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by Nivedita Dutta
"Baba Taraknath er chorone seva lage.....Mahadevvvvvvvvvv! Bom! Bom!" It seemed like a war cry, but it was a loud chant from the scantily clad godmen, draped in red cloth and garlands seeking alms during the last month of the Bengali calendar, "Chaitra" which concludes with the festivities of "Gajan".Amongst various folk festivals of the Bengali Hindu's, "Gajan " occupies a very special place primarily for the various rituals involved with it. The name might have originated from the bengali word "garjan" meaning a load roar, or may be from combining the words Ga (meaning village) and Jon (meaning people) . Started centuries ago, the festival is associated with such deities as Shiva, Neel and Dharmathakur. Though beliefs and sources differ, the root remains common. It is celebrated by people from the Bauri, Bagdi, Dom, Hari and other communities who are directly or indirectly related to agriculture and cultivation. They seek blessings from the Almighty for sufficient rain, restoring the fertility of soil and eventually a good harvest. There are several phases of this month long festival: •Some selected men from the communities choose to become "Gajan sanyasi's" who live a life of penance and sacrifice, staying away from all worldly pleasures for a month, only to please the Gods.•Two days before the month of Chaitra (mid of April), "Neel Shasti" is celebrated by married women who fast the entire day for the well being of their husband and children. It is believed that Lord Shiva got married to Goddess Parvati on this auspicious day.•People, mainly from the "Rajvanshi" community undergo face painting and dress themselves up as popular Gods and Goddesses and are known as "Shong's of Gajan" (jester). They enact several mythological events in form of street plays at night.•The most interesting part of this festival is the conclusion where the Sanyasis perform extreme acts of penance and human sufferings at a "Charak" only to testify their faith and devotion. Men get themselves pierced and hooked by experts who do these impossible feats and who believe that The Almighty will not allow any bloodshed to his worshippers. A Charak (as mentioned earlier) is a long vertical tree bark with horizontal poles attached to it at a perfectly balanced position. It is believed that the tree is a form of "Ardhnarishwar" (half man-half woman), that symbolizes the co-existence of man with nature. After the tree bark is worshipped, the hook held sanyasis who are by then in a deep trance, hang themselves from the Charak and fly in circular motion. It is often noted that mothers seek blessings and offer their infant children to be a part of this hanging ritual.Times and customs have changed, some festivals are long gone, but this is one festival that is still popular in the rural belts of Bengal and hopefully, will be forever.
Devotees of Neel Puja.
Face painting ritual.
Shiva in making.
A girl's face painted as Krishna.
Let the power of Goddesses Kali evolve.
Goddesses Kali in Making.
Playful child sanyasi.
Dance of fire with drums.
Boy standing on a sharp object.
Fight between the evil Mahishasur and the Vahana of Durga Lion.