Fairs and Melas form an integral part of Indian socio cultural and religious life. In India, we have a no. of world famous Melas such as Mahakumbh Mela, Pushkar Mela etc. which attract millions of tourists, traders and devotees from across the world.
As far as our state is concerned, it is also known for various fairs and melas such as Jhiri Mela, Bahu Mela, Hemis Gompa Mela, Baisakhi Mela etc. which bear testimony to our glorious and proud cultural heritage bequethed to us by our wise forefathers.
Fairs and melas, being an important part of our culture, have been organised in various parts of our state, especially in Duggar region since ancient times. These fairs and melas add colour and vibrancy to our life and provide an escape from the drudgery of everyday monotonous life as people get a chance to meet each other in such Melas.
One famous and historic mela called the Sankri Devta Mela or simply Sankri Mela , which is held at Sankri in village Meer, about 37 Kms from Udhampur, near tehsil Panchari Headquaters,in the months of August-September every year on thursday or sunday that comes after Bhadon or Bhadrapada Amavasya. The mela actually starts two days earlier before the scheduled day and thus, lasts for three days. According to Dhani Ram, the nonagenarian priest of the widely reverred Sankri Devta shrine, the Yatra to this holy shrine has been going on since olden times. Going down the memory lane, he recalls how his uncle Gokul Chand used to perform the duty of priest or ‘pran’ in the shrine when he was a child. Dhani Ram was nominated as the new priest of the shrine in 1930 in a’ Pagri Tying Cermony’ when he was just 10 years old . Since then, he has been performing the duty of ‘Pran’ with devotion and dedication. According to him, the legend goes that once as one of his forefathers was grazing his cattle, he saw a handsome and strongly built young man reclining on the ground with his horse grazing in the lush green pasture nearby. The man asked the stranger to tell him his name and the purpose of his coming over there but the stranger refused to utter anything about himself. On great persuasion, the young man moved to a nearby place ‘Parnathi’, sat on a flat rock and said that he was Sankri and he moved from place to place and that he had found a suitable place as his abode. He also promised to be the’ Kuldevta’ of the man’s clan and fulfil their wishes if he was worshipped in the way he desired. He said that he had various shastras or vaans such as Dudaana vaan which he ordained to give to the Pran’s family, Trishul to the Suri family, Gungraal vaan to the Kamali family and Gurj to be placed at Thunal. He also demanded that Sacrifices and gold tikka be offered to him and nominated one of the forefathers of Sanjay Kumar, son of late Vidya Ram as goldsmith through whom he would accept the gold tikka. He also wished that his’ Jaatar’ should be carried out once every year in the month of Bhadon with dhol and bansuri.He also ordained that he would accept all those offerings which shall be offered to him only through the Pran. Saying these words, the stranger disappeared mysteriously. The Pran further said that after some days a stone idol appeared miraculously first on a rock. This idol then reappeared at the place called ‘Truta Sankri’. After a few days the idol reappeared at the present place. The people took the idol to ‘Truta Sankri’ but it again appeared at the place where the temple now stands. This was how the Deity was installed and worshipped.
Thousands of people from the nook and corner of Udhampur District and outside congregate in large number to take part in the Mela and have blessings of Sankri Devta. Besides having religious significance, the Mela has social importance. People from different villages get a chance to meet their relatives, especially the married daughters and sisters married at faraway places and share their joys and sorrows. The Mela starts two days earlier than the scheduled day of Pooja and Jaatar which is performed on Thursday or Sunday after the auspicious ocassion of Bhadrapada Amavasya.On the first day, the Mela is inaugurated by a VIP, after which an Indian Style Wrestling Match (Dangal) is organised, in which famous wrestlers from within and outside the state take part and thousands of people converge from the neighbouring villages and outside to watch the Dangal.There is an atmosphere of enthusiasm, festivity and exuberance all around.On the second day, the Department of Youth Services and Sports organises sports events in which the students from different schools take part in sports and cultural activities.
The folk artists of Panchari and other adjoining regions gather in large numbers to present folk songs and folk dances showcasing the rich cultural heritage of Duggar.All this enthralls the audience and adds to the vibrancy and colourfulness of the atmosphere.On the concluding day, the Vaans such as Dudana Vaan, Trishul, Gungraal, Gurj and other vaans are taken to the holy shrine and ceremonial Pooja/Jaatar is performed, in which the various Deities are invoked, their glory sung and their blessings sought.Prasad is also distributed to the devotees on this occasion.Various Departments such as Floriculture,Health and Medical Education,Rural Development etc. also set up stalls of their respective departments to enlighten the people about various Government sponsored schemes and need to eradicate social evils.The District administration makes elaborate arrangements of transport,drinking water,security, electricity, sanitation, checking of rates of essential commodities,etc under the overall control of the Mela Officer.Temporary sweet shops are established and bangle sellers are the main attractions at the Mela and they have a hey day.There is an atmosphere of gaiety and religious fervour and enthusiasm with people singing local folksongs and chanting bhajans.One feels as if one has come to some other world far away from the din and noise of this world.
According to the Priest/Pran of the shrine, Dhani Ram, this historic Mela attracts more than fifty thousand devotees from various parts of our state.Thus, there is need to provide more facilities to the devotees and boost religious tourism and flori-tourism to this widely reverred shrine.The Krimachi-Panchari road needs to be widened and upgraded and the Meer-Sankri road also needs macdemisation to attract tourists.The road at ‘Chobu Nallah’ near Kainthgali is a trouble spot during rains and needs to be realigned in view of frequent landslides and disruption of traffic, especially during the rainy season.The government has constructed a tourist hut near the shrine of Sankri Devta but there is also need for provision of view points, more accommodation facilities and carrying out plantation along the paths/track etc to the shrine.There is also the need for a shed to enable the devotees to protect themselves from inclement weather.A children’s park having amusement facilities such as merry-go-rounds, benches etc. also needs to be developed in the vicinity of the shrine.As the climatic conditions of this region are much similar to those of the Kashmir valley, there is ample scope for developing floriculture and horticulture in Panchari and Bomag region.Trekking and ice skating/skiing activities can also be organised in this region.All this can also help a lot in boosting adventure and eco tourism and attracting tourists, especially from Jammu and neighbouring states to this beautiful region.The Pran and other local people have played a great role in bringing about development at this widely reverred shrine, which has been possible due to the donations/offerings of the devotees who participate in large numbers in the Mela and many of the local devotees pay obeisance to the Deity throughout the year.The Pran dreams to construct a big and grand temple and a big sarai at the site. In fact, a temple has been under construction and when fully completed, will add to the beauty and grandeur of the place and religious spirit and fervour of the people visiting the shrine. Sankri, Panchari, Lander, Moungri and other beautiful sites need to be explored and promoted as rural tourist spots to attract a large footfall of tourists,especially in the summer season when the salubrious climate of Panchari provides a much needed relief and pleasant escape from the scintillating heat of the plains and cities.More tourist huts and inns need to be constructed so that the tourists can have a nice and memorable stay there.
(The writer is serving as lecturer in English in Govt.Hr.Sec.School, Thial (Udhampur)