Tarnetar Fair: Where Gujarat’s tribal youngsters choose their spouse like Draupadi’s swayamvar

Tarnetar in Surendranagar district is said to be the place where Arjuna pierced the eye of a moving fish to marry Draupadi. At the annual fair, women choose their grooms based on the exquisiteness of their embroidered umbrellas and dancing-singing skills

Team 30 Stades
New Update
Men with embroidered umbrellas seeking partners at the Tarnetar Fair in Surendranagar, Gujarat

Men with embroidered umbrellas seeking partners at the Tarnetar Fair in Surendranagar, Gujarat

Every year for three days, the grounds of Triniteshwar Mahadev temple in Gujarat’s Surendranagar district see the reenactment of Draupadi’s swayamvar (groom-choosing ceremony). Young tribal men and women seek marriage partners at the vibrant Tarnetar fair or mela held at Tarnetar village annually during August-September (Hindu month of Bhadrapad).

The region holds significant mythological importance. Known as the Panchal region, it is believed to be the native place of Draupadi. 

According to folklore, it was here that Arjuna accomplished the challenging task of piercing the eye of a fish, rotating at the end of a pole, by looking at its reflection in the pond water. 

At the Tarnetar mela, young girls come dressed in their finest clothing, embroidered with colourful threads and mirrors. Unmarried women mostly wear red ghaghra or skirts to make it clear that they are seeking partners. Prospective grooms don colourful dhotis, artistically designed waistcoats, and turbans, carrying striking umbrellas that women use to select their partners. 

men dressed
Prospective grooms don colourful attire at the Tarnetar Mela. Pic: Flickr

The embroidered umbrella

While Draupadi had given the suitors the task of piercing the eye of the fish, the tribal women decide their groom based on the umbrella embellished by a prospective groom and his dancing and singing skills. 

The men spend over a year embroidering their umbrellas, aiming to captivate the girls with their artistry, clothing, and headgear to propose marriage. The Kolis of Saurashtra had started the tradition of embroidering umbrellas.

Each umbrella's embroidery is unique, extending from the edges to the top, featuring beadwork and patchwork in the design. Small colorful handkerchiefs are also sewn around the edge. Apart from the embellished umbrella, the young men also showcase their talents through dancing, singing, and engaging in competitive sports, while the girls subtly observe and make their selections. 

Also Read: Odisha’s folk dance Singari Nacha carves a niche among global audience

Tribal traditions

But this is not the only highlight of the fair. Folk dances, music, food, religious song singers, sadhus, fun and frolic are all part of the Tarnetar fair. Tarnetar festival is a grand celebration steeped in tribal traditions.

Dancers, clad in tribal attire, form rings and move in waves to the beat of drums, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. The highlight is the Rasada or simply Raas, where dancers hold sticks and clack them against those of other dancers. Up to two hundred women perform Raas in a single circle, moving to the beats of four drums and the melodies of jodia pavas (double flutes).

fun and frolic
Fun and frolic at the Tarnetar Mela. Pic: Flickr

Another notable dance is the Hudo, a spontaneous and energetic performance. 

The Rabari women from nearby villages join in the Rahado dance, forming a lively circle in red and black skirts. While married women wear black skirts, unmarried are dressed in red.

Many sadhus and bhajan mandalis (religious music groups) sing, accompanied by folk instruments.

The mela in the Tarnetar village features many stalls that sell exquisite local handicrafts unique to the area. These include ethnic jewellery, deity statues, and traditional attire embellished with tiny mirror embroidery. The fair also offers merry-go-round rides, photography stalls, magic shows, and tattoo artists, attracting a diverse array of visitors.

Also Read: How Khamir is preserving the traditional crafts of Kachchh

triniteshwar temple
The Triniteshwar Mahadev Temple at Tarnetar. Pic: Wikipedia

The word Tarnetar is derived from Triniteshwar, which means ‘the three-eyed God’. The temple is dedicated to lord Shiva, who has the third eye on his forehead. Although the original temple in Tarnetar was destroyed, a new one was constructed by the Gaekwads of Vadodara in the 19th century. It now serves as the festival's focal point. The temple is situated on the bank of a rivulet and opens into a beautiful kund or tank. 

The locals believe that this site was once the original course of the Ganga River. This makes taking a dip in the temple tank as auspicious for pilgrims as a swim in the holy Ganga. The reservoir is also known as Papanshu (the destroyer of sins).

A cattle exhibition is a major attraction for tourists, along with events like the ‘Rural Olympics,’ which include bullock cart races and horse races.

Also Read: 10 lip-smacking street foods of Varanasi

Look up our YouTube Channel