In the state of West Bengal there is a popular Bengali saying: “Baro Mase Tero Parban”, literally “thirteen festivals in twelve months” and many small and large festivals or Fairs takes place all over the state every year. Kenduli Mela or Kenduli Fair is one of them.
The festival begins on the last day of the Bengali calendar month Poush and continues till the second month of Magh at the time of Makar Sankranti every year in the district of Birbhum known as (Lal Matir Desh), West Bengal on the banks of Ajay river. This Fair is generally a musical festival that celebrates the poetry and music which gives opportunity to the Bauls who travel throughout the regions singing songs and performing soulful music with their own divine, spiritual, and philosophical manner. Thousands of pilgrims come to watch and listen to them. It also attracts the craftsmen from the whole region mainly selling wooden things and kitchen supplies. This festival is celebrated for four days.
Kenduli Mela celebrates its name from the great poet Joydeb Kenduli. Around 800 years ago he is claimed to have taken a bath at the ghat of Kadaambokhandi of the river Ajay birth place of the poet which is held about 42 kms from Shantiniketan.
From all over the country people come together to watch the Bauls wearing a saffron attire with an musical instrument called Ektara on their hands to perform and listen to their soulful music. The festival is centered on the Radhavinod temple which is the life centre of the fair established by the queen of Bardhaman in the year 1683.
Stalls were installed for selling handcrafts and kitchen utensils during the festival on either side of the roads which is a major attraction for the tourists. The place the festival takes place is decorated with electric decorative lights which brings joy and happiness among the people. Amusement or carnival rides like Nagordola, fun slides, pendulum ride, merry-go-round etc takes place as an amusement for the tourist and kids.
Previous Day: Prior to the festival day in the village Jaydeb Kenduli there is ‘Agaman’ and welcome ceremonies to Bauls, Kirtanias, Sadhu Sanyasis or Monks.
Day 1: On the day of Makar Sankranti people takes a holy bath in the Ajay River followed by the commencement of the Mela and the Bauls and Kirtanias sing and play musical instrument Ektara in Akhras.
Day 2: The Bauls and the Kirtanias continues with their singings in the respective Akhras.
Day 3: The festival or the fair goes on as usual and there is a Nagar Parikrama as the Bauls visits each other’s akhras.
Day 4: This day is referred to as ‘Dhulat’. The word ‘Dhulat’ means dust. It is the end of the fair as the Bauls believe dust reduces the end of everything. On the final day it is celebrated with abir (colorful dust) and kolakoli (embracing one another) as celebrated in Vijaya dashami of Durga Puja indicates end or parting with tears on their eyes and promises to return the following year.
What is Akhras?
People who gather together for religious purpose under a common roof are known as Akhra. In Joydeb Kenduli there are many akhras as people set up their pandals with a stage decorated with flowers, lights and sound systems. Along the bank of the River Ajay there are seventy eight fixed permanent concrete structures or mandaps of Akhras constructed in the memory of their Guru. Besides that many akhras from outside comes and set up their own pandals and stage with their modern latest musical instruments and sound systems. Every year minimum of 200 akhras participates in the Mela.
Normally a Baul singer sings two to three songs through the night for three consecutive days. They also receive small gifts or token money of Rs 10 to Rs 20 from the cheering audience by going up to the stage for encouragement to sing another song on request.
The native land of the Bauls is Birbhum and the unique philosophy of the Bauls has a tremendous impact on people about the folk culture in the district. There are also other folk’s cultures groups associated in Birbhum like Kabiyals, Kirtaniyas, etc. One of the great poet named as Lalan Fakir have performed in this festival in the past.
The origin and the history of this festival is still unknown to the people. People can only assumed that it started at least 6 centuries back. Now a day, the Baul singers are losing its natural traditions and characters. Lot of Kirtanias performed in this mela in the modern times. However, the majority of the akhras are now dominated by the Kirtanias. Around 2000 Kirtanias perform here and gained a contract worth 2 crores. People from all over the region attend the mela and stay awake through the night to listen to baul songs. These four days provide enough joy until they come back again next year.
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