Michael Svec a Photojournalist, Documentary & Fine Art Travel Photographer, who works on assignments in Asia, Africa and Europe. Michael has journeyed the world as a photographer for more than seven years, focusing hir efforts on human rights issues and documenting the traditions of changing cultures around the world.
“ The Pushkar Fair or Pushkar Mela is the annual five-day camel and livestock fair held at Pushkar, in the state of Rajasthan. Pushkar is known as one of the most sacred pilgrimage centres in India. The fair is a visual spectacle on an epic scale attracting 500,000 people and up to 50,000 camels, cattle and horses. ”
Brahma, the creator of the world and one of the Supreme Lords of the Hindu Trinity, once decided to perform a Yagna (sacrifice) according to the prescription of the Veda. Inspired by Shiva, he decided to travel around the earth carrying a lotus, and wherever the lotus fell from his hands, there he would perform his sacrifice. The lotus struck three places as it fell, and water sprung from all three locations. Brahma named that place Pushkar, after the lotus. It was to this place that Brahma invited all of the Gods to participate in the Yagna, which took place on the eleventh day of the bright half of Kartik (October - November) and continued through to the fifteenth day which was the full moon. On that day Brahmans and all bathed in the lake. The lake became so holy that even the greatest sinners became sinless by bathing in it, helping them find heaven. Eventually heaven became very crowded. The Gods started to complain that man did not care about them anymore so Brahma ordained that the only auspicious days for absolution would be from the eleventh day of Kartik until the full moon. It is during these five days that a big fair is organized and people visit the pilgrimage centre as well as the holy ghats (bathing spots). Pilgrims expect to receive health, wealth, progeny and ultimately, release. It is during this time that the Pushkar Camel Fair comes to life with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of camels and people; holy men, salesmen, pilgrims, snake charmers...
Pushkar is located on the great Indian trade route through which caravans passed from western and central India. Caravans passing through stopped there for rest and religious reasons. During this time, Buddhism was flourishing, and the town grew as a centre of Buddhist faith. Archaeological excavations have yielded early Indian punch-marked coins, proving that the town was very active in the fourth century BC.
Pushkar is known as one of the most sacred pilgrimage centres in India. The town and lake are nestled between sacred, temple-topped hills on three sides while on the fourth side, dunes drift in from the Thar Desert. The hills that surround Pushkar have many caves that are associated with great sages. There are beautiful spots on and around the hills including fresh mountain springs and ashrams with gardens and fountains. Some of the caves contain remains from prehistoric times such as microliths. Bathing ghats constructed by royal and merchant families and various caste organizations of Rajastan and India surround beautiful Pushkar Lake. With over 500 temples, it is the abode of all of the principal Hindu divinities. The most important temples are those dedicated to Brahma, Savitri, Badri, Narayan, Varah and Shiva. Nomadic mela professionals also begin to arrive from all over India. Large tents, little shops and carpets fight for precious ground space and what looks like a 19th century circus is created, with rides and ferris wheels being bolted together in an excited frenzy of organization. Cotton candy makers compete with beard salesmen. Palm readers try to coax you with guesses about your life. The smell of exotic elixirs competes with cooking curries. Dentists sit on carpets promoting their practice and recruit new patients with a smile and a promise of relief from orthodontic anguish. Carnival hustlers’ enticements fill the air with the promise of freak show abominations hidden behind their convincingly painted marquis.
Known as the Pushkar Mela, Camel Fair or Cattle Fair, people bring their animals not just to sell but also to participate in various competitions and exhibitions organized by the government, the most entertaining being the camel race. At the time of the fair, people buy multitudes of ornaments and decorations for their camels and horses.
The Pushkar Camel Fair is actually two great melas combined, one being the highest exaltation of the Lord of Creation - Brahma, the other, the largest camel fair in the world. The combination of the two events seems to have occurred about 1000 years ago. The combination of religious fervor and carnival atmosphere set against a desert oasis creates one of the most colorful events in the world. Campfires and sunset silhouettes, Holy men and hippies; tattooed, gold laden and colorful sari adorned women; proud, mustached, turban wearing Rajastani men - said to be the original gypsies. All gather here.
The Rajastani women seem like wind blown floral arrangements set against the earth toned desert backdrop; preparing the fires for the evening dinner, always busy, while in-between chores, they take time to catch up on gossip with women from other families. The children, eyes bright with excitement, take in the circus, rides, and magic shows. They feast on the many local sweet merchants’ wares. They are distracted for a time, from their arduous lives.
The Sadhus, Holy-men and Babas, dressed modestly in simple saffron, with begging bowls and walking sticks live in a world without materialism. Cherished by Shiva, settling down from time to time in these exalted places. Only to disappear as unobtrusively as they arrived. They are full of tales of Gods and Demons and dimensions beyond understanding. Vehicles and conveyors of mythological traditions, picking-up stories and leaving others behind. Always searching for salvation, misfits in conventional society, they are absorbed into everyday Indian life on their own terms by ancient sanction and religious wisdom.
The light in this place and at this time is unimaginable. Like magic. Sunrises and sunsets offer visions so breathtaking that it is difficult to lose a moment by taking a photo. A kaleidoscope of colors, a circus of sight, from one incredible vision to another it becomes as laborious as a day at the Louvre. There is continual activity and energy. There is also intention beyond the splendor. There is business and religion behind this bustling event. It is a feast of fantasy that pulls and pushes you from one incredible image to another.
Weeks and months have led up to these few magical days. Just as you think you are having a visual overdose, the focus starts to shift subtly from the desert’s dunes to the heart of the town and the Lord is hailed by many names and voices as the events culminate with the climactic Holy dip in Pushkar Lake. The fervor building as the moon gets fuller. The ghats come alive as the sun emerges and tens of thousands of people end the event with an enthusiastic and enchanting purifying Puja. It is impossible to not be drawn in, regardless of your religious background.
As the thousands of participants leave, and the desert shops and rickety rides recede, Pushkar falls back into it’s sleepy little existence, and goes back to catering to the regular stream of tourists and pilgrims as it awaits the next full moon of Kartik.
Photography by Michael Svec