Vel Festival in West Bengal, India

© Debarshi Mukherjee
Possessed, India – April 2018
Vel Festival in West Bengal
by Debarshi Mukherjee

It is a strong belief that according to Hindu mythology, Goddess Parvati presented a Vel (Spear) to her son Murugan as a personification of her powers or Shakti in order to defeat the evil sura Soorapadman. As per the Skanda Purana, in the war between Murugan and Soorapadman, Murugan used the Vel to crush all the evil forces of Soorapadman.

Vel, as a symbol of divinity, is an object of worship in the temples dedicated to Lord Murugan — the Hindu god of war and a son of Shiva. The Vel festival in Bengal is version of the annual Thaipusam festival celebrates in Southern India, Sri Lanka. During this festival, many devotees pierce their skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers while undertaking a procession towards the Shiva temple.

Frenzied participants are seen shouting and chanting “Ael! Vel! Vel! Vel!” above the drumming during the procession.

The ones pierced sometimes also carry burdens, in the form of chariots connected to their backs through piercings and ropes. Though extreme and painful to look at, it is quite a spectacle.

Many devotees are also seen with a cloth tied on their mouth, signifying their oath of silence till the festival concludes. Others may be seen carrying a pot of milk as offering. Performers are often seen moving in a trance or appearing to be possessed before the piercing ceremony begins. They are first cleansed by bathing and then undergo the piercing process.

The worshipers who pierce their cheeks, tongues and faces with sharp objects hardly bleed and claim to be feeling very little pain! Many say that their wounds heal almost immediately without leaving scar marks.

The festival is symbolized by colors yellow and orange, significant to Lord Murugan.

Vel festival or  Vel Vel or sometimes also called Adi Vel is held in a town at the outskirts of Kolkata, West Bengal.

The Devotee
Getting Pierced
Pierced Devotee

Oath of Silence
The Burden

Vel Rituals
Vel performer
Pierced Burden
Blessing the Child
Debarshi Mukherjee
Debarshi Mukherjee (b. (1984), an Indian born photographer, has been associated in the field of photography for the last 3-4 years. He was recently acknowledged with Artiste FIAP distinction and BEPSS distinction for his photographic achievements. He is a member of the “Federation of Indian Photography”, the national photography body in India.
Within a short span of time his photographic efforts have been recognized globally in 30 + countries like India, Serbia, UK, Singapore, Romania, Scotland, Wales, Turkey, Switzerland, Russia, Hong Kong, Austria, Ukraine,Czech Republic to name a few. He has received multiple awards and critical acclamation for his photographic works. His works have also been featured / published on various websites (like National Geographic YourShot, Dodho, 1X etc.) and print media in UK (N-Photo Magazine). Debarshi's photographs have been part of exhibition galleries in India and abroad. Earlier this year, his work was exhibited at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii. His photograph will also be a part of the exhibit at “The Weather Photographer of the Year 2017” in UK. He was also the state winner for a nation-wide photography contest, which received critical acclamation from the Limca Book of Records. He loves to explore genres of Human Interest, Photojournalism, Environment, Street and documentary styles.
By qualification he is a B. Tech & Masters in Energy Management. He works as a Sustainability Manager in an organization of high repute. But his heart and his passion lie with photography. He believes in capturing a slice of life in each of his photographs, which uphold the reality and beauty of the world that surrounds us.

1 Comment

  • Which date , when and which area of Kolkata this festival does ocuurs ? I wanted to take photographs of this rituals but don’t know where it occurs . So inform me .

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