Baisakhi Mela at Dera Baba Banda Bahadur

Dr. Banarsi Lal and Dr. Vikas Tandon
Jammu province is known for  fairs and festivals from the ancient history. The holy land of this province is known for organizing the fairs and festivals near sacred rivers and holy shrines.
Celebration of fairs and festivals in different areas of Jammu region indicates the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the province. Our rich cultural heritage adds charm and vibrancy in our lives. The people from every nook and corner of the state and country participate in these mega events with enthusiasm. The celebration of such events helps to unite the people from all the religions and castes without any discrimination. These fairs and festivals help us to showcase the rich culture of the region at national and international level. Dera Baba is a religious place of high esteem, a great tourist destination and best health resort in a  beautiful hilly district of J&K state. At a distance of about 20 kms from Reasi and 28 kms from world famous place Katra , this beautiful place is full of holy vibrations.  Dera Baba is surrounded by lofty peaks, ice cold water of the Chenab River, green meadows on its bank and dense forests on the hills. The sacred river Chenab passes through this area and flows down to Akhnoor. Dera Baba is visited by the pilgrims throughout the year. Basically, Reasi district  boasts of  various religious places such as Vaishno Devi Shrine, Shiv Khori Shrine, Baba Dansar, Siarh Baba, Nau Devian, Mahadev etc. These places are of great religious importance. There are various other religious places in this district which are not connected by road and remain unknown to the outside world.  If connected with each other by road, they can also attract more and more  tourists from far and wide.
Baisakhi or Basoa in local parlance is a historical and religious festival in Sikhism and Hinduism. Every year it is celebrated on April 13 or 14 throughout the country. Baisakhi marks the Sikh New Year and commemorates the formation of Khalsa panth  under Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. It is additionally a spring harvest festival for the Sikhs and the Hindus. Baisakhi is also an ancient festival of the Hindus, marking the Solar New Year. It marks the sacredness of rivers in the Hindu culture. It is regionally known by many names, but celebrated in broadly similar ways. Reasi district of J&K is famous for various fairs and festivals and these types of events add  to social, economic and religious needs of the inhabitants. These types of events help us to preserve and transmit our rich culture.  Baisakhi Mela at Dera Baba is a three days grand religious  which is attended by thousands of devotees from India and abroad.
To reach  Dera Baba, one has to travel a distance of about 80 Kilometers from Jammu by bus or private vehicle. Firstly one has to reach at Simbol Choa which is at a distance of 10 km from Dera Baba and then by auto, metador or personal vehicle.  The road is in good condition and the vehicles can easily pass through the charming hills. The district administration does all security and other arrangements for the pilgrims. The Mela displays all the belongings of the Baba. On this occasion, the pilgrims take a holy bath in the Chenab River. This is the holy place where Baba Banda Bahadur has spent his time in meditation. There is a historical Gurudwara known as Darbar Sahib. Here Gurbani from Guru Granth Sahib is recited regularly according to Mariyada, in morning and evening every day. There is a saffron coloured flag (Nishan Sahib), one piece of deodar log with a sword at top, about 50 feet high, hoisted by Baba Banda Bahadur  in 1715 AD which bears testimony to the bravery and high ideals of this great saint warrior. There is an old Ber tree (Ber Sahib) in the compound of Gurdwara.
Under this tree (Ber) Baba Banda Bahadur meditated to be in direct communion with God. There are four Banyan trees around this shrine where, it is believed that BIRS of Baba Banda Bahadur still reside. Presently, Baba Jatinder Paul Singh Sodhi, the 10th descendant of Dera Baba Banda Bahadur is carrying out the mission of his ancestors. He is the main organizer of this mega event on Baisakhi. With full fervor. A great congregation of pilgrims is held on Baisakhi festival. Special rooms have been constructed there for the stay of pilgrims. Baba Jatinder Paul Singh Sodhi campaigns for inter-religious tolerance to promote communal harmony. In order to achieve this goal, a large number of samarks, gurudwaras, schools, dispensaries and other centres have been set up in different parts of the country. With his relentless efforts, a black-top road has been constructed from Simbol Choa to Dera Baba. Electricity and water supply is also provided to the visiting pilgrims. This place has become a source of attraction for the pilgrims from all over the country and abroad.
Baisakhi Mela at Dera Baba witnesses great hustle and bustle during three-day festival as pilgrims’ families and various groups belonging to diverse communities and hailing from different parts of the country and abroad assemble were. People from every nook and corners  also  visit this spot throughout the year and enjoy the unique place of spirituality. Apart from large number of kiosks of eatables and merchants displaying their wares for sale, which include  trinkets to new popular electronics gadgets. The fair also presents hosts of entertainments for every age group of people. Most of the stalls of eatables especialty Jalebi and Pakoras, which is a specialty of the mela, are being run by local people. Other than the shopkeepers, the local transporters like matador and bus owners also earn extra income by bringing large number of pilgrims to the mela site. While ‘dangals’- the Indian style wrestling matches organised this occasion,  draw a large crowd of sport enthusiasts. The Baisakhi Mela at Dera Baba is one of the most attended fairs in Reasi district.