Rowing as a sport in India and a club for it was started in Kolkata in the colonial era when the East India Company established their trading post on the banks of the Hooghly in the late 17th century. As the capital of British India, Calcutta became a centre of commerce and a melting pot of cultures. The British, keen on maintaining their leisurely activities, brought the sport of rowing to the Hooghly and in 1858, set up a rowing club in Calcutta, not only the first one in India but also on the east of Suez.

Carrying on the legacy, rowing continues to be a sought-after s sport in Kolkata with hundreds of young boys and girls enrolling themselves at Calcutta Rowing Club, Bengal Rowing Club and Lake Club along Rabindra Sarobar. They are groomed into national players every year. There are two more clubs, one of the  Kolkata Police at Subhas Sarobar and another of Calcutta University at the Menoka cinema-end of the Lake.

The history
A group of enthusiastic oarsmen had founded Calcutta Rowing Club in 1858 and the first boat house, with a thatched roof, came up near Chandpal Ghat two years later, in 1860. But in 1864, the boat house, along with the boats, was swept away in a cyclone. In 1865, CRC rebuilt its boat house near Fort Point, from where it operated for the next 23 years, training a formidable group of English rowers, who went on to win multiple championships against rowing clubs in Madras, Pune, Bombay and Howrah. “The Fort Point boat house had to make way for a railway project. The operations shifted to a boat house on Strand Road opposite Eden Gardens. But the Hooghly’s strong undercurrents and rise in the number of ferries posed a threat to rowers. In 1897, the club was shifted to multiple places, including the Kidderpore dock basin and Majerhat canal, till it was finally allotted a spot in south K Kolkata, its current address,” said Chandan Roy Chowdhury, honorary secretary of the club.


Shifts from the river to a lake
In the early 1920s, the Calcutta Improvement Trust (CIT), a body responsible for the city’s development projects, acquired about 192 acres of marshy and overgrown land to develop it into a residential area. Plans were drafted to improve roads, raising and levelling some of the adjacent land and creating a huge water body. The water body was initially named Bompass Lake after CIT’s first chairman Cecil Henry Bompass, who had led the excavation between 1924 and 1928. But it soon took the name of the neighbourhood and came to be known as Dhakuria Lake. CIT rechristened it as Rabindra Sarobar post Independence.


Regattas and cultural exchange
Regattas were an essential part of colonial Calcutta’s social calendar. The grand affairs drew participants from various communities, including British expats, Indian zamindars and influential families, opening a space for cultural exchange and social gatherings.

The Indian participation
The early 20th century marked a significant shift in rowing in Kolkata. The story goes when industrialist Sir Biren Mookerjee was denied membership at CRC, he and some other prominent faces of Bengal leased land from CIT beside the very club and founded Lake Club in 1932.
Bengal Rowing Club was set up in 1935 by the Marwari community and was initially called Marwari Club. Calcutta University’s rowing club started its journey in 1918 on the Maniktala Canal and eventually, shifted to the Lake in 1933.


Competitive rowing
Rowing gradually transformed from a leisure sport to a competitive one. With Indian participation rising, it evolved into a keenly contested sport, where local rowers showcased their skills and their dream of competing at an international level.
Soon, names like Badal Chandra Dutt, Suresh Chandra Chaudhuri and Mohammed Muzaffar Ahmed started doing the rounds in the rowing circles for their achievements. In 1931, the Amateur Rowing Association in the East was formed and teams from Kolkata competed with those in Colombo and Rangoon, beating them in their own waters. Over the years, multiple trophies, championships and regattas like the Merchants Cup, Henley of the East Cup, Head of the Lake Regatta and ARAE Cup were introduced.

From colonial regattas on the Hooghly to today’s Rabindra Sarobar challenges, Kolkata’s vibrant rowing legacy showcases history, resilience, and a city’s undying passion for the sport

Post-Independence and beyond
After Independence in 1947, rowing changed from being a symbol of colonial leisure to the representation of the nation’s unity and resilience. Rowing clubs that were once exclusive to the British opened their doors to all, democratizing the sport.
West Bengal Rowing Association was formed in 1973 to popularise rowing. In 1976, the city took the lead in forming the Rowing Federation of India, which held the first national rowing championship the next year, charting India’s path towards international events. Indian teams first participated in the Asian Games in 1982 and the Olympics in 2000.


Transcending social and cultural barriers
The influence of rowing on society extended beyond the waterways. The camaraderie and discipline instilled by the sport fostered values of teamwork, perseverance, and leadership. “Rowing is a way of life. It teaches us to become more disciplined and stay focused. I started rowing after lockdown to stay fit, but today, I am addicted to the sport, practising three hours a day despite my hectic school schedule,” said Gayatri Sriram, a Class-X student of Modern High School who has won multiple national championships in single scull.

Legacy continues
Rowing at the Lake seems to have a life of its own, continuing despite multiple challenges, including depleting water level at Rabindra Sarobar, stringent NGT guidelines and an accident that claimed the lives of two youngsters and the consequent suspension of rowing for five months. Attempts have been made to take the sport to bheris off EM Bypass and Subhas Sarobar as well. “The biggest challenge is the lack of a straight 2,000m course that poses a hurdle for our student’s preparation. The Lake offers a meandering 900 m. However, practising under such a trying condition pays off as our rowers fare well in national competitions and fetch medals for Bengal. But in international events, the Armymen dominate. Women practising at SAI courses in Odisha, Kerala and Telangana represent the country the most,” said Raja Dasgupta, president of, West Bengal Rowing Association.


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