Will the 125-year old Bolpur Poush Mela be held this year? Visva Bharati University first cancelled the fair, then retracted the cancellation

19, Dec 2020 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

CJP fellowship 2020 researcher Ripon Sheikh, tracks and documents the confusion, around the massive cultural celebration, and the anger that is simmering over its possible cancellation. 

Poush Mela is regarded as a living heritage of West Bengal, one that has put the culture and vivacity of Shantiniketan in Bolpur on the world map. It celebrates the onset of the Bengali calendar month of Poush, which is in the last quarter of December each year. This year the date falls on December 24, happily coinciding with Christmas eve.

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Each year this massive cultural festival is celebrated in the biggest way at the Shantiniketan Mela Ground, which is close to the Bolpur railway station. The fair is said to commemorate the confluence  of people from different cultures and traditions at Shantiniketan. It is said that on December 21, 1843, Debendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath Tagore, joined the Brahmo Samaj here. The day, 7 Poush of the Bengali calendar, marked the foundation of Poush Mela in Shantiniketan. The mela, or fair, grew over the years to such large proportions that it had to eventually be organised on the large open fields. The six-day fair would be a celebration of traditional food, music, dance, crafts and above all the spirit of celebrating the oneness of humanity.

However, this year something strange is unfolding at Bolpur, as the year draws to a close. For the first time since it was established there will be no celebration at all, at the famed Bolpur Poush Mela this year. And Coronavirus pandemic has nothing to do with this shut down of the traditional celebration. According to news reports it is the Executive Council (EC), of the Visva-Bharati University that has cancelled this 125-year tradition. The news has said that the EC, which is the highest decision making body of Visva-Bharati, decided to scrap the mela. According to a report in The Print news portal, the University’s Vice-Chancellor Prof. Bidyut Chakrabarty has claimed that the university was “ill-equipped” to handle such an event.

Apart from being a great cultural event, the Poush Mela in Bolpur is a lifeline for hundreds of craftspeople, artists, food vendors, small businessmen who depend on this gathering  to make a living. The news of its shutdown has some as a shock to them and the people of West Bengal. There is anger across the state. Some people have also approached the administration. Many others have also expressed their anger against those who are trying to end the culture of Bengal in this way.

The locals feel that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government is hurting the Shantineketan education system that the legendary poet Rabindranath Tagore had envisioned. They feel that the tradition of Shantiniketan and its culturally open environment is being slowly destroyed. Shutting the mela down is a glaring example.

The decision to scrap the event was more shocking for those in West Bengal, when the news came that the Shantiniketan Trust, the custodian of the Poush Mela, said it was not even consulted. Anil Konar, honorary secretary of the trust, was then quoted by The Print saying, “The EC, headed by the V-C of the university, has taken a unilateral decision on cancelling the event. The trust members were not consulted. The event has historical and traditional significance that attracts people globally. It used to be an event for students who live across the country and abroad to see their alma mater. This is harsh on students and other stakeholders.”

However, over two months after announcing the scrapping of the Poush Mela, the Visva-Bharati University (VBU) authorities in August, said that they were never against the holding of the annual fair on its campus and said it was ready to organise it this winter with everyone’s cooperation. According to the Indian Express, the VBU issued a press release, saying, “The controversy over organising Poush Mela is unjust. It has a very special place among Bengalis and their sentiment, and there cannot be a second opinion on this. If anyone reads the resolution adopted by the executive council of the institute and Shantiniketan Trust, then it will be clear that the institute never wanted to stop organising the fair.”

“It is our request to all those who are passionate about Santiniketan to come forward and restore the old glory of Poush Mela. Come with an open mind. Provide physical labour and financial assistance,” it added. As the locals know, all through the years the traditional Poush Mela, attracted many tourists from India and abroad. There would be celebration, sharing of ideas, and learning about each other’s culture. This year, however, the people of Bengal, especially the student community, is still wondering if they will  be deprived of all that.

Watch the Video here.

Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from the 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.

*Feature Image by Sub4U via Wikimedia Commons.

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