World’s Biggest Donkey Fair One Of Its Kind
If Pushkar is known for holding the world’s biggest camel fair, then Luniyawas, about 22 kilometers from Jaipur on Jaipur-Agra national highway, could boast of hosting the world’s biggest donkey fair, where several thousand donkeys are brought for sale and purchase every year. The Rajasthan Tourism Department is trying to sell the unique fair as a potential tourism destination
Just like camel festival, lot of donkeys from all over India are brought here for buying and selling. The donkey races and sports are organised for the merriment of people. Recently, camels and horses have also been added to the shopping list with many visitors even feeling that the horses are fast establishing a dominant position in the 500-year-old fair.
The donkeys that are used for carrying load by farmers and construction workers fetch prices ranging from Rs 3,000 to Rs 7,000 in the fair which is organised in the month of October during Navratra.
But due to increased automation the utility of donkeys as a transport animal is reducing. However, in the hilly areas and also in the Thar desert of Rajasthan and in the Rann of Kutch , the donkeys are still in use.
In the world of donkeys, the Afghan donkeys are said to be the best and costliest. There was a time when the Afghans used to bring their donkeys for sale at the Jaipur fair, but because of the political instability in Afghanisatn, they have stopped coming. Further the American forces depend a lot on available Afghan donkeys to carry their soldiers up the ravines of that hilly country.
The donkey owners from north India bring truckload of the animal for sale at Luniyawas fair, which is being organised for last five centuries. The donkeys are named after politicians and Bollywood stars by the owners to attract customers.
“There was a time when donkeys from Afghanistan and Ladakh were brought here and they attracted good price. But now because of decrease in demand the horses of northern Indian breed are sold. The fair or gadha mela as it is called locally is perhaps the world’s biggest donkey fair of its kind and apart from donkeys the owners in recent years have started bringing Indian breeds of horses for sale. Of course the horses fetch better price here than the donkeys. The donkeys are named after Bollywood stars and politicians. “This year we had horses named after Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif and Priyanka Chopra,” said Thakur Ummed Singh, the president of Gandharav Mela Samiti, the organiser of the show. A donkey named Priyanka Chopra fetched a price of Rs 7,000 during the fair this year.
The organisers faced a lot of problems to get a VIP to inaugurate the fair. The VIPs refused to accept the invitation of the Gandharva Mela Samiti to inaugurate the fair despite the fact that the state government provides it support by promoting the fair.
“No minister or high officials accepted our invitation to come as chief guest. However this time the local legislator Pratap Singh Khachariyawas, not only accepted our invitation, but after inaugurating the fair also gave the fair committee rupees two lakh to meet the expenditure from his discretionary fund,” said Thakur Ummed Singh.
Two types of donkey breeds were brought to this fair—Kathiyawadi and Marwari, of which the Marwari breed is priced higher at 15000 rupees. The type of donkey found in India is known as the Kiang. The donkeys of Kiang breed have an average height of four to five feet and weighs 300 kg to 400 kg. India has about two million donkeys according to a census conducted by the animal research institute of Bikaner and Rajasthan has the maximum number of donkeys. Uttar Pradesh comes next, followed by Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Haryana.
In rural and hilly areas, construction labour is hard to come by, and workers demand higher wages. Costing just about Rs 3,000 to Rs 4000 a donkey toils for several years if healthy and carries four times the load of a human load-carrier.
The organisers held a beauty contest for the donkeys where the judges judged the beauty by examining the skin of the animal, its height and its dental system and also toughness. A donkey race was also organised during the fair. The owner of the winning donkeys or horses was given a cash reward of between Rs 500 to Rs 10,000.
Two types of donkeys, small grey and large white, are common. The small grey donkey is found in most parts of the country. Its colour is dark grey with zebra stripes on the limbs, neck and quarters. The large white type is mostly found in the Kathiawar region of Gujarat. It is generally light grey to almost white in colour. As a ‘worker’ the donkey has a lot of problems, as it works the whole day. And at night, his owner hobbles him by tying his legs together painfully, tightly and then leaves him in the city to find his own food. Most donkeys lead short lives of 3-4 years even though their natural life span is over 30 years.
“To know the age of donkeys, their teeth are counted. An animal with two teeth is reckoned to be three-years-old while three teeth mean four-years-old. The donkey’s life is four to five years, but there are instances when a donkey lived for more than 30 years,” said Bhima Gujjar, a cattle owner from Haryana. In recent years, large number of buyers from the hilly regions come as in the hilly region donkeys are still remain in demand as a transport animal.
This 500-year-old fair, has been held since the days of the Mughals and it’s said, that King Duleraj Singh ruled over the area of which Luniawas was a part in order to show his appreciation of donkeys, who had rendered him good service, decided to hold a gadha mela in their honour. Since then every year, the gadha mela has been held during Dassera.
According to another tradition, the donkey fair is held also as a celebration in respect of the Goddess Khalkani. In Tantra philosophy, the donkey is the vehicle of a goddess called Kalaratri, who looks like the goddess Kali.
According to the folklore, Chanda Meena, a brave local landlord, had rescued a princess in distress. She, in turn, accepted him as her brother. The princess had a dishonest son named Malay Singh. Chanda Meena wanted to teach this boy a lesson. He once asked Malay Singh to take a donkey laden with a bagful of gold coins for the ruler of Delhi. As Malay Singh reached the temple of Goddess Khalkani, his greed got the better of him. But when he opened the bag with intention to steal, he found stones instead of coins. A disturbed and nervous Malay Singh, thinking he would be held responsible for the disappearance of the coins, worshipped the goddess Khalkani at the temple and appealed for her help. Miracle happened and the stones turned back into gold coins. Since then, the mela is organised to commemorate this miracle. In fact, while the donkey is handed over to the buyer, the seller shouts Khal kani Mata ki Jai and this completes the deal.
Of late most of the donkeys in the Luniyawas fair are bought not by individuals, but by leading builders and their agents from the neighbouring areas. The fair organisers attribute this demand for donkeys to the shortage of power and labour. In rural and hilly areas, construction labour is hard to come by, and workers are demanding higher wages. Costing just about Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 donkeys toil for 30 years if healthy and carry four times the load of a human-load carrier.
By Prakash Bhandari from Jaipur