Photograph #1: The street skit showing the dance of Lord Shiva. (Gajan | www.anirbansaha.com)
A tale of belief: Gajan and Charak.
- Anirban Saha & Sourav Halder, Krishnadebpur’ 2014.
A temple courtyard full of people watching performers depicting Gods. I had this wide eyed young boy beside me, who would smile at me and say, “You will stay till tomorrow evening, right?” A sect of the performers included the super believers, who would pierce their bodies, play and dance around with fire to please their God. The boy hid behind me, when his father came to thrash him, drunken… The boy perhaps had spent his only ten rupees note to buy us a bottle of Limca, and save the “Prasad” for me and Sourav, while we photographed the festival. Today I share a story of belief, of trust and of relationship.
Gajan festival or Gajan is a folk festival. Observed during the end of the Bengali calendar, this festival is celebrated mainly in the rural parts of Bengal (West Bengal). The most accepted story of Gajan relates to the conversion of the Buddhist monks to Hinduism. It gradually transformed into a festival of Lord Shiva – the God of Gods (as they said, “Deb’er deb – MohaDeb”). In rural Bengal, there are few places known for its Gajan celebrations. One of them is Kurmun in Bardhaman district, while the other is Krishnadebpur. We visited Krishnadebpur from Kalna.
When we reached Krishnadebpur, the local people directed us to “Mondir Tola” (also known as “Kali tola”), which is the Temple courtyard. They were preparing for the street plays. The preparation includes painting their faces to imitate different Gods and Goddess to enact short street skits. The skits depict mythological stories moulded to suit the folk lore.
Other enactments during the day time include mimicry acts.
While I was taking photographs of the make-up artists painting the performers face, a very young child told me to go to the bamboo forest where the “Kali” was being made. He meant – a man was being dressed as Goddess Kali – or the Hindu war Goddess. He was painted in black and decorated with yellow, red and white. That’s the variety of Goddess Kali you will find worshipped in cremation grounds.
Photograph #3 : Preparation of Kali – the Goddess.
I continued interacting with the child and soon we became friends. He was quite gregarious and his dark wide eyes stood out from the rest of the kids in the area. We were engrossed in his several interesting stories that ranged from Gajan festival to his dance performance or the way he comes first in this academics.
After a brief break at his home, we continued with the skits. The skits include folk lore patches of stories of Shiva and Parvati, Goddess Durga and of Lord Krishna. Incidentally, Gajan folk lore has Lord Shiva getting married to Hara Kali this time. So we had the Shiva dancing with different other Gods and Goddesses of which there were Lord Krishna and Fairies. It ended with Maa Kali standing up on Lord Shiva. Other skits also include the story of Goddess Durga.
Photograph #5 : Young Krishna during the street play.
Ronit, the child, took us around the place and to places where we would not have thought of going. He asked us to stay back in his home and experience Gajan at night.
The event at the night included all of these and acts / sacrifices that would invoke fear in one’s mind and heart. Ronit stayed with us all the while, guiding us, helping us and at times when he got frightened, he sat on my lap.
Photograph #6: Depiction of Goddess Durga in the street skit.
Photograph #7 : The play with fire – the eternal life giver and destroyer.
Photograph #8 : Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati rests with the rest of the world while the performers perform.
Photographs #9, #10, #11: The play of fire.
There were these fire games and games that invoked fear. For a city bred lad like me, it is impossible for me to think of piercing my abdomen with iron rods and lighting it on fire. Forget about dancing with it! All in the name of God, simply trusting in Him. The chief priest recited mantras and asked them to believe in them. We had performances where the performers inserted rods, played with edged knives and weapons cutting and slicing themselves. The weirdest of them is – Bandha Kali, or the burnt Kali (War Godess). It was a man dressed in Kali’s attire, with piercing across his body, painted red and black. I believe he had sliced himself at places as well. I’m not sure. He was high on either Mantra or liquor, whichever you might find convenient to assume or believe. He (She) was tied to ropes controlled by a couple of strong men, apparently trying their best to control her vigour and anger. With the Bandha Kali approaching, the crowd broke into randomness and ran for cover. In the rush, I could not photograph him.
The next day we photographed Charak. You can easily Google and know what Charak is. What struck me are the customs there. Not that I was not well acquainted with, but to see it right in front of me, was slightly tough. I had gathered enough strength to see it with open eyes and shoot. Now the weird feeling is gone. Pasting 5 photographs of Charak festival.
There are two kinds of devotees primarily. One who pierce their lips and ears with iron rods and does a victory lap across the field. The other section, pierce their back with hooks. They are hung by the hooks to the Charak Tree (Where the Lord Shiva is instilled) and swung. If you are a faint hearted person, it is not recommended for you.
Photograph #12 : One of the priests look up at a photographer, just before the Charak Puja.
Photograph #13 : The priest gets ready with the second iron rod to pierce into the lips of the boys, while I photograph him.
Photograph #14 : Another devotee gets pierced while the crowd behind cheer.
Apologies, after this photograph, I did not photograph. I’m sorry.
Photograph #15 : Another devotee gets ready to have his back pierced.
The entire experience has been overwhelming. The hospitality of the people at Krishnadebpur had been heart wrenching, the rituals unbelievably superb, the simple people there cheered at the lamest of jokes and mimicry, while the performances gave me goosebumps! My experience in Krishnadebpur has been incredibly enriching!
The very idea of being in a place where people flock together to enjoy in a small temple complex, a place where photographers from the city are not treated as an outsider, fills me with joy. This is undoubtably an experience I would cherish all through.
The young boy – Ronit, took us to his home, fed us with whatever little his mother could manage for us. We slept there, content at dawn. Trusting unknown boys with so much confidence and innocence, I was there awe struck. After we had left, his mother sent 4 boiled eggs through Ronit so that we dont starve for lunch. Later Ronit and Chottu, his other friend accompanied us to the station and were with us till we boarded the train. Such love, such innocence. It felt incredibly special and I will take this a long way in my life. I surely did see tears welling up in Ronit’s eyes while we were leaving. My heart seemed heavier after that. But light at the same time, it was a mix of feelings that I was experiencing. A feeling worth cherishing, something that would stay with me, perhaps for the rest of my life.
All the good and the bad co-exist in the society. All the good and all the bad co-exist in side us, in our hearts and mind. We prefer to see the good, feel the good, feel blessed and cherish whatever little we have got acknowledging the presence of the Supreme Almighty. All in good faith, all in good belief.
I was invited to conduct a “Two days Basic Photography and Social Media workshop” in Loreto College, Kolkata. On the first day (22nd March 2014) I spoke about basic framing of a photograph, importance of framing giving relevant examples. In the social media side – I spoke about my own story and how my blog helped me transform myself and meet more people. On the second day (29th March 2014) we proceeded with the basic variables in photography and the rest of the schedule was filled with activities.
Personally speaking, this experience was very fulfilling and I loved interacting with the students there. The students were enthusiastic and creative. I will paste some of the student’s feedback I got in the previous blog post:
Ashmita Nandy wrote,
It was an amazing experience. Since i personally love photography, some of the things like placing of the subject and the play of light and shade was really fruitful to me. The best part was that you kept up the interest of the girls till the very end.
Sneha Ganguly commented,
With a feeble idea of it being an amazing thing,we stepped in and truly so,I loved it! It might sound flattery but this was my first such ‘Interactive’ session in which I could actually interact and have so much fun!
From your candid tips to a panorama of your mesmerizing pictures that kept me jaw-dropped,our funny oral answers to your encouraging us to participate more,it was an amazing time having you with us.
I loved all of your works, specially the light painting. That was something new and amazing!
And the most interesting part was that it was an interactive session where we got to ask questions and clarify certain things!
The presentation was really good. and yes you could connect and capture the attention of 36 students even after their college hours. On a more serious note, the basics which you shared with us will remain with us forever. The take on social media was very good. we had actually not thought in these lines before. so it was enriching for us.
Both the sessions were really interesting, specially today’s – when we were given to do activities and accidentally I captured some pictures that I loved and thank you for explaining the reasons why I got them that way. Let the monsoon come and I’m surely going to shoot the lightning!
All the best with that ! I remember I forgot to speak about the precautionary measures!
During the activity: I gave them 3 flower vases and 1 sand clock for them to photograph. All I had to do was to explain to them the concepts. After a couple of minutes, the students started with their own arrangements, working out with the light, thermocol and black chart papers. Many of them used compact cameras without the manual mode, few started with their DSLR’s yesterday. They were very prompt in taking the concepts up. As a teacher / instructor, nothing can be as fulfilling.
It is good to see academic institutions having photography clubs, media society and organising workshops, where they not only focus on photography but also social media behaviour. A big Kudos to them !
Previously when I went to Pratt Memorial School, the teacher asked me to tell them about taking up photography as a full time career. I could hardly speak on it. I spoke about maintaining dignity in approach and passion in work and that everything else will fall in place. In Frank Anthony Public School, the Vice Principal was so supportive. In Loreto College, the teacher and the students were very warm, I got introduced to “New Media in Journalism”. I learn a lot doing these. I learn a lot helping people around. I love it when they smile. As I mentioned in my page “Journey so far“, this is the most fulfilling part of my life so far. Looking forward to few more Institute visits this year.
I’ll end this post with a photograph. It was shot during the workshop. The arrangement was done by a student. Do leave for me your honest feedback Thank you.
I’ve always thought of sharing my social media stories with my friends. But never did I share, for various reasons. Social media helped me with basic English language, speaking and presentation abilities, different speeches and workshops in Kolkata, Modelling in Sananda magazine, etc. Social media has gifted me feelings and memories to cherish … but what I am sharing right now, is an incredible feeling.
Artist: Arunita Barui.
Inspiration: Selfies by Anirban Saha.
It feels incredible to present to you, a charcoal sketch by Arunita Barui. She is an incredible artist and she is a signed artist of Soul Vibes Records. I have come across her through Sayon and Debatma who are integral part of SVR. She is a friend of friend and I haven’t met her yet.
When I was trying out selfies (self shot portraits), she dropped me a message and asked for one of the photographs. I did not know how to react, but it felt good and I had sent her the three photographs which I collaged into the profile picture.
More of Arunita Barui’s work:
This shows the city of Kolkata, with all its British era buildings, the ambassador Taxis’s.. the Tram and the hand pulled rickshaw.
And this is what she drew in protest of the rising rapes in the country:
I was invited to Loreto College to have 2 sessions on basic photography and social media. That came to me as a surprise, specially because I knew no one from the college. The chief coordinator (President of the club) knew me from my blog. Kolkata is supposed to be very reluctant about social media awareness and we do not see too many women photographers during regular photowalks. For definitive reasons, yes. So, this invitation happened to be really special and important for me.
Call it a coincidence but a senior student of the same institute, who had no clue about my invitation, messaged me over Facebook inquiring me about my experiences with Calcutta Walks. She landed on my blog after having searched the internet. I talked at length with her and invited her to the seminar.
So today, there I was, half prepared to take a seminar/workshop on basic photography and social media. This was my first college visit, 4th institute visit and 5th MeetUp (basic photography workshop). It is for the second time I spoke about social media at a considerable length. I should own up, I was a little apprehensive at the start. I know about the engineering ecosystem and the school’s environment. This is a reputed and strict girls’ college that has subjects of English honours (so my English was subjected to direct scrutiny) and Media (so my sense of presentation too, should be under scrutiny). I should also acknowledge the fact that the teacher coordinator and the student coordinator were being extremely warm in their reception and slowly, my apprehension faded and gave way to confidence as numerous students pouring into the auditorium. Slowly they started speaking, introducing themselves, raising hands, answering questions, putting forward views, contradicting, so a natural tendency to support views slowly came to the front. With everyone of the 36 students actively interacting it was an incredible experience being in Loreto College. I am not sure, how much they enjoyed. I shall wait for their feedback. It will be interesting to see if all the 36 get back the next Saturday.
While speaking, I surprised myself. Yes, for the first time I spoke about my stammering problem in my school days and that I hardly interacted with people. My idea of “Good photographs and Better photographs” was accepted. This is the biggest take away of the day. I wish everyone to chant this, like a mantra. Surprising enough was that I completed the entire thing in stipulated time. That is definitely unlike me. I wish for an honest feedback from them. That will help me do better next time. Like I told them, this was my fifth, I wish for five thousand more. So you know where I stand now.
I will update this space with a photograph, with student’s feedback and more of my experiences next week. I enjoy interacting with younger people. I feel fresh and I have always mentioned, this is the most fulfilling work I have ever done. I smile with their smiles.