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Charak festival

Barak Valley in Southern Assam is situated on the banks of river Barak , inhabited by multi-ethnic and multi-cultural groups of people. From times immemorial these indigenous folks have been living together harmoniously and traditionally as in a coffer filled with gems ; illuminating the valley coruscantly.

A celebration took place on the April 14 ; the concluding day of Bengali year1417; the festival of Choitro Sankranti parted to welcome 1418 at the next dawn ; the first day of the Bengali New Year.

The last month of Bengali year is Choitro. It is the usual Spring time in the Indian periodic context. The festivity breathes high as nature dress outs 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 realized 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. During the month people remain witness to these group of musicians called Charak Sanyasis visiting door to door and seeking donations to perform puja on the day of Choitro Sankranti also known as Mahavisubh Sankranti or Mesh Sankranti. The dance drama sort of performance features Shiva’s dance, Kali’s slaying of demons, the fight between gods and demons etc. Among these Shiva’s dance is a popular art form, which in common parlance termed as ‘Shiver gajon’.

Charak Puja is not celebrated in Barak Valley alone, but in West Bengal, North Bengal, Bangladesh and Tripura also. In North Bengal Charak Puja is identified as Gajon Uthshava or Gomvira. In West Bengal it is coined as Nilpuja as the whole activity centers round worshipping Nil Shiva. In Assam Tripura and Bangladesh it is popularly known as Charak Uthshava. 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 on open grounds, fields etc. Moreover it is prevalent in areas dominated by Bengalees and accomplished by the lower class Bengalees particularly.

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 programs 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 and jubilantly in BhrammaputraValley at the same time almost.

Charak is an 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 person who has seen many pujas in his life time, himself adequately trained and served the tradition sincerely, generally a humble man ; recognized as a sadhu or a saint in the society.

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 and maintained sexual restraints severely. Moreover chanted mantras innumerable times under adverse circumstances, like in winter sinking on chest in the cold waters and in summer seated in the middle surrounded by burning logs from all four sides. In course of strenuous practices he countered terrible things spiritually, but remained undaunted. The sadhu said that the austere practices included pranayams and yogic exercises in addition to the chanting of mantras and also that the final attainment of siddhi varies from person to person with reference to time, because some may achieve it in shorter length, while others could take more time to achieve siddhi or the spiritual powers.

The Charak Sannysis 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 sannyasis take part in dance on the sharp and heavy choppers at night as the main attraction of Kali dance. The human replica of Kali also exhibits her strength and prowess by wielding sword and dancing on burning embers. Indeed by the power of mantra and tantra, the impossible tasks become possible in easy and convenient ways to the practitioner sannyasis. The people connected with the rituals are poor and they trust in the power of mantra and tantra for their safety and immunities.

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. However the mock fight draws immediate public attention to the integral Charak culture, who donate liberally to their fund to continue the show to its consummation in Charak Puja at the end of Choitro.

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