Fairs of India – UPSC Notes – Art and Culture

India, known for its festivals and diverse culture, hosts various fairs that highlight its rich history and traditions. These fairs come in different sizes and importance, giving us a peek into different aspects of Indian society, like culture, social life, business, and religion.

In simple terms, Indian fairs are temporary events where people from different backgrounds gather for various activities such as religious ceremonies, entertainment, and business deals. These fairs bring communities together, creating a sense of togetherness and shared traditions. They include lively markets, religious rituals, cultural performances, and social interactions, offering a wide range of experiences.

Indian Fairs

  • Historically, many Indian celebrations have featured either large or small fairs.
  • Notably, significant fairs take place during holidays such as Dussehra, Ganeshotsava, Id, Makar Sankranti, and even Muharram.
  • These fairs can be self-contained and cover a broad spectrum of topics, touching on various aspects of our lives.
  • Essentially, a fair is a temporary gathering of people engaging in diverse activities, including religious ceremonies, entertainment, and economic transactions.
  • During these events, you’ll witness people trading goods, participating in religious rites like taking a dip in holy water, engaging in religious debates, and others singing folk songs.
  • Some may be seen enjoying leisurely chats, while wrestling bouts are not uncommon.
  • Even local leaders might be observed giving lectures.
  • In India, various types of fairs are held across different parts of the country.

Important Indian Fairs

Kumbh Mela

  1. Significance:
    • The Kumbh Mela is recognized as the world’s largest religious gathering.
    • Millions of people participate daily, taking a sacred bath in the river.
  2. Rotation of Pilgrimage Sites:
    • The mela is conducted in four auspicious Hindu pilgrimage sites on a rotating basis: Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik-Trimbak, and Ujjain.
  3. Hindu Legend:
    • According to Hindu legend, ‘Amrit,’ the drink of immortality, was made and preserved in a ‘Kumbh’ during the ‘Samudra Manthan’ or the churning of the ocean (pot).
    • Lord Vishnu’s role in bringing the Kumbh during the war between the Devas and the Asuras.
  4. Frequency:
    • The Kumbh Mela is held every three years at various locations and every twelve years at any given location.
    • The exact dates are determined by the positions of the Sun, Moon, and Jupiter in the zodiac.
  5. Specific Kumbh Melas:
    • Simhastha Kumbh: Hosted in Nashik and Ujjain when a planet is in Leo (Simha in Hindu astrology) during the mela.
    • Ardh-Kumbh Melas: Conducted every sixth year in Haridwar and Allahabad.
    • Maha Kumbh: Held once every 144 years.
  6. Magh Kumbh:
    • Every year in the month of Magh (January-February), Allahabad hosts the Magh Kumbh.
  7. Location and Holy Rivers:
    • Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh: At the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati rivers.
    • Haridwar, Uttarakhand: Along the banks of the Ganga.
    • Nashik-Trimbak, Maharashtra: On the banks of the Godavari.
    • Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh: Along the banks of the Shipra.

Sonepur Mela/Fair

  1. Significance:
    • Sonepur Mela is one of Asia’s major cattle fairs.
    • Renowned for its size and significance.
  2. Location:
    • The mela takes place at the confluence of the Ganga and the Gandak rivers in Sonepur, Bihar.
  3. Timing:
    • Usually occurs in November on Kartik Poornima, a Hindu festival day considered auspicious.
  4. Unique Feature – Elephant Auction:
    • Notably, it is the only fair where huge numbers of elephants are auctioned.
    • According to legend, Chandragupta Maurya used to visit the fair to purchase elephants and horses.

Chitra Vichitra Fair

The Chitra Vichitra Fair is Gujarat’s largest tribal fair. Attended primarily by the ‘Gharasia’ and ‘Bhil’ tribes.

  1. Cultural Display:
    • Tribals participate in the fair by dressing up in their traditional garb, showcasing their unique tribal culture.
  2. Rituals and Traditions:
    • Tribal women engage in a poignant ritual, traveling to the river on the ‘Amavasya’ after Holi to mourn for their loved ones who have passed away.
    • Celebrations kick off the next day.
  3. Tourist Attractions:
    • Thousands of tourists visit each year, drawn by the opportunity to witness:
      • Lively dance performances.
      • The exhibition of the best of rural handicrafts.
      • Magnificent silver jewelry crafted by the tribal artisans.

Shamlaji Fair

  • The Shamlaji Fair is dedicated to Lord Shamlaji, known as “the Dark Divine,” believed to be an incarnation of Krishna or Vishnu.
  • The tribal community in Gujarat holds this fair to honor the deity.
  1. Devotee Gathering:
    • Thousands of devotees flock to the Meshno River to worship Lord Shamlaji and participate in a sacred bath.
  2. Tribal Faith:
    • The ‘Bhils,’ a tribal community, have deep faith in Lord Shamlaji, affectionately referring to him as ‘Kaliyo Dev.’
  3. Duration and Prominent Day:
    • The fair spans around three weeks, primarily occurring in November.
    • The most significant day of the fair is Kartik Poornima.

Pushkar Fair

  1. Annual Event:
    • The Pushkar Mela is an annual fair held in Rajasthan, specifically on Kartik Poornima Day, lasting roughly a week.
  2. Cattle and Camel Fair:
    • Recognized as one of the world’s largest camel and cattle fairs.
    • Rajasthani farmers engage in buying and selling cattle during this period, with most transactions occurring in the days leading up to the fair.
  3. Diverse Events:
    • Once the festival commences, various events take center stage, including:
      • Camel races.
      • Moustache competitions.
      • Turban tying competitions.
      • Dancing and camel riding.
  4. Popular Attendance:
    • Thousands of people, including tourists from other countries, attend the fair.
    • The Pushkar Fair is known for its vibrant atmosphere and diverse cultural events.

Desert Fair

  1. Timing and Location:
    • Held over three days in February, the Desert Festival takes place in the city of Jaisalmer.
  2. Cultural Celebration:
    • This festival is a vibrant celebration of Rajasthan’s colorful culture, offering visitors a captivating glimpse into various aspects of Rajasthani traditions.
  3. Diverse Activities:
    • The festival features a range of activities set against Rajasthan’s golden sands, including:
      • Colorful traditional dances.
      • Trips to the dunes.
      • Turban tying competitions.
      • Camel rides.
  4. Culmination with Music:
    • The event concludes under the moonlight with a musical performance by folk singers, adding a melodic touch to the cultural festivities.
  5. Global Attraction:
    • The Desert Festival holds a special place on every foreigner’s bucket list, drawing international attention for its unique blend of cultural richness and entertainment.

Kolayat Fair (Kapil Muni Fair)

  1. Location:
    • Hosted in Bikaner, Rajasthan, the Kolayat Fair is centered around the holy Kolayat Lake.
  2. Religious Significance:
    • Devotees gather on Kartik Poornima to immerse themselves in the sacred waters of Kolayat Lake, believed to wash away sins.
  3. Named after Sage Kapil Muni:
    • The fair is dedicated to the renowned sage Kapil Muni, who devoted his life to meditation and serving humanity.
  4. Cattle Fair:
    • Alongside the religious rituals, the fair features a significant cattle fair, adding an element of traditional commerce and cultural exchange.
  5. Tourist Attraction:
    • Thousands of tourists visit the site to witness a magnificent exhibition of Rajasthani culture and history.
    • The fair becomes a showcase of the vibrant heritage and traditions of Rajasthan.

Surajkund Crafts Fair

  1. Annual International Event:
    • The Surajkund Crafts Fair is an annual international crafts show held near Faridabad, Haryana, spanning a fortnight starting on February 1st.
  2. Focus on Crafts and Cultural Heritage:
    • The fair serves as a platform to showcase and celebrate regional and worldwide crafts and cultural heritage.
  3. Traditional Craftsmen Gathering:
    • Traditional craftsmen from across India come together, creating a diverse and vibrant display of artistic skills.
  4. Craft Workshops:
    • The kiosks not only offer crafted goods but also host workshops where the public can learn and engage in the craft-making process.
  5. Diverse Crafts:
    • Various crafts, including ceramics, weaving, sculpting, embroidery, Paper Mache, bamboo and cane crafts, metal and wooden works, attract significant interest.
  6. Cultural Performances and Regional Cuisines:
    • The fair is not just about crafts; it also features traditional cultural performances and offers a taste of regional cuisines, providing a complete Indian cultural experience.

Gangasagar Fair

  1. Location and Duration:
    • The Gangasagar Mela occurs near the mouth of the Hooghly River in West Bengal and spans throughout January and February.
  2. Sacred Dip in the Ganges:
    • Hindus regard a sacred dip in the Ganges, particularly on Makar Sankranti day, as highly auspicious.
  3. Pilgrim Influx:
    • The mela attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, making it a significant religious gathering.
  4. Distinct Identity:
    • The presence of Naga sadhus, ascetic followers of Lord Shiva who renounce worldly comforts, gives the fair a unique and distinct identity.

Goa Carnival Fair

  1. Origin and Timing:
    • Brought to India by the Portuguese, the Goa Carnival takes place 40 days before Lent, a period of fasting and spiritual reflection.
  2. Celebration of Food and Merriment:
    • The carnival is characterized by a spirit of food and merriment, with people donning masks and taking to the streets for lively festivities.
  3. Tribute to Goa’s Rich Past:
    • A tribute to Goa’s rich past and culture, the carnival reflects a significant Portuguese influence.
  4. Tourist Attraction:
    • The celebration draws thousands of tourists every year who come to experience the vibrant atmosphere.
  5. Colourful Floats and Parades:
    • The Goa Carnival is marked by colourful floats and parades, adding a visual spectacle to the festivities.
  6. Live Bands and Dancing:
    • Live bands and dancing further contribute to the lively and energetic ambiance of the carnival.

Hemis Gompa Fair

  1. Religious Significance:
    • The Hemis Gompa fair is a religious event of immense importance, considered one of India’s most auspicious occasions for the Buddhist community.
  2. Location and Timing:
    • Hosted at the world-famous Hemis Gompa, renowned as “the world’s largest Buddhist monastery,” situated in Ladakh.
    • The magnificent fair typically takes place in January/February, attracting devotees and visitors.
  3. Hidden Gem:
    • The famed Hemis Gompa is concealed within the serene surroundings of the Hemis National Park, nestled amidst towering mountain peaks.

Chandrabhaga Mela

  1. Location and Timing:
    • The Chandrabhaga Mela, also known as the Magha Saptami Mela, is a significant fair held in February near Bhubaneswar, Orissa.
    • The celebration takes place during the full moon phase at the sacred Chandrabhaga River.
  2. Ritualistic Bathing:
    • Thousands of people gather at the holy Chandrabhaga River to partake in a ritualistic bath during the seven-day fair.
  3. Tourist Attractions:
    • The tribal state offers attractions such as the renowned Konarak Sun Temple, Math, and Archaeological Museum.

Ambubasi Fair

  1. Location and Timing:
    • The Ambubasi Fair is part of the religious fairs and festivals held across India.
    • Hosted during the monsoon, the fair takes place at the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati, Assam, spanning three days.
  2. Devotee Influx:
    • Tens of thousands of devotees from across the country flock to the Kamakhya Temple to participate in the three-day traditional fair.

Baneshwar Fair

  1. Timing and Location:
    • The Baneshwar Fair is a popular tribal fair held in February in the Dungarpur district of Rajasthan.
  2. Religious Significance:
    • It is a religious fair dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva, employing basic and traditional practices.
  3. Tribal Gathering:
    • The fair draws a significant gathering of tribals not only from Rajasthan but also from neighboring states, especially Madhya Pradesh.

Indian festivals and fairs boast several characteristics that can attract tourists. A recent addition to the rich tradition of Indian fairs is the inclusion of trade shows. These events occur at different times and locations across the country. Pragati Maidan in Delhi stands out as a popular venue for such trade exhibitions held throughout the year.

FAQs on Indian Fairs

  1. How many fairs are held in India?
    • Fairs and festivals in India are celebrated as a part of life. Known as the land of 13 festivals in 12 months, the Indian festive calendar is the longest in the world. The colorful Indian culture is defined by several festivals celebrated in the country throughout the year.
  2. What is meant by an Indian fair?
    • A mela, or Indian fair, is a large gathering of people who temporarily come together at a culturally appropriate time and place. Melas usually occur at the intersections of trade routes, river banks, or confluences.
  3. Why is India called the land of fairs?
    • India is often called the land of festivals and fairs where each day is some kind of celebration, and there are more festivals celebrated in India than anywhere else in the world. This diversity provides a comprehensive list of all the major festivals celebrated in India that one must experience once in a lifetime.
  4. Which is the 2nd biggest fair in India?
    • Ganga Sagar Mela in Sagardwip, West Bengal, is India’s second-largest fair after Kumbh Mela, coinciding with Makar Sankranti on the 14th or 15th of January each year. The Ganga Sagar Mela stands as a testament to the vibrant cultural and spiritual tapestry of India.
  5. Which is India’s biggest fair?
    • The biggest fair held in India is the Kumbh Mela, a religious pilgrimage and festival that takes place every 12 years at four different locations: Allahabad (Prayagraj), Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain.
  6. Who is the biggest Mela in India?
    • The Kumbh Mela, held every twelve years at Prayagraj, Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain, is one of the largest fairs in India. Over 60 million people gathered in January 2001, making it the largest gathering anywhere in the world.
  7. What is the longest mela in India?
    • The full Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years, while an ardha (half) mela is held after about 6 years at the same site. The 2013 Kumbh Mela was the largest religious gathering in the world with almost 120 million visitors. An Ardh Kumbh Mela was held in early 2019, and the next full Kumbh Mela is scheduled for 2025.

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