“Faith is seeing light with all your heart when all your eyes see is darkness”
Faith makes a man move mountains. It is seldom reasons and mostly faith that makes a man cross barriers, struggle hard, sacrifice his well-being. The world has had a lot of stories of faith, stories where men did what reason would never allow them to do. This reportage is one such story, a story of a day where men, women and children did everything owing to faith.
This is a reportage of one of the less known religious festivals of Bengal. This is the celebration of one of the less popular Hindu Goddess, Setala , celebrated believing the Goddess will keep people away from the vices of Small and chicken Pox. This is generally celebrated during the month of February, when small pox used to attack Bengal and is celebrated around the 108 temples of Goddess Setala in the district of Howrah. Although, this event is very less reported and talked about, hundreds and thousands of devotees come every year praying for the health and well-being of themselves and their families. The customs start from the morning. People use to light candles outside the temples and worship the Goddess. They take a holy dip in the Ganges and many of them cover the way from the river to the temples on their chests. Children, seeing their parents lying on the road, are often struck with fear. However, sometimes, even the children are made part of this painful walk. The faith is so strong that some people lose senses and they are treated as ‘possessed’- either by elements of the Goddess or by the demons. These customs are then followed by processions in the afternoon, and it is this time, the crowd and indiscipline increases. Street bands play on the roads, children dress as mythical characters, and men and women, often drunk with liquor, dance and move from one temple to another, forgetting the struggle they went through the whole morning. The police and NCC cadets work hard the whole day, but at this time of the event, even they fall short. Slowly, the day ends and people start returning to their own homes and the area returns to normalcy and the temples to peace having no trace of the struggles of religion of the day.
All text and Photos by Siddhartha Banerjee