জয়দেব কেন্দুলি মেলা (Joydeb Kenduli Mela)

Did you really think that Indian countryside was a place to get rest? Well, at least not during “Makar Sankranti”!

There is a popular saying in Bengal: Baro Mase Tera Parban, literally “thirteen festivals in twelve months”. Makar Sankranti (or Poush Sankranti) is one of them, the major harvest festival in India. The transition of the sun from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn marks the beginning of a “holy phase” and holy is always a good opportunity to celebrate. New Melas and festivals, as multiplying bread, take place all over the state every year.

Held on the last day of the month of Poush (14th january) for many decenies, Joydeb Mela is mainly a music festival but as the Poush Mela it attracts craftsmen from the whole region, mainly selling wooden kitchen supplies, handmade covers or cheap jewellery. During 5 days, the 3 000 inhabitants of Kenduli Village welcome thousand and thousand of pilgrims who come mostly to listen to the bauls, the Wandering minstrels, the Mad Ones, bearers of a unique musical tradition, included in the list of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.

The fair is held on the banks of the Ajay River which is not only of some historical interest – the fair celebrates the great poet Jayadeva on the day he is claimed to have taken a bath at the Kadaambokhandi ghat of the river around 800 years ago – but also quite convenient as the joyful intruders are summarily accommodated in tents and huts, lacking proper sanitation system.

I couldn’t assist to the mela but I’ve got there just on time for the festival-goer’s last bath and last meal. Quite magical to wander on the river’s bank between those half-naked bodies, men, women, children, elders all together taking that “holy dip”. More than their “sins”, I think it is the fatigue of those nuit et jour festivities that they’re eager to wash from their bodies and mind before jumping on the roof of a much-too-crowded bus.

Striding along one of many temporary venelle, you’re suddenly caught into a crowd attracted to one man of imposing stature shouting “tumi khabe? Tumi khabe?”. This is the free lunch distribution. I’ve dared to take a glimpse above a plastic tent before being dragged myself into one of those improvised cantines.

And after a substantial meal of rice, dal and vegs – unless your gourmandise and temerity drove you to a stall of deep-fried-anything – the mere sight of those désuets manèges makes you a little dizzy…

Joydeb Mela brought to you by… 


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