Sonepur, which sits on the confluence of the Ganga and Gandak rivers, is a place in the Saran district of Bihar demarcated by the Ganga, Gandak and Ghagra rivers.
Every year, the place is the stage for Asia’s largest cattle fair, Sonepur Mela or popularly known as Harihar Kshetra Mela. It is a fair where one can experience spiritual activities as well as massive animal trading. Apart from these, the presence of street magicians, spiritual gurus, snack stalls, handicrafts, amusement rides, circus performers, and theatre creates a carnival atmosphere.
The fair is organized on the bank of the Gangar river during Kartik Purnima, an auspicious time according to the Hindu calendar. At the place, approximately 25 km from the capital city of Patna, pilgrims bathe in the river in the morning.
“Sonepur fair is a month-long fair. This year, it started on 6th November and went on till 4th December,” informed Sudhir Kumar, Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Sonepur.
The origin of the fair can be traced back to the time of Maurya Dynasty’s emperor Chandragupta Maurya who would buy elephants and horses for his armies at the fair. But a mythological version has it that the event began after the Hindu god Lord Vishnu intervened to stop a long fight between an elephant and a crocodile at the place, resulting to the elephant being saved.
Originally, pilgrims would go to Harihar Nath Temple in Sonepur to pray, while animal trading fair would take place at Hajipur. But when the latter became more prone to floods, Mughal emperor Aurangzeb shifted the animal trading fair to Sonepur.
With due course of time, it became more commercialized and began to attract both domestic and international tourists. However, the number of international tourists has dwindled due to animal rights groups’ campaign against animals trading. In 2012, Bihar Tourism department took over its organization, including tourist accommodations.
“Traditionally, the sole aim of the fair was trading of animals, but it is slowly and gradually decreasing. This is due to the wildlife Act which prohibits display or trade of animals,”Kumar explained.
“More than 1,000 international and thousands of domestic tourists visit the fair. Apart from elephants, cattle, bulls, horses and camels, the fair also witnesses the presence of approximately 60-65 different races of birds,” said the magistrate. The changing commercial side of the fair can be seen in companies flocking in to the fair to promote and advertise their products. “Many FMCG, telecom, automobile companies, come here to promote their products,”informed Kumar.
“Rural fairs are proven to be the perfect catchment areas to target rural consumers, connect with them and communicate the brand messaging in an effective manner,” said an Emami’s spokesperson.
But marketers have to adopt customized strategies to promote their products at the fair. For Example, Navratna Oil, one of the major power brands from the house of Emami, will be doing innovative marketing by organizing an exciting contest titled “Sonepur Ka Shahensha” where, besides attractive gifts, winners of various engagement contests will also be awarded with a royal head massage while sitting on a throne thus offering them a “king size” relaxation,” informed the spokesperson.
The fair is also filled with numerous stalls selling products from garments to agricultural implements, and the Bihar government has added more various adventurous activities like river rafting, kabaddi and wrestling to the fair, said Kumar.