Fair and festivals: A thread that connects diverse India

The Chariot festival of Puri, Odisha, is dedicated to Lord Jagannath and is the oldest rath yatra in the world which finds mentions even in Padma Purana, Skanda Purana, Kapila Samhita and Brahma Purana.

By Reya Mehrotra

Pushkar Mela
Also called the Pushkar Camel Fair or Kartik Mela, the annual cultural and livestock fair is held in Pushkar, Rajasthan, and attracts lakhs of visitors. The town of Pushkar also houses the only Brahma temple in the world. It is believed that Pushkar lake was formed when the Lord dropped a lotus on the earth. Apart from being a pilgrimage to Pushkar lake, the festival is a trade affair for livestock. Camel, cattle and horse are traded in the fair.

Puri Rath Yatra
The Chariot festival of Puri, Odisha, is dedicated to Lord Jagannath and is the oldest rath yatra in the world which finds mentions even in Padma Purana, Skanda Purana, Kapila Samhita and Brahma Purana. The festival marks the annual visit of Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhardra and Lord Balabhadra to Gundicha temple. The three deities’ statues are removed from the main temple of Puri, Jagannath Temple, and carried on chariots by devotees. The three chariots are constructed newly every year with different woods. On their way back, the deities stop at the Mausi Maa temple for a while for an offering of Poda Pitha, said to be the Lord’s favourite. The festival is likely to be held in July this year.

Goa Carnival
Goa Carnival, though smaller than Rio de Janeiro’s Rio Carnival or Carnival of Madeira of Portugal, is one of the largest carnivals in India and includes Catholic celebrations and cultural festivities. Despite falling into obscurity during the latter days of the Portuguese colonial rule of Goa, it is today a major tourist attraction. It dates back to the introduction of the Roman Catholic traditions in India during the Portuguese conquest. It is held in the month of February.

Kumbh Mela
The Hindu pilgrimage and festival is celebrated in a cycle of 12 years at four river bank sites—Ujjain, Prayagraj, Nashik and Haridwar. The festival is more than 2,000 years old and the largest fair in India. Lakhs of devotees visit the fair for a dip in the rivers and to experience a host of events like religious discourses, mass feedings, fairs and so on. There is a belief that bathing in the river water may cleanse you of your sins of this birth and the previous. Evidence for the existence of such a fair is found in historic manuscripts where a fair was held every 6-12 years. The fair included a dip in the holy river and was called Magha mela.

One of the world’s largest pilgrimage sites, Sabarimala Temple is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, believed to be Lord Shiva and Mohini’s son. The annual festival Makaravilakku is held in the shrine during Makar Sakranti and includes the procession of sacred ornaments of Lord Ayyapa. Approximately half a million devotees attend the festival. Apart from the festival, Lord Ayyappa’s devotees also observe a fast of 41 days which is meant to be austere. In fact, between 1991 and 2018, women between the ages of 10 and 50 years were banned from the temple. In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that women of all age groups could enter the temple.

The Sonepur Cattle Fair, also called the Harihar Kshetra Mela, is held in the months of November and December in Bihar’s Sonepur. It attracts visitors from all over Asia and is the biggest Asian cattle fair. It is said to have begun when Chandragupta Maurya bought horses and elephants across the river Ganges. The original location of the fair was Hajipur in Bihar but it was shifted to Sonepur under the reign of Aurangzeb. Birds, poultry, farm animals, etc, can be bought from the fair. Haathi Bazaar is famous for the trade of elephants, although they cannot legally be sold now.

Hemis Festival
The religious Hemis Gompa festival is one of the most auspicious occasions for Buddhists. It is held every year in June/July in the most popular and most visited monastery of Ladakh: Hemis Gompa. The festival marks the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. The two-day celebration marks dances, unfurling of Buddhist paintings and music.

Hornbill Festival
Celebrated in December in Nagaland, the Hornbill Festival is called the Festival of Festivals. Its aim is to promote the cultural heritage of Nagaland and to promote inter-tribal interactions. The festival is named after the Hornbill as it is mentioned in most of the states’ tribal folklores.

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