The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Tuen Ng or Duanwu Festival is a traditional festival of China, celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month of the traditional lunar calendar. The festival involves racing Dragon Boats, eating Zongzi (pork stuffed in sticky rice, wrapped in bamboo leaves) and drinking realgar wine.
There are quite a few stories surrounding the origin of the festival, but the most popular (as per Wikipedia) is that of Qu Yuan. Qu Yuan, the story goes, was a poet and a minister in the ancient state of Chu. When the king decided to ally with the state of Qin, Qu Yuan opposed the alliance, and as a result was exiled. He wrote lot of poetry during his exile. After 28 years of exile, Qu Yuan was captured by Qin. In despair, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River. It is said, that the locals, who admired him, raced out their boats to save him or at least to retrieve his body from the river. This is said to be the origin of the Dragon Boat racing. When the body could not be found, the locals dropped balls of sticky rice, so that the fish would eat them, instead of Qu Yuan’s body. This is said to be the origin of the tradition of eating Zongzi.
All the above information, which I hope buttresses my aura as Know-All, I took the trouble of gathering thanks to my good friend, Thomas Chen. Thomas is a wonderful singer, who can sing in at least 4 languages, if not more, including Mandarin, English, Hindi and Bengali!
One fine day, he texted me- “The Indian Chinese community is organizing a Dragon Boat Festival in Calcutta. There’s a meeting to discuss about the same. Would love to have you there.”
I replied- “Sure. Would love to join!” However, I could not make it to the meeting eventually.
Later, when Thomas told me that the festival would take place on 21st June, a Sunday, I made a mental note not to miss it for anything.
But, there was a catch. It was going to be a Dragon Boat Festival without a Dragon Boat Race! Ever imagined what it would be like?
Sunday came and the rain gods ensured that Kolkata was supplied with enough water to make sure that not just Dragon boats, even Battleships could easily ply on the streets of the metropolis!
With a heavy heart, I thought- ‘There goes my chance to taste the Zongzi’. Only divine intervention could make the festival take place!
And that’s exactly what happened! Believe it or not, just as the clock struck 5 p.m.( the official starting time for the festival) the rain stopped, and people from all over the city poured to Old China Town.
The entire event was a wonderful mix of street art, street dance, finger-licking Chinese food (yes, including the traditional dish, Zongzi), some amazing multilingual songs from Thomas and of course, Dragon Dance!
I saw 3 youngsters spray painting a beautiful dragon on the shutters of a shop. Four guys set the street on fire with their amazing hip-hop moves. Thomas was a treat to the audience with his wonderful renditions of popular Hindi, English, Bengali and Mandarin songs! He was also the MC for the evening! As always, the highlight of the evening was the Dragon Show. I could overhear a tired mother asking Thomas, “Can you please start the Dragon Dance earlier? We cannot leave until my kids get to see the Dragon Dance!”
And boy, what a performance it was! Made that much tougher by the crowd who had taken over the area designated for the dancers. So, the young performers had to not just perform to the beats of the drums, but also look out for people in the way, so that they didn’t get tangled and fall!
I must mention the beautiful garbage vats that the organizers had installed to ensure that people did not make the place dirty after eating all those delicious food. It was very unique and something organizers of other events should try incorporating.
I think it is fair to say that no one missed the dragon boats and the organizers were overwhelmed with joy at the huge number of people who turned up that evening.
As for the rain gods, it was quite a miracle how they were kind enough not to dampen the spirits with any further precipitation, during the event, and it started raining again, just as the last event ended.