Boat Race

Boat Race nouka baich in Bangla and very popular game in riverine areas of Bangladesh. Boat race demonstrates the boatmen's technique and prowess in giving their boats the maximum speed and forward direction. In national boat race the boats have to cover a distance of 650 meter. Each boat can be manned by 7, 25, 50 or 100 persons.

Boat race in the Buriganga [Courtesy: Amanul Huq]

Rivers form an integral part of Bangladesh's history, tradition, literature, culture and sports. Boat race consequently, is an important element of folk culture. Rivercrafts help create ports and markets requiring the services of expert carpenters, who are often found to compete in skills in making boats. Different districts have different types of boat. In dhaka, gaffargaon and mymensingh kosha type of boats are mostly used for racing. These boats are narrow in shape and can be as long as 150 to 200 feet. Their front and back are straight.

These boats are made of timber of local shal, shil, karai and chambul trees. In Dhaka, faridpur, tangail and pabna districts narrow and long boats are used in racing. Their lengths can be 150 to 200 feet but the backs are about 5 feet above the water and their fronts almost touch the water. Their front and back have many decorative works. These are also made of timber of shal, garjan, shil karai and chambul. In comilla, brahmanbaria, ajmiriganj and sylhet sarengi boats are used for racing. These are about 150 to 200 feet in length and 5 to 6 feet in breadth. Their front and the back are flat like the beak of a duck and remain 2 to 3 feet above the water. In chittagong, sandwip and lower noakhali areas sampan boats are used for racing. These are made like ships. In Dhaka and Faridpur goyna boats are used for racing. These are 100 to 125 feet in length and have a breadth of 8 to 9 feet in the middle. Their front remains 3 feet above the water and the back remains 4 to 5 feet above the water.

During Muslim rule, nawabs and other ruling class people used to organise boat race. According to some sources, they used their naval fleet for this purpose. In the coastal belt of East Bengal it was necessary to maintain naval forces to protect the kingdom or occupy other kingdoms. The bara-bhuiyans of Bengal fought against the Mughal on the basis of their naval strength. A Naval force was also used to suppress Magh and Harmad pirates. Their fleet used to have sleek boats known as chhip. The boat-based naval fleets of those days are no longer there but thanks to boat racing, the excitement of their speed is enjoyed even now by the common people of Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh boat races are usually held during the Bengali months of Bhadra and Ashwin. While racing, the boatmen sing in chorus seeking God's blessings. The boats are named attractively, proclaiming their speed or design, for example, the Jharer Pakhi (bird of the storm), Pankhiraj (the king of birds), Saimun, Tufan Mail, Mayur Pankhi, Agradoot, Dipraj and Sonar Tari (golden boat).

Before boarding their boats, boatmen purify themselves and wear uniform vests and tie up scarves of the same colour around their head. Those who row standing take their position at the back. The leader stays in the middle. The drummers and the singers provide beat and tempo to the boatmen.

To encourage boat racing and improve its organisation, the Bangladesh Rowing Federation was formed in 1974. It helped establish a link between traditional boat racing and modern rowing. The federation is a member of several international rowing federations. To encourage this sport, every year a colourful national boat race is organised. In 1990, an international boat race was also organised. [S M Mahfuzur Rahman]