THE BIGGEST TRIBAL FAIR OF INDIA IN MEMORY OF SAINT MAOJI
The biggest tribal fair of India, Beneshwar Mela is held from Magh Shukla Ekadashi to Magh Shukla Poornima. The name Beneshwar is derived from the revered Shiva Linga which is kept in the Mahadev temple in Dungarpur. Beneshwar means the Master of the Delta in the local Vagdi language and this name was given to the Shiva Linga. The Beneshwar fair is held at a small delta (‘ben’ in Vagdi language) formed by the river Som and Mahi. The fair site is at a distance of 123 Kms. from Udaipur, 45 Kms. from Dungarpur and 53 Kms. from Banswara. One has to leave the main road, go to Sabla and then reach Beneshwar. About the origin of the ancient temple elder persons in Beneshwar say that long ago a cow used to come to the Shivalinga and offered her milk to the idol. On not getting milk the owner of the cow one day got angry. The next day he followed the cow and found it offering milk to the Shivalinga. The cow was frightened and ran away to escape from the wrath of its master. Its hoof struck the stone idol which was broken into five pieces and from then the damaged Shivlinga came to be worshipped and the practice continued.
A unique feature of Beneshwar Mela that is five hundred years old is the immersion of the ashes of the dear ones of the Vanvasis who had left the world in the preceding year. Due to their financial weakness, numerous tribals cannot afford to take the ashes to distant places like Haridwar, Kashi and Gaya and carry them to Beneshwar, the meeting point of three rivers Som, Mahi and Jakham.
The ashes of the dead persons called ‘phool’ in local language are preserved in earthen pots. In case of communities in which the corpse is buried, nails and some hair are kept aside for immersion later on.
Generally, the rituals performed after death by Hindus are also followed by the tribals. They believe that the soul does not get ‘moksha’ and live in peace till the ashes are immersed at Beneshwardham. That is why the tribals wait eagerly for the fair.
Just before the fair, the family members gather together to get ready to leave with the earthen pot and call upon the souls to accompany them.
On the day preceding the fair, can be seen big groups of tribals going to the Sangam. The whole atmosphere becomes grave early in the morning when the tribals in large numbers start wailing that is called Dad Paadna.
The earthen pots wrapped in white cloth in the case of male and red in case of female are worshipped with flowers, ‘Kumkum’ etc. at the Sangam. Then led by the heir of the dead, other family members enter the water in a line. They take bath in navel deep water and facing south they leave the earthen pots on the surface of the water. The ritual ‘phool padrana’ signifies the last homage to the departed soul.
It is believed that with the immersion ceases the attraction of the soul with the mundane world and the journey to the other world commences. After the immersion, ‘tarpan’ is done by holding water in the palm and then letting it flow in the river. Water is offered to Sun god and then other gods are also worshipped. After coming out of the water, new clothes are worn and other rituals are performed.
Sitting on their ‘asans’ on the islands of the Sangam, dry rocks, banks of the rivers, round stones and sandy spots can be seen Bhagats and Purohits who are called Garu or Gorji in local language. They perform rituals after spreading, small pieces of white and red cloth on the ground and making ‘yantras’ with rice and wheat grains, ‘Kumkum’, ‘roli’, ‘haldi’ etc. Some of the Vanvasis also get their heads fully shaved. They offer ‘daan-dakshina’ etc. to the Garu.
When the rituals are over, the tribals, light ‘chulahs’ on the rocks and sand of the Sangam and prepare dal-bati ‘bakra’, thick maize bread etc.
The present Beneshwar fair in its present form is in fact actually a merger of two fairs : one which was used to be held in honour of Beneshwar Mahadev (Lord Shiva) and another one which started after the construction of the Vishnu temple by Jankunwari daughter-in-law of Mavji, a highly revered saint considered to be an in carnatuion of Lord Vishnu.
The devotees of Mavji, who gave the message of universal love for the whole humanity irrespective of caste and creed through devotion to Lord Krishna, bring his 16 cms silver idol riding a horse in a Palanquin from Maninda Math at Sabla to Beneshwar. The same day the Mahanta of this Math is taken for a dip in the waters of the ‘Sangam’ as it is believed that it makes the water holy. Then the ‘Sangam Snan’ for pilgrims begins. For the next five days, the Mahant stays in the Krishna Mandir where devotees have his ‘darshan’ and the new ones are ‘initiated’ by wearing a ‘Kanthi’ on the neck. A big attraction for the devotees is the performance of ‘rasleela’ by the ‘sad’ cummunity. Songs related to the legends and preachings of Mavji are sung and heard with great enthusiasm. Also enjoyed are the songs about Maoji and Mehudi who are considered to be incarnation of Lord Krishna and Meera respectively. In the fair are also seen camps of several other saints and ‘sadhus’ where priests and devotees perform various rites and sing ‘bhajans’.
A big attraction for the pilgrims is the huge annual ‘mela bazar’. There is nothing that is not for sale in the market. With trinkets, traditional implements, jewellery etc., the fair has become a paradise for shopaholics. The large number of shops in the fair provide an opportunity for buying and selling of essential goods and fancy articles. There are bowls and containers made of local stone and several other metal work items that the fair is known for such as sickles, scythes and axe heads. There are several shops where one can even find weapons for sale like swords, spears but the most popular are the bow and arrow made out of bamboo in the traditional style, as archery is an integral part of the tribals and is the basic weapon for their safety and security.
The tribal way of celebration can be experienced here by participating in tribal dances peculiar to the region known as Gair and Ghoomer dances. Tribal sports like archery, Gida Dot similar to hockey, is a special tribal game.
The fair resounds with the gaiety of songs, folk dances, magic shows, animal shows and acrobatic feats. Adding to the excitement are the joy rides on merry-go-rounds and swings .
The fair is a great occasion to soak in the tribal culture of Rajasthan.