Bengal is showered with fairs and festivals round the year. And the people are always overwhelmed to welcome all the festivals with arms wide open.
Gajan is one such festival celebrated in Bengal on the last week of the Bengali month of ‘Choitro’. The essence is such that along with the month of Choitro, the Bengali year also ends. As the month rolls on towards the end, it is called ‘Choitro Sankranti’ in Bengali. During this period, Lord Shiva is worshipped not only by the Sannyasis but also by the people of the State. Many people have given it the name ‘Neel Pujo’ because Neelkanth is one of the many names of Lord Shiva.
Married women keep a fast for the well-being of their husband and children. The fast is broken only after pouring milk over a Shiva-linga, offering Him flowers and thus performing the Puja.
Another attraction of Gajan is the ‘Charak Puja’ where actually a tree trunk is worshipped by the Sannyasis. The Charak Tree is one without any roots or branches and it is said that every year the same trunk comes to the same ‘ghat’ (shore) of the River Ganga. The Sannaysis collect it from and immerse it back at the same place every year. ‘Charak’ is said to be derived from ‘Chakra’ meaning circle. The men and women participating in the Charak Puja take a vow or make a wish and even perform stunts of physical torture such as rolling themselves all the way from a certain point to the temple or where the Puja is being performed.
The inception of this festival can be traced back to the distant past. The Sannyasis hang themselves from poles with hooks and torture themselves to please the Lord by showing off the outstanding level of tolerance. It seems as if they have taken the phrase “to achieve, you need to sacrifice” too literally. But then there is also the fact that Sannyasis don’t really have anything to lose. They are already lost in the trance of meditation.
The best part of all is that along with the seriousness of the rituals and facts, people have maintained the tradition of having fun. Fairs are scattered all over the city of Kolkata, famously known as ‘Gajan Mela’ or ‘Charak Mela’. People paint themselves in the appearance of Lord Shiva and other characters to perform skits at different localities in the City. They go around performing and collecting money. For some, it is the profession they have put in their heart and soul.
The Melas (fairs) for this particular celebration are not the mundane ones we find during every other festival! At a Gajan Mela, the makeshift stalls sell Sherbets and Thandai instead of bottled drinks! The savouries transform from Chowmein, Roll and other chatpata items to sweets like Mihidana, Laddoos, etc. Clay handicrafts such as miniature birds, animals, vegetables, etc. are sold by peddlers coming in from towns famous for such handicrafts.
The notable places which are very invitingly decorated at the time of the Gajan festival are – Chhatubabu Latubabu Bajaar in North Kolkata, Patua Pata at the Kalighat Road, Baruipur, Gurudas Nagar, Panchal at Bankura, Beldanga and Kandi at Murshidabad, Krishnadevpur at Burdwan, Shantipur, etc.