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Everyone likes a good party and this is true the world over. In Brazil they celebrate Carnaval; in New Orleans, Mardi Gras; the New Years Eve celebrations in New York City are world famous; but do you know what celebration Pakistan is famous for? Read on to learn about melas and discover how these community events have spread to countries far across the world.
Text by: S. M. C. Godoy
Country:Pakistan

ho doesn’t love a good party? I know that I certainly do. It is safe to say that all around the world most people love a good celebration. Good food, good music, and good friends mean that everyone is happy. Sometimes these celebrations are cultural or religious and are held by families at certain stages of life: birth, coming of age and marriage. Even death itself is reason enough for some kind of a gathering. Sometimes these celebrations can be for a whole community. In South East Asia, these kinds of larger events or festivals are called melas.

If you enjoy big events, the Kumbh Mela is celebrated in India and is of great religious significance within Hinduism. Many millions of people travel to the famous river Ganges during this holy time. This mela is held every three years in one of four different cities. Each city hosts once in the twelve-year cycle. Then, every 144 years, the largest Maha Kumbh Mela is celebrated in the city of Allahabad. There are special prayers, blessings, music, and most importantly, bathing in the waters of the Ganges. It is considered very holy to bathe in the river during the time of the mela.

Or perhaps something smaller is more your style? There is an interesting small mela held beside the Indus River, in Pakistan. Secular community melas often include some kind of competition, just to add a little more fun to the event. It may be more modern now, but in the past this mela was especially known for its riding competitions. The year I went to this mela, it was held near a small city, outside on the sandy flat riverbed of the Indus which was very low at that time of the year. I was living nearby and my cook, a local man, had assured me with confidence that it would be interesting, which it was. He also assured me that there would be lots of other women there to keep me company. This was not quite so true. In fact, the only other women there were my own three small daughters. All the other spectators and competitors were men.

While we looked curiously at the horses and the horsemen, they all looked curiously at us. Many used the embankments as stands so that they could see the events better from high up. On the riverbed there was a long row of decorated tents overlooking the field. The tents were multicoloured with appliquéd designs. Behind the tents and the area where the competitions took place, there were food stalls, games and huge swings for rides.

A lot of horsemen waited with their horses for their turn at the tent pegging competitions. This old sport comes from the days of inter-camp raids and is still practised today. Some of the teams were dressed in matching turbans, shalwar and cameez and pointed leather shoes. In their teams, the horsemen rode the length of the field carrying long lances. They each tried to pull a tent peg out of the ground halfway along and had to keep it on the end of the lance until they crossed the finish line. It was very difficult and not many men were able to do it successfully. There were also dog races and wrestling matches. It was all fascinating to us and I think we were fascinating to them! All in all an interesting event, just as my cook had promised.

As people move around the world, they always bring their best traditions with them. That is why after centuries of emigration and immigration, melas are now held in many other countries, including England, Japan, Australia and Canada. These melas are for those with South Asian ancestry to celebrate their heritage, and also for anyone who enjoys new cultural experiences. In England, the first London Mela was organized in 2003 and it is getting larger each year. It includes music, singing, dancing and great food as well. Outdoor concerts with famous singers always draw large crowds.

Spiritually, religious melas can have a lasting effect on one’s thoughts and beliefs. Secular melas are considered an excellent way to strengthen cultural ties within communities. These festivals bring people of different cultures together and create understanding in a non-threatening way. Economically, melas are a great way to increase tourism to a city or region. For me, the mela was a window into a different culture and I have never forgotten it.


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Easy Summary

If you like big parties, the Kumbh Mela is celebrated a big event in India. Millions of people travel to the river Ganges during this holy time in Hinduism. This mela is every three years and there are special prayers, blessings, and music.

When people move around the world, they bring their best traditions with them. That is why melas are now held in many other countries, including: England, Japan, Australia and Canada. These melas are for people with South Asian ancestry to celebrate their past. They are also for anyone who enjoys new cultural experiences. In England, the first London Mela was organized in 2003 and it gets larger each year. It includes music, singing, dancing and great food as well.

Religious melas can have an effect on one’s thoughts and beliefs. Other melas are an excellent way to strengthen cultural ties within communities. These festivals bring people of different cultures together and create understanding in a relaxed way. Melas are a great way to increase tourism to a city or region.

 

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Melas .

Celebrations.

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