It is said that we Bengalis celebrate 13 festivals in a calendar year. It’s just not true, you know! I just don’t know why people say such things about us! We Bengalis of Bangladesh celebrate more than just 13!!!
In this secular country, where Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and ethnic minorities live side by side, where both religious and cultural events are celebrated with great fanfare, and where Western culture has slowly permeated Eastern traditions, life is a nonstop celebration of festivals.
No sooner is Eid-ul Fitr over, the drums and conch shells start heralding the arrival of the Hindu Goddess Durga. Soon after, there will be Thanksgiving, and then it will be time for Eid-ul-Azha, when Muslims will sacrifice animals in the name of Allah. The end of the year will bring Christmas. And there will be New Year, the month-long Book Fair, the First of Spring, Valentine’s Day, Language Martyr’s Day, Independence Day, Bengali New Year… And you thought I was exaggerating? Let me list a few more: Muharram, Eid-e-Miladunnabi, May Day, Budhdha Purnima, Shab-e-Barat, Janmashtami, Victory Day. We have 21 public holidays annually. Do I detect a wee tinge of envy in your eyes? And are you wondering when we find the time to actually do some work?
But wait, I haven’t finished yet. Then there are cultural events and other minor religious events we celebrate. Social customs like birth, naming ceremony, marriage, and death too have a distinct Bangladeshi flavor with every ethnic and religious group having their own unique way to mark these occasions.
I won’t claim that Bangladesh is free from religious or secular tension. I won’t tell you that religious extremism does not exist here. But I will say that things are perhaps not so bad as is portrayed in the media, where isolated events are sometimes blown all out of proportion, and gives a very wrong impression of the country and countrymen. Allow me to draw your attention to the fact that the province of Bengal has traditionally been a melting pot of different religions, and that despite different beliefs, people have always (well, almost always) coexisted peacefully in this country. Social and cultural events bring people together irrespective of cast, creed or religion, and religious events provide an opportunity to all to experience unique rites and customs, not to mention food. Our festivals are celebrations of life, culture, customs and traditions. They are a time of unity, reunion and rejuvenation, of the rebirth of our patriotism and piety, and last but not the least, time to reaffirm vows of love, charity and compassion.
Over the remainder of this week, I intend to write about the biggest celebration of the Hindu Community in Bangladesh - the Durga Puja. Consisting of a series of complex rituals, this five day-long celebration of Goddess Durga's homecoming is close to every Bengali's heart. Seen as the Mother of the Universe, Durga represents the infinite power of the universe and is a symbol of female dynamism. The puja rituals reaffirm the faith of mankind in God and in the victory of good over evil.