A heady cocktail of devotion, trade, fun and frolic – commonplace occurrences around places of worship during religious festivals all over Bihar – is epitomized by the Harihar-Kshetra Mela in the mango groves and fields around the Harihar Nath Temple at the confluence of the Ganga and the Gandak rivers at Sonepur.
The original temple is believed to have been built by Lord Rama when he was on his way to Janakpur to participate in Princess Janaki’s swayamvar. The age and origin of the temple have puzzled scholars but it is believed that Raja Singh got it repaired. The present temple was built by Raja Ram Narain of Patan, a prominent noble by the end of the Mughal period.
A number of smaller temples dedicated to other deities surround the main temple of Hariharnath Mahadeo.
Kartik Purnima, falling in either October or November depending on the lunar calendar, is the most auspicious occasion to worship Hariharnath when lakhs of devotees take a dep in the river and offer prayers and thereby kick off the fortnight-to-month-long period of trade and entertainment.
Earlier, this fair was held at Hajipur (Ramchaura) and only oblations were offered at the Hariharnath Temple at Sonepur. The fair shifted to the sprawling orchards near the temple and the confluence at Sonepur during the reign of Aurangzeb when the elephant trade shot up.
Not surprisingly, the Harihar-Kshetra fair is a mega cattle fair, considered Asia’s largest, where elephants, horses and pets are bought and sold. Traders from distant places pitch tent to sell their wares ranging from Kashmiri shawls to digestive churan from Varanasi.
In the olden days, horses were brought here for sale even from central Asia. Marshall, a 16th Century European traveler, has chronicled in his memoirs that traders from far-flung countries used to come here on annual commercial trysts with this popular fair.
Indigo planters too patronised this fair in the 19th Century when Europeans congregated for a period of amusement with polo, derbies, games and dances.
Lying north of Parsagarh, 45 km from Chhapra, the ancient temple of Lord Dhadheshwar Nath on the bank of river Gandaki is famous for it big stone Shivalingam.
Believed to have been built by the Nepalese royalty, the temple here is home to a popular fair during Shivaratri.
In the epic Ramayana, there is a mention of Gautam Rishi who had cursed his life, Ahilya, to turn into a stone. Later Lord Rama had released Ahilya from the curse and as per religious beliefs, the purification of Ahilya eas meted out here. The Ramayana describes it as Ahilya-Uddhaar. The ashram of Gautam Rishi is situated 5 km west of Chhapra.
An old town situated 12 km from Chhapra on the road to Sonepur, Goldinganj in Saran district is named after Edward Golding who was sent as the East India Company’s commercial agent at Bettiah in 1766 after the company’s forces, under Robert Barker, subjugated the Bettiah king.
Promoted as the supervisor (the designation being a precursor to the collector) of the Saran Parganas three years later, Golding became the company’s face from Saran to Champaran.
Interestingly, the railway station which came up here in course of time is also named Galdinganj while the postmark of local post office, bearing PIN 841211, reads Gultenganj.