22 February 2014

28th Surajkund Crafts Fair, Faridabad


After staying in Haryana for almost 22 years, I finally visited Surajkund crafts fair – that iconic Mecca of unparalleled art, captivating handicrafts, vibrant hued textiles, unsurpassable heritage, striking paintings and mouthwatering food that comes alive annually every spring in the rocky outcrops designated as Aravali Hills at the intersection of state boundaries of Haryana and Delhi. Set opposite the ancient Surajkund water reservoir (now dry), that was a site for both religious congregations and monarchic attempts at achieving immortality through massive architecture, in a super-vast multileveled arena conceived and built for the very purpose of hosting it, the annual occurrence draws hundreds of sculptors, weavers, artists, painters, merchants and cooks, the last being not so skilled as the rest, and millions of visitors and patrons. The arena – barren rocky outcrop flanked as far as one can see with stunted, thorny trees interspersed by wide pathways and majestic gateways designed after various ancient temples and tribal constructions throughout the country – becomes a whirlwind of colors, textures and faces.


Welcome to Surajkund!


The international fair, held every year from February 1-15 and organized by the Indian government’s Department of Tourism (Ministry of Culture and Tourism) in collaboration with Haryana Tourism, aims to depict the uniquely vast diversity of Indian art forms and heritage in a landscaped visibly rural setting besides providing a platform to select artists and craftsmen, distinguished and often awarded for their ingenious skill and artistic innovation, to interact with patrons and sell their wares from the over seven hundred hut-like stalls in the premises without any middlemen – it is a much grander, more sophisticated and more amplified version of the Dilli Haat which does the same, but in much smaller premises, throughout the year (refer Pixelated Memories - Dilli Haat). For security reasons, public transport like autos and buses have to drop visitors considerably away from the arena and the parking is located even further away (thankfully we had access to the VIP parking!) – yet if the continuous crowds consisting both Indian and foreign tourists and numbering in hundreds moving to and fro between the fair grounds and the drop point are any proof, the charm of the fair refuses to thin out during its entire duration and the merchandise never ceases to attract and amaze even more visitors!


Arts, handicrafts, food, culture and photography!


The place of honor is of course Haryana’s, since the state hosts the event every year, and many of the dance and cultural performances draw from the state’s impeccable tastes and interesting history, but alongside another state and a foreign country are designated as a unique theme state and partner country respectively for the cultural festival and requested to send in contingents of artists and craftsmen to showcase their skill and artistic traditions – this year, the positions were accorded to Goa and Sri Lanka and apart from Haryanvi dancers and performers, there were many hailing from the theme lands. Sri Lankan flags fluttered jovially as they surmounted the numerous vibrantly painted makeshift gateways lining the arena pathways as representative of Sri Lankan art and culture while posters and thick placards embossed with colorful wavy flourishes and “Go Goa” tourism campaigns identified the state’s enviable position and presence in this year’s celebration of art and crafts.


A taste of Goa in Haryana


For sale were literally thousands of exquisite items – colorful textiles originating from different Indian states, sculptures crafted out of stone and clay and painted brilliantly or inlaid very dexterously with colorful stones, unparalleled brass work, intricately carved woodwork and furniture still smelling of fresh varnish, cottage industry craftsmanship items like terracotta idols, paper mache stuff, sea shell decorative items and curtains, tribal masks and statues of pagan deities, ornaments and jewelry, Rajasthani puppets in myriads of designs and sartorial choices, glasswork lamps and ornamental accessories like kitchenware and vases, paintings sketched on cloth and paper and set in large wooden frames, beautiful idols of elephants, camels and birds adorned with glittering beads and shimmering sparkles – I cannot even begin to describe the variety of items for sale since it is so very vast – the photographer in me went crazy experiencing this delightful extravaganza of colors and compositions. The sun might have been shining brilliantly and forcing most visitors to seek refuge under the makeshift shops and counters, but not me! No no, I clicked to my heart’s delight and it seems like I shall be hopping to the fair again and again in the coming few years to click at the numerous sights and the heartwarming little sculptures and patterns!


Elephants!


And if that is not enough, the global affair seems to be a natural draw for circus entertainers and joy ride installations – with so many visitors around, why should they miss their chance to make a few extra bucks – in a considerably lower setting than the rest of the arena are set numerous rides, from the massive Columbus’ ship executing pendulum movements on their levers and the scarily thrilling Ferris wheels, to the small merry go rounds and hopping frog rides meant for the little visitors, the fair has it all. The “Well of Death” – where cars and motorcycles are driven by bravehearts on the vertical walls of a huge cylinder while from the top stunned onlookers gaze with their jaws dropping wide and their eyes shining with excitement – seems to be amongst the most famous attractions, given the nearly thousand-strong crowd teeming with amazement surrounding the area. My parents tell me that I’ve been to the fair once when I was still a toddler, I do not remember anything else except glimpses from the “Well of Death” that I enjoyed while being perched upon my father’s shoulders – of course I cannot place the glimpses in a setting or another fair, and have to take my parents’ words that it must be Surajkund. 


This isn't even a miniscule fraction of the crowd.


At sudden instants and without any premonitions, the arena would come alive with the sounds of traditional folk songs and the beat of drums and the crowds would rush towards the stages set for the dancers who would perform very short lived sequences and plays before heading back to their designated seats – given the meager size and height of the stages and the enormity of the crowd, very few actually are able to see, leave aside click, the performances, and sad to report I was never once amongst those happy few even though I stayed at the fair for nearly an entire day. Throughout the arena are thrown in numerous artists working on the go – calligraphists skilled in such nimble work that they can pen entire texts intricately on a single grain of rice and willing to exquisitely illustrate one’s name on the same, fine sketch artists, painters and henna artists; besides these there are the usual vendors offering lemon sodas, ice creams, cold drinks and candy floss.


Another elephant


Located amidst the usual art and craft counters are numerous stalls stocking pickles of scores of different types fermented in dozens of oil and spices preparations, teas and coffees of numerous origins and aromas, and “churans” (sweet and spicy preparations composed of several natural products like spices, seeds and flavors, meant to aid digestion and bowel movements). Every state also sets up a food stall that introduces visitors to the cuisine of the state and serves up a variety of local dishes – I tried the Goan pork curry served with bread and shredded onions – in my opinion, very overpriced for the quantity I received and not at all reminiscent of the delicious pork dishes I’ve had – in fact, it rather tasted of eggplant curry more than pork! But disappointment is usually what you savor when you go out on a limb to try another state’s renowned cuisine in your own state. 


Try some sweets


Following lunch, I bought a number of items to adorn my room with besides again embarking on a clicking spree. Before heading back home, don’t forget to visit the tourism and information kiosks set up by various states in the permanent chambers in a corner of the arena – besides looking at the numerous huge information panels and posters, one can also collect brochures detailing the state’s cultural and tourism highlights, cuisine, shopping details and historic legends. Done with the fair, I had really wanted to visit the Surajkund reservoir immediately opposite the entrance gate but half of the massive crowd, perhaps tempted by the sight of chiseled stone steps on which one can rest their tired ass – tired is what you are after spending a day at this cultural fiesta – had had that same idea much before me and the area was so stuffed with people that the lone guard on duty was facing trouble ushering them in. I decided not to increase his already disproportionate trouble, and though I was disappointed as I always am when I see a monument but have to leave without exploring and photographing it, I was happy too since I could go home earlier and dive into the hundreds of photos I clicked and write about this aspect of the city. Satisfied, now I am.


An artist from Rajasthan


How to reach: Surajkund is located in Faridabad, approximately 8 km from south Delhi. Interstate buses and autos ply along the arterial Mathura Road throughout the day - get down at Badhkal and from there take an auto going to Surajkund fair (they only go there while the fair is on). Alternately, if driving from Delhi, one can also access Surajkund from near Tughlaqabad and past the Karni Singh Shooting Range.
Entrance fees: Rs 70/person (Rs 35 for senior citizens and students upon showing photo ID card)
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 3 hrs
Related post - Pixelated Memories - Dilli Haat
Suggested reading - 

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