Dubbed as Asia’s largest cattle fair, ‘Sonepur Mela’ has a perfect setting at the confluence of two ancient rivers the Ganges and the Gandak, hardly a 30 minutes drive from the state capital Patna. The grandiosity and antiquity of the Fair is well established as the greatest ever monarch Chandragupta Maurya of Magadhan empire himself bought horses and elephants for his grand army during the pre- Christian era. As an annual jamboree, held during the third week of November, Sonepur attracts traders from all across Asia, describing the usability and utility of this month long congregation.
Also known as Harihar Kshetra Mela, it attracts tourist from across the spectrum. For centuries the fair used to be held at Hajipur a nearby small town and the devotees of Lord Shiva used to pay obeisance at the Harihar Nath Temple located at Sonepur. However, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, formally shifted the venue to Sonepur. Also the tradition has it that the temple was originally built by Lord Rama himself.
THE MODERN AGE
Sensing opportunity, the government of Bihar has of late has taken up the responsibility of holding the fair. Till last year, the fair was organised by the local administration, however the Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation (BSTDC) has been active in luring international tourists, form this year. To give a modern makeover and attracting more international tourists, the BSTDC has decided to develop separate enclosures for cattle trade, entertainment and classical dances. The Government has decided to invite folk dance artists from neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha.
The Sonpur Mela starts on Kartik Poornima (the full moon day) every year, this year it is going to be witnessed from 28th of November. As the fair offers cultural, religious and trading platform, it draws lakhs of visitors from across Aisa. Sacred bathing in river Ganga on the auspicious Kartik Poornima with rich offerings to the Harihar Nath temple , the landscape becomes truly festive the entire month. Lakhs of footfalls many believe are because of the religious fervour of the fair. Moreover the ‘Mela’ ground provides a ready platform for the traditional cattle and commodity trading and for consumer FMCG. The consumer goods companies view the mela as an opportunity to reach to the lakhs of rural masses at one go. It gives them a chance to introduce their new products as well as new marketing strategies to attune to the new age consumers. The visitors enjoy their shopping and also get the first hand experience at the symmetry of stalls. In general there are stalls ranging from furniture, agricultural implements, utensils, toys, jewellery to handicrafts.
In order to make the fair attractive for all the visitors, the organisers of the fair grow mango sapling of different varieties in wider and open field giving the landscape a feel of ‘canvas town’ here. The fair is globally popular for trade in different kinds of farm animals and breeds of donkeys, cows, oxen, goats, dogs, rabbits, ponies, birds and poultry are on sale every year. Such trade has been the mainstay of the fair but in the last few years some animals and birds have been banned for trading. “Elephants and horses cannot be traded because of the ban. One can only exhibit these animals in the fair”, Tourism Minister of Bihar, Sunil Kumar Pintu said.
Notably, a large number of national and multinational companies register their presence in the fair by erecting their stalls. However, by the time this story was filed, the list of companies were not finalised. “A large number of national and multinational companies are coming to the Sonepur Mela, In fact presence of millions of visitors open an opportunity for the marketeers. However, the list of the companies have not been finalised so far, the process has been on and things will be in order in a week or so.”, the minister further added.
The fair also promotes the local art and handicrafts, which arrive from across the state as well as from the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Stone sculptures such as idols, stone jewellery, pots and utensils, hand embroidery, Madhubani paintings and other artifacts attract the tourists. As an addition, the Swiss cottages, which are installed by the tourism department of the state, will now have more flavour to offer. About three dozen cottages will be especially set up with thatched rooms comprising all the capabilities and comforts of any standard hotel, the well equipped bathrooms having geysers and uninterrupted electric supply are the main features of the cottages here.
The tourists can get accommodated in these modern cottages while they can have the feel of the famous Madhubani paintings decorated on the walls. To promote ethnic and tradition the water pitchers are kept along with few more earthen ware inside the cottages. Free Yoga classes are organised by the BSTDC to the tourist coming from across the world. The elephant ride has been yet another attraction offered to the residents of the Swiss cottages. The tourists from foreign lands can relish all kinds of Indian, Chinese and continental food cousins here. Internet kiosks are provided to the tourist to get connected to rest of the world.
The Sonepur fair has drawn many Indian and globally well known faces in the recent past. The internationally acknowledged legendry photographer Raghu Rai, Bhojpuri actor and singer Manoj Tiwari, documentary film maker Suresh Kohli have been accommodated the cottages over the years. Special tents are set up for the officials of local administration and they are provided all kinds of necessary facilities and requirements during the fair. To sum it up, the fair is considered to be a ground for retailers and MNCs looking for rural consumers. As most of the visitors come from the hinterlands, the fair is the time when the corporate world can directly interact with their potential consumers. The fair can be a suitable platform for the branding and promotional activities for these companies. All the colours of life can be gleaned away from the Asia’s biggest cattle fair. The ‘fair’ besides preserving the culture, demonstrates the new era of branding and marketing.