Fair & Festivals
~: District’s Fairs & Festivals :~
The grandeur of celebrating numerous fairs & festivals all throughout the year has rightly signified Cooch Behar as the land of festive moods. Out of the approximately 3,400 fairs-n-festivals listed in Bengal, 572 of them are celebrated in North Bengal itself.
Rich in culture & heritage of its own, different fairs are celebrated with pomp and glory, centered round numerous festivals. Notably, the intermingling of people from all walks of life, free from any kind of social distinction, really adds to the beauty of the grand celebration of any of these fairs. The fairs held in Cooch Behar have a separate identity of their own for their uniqueness and indigenous clarity. Some fairs portray ancient tradition even today.
Raas Mela (November – December)
Raas Mela is the most ancient and traditional of all fairs. Every year even when the festive mood of the bygone Durga Puja still lingers in our minds, people of Cooch Behar get set to celebrate the Raas Yatra of Sri Sri Madan Mohan Thakur. Raas mela celebrations commence from the auspicious day of Purnima in the month of Kartik according to Bengali calendar.
Though there is enough controversy regarding the beginning of this fair, its origin can be traced back during the rule of the 17th King of Cooch Behar, i.e. Maharaja Harendra Narayan, during 1783-1839. Evidence of this origin can be traced in the famous book of ‘Rajyopakhyan’ by Jainath Munshi. This Raas Mela is being celebrated first at Vetaguri, then at the Madan Mohan Temple of Cooch Behar city adjacent to Bairagi Dighi and afterwards from 1912 at the Parade Ground or the present Ras Mela Ground.
Only in 1912 due to severe cholera, the fair was displaced elsewhere and likely the glory of celebrations somewhat faded away that year. But from then on the Raas Mela is being celebrated annually at the Raas Mela Ground. Even the famous theft of the idol of Sri Sri Madan Mohan on 28th February of 1994 could not stop the celebration of the Raas Mela as usual. Next year alike the previous idol, a substitute idol made of eight-metallic compound was enthroned with the golden umbrella on top. At present the local Municipal Corporation conducts this Rass Mela and the Temple Trustee Board conducts the fair at the temple compound. Many devotees along with sellers from all over Bengal and adjacent states including Nepal and Bhutan throng this place during this fair.
The main difference between the Raas Mela held at Cooch Behar with that at Nabadwip is that unlike the dual idol of Radha-Krishna in Nabadwip, here in Cooch Behar only Sri Krishna, the family-deity of the royal Koch kingdom, is worshipped in the form of Madan Mohan. Here Sri Krishna separated from Sri Radha is worshipped as Sri Sri Madan Mohan. Another feature is that not only people of all creed & religion join this fair, but even the revolving Raas-Chakra (a tall semi-cylindrical like structure made out of paper and bamboo/posts) at the temple lawn is being beautifully decorated over generations by a Muslim family. This Raas-Chakra is beautifully decorated with paper floral designs and different pictures of Sri Krishna are pasted all over. This traditional fair takes place for at least continuous fifteen days. Overall, business transactions of different products, cultural and ritual practices, and the intermingling of people of all castes & creed mixed with joy and faith marks this fair a grand one!
Ratha Yatra (June – July)
Another attractive fair takes place in celebration of Ratha-yatra of Sri Sri Madan Mohan in Cooch Behar, quite similar to the Ratha-yatra of Sri Sri Jagannath at Puri (in Orissa).Ratha Yatra held in the month of Asardh according to Bengali calendar. In beautifully decorated Raths (big chariots) Sri Sri Madan Mohan rides from main temple to his maternal aunt’s house at Gunjabari (within the city) to stay there for one week. Again on the day of Ulta-Rath celebrations (i.e., after one week) the holy idol is ridden back to the main Madan Mohan temple. All throughout these seven days of HIS visit, great fair takes place at the main temple campus and at Gunjabari.
As per existing records, the holy shrine of Sri Sri Madan Mohan was established in 1893 after construction of the Madan Mohan temple-house to the North of Bairagi Dighi in the heart of Cooch Behar city. Since then Ratha-yatra used to take place besides Bairagi Dighi till 1921-22. Afterwards the fair was extended into two parts. At present this fair is also celebrated with pomp & glory at Gunjabari for seven days.
The temple of the royal-deity ‘Sri Sri Madan Mohan’ was built in every sub-divisional town/city during the reign of the ‘Koch’ Maharajas and Ratha-yatra is celebrated in all those towns/cities.
During monarchy, the ‘Ratha’ (chariot) used to parade out with royal status and grandeur from main temple to Gunjabari. The procession used to be headed by beautifully decorated elephants, followed by royal army, police teams, police bands, etc. Then numerous devotees used to follow tugging off the Ratha-rashi (rope for pulling the chariot). In the wake of bygone days, the district has lost its monarchy, royal codes & conducts along with the royal enthusiasm of celebrating the fair. Yet still Sri Sri Madan Mohan visits his aunt’s riding gloriously in chariot driven by thousands of devotees. The pomp of such celebrations is no less enjoyable. The royal clarity of the fair may have been lost in due course, but still now presence of ‘Gilipi’ (a kind of Bengali sweet) and ‘Latka’ fruit in lots mark the unchanged spirit of celebrations of the fair. It is true that in today’s fair one would not find the famous fishing rods and toys built of ‘shola’ (thermocol). Product gallery found in this fair has changed according to people’s present needs & tastes. Yet what has still remained a unique attraction of the fair are the village handicrafts. Notably this fair is the second long lasting fair.
After Ratha-yatra comes the four-day long celebration of worship of Sri Sri Baradebi (Sri Sri Durga) at Devibari of Cooch Behar Town. This fair is an outstanding one among the age-old fairs and notable as well. Though there is enough controversy relating to the origin of this fair, as per Jainath Munshi’s book ‘Rajopakhyan’, the temple of Baradevi was established in the 16th century and likewise this fair is supposed to be held from that time onwards.
Presently the extent and diversity of celebration of this fair has faded away. In the past there used to be on display many things like the royal throne, royal bedstead, royal scepter in a room adjacent to the temple for the common people for 5 days (from Sasthi to Dasami). In those days these royal symbols used to be the added attractions of the fair. These displays are not to be seen nowadays.
Durga Puja (September – October)
Durga Puja is the grandest festival of the Bengalis. In this respect people enjoy this festive mood with the highest spirit all throughout Bengal. Apart from Cooch Behar town, fairs are conducted in line with the worship of Sri Sri Mahamaya in Dinhata and Durga Puja of the Lahiri family of Bamanhat. Different fairs are also held in the rural areas adjoining the shrines of Sri Sri Durga during the month of Ashwin (Bengali calendar).
Sri Panchami Mela (August)
During the reign of Nara Narayan, the 3rd Maharaja of Cooch Behar (1554–1587), Shankardev, the protagonist & preacher of Baisnava cult, after being ousted from Assam received shelter under the Koch kingdom and stayed in Madhupur Dham about 12 km away from Cooch Behar town. From then on Madhupur Dham has been the pilgrimage of the Baisnava followers. Every year people from Assam throng Madhupur Dham on the occasion of Sri Panchami. In this respect five-days long fair takes place. This Sri Panchami Mela is outstanding in its own characteristics.
Dol Purnima in the month of Chaitra according to Bengali calendar (March)
A sound intimacy prevails amidst the religious diversity of Cooch Behar. That is why many fairs are worthy of high encomiums in line with celebration of various religious festivals. Surpassing its hundred years of celebration, the fair that is heald in Phulbari within Tufangunj has a tradition of its own. Presence of numerous people from different districts and Assam adds life to this fair.
Annapurna Puja at Haldibari
This month long fair which used to be held in the nineteenth century on the occasion of worship of Sri Sri Annapurna, is not carried out at present.
Hujur Saheb Mela at Haldibari (February – March)
Blessed with supernatural powers saint Shah-Sufi Md. Ekramul Haque (R.) was engaged in preaching Islam in Assam and northern provinces of Bengal. In 1944 he set forth for the heavenly abode and as per his wish he was interred at Haldibari in Cooch Behar district. Every year on 5th-6th day of the month of Phalgun according to Bengali calendar, people come here to pray and make wishes to be fulfilled at the holy Mazar Shareif. Indiscriminate of religious creeds, Hindus and Muslims visit there. In that connection a two-day long big fair takes places characterised mainly by religious environment.
In the sub-divisional town of Dinhata a daylong fair takes place after the rotation of Tajiyas round the town in connection to the holy festival of Muharram. The main attraction and characteristic of this fair is “Lathi khela” or playing with sticks. Even today this fair attracts hundreds of people from all creeds despite religious difference. Though the origin of this fair could not be correctly traced back, its reference can be sited in the annual report of the Koch kingdom in 1884-85.Two well decorated Tajiyas from the Gudam Maharaniganj village adjacent to Cooch Behar city used to proceed all along to the Parade Ground of Cooch Behar where a daylong fair used to hold in celebration. Now that fair is celebrated in Gudam Maharaniganj village even for a short period.
Shibaratri Mela in the month of Phalgun according to Bengali calendar (February – March)
A distinctive spread of Shaiba cult could be noticed in the past state of Cooch Behar. Many temples of Lord Shiva were built throughout the state. Maharaja Pran Narayan was a religious man and during his time (1626-1665) many shrines were built of which those of Jalpeswar, Baneswar and Shandashiva temples are worth mentioning. There are a lot of folk-lore & controversies regarding the establishment of the Shiva Lingo (idol) in the temple of Baneswar . But it is generally accepted that the idol is named Baneswar after Banraj its establisher. Real presence of this compassionate deity is popularly believed so much that people assemble here from neighboring areas on Shiva Chaturdashi according to Bengali calendar. On this occasion big fair is arranged at Baneswar. There is no evidence as to from when onwards this fair is being celebrated.
Beside Baneswar, fair also take place in the sub-divisional towns of Dinhata & Mathabhanga on the occasion of Shiva Ratri. Recently the fair which is held at Mathabhanga, has reached wide dimensions over years of celebrations.
Maharaja Shibendra Narayan built the Shiddhanath Shiva temple adjacent to Dhaluabari in 1845. Many devotees flock here in the Shiva Ratri fair.
Astami Snan Mela (March-April)
There is a popular belief that by taking a dip in river Brahmaputra on the Shukla Astami of the Chaitra month of Bengali calendar, one is relieved of his vices and attend Brahmapad (enlightment) . People gather on the banks of Gadadhar , Gidari (Giridhari) and at the meeting points of Gadadhar with other rivers to take this holy dip and in this respect every year fair takes place in Ambari village on the bank of Gadadhar river. Again on the occasion of gathering of people at the point where Gadadhar meets Kaljani river, fair takes place over there mixed with ritual practices throughout. This fair is believed to be the most ancient by many and rightly its reference can be traced in the annual report of the state in 1883. Fair also takes place at Kalighat adjacent to Sitalkuchi town. All these fairs are more than a hundred years old.
Baruni Snan Mela is also celebrated at par with Astami Snan Mela. On this occasion fair takes place for seven days at Sahebganj in Dinhata sub-division. This fair is locally known as “Madaikhalir Mela” . We can also see “Gangapani Mela” at Kuthi of Rui adjacent to Vetaguri.
This fair has started recently in agriculture-based town of Cooch Behar. Agriculture Department of the State Government conducts this fair.
Initiatives are taken regularly by the District Library Authority to conduct book fairs in the district town.
Flower & Fruit Shows
Fairs also take place concerning Flower & Fruit shows in the district town and Tufanganj by the Horticulture Society. This fair is competitive based and prizes & certificates are handed over to the winners.
Translated from different Sources :- Uttarbanga Sangbad, “Uttarbanger Chiti” – Ranajit Deb, “Kochbiharer Itihas” edited by Dr. Nripendra Nath Pal, special edition (1996) of “Madhuparni” edited by Dr. Ananda Gopal Ghosh, issue of “Tribitta Loksanskriti” edited by Saswati Deb.