New years are the time of celebration and are perhaps one of the most important festivals of the community. The Chinese New Year is one of the most important festivals of the Chinese calendar. And the Chinese community in Kolkata celebrates it among mush festivities. 2017 is the year of Rooster according to Chinese Calendar. The Chinese New Year Kolkata is also one of the many cultural events that Kolkata boasts of.
Many a time I had seen these colourful processions during the winters near the Territy Bazar area – dance performed by a handful dressed as dragons amidst the sound of drums and cymbals, bright coloured paper patterns adorning the streets. I had previously dismissed it while being stuck in traffic silently cursing the procession! But today as I have started knowing Kolkata and appreciating its tradition, I am being part of one of the most beautiful celebrations in the city – the Chinese New Year.
The Chinese population in Kolkata is mainly concentrated in two regions – the Territy Bazar or the “Old Chin town” and the Tangra (New China Town). Though the Chinese first came to Kolkata during 1780. Tong Achew, a trader had obtained land for setting up a sugar factory in Achipur near Budge Budge. With it, the Chinese population came to Kolkata. Very soon, they migrated to Kolkata and settled in the area of Territy Bazar and Tangra. The Chinese Community in Kolkata celebrates the New Year in a completely traditional way at Territy Bazar and Tangra.
This year the new year fell on January 28. The celebration starts much before the actual date and lasts for a few days. Stages are set up at Tangra and Territy Bazar for cultural shows. On the actual day, dragon and lion dances are held on the roads of Tangra and Territy Bazar.
On any normal day, you will pass off Territy Bazar just as you would see any busy Kolkata street. But during the Chinese New Year day, you can see the people getting ready for a lion dance with some others playing the drums. The dance starts with an offering in front of the Chinese temple. The group dances amidst bursting firecrackers – a sight to behold.
These groups then make their way through the lanes and bye-lanes of Territy Bazar and go in front of business establishments, shops and local households.
An interesting event happens here. The local Chinese people put some money in a red envelope and tie it with a bunch of lettuce leaves and hang it from their windows or verandahs. The dancers dressed as lions then try to grab the money and the lettuce leaves. They form a human tower and the one dressed as the lion goes on top and grabs the money. There is an interesting folklore related to this. It says that long ago when the beast called Nian came out from the mountain tired and hungry, it tried to prey on the people on the eve of the New Year. An old man advised to frighten the beast using red cloth and the loud sounds of drums and cymbals. This explains celebration with drums and the lettuce leaves are given to the hungry lion for food. They burst firecrackers as a symbol to ward off the evil forces.
Although the number of Chinese is decreasing in Kolkata just like the other communities, they celebrate the rituals in a traditional way. Even the youngsters who are today not familiar with the traditional Mandarin or Cantonese language, they follow the rituals on the New Year.
No festival is complete without food. The Chinese have a grand feast during this time. The dance procession that starts in the Territy Bazar usually ends at the Bow Barracks. Also, on Sunday next to the New Year, the Chinese community pays a visit to Achipur to pay tribute to the Tong Achew, their founder.
The Chinese are trying to keep their tradition and culture alive among the cosmopolitan Kolkata. This year the number of dancing groups was lesser than previous years. Our trip ended with visiting the Chinese Temples in the Territy Bazar Area.
Kolkata has always been a place that has welcomed all communities alike. The city is a rare potpourri of communities and culture. We are trying to bring forth the various cultural and traditional facets of Kolkata through our blog. If you like this post, please share it and let others know about the real Kolkata, the Kolkata behind the high rises, the Kolkata of the streets and alleys and finally Kolkata for all.
If you are aware of any other traditional festivals and programmes, please contact us. We will be happy to showcase it.
To know more about Chinese New Year click here.
The pictures are all taken in Territy Bazar Area and is the property of Tale of 2 Backpackers. Please do not use them in any form without obtaining permission.