Pushkar fair and around…
India is truly an Incredible and a varied country. The nation is varied not only by its geography, languages and religions but also by its culture, food, traditions and festivals. Not only this, if we scoop into history that we understand that India before the British raj was never a single country but a collection of princely states ruled by Mughals, and other dynasties. These boundaries were merged later and formed a Union by itself to fight from the British and finally before independence we were one united nation India. Coming back to reality, currently the states are divided on the basis of languages and dialects and interrelated culture and food. So, starting with one of the largest and the most colourful state Rajasthan, today I will take you to Pushkar.
NOMENCLATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE
Pushkar is a lake town in Ajmer district in northern Rajasthan and is named after the lake Pushkar present in the city. The name “Pushkar” is derived from Sanskrit words “Pushp” meaning flower and “Kar” meaning hand(s). As per mythology, Pushkar got its name because the petals of the lotus flower which fell here from the hands of Lord Brahma.
Pushkar is also known for its Brahma Temple, the only one in the world. In Hindu mythology, all Gods / Goddesses are worshiped and have their temples but Lord Brahma has only one temple which was because he was cursed, here are some legends. According to Shiv Puran once when Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma were trying to discover the origin of the universe or Lord Shiv by travelling in south and north respectively, Lord Vishnu gave up and Lord Brahma lied to Lord Shiv that he discovered the beginning by asking Lord Shiv’s beloved flower to become a witness of his fake discovery. Lord Shiv cursed him that no one would worship him henceforth because of his lie.
Another legend says that Lord Brahma wanted to perform a Yagna at the banks of lake Pushkar and as per rules one can only sit for the pious work with his wife but since Lord Brahma’s wife Goddess Saraswati could not arrive on time, Lord Brahma married a local Gujjar named Gayatri. and performed the Yagna, furious over the act, Goddess Saraswati cursed Lord Brahma, his husband that he will only be worshiped at Pushkar and no where else. So even the temple at Pushkar has the idols of Lord Brahma and Goddess Gayatri as his wife. Where as per mythology, Goddess Saraswati is his wife.
Pushkar is also known as Tirth Raj (king of Pilgrimage) and the lake is among the “panchsarovar” (five lakes) of Hinduism namely, Manasarovar, Bindu Sarovar, Narayan Sarovar, Pampa Sarovar and Pushkar sarovar.
The Pushkar lake has its own significance which says that whoever takes a holy dip in holy lake on the first full moon day after the festival of Diwali (Kartik purnima) will be cured of all the sins and skin diseases.
THE PUSHKAR MELA / PUSHKAR FAIR
The Pushkar festival is apparently the largest camel fair in Asia. Locals do trade sheep, cows and horses in the yearly meet. The organization of the fair purposefully done (October November) as during olden times, people from outside regions used to come to the lake town due to its religious significance. As this could have resulted into trade later on, but today visitors and tourists in millions from around the world flock here not only to see how camel trading is done but also to enjoy and experience the Rajasthani culture, cuisine and art first hand.
The town of Pushkar becomes vibrant during the festival time. Markets are filled with new temporary shops selling everything from headgear to footwear, Rajasthani traditional artefacts, paintings, home decor products, and most important delicious Rajasthani food. One very unique thing is that not only locals but a few foreigners too come here for business, i.e. they rent a shop and sell Rajasthani artefacts and home decor designs of traditional hand woven clothing. This not only shows confidence among other foreigners but also promotes in healthy competition. Upon inquiring as why do foreigners do this, we learn that it is because of the love and attraction about Indian culture.
The five days of the festival brings Pushkar alive as never before, even during the day time one can find innumerable people on the streets of the town shopping, exploring and eating. But Market is not the place. The correct place is the Mela Ground or the festival ground. This is a government playground, which is used to organise, gaming events where in Human and camels take part in different events. There is not a single thing that one may want to miss.
There is camel race, tug of war (between different villages), longest moustache, strongest moustache competition, best violin player and many more sports activities between the villagers. Not only this, there are many activities where in even non-locals or tourists can participate. This directly helps to bridge the social gap between the locals and visitors.
Camel trading is the actual origin of this annual meet in the lake town. Since Rajasthan is an arid zone, camels were and many places even today are the most preferred mode of transportation and in olden times it would have been even more significant. Camels are bred by the local villagers and traded between buyers and owners that come from different districts and villages.
Camels are not easy products that one may buy or sell since it is an animal so it takes time to judge the capability of the animal to perform work and also breed does matter. It is really an amazing experience to watch this unique buying and selling of animals. The bargaining for the price of the animal may even happen for more than two days that’s interesting! Not only camels but other animals like donkeys, horses too are traded.
PUPPET SHOWS A SPECIALTY
One thing that is really impressive in the preservation of tradition and culture is the involvement of the local government in encouraging the locals and villagers to take part and use it as a public awareness campaign. There are puppet shows conducted in Marwari, Hindi and English to educate and bring awareness about the problems and its solutions to various social issues and root out blind faith among the people. These puppet shows are funny but at the same time spread the message like the importance of a Girl child, significance of cleanliness and sanitation, importance of education especially to girl child, saying no to child marriage, using modern or semi modern techniques in farming for better productivity, importance of saving water and much more.
All this is because even after so many years of nation heading ahead on the road to progress there are still many of orthodox mentality in this region. Also with this Culture is also showcased in a rich manner. There are many kinds of puppet shows that give out different messages and some are merely organised for fun and laughter.
Food is an integral part of any culture or civilization and enhances the impact of an explorer. Rajasthani cuisine too enhances its culture and is one of the choices among the Indian food lovers around the world. Rajasthani cuisine is itself a standalone and has its unique taste.
Rajasthan being a geographically a desert area, the food reflects its geography by preparation of food that lasts long and can be eaten without cooking or heating for the second time. Very less water is used. Also in the in preparation of sweets, more of milk and milk products are used.
In general non-vegetarian or meat dishes are not the part of Hindu culture in Rajasthan and especially after Pushkar being a Hindu pilgrimage destination, it is totally avoided during the fair. Although it is not that meat is not a part of Rajasthani cuisine but is usually considered as royal food and hence not found easily.
Speaking of Rajasthani cuisine, the first thing that comes into your mind is “Dal Bati Churma” and different types of “Kachori.” As markets flourish during the festive season, temporary food stalls too spring up as one can’t just simply shop all day long.
Food stalls serving traditional cuisine are found and what do they serve? Dal bati churma, gatte ki sabzi, papad ki sabzi, puri and aloo ki sabji, aloo matar ki sabji, aloo pyaz ki sabji. Sweets include, malpua, ghewar, gulab jamun, rabri, jalebi, gajar ka halwa and list goes on. And if you find yourself full here is what you can have to cool yourself down Nimbu paani, masala chaas, flavoured kulfi, lassi and even masala soda!
All this food and flavours are enough to slow you down and now you could rest till the evening and if you think you have some more energy left within, you could watch out for demonstrations of vintage cars, jeeps, horses, guns and other weapons from the Royal families of Rajasthan and scoop in a little history of the brave Rajputs or simply await for the sunset.
As the sun sets and the temperature cools the Mela ground turns into an open auditorium and local artists showcase their talent and Rajasthani art forms to the visitors, this show is organized by the Tourism department.
The art forms usually include traditional dances, songs, dance with fire rings, fire pots and balancing acts on a bicycle wheel and music dance combo with traditional musical instruments. The songs that are played are well known folk Rajasthani songs like “Padyo kud padyo mela me, cycle puncture kar layo…. Arararararara Raa…” and “Kesayiya balam, aavo ne… Padharo mare des re….”
There are many other ways that tourists and visitors can enjoy and indulge with this place, one such thing is photographing oneself with wearing Rajasthani attire for sometime and acting like a local, you could even put a fake moustache and wear a traditional turban and if lucky, could hold on to a Rajputana sword too!
There is a lot for children too; ice creams, kulfi, sugar candies, popcorn, famous Rajasthani street food — Kachori with tangy tamarind chutney and tea to drain it down of course and if you get bored of being too much of a local you could simply join in a line to have joyride atop the giant wheel, roller coaster or even a merry-go-round!
Beside the Mela ground there is a shop till you drop temporary marketplace where you can shop, eat, and listen to Bollywood, traditional and devotional music.
Overall Pushkar festival is a wonderful experience with everything that a casual tourist may want — fun, shopping, indulging with locals and food. All this can be done in many places but watching the camel trading is indeed a unique part of your visit. One may not want to go to such places many times, but If you get a chance to go and experience the Pushkar festival, it is a ”must visit” and a once in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t miss it!
HOW TO REACH PUSHKAR?
Its simple, by rail or road from Ajmer city (16 Kms or 40 minutes). If you arrive by air, the nearest airport is in Jaipur (150 Kms ~ 3 Hours).
By train you can travel by train #59607 or #59608 Ajmer Pushkar Passenger will run every day except Tuesdays and Fridays with cost of only Rs 5! And a bus journey will cost you Rs 13* only.
*Prices may have increased.
Roaming around Pushkar is recommended on foot as it is the best way to explore else bicycles and motorbikes are available on rent but are difficult to find.
Other than the festival, Pushkar as mentioned earlier as a lot of significance to a Hindu pilgrim too. There are a lot of places to visit in and around Pushkar like Ajmer, a mere 20 odd kilometres away, Ranthambore tiger reserve, Bharatpur migratory bird sanctuary, Jaipur City and even Agra can be visited.
I shall take you to these and many more places, till then goodbye and take good care of yourself.