There was a festive mood at the Calcutta Boating and Hotel Resorts near Tangra on the afternoon of 11th June 2017. Kolkata was celebrating the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival. And the whole place was filled with people of the Kolkata Chinese community as well as others. All were there to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival.
The Dragon Boat Festival also called Duwanu Jie is usually held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. This year, the date was May, 28; but in Kolkata, the festival was celebrated on June 11. The festival involves dragons, spirits, loyalty and food – the most important elements of the Chinese tradition and culture. The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival that is now celebrated worldwide is known for the boat race and eating sticky rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves. These narrow wooden boats are decorated with dragons (hence the name Dragon Boat Race). The rice balls are called ‘Zongzi’ in Mandarin.
Like every festival, there is a mythology or story attached to it. The Dragon Boat Festival also has a story behind it. And the story belongs to Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet and Minister in the state of Chu during the feudal dynasty period of ancient China. He had advised the King to ally with the state of Qi (one of the seven warring states) to fight against the most powerful state of Qin. The king, however, did not believe in him and actually thought him to be a traitor and sent him to exile. During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry that showed his love for his country.
Qu Yuan was however right, and the state of Chu was captured by its enemies. On hearing about the tragedy, Qu felt so much remorse that he committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River in the Hunan Province.
When the death of Qu Yuan came to the knowledge of the local people, they were aghast. They took out their boats and rowed to the river in search of Qu’s body. But alas! They were unable to find his body. So they paddle their boats up and down the river, hitting the water with the paddles and beating drums in order to scare away the water spirits. They also threw rice dumplings into the water to keep the fishes and the water spirits away from Qu Yuan’s body. Later these rice dumplings also became offerings to the spirit of Qu Yuan. From here originated the Dragon boat race and the rice dumpling ‘zongzi’.
The Calcutta Boating and Hotel Resorts was adorned with festoons and posters and were all in the cheerful mood. Stalls were made all red in colour. Chinese lanterns adorned the ceilings. There was food stall at the sides serving All the Chinese delicacies. The Chinese vendors who sell breakfast at Tirreta Bazar every morning had put up their stall. There were mouth watering momos, buns, dumplings and wantons. Veg and Chicken chowmein was there for all the foodies. And there was also zongzi! There were two versions – a sweeter one and another one made of chicken.
There was also a stall were various designs of paper cutting was displayed. A stage was set up at one end where various cultural programmes were held.
The programme started off with the boat race. We were just in time to witness the race. Narrow boats were decorated with dragons. There were a few teams who took part in the race. And true to the tradition, the participants beat drums during the race. As the boat race was in action, rain played a spoilsport and many of us had to run for shelter.
After the race, there was a small function and then the cultural programme started. The programme consisted of the Lion Dance, Artistic Fan dance and other traditional performances. It was a memorable evening for all. Although we could not stay for the entire evening; but the time spent there was indeed a unique experience.
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