The Anthiyur cattle fair has it all — from the best indigenous horses to the best cattle.
While some come here to find the best offering, others come here to showcase their legacy.
S Anand, a resident of Mohanur near Salem in Tamil Nadu, is over the moon after buying a colt for Rs 20,000 at the Anthiyur Gurunathaswamy Festival Cattle Fair last week. “I have bought this colt for racing. I am happy I have got a good local breed at a good price,” says an overjoyed Anand.
Helping Anand in getting the colt is M Vadivel, a 70-year-old veteran who says he has won in 60 of 70 the horse races he has participated in, in Tamil Nadu. “I can differentiate between a good and an ordinary horse. You can find them out by the way they drink water,” he says.
At a nearby shed, Kuzhanthairaj is awaiting buyers for a couple of horses and a six-month-old colt that he has brought from nearby Bhavani.
Kuzhanthairaj’s family in Bhavani rears the horses even as he makes a living driving an autorickshaw in Coimbatore. There are many like Kuzhanthairaj and Anand who have come to Anthiyur to either buy or sell horses or indigenous cattle like Kangayam or Ongole or Gir bulls.
“The Anthiyur Gurunathaswamy Temple Festival and the related cattle fair are being carried for over two centuries now. My ancestors have said that even Tipu Sultan came here to buy horses for his army,” says 56-year-old G V Adhimoolam from Pallipalayam village near Erode.
Adhimoolam is at the Anthiyur fair just to exhibit his rare indigenous breeds of Ongole, Kankrej, Hallikar, Tharparkar and Gir bulls. Ongole is a native breed of Andhra Pradesh, Kankrej of Madhya Pradesh, Hallikar is a Karnataka breed, Tharparkar is a Rajasthan breed and Gir is from Gujarat.
“Our family has always prided itself in maintaining these breeds and every year, we bring them for display here. For us, it is a sort of prestige,” says Adhimoolam, who runs a school and a petrol pump back home.
The Gurunathaswamy Temple at Anthiyur, 30 km from Erode, is one of the oldest in Tamil Nadu. Legend has it that a group of pilgrims carried holy stones for days together. At one point of time, they threw the stones in water, for unknown reasons, in the forest area of Anthiyur.
In particular, three stones eventually formed the idols of Goddess Kamakshi, Lord Vishnu (Perumal) and Lord Gurunathaswamy and continue to be in the same spot even today.
The annual Gurunathaswamy festival is held around the second week of August with fanfare. The five-day festival, held during 7-11 August this year, relates to Gurunathaswamy, Perumal and Kamakshi going from Anthiyur to the forest temple, staying there overnight and returning the next morning.
Of late, the festival has begun attracting people from across the country too.
“I have been seeing the crowd increase every year. Though the crowd is swelling, facilities haven’t improved though transport connections have increased,” says V T Sundaram, a tea master from Vellankoil near Gobichettipalayam in Erode district.
Sundaram, who claims to be a classmate of Tamil film director and actor K Bhagyaraj, has been coming to Anthiyur for years now.
“Anthiyur is witnessing a heavy turnout in recent years, especially during the festival. At other times too, people visit the Gurunathaswamy temple in this forest but you will find just one or two vendors,” says 65-year-old Ratna K, who comes every year to sell lemons, agarbathis and camphor for money that is usually gifted to her grandchildren.
In a way, the cattle and horses fair is seen as a main attraction to the temple festival, which in turn is helping preserve traditional Indian horse and cattle breeds. Apart from Anthiyur, there is only one other temple festival in Pollachi in Coimbatore district where such a fair is held, but this one is more popular.
Also, the best native breeds are brought to Anthiyur and hence it sets a benchmark for such breeds.
“My family has been in this business of horses for over 200 years. My grandfather and father came here to sell horses. I am coming now. In fact, my grandfather breathed his last at this place,” says Amanullah Khan from Thali in Dharmapuri district.
Khan and his elder brother have brought nearly 70 horses, most of them local breeds, besides the prestigious Kathiyawadi breed, and managed to sell 25 of them in one-and-a-half days. He is into polymer business and had a big farm back home but horses still interest him and his family.
“Our family has been in this for long. We are into this to preserve our tradition and culture,” he says.
Kuzhanthairaj of Bhavani, too, echoes the same sentiment. “We are still breeding horses and competing in racing to preserve our tradition and culture. The Anthiyur festival, in a way, is helping,” he says.
Raj participates in horse racing, which is not the usual one that is run in turfs like Chennai or Bangalore or Pune.
“These are races, including Rekhla and Virattu, that are conducted at various temple festivals. We take pride in taking part in these events,” he says.
Locals say that the Pudukottai horse race is one of the most prestigious events in the State, though there a few other events too. Prize amounts for winners are not much though the maximum is Rs one lakh.
“Most places, the winner gets Rs 5,000 or Rs 10,000,” says Raj.
“The Anthiyur fair is helping us horse owners together under Horse Breeders Federation. It helps us sell horses, discuss trade and chalk out plans to make horses popular,” says A Bharanitharan from Udumalpet.
Improvement in the facilities like fibre sheds, provisions for drinking water for animals and courses for horses and bulls to run is helping buyers and sellers.
“Awareness of our traditional assets like horses, cattle and poultry is coming back. The Anthiyur fair is nurturing such traditional interests,” he says.
R Mahesh, who breeds Kathiyawadi horses particularly white-coloured only and Kangayam cattle at Kavundampalayam in suburban Coimbatore, says horses are used for marriages and temple festivals too.
“Good quality horses command good prices upward of Rs 200,000,” he says.
Mahesh, whose family has been breeding these animals for close to 80 years, says even quality Kangayam bulls command over Rs 100,000.
“The Anthiyur festival fair is the only place in south India for buying cows and bulls. The fair is held at the right time when it is time for field operations,” says Adhimoolam of Pallipalayam. The annual event has thus helped farmers, traders and breeders find the animal of their choice.
Sixty-year-old Ubaidur Rehman, who breeds horses and cattle at his farm near Melpatti in Gudiyattam taluk of Vellore district, says he is using the Anthiyur fare to bring awareness among people on a dwarf native cow breed — Thanjavur Kuttai — he has with him.
“I want to make people aware of such agri-friendly breeds we have. That’s why I have brought this breed here,” he says, pointing to the 2-½-foot bull he has brought with him.
Anand Kannan, a practising advocate in the Supreme Court, is into breeding Kangayam bulls as studs and for Rekhala races.
“The Anthiyur fair is being held for centuries and grabs attention world over for horses and cattle,” he says.
Quality of the cattle is determined on its looks, colour, weight eyes, legs, tails, horns and style. There are people like V C Doraiswamy from near Pollachi who buy Kangeyam bulls to breed and then sells their offspring. He had taken an interest in cattle from his school days that has finally made him breed the Kangayam bulls.
There are a few people like 39-year-old Kuzhandai Velu from Palladam in Coimbatore district whose family has been rearing the Kangayam breed for three generations.
“We have got in to the sale of the breed in the last 10 years at Anthiyur. The feature of the native breeds is that they can tolerate any climate, hot weather or rain. These breeds given proteins and health benefits in four litres of milk. Foreign breeds like Holstein Friesian cannot provide that with 20 litres,” he says, adding that he goes by the quality of curd that his family gets from the milk.
Kangayam bulls are still used for transportation and farming, especially in small holdings, besides bull-fighting and racing. Breeders of horses and cows don’t find the expenditure in maintaining their breeds a hurdle despite low returns on some.
“It costs about Rs 300 a day for local horses and even less,” says Amanullah Khan.
But Mahesh says to maintain breeds like Kathiyawadi, it costs anything upwards of Rs 1,000 a day because the horses need to be given a special husk.
“Maintaining horses is expensive, no doubt. But we take pride in preserving our heritage and tradition. You can even call it a craze,” says Bharanitharan.
Adds Kuzhandai Velu: “At the end of the day, if you add up the sale and purchases, there is a small loss for us. But we don’t mind since we are happy doing what we like.”
Passion and craze among many people is keeping the indigenous breeds alive. This is particularly true in the case of cattle breeds.
“Our native breeds are not only sturdy and all weather animals. They have a beauty in them which has to be appreciated,” says Adimoolam, glancing at his pride — the Ongole bulls.
The passion and craze of such people and breeders is, in turn, being nurtured and kept alive by the Anthiyur Gurunathaswamy Temple Festival. Not surprisingly then, all roads in Erode, Coimbatore and Salem districts lead to Anthiyur temple and its related festivities towards the end of August first week every year.