The Financial Express
Swasti Lankabangla Swasti Lankabangla


Placating an untameable river

Placating an untameable river

The spectacle is highly unusual, and it doesn't go with the cultural identity of Bangladesh. The scenario had hundreds of people attending an event of pouring three massively large pots (dekchi in Bangla) of 'khichuri' into the Arial Kha River in Barishal district. The objective was to cool down the river's wrath. 'Khichuri', gruel of sorts, is a cooked mixture of rice, lentils, meat, vegetables, spices and other ingredients. The offering prepared for the Arial Kha cost the villagers a little more than Tk 10,000.   Led by local elders, the event was attended by the residents of several villages in the area. The river has allegedly turned furious in the past few years. With the river's ferocity increasing, the people living on its two sides watched in helpless silence the havoc wrought by it. The trail of destruction left by it centred round devouring of riverside structures. Those included two mosques, a primary school, around 50 homesteads and vast areas of agro-plots.

Devouring of all kinds of structure and lands in spates of monsoon river erosion is a common scourge in the country. In almost all the cases, weakened dykes and embankments are identified as the culprits. The persons who were behind the construction of the protective dams are also made to take a large share of the blame. Perhaps the case of placating the anger of a river --- here Arial Kha, has been unique in the recent times in the land.

The incident points to a lot of things. They range from atavistic features in a racial composition, the dormant ancient traits in culture and day-to-day rituals to man's seeking refuge in his or her past in times of crisis. The uniqueness of the incident of cooling down a non-living entity, a Bangladesh river in the present case, stems from a proven truth: the society in general in the country is monotheistic. There is no place here of placating a hostile deistic power or seeking its forgiveness. By countless accounts, cases like that related to Arial Kha's taming were common during the land's ancient pagan past. Like in many primitive societies, the culture of surrendering to displeased unearthly beings was said to be alive in Bengal in the not-too-distant past. Special arrangements of making certain divine guardians happy and urging them to forgive human follies were common in this part of the sub-continent. Luckily, the land of Bengal was free from the rituals of macabre offerings like that practised in the ancient Amazon forest areas or the Sub-Saharan Africa.

There is an amazing aspect of the whole episode. Even after becoming a monotheistic society, the Bengalee Muslims, Christians and a segment of Hindus --- the Brahmos, could not dissociate themselves from their cultural past. There are reasons why the incident of the Arial Kha's appeasing has amazed many. Such a practice brought alive from the misty past is a rare occurrence in the present context. Moreover, it points to a lot of human characteristics which have continued to evolve since man realised the presence of the divine beings within themselves.    The dominant of human features is his frail nature. They feel insecure over the faint signs of an approaching danger. No matter if one is an unflinching monotheist or a pagan believing in polytheism, humans turn to the divine to help them find a way out. Sociologists might feel tempted to call the Arial Kha ritual one belonging to the folk tradition. People believing in pragmatism or the fruits of mundane existence might come up with a piece of advice: Ask the local authorities to build erosion-resistant embankments along the river.


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