Festivals, Violence, Catharsis: Religious Celebrations in Bangladesh and Eastern India

The Eastern Subcontinent, which comprises Bangladesh and parts of India, is an area of exceedingly rich cultural traditions and immense diversity, and its festivals testify to this considerable wealth. They bear witness to the long histories of the many ethnic, religious, and linguistic communities who make up this unique region, and to the ways in which these various groups have influenced each other and borrowed from one another for centuries. Their largely harmonious co-presence and occasional convergence are evidence of a beautiful and intricately woven cultural fabric. Single jute fibers may break with a tug, but if spun into twine, they become harder to tear, and when braided together into rope, they are almost unbreakable.

I began to document festivals across Bangladesh and in parts of eastern India in 2011. I aim to valorize not only what is often celebrated, but also what is sometimes overlooked, or worse, at risk of disappearing. I have attempted to consider both old and new, mainstream and eccentric, central and local in the belief that each element is equally significant to understanding the many cultures of this area. I have aspired not so much to a factual or objective totality, in and of itself impossible, but to a different sense of accuracy, a spirit of truthfulness in beauty.

And I have also done so in order to consider a more fundamental notion. Festivals exalt the everyday substance of our lives. They are extraordinary expressions of the ordinary, of an ever present sacred. At such moments we commemorate what we have always known, perhaps in ways that no longer make logical sense, but which nevertheless hold their resonance for us.

In fact, it may matter less whether we are able to explain such rituals than to recall their purpose. Festivals tie us to who we have always been and who we are becoming; they are a present wherein we remember our past and dream our future in relation to one another, the natural world that surrounds us, the universe, ourselves. Through the historic to the mythic, we thus arrive at the elemental.

The dhul drum sounds, a mystic claps, devotees chant; we celebrate to feel the pulse of our own ancient heart, to know how old and young we are at the same time, to feel life itself coursing through and around us all, joyfully, rawly, beautifully, riotously.

— Claudio Cambon