Preserving Maritime Heritage: Swarup Bhattacharyya’s Journey into the World of Country Boats in West Bengal
In the heart of West Bengal’s riverine landscape, anthropologist Swarup Bhattacharyya has embarked on a unique quest to safeguard the legacy of country boats, a traditional mode of transport facing extinction. His expertise in boat typology has illuminated the once-varied fleet, with a particular focus on Betnai and the endangered Merhli.
Exploring the Anthropological Tapestry: Bhattacharyya’s Academic Odyssey
Swarup Bhattacharyya’s journey began with academic curiosity, post his master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Calcutta. Intrigued by the intricate relationship between humans and boats, he delved into boat typology, dedicating nearly three decades to studying the diverse array of boats in West Bengal.
Scientific Models as Guardians of Heritage
Bhattacharyya’s passion extends beyond research; it materializes in scientifically crafted models preserving the essence of each boat. In an era where many traditional boats face extinction, these models become a time capsule, offering a tangible glimpse into their architectural intricacies.
A Vanishing Legacy: The Decline of Traditional Boat Varieties
West Bengal, once home to around 100 boat types, now grapples with preserving its remaining 30 varieties. Bhattacharyya sheds light on the rapid decline, attributing it to motorization rendering some boats obsolete. Notable losses include Chhot, Sangara, Sangor, Betnai, Khorokisti, and Sultani, each succumbing to changing transportation needs.
The Dingi: Emblem of Resilience
Among the surviving boats, the dingi stands out as the most popular. Versatile and spoon-shaped, ranging from 10 to 50 feet, the dingi’s adaptability mirrors its enduring popularity. Bhattacharyya draws a historical connection, revealing that the British adopted the term, giving rise to the use of “dinghy” for small boats on ships.
A Painful Transition: Craftsmen and Decline
Bhattacharyya’s extensive interactions with boat makers reveal a poignant narrative of decline. Highly skilled professionals, once proud boat builders, now face dwindling demand, leading them to non-skilled jobs. Dihimandalghat, once a hub for boat builders, exemplifies this shift, with only a fraction of its skilled craftsmen remaining.
International Collaborations: Nurturing Global Interest
Bhattacharyya’s work has transcended borders, fostering collaborations with institutions like the Viking Ship Museum in Denmark and the Centre for Maritime Archaeology at Southampton University. His efforts bridge the local craftsmanship of Bengal with global scholarly interest in maritime heritage.
Conclusion: Bhattacharyya’s Legacy of Maritime Preservation
In Swarup Bhattacharyya’s tireless endeavors, the story of West Bengal’s country boats finds a dedicated guardian. As he continues to navigate the waters of boat typology and preservation, his work stands as a testament to the rich maritime heritage that once thrived along the rivers of West Bengal.