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On the Hoogly–Khushbagh and Plassey-and Bauls

October 25, 2009

It was our fourth day on the Hoogly and after an overnight on the riverbank, we sailed downstream a short distance.  We then traveled by cycle rickshaws to Khushbagh, a peaceful Moghul-style garden enclosing the tombs of Siraj-ud-Daulah and his family.

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Behind the gardens and tombs was a small family mosque.

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Everywhere we went we had an interested audience.  As we returned to The Sukapha, we noticed some ads in a tree (one certified by Microsoft) as well as a local goddess at the base.  Ah, India.

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We cruised downstream to the battlefield of Plassey where in 1757 Clive’s defeat of Siraj-ud-Daulah changed the course of Indian history.  We walked through fields to the commemorative obelisk, a thunderstorm chasing us, until in a tiny village we decided to head back to our boat.

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Driving back to the boat, we realized that we’d seen the life cycle of jute.

Jute Cultivation:  “Almost 85% of the world’s jute cultivation is concentrated in the Ganges delta.  To grow jute, farmers scatter the seeds on cultivated soil. When the plants are about 15-20 cm tall, they are thinned out. About four months after planting, harvesting begins. The plants are usually harvested after they flower, but before the flowers go to seed. The stalks are cut off close to the ground. The stalks are tied into bundles and soaked in water (retting) for about 20 days. This process softens the tissues and breaks the hard pectin bond between the bast & Jute hurd (inner woody fiber stick) and the process permits the fibres to be separated. The fibres are then stripped from the stalks in long strands and washed in clear, running water. Then they are hung up or spread on thatched roofs to dry. After 2-3 days of drying, the fibres are tied into bundles.”

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That night on the boat there was a surprise performance on the top deck.  Baul performers sang poetry and danced for us.

Bauls are a group of mystic minstrels from Bengal. Bauls constitute both a syncretic religious sect and a musical tradition used as a vehicle to express Baul thought. Bauls are a very heterogeneous group, with many different streams to the sect, but their membership mainly consists of sahajiya Vaishnavas, tantriks and Sufis Muslims. They can be often identified by their distinctive clothes and musical instruments, like the ektara. Though Bauls comprise only a small fraction of the Bengali population, their influence on the culture of Bengal is considerable. In 2005, the Baul tradition was included in the list of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.

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We cruised to an overnight mooring near Katwa, a market town with narrow bustling bazaars.  Tomorrow we would visit the brassworking village of Matiari.

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