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Smooth boat rides at Bishnupur

Published May 20, 2022
Updated Oct 26, 2022

📍 🇮🇳 On smooth boat rides

The Gangetic plains have always held busy ports. 

Ships of different shapes and capacities have always been used for transport and trade in the wide and long stretching river in the North-Eastern states of India. In that context, myths and romantic tales are culturally associated with these scenic boat rides - they are called “naukavihar” in Hindu language.

Terracotta tiles at the Jorbangla temple exemplify this fascination for Gangetic boats riding smoothly over peaceful waters. They resemble canoe designs from South-East Asia islands, which dragon heads at the bow indicate. These boats seem joined together, advancing in single file, in the manner of the neighboring islands of Java and Sumatra; and we know that the latter had deep trade connections with the Eastern Indian coast.

One of the most common observations made by ancient and medieval travelers is that the ships of the Indian Ocean had hulls that were stitched together with a rope. This design most likely originated in India but seems to have been adopted by the Yemeni and Omani Arabs at an early stage. It remained a preferred technique till the Europeans arrived at the end of the 15th century. Yet, there are still a few coastal villages in India that have preserved the skill of stitching together fishing boats.

At Bishnupur, terracotta artists have combined the fun and peace of a smooth boat ride with devotion towards their lord Krishna. Pay attention to the young men also: they look sublime, holding flutes in their hands, like in a trance from the mesmerizing music.

____ Sources ____

>> Sanjeev Sanyal, “The Ocean of Church: how the Indian ocean shaped human history”, 2016

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