The Jaisalmer Desert festival or Meru Parv was organised from February 17th to February 19th, 2019. The annual festival was a celebration of Rajasthani culture especially the camel. The festival kicked off in style with camel rides, musical performances, moustache competitions, Mr and Ms Desert competition and Ghoomar dance held at the Shaheed Poonam Singh stadium located in the backdrop of the magnificent golden fortress (Sonar Kella). The first day saw a new World Record being established when approximately 5000 people put on a Pagdi(turban) or safa in 5.32 minutes. This feat was entered in the India Bool of Records.
Arvind Bishnoi from Pokhran beat 44 other contestants to emerge as the Mr Desert 2019. The Mr Desert competition is decided on the criteria as to who represents Rajasthani culture best in terms of attire, look and spirit. Manish Singh the winner of the Mr Desert competition in 2018 explained what it takes to be a Mr Desert “it is not merely about the look, anybody can maintain a traditional moustache and wear traditional dress and ornaments what is important is who is able to imbibe the Rajasthani spirit. For that one has to know what Rajasthan stands for, the legacy of valor as displayed by the innumerable heroes of the past – Maharana Pratap, Gora, Badal, Rana Sangram Singh and others, one should know about these great men in order to internalise that spirit that is what makes the difference.”
Giridhar Vyas who sports a moustache measuring 14 feet on either side was a celebrity of sorts at the festival as people qued up to have their pictures taken with him. Vyas who is an employee at the forest department in State Government of Rajasthan laments the fact that most young men do not grow a moustache nowadays “Young man today do not keep a moustache not everyone can keep a big mustache, one needs to have a big heart and a thick skin for that. Sometimes the wives disapprove of it sometimes the friends and others who disapprove.” Vyas who has been growing a moustache since 1985 says that the forest department does not consider their employee having a 28 feet long moustache as a breach of discipline on the contrary considers it a matter of pride for the department.
The second day of the festival was held at the Dedansar stadium and featured programmes such as camel decoration competition, camel polo, camel tattoo show by the BSF, Matki race between Indian women and foreigner women and several sporting events. The Matki race was a relay race where the contestants had to run with filled pitchers on one’s head; needless to say the hapless foreign women had no chance against the village women. Royal Group’s camel Mithun Chakravarty emerged the winner of the camel decoration competition. Chena Ram Mithun’s trainer expressed great pride at his ward and said that the camel’s dark completion, extraordinary stature and incredible dancing skills made its owner name him after the famous Hindi film star.
The ‘Tattoo show’ included several feats being performed by the camels like musical riding where the camels march in a synchronized manner in various formations, acrobatic camel where the camel’s do PT and another display where the soldiers perform PT and yoga on camel back.
Kuldeep Chaudhary a Deputy Commandant in the BSF who led the Tattoo show explained the preparations for the show “We perform at the Republic Day and then more extensively at the festival here the preparations go on throughout the year initially we select the best camel based on certain criteria then they are trained at Jodhpur where we have a training centre for them.”
Ashok Tak is a famous camel beautician he is an activist for Rajasthani heritage he explains why camel is such a celebrated animal in Rajasthan “In earlier times it was the camel which was the main mode of transportation, not only that even for drawing water from wells camel was used, even now it is a lifeline for those who dwell in the desert, camel milk is widely used and is very nutritious. As of now the camel is our state animal, several people earn a livelihood through the camel by way of providing camel safari facilities.” Tak has won several prizes for camel decoration and has a collector’s museum and vintage art gallery in Pushkar.
The third day’s action shifted to the picturesque Sam dunes 45 kilometers away from the city while the morning of the third day included a heritage walk at abandoned Kuldhara town. The evening saw camel race, camel dance and horse dance, late evening featured traditional Rajasthani song and dance plus eat outs for the visitors. One of the big attractions was daredevil bikers doing high speed biking on the sand dunes. The bikers would tail dive in high speeds from steep sand dunes, sometimes these tail dives were as sharp as 80 degrees. Onlookers looked on in amazement, while some were adventurous enough to ride pillion behind these brave hearts.