This year our plan was to go to Kurmun, Burdwan to see Gajon and Charak festival. This year the day of Charak or Charok fell on 14.04.2018 - Saturday !
Charak festival takes place in various places of West Bengal. It even takes place in Kolkata. To know the complete list of places - you can refer to a wonderful blog : amitabhagupta.wordpress.com or Charak from my previous post .
Gajan festival is associated with deities such as Shiva, Nil and Dharmathakur. Gajan spans around a week, starting at the last week of Choitro or Chaitra continuing till the end of the bengali year. It ends with Charak Puja. Participants of this festival is known as Gajan sannyasi or Bhokta. Tomorrow is Bengali new year day. It is a marker of Poila Baisakh.
But we learnt at the last moment, that Charok in Kurmun is over by 13.4.2018. So there is no point going there. We got a very valuable input from Srikumar Babu - an expert on festivals of West Bengal that a very interesting and unique Charok takes place in Batanal near Aram-bagh and not very far from Tarak-eswar. We left at around 10.30 by Tata Winger am and reached at around 3 pm after having our lunch on the way. We were 8 in our group.
When we reached there, it was empty. We had some time to roam around the village.
The word gajan in Bengali comes from the word garjan or roar that sannyasis (hermits) emit during the festivities. (source: Wiki) . The term is used for all active participants like an honorific and is not to be regarded as a caste marker. These sanyasis are not Brahmins. Charak lead the life of celibates for a fortnight. They live on the temple premises all day long. (Italics part is from https://www.telegraphindia.com )
In Bengal Dharmathakur is generally worshipped by the scheduled cast like Bauri, Bagdi, Hari, Dom. Dharmathakur may have been originated from Dharmaraj of Buddhism. Although Dharmathakur is identified by a shapeless stone (as seen in Bankura) and its Vahana is represented by terracotta horses , there have been instances where Buddha idol has been worshipped as Dharma Thakur in villages of Bankura. There are still villages where both Dharamraj and Shiva are placed with Gajan offerings.
Gajan is actually linked to persons who are related to agricultural community, directly or indirectly. They pray for the rains and 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.
(source : amitabhagupta.wordpress.com)
Charak Puja (also known as Nil Puja) is a Hindu folk festival, held in southern Bangladesh and West Bengal on the last day of the month of Chaitra . Similar festival in Maharashtra is called Bagad, while in Vizianagram, Andhra Pradesh it is called as Sirimanu utsavam.
People believe that the festival will carry prosperity by eliminating the sorrow and sufferings of the previous year. The festival is actually a festival to satisfy "Lord Shiva", the great "Debadideb" of Hindu Religion.
Though the festival takes place on the mid night of Chaitra Song-kranti, the preparation phase usually starts before one month of the day. Chaitra Sankranti begins on 14th March of every year.
It is difficult to pinpoint when Charak was initiated and by whom, but what is known is that in 1860, the British had attempted to enforce a ban on the practice. In a paper titled "A Barbarous Practice: Hook-Swinging in Colonial Bengal", Aniket De points out that a little less than a 100 years before that, Baptist missionary William Carey wrote about witnessing the ceremony. Sometime in between, in 1829, Ram Comul Sen, secretary of the Asiatic Society then, described it thus: "The word is derived from Chakra or , which means a circle [possibly a tangential reference to the circle of life, the cycle of seasons]... It is a festival improperly termed by many Charak Puja, perhaps from the notion that every ceremony observed by the Hindus of Bengal, is a puja or religious worship..."
Then they leave for main ground where Charak takes place, after the piercing is done. Unlike Baghna-para, Kalna, the piercing results in some blood oozing out . The piercing instrument is different here.
We left for Kolkata at around 5.45 pm and reached at around 9.30 pm. It is around 120 Km from Kolkata.