Pushkar Fair, the symbolic end of our horseback journey from Nawalgarh….and also the end of many endless days of travel for the traders and pilgrims who converged here.
The quaint town of Pushkar comes alive during the Fair, vibrant and bustling, a hive of activity with a plethora of camels and horses, pilgrims and tourists, traders and dealers, musicians and dancers…….a veritable feast for the eyes and assault on the senses.
The fair is celebrated for five days from the Kartik Ekadashi to Kartik Poornima, the full moon day of Kartik (October-November) in the Hindu calendar. According to myth and legend, when Lord Brahma fought a battle with the demon Vajra Nabh with a lotus flower, the petals fell down at three places on Earth. All three places are believed to be lakes around Pushkar. It is believed that all the 330 million Gods and Goddesses of Hindu religion come to Pushkar Lake on the day of the Poornima and cleanse the devout, as a result throngs of pilgrims congregate for a Holy bath at Pushkar Lake on this day to absolve their sins and show respects to the Deity’s.
Aside from the deep spiritual and religious aspect, the Pushkar Festival is considered one of Asia’s largest livestock fair, trading in cattle, camel and horses. Throughout our journey from Nawalgarh we witnessed many farmer’s and shepherds crusade, a caravan of decorated and embellished camels in tow, steadily rambling towards Pushkar.
Arriving at the fairground is breath-taking……….a sea of tents stretch in all directions, a carpet of canvas, shepherds from all over the state and further afield were tending to their livestock, the colours and style of their turbans depicting where they were from. Horses of all shapes, sizes and colour deposited along multiple picket lines, some a little worse for wear after their long journey. Camels, bedecked and bejewelled roamed arrogantly by. Holy Sadhu’s contorted into various yoga positions quietly meditated, their bright ochre robes gleaming like the sun. Moustached men preened and prepared for the moustache competition. Brightly coloured stalls dotted throughout the fairground selling clothes and wares. The atmosphere was electric and magnetic……..
We spent two days exploring the Festival, drank chai with revellers and traders and tried to negotiate many a deal for a number of horse’s that I just fell in love with. It was quite interesting to watch how a deal is made…..price is never revealed or discussed publicly. Under the cover of a cloth, the two parties clasp hands and through a various ritual of finger gestures and handshakes a price is agreed, a secret deal made in public! From what I can remember one finger equates to one lakh (100 thousand rupees). By night before retiring to our tented village we joined the many other tourists for dinner and entertainment, puppet shows and hypnotic snake charmers, mesmerizing dancers twirling and spinning their vibrant elaborate sari’s holding us all spellbound.
It wasn’t all fun and no work however, we also had a mission. Indigenous Horses are considered divine here in India, people are proud of their equines and like to showcase them. Many owners rather their horses hold their head high and maintain this lofty head carriage, which is completely unnatural and uncomfortable for the horse. They also like a quick reaction from their steeds. Unfortunately this is achieved through the use of home-made “thorny” bits which are quite barbaric and cause immense pain and suffering to these regal animals, but are successful in achieving the desired results.
In most cases its lack of education and knowledge by the owner, not a deliberate choice to cause physical hurt and pain to their beloved horses. I had the pleasure of riding with Caroline Moorey, Chairman of the Friends of Marwari Organisation in the UK, on this trip. She is deeply passionate about the Indigenous Indian Horse Breeds and has a great knowledge of riding in India. Through the organisation she has devised a “bit donation scheme”, where donated pony snaffles from the UK are sterilised and distributed at the rural horse fairs in Rajasthan. In association with respected and influential horse breeders, traders and farmers it is hoped that with education and the availability of alternative bits that horse owners will change to a kinder method. Local bit manufacturers are also beginning to produce snaffles modelled on the donated bits at a reasonable price. It may take generations but hopefully the use of these unkind bits will be eradicated.
“You think you’re just a drop in the ocean, but look at the ripple effect one drop can make.”
To learn more about this scheme visit https://www.friendsofmarwari.org.uk/bit-donation-scheme
Author: Janine Whyte (Indiananeeners Globetrotting Cowgirl.)