More than a million people attended the 10-day cultural extravaganza, Taj Mahotsava that ended in Agra on Friday, but many were unhappy as it did not showcase traditional culture or have sessions on conservation of heritage buildings.
The extravaganza at Shilpgram, 500 metres from the Taj Mahal, set a new record in the number of tickets sold, a tourist official said.
"At one point there was so much of uncertainty about the fair with corporate sponsors fighting shy of coming forward to support the event and the state government agencies rather reluctant to shell out money for the annual festival. But the new district magistrate Ashish Goyal managed to do a fairly good job mobilising support from all quarters," said a senior official of the tourism department.
The Taj Mahostava began in 1993.
"The locals look forward to it for where and how else would you get to see your favourite entertainment stars for just Rs.10? So much to see, enjoy and buy. What's wrong if the domestic tourists and locals have some fun once a year," said Sumit Gupta, a tourism industry leader.
However, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society Surendra Sharma raised questions over the visit of foreign tourists and on the cultural education they received.
He said the fair has moved away from its original goals.
"It has failed to promote local culture. One could hardly see glimpses of the Mughal or the Braj culture, all we had was a surfeit of pop and Bollywood stars dominating the show," he added.
Academician VP Singh said the Taj Mahal does not need a mahotsava to promote it.
"They (the organisers of the fair) never bothered to talk about the Taj, hold a seminar on the conservation of the Taj and other monuments, not a single programme was focussed on Mughal history, the whole city was not involved in the event. It's a long list of gaps," he said.
Indeed unlike the popular Pune or Mysore Mahotsavas, the Taj Mahotsava failed to get the whole city involved in the festivities. "Half a dozen monuments in the city could have at least been cleaned and spruced up, lighted and some programmes held there," said Sandeep Arora, a hotelier in the Taj Ganj area.
On the local handicrafts industry that is reeling under the pressure of global recession, handicrafts exporter Abhinav Jain said the Taj Mahotsava could have been an excellent opportunity to promote sales of local products.
"For this they should have involved the local handicrafts industry and given preference to the local manufacturers over outsiders," he said.
President of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association Rakesh Chouhan said, "The local tourism industry was not involved. They did not want us to take any major part or contribute ideas. The mahotsava was an all out bureaucrats' show."
"For the locals it may have been a fun packed ten day festival, with opportunity to see Bollywood stars like Jassi, Jagjit Singh, Shreya Ghosal, Mahadevan and some bands performing, but from the tourists' point of view there was nothing worthwhile one could cherish or take back memories," he said.
The sale of handicrafts on stalls put up by craftsmen from all over India has not been very encouraging. "They come, see and heckle for a bargain, but don't buy," complained stall owner from Gujarat, Ramesh.