Dr. Banarsi Lal, Dr. Vikas Tandon
Fairs and festivals are an integral part of the Indian socio-cultural and religious system. In India number of world level fairs are organized such as Mahakumbh Mela, Pushakar Mela etc. which are attended by millions of devotees, tourists and traders across the globe.
Jammu and Kashmir is also known for the various fairs and festivals such as Jhiri Mela, Bahu Mela, Gompa Mela, Moungri Mela, Dera Baba Baisakhi Mela, Shiv Khori Mela etc.and thousands of people within the state and outside the state participate in these multifcated cultural heritage events bequeathed to us by our wise ancestors. These fairs add colour and vibrancy in our lives. These fairs also help to showcase the rich culture of the state at national and international level through folk songs and dances. These fairs and festivals are mostly organized near the sacred rivers and holy shrines. Celebration of fairs and festivals in different parts of Jammu region indicates the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the province. The celebration of such fairs and festivals help to unite the people from all the sections of society. These types of events help us to preserve and transmit our rich culture.
Reasi district of J&K is said to be the hub of religious spots. This district is blessed with numerous religious spots and every year lakhs of devotees across the nation visit this district. Various religious places such as Vaishno Devi Shrine, Shiv Khori Shrine, Baba Jitto Shrine, Baba Dansar, Siarh Baba, Nau Devian, Mahadev, Dera Baba Banda Bahadur Shrine etc. are situated in this district. These places are of great religious importance. There are various other religious places in this district which are not frequently visited by the pilgrims but they can also attract more and more of devotees from far and wide. Dera Baba Baba Banda Bahadur shrine is a religious place of high esteem, a great tourist destination and best health resort in beautiful hilly district Reasi of J&K state. This shrine is situated at Dera Baba village which is about 20 km from Reasi town. This holy and beautiful place is full of poise vibrations, seems to have been designed by nature with her own hands with great care. The scenic beauty of this place contains in itself various unfolded chapters of history of ancient civilizations. Dera Baba Baba Banda Bahadur shrine is surrounded by lofty peaks, beautiful Chenab River, green meadows on its bank and dense forests on the hills. The sacred river Chenab passes through this place and flows down to Akhnoor. This place is visited by the pilgrims across the nation throughout the year.
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 across the nation. Baisakhi marks the Sikh New Year and commemorates the formation of Khalsa panth of warriors under Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. Baisakhi Mela is organized to mark the harvest of crops as in the past almost all the people took farming as their profession and they felt elated on observing their Rabi crops. 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 known for various fairs and festivals. Every year a three day Baisakhi Mela is held at Dera Baba Banda Bahadur shrine situated at Dera Baba Banda Bahadur village near the bank of holy Chenab river in Reasi district of J&K. It is a grand religious event which is attended by thousands of people from within and outside of the state. In order to reach Dera Baba Banda Bahadur shrine one has to travel a distance of about 80 Kilometers from Jammu by bus or private vehicle. Firstly one has to reach Simbol Choa which is at a distance of about 20 km from Katra and 10km away from Dera Baba village and then by auto, metador or personal vehicle one can easily reach this shrine. The road connectivity is in good condition and the vehicles can easily pass through the charming hills down to the shrine. The district administration does all security and other arrangements for the pilgrims during the mela. The mela displays all the belongings of the Baba. During this occasion the pilgrims take the holy bath in the Chenab River. This is the holy place where Baba Banda Bahadur 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 Saffron colour flag(Nishan Sahib) one piece of deodar log with 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 there. 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. A great congregation of pilgrims is held on Baisakhi festival. Special rooms are available there for the stay of pilgrims and local people also facilitate the pilgrims to make their visit successful. Baba Jatinder Paul Singh Sodhi campaigns for inter-religious tolerance. In order to achieve this goal, he has established a large number of Samarks, Gurudwaras, schools, dispensaries and other centres in different parts of the country. With his relentless efforts, a blacktop road has been established from Simbol Choa to Dera Baba which ultimately goes to Jammu. Electricity, medical facilities, transportation facilities, water supply etc. are also provided to the visiting pilgrims. This place has become a centre of attraction for the pilgrims across the nation.
This historic Mela attracts thousands of pilgrims from the state and even outside of state. During the Mela people feel joy, exuberance, coulourfulness and vibrancy. There is hustle and bustle all around during the Mela. One feels that one has come in a different world away from the world of worries, bitterness and jealousy. Many people take a dip in the holy Chenab river, pay obeisance at Baba Banda Bahadur Shrine and pray for their welfare and peace.
Baisakhi Mela at Dera Baba Banda Bahadur Shrine witnesses a 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 there. Pilgrims enjoy the unique place of spirituality. Apart from large number of kiosks of eatables and merchants displaying their wares for sale, which include from trinkets to new popular electronics gadgets, the fair presents hosts of entertainments for every age group of people. Most of the stalls of eatables especially Jalebi and Pakoras, which is a specialty of the mela, are being run by local people of the area. Other than the shopkeepers, the local transporters like matador and bus owners also facilitate the pilgrims by bringing large number of them to the mela site. While ‘dangals'(Chinjj)- the Indian style wrestling matches in which wrestlers from different parts of the country used to come here which draw a large crowd of sport enthusiasts. The people converge to witness the wrestling bouts of wresters and give them a big round of applause. This mela is one of the most attended fairs in Reasi district.
Dr. Banarsi Lal, Dr. Vikas Tandon