Beautiful Bangladesh – Swinging Devotees and Sunsets

As I haven’t written a new blog for a while I thought I’d add a more succinct photo blog instead. I’m working on a written one at the moment, but it’s not quite ready yet. So, here are some notable images from Bangladesh taken during the past three weeks. I’ve been lucky enough to experience some of Bangladesh’s finest natural beauty during that time.

The first few were taken in the village of Koknandi, in Banshkhali district. I attended the Hindu ceremony of Charak Puja. I have no idea how to provide a clear explanation of what happened or why exactly it happened, so I’ll just describe what I saw and noted through my own eyes.

The reason I ended up in this village to experience the festival was due to the fact our Fulbright Fellow and artist in residence, Claudio Cambon,  needed volunteers to accompany some of his photography students. In his recruitment email he provided this blurb:

“Charak Puja, Banshkali, south of Anowara. This is a village fair which culminates in a Hindu devotee getting hooks pierced into his back, hoisted by rope up into the air, and swung around a tall pole 7 times. They may also throw pigeons up at him, which he will try to catch and eat live. Yup, you heard me right the first time.”

So, just to repeat, the general purpose of the trip was to watch a man have hooks placed in his back in order to be swung around a large pole, whilst attempting to catch pigeons and eat them alive. Naturally I was instantly intrigued by the prospects of this day out.

I was also slightly alarmed, but not wanting to pass up this unique cultural experience I replied to his email within about 23 seconds. A few days later we arrived in Kokdandi, and after a timid, but warm welcome from the local people we were passed by these characters…

The excitement grew, yet anxiety levels also rose. The festival would take place in a few hours, and I was looking forward to events with a certain degree of trepidation. In the meantime though we were treated to some fine hospitality by our hosts and were free to wander about capturing images of the stunning natural beauty of rural Bangladesh and its people.

Eventually the moment came to swing the devotee around the pole. Raising the pole was not a straightforward task however, and it took the strength of around fifty men. Their job was made no easier by the thick mud that had engulfed the whole area after the recent reappearance of the trademark monsoon rains that hit Bangladesh each year. Once the pole was erected and secured in the sludge, the devotee reappeared to a rapturous reception. By this stage the crowd had swelled, and it seemed the whole village had come to witness the annual event.

The actual climax of the whole day happened very quickly. All of a sudden the devotee was airborne and there was quite a commotion as the crowd whooped, chanted, let out mild screams, and clapped sporadically. Carefully placed men launched pigeons high into the air, which added to the mystical spectacle before us. Fortunately our devotee was spinning too rapidly to have any chance of grasping any of the birds, so none were harmed.

It also became apparent afterwards that the man had not in fact been hooked during the process. We later found out that it’s an old tradition, and in recent years has been replaced by more conventional methods…in this village at least.

As I said before, I don’t possess the knowledge to explain why exactly any of this happened. However, it was a sight to behold and an authentically fascinating experience characterized by genuine warmth from our gracious hosts, who demonstrated a strong desire to ensure we were made to feel part of the experience.  I took these final two photos in the aftermath of the spectacle, once some of the crowd had dispersed, and in my opinion this second image alone made the whole day worth it.

The next weekend was spent in Cox’s Bazar, a coastal town in the south of Bangladesh. It boasts the longest natural sea beach in the world and hopefully as the following photos will demonstrate, it’s a perfect location to catch a stunning South Asian sunset.

Finally, after a host of images away from the urban bustle of Chittagong, here’s a view over the city by night.

All photos © John Stanlake

6 thoughts on “Beautiful Bangladesh – Swinging Devotees and Sunsets

  1. As usual John, an interesting blog, but it is all beyond me what they get up to in these foreign parts. Hoorah for the pigeons too !

  2. Fantastic post John! I wholeheartedly agree with your mum – very relieved for the pigeons. The hook swinging and live pigeon hunt make some of the random things we were subjected to in Rwanda seem very tame indeed.

    Your photos seem to be getting better by the day. The one of the boy in the grass is my favorite.

  3. Thank you for the latest blog John,great reading !. I was interested to know that Cox’s Bazaar had the longest natural beach in the world.
    Your photos are,as usual, GREAT !!!

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