Nathikhela-The Ancient Stick

On 25th  May, Dhupguri football ground was a celebration hub, where an ancient folk festival Nathikhela, a form of martial arts, associated with the Rajbanghi Muslims, or the Nashya Sheikhs was performed. The celebration began with rice grinding in the traditional Indian wooden mortar and pestle by local women.
Photo by Shilajit Ray
Nashya Sheikh, also referred as Bengali Sheikh, is one among the 300 Muslim communities of India, geographically located in North Bengal, culturally and linguistically analogous to the Rajbanghis of Bengal, Assam, Bangladesh. Etymologically, Nashyo is a crude form of Nashtya, meaning corrupted or degraded, a term ascribed to the people belonging to Mech and Koch Rajbangshi community who converted to Islam from Hinduism or other animistic religion. Thus indignantly coining the term, to linguistically chastise and isolate them from mainstream Hindu Rajbangshis. Ironically, the hypocrisy of Rajbangshis, for sparing their own act of Sanskritization, a process of cultural conversion, is revealed.The historical sources affirm that this widespread conversion occurred, when Bengal was under the control of Bakhtiyar Khilji,  military general of Qutb al-Din Aibak around the beginning of 12th century. This was further consolidated by wandering seers, Pir fakirs, and Sufi saints, who proselytized through the fertile Terai-Duars of Bengal, Western Assam.
Photo by Shilajit Ray
This folk festival, known as Nathikhela or Lathikhela is traditionally a type of martial art, between two competing players, with homemade bamboo sticks. Performed throughout the year, the game is accompanied by instrumental music. As is conventional, women are not allowed to participate and limited as passive viewers only. The game does not follow any specific rule but involves a spontaneous act of protection by the players. It can be said that the game is an act of combat for self-defense, display of strength, masculinity, and therefore confined to active males of the community. The game is reminiscent of Gomira, a traditional martial arts practice among Rajbangshis, performed during Bishuwa but more similar to Kalarippayattu stick-fighting a martial art, which originated as a style in Kerala.
Photo by Shilajit Ray
The festival was organized by Jalpaiguri Zila Gramin Krira And Sharirsiksha Pratiraksha Shamiti (জলপাইগুড়ি জেলা গ্রামীণ ক্রীড়া ও শারীরশিক্ষা সংস্কৃতি প্রতিরক্ষা সমিতির). 
Written by Shilajit Ray

Translated from Rajbangshi/Kamatapuri and Edited by Nabanita Roy (Noya)

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