Gajan or Shivagajan is a Hindu religious festival celebrated mostly in West Bengal. Gajan spans around a week, starting at the last week of Choitro or Chaitra (the last month of the Bengali calendar) and continuing till the end of the Bengali year with Charak Puja.
Participants of this festival are known as Gajan Sannyasi or Bhakta. Gajan is actually linked to those persons who are related to the agricultural community, directly or indirectly. They pray for the rains and a better harvest. Lord Shiva is said to be closely related to this community. It may be worth noting here that Dharmathakur is actually considered to be the God of Fertility. The festival is actually a festival to satisfy “Lord Shiva”, the great “Debadideb” of the Hindu religion. In the Gajan festival, devotees worship Lord Shiva by injuring themselves through the piercing of needles, iron rods, hooks, and by many other means in different parts of their bodies including the tongue, lips, and ear, etc. They believe that through pain and injury, they could reach God.
The devotees dance, shout and roam around villages madly, assuming themselves as Nandi and Bhiringi (great devotees of Lord Shiva). This Gajan festival is celebrated in different forms in West Bengal. In some villages, children portray mostly as Lord Shiva or Lord Krishna, wearing eye-catching costumes, and their faces are painted in blue or white color. In some villages, devotees play with skulls pretending to be the real devotee of Lord Shiva.
The photo story has been made during the celebration of the Gajan festival in a remote village in the Hooghly district of West Bengal. The unique feature of this celebration is that here villagers pierce iron rods into their bodies, and tongues and crucify themselves by laying down on a wooden framework with huge nails fixed on it.
The ritual starts in the early morning in a temple of Lord Shiva with piercing iron rods in their tongue, and bodies around 4 AM. The long iron rods are pierced from one end of their mouth or tongue to the other end and rods hang from both sides.
After piercing, Sannasis wait at the temple ground to complete the whole process of piercing. After completion of the piercing, Sannasir started running through the village road in a circular procession towards another temple of the village and then come back to their original destination. During this time, they dance facing each other balancing their long iron rods and it is very dangerous to follow them as one might be injured due to the sharp edges of long iron rods. During this festival, drums and rural songs are played on loudspeakers so loudly that one can barely hear another. All Sannasir are in bare bodies, wearing only small langot, as Indian village wrestlers wear during wrestling.
After reaching the original destination, then slowly the devotees started removing the iron rods from their mouths and body. This time faint traces of blood are noticed in their mouth and body. Surprisingly, they don’t use any antiseptic or any medicine on their injury. Immediately after the removal of iron rods from their mouth or body, they are provided with some leaves which they put into their mouth. The leaves are locally known as ‘Kala Puspa’. It is used to stop bleeding and reduce pain and it works like magic. It is learned that injuries are cured within two-three days. The morning ritual is finished after removing iron rods from their mouth and bodies.
After morning rituals are over, there is a gap of about two hours. The preparation for crucifying rituals started at about 9 AM. Some devotees lay down on a wooden framework with large numbers of nails fixed on it. Some lay down on wooden frames having many sharp iron blades. Some experienced people are fixing nails on Sannasis’s body and tying them with a cloth to the wooden cross. This is called crucifixion.
Sannyasis, who are laid down on nail fixed wooden frame or crucified on a wooden frame are taken on a cycle van. As the cycle vans with ‘crucified’ persons start moving towards another temple, there is a huge commotion as village people run with the procession. The vans and the devotees run in a circle and return back to the Shiva temple. All devotees pray to Lord Shiva and the ritual is finished.