Bolpur to host alternative Poush Mela in 2022 breaking with a 125 year old tradition Visva-Bharati authorities back out from organising the world famous winter festival started by Rabindranth Tagore’s father.

23, Dec 2022 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

For many many years, tourists from all across the country and abroad flock to the land of the red sand – Bolpur – Shantiniketan, pulled by the attraction of the traditional fair that generally begins on the 23rd of December every year.

Commonly hosted by the Visva-Bharati University on its Purvapalli ground, this fair has been a go-to winter destination for thousands of travellers. For the past two years, this festival – Shantiniketan’s Paush Utsav, commonly known as the Poush Mela has not been taking place due to the coronavirus induced pandemic. But even though this year, when the dread of coronavirus is seemingly out of sight, the authorities of the  Visva-Bharati University have still not shown an interest in hosting the Poush Mela. Naturally, the culture-loving people of Bengal, therefore, have come together demanding Poush Mela to resume on the university premises.

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It is said that Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, father of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, started Paush mela in 1895. The Paush Mela was temporarily shut in 1943 for the Manvantara – Bengal Famine, and in 1946 due to the communal riots. Otherwise, Paush mela has been continuously celebrated by the local artisans and tourists every year, without fail. 

Towards the beginning of december 2022, most mornings began with a heated scene at the Bolpur Santiniketan square – where residents and artisans gathered in unison – demanding the resumption of Poush Mela in 2023. Bolpur municipality had also written a letter to the  Visva-Bharati University Vice-chancellor Vidyut Chakraborty. Shantiniketan Trust, Bolpur Traders Association and Poush Mela Bachao Committee. CJP’s ally – Bangla Sanskriti Mancha had also written to  Visva-Bharati University authorities to host the fair on its premises. The Visva Bharati authorities did not comment on it. They claim that the ground, where the Poush Mela has been held for many many years, does not have proper infrastructure or water supply.  Even though the state Government had promised the locals that they would cooperate with the fair, Visva Bharati authorities did not come forward.
In such a situation the Birbhum district administration formally announced an alternative Poush Mela. Just like in 2020 & 2021, when the Bangla Sanskriti Manch hosted an alternative Poush Mela which was supported by Bolpur Municipality, Bolpur Traders Association and Kabiguru Handicrafts Association, this year, the alternative Poush Mela is being held in Bolpur under the initiative of the state administration and Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, Bolpur Traders Association and Kabiguru Handicrafts Association. 

Various artists and artisans of Bengal are associated with the tradition of Visva Bharati. People from different parts of Bengal and India come to Paush Mela and sell handmade arts and crafts, fabric, paintings and tons of intricate artworks, here. The fair is most famous for Juri and pot-art.  Professor Samirul Islam, president of Bangla Sanskriti Manch, spoke to us exclusively, saying, “many people’s livelihood is connected with this Poush Mela.  Many people come from the remotest of places to sell the goods. People all over the world know about the Bolpur Poush Mela. Thousands of people will be economically weakened if this fair, which involves a huge economic infrastructure, is shut down. We have tried to stand by people as much as we can. We all have to fight together to save this tradition, which was initiated by Rabindranath Tagore and carried forward in his legacy.” 

Keeping the traditions of Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore and Shantiniketan, Paush Mela will run from December 23rd to December 28th, on the Dak-bungalow ground premises, and various cultural programs will be organised in the fair to maintain the culture of Bolpur Santiniketan. 

Let’s take a look at various artisans and their creations at Poush Mela. 

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This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by aspiring journalist and student activist Ripon Sheikh from Birbhum in West Bengal. In these reports Ripon looks at the people around him – migrant workers, the families they leave behind, agricultural labourers, women who do housework, rural artisans and young people, with a keen sense of compassion.

Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.


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