The ancient city of Varanasi plays host to one of the most enigmatic festivals in the country, which also happens to be a five-day cultural tourism extravaganza – the Ganga Mahotsav. Organised by the Department of Tourism, Uttar Pradesh. The highlights of Ganga Mahotsav are the cultural programmes that draw visitors from India and overseas. The festivities are focused on showcasing the traditional music forms in the country, with performances by some of the finest exponents of their craft.
In many ways Varanasi is the cultural capital of India, and no other event symbolises this best than the Ganga Mahotsav. The festival was started in 1994, and in the last two decades has generated a lot of interest not only across the country but also overseas. The festival has also attracted the attention of global electronic media because of its unique sights and sounds. It is promoted as a multi-faceted tourism product that is a perfect platform for showcasing the culture and art of India before the global community. The festival begins on ‘Prabodhini Ekaadashi’ of ‘Kartik’ month in the Hindu lunar calendar and ends with the celebration of lights – ‘Dev Deepawali’ on the full-moon day of Kartik Poonima. Millions of tourists, both foreign and domestic, throng on the Ghaats (riverfronts) to witness Dev Deepawali- the floating of the diyas or earthen lamps in a chain on the waters, lit by the devotees. The sight of the diyas floating down the river on the full moon night of Kartik is a mystical spectacle.
Though Varanasi lost its most famous son, Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan, Ganga Mahotsav celebrates every year performances by India’s other stalwarts in the field of music. The year 2013 saw performances by – Ramashankar (Varanasi) Shehnai recital; Pt Ronu Majumdar (Mumbai) and Padmashri Dr Kadri Gopalnath (Chennai) duet-Flute and saxophone; Kailash Kher (Mumbai) Sufi vocal; Pt Ajay Pohankar (Mumbai) classical vocal; Padma Vibhushan Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia – flute recital; Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan – Sarod recital; Padmashri Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (Jaipur) and Magniyar (Rajasthan) Duet (Desert Slide) – Mohan Veena and Rajasthani Folk Art; Nakshyatra Gurukul (Bhuvneshwar) Goti Pua (folk dance Odisha); Abhay Rustum Sopori (New Delhi) – Santoor recital; Padmashri Swami GCD Bharti (New Delhi) – Kabir Gayan; Padmashri Shovana Narayan and group – Kathak ballet.
Ganga Mahotsav also offers a great platform to big and small craftsmen from across the country to exhibit and market their products. A 10-days National Craft Fair is organised in which artisans from more than 20 states of India participate to showcase their intricate handcrafted items. The Shilp Mela is an effort to not only showcase many of the crafts, but is also an important initiative to ensure the survival of the crafts that are almost at the brink of extinction.
Ganga Mahotsav is organised every year in the month of October – November. In an effort to simultaneously promote cultural tourism and project a cultural image of the state, a calendar of circuit-centric festivals have been chalked out by UP Tourism. The important fairs and festivals lined up are Ganga Mahotsav in Varanasi, Lucknow Mahotsav, Buddha Mahotsav to be held in Sarnath, Kushinagar and Kapilavastu and Taj Mahotsav in Agra.