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     Volume 8 Issue 66 | April 24, 2009 |

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Celebrating Bijhu

Shantimoy Chakma from Rangamati

The traditional 'Bijhu Festival' of the ethnic communities in the hill districts of Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachhari in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) concluded more than a week ago amidst widespread celebration.

With a vow to save their cultures and traditions as well as hoping for a full implementation of CHT accord, eleven ethnic minority communities in three hill districts -- Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachhari, observed the 'Bijhu'.

On the eve of the Bijhu Utsab, the festival Committee organised a huge colourful rally on April 11 in the hill town of Rangamati, where thousands of different ethnic people from far-flung areas took part. Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, widely known as Santu Larma, who is chairman of CHT Regional Council and also chief of Parbabattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS), inaugurated the rally while Barrister Debasish Roy, chief of the Chakma Circle, addressed the congregation as the chief guest. Former law advisor Hassan Arif, Gano Forum leader Pankaj Bhattacharya and journalist Syed Abul Moksud also addressed the function as special guests.

At the rally, Santu Larma claimed that the indigenous people of the CHT were losing their culture and customs as the CHT peace accord has yet to be implemented. He also said that the people of the CHT were passing their days amid increasing insecurity. “We signed the peace accord with the government for preservation and development of our ethnic culture. Even eleven years have elapsed since signing the treaty, but (the necessary) steps have not been taken for its full implementation," Santu said at the rally. Larma also said the time for words was over and that only actions would help restore the faith of the ethnic minorities in the Chittagong peace accord. He also alleged, that the lands of indigenous people were still being grabbed by Bengali settlers in the hills.

Calling upon the ethnic people to uphold their culture and traditions, Debasish Roy said indigenous people were still being deprived, tortured and harassed by their rulers. Hassan Arif added that due to a lack of political will, the indigenous people have been deprived of their fundamental rights for a long time.

Indigenous people usually observe the Bijhu Utsab for three days, which includes the last two days of the old year and first day of the Bengali New Year. However, the Marmas celebrate their Sangraine Utsab (Pani Khela) on the second day of Bengali New Year. Eleven ethnic communities who have been living in the CHT since time immemorial -- Chakma, Marma, Tangchangya, Tripura, Lusai, Bom, Pankhua, Mro, Khiyang, Chak and Khumi celebrate the Bijhu by holding different elaborate programmes each year.

Bijhu-Sangraine-Boisuk-Bisu-Bihu Udjapan committee and various indigenous cultural organisations in CHT organised different traditional sports such as Tumoru, Ghila, Nadeng, Pour and Dhanu khela, along with a rally, an art competition, a cultural function and a prize giving ceremony.

Marma young boys and girls spraying water on each other in the traditional Sangraine Utsab (Water Festival) session in Rangamati.

The Chakmas call the event Bijhu, the Marmas, Sangraine, the Tangchangyas, Bisu the Tripuras Boisuk and the Ahmia term it Bihu. However, in general, the festival takes place in three parts. The first day of the three-day festival is called Fulbijhu, second day is Mulbijhu and the first day of the Bengali New Year is called “Gojjya Pojjya Din.” On the Fulbijhu, the Tripura people in Rangamati separately organised a traditional Gouraya Nritya and a bathing session of the elderly men and women at Tripura Kalyan Foundation. In the Bandarban and Khagrachhari, ethnic people also celebrated the festival in similar ways.

In Rangamati, on the first day of the fulbijhu, indigenous people float flowers on river early in the morning, seeking divine blessings for peace and prosperity. To mark the occasion, houses are also decorated with flowers. On the second day of Mulbijhu, the main function of the thee-day festival, the ethnic people prepare different kinds of pithas, sweetmeats, and they also specially make Pachon a kind of mixed vegetable curry to feed their guests. Besides that, they also prepare Da-choawni a kind of local liquor, which is the main attraction for them during the festival. Though the festivities are related to the ethnic minorities, Bengalis also enjoy the celebration. On the last day of the festival which also happens to be the first day of the Bangla New Year, people offer prayers seeking divine blessings for peace and prosperity at different Buddhist temples, they also light candles in the evening.

On the second day of the Bengali New Year, the Marmas, organise the Sangraine Utsab (water festival), the biggest traditional festival of the Marma community, at Chitmorang in Kaptia. Thousands of indigenous people, mostly the Marmas, from three hill districts thronged at the compound of the Chitmorang Bazar to enjoy their traditional Sangraine Utsab (Pani Khela). The young boys and girls celebrate by spraying water on each other. Interestingly an anti-peace treaty organisation, the United Peoples' Democratic Front (UPDF), was also brought out a big rally in Rangmati on the day of Fulbijhu. The Marma Sangskritic Sangstha (MSS), the lone cultural organisation of the Marma community in Rangamati, organised the function. Dipankar Talukder, state minister for CHT affairs inaugurated the festival as the chief guest while president of MSS and Kapati upazila chairman Aungsu Chine Chowdhury attended the event as well. Aungsa Prue Marma, secretary of the MSS and Chitmorang UP chairman Thoai Ching Marma also spoke on the occasion.

In their speeches, Marma leaders said the culture of the ethnic communities, including that of the Marma was under severe threat as the majority people suppressed them through political, economic and social means. They urged the government to be sincere about the rights of the ethnic people so that they can enjoy their fundamental rights. Dipankar Talukder said the present government is committed to the minority people so that they can practice their own culture and customs.

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