Gajan is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly in the Rural part of West Bengal. Gajan spans around a week, starting at the last week of Chaitra continuing till the end of the Bengali year.
The word Gajan is a combination of two words – “Ga” that stands for village and “jan” that means folk. Hindus celebrate the festival mainly on the last two days of the month of Chaitra. This period is known as Chaitra Sankranti when the sun enters the Pisces sign. Chaitra Sankranti begins on 14th March of every year. People observe fast during this period devoting themselves to their God. Gajan is actually celebrated mainly by the agricultural community. Farmers pray for rain and a better harvest. Lord Shiva is said to be closely related to their community.
This photo story is from a remote village in the district Hooghly, west Bengal, India. Gajan is celebrated here for more than 100 years now. Devotees pray, fast and sleep on the floor afor entire month before the day of Gajan.
On the day of Gajan, devotees gather in the oldest temple of LORD SHIVA in the village at night. At midnight, they take part in a holy bath in the river Ganga. Then they start their worship to LORD SHIVA. Many devotees pray outside the temple since there are no more than 50 seats inside. Ater an all-night prayer they start the day of the GAJAN with some bloody rituals. In the morning, the first event is the “BANPHORE”: a 5mm iron rod is pierced through the young devotee’s tongue while taking part to a procession around the village. Drums and other musical instrument are played to accompany the ritual. The second phase starts at 8.30am. Devotees are crucified to crosses taken by a pond near there and their skin is pierced and nailed to the wood of the crosses. The faces of the devotees are continuously washed with water so that they can overcome the pain and wash out the blood. In the subsequent phase they lay down on a bed of nails. People of any gender can participate to the ritual.
Hooghly, West Bengal 2017
Photo and text: Avishek Das