Disappearing scenes in rural Bengal | The Bullock Cart Once synonymous with rural life, Bullock Carts have almost become extinct

18, Jan 2023 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

Most of us are well acquainted with the bullock cart – mostly through books and pictures – if not through physical contact. A bullock cart is a two-wheeled vehicle – pulled by cows, bulls or oxen.  The person who is incharge of the rides, is called a Gariwal or Carter. For centuries, Bullock cart has been one of the primary forms of conveyance in rural Bengal. Not only as a way to travel around to villages, close by or distant, they were relied upon to farm and helped in various forms of trade. 

A local wedding would mean that the groom’s family would arrange 10-12 bullock carts to go with the wedding procession. In those days, families who had bullock carts were valued more. Not too long ago, rows of these carts could be seen on unpaved village roads, regularly. Moreover, they were used to transport manure to fields and ripe crops back home, grass for livestock and wood for fire along with many other things required for households. Around 1600-1500 BC, a traditional bullock cart was used for local transport along the Indus River at the ancient civilisation of Mohenjo-daro – in what is now in Sindh, Pakistan. They have been repeatedly mentioned in popular novels of the 19th century. Sir H. Rider Haggard famously wrote King Solomon’s mines with vivid descriptions of the bullock carts. 

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Today, Bullock cart sightings have become a rare scene. Automobiles have slowly taken over the once traditional means of transportation. Bullock carts have become rarer and rarer, even in rural parts of the state. With newer modes of transportation, the bullock carts have seemingly disappeared from Bengal. Even though one occasionally stumbles upon a cart or two, in the most rural parts of the land – it’s nowhere to be seen in the smaller towns. Some children have no idea about their existence altogether. 

Some intellectuals and environmental activists do speak about the benefits of bullock carts – environment-friendly – minimal carbon footprint – safe, cheap and study. 

Senior citizens in Bengal can remember the days when bullock carts used to be the only transport. They did not only witness how these carts were used to transport things and people with either one or two ox pulling it but also saw how automobiles took over them. As bullock carts started facing decline, the ones who used to make them were forced to change their occupation. A while ago, on one of my many journeys to a neighbouring village in Birbhum, I had spoken to a local farmer, Bakkar Shaikh. He told me, “Rearing cows and cattle offers many business opportunities for us – making us economically self-sufficient. While cows can be used in agriculture – they are great for transportation as well. Sadly, with the changing times, our beloved bullock cart tradition is disappearing today. There were enough people who used to make carts earlier. However, they had to change their profession to earn and live as the carts were no longer needed.”

The bullock cart of Indus Valley Civilisation 

Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.


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