Nabanna, the festival of the new harvest, is as old as the land
itself. It takes place in the Bangla month Agrahayan (Nov-Dec),
proverbially known as the season of plenty. People in the rural
areas celebrate harvesting of the corn as farmers come back home
with loads of golden paddy on their head ringing like new bells.
There is joy everywhere, the children frisk in the yard as the
cattle go round and round thrashing the paddy, separating it
from the stalks. The folks beam with happiness and the women
prepare the customary rice gruel sweetened with Patali, country
sugar made of date-palm juice, to be served to all the
neighbors. One can hardly miss the season as one approaches a
village sniffing the smell of the new crop or hearing the drip-drap
of the pestle busy making Cheera (beaten rice). The Nabanna
brings a ripple of joy to the otherwise placid homesteads
sleeping in the morning fog of approaching winter.
Pahela Baishakh (Bangla new year's day) too is indigenous and
has been part of its folk tradition since no one knows when. The
day starts with partaking of a heavy breakfast of cheera, gur
and yogurt. Then people get dressed to go to the fairs which
take palce every year at an appointed place, it being inevitably
either the cool shade of a banyan tree or a riverfront usually
at the bend of a river. The fair brings commodities of every
sort, food of every variety and sweets of endless kinds. The
sight of clay dolls and toys made of plastic and rubber delight
the children. A small boy hanging on to his father's arm
stubbornly insisting on buying a toy of his liking, his father
cannot afford-is a common sight. But tears vanish as soon as the
boy sees his favourite puppet show or a clown wearing a mask.
traders observe this day with due solemnity. They start a new
cash register daubing it with finger marks of vermillion and the
new book is known as the Halkhata.
In the urban
areas, Pahela Baishakh has been increasingly becoming popular
with the rise of national consciousness. In the cities there are
cutural functions in the morning, the Ramna Batamool function in
the capital Dhaka being the most famous and the largest. About
100 artists, mostly women, dressed in golden silk sarees with
red border climb a high rostrum under the banyan tree in the
Ramna green and render songs of different kinds, mostly Tagore
and Nazrul songs. There are Baishakhi Melas (fairs) at Bangla
Academy and Shishu Academy premises extending over a week.
People throng these places with their children who enjoy the
of Pahela Baishakh comes to an end usually with a storm. There
is a speck of black cloud in the northwestern sky and people
know from experience about the gathering storm. But before they
wind up, the tiny speck spreads all over the sky in no time and
there is a wind blowing at blinding speed raising a dust storm.
Soon a torrential rain starts pouring in and the heat cools
down, bringing a spell of relief. But sometimes the storm is
severe, causing heavy damage to life and property.
Eid-ul-Fitr comes at the end of a month-long fasting during
Ramadan and on sighting of the new moon of Shawal, the tenth
month of the Arabic calendar. The next day, that is on the first
of Shawal, housewives prepare delicious dishes and male members
go to Eidgahs or the local mosques to offer their prayers.
Prayers over, they embrace each other, high and low, rich and
poor all stand on an equal footing and greet each other wishing
a happy Eid. The poor are given fitra, a certain amount of money
per head per family so that they too can celebrate Eid. Everyone
is presented with new clothes and the children enjoy the
occasion most as they visit their friends in small groups, each
visit giving them a taste of new dishes. The occasion is of
great national importance and radio and television put up
special programmes and the newspapers bring out supplements to
mark it. The offices and buildings are illuminated and the whole
country assumes a festive look.
A full month of fasting or Siam characterizes Ramadan, the ninth
month of the Arabic calendar. Fasting is observed from pre-dawn
to dusk. Precisely at sunset people partake of iftar, dishes of
different kinds with cold drinks that soothe their thirst. This
is a month of austerity and it teaches the Muslims a number of
lessons, or rather makes them feel certain basic facts of life.
It reminds them of the poor and their hunger as they undergo the
experience itself. It teaches them fellow-feeling, sacrifice and
temperance and most of all restraint. People pay Zakat, a poor
tax, voluntarily but compulsive under religious strictures. The
government has formed a Zakat Board to utilize this money for
creating employment opportunities for the poor.
Shab means night and Shab-e-Qadr is a night of special
significance. It takes place on the night of the twenty seventh
Ramadan. The Quran was revealed on this night but there is a
general lack of certainty, according to the hadiths, regarding
the precise date of this occasion. The hadiths point at the odd
night after the twentieth Ramadan, namely 21, 23, 25 and 27.
People in Bangladesh observe the twenty seventh of Ramadan as
the Shab-e-Qadr and they spend the night offering prayers which
end with a Munazat after the Fazr prayers when, according to
Quranic belief, Allah and the angels wait to give blessings to
Eid-e-Miladunnabi signifies the birth anniversary of Hazrat
Muhammad (SM), the Prophet of Islam. He was born on Monday, the
12th Rabiul Awwal, an Arabic lunar month, in 570 AD. The Muslims
of this sub-continent celebrate the birth anniversary of their
Prophet with great respect, enthusiasm and passion for several
days including the twelfth. The day is a public holiday.
Bangladesh Television and Radio Bangladesh put up special
programmes on the significance of the day. Newspapers bring out
special supplements. The religious institutions hold special
prayers and distribute food among the poor. The Islamic
Foundation arranges elaborate programmes on such occasion.
It means the night of fortune. The Muslims believe that on this
night Allah determines human destiny for the rest of the year.
Most Muslims spend the night in prayers and Zikirs hoping Allah
would forgive their sins. Housewives prepare sweet dishes and
distribute flat bread among the poor. This takes place on the
fourteenth of Shaban according to the Arabic calendar.
The Hindus have a number of religious festivals among which the
Durga Puja is the most important. Durga Puja is to the Hindus
what Eid is to the Muslims or Christmas to the Christians. The
Hindu localities either collectively or individually have the
images of goddess-Durga killing Mahishasura made in clay, daub
the idols in paint and make them wear bright clothes. For 10
days beginning from the first appearance of the moon in Aswin,
the youths dance to the sound of drums and cymbals. On the tenth
day the image is immersed in water, usually in a river or pond
and the devotees come back home. This is a great occasion of joy
and merriment for the Hindus. New clothes are presented to all
members of the family and there is a lot of dainty dishes
prepared on the occasion. Television and Radio arrange special
programmes on the day.
In tune with the rest of the world the Christians of Bangladesh
observe their most important religious festival, X-mas, on the
twenty fifth December to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Each house is tastefully decorated, the Christmas tree being an
indispensable part of the decoration. There is the traditional
Christmas dinner and since there is no turkey raised in
Bangladesh bigger chickens make do for the occasion. And, of
course, there is the traditional Santa Claus sending ripples of
laughter on the innocent faces. Special features are published
in the newspapers and Television and Radio beam special
programmes to mark the occasion.
After Independence February 21 has been officially declared the
Shaheed Day (the Martyrs' Day). On this day in 1952 the youths,
especially the students, rose in protest against the imposition
of Urdu as the only state language of Pakistan. This was taken
as a conspiracy against the Bengalee culture and as the students
brought out a procession in violation of official prohibitory
order, the police fired on the demonstrators killing a number of
students and members of the public. Barkat, Salam, Rafiq and a
number of unknown others lost their lives. The consequent mass
upsurge was so tumultuous that the Pakistan government had to
yield and recognize Bangla as one of the state languages of the
country. This was the first significant victory of the Bengalees
against attempts at cultural domination. Since then the occasion
has inspired the Bengalees in their struggle for autonomy and,
Omar Ekushey (the Immortal 21st), the day is observed with great
solemnity, beginning from the midnight. Streams of people come
and pass by the steps of the Central Shaheed Minar (and it has
replicas all over the country) laying wreaths on the steps.
People either pass in silence or chant the Ekushey song `Amar
bhaiyer rakte rangano' (The 21st daubed with m.y brother's
blood). People go barefoot to the graveyard where the martyrs
are lying in eternal sleep. By mid-morning the entire Shaheed
Minar is a veritable sea of flowers. Poets are seen reciting
their poems sitting on the road islands on this occasion. And
there is a book fair at the premises of the Bangla Academy, the
national academy for arts and letters.
Following the Pakistani army crackdown on 25 March 1971, the
independence of Bangladesh was declared on March 26. Since then
the day is observed as the Independence and National Day. As the
Bangladeshis had to wade through the blood of an estimated 3
million people who lost their lives to gain independence, the
day is of great significance and inspiration for the whole
nation. National flag is hoisted atop all buildings and the
streets and houses are draped in banners and festoons. In the
morning, school children take part in parades, sports and games
as thousands of people watch their performance. In the evening
cultural shows are arranged and films are shown. Special diet is
served in hospitals, orphanages and prisons. In the urban area
people go out onto the streets at night to see colourful
illumination. Radio and Television put up special programmes and
newspapers bring out supplements to mark the occasion.
On 16 December 1971 the Pakistani army, an estimated 90,000,
surrendered to the allied forces. The valiant freedom fighters
entered the city of Dhaka with arms in their hands. As they
marched along the streets, the entire people welcomed them with
rejoicings. The jubilant crowd stood by as the Pakistani army
marched in silence with their head drooping low.
The day is observed with due
solemnity - the first rays of the morning sun being heralded
with 31 gunshots. In the capital there is usually a ceremonial
military parade in which all the uniformed services are
represented. Hundreds of thousands of people gather to watch
this parade. Wreaths are laid at the Jatiya Smriti Shoudha
(National Martyrs' Monument) at Savar, near Dhaka city, in
memory of those who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of