The Institute of Cultural Research in Kankurgachi in Calcutta, hosts a boat museum, which is one of the most unique museums in the country. The museum showcases 46 models of country boats, the heritage water transportation of the country that is fast disappearing with time. As Bengal is a land of rivers, boats were the best option for long distance travelling and transportation of merchandise, even a hundred years ago, as there were not enough rail or road transport facilities.
In fact, there was a time, when boats were treated as an integral part of life for a major section of the population in Bengal, which is reflected in the local religious literature like Mangalkavyas. Apart from Bengal, the picture of the other parts of the country was all the same. History says, during the early days, Indians used sea-routes for trading with the neighbouring countries like Sir Lanka and in Bengal, Tamralipta and Chandraketugarh were well known sea-ports.
The idea of establishing a museum to house the heritage boats of Bengal was conceived by Upendranath Biswas, the former minister for backward class welfare in the West Bengal government, who was once the joint director of the Central Bureau of Investigation.
In fact, the shapes and sizes of the boats depend on the purpose and types of rivers. As for example, the ‘Dinghy’ works fine in the waters of River Hooghly, where current is weak. However, to negotiate the rivers with strong currents, the flat-bottomed ‘Kosha’ is ideal. The 46 model boats and ships, used for carrying passengers, cargo, fishing and other purposes that are displayed in glass cases in the Calcutta Boat Museum were created by the rural craftsmen from South Dinajpur District in West Bengal. Apart from the boats and ships dating back to the days of Indus Valley Civilization, the models include the country boats from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Bangladesh.
Making a boat requires special skill and it needs years of apprenticeship to become an expert in the profession. However, as the demand for boats is steadily decreasing, the workshops for boats are also shutting down slowly and steadily