How SARAS Mela is empowering rural artisans of India

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India is renowned for festivals such as Mysore Dusshera Mela, Kolkatta Durga Puja, Pushkar Cattle Fair, Surajkund International Crafts Mela, Indian International Trade Fair and many more. But have you heard about Saras Aajeevika Mela? Read how a government initiative led by Self Help Groups is empowering India’s rural women.

It is 11 am in the morning, and Chandrakala from Chikmagalur district of Karnataka is busy selling her handmade paintings to prospective buyers at Saras Aajeevika Mela 2021. She is explaining the intricacies of painting on goat leather and how much effort goes into making one piece – from sourcing raw leather to curing, painting, dying and finally converting it into sellable handicraft items. Her entire stall is beautifully decked up with different kinds of handicraft items such as lamps, purses, puppets, wall hangings and much more. The money earned from the sale of handicraft items feeds twenty-five families part of the SRI Maruti Self Help Group. 

SRI Maruti Self Help Group stall from Chikmagalur district of Karnataka at Saras Aajeevika Mela 2021
SRI Maruti Self Help Group stallfrom Chikmagalur district of Karnataka atSaras Aajeevika Mela 2021

Chandrakala is a member of one of the many Self Help Groups (SHGs) that participated in the recently concluded Saras Aajeevika Mela 2021. The Mela was organised in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, as a part of the 40th India International Trade Fair (IITF 2021) from November 14 to November 27, 2021. There were around 300 artisans at 130 stalls showcasing and selling handicrafts, handlooms, home decor items and food products from 28 states and 3 Union Territories of India.

What is Saras Aajeevika Mela?

SARAS Mela is a women empowerment initiative by the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana National Rural Livelihoods Mission of the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) to bring the rural women self-help group members under one platform where they can showcase their skills, sell their products and build connections with potential market players at fair prices. The organisation trains women in different livelihood craftsmanship skills and gives them a platform to market their products. Their stalls are entirely free, and all their expenses, including their stay, is borne by the Mela organising committee. The SARAS Mela is organised by the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR).

SARAS Mela is an initiative by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) to empower rural women
SARAS Mela is an initiative by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) to empower rural women

Saras Mela comes under Aajeevika – National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) – launched by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) in June 2011 to support the livelihood of rural India. In November 2015, the program was renamed Deendayal Antayodaya Yojana (DAY-NRLM). Aajeevika mission set out to improve the lives of 7 Crore rural poor households in 6 lakh villages through self-managed Self Help Groups (SHGs) within 10 years.

Women Empowerment stories from Saras Mela 2021

34-year-old Sujata hails from Sasroli (Sasrauli) village in Matanhail tahsil of Jhajjar district in Haryana. Still, she is adept in the famed Madhubani painting from Bihar. Two years back, her village self-help group hired a Madhubani artist from Bihar to train these women. And today, they have become the masters of art. They sell everything from a fifty rupees face mask to a 3,500/- INR saree.

Artisans from Sasroli (Sasrauli) village of Jhajjar district in Haryana at Saras Mela
Artisans from Sasroli (Sasrauli) villageof Jhajjar district in Haryana at Saras Mela

A few lanes away from Sujata’s Stall was a Manipuri handicraft stall where Laishram Sandhya Rani Devi from Thoubal, Manipur, sold her products. The items displayed at her stall ranged from baskets to hats, mats and other things, all made from water hyacinth. She told Travel See Write that last year was very difficult for her family due to Covid19. Then this year, in February, she started a local self-help group of ten women and started creating the products currently displayed in her stall. She is hoping to earn well from Saras Mela and has also made some friends from other states.

Laishram Sandhya Rani Devi from Thoubal, Manipur selling her handicrafts at Saras Mela
Laishram Sandhya Rani Devi from Thoubal, Manipur selling her handicrafts at Saras Mela

Products sold at Saras Mela

This exhibition-cum-sale under the brand name of SARAS puts forth a grand display of products handcrafted by the artisans from across the country right from the Banarasi Sarees of UP to Sambalpuri of Odisha; Kantha stitches of West Bengal to Maheshwari Sarees of Madhya Pradesh; leatherwork of Rajasthan to Madhubani paintings of Bihar along with Natural and Chemical free spices, food produce and product from Southern, Himalayan and North Eastern regions of the country. My favourite was the mouth-watering authentic delicacies of different states that not only satiated my taste buds but also turned me into a hoarder. I just couldn’t stop tasting and shopping.

This exhibition-cum-sale under SARAS Mela puts forth a grand display of products handcrafted by the artisans from across the country.
SARAS Mela puts forth a grand display of products handcrafted by the artisans from across the country.

Pramila Tai from Jalgaon district in Maharashtra sold her homemade chutneys and pappads of different kinds – from spicy peanut chutney to flavourful curry leave chutney. Her products were fresh, organic, and had a unique flavour that is impossible to get anywhere else.

Pramila Tai from Jalgaon district in Maharashtra sold her homemade chutneys and pappads
Pramila Tai from Jalgaon district in Maharashtra sold her homemade chutneys and pappads

When and where is next Saras Mela organised

Saras Melas are regularly organised across India throughout the year. So, keep a tab on the Aajeevika – National Rural Livelihoods Mission website and its various social media handles. Who knows, next Mela could be near you next month itself.

Have you been to Saras Mela yet? How was your experience? Do share it in the comment below.

Here are some more postcards from the event.

A busy and happy seller at Saras Mela 2021.
A busy and happy seller at Saras Mela 2021.
Happy Saras Seller at the fair
Happy Saras Seller at the fair
Stall from Arunachal Pradesh at Saras Mela 2021, Pragati Maidan
Stall from Arunachal Pradesh at Saras Mela 2021, Pragati Maidan
500 ml 100% pure lemon sold for just 80/- INR at Saras Mela
500 ml 100% pure lemon sold for just 80/- INR at Saras Mela
Selling Handicrafts at Saras Aajeevika Mela 2021
Selling Handicrafts at Saras Aajeevika Mela 2021

Other stalls at Indian International Trade Fair 2021

Afghani Dry Fruits stall at IITF Pragati Maidan 2021
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar comes to IITF Pragati Maidan

Pictures shot on

Camera – Panasonic Lumix S5 full-frame camera, Lenses – 24mm F1.8 lens and 20-60mm F3.5-5.6 Lens.

Here’s a small video on my visit to Saras Aajeevika Mela 2021:

Further reading 

Here are some related posts about women empowerment, and festivals of Delhi

Aadi Mahotsav, Dilli Haat, INA – a tribal festival promoting culture, cuisine and commerce of tribes of India

Why women in Kolhapur are learning an ancient Indian martial art

Munsiyari’s Women of Mettle | Ecotourism and Women Empowerment Stories from Uttarakhand, India

The Women in Nepal: Meet the Women of Steel

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