Bright spot fights fair gloom

Festival juggles themes over years

By Piyush Kumar Tripathi in Rajgir
  • Published 30.11.15
Visitors throng Rajgir Mahotsav on Sunday. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh

What Khajuraho could, Rajgir could not - win popularity and stay rooted to its prime objective.

The annual Rajgir Mahotsav, branded as Nritya Mahotsav (dance festival) 29 years ago to showcase classical dance forms such as Kathak, Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi among others aimed to woo tourists, but gradually lost its main objective to the onslaught of commercialisation.

The festival has been transformed into more of a fair, where mostly residents of Rajgir and other nearby places come for shopping.

While hotels rue lack of bookings for the festival, Rajgir residents claimed that the festival lost its sheen as a cultural jamboree because of its commercialisation makeover. Though tourists, mostly Japanese, can be spotted in Rajgir, none of them visits the mahotsav. It is difficult to spot people from other parts of the state, including Patna, at the fair venue. This lobs the difficult questions - for whom is Rajgir Mahotsav actually organised and what is its need for the hill town - at the administration.

"The administration has booked the majority of rooms at most quality hotels in Rajgir for political leaders and government officials. We do not get bookings from domestic or foreign tourists for the mahotsav. The hospitality sector in Rajgir is never consulted before holding the mahotsav. So I fail to understand the target public of the festival," said a senior executive of one of the premium hotels in Rajgir.

Tourism experts attributed the failure of the mahotsav in attracting tourists to the lack of proper planning by government officials.

"Tourists finalise their travel itinerary around six months to a year in advance. Officials should properly promote the festival outside the state through tie-ups with tour operators to ensure that tourists plan their itinerary around it," said Deepak Anand, a Buddhist scholar and a native of Nalanda.

Rajgir Mahotsav was first held in 1986. Then chief minister Bindeshwari Dubey, erstwhile Union tourism minister HKL Bhagat and former Bihar tourism minister Uma Pandey had presided over the inaugural event in 1986. It was renamed as Rajgir Mahotsav in 2011 with the tourism department playing a key role in organising it.

A section of Rajgir residents claimed that the mahotsav used to focus on Japanese tourists in the 1990s. "It used to be held around October 25, coinciding with the foundation day of Vishwa Shanti Stupa, which is situated atop Ratnagiri hills. A large number of Japanese tourists come for the foundation day of the peace pagoda. Thus, the mahotsav used to focus on them. Visual art such as classical dance forms used to showcase the rich culture of the country at the mahotsav," said K.N. Jha, the manager at Indo-Hokke Hotel in Rajgir.

Several others claimed that it used to focus on the armed forces in the initial years. "The festival used to be held around January 15 and apart from cultural evenings, the army used to organise lots of activities. They brought tanks and the jawans used to show combat techniques," said Ram Chandra Prasad, a retired headmaster from a government middle school in Rajgir.

Different claims are made about how Rajgir Mahotsav evolved over the years. But the dwindling number of tourists and the gradual degradation of the festival has become a cause of concern despite the state government spending almost Rs 5 crore in organising it for the past couple of years.

"Tourists don't come to this mahotsav and it is now mainly confined to local people, who come just to have a nice time. I believe that funds spent on this mahotsav should be used on essential work such as development of roads or other amenities that could make Rajgir more tourist-friendly," said Ranvir Prasad, a 71-year-old farmer from Rajgir.