Gajan/Charak Festival of Bengal

Gajan celebration is performed by the devotees signifying marriages of the male forces of Shiva, Nil or Dharmaraj with their respective consorts. One way it signifies the union of the forces of sun and earth. On the other hand the tradition of Charak Puja is all about worshipping the Charak tree and the several penance acts performed by Charak Sanyasis.

Charak Puja (also known as Cadak, and Nil Puja) is a Hindu folk festival in honour of the god Shiva. It's held in southern Bangladesh and West Bengal on the last day (Songkranti) of the month of Chaitra (Choitro in the Bengali calendar), at midnight.People believe that by satisfying Shiva, the festival will bring prosperity by eliminating the sorrow and sufferings of the previous year. The preparation usually starts a month in advance. The arrangement team of the festival go from village to village to procure the necessary components like paddy, oil, sugar, salt, honey, money and other items needed for the ritual. On the midnight of the Songkranti, the worshippers are gathered together to worship Shiva, and after a puja, the prasad (items blessed by the deity) are distributed.The tradition behind Charak Puja is worshipping the Charak tree. Several acts of penance are performed by Charak Sanyasis around and on the tree on 14th April every year. This includes inserting hooks through devotees back. After years of practice, they are able to pierce the sharp hooks without damaging the veins and causing less pain. They then use these hooks to swing around the tree. The Charak tree stands around 30 to 40 feet tall and has no roots or branches. The tree is worshipped by priests before being placed in a ditch and balanced by bamboos. After the Sanyasis perform their penance acts, the tree is immersed into the river. The Charak Sanyasis then brings it back to the puja ground, which is a local ground. In Bengal, Gajan and Charak stand unique in the scenario of Bengal festivals and in today's modern age. Although it is celebrated mostly in rural Bengal, the festival is still celebrated in some parts of Kolkata city.