Elephant Bazaar - the Sonepur Fair in Bihar, India

By Kanetsuka, Cynthia | The World and I, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Elephant Bazaar - the Sonepur Fair in Bihar, India


Kanetsuka, Cynthia, The World and I


The Sonepur Fair is the biggest cattle fair in Asia. Centuries old, it is famous for its Haathi Bazaar, where hundreds of elephants are bought and sold each year. The fair lasts two weeks and begins on Kartik Purnima, the autumn full moon, one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar. Hundreds of thousands travel to Bihar for the event.

In addition to the elephants, Arabian horses, camels, cows, bullocks, and buffalo are sold. There are even sections for poultry and pets such as dogs and birds. Huge shopping marquees are erected, and everything from plants to furniture and clothing is sold. Stalls offer food, knickknacks, and decorations for cattle. Makeshift restaurants are built, and giant cooking pots and plates are trucked in. An entertainment area with sideshows, merry-go-rounds, and musical entertainment is a big attraction; the women come decked out in their brightest saris.

During the period of British rule, European indigo planters used the fair as an occasion for social and sports gatherings. Today, it is becoming a tourist attraction. Hoping to draw more visitors, India's State Tourism Department has built thatched Swiss cottages on site (the nearest hotels are fifteen miles away in Patna). Many come for sunrise on the day of the full moon, when thousands take a ritual bath and bathe the elephants at the confluence of the holy Ganga and Gandak Rivers. …

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