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Photo Essay

Hooked on tradition

A festival in rural Bengal, considered essential to usher in a bountiful harvest, is marked by plenty of rituals, some of them dramatic but bizarre.
On a “charak tree”, which is any thick and tall tree trunk, this young man hangs by a rope fastened to hooks pierced on the skin on his back, only one of many who so seek Siva’s blessings for a bountiful harvest during the Charak and Gajan festival held on the occasion of Chaitra Sankranti and the Bengali New Year.
On a “charak tree”, which is any thick and tall tree trunk, this young man hangs by a rope fastened to hooks pierced on the skin on his back, only one of many who so seek Siva’s blessings for a bountiful harvest during the Charak and Gajan festival held on the occasion of Chaitra Sankranti and the Bengali New Year. Photo: Joyeeta Ghosh
1/11
While the boy waits for the paint on his face to dry during the Charak festival near Bardhaman, in the mirror is a reflection of the man he would grow up to be.
While the boy waits for the paint on his face to dry during the Charak festival near Bardhaman, in the mirror is a reflection of the man he would grow up to be. Photo: Joyeeta Ghosh
2/11
This is also near  Bardhaman, West Bengal. These two boys have painted themselves as avatars of lord Shiva.  charak festival, frontline
This is also near Bardhaman, West Bengal. These two boys have painted themselves as avatars of lord Shiva. charak festival, frontlinePhoto: Joyeeta Ghosh
3/11
Krishna and Balarama painted in amazing detail. The villagers who do this painting have learnt the skill from their parents and will pass it on to their children.
Krishna and Balarama painted in amazing detail. The villagers who do this painting have learnt the skill from their parents and will pass it on to their children. Photo: Joyeeta Ghosh
4/11
A march with skulls, some of which have flesh and hair sticking to them, at 4 a.m. in a village near Bardhaman. The preparation begins early the previous night. Along with the putrefying skulls that give out a fetid smell, the men also carry weapons as they make their way through the village.
A march with skulls, some of which have flesh and hair sticking to them, at 4 a.m. in a village near Bardhaman. The preparation begins early the previous night. Along with the putrefying skulls that give out a fetid smell, the men also carry weapons as they make their way through the village. Photo: Joyeeta Ghosh
5/11
A “fire spewing” Gajan Sanyasi gives his blessing to the women on the ground by walking on them, in this age-old ritual at Kalighat near Kolkata.
A “fire spewing” Gajan Sanyasi gives his blessing to the women on the ground by walking on them, in this age-old ritual at Kalighat near Kolkata. Photo: Joyeeta Ghosh
6/11
In this you can see long needles all over his face he is just prepared start the event.  charak festival, frontline
In this you can see long needles all over his face he is just prepared start the event. charak festival, frontlinePhoto: Joyeeta Ghosh
7/11
Straining on a hook to hug a child as a blessing from Siva as many more parents wait with their children.
Straining on a hook to hug a child as a blessing from Siva as many more parents wait with their children. Photo: Joyeeta Ghosh
8/11
At the venue of the main charak festival in a village, the sanyasis tie the bamboo poles to the tree trunk so that it rotates freely and is heavy enough to bear the weight of the men who hang from it on ropes fastened to hooks pierced on their backs.
At the venue of the main charak festival in a village, the sanyasis tie the bamboo poles to the tree trunk so that it rotates freely and is heavy enough to bear the weight of the men who hang from it on ropes fastened to hooks pierced on their backs. Photo: Joyeeta Ghosh
9/11
Raising the heavy “charak tree” with a helping hand from all present.
Raising the heavy “charak tree” with a helping hand from all present.Photo: Joyeeta Ghosh
10/11
The man on the ground is rotating the sanyasi hanging by a rope and throwing prasad, which the people eagerly pick up and eat.
The man on the ground is rotating the sanyasi hanging by a rope and throwing prasad, which the people eagerly pick up and eat. Photo: Joyeeta Ghosh
11/11