Ganga Snan Mela
A reflection of Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb
On the day of Kartik Purnima, hundreds of devotees prepare to take the holy dip in the Ganges, but for more than 500 years indigenous businessmen and handicraft workers head for Lucknow at this time of the year to take part in the historical ‘Ganga Snan Ka Mela’. In local parlance, it is also called ‘budakki ka mela’ because Hindu devotees take a ‘budakki’ or dip in the Ganga, to commemorate Lord Shiva’s victory over the demon Tripurasura.
Though there is no concrete record about the year of inception of the Mela, but according to oral traditions, the stretch of Nabiullah Road, starting from Playway School all the way to the intersection connecting to Daliganj bridge, has been the venue of the Mela for more than 500 years. The road becomes a riot of colors with kiosks of clay, glass and wooden goods flanked on either side. The Mela is worth visiting to witness the precious ‘Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb’ in letter and spirit. While it is organised on a Hindu festival, the majority of shopkeepers are Muslims hailing from nearby areas of Khurja, Kanpur, Pilibhit, Lakhimpur, Saharanpur etc. There is a sea of people, mostly women and children who can be seen strolling on the road, haggling with shopkeepers, enjoying the street food and to sum it all, having a great time in the hustle and bustle.
One indeed gets awestruck by the sights, sounds and yes, the overwhelming smell of halwa-parathas, kachori, chaat and pani- batashas. In today’s ‘mall culture’ where almost all malls appear to be clones of each other; the Ganga Snan Mela is a must visit, especially for the Mc Donald generation, to get a taste of a variety of lip-smacking street food. Almost all the shopkeepers are fifth or sixth generation participants in this Mela. “I’ve been coming here to put up my stall for the last ten years independently. Earlier, I used to accompany my father who in turn accompanied his father as a child. Our forefathers have been participating in this Mela for the last 200 years as far as I know,” says Afzaal Ahmad, who has a kiosk of clay utensils and aspires to have his own factory of clay goods one day. Like Afzaal, others who have stalls of colourful clay items (mugs, plates, pots, vases, planters, lamps, piggy banks etc) hail from Khurja, a small city in U.P famous for its clay goods.
Others come from as far as Saharanpur, putting up stalls of wooden handicrafts; plastic goods are majorly from Kanpur while glass items (bangles, crockery, decor items, chandeliers etc) are from Firozabad. A very interesting fact common to all stall owners is that they don’t have a permanent shop anywhere, not even in their hometown. They keep travelling to other Melas, mostly within U.P, while some also go to the Melas of Bihar and Jharkhand. “I will rest for a week and then head to Gorakhpur, for the upcoming Gorakhnath Mela,” says Sumit, owner of a plastic toys’ stall, whose ancestors used to participate in this Mela selling hand-made clay toys. On an average all the stall-owners barely spend 30-40 days in their homes; the rest of the year they put up stalls in other Melas throughout the country. The Ganga Snan Mela itself thrives for more than a month.
On asking, if they feel threatened by the malls mushrooming in small and big cities alike, all the shopkeepers answered in the negative unanimously. “They feel threatened by us on the contrary because we sell the same goods as they but at 1/10th of their price tag,” says Naseem Khan, a Lakhimpur resident who sells wooden handicrafts of Saharanpur. The eye-catcher of the Mela though is the only photo studio called ‘Anjuman Photo Studio’ It’s truly nostalgic to see one, retaining the decor of traditional studios of yore. People love getting photographed in front of dramatic colourful panels. One panel is adorned with beautiful hand- painted scenery while another has a star-lit sky with a crescent. In one corner, a real swing bordered with colourful artificial flowers and streamers, is carefully placed. Next to it is a motor-bike, with young boys donning sunglasses, can be seen posing for the camera while riding the stationary two-wheeler. The owner of the studio, Hari Babu, is a 74 year old man who is very passionate about his work. “Initially, like my father, even I used a ‘box camera’, but now I have a digital one,” he adds with a proud glint in his eyes.
Children can be spotted pulling their mother’s sleeves and saris, pleading for a carousel ride or to buy the colourful sweet and sour candies; yes the same ‘khatti meethi goli’ that all of us used to gorge on in our childhood.
The Ganga Snan Mela is one of the few rare events that have stayed on Lucknow’s calendar since ages. Despite opposition from the recently constructed SSP office and the K.K Hospital, citing security and traffic hazards, the shopkeepers and the visitors alike want this historical Mela to stay and regale Lucknowites every year.