In Indian tradition, the fairs are generally referred to as the ‘melas’. Most of these fairs are linked with the religious faiths, festivals, rituals, pilgrimage (tirtha) and destinations/places (localities) with specific significance. Some of these have been continuing since a long period. In other words, fairs are part of our traditional customs carried on since ages, of trading activities of the past or part of local cultural patterns.
Though most of these fairs are linked with the festivals, in recent times we find the emergence of new activity or theme-based fairs which also command huge popularity. Such fairs include the fairs for specific purpose or for certain products like the cattle fair, book fair, craft fair, textile fair, etc. On this basis, the fairs can be broadly classified into two: (1) Religious fairs (2) Theme/Activity/ Product-based fairs.
Of the religious fairs, the Kumbh mela is the greatest and most important. It is held periodically every twelve years at Nasik, Ujjain, Prayag and Haridwar. This also provides an occasion for the meeting of the religious heads of different sects in Hinduism and promotes the exchange of ideas. Millions of people visit these melas. They include the Indian pilgrims as well as the foreign tourists.
Ganga Sagar Mela
The Ganga Sagar mela in Bengal has become so popular now that it is attended by the Indians as well as the foreigners. At Kolkata (Calcutta), the river Hoogly (a distributary of Ganges) joins the Bay of Bengal. According to the tradition, the devotees bath in the river to wash away the sins and earn merits.
The Magh mela is another popular fair, which is held at Prayag (Allahabad) in the month of Magha (January-February). It is believed that the ritual bath and offerings at Prayag brings religious merits.
Pushkar mela is held annually in the month of Kartika on the banks of the lake Pushkar near Ajmer in Rajasthan. The only Brahma temple in India is at Pushkar. A large number of Indian and foreign visitors attend this fair. This is a popular cattle fair. It is believed that the bath in the holy lake at Pushkar cures the diseases and adds to religious merits.
Besides the above mentioned important religious fairs, there are many other fairs held on occasions of eclipses (grahan), full moon (purnima) and other astronomical occurrences.
Theme/Activity/Product Based Fairs
Since our ancient past cattle has been an important means used in agriculture. Thus, the cattle and other animals were either exchanged, sold or bought in fairs held in different parts of the subcontinent. This also provided an occasion for the exchange of other commodities. As the cattle trade dominated over the sale of other items in these melas, these were referred to as the cattle fairs or animal fairs. Many of these fairs continue till today. The popular cattle fairs include Pushkar fair of Rajasthan, Nagaur fair of Rajasthan, Sonepur fair of Bihar.
A number of book fairs are also held throughout the year. International Book Fair is held at Pragati Maidan in Delhi every year. In these fairs the Indian and foreign publishers set-up their stalls. The aim of such activities is to make the readers aware of the recent publications on various subjects and also to bring the sources in various languages under one umbrella.
The India International Trade Fair (IITF), held every year from 14th to 27th November at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi, is noteworthy in this context. The products manufactured by various countries as well as states in India, are displayed and sold in respective pavilions. The products include the items of everyday use to highly technical goods. Some of the halls in the fair are meant for exhibition of equipments used by the Defence Forces, Telecommunication wings, etc. Ethnic good of various regions, cultural programmes and other from of entertainment are arranged for the visitors to present them the picture of India. This fair attracts huge crowds every year.
Craft and Textile fairs or melas are also gaining popularity day-by-day. In the last quarter of the 20th century many private and public institutions were set-up to collect, nurture and display artefacts from different sections of our living cultures. They also organise festivals and fairs in order to bring together various cross cultural elements to reflect unity in diversity. The Surajkund (the Pool of the Sun) Crafts Mela in Haryana is the best known of these modern day fairs. It started in 1987 and is celebrated from the 1st to 15th February every year. Its primary focus is on the handicrafts and handlooms of India, which are projected statewise every year with food, music, dance and other folk entertainments of the selected state to add to the particular cultural atmosphere. In other words, each year a different state demonstrates a new cultural facet of the country. Many such fairs are held at local and regional levels.
In the context of popular culture, some newly created fairs related to various artistic activities are also successful in drawing crowds towards them. An example cited in this respect may be that of the fairs/festivals organised by schools, colleges or other institutions. These are generally organised annually with pomp and show. These help to encourage the youth to reflect their talents in various activities such as dance, music, plays, theatre, etc.