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Fair of Joydev-Kenduly, West Bengal, India
Joydev –Kenduli fair
Joydev-Kenduli is a small village on the north bank of the river Ajoy in the district of Birbhum in West Bengal. The village is regarded by many as the birth place of the legendary Vaishnava poet Joydev who was the Poet Royal at the court of the King of Bengal Lakshman Sen in 12th-13th century AD . Joydev wrote many books of verses in Sanskrit , the most famous of which is the devotional “Geet Govindam”.
On the auspicious occasion of Makar / Pous Sankranti, which falls on the last day of the Bengali month of Pous (14th-15th January), a big socio-religious fair is held here which is attended by hundreds of thousand of people, mostly devout Vaishnavas who flock here from different part of Bengal. The most interesting of the devotees are the Baul-s, the saffron-clad roaming minstrels of Bengal who travel from place to place singing devotional songs assisted by the ever-present Ektara, a single- string instrument carried by each & every Baul. Bauls consider Joydev as their original Guru or Master, hence they flock every year to this fair from wherever they stay.
The fair starts on the Makar Sankranti day, though preparations start at least a fortnight ago. The river Ajoy, which is rain-fed one with very little water in the winter, has to be prepared for the coming occasion when almost one hundred thousand people will take a holy dip in Ajoy. For this, & also for the convenience of the devotees to cross the river (there is no permanent bridge here) a temporary fair-weather bridge is constructed over the river with boulders & sandbags. This creates a dam-like effect with the river water becoming deep enough so that devotees can bath at ease.
Temporary structures are erected everywhere in the village & its vicinity, even on the sandy bed of Ajoy which will serve as shops, Akharas (shelters for pilgrims) & the like. The whole place seems converted into a lively town the day before the Sankranti with hoards of pilgrims pouring into the place like swarms of bees.
On the auspicious occasion of the Sankranti, the pilgrims take a holy deep in the river. This starts from dawn, in the biting cold , & continues through the day. As the sun starts rising in the sky, so the number of pilgrims goes on increasing. Buses, trekkers, cars & vans carry thousands of pilgrims & deposit them in the fair-ground. The fair-weather bridge over the river Ajoy looks like a huge python, seething & swaying with people walking back-to-chest along it. The bridge, which has no guard-railing, becomes the happy hunting ground for the beggars, who sit in queue on either flank of the bridge. The beggars are a sight to behold, each displaying his/her merchandise, either some body-deformity, or some idols of gods or goddesses, to attract the mercy of the pilgrims. The commonest deformity they flaunt is the Leprosy ulcer, mostly fake, in legs or arms. It is said that a racket runs the show with their own artists who draw these ulcers on the bodies of the beggars in a very realistic manner!
The main fair is centered around the temple of Radha Vinod (a form of Lord Vishnu), which is a beautiful Nava Ratna temple with nine pinnacles. This temple is said to be founded on the place where Joydev was born. From the temple a narrow lane proceeds towards west. This lane is flanked by numerous temples & akhara-s , each with high decibel microphones blaring devotional songs. The net result is a super-high-decibel cacophony!
The fair continues for 3 days officially, but lingers un-officially for few days more. Besides merchandise like food, toys, utensils, garments & thousand other things, the main attraction of the fair is the rendering of devotional songs of a great variety by a variety of singers, most notably the BAULs & the Kirtaneeyas. West Bengal government organizes programmes where notable singers take part.
The fair is a good experience for those who look for the real flavour of the rustic rural Bengal.