Almost 300 years old, Satimar dol mela (Holi fair), held in the Nadia district of West Bengal, offers a unique celebration of the popular festival. Steeped in history and devotion, this event is one-of-its-kind, says Suchayan Mandal
The singing minstrels of Bengal, the bauls, dancing and singing in groups, their melodious songs reverberating across the neighbourhood. Devotees and tourists from across the world sharing a common ground with shopkeepers, who are bellowing out the virtues of their wares in rapid-fire Bengali. Loud and animated discussions on everyday life floating around. Plates of crisp moghlai porota (a shallow fried flatbread stuffed with minced meat and sautéd onions) being devoured with the same gusto as bowls of ghughni (spicy chick pea curry) and bhaars (conical cups made with clay) of dudh cha (sweet milk tea). These are some of my earliest memories of Satimar (or Sati maa’r) dol mela (Holi fair). Held annually on the day of dol purnima, or the day of Holi, in Ghoshpara, a locality of Kalyani city in the Nadia district of West Bengal (around two hours from the state capital Kolkata), it is considered to be one of the oldest and one-of-its-kind event in the state.
From the pages of history
In India, a land steeped in culture and tradition, Holi fairs are organised in various regions, with each exhibiting a unique flavour. But what sets this one apart is its history. Local folklores say the fair started around 300 years ago. It is held in the honour of Sati Maa, a figure revered locally. On the day of dol, as Holi is referred to in the state (this year on March 10), devotees pray to her to fulfill their wishes. The fair also marks the annual congregation of her followers from the world over.
The three-day fair is held at the Ghoshpara mela ground, which houses Sati Maa’s residence, which has been converted from a modest hut to a revered shrine. Devotees from outside the town start arriving a day before the festival, and the ground comes alive with over 500 stalls selling everything: from mouthwatering local food, such indigenous crafts as bamboo cane decorative objects, wicker baskets and terracotta pottery to bags, toys and even costume jewellery.
On the eve of the festival, celebrations begin with folk performances by artistes from within the state and from across India. Devotional songs of bauls and fakirs set the tone for the festivities. I recall sitting at the akharas (temporary tents set up by folk artistes, mostly bauls), munching on hot jilipis (or jalebi, a deep-fried dessert), as my mother joined other devotees for the evening prayers at the Sati Maa temple. As the night progresses, the attendees retire to the tents that are pitched for them, as do the shopkeepers, but the bauls keep singing and dancing till the wee hours of the morning.
At the crack of dawn the next day, pilgrims begin to congregate at the steps leading to Himsagar, a pond whose water is said to have healing properties. After a ritualistic dip in the pond, people gather at a pomegranate tree, locally known as dalim tola. Situated right next to the temple, this tree is where each devotee ties a small animal-shaped terracotta doll in hopes that wishes will be fulfilled. If the wish is fulfilled, they return the next year and untie a doll and offer their gratitude to the deity. Along with prayers, sweets, rice and abir (dry colour) are also offered.
After the first round of prayers are over, begins the play of colours. From shopkeepers to their customers and pilgrims to tourists, no one is left out. As dry colours fill the air, along with flower petals, songs of the bauls and fakirs, blend with the squeals of delighted children running around and playing Holi.
The festivities come to an end later in the day but the spirit of celebration doesn’t die. The fair begins to buzz with business as pilgrims head to the temple for evening rituals. Children make a beeline for the joyrides – giant electric Ferris wheels, small carousels, hand pushed car rides and more.
The third and the last day of the fair is reserved for shopping. While locals flock to stalls selling everyday items, tourists prefer handmade home decor products like cane baskets and kulo (traditionally used for winnowing rice). Today, however, fancy imported goods too share space with indigenous crafts. Yet, the flavour of the mela hasn’t changed much. The bauls still sing and dance, and the devotees still pray, returning every year, as they tie
and untie the little terracotta dolls at dalim tola!
The author is a travel enthusiast and the views expressed here are his own
Holi Across India
Celebrated a day after Holi in Anandpur Sahib, Punjab, it features mock battles and displays of gallantry
Dhulandi-Rajasthan & Haryana
The name for Holi in these states, the day is also known as Rangwali Holi
Lathmar Holi-Barsana, Uttar Pradesh
Along with a play of colours, women playfully hit men with sticks
The festival in the state is marked with folk songs and natural colours
The state’s term for Holi, it is celebrated over two days
It is celebrated for five days starting on the full moon day of the Hindu month of Phalguna
Basant Utsav/ Dol Jatra-West Bengal
It is marked by folk songs and a play of dry and wet colours
Manjal Kuli or Ukkuli-Kerala
Commemorates the legend of Lord Kamadeva by burning straw effigies representing the deity
Rang Panchami-Maharashtra & Madhya Pradesh
The play of colours take place on the fifth day after Holika Dahan
1. Devotees tie small terracotta dolls at dalim tola, near Sati Maa temple in hopes that their prayers will be answered
2. A stall selling raj kochuri that is prepared in the local churmur (crunchy) style with boiled potatoes mashed with an assortment of spices and tetul jol (tamarind water). This deep-fried snack is very popular at the fair