Traditional sports win hearts at fair

Traditional sports win hearts at fair

Pushkar Mela is India's largest cattle fair and equally famous for celebrating the rich traditions of Rajasthan. While camels adorned with costumes and jewellery remain the star attraction of Pushkar fair, the traditional games also attract good number of people.

Events in lesser-known rural sports such as the "matka phod" (carrying water-filled pitchers on the head), "longest moustache" and "bridal competition" are part of the fair. The show-stopper at the fair is "Lagaan Cricket Match," named after the Bollywood hit movie Lagaan that was also nominated for Oscars. The exhibition cricket match is played between the local Pushkar Club and foreign tourists. The local team is dressed in dhoti and kurta while the foreign players will be in white cricket dress.

As per the information on Rajasthan tourism department's website, registration of   foreign players begins two months prior to the fair. The punch line says, "Enjoy the game of Pressure, as the Crowd watches you at Leisure."

Lagaan Cricket match is six-overs-a-side event. The foreign players are selected on first-cum-first-served basis and the entry is restricted to men only. "The idea is to find foreigners who know cricket and willing to play. We want foreign tourists to have a sense of participation at the fair. Instead of being mere spectators, they register themselves and we select them. We have also started online registration from this year," Rajasthan tourism department deputy director Sanjay Jowhari told DH.

The sports kit is provided by the organisers. While foreigners are expected to turn up in white dress, many of them prefer to be in informal dress and wear T shirts and shorts. The winning team receives a trophy and a certificate from tourism department.

Locals taking part in the event are trained over a period of time by the instructors at panchayat level. "They are selected and trained at panchayat level. The final team is selected on the basis of performance in the matches held between panchayat samitis," Ajmer District Collector Gaurav Goyal, who looks after the administration at the fair, told DH.

Another traditional game that grabbed the attention this year was Satolia. It involves a ball and a pile of seven flat stones and is played between two teams in a field.

Also the moustache competition, where men literally display their longest whiskers remains one of the most popular activities at the fair. The event will leave tourists in splits as participants twirl their long moustaches to impress them. And for women matka phod event is organised and even foreigners take part in the event with a lot of enthusiasm. Participants have to run with water-filled earthen pitchers on heads and the crowd enjoys every moment as women run to beat the competitors.

"The fair connects foreigners with Indians. They get a first-hand experience of our culture. For instance bride and groom contest not only gives them an opportunity to dress up in traditional Indian wedding outfit, but they also get to know its significance. In tug-of-war, foreign tourists slug it out in a friendly manner with the locals," Sanjay Jowhari added.

Despite new additions such as hot air balloon flights, quad biking, para motoring, jeep safari, camel safari and other key experiences and adventures, kabaddi, langri taang, dance contests and football matches continue to hold sway.

Sarah and Jacob from Australia told DH, "We have been visiting Pushkar camel fair every alternate year. Of course it goes beyond livestock trading. The ground looks heavenly with lovely camels and horses in colourful pompoms and mirrors. Earlier we used to participate actively in tug of war and turban tying competition. Now our children actively take part in volleyball and football in the stadium with village people," they added.

It's the much-talked about experiences of  tourists that has spiked a considerable interest in  others  planning a trip to Rajasthan. While the tourism department has done its bit to kindle tourist interest towards Pushkar, those who have been visiting the fair over the decades still reminisce glory days of the fair.

Getting nostalgic about the fair decades ago, eminent photographer Sudhir Kasliwal from
Rajasthan, who has documented it over four decades with his lens, explains, "Between 1970s and mid 1990s, Pushkar fair was mainly about cattle trade. Thousands of pilgrims used to throng Pushkar Lake around which the whole fair takes shape. Men used to buy and sell livestock, which included camels, cows, sheep and goats. The women would go to the stalls to purchase bracelets, clothes, textiles and fabrics. But now it has become a tourist destination and has got an urban touch in it. It has lost the essence."

While recalling the fair held during 1980s, Kasliwal remembers a camel sport "Laddoo oont," he documented. The sport was banned because it would allow riders to gauge the strength of groaning camel under their collective weight." Now. Laddoo Oont is no more a part of the fair.

This year's cattle trade was dull as there is a decline in the number of camels. Owing to the outbreak of Glanders Disease the government had banned horses at the fair. In last couple of months, Rajasthan has recorded several deaths of horses due to Glanders in Dholpur and Udaipur districts.

Pushkar in Ajmer district is 150 km away from Jaipur and the fair begins on the auspicious day of Kartika Ekadashi and concludes on Kartika Poornima, the full moon day and is usually held in October and November.

The full moon day is the main day as pilgrims take a dip in the holy "Sarovar" lake, as the sacred water is known to bestow salvation on Kartik Poornima. The famous Pushkar Lake has 52 bathing ghats. The fair finds a mention in the Imperial Gazetteer of India as 1,00,000 pilgrims would turn up at the fair more than 120 years ago.

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