Agra, Feb 16 (Calcutta Tube) The tourism industry in this city of the Taj Mahal feels the annual cultural festival Taj Mahotsava has now degenerated into a farce pandering to the basest instincts of the local audience, instead of the tourist-atracting spring fest it was meant to be.
The 10-day festival that will start Thursday at Shilpgram, just 500 metres from the Taj Mahal, was originally meant to draw in foreign tourists by showcasing the Mughal and Braj culture of the area. But in the last few years it has degenerated into a ‘tamasha’ (farce) for the locals who are fed on a ‘spurious remix of filmy entertainment by second-rate performers from Bollywood’, says a tour operator based here who did not want to be named.
The local tourism industry has virtually withdrawn from the festival.
The Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association, the Tourism Guild, the National Chamber of Industries and Commerce and related agencies now have no role to play in the organisation of the festival or in setting its agenda, which is supposed to be the theme of love this year.
The Agra Development Authority (ADA) and the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department call the shots.
‘It has been suggested so many times that the dates should be changed. Holding the Taj Mahotsava immediately after the Suraj Kund mela (in Haryana) makes no sense, as most tourists have already had a glimpse of the fair and festivities, including the handicrafts on display. The same set of people, artisans, craftsmen, and stall owners from all over India descend with leftovers on the Taj city, offering nothing new.’ says Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society president Surendra Sharma.
Rakesh Chauhan, president of the Hotels Association says: ‘The administration should learn to creatively interact with people who know what tourism is all about. The industry leaders should have been given a say. In its present format the event cannot be much of a help to draw in foreign tourists.’
Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) Vice President Jitendra Raghvanshi says: ‘The local culture and the local artists of Braj Mandal should have been given a better share of programmes and the whole festival should remain focused on presenting the cultural heritage of this area to the tourists. They invite film people from Mumbai and spend a lot of money. This does not help promote the essential Braj culture.’
Initially, music director A.R. Rahman was supposed to be the big draw this year, but he has backed out. Now Alka Yagnik, Pandit Jasraj and Daler Mehndi are listed as the main attractions while efforts are on to bring in more entertainers, including Meghna Naidu and Priti Jhingiani, say ADA officials.
The officials are still not clear how they will portray this year’s theme — love. ‘Every year the festival has a theme, so this year too we have a theme,’ Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department’s deputy director Avinash Mishra told IANS.
‘This area is famous for the love story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz and at a higher spiritual level Srikrishna and Radha. Agra is called the city of love. So we are trying to project this powerful message of love that should transcend narrow and sectarian barriers and unite mankind. We will have theme songs, wall paintings and various other channels to give expression to the theme.’
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at email@example.com)