As kids sleep with one eye open on Christmas Eve in the West to make sure that Santa has visited their house and brought their presents, we kids at Koppal start getting excited in the month of January as the preparations for the once a year fair are underway. There is huge excitement in the school as we tee up with friends and plan a day so we could visit the fair. We made sure that we had enough money to go on the rides, buy snacks and toys. I remember receiving around a $1 from my parents which at the time was generous amount of money. My grand parents also gave us money to spend at the fair, it was around $2 but the accountant in me which I must have embedded from my family genes made sure that $2 went straight into my savings bank which was a secret place under a stack of my clothes, no one ever discovered my hiding place and even I used to forget that I hid the money there.
We used to have a great fun at the fair and went there many times during the 15 day event. We went with friends one night, with our parents another night to buy us the toys we wanted and then another trip was organised by my grand parents along with cousins, aunts and uncles.
Once the school holidays were over I was very excited to be back at the school so I could tell my friends about the toys I bought from the fair and for the next few days all we talked was about the fair and the fun and excitement we all had.
This was one of the simple pleasures I still remember and how simple our lives were as kids. We didn’t have many expectations and the only thing we thought of was fun with friends and family.
The Koppal Chariot festival popularly known as Koppal Jatra or Koppal fair is one of the biggest annual events that happens in my hometown Koppal located in South west part of India. Approximately 500,000 people attend this annual event and celebrate over a period of 12-15 days. Various religious activities take place before the start of the fair. In the modern millennium of new technology one can witness a true devotion among the devotees towards Lord Sri Gavisiddeshwar.
The citizens of Koppal and the surrounding villages come together to contribute towards the fair and the Sri Gavisiddeshwar Math (temple), the donations take many forms; such as money, vegetables, pure Ghee, groceries and volunteering their time. Many devotees contribute their time, working voluntarily during the 15 day fair, approximately 5,000 people contribute their time during the fair. Many volunteers work around the clock with the intention of serving the devotees with devotion and service with a smile. An orderly chaos exists but everything gets done with few interruptions and no complaints.
The fair starts with the Chariot or Rath being drawn onto the grounds of the temple. It takes place on the evening of the third day after the full moon in the month of January. The devotees start to gather so that prime spots can be secured to witness the blessing of the Chariot or Rath Yatra five to six hours before the Chariot or Rath is drawn. An estimated 500,000 people assembled in January 2017 and I was fortunate to be one of them, witnessing this crowd in a photo or a video doesn’t bring justice to this event as one has to be present to see the immense wave of people gathered on the grounds of the temple. When the Chariot or Rath is drawn by a group of volunteers on the grounds of the temple, the devotees throw dried dates and tiny bananas towards the Chariot or Rath, which is a tradition dating back thousands of years. It’s been said that if the dates or the bananas reach the inside of the Chariot or Rath, your wishes will come true. So the devotees try to make sure that their offerings reach the inside of the Chariot or Rath. If you happen to catch either the dates or bananas it’s considered as a blessing by the Lord himself. The whole event lasts for around 30-45 minutes. After the event Prasad (food) is served to all the devotees. An estimated 200,000-300,000 people are served Prasad on the first day of the Fair. The food service on the first few days of the festival lasts until the next morning. The volunteers make sure that everyone is served and no one goes home without taking the Prasad. The chefs in the kitchen work round the clock and women from various villages travel all the way to Koppal to help clean and chop the vegetables.
Four of my childhood friends who live in Koppal play a major role in organising this big event. They divide the responsibilities between them so that the tasks are shared. Their selfless sacrifice and commitment before and after the fair is extraordinary. I was fortunate to be at 2017 fair and lent my hand for the first few days of the event as unfortunately I had to be back in the Perth before the fair ended.
The next fair will be on January 3rd 2018 and you are welcome to join us to witness this once a year event firsthand and behind the scenes tours can be organised. You can take part in this great event by becoming a vounteer and return home with a guaranteed satisfaction as a parting gift and stories to tell.