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The Gajan Festival in West Bengal

by Shaibal Nandi 
Published the 12th of August 2022

Gajan or Shivagajan is a religious Hindu festival celebrated mostly in West Bengal.
Gajan spans around a week, starting at the last week of Choitro or Chaitra (last month Bengali calendar) continuing till the end of the Bengali year with Charak Puja.



The participants of this festival are known as Gajan Sannyasi or Bhokta. Gajan is actually linked to persons related directly or indirectly, to the agricultural community. They pray for rain and a better harvest. Lord Shiva is said to be closely related to this community. It is worth to mention that Dharmathakur is actually considered to be the God of Fertility.

The festival is actually a festival to satisfy "Lord Shiva", the great "Debadideb" of the Hindu Religion. During the Gajan festival, devotees worship Lord Shiva by injuring themselves through piercing of needles, iron rods, hooks and by many other means in different parts of their bodies including tongue, lips, ear etc. They believe that through pain and injury, they can reach their God.

The devotees madly dance, shout and roam around villages, assuming themselves as Nandi and Bhiringi (great devotees of Lord Shiva).

This Gajan festival is celebrated in different ways in West Bengal. In some villages, children portray mostly as Lord Shiva or Lord Krishna, wearing eye-catching costumes and their faces are painted in blue or white. In some villages, devotees play with skulls pretending to be the real devotee of Lord Shiva.

This photo story has been made during the celebration of the Gajan festival in a remote village of Hooghly district of West Bengal. The unique features of this celebration is that here villagers pierce iron rod in their body, tongue and crucify themselves by laying down on wooden framework with huge nails fixed on it.

The ritual starts in the early morning in a temple of Lord Shiva with piercing iron rods in their tongue, bodies around 4 AM. The long iron rods are pierced from one end of their mouth or tongue to the other end and rods hang from both the sides. After piercing, Sannasis wait at the temple ground to complete the whole process of piercing. After it's completion, Sannasir stated running through the village road in a circular procession towards another temple and then come back to their original destination. During this time, they dance facing each other balancing their long iron rods and it is very dangerous to follow them as one might be injured due to sharp edges of long iron rods.


Towards the morning bath





Waiting before the procession



Towards the temple



Towards the temple



Tied hands















Together after the dance 

During this festival, drums and rural songs are played in the loudspeakers so loudly that one can barely hear each other.
All Sannasir are in bare bodies, wearing only small langot, as Indian village wrestlers wear during wrestling. After reaching their original destination, the devotees slowly start removing the iron rods from their mouth and body. This time faint traces of blood are noticed in their mouth and body. Surprisingly, they don’t use any antiseptic or any medicine on their injuries. Immediately after removal of the iron rods, they are provided with some leaves which they put into their mouth. The leaves are locally known as ‘Kala Puspa’. It is used to stop bleeding and reducing pain and it works like magic. It is known that injuries are cured within two three days. The morning ritual is finished after they removed the iron rods.


Removing the rod



After removing the rods



Putting Kalo Puspo in their mouth to desinfect


After morning rituals are over, there is a gap for about two hours. The preparation for the crucifying rituals starts around 9 AM. Some devotees lay down on a wooden framework with large numbers of nails fixed on it. Some lay down on a wooden frame having many sharp iron blades. Some experienced people are fixing nails on the Sannasis body and tie them with a cloth to the wooden cross. This is called crucifixion. Sannasis, who are laid down on nail fixed wooden frames or crucified on wooden frames are put on cycle vans.

As the cycle vans with ‘crucified’ persons start moving towards another temple, there is a huge commotion as village people run with the procession. The vans and the devotees run in a circle and return back to the Shiva temple. All devotees pray to the Lord Shiva and the ritual is finished.


Preparation of the wooden beams

Prayer before the cruxification



Laying on nails



Towards the temple



Towards the temple



Towards the temple












Relief by the water



Removing the nails



About the Photographer



Shaibal Nandi is 54 years old and an amateur photographer practising seriously for the last 4 years. By profession he is in government service and has taken up photography as a passion. Previously he had very little knowledge about photography and started with Nikon D5200 and 18-140 mm Nikon lens. Currently he is using Nikon D850. He is basically interested in street photography with human interest, different rituals, cultures, traditions of people across the country. Beside this, he also likes creative and abstract works. His photographs have been published in few international sites and magazines. He participated in national and international salon competitions and achieved a AFIP distinction. His social media links are given below.

Facebook profile link:
Instagram link:
Flickr link:


Mangalik Co.Opt. Housing Society Limited.
Baghajatin. Flat No. B- 11/12.
P.O. Panchasayar. Kolkata- 700094
West Bengal. India
Contact No. +916290186916



Its a amazing storytelling that you show us, interesting but also heavy to look.
Thank you so much madam
Thank you for this amazing documentary very interesting. Congratulations!
Than you so much sir
Thank you for sharing this cultural experience. The photos reflect beautifully the dynamics of the community during the festival, the involvement and the emotions of the participants. Congratulations for this special documentary series!
Thank you so much Madam.
Superb documentary cultural photographs, Shaibal. Congratulations!
Thank you Madam
Nice documentary images ! .
Thank you sir
Thank you so much Anita
Beautiful photographs, congratulations Shaibal