— Ruchi Lal

fair is a gathering of people for various religious, entertainment or commercial, or all of that, activities. It is normally held temporary at a scheduled time and can last from a day to several weeks.

The Indian society is made up of multiple layers, of which the religious one is the primary. India has always been at the forefront when it comes to celebrating fairs and festivals. Bihar is not an exception and has maintained the rich tradition of fairs and festivals. It boasts quite some renowned fairs. These fairs are relevant in that they narrow the gaps between different communities by bringing them closer and give them a reason to enjoy and celebrate. These fairs may last from one single afternoon to several weeks. There exist different variations of fairs, including street fairs, agricultural fairs, state fairs, trade fairs, and so on.  Each of these fairs denotes vivacity, color, high spirit, dedication, ebullience, peace, power, humanity, artistic performances, prayers, and rituals. Some of the fairs most prevalent in Bihar are described in the following.

Sonepur Mela (November): This is undoubtedly one of the most renowned fairs celebrated in the country, and the biggest cattle fair of Asia that stretches over a period of 15 days to 1 month. It is held on “Kartik Poornima” (the full moon day) in the month of November in Sonepur, Bihar, on the confluence of the rivers Ganges and Gandak. Also known as “Harihar Kshetra” Mela, it attracts visitors from all over the Asia. It is believed to be originated during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya (340–297 BC) where the emperor used to buy elephants and horses across the Ganges. Originally, the venue of this fair was Hajipur, and only the puja was performed at the Harihar Nath Temple at Sonepur. Under the reign of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, the venue was shifted from Hajipur to Sonepur. Legend has it that the Harihar Nath temple was built by Lord Rama, on his way to the court of King Janak to win the hand of Sita. The temple as it stands today was built by Raja Ram Narain, in the Mughal period. Sonepur is located on the convergence of rivers Ganga and Gandak, and thus considered a holy site for Hindus. One of the reasons why people visit Sonepur, other than the cattle fair, is that they take a dip in these holy waters and pay their reverence at the Harihar Nath Temple. Sonepur Mela plays host to a variety of animals, ranging from all breeds of dogs, buffaloes, monkeys, donkeys, ponies, rabbits, birds, poultry to occasionally camels. The spot that attracts most of the attention, however, is the “Haathi Bazaar” where elephants are lined up, all beautifully decorated for sale. This fair is the only place where such a large number of elephants can be traded legally.  Other than animals, a large number of stalls are set up at the Sonepur cattle fair such as garments, weapons, furniture and toys, utensils and agricultural implements, jewelry, handicrafts, and the like.

Rajgir Mahotsav (October): Also known as Rajgir Dance Festival, this “Mahotsav” is a celebration of classical dance and music that takes place every year with great enthusiasm at Rajgir in the state of Bihar. Rajgir, which was once the capital of the Magadh Empire, plays host to this amazing event in the last week of October for 3 days. It is organized by the Department of Tourism, Bihar for the promotion of the rich, cultural, classical, and folk dances of India.  Being surrounded by seven hills, this place holds a great charm and an extremely soothing ambience. Rajgir bustles with tourist activity every year in the month of October for this colorful dance festival, which is a presentation of striking musical instruments, ballet, songs, folk dance, opera, and classical dance, among others. This is attended by popular celebrities and dance lovers from all over the country, including Madhavi Mudgal, Hema Malini, Leela Samson, Anand Shankar, Madhumita Roy, to name a few. This extravagant carnival of dance and music fills the entire place with creative energy and is often seen as a platform that offers great opportunity to future performers who wish to take the legacy of Indian classical and folk dance to great heights.

Makar Sankranti Mela (January): Makar Sankranti Mela is another festival that is exclusive to Bihar. According to the Hindu belief, the day of Makar Sankranti is the time when the Sun moves toward the northern hemisphere from the Capricorn tropic to signify the arrival of new weather conditions that fall in the month of January. People worship the Sun God as an indication of praying for spiritual light that can come to prudence and bring ample knowledge. Celebrated in the month of “Magh,” this is also a harvest festival, where Hindus celebrate their harvesting successes. The pilgrims visiting this place from all over the country make flower offerings to the divinities of the temples at the Hot Springs. The devotees also bathe in the holy water of the Hot Springs. The Makar Sankranti fairs organized on that day have special relevance. Children and adults fly kites together and are involved in many other colorful activities.

Pitrapaksha Mela (September): Historically, Gaya is considered as one of the holiest cities for Hindus. It becomes more religiously important becomes during the occasion of Pitrapaksha, which takes place on the first day of the “Ashwin” month up till the following new moon (i.e., a span of 15 days), generally falling in the month of September. Pitrapaksha Mela in Gaya is held in September, where people from all over the country gather to offer “Pind Daan” to their ancestors, in a belief to bring salvation to their departed souls. The new moon day is the most important day in the year for performing obsequies and rites. During Pitrapaksha, every Hindu is duty bound to worship their ancestors. The history of the Pind Daan ceremony goes back to the era of Lord Buddha. It is believed the Lord Buddha himself was the first to perform the first Pind Daan in Gaya. Hindus believe that in Pitrapaksha, “Yamraj,” the Lord of Death, allows the souls to come down to the earth and receive offerings from their descendants.

Shrawan Mela (July/August): Shrawan Mela is held in Deoghar where millions of devotees from all over the country gather at the Baba Baidyanath Temple. This mela falls in the months of July and August. It lasts for 30 days and is considered as the biggest and longest religious fair in the world. The Baidyanath Temple is considered to be one of the most important pilgrim spots for Hindus in Bihar. The temple is devoted to Lord Shiva, and is said to have 1 of the 12 “Jyotirlingas.” The word Deoghar is derived from the culmination of two Hindi words—“Dev” and “Ghar” that essentially makes Deoghar the home of the Gods. This is the place where the holy Ganges is considered to be most sacred due to its unusual flow toward north.  During this period of “Shrawan,” many pilgrims, known as “Kanwariyas,” travel to Deoghar on foot from all over the country. Most of them first visit Sultaanganj, which is 105 km from Baba-dham. In Sultaanganj, the Ganges flows northwards.  It is the place from where the “Kanwariyas” carry the holy Ganges water to offer it to the “Jyotirlinga.”

Sorath Mela (June): Sorath Mela is celebrated in Sorath in the Madhubani District of Bihar. This mela is celebrated in the month of June and lasts for almost 15 days. At present, various cultural activities such as singing, dance, and poetry competitions have become a part of this fair. Apart from these activities, various stalls are also set up in the fair, such as that of utensils, handicraft, clothes, leather products, and so on. Cattle’s trading is also common during this fair. People from all over Sorath come to enjoy this fair as it has something or the other to offer to everyone, irrespective of their age, often providing a complete entertainment package that they enjoy in full spirits along with their loved ones.

Fairs in Bihar play a role in contributing to the colorful and vibrant nature of the state. They depict the unanimity of the people of the state, people who come together to share and enjoy as well as trade with their communities, spreading an environment of cultural harmony. They teach us to forget any malevolence and embrace one another in a bond of love. Fairs bring about a perfect mixture of moral, ethical, and social values along with the entertainment. If someone wants to see the deep roots of our culture, belief, life style, living, food, art, traditions, the fair and festivals are the windows to view the true colors of any state.

Malmas Mela: According to Hindu mythology, malmas, regarded as State festival, also known as adhimas, is held at an interval of approximately 32 months. In fact, taking bath in the hot springs and worshipping the gods and goddess give salvation and peace. No religious functions including marriages are organized during this month for as the legend goes that all deities reside here during the month.