It's win-win scene for tribals and customers

It's win-win scene for tribals and customers

It's win-win scene for tribals and customers

Saroj Mishra, a Bhubaneswar resident, never forgets to make a trip to Advasi Mela or the tribal fair, an annual event the Odisha’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Department has been organising in the state capital since last several decades. For, it provides her an opportunity to buy one of her favourite tribal products--the famous turmeric powder the tribals of Kandhamal district make.

“I visit the Advasi Mela every year to purchase Kandhamal Haldi (turmeric powder). And this year was no exception. Apart from turmeric powder, I also purchased several other products like a few combs made of buffalo horn. They are beautiful. I would be presenting them to my children who stay outside the state and they seldom get an opportunity to purchase these items,” said the 50-year-old homemaker.

Like Mishra many in Bhubaneswar as well as neighbouring towns and districts eagerly wait for the fair which flags off on January 26, the Republic Day and goes on for a couple of weeks.

From a small event held way back in 1951 in the neighbouring town of Cuttack, Odisha’s erstwhile capital, the fair has come a long way.

In fact, it has been getting bigger and better and also growing in popularity every passing year.

“It has certainly become a hugely popular annual event and if the present trend continues it will be a far bigger fair in the coming years. The main objective behind organising the fair is to showcase the socio-cultural as well as economic activities of the tribal groups residing in different parts of Odisha,” said Pramananda Patel, the officer on special duty for the annual event. This year 62 tribes, including 13 particularly vulnerable tribal groups from 15 tribal-dominated districts participated in the fair, which concluded a few days ago.

There were several attractions in the fair and one among them was the replica of tribal huts. Visitors made a beeline to see the thatched houses. “Majority of the people outside the tribal districts rarely get an opportunity to see the homes the tribals live in. Hence, they always attract a lot of visitors in the fair. Last year too, there was a rush to see the houses,” said a fair official.

Rina Jena, a resident of Cuttack who had made a trip to Bhubaneswar just to visit the tribal fair, agreed with the official’s view. “I was always keen to see a tribal home. My wish has been fulfilled, thanks to the ongoing fair. What impressed me most was the paintings on the walls of the huts. I had never seen such unique paintings before,” she said.

The homes were constructed by the participating tribals with help from the fair authorities. “We bear all the expenses for the huts and provide them material. They build them in their own style,” said another official. This year 29 tribal huts were on display.  Besides the tribal huts, stalls which had been put up to sell products such as tribal arts, handicrafts, jewellery, paintings and consumer products witnessed heavy rush. There were 180 stalls this year, 30 more than the previous edition. 

The participating tribals were also happy with their earnings. “Business this year was extremely encouraging. We did a business of Rs 35,000 on a single day once,” said Kasha Sumbai, a member of a tribal group from southern Odisha Koraput district who sold dry mango jelly and lemon grass oil which works like a room cleaner.

The two-week-long fair was visited by nearly 10 lakh people last year. The figure was over 15 lakh this year. “Nearly a lakh of people visited the fair everyday,” said Pramananda Patel. Every year, the tribal food court in the fair turns out to be a big hit among the visitors. And this year it was no exception. The food court had 10 stalls and all of them had handsome business every evening.

Some of the tribal foods extremely popular among the visitors were “Mudhi- Mansa” from Mayurbhanj district, “Khajuri Pitha” from Sundergarh district besides “Suan Khiri” and “Kutting Bada” from Kalahandi.

Significantly, the fair has also become a major attraction for foreign tourists visiting the state besides scholars and academicians from different countries doing research on tribal language, culture and lifestyle. “Nearly 500 foreigners, including tourists and researchers, visited the fair everyday this year,” Patel said.

Increasing popularity of the fair has prompted the SC-ST department to consider expanding it further in the coming years.

“We do have plans to expand the fair further in the coming years. Space hopefully will not be a problem as we have nearly one-and-a-half acre of vacant government land near the Advasi Ground - the designated place in the state capital which hosts the fair every year,” said a government official. Tribal groups from other states had also been expressing their keenness to participate in the popular event.