Tarnetar is known for its annual fair, the Trinetreshwar Mahadev Mela, which is held near the Trinetreshwar Mahadev temple. It attracts villagers from all over the region as well as tourists. It has an attendance figure of around 100,000 people.
The fair is held for three days every year during the Hindu calendar dates of Bhadarva Sud – 4th, 5th and 6th (during the Gregorian calendar months Aug.-Sept) The Tarnetar fair is held 8 km from the town of Thangadh, in Surendranagar District Gujarat.
This fair is a celebration of ethnic Gujarat’s folk-dance, music, costumes and the arts, centered around young tribal men and women seeking marriage partners. But even for those not interested in finding a spouse, the romance and excitement in the air are captivating, and every year the fair seems only to grow in popularity, attracting visitors and tourists from Gujarat, elsewhere in India, and even abroad.
Here the many colorful costumes, glittering ornaments and free-spirited movements of folk dances, all combine to create a memorable scene. As the dancers surge in waves of circular movement, the incessant throbbing of the drums keeps them moving in unison, and the drum beats continue throughout the day even as the dancers change from one group to the next. Many kinds of folk dances are performed; by far the most popular is the raas, in which dancers hold sticks to clack against those of other dancers. As many as one to two hundred women perform rasadas in a single circle, to the beats of four drums at a time and the tunes of jodia pavas (double flutes). You may also see people break out into a spontaneous hudo.
Rabari women of nearby Zalawad perform the famous circular folk dance called rahado. Their marital status is indicated clearly by their costumes; a black zimi (skirt) means she is married. But if a woman is wearing a red zimi, it means she has not yet tied the knot, probably seeking a husband. The potential husbands seeking brides are elegantly dressed in colorful dhotis, artistically designed waistcoats and a head-cloth twisted at an angle, moving about the fairground at Tarnetar with striking umbrellas, advertising the bachelorhood they are keen to relinquish.
Numerous sadhus and bhajan mandlis (religious music groups) are engrossed in singing continuously, accompanied by folk instruments.
The Tarnetar Mela covers a large part of the Tarnetar village with a huge number of stalls put up to sell beautiful local handicrafts unavailable elsewhere, along with ethnic jewelery, statues of deities and traditional attire with tiny mirrors embroidered into the clothing. There are also merry-go-round rides, photographers stalls, magic shows and tattoo artists who attract a large variety of visitors.
Legend says that this fair has been held here since antiquity. Its origin is linked with the story of Draupadi’s swayamvar, where the great archer Arjun performed the difficult task of piercing the eye of a rotating fish with an arrow, by only looking at its reflection in the water. Through this feat he won his bride Draupadi.
Historically speaking, this festival tradition is believed to have begun 200-250 years ago. The fair is held on the grounds of the temple of Triniteshwar Mahadev, which means “the three-eyed God.” The old temple that used to stand in Tarnetar was ruined, but a new one was built by the Gaekwads of Vadodara in the 19th century, and is now the focal point of the festival. It stands on the bank of a rivulet and opens into a beautiful kund. It is locally believed that this site used to be the original course of the Ganga river at some point in history, so a dip in the temple tank is considered by pilgrims to be as auspicious as a swim in the holy Ganga.
The Kolis of Saurashtra initiated the custom of embroidering umbrellas, which are exquisitely elaborate in terms of embellishments. The embroidery of each is unique and rises from the edges all the way to the top, with beadwork and patchwork in the design as well. Small colorful handkerchiefs are attached all around the edge, to attract further attention. These men spend over a year embroidering their umbrellas. Their intention is to entice the girls with their art, cloths and head gear and impress them, so that they can propose them for marriage. It is not surprising that, before the fair is over, they usually meet the lady of their choice.