble inlay work and intricate wood work have you under a spell, the aroma of Hyderabadi biryani, ethnic Punjabi cuisine, spicy Rajasthani food et all fills the air. The mela also offers a mini food festival of sorts. Some of the popular food traditions arrive from all over to tickle the palate.

While the better part of the food court is an elaborate spread of pulihora, dum biryani, mirchi bhajji from Andhra, the Thai cuisine with its novel eats, Thai corn cake and grilled satay, has caught the fancy of many a visitor at the mela. From rajmah-chawal and kadi-chawal, which seemed the hot favorites, to momos and chowmein, the food choice, too, is endless.

"The idea of hosting the mela is to recreate a pristine rural ambience for foreign and domestic tourists, educate the patrons of arts and crafts on the skills involved in art creation, to introduce crafts and craftsmen directly to the buyers and to identify, nurture and preserve the languishing crafts of the country," says MD, Tourism, Keshni Anand Arora.

For the shoppers, it can’t get any better with Surajkund mela having some of the best bargains to offer. You can shop till you drop. And, if shopping is not your cup of tea, there’s a lot more the mela offers in terms of theatre, folk dances and musical evenings. The natyashala and the chaupals are forever pulsating as dancers transport the visitors to their home states.

The mela provides a rural setting with mud-baked hutments
The mela provides a rural setting with mud-baked hutments

Exquisite craftsmanship on display at Surajkund
Exquisite craftsmanship on display at Surajkund

Under the supervision of Minister of Tourism, Haryana, Kiran Chaudhary, the Surajkund mela is all ready to set foot on foreign soil. Another feather in Haryana’s cap, this opportunity has been extended by the Hashan Ali Hussain Al-Nimah, Cultural Advisor to the Amir of Qatar, who visited the mela recently.

"Haryana’s coveted crafts bazaar will now be held at Qatar. It can’t get any bigger than this. We are going to have a painting workshop on Lord Buddha to commemorate the 2550th anniversary of Mahaprinirvana of Lord Buddha. The mela has become a global affair attracting foreign and Indian tourists. In fact, the Surajkund mela is the best way to give exposure to our artisans. They come from varied backgrounds and live here as one. The mela gives the visitors a peek into the profile of rural India. With this offer of hosting the mela on similar lines in Qatar, India is bound to become the flavour of the world in the coming times," she stated.

On the cards, at Surjakund, is a drive-in theatre. "We want to make Surajkund happening all through the year. What better way than making a drive-in theatre where people can watch movies sitting in their own cars. Also, a plan to introduce eco adventure is also being worked out," Chaudhary says.

After a day of fun, food, frolic and shopping at one go, as the sun goes down in the distance, the sound of music and drums begins to peter off as the curtain falls for the day. You leave the place believing that the magic of each craft is hidden in the fingers of the craftsmen. Their joy in creating a masterpiece, and skill in perfecting the ancient rhythms of rural existence is spellbinding.