Cows! These domesticated benevolent animals more often find a place as the subject of heated political debates than their actual breeding grounds these days. But they definitely play an intrinsic part in the lives of farmers living in the Canning administrative block of South 24 Parganas district in West Bengal.
India, an agro-economy based nation, welcomes and celebrates the harvesting season as a gala. And for over decades, villages across Canning has been fervently taking part in celebrating a unique festival that goes by the name “Moichara”.
The speciality of this festival lies in the way it is celebrated, which is marked by cattle race among villagers. Though this festival has over a 100-year-old history in different regions of West Bengal, unable to keep pace with time, it is now on the verge of extinction. However, the villagers of Canning with their whole-hearted efforts have kept the tradition alive.
The primary purpose of this cattle race is to test the capacity of the bulls before the start of cultivation in the rainy season and increase the fertility of the land. Moichara usually takes place during late June or early July. Local farmers decide upon a paddy field, and they come from neighbouring villages with their bulls to race them in the waterlogged fields.
All the farmers join this festival, forgetting their religious differences. Although the purpose is to improve the agriculture of the place, it bears the harmony of the festival, which only instil joy to the people participating in it.
The bulls taking part in Moichara are meticulously reared for this wild racing event. They are left unbridled for a frenzied run, and the men with all their might run with them till the finishing line of the race through the paddy fields filled with water and mud up to 6 inches.
The race is a relentless show of men’s physical strength in competition with the brutal force of bulls. The bulls are always restless and impatient. They drive the guides out of breath and pace. At times, they slide and get stuck in the mud. Men too slip in the mud while keeping pace with the animals. However, this festival is devoid of religion, politics, colour and jealousy. It merely marks the beginning of a harvest season.
Earlier, the winners of the race were honoured with a new bull. However, nowadays, they are given prizes like motorcycles, almirah, furniture, etc. It is a sight to watch the bulls race down the sloppy field, splashing the muddy water everywhere, which creates intense drama in the environment. Therefore, hundreds of photographers hordes at the venue of the race to capture the intensity of Moichara.
For the locals, it is not only a competition but a way to celebrate and take part in the fervour of expecting a good harvest.
All the photographs in this article have been taken by Soumyodeep Mukherjee. By profession, he is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering. He loves to document the life of people and the essence of the street beside his regular works.