Sonepur Animal Fair
SONEPUR ANIMAL FAIR
Sonepur is a town in Saran district of the Indian state of Bihar. It is situated at the confluence of the holy rivers Gandak & the Ganges (Ganga) & along the bank of the river Gandak, which originates in Nepal & joins here with the Ganges, the holiest of all the rivers as believed by billions of Hindus. Gandak is also considered a very sacred river as the Shaligram Shila (Narayan Shila) – a fossilized mollusk considered to be the symbol of Lord Vishnu – is found in the upper stretches of the river.
A very large (considered to be the largest in Asia) animal fair is held at Sonepur every year in the month of November-December . The fair , known as the Sonepur Mela or Harihara kshetra Mela, starts on the auspicious day of Kartik Purnima (the full-moon day in the month of Kartik of the Hindu almanac) & continues for one month.
The Kartik Purnima day is very auspicious for the Hindus, & many legends are associated with it.
It is said that Lord Shiva killed the demon Tripurasura on this day here to protect the gods from the tyranny of the demon. The gods were overjoyed & they celebrated the victory by observing Dwipavali (the festival of lights) on this day. For this reason the Kartik Purnima day is also known as Deo-Diwali or Deva-Dwipavali (Festival of lights of the gods). It is said that Lord Shiva stayed here on the request of the gods as a combined form with Lord Vishnu as Lord Hari-Hara (Hari = Vishnu & Hara = Shiva), & a temple was constructed at this place for Lord Hari-Hara, & the place was named Harihara kshetra.
According to another legend, Lord Vishnu interfered here on this day in the battle between two cursed Gandharvas (a sort of demi-gods), the Gaja (=elephant) who was actually the king Indrayamuna & the Makara (=crocodile) who was actually the Gandharva chief Huhu, & saved the Gaja by killing the crocodile, both of the fighters were thus released from the curse & went back to the heaven.
Harihar Kshetra (Chhetra) Mela
The Sonepur fair is also known as Harihar Chhetra/ Kshetra Mela. This fair combines religion wit trading in a nice way. People come here to have a holy dip at the confluence of the holy rivers Gandak & Ganga which, they believe, will wash away all their sins. After the dip, they lock to the fair to buy things they need, to eat the foodstuffs that are not easily available at their homes & the height of all, to see the different animals brought for trading that is the unique feature of this fair.
The Sonepur fair would have been an ordinary rural fair with the normal shops & merchandize , though very large in dimension, but for the unique feature of the animal fare portion. The fair has its origin in the ancient times, & has attracted traders & customers from faraway places like central Asia. It is said that the great emperor Chandragupta Maruya used to buy elephants & horses for his armed forces from this fair.
Many types of animals are traded here, including elephants, horses, cattle, goats, dogs, birds , rabbits & occasional camels. There are separate places for different types of animals like Haathi Baazaar for the elephants, Ghora Baazar for the horses, Bakri Baazaar for the goats, Chiria Baazaar for birds & so on. It is said that even slaves were traded here in the past.
One can see different types of breeds of different animals at one place, & this attracts a large number of traders & visitors too. The most spectacular sights include the elephants , decorated for the occasion, lined up for sale at Haathi Baazaar & the buyers riding horses as test-rides at the Ghora Baazaar.
The fair is something special, & should be seen by those who want to see the real India.
How to reach
Sonepur has its own railway station, & is well connected with the rest of the country via Patna, the state capital of Bihar. Sonepur is only 30 km from Patna, & is well connected with the latter by good road & rail.