Mela is a kaleidoscopic glimpse of the tribal culture of Saurashtra
in all its glory. Achal Dhruva experiences a matchmaking adventure
races are the biggest draw of the fair
parannvu chhe? Khali chokaribatavi do, gada ma nakhi ne bhagadi
jayiye (Do you want to marry? Just point out the girl,
we will put her in a bullock cart and whisk her away), the
bharwad (shepherd) said with a twinkle in his eye, twirling
his long mustache, his rugged face crinkling into a big smile.
I was shocked and rendered speechless. Can it be so
simple, I began to wonder as I spied a group of nubile
open-backed choli and bright ghagra-clad girls, decked up
in ethnic finery passing by.
As if following my train of thoughts, the bharwad got off
his bullock cart and asked, Aamathi kai gami?
(Which one of these do you fancy?) and without waiting for
an answer he began to walk towards the group with his mates.
sight of men playing dandiya is mesmerising
is absurd, my mind screamed as I frantically searched
for help. My friend, who was enraptured by some coy village
belles, was of no help as he was trying his best to capture
the blushing beauties on frame. He was oblivious to the suspicious
and threatening looks of well-built men-folk accompanying
the belles. I was in no mood to be educated about the consequences
of eloping with a girl and dragged him into the safety of
the crowd before my self-professed pal - the bharwad and his
mates actually played cupid for me.
was a near escape and my heart was beating louder than the
drums around me. Tarnetar no melo (Tarnetar Fair),
the biggest and most popular matchmaking tribal fair of Gujarat,
is certainly not for the weak-hearted. It is the playing arena
of the hardy tribals, men of action and passion, steeped in
age-old tradition and art of eloping.
We had been lured a few years ago to distant Saurashtra in
Gujarat for the famous three-day Trinetreshwar Fair or Tarnetar
Mela with the promise of a kaleidoscopic glimpse of the social
and cultural milieu of this incredible region. Clubbed with
an opportunity to experience the age old tradition of swayamvar
and young men whisking away prospective brides from the mela
in the day and age of satellite television made it a
shopping for fineries
a small sleepy village in Chotalia Taluka of Surendranagar
district in Gujarat, comes alive with vibrant colours of celebration
each year during the Bhadrapat season (August-September) with
thousands of bharwads, rabaris (shepherds); kolis (labourers);
charans (bards); kanbi (farmers); kathir, kath and other communities
descending upon the 14th century Trinetreshwar (three-eyed)
Madhav (Shiv temple) of the village, the site of age old mela.
The three km area around the temple will once again witness
the customary sea of humanity on September 10, 11 and 12,
keeping the antiquated custom alive.
The importance of what we had presumed as an obscure fair
hit home as soon as we took to the road. All traffic was moving
in just one direction, towards the fair. People were packed
like sardines on anything with four wheels that moved including
the popular mode of transport, the chakada, a unique contraption
consisting of the engine of an Enfield motorcycle attached
to a trailer. Bullock carts and camels also plodded along
at a leisurely pace among the vehicles, while horses cavorted
just off the road, circumventing thousands of commodes (English
houses the ceramics industry and the ingenious villagers had
used the discarded commodes to build their compound walls,
an architectural marvel, indeed!
The joyous cries of Halo, halo, mela maa (Come
on to the fair) filled the air with palpable excitement. But
nothing could have prepared me for the actual sight. The mela
with its teeming populace in a riot of colour as far as the
eye could see easily dwarfed any other fair I had been to.
popular mode of transport in the region - the chakada
towering, sky-high giant wheels peppered with white clouds
around them were clearly the centre of attraction for the
crowd. The giant wheels not only dole out dizzy entertainment,
but also expound the philosophy of the fair. Men in bright
embroidered jackets, turbans and pajamas worn in dhoti-style,
heavily decked with jewellery broke into an impromptu dance
to the thunderous beat of drums accompanied by rhythmic clacking
of dandiya sticks.
sight of men jumping and twirling with such ease and grace
was mesmerising. The beat was so infectious, that it was hard
for anyone to stand still and many bystanders like me could
not refrain from joining the group. This was the real thing,
dandiya raas, in its purest form and the ground actually shook.
Along with dandiya raas, one also witnessed other dances like
huddo, characterised by a vigorous clapping of hands by two
rows of men resembling high fives. This special dance of the
shepherd community derives its form from the scene of two
Even though women were seen participating in the dances, one
observed that they were relegated to the background and kept
a low profile. The mela is mostly a male affair with men strutting
about proudly in bright colourful dresses, parading on their
horses, or having bullock cart races or just dancing. Bedecked
with huge gold earrings, necklaces and silver chains around
their waists, and huge colourful umbrellas in their hands,
the emblem of the fair, they justified their region being
known as peacock country.
towering, sky-high giant wheels are the centre of attraction
men holding the umbrellas were a sight to behold. According
to custom, matches among the various castes are fixed in childhood,
though the bride today steps into her in-laws house after
she is 18 years old. Years ago, the colourful umbrellas made
by the men folk would be an important sign for the bride to
recognise the groom. The groom would tie the kerchief sent
by his bride to the umbrella for her to recognise her soul
mate. At the fair, the bride would recognise the kerchief
and get the first glimpse of the groom to whom she was married
off as a child.
would then approach him and the couple seeking an opportunity
would get away from the forbidding glances of elders and spend
some time alone. If the groom was impatient, he would elope
with her without further ado.
I found striking in the whole scenario is that it is the woman
who makes the first move in this part of rural India. This
has made the fair one of the most important matchmaking fairs
fair may no longer be a traditional affair of culture isolated
from the outside world, what with rows of stalls selling all
kinds of household utilities and decorative items found in
the city, it is still very much a spectacle for urban folk
and foreigners. Even though, we had failed in our quest of
witnessing the romance of a true blue traditional elopement
(not counting my near brush with tradition), we more than
made up at the bullock cart races and horse races. These are
the biggest draws of the fair and pride of the entire village
is put on the finishing line.
there is never a dull moment at Tarnetar.
Fair Dates: September 10-12, 2002
Nearest Airport: Rajkot, 84 km away by road, while
Ahmedabad is 196 km away via Chotalia.
Nearest Railhead: Thanghad, which is on the Ahmedabad-Rajkot
line. Trinetreshwar Temple is 10 km from Thanghad. Details
of stay at the fair and organised tours are available
with Gujarat Tourism offices.
The 14th century Trinetreshwar Madhav temple; handicrafts
of the region on display; and tribals break into an impromptu