The waning of our folk cultural heritage

Thursday, 15 September 2016


Dhaka and the nearby Keraniganj have recently witnessed two events of a fast-disappearing folk sport --- boat race. Those were held on the Buriganga River, and the Shuvadya canal in Keraniganj. The Buriganga event marked the 34th annual boat race in Dhaka. Apart from being the annual competition, the boat races were a common spectacle on the Buriganga in the past. This age-old folk sport used to enjoy a dominant place among the festivities in Dhaka marking national occasions. Even one or two decade ago, regular boat races would draw the city people to the banks of the river. The sport had been regarded as a great fun by the city people since long. But times have changed. The boat races are not regular events in the Buriganga. They are also not much seen on the country's other rivers as well.  The grim fact is they have largely been replaced by mundane activities.
The typically Bengalee boat race has all but vanished in the rural Bangladesh, once held amid great fanfare. Although Dhaka has kept the tradition of boat race alive by organising at least one annually, the sport has virtually disappeared from many areas in the country. It appears incredible in so far as the country's river-based character is concerned. Dying of rivers is generally blamed for the disappearance of boat races from many parts of the country. However, a section of sociologists points to some other factors for the declining appeal of boat races in the villages. According to them, purely folk entertainments and cultural events in general have long been in the doldrums in rural Bangladesh --- boat race being one of them.
Along with boat races, dozens of folk events have long been non-existent in Bangladesh. A massive assault of time coupled with a change in people's attitude towards outdoor entertainments is being singled out by many. The common scene is the rural youths are feverishly being drawn towards mobile phones and online funs. Many believe there are some other reasons behind the youths' apathy for traditional entertainments. As has been reported in the media over the last two decades, the village people, both young and old, who used to arrange cultural events, do not show the eagerness nowadays unlike in the past. They appear to have begun losing interest in recreations related to folk sport or culture. These were once integral to our rural life. Boat races, fairs, sessions of folk music, Jatra-Pala, circuses etc not long ago would dominantly comprise the rural entertainment landscape. It seems weird to see an area blessed with fully flowing rivers has not organised a boat race in years. Some will come up with the outnumbering of country boats with the mechanised ones. But it doesn't hold water, as boats meant for races are designed and made specially.
The new-generation villagers now grow up without knowing much about the rural outdoor entertainments. Those were innocent in nature, filled with pure amusement, at times spreading patriotism and social message. Unless it had to earn the notoriety for being indecent in the 1980s, the rural opera, popularly called Jatra, would have still been among the most enjoyable entertaining events. It earned the ire of the authorities. But there had been no bar to organising Jatras based on historical events, lives of legendary persons or time-honoured folk tales. To the surprise of many, an invisible ban has apparently been slapped on the Jatras despite being free of all kinds of eroticism. Due to not their being invited to shows, the Jatra companies have fallen on hard times. Similar crises have gripped the folk musical sessions. The village people, too, seem to be losing the urge for enjoying these traditional pastimes. This is a real conundrum.
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