Saturday, 9 April 2016

Charaka : The most painful way to praise Lord Shiva

The fan over head is trying its level best to cool the things up, but with 350C temperature today and a sun burning as hot as it can, it’s just impossible to maintain composure. As my core body temperature neared boiling point, a knock on gate was heard. As I opened the gate with disgust, an older man with a drum (we call it Dhak in Bengali) hung from his left shoulder and a young boy dressed tip to toe in red entered. The man started playing his drum and the young boy started playing his best moves. On close inspection, I saw the boy was carrying a bunch of rusted iron nails atop his head. I was confused about what I was supposed to do. Then my mom appeared to my rescue. I asked her what they were doing. She told me that they came to collect funds for Charak puja.

Charaka Devotees
The two devotees who came to enlighten me.

Charak puja! Yes, I heard about it. I saw a picture depicting charak puja in horoscope book commonly known as panjika or paji. It shows a men hanging from a pole. Few days back, when I was doing my duty at Emergency block of my Hospital, I attended a person who came with chest pain, when I inspected him, I saw 3-4 wounds over his back, on asking how he got the wounds, he told shyly “kichu din age Charak korsilam” (Attended in Charak festival few days back). I didn’t have the chance to enquire him what Charaka was, but today as I got the scope, I decided to make use of it. I rushed to my room and returned to them with my DSLR. 
As I returned, my mother was transfusing mustard oil from her bottle to a bottle they brought. She also donated 50 rupee to them. The little boy smeared Sindur (red powder) over her bangles. As the ritual was over, I asked them if I could click their picture. The man was interested but a bit shy, but the little one was so much enthusiastic. He managed his dad to give consent. I clicked a picture of both. Then the boy asked me to show the picture to him. As he saw him on the display, his eyes brightened, he asked me if I could click a single picture of him. I did it gladly but as the boy decided to go quiet in front of the cam, not a single picture was as lively as he was in person even he was not impressed with his picture when I showed it to him.
The little red monk
The little red monk carryimg nails over his head.
As the photo shot was over, the man cordially invited me to attend the puja. I informed him about the fact that I don’t know a single thing about this puja and requested him to enlighten me about the puja, how it was started, how it is done etc. He humbly admitted that he didn’t know much about the history of this puja, but he can certainly elaborate the methods of puja. The puja is celebrated on Chaitra Sankranti, the last day of Bengali calendar, it continues for 2-3 days. They collect fund for puja like this, by singing and dancing on the beats of drum. The puja is actually done to praise Lord Shiva. It revolves round charaka tree; a small shiva linga wrapped in a red cloth is placed near charaka tree. Then a pole is attached to long bamboo structure. (Now comes the horrific part) The nails I mentioned are nailed in the back of two devotees, after short puja they are hanged to the poles with the help of some ropes and they just revolve around the centre Charaka tree. During this act banana, batasha (small sugar cakes) are thrown at them. They catch those and return those to the devotees. The devotees who are hanged to the pole are supposed to get direct access to heavens and the devotees who catch the Prasad are sure to have a Great year ahead.

The flying devote
The flying devotee, enduring immance pain to praise the Lord. Source: Internet
After acquiring all the knowledge, I bid them good bye with promise to attend the puja. Back home I asked mom if the Shiva-Gauri who used to come to our homes and these people, are they same? She confidently answered in negative. I asked her if she could tell me more about the custom, she declined. I asked dad, even he was not of much help. As the last resort I decided to Google it. With the help of Ridmik Bengali keyboard I asked Google about charak puja. A wiki page does exist about charak puja, but the link was not that informative, so I further researched, not only on internet but also in small amount of religious literature available to me.

The research shows that Charaka puja is mainly a festival of bengali backward class, it never enjoyed any respect the influential class of Bengal. There is a reference in religious scripture about Shiva worship in the month of chaitra, but there is no reference of the word Charaka. The Charaka puja was first documented to be observed by Raja Sundarananda Tagore, a small king of Bengal in the year 1485. The festival is also known as Nil puja (The praise of the blue, Shiva), Gambhira puja, Shiver gajan (The songs of Shiva). Regarding the procedure, the things the man mentioned was true. Apart from these, some people loves to take the things to the extremes. Piercing tongue, walking on burning charcoal, nails are some examples. Some even pierce their body parts with red hot nails. And yes, The Shiva-Gauri and Charaka both the rituals are same. Sorry mom, you gave me wrong info.

The Shiva and Gauri. Yes, they are supposed to come in pair to collect funds. Our cute nail carying Shiva was not that happy probably because his Gauri was not accompanying him today. :). Source : Internet.
People around India do a lot of weird things to praise their beloved God. Specially for lord Shiva, the sacrifices are always high toned. Girls do fast on 16 Mondays to get good husband. Devotees even travel to china for Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra. But regarding Charaka festival, I have never heard of any other festival that includes so much pain, at least to please lord Shiva. So I think it is the most painful way to praise lord Shiva. Do you know about anything more painful ritual done to praise the lord, do share in comments.

PS: I wrote the whole piece while watching Harbhajan Singh hitting boundaries. So if there are typos and grammatical errors, please help me correct them by pointing. Thanks, please keep visiting. :)


  1. It's a nice and informative post.. Will help me when my kids ask me the same questions :-p

    1. Ha Ha.. Thanks for appreciation bro.. These small commenta means a lot..

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  3. Come to Kailashahar, Unokuti Tripura... & have live glimpses of this ancient ritual...I have been watching these since my childhood...

    1. Ah! Thanks for the invitation, but I would prefer ti wait for the train.. :)

  4. Informative post bro....chalay jao....some day will make a movie together:)

  5. Ha ha.. It will be a block buster for sure.. :p