Kolkata: The Dragon Boat Festival is a traditional holiday originating in China, which has been held annually for more than 2,000 years in the days close to the summer solstice. The focus of most celebrations involves eating zongzi (sticky rice treats wrapped in bamboo leaves), drinking realgar wine (an alcoholic drink that consists of cereal wine and powdered yellow-orange mineral), and racing dragon boats. The festival is organized by the Indian Chinese Association for Culture, Welfare and Development with support from the Consulate-General of The Peoples Republic of China in Kolkata.
The Dragon Boat Festival also called Duwanu Jie is usually held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. But in Kolkata, the festival Is celebrated in June. The festival involves dragons, spirits, loyalty and food – the most important elements of the Chinese tradition and culture. The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival that is now celebrated worldwide is known for the boat race and eating sticky rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves. These narrow wooden boats are decorated with dragons (hence the name Dragon Boat Race). The rice balls are called ‘Zongzi’ in Mandarin.
Like every festival, there is a mythology or story attached to it. The Dragon Boat Festival also has a story behind it. And the story belongs to Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet and Minister in the state of Chu during the feudal dynasty period of ancient China. He had advised the King to ally with the state of Qi (one of the seven warring states) to fight against the most powerful state of Qin. The king, however, did not believe in him and actually thought him to be a traitor and sent him to exile. During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry that showed his love for his country.
Qu Yuan was however right, and the state of Chu was captured by its enemies. On hearing about the tragedy, Qu felt so much remorse that he committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River in the Hunan Province.
When the death of Qu Yuan came to the knowledge of the local people, they were aghast. They took out their boats and rowed to the river in search of Qu’s body. But alas! They were unable to find his body. So they paddle their boats up and down the river, hitting the water with the paddles and beating drums in order to scare away the water spirits. They also threw rice dumplings into the water to keep the fishes and the water spirits away from Qu Yuan’s body. Later these rice dumplings also became offerings to the spirit of Qu Yuan. From here originated the Dragon boat race and the rice dumpling ‘zongzi’.