The World Culture Festival that culminated on Sunday evening was a grand event for everyone except the artistes performing here. From pulling off performances in wet clothes to school children braving the poorly-lit muddy patches on the Yamuna floodplains, many artistes said it was a nightmarish experience.

Olga Chepelianskia, a Kathak dancer from France, had March 11 and 13 marked on her calendar since months. She performed along with the 8,500 artistes at the opening ceremony of the festival organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation, and was to perform again for the grand finale on Sunday.

“I opted out of the finale,” said Ms. Chapelianskia, who is also a consultant for climate change and sustainable urban development to the United Nations. “As a person who works in the field of climate change, the news reports that came before the event made me re-think. However, I decided to perform as I had committed to the organisers. Above all, it was Guru ji’s event. But, I was shocked to see the inhuman conditions the participants were put through,” she added.

The rain during the first two days added to the miseries of the artistes. Carpets were rolled out for them to sit on, but these were so wet that tiny pools were formed at the crevasses. Already drenched, most of them — especially the children — had to sit through the event despite their performances being over. Besides, the mosquitoes that swarmed the venue tested the last bit of patience. In fact, a couple of children from a few dance academies are now down with fever. Many were also seen complaining about non-availability of water.

As if this was not enough, young girls were left worried after their buses never arrived to pick them up.

Manoj Sharma, whose 11-year- old daughter Anshika performed at the event, said: “There were children as young as eight years old and no volunteers were seen guiding them after the function. Buses and cars were stuck in the mud and couldn’t come to the pick-up point near the green rooms,” said Mr. Sharma.

When asked what time she was dropped at the pick-up point, Mr. Sharma added: “No, she wasn’t dropped. We had to take out our car finally. After searching the poorly-lit areas, we finally found her. We returned at 2 a.m. She had left home at 7:30 in the morning. Initially, we waited at Dilshad Garden, which is where the bus was supposed to drop her, as we were told that parents were not allowed to drop or pick their children from the venue.”

Anshika had another performance lined up for Sunday, but she chose not to go back.

Mayank Malhotra, who runs the Music N Dance Academy with his wife, recalled the harrowing time he faced on their way back from the event. “My wife is wheelchair-bound. I had to drag it through muddy stretches for almost two-and-a-half kilometres till the main road as the buses were stuck for two hours,” he said.

Calling the festival an “organisational disaster”, Mukul, a dancer who had eight performers in his group, said: “The green room was suffocating as it had no exhaust fans or table fans. It was too small to accommodate 2,000 performers at once. Artistes had to walk around half-a-kilometre on a non-carpeted uneven stretch from the green room to the stage. As dancers we were barefoot and the route was full of stones.”

The festival started with the organisers boasting about a never-before participation of 35,973 artistes. But, after the first day, many of them opted out.