India is a diverse land with many festivals. Every year people eagerly wait for the arrival of festivals. Indian festivals reflect the culture and religious diversity. The atmosphere is filled with zeal and happiness. Festivals are divided as religious, national and seasonal.
Festival act as an interval from the mundane tasks and fill us with bliss and happiness. It invigorates us with new spirit and liveliness. Furthermore, it allows us to celebrate small and big things in our life. They can be religious or be events .
Bengal is known as the land of festivities where religious ceremonies over the number of months in the calendar and a proverb goes as baro maash e tero parbon (12 months constituting 13 festivals). And hearing the proverb every child in Bengal grows up.
Charak Gajan is considered to be the most idiosyncratic festival of Bengal. However there are two different types of ritual known as Charak and Gajan. But over time people consider as festival Charak Gajan which is celebrated on the last few days of Bengali month of Chaitra just before the Bengali New Year. Bengali New Year or Poila Boishakh which takes place on the mid week of April as per the Gregorian calendar and thus the festival is celebrated from 11th to 14th April e every year.
The word Gajan is derived from the word Garjan or the sound made by the Sannyasis during a festival.
Origin and History of Charak Gajan Festival
According to the religious veneration and devotion of West Bengal, it is divided into two portions-one which takes place before the agricultural epoch begins and post the agricultural season closure.
The performances or actions in West Bengal, which takes place before the agricultural season are mostly related to fertility function and famous for the metamorphosis of Life and Land.
The gala of Charak Gajan is associated to Buddhism expressly Tantric Buddhism. Basically the festival Charak Gajan was started as a celebration by the Buddhist sect which was conversant as “Dharmer Gajan” and later when it was accepted in the Hindu community it became renowned as “Shiber Gajan”.
Essentially the festival Charak Gajan is amalgamated to the agricultural society where the confluence crave to Lord Shiva for good production of harvest and shower (rain). The main aim of the festival is to bring back the fecundity (fertility) of the soil.
The people who follow the rituals of Charak Gajan festival are mainly devotees of Lord Shiva and are respected in the society.
The festival consists of 3 major parts:
- Charak Puja
- Neel Puja
The Gajan celebration is performed signifying the marriages of male forces of Shiva, Neel or Dharmaraj with their respective consorts. It basically signifies the union of Sun and Earth. The Gajan festival is considered one of the powerful festival. The festival brings prosperity and eliminates people from their sorrows and the sins committed at past.
The Gajan sanyasis follow strict restrictions. They can’t sit on bare ground. The Gajan sanyasis can’t cut their hair and nail and even shave and to follow an extremely simple appetite like fruits, milk and rice. They can’t have flesh. They must live a life of discipline and penance . People dances as Shiva, Parvati, Kali, Krishna and other deities and perform various dances and acts depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. The Gajan sanyasis moves from house to house to beg for food . However nowadays these scenes are found in villages.
The most interesting part of Charak Gajan festival is the Charak puja. The festival involves worshipping the Charak tree and the sanyasis perform several acts of penance during the Charak puja. The Charak tree is not any particular type of tree, the trunk of the tree measures approximately 20-30 feet and is completely straight and shouldn’t have any leaves. The Charak tree is erected on the ground using bamboos. The Charak tree is considered as Ardhnarishwar i.e. the amalgamation of Lord Shiva and Parvati. The Gajan sanyasis pierces their tongue with long stainless steel rods most of the time, more than 5 or 6 as an act of penance.
The Gajan sanyasis also pierce their body with hooks. However the thick hooks do not injure them. The hooks are pierced on the back of the Gajan sanyasis and they hang themselves with ropes on the Charak tree and moves in a circular motion by tying the rope to one end on the hook.
In many places, you’ll notice that many dreadful acts such as lying on the bed of nails and also some plays with skull of the dead or semi decomposed body parts of human beings.
The main rituals of Shiva Gajan are:
1) The day of fasting (upabash in Bengali).When the Shiva Sannyasis don’t drink a drop of water.
2)The day of Habishyi, when the sannyasis put on sacred thread.
3)Maha-habishyi, the day of fasting.
4)Phala Utsav,the festival of fruits.
5)Neela puja, the day when Shiva is ceremonially married to his consort Nilavati.
6) Charak,the final day of Gajan.
The popularity of Shiber Gajan can be grapsed from a short verse (rhyme) sung by the children’s of Bengal:
Amra dujon Bhai
Shiber Gajan gai
Thakuma gelo Gaya-Kashi
(We two brothers
Sing Gajan songs for Lord Shiva
Grandma has gone to Gaya-Kashi
Let’s play dugdugi (musical instrument) in joy).
In conclusion, festivals make our life enthusiastic and passionate. It brings the people of different communities together irrespective of their caste differences. They symbolize victory over evil and spreads joy and mirthful energy across. It strengthens the bond and promotes harmony among the human race.
All images and text © Aniket Pal
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