There is no doubt that the Surajkund International Crafts Fair has assumed a critical role in patronising artisans, not only in India but the world over. It is also an opportunity for artisans to circumnavigate intermediaries and interact with a more global audience, in the process broadening their own perspective. The 33rd edition of the Fair has kick-started with much larger participation, drawing artisans from around 30 countries, with Thailand as the partner nation. The event will conclude on 17th February. A report:
Surajkund Crafts Mela has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1987. It started as an idea, conceptualised, and put in motion by the then secretary tourism S K Misra and has since grown into a significant patron of arts and crafts in India. The 33rd edition of International Crafts Fair has commenced with much aplomb. This edition is expected to feature participation from around 30 countries, with a much grander representation from Southeast Asian nations. Thailand has a huge contingent and is also the international partner nation for this year’s edition. On the domestic front, Maharashtra Tourism Department has partnered the festival as the ‘Theme State.’ The inauguration announcement also saw a cultural program by Marathi artists. A replica of the Raigarh Fort has also been set up which overlooks the exhibition area.
Yogendra Tripathi, Secretary Tourism; Vishal Dev, MD, Haryana Tourism Development Corporation; Vijai Vardhan, Vice Chairman, Surajkund Mela Authority and Additional Chief Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Government of Haryana; K. Tharadol Thongruang, Minister Counsel Commercial from the Royal Thai embassy; Vinita Vaid Singhal, Principal Secretary Tourism, Government of Maharashtra, among others were present at the inauguration announcement ceremony.
Secretary Tourism Yogendra Tripathi said that such initiatives had a positive role in improving the tourism prospects in the country and government of India and ministry of tourism were “proud” to be associated with the Mela. He argued that the visitor was on the lookout for an immersive experience and while monuments were an important aspect of that experience, cultural heritage, arts and crafts were equally important aspects of that immersive experience. “We feel happy that it has evolved so beautifully and to such a large extent,” he said. It was one of the most important international crafts mela in the country, he said.
Vijai Vardhan shared how the initiative turned out to be a major patron of art, informing that the Fair provided an enabling environment to artisans by giving them a free-of-cost boarding and lodging. The setup had enabled a direct interface between buyers and sellers, eliminating intermediaries, thereby enabling artisans to demand a much better price of the product, he shared with the gathering. He also added that repeat and bulk orders from sellers had ensured business prospects for many months for several artisans.
He also recounted the arduous journey of the Fair, from an idea to a full-blown undertaking, sharing that while the first edition had turned out to be a modest affair with only 40-odd participants, the idea behind the initiative was to “celebrate India’s finest cultural heritage.” “No other nation in the world has such a diversity in arts and crafts,” he noted. This year’s edition was a particularly successful undertaking, with nations from as far away as the African continent and Europe being a part of the initiative, he added. Heaping high praise on Thailand, he commented that Thai artisans had a certain “dexterity and finesse” and commended the Thai government for sending in a large contingent at the Fair.
On the road ahead, he revealed that the top echelons of the Haryana state administration, namely the chief minister and tourism minister, were keen on ramping up cooperation between Haryana and Maharashtra. “There is a shared past,” he said, evoking the 18th century days when Panipat witnessed a major battle between Ahmed Shah Abdali and the great Maratha army.
Maharashtra had much going for itself and its tagline: “Maharashtra Unlimited” was an apt summation of its varied offerings, stressed Vinita Vaid Singhal, Principal Secretary Tourism, Government of Maharashtra. She outlined the state’s offerings, insisting that the larger bouquet of tourism offerings, from the Western Ghats to beaches, forts to Tiger reserves to Bollywood, was unmatched and “an experience” worth a visit. She noted that the Fair was an opportunity to sample what was on offer for the discerning tourists.
For the uninitiated, the Fair is jointly hosted by the Surajkund Mela Authority and Haryana Tourism Department, in collaboration with the Union Ministries of Tourism, Textiles, Culture, External Affairs and Government of Haryana. Ticket prices have not been increased, despite the escalated cost of hosting the fair. The decision to not increase the ticket cost was backed by Yogendra Tripathi, secretary tourism.