Costume Festival Brings Joy, Positivity To This Small Hamlet In Uttar Pradesh

Pailakisa has been witnessing the 3-day annual event a day before karwa chauth since time immemorial, reinforcing social unity in the village

Ramji Mishra

Sitapur (UP): A small hamlet in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur district has made a name because of its annual three-day nakal — a sort of fancy dress competition.

No one knows when exactly the tradition started, but it has always been around, said Ramdhar Rajvanshi of Pailakisa village.

The fair starts a day before karwa chauth and ends a day after the festival which is celebrated by Hindu women during Hindu lunar month of Kartika, bringing together the community and helping in honing the traditional artform.

According to Sukali Rajvanshi, the entire village comes together to organise the fair.

“This is our annual community event. Every section of the village contributes and participates in the fair. It reinforces the message of village unity. Also, there is no financial burden on anyone in connection with the fair,” he said.

The village population is made up of Dhobis, Kahars, Muraus, Bhats, Naus, Pasis, Lakadharas, Bhurjis, Brahmins and Thakurs, who come together without any discrimination to organise the festival.

Emotional Significance

According to Sumit Bajpai ‘Madhyandin’, a writer, the purpose of organising the nakal is to bring “positivity and happiness” in the village.

“Its more crucial message is promoting social unity,” said Bajpai.

“The fair has been a part of our lives since childhood. Attending the fair was supposed to bring good luck. It was thought that skipping the fair for a year would lead to the death of 40 people,” Ramkumar Pandey explained.

The 94-year-old Ramakant Pandey, a historian from Brahmawali village, highlighted the emotional and cultural significance of the festival for residents.

“The fair is held to ensure good luck in the village all year round and the villagers think that it is auspicious to attend. Around 60 to 70 years ago, the villagers could not organise the fair due to lack of time and, coincidentally, 40 people died due to a cholera outbreak. Though it is a coincidence, the villagers were deeply affected and ever since not a fair has been missed,” Ramakant said.

“We even got special permission from the administration to hold the fair during the pandemic,” Ramkumar said. The fair was organised in a big open field, and only a small number of people participated from Pailakisa and nearby villages.

Economic Significance

The villagers are not underselling importance of the fair, which draws residents from nearby areas in large numbers, thus spurring economic activity. Lekhraj Rajvanshi of Dhorha village in Eliya block of Sitapur district has been setting up a stall during the fair for the last five years.

“I sell toys and run a food stall. I find great pleasure in attending this fair each time and to my knowledge, there is no comparable fair in the surrounding areas that I have seen or heard of,” he said, adding that the money he made depended on the crowd.

The village authorities don’t charge any amount from the people who want to set up a stall at the fair. Food items, small decorative items, bindis, bangles and similar items are available at the fair.

“I am setting up my shop here for the first time… every day, I manage to make a profit of Rs 400 to 500,” Kamlesh Rathore of Maholi, who put together a stall for sunglasses this time, told 101Reporters.

Thakur Gokul Singh, 85, said because of the fair’s popularity, several local artistes participate in the nakal. “Earlier, known local artistes such as Buddha Lohar from Korapur village, Bihari Pandit from Luktaha village and Gulab from Khuti village participated in the nakal,” he recalled.

Cultural Significance

The preparations for the fair begin after a special prayer on the first day of Kartika month during krishna paksha, as per Hindu calendar.

Usually, only men participate in the nakal, said Ganga evi, whose husband dresses up for the fair. “Most women fast on karwa chauth. It is possible that men took it upon themselves to entertain the village womenfolk and hence this tradition persisted,” she said.

“The participants get their clothing and other embellishments ready and do their makeup on their own. Even my children take part in the nakal. These three days are a very enjoyable time,” she said.

The popular nakals are Sulochana Prasang from Ramayana, imitated by Ramkumar Pandey, Mahouta-Mahoutin by members of Maurya and Rajvanshi families, Lord Shiva by Ramnath Pandey and Agia Betal by Devi Rajvanshi, besides different imitations of Lord Vishnu. Tableaux of different incarnations are also exhibited. Most of the artistes do not turn to the mainstream imitations, but just copy what their ancestors used to do.

(Ramji Mishra is an Uttar Pradesh-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)

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