Bali Khela (literally, game of
strength) a folk wrestling game
unique to chittagong.
The exact origin of this sport is not known but it is traditionally
believed to have started during the Mughal period. Many Hindu and Muslim
families still bear the titles of ‘malla’ or ‘bali’. Affluent zamindars used to keep on their
establishment well-known wrestlers for security and status. Their
physical prowess was judged through bali khela. The winners used to be
hailed as ‘bali’ (powerful).
The present-day bali
khela was introduced in 1909 by Abdul Jabbar Saodagar. His aim was to
organise the country’s youth against British rule and to prepare them
for fighting. The golden age of this sport lasted from the end of the
First World War to the end of the Second World War. Bali khela used to
be organised throughout Chittagong district from Chaitra to Baishakh
with great fanfare. This was the time when many Chittagonians were
working in Yangon or Myanmar. These people were quite solvent and
patronised bali khela. In course of time many other influential
people came forward to
patronise this game.
fazal, former vice chancellor of Chittagong University,
used to arrange bali khela on the university campus. AK Khan,
industrialist and a central minister of Pakistan, is known to have
participated in bali khela in his youth. Nawab Abdul Ghani of dhaka is
also known to have organised bali khela at shahbag a number of times.
Though the former grandeur of bali khela has
faded, Jabbar’s bali khela still continues to attract crowds in
Chittagong. A three-day fair is held on the occasion.
Bali khela is given advance publicity by beating
drums. Invited balis enter the arena accompanied by their ‘sahabs’ or
companions and supporters beating drums. The contest takes place in several
phases. The final winner is carried aloft by his jubilant supporters
along the roads. [Mahbubul