In Kada Manikpur, UP, a yearly fair draws thousands of people to trade donkeys and arrange marriages.
Goddess Sheetla, worshipped all over North India, is believed to travel sitting on a donkey. To commemorate the goddess, the washermen community of Uttar Pradesh started organizing a fair, where not just donkeys but also horses and mares are traded. The origin of the event cannot be traced back precisely, and the fair has definitely lost all trace of religious devotion, paving the way for more earthly bargains. These last few years have marked a decline in the number of people coming to the fair, donkeys and horses being slowly replaced by tractors and other engines. But the event – legally registered by the Government since 1982 – remains a lively event, gathering a big crowd.
Thousands of people visit the fair annually, willing to trade, but also to arrange matrimonial matches. Communities from all over the state meet and discuss future matrimonial alliances on this occasion, in the midst of donkey and horse trading. Musical events and entertainment of all kinds also forms an important aspect of the fair.
Sadly, a large part of the fun is spoilt by the lack of infrastructure. No facilities are provided by the government for the occasion, and the fair has to be organized relying only on private contributions. These are unfortunately not sufficient to ensure that water and food is provided to the animals, causing the death of numerous horses and donkeys.
Despite these problems, the fair remains an eventful time for the washermen community, and for all joining the fair. Ajeet Bahadur, our Community correspondent in Uttar Pradesh, felt the importance of this tradition, and decided to document the event. His video gives a precious insight into a custom that has retained all its joy and liveliness in modern times. But Ajeet is also urging the government to support the fair, to improve the conditions in which it is taking place, and ensure the survival of the event.