Martial arts in various forms have existed in the history of our country for many years. Though they have reduced in popularity, some of them still exist today. “Boli Khela” and “Lathi Khela” are two such games that haven’t gone into extinction in spite of waning popularity. Another martial art sport which was created in our country is “Butthan,” which is a modern sport created by contemporary pioneers of martial arts in Bangladesh.
Boli Khela is a traditional wrestling sport in Bangladesh that is very popular in Chittagong. It has a very long history that dates back to the Middle Ages during the Muslim rule in the Subcontinent. Every year, a special event named Jabbarer Boli Khela is held at ‘’Lal Dighi Maidan” in Chittagong, which attracts hosts of crowds from around the country that even includes foreign tourists.
The Bengali term “Boli Khela” roughly translates to “Game Of Strong Men” or “Game Of Wrestlers” in English. It is a combat sport that includes grappling techniques like clinch fighting, throws and take downs, joint locks, pins and other grappling holds. The game is played in a circular pit of sand or mud. The participants are not allowed any weapons and have to fight with their bare hands and legs. Games are usually 20-35 minutes long and game ends when one of the wrestlers (Boli) falls to the ground. The participants normally wear lungi while fighting, although nowadays many prefer wearing shorts.
The game was much patronised by the Muslim rulers of the Middle Ages. The best wrestlers of the kingdom used to showcase their physical strength in special events in front of a crowd. Many such wrestlers were sent by the then Muslim Emperors to fight the enemies whenever there was an invasion. But the Boli mostly showed up on special festive occasions to perform before a crowd. The festive events were made more exciting by the playing of musical instruments like drums and flutes as the Boli sweated out in the pits of sand and mud to showcase the extent of their physical strengths.
In the year 1902, a man named Abdul Jabbar Saudagar started organising Boil Khela events in the Chittagong because he wanted to prepare them to fight against the British rule. He wanted to instill a sense of patriotism and self-belief in the young men of Chittagong, so that when the time came, they would be able to fight the soldiers under the British rulers and possibly bring independence to the country. Now the descendants of Abdul Jabbar, in his memory, organise an annual Boli Khela event every year at Lal Dighi Para of Chittagong that is held on the 12th of Baishakh. It is one of the many festive events that occur in Chittagong during the first month of the Bengali calendar, Baishakh. A special 3-day Baishakhi Mela is held and people from all around the country gather for the festive events. Most of the wrestlers come from South Chittagong, particularly from Anowara, Banshikhali, Swandiwip, Ukhiya, Teknaf, Chakaria, Moheshkhali and Cox’s Bazar. Nowadays wrestlers from other parts of the country participate too. Once in a while tourists who come for sightseeing jump into the pits and take part too.
‘’Lathi Khela’’ is another traditional sport that is played in Bangladesh and West Bengal. It’s a stick fighting sport and the stick wielder is known as a ‘’Lathial’’. The Lathials used to be very popular and performed on various festive occasions like Eid, Puja or Pohela Baishakh, but the popularity of ‘’Lathi Khela’’ has faded drastically in recent years.
‘’Lathi Khela’’ has a very old history dating back centuries. Troops of lathial were once hired by rich farmers for security purposes and also to impose power on others. The Zaminders used to send these lathial to collect taxes from the peasants. The lathial even featured in anti-British movements during the colonial rule and also during the 1971 liberation war against the “Hanadar Bahini”.
Due to urbanisation, this form of sport has lost its’ popularity, being recognised now only as a rural sport. But up until 1989, an annual lathi khela convention used to be held in Kushtia, but due to loss of popularity and practice, the event now is held only once every 3 years.
“Butthan’’ is a form of Bangladeshi martial arts which is a combination of Ancient Burmese, Indian and Chinese martial arts like Vajra Musti, Burmese Thaing /Bando, Tebetan –Chinese Kenpo, Varma Kalai and other certain strategies. The term “Butthan’’ is a Sanskrit word which means “defence with distinction”.
Although “Butthan’’ is a modern art that came to life in recent years, it is in reality a South Asian heritage, one which had been lost for many years, but has been revived a few years back through the efforts of Bangladeshi Martial Arts legend, Grand Master Dr. Mak Yuree.
Dr. Yuree did extensive research on the traditional self-defence methods employed in the Ancient martial arts of South Asia and then combined those arts with the findings of modern science to form the martial art sport of ‘’Butthan’’. The system of Butthan has the essence of knowledge and scientific principles of psychology, trigonometry, human anatomy, physiology, logic, human nervous system, etc. mixed with with particular self defence methods combining the ancient arts like Varma Kalai, Bando, Vajramushti, Tibetan & Chinese Kempo, Ming Jing, Kalaripayattu, Bansahy, Lathi-Kahlua and other strategies of the ancient Indian, Burmese and Tibetan Unarmed and Weapons systems.
“Butthan’’ is more than just a form of martial arts or a combat sport. It is in a sense, a way of life. A Butthancharja (“Butthan’’ practitioner) aims to achieve peace and harmony between their mind, body and soul. For that, they have to go through various stages of training. The training is based on three principle aspects – Sadhana (Endeavour), Praggya (Wisdom) and Saggya (Intuition).
A Butthancharja has to go through five stages of Sadhana, five stages of Praggya and one stage of Saggya attain mental peace and physical and spiritual harmony. The teachings of “Butthan’’, are therefore, more than just about self-defence and armed or unarmed combat. Besides learning how to effectively defend themselves from physical assaults, they learn the moral values that enable them to become a better and more honourable human being, and they also learn how to solve the problems and challenges that come with life.
Though this mixed martial art was created in Bangladesh, it has now crossed borders and has now achieved the status of an international sport.