For a moment if you close your eyes and just listen to the story then it would just seem to like a Bollywood movie plot. A poet and an accomplished statesman who was once close to the king and considered as one of his favorites being banished from the kingdom. The kingdom suffers a loss in the hand of its enemies, unable to take the burden of exile and the defeat of his kingdom the poet commits suicide by jumping into a river.
But this is much more than a story, it’s a chapter that had been written in the history of the Chinese state. Qu Yuan who lived during 340 – 278 BC was a famous poet of Chu state (provinces of Hubei and Hunan, along with parts of Chongqing, Guizhou, Henan, Anhui, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai) under King Huai.
At that period in ancient China there were many warring states and amongst them were also the states of Chu and Qi. King Huai was no more and the new King Qingxiang was constantly trying to consolidate the state’s position with Qi. Qu Yuan was sent by the king to the Qi state on a diplomatic mission, slowly Qu Yuan was becoming very powerful and this did not go well with the other ministers of Qingxiang.
Somehow the ministers were successful to make Qingxiang banish Qu Yuan. Saddened by this he left for his birth village and started writing poetry, these were more of folklore about his country.
In 278 BC he came to know that his country has been overrun by General Bai Qi from the Qin state, not being able to bare this he wrote the famous “Lament for Ying” and then proceeded to commit suicide by jumping in Miluo River.
Seeing this the villagers rushed with boats to rescue the poet and the statesman but it was too late Qu Yuan had forever been immortalized in the waters and left behind a legacy of poetry for his countrymen. The villagers wanted the poet’s body to be left aside by the fishes of the river and for this, the villagers hit the water with their paddles to keep the fish away. To keep the evil spirits away the villagers beat drums on their boat.
One night the spirit of Qu Yuan appeared to his friend confirming his death in the river. Qu Yuan asked his friends to wrap the rice in silk packs with three corners and throw them into the river to keep away the dragons.
Slowly with time this activity which is repeated on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month became the Dragon Boat Race Festival and people still throw three-cornered rice but these are now wrapped in bamboo leaves. These are now what we know as Zongzi, a bamboo leaf wrapped sticky rice with the center having a meat mix in the center.
First Dragon Boat Race in India
Kolkata has a large Chinese population, the largest in India. Dragon Boat Race festival was started in this city last year at Tiretti Bazaar are but there were no provisions for boat race since the nearest water body was the Hoogly River. It was only restricted to a Chinese Food Festival.
This year the association decided to shift the date which was scheduled for 5th of June to 26th of June as there was big surprise installed. A crucial tie-up was done with Calcutta Rowing Club to host the first ever Dragon Boat Race at Rabindro Sarobor Lake. Even though rowing boats would be used and not actual dragon boats but still it will be a milestone in this country.
The event was wonderfully choreographed with the support of the Chinese Community and the other partners for the event. The chief guest for the evening was Mr. Ma Zhanwu – Consul-General of the People’s Republic of China in Kolkata and Professor Maria Fernandes. James Liao and his team of Lion Dancers truly entertained the audience with the ancient art of Lion Dance and who can forget the wonder rendition of Chinese songs by Thomas Chen. To top of it all there were lip smacking Chinese Food, if you are always on the hunt for authentic Chinese food in the city then this would have been the place to go.
Next year the Dragon Boat Festival is going to be hosted in a much grander way and if everything goes according to plan then we would be able to see for the first time dragon boats on the Hooghly River.