Surajkund International Crafts Mela 2014, Delhi NCR

#1 Feb 2nd, 2014, 22:38
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#1
Hello Everyone!

Just like last year and the year before and the ... oh well, you get the idea, the Surajkund crafts fair is back at Surajkund, Faridabad, Haryana - a mere 20 kilks away from India gate. (OR an eco-friendly twenty rupee electric rickshaw ride for those who prefer to ride trains for some reason and would use the metro system).

I usually go on the first day as there's very little dust on account of the ground being nicely watered to keep the VVIP's comfortable. However, I was sick yesterday so I went today when it was relatively sunnier.

Guys n Gals, am happy to report that I am not disappointed! Not at all. I'd love to tell you that it's twice as large (it cant be, its a fixed sized venue) and that it's twice as cheap (it's not, prices have steadily crept up - even the entrance is Rs 70/ as opposed to Rs 50/- of last year's and then there's parking, etc etc ). But, I liked it a a lot this year as I didn't have to buy anything at all. Over the last five annual visits, I've managed to purchase a representative sample from most of the states already. So this year was like returning to an old friend to just say hello and make sure he's doing alright. We both felt so comfortable with each other, sigh.

Surajkund's venue boasts of some permanent fixtures - a unique decorative motif from select states - the first one after the entrance is a replica of the Mahesh-murti seen in Elephanta cave. The photo below should give you some idea.



It was about noon when I reached (thanks to the morning fog here today that didn't let me leave home early enough). Still, the mela (hindi for fair) was filling up fast. I was about to rush towards the international stalls when this 'stan beauty walked right into my frame. I suppose there are some privileges of carrying a long lens camera. What's more, she happily posed (so did her friend, but this one's come out better).



Each year, the GoI decides that there would be a partner country for the Mela. The delegation from that country is given prime retail space (oops, positioning in the international pavilion).



As seen on the gate photo above, this year, it was Sri Lanka. Yes, our southerly neighbors who have whupped us a number of times in cricket. They came over with some excellent handicrafts, high grown (nuwara eliya) tea, good music (as soon as I manage to upload video, you'd get some idea) and best of all, some smashingly good looking women straight off SriLankan airlines posters.

To be fair, some of their handicrafts are outstanding - like this stunning golden dust on velvet painting that depicts temple of the tooth relic at Kandy. This gentleman's shop also had a few other good pieces. Other notable Sri Lankan artifacts included wooden masks (used for dancing), stoneware, etc.



Walking around, I heard someone strumming the guitar and behind the central stall was this troupe of singers - there were a total of five of them - four men and a lady. They were playing (from left to right) - a guitar, a sri lankan hand drum, lady (singing and not seen in the photo due to the fourth person), fourth person with a small hand held instrument and finally the man with the accordion who indeed played it with a certain flair I've seen mostly in movies.



I couldnt make out a word of what they were saying (lyrics were in Sinhala) but the music was so fantastic that I had to do a video. Two other SriLankan gentlemen started dancing in front of the troupe.

Moving on, I stopped by at one of the two Bhutan stalls to just say hello to the thangka seller who I had met last year as well. I didn't notice much Pakistani presence or Nepali presence this year but the Ugandan stall certainly had attractive pieces.



I chatted with these ladies and they said they are from the Bugandan Kingdom - the central part of Uganda. They didn't mind being photographed and were soon engrossed in a pricing dispute over what the one on the right is holding in her hand - it was some kind of jewelery.



Anyways, I started looking for a man I have met purely by chance for well over three years, and not just here but sometimes at the International Trade fair as as well. So much so that we know each other at sight and despite that I haven't bought a thing from him, we always discuss the same thing - the security situation in Kabul for tourists. He is a carpet seller from the chicken bazaar street of Kabul and always greets me with a smile. I found him again this year (this makes it the fourth time) doing brisk business.



We talked about Bokhara carpets and some other traditional designs for at least a half hour. He offered me water and a chair to sit on which was very welcome. At the end of our conversation, as customary we disagreed on the price and I walked away without a purchase.

We're friends now.
Last edited by vaibhav_arora; Feb 3rd, 2014 at 09:47..
#2 Feb 3rd, 2014, 11:04
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#2
My previous year's visit report is here: http://www.indiamike.com/india/fairs...-fair-t157471/ - I tend to get fascinated by and therefore photograph different crafts each year.

I will try to add more to the above as soon as work lets up.
#3 Feb 3rd, 2014, 14:01
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#3
One of the best places to Go where one can find almost all the major handicrafts from throughout the country.
#4 Feb 3rd, 2014, 18:02
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Backstage

Surajkund crafts fair is also the venue for some excellent folk art performances by Indian and foreign troupes and this year was no different - well mostly no different.

The venue called 'natyashala' (lit : Theatre) features a permanent stage and the backdrop is decorated as per the theme state for that year. This year, Goa being the theme state, the backdrop was all surf, sun, palms and sea shells. It was a little tacky but quite peppy (I think that's what the decorators must be aiming for). It did make photographing the stage performers quite a challenge though.

There're three approaches to the natyashala - two permitted to everyone and one reserved for those with a press pass. The reserved route is to the left of a permanent structure that's exclusive for Haryana - they've fashioned it after a 'chaupal' (lit: village square). This year, Haryana had showcased its rural life around the huts as seen below. Note the lifelike expressions of the plaster figures – the totally stoned eyes of the head of the household (presumably his hookah had all the right ingredients) and the nonplussed disneyesque buffalo. What sublime art!



These mud huts also serve as a back stage area for the dancers to get dressed for their next performance and lies to the right side of the main stage if you're standing on the main aisle (behind the natyashala backdrop). I walked around the mud hut and smiled at some of the dancers. I have met dancers from this community in the past as well – they are the Siddis of Gujarat and they always have a fun, mischievous expression on their face.

The siddi tribes are supposed to be descendants of African Bantu people. The first siddis in Gujarat arrived as slaves of the Portuguese and were presented to the Nawab of Junagadh. Detailed history is available online chronicling their military genius whether as the confidante of Razia Sultana, as the rulers of the Zanzira at Murud or as the trainers of the marathas. In
the present context though, it's apt to point out that dance called ‘Dhamal’ involves some energetic drum beating. The drum itself is called a ‘damaal’.
I’m not sure if the face paint and the use of peacock feathers in dress is a recent re-introduction due to exposures to touristic venues such as the mela but it does make them stand out even more. Based on their features alone, it’s easy to mistake them for an African. The moment I asked them in Hindi that if they are indeed from Gujarat and that they are siddis, they responded in Hindi with a big smile. No confusion there!



My shutter wanted more exposures and I zoomed in on a heavily made up yet stunning dancer from Uzbekistan. She was not yet wearing her head-dress that looks like dozens of coins hanging but she noticed the lens zoom and gave a passing eye flutter. It was enough to get the shot!



I looked up and noticed some commotion between the two chaupal structures and suddenly a bevy of Uzbek dancers in traditional costume were streaming out of the main-stage area. They had just finished a dance performance.



Just to get better frames I kept cliking and then noticed that I was past the structures and actually standing quite near the stage. The secured entry reserved for the pass holders was to my left and the cordoned off area beyond which stood about a thousand people was to my right. In between were three rows of reed chairs so commonly used in India as outdoor furniture. I had a rare flash of common sense and grabbed one of the empty chairs and sat down completely ignoring the security personnel – there were about a dozen of them manning the entrance. Guess what? They ignored me too.

The next half hour was excellent – I sprawled on the chair and watched dance after dance. First up was a dance from the brij area – called the Mayur Dance (the peacock dance). I’d love to explain it to you but words fail me – it was such a familiar beat and the lyrics were in brij-bhasha (dialect of hindi). Two gopis – dressed as peacocks - dance with Radha and Krishna who are also dressed as peacocks. The dance celebrates the arrival of the monsoon and also depicts the love between Radha and Krishna. The finale is superb wherein the artiste dressed as Krishna spins a dish full of marigold petals spreading them on the gopis – symbolizing ‘brij ki holi’.



The next item was a dance from the Tashkent. That city brings to mind an immediate recall of the untimely death of Lal bahadur Shastri – possibly the most humble and popular prime minster India has ever had. The dance was mentioned to be of the ‘Ferghana’ form. I didn’t get too many shots as I was in the third row of chairs but it was very relaxing with lots of stomping and ‘hey’ sounds every few minutes. The dancers use gentle wrist rotations, smiles and facial expressions, arm and spinal movement while coming together as one unit and then symmetrically moving away – a bit like water ballet dancers without water.



Towards the end of this dance, an Uzbek musician brought out a flute like instrument that was ear piercingly loud. I quickly got out of the seating area, skipped over the nylon ropes and turned around to capture this photo that shows what a large crowd it really was. Behind the green ropes and ahead of the yellow rope, two seats after the man in the black suit is where I had got a seat. The vacant seats had placards reading ‘reserved - press’.



I quietly thanked me new long lens camera – “well done” - and walked away grinning.
#5 Feb 3rd, 2014, 19:27
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#5
Great, simply great !
#6 Feb 3rd, 2014, 20:07
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TD - I agree wholeheartedly with your new signature.
#7 Feb 4th, 2014, 12:28
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Flowers, Food and Family

The Surajkund mela (fair) site is not a flat piece of land – it’s actually set around a real ‘kund’ or pond that takes its name from Suraj – the Sun god. It is said that in ancient times there was a temple to the Sun god around here.

Today, as one parks across the road from the Claridges hotel of Faridabad (now Vivanta by Taj) and walks across towards the main gate of the fair, at the end of the road, one gets a good view of the rather large depression that forms the fair site – it’s about 40 acres - not all of it depressed uniformly and certainly none of it is depressing

In fact, to add to the gaiety and the carnival like atmosphere, the horticultural department does a commendable job of sprucing up whatever natural trees exist inside the site. Additionally, they create props laden with cut flowers and place many potted plants along the walkways. This bumblebee with a huge proboscis was a wrought iron frame festooned with marigold flowers.



Decorative cauliflowers compete with bright dahlias for floor space while little phloxes peek out from behind taller plants sagging from the weight of the chrysanthemum blossoms. To top that, this year being Goan themed, large artificial flowers hung from the trees - there was even a ladybird.



Over the years, Surajkund fair has retained its middle class flavor – this isn’t an upmarket event at all. It is the kind of place where families bring their kids; youngsters come over when they feel like bunking college or school, housewives shop like they have a new house to furnish – you get the picture.

These tendencies combined have three manifestations – The first is that anything large that can be posed in front of, be it a prop, a decorative gate or even a man in a costume is at all times surrounded by gaggling children whose overeager parents want to photograph them with a nicer backdrop than their linoleum curtains would afford them at home. Case in point – these oversized representation of puppets from Rajasthan.



The second is that the food pavilion area – a clearing about couple acres, maybe more, is always choc- a-bloc with people. It’s impossible to find seating.

The third, and this is actually positive – anything that’s not new and shiny and doesn’t have immediate utility tends to get ignored by the hordes. This is a huge upside if you know what you’re looking for and are after authentic, old style handicrafts – the kind that defy ‘fads’ in handicraft work and don’t have consumption value either – you’re in for a real treat. The masses simply pass by the stalls that deal in say, old style patachitras, traditional afghan kilims, phad paintings from rajasthan, mata-ni-pachedi from Gujarat or even the leather toys of Andhra pradesh. On the other hand, the Juttiwala from Punjab doesn’t have a minute to breathe! He’s busy counting cash.
I made my way to the food pavilion area and reached the tried and tested outlet of the hotel management institute. Clean cut young third year students were busy cooking, serving and billing for food.



In the relatively overpriced mass of caterers in the mela, the Hotel management graduates are a very likeable lot. They pay great attention to hygiene with the cooks wearing paper hats and even their cooking equipment had gleaming aluminum foil around it! I bought daal and stuff kulchas for a mere Rs 80/- and had a great lunch.



Not everyone’s happy with their family though – Mohan caterer is trying to sell his cousin (maybe because he’s south Indian?) – Oh, I don’t know.

#8 Feb 4th, 2014, 14:14
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#8
It looks so worth it! Great presentation!
#9 Feb 18th, 2014, 20:35
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Same same but different

A paradox of visiting crafts fair with regularity is that one gets habituated to seeing similar looking crafts over the many visits. This introduces some ennui if the product is identical to the last year’s. At the same time, if the product has changed too drastically – one laments the loss of tradition. It is a perplexing situation for both practitioner and patron alike.

The craft makers that get the opportunity to showcase their wares in Surajkund are selected by the government and are supposed to be the finest exponents of their respective craft or handloom form. Hence, there are many repeat visitors. Some stick to the tried and tested and do not believe in catering to the market demand or any trend. I applaud them.

Most notable of these ‘purists’ (based on this year’s visit) include some Dhokra workers from Odisha, phulkari from Punjabi, traditional banarasi and chanderi sarees from UP and MP respectively, Naga and Manipuri shawls (for men), bell sellers from Bhuj and bedcover sellers from Gujarat (Saurashtra region). Here's a stunning Kali image from Jharkhand in Dhokra form.



Some on the other hand have given in completely to the pressures induced from consumer preferences. I got talking to a Patachitra maker from Odisha as to why he had taken to painting bottles – clearly these are not a traditional base for his art. (top right half of the photograph below)



His response with a dejected look was ‘I have to sell also’. We started talking about Jatripattis – religious souvenirs of the kind that were given to the pilgrims who visited Jagannatha temple in Puri more than two decades ago. They were not to be seen at the Surajkund fair not only this year but also on my previous visits. He responded ‘Sir, everyone desires ‘fine’ work now – as seen in miniatures. Jatripattis were done by reed pens and had bold lines. Who would buy those now? My grandfather used to make them’.



I felt sad about this loss. To understand what a Jatripatti looked like – this piece in the collection of the British Library - datable to 1920s - may be viewed below.



(source)

It is a representation of the temple at Puri in its totality and is true tribal influenced art. By contrast – newer pattachitras (such as the one he is showing in the photo above) possess thinner lines and are painted on tussar cloth (a distinct departure from the two layered cotton saree that is used to prepare the base for the painting in its traditional form).

Not all is lost though – newer crafts emerge as well. I saw some great examples including the one below – paintings made of stems of the wheat plant. It reminded me of the sola wood craft I had seen earlier from Maharashtra.



This blue pottery maker had attempted to add variety by making a couple of statues - a pair of monkeys and a pair of women.



Some are just interesting examples of a design that has traveled – a dhurrie (two sided flatweave rug traditionally made in India) maker from Maharashtra had adopted an afghan design. He claimed it was a ‘kilim’. This ‘adaptation’ of designs can sometimes lead to ludicrous results – a couple of Carpet makers from Mirazpur bhadohi (now the world’s largest carpet making cluster – near Kanpur India) tried to convince me that they had an Afghan design (seen below – looks closer to a Kashmiri / Iranian design). At any rate, it was a cheap machine made carpet and I left them promptly.



Sometimes it just results in misattribution though the end product as done by the artisan is gorgeous – seen below are peacock lamps (deep-stambhas) that look Tamil at first glance but are in fact made in Muradabad.



I could go on …..
#10 Feb 19th, 2014, 08:30
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#10
In Moradabad I was able to pick a brass Ganesh statue which was in Tamil style. Sold by weight as well.
#11 Mar 6th, 2014, 11:52
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#11
Stunning pics Vaibhav....I wish I could have been there. Why don't we have such things near Kolkata???
If a problem can be solved there is no use worrying about it. If it cant be solved, worrying will do no good ~ H.H
#12 Mar 27th, 2014, 11:02
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#12
Hi Vaibhav,

very good write up and fine images to go with the narrative. It is fascinating. The financial year-end work pressure is killing me . What about your Bhopal thread? any updates ? Can you dump the links of your threads to me by PM? I will go through when I start to breath normally again.

@Legless bro ... we have our own version during the December , January (হস্ত
শিল্প মেলা ) . Handicrafts expo held at Milan Mela ground. Though I have never been there but have known many others to go there and rue about the state of their purse , afterwards )

cheers
somnath
#13 Mar 27th, 2014, 12:34
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#13
Thanks for the push Som. I've gotten lazy and distracted by too many changes in my life (personal stuff, really). I've updated my signature with most (not all though) of my trip reports. I will put the remaining in my profile page. Bhopal, Ajanta-ellora, Jhalawar are just a few that remain unfinished. Many others (Goa, Hampi and Karnakaka coast, parts of Rajasthan I havent even had a chance to start). I sometimes get stymied by my own inability to explain the cultual nuances properly without losing in translation and just prefer not to open my mouth - and then of course, another trip comes up!!

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