Fairs of Bihar are the biggest attraction of people in and around the state borders. It’s a celebration that brings people closer to our tradition and culture topped up with the comfort of being around our families and loved ones. In our ‘Fairs of Bihar’ series, today we bring the story of the ever-popular, Sonepur Cattle Fair. Also known as Harihar Kshetra Mela, Sonepur Cattle Fair is held on Kartik Poornima (the full moon day) over November and December in Sonepur, Bihar on the confluence of river Ganges (Gandak).
Sonepur Mela attracts foreign tourists who arrive with the motive of capturing various elements of rural settlement and to date, is said to be the biggest cattle fair in Asia and usually lasts from between fifteen days to one month in duration. Swiss cottages are set up by Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation (BSTDC) at the Sonpur fair, with an Internet facility, motorboat ride in river Gandak, food at the tourist village and pre-paid taxis from Patna Airport to Sonpur fair. A replica of Disneyland park is also set up during the Sonpur Mela for fun, food and frolics.
Historically, it was started by the Suryawanshi Bais Kings of Saran to attract traders from places as far away as Central Asia. Originally, the venue of the fair was Hajipur and only the performance of the puja used to take place at the Harihar Nath temple of Sonpur. The temple of Harihar Nath is believed to have been originally built by Lord Rama, on his way to the court of King Janak to win the hand of Mata Sita. However, under the rule of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the venue of the fair got shifted to Sonpur.
Since Sonpur is situated at the convergence of the sacred rivers Ganges and Gandak, the Hindus regard it as a holy site. One of the purposes of the people, apart from just visiting this fair, is to take a holy dip at the convergence and pay respects to the Hariharnath Temple. Many farm animals are bought at the Sonpur mela from all breeds of dogs, buffaloes, donkeys, ponies, Persian horses, rabbits, goats, birds, poultry and even the occasional camel are also available.
The Sonpur Fair is the only place where such a large number of elephants are traded in the Haathi Bazaar — although they cannot legally be sold. One will find a wide variety of goods in these stalls, ranging from garments to weapons and furniture, toys, utensils and agricultural implements, jewellery and handicrafts. A ‘railgram’ stall is set up by Railways, where toy trains are also erected for children.