THE last month of Bengali year is Choitro. It is the usual spring time in Indian periodic context. The festivity breathes high as Nature dresses out in cheerful greeneries all around. The season brings cuckoos’ ecstatic songs about the bounties and opulances of Nature.
The spontaneity of life does not stop in Nature but, it trickles down to human conditions where it finds methodical proclivity to joyous fulfillments. It can be realised as Choitro unfolds and preparations run high to celebrate Charak Puja amid deep and rhythmic beating of drums accompanied by the enthusiastic musicians divided in small groups, wearing the outfits of Hindu deities; Shiv, Durga, Kali, demons and hermits. They exihibit mythical performances going from one house to another in towns and villages.
Charak Puja is celebrated in Barak Valley, West Bengal, North Bengal, Bangladesh and Tripura. In North Bengal, Charak Puja is identified as Gajon Utsava or Gomvira. In West Bengal, it is coined as Nilpuja, as the whole activity centres around worshipping Nil Shiva. In Assam, Tripura and Bangladesh, it is popularly known as Charak Utsava. An important note on the festival is that Charak Puja cannot be performed in a house or within the precincts of a building. It is not performed in residential vicinities, but preferred in open grounds, fields, etc.
On Charak Sankranti, people bid adieu to the departing year observing the festival zealously, while giving warm welcome to a new year on the next morning hosting colourful programmes unique in style and keeping absolute differences with the former mode of celebrations. Importantly but, as Charak is celebrated in Barak valley, Rongali Bihu is celebrated splendidly in Brahmaputra Valley at the same time almost.
Charak is an ancient tradition. Charak Sannyasis, who remain associated with the puja, practice chastity throughout the month of Choitro, till the last day. During the month, Charak Sannyasis restrict themselves to vegetarian diet and that too once in a day. For a month they retract to ascetical life; practicing self-mortifications rigorously. Moreover a Charak Puja is performed under the active surveillance of an experienced Charak Sannyasi in the line of Charak tradition.
A sadhu elaborated that in order to learn the niceties of Charak Puja, he was under the tutelage of an older sadhu for eight years in a jungle in austere practices to attain powers or siddhi. For long eight years he abandoned the comforts of a normal householder life; laid upon the bare ground as bed, ate only fruits and boiled vegetables in a day.
The Charak Sannyasis not only dance on the mythological themes of Shiva-Shakti but display extraordinary feats and techniques like rubbing forcefully sharp swords on each other’s tongue and hitting hard with choppers on the opponent’s belly, neck etc without causing least injury.
The human replica of Kali manages to keep herself unhurt behaving frantically on sharp choppers; jumping and dancing on the raised weapons in front of the naked eyes of people. In the total exercise but none gets hurt and not a drop of blood oozes out of any wound.
The tradition of Charak Puja is all about worshipping the Charak tree, thought to be the abode of Lord Ardhanarishwar. An idol of Ardhanarishwar along with the tree are worshipped at a time during the puja.
Next, the Charak Puja performed in the area is sanctified and then protected by fencing, where the Charak tree is installed religiously. People who attend the festival pay prostrated obeisance to the tree from outside the protected area.
The puja concludes with the immersion of the Charka tree in the river water, with sincere prayers so that the tradition continues year after year without any interruption and the blessings of Lord Ardhanarishwar is sought for the benefit and prosperity of the race.
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