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Monday, November 9, 2009
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The journey to Dublar Char is in itself an adventure. Photo: MUMIT M.
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Over the centuries, festivals have become an inseparable part of Bengali traditions, held amidst much fanfare in different areas of the country throughout the year. Of them, 'Raas Mela' has a special place in the heart of the Hindu community. The USP of the festival is seemingly its vivid nature and celebration marked with music and dance. Recently, 'raas mela' was observed throughout the country. Major celebrations were held at the Kantaji Temple, Maulvibazar, Kuakata and Dublar Char. The 'mela' at Dublar Char has become a tourist attraction because of its location. Dublar Char is located at the southern border of the Sundarbans, facing the Bay of Bengal .

The 'mela' is held in the heart of the Sundarbans -- the largest mangrove forest in the world, miles away from the locality. Though this year the 'mela' did not get a mega-celebration because of the continuing after-effects of cyclone Aila, it was remarkable nevertheless.

People coming from Khulna, Bagerhat, Jessore and Satkhira districts recalled that traditionally the 'mela' is held for three consecutive days but after Aila hit the region badly, many were apprehensive of coming to the area this year. As a result, the event lasted only for a day. Devotees were significantly small in number at the festival as well.

The significance of 'Raas Mela' to the people of the Sundarbans is remarkable for its message of religious harmony. There is a temple in the heart of the island. The island is locally known as 'Alorkol.' In the temple, along with the idols of Krishna, Radha and other deities, mythical characters popular in the region like Gazi Pir, Kalu and Bonbibi, have found pride of place. The devotees worship those local mythical characters for their safe return home. Not only Hindus but many Muslims from the adjacent areas also attend the 'mela'.

This year the daylong 'mela' formally started on the evening of November 2, though the hustle and bustle started early in the morning. Small shops offering seashell ornaments, local handicraft, dry fish, sweets and much more were the main attractions.

There was a cultural programme as well, which featured renditions of traditional and popular songs. Artistes from Khulna performed throughout the night. The highlight of the event was rendition of 'padabali kirtan'.

The journey to Dublar Char is in itself an adventure. People who came from the Satkhira region took approximately a 10-hour journey downstream and those who came from Mangla seaport made a journey of nearly six hours. It was anything but comfortable. Then why do people decide to rough it and come here? "This place is sacred to us," said Tulshi Das Biswas, one of the devotees. Tulshi Das belongs to the 'Matua' community from Bhatiapara, Gopalganj district. He went there along with nearly a hundred people from his community.

As Dublar Char is only accessible through boats, locals went there divided in small groups. One such group was from the Neeldumur and Burigoalini areas of Shyamnagar, Satkhira.

They went there to enjoy the festivities and to generate awareness about the Sundarbans. The group also included an amateur theatre troupe, patronised by a local non-government organisation BARCIK. The troupe staged a street play at the 'mela' to generate awareness on the bio-diversity of the Sundarbans.

The 30-minute play narrates the struggle of 'Mawali' (a honey collecting community from Sundarbans). Mawalis go deep inside the Sundarbans to collect honey and often face the wild animals. One of the performers was Shahabuddin Gayen, who originally is a 'Mawali'. He thinks that to keep the beauty of the Sundarbans unaffected, people have to be aware of the issues facing the geological landmark. Shahabuddin also sang self-composed songs depicting life in the forest.

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