Bihar Calling

Shahabad Mahotsaw 2013 and Incredible Sonepur Mela

I was invited to inaugurate and attend the great Shahabad Mahotsaw 2013 in Buxar, Bihar held on 16 November last.

It would be noteworthy to state that a good number of Mauritians hail from the huge former Shahabad district now broken into smaller districts for more effective administration – namely Bhojpur, Arrah, Buxar and Rohtas. The erstwhile dynamic Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Mrs Kamla Prasad Bissessar too hails from Buxar.

The huge crowd of thousands gathered at the Killa Maidan of Buxar like an advancing tsunami to attend the whole night Bhojpuri fiery fiesta from 7 pm to 5 am the next day. Veteran Bhojpuri artists and actors, like Nitu Chandra, Sonali Singh, Dinesh Yadav alias “Nirahuwa” who inflamed the crowd with his all-time hit “Nirahuwa Sattal rahe” and world famous actor singer Manoj Tiwari entertained the audience. By the time Manoj appeared on the stage by midnight, the crowd had invaded the ramp!

In the midst of this chaotic situation, I had no choice than to put a chair near the ramp and got some volunteers to haul me up to take refuge in the safety of the far end corner of the huge stage: “To go foreward was as bad as to go backward!” It was frightening but exciting too! But everything was under control with smooth, velvety, balmy, coaxing voice of Manoj Tiwari. The man behind the show was no doubt the Director General of Police Sports, Bihar, Shri Gupteshwar Pandey who is a devoted social worker, poet and artist as well, besides taking to task terrorists and naxalites in encounters!

The sacred soil of Shahabad is a land noted for its valiant heroes and Buxar is noted for being the land of the great Sage Vishwamitra, Guru of Lord Rama and Lakshman.

The 101- year old Ramakya Ram, recently awarded by the Bihar Government, who had played in the plays of Bhikhari Thakur in his youth, astounded one and all with his verve and stage presence with his “launda dance” and cultural team.

Mauritian Bhojpuri artist Sashi Sohadeb settled in London, UK and his wife, Shri BK Sudarshan businessman having business interest in Mauritius, Shri Udeshwar Singh director of Bihari too were present at the Mahotsaw. The International Bhojpuri Mahotsaw scheduled for 2014 in Mauritius will surely stand to gain from this.

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Sonepur Mela – Biggest Fair in Asia

The next big axe of my Bihar trip was the Sonepur Mela held annually at the confluence of the rivers Narayni and Ganges on which stands the city of Sonepur in the district of Saran. This mela goes on for a whole month and has as climax the sacred bath of Kartik Asnan (Sunday 17 November this year), that is our local Ganga Asnan.

The mythical 1000-year old conflict between the alligator and the elephant terminated on this day of Kartik by Lord Vishnu who took avatar here for this purpose. The place is known as Harihar Kshetra and is the only place where both Vishnu (Hari) and Lord Shiva (Har) are worshipped together by devotees. Many ancient temples which had gone in ruin are being renovated by a charitable trust run by Shri Gupteswar Pandey, DG of Bihar (Sports) Police.

It is said that this great fair of animals of all types including camels, cattle, elephants, horses, dogs, chimps, aviaries, etc., dates back to the hoary past. Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, Mughal Emperor Akbar and other valiant kings and princes such as the great Kunwar Singh of Arrah who waged the first Independence War of India in 1857 against the British came to buy their elephants and horses from this fair.

The Sonepur fair stretches across several kilometers under huge groves of mango trees. They are known by different names such as Ghora Bazaar, Hathi Bazaar, Chirain Bazaar, etc. It is said that the British too were attracted by this Mela and installed several huge tea stalls. The place is still known as Angrezi Bazaar. To popularize the culture of tea drinking among the rural masses, they would not only offer a glass of tea free but also give one paisa to each drinker! And now, chai, garam chai is an indispensable Indian drink!

The Government of Bihar through the Ministry of Tourism is trying to bring back the gloss and shine of the Mela. The charm of the fair keeping the rural folk in thrall with fiestas, feasts and earthy Bhojpuri songs and dances and the traditional Ramlila shows is being revived. I met Mr B. Pradhan, Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism Bihar who wants to encourage Mauritians to visit the Sonepur Mela as part of cultural and heritage tourism. I would also like to thank the Trustees of the Harihar Mandir, the organisers and the young and dynamic District Magistrate of Saran, Mr Kundan Kumar for facilitating this remarkable Sonepur Mela, worth visiting.


* Published in print edition on 13 December 2013

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