Photos: ‘Moi-Chhara’, Bengal’s Annual Bull Race
Once again this year, farmers in a relatively unknown south Bengal village are busy organising a bullock race to celebrate the arrival of monsoon.
Every year, Herobhanga, 80 kilometres from Kolkata in South 24 Pargana district of West Bengal, organises a bullock race, locally called Moi-Chhara.
The race usually takes place in mid-June or early July, when farmers begin cultivation.
The ‘game’ involves pairs of bulls racing against each other. There are red flags at the start and finish points. The bull that comes first wins. The rules fixed by the organising committee have to be followed by the competitors.
Usually, farmers who own the bulls become the jockey. The bovine are tied together by a piece of wood called joyal, which helps them run simultaneously. Meanwhile, the jockey stands on another piece of wood called moi.
The jockey is responsible for maintaining the speed of the bull. And those who have more experience have a better chance of finishing first.
However, the race has also been criticised for being cruel to the animal.
The participants don’t just come from Herobhanga – many come from the three nearby blocks in Canning.
“This year, we have more than 50 participants. That means more than 100 bulls will be participating in the race,” said Md Asauddin, secretary of the Moi-Chhara Committee.
“Our festival is the oldest bullock race in Bengal. We have been celebrating for the last 30 years,” he added.
The betting culture seeps in these races too. At the end of the event, winners are felicitated with plaques. The prizes range from bicycles to utensils.
Asgar Ali from Canning II block has been participating in the race since the last 16 years. Though he has never won the race, he hopes his fortunes will be different this time.