Fair and Festive

February promises to be a month of excitement as two major Indian cultural events – Surajkund Mela held on the outskirts of New Delhi  and Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda Festival – are set to attract art and craft lovers from across the world, says Punam Goel

Every city in India has its own cultural legacy. Kochi in Kerala, for instance, apart from its historic temples and performing arts, is known for the art extravaganza Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Pushkar in Rajasthan is famous for the Pushkar camel fair, one of the largest of its kind in the world. Ladakh, on the other hand, attracts tourists from the world over during the Hemis Festival, which is held in the compound of the Hemis Monastery and features colourful masked dances called chham among other highlights. In February, however, all roads will lead to Faridabad in Haryana, on the outskirts of New Delhi, from February 1 to 16, for the annual Surajkund International Crafts Mela and to Mumbai, which will host the most awaited multi-disciplinary Kala Ghoda Arts Festival from February 1 to 9.

Surajkund International Crafts Mela

A cornucopia of regional and international art and craft, culture, tradition and cuisine – this festival brings together all this and more. The fair, which was primarily conceived to promote the pool of indigenous artisans whose skills were being overshadowed by machine-made products, has today become one of the largest craft fairs in the world. More than 20 countries from across the globe participate in this festival and jostle for attention along with some of the most exquisite Indian handloom products, handicrafts and cuisines.

Performers from Uzbekistan strike a pose during a previous edition of the Surajkund fair

What to expect: For the 34th edition of the festival this year, Himachal Pradesh has been chosen as the theme state. So, expect plenty of vibrant Himachali dohru (traditional woollen dress for women), Himachali topi (traditional cap for men), Kullu shawls and pullas (footwear made from local wild grass) and such varieties of tribal jewellery as iron-headed bangles, hair ornaments and peepul leaf-shaped forehead ornaments. Visitors can also savour such mouthwatering Himachali delicacies as channa madra (chickpea curry slow-cooked with yoghurt and spices), Chamba-style fried fish (deep-fried batter-coated fish, a speciality of the Chamba region) and babru (flatbreads stuffed with black gram and deep-fried). Apart from Himachali delights, prepare to be mesmerised by a diverse array of heritage textiles, paintings, intricate stone and wood carvings, exquisite pottery, stunning terracotta products, beautiful lacquerware, and decorative and utility objects made of cane and grass from various parts of India. Visitors can also look forward to stunning offerings from Uzbekistan, this year’s partner nation. An added attraction will be the unveiling of ace Indian fashion designer Ritu Beri’s Ferghana Fantasy II, a collection inspired by Uzbekistan, at the venue. The collection takes its name from the land of Ferghana, a region in Uzbekistan famous for its unique silk called khan-atlas.  No outing to Surajkund fair can be complete without a visit to the multi-cuisine food court that offers ethnic flavours from the world over. Folk performances and evening recitals by popular artistes add to the entertainment quotient of the event.

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival

While the Surajkund fair revels in the celebration of India’s heritage and delves into traditions from around the world, Mumbai comes alive with a festival of a different kind. The city, in February, attracts visitors to the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF). This multi-disciplinary festival has, over the years, revolutionised how art is viewed and enjoyed by taking it out of closed spaces. Also recognised as one of the oldest street festivals in the country, the 21st edition of the event this year will, once again, bring art, music, theatre, food and cinema together at the Kala Ghoda precinct in south Mumbai. And this year, KGAF has set a new precedent. The organisers of the festival have, for the first time, tied up with the crowdfunding platform Ketto to bring in people as stakeholders in supporting this yearly magnum opus. The fact that this event takes place in Mumbai’s most aesthetic space – in close proximity to the Jehangir Art Gallery, the National Museum of Modern Art and the architecturally-stunning Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya – makes it truly special. The festival features art and handicraft exhibitions, literary events, film screenings, classical and contemporary music and dance concerts, plays, workshops, heritage walks and cuisine-based events.

A visitor poses against an art installation at the KGAF

What to expect: One can enjoy enthralling musical performances ranging from the Kokomo Choir that focusses on fusing western classical music with folk music from around the world to a piano recital by Lydian Nadhaswaram, a 14-year-old prodigy. The more classically inclined can attend a programme dedicated to ghazal maestro Talat Mahmood and sarod recitals by Amaan Ali and Ayaan Ali Bangash. There will also be a Bharatanatyam performance by renowned danseuse Tanya Saxena, a showcase of Maharashtra’s folk dance chabina and a hip-hop performance by Kings United, the 2019 winners of the World of Dance competition. Expect a plethora of plays in English, Hindi and other Indian regional languages too. While it may be tough to pick one over the other, who doesn’t like being spoilt for choice?

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