Tomorrow is 30 Chaitra, the day of Chaitra Sankranti. With this last day of the season Basanta (spring), the year 1425 will come to an end and the next day the brand new Bangla year 1426 will arrive. The whole nation is preparing to welcome it. The festival has been getting a remarkable dimension and modification marked by a rise in shopping with the increasing financial ability to spend during celebration and following new trends diluting our age-old culture. There is no problem regarding the observance of the New Year but questions arise when the fanfare of the carnival surpasses the actual spirit of the occasion. And this is what is happening right now. It seems that while getting busy with the festivity of the day a large section of our people is forgetting about other significant rituals related to it. The busy urban lifestyle does not allow them to perform many of their practices the way their families observed them over the years. One such ceremony is Chaitra Sankranti. It is a customary day that reminds us of our origin and connects us with the legacy of our ancestors. Besides, on this occasion we get an opportunity to renew our relationship with our heritage.
Usually festivity centering Chaitra Sankranti gets a more colourful look than Pahela Baishakh celebration in the rural areas. Different events are organised throughout the day where cross-sections of people participate with sheer enthusiasm. Albeit celebration of Sankranti is a common attribute for all, followers of a few religions consider it as a special occasion. Buddhists actually initiated the event in our region but later Hindus started observing the day. Chaitra Sankranti celebration in the rural areas cannot be completed without Charak Puja and Shiber Gajon. Before the day of Charak Puja the Charak tree is cleaned with water. On the Sankranti day devotees keep a shibalinga in a pot filled with water and place it in front of the Charak tree, which they fondly call Buroshib. A fallen Brahmin conducts this puja. In the Gajon mela field some people known as Gajon sanyasi wearing red dresses get involved in penances. They pierce tongue and chest with needles and fix holders at the back to hang themselves with sharp hooks from Charak tree to demonstrate their ability to endure extreme pain. The mass people respect them and think that they have special power. Gradually many other features including Kumir puja, fire-walking, jumping on the thorns and knives, banphora, and agninritya have been added to the day’s rituals. In 1865, the British Government banned such risky practice but still in many parts of our country people continue to arrange these events.
On the other hand, Gajon is actually linked to persons who are related to agricultural community. From the ancient period Shib is considered as the God of farmers in the subcontinent. Thus people offer their tribute to Shib on the Sankranti day through a festival. Primarily arranged on the premises of different Shib Temples, the festival is now arranged mainly by mendicants (persons who ask for charitable donations). They are mostly known as Gajon sanyasis. This event takes place in open grounds. A group of people wearing the costumes of Shib, Parboti and other deities is found walking from one part to another part of the village. Escorted by a troupe of musicians they sing different songs praying to the Almighty for rain. These songs are known as Gajoner gaan. The basic reason for the festival is to pray to the God with the hope of a better rainy season and good harvest. People also believe that such practice will provide them prosperity eliminating the sorrows and sufferings which they suffered in the past year. An interesting fact is none of these festivities have any place in the Hindu religions and its religious books. When these rituals were introduced, farmers of the subcontinent were the part of lower caste of the society. They couldn’t attach themselves with other social and cultural festivals as those didn’t connect their peasantry. May be that is the reason why they created their own style of celebration through these customs.
Bengali festival means arrangement of different sorts of foods. Chaitra Sankranti is no exception in this regard. In the Sankranti morning, women entertain their family members with seasonal fruits like water melon, banana, papaya, pani fol, sosha and dates. These fruits help them to stay cool in the hot weather. Apart from the fruits Bengalis love to take chira (flattened rice), muri (puffed rice), khoi (parched rice), chatu (grist), doi (curd), and til (sesame) and narikel’s (coconut) naru (round balls) in the morning and afternoon. Usually people don’t consume protein, onion and garlic on the day of Chaitra Sankranti. Irrespective of religion Bengali women try to collect fourteen types of leafy vegetables (shak) from the uncultivated lands and roadside of the surrounding areas of their house. It means these are born naturally. Sometimes the women of rich families who don’t go to collect leafy vegetables directly buy them from other women. Village women collect leafy vegetables very carefully so that the plants can survive. Through this practice Bengali women of the rural areas observe the change that occurs in nature in one year. Before Sankranti if they don’t find any of the leafy vegetable that was available over the years, they consider it as a negative sign of nature. Women cook these leafy vegetables (including neem leaf and Gima shak) and their family members eat them in lunch. They also prepare seasonings and pulse with green mango, jujube or tomato. All these food items are useful for the immune system of the body and suitable to stay healthy in the heat.
Village fairs, especially the Gajoner mela, begin in the rural areas on the day of Chaitra Sankranti. These fairs are part and parcel of Bengali culture which bears an image of the rural Bangladesh where people of all professions make sure their participation. The colours, joy and amusement options make the field of Sankranti mela a potpourri of delightful representations of our rich cultural heritage. The things that can attract people of all ages are exhibited and sold there. Children prefer wooden toys, clay made dolls, plastic toys, kites, ribbons, whistles, flutes and cosmetics. The rural craftsmen and artisans exhibit and sell their hand-made goods. Various agricultural products, traditional handicrafts, hand-made cakes, special kinds of food items, sweets, potteries, bangles, cane and iron products are the main attractions of these fairs. Rural people spend money to buy their household necessities from Chaitra Sankranti mela as they know that the producers of such products bring their best quality goods at these fairs. To entertain the visitors of the fair rural singers sing Palagan, Kabigan, Jarigan, Gambhira Gan, Gazir Gan and Alkap Gan and wearing masks rural dancers perform Horogouri dance and Baidan dance in the fair premises. One of the special attractions of the village fair is the performance of circus party and jatra troupe. Besides, puppet show, magic shows, and nagordolas also draw the attention of the visitors. Once these fairs continued for three to seven days and traditional events like bullfight, cockfight, kite flying, stick fight, horse race and boat race used to be arranged on the occasion but these traditions are disappearing gradually.
Most of the events related to Chaitra Sankranti are deeply associated with our agriculture and agriculture-based society. With the increasing involvement of technology our agriculture is going through a rapid change. Production of crops is multiplying in our country due to the inclusion of technology but in many cases it is taking a heavy toll on nature. Chaitra Sankranti is the time when our farmers try to understand the consequences of this change. They look back to realise that how they behaved with nature and what kind of changes nature underwent in the past one year. Thus they want to perceive how human beings are destroying nature and what steps they should take to protect nature and food production system. Chaitra Sankranti celebration is a glaring example of the scientific knowledge, cultural consciousness, insight and visionary mindset of our rural people. Unfortunately our understanding with nature is decreasing with the passage of time and consequently the practice of celebrating Chaitra Sankranti is turning into a moribund tradition.