Donkeys hit the headlines after former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s remarks about the animal during his election campaign.
But at Sheetala Devi Dham in Kaushambi, they are revered at the historic ‘Gardhabh Mela’ (donkey fair) for a religious reason. Believed to be the mount of Mata Sheetala Devi, donkeys are fed delicacies and decorated before being displayed for sale. Not only donkeys, but their brethren mules and horses too are sold by traders who arrive in Kada area of Kaushambi district from all over north India.
President of the Sheetala Devi Dham managing committee, Sharda Prasad aka Bhukkad Panda, said priests and washermen jointly organise the fair in several acres of land near the dham in the ‘Chaitra’ month.
Devotees reveal their ‘mannat’ (wish) to the animals and arrive here to feed them with milk, grams, green grass and vegetables if their wish is fulfilled.
According to the belief, the donkey will fulfil their wishes if it is pleased with their services. It is also believed that marriages fixed at this fair are blessed.
The donkeys sold in Kaushambi carry the pilgrims to the Amarnath Cave, which adds to the religious importance of the fair, Prasad said.
The price of donkeys, mules and horses ranges from a few thousands to more than a lakh and every year, the business crosses more than a crore.
Shivpal Chaudhary, a trader from Banda district said he sold a six-month-old donkey for ₹21,000.
Swaminath Kapari, another trader, said his 11-month-old mule fetched him ₹39,000.
Rampal, a local potter, said donkeys are considered dumb and meek but in reality, they are faithful and wise.