Charak Gajan Festival in West Bengal

Charak Gajan Festival in West Bengal has to be one of the most unique festivals. People often call it as Charak Gajan festival however these are two different kinds of a ritual known as Charak & Gajan. However, for the ease of reading in this blog, I will refer to it as the Charak Gajan festival. The festivals of Charak Gajan is celebrated on the last two days of the month of Chaitra just before the Bengali New Year. Poila Boishak or Bengali New Year falls in the mid of April and thus Charak Gajan festival is celebrated from 11th-14th April every year.

Charak gajan west bengal kolkata

Origin & History of Charak Gajan Festival



The rituals of West Bengal can be divided into two segments - one which takes place before the agricultural season begins and post the agricultural season ends. The rituals or festivals in west Bengal which take place before the agricultural season are mostly related to Fertility cults and are celebrated for the regeneration of Life & Land. 

The festival of Charak Gajan is related to Tantric Buddhism. Charak Gajan started as a celebration by the Buddhist community which was known as "Dharmer Gajan" and later when this was adopted by the Hindus it became known as "Shiber Gajan".

This festival of Charak Gajan is linked to the Agricultural community where they pray to Lord Shiva for good harvest and rains. The objective of the festival is to bring back the fertility of the soil. 

From the excerpt of the book The Bengalees by Samaren Roy describes Charak Gajan as- “A religion of sexo- yogic practices fused with animistic beliefs thus developed in Bengal after Buddhism came under the influence of Tantra. The male and female principles ( of Buddha and Sakti), later became identified as Siva & Sakti.” 

The people who follow the rituals of Charak Gajan festival are mainly devotees of Lord Shiva and are respected in the society.

The Charak Gajan festival consists of mainly 3 parts :

1. Charak Puja
2. Neel Puja
3. Gajan

Charak Face Painting


Rituals of Charak Puja & Gajan Festival

The Gajan celebration is performed signifying the marriages of male forces Siva, Nil or Dharmaraj with their respective consorts. It basically signifies the union of sun & earth. The Gajan festival is considered to be a very powerful festival.  People also believe that the festival will bring prosperity and will eliminate them from sorrows and sins of the last year.

The Gajan festival is mostly conducted on the premises of a Shiva Temple. The people who celebrate the festival are called as Gajan Sanyasis. Before the festival, they keep on worshipping Lord Shiva and live on alms given by other people. The Gajan sanyasis follow strict restrictions. They can't sit on bare ground. The Gajan sanyasis can't cut their hair or nail or shave and have to eat extremely simple food like Fruits, Milk, and Rice. They can't eat any flesh or fish. They must live a life of discipline and penance.

People dress up as Shiva, Parvati, Kali, Krishna, and other deities and perform various dances and other acts depicting scenes from Hindu Mythology. The word Gajan is derived from the word Garjan or the sound made by the Sanyasis during the festival. In earlier days you the Gajan Sanyasis would move from house to house to beg for food however nowadays you can fin this ritual in the villages.







The most interesting part of the Charak Gajan festival is the Charak Puja.  The festival involves worshipping the Charak Tree and the Sanyasis perform several act of penance during the Charak Puja. The Charak tree is not any particular type of tree but its a trunk of a tree that is approx 20-30 feet and is completely straight and shouldn't have any root or leaves. The Charak Tree is erected on the field using bamboos. The Charak tree is considered as Ardhanarishwar i.e. the amalgamation of Lord Shiva & Parvati.


The Gajan Sanyasis pierce their tongues 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 don't injure them. There is one person who person mostly an old man who does this piercing for all as he would have mastered the art over the years. You will not see a drop of blood coming out from these piercings.





The hooks are pierced on the back of the Gajan Sanyasis and they hang themselves with ropes on the Charak Tree and fly in a circular motion by tying the rope to one end of the tree and to the other end on the hook.




In many places, you will get to see many dreadful acts such as lying on the bed of nails. In a few places which I will name below, the Gajan Sanyasis also play with skulls of dead people or semi-decomposed body parts of human beings. However these days this practice is dying as police are arresting the people who do such practices.



The main  rituals of Shiva Gajan are:

  1. The day of fasting (upos in Bengali), when the Shiva Sannyasis do not drink even a drop of water
  2. The day of Habishyi, when the Sannyasis put on the sacred thread
  3. Mahahabishyi, the day of great fasting
  4. Phala Utsav, the festival of fruits
  5. Nila Puja, the day when Shiva is ceremonially married to his consort Nilavati
  6. Charak, the final day of Gajan

Ritual of Neel Puja

Every year on 13th April on the day of Neel Sasthi, Neel puja is performed. This Neel Puja is again the Puja of Lord Shiva. The married women fast the entire day and pour milk on Shiva Lingam.
This puja is done by the married women to please Lord Shiva so that he keep her husband and family protected and safe.


  Places where Charak Gajan Festival is Held in West Bengal


Charak Gajan festival is mostly celebrated in rural India these days in an authentic way and where from close quarters you will be able to document and see the celebration. In Kolkata few places are there where Charak Gajan is celebrated however it is celebrated in an extremely subdued manner.

Lets start the list within Kolkata and move towards the villages where you can enjoy this festival.

Latu Babu Chhatu Babu Bazar

This is one of the easiest on eyes Charak Gajan celebration in entire West Bengal. This celebration takes place in the heart of Kolkata near Girish Park. No hooks or rods are used here instead people tie themselves with ropes and hang from the Charak Tree.

Kalighat

In Kalighat the Charak Gajan is celebrated with pomp and show. People dress up as different gods and walk on the streets. In the end, you will also get to see Gajan Sanyasis playing with fire in Kalighat. If you don't want to go out of Kolkata to see the celebration of Charak Gajan then you should go to Kalighat.





Baruipur

This place is also near to Kolkata where the Charak Gajan festival is held. The Charak Gajan festival is celebrated here in Rash er Math. The uniqueness of this Charak Gajan festival is that people pierce themselves with big size pin.

(Photo Courtesy : Soumya Bandyopadhyay )

Kurhmun

Gajan festival is not for weak hearted here as people here celebrate and dance with Human Skulls or semi-decomposed body of human beings. One word of caution, I would suggest not going here for Gajan Festival as recently there has been news about Gajan Sanyasis attacking the photographers. There have been cases of arrest by the police due to the practice of playing with decomposed bodies.

(Photo Courtesy : Arka Dutta

Krishnadebpur

This is the place I have gone several times to document the Charak Gajan festival and I absolutely love the Charak Gajan festival here. The rituals are more authentic and the hospitality of the people is far beyond expectation. There have been cases where villagers have forced me to have lunch with them since I was tired of clicking pictures.


Shantipur

It's a unique Charak Gajan festival here in Santipur. You will get to see Nara Rakshasha ( Human Demon) which is a unique performance. The place where the Charak Gajan festival is celebrated here is in Charaker Math which is near Shantipur railway station.

(Photo Courtesy: Arka Dutta )

Gurudasnagar

If you want to see people playing with fire at the Charak Gajan festival then Gurudasnagar is the place to go.  The place is before Diamond Harbour station.


(Photo Courtesy: Arka Dutta )

Panchal in Bankura

One of the oldest Charak Gajan festivals is conducted here. You should visit this place just for the historical importance of the Charak Gajan festival.

Bainan, Bagnan

This place is approximately 1hr from Howrah. Here the Charak Gajan is similar to Krishnadebpur and you can see various acrobatic activities and play with fire here.


Jayanagar Majilpur 

Going to the Charak Gajan festival here in Jayanagar Majilpur is advisable only if you have a strong heart. Here people jump from heights on sharp weapons. You might get to see blood here when people jump on these weapons.



Beldanga & Kandi in Murshidabad

Here you will see lots of people swinging from the Charak tree and the designs of the Charak Tree are very unique. 


Jhareswar Charak Gajan Mela

This mela is held in Keshpur in Midnapur. The Charak gajan mela is approximately 300 years old. The Charak Gajan Mela continues here for 7 days.

Kedakunda fair of Chapaleswar Shiva, Debra

As usual like other places here devotees also do various kinds of activities including piercing, fire play. Fire play is common among devotees here. To go to Debra you need to get down at Balichak station and from there you need to take a bus to Debra.



Special Thanks to Soumya Bandyopadhyay & Arka Dutta for letting me use some of their pictures for this blog. You should check their work. They are two amazing photographers from West Bengal whom I really adore.


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1 comment:

  1. What an outstanding writeup! Your play with words is phenomenal.

    And yes, wonderful pictures

    ReplyDelete

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