Discover the Diverse Culture of Bangladesh

Discover the Diverse Culture of Bangladesh ~
Bangladesh has a rich, diverse culture. Its deeply rooted heritage is thoroughly reflected in its architecture, dance, literature, music, painting and clothing. The three primary religions of Bangladesh (Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam) have had a great influence on its culture and history. Bangalees have a rich fictional legacy, with the first available form of literature being over a thousand years old. Bengali literature developed considerably during the medieval period with the rise of popular poets such as Chandi Das, Daulat Kazi an Alaol.

The traditional music of Bangladesh is very much the same as that of the Indian sub-continent. The music in Bangladesh can be divided into three main categories: classical, modern and folk. Both vocal and instrumental classical music is enjoyed in Bangladesh. Ustad Ayet Ali Khan and Ustad Alauddin are two famous classical instrumental players that are internationally known. Modern music is becoming more popular and is practiced widely. Contemporary, pop songs and bands are also enjoying more widespread fame, but are mainly popular in the regions of Dhaka City.

Tribal dances are very popular among the Bangalees. The countryside girls are in the habit of dancing to popular folk music. Their dances require no regulations as such, just a small amount of courage and a big amount of rhythm. Popular songs like Shari and Jari are presented with the accompanying dance of both male and female performers.
Drama and theatre is an old tradition that is very popular in Bangladesh. More than a dozen theater groups in Dhaka City have been regularly staging locally written plays for hundreds of years. Many have also started adopted some plays from European writers. Baily Road in Dhaka is known as “Natak Para” and this is one location where drama shows are regularly held. Many shows are also held at the Dhaka University.

Another important aspect of the culture of Bangladesh is clothing. Bangladeshi woman usually wear Saris, made of the world famous and expensive, finely embroidered quilted patchwork cloth produced by the village woman. Woman will traditionally wear their hair in a twisted bun, which is called the “Beni style”. Hindus will traditionally wear Dhuty for religious purposes. These days most men of Bangladesh wear shirts and pants.

Languages in Bangladesh ~
The official language is Bangla, also known as Bengali. It is the first language of more than 98 percent of the population. It is written in its own script, derived from that of Sanskrit. Many people in Bangladesh also speak English and Urdu. Bangla vocabulary shows many influences. These include a strong Islamic influence seen in the greetings of “Salaam aleykum” (Peace be unto you) and “Khoda hafez” (God Bless you) and nouns from the Arab world such as “dokan” (shop), “tarikh”(date), “kolom”(pen) and “bonduk” (gun). In West Bengal the Hindu influence is greater with the use of the Hindu greeting “Namashkar”. English has also had an influence on Bangla. During the days of the Raj many words of English origin such as “tebil” (table), “tiffin” (archaic in modern day English meaning snack box) entered Bangla. In more recent time the ever rising global nature of English has lead to words such as “television”, “telephone”, “video” and “radio” being adopted by Bangla. However, unlike India, there has never been the need for English as a lingua franca and thus Bangla is the state language of Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi Culture & Society
Hierarchy ~
Bangladesh is a hierarchical society. People are respected because of their age and position. Older people are
naturally viewed as wise and are granted respect. Bangladeshis expect the most senior male, by age or position, to make decisions that are in the best interest of the group. This is also valid in businesses, the majority of which will be family owned/run.

Religion ~
The majority of Bangladeshis are Muslim. However, most still very much mix this with pre-Islam folk traditions. Bangladeshis identify with the folk traditions of Bengali culture. This includes belief in shamanism and the powers of fakirs (Muslim holy men who are exorcists and faith healers), ojhaa (shamins with magical healing powers), and Bauls (religious mendicants and wandering musicians). There is a strong tradition of music, dance, and literature that includes classical devotions of Hindu and Muslim music.

Festivals ~
Islam defines many of the festivals in Bangaldesh. These include two Eids (one after Ramadan and one after the Hajj) Shab-e-Qadr (the night of power), Milad un-Nabi (birth date of the Prophet Muhammad) and Shab-e-Barat (the night of the fortune). Hindu influences festivals include Durga Puja and Kali Puja (community worshipping of Goddess Durga and Kali). On the whole an entire community participates in each other’s religious ceremonies.

History & New Year of Bangladesh ~
Pohela Boishakhi first day of the Bangla year. Pohela Boishakhi is celebrated in a festive manner in both Bangladesh and West Bengal. In Bangladesh Pohela Boishakhi is a national holiday. Pohela Baisakh falls on April 14 or 15.
Under the Mughals, agricultural taxes were collected according to the Hijri calendar. However, as the Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar, the agricultural year does not coincide with the fiscal. As a result, farmers were hard-pressed to pay taxes out of season. In order to streamline tax collection, the Mughal Emperor AKBAR ordered a reform of the calendar. Accordingly, Fatehullah Shirazi, a renowned scholar and astronomer, formulated the Bangla year on the basis of the lunar Hijri and Bangla solar calendars. The new Fasli San (agricultural year) was introduced on 10/11 March 1584, but was dated from Akbar’s ascension to the throne in 1556. The new year subsequently became known as BANGABDA or Bengali year. Celebrations of Pohela Boishakhi started from Akbar’s reign. It was customary to clear up all dues on the last day of Chaitra. On the next day, or the first day of the new year, landlords would entertain their tenants with sweets. On this occasion there used to be fairs and other festivities. In due course the occasion became part of domestic and social life, and turned into a day of merriment. The main event of the day was to open a halkhata or new book of accounts. This was wholly a financial affair. In villages, towns and cities, traders and businessmen closed their old account books and opened new ones. They used to invite their customers to share sweets and renew their business relationship with them. This tradition is still practised, especially by jewelers. Special foods are prepared to entertain guests. Boishakhi fairs are arranged in many parts of the country. Various agricultural products, traditional handicrafts, toys, cosmetics as well as various kinds of food and sweets. are sold at these fairs. The fairs also provide entertainment, with singers and dancers staging JATRA, PALA GAN, KAVIGAN, JARIGAN, GAMBHIRA GAN, GAZIR GAN and ALKAP GAN. They present folk songs as well as BAUL, marfati, MURSHIDI and BHATIALI songs. Narrative plays like LAILY-MAJNU, YUSUF-ZULEKHA and Radha-Krishna are staged. Among other attractions of these fairs are puppet shows and merry-go-rounds.
Many old festivals connected with new year’s day have disappeared, while new festivals have been added. With the abolition of the zamindari system, the PUNYA connected with the closing of land revenue accounts has disappeared. Kite flying in DHAKA and bull racing in MUNSHIGANJ used to be very colourful events. Other popular village games and sports were horse races, bullfights, cockfights, flying pigeons, boat racing. Some festivals, however, continue to be observed, for example, bali or wrestling in Chittagong and gambhira in Rajshahi. Observance of Pohela Boishakhi has become popular in the cities. Early in the morning people gather under a big tree or on the bank of a lake to witness the sunrise. Artistes present songs to welcome the new year. People from all walks of life wear traditional Bengali dresses:
The most colorful new year’s day festival takes place in Dhaka. Large numbers of people gather early in the morning under the BANYAN TREE at Ramna Park where CHHAYANAT artistes open the day with Tagore’s famous song, Eso he Boishakhi eso eso (Come O Boishakhi, come), welcoming Boishakhi. A similar ceremony welcoming the new year is also held at the Institute of Fine Arts, UNIVERSITY OF DHAKA. The historical importance of Pohela Boishakhi in the Bangladesh context may be dated from the observance of the day by Chhayanat in 1965. In an attempt to suppress Bengali culture, the Pakistan Government had banned TAGORE SONGS. Protesting this move, Chhayanat opened their Pohela Boishakhi celebrations at Ramna Park with Tagore’s song welcoming the month. The day continued to be celebrated in East Pakistan as a symbol of Bengali culture. After 1972 it became a national festival, a symbol of the Bangladesh nationalist movement and an integral part of the people’s cultural heritage.

Colorful celebration of Pohela Boishakhi ~
New Year’s festivities are closely linked with rural life in Bangladesh. Usually on Pohela Boishakhi, the home is thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned; people bathe early in the morning and dress in fine clothes. They spend much of the day visiting relatives, friends, and neighbours. Special foods are prepared to entertain guests. This is one rural festival that has become enormously big in the cities, especially in Dhaka. Boishakhi fairs are arranged in many parts of the country. Various agricultural products, traditional handicrafts, toys, cosmetics, as well as various kinds of food and sweets are sold at these fairs. The fairs also provide entertainment, with singers and dancers staging jatra (traditional plays), pala gan, kobigan, jarigan, gambhira gan, gazir gan and alkap gan. They present folk songs as well as baul, marfati, murshidi and bhatiali songs. Narrative plays like Laila-Majnu, Yusuf-Zulekha and Radha-Krishna are staged. Among other attractions of these fairs are puppet shows and merry-go-rounds. Many old festivals connected with New Year’s Day have disappeared, while new festivals have been added. With the abolition of the zamindari system, the punya connected with the closing of land revenue accounts has disappeared. Kite flying in Dhaka and bull racing in Munshiganj used to be very colourful events. Other popular village games and sports were horse races, bullfights, cockfights, flying pigeons, and boat racing. Some festivals, however, continue to be observed; for example, bali (wrestling) in Chittagong and gambhira in Rajshahi are still popular events. Observance of Pohela Boishakhi has become popular in the cities. Early in the morning, people gather under a big tree or on the bank of a lake to witness the sunrise. Artists present songs to usher in the new year. People from all walks of life wear traditional Bengali attire: young women wear white saris with red borders, and adorn themselves with churi bangles, ful flowers, and tip (bindis). Men wear white paejama (pants) or lungi(dhoti/dhuti) (long skirt) and kurta (tunic). Many townspeople start the day with the traditional breakfast of panta bhat (rice soaked in water), green chillies, onion, and fried hilsa fish. Panta Ilish – a traditional platter of leftover rice soaked in water with fried Hilsa, supplemented with dried fish (Shutki), pickles (Achar), lentils (dal), green chillies and onion – a popular dish for the Pohela Boishakhi festival. The most colourful New Year’s Day festival takes place in Dhaka. Large numbers of people gather early in the morning under the banyan tree at Ramna Park where Chhayanat artists open the day with Rabindranath Tagore’s famous song, এসো, হে বৈশাখ, এসো এসো Esho, he Boishakhi, Esho Esho (Come, O Boishakhi, Come, Come). A similar ceremony welcoming the new year is also held at the Institute of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka. Students and teachers of the institute take out a colourful procession and parade round the campus. Social and cultural organisations celebrate the day with cultural programmes. Newspapers bring out special supplements. There are also special programmes on radio and television. The historical importance of Pohela Boishakhi in the Bangladeshi context may be dated from the observance of the day by Chhayanat in 1965. In an attempt to suppress Bengali culture, the Pakistani Government had banned poems written by Rabindranath Tagore, the most famous poet and writer in Bengali literature. Protesting this move, Chhayanat opened their Pohela Boishakhi celebrations at Ramna Park with Tagore’s song welcoming the month. The day continued to be celebrated in East Pakistan as a symbol of Bengali culture. After 1972 it became a national festival, a symbol of the Bangladesh nationalist movement and an integral part of the people’s cultural heritage. Later, in the mid- 1980s the Institute of Fine Arts added colour to the day by initiating the Boishakhi parade, which is much like a carnival parade. Today, Pohela Boishakhi celebrations also mark a day of cultural unity without distinction between class or religious affiliations. Of the major holidays celebrated in Bangladesh, only Pohela Boishakhi comes without any preexisting expectations (specific religious identity, culture of gift-giving, etc). Unlike holidays like Eid ul-Fitr, where dressing up in lavish clothes has become a norm, or Christmas where exchanging gifts has become an integral part of the holiday, Pohela Boishakhi is really about celebrating the simpler, rural roots of the Bengal. As a result, more people can participate in the festivities together without the burden of having to reveal one’s class, religion, or financial capacity.

In Chittagong Hill Tracts ~
The punya or rajpunya is now observed only in the three figurative tribal kingdoms in Bangladesh – Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachori. In Rangamati, the principal town of Chittagong Hill Tracts and the seat for the Hill Administrative Council, three different ethnic minority groups have come together to merge their observance of Pohela Boishakhi. Boisuk of Tripura people, Sangrai of Marma people and Biju of Chakma people have come together as BoiSaBi, a day of a wide variety of festivities. One of the more colorful activities of the day in the hills is the water festival of the Marma people.

Nabo Barsho Traditions and Customs ~
Almost all Bengalis decorate their houses with fresh flowers and draw rangolis in front of the entrance door. Rangolis are usually made of colored rice and it is known as “Alpana”. An earthen pot bearing the symbol of Swastika is kept in the middle of rangoli. It is believed to bring in wealth and symbolizes a prosperous New Year.

HaalKhata ~

As per the tradition, people are supposed to pay off all the loans and old dues with the customers are to be settled. On this day, Bengali businessmen purchase new accounts books and prepare new accounts called as Haalkhata.

Pohela Boishakhi stands for new and fresh – Life is always new and fresh – Let us strive to make all days Nava Barsho.

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1 Comment. Leave new

very nice post Sir! Reallly it’s worth reading. I love rangoli designs , they reflect our culture and has many techniques when drawing the rangoli designs. I first learned them in my childhood from my mother.

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