Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Rustic at its best

Spring is yet to arrive, but winter already seems far behind. The mellow glowing sun feels balmy. The sunshine has already tamed the chill in the air, at least during the day.
This is perhaps the best time to be in Indian capital Delhi, which will soon be scorching in temperature soaring up to 45 degrees Celsius or even more.

To make the most of it, I set out on a pleasant breezy Tuesday afternoon to visit an ongoing textile and handicraft festival at Surajkund in Faridabad, a satellite town of Delhi.
The annual festival, which began on February 1, is one of the biggest events in India to celebrate rural craftsmanship. Hundreds of artisans from the length and breadth of the country come to showcase their finest products—handloom textile, dress material, pottery, paintings, leather goods, stone and wooden sculptures, jewlleries, you name it.
Each line of products is ethnic and rural in characteristic. It’s a hallmark of the place it belongs to and it’s unique of the artisan who produces it.
Welcome to the 24th Surajkund Crafts Mela (fair) that will run till February 15.
The setting is rustic, dotted with mud-huts and punctuated by trees at the rocky Aravali foothills. Colourful festoons fluttering in the breeze are fanned by swaying wild and eucalyptus trees. As you walk down to see various stalls displaying the best of items, vibrant folk music and a heavy aroma of cuisines set the mood—the feeling of being in countryside away from maddening mechanical urban life.
Over 400 Indian artisans, including many award winners, from 23 states have brought their finest silk and cotton handloom textile and handicrafts to this internationally acclaimed festival.
It’s simply bewildering to see so many varieties of art and craft together at one place. One day is just not enough to get the feel of all the display items.
From Sambalpur cotton handloom saris of Orissa, silk handloom saris and dress material of Karnataka, kantha saris of West Bengal, goat leather lampshades, wall hangings and stone and wooden sculptures of Andhra Pradesh and bamboo items of north-eastern states to silken carpets of Kashmir, all is available here under one roof.
But the central theme this year is Rajasthan state. So expect to get a magical glimpse of the desert state best known for its lively culture. As you enter the Rajasthan enclosure, the air resonates with popular Rajasthani folk songs accompanied by fast drum beats.
While here, you may find yourself swaying and tapping your feet along with folk artistes performing dance or singing songs.

You will see folk artistes doing kalbelia dance and at some distance puppeteers putting up shows and at the far end of the enclosure acrobats performing some dare-devil acts or doing balancing acts on a rope.
All the performances attract enthusiastic crowds.
If you want to shop, you can lay your hands on famous blue pottery of Jaipur; ‘lakh’ and pearl jewlleries, which is something unique to the state; puppets; ‘bandhej’ (tie and dye) fabric; rugs; Rajasthani quilts and bed covers or traditional leather Mojri juttis (shoes).
Award winning Nazeer Muhammed Usman ji at the ‘Bandhej’ stall is coming here after a decade. He is happy with his decision to participate in the fair.
“We are getting a good response. Today is just the second day of the fair and we hope the sale will pick up in the coming days,” said Usman ji who has all the way from Jodhpur.
A giant shoe at the 'mojri jutti' stall is another attraction. “It took us six months to make this shoe. We have all handmade leather shoes for ladies. All of them are made by a group of five workers in Jodhpur,” says Pukhraj at the stall, adding that it usually takes a day to make a pair of shoes.”
If you have had enough of entertainment and shopping then trying out Rajasthani cuisine would perhaps complete the round of getting a full taste of the state.
The fair not only encourages craftsmen and gives them a chance to sell their products but also promotes tourism. Last year, about 700,000 people walked through the gates and this year the number is expected to go higher as the festival has got a global tinge.
Countries like Egypt, Thailand, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Bhutan and Nepal have put up their stalls and showcasing the best of their art, craft and heritage. A Sri Lankan team is especially here to learn how to organise such a fair of this level to promote artisans and their craft back home.
As the days progress, more and more people will get to see the incredible rural India at its best.

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