One would often find people from Agra talking about Taj Mahotsav in an exciting tone! We believe, the reason lies in the plethora of fun and shopping experiences, along with an opportunity to behold the cultures of India that becomes possible in this festival!
Taj Mahotsav has been much of awaiting event for Agra folks that Pushpneet Kaur, a native can still not forget the desperation to join it when her mother had left her back home and went to the event owning to her daughter’s boards exam. After all, she had to miss visiting the most colourful extravaganza of Agra that year!
While there is no doubt, Agra is a historically significant place in India, home to one of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal, many are not aware of this grandest event organized here every year between February 18 and February 27 for a total of ten days. These days bring in for the people a chance to explore the arts, crafts, cultures, cuisine, dance, and music from different parts of India.
This splendid local event in the city invites folk musicians and dancers from across the country, giving them a chance to showcase their skills in front of lakhs of people who come here in search of experiencing the “heritage” in the form of various art forms. Organized by the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department at Shilpgram, near Taj Mahal, the Mahotsav also aims to take out a procession in a typical Mughal era style with bejewelled elephants and camels, drum beaters, folk artists, and craftsperson, something that was prevalent years ago.
Bringing regional specialities together
One of the best attractions of the Mahotsav is how it brings together the specialities of various regions of India. For the whole ten days of the festival, there is an end number of stalls with people from various parts of the country showcasing the “best thing” from their region. It is very easy to spot chikan work of Lucknow, woodcarvings of Saharanpur, blue pottery of Khurja, metalware of Moradabad, hand printing from Farrukhabad, handmade carpets of Badohi, shawls, and carpets from Kashmir and Gujarat, wood and stone carvings from Tamil Nadu, the silk of Varanasi and Bihar, bamboo and cane work from North East India, paper and mash work from South India, Kantha stitch from West Bengal and many more!
However, for Agra folks, food constitutes one of the most important elements of the event that offers special delicacies from various corners of India. Be it Hyderabadi Biryani, popular Kebabs, Wahid Biryani from Lucknow, Bhature, Samosas, Poori Sabji, Gulab Jamun, Amritsari naan, or South Indian dosa, one gets platters of food items at various stalls. As Pushpneet Kaur remembers her childhood days, she says, “We used to wait for the whole year for Taj Mahotsav.”
Not only this, but she also shares a fond memory of her friend participating in the event as a dancer back in their school days. Pushpneet’s mother is a school teacher who would often take her daughters to the festival after coming from her work. “Those used to be best days with 4-5 hours spent on just shopping,” Pushpneet says, adding that they would bring back sofas and tables from the festival.
On the other hand, her mother, who never forgets to shop in bulk, shares her favourites from the festival, which are Lucknowi chikan, dupattas, original Kalamkari fabric from Andhra Pradesh, beautiful pashmina shawls of Kashmir, Sharanpur’s woodwork and furniture. “Agra holds many fairs but this (Taj Mahotsav) is the one with high standards,” says Kaur.
Even RJ Sona, who is living in Agra for the last few years, calls the event “surreal”. Being a Radio Jockey with Fever FM, Taj Mahotsav was the first event she was assigned to cover. ” I was overwhelmed to see the Rajasthani folk dancers dancing at the entry gate to welcome people. Taj Mahotsav is surely an amalgamation of the diversity of cultures.”, says RJ Sona. Apart from covering the event, Sona has also been active in conducting interviews with the folk artists who are invited to festivals. Her fond memory about the event is one such interview with the folk singer Malini Awasthi, which Sona says she can never forget. “Neither can I forget that amazing interview nor how she danced with us,” she says.
This apart, Sona mentions her observation about people purchasing winter items in bulk to use them the following year. “Since Taj Mahotsav is held in February, one cannot use the winter items instantly. But people still buy them to use it for the next winter as the products are priced at fair prices,” she says, adding that “Jaipuri kambal” and juttis are a must-buy from the festival.
As COVID-19 hit the country in 2020, the festival was cancelled for two years. However, ease in restrictions and a decrease in the number of positive cases across the country have allowed the patrons to once again participate in the Taj Mahotsav. Agra is hosting this event a bit late due to the UP polls. Starting from March 20, 2022, the festival will continue to welcome people till March 29.
All about this year!
Aiming to celebrate India’s 75th independence, the theme of the festival for this year is ‘Aazadi ke Amrit Mahotsav Sang Taj Ke Rang’. Moreover, this year also marks the 30th year of Taj Mahotsav, which started in 1992, so one can imagine the excitement of the Agra folks!
Like every year, the festival has been organized in Shilpgram village where there would be various performances, including one aiming to spread awareness about AIDS prevention and cure. Artists will also deliver a tribute to legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar and classical dancer Pandit Birju Maharaj. Reportedly, there would also be laughter shows, plays, and symposiums.
The fun does not end here as kids will have a separate zone where they will be able to enjoy various rides like train rides and safaris on elephants and camels, giant wheels, and more.
RJ Sona is going to cover the event soon as she has heard about the Mahotsav being even more appealing than before. “This time, one will get to see various “colours of India,” she says adding that the venue has been decorated beautifully like never before. “A few guards have been appointed specifically to help with the parking. Moreover, the security has been tightened to ensure the safety of people,” she says.
On the other hand, Pushpneet has already visited the festival and says that the Mahotsav appears like a one-stop junction for all the shopaholics. However, she has noticed a slight change in the number of shops. “Many shops are empty and while 3-4 stalls used to be set up for one single kind of article, this time, it is just one. Comparatively, one can see fewer shops than usual,” she says.
Nevertheless, she says, the fest is inviting truckloads of people. “It is great to see Kalamkari fabric, pure silk suits, Baroda prints here,” says Pushpneet, adding that she has also bought a few items a silk saree, Banarasi suit, and Kalamkari dupatta and that she had a great experience. “Such a relief that the Taj Mahotsav is back with a bang and with all its perks,” she adds.