In Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar district stands Mandav—an ancient fort city that is home to a small population of approximately 11,000 people. A majority of its residents rely on agriculture and tourism for their livelihood. Situated at 600 metres above sea level, the city is a grand amalgamation of architecture left behind by its former Afghan, Mughal, and Hindu rulers.
To celebrate this rich history, for the past few years, the Madhya Pradesh Tourism board has hosted a multi-day Mandav Festival (Mandu Utsav) annually. I attended the festival in December 2021 expecting to make the most of the guided heritage walks, live musical performances, yoga classes, and numerous other activities that were part of the celebrations.
Although the festival claimed to celebrate the culture of the region, my observations suggested otherwise. The conversations I had with the people of Mandav further reinforced this view. Vimal, a local taxi driver, believed that the festival was not of much benefit to the local people, except for bringing in tourists temporarily. Expressing his dissatisfaction, he said, “The government has spent around four to five 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, as they did in Gujarat. We would have at least benefitted from some tourists in that case.” Vimal also added that the village is primarily inhabited by people belonging to scheduled tribes, most of whom depend on agriculture. While a couple of members of each family look after their respective land, most are forced to leave the village in search of work because the livelihood opportunities within the village are insufficient. By involving the community in the festival or by better utilising the allocated budget, the government can provide assistance on this front.
Walking around, I noticed that many of the tents and other accommodation facilities had been specifically reserved for government officials. Mr Kiwari, a local kirana store owner, lamented that the festival had lost its charm as it had moved away from focusing on the local art and culture. According to him, the villagers were a lot more involved in the earlier iterations of the festival, where they even sold the tickets and passes to the festival. However, the most recent version outsourced most of the work, and no local benefitted directly from it. Earlier, the villagers also had a say in discussions related to the festival, which were held at the municipal corporation’s office. Lately, they have been excluded from this process.
Mandav was once a place of leisure for rulers, who would reside there particularly during the monsoon. Presently, the government is investing its money into transforming it into a place of leisure for its employees. History is thus repeating itself in a rather ironic fashion, all at the cost of the locals. The commercialisation of Mandav through the festival may have bolstered the image of the state administration, but it has failed to help the locals.
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