The Sonepur Cattle Fair or Sonepur Mela (सोनपुर मेला) is held on Kartik Poornima (the full moon day) in the month of November in Sonepur, Bihar, on the confluence of river Ganga and Gandak. It is also known as Harihar Kshetra Mela and it attracts visitors from all over Asia. Till date, it is the biggest cattle fair of Asia and stretches on from fifteen days to one month.
It has its origins during ancient times. This is when Chandragupta Maurya used to buy elephants and horses across the river Ganges. The Sonepur Cattle Fair once used to attract traders from places as distant as Central Asia.
The Sonepur mela has a profound historic grandeur. According to the travelogue of a British administrative officer, W W Hynter, in 1919, the Sonepur mela used to be held in over 43 villages in the past.
It has its origins during ancient times. This is when Chandragupta Maurya used to buy elephants and horses across the river Ganges. The mela used to attract traders from places as distant as Central Asia.
Originally, the venue of the fair was Hajipur and only the performance of the puja used to take place at the Harihar Nath temple of Sonepur. However, under the rule of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the venue of the fair got shifted to Sonepur. The temple of Harihar Nath is believed to have been originally built by Lord Rama, on his way to the court of King Janak to win the hand of Mata Sita. It is further said that Raja Man Singh later got the temple repaired. The Harihar Nath temple, as it stands today, was built by Raja Ram Narain, an influential person during the late Mughal period.
Gajendhra Moksha legend is associated with the temple in Sonepur. It involves the story of king Indrayamuna and the Gandharva chief Huhu, who were turned into an elephant and a crocodile respectively by the curse of great sages Agasthya and Dewala muni. One day the elephant’s leg was caught by the crocodile. It is said that both of them fought hard for many years with their herds. But ultimately the King Elephant weakened and prayed to the supreme god Vishnu (Hari) to save him. Vishnu heard his prayer and cut down the crocodile with his Chakra. But the touch of the chakra released Huhu from the curse. Vishnu also released Indrayamuna from his curse and took him to his aboard Vaikuntha. Since Sonepur is situated at the convergence of the sacred rivers Ganga and Gandak, the Hindus regard it as a holy site. One of the purposes of the people visiting the Sonepur Cattle Fair, apart from the fair, is to take a holy dip at the convergence and pay respects at the Hariharnath Temple.
In Hindu mythology, the crocodile is believed to have been in its previous birth a Gandharva chief named Huhu. Huhu had gone to have a bath in this lake and, it is said, caught a holy sage by his leg in a truculent manner. The sage, Dewala Muni, turned furious and cursed the Gandharva chief and changed him into a crocodile as a punishment.
He lived in the lake in the form of a huge crocodile until he was restored to his Gandharva life by the sacred touch of Vishnu (Hari) who, with his “chakra” or discus, cut the throat of the crocodile while rescuing the elephant from his jaws.
On the other hand, the elephant, in its former existence, was a king of the Pandyas, Indradyumna by name, who was a pious man. Once, however, he did not pay his respects to a sage, Agastya. The sage cursed him and made him an elephant. He, too, was saved by Hari’s touch, and was allowed to accompany Him to “vaikuntha” or heaven.
As per the tradition, lakhs of Hindus from all over the country assemble at different ghats of Harihar Kshetra at Hajipur and Sonepur on the eve of Kartik Purnima and take holy dip at the confluence of the Ganga, the Gandak and the Mehi rivers. The full moon day of the month of Kartik (November) is regarded as one of the most auspicious days for the Hindus. The devotees offer Gangajal to the Harihar Nath temple and this ritual marks the beginning of the Sonepur mela.
The temple of Harihar Nath is believed to have been originally built by Lord Ram, the famous prince of Ayodhya, on his way to the court of King Janak to win the hand of Mata Sita.
It is further said that Raja Man Singh later got the temple repaired. The Harihar Nath temple, as it stands today, was built by Raja Ram Narain and the most recent repairs on the temple were undertaken by the Birlas.
The Fair Trade
Nearly all animals can be bought at the Sonepur mela from all breeds of dogs, camels, buffaloes, donkeys, ponies, monkeys, chimps, Persian horses, sheep, rabbits, bears, cats, and guinea pigs. All varieties of birds, poultry and fishes are also available. The area that attracts all, however, is the one where elephants are lined up for sale. The Sonepur Fair is the only one where such a large number of elephants are sold. Numerous stalls are also set up at the grounds of the Sonepur Cattle Fair. You will find a wide variety of goods in these stalls, ranging from garments, to weapons and furniture, toys, utensils and agricultural implements, jewelry and handicrafts. Major attraction is the sight of numerous elephants, beautifully decorated for the purpose of sale.
A fortnight following the first full moon day in the Hindu month of Kartik Shukla Paksh (Kartik Purnima), which occurs in the period October/ November. Precise duration to be checked up every January.
Source : SonepurMela