A visual extravanga
awaits all at the Sonepur Fair where multitudes congregate on Kartik
Purnima to offer obeisance to Harihar Nath and participate in what is
the biggest cattle fair in Asia. Festivities stretch over a fortnight
giving visitors a feel of the pulse of Bihar.
According to the Indian
Almanac the full moon day of Kartik Purnima which usually falls in
November is one of the most auspicious of days. A number of big fairs
are held at important paces of pilgrimage. The Harihar Chhetra
Mela near Sonepur is one of the biggest fairs held in India and
is also the biggest cattle fair in Asia.
Sonepur is located in
there Saran district in the northern part of Bihar. This district
shaped like a triangle is demarcated by three mighty rivers
the Ganga, Gandak and Ghagra. Sonepur stands on the confluence of the
Ganga and Gandak.
Like so many places of
pilgrimage in India Sonepur also has its legend. It involves two
kings both of whom were turned into animals a crocodile and an
elephant by the curse of sages who were offended by them.
Those days this area was supposed to have been girdled by hills with
three towering peaks and a lake in the centre. Once, while bathing in
the lake with a party of women, a Gandharva chief named Huhu
made fun of Dewala Muni by playfully pulling his leg. The ire of the
sage took the form of a curse that turned Huhu into a crocodile. The
other accursed person was Indradyumna, a king of the Pandyas who was
of a very pious nature but had offended the powerful sage, Agastya.
The king had failed to notice the sage as he was in meditation when
the sage visited him. The curse of the enraged Agastya turned
Indradyumna into an elephant who took refuge in the woods surrounding
One day while the
elephant came with a herd to the lake to bathe, the
gandharva-turned-crocodile caught his leg in its powerful jaws. Not
to be taken lightly, the king of elephants tried to pull the
crocodile up on the bank in an effort to crush him under his feet. A
mighty battle ensued which was joined by other crocodiles and
elephants. The contest went on for thousands of years without any one
being able to overpower the other. But ultimately the King Elephant
weakened and prayed to the supreme god Vishnu (Hari) to save him. His
prayer was answered and Vishnu cut down the crocodile with his chakra
(disc). The touch of the chakra, however, released Huhu from the
curse and he went to heaven. Vishnu also released Indradyumna from
his curse by touching his forehead and took the king to His abode,
The temple of Harihar
Nath is naturally the main objective of the visitors to the fair
after they have taken their ritual bath in the swirling waters of the
Gandak. The original temple is believed to have been built by Lord
Rama on his way to the court of King Janak to win Sita. The age and
origin of the present temple has puzzled scholars but it is supposed
that Raja Man Singh had it repaired. The builder of the present
temple was Raja Ram Narain, a prominent figure during the late Mughal
period. The Birlas recently conducted repairs and extension works. As
in many other famous places of worship, a number of smaller temples
of other deities surround the temple of Harihar Nath Mahadeo.
When the pujas and the
ablutions are over, the visitors abandon themselves to the various
attractions offered in and around the sprawling mela ground. The
village folk, particularly the women, are attracted to the array of
shops selling all sorts of merchandise. The area that attracts all,
however, is the one where the elephants are lined up for sale.
Sonepur Fair is the only one where such a large number of elephants
are sold. These are mainly purchased by different forest departments
and people involved with logging operations. Apart from elephants, a
large number of cattle and horses are also brought to the fair for
The Sonepur Fair is of
great antiquity and in olden times would attract traders from as far
as Central Asia. Like the origin of the Harihar Nath Temple, the
inception of the Sonepur Fair is lost in the labyrinth of time. The
site of the present fair was originally at Hajipur while only the
pujas used to be offered at the temple at Sonepur. During the reign
of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, the fair was shifted to Sonepur.
During the period of British rule, the European indigo planters used
it as an occasion for social and sports gathering. The fair continues
for about fourteen days but the few days before, during and after the
Kartik Purnima draw the maximum crowds. The sleepy mango groves of
the fair ground turns into a wonderland, sure to overwhelm the
sophisticated urban visitor as well as the simple rural folk.
Sonepur is 25 kilometres
from Patna which is well connected by air, rail and road.
From a week before the
fair the State Tourism Department offers Swiss cottage tents with
attached baths. At Patna there is a wide choice of hotels.
Government of India
tourist Office Paryatan Bhawan, Bir Chand Patel Marg, Patna Bihar
Tourist Information centre Frazer Road, Patna.