My first impression of Joydev Kenduli fair in the early morning hours with dense fog reminded me of afterlife. There were only sihouettes of several people walking in a line besides a waterbody with the faded framework of a boat visible at a distance. I imagined the shadows to be departed souls and the waterbody looked like Vaitarani River which bridges between heaven and hell as mentioned in Hindu religious texts.
I kept staring at this scenario as if waiting to see sinful souls crossing this river after death to purify them. Instead they started getting in to the river splashing water around. My trance broke and I realised that I was standing on the banks of River Ajoy at Joydev-Kenduli village on the day of Makar Sankranti. People were getting down into the chilly waters of the river on a cold January morning on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, the last day of Bengali Calendar Month, while I was shivering in woolen clothes. It is said love and devotion can make people do things behind their limits.
In many places fire were lit up where people were drying themselves and their clothes after taking the holy bath. Young- Old, Male-Female, Child and Aged – all were taking a dip into the freezing cold water.
Located on the banks of River Ajoy, Joydev-Kenduli is a small village located at Birbhum district of West Bengal. Every year from 14th January onwards a three day long fair is organised at Joydev Kenduli village. The village is famed for being the birthplace of the 12th century poet Joydev, court poet of King Lakshman Sen, famous for penning down his magnum opus work Geet Govinda describing the relationship between Krishna, Radha and gopis of Vrindavan. In this ballad, for the first time Radha is given the most prominent role.
Joydev worshipped at the Kusheswar Shiva Temple, where at present a 1910 temple built temple exists. In the same premises, close to it stands the joint Shiva Temple of Rameshwar and Ratneshwar.
However, the most important temple and star attraction of the village is the famous 17th century built Navaratna Radhabinod temple. The temple is presently undertaken by ASI (Archeological Survey of India). As the saying goes, this temple was built at the site of Poet Joydev’s home by Nairani Devi, the Maharani of Burdwan. Inside the temple there is a small inner chamber in the western side. Legend says Poet Joydev was born in this inner chamber.
The triple arched entrance south facing temple has terracotta work left only on its frontal side. The panel over the central archway shows detailed battle scenarios from Ramayna. On the panel over the right hand archway of the temple ( Left to viewer) , prominent icons Dasavatar draws the visitors attraction. There are other icons of Bishnu , Brahma, Shiva , Vayu, Indra and Yama as well. The panel over the left archway of the temple (right to viewer) also shows scenes from Ramyana.
The most prominent is that of a huge bird trying to engulf a chariot. Many consider this to be Jatayu attacking Ravana as he was eloping with Sita. But actually this not Jatayu, but the demon bird Suparsha trying to engulf Ravana’s chariot. Suparsha is mentioned only in Ramyana written by Krittibas Ojha and this motif is seen in the walls of many temples of Bengal. The specimen adorning the Joydev Kenduli Temple is perhaps one of the best.
The story goes that to take a dip in the Ganges, Poet Joydev had to walk more than 30 km plus distance from his village at Kenduli. Lord Bishnu took pity on the poet and asked the Holy Ganges to infest her holiness in River Ajoy at Kenduli on the day of Makar Sankranti. It is believed that on this holy day the Ganges starts flowing backwards to River Ajoy.
The crowd at Joydev Kenduli Fair
Geet Govinda was an epic poem on eternal love between Radha and Krishna. In fact in this ballad, for the first time Radha is given the most prominent role. It is said anyone who takes a dip on this auspicious day in the River Ajoy has his /her wishes fulfilled specially on the love front.
The best way to visit the fair is to stay at Bolpur the earlier night of the fair and visit it in very early hours of the morning. The fog and the mist create a surreal atmosphere. The number of visitors is in the maximum in the earlier hours when they rush to take holy dip in the waters of River Ajoy.
From 1982, Kenduli fair is under the control of district authorities, who have tried to provide quality basic needs like drinking water, sanitation, lighting, make shift accommodation arrangements and security.
For those who are interested in Baul songs, Kenduli fair provides an opportunity for them to enjoy the songs with several live performances by Baul singers over three days. These singers are a very heterogeneous group and their membership mainly consists of Vaishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims. Their music spreads love above religion. Since last few years Kirtania or Kirtan singers are also making their presence felt in the fair. Kirtanias usually recite or describe a legend, express loving devotion to a deity and discuss spiritual ideas
We had stayed the earlier night at a friend’s house at Bolpur and started early at around 05:00 in the morning.I took a hired car from Bolpur to reach the fairgrounds which is just over 30 km west from the university town. It was still foggy and we walked with a crowd on a pathway with several tents and shops around towards the river.
The fair has no dearth of interesting characters. Group of musicians roam around the fair. I spotted a Sadhu playing violin in front of a Goddess Kali Idol besides the Ajoy River. There was a middle aged woman singing a song addressed to Lord Krishna’s name playing a musical instrument named Khanjani in such a devotion that she was not even noticing the passer byes. Several Baul singers huddled together singing.
Some Vaishnavas had completed their bath and were putting chandan tilak on each other forehead. There was a woman in them too, who bend down on her knees and touched her Guru’s feet. A mother was giving her 5 year child a dip in the water. The kid was crying while the mother had a look on her face as if her child has attained divinity. All seemed to be in a trance which comes out of devotion and love.
Was this due to eternal love, blind faith or these people were in a trance? For an urban person like me it was somewhat difficult to reason out the cause of this Vaishnavi’s tears or the cause of mass bathing of the people. Perhaps the Vaishnavi could visualize the lord inside her, which can be only achieved by faith.
Poet Joydev had himself forbidden anybody and everybody to read Geet Govinda. In his own words Joydev mentions somewhat like this:
‘If your heart yearns to delight in remembrance of Sri Hari; if you are hankering to contemplate upon Him with intense affection; if you are overwhelmed with curiosity to know about His skill in amorous pastimes – then by all means read this book. You will find my lovely poetry to be extremely relish-able. Although it is so emotive and mellifluous, if you are not possessed of the aforementioned qualifications, then you must not read it. This literature is not for you.’
This translation has been taken from http://www.purebhakti.com. I did not dare to translate it myself. (http://www.purebhakti.com/unconventionalteachers/ongitagovind.html)
Some Vaishnavas had completed their bath and were putting Chandan Tilak on each other forehead. There was a woman in them too, who bend down on her knees and touched her Guru’s feet. Village Musicians were playing in the crowd and devotees were paying them some money.
A Mother was all set to give her small child a bath in that freezing water. The child was crying constantly, but the lady looked as if she was in a trance. The thought of getting her child the privilege of getting a holy dip in the river was giving her a thrill.
There used to be more Bauls singing besides the river earlier, but most of them sings inside their tented akharas on the stage. Not everyone was singing melodiously, but then if you follow the lyrics it mainly speaks of eternal love and human bonding.
Out of the several Sadhus there I observed one old sadhu , who probably had a cataract operation, but there was a big crack on the middle of his glass. He could barely see and he was traveling alone. Why has he come here ? To see to lord with his inner eyes ? The Sadhu smiled at me . He did not show any signs of discomfort.
The Fair has several stalls from eateries to clothes, cooking utensils and paintings. Most popular is the paintings of poet Joydev and his wife Padmavati. It maybe mentioned here though Joydev was a Shaivite , Padmabati was a Baishnavite. Their “Jugal Sadhna” resulted in the Poet coming up with his all time Classic – Geet Govinda.
Spiritual Love is the essence of Joydev Kenduli fair. To feel the pulse of love you need to get your mind out of the crowd here and emphasize deep inside your heart.
How to Go
Bolpur is just 40 km from Kenduli. Stay overnight at Bolpur and start next day before daybreak in a hired car. From Jambuni bus stand at Bolpur, bus service is available to Joydev Kenduli. It takes about two hours. There are many trains from Seladah to Bolpur Shantiniketan which is almost a 3 hour journey. One can also drive from Kolkata via Burdwan and Durgapur. The distance is just about 185 km and takes four hours. It can be a day trip as well.
Where to stay
Bolpur has plentty accommodation options. We stayed at the West Bengal Tourism Lodge. Accommodation options at Kenduli is very basic and Spartan.
1. Sumon Roy
2. Sumon’s Friend Rabi who arranged the accommodation and the car
1. Temples of Birbhum by Sukhamoy Bandopadhyay, B.R. Publishing Corporation, 1984
Beautiful captures and interesting narration
Wonderful scenes of the event and great people photography by you!
Thank you for sharing these.
Good to know you liked to photographs.
Instead of only highlighting the famous (read : commercialized) artists inside tented Akaharas ( which is the basic trend of photography at Kenduli). I have tried to highlight the basic nature of Kenduli Fair – rugged and raw and full of innocent faith.,
I posted in FB (with credit to you) your photo captioned, ‘She was singing so devotedly with tear drops rolling from her eye that she didn’t seem to notice me in front of her’
Thanks Loken Da
As a student I used to visit Poush Mela at shantiniketan every year but never got an opportunity to visit Kenduli…many of my friends used to go to Joydev er mela..their attraction used to be the bauls and few other attractions 😉 Loved this post…the pictures are awesome
Thanks ….share with us some memories of Poush Mela sometimes.
Good work with beautiful pix!
Thanks Mr. Mandal
Such a beautiful coverage of the fair.
[…] localities within just 30 km radius of Shantiniketan. I mentioned about such a temple in one of my earlier blogpost of Joydev Kenduli […]
[…] You can add Radhabinod Temple of Joydev Kenduli to your list too. From Ghurisha Joydev Kenduli is only 15 kms. To get information about Joydev Kenduli , please read my blog of Joydev Kenduli Fair. […]
I visited this mela in 2015. Still searching for the unfelf/witnessed parts.
Thanks for your effort.
WONDERFULLY COMPOSED THE WRITEUP WITH YOUR EXCELLENT PHOTOGRAPHY.
Hi sir thank u for sharing all d details now i cant wait to make my 1st trip to Jaydeb mela… i have heard about this from my childhood n after reading ur article i cant wait any longer. And from ur photographs i m sure that I can make most of it. Sir i need one suggestion from u… is there any accomodation or homestays in Imambazar???
Nothing is available at Ilambazar proper….but midway between Ilambazar and Bolpur there are homestay like resorts named Banalakshmi, Jiraan, chottoneer, babli and bhorer also. All can be located in Google Map.
Wonderful photographs…loved reading the article…it was as if one could get the mesmerising flavours of Kenduli…thanks for all the details of the fair.
Really very nice post with lots of beautiful images. Thanks for sharing