Poush Mela (District Birbhum)
The Pous Mela at Shantiniketan is held evey year around December 22 the date on which the Adi Brahmo shrine at the seat of Tagore was dedicated in 1891. The Mela has developed at Santiniketan and Sriniketan., providing a meeting ground for tribal , rural and elite cultural elements.
Mooted by Maharshi Debendranath Tagore as an 'ashram' and a centre for meditation, Shantiniketan catapulted to international fame through the open-air school and later the university founded by Maharshi's illustrious son, poet
The history of the place goes back to well over a hundred years, to the 1860s, when
Maharshi was stuck by the beauty of the place. The westernmost corner of Bengal,
Birbhum is a red laterite soil zone, watered by the several rain-fed rivulets. Undulating red vistas spread over miles all around, with patchy forests of sal,
palash and other local trees as well as jamun and mango groves.
Passing through the village commons of Bhuvandanga (an area once avoided by travellers because of dacoits), Maharshi was captivated by the kaleidoscopic beauty of two luxuriantly canopied Chhatim trees, offering shade in that barren, red land. To the Maharshi, this was an idyllic venue for meditating.
So he bought a large tract of land along with the two Chhatim trees and built a beautiful prayer hall made from coloured glass. Trees were planted all around to bring the ancient forest-ashram look. In keeping with the spirit of the place,
Maharshi named it 'Shantiniketan' or the 'abode of peace'. Not too far from Kolkata 212 km by road, the place slowly became popular.
Although quite young compared to the traditional fairs of our country, Poush Mela
celebrated its centenary in 1994. The fair has become immensely popular and attracts a large number of visitors from both home and abroad. Over the years, like any other fair, Poush Mela too has not been able to shake off the contemporary mores and has undergone characteristic changes but its role as a meeting ground of crafts people and buyers or rural and urban visitors has remained evergreen.
On the inaugural day, the festival begins with a community prayer or Brahmopasana that includes Vedic hymns and reading from passages written by
Maharshi and Rabindranath ; invited artists and students sing Rabindra sangeet. After this, visitors assemble on the central stage at the fairground where the roving
folksingers - the Bauls - perform. They are introduced to the visitors by
Shantidev Ghosh, the octogenarian preceptor.
A few years back, there was a turmoil over this particular show. Since traditional Bauls enjoy the prerogative of performing here,
Ghosh had denied admission to a young Japanese woman who was training to be a
Baul. He opined that this was not a place for experiments or innovativeness, rather an opportunity for the traditional
Bauls (who follow a life of rigidity) to present their literary renditions. However, matters came to rest after the lady was allowed to perform at the government sponsored stage in the age-old
Baul festival held at Kenduli (also in Birbhum) in January.
On the second day, the different units of the university - Patha Bhawan ,
Shiksha Sadan, etc. - hold their graduation and award giving ceremonies. At the fair, the centre stage never quietens - more bauls and kirtan singers perform; jatras and folk theatres are held.
For the three days of the fair, several acres of the verdant field is thronged by a crowd of over ten thousand people. There are kiosks that last for the three days while many sellers sit wherever they like, spreading their wares on the ground ; at night some areas are flooded with neon lights, while at other corners, you cannot even discern your own big toe. Impromptu
programmes by itinerant folk-singers receive umpteen encores while ubiquitous snack shops attract many like bees to a flower.
Irrespective of their urban or rural roots, children happily pick p brightly
coloured wooden toys while their mothers select palm-leaf trinkets. A starry eyed young
Santhal couple walk hand in hand, the young husband proud to have brought his teenaged wife on her first trip beyond the limits of their distant tribal village…..the vignettes keep multiplying and overlapping, but never jarring the senses. Because there is no pandemonium, no resentment - if chaos has a system, it is here at the
Poush Mela fairground at Shantiniketan.
On the second evening, there is a celebration of fireworks, thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. As the pyrotechnical display breaks into myriads of lights and
colours, they reflect the joie de vivre of the quintessential of
While enjoyment at the fair continues unabated, on the final day the students and teachers observe a serious but moving ceremony. In the morning, a special prayer session is held where everyone prays for all those departed souls who were associated with
Shantiniketan. Right from the Maharshi himself, not a single student, teacher or staff is forgotten. This is followed by a community lunch where they partake of a frugal departed.
Usually, the three days include Christmas Day and everyone joins in the Krishtotsav, observed by the
ashramites. Besides, there are cultural events and memorial lecture.
Back at the fair, the modernization seems palpable. From a leaf whistle worth a few
paisas to the latest electronic household appliance, you can get them all. Decorative
artefacts and ornaments made from palm-leaf and terra-cotta vie with mass produced and cheap plastic goods and sham trinkets. While urban buyers flock to the ships selling cane goods, the more rustic buyer bargains over the shiny, stainless steel goods. No shopping in
Shantiniketan is complete without buying the batik-printed leather goods - especially bags and slippers - and these are sold in plenty. Sweetmeat shops enjoy a brisk sale although the
chowmeins and idli-dosa stalls put in a good competition. Different publication houses and little magazines have their respective corners.
Sriniketan - the vocational training institute founded by Rabindranath - has an exhibition of organically grown vegetables as well as of handcrafted items.
Commuting between the university campus and the fairground, we visited 'Bichitra', the museum dedicated to Tagore and filled with
Tagore memorabilia ; the tectonically stylized yet mud-built houses where
Tagore lived at different times of the year; the murals and sculptures exhibited at Kala
Bolpur, 2km ahead of Shantiniketan, is the nearest town and railhead from Kolkata. Although there are several trains between Kolkata and Bolpur, Shantiniketan Express is the most convenient. By rail, Shantiniketan is 136 km from Kolkata while by road, it is 214 km away. Road conditions are not ideal and hence better avoided. Kolkata is the nearest airport.