A land where history is still a part of everyday life, Uttar Pradesh surprises you at every bend of the road, every little dirt track running away into the distance. One such road brings one to Bateshwar, a sleepy little town, merely 70 kms from the famed city of Agra.
Situated at a bend of the river Yamuna, archaeological findings at the place point at it being inhabited since 3000 BC. Referred to as Shaurayapura in ancient Jain texts, the place gets its present day name from the Bateshwarnath temple, which according to the local folklore is thousands of years old. The temple has been rebuilt many times and the present day temple is about 300 years old, built by the Bhadaouria rulers under the Mughal emperorship.
The present day site of Shauryapura is about 3 kms away from the main town. It has several Jain temples and is said to be the birthplace of the 22nd Thirthankar of the Jain faith – Neminath. Interestingly, Shaurayapura gets its name from Yadav king Shurasen, who is said to be the great grandfather of both the Hindu God Krishna and the Jain Tirthankar Neminath.
The Yamuna flows languidly at Bateshwar and the sight of its simple, rustic temples dotted around its periphery, against a rising sun is one that you will not forget in a long time. The tinkle of the countless temple bells, big and small, the wind creating ripples in the river and an earthen cup of “kulhad wali chai” in your hand – you may be forgiven for falling into reverie.
Come October and the place starts buzzing with villagers and cattle traders from all across the region. The Bateshwar Cattle fair is India’s second largest cattle fair after the Sonepur fair in Bihar. It is also one of the oldest with indications of it being in existence for more than 2000 years!
Bateshwar is also an important stop on the Char Dham pilgrimage, and for close to 2 millennia, people have gathered here to buy and sell cattle, take a dip in the Yamuna, to partake in rituals that have been going on without change since man first set foot in these fertile, abundant plains.
The Bateshwar fair goes on for close to a month, with the first leg of about 10 days devoted to cattle trading and the second leg to the religious fair that goes on for another fortnight or so. With a thriving rural market, ascetics, religious discourses, rituals, religious and entertainment shows, acrobats and hundreds of street food vendors, the fair is a befitting tableaux of the contemporary rural life in this part of the country. A photographer’s delight, the fair exudes a vibrancy and fervor that is hard to pin down to a single factor.
Crowded and buzzing with activity during the annual fair and festivities, Bateshwar is otherwise a perfect getaway to spend some days exploring the mystical India. The main Bateshwarnath temple is adorned with thousands of big and small brass bells offered by the devout in return for their wishes being fulfilled. The main sanctum houses a rare life size idol of Shiva, his consort Parvati and son Ganesh.
Move a little further and you come across the warren of caves in a hillside where yogis and ascetics of various orders have taken up residence. This warren of caves is an architectural and natural marvel rolled into one. The sadhus are friendly enough and will gladly show you around or share a cup of tea if you ask them politely.
The crescent bend of Yamuna glimmers in the setting sun as the evening prayers come to a close at the temples dotting the ghats. As the dusk deepens, the town winds down slowly to sleep, to rise again the next day, like it has been doing for the last 2000 years or so. There are mountains and oceans that can make you feel insignificant due to their sheer size, but it is at Bateshwar that you truly understand the tenacity of human endeavor and the insignificance of time.