Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 2, Issue 43, Tuesday May 3, 2005





Sangrai festival at Bandarban

We started an hour before midnight. Destination, the emerald green hills of Bandarban. We were a team of eight, eager to experience Pohela Boishakh in the hills, amidst different surroundings, and in a different mood. After around 9-hours of journey, we got off the bus full of enthusiasm. The New Year festival in the hill begins on the day of Chaitro Shankranti and continues for two more days. We'd missed the first day of the festival so we hurried to our rest house at the hilltop to drop our luggage. Soon we were on the move again, aspiring to enjoy every second left of the festival.

The hill district was in a jovial mood with the spirit of the Sangrai festival. Various ethnic groups live in the hill district and celebrate New Year in diversified rituals and style, but the Sangrai festival of the Marma community is the most prominent at Bandarban as they are the majority there. The Marma community follows a calendar similar to the Burmese Lunar Year however their new years day coincides with Bangla Solar Year. The first day of Sangrai is called 'Sangrai Aacro'.

Although in the district level the festivities begin formally with a colourful rally on the first day, the preparations for the revelry starts way earlier. It's a very small town with only one cinema hall and one Chinese restaurant. Every important establishment is within walking distance. Braving the scorching sun we started strolling around. Every household is cleaned properly. Neem leaves swinging from every door. Bright faces of children clad in traditional outfit greeted us. The first place we went to was a Chakma friend's house where more friendly faces of his household entertained us delicious local cuisine especially pitha, payesh and pachon.

During the festival, making of this mouth-watering treat is a very important part of the revelry especially for young boys and girls. Every night they join together. Grinding rice, processing it and preparing various item continues for the whole night along with it continues merry making. In the morning they send these pitha to the 'Kang' (Buddhist temple), festivity does not start without it. Then they distribute the delicious treat to the relatives, neighbours, and friends house, conveying Sangrai greeting.

After the grand feast of pitha, we started for the banks of Sangu river where the 'Goain Snan' is about to take place. A small rally starting from Ujani Para Buddha Bihar carried Buddha statues to the riverbank accompanied by the beats of traditional drums. On the way to the river, devotees of all ages washed the path that the rally will be following. It is a ritual symbolising as purifying the path of Goutom Buddha. A little shed was made on the sandy bank. People gathered around the shed and performed 'Goain snan' ritual. Under the shed, believers bathe the statues. Behind the shed, the serene river and the green hills traversed each other while the afternoon sun shines on them gently creating a mesmerising view.

'Goain Snan' announces the beginning of 'Jalkeli' (water festival). Before the 'Goain Snan' could end, young boys and girls were all set for it , with bottles of water in hand. The event called 'Moita rilong poye' in Marma language takes place on the third day. Children could not wait that long and their fun began early. We were on our way back to the rest house thinking that day two of the festival 'Sangrai Akoa' had ended there. As we walked, children doused us with water. Before spraying the water they were asking for permission "didi ektu paani dei". We just could not say no and warmly participated in the merriment. Bangalis living there also participated in the event but in a rather impolite manner. Soaked all over we got back to our rest house waiting ardently for day three.

Day three is called 'Sangrai Atha'. 'Moita rilong poye' formally takes place on this day. In this event, two boats full of water are placed on the ground one for the boys and the other for the girls to splash water at each other. It is an informal way of proposing or choosing the potential life partner. The symbolic proposal does not always result in marriage but the wits, pranks and fun goes on. The event was arranged formally in the Marma king's playground. When we reached the ground, young boys and girls were waiting beside the boats all set for the event. Although it seemed a bit artificial yet the occasion was attractive enough for us. Everyone afterwards participated in 'Moita rilong poye' or rather a friendly game of water splashing. It is believed by the Marmas that with water they wash away all the imperfection and stigma of the past year for a fresh new start. The festival formally ends on this day with more religious customs but the joy lingers for a few more days. After a day's stay we started for the concrete jungle with a contented heart, rejuvenated and ready to encounter the city of noise, chaos, and traffic jam and all its hassles.

By Shahnaz Parveen

Special feature

Lifestyles of Buddhists

With Buddha Purnima round the corner in the latter half of May, this is an opportune time to look at the lives of Buddhists in the country. Today in Bangladesh there are around 1 million Buddhists, over 1,000 Buddhists temples and around 5, 000 Buddhist monks. Here we try to take a glimpse of the lifestyles of Buddhists--food, festivals, day to day lives and to what extent their lives are based on Buddhist precepts.

In conversation with The Daily Star are some members of the Buddhist community:

Suddhananda Mahathero, President of Bangladesh Boudha Kristi Prachar Sangha and Secretary Bangladesh Sanskrit and Pali Education Board, Dhaka

"In Pali we say Sabbe Satha Ahar Tritika (all living beings need food). It is not our major concern whether one is a vegetarian or non-vegetarian. Human beings, after all, once lived with food. Today the monks do not kill anything, especially in countries such as China and Taiwan.

"On May 22, we will observe Buddha Purnima at the temple. This is a three-day programmepunctuated by worship, offerings, cultural functions, seminars and symposium, some art and writing competitions.

We do not regard ourselves as a minority. In the long run, the aim is to have equality with other communities."

Gunaratni, a homemaker from Sri Lanka

Shanti has lived in Dhaka for 10 years along with her family. She observes the Buddhist practice of meditation and prayer. As she says, she does meditation once a week and observes that, "You can meditate even while walking."

Delving into the subject of Buddhism, she says, " Our community tries to shun the materialistic way of life. I am trying to practice simple living and following other Buddhist tenets. According to our religion, money is not a major issue. If one leads a good religious life, one can always earn money."

Every Friday, says Shanti, she and her family go to the Buddhist temple in Kamalapur.

"Poya (full moon) days are particularly important for our community," maintains Shanti.

On Buddha Purnima, she says, the Sri Lankans will cook their food and distribute it at the Sri Lankan embassy. The day will be marked by religious and cultural programmes: a lantern competition, a Buddhist play by children and bhakti geet by adults and children.

Ruwani Gunatilaka, a Sri Lankan homemaker who makes cakes, has learnt bonsai and ikebana, and does painting.

Ruwani has been in Dhaka for 14 long years. She and her family are not vegetarians. However, according to Ruwani, Buddhists don't go for beef and pork but prefer rice and curries.

"We try to follow the Buddhist precept of simple living," says Ruwani.. "We have to trust ourselves, be truthful and extend help to the needy. For example, we have alms giving on Buddha Purnima day."

What about prayers and meditation? In Ruwani's view there is no rule on how often to pray. However, on Poya days, Buddhists avoid fish and meat and stick to vegetarian food. They go to either of the two temples at Kamalapur and Badda. Here they offer flowers, joss sticks and candles. In a ritual called Bodhi Puja, the Buddhists offer water to the banyan tree.

Ruwani is a firm believer in the power of meditation. She meditates for at least five minutes after prayers. "Everybody should do meditation because it helps calm the mind," she observes.

By Kavita Charanji


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