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Palanquin: Sign of Bangladesh’s past tradition

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02nd-Feb-2018       
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Md Altaf Hussain :
Palanquin is one kind of transports which of the rich and the aristocratic people used to travel from one place to another is the old days. The Postal Department introduced it early nineteenth century for transporting people. This kind
of transport was called 'Stage Palanquin', which lasted till the end of the
said century. Distant travellers bought tickets from the Post office.
But with the arrival of trains and steamers in the mid-nineteenth
century, the use of ‘Stage Palanquin’ began to fall.
The gradual development of the road communication and buffalo and
cow-carts nearly put an end to the use of Palanquin as transport. In the 1930th, the introduction of the rickshaw in the towns abolished the use of the
Palanquin. Gradual expansion of road communication and popularity
of motors launches and rickshaws finally drove away Palanquin.
The word ‘Palanquin’ springs from the Sangskrit words Palyanka or Porijayanka. In Pali literature, the name of this kind of transport is Palanko.
In Hindi and Bengali literature, it is known as Palki. In many places,
it is known as Duli or Shibika.
The Portugyese gave its name Palanquin, Renowed traveller Ibn Batuta
and English traveller John Magnolly of the 14th century travelled
by Palki. During the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar and the latter days,
the military commanders travelled by it.
The aristocrats preferred Palki prior to the introduction of modern
transports. In the remote areas of Bengal, the Palki was
the main transport for a long period in the marriage ceremony and other
programmes. It was used to transport ailing people too to the hospitals.
During the mid 19th century, the English stopped to ride by it. However, the local aristocrats continued to travel till the closing stage of the said century. During the forties of the 19th century, with the abolition of the slavery, the Palanquin-bearers began to arrive in Bengal from Bihar, Orissya, Chhoto Nagpur and Central Province. Many a Santal people chose the profession of Palanquin-bearing. In the dry season, they came to this region and with the arrival
of the rainy season they left for homes. Towards the close of the rainy season they made makeshift houses to dwell in.
As Palki had no wheels, the bearers took it on their shoulders and advanced
forward, dancing and singing. Whoso shouldered it was called Palki Behara. Those from the Hadi, Ma’l, Dule, Bagdi ad Bawdi communities worked as
bearers. These people worked also as day labourers and fishermen. When they shouldered Palki, they rendered songs with attractive rhyme. Palki is of three categories-ordinary Palki, mirror Palki and a peacock-boat Palki. Ordinary Palki
is square, covered with wood on all sides having slopping roof.
It has two doors in the opposite direction of similar design.
Some of them have windows also. Paintings are done outside.
The mirror-Palki has mirror so that outside scenery can be seen from inside. Two chairs like seats and a table are placed their. The Peacock-boat like Palki is the largest in size. It is made in the shape of Peacock, accommodating two chairs, one table and a shelf. The hat is carved and outside is designed with wooden bird, dolls and creepers and herbs. The smallest one is called Dully, carried by two bearers. The large Palki is carried by four or eight bearers. There is hardly any use of Palki nowadays. Yet, in a limited way, it is found in the marriage ceremony and Pilgrimage centres. It had its use in the remote areas of Bengal for a long time
to carry the sick to the doctors, newly married couples and aristocrats.
The European merchants need Palki in the 17th and the 18th centuries to carry their trading consignment in the markets, ports. They became so accustomed to use it that an employee of the company irrespective of salary kept a Palki and it was sumptuous. So the employee adopted unfairmeans to match the Palki’s expenditures Consequently the Court of Directors imposed sanction on the use of Palki in the case of ordinary employees. Towards the closure of the 19th century, the aristocrats and the locally influential persons used Palki as means of
transports. Rabindranath's Palki is still preserved at his Shealdah residence.
In those days, the financially sound people accommodated Palki born by their servants.But sadly this traditional means of transport is on the way to disappear. Once it was the chief transport for the newly married spouses.
The Hunhuna Hunhuna sound was heard. The bearers stepped to keep pace
with musical measure and spread melodiously a rhythmic arrangement of music while carried the bride, who cast shy eyes through doors, watched by the people of the roadside residences. But that Hunhuna sound and rhythmic music are not heard nowadays. With the passage of time that traditional transport
has really vanished. Still someone out of hobby searched for Palki to bring
different taste in the programme. The necessity of Palki has begun to come back in the urban life as special ornament to marriage ceremony. Palki is a sign
of ancient cultural life, and past tradition.

(Md Altaf Hussain is Chairman, Green Club, Manikganj)

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