Festivals And Holidays in Bangladesh

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Festivals And Holidays in Bangladesh

Festivals And Holidays


Nabanna, the festival of the new harvest, is as old as the land itself. It takes place in the Bangla month Agrahayan (Nov-Dec), proverbially known as the season of plenty. People in the rural areas celebrate harvesting of the corn as farmers come back home with loads of golden paddy on their head ringing like new bells. There is joy everywhere, the children frisk in the yard as the cattle go round and round thrashing the paddy, separating it from the stalks. The folks beam with happiness and the women prepare the customary rice gruel sweetened with Patali, country sugar made of date-palm juice, to be served to all the neighbors. One can hardly miss the season as one approaches a village sniffing the smell of the new crop or hearing the drip-drap of the pestle busy making Cheera (beaten rice). The Nabanna brings a ripple of joy to the otherwise placid homesteads sleeping in the morning fog of approaching winter.

Pahela Baishakh

Pahela Baishakh (Bangla new year's day) too is indigenous and has been part of its folk tradition since no one knows when. The day starts with partaking of a heavy breakfast of cheera, gur and yogurt. Then people get dressed to go to the fairs which take palce every year at an appointed place, it being inevitably either the cool shade of a banyan tree or a riverfront usually at the bend of a river. The fair brings commodities of every sort, food of every variety and sweets of endless kinds. The sight of clay dolls and toys made of plastic and rubber delight the children. A small boy hanging on to his father's arm stubbornly insisting on buying a toy of his liking, his father cannot afford-is a common sight. But tears vanish as soon as the boy sees his favourite puppet show or a clown wearing a mask.

Businessmen and traders observe this day with due solemnity. They start a new cash register daubing it with finger marks of vermillion and the new book is known as the Halkhata.

In the urban areas, Pahela Baishakh has been increasingly becoming popular with the rise of national consciousness. In the cities there are cutural functions in the morning, the Ramna Batamool function in the capital Dhaka being the most famous and the largest. About 100 artists, mostly women, dressed in golden silk sarees with red border climb a high rostrum under the banyan tree in the Ramna green and render songs of different kinds, mostly Tagore and Nazrul songs. There are Baishakhi Melas (fairs) at Bangla Academy and Shishu Academy premises extending over a week. People throng these places with their children who enjoy the occasion most.

The merriment of Pahela Baishakh comes to an end usually with a storm. There is a speck of black cloud in the northwestern sky and people know from experience about the gathering storm. But before they wind up, the tiny speck spreads all over the sky in no time and there is a wind blowing at blinding speed raising a dust storm. Soon a torrential rain starts pouring in and the heat cools down, bringing a spell of relief. But sometimes the storm is severe, causing heavy damage to life and property.


Eid-ul-Fitr comes at the end of a month-long fasting during Ramadan and on sighting of the new moon of Shawal, the tenth month of the Arabic calendar. The next day, that is on the first of Shawal, housewives prepare delicious dishes and male members go to Eidgahs or the local mosques to offer their prayers. Prayers over, they embrace each other, high and low, rich and poor all stand on an equal footing and greet each other wishing a happy Eid. The poor are given fitra, a certain amount of money per head per family so that they too can celebrate Eid. Everyone is presented with new clothes and the children enjoy the occasion most as they visit their friends in small groups, each visit giving them a taste of new dishes. The occasion is of great national importance and radio and television put up special programmes and the newspapers bring out supplements to mark it. The offices and buildings are illuminated and the whole country assumes a festive look.


Eid-ul-Azha which takes place on the tenth of Zilhaj, is the next important occasion for the Muslims. Those who can afford, go to Makkah to perform Haj. But most people celebrate it with devotion offering prayers and making a sacrifice of, either a cow or a goat. This is done in memory of Hazrat Ibrahim (SM) who out of love for Allah, was about to sacrifice his dearest son Ismail (SM) but ended up sacrificing, as he stood blindfolded, a sheep. People distribute meat among the poor and the poor relations and there is joy and happiness all around. This too is observed as an occasion of national importance.


A full month of fasting or Siam characterizes Ramadan, the ninth month of the Arabic calendar. Fasting is observed from pre-dawn to dusk. Precisely at sunset people partake of iftar, dishes of different kinds with cold drinks that soothe their thirst. This is a month of austerity and it teaches the Muslims a number of lessons, or rather makes them feel certain basic facts of life. It reminds them of the poor and their hunger as they undergo the experience itself. It teaches them fellow-feeling, sacrifice and temperance and most of all restraint. People pay Zakat, a poor tax, voluntarily but compulsive under religious strictures. The government has formed a Zakat Board to utilize this money for creating employment opportunities for the poor.


Shab means night and Shab-e-Qadr is a night of special significance. It takes place on the night of the twenty seventh Ramadan. The Quran was revealed on this night but there is a general lack of certainty, according to the hadiths, regarding the precise date of this occasion. The hadiths point at the odd night after the twentieth Ramadan, namely 21, 23, 25 and 27. People in Bangladesh observe the twenty seventh of Ramadan as the Shab-e-Qadr and they spend the night offering prayers which end with a Munazat after the Fazr prayers when, according to Quranic belief, Allah and the angels wait to give blessings to the pious.


Eid-e-Miladunnabi signifies the birth anniversary of Hazrat Muhammad (SM), the Prophet of Islam. He was born on Monday, the 12th Rabiul Awwal, an Arabic lunar month, in 570 AD. The Muslims of this sub-continent celebrate the birth anniversary of their Prophet with great respect, enthusiasm and passion for several days including the twelfth. The day is a public holiday. Bangladesh Television and Radio Bangladesh put up special programmes on the significance of the day. Newspapers bring out special supplements. The religious institutions hold special prayers and distribute food among the poor. The Islamic Foundation arranges elaborate programmes on such occasion.


It means the night of fortune. The Muslims believe that on this night Allah determines human destiny for the rest of the year. Most Muslims spend the night in prayers and Zikirs hoping Allah would forgive their sins. Housewives prepare sweet dishes and distribute flat bread among the poor. This takes place on the fourteenth of Shaban according to the Arabic calendar.

Durga Puja

The Hindus have a number of religious festivals among which the Durga Puja is the most important. Durga Puja is to the Hindus what Eid is to the Muslims or Christmas to the Christians. The Hindu localities either collectively or individually have the images of goddess-Durga killing Mahishasura made in clay, daub the idols in paint and make them wear bright clothes. For 10 days beginning from the first appearance of the moon in Aswin, the youths dance to the sound of drums and cymbals. On the tenth day the image is immersed in water, usually in a river or pond and the devotees come back home. This is a great occasion of joy and merriment for the Hindus. New clothes are presented to all members of the family and there is a lot of dainty dishes prepared on the occasion. Television and Radio arrange special programmes on the day.


In tune with the rest of the world the Christians of Bangladesh observe their most important religious festival, X-mas, on the twenty fifth December to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Each house is tastefully decorated, the Christmas tree being an indispensable part of the decoration. There is the traditional Christmas dinner and since there is no turkey raised in Bangladesh bigger chickens make do for the occasion. And, of course, there is the traditional Santa Claus sending ripples of laughter on the innocent faces. Special features are published in the newspapers and Television and Radio beam special programmes to mark the occasion.

Shaheed Day

After Independence February 21 has been officially declared the Shaheed Day (the Martyrs' Day). On this day in 1952 the youths, especially the students, rose in protest against the imposition of Urdu as the only state language of Pakistan. This was taken as a conspiracy against the Bengalee culture and as the students brought out a procession in violation of official prohibitory order, the police fired on the demonstrators killing a number of students and members of the public. Barkat, Salam, Rafiq and a number of unknown others lost their lives. The consequent mass upsurge was so tumultuous that the Pakistan government had to yield and recognize Bangla as one of the state languages of the country. This was the first significant victory of the Bengalees against attempts at cultural domination. Since then the occasion has inspired the Bengalees in their struggle for autonomy and, later, independence.

Also called Omar Ekushey (the Immortal 21st), the day is observed with great solemnity, beginning from the midnight. Streams of people come and pass by the steps of the Central Shaheed Minar (and it has replicas all over the country) laying wreaths on the steps. People either pass in silence or chant the Ekushey song `Amar bhaiyer rakte rangano' (The 21st daubed with m.y brother's blood). People go barefoot to the graveyard where the martyrs are lying in eternal sleep. By mid-morning the entire Shaheed Minar is a veritable sea of flowers. Poets are seen reciting their poems sitting on the road islands on this occasion. And there is a book fair at the premises of the Bangla Academy, the national academy for arts and letters.

Independence and National Day

Following the Pakistani army crackdown on 25 March 1971, the independence of Bangladesh was declared on March 26. Since then the day is observed as the Independence and National Day. As the Bangladeshis had to wade through the blood of an estimated 3 million people who lost their lives to gain independence, the day is of great significance and inspiration for the whole nation. National flag is hoisted atop all buildings and the streets and houses are draped in banners and festoons. In the morning, school children take part in parades, sports and games as thousands of people watch their performance. In the evening cultural shows are arranged and films are shown. Special diet is served in hospitals, orphanages and prisons. In the urban area people go out onto the streets at night to see colourful illumination. Radio and Television put up special programmes and newspapers bring out supplements to mark the occasion.

The Victory Day

On 16 December 1971 the Pakistani army, an estimated 90,000, surrendered to the allied forces. The valiant freedom fighters entered the city of Dhaka with arms in their hands. As they marched along the streets, the entire people welcomed them with rejoicings. The jubilant crowd stood by as the Pakistani army marched in silence with their head drooping low.

The day is observed with due solemnity - the first rays of the morning sun being heralded with 31 gunshots. In the capital there is usually a ceremonial military parade in which all the uniformed services are represented. Hundreds of thousands of people gather to watch this parade. Wreaths are laid at the Jatiya Smriti Shoudha (National Martyrs' Monument) at Savar, near Dhaka city, in memory of those who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of the country.

National Holidays (List)

Public holidays are observed on the following occasions:

Shaheed Day - 21 February
Independence National Day - 26 March
Pahela Baishakh or Bangla New Year's Day - 15 April (14 April in a leap year)
May Day - 1 May; Victory Day - 16 December
Christmas - 25 December

The following holidays are determined according to the lunar calendar depending on sighting of the moon.

Buddha Purnima

Official holidays are observed on the following occasions under executive order of the government:

Shab-e-Barat Shahb-e-Qadr
Ashura (10th Muharram, the first month of the Hijri calendar year) and 3 days for each of the two Eid occasions.

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