sharat (autumn) hemanta (late autumn)


THE early autumn season of Shorot comes in Bhadro and Ashwin. Shorot is characterised by clearing skies at the end of the Monsoons above, and below is the pungent odour emitted from golden jute collected and processed by farmers on every piece of available dry land. Then Hemonto swings through the fields of Bengal with cooler days in the months of Kartik and Ograhayon. Farmers take to clearing harvested fields to make way for winter crops and the iconic bucolic beauty of Bengal takes shape in both these seasons where the landscape is laced with Shaplas and Kashphools in full bloom.


DURGA Puja, its universal appeal
The most celebrated religious festival among the Bangalee Hindu community is Durga Puja. During the days of Durga puja colourful idols turn parts of the country into a glittering landscape, sounds of dhak and dhol, revv up the mood of jubilation.

Durga puja has a history that dates back in the ancient period. There is much debate regarding the origin of Durga Puja. It's history as well is quite complex. For example in Kritivasa's Ramayana, Rama does the Akal bodhon in autumn (Sharat) to do the Durga Puja. On the other hand king Surath used to perform the puja in spring. This puja is now known as Vasanti Puja.

According to the famous scholar Amulyacharan Vidyabhushan the name Durga appeared from Dakshakanyan (daughter of Daksha). In the ancient times the statue of Dakshakanyan was the symbol of fire. The statue of Dakshakanyan was yellow at that time and was set on the Kunda. Later the ten sides of the Kunda (hollow in the earth) became the ten hands of Durga. During the last part of the Vedic age, Dakshakanyan evolved in to Uma, Uma in to Ambika and Ambika in to Durga.

Durga Puja may have been held in the ancient days but its character and nature were different then. The Durga Puja that is prevalent today in Bangladesh is a folk form of the ancient custom. At present it is being celebrated in autumn.

Usually Akal Bodhon of Durga takes place on the sixth lunar day of the full moon in the month Aswin. The seventh, eighth and the ninth lunar days are the days of Durga puja. The immersion takes place on the tenth lunar day, which is called Vijoya Dashami. From the next day of immersion starts the custom of extended Vijoya greetings. Durga's elder daughter Lakshmi is worshipped on the full moon in Aswin. In the month of Kartik on the day of Sankranti (the passage of the sun from one astrological sign to another) Durga's son Kartik is worshipped. Saraswati, Durga's younger daughter is worshipped in the month of Magh on the fifth lunar day of the full moon. There is no puja for Ganesh as he is always worshiped along with other gods.

Durga puja was first transformed into a grand festival in Calcutta not only for celebration. It also served the purpose of entertainment for the English masters. Description of the Durga puja can be found in contemporary journals and novels. Probably from the nineteenth century the faint echo of the puja in Calcutta spread in to Bangladesh. The landlords and the elites used to reside in Calcutta at that time. They introduced the entertainment and amusement of Calcutta in to the lives of their peasants. The zamindars played the most important role in transforming Durga puja in to a universal festival in this region. For some it was a time to exhibit wealth and for some other people it was the time to show kindness and generosity.

In 1946, after the communal riots in Bangladesh especially in Noakhali many families left the villages to come to the city. In the making of the deity Durga, people from different castes perform different duties. As some of the caste became displaced from their birthplace, it became quite difficult to organise the puja. In this backdrop in the year 1946, Brahmins and non-Brahmins jointly came to the villages ignoring their caste differences to collect donation and organise the puja, which is now known as Sarbojonin Puja.

Since the beginning of the Pakistan regime most of the pujas organised here in Bangladesh were Sarbojonin. Apart from these, pujas were organised by individual elite families.

After the independence of Bangladesh the Dhakeswari temple of Dhaka has been transformed in to a site for the celebration of the Durga Puja. Most of the mandirs of Dhaka are situated at the old part. Almost all the idols of Dhaka are immersed in the river Buriganga. Huge rally takes place, with thousands of people dancing all the way to Buriganga with the beat of drums (dhak and dhol). Due to the congested status of Dhaka, it is quite difficult to turn the festival in to a grand one. The most spectacular mondops are built outside Dhaka. Chittagong and Narayanganj has huge puja festivity. Traditional Durga puja mela (fair) takes place around different mondops. This fair attracts people of all ages. Statues of clay, sweet treats like khaja, goja, batasha, kodma is sold in the fair. Children are most likely to gather around these stalls. Devotees of all age visit the goddess and pay their respect. Like all the other religious festivals, the theme of Durga puja is nurturing the essence of ecstasy.

In search of festivals


Abul Momen

How does one become festive?

Definitely not by simply putting on festive dresses, which means spending more on clothes. Also, it does not end in improved diets. Nice dresses and good foods are obviously the two common features of a festival anywhere in the world. But it is the holiday mood of course that sets the tune of the mind making it keen to enjoy. A joyous mind sings and dances and takes part in all sorts of hilarity?

But do we have such festivals?

During the two Eids we put on nice clothes. Some of us compete in spending on new clothes to win, not in the test of taste but, in the war of wealth. Some also spend lot on food. But then? What other options do we have to express our holiday and festive moods?

The Bengali Muslims do not have community songs and dances. A festival is a community participatory outdoor event. The jamaat (of Eid namaaz) is an outdoor and participatory exercise, but truncates the society by prohibiting women from participating with the males, and secondly, it is purely religious prayer, at best could be the 'bismillah' ceremony of the festival. But then you have no more outdoor participatory programmes where the whole society, male and females, could enjoy themselves in togetherness. Eids are primarily religious events, and the festive parts, whatever they have, are unfortunately for the rich people, who are more and more getting involved in unhealthy competition of spending at individual level.

And in a poverty-stricken society the religious events could take a festive look only among the haves, who form only a smaller section of the population. The bulk remain unfed, unclad, not to speak of good food and new clothes. And again, as we have a sizeable number of religious and ethnic minorities in our country any religious programme becomes sectarian in this country.

So Eids, for various reasons, falls short of a national festival. It is at best a religious festival of the Muslim community.

Puja is full of festivity. With songs, dances and art-works and day-long outdoor celebrations it is a festival. But as a religious one it is limited only among the Hindus, who are the largest minority community in the country.

The Bangalees as a traditional agrarian community are deeply attached to nature, which is abundant here on a very fertile ground, and is very colourful and lively too. The rural folks not only depend on the bounty of nature but perhaps this long active association with nature kept alive in their mind the pagan passions for nature and natural elements. People believe in nature's supernatural powers, see behind nature's every act of fatal consequences the hands of god thus nurturing in them a mind too vulnerable to all sorts of passionate callings in devotional lines which normally generate from the mysteries or forces or wonders of nature. Occult and obscure practices are ripe in this condition among the common rural people.

The devotional people revere their mystic leaders and centring him finally organise, apart from the regular congregations, at least one event a year drawing people from far and near. These occasions often grow into big events taking almost the shape of a festival with a fairly good part of a fair in it. These are however all local festivitis. Like the Muslims both Hindus and the Buddhists also have such occasions where at the local level they overlook the religious demarcations.

In this sense Bangladesh could be termed a land of fairs and festivals.

But where are the festivals that people all over the country celebrate together.

We have, like any other country, some national days, such as-Shaheed Dibash or the Martyrs Day, Swadhinata Dibash or Independence Day, Bijoy Dibash or Victory Day.

In some countries Independence Day is observed with great pomp like a festival. But in our case the formal state fuuctions are the day's main events. After all festivals are not state functions, but totally social events. In fact, festivals are successful only through people's spontaneous participation.

In a very unique development, one of the most tragic incidents of our history finally took the shape of a festive occasion for the nation. Just as some of our local fairs gradually crossed the barriers of their religious roots through people's spontaneous participation so is the case here. What was originally an occasion of mourning, became, in course of time, an occasion of remembrance, and then from remembrance to paying respect, eventually covering all the aspects of Bengali art and culture took the shape of a real national festival. Ekushe, the Mother Language Day, has its symbols in the monument, and as it has been replicated throughout the country, specially in all the educational institutions, gradually the educated Bangalees have developed deep involvement with the spirit and culture of Ekushe. And when a nation overcomes the ups and downs of history, especially when makes progress through continuous struggles, it would definitely not confine the symbolic occasion only in mourning and sorrow. The emotion of mourning then really turns into the power of determination. The nation that transforms bereavement into bravery will not express sorrow but project will-force in celebrating the day. All through the sixties we have seen Ekushe embodying all the creative and intellectual fervour of a rising nation. Innumerable songs were tuned, poems composed, essays written, so many programmes held, so many people participated in all those activities that the occasion became one of national rejuvination.

Originally the issue in this case was language, to be specific, recognition of mother tongue Bangla as the state language of the country, and the day was of mourning as several demonstrators were killed by police firing, and it is called the martyrs day. It is natural for the day to gain some politial significence, which it gained. But finally it became an occasaion of searching our roots and waking up ourselves as a nation. It did not remain confined either to language or martyrs rather through literary publications, arts and cultural expositions, meetings and through discussions and peoples' spontaneous participation in every activity it became a festive occasion for us. So much of emotional outbursts, so much of creative exuberance and participation of so many people just made Shaheed Minar-based morning schedules as inadequate and not befitting for the occasion. People spontaneously organised fairs, chalked out day long to month-long programmes. Ekushe February today is our national festival - a secular cultural festival.

Some leading Bengali intellectuals have always felt the necessity of a secular festival for nation-wide celebration, and they selected Bangla 'Nababarsha' for the event. Traditionally the Hindus and the Buddhists in general and the trading community irrespective of religion and faith particularly used to celebrate the Bengali New Year. During the time of the rise of Bengali nation we needed to exploit every potential issues and occasions to accelerate the pace of our forging into a nation and our rise as a unit of Bangalees. Like popularising Bengali at every stage of life, like acquainting people with Bengali literature and culture the celebration of Bengali New Year also became an important trend-setter event for the rising nation. Chhayanaut, the popular cultural group of Dhaka, introduced an outdoor morning musical programme at the Ramna Park to invite and receive the new year. The significance of new year, the scope to come closer to nature, special environment of morning musical programme, novelty and speciality in dress and food, the mood of holiday together gave it the colour and quality of festivity.

Such musical celebrations of Pahela Baishakh are still mainly urban events. In the rural areas some such initiatives are taking shape, and some traditional fairs are also being rejuvinated being inspired by the urban initiatives .

The third national festival, I believe, could be the Victory day. Victory in a liberation war is by far the biggest occasion for any nation, and where it comes at the expense of three million lives, exodus of crores of people, two hundred thousand women being raped, and above all, if it comes through transformation of a seemingly idle, home-sick nation into a brave warrior, than the occasion is a great one in all its significance. Moreover, the time is beautiful for holding a festival. December is dry and cool, traditionally our season of festivity. With the annual examinations over, young and old alike are ready to have festivities at that time of the year. With the popularity of Bijoymela we can see that already the nation is participating in a festival of national scale. Only the political divisions among the people, and with anti-liberation forces becoming powerful in the society, there are still some misunderstanding and unwanted debates in the society which make it hesitant and confused about celebrating the victory day in the same spirit and joyous mood.

However, we know history will march forward, the nation will go ahead, and all the confusions and hesitations will wither away. The nation will one day find its rhythm back and will celebrate at least three festivals a year as a nation. In fact it already is celebrating those. Yes, unfortunately not always as a nation at the moment.
The author is the Resident Editor at Chittagong of Bangla daily, Prothom Alo.

Copyright 2004 The Daily Star. All Rights Reserved.