I came to learn about Gajan Festival during my childhood. I grew up in Kolkata West Bengal. During childhood, I remember seeing men and women dressed as gods and goddesses, practicing some rituals, some fire show, at that time I was so small to understand those things. After I went to college and after developing Photography as a hobby I decided to cover the festival. The traditions and rituals seemed out of this world. It was nothing that I had heard or seen in the past. After some research, I visited the Kalighat area in the city of joy Kolkata to attend the festival.
Kalighat’s Gajan Festival is one of the oldest and still follows the same rituals that have been around since ancient times. Bengal is known as a land of festivities, where religious ceremonies outnumber the months in the calendar. The festival Gajan is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly in the Indian state of West Bengal. Gajan is celebrated on the last day of the Bengali New Year. This is a pre-harvest season festival celebrated in order to please Lord Shiva. It is associated with such deities as Shiva, Neel, and Dharmaraj. Gajan spans around a week, starting at the last week of Choitro continuing till the end of the Bengali year. It ends with Charak Puja.
Participants of this festival are known as sannyasi or Bhokto. Persons of any gender can be a participant. The complete history of the festival is not known. The central theme of this festival is deriving satisfaction through non-sexual pain, devotion, and sacrifice.
As mentioned earlier, the basic reason for the festival is to worship the deities of the respective devotees for the hope of a better rainy season and a good harvest. Also, people believe that the festival will provide them prosperity eliminating any sorrow and suffering which they suffered in the past year. Primarily arranged on the premises of different Shiva Temples, the festival is arranged mainly by mendicants (Persons begging or relying on charitable donations) who are referred to as “Gajan Sanyasis”. The festival takes place on open grounds and not in anyone’s residence.
Among the many folk festivals of Bengal, the Gajan festival, Charak Puja and Neel Puja have a special place even in today’s modern age. Although it is celebrated predominantly in rural Bengal, the festival is still celebrated in some pockets of the Metro city of Kolkata. Gajan is actually linked to persons who are related to the agricultural community, directly or indirectly. They pray for the rains and a better harvest.
During Charak people dress up as Cosmetic Shiva, Parvati, Krishna, and other deities. Usually, the Rajbangshi caste of persons is allowed to do such acts. They are locally known as “Soung of Gajan” (Soung in Bengali means jester). The word gajan in Bengali comes from the word garjan or roar generated by sannyasis during the festivities. An alternative theory says it is from the two words Ga (village) and Jan ( People), indicating the festival of the people.
Personally, I always have a feeling of amusement and fear when I witness such a festival like this, Acts which include jumping from a high altitude, playing with fire are very dangerous and can be fatal as well. But the faith, of the people who have towards their deity, is unexplainable.
The faith and chaos I experienced while shooting this festival in my hometown is a feeling I really can’t explain. I am discovering my city Kolkata every day, by these traditions which only takes place here & nowhere else in the world.