Chittagong port: Reliving the history of the oldest port in the East

The story of the seven seas

Remember Sindbad? The sword-wielding, brave, adventure loving Sindbad the sailor who sailed his ship through Africa and Asia, fighting monsters and mythical creatures? Or do you fancy about Pirates instead? The daring pirates in the sea, sailing on their ships, looting and hiding their treasures in deep jungles, destroying merchant ships in deep sea waters. What if we told you that Sindbad had probably moored his ship in Bengal or that an infamous pirate had, at some point in history, hidden his treasures in our deep enchanting jungles?

The finest port of the Eastern world

History of Chittagong sea port
Dutch Ships in Chittagong port, the 17th Century

In the 7th century, Chinese explorer Xuanzang described Chittagong as “A sleeping beauty rising from mist and water”. A 2000-year-old city, a mythical realm of hundred tribes and an exotic land where the mountains meet the ocean. As for its rich history, Chittagong area has been a recorded seaport since the 4th century BCE. In the 2nd century, the harbour appeared on Ptolemy’s map. The map mentions the harbour as one of the finest in the Eastern world.

Chittagong seaport has always been the trade hub between the East and the West. Records indicate frequent trade between private merchants of Europe and the merchants of the East during medieval times. According to the works of Fa-hien, Hieu-en tsng, lbn Battuta, the port of Chittagong mingled with the ancient civilization of the world.

Arab traders frequented Chittagong since the 9th century. The port appears in the travelogues of Chinese explorers Xuanzang and Ma Huan. The Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta and the Venetian traveller Niccolo De Conti visited the port in the 14th century. The historical port had ship trade with Africa, Europe, China and Southeast Asia.

In 1552 De Barros described Chittagong as the “most famous and wealthy city in Bengal” due to the port of Chittagong which was responsible for all trade in the region.

Turbulent times

History of Chittagong sea port
The Mughal-Arakan war in Chittagong that got the Portuguese expelled

The Portuguese settlement in Chittagong centred on the port in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Portuguese engaged in piracy, slavery and forced conversion in the region. After the Portuguese were expelled, Chittagong came under the rule of the Mughal Empire and was named Islamabad. It became an important shipbuilding centre, catering to the Mughal and Ottoman navies. After the rise of British dominance in Bengal following the Battle of Plassey, the Nawab of Bengal ceded the port to the British East India Company in 1760.

During WWII, Chittagong port was used by the allied forces in the Burma campaign.

Slave trade

History of Chittagong sea port
British slave trade

Chittagong port was also the hub of the slave trade between the East and the West during the 16t-17th Century. Slave traders would bring in African slaves to the port to sell them to local lords or transport them to the west. Often they would capture local boys and girls and ship them to Europe as slaves.

A chance to relive history

History of Chittagong sea port
Chittagong port in present times

If you’re planning a trip to Chittagong, do not forget to visit the seaport at least once. It might not look the same as before, but the touch of history is still alive. Standing on the same grounds where pirates and sailors of the seven seas once stood, you wouldn’t want to miss it for the world, would you?

An expatriate’s Pohela Boishakh in New York

Pohela Boishakh in New York City is both weirder (and more ordinary) than you think. Weather is a big, big thing here, and although there aren’t millions of Bengalis here, nearly everyone appreciates the good tidings brought by spring (and its promise of summer).

Read more: The story of how Bengalis owe Pohela Boishakh to Mughal emperor Akbar

Far from home

Of course, there’s no Mongol Shovajatra to see in Queens. But there is Jackson Heights, which holds Pohela Boishakh celebrations every year at the Diversity Plaza. The same place is home to a variety of Bengali restaurants, such as Ittadi, which often serve their own versions of Panta and Ilish on the day.

It’s especially hard for me to find more traces of Pohela Boishakh here because I was never into celebrations myself back in Bangladesh. But we get to see people embrace the inner Bengali inside them more frequently than expected, often arranging small events in their own communities, such as those in Astoria or Ozone Park. Perhaps, absence does make the heart fonder.

Pohela Boishakh is just one festival

There are other ways to celebrate spring too. Sakura festival celebrates the coming of spring (and cherry blossoms), taking place throughout 28th to 29th April. There’s already been a Cherry Blossom festival on Roosevelt Island, but the only train station on the island was swarmed with people afterwards, as escalators broke down and trains arrived infrequently. The MTA later rerouted other trains to the island station to relieve overcrowding, while the police helped to direct and control the crowds.

So far, I have only had one fried Hilsa fish and some sweets. Dieting doesn’t really allow me to stuff myself, but it was pretty good, all things considered. If you happen to live abroad as well, do let us know how you are spending your Noboborsho today. Especially if you have weird and exciting stories to share.

The story of how Bengalis owe Pohela Boishakh to Mughal emperor Akbar

It’s that time of the year again. Pohela Boishakh is tomorrow. As usual the country will welcome the Bengali new year 1426 with music, parades and day-long celebrations.

Even though every year we engage in the celebration of a day that is unique to our own heritage, we seem to have forgotten where it all started. In fact, we owe our very own holiday to the Mughal emperor Akbar.

Here’s how emperor Akbar invented the modern Bengali calendar.

A new religion?

Source: Creative Commons

During his tenure, Mughal emperor Akbar had set up one of the most powerful empires in the world. The seed of aspiration that emperor Babur had sowed when he first came to Hindustan had bloomed into a strong rooted tree by Akbar’s time.

With his empire and his hold over Hindustan secure, Akbar shifted his priorities to a more intellectual side of things.

His interest in religions and theology eventually prompted him to come up with his own new religion. It had elements of both Islam and Hinduism. Amartya Sen believes that a new lunisolar calendar was a part of his plan to float this new religion.

Taxation: The higher motive

But a different group of historians, perhaps more authentic accounts, suggest that Akbar had a higher motive than religion; taxes. Since the mughal empire followed the Islamic lunar calendar, it often posed a conflict with the common subjects as the lunar calendar was not in sync with the on and off seasons for cultivation in India. For the ease of his taxmen, Akbar ordered his astrologists to take the Islamic lunar calendar and prevalent solar calendar in India, combine them, and come up with a new lunisolar calendar.

Tarikh-e-Ilahi

This new calendar, known as Tarikh-e-Ilahi, was introduced all over India. But just like Akbar’s newly introduced religion, Din-e-Ilahi, this too didn’t last after his reign. Except for Bengal. In Bengal, this new calendar became an integral and useful part of daily Agriculture and the local Hindu religion.

The calendar that was invented by Akbar and introduced all over India has now become the sole identity of the Bengali nation and culture. This Pohela Boishakh, let’s take some time to remember the emperor who gifted us an integral part of our national identity. Literally. Shubho Noboborsho.