Just 11 years old, the Jaipur Literary Festival is India’s largest, annual free, literary festival. Founded in 2006 it has grown from just 100 visitors (some of whom were accidental tourists) to a 5 day extravaganza. Held from 19th – 23rd January 2017 it has fast become a firm favourite as a calendar event for literary lovers, and 2017’s festival is expected to be jam packed full of delegates not only from India, but from all across our globe.
This literary festival is like nothing that you will ever find in the UK, not least because there isn’t a 200 year old royal palace that we could hold it in. That may sound over the top, but there is something quite fitting about a literary festival being held in the heart of the hot, buzzing, historic, famously fortified, pink city of Jaipur. The Diggi Palace Hotel serves as the main venue of the festival, with sessions held in the Hall of Audience and throughout the gardens of the Diggi Palace in the city centre. The 2015 festival expanded beyond the four walls of Diggi Palace though, holding over 300 events in 10 venues, including the Music Stage at Clarks Amer, the Jaipur BookMark at Narain Niwas, and two special sessions at Amer Fort and Hawa Mahal to focus on heritage and culture, supported by Rajasthan Tourism.
Originally a segment of the Jaipur Heritage International Festival, in 2006 the Jaipur Literary Festival developed into a free-standing festival of literature, standing on its own two feet in 2008. All events at the festival are free and not ticketed. The festival not only prides itself on its impressive growth – the 2006 inaugural festival had just 18 writers and a crowd of 100 attendees. In 2008 this expanded to 2,500 attendees. By 2010 they had 172 authors and speakers with 30,000 attendees. It also has the ability to attract well known key note speakers: at the 2016 festival for example, attendees were privy to keynote speakers novelist Margaret Atwood and our beloved Stephen Fry. Also prominent are feted historians, due in part to one of the festival’s co-director being historian and travel writer William Dalrymple.
According to the organisers themselves, although it is first and foremost a literary festival, equity and democracy run through the festival’s veins, placing some of the world’s greatest minds, humanitarians, historians, politicians, business leaders, sports people and entertainers from all walks of life together on stage. There are numerous talks, spread over the 5 days that take the form of conversations and debates, not just lectures and book readings. The speakers regularly enter difficult domains and are keen to discuss not so popular topics such as the Partition of 1947 and the consequences of British imperialism in India. Both of these were up for discussion at the 2015 festival, so who knows what threads will be picked over at 2017s festival! This free and egalitarian access to these renowned thinkers and writers is a powerful statement in a country where access to such individuals remains the privilege of a few.
Of course going to Jaipur for a long weekend is feasible, but if you are going all that way, you should stay for a few days longer and explore the beautiful pink city and Rajasthan, we guarantee you won’t be disappointed you did.