Pushkar Mela

Pushkar Mela (Pushkar Camel Fair)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Hindu); Promotional
Date of Observation: October-November; four days around the full moon day of the Hindu month of Kartika
Where Celebrated: Pushkar, India
Symbols and Customs: Brahma Temple, Camel Trading, Pushkar Lake

ORIGINS

The annual camel fair Pushkar Mela began as a religious event that was part of Hinduism, which many scholars regard as the world's oldest living religion. The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit term Sindhu (or Indus), which meant river. It referred to people living in the Indus valley in the Indian subcontinent.

Hinduism has no founder, one universal reality (or god) known as Brahman, many gods and goddesses (sometimes referred to as devtas), and several scriptures. Hinduism also has no priesthood or hierarchical structure similar to that seen in some other religions, such as Christianity. Hindus acknowledge the authority of a wide variety of writings, but there is no single, uniform canon. The oldest of the Hindu writings are the Vedas. The word "veda" comes from the Sanskrit word for knowledge. The Vedas, which were compiled from ancient oral traditions, contain hymns, instructions, explanations, chants for sacrifices, magical formulas, and philosophy. Another set of sacred books includes the Great Epics, which illustrate Hindu faith in practice. The Epics include the Ramayana, the Maha- bharata, and the Bhagavad Gita.

The Hindu pantheon includes approximately thirty-three million gods. Some of these are held in higher esteem than others. Over all the gods, Hindus believe in one absolute high god or universal concept. This is Brahman. Although he is above all the gods, he is not worshipped in popular ceremonies because he is detached from the day-to-day affairs of the people. Brahman is impersonal. Lesser gods and goddesses (devtas) serve him. Because these are more intimately involved in the affairs of people, they are venerated as gods. The most honored god in Hinduism varies among the different Hindu sects. Although Hindu adherents practice their faith differently and venerate different deities, they share a similar view of reality and look back on a common history.

The annual Camel Fair held in Pushkar, a small town several miles from Ajmer in the state of Rajasthan, is not only the largest camel fair in the world but one of India's most colorful events. It takes place during the month of Kartika, beginning two days prior to the full moon day and ending the day after, but the 50,000 camels, horses, and cattle to be traded at the fair usually start arriving with their owners several days in advance. Pushkar's population of 11,000 swells to more than twenty times that during the week of the fair as pilgrims, tourists, singers, dancers, and craftsmen gather for the festivities.

Although no one is certain how the fair came to be held in Pushkar, there is reason to believe that it began as a religious event. A well-known lake was created there, according to Hindu belief, when Lord Brahma, the god of creation, took revenge on the demon Vajra Nabha, who had killed Brahma's children, by striking him with his special weapon, the lotus flower. The demon was killed instantly, and lakes formed in the three places where the lotus petals fell to Earth, one of which was in Pushkar. But when Brahma wanted to sanctify the place by performing a sacrifice there on the full moon day of Kartika, his wife Sarasvati was nowhere to be found. He sent someone to fetch her, but Sarasvati took her time. Knowing that he couldn't perform the sacrifice without a wife at his side and that the full moon was slipping away, Brahma hurriedly married a local milkmaid named Gayatri. When Sarasvati arrived, she was furious. She punished her husband by declaring that Pushkar was the only place on Earth where he would be worshipped, and that the full moon day of Kartika was the only day of the year when this could occur.

PUSHKAR LAKE became one of the five most highly revered pilgrimage sites in India. At one point there were 500 temples and fifty-two palaces built around the lake, Pushkar Mela

400 of which remain today (see BRAHMA TEMPLE ). How a religious pilgrimage led to the establishment of a livestock and commercial fair is a mystery, but there is no question that the lake and its temples put Pushkar on the map. Today the fair manages to encompass both ritual bathing and CAMEL TRADING , along with a broad range of commercial ventures and amusements that include snake charmers, fireeaters, and acrobats. There are performances of folk dancing and singing, handcrafts for sale, and an atmosphere of celebration as well as religious devotion throughout the week in which the fair is held.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Brahma Temple

For more than 700 years, Pushkar has been a focal point for the worship of Brahma. In fact, there are only two temples dedicated to Brahma in all of India: the one at Pushkar and another at Khedbrahma in Kerala. The former is the most important of the hundreds of temples located on PUSHKAR LAKE , and the thousands of pilgrims who flock here for the Pushkar Mela consider a visit to the temple, with its red spire and hamsa (wild goose or swan, the vehicle on which Brahma rides) over the entryway, to be essential. There is also a temple dedicated to Sarasvati, but it is located some distance away-which is perhaps appropriate, given Sarasvati's anger and disdain when she discovered that her husband had replaced her with a milkmaid.

Camel Trading

The primary purpose of the Pushkar Mela is to give the buyers and sellers of camels, along with horses and cattle, an opportunity to bargain with each other. Livestock traders from all over the country bring their animals to Pushkar in the hope of doing some business, and it is not uncommon for more than 25,000 camels to change hands in the course of a few days. These ungainly but trustworthy beasts are washed and groomed for the event; many wear jewelry around their ankles and have their coats shaved to form decorative patterns. The haggling over prices can get quite heated, and tourists will often gather just to watch the traders and buyers argue with each other.

There is a "camel beauty contest," in which the owners parade their camels before huge crowds in the hope that they will impress potential buyers, and camel races where the jockeys frequently end up on the ground. One of the more amusing events is the "camel rush," where people jump onto camels one after the other to see how many a single camel can hold. Some people hire camels just to get around the fair, because the size of the crowds makes driving almost impossible.

Pushkar Lake

Hindus regard Pushkar Lake to be the tirtharaja-the king of the shrines or pilgrimage places-because it was blessed by Brahma himself. They believe that those who take a dip in the lake during the full moon of Kartika, therefore, will have all their sins washed away and will be guaranteed salvation. The lake has fifty-two ghats, which are flights of stairs leading down into the water, so that Hindus who come there to worship Brahma can take a ritual bath.

FURTHER READING

Freeman, Dave, et al. 100 Things to Do Before You Die: Travel Events You Just Can't Miss. Dallas: Taylor Pub. Co., 1999. Shemanski, Frances. A Guide to World Fairs and Festivals. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986. Pushkar Mela

Pushkar Mela

October-November; full moon day of Hindu month of Kartika
Pushkar Mela is a camel fair and one of the best known of the Hindu religious fairs of India. It is held at Pushkar, the place where it is said a lotus flower slipped out of Lord Brahma's hands. Water sprang up where the petals fell and created the holy waters of Pushkar Lake. A temple to Brahma on the shore of the lake is one of the few temples in India dedicated to Brahma. Pushkar is in the state of Rajasthan, a vast desert area dotted with oases and populated with wild black camels.
The commercial side of the fair features the sale of about 10,000 camels. Sheep, goats, horses, and donkeys are also sold there. Countless stalls offer such camel accouterments as saddles and blankets embellished with mirrors, bangles, brass utensils, and brass-studded belts. Camel races are a highlight. In the "camel rush" people jump onto camels, and the camel that holds the most people wins a prize.
On the night of the full moon ( Kartika Purnima ), devotees bathe in the waters of the lake and then make offerings of coconut and rice at the Brahma temple.
CONTACTS:
Department of Tourism, Art & Culture, Government of Rajasthan
Govt. Hostel Campus
Paryatan Bhawan, M.I. Rd.
Jaipur, Rajasthan 302 001 India
91-141-5110595; fax: 91-141-5110591
www.rajasthantourism.gov.in
SOURCES:
BkHolWrld-1986, Oct 21
GdWrldFest-1985, p. 112
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