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Lack of funding is cited as a major factor
In a surprise announcement, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Australia has said that the Holi Mahotsav it organises annually at Darling Harbour’s Tumbalong Park, will not be taking place this year.
Lack of funding was cited as the major factor for the cancellation, even after extensive arrangements were already in place for the event.
In this Indian ‘muck-up’ festival, held at the onset of spring season, Holi revellers smear coloured powder on each other’s faces, or throw them at each other in gay abandon. It is an ancient Hindu tradition that has been taken up all over the world now in many “fun run” events.
For the past 13 years, this fun-filled Indian tradition has enthralled visitors to Darling Harbour, many of them from the wider community. The ritual of smearing each other’s faces with coloured powder has been particularly enjoyable, as it brings people together and helps build bridges.
“The festival aims to foster and celebrate unity, harmony, peace and friendship between all communities and generations,” a BVB release noted, while lamenting that this “unique multicultural grand festival” seemed not to fall under the criteria of the government’s “discretionary funding”.
“The festival needs huge funds of over $200,000 for this free to public grand event,” the release said. “Every year we/our directors have been contributing their own funds to let this grand festival of harmony at perhaps the most prestigious venue of Darling Harbour [take place], but now are not in a position to pour in [our] own personal funds.”
A crowd-funding attempt held in recent months also did not see successful results.
Observers from within the community have noted the gradually dwindling numbers at this annual Holi celebration. Many factors have been cited for this. While the central city location helps to bring in the mainstream crowds, perhaps a noble early intention of the organisers, the Indian community had begun to keep away, citing distance as well as parking hassles, and the hesitation to take public transport back home while smeared from head to toe in gulal (coloured powder).
The over-regulated gulal opportunities at the Holi Mahotsav also came in for some lament, as did the high cost of hiring stalls.
The recent emergence of smaller Holi events in pockets in western Sydney must no doubt have also exerted an influence in this regard. Are the revellers preferring these events – where they get their fill of the traditional Holi mahaul, ie, a fun-filled masti-bhara ambience of merriment, some boisterous gulal play, non-stop dancing and cheap eats?
For Gambhir Watts OAM, president of BVB, the Holi Mahotsav was always much more, though.
“I have always intended it as a grander event where I could take my culture and heritage to mainstream Australia,” he told Indian Link. “My version of Holi is aimed at increased harmony between people. The non-Indian crowds have enjoyed our presentations not only of gulal but also our cultural performances.”
Holi, in its traditional sense, however, is intended to stay away from “culture” – it is a festival of “letting go”, where rules are lax, and breaking the rules is sanctioned (within limits). Usually ‘unacceptable’ behaviour becomes acceptable, if only for a day (e.g, drinking bhang, harmless flirting). The preferred form of entertainment is not classical, but slightly naughty; hasn’t Bollywood taken this up in umpteen famous examples? The crux of it all is: caught up in the drudgery of regimented daily lives, it is therapeutic to “let go” once in a while.
Watts claims he tried all possible avenues to salvage this year’s event.
“The effort was on till last week,” he revealed. “In the last year I have appealed to various government bodies such as India Tourism and community groups such as Hindu Council of Australia and UIA.”
He is optimistic for next year though.
“I’m talking to all the stakeholders, yes,” he revealed. “But my wish is that I continue to aim the event towards multicultural Australia, to keep it at a central location, and to keep it free of cost.”
Here’s hoping that BVB has ‘let go’ only for a year, while it regroups and comes up with a new modus operandi for 2017.