The Tarnetar Fair in Gujarat is a huge mela with mouth watering delicacies, merry-go-rounds, dance and music, handicraft items etc. It also is a hub for match-making with prospective brides and grooms doing the rounds.
It is not without reason that India is referred to as the most diverse country in the world. With hundreds of languages and numerous festivals, we Indians are a pretty busy lot. Our calendars are choc-a-bloc with festivals and parties to attend and organize. True then, we Indians need a reason, anything and everything, to celebrate.
A live, breathing example of this very vivacious spirit is the Tarnetar Fair, or more elaborately, the Trinetreshwar Mahadev Mela which is centred around the temple of Trinetreshwar in the state of Gujarat.
The venue of the festival is its namesake, i.e. the village of Tarnetar. This tiny and otherwise quiet village located in the 'Panchal' region of Gujarat suddenly comes alive on the days of the mela. Colour and zeal are on a high in this festive air. This annual carnival is held every year during the Bhadarva Sud i.e. roughly August- September.
The practice of organising this fair goes back to at least 250 years. For the last quarter of the millennium, the Tarnetar fair has been a yearly affair. The only change, perhaps, is that the scale on which it is organized has increased manifold.
As the legend goes, the great archer Arjuna pierced the eye of the fish rotating at the end of a pole by looking at its reflection in the water. After this feat, Arjuna married Draupadi in a Swayamwar, which was held around the Kund. The Panchal region is also known to be Draupadi’s native place and thus, Tarnetar occupies great mythological significance.
Groom and bride hunt!
Keeping this centuries-old custom alive, traditionally dressed unmarried men and women adorn themselves with ethnic ornaments and visit the fair in the hope of finding a match for themselves.
Prospective grooms stand under exquisitely embroidered 'Chatris' signifying their single status while young women go around these chatris hunting for their to-be grooms. Marriages are finalized after the fair ends.
The fair has a footfall of around 1 lakh people each year. Members from various tribes like Rabri, Kathi, Charans, Bharwads, Koli and other castes attend this gala carnival. The air here smacks of festivity and brims with fun and frolic.
Flow of events
Pilgrims first visit the sacred temple of Trinetreshwar and bathe in the holy waters of the Kund adjacent to the temple. After this, they visit Tarnetar to be a part of the merriment. Religious rituals are performed at the Trinetreshwar temple during the 3-day festival. Groups of sages belonging to the Margi Panth gather here and add to the atmosphere by chanting melodious Bhajans dedicated to Lord Shiva.
The huge festival begins with the hoisting of a huge Flag on the dome of the Trinetreshwar Temple. The flag is unfurled every year only by the Mahant of Paliyad, a small village near Tarnetar.
On the first day of the festival, the flag is carried in a procession headed by the Mahant from the office of Tourism of Gujarat to the Trineteshwar Temple. This is followed by the unfurling of the flag which symbolizes the commencement of this vibrant festival.
Ethically dressed folks from the nearby villages participate in this procession. Even bullock carts and horse carts are traditionally decorated and form the major attraction of this animated and exuberant procession. The entire expense of the procession is borne by Paliyad’s Mahant who distributes prizes to the best decorated cart and cart owners.
The Tarnetar Mela covers a large part of the Tarnetar village. Hundreds of stalls are put up which sell beautiful hand-made artifacts like ethnic jewellery, statues of deities and traditional mirror work attires. The merry-go-round rides, photographer’s stall, magic shows, tattoo artists lure people of all ages to be a part of the huge merriment. Folk music and folk dances like Hudo, Ras and Garba performed by the Kodi and Maldhari dancers are another highlight of the fair.
Tribal folk adorn themselves with their typical, embroidered garments and dance to the tune of drumbeats. Men and women swaying to the soul-stirring rhythms of folk music offers a brief glimpse of the rich Saurashtra culture. The aura here is highly energetic and raises the spirit of the religious fair to an altogether different level.
The fair is a conglomeration of Sadhus and various Bhajan Mandalis. It is also an opportunity for local tribes to sell exquisite handicrafts. Despite the numerous changes in the proceedings at the mela over the years, the spirit of devotion and dedication remain unchanged.
The mela is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the diversity of India in full display- in all its hues and shades, in all its avatars and in all its beauty!