The beginning and the end of the Bengali calendar signals a unique celebration, as it isn’t restricted to any one particular day, race, religion or region. The Bengali New Year is celebrated for over a month, taking many different forms. As it coincides with other similar holidays, the Bengali New Year is celebrated in many different countries such as Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Burma and offshoots of the celebrations are also seen in Sweden and Australia. As the last day of Chaitra is bidden farewell and the first day of the New Year welcomed amidst shouts, screams and party favours, one must comprehend that the party has only just begun.
Chaitra Shangkranti refers to the last day of the month of Chaitra, the twelfth month of the Bengali calendar and is named after the star Chitra, the star of prosperity. The day also marks the end of a year. In the villages, Chaitra Shangkranti is celebrated through fairs, Charak puja and Shiv Gajan. Villagers, rich with extra earning from Auosh harvest, meet at the fair to purchase household necessities and luxury items for the upcoming year. Arrangements for putul nach (puppet dances), bioscopes, and circuses are kept for entertainment. The duration of the fair varies from one region to another. In Bangladesh the Chaitra Shangkrantir mela is accompanied in many Hindu majority areas by the Charak puja or the Shiv Gajan. Devotees of Shiva, the god of fertility, observe extreme physical endurance starting from fasting to spinning round the Charak gach (a tall pole implanted on the fair ground). A wheel is attached to the top and the devotee is hung from a hook attached to the wheel. The wheel then spins at a high speed along with the devotee as nails and knives are pierced through different parts of his body including his tongue. In many villages devotees dress up as Shiva and Gouri (the goddess wife of Shiva) and bring out procession in the village. The procession goes around from home to home, singing folk songs on Shiva and Gouri’s marriage.
The water festival or Sangraine, celebrated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, is the biggest festival of the Marma community, akin to Boisabi of the Tripura and Biju of the Chakma tribe. The festivities are held in mid April and fall around the same time as Pohela Boishakh. The festival takes place in three parts; during the last two days of the old year and the first day of the New Year.
The first day of the three-day festival is called Fulbijhu, the second day is Mulbijhu and the first day of the Bengali New Year is called “Gojjya Pojjya Din.” The Tripura people organise their own “Gouraya Nitya” and a bathing ceremony for the elders of their community on Fulbijhu. Others float flowers on the river, early in the morning to receive divine blessings to lead peaceful and prosperous lives. On this occasion they decorate their houses with flowers, bringing in the true spirit of spring. The second day, which is the most important of the three, is the day the Marmas organise their water festival. Special sweets and vegetable curries are prepared for the guests and the main attraction of the event, Dachoawni, a kind of local liquor is also brewed. Thousands of young, unmarried boys and girls from the three hill districts wear colourful garb and spray water on each other from two sides of a marked arena. The festival is also marked by songs, dances, magic charm competitions, local games such as Tumoru, Ghila and Dhanu-Khela, art competitions, various cultural functions and prize-giving ceremonies. On the third and last day people offer prayers at different Buddhist temples and have a candle lighting ceremony.
Jabbar er Boli Khela
In Bengali, “Malla” or “Boli” refers to professional wrestlers’ community often retained by zamindars (landlords) and local influential people for their security and protection. As the power of the zamindars reduced along with prevalence, the wrestlers’ community began to lose their importance and slowly disappeared. However, towards the beginning of the twentieth century, many Bengali patrons felt the need for the revival of our culture. Abdul Jabbar Saudagar, a merchant of Chittagong, was one such person who wanted to organise the youth against the British by inspiring them to practice traditional games like wrestling or “Boli Khela”. In 1909, he started arranging the contest all through the region and the game soon gained popularity. Nowadays, usually a three-day festival along with a fair accompanies the wrestling competition. The event takes place between Chaitro and Boishakah. At present, Jabbar er Boli Khela takes place in the Laldighi Maidan of Chittagong city, along with Boishakhi fair.
Known as the Baul Guru, Lalon Fakir had set out an entirely different form of folk songs, known as Lalon Geeti. Most of his songs are devotional but those cut across the realm of religion, race and caste. Lalon, who as per legend was born to a high-class Hindu family and then raised by a Muslim family and as a result, he soon renounced all materialism and social norms and rules that divided human beings. His thoughts and philosophies are reflected in the lyrics of his songs. Every year, on the occasion of his birth and death anniversary, the festival is held at his akhra (abode) at Cheuria, Kushtia, where now a Lalon Academy and his mausoleum stand. His birth ceremony which coincides with the Dol Purnima, between March and April, is celebrated with a three-day festival. Every year bauls (people who devote their life to songs and renounce materialism) from all over Bangladesh as well as West Bengal meet at the Lalon Mela held at the premise of the mausoleum. They also put up temporary camps near the old Mara Kali River just opposite the Lalon Akhra. Life and philosophy of Lalon and discussion on his beliefs are held in the day.
Once a year, during the Boishakhi season (mid-April to mid-May), the life of one of the greatest spiritual teachers known to mankind is celebrated under the light of the full moon. The Buddhist communities in various parts of Bangladesh come together to honour the birth of Gautama Buddha (623 BC), his enlightenment in 588 BC and his death in 543 BC. The peace loving Buddhist community refrain from killing of any kind and enjoy a vegetarian diet during the three-day celebration. Birds, insects and animals are released in thousands as symbolic acts of liberation. On Buddha Purnima, collective prayers, sermons, religious discourses, group meditation, processions and the worship of the statue of Buddha are organised. The day is observed as a public holiday and fairs are held on the day at different villages and viharas.
Photo: Lifestyle Archive