Gujarat - a land of high-spirited celebrations, fairy tale locales, wonderful food, friendly people and of course enchanting folklore are just a few of the charms that awaits the discerning international travelers to this westernmost state of India. And if you are the kind who likes company, you cannot go wrong in a land where hospitality is an established tradition.
One of India’s most spectacular festivals is the annual Tarnetar Festival. This nondescript and otherwise tranquil village is ideally located in Gujarat’s famed “Panchal” district and every year in the month of August-September hosts a colorful festival….the one-of-its-kind Tarnetar festival which is a riot of colors. This year the festival will be held from 9th to 11th September 2013.
Every year Gujarat comes alive with the joyful celebration of the Tarnetar Festival which has elicited very good response from the international tourism industry, due largely to some smart packaging and innovative marketing of the festival by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat. I was witness to the last year’s festivities, which was a riot of colors. The festival had everything that a mega carnival could boast of.
This fascinating festival gets better and better every year, with something new on offer for the curious tourists. The hype surrounding the festival is aptly summed up by the Minister of Tourism – Honorable Shri Jay Narayan Vyas thus – “ The 2013 Tarnetar Festival will be at par with some of the world’s most talked about festivals like the Mardi Grass at New Orleans, the Rio Carnival and the Oktoberfest in Germany. The idea is to promote native culture of Gujarat”.
This marvelous annual festival takes place every year during the Bhadarva Sud in the month of Aug.-Sept. This festival dates back to almost 250 years and if local folklore is anything to go by, there is a belief that Arjuna, the archer extraordinaire executed complicated task of shooting into the eye of a fish solely by dint of fix your eyes on the pond’s water. After accomplishing this extraordinary task, Arjuna married Draupadi in the famed Swayamwar.
The Panchal region is believed to be the native place of Draupadi and therefore Tarnetar holds a special historical appeal for the Hindus. This festival is principally a “matrimonial mart” or “Swayamvar” for the local tribal youths.
It is a sight to behold as the spinsters with their graceful attires consisting of multihued dhotis, waistcoats and attention-grabbing turbans and unmarried women dressed in all their finery congregate at the festival venue in their eagerness to find their soul mate.
For instance, the exotic Rabari women of Zalawad, a neighborhood village, perform the famed folk dance called “Rahado”.. Their marital status is signified unmistakably by their costumes. A Rabari woman wearing a black “Zimi”(skirt) suggests that she is married. But if a woman is wearing a red colored “Zimi”, it signifies that she has not tied the nuptial knot yet and probably on the lookout for a husband.
Typically, the men folks assemble under exquisitely embroidered “Chattris”, while the women folks circumnavigate around the “Chattris” in search of their would be husbands. Once the grooms are chosen, the actual marriages are confirmed after the festival.
The “Chattris” or umbrellas, I was told are painstakingly embroidered by the youth brigade to draw the attention of the women folks during the festival. In course of an impromptu tête-à-tête with the resident Tourist Information Officer at the festival premises, I was amazed to know that it was the Koli tribes who were the first to introduce the concept of “Chattris” or umbrellas in the Tarnetar Festival. The Kolis, I am told are natives of Saurashtra and the custom of embroidering colorful umbrellas, each one exquisitely decorated with refinement were meant to draw the attention of the womenfolks.
Let me tell you, each one of the umbrellas are unique in terms of beadwork and patchwork. To make the umbrellas truly eye-catching, multi-colored handkerchiefs are attached and from a distance looks stunning. Given the hard work the men folks put in to design their individual “Chattris” or umbrellas, it is not surprising that even before the festival is over, they more often than not meet the lady of their dream.
The festival begins with the ritual hoisting of a huge Flag on the dome of the Trinetreshwar Temple by The Mahant of Paliyad, a village located in close proximity to Tarnetar. This centuries old tradition has been continuously observed from the time of Mahant Visaman Bapu who established this ritual.
On the day of Ganesh Chaturthi, the flag is ceremoniously carried in a pageant by the Mahant from the office of Gujarat Tourism to the temple of Trineteshwar Temple where it is unfurled to signify the inauguration of the Tarnetar festival.
The Tarnetar Festival is popularly referred to as the Trinetreshwar Mahadev Mela in the local parlance and with the hallowed temple of “Trinetreshwar” as the focal point of attraction. A visit to the magnificent temple revealed finely sculpted figures of deities that speak of a high degree of architectural excellence. Here the presiding deity is the one and only – Lord Shiva.
Millions of visitors from not only Gujarat but from elsewhere in India converge in the unique festival. For the Anthropological buffs, a visit to the quaint village of Tarnetar during the festival will offer a lifetime’s opportunity to come in contact with some of Gujarat’s exotic tribals like – the Rabaris, Kathis, Charans, Bharwads, Kolis and a host of other lesser known tribes who lead a fascinating lifestyle.
For the discerning international traveler, there are scenes straight out of a fairy tale with traditionally decorated Bullock carts and Horse driven carriages that captivates the visitors from far away lands.
If historical records are anything to go by, the original temple in Tarnetar was completely ruined and a new one was built by the erstwhile Gaekwads of Vadodara way back in the 19th century, which happens to be the festival’s focal point. The temple is ideally situated on the bank of a shimmering rivulet and there is a belief that this very circuit used to be the original course of the holy Ganges River. Legend has it that a dip in the temple’s exclusive tank is considered to be as propitious as a dip in the holy Ganges River.
The temple is enclosed by three “Kunds” (Water Reservoirs) - the Vishnu Kund, the Bhrahma Kund and the Shiv Kund This festival holds great significance to the sages belonging to the “Margi Panth” and they indeed liven up the proceedings at the festival venue by their soul stirring “Bhajans” and “Kirtans”.
The village of Tarnetar is literally converted into a large open-air amphitheatre with hundreds of stalls that sell bric-a-bracs ranging from traditional handicrafts to ethnic jewelry. I was most impressed by the gorgeously embroidered attires with mirror works that reflected a high degree of craftsmanship. For the young ones, there are activities galore ranging from the quintessential merry-go-round rides to intriguing magic shows. For those with a penchant for Tattos, the Tarnetar festival attracts some of the regions most renowned Tatto experts.
However, it is the music that really enchants everybody. Folk musicians perform with a lot of passion and gusto and the festival attracts native folk dancers who perform to a packed auditorium presenting exotic dances like – Hudo, Ras and the Garba.
In order to make the festival more attractive for visitors, The Tourism Corporation of Gujarat has come up with innovative themes like Horse cart race, Bullock cart race, Camel race etc…Games for children below the age of 16 years like 100, 200, 800 meter race with cash prizes galore have also been introduced.
At the Tarnetar festival, innovation is the key and to lure the discerning visitors from abroad, activities like Coconut throwing, Volleyball, Kabaddi, Rassa Pull competition, Laddu eating competition and a whole lot more are on offer. For the discerning international traveler, there are scenes straight out of a fairy tale with traditionally decorated Bullock carts and Horse driven carriages that captivates the visitors from far away lands.
When it comes to cuisine, very few Indian states can match the sheer variety on offer at Gujarat and the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd. (TCGL), provides its discerning guests with the very best of the famed Gujarati cuisine. Apart from the “all-you-can-eat” vegetarian meal, specialities include Kadhi – a savory curry of Yogurt and fried puffs, impeccably flavored with locally available Gujarati spices and finely chopped vegetables.
I quite liked the Undhyoo consisting of potatoes, sweet potatoes, broad beans and aubergines roasted in an earthenware pot, which is, buried “Undhyoo” upside down, under a fire. Try out the Am Rassi (Mango Juice).
All said and done, Gujarat has everything you want. Peace and tranquility, warmth and hospitality…its got happy people who welcome visitors with open arms. The magical thing about Gujarat is the sheer diversity of its traditions, rituals and festivals. The Tarnetar festival was an eye-opener for me and the joie de vivre infectious to the core.
Traveler’s Fact File:
The nearest town is Surendranagar located at a distance of 59 Kms. Other cities like Rajkot (75 kms) and Jamnagar (162 kms) away too are within easy reach of Tarnetar. The nearest airport is Rajkot.
Tarnetar is well connected with other cities of Gujarat by a network of good roads. Buses ply regularly from cities like Ahmedabad (196 Kms), Rajkot (75 Kms), Jamnagar (162 Kms) and Porbandar (252 Kms).
Rajkot is well connected by routine air services to the rest of India.
The Tourism Corporation of Gujarat offers deluxe-tented accommodation at the Tarnetar village.
For further information on Tarnetar Festival, please feel free to get in touch with:
Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited,
Udyog Bhavan, Block No. 16,
4th Floor, Sector-11,
Gandhinagar - 382 011
Tel: +91 79 23222523/ 23222645/ 23220002