Putting the Rafts out to Sea: Talking of Bera Bhashan in Bengal

Rila Mukherjee


Bera (raft) bhasan (sending out) is a ritual linking two societies and two landscapes: the maritime and the agrarian. After the monsoon, palm or plantain rafts are placed on the river to placate the gods. The bera bhasan that is practiced today is an amalgam of earlier practices of two communities-the Islamic and the Hindu. Arab merchants introduced this practice into Bengal when they prayed for safe passage at sea before venturing out. Similarly Hindu peasants would observe a variant of Bera Bhasan called sedo on the last day of pous or January, whereby they would placate the rain and river gods by setting out small rafts on water. On these flowers, sweets and lamps were placed to ensure a good harvest the following year. Therefore two worlds came together in this practice, the maritime and the rural, signifying two kinds of activity, mercantile and agrarian. In seventeenth-century Mughal Bengal it developed from a folk belief into a community practice. In eighteenth-century Nawabi Bengal it was co-opted by the state as pageantry and it is now a state-sponsored enterprise linking the Hindu and Muslim communities.

Full Text:



Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Seidman, Steven (eds.) (1990) Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ali, M.M. (1985) History of the Muslims of Bengal, 2 vols., Riyadh: Imam Muhammad Ibn Sa'ud Islamic University Press.

Allah, Salim (1788) Tawarikh-i-Bangalah or a Narrative of the Transactions on Bengal, (trans.) Francis Gladwin, Calcutta.

Bhattacharya, Ashutosh (1982) Banglar Lok Sanskriti, New Delhi: National Book Trust.

Blochmann, H. (1867) 'Notes on Sirajuddaulah and the Town of Murshidabad, taken from a Persian manuscript of the Tarikh-i-Mancuri', Journal of the Asiatic Society 1: 2.

Bouchon, Genevieve, and Thomaz, Luis Filipe (eds.) (1988) Voyage dans les Deltas du Gange et l'Irraouaddy;, 1521, Paris: Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian.

Cheetham, Tom (2004) Green Man, Earth Angel: The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World, New York: SUNY Press.

Das, S. and Pal, R. (1998) Hazarduarir Nabab: Sube Banglar Shesh Nazim, Khagra, Murshidabad: Itihas Parikrama.

El Hibri, Tayeb (1999) Reinterpreting Islamic Historiography: Harul-al-Rashid and the Narratives of the Abbasid Caliphate, Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511497476

Fryer, Dr. John (1909-15) A New Account of East India and Persia, London: Hakluyt.

Gilroy, Paul (1993) The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Goiten, S.D. (1968) Studies in Islamic History and Institutions, Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Gutas, Dimitri (1998) Greek Thought, Arab Culture: The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early Abbasid Society (2nd-4th and 8th-10th C.), London/N.Y.: Routledge.

Metcalf, Barbara D. and Metcalf, Thomas R. (2006) A Concise History of Modern India, 2nd ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511812750

Michael, H. Fisher (ed.) (1997) The Travels of Dean Mahomet, A Native of Patna in Bengal, Through Several Parts of India, While in the Service of The Honourable The East India Company Written by Himself, In a Series of Letters to a Friend, Berkeley: University of California Press. Available online at SARAI (South Asia Research Access on the Internet) at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/web/indiv/southasia/cuvl/.

Mukherjee, Rila (2003) The Lost Worlds of Europe, Calcutta: Progressive Publishers.

Mukherjee, Rila (2006) Merchants and Companies in Bengal: Kasimbazar and Jugdia in the Eighteenth Century, New Delhi: Pragati Publications.

Mukherjee, Rila (2006) Strange Riches: Bengal in the Mercantile Map of South Asia, New Delhi: Foundation Books/Cambridge India.

Reid, Anthony (1988) South East Asia in an Age of Commerce 1450-1680, New Haven and London: Yale Press.

Rennell, J. (1782, 1976) Memoirs of a Map of Hindoostan or the Mogul Empire, Calcutta: Editions Indian.

Robine, Francois 1998, 'Les Immigrés Intha, La Transhumance des Buffles et la Circumnavigation Bouddhique du Lac Inle: Etat Shan de Birmanie' pp. 330-70 in Etudes Birmanes en Hommage à Denise Bernot, Réunis par Pierre Richard et Francois Robine (Paris: EFEO, 1998).

Sastri, Haraprasad (1980) Bener Meye, Collected Works, (ed.) Sukumar Sen, West Bengal State Book Board.

Stewart, Charles (1903) The History of Bengal, Calcutta: Bangabashi Press.

Tripati, Sila and Raut, L.N. (2006) 'Monsoon Wind and Maritime Trade: a Case Study of Historical Evidence from Orissa, India', Current Science 90(6): 864-871.

Varadarajan, Lotika (1980) 'Traditions of Indigenous Navigation in Gujarat', South Asia: Indian Ocean Issue, n.s. 3: 1.

Varadarajan, Lotika (1983) 'Indian Seafaring: The Precept and Reality of Kalivarjya', The Great Circle, 5: 1.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/tfc.v3i2.925