Hampi Utsav can be world class, if only politicians permit it!

Hampi Utsav can be world class, if only politicians permit it!

Hampi, the seat of Vijayanagara empire (1343 to 1565 AD), and whose  history goes back to the Ashokan period (3rd century BC), is so rich in historical monuments and cultural heritage, that it is a delight to visit the place anytime of the year, but the Hampi Utsav of the last few years held during winter, has given a new reason to go there and bask in its splendour.

This year’s Hampi Utsav held between January 10 and 12 on a grand scale attracted some of the best talents in the country, including Pankaj Udhas, Kunal Ganjawala, Sunidhi Chouhan, Shaan, Rajeev Taranath, Shubha Mudgal, Pratibha Prahlad, Praveen Godkandi, Talat Aziz and Pandit Rajashekhar Mansoor. The rich folk culture of Karnataka showcased as ‘Janapada jatre’ of nearly 200 artistes from across the state, was a grand spectacle worth going miles to see.

The mela, organised by the Karnataka government, also featured a traditional food festival, handicrafts bazaar, trade, industry and science exhibition, and a series of competitions in photography, wrestling, cooking, kite flying, rangoli and mehendi for the local talents. For the first time, the organisers introduced a helicopter ride – Hampi by sky – which gave a panoramic view of the magnificent site spread over nearly 25 square kilometres, which was a huge success as hundreds of people queued up for the ride which cost only Rs 2,000 for a 15 minute flight. 

The ’copter ride, which was subsidised by the government, was so popular among the masses that it was extended by a day after the festival got over. The Bellary deputy commissioner, Amlan Aditya Biswas, says the government is thinking of making the much-talked about ‘heli-tourism’ a regular feature by linking Badami, Eihole and Pattadakal along with Hampi for discerning tourists, who have the money to spend and who would like to take in all the sights in a short time.

Coming back to Hampi Utsav, it must be said that though it successfully attracted nearly half a million people – many of them ‘aam aadmi’ from the surrounding villages who stayed back and enjoyed the cultural events extending up to 3 am – the festival itself needs a lot of fine-tuning. In its present form, being a government-organised event,  politicians think they have a right to dominate the show and hog the limelight.

Though the organisers had lined up a number of interesting and varied cultural items at four different venues from 6 pm to 12 midnight everyday, none of the programmes could start on time as nothing would move without ministers ‘inaugurating’ and delivering long speeches, much to the annoyance of the crowd. Inevitably, the scheduled programmes got delayed by two to three hours. So much so, many of those who came to hear Shaan or Sunidhi Chouhan had to go back disappointed as their performances started well beyond midnight.

Divesting power

The first thing any sensible government should do is to divest the local administration of organisation of the event – as the babus are averse to displeasing politicians – and hand it over to an organising committee consisting of professionals. No scheduled event should wait for the ministers to arrive (who inevitably come late) to inaugurate; perhaps  elected representatives taking a bit of credit can be excused, if only they do so unobtrusively, making an appearance for about 15 minutes, in between two scheduled programmes. 

That way, ministers will get the mileage, without inviting angry abuses from the people.
Secondly, though the Hampi Utsav began 26 years ago (the first one was held in 1987) it has never been held regularly, as it has suffered due to the whims and fancies of the ruling party and government. There is need to put the festival on a permanent calendar on specified dates every year, so that both domestic and international tourists may plan their visits in advance.

Many international cultural fests do that, which is why they attract millions of people and bring much revenue to the local administration too. The Caribbean Carnival in Toronto, Canada, for instance, has been held regularly since 1967, and today it attracts more than two million tourists, bringing in excess of $ 400 million to Toronto’s economy. And to think, the Carnival has nothing to do with local culture (there is probably, hardly any) and it is a direct import from the culturally rich Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago!

There is, of course, the urgent need to ramp up the infrastructure in Hospet (which is just 13 km away from Hampi) and nearby places in terms of roads, transport, accommodation and food. The current status of the road from Bangalore to Hospet (about 370 km) is like part of the ‘ruins of Hampi’, thanks to the relentless movement of iron ore-laden trucks run by the mining mafia, which ruled Bellary until not long ago and built their empire literally on the ruins.

If Hampi Utsav has to be taken to a different level, the state government, particularly, the tourism department, should begin planning and execution now, involving private stakeholders as well. The Hampi Utsav has all the potential to be bigger than the Mysore Dasara. Enhancing its attraction will be a fitting tribute to the Krishnadevaraya dynasty, which history tells us, used to organise Dasara as a grand spectacle to behold. Prof A V Narasimha Murthy, former head of ancient history at Mysore University recounts, “The splendour of the wealth of Vijayanagara in the form of gold, diamond and other precious materials (on display) during the Dasara is definitely a forgotten chapter now.”

Even in this ‘poverty ridden’ age of ours, a lot can change if we display even one per cent of Krishnadevaraya’s vision and wisdom!

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