Bull fight is not just a Spanish monopoly but in our own country a small village called Barasharsha in West Bengal, don the mantle of matador. During the Gorukhunta festival beings on the eve of Kali Puja/Diwali, the humble tribals (adivasi farmers) usurp the role of matadors for three days of adrenaline pumping excitement.
It is not an easy task to face the bull and for those farmers who betray a small and frail image. However, they take the challenge with their sheer guts. Indeed, it takes lots of that quality to face a bull and an angry one at that. According to village lore, the bulls, tired of ploughing, pulling carts and doing all their masters’ bidding all year long, know they have only three days to even the score. The festival traces its roots as far back as memory itself.
The event is undoubtedly a great affair for the villagers. For some days before the great event the village is charged with excitement. At the local football field, the venue for the action, bamboo poles were being stabbed deep into the ground. The bulls, which pack a powerful punch, will be leashed to them to give the farmers-turned-matadors a fighting chance.
The bull fight occurs only on the last day of the festival. The first day is spent sanctifying the ground on which the fights are scheduled and sprucing up the houses to invite Goddess Lakshmi, who ensure the villagers get a good crop. On the second day, the bulls are worshipped, with women tendering apologies for the rough treatment they will get the next day.
Little wonder, then, that for a month preceding the festival, the stars of the show are given treatment fit for the Gods. Fresh grass, enlivening massage, long baths and plenty of grazing hours to prime them for the fight. On the day of festivities, the bulls are smeared with vermillion, their horns wrapped in streamers and bodies painted to make them look attractive. It’s a sight to behold. The villagers throng the field dressed in their best. Spectators eagerly await with soaring spirits the participants, who are as high on hooch. The bulls, in comparison, seem a tame lot. However, not very long, the deafening beats of drums and baiting of crowd have the desired effect. What follows can well classify as an animal activist’s worst nightmare – a ton of tethered temper against a mob of maniac matadors and at the end both parties are thoroughly exhausted.
It seems a grand affair, yet today, with the community dwindling – many having bartered traditional sources of sustenance for the good life and better living that cities promise – such traditions are on the verge of disappearing forever. With its origins lost in time and the norms diluted, only the last bastions of adivasis fringing Bankura, Purulia and the lone village of Barasharsha stick to this timeless ritual.
Synopsis - West Bengal Tribal Fairs, Tribal Festivals in West Bengal, Village Festivals in Rural Bengal