JonBeel Mela: Keeping the Age-Old System Alive

Sandarbha Desk
Sandarbha Desk
source: thehindu

What is Jonbeel Festival?

  • Jonbeel Mela is a three-day community fair celebrated during Magh Bihu (usually at the end of the harvesting season) by the Tiwa community for over 500 years.
  • Jon is an Assamese word for the Moon and Beel in Assamese stands for a Wetland.
  • The festival is named after the Jonbeel lake (in the shape of a crescent moon) next to which it is celebrated.
  • It is held every year during the mid of January at Dayang Belguri at Jonbeel, Morigaon district in Assam.

Read More: Hornbill Festival- The Festival of Festivals

What is so unique about it?

  • It is India’s only fair that works on the barter system.
  • During the festival, both tribal and non-tribal people of Assam and Meghalaya practice a barter system for exchanging agricultural produces in a festive manner at the end of the Assamese Magh Bihu period (Makar Sankranti).
  • Goods like herbs, dried fish, ginger and spices are bartered for rice, fish and other produce which cannot be grown in the hilly area.
  • Tribal communities such as Tiwa, Khasi, Jaintia and Karbi descend the hills prior to the fair with their products to barter them in the mela and to enjoy the mela with harmony and brotherhood with the other tribal communities.
  • While bartering they compare their goods before finally making the exchange.

About the Gobha King

  • The fair is declared open by the ceremonial ‘Tiwa’ king Deepsingh Deoraja (also called Gobha Raja as the ancient kingdom of the Tiwas was known as Gobha) who along with his ‘courtiers’ participate in a community feast and then collects a customary tax from hi subjects.

Other events during the Mela

  • Before the start of the festival, an Agni Pooja or fire worship is held for the well-being of the people and for a good harvest for the next season.
  • Other than barter, the Jonbeel Mela features community fishing which is held on the second day of the Mela, usually taking place in the wetlands of Jonbeel.
  • Traditionally followed customs like cock fights are also performed even though this is now banned in most states in India.
  • The communities also perform their traditional dances during the fair.
  • A wooden furniture bazaar is also held to attract customers from the plains.
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