Colours and Surprises: North Bengal Village Fair
I knew it would be a village fair but wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
Would there be a big ground lined by stalls at its edges with a vast near-empty space in the middle and a big wheel and other rides in one corner?
Or would it be a small area packed with people, shops and rides where one will be pushed, pulled and compressed?
While going there I heard it’s a well-known fair in these parts and quite an old one. Since I couldn’t visualise the fair to my satisfaction, I couldn’t really plan my photography. So I decided to go with an open mind – unplanned and ready to be surprised. And boy wasn’t I in for a (pleasant) surprise!
We drove from Jalpaiguri town to Jalpesh Temple, which houses the idol of Lord Jalpeshwar – an incarnation of Shiva. The half-an-hour drive (about 10 kilometers) crossed River Teesta, fields and villages. Though the roads are not really wide, since the road surface was good and there was no typical heavy big-city-traffic, the drive was quite nice. The temple is about 5 kilometers from the nearest town – Mainaguri. Every year in February-March, around Shivaratri or the festival of Lord Shiva, a fair is organised next to the temple. Earlier it used to be held for a month and supposedly attracted visitors from North Bengal, Assam, Nepal and Sikkim. These days, the fair is held only for about a fortnight hinting its glory is declining.
The temple was constructed by a king of Coochbihar Islamic architectural style. Its facade – white and imposing – is remarkably impressive. The fair starts on a piece of land adjacent to the temple. It goes towards a creek, crossing it using a small bamboo bridge and merging with shops and stalls in the main fair ground.
The fair was not anything I visualised – the place was bigger, there were more people, more shops and stalls, and more rides than I had imagined. All around me there were different hues of colours, more than what could be seen in a typical big city fair. Women had taken out their best and probably most colourful attires. There were multicoloured toys, wares, food, rides and posters. Though it was dusty, the weather was pleasant. People wrapped their shawls and woolens amidst swirling dusty wind. The combined impact was a dream-like landscape.
The faces of people I saw around me intrigued me. Their features were different from that seen in other parts of Bengal. Most visitors probably came from villages from around. Perhaps their antecedents are linked to the original residents of North Bengal – Cochs and Rajbangshis.
The few hours I was there, I remained busy taking in the ambience. My companions and I nibbled some jalebis. Soon it was time to head back through a dusty village road.
© text & photo: Sanchita Chatterjee 2015
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