Fairs and Melas are an integral part of our socio cultural and religious life.In India, we have a tradition of organising famous Melas such as Mahakumbh Mela, Pushkar Mela and many other melas which attract millions of tourists, traders and devotees from across the world.
Similarly, in UTof J&K, various fairs and melas such as Jhiri Mela, BahuMela, Bhaderwah Mela, etc are organised with great enthusiasm and pomp and show. All these fairs and melas help a lot in showcasing the rich cultural heritage that has been bequeathed to us by our wise forefathers. These Melas also help in promoting the rich culture, beliefs and traditions of Dogras at national and international level through folk dances and folk songs. It is a feast to the eyes, ears and soul to watch the rich Dogra art and culture live in these melas. All this adds to the colour and vibrancy to the drudgery and monotony of everyday life and thus, brings novelty to our life. One such Mela which has been organised at Udhampur for centuries is Baisakhi Melaheld on the bank of holy Devika river every year. Though, this Mela is unlikelyto be organised this year in view of restriction of only 200 people in social & religious gatherings to control the spread of deadly virus COVID-19, It is worthwhile to describe its grandeur and charm and highlight its social and economic significance.
The historic Baisakhi Mela or ‘Basoa’ as it is called in local parlance, is an annual event organised on the eve of first Baisakh, usually from 13 April to 15 April every year on the bank of holy Devika river in Udhampur. According to legends, Devika is considered as the elder sister of Ganga Mata and it is believed that Lord Shiva, on the request of great Rishi Kashyap, sent Mata Parvati to the earth to flow as river Devika and thus, rid the people of Madardesh (Duggar) of all their sins and afflictions. People believe that a single dip in the holy water of river Devika is enough to rid a person of his /her sins. This historic Mela is also organised to mark the harvest of crops as in the past a vast of the Dogra people adopted the profession of farming and they felt elated on seeing the rich harvest of their Rabi crops and thanked God for this bounty. Baisakhi Melas are also organised at ‘Baisakhi Dabbar’ at Barmeen, at Beni Sang in Chenani,Nainsoo (Udhampur) and at Mansar, which attract a large number of people irrespective of caste, community, religion etc. Ramnagar tehsil is the hub of Dogra culture and grand Baisakhi Mela is organised at Dalsar, historic Chougan and Nauji respectively on the first, second and third Baisakh every year. But as the Melas conclude, the Mela sites and adjoining places are littered with wrappers, plastics and other biodegradable and non biodegradable materials. Many of these items finally find their way into the adjoining rivers and other water bodies leading to the environmental pollution. So it is the duty of the government, NGOs and people in general to ensure such materials are thrown into dustbins and the Mela sites are cleared of all garbage and plastics to avoid degradation of environment. The Govt of India has sanctioned an ambitious plan for the cleanliness , purification and rejuvenation of Devika river under National River Conservation Programme and the plan is being implemented vigorously. A lot of work in this regard has been done and once the plan is physically implemented , it will help a lot in preserving the purity and sanctity of Devika. But unless the people change their mind set and stop throwing garbage into it, the efforts of the Government to preserve and purify this holy river can’t achieve the desired results.
This historic and popular Mela attracts visitors, vendors, traders and devotees from within and outside the state in large number. There is an ambience of joy, exuberance, celebration, colourfulness and vibrancy all around with the traders selling their merchandise, children and elders attired in colourful and traditional dresses enjoying rides on merry go rounds and hindolas and women and girls buying bangles and other things.Other attractions in the Mela include daredevil and spine chilling feats such as Mautkakuan (Death well), and also incredible feats displayed in the circus.There is hustle and bustle all around. Children are the happiest lot and they are in high spirits. They keep on whistling and playing with balloons, savouring sweets, icecreams, fruit chat and enjoying themselves fully. Then, there are people who have come from different parts of rural and far flung areas wearing traditional dresses and carrying homecooked traditional food items such as Khamires (cakes made from fermented flour), poories, keurs, Babroos, chrolisetc. It is a wonderful and exuberant sight to see them sharing these items joyfully with their friends and relatives. In a corner, the folksingers are singing folksongs such as Bhakhans, Kaarkaans, Baaransetc in chorus and playing melodious tunes on their flutes providing sweet, sonorous and soulful music to the ears. The folkdancers are busy in exhibiting their dancing skills by presenting traditional dances such as geetru, fumnian, kud, etc . One feels as if one has come into an altogether different world far away from the world of jealousy, sorrow, misery and worldly worries.
Various Govt Departments such as Agriculture, Medical, Handicrafts etc put up their stalls to aware the people about various new schemes launched by the Government for the welfare of public. NGOs, social and cultural organisations also set up their stalls to provide religious and cultural knowledge as also the need to eradicate social evils from the society . The Information Department organises cultural programmes to highlight the rich Dogra cultural heritage and ethos. Besides participating in the mela, many people take a dip in the holy Devika river and visit various temples to pay obeisance to Gods and Goddesses on both sides of the river and pray for their own welfare and for the welfare and peace across the world. This Mela is organised under the overall charge of the Mela Officer and the District Administration makes elaborate arrangements to provide clean drinking water, security, sanitation, uninterrupted power supply,and constitutes teams to checkrates of sweets and other items. The NDRF/SDRF teams are there to deal with any emergency. Sweet sellers, bangle sellers and vendors selling toysetc have a brisk business. This Mela lasts for three days and on the next day, a grand Indian Style Wrestling Match or ‘Chinjj’ (Dangal) is organised in which famous wresters from within and outside our UT participate. Thousands of people converge to witness the wrestling bouts of wrestlers and give them a big round of applause. The winners of these bouts are rewarded by giving them Maalis.
The sight of people from villages walking long distances in groups and in great enthusiasm singing songs and carrying baskets of khamires (fermented cakes) to reach the venue of Melas still lie etched in my memory since childhood. But the euphoria and enthusiasm of those days is missing now. The wooden hindolas used to be run manually but electricity does the work these days. As a result of technological invasion and impact of social media, these Melas are losing charm with the young generation.The youth of today prefer to remain glued to their TV Sets, desktops, Laptops, Mobile phones rather being a part of these Melas to watch the Dogra culture live.This trend needs to be changed. Parents ought to take their children to these Melas so that children realize the significance of these Melas and learn to love, respect,appreciate, preserve and transmit their culture. The Government, on its part should take measures to provide facilities such as clean drinking water/uninterrupted power supply, upgradation of roads, construction/upgradation of bathing ghats, community toilets, development of amusement/recreational parks, provision of accommodationetc at the places where these Melas are organised and thus, attract more visitors to boost the local economy and tourism.
(The writer is serving as lecturer in English,Govt .HSS, Thial (Udhampur).