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Moichhara, Bengal's very own fertility ritual

20 August, 2020 03:58:14
Moichhara, Bengal's very own fertility ritual

Magnificent, strongly built pairs of cattle, yoked to ploughs, muscles rippling as they thunder and snort through the mud and slush of paddy fields, surrounded by a cheering, festive crowd. This is an average description of 'Moichhara', a time-honoured fertility ritual of rural Bengal, which has remained largely off the public radar.


Captured through the lens of photographer Pradyut Choudhury, this superb spectacle deserves far more publicity than it has received, particularly given its inherently secular and inclusive nature. Essentially a cattle race, this centuries-old tradition serves the twin purpose of testing the strength of the cattle, as well as increase the fertility of the land at the onset of the monsoon crop sowing season.


Inevitably, the modern era has seen a decline in scale of Moichhara, which was earlier celebrated practically all over Bengal. Nevertheless, it remains popular in many parts of south Bengal in particular, and is usually held through the months of June and July. 


Perhaps one of the most wonderful aspects of the ritual is the single-minded focus on farming and farmers, to the exclusion of all else. There is nothing remotely religious about what is essentially an agricultural necessity - the softening up of the land before cultivation begins. Therefore, 'participants' and audiences come in from all areas. Here, their profession is the only thing that matters. Names and beliefs are unimportant.


Throughout the year, cattle are prepared specially for the day. As soon as the monsoon arrives, preparations for the race get underway. Typically, a Moichhara race lasts three days, and signals the start of ploughing. In the past, the human winners would be rewarded with a cow. Today, the scope has expanded to include such household necessities as bicycles and almirahs too! 

In the words of an organiser of one such race, "Our only aim is to ensure a good harvest. This is not just a cattle race, it is a festival of togetherness. The only religion here is that of the farmer."

Image Courtesy - Pradyut Choudhury

Story Tag:
  • Agriculture

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