Raft Festival a folk festival during which rafts are floated. In areas with rivers, canals and other water bodies, people float banana rafts or bhelas in the name of Khowaj Khizir, a water pir, to ward off ills from water. The festival, which is celebrated every year on the last Thursday of Bhadra, is observed at social or family levels or at the initiative of fakirs. At times of crises, the observance can be organised at any time of the year.
Khowaj Khizir was a Semitic water god who entered Bangladesh in the 13th century with the Turkish rulers. In due course Khowaj Khizir found a durable place in the hearts of the people here. The nawabs and nayeb-nazims of murshidabad and dhaka were among his devotees. Mukarram Khan, Sirajuddowla and Mir Qasim used to float rafts with great fanfare on the buriganga in Dhaka and the Bhagirathi in Murshidabad on the last Thursday of Bhadra.
Raft festivals or verabhasan are not dedicated to Khowaz Khizir alone. At Munshiganj, for example, Hindu women dedicate the festival to the goddess Ganga. The celebration at Panditbari in Sulakia, kishoreganj, is named the 'Vera festival of Zinda pir and Paran Fakir'. On other occasions, he is honoured along with others. At Tamaltala in Kishoreganj, for example, eight sages and holy men are honoured, the first being Mahaguru and the second Khowaj Khizir.
The celebrations also unite the Muslim saint and the Hindu goddess. The banana plants needed to make a raft are collected by a fasting priest who goes to the plantation with his disciples after seeking the owner's permission. To the plants he says, 'We wish to take seven plants to make a raft for Mother Ganga and Khowaj Khizir'. Each plant is felled with a single stroke and then the raft is made. One vera bhasan song describes the marriage between Khowaj Khizir and Ganga. [Momen Chowdhury]