| Payal Ek Nazar Theatre at Sonepur Mela. Picture by Sachin |
Patna, Sept. 7: The show will go on but without the dirty dancing.
The government has embarked on an ambitious project to remove anything they consider vulgar or troublesome at the historic Sonepur Fair to give it a “new look”.
As a first step, the popular dance theatres that attract thousands every year will not find any space on the fair premises.
“There are usually four or five dance theatres at the festival. But from this year, the government has decided that no space will be provided to them,” tourism minister Sunil Kumar “Pintu” told The Telegraph.
“Of course, owners of dance groups are free to find private land and set up theatres. But they will have to take permission from the district administration and fulfil the norms,” he said.
The Sonepur Fair — once the largest of its kind in Asia — is held every year in November at the confluence of the rivers Ganga and Gandak in Saran district. Some sources claim it dates back to ancient times when Chandragupta Maurya used to buy elephants from traders who gathered at the fair.
Till recent times, elephants, horses, camels and rare birds also used to exchange hands at the Sonepur Fair. But stringent laws have prohibited the purchase and sale of wild animals. Only the cattle fair and the dance theatres remain, attracting foreigners and locals alike.
But the theatres are a source of trouble, claim the authorities.
“The dance theatres may be popular but they are a constant source of problems,” said a tourism department official. “Before 2000, a number of vulgar activities went on at these theatres without any check. Serious fights broke out among the patrons regularly. Prostitution was also common. Then Saran district magistrate Prataya Amrit, who is now the road construction department principal secretary, directed CCTV cameras to be set up at the fair to keep an eye on the theatres. The situation improved but some problems still persist.”
Last year, on November 22, three dancers — two women and one man — escaped from one of the theatres and landed at Kankerbagh police station in Patna to complain about exploitation. They claimed that the owners of Gulab Vikas Theatre, where they were employed, were paying them peanuts and forcing them to wear skimpy clothes. They also complained that the audience often tried to grope them or pelted pebbles on them.
Saran police, after learning of the complaints from their Patna counterparts, cancelled the licence of Gulab Vikas Theatre.
“As the fair will be given a new look to attract tourists, it is a good idea to remove the raunchy dance theatres,” said the tourism official.
Tourism minister “Pintu” said that in a bid to revamp the fair, the government had invited expressions of interest from event organisers.
“We want to preserve the old culture while giving it a new look,” he said. “Five event management companies have expressed interest in organising the fair. Some of these companies have organised the Pushkar Mela and the Maha Kumbh Mela. They have been asked to prepare a detailed project report. The department will review the reports and select the best plan.”