The Hindu festival of Gajan sees devotees across India celebrate deities such as Lord Shiva, Neel and Dharmathakur. Lasting for one month, the festival culminates on Chaitra Sankranti, the last day of the Bengali calendar. The central theme of Gajan is to derive satisfaction through pain, devotion and sacrifice, with the hope of winning the favour of Shiva, the Hindu God of destruction, whose role is to destroy the universe in order to recreate it.

Gajan festival
A Hindu girl has her face painted before taking part in a ritual as part of the annual Shiva Gajan religious festival on the outskirts of AgartalaJayanta Dey/ Reuters

The festival is mostly observed in the state of West Bengal. Participants paint their faces, dress up as gods or goddesses and show devotion by piercing their bodies, enduring the pain to show their devotion. Human remains are offered as a sacrifice, while children are put on the ground so that holy men can bless them as they walk by.

Gajan festival
A devotee with his body painted poses as he waits to perform during a ritual as part of the annual Shiva Gajan religious festival at Sona Palasi village, in West BengalRupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters
Gajan festival
Hindu devotees carry human skulls during the annual Shiva Gajan religious festival at Kurmun village, in West Bengal,Rupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters
Gajan festival
A child cries as a Hindu holy man touches him with his foot as part of a ritual to bless him during a religious procession to mark the Gajan festival in KolkataRupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters
Gajan festival
Girls react as a man carries human remains through the crowd at Kurmun village in West BengalRupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters
Gajan festival
A Hindu devotee carries human remains during the annual Shiva Gajan religious festival at Kurmun village, in West BengalRupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters
Gajan festival
A Hindu girl has her face painted before taking part in a ritual as part of the annual Shiva Gajan religious festival on the outskirts of AgartalaJayanta Dey/ Reuters
Gajan festival
A devotee dressed as Hindu god Shiva waits to perform during the annual Shiva Gajan religious festival on the outskirts of AgartalaJayanta Dey/ Reuters
Gajan festival
Children are made to lie on a road to get blessing from Hindu holy men who are passing by as part of a ritual to bless themRupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters
Gajan festival
A devotee with his body painted smokes as he arrives to perform during a ritual as part of the annual Shiva Gajan religious festival at Sona Palasi village, West BengalRupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters
Gajan festival
Hindu devotees carry human skulls during the annual Shiva Gajan religious festival at Kurmun village, in West BengalRupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters
Gajan festival
Hindu holy men touch children with their feet as part of a ritual to bless them during a religious procession to mark the Gajan festival in KolkataRupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters
Gajan festival
Devotees arrive to take part in a ritual as part of the annual Shiva Gajan religious festival at Sona Palasi villageRupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters
Gajan festival
A woman seeks blessings from devotees with their bodies painted, before the start of a ritualRupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters
Gajan festival
Devotees with their bodies painted prepare to wear saree, a traditional Indian cloth used for women's clothing, before taking part in a ritualRupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters
Gajan festival
Men get their bodies painted before taking part in a ritual as part of the festival at Sona Palasi village, West Bengal, IndiaRupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters
Gajan festival
A Hindu holy man throws fire towards the gate of a temple as part of a ritual ending a religious procession held to mark the Gajan festival in KolkataRupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters