Terming it a “historic occasion”, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Thursday inaugurated India’s first ‘village of books’ in the picturesque mountain village of Bhilar in Satara district, 110 km from here.‘A pivotal moment’Mr. Fadnavis said, “With this concept, the residents of Bhilar have carved a niche for themselves in the country’s social scene. Henceforth, Bhilar will be the definitive destination for bibliophiles and I urge litterateurs and publishers to freely host events here for the promotion and preservation of literature and literary ideas.” The Chief Minister said the opening of the ‘village of books’ was a pivotal moment in the country’s socio-cultural milieu.Geographically modelled on the similarly idyllic market town of Hay-on-Wye — the Welsh mecca for bibliophiles — Bhilar, with its robust collection of literature in Marathi, aims to be the one-stop destination for lovers of vernacular literature.The idea of a book village sited close to the hill-station town of Mahabaleshwar was to transform Bhilar into a haven where bibliophiles can devour books.With a population of 5,000, an overwhelming majority of whom are engaged in strawberry farming, the village, nestled in the Sahyadri hills, is a major producing-hub of strawberries, which draws a lot of tourists.Education Minister Vinod Tawde, for whom the project has been a labour of love, said, “With this novel venture, tourism and the preservation and promotion of Marathi language and culture can go hand in hand. The government will use the village as a unique platform to promote literature.” It is with the aim of preserving and documenting the Marathi language’s rich heritage that this concept first took root, Mr. Tawde said.About 75 artists have striven hard to give the village a literary veneer. Their paintings on the temple, houses and walls in the village evoke images of words and literature and are expected to draw in book lovers.The walls of schools and community halls in Bhilar have been adorned with paintings of saints like Tukaram and national leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak in a bid to resonate with the literary fervour of the place.Officials said around 15,000 rare books and old magazines in Marathi, including copies of old Diwali issues, have been stocked and kept on display. The collection of English and Hindi literature will be steadily updated.According to authorities, a nominal deposit fee would be charged from readers to ensure proper maintenance of books. They said as the area is prone to heavy rainfall, special provisions would be made to preserve books from damp weather.