Mention Anthiyur, a nondescript region in Erode district, and what immediately comes to mind is its annual horse fair, which attracts horse-lovers from across the country. For over two centuries, people have converged here during the fair to purchase the best horses. For many, owning a horse picked from this fair is a symbol of pride and prestige; for some, it is a sign of prosperity.
The fair remained suspended since 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. It is believed the practice of holding Kuthirai Sandhai (horse fair) began when Tipu Sultan was the ruler of Mysore (1782-1799). “Our forefathers said the ruler purchased horses from Anthiyur and sold the horses that are no longer useful for the battle. Over the years, the Sandhai became popular,” says T. Murugesan, 75, of Anthiyur.
A four-km forest road, called Sultan Road, is located inside the Talamalai Forest Range in the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve that served as a major route for Tipu Sultan’s army connecting Mysore in Karnataka and Palakkad in Kerala. “There is no doubt that the ruler started the fair for trading horses,” he adds.
The six-day fair is held during the Arulmigu Gurunathaswamy Temple festival at Pudupalayam village in the Tamil month of Aadi (August or September). Around 1,200-1,500 horses are brought from across the country and exhibited.
The most attractive
“Native indigenous breeds and rare breeds — Marwari from Jodhpur in Rajasthan and Kathiawari from Gujarat — are the most attractive,” says D. Madhan Kumar of Erode, an ardent horse-lover who has visited every fair since 2005. “The fair is one of the oldest horse fairs in the country and is also compared to the Pushkar livestock fair held at Ajmer in Rajasthan every year,” he points out, while expressing his disappointment that the fair had not been held since 2020.
People from various parts of the district, from Karnataka and other States witness the procession of deities and visit the fair. Horses were not only exhibited but their skills were demonstrated to grab the attention of the visitors that number over one lakh. “Local breeds that were used for pulling carts in Karnataka were purchased in large numbers, while rare breeds were not traded,” says Kumaresan, a farm owner in Erode. He adds that horses are not revenue-generators, but they are maintained for passion and as a symbol of prestige. “Everyone cannot rear horses as maintenance cost is very high. It needs special attention and only a few people who have passion can do,” he explains.
A sign of fortune
Swirls (‘Suli’) or whorls, mostly found on the head and neck of the horses, are believed to bring prosperity and good fortune to the owners. A horse with a minimum of nine swirls is considered to be good, while a horse with 13 swirls is considered the best. Persons born during particular zodiac signs purchase specific horses. Also, owning a majestic horse is considered a status symbol among people, especially in rural areas.
Income for owners
Since horses from various States are assembled at the fair, mating is done for breeding. This provides the owner with an income. While a local breed is available from ₹40,000, rare breeds are sold for a few lakhs of rupees, depending upon their height and temperament. White-coloured horses are always in good demand as they are used as exhibits during temple festivals and marriages.
R. Manoj Prasanna, 37, who owns a stud farm at Anthiyur, has been participating in the fair for 23 years now with Marwari breed. “We feel an honour in owning horses,” he says. Many own horses for its swirl pattern. Many horse-lovers believe that if the swirl pattern matches their horoscope, their life will take a big turn.
Desha Kumar, 58, of Mevani village in Gobichettipalayam taluk, who owns two horses, says he has been visiting the fair with his grandfather and father since he was 15 years old. “Only in Tamil Nadu are swirls given much importance. But, in other States, the height, majestic appearance and colour of the horse is important,” he says. His horses are trained to dance at functions and temple festivals. “I am expecting the fair to be held in 2023,” he adds.
No fair this year too
This is the biggest fair in South India and has been held successfully for over two centuries now. The fair was last conducted in August 2019. “This year, too, only puja will be performed at the temple and the fair will not be conducted,” says a member of the temple organising committee. Committee members are hopeful that the festival and the fair would be conducted next year in a grand manner if there is no threat from the pandemic.