Mandav Utsav 2021 : What People Had To Say

by | Mar 20, 2022

Mandav (a.k.a Mandu) is a hill-fort in the district of Dhar in Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh. It is home to a small population of around 11000 villagers (2011 census), majority of whom rely on agriculture and tourism as a means of livelihood. The history of Mandav holds a special legacy in terms of hosting rulers from the Afghans to the Turks, Uzbeks and Mughals. These rulers were finally defeated by the Peshwas with whom the reign of Mandav came to an end amidst 1400s to 1600s. In fact, according to the locals, during the peak time of Mandav’s reign i.e. between 1400 to 1600, it was home to more people than Delhi during the same time. Situated at 600 meters above sea level, this place holds a grand mixture of stories and architecture left behind by the Afghans, Mughals and Hindu rulers.

The Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board hosted a five day “Mandav Festival” for New Year 2022. My mentor recommended me to attend it. The festival held the tagline “Khojne Me Kho Jao” and put forward an array of activities including hot air balloons, paragliding, yoga classes, cycling sessions, guided heritage walks, Instagram tours, as well as live performances and musical concerts.

While stepping down at the bus stand in Mandav after a three-hour journey from Indore, I was expecting to see a village harmoniously hosting tourists and celebrating their home festival with support from the government. Quite contrary to my expectation was what I saw here. An outside entity had broken into the peace and sanctity of a small village, appropriating their narrative and taking away their spaces to access livelihoods.

A day of conversations with the people of Mandav and observations about the festival strengthened my first impressions. “The government has spent around 4-5 crores on this festival this time; all of which was disbursed to the UP based event organiser, E-Factor Entertainment. We wish they had instead spent this money on building a statue in Mandav, like they did in Gujarat. We would have at least benefitted from some tourists in that case.”, says Vimal, a taxi driver from Mandav.

One common emotion among people was that of “dissatisfaction”. Vimal is a resident of Mandav and has been providing taxi services to tourists here, for fifteen years now. He believed that the festival was not of much benefit to the local people, except that it brought in some tourists temporarily.

Mandav is inhabited by a majority of people from the scheduled tribes, most of whom depend on agriculture. In every family, one or two members look after their land and yield. The others are forced to move out of the village in search of livelihood opportunities. They have not been given any assistance from the government on this front”, says Vimal. In addition, the higher altitude of the place, often makes availability of water, specially for cropping, an issue. Covid-19 has also adversely impacted people like Vimal who have forever been dependent on tourists for a means of living.

Photo Source: reDiscovery Project

As a tourist, I noticed extremely high prices all around the village, especially for accommodation and transportation. There was barely anyone who was not moving in their private vehicle. Many of the tents and accommodation facility put up by the organizers were “reserved for government officials”. A Kirana store owner, Mr. Kiwari’s point of view was valuable to understand the high prices. December is the peak season for tourism. However, with the festival happening at the same time, the prices in the village shot up, which dissuaded the tourists and kept them away.

Mr. Kiwari claims that the festival has lost its charm as it has shifted its focus from local art and culture of Madhya Pradesh. The earlier versions of the festival had a lot more involvement of the villagers. Even the tickets and passes were sold by them. Today, except for the basic assistance required to put up the performances and programmes, every other work is outsourced. Hence, no villager is getting benefitted directly from the festival.

Cultural performances in Mandav utsav
Photo Source: efactor4u.com

Earlier, the villagers were heard and their opinions were included in major festival discussions held in the office of Nagar Nigam. Off late they have been excluded from the process, says Mr. Kiwari. However, he is hopeful that they would be able to pitch their suggestions to the organising committee and shift the festival dates to January in the coming years.

An uncanny resemblance between current day Mandav and its past struck me, while wandering through the village. With all its scenic beauty and serenity, this was often a place of leisure for rulers, especially during monsoon. Today, with the government spending its own money to host leisure holidays for its own employees, the history continues ti unfold at the cost of the citizens of Mandav.

In my opinion, after what I saw in Mandav Utsav 2021, the Madhya Pradesh government needs to rethink its purpose of hosting such festivals. While commercialising it with the support of huge brands like E-Factor Entertainment would help bring traction and fame to the state administration, they are forgetting the basic purpose they need to fulfil for the people of Mandav. In the current model, it is probable that such festivals thrive and the villages die.

Mandav with such high tribal population, holds a special ecosystem where you could see tribal people living alongside dilapidated structures from the past. The community deserves better support and protection from the government, especially in enabling livelihoods. The public system ought to make the process of hosting such festivals more inclusive and sustainable.

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