Poro Bolan: A ritual on death and life to blur the existing power structure

Posted by Kaahon Desk On April 12, 2018

According to Gurusaday Dutta- “Bolan is a ballad dance.” His opinions- “The word Bolan means recitation and the dance derives its name from the fact that one of the dancers chants or recites the story or ballad from a writing which he holds in his hand.” According to Panchanan Mondal ‘Bol’ (sound) is the original word of Bolan. Some scholars also think that the word ‘Bol’ means to answer someone’s call. ‘Bol’ has also its origin of the term “Bula” which means travelling. In conclusion, Bolan is a folk drama form of West Bengal, where the enactments are made with a song, which is a ballad. The lyrics of the song have fourteen letters or syllables. The song narrates an event, but it is approached spontaneously by the singers. The real and pragmatic spontaneous responses of the rural poets narrate the rural oral cultures and also day to day experiences. The Bolan troupes travel from one village to another religiously. This wandering nature of Bolan is one of the basic characteristics in its form. There are various forms in practice within the bouquet of Bolan performances. Sakhi Bolan or Gopi Bolan is one of those forms and it narrates the rural Bengal’s imagination and saga on the love couple deities, Radha and Krishna. Thereis another very important form, which is in practice and called as Dar Bolan. And one of the most popular forms of Bolan and the focus of this update is none other than the Poro Bolan.

Poro Bolan

Poro Bolan and other forms of Bolan are performed during the last days of the Bengali year before the New Year in a mystical carnival called Gajan. The main deity worshipped in this festival is Lord Shiva, the God of destruction. Mysticism as expressed through religion, which transcends the cognitive site of human brain and Poro Bolan forces, any person to struggle over its meaning and authority. Poro Bolan is a celebration of the subaltern masses. Through the performance, they enter into a surreal state of mind, and thereby subvert all institutions of superstructure and every form of classification possible- in terms of gender, caste, race, dialect, religion and law.

Katwa region of the Bardhaman district of West Bengal is an ensemble of tribal people, people of the lower class, migrants from Bangladesh and also people from the Himalayas. The image of Lord Shiva, who resides and meditates in the cremation ground, has no special grandeurs, spends his time with the ultimate truth of life, the death, embraced them all. The renewed social inclusiveness and incorporation of an eclectic array of religious practices reshaped Shaivism into a new tradition which earned the loyalty of people from all sectors of Indian society. Poro Bolan is the festival of rites, worshipping Lord Shiva, ranging from religious to dangerous sometimes extending to threshold of madness. In the morning, they worship the collected human skulls, to please that form of Śhiva, who represents the spirit of the charnel ground, the Bhairava- the fierce and destructive form.  The entire village, engage in worshipping the mysterious and tremendous form of Bhairava, and for a day they gain the immense potential of subverting every establishment.

Poro Bolan

The area around Katwa, by the side of river Ganges or Bhagirathi, and river Ajay, has been the land of great literary laureates of Medieval India, whose works not only glorified Bengal’s cultural tradition but also enriched the entire cultural tradition of India. Great Vaishnavaite poets, politicians are germinated in this region essentially.

Along with these cultural traditions of the rich and the sophisticated ruling class and the educated elite masses there are Bhokta, Majhi, Dolui, who are the scheduled class by the terms of the Indian Constitution andthey have assimilated ‘culture’ in their religious practices, which satisfy their hard tedious struggles of existence. The Shabar, Munda, Santhal communities who are tribes by origin, used to reside in the deep jungles of the adjoining arid regions around Katwa, and by inter ethnic marriages or other factors, they have been imbibed into the local folk population of the rural Katwa.

Poro Bolan is a strange interaction between the two masses. Though the lyrics of the Bolan performances which are written by the sophisticated elite masses but are performed by the marginalized communities.

These marginalized communities, to whom the sophisticated Hindu scriptures were prohibited, internalized the penance of Lord Shiva, as the skull bearing ascetic. Poro Bolan also involves those extreme modes of practice taking recourse to violence and sexuality. Like many Shaiva sects, even the Buddhists believed that in Charnel grounds, one can cut all connections with the material world and attain enlightenment. They idealized the horror of the Charnel grounds also to reject the Brahmanical notions of purity and pollution. When during the Middle Ages, Buddhism took refuge in Hinduism, various philosophies and rituals of Tantric Buddhism negotiated with the mystical practices of the marginalized people.

Poro Bolan

These rituals of Tantric Buddhism had indications of fierce deities, who were flesh eatingdemonizes who haunted charnel grounds and wilderness. Kalikapata Dance is one such blend of tantric Buddhism, the worshipping of the Goddess Kali and the Lord of the Charnel ground, Lord Shiva. They are one sect of Shaiva Tantrics who for this special day, paint their body and appear to look like these fierce Goddesses resembling like kali. They try to recreate the aura of the magical performances. They perform during dense and terrible darkness in the village and use ghastly masks, and they produce horror by the bones, skeletons and skulls of men that are painted on their body. They represent formidable Bhūtas and Vetālas, joyfully engaged in their horrible activity, and enact loud yells of jackals and vultures. It is almost a history now, as modern civil society has banned such illegal mystic practices.

poro bolan

But today this performing art form has been undergoing many modifications, mostly because of urbanization. Modern law of the nation state has all inclusive policies for the marginalized communities. But the observance of Poro Bolan during the Gajan festival is a cultural identity now, which is practiced in the specific regions of West Bengal religiously. The celebration of Gajan is a struggle to save the ethnic identity rather than following penance.

Research Lead: Arunava Patra, Sankha Subhra Ganguly

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