The Gajan Festival is one of the thrilling and exciting festivals which is usually performed in rural areas of West Bengal, a state in eastern India but it is also practiced in some parts of metropolitan city Kolkata which is also famous for its colorful and unique festivals. The participants of this festival are known as ‘sannyasi’ or ‘Bhokta.’ These devotees believe that by piercing their bodies with iron rods and hooks on their back can impress the Gods, especially ‘Shiva-the God of Gods’ (“Deb’er deb-Mohadeb”). They believe that through remarkable spectacle of human strength and devotion one can achieve satisfaction through non-sexual pain and sacrifice.
The unique festival is usually associated with Hindu deities Shiva, Neel, Dharmathakur. The festival lasts for three days and ends with ‘Charak Puja.’ The celebration of the festival begins from the mid-April. It starts mainly on the last two days of the month of Chaitra, just before the ‘Poila Boishak’(Bengali New Year).
Believes behind Gajan Festival
What makes West Bengal different from other states is that pre-vedic era still exists, survive and flourish in its land. People here are still connected with their mythological stories and still believe in them. The origin is connected with the fact of conversion of Buddhist monks to Hinduism. The gajan festival was known as ‘Dharmer Gajan’ when it was performed in the Buddhist community. Later when it was adopted in Hindu culture, it came to be known as ‘Shiber Gajan.’ It is believed that the tantric rituals of Hinduism and the thought of monasticism of Buddhism have led to the emergence of this colorful festival ‘gajan.’
It is believed that on the day of ‘gajan’ festival Lord Shiva is married to Harakali. The all three day festival is formed by the devotees signifying the marriages of the three powerful Gods, Shiva, Nil, and Dharamaraj.
Significance of Gajan Festival
This festival is performed by the devotees for good rains and better harvest. This is performed mainly by agricultural community and God Dharmathakur is mainly worshipped by various scheduled tribes such as bauri, bagdi, har and Dom. When they perform the various acts of piercing they are respected by all and they are then put above in status by the landlords. Even landlords pay tribute to them. People worship God Dharmathakur because he is considered as ‘God of Fertility’ by them. The gajan festival is also celebrated to bring prosperity and to eliminate sorrow and sufferings from each devotee’s life.
Painful rituals practiced by the devotees
Various rituals are performed by the people in order to bestow good health and best luck. The devotees perform the festival by piercing their bodies through iron rods. Dancing with human skull is also common in Kurmun village at Bardhaman district.
The devotees pierce their mouths with multiple iron rods that are thin and long. Money is offered to them which are pinned in their bodies through safety pins. The practiced of piercing is usually done by some old monks who have mastered this act since years. They know how to insert the rods into the skin without damaging the veins and preventing excessive bleeding.
Fire plays and various fire rituals are important in the festive celebration. It is believed that God of Fire is the eternal life giver and destroyer too. Fire acts can be seen in villages like Gurudasnagar. Fairs are also a common site to witness during the three days of the prestigious festive.
In some another village the men who perform the piercing are taken around the village in crucified form. Hands are usually tied and big iron rods are pierced in the skin. Weak-hearted tourists are not advised to witness these practices.
Why acts of piercing are performed?
The super-believers believe that the acts such as piercing would let them know the real pain of womanhood. They believe that by doing this they can reverse the role and feel the emotions and the pain a woman goes through her entire life especially during the childbirth.
Other reason is that the people of the agricultural community believe that they give immense pain to the soil (which they regard as their mother) during the acts of ploughing and harvesting. Thus, the devotees perform these acts to feel and experience the same amount of pain.
Current Scenario of festival during Covid-19
Extreme piercing: This year the Gajan festival to appease Shiva did not take place due to coronavirus lock-down – perhaps for the first time in thousands of years.
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Author: Anjali Lavania
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