The Sonepur Cattle Fair is one of the largest fairs of animals in Asia that takes place annually in the Vaishali district of Bihar. Situated on the bank of the river Gandak, the city of Sonepur holds the annual livestock fair, commonly known as 'Sonepur Mela'. This year it is going to be held from 20th November 2023 to 5th December 2023. Though famous as a cattle fair, Sonepur Mela has a common proverb to its name which goes as: One can buy everything in Sonepur Mela, from a needle to an elephant. The saying, however, does not hold any longer, for the sale and purchase of elephants has been declared illegal since 2004, after the implementation of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. However, the Sonepur Mela still has much to offer to its visitors, who come from all across the country as well as abroad from handicraft stores to trade of Dogs, Buffaloes and Donkies. The Mela stretches from 15 days to a month.
When is Sonepur Mela Held?
The date for commencement of Sonepur Mela is decided according to Hindu calendar. The Mela begins at Kartik Poornima, which is the full moon day or the fifth moon day in the month of Kartik, which usually falls in November/ December in the Gregorian calendar. The Mela will be held on 20th November 2023.
Where is Sonepur Mela Held?
Before the medieval period, the cattle fair was held at Hajipur, and the Puja took place in Sonepur, in the Harihar Nath temple. However, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb shifted the location of the Mela as well to the city of Sonepur. Since then, the Sonepur Mela is being organised in Sonepur, which is only about twenty-five kilometres away from the capital city, Patna.
How is Sonepur Mela Celebrated?
Trade Together with buying and selling of animals like cattle, dogs, cats, birds, camels and what not, other items such as edibles, clothes, agricultural tools, handicrafts, and furniture are also found in the stalls. Though sale and purchase of elephants have been banned, yet some of the owners bring them to the fair to flaunt them. Elephants are an essential part of the Sonepur Mela, as the belief goes behind bringing them for the show. Apart from buying and selling of the animals, many events such as Magic shows, Merry-go-rounds, and Tantric practices can also be found in action.
Puja is offered at the Harihar Nath temple, since it is the guardian shrine of the place, and the mythology of the fair is linked to it. Devotees take a dip in the waters where Gandak River and the Ganges meet, to seek blessings and purify themselves. Several competitions, such as animal race, are also organised.
'Sonepur Mela Theatre'
As the sun sets over Sonepur, a fresh enthusiasm sparks up Mela's charm. Adults, as well as youngsters, gather to see what is termed as 'Theatre'. Many girls, clad with the purpose of alluring the audience, are put up on a stage. The girls dance on the raised platform with the enthusiasm of being in an item number, strip-teasing at the same time, while Bhojpuri music plays through the loudspeakers. Large numbers of people gather for these shows, and the collection is vast. The number of these 'theatres' is more than one in the fair at night. Beginning at sundown, the shows are at their peak after midnight.
History of Sonepur Mela
The Harihar Nath temple in the city of Sonepur is said to have great historical and mythological significance, close to which the Sonepur Mela is organised. The story goes as follows. Two sages, namely, Agasthya and Dewala Muni cursed King Indrayamuna who, by the impact of the curse, turned into an elephant and Huhu, the chief of Gandharva turned into a crocodile. The two fought tooth and nail for years after their metamorphosis. Finally, they came to the place near the Harihar Nath temple. Indrayamuna turned an elephant, prayed to Lord Vishnu for help. Vishnu appeared and sawed the crocodile with his Chakra. Ultimately, curses were lifted, and both of them returned to their original human form. While Vishnu slaughtered huhu, Indrayamuna was lifted to the abode of Vaikuntha by him. The Harihar Nath temple has attained great importance by virtue of Vishnu's appearance at the place. Thus, the Sonepur Mela is not merely a fair where commodities are traded, but an event of religious importance. This is the reason why the event is also known as Harihar Kshetra Mela.
From the viewpoint of some historians, Chandragupta Maurya utilised the Sonepur Mela to buy horses and elephants for strengthening his army, thus giving the fair exceptional importance in his reign.
How to Reach Sonepur
The small city has a railway station of its own by the name of Sonpur Junction Railway Station. However, the nearest airport is the Jay Prakash Narayan International Airport of Patna. While the fair is going on, the Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation organises Ferries between Patna and Sonepur. Apart from this, various cab services are available which can get the visitors to Sonepur.
Outdoing the Pushkar Mela and other similar fairs, Sonepur Mela is one of the largest animal fairs in the world and the largest in Asia. The grandeur of the event increases the scope of tourism for the state of Bihar, which is otherwise an economically weak state. The annual Mela, apart from deriving high revenue, also serves as an event of social penetration. People from different cities and countries gather together, and thus the sense of brotherhood is strengthened. Moreover, it is an occasion which the people who live by animal husbandry look up to. The general recreational purposes of a fair are also served in various manners, including animal races, food stalls, swings and merry-go-rounds, magic and snake-charmer shows, and of course the infamous theatres. Situated at the holy banks of Ganges and Gandak, and having an affiliate temple of its own, the Sonepur Mela also provides a sense of spiritually rich experience to the believers.