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Charak - a Hindu folk festival

Through the skin to the soul

In cultures across the world and throughout time, people have been inflicting painful body rituals on themselves as a method of exploring religious experience. It is their firm belief that the divine intervention protects and allows the devotees to endure the pain. This series is about experiencing the extreme form of self-submission in the festival called ‘Charak’. It is an ancient Hindu religious and folk festival of southern Bangladesh and an invaluable cultural heritage in the world.

The word ‘Charak’ perhaps came from the word ‘Charki’ (Circle). The believers construct a framework with the body of a holy tree, which they keep underwater for the rest of the year, and there is a make-shift wheel setup on top of it. Devotees volunteer to hook themselves with crude rope to the wheel by piercing the skin on their back and levitate round and round the tree. They are carried aloft by the framework, the whole process is extremely painful. The followers believe that the divine intervention keeps them from feeling any pain during the ritual. Self-flagellation, multiple piercings, dramatic acts and ritual worship of Gods and Goddess are held throughout the day. The festival is to satisfy ‘Lord Shiva’ and comes from the belief that the sacrifice will carry prosperity by eliminating the sorrow and suffering of the previous year.

These photographs were taken in Sri-Mongol where the festival is a part of the local tradition for four hundred years. I have seen the superficial bodily pain that devotees bear for their faith. But what I have felt is the intense belief and spiritual acceptance that carries them through it.


(Music- Kevin MacLeod)


Charak – a Hindu folk festival
Black and white photographs, 2012.

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