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iXiGOers Jul 17 2013

How is Sonepur Mela celebrated in Bihar?

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Held since the time of Aurangzeb, the Sonepur Mela — fittingly for one that is described as the largest cattle fair in Asia — is a gigantic kaleidoscope of primary colours and primary noises. Every year in November, around Kartik Purnima, faith and commerce keep their appointment at this overgrown village at the confluence of the Gandak and Ganga, an hour from Patna. Immense crowds assemble, the number of which it is impossible to estimate... the roads are thronged for days...,said an awe-struck gazetteer in the early 20th century, and the description holds good today.

In the crowds’ wake come the mendicants, food vendors, sellers of religious paraphernalia.... the sadhus who have buried themselves in the sand, the fortune-telling parrot, ashram camps.... But most of all there are the animals.



Elephants, horses, bulls, oxen, dogs, birds and more. Over centuries, the Sonepur Mela has been famous for its elephant trade in which an ensemble cast of forest departments, timber loggers, temples (especially in South India), circus owners, traders and individuals who want “an elephant tied at the door” for prestige, have been the main buyers. Given the concern over the decreasing numbers of the Asiatic elephant, the use of elephants for timber logging and commercial purposes has been banned and the animal’s sale is forbidden. Selling your elephant may be banned but no one can stop you from gifting or donating it, so the Sonepur Mela may see ‘gifts’ worth lakhs. The elephants look patient and thoughtful, and are amazingly photogenic in the dawn and dusk. Watching them bathe is pure pleasure.


Tips: Sonepur has no hotels. Bihar Tourism has up a Tourist Village (Patna Tel: +91-612-2225411/2210219; Tariff: INR 2,000 in the first week) in Sonepur. Staying in Patna is a good option.

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