Sonepur Cattle Fair: A Celebration of Tradition and Trade


Image – Wikimedia

Sonepur is village panchayat of district Saran, which is located on the bank of River Gandak and the Ganges. This town is special for holding an event which is ancient in the state of Bihar. Sonepur has been long celebrated by holding a fairs on Karthik Poornima which is a full moon day.

Sonepur Mela, one of Asia’s biggest cattle fairs, is held there around the Ganga and Gandak rivers. Popular from ancient times for the trading of livestock, this event is 30 days long and is held in the month of November on the occasion of Kartik Purnima. The pilgrims in Hindu religion visit the area and bathe in the holy waters of Ganga and Gandak river and perform puja at Harihar Nath Temple. Sonepur Cattle fair is also well known by the name Harihar Kshetra Mela and it lasts for 15 days to one month. The event is held in the period of November and December taking people from every country in the world. The festival also provides a range of cultural programs that will be presented by famous artists who are currently celebrated on the national and international level. Thousands of people arrive at the fair from every corner of the world with an aim of taking home the best memories they can ever have.

 History of Sonepur Cattle Fair

History of Sonepur Cattle Fair
Image Source: Ashley Van Haeften, Flickr

As per the local folklore, it was Lord Ram’s temple Harihar Nath where everything began. This temple, therefore, was a sacred ground of huge importance, especially to the indigenous beings. The local cattle fair is not only meant to honor Lord Vishnu in his role as the deity who intervened in a fight between a crocodile and an elephant but also to remind us of the peaceful nature of animals. In Hindu mythology, while an elephant was bathing in the River Gandak, the crocodile came up and attacked the elephant. Finally the elephant prayed to Lord Vishnu who cut short the story and killed the crocodile himself. With itself endowed with the protection of sacred rivers such as Gandak and Ganges, people look at this as a holy site. Besides visiting the temple, it is common for devotees to take a dip in the water of the pond. This practice helps them to purify themselves and show reverence to Lord Vishnu. But, the real-time cattle fair was started at the time of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in the 4th century BC. Traders came from The Ganges River and brought horses and elephants for the king Chanragupt Maurya. Mythologically speaking, different celebrities like the Emperor Akbar, freedom fighter Babu Singh and Lord Clive of the East India Company have once visited the cattle fair in a different period.

It covers an area of over 500 acres and cattle-buying-and-selling activity at this venue has been continually happening since centuries. The giant pachyderms and horses were the most popular ones.

Central and western Asia traders used to find horses in trade while elephants were carried by population flu coming from the south of India. Similarly, alongside them, a lot of other types of animals like cows, donkeys and even monkeys were available in the fair from the 90s till now. It enabled the seller and the buyer to connect with each other and allowed for the birds and animals to be traded for a long period of time.

The Fair Trade

Sonepur Cattle Fair-02
Image – azotesdivinos/Flickr

The human can select any breed of animals in the fair of Sonepur from dogs of all types, buffaloes, donkeys, ponies, Persian horse, rabbits, goats and a few times even camels. Among these you can find all types of birds and poultry too. To the area where everyone goes is the Haathi Bazaar where anthropoids are examined and then they are sold. The Sonpur Mela is the only spot that such a substantial amount of elephants are traded — through, they are not really sold legally. Numerous other stalls are also present at the panchayat (union) / Mela Grounds of the Sonepur Cattle Fair. Since trade in elephants has been banned at Sonepur Mela since 2004 owing to a stringent regime of enforcement of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and in addition, denying the transfer of ownership certificate to the elephant owners, elephants in this Mela are confined to booths owned by the State Forest Department. In these retail stalls everything is sold which varies from fashion, to arms which includes furniture, toys, utensils, implements of agriculture, jewelry and handicraft items. The event’s most major feature is the sight of many elephants that have been prepared by beautifying them for the event. In 2001 Sonpur National Fair’s list of elephants presented to it was 92,354 elephants in 2004 and 13 elephants in 2016 within which 11 elephants were particular for display purposes only while 2 were for sale. In the enduring tusker development project, 3 tuskers were the participants of the fair in 2017. In 2017, the Central Government of India prohibited the trading (sale) of cattle on the grounds of Prevention of cruelty to Animals rule (Act) at Sonepur cattle fair.

Image – Priyadarshi Ranjan/Flickr

The scene is completed by placing a little stall ‘railgram’ to earmark the Railways Operation with the toy train also parked for the children’s amusement. To Sonepur Mela, both foreign tourists who are in essence hunting for various combining elements of rural life keep rushing. In addition to tourism just for the sake of visit, the largest beasts, elephants, are the major tourism magnet for most foreign visitors. The Swiss cottages will be arranged by the Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation (BSTDC) into the place of the Sonpur fair where the lessons of motorboat ride in the river Gandak, online course at the tourist village and other amenities like pre-paid taxis from Patna airport are available. Santa Land will be situated in the public during the Sonpur fair.

The Present Sonepur Cattle Fair

Sonepur Cattle Fair-03
Image – Oliver Kember/Flickr

The situation, however, is different now in comparison to the past where the town was selling cows and a lot of people gathered to watch it, the most interesting local events for today. Instead of crowds upon crowds of animals and people, bargaining over them, you will be able to find shops to how to begin their business roundabout. A variety of stalls selling clothing and handicrafts, street food sellers touting sweets, cinemas and other junkets just adds up to the experience. Before it was known as the modern zoo, it appears that elephants were exhibited and even sold in a stand alone exhibit known as the Hatthi bazaar. It is widely known as a public ground where people can rest, walk, and even play sports. Several tourists who had been visiting Sonepur’s animal fair now perceive this as the upshot that would lead to the end of the fair.

Image – azotesdivinos/Flickr

Under The Wildlife Act of (1972), elephant selling was proclaimed as banned by the government of India in (2004). However, the Sonepur fair was in vogue for trade elephants and for showcasing earlier 2000’s. Through the enactment of the ban, the number of elephants traded in the fair has been in the declining trend over the period. Today maybe, there are no elephants on exhibit, which means the fair rituals which existed for quite a long time have almost ended. Even strong men who formerly lived well enough to bring a herd of elephants to show off have abandoned the place. Anyhow, you may run into livestock such as cows, buffaloes, donkeys, as well as horses, that are on display.

The international visitors arriving from all over the world are enamored to see the cattle fair and the cultural aspects which have encompassed it. And instead of simple free animals exhibited, watching strong puja and the aficionados bathing in the River Ganges adds to the experience they have with Sonepur.

Other Major Attractions in Sonepur

1. Hariharnath temple

Image Source: Facebook

This temple is therefore an important artifact in the fair’s origins which, according to folklore, can be traced back to the past. The very structure that stood strong during the Mughal period while it was built by Raja Ram Narain still stands. This auspicious day of Kartik Poornima will be celebrated on moon day, therefore, devotees from all around the country come to offer their prayers to Lord Shiva to please God Hariharanath.

2. Sports


In spite of Sonepur being a combination of temples and cattle, the sports arena in this cattle fair is equally very lively. A variety of sports activities are conducted in which people usually play wrestling, cricket, volleyball, football, kabaddi, and several other kinds of sports. These activities are not gender-specific, i.e. male and female members of the society can participate in them. Thus, if you would like to be in the fair you are expected to sign-up prior to the beginning of the fair.

3. Ganga Aarti

Image – Oliver Kember/Flickr

While the sun sets in the evening, the Grand Lighting of Ganga Maha Aarti follows with lit lamps and tresses. Highly aesthetic of seeing it near Ganga and Gandak Holy rivers. “The puja is a Hindu ritual done by the priest with him accompanied by sacred songs, the devotees singing praises to Mother Ganga. This is a typical ceremony which many people do and the meaning is quite powerful and if one is spiritual. A crucial source of pride and national identity in India, the Sonepur Cattle Fair is the one that beats all; the Ganga Maha Aarti being the part that should not be missed.


Image – Oliver Kember/Flickr

Sonepur Cattle Fair makes us realize that Indian villages have still got their own rhythm and flavor which is independent of times. It represents the essence and soul of the nation’s cultural heritage, and its antique traditions interplay with modern industry as well as festivity happening at the same time. As the fair stays popular year by year, it unconsciously reinforces the strength of people surrounding themselves in this community, the significance of the annual traditions, and the inseparability of people from nature.

This single annual musical show is not only meant for entertainment but has the purpose of celebration of life itself, of the people that live it daily and of the bonds that were meant to keep the rural community growing and progressing. The Sonepur Cattle Fair is a shining lamp that resonates with every generation of enthusiasts who are keepers of their roots, revivers of their customs, and developers of their legacy that keeps this tremendous cultural event alive.

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