A cultural kaleidoscope
The fairs and festivals of India are a kaleidoscope of her diverse socio-cultural legacy. Celebrated with great fervour across the country, these events are a draw for not just domestic tourists across all spectrum, but are also promoted among foreign tourists to give them an immersive experience of the land
Almost all Indian states and their official tourism board websites have an extensive list of fairs, festivals, cultural events for attracting tourists – from Pongal, Onam, Diwali, Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja and Holi to Kumbh Mela and Pushkar Fair, all occupy an important position in the tourism itinerary. Even a state like Nagaland has been successful in promoting the Hornbill Festival for attracting international visitors, while the Hemis Festival in Ladakh has also effectively positioned itself on the tourist map.
The ministry of tourism also extends financial assistance to the state governments and Union Territory administrations for organising fairs, festivals and other tourism related events which have the potential of promoting tourism to and within the country. The states on their part have become proactive. Surajkund Crafts Fair, Elephanta Music Festival, Khajuraho Festival, Konark Festival, Mamallapuram Festival are just some of the examples of state tourism boards creating fests which make a perfect blend of events and culture as a showcase. While Gujarat promotes its Kites Festival and Rann Utsav, Rajasthan has been promoting Pushkar Fair and the Desert Festival as big draws for foreign arrivals since the past decade or so.
West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC), the tourism arm of the West Bengal Government recently launched many ‘Puja Parikrama’ package tours to lure domestic and foreign tourists to the state. Durga Pujas, the biggest festival in this part of the country is a four-day melange of fun and devotion bringing everything else in the entire state to a standstill. Mamata Banerjee, the state chief minister has given much importance on hardselling Durga Pujas, the biggest festival of the state among domestic and international tourists. Rajat Basu, managing director, WBTDC, says, “This year the entire ‘Puja Parikrama’ was divided into two segments, the first set of packages took the revellers round the major community and family Pujas in the city and the other took the tourists to the districts. WBTDC had organised seven tour packages in Kolkata and five packages in the districts.” The packages included visits to major community Puja pandals in the north and southern part of the city and those of the century-old pujas organised by renowned families of Kolkata. Another package, covered the neighbouring districts of Hooghly, Burdwan and Murshidabad districts.
For the first time this year, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) introduced special Mumbai Ganeshotsav Darshan package tour, an initiative in association with the Ganesh Pandals to increase tourist footfalls in Maharashtra during the period. According to Dr Jagdish Patil, former managing director, MTDC they had designed these packages in a manner that a tourist can enjoy Mumbai’s festival spirit at an affordable cost and in a hassle free manner, particularly the darshan at Lalbaug Raja, Andhericha Raja, Mumbaicha Raja and other few famous mandals.
Madhya Pradesh will be celebrating 2016 as the Year of Tourism in the state, to coincide with the Kumbh Mela, which is being held in Ujjain. At the recently held Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, chief minister of the state pointed out that more than five crore people will visit Ujjain during the Kumbh Mela and the state government is focused on attracting a larger number of pilgrims and visitors.
To boost religious tourism in the state, Assam Government has recently taken up a major scheme and it has already received overwhelming response from the visitors. This is the result of Ambubachi Mela in the famous Shaktipeeth (shrine) of Kamakhya Temple in 2013 and in June 2014, as well as other religious festivals held during the last two years. “Assam is witnessing a rise in tourist footfalls, both domestic and foreign, as the state is gearing up to promote the tourism sector in a planned way,” says Dhruba Hazarika, secretary, Tourism Department, Government of Assam.
While most fairs and festivals have a religious, spiritual and cultural connotation, the Department of Tourism in Rajasthan normally joins hands with the local municipal corporation to organise these festivities. These are in form of folk cultural performances, sports competitions, processions, ethnic cuisines, arts and crafts display, ‘deepdans’, among others. On many occasions these fairs and festivals coincide with the animal and cattle fairs. The Department of Tourism, Rajasthan has earmarked funds for organising fairs and festivals as well as the tribal area development. Vikram Singh, director tourism, Government of Rajasthan, says, “The state is well known for its fairs and festivals and the Department of Tourism organises them for foreign and domestic tourists as well as the local populace. We are further streamlining the organisation of such festivals to make them even more alluring for tourism.”
Doing their bit are the tour operators in India with customised packages. “Many tourists plan vacations to India during these festivals, as the vivaciouness and colourful cheer of the festivities, not only adds to the experience, but also gives them a sneak peek into the Indian lifestyle. Very often we create special programmes around all of the major potential festivals of the country,” says Arjun Sharma, MD, TUI India/ Le Passage to India.
Goa has a unique blend of socio-religious culture and the Goan calendar is marked with several feasts and festivals. The tourism department of Goa has focused on quite a few local feasts and festivals turning them into tourist attractions. Goa Carnival, is a three day event celebrated two days after Easter throughout the state and is peppered with parades, performances, etc. Other feasts and festivals are the Feast of Three Kings at Reis Magos, Cuelim; the Feast of St Francis Xavier in December, Sao Joao Festival, feast of St John the Baptist celebrated throughout the state, the Goan version of Holi celebration in month of February/March and several others. Apart from this, the Kala Academy (Academy of Indian Culture and Performing Art) celebrates various fairs and festivals.
Odisha is not only an ideal choice for waterfalls and scenic beauty but also for its colourful fairs and festivals. Tribal traditions and religious fervour of cultural performances mix together to create a visual feast for visitors. The festivals are as numerous as the days in a year, each with an individuality of its own, culminating in the grand Car Festival of Puri. Ratha Yatra, known as the Car Festival is the grandest of all festivals held in Odisha. It is the sacred journey of Lord Jagannath with brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra from the main Jagannath Temple to another shrine called ‘Gundicha Mandir’ for nine days. Lakhs of devotees from all over India and abroad gather on that day at Puri to pull the sacred chariots. The best time, probably, to visit Odisha is between November to February. Not only for the weather but also because of the number of festivals that are organised during this period like Gotipua Dance Festival and Konark Dance Festival. For beach lovers, there is the International Sand Art Festival and the International Surf Festival.
For tourists, the best time to visit Himachal Pradesh is at the time of the many festivals. Some of the important ones include Halda festival in the month of January in Lahaul region. The Tibetan New Year is celebrated in February and March as Losar Festival. Along with music, dancing and processions, the highlight is discourses by the Dalai Lama at Dharamshala. The months of June /July see the Ki Cham festival with monks performing the cham dance wearing exotic costumes, including masks. In August, a trade fair is organised in Kaza called La Darcha, which also witnesses Buddhist sports and dances along with organisation of the rural marketing fair. Mask dances are the highlight of Gokur festival held in Dhankar monastery in November. The last month of the year is the time for the three-day International Himalayan Festival in Mcleod Ganj. It is marked by dance and music performances to promote peace and harmony.
In Sikkim, Rumtek is the hub of many festivities. While every month religious rituals are performed here, the biggest celebration falls during Losar. Ritual dances are the highlight of the celebrations and the monks perform rituals in honour of Mahakal.
Hemis monastery in Ladakh is the site of the two-day annual Hemis Festival, which in the recent years has emerged as an important event for attracting tourists. The Hemis Festival held in June/July every year is the most important annual event in Ladakh. One of the highlights of the festival are the dances performed by monks wearing masks swaying to the rhythm of cymbals. The festival becomes a much bigger event every 12th year when its most priceless possession – a Thangka of Padmasambhava is unfurled for the public. During the tourist season, visitors are allowed to stay at the monastery and participate in the Hemis Spiritual Retreat run by the monks.
It has to be noted that most popular festivals amongst tourists are those which have been popularised over a period of time. Like any other product and services in the tourism industry, it will take time for a festival to become popular too.