The 14th edition of the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival is taking place from 3-7 February, 2023. The five-day festival is set to feature talks, performances, films, walks and tours, workshops and an immersive exhibition all curated about and around the dance and music culture of Lucknow. While the festival is nothing less than a treat for arts and culture enthusiasts, the shopaholics and the foodies can also have a blast at the Weaves and Crafts Bazaar and the famous Sunday Home-Cooked Food Festival respectively.
In this interview, Madhavi Kukreja, the Founder of the Festival, talks about the key highlights at the festival this year, the festival’s association with the Mahindra Group, importance of community involvement in a cultural festival, among other things.
Q. What can we expect at the festival this year? What will be the key highlights according to you?
A. Our festival is based on the traditional format of a mela which is all inclusive in nature. The theme this year is Raqs-o-Mausiqi which translates to dance and music. We explore the rich musical and dance traditions of Awadh. Awadh has long been a land of artistes and their equally knowledgeable patrons and connoisseurs. As we explore the artistic heritage of this region, we also hope to shed light on the traditions that ingrained dance and music into the socio-cultural tapestry of Awadh.
Keeping up with the spirit of that, one can expect a concoction of literary and cultural performances along with experiential exhibitions and food.
The range of performances are all curated around the theme which entails performances from a tabla solo by Ustad Ilmas Hussain Khan, a play by Bandish to the ever magnificent vocal recital by T.M. Krishna and many more. The experiential exhibits and walks are a different highlight in themselves. The home cooked food from the heritage homes of Lucknow are authentic delicacies right off the age old recipe books.
Q. Tell us about the association with the Mahindra Group and how the festival benefits from it.
A. Needless to say that our prime sponsors have been with us forever, because of the personal connection of Anand Mahindra’s mother with the city of Lucknow and how she also was a patron of art and crafts. It’s the values that she espouses over the years that are married to the festival and its ethos.
Mahindra as a brand is a sensitive brand and likes to associate itself with these kinds of cultural events. Their continued association with us over the years has only strengthened the bond between us and them. The festival benefits from the fact that the identity that we drive out of the Mahindra brand value rubs off on us and we see and are keen on exploring different ways in which we can make this brand association stronger with them in the years to come. The Mahindra group has been a constant pillar of strength for all of us. It is because of the personal interest of the chairperson Anand Mahindra who ensures that the festival is a success year after year.
Q. How do you look at the backdrop of Lucknow for the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival?
A. Lucknow is a heritage city, a storehouse of culture and heritage to say the least. It provides for a perfect canvas for us to paint the different themes that we’ve worked on over the years. This city has a lot of living heritage not just concrete buildings and it is our endeavor to make sure that the essence, the value, the culture of the city is showcased and is continued to be showcased in the years to come. We are blessed to be in the city of Lucknow for it provides for endless and a limitless capacity to talk about various aspects of the city and how cultures are shaped in the city. Through this festival we have looked at Lucknow from different lenses like ‘Lucknow ki rehash,’ where we mapped old houses and heritage homes of the city. Similarly, with the them ‘husn-e-karigari,’ we tried to weave different craftsmen and a plethora of traditional crafts that Lucknow has to offer. Our theme, the feminists of Awadh, was particularly received as a novel initiative where we looked at the city through the empowering lense of feminism.
Q. What is the importance of community involvement in a festival of this scope? How important is inclusion according to you?
A. We are all about diversity and inclusion in this festival which is the bedrock for everything that we do. When we talk about community involvement we talk about the community of artisans, the community of the city that has held it together over the years. The festival entertains people from all walks of life, all religions and all generations. We work around the community and for the community and hence the community involvement is something that sails our boat. Cultural syncretism is something that we explore and is deeply rooted in the way we work.
Our entire team is from the community that works for the community. Over the years the themes that we’ve taken up have targeted different communities of the city and strive to do so in the years to come. In our theme ‘Rachi Basi Tehzeeb,’ we explored different communities with an intention to give everyone an equal space and representation. We are always very mindful of giving everyone a fair chance be it while showcasing their work or working with them.
Q. How has the meaning of heritage changed over the years, particularly in recent times? Also, what are the challenges associated with its preservation?
A. Heritage conservation is something that we have learnt over the years through this festival. We have realized that there are the tangibles and the intangibles. We’ve explored the tangibles through our themes in the past years like Lucknow ki Reha’ish or the homes of Lucknow, Qasbati Rang, Lucknowi Bawarchkhane or the kitchens of Lucknow and many more.
In recent times, we have seen the switch to oral history where heritage now is also intangible.
With the advertisement in technology we’ve seen that heritage can also be preserved as audio visual recordings and written content. The festival has expanded the meaning of Heritage for the people of the city it has through its endeavors created a new cultural consciousness.
The challenges that we face are those of resources and to find out the authentic spaces that are left in the city. Over the years because of poor commerce old buildings and spaces have either withered away or are in a dilapidated state which becomes a challenge for us.
Q. How do you look back at the festival’s journey? What have been the festival’s biggest triumphs?
A. To us every addition of the festival feels like a new kind of triumph. We feel that we have been able to bring out Lucknow and showcase it and the Awadh region in a new way for the people who have over the years loved the festival for what it is and that is a triumph that re-visits us every year at the climax of the festival.
Being rooted and staying relevant all along is something that has been the driving force and the journey has been satiating. Documenting the history, bringing out the home cooked food, curating experiential exhibitions and giving a different perspective to the city has been an enthralling experience.
To be able to weave all the themes in all aspects that we put together has been one of the biggest triumphs other than of course being relevant to all generations and people from all walks of lives.
We are particularly proud of the younger turnout which has increased over the years and we are more than happy to make the festival a space where they feel comfortable and welcomed.