Poush Mela

The Poush Mela today:
Today Santiniketan during Poush Mela time has become an important tourist destination for people trying to ‘grab culture’ in between eardrum shattering horns, flashy cars, high decibels, loud makeup, blinding glitter of money, and huge ugly ‘showrooms’ of cars, insurance and food stalls, garbage and stink, this is not what the Mela was originally meant to be. It is now a tragic slur on the concept and meaning of this Mela, it laughs at the poverty of our rich crafts traditions. It is time to take a hard look and analyse the purpose and outcome of the Poush Mela in the 21st century, and restructure it if required.

The rites and rituals are still followed the Poush Mela is no longer a mela that it was envisaged to be, it has drastically changed in ethos and character. It fails miserably as a platform for the artistic talents of the crafts communities. Musicians like the baul singers can be seen jostling for space and an opportunity to perform, artists are languishing in corners behind badly strung tents, they cannot afford to light lamps of their own so they are shivering in the dark, cold December night. There are illegally drawn light cables or kerosene stoves and lights that can catch fire any time, the artists, musicians, dancers, craftspeople sleeping on straw beds on the floor, neglected and forlon. 

Maharshi Debendranath Tagore founded ‘Santiniketan’ or the ‘Abode of Peace’ in 1862 and established the Santiniketan Ashram.  On March 8, 1888 he dedicated the Santiniketan Ashram to all. In 1890 the idea of the Brahmo Mandir was proposed and some money set aside for its construction by the Maharshi. Its foundation was laid in December 1890 and the Brahmo Mandir was finally founded on December 21, 1891. It was a memorable day for the Maharshi as it was the day of his initiation by Maharshi Bidyabagish. In two years he had around 500 followers and he wanted to have a Mela and a festival with all his Brahmo followers. 

The first Poush Mela was started on December 21, 1894, though the Poush Utsav had started earlier. In the first Poush Mela Rabindranath Tagore circumambulated the Mandir singing Mangal geet. He was the main inspiration behind the Mela, distributing food and clothes to the poor and the needy after the main Upasana on the first day of the Poush Mela. 

In 1904 he wrote in ‘Swadeshi Samaj’ of organising Jatra, Kirtan, bioscope, magic lantern, exercises and eating fried delicacies in the Mela. He tried to continue this every year. 
In the 1910 Mela the students collected money, constructed shop and kept records and sold pure food items at reasonable rates to all.

In the 1922 mela, there was kirtan, Baul, Santhal dance, fireworks display, Jatra, wrestling, aerobics, bioscope, horse race, magic lantern, archery. The people on duty were Nandalal Bose, Leonard Night Elmherst, Binayak Mosaji, Asitkumar Haldar, Santosh Chandra Majumdar, Narsinghbhai Patel. That Mela had the plays – ‘Baikunther Khata’, the II Act of Macbeth, the III Act of Mudra Rakshash.

Santiniketan Ashram provided electricity for the first time in 1924.

In 1947, the first Mela after independence had kavi songs, in the mornings, and firework display, films and all night Jatra from the evenings. 

In 1962, the Mela was shifted to the Purvapalli field, now it reaches to even Bhubandanga.

The Ritual:
The beginning of the Poush Mela is announced on December 21 during the evening cultural program. 
On the first day of the Poush Mela on December 22 in the early morning, ‘Upasana’ is conducted by the Vice Chancellor at the Maharshi’s seat under the ‘Chatim’ tree. He reads out from Maharshi’s life and relevance of his initiation into the Brahmo Samaj to it, and the role of this day in the life of Santiniketan. In between the program the collection of Brahmoupsana’s Vedic chants made by Maharshi are recited. Also, songs dedicated to worship composed by Dwijendranath, Satyendranath and Jyotindranath Tagore are sung. After the ‘Upasana’ ends everyone sings ‘Aguner Parashmani’ and led by the Vice Chancellor move towards the Udayan complex that has all of Tagore’s houses in it. Then, the Mela formally begins. 
On December 23, the charter of Visva-Bharati is read out and all assembled sing out. Then Tagore’s thoughts on Visva-Bharati are read. The Maharshi Debendranath Memorial lecture is held in the afternoon. Santhal games are held today.

On December 24, the last day of the Poush Mela and the Utsav, memorial services are held for departed Ashram people. Then the Ashram offices and Visva-Bharati’s annual general meeting are held. 
On all three days of the mela ‘Chatimtala’, Santiniketan house and the Mandir are lit by lamps.