Chhot boats are unique in Bengal, but there is no historical record of their existence. We know how much trade used to take place in ports in ancient times, but we do not know about the boats that carried out that trade. There are legends of Chand Saudagar sailing the ocean on a dinghy; but today’s dinghy boats could never have ventured into the ocean. A boat that could sail in the ocean would have to have certain characteristics: the ability to cut across the waters, handle the waves, and move fast. The shape of the boat must be such to facilitate all this.
If we look at the medial cross section of the chhot boat, we see that it is V-shaped, which means it can sit with ease on the water, and at the same time cut through the water. On the other hand, the dinghies are spoon-shaped, which makes it difficult for them to move against the current and in choppy waters. In the old days, the chhot was also the only boat that had a keel at the bottom, which also protruded at the front. This was absent in all other boats at least 200 years ago.
Apart from the structure of the boat, we also need to see the location where the chhots were made, Dihimandal Ghat on the bank of the Rupnarayan. It must be remembered that at one time the Rupnarayan was a deep and powerful river and had a lot of water. Dihimandal Ghat was a hub for manufacturing chhot boats. Right on the opposite bank is Tamluk, or the ancient port city of Tamralipta. We can then make an intelligent assumption that this kind of boat was linked to ancient maritime trade. Though there is no written history on Dihimandal Ghat, I believe that the place and the chhot boats have a history that dates back more than 2,000 years.
Swarup Bhattacharyya, Visiting Fellow of Anthropological Survey of India and expert on boats of Bengal.