Fantasia fair

During the camel fair, Pushkar reveals its real beauty, looks like a paradise on earth, and offers an unparalleled glimpse of India at its most exotic best, writes Masarrath Ali Khan

Camels kick golden sand at the camel grounds

This ancient town is not just charming but also enchanting as life here revolves around an ancient sarovar (lake) surrounded by 52 ghats. The Ramayana says that Sage Vishwamitra performed penance (tapa) at the lake and the celestial enchantress Menaka came to bathe in its serene waters. Poet Kalidasa immortalised it in his classic, Abhijñâna Sâkuntalam.

In 1073 AD, the Rajput kings of Bundi, Bikaner and Jaisalmer made valuable contributions in making and developing the ghats and structures around the sacred lake. One of the first contacts between the Mughal and the British took place here when Sir Thomas Roe met Emperor Jahangir in 1616 AD. It came under the British rule in 1818 AD, and remained a part of the British Empire till 1947 AD.

This is Pushkar, a small town, 11 km to the northwest of Ajmer, surrounded on three sides by the majestic Aravalli Hills, and on the fourth by the sand dunes. Nag Pahad (snake mountain) forms a natural barrier between Ajmer and Pushkar. Pushkar has 400 ancient temples and you find one around you at almost every step. The one and only temple dedicated to Brahma is in Pushkar.

Colours, colours and more colours…

Pushkar springs to life and hosts an internationally famous camel fair during the month of Kartik. A celebration of joy and merry-making for traders, tourists and pilgrims wait for this event all through the year. If there is a single word that describes the camel fair, it is ‘colours’. With thousands of camels kicking the golden sand at sand dunes, Pushkar becomes a rich symphony of commercial trading, social gatherings, cultural experiences and religious rituals, all distinct, yet thinly overlapping and culminating into a rich mélange of experiences.

A temple at Pushkar
A temple at Pushkar

The legend goes….

According to a legend, Lord Brahma slew a cruel demon Vajranabha with his weapon — the lotus flower — which fell and struck the earth at three places within a radius of 9 km, creating three lakes. Brahma named the place Pushkar meaning lotus, and the lakes, Jyeshtha (elder), Madhya (central) and Kanishtha (younger) Pushkar. Then Brahma performed yagna at the Sarovar from Kartik Shukla Ekadashi to Kartik Purnima. So, an annual festival is celebrated in honour of Brahma. This festival coincides with the colourful camel fair.

And the fair begins…

Three to four days after Kartik Amavasya, camel traders and herders start arriving and setting camps with their livestock on the sand dunes. Soon after trading, the cameleers melt away in the clouds of dust. Now, the scene shifts to the fair ground where cultural programmes begin on Ashtami day (8 th day) and continue till Kartik Purnima. Tourists spend hours watching puppet shows, acrobatic shows, and tight rope balancing acts by young girls, snake and mongoose fights, monkey shows and nautankis.

Camel decoration, camel dance, horse dance, langari taang, matka (water pot) race, turban-tying competition, tilak contest, satolia, kabaddi and cricket matches (between Indian and foreign tourists) draws huge crowds. Hot air balloons take tourists on a panoramic safari and reward them with an unparalleled view of Pushkar. A Harmony Marathon (from Ajmer Dargah to Brahma Temple) and a Spiritual Walk (from Gurudwara to the fair ground) are crowd-pullers. With a specially decorated stage, the fair ground transforms into a colourful theatre in the evenings. Foreign tourists dressed as brides and bridegrooms in Indian traditional costumes take part in a competition. The cultural shows and musical concerts continue till late in the night.

Ashok Tak decorating a camel
Ashok Tak decorating a camel

Thousands join the maha aarti at the holy ghats of the sarovar. Meanwhile, dance performances begin at the nearby Old Rangji Temple in the evenings, while amusements, like magic shows, well-of-death and ferris wheel keep children engaged. The rural women are seen carrying bunches of sugarcane on their heads. Villagers gather around small shops selling lemon juice, lassi, malpuas and sweetmeats. Local people set up small stalls outside their homes and sell costumes, crafts, toys, and kitchenware. A large area behind and around the fair ground transforms into a market that sells lovely colourful bangles, beads, necklaces, intricate silver ornaments, odhnis, ghagras, leharia fabrics, embroidered shawls, ethnic jewellery, blue pottery, puppets, brass utensils…. the list is endless. Many shops sell saddles, tassels, ropes and a range of other products in different colours and sizes for the camels.

As the full moon of Kartik month night approaches, the focus shifts to the religious rituals and the flurry of activity increases. The ghats and the temples are illuminated in colourful lighting and Pushkar gets enveloped into a religious fervour. The ghats get overcrowded with thousands of pilgrims clad in colourful dresses, who take a dip in the holy waters of the lake, and then visit the Brahma Temple. This temple, mainly built of marble and stone slabs, is the centre of attraction during the fair. It has a distinct red pinnacle (shikhara) and a hansa (swan) bird motif. The grand finale event is organised at the fair ground in the morning hours. Local artistes and children dressed in their colourful best lend a magnificent charm to the event. Many cultural programmes are held and prizes are given away to winners of various events held all through the week-long competitions. Colourful fireworks light up the skies of Pushkar in the evening, marking the official closure of the event.

Camel dance
Camel dance

The small pleasures of life….

The best thing about Pushkar and its camel fair is its unhurried and relaxed pace of life, which allows you to revel in the joys of self-discovery. You can wander freely around the main market road, or take a camel safari to the sand dunes and be mesmerised by the sunset; you can bask in the glory of the ancient temples, or spend time feeding the pigeons and watching the egrets at the lake…..

After the fair, tourists, pilgrims and traders start leaving Pushkar, only to return next year with more enthusiasm.

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