A bedecked camel with its ownerIn the month of Kartik each year, a staggering number of camels travel their way across the golden sands of Rajasthan to collect at Pushkar for the week-long fair devoted to them. Coming in from all directions, their masters astride them, they flick the sand at every step with casual ease. The horses that march to this site find the sand-trot a touch exercise. Numerous cows and sheep also come to the animal fair. Completing the scene thousands of men, women and children, come with their beasts, suddenly inhabiting the barren plain with the camel providing the backdrop.
The contrast to the dull desert landscape is the riot of colours - the large gaudy turbans of the native males arriving here to trade their animals or set up the stalls to cater to the booming captive market, and the loud hues of the pleated ghagaras (ankle-length skirts) of the women bangled by the armful, bejewelled from head to toe- adding charm and zest to the massive affair.
At Mela time, Pushkar is Rajasthan under one roof, a complete exhibition of its culture.Camels galore!
Over the first five days of the fair, camels, horses, cows, goats, and sheep are sold and purchased. There may be long-drawn negotiations, or sometimes, a quick transaction. Hard bargains are struck, the vendor praising the long list of virtues of his camel to the prospective buyer.
Fashionable Women…Typical Rajasthani woman
Womenfolk seem to have little interest in the business of animals. They are more attracted to the glittering wares in the stalls under canopies. The large variety of intricate silver ornaments - hairpins and chains, nose rings and neckbands, waistbands, anklets, toe rings and the ivory bangles worn from wrist to shoulder - would send any woman on a buying spree.
The garments stalls, in no way less colourful, sell high fashion upper garments of patchwork and tie 'n' die. Tattoo stalls give many women beauty marks that last a lifetime. Whoever said that the unsophisticated are not fashionable!
In Rajasthan even the camels are fashion-conscious, and that too to a high degree, for they are soon to be part of a beauty parade! The proud owner of a newly acquired camel promptly goes to the stalls which the women bypassed.
At these stalls all the crafts of Rajasthan have been pressed into the service of the camel community. Handmade saddles to fit every hump; long strings of cowries, beads; colourful, woven saddle-straps, and embroidered back-covers to boot. After a shearing and a scrub, the camel is costumed and even perfumed! Surely the Rajasthani man loves his camel-and his wife!
Fun and frolic:Track events
As the tempo of business goes down, the men folk turn to merriment, for the day of the camel sports is at hand. Camel races are the first event. Usually a lumbering beast of burden, the camel all decorated in finery, imagines itself to be an ostrich, and rushes through the race like one. Then comes the event analogous to musical chairs. Here, as the music stops, the camel is supposed to manage to stick its long arching neck between two poles, each camel owner guiding its entrant by means of a silken cord attached to its nose ring.
Overload!! Is the SPCA watching?!Vying for the first pace in the beauty contest, splendidly bedecked camels are bought to the ring and paraded to catch the critical eye of keen judges. The gait of the camel, the choice of its equipment and ornament, its capacity to interpret and carry out commands and the variety of pranks it is capable of performing are the criteria of selection. The most thrilling camel event is 'laadoo oonth'. see how much weight the camel can can carry, man after man clamber onto the ridge-like back of the camel, each clutching at the other to retain the collectively precarious position. It is not an uncommon sight to see the human cargo come crashing down as the camel tries to get to its feet! It is yest to be known if this is the intention of the camel.
The culmination :
Kartik Purnima, the day of ritual oblation , is also the closing day of the world's most colourful festivals. Bathing begins at dawn. Pilgrims bathing in the holy Pushkar Lake There is quite a scramble for getting a place on the bathing ghats. The famed waters of the Pushkar Lake wash away the sins of a lifetime. The mystical water is also believed to cure skin diseases, making Pushkar the Lourdes of the east. After bathing, the devotees line up in long colourful queues to take their turn to worship the Creator, Brahma.
Romance touches Pushkar on the full moon night, as tiny leaf boats, each carrying flowers and an oil lamp, are set afloat on the placid lake. Twinkling like thousands of stars, their flickering flames reflected in the water. The next day dawns for the exodus. Long caravans hump their way along, taking many camels to their new homes. Little does a camel know which master it will serve after the coming