The Great Indian Rural Mela
Rural fairs are an important element in the big entertainment system of rural India. Most of such fairs happen in the rural country’s landscape. More than 25000 such fairs take place every year, one estimate suggests. India has a way of getting under the skin of travelers, especially the small towns. As a traveler one needs to be quite flexible and act like a sponge, soak in whatever experience comes your way.
Coming under two types, broadly, commercial and cultural but even cultural fairs are slowly and steadily turning into economic opportunities. Since a long time these fairs have been a major source of entertainment as well as economic drivers of the village economy.
Every state has it’s own fairs, big ones like Kumbh Mela are internationally known given the large scale on which it is held. Traders flock to these rural fairs from different states of India.
(A monk (foreign) engrossed in prayer at MahaKumbh Mela, Allahabad, Feb- 2013)
A boy from Bihar state selling traditional Paan-betel leaf filled with cherry, nuts in Himachal Pradesh
I could see a trader from Gujarat selling clothes in a rural fair in the state of Himachal Pradesh. To my surprise, I came across a young boy selling Paan (made from betel leaf combined with cherries, nuts, and tobacco, if you desire) to the local inhabitants of villages of Himachal Pradesh and everyone was lapping it up like the ultimate delicacy. How subtle these food exchanges, cultural exchanges take place in these rural fairs. This is not just limited to fair participants. Some of these traders come with their families and are on the road most of the time. They interact with locals and this is how cultural exchanges take place. Almost living like locals and being a part of their society for the duration of the rural fair.
Source of entertainment:
Back in the days when TV was a rare commodity in a village household, these rural fairs acted as a social gathering platform and also as a major source of entertainment. That is why in any fair you can easily find an entertainment zone, especially for kids. All work and no play that cannot happen. Some big fairs do organize sports events like kabaddi(contact sport that originated in ancient India), Kho-Kho (tag sport), our traditional Indian games. Even national level players take part in such game, acting as crowd magnets. They surely have a large fan following in far-flung places whereas in urban India we haven’t even heard of such names.
(villagers enjoying Kushti match at a rural fair in Uttar Pradesh, India)
How can we leave aside marketing from these rural fairs in this age of high volume consumerism? The history of Mela marketing is an old game. These rural fairs are the life and blood not only for villagers but act as a perfect ground as marketers can target huge numbers at one platform with varied demography. Marketers slowly realized the economic value of these fairs given a large amount of attention they attract and the diversity of the crowd. Ideal ground for the sampling of products, especially from the FMCG industry. Most of the new products/services launches are first tried and tested at such gathering. No wonder these fairs act as a win-win situation for companies.
But more on the marketing side of these fairs in a future post.
Next time you are visiting any part of rural India, do make it a point to experience any such rural fair. Believe me, you will get to see the vibrant colors of the hinterland and will be amazed by the colorful life of the village folks and take back memories to cherish forever.
Three cheers to The Great Indian Mela!!!