For the last two years, the Covid-19 pandemic meant the suspension of the much awaited tradition of Jobbarer Boli Khela, a wrestling competition, in Chattogram.
On Monday, the competition returned in all its glory on the Zila Parishad premises where a three-day Baishakhi fair is being held.
While Jobbarer Boli Khela is a heritage of sorts, its significance is not known to all and has almost been lost in the history books.
Though there are a total of 11 Boli tournaments held in the district every year, Jobbarer Boli Khela is the most popular, with the second being Shabuddiner Boli Khela, which is also held in the port city.
Getting ready to rumble
Jobbarer Boli Khela was first held on 25 April 1909 on Laldighi Maidan at the initiative of Abdul Jabbar, a businessman from Badarpati area of Chattogram. Since then the competition has been held once a year in Chattogram.
Jabbar's aim behind the competition was not well-known at the time.
However, his competition proved to become highly popular, ending up with Abdul Jabbar being awarded the title of Khan Bahadur for organising this exceptional event.
Jabbar, however, refused to accept the award as he was a staunch supporter of the anti-British movement.
There was a time when renowned wrestlers from the Arakan region of then Burma also took part in this competition.
But the region's tryst with wrestling goes much further back.
Abdul Haq Choudhury, a researcher on Chattogram, in his book "Bondor Shahar Chattogram" writes, "Chattogram is a land of wrestlers. Nineteen villages between Karnaphuli River and Shankha River were inhabited by people with the title of Malla (wrestler). The wrestlers with tremendous physical strength were brave men and their ancestral occupation was to perform physical exercises. These wrestlers were the main attraction of the Boli Khela and the main inspiration for organising the Boli Khela."
Twenty-two Malla families of Chattogram are historically renowned, the book reads.
Beyond the circle
Shawkat Anwar Badal, grandson of Abdul Jabbar's son, said even 50 years ago, wrestlers used to come to Chattogram to participate in the Boli Khela at least two months before the event started.
There was a big living room in their house to house the wrestlers.
"Bolis [wrestlers] from all over the country have been participating in the competition since the seventies. Once, two wrestlers from France participated in the Boli Khela," said Badal.
Those heady days, however, are far removed from the present.
Now around 100 Bolis come to take part in the Boli Khela from all over the country, he said.
Jibon Boli, current champion of Jobbarer Boli Khela, said, "We are poor people. It is not possible for us to eat rich food. However, from the month of Falgun, we start to prepare."
Bantu, another wrestler from Cox's Bazar, said his family had historically been involved in the competition. He has been preparing for the competition for the last three months.
Jawaharlal Hazari, president of Jobbarer Boli Khela organising committee, said they were considering expanding the tournament and had government reassurance in this matter. There was a plan to set up a training centre next to the stadium in the city, he added.
The rules of the ring
The rule of the Boli Khela is to bring down the opponent completely without physically hitting him or injuring him, said Abdul Malek, the referee of Jobbarer Boli Khela for 30 years.
He said there was no point system and whoever could force an opponent to the ground and hold him there was declared the winner.
Competitors are selected through a lottery system. From then, there are quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals. The competition ends before the Maghrib prayers.