The entire idea of experiencing a folk festival is to see into the local culture and understand the tradition that the communities hold onto for generations. What is it that makes these festivals so unique? How do they manage to retain their age-old practices and beliefs despite all the modernization around them? These questions always intrigued me. So when I got a chance to cover Rajasthan's famous Pushkar Mela for a travel magazine (this year held November 15-23, in 2019 Nov. 4-12), I jumped at the proposition.

Reaching Pushkar

I had planned for a two-day trip. But people usually try to stay through the entire week of the festival and walk through each event. The best way to reach Pushkar is via Jaipur. We had pre-booked a direct cab from Jaipur to Pushkar. This made our journey quite comfortable. Although there are quite a few hotels and guest houses in the vicinity, camping on the site has a different charm and you can get the real vibes of the community.

The Festival

One of the oldest and most famous folk events of Rajasthan, the Pushkar Mela includes cultural displays, religious rituals, and of course artistic interventions. It usually takes place in the Hindu lunar month of Kartik and is primarily a celebration of Kartik Purnima (full moon).

What I discovered was that the Pushkar Mela is not just about culture and religion, but also commerce. A major part of the mela is connected to trade and the culture of the villagers, who flock in from far and wide to display their cattle, camels, horses and traditional handicrafts. The camels were groomed and adorned with motley pieces of cloth and accessories and were made the centerpiece of races and exhibitions. This is by far the biggest camel fair in the world, with nearly 50,000 dromedaries trotting and hanging throughout the fairgrounds.

I headed out to see other happenings like traditional folk dance performances, various contests held by the villagers, the famous puppet shows of Rajasthan, and art exhibits by artists, artisans, and craftsmen from all over the state. A word to the wise - renting car can make your festival experience so much better. You can easily move around with complete freedom and check out nearby places as well. There are some excellent options for renting cars in Jaipur.

Of Divine Energy

In contrast to the material as well as economic aspect of the fair, the festival also attracts those seeking a divine experience. Translated as the ‘Lotus Bloom’, Pushkar is one of the five significant pilgrimage sites to attain moksha (enlightenment). That is why you will see pilgrims uniting at the sacred Pushkar Lake for a dip and pay obeisance to Lord Brahma. In fact, for the first time, I learned that the only temple dedicated to Brahma is in Pushkar and it is more than 2,000 years old.

So on the second day around sunrise, I headed to the lake and found people lined up. Belief is that during the full moon celebrations of Kartik Purnima, bathing in the holy waters of Pushkar Lake will absolve all sins and Brahma bestows his blessings on the pious. I am not a religious person, but the underlying energy that this place exuded was beyond my comprehension.

What I discovered at Pushkar was a heartfelt acceptance of all traditions, as well as a remarkable tendency towards the spiritual. The place itself exuded a holy energy, which felt cathartic and deeply cleansing.

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