Cultural Heritage and Festivals of Bangladesh

Although Bangladesh emerged as an independent state relatively recently in 1971 through a blood-spattered liberation war, the country forms part of the ancient and historic region of Bengal in the Eastern part of the Subcontinent. The civilization of the country dates back over four millennia, to the Copper Age.

The culture and tradition of Bangladesh are drawn from people’s faith, ethnic root, thoughts and aspirations and creativity, and the passion for life and nature. Unique geographic location, abundance in resources and natural splendour of the country have throughout the history attracted traders, travellers, religion preachers from outside to visit and settle in this land.  Such continued interactions with people of diverse race, civilization and cultural background have helped Bangladesh further enrich its culture and civilization, still maintaining the distinctive indigenous elements. Similarly, the settlers have nurtured their own culture and civilization in this land by generations. As a result, Bangladesh today enjoys a diversified colourful cultural heritage.

Important Archaeological Sites

The cultural heritage of Bangladesh is substantiated in numerous vestiges of ancient periods as well as in remnants of pre-historic urban settlements and other magnificent monuments of different era spread all over the country. So far, 448 sites have been enlisted as national heritage. Notable heritage sites in Bangladesh include among other the following:

Pre-historic city in Wari-Batashar: The twin village Wari-Batashar in the district of Narsingdi dates back to 450 BC. According to archaeologists, Wari-Batashar was a commercial city represents the most ancient civilization in the region. Before the discovery of Wari-Batashar, it was widely held view that urbanization started much later in Bengal region. Excavation of the site has so far unearthed a road, a water reservoirs, small rooms, punched marked silver coins, earthen pots, iron artifacts, hand axes, semi-precious stone beads of early historic period.

 Mahastangarh in Bogra: Earliest relics of the historic age are Mahasthangarh in northern district of Bogra district. Mahasthangarh was built as provincial capital in 3rd century BC by Pundra dynasty and the city continued flourishing during the successive ruling dynasties. The wide range of relics recovered from this site has been put on display at a museum in the site.

Sompur Bhuddhist Mahavihara at Paharpur: The most striking Buddhist monument is the colossal monastery at Paharpur known as Sompur Mahavihara in the northern district of Naogaon. This is the second largest single monastery in the south of the Himalayas. The Monastery was built the second king of Pala dynasty Dharmapala in the 8th century AD. According to Tibetan sources, Sompur Mahavihara in Paharpur was one of the five greatest Buddhist monasteries of ancient time. Sompur Mahavihara has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985. Many other smaller monasteries and stupas have been exposed at in Dinajpur, Savar, and in the Lalmai-Mainamati hill range in Comilla.

Sixty-domed Mosque in Bagerhat: The majestic Sixty-domed mosque, popularly known as Shait-Gumbuj Masjid, is the southern district of Bagerhat is the largest mosque of the Sultanate period in the country of Sultanate period. The same is surrounded by many other mosques and tombs of same period (Bibi Begni Mosque, Khan Jahan’s tomb, Nine-domed Mosque, etc). The mosque, built by saint ruler Khan Jahan Ali in mid 15th century AD,   has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Soto Sona Mosjid in Chapai Nawabganj: Soto Sona Mosjid (small golden mosque,) in the northern district of Chapai Nawabganj is another landmark monument of Sultanate period (built by Sultan Hussain Shah between 1493 to 1519). Stone carving, brick-setting, terracotta, gilding and glazed tiles were used in decorating the building.

Lalbagh Fort: The impressive Lalbagh Fort is a 17th century Mughal fort complex that still stands proudly in the bank of river Buriganga in Dhaka. Mughal Prince Muhammad Azam Shah, the third son of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, started the work of the fort in 1678 during this vice-royalty in Bengal and stayed in the fort for 15 months. The famous tomb of Pari Bibi, daughter of Shaista Khan who succeeded Prince Azam Khan, constitutes one of the three major components of the fort complex.

Ahsan Manjil Palace: It is one of the most significant architectural monuments of Bangladesh. The majestic palace was the residential palace and the seat of Dhaka Nawab family. It was built in the banks of the Buriganga river during the period from 1859 to 1872. Some portions of the palace complex were built earlier in the 18thcentury by the landlord of Jamalpur.

 Curzon Hall of Dhaka University: It is a British colonial period building of majestic architectural design. The building was primarily intended for town hall and is named after Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India who laid the foundation stone in 1904. After establishment of Dhaka University in 1921, it became the base of university’s science faculty.

 Kantajew Mandir in Dinajpur: It is a late-medieval Hindu temple, built by Maharaja Pran Nath in the northern district of Dinajpur. Its construction started in 1704 and completed in 1722. It boasts one of the greatest examples of terracotta architecture in Bangladesh.

 Bangladesh national parliament complex in Dhaka: The national parliament building is a modern architectural splendour. The 200 acres complex, designed by Architect Luis Kahn, is one of the largest legislative complexes in the world. The building was featured prominently in the film ‘My Architect’ detailing the career and legacy of its architect, Luis Kahn. Author Robert McCarter has described the building as one of the most significant buildings of the twentieth century. The construction of the complex began in 1961 but completed in January 1982.

Literature, paintings and performing art of Bangladesh

Arts and Paintings: Bangladesh takes pride in its glorious tradition of Art and literature. The tradition of painting started for religious purpose in Hindu temples and Viharas. Ancient terracotta and pottery testify our artistic ability and aesthetic taste. Zainul Abedin, who became famous for his paintings on the Bengal famine of 1943, is considered as the father of the modern art movement in Bangladesh. Many of the Bangladeshi painters have earned international reputation for their outstanding artistic abilities.

Literature: A collection of lyrical poems composed by the Buddhist Monks known as ‘Charjapada’ is believed to be the earliest specimen of Bengali literature. The earliest available specimen of Charjapada is of about a thousand years old. During the mediaeval period, Bengali Literature developed considerably with the patronage of Muslim rulers. The era of modern Bengali Literature began in the late nineteenth century, in which the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore played a pioneer role. Tagore won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. Kazi Nazrul Islam, Michael Madhusudan Datta. Sarat Chandra Chattopadhaya, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhaya, and many other succeeding writers of outstanding calibre have immense contributions in enriched the modern Bengali Literature.

Music and dance: Various forms of folk and tribal music and dance are of indigenous origin. Lyrics of the folk songs rooted into the tradition and spirituality. Most prevalent forms of folk songs and music include: Bhatiali, Baul, Marfati, Murshidi, and Bhawaiya. Lyricists like Lalon Shah, Hason Raja, Kangal Harinath, Romesh Shill, Abbas Uddin have enriched the folk songs of Bangladesh. Bangladesh has developed its own distinct dancing syles, although a few dancing styles of the adjacent north-eastern India like monipuri and santal dances are widely practiced in Bangladesh. Classical and modern songs and dances are equally popular in Bangladesh.

Drama and film: The theatre in Bangladesh is believed to have its origin in the 4thcentury AD in the form of Sanskrit drama. The folk theatre of Bangladesh has developed in distinct forms, which can be categorized into (i) the narrative, (ii) the song-and-dance, (iii) the processional, and (iv) the supra-personae. In present day theatre of Bangladesh, the influence of European theatre and indigenous folk culture is very prominent. The culture of theatre has great significance in the history as well as in daily lives of Bangladeshis. The theatre performance had vehemently inspired the culture and language based independence movements.

Bangladesh has a very strong film industry. Bangladesh started its journey of own film production with the silent film “Bless the World” by Jotish Banerjee, which was released on 8 November 1919. The first full-length feature film with sound was produced by Abdul Jabbar Khan in the then East Pakistan (present Bangladesh) was Mukh O Mukhosh (face and musk), which was released on 3 August 1956. In 2013, Bangladesh produced about 120 films to emerge as the 10th largest film producing country in the world. Bangladeshi film industry is the second largest film industry in South Asia after Bollywood and is the ninth largest in Asia in terms of revenue. In addition to providing entertainments to mass people, films industry also serves as powerful tool for creating public awareness in Bangladesh.

Festivals and Celebrations

Bangladesh is a country of colourful celebrations. We celebrate our faith, life, liberty, nature, elation, and achievements round the year through a wide variety of fairs and festivals, organized with inexorable enthusiasm and intricate details. Some Bengali fairs and festivals have recorded history of over 2000 years. Festivals in Bangladesh fall into four major categories: religious festivals, national events, cultural festivals, tribal festivals. Although a few festivals are primarily meant for particular sections of the population, all the festivals have now attained universal reach throughout the country.

Basanta UtsabIt is the first day of spring, celebrated in a very colourful manner throughout the country on the 1st day of Falgun, the 11th month of Bangla calender, which falls in mid-February of Gregorian calendar. On this occasion, people wear colour dresses and colourful fairs and cultural programmes organized. Women usually wear yellow sharis and decorate themselves with floral ornaments. Exchange of greetings and gifts is common on the Day.

Nabanna Utsab & Poush Mela: The Nabanna Utsab (new harvest festival) is celebrated predominantly by rural agrarian population of Bangladesh in Poush, the first month of winter season of the Bengali calendar. With a full granary for the winter, it is the time for the agrarian rural Bengalis to relax and engage in merriment and cultural activities. A traditional Poush Mela (traditional fair) would essentially include a Jatrapala (a traditional theatre), traditional dance and music concerts, along with a wide variety of rice-milk-molasses based delicacies called pitha.

Pohela Boishakh: It is the first day of the Bengali calendar which falls on 14th April of Gregorian calendar. Pohela Boishakh is an integral part of Bangladesh’s cultural heritage. It is closely linked with the rural life. People start this day with new hope thoroughly scrubbing the failures and sorrows of the preceding year. Businessmen, particularly in rural areas, close their old book of accounts and open new ones and treat their customers with traditional sweets to renew the business relationship.  People, dressed in colourful traditional clothes, visit their friends, relative and neighbours to exchange greetings. On this day, Fairs are arranged in many parts of the country where various agricultural products, traditional handicrafts, toys, cosmetics, as well as various kinds of food and sweets are sold. The fairs also provide entertainment with singers, dancers and traditional plays and songs. Pohela Boishakh is also celebrated in grand ways in capital Dhaka and other major cities of Bangladesh.

Baul Mela: Every year, in the month of Falgun (February to March), “Lalon Smaran Utshab” (Lalon memorial festival) is held in the shrine of Lalon in Kushtia, where Bauls (itinerant mystic folk singers) and devotees of Lalon from Bangladesh and overseas come to perform and highlight the mystics of Fakir Lalon Shah, the undisputed king of Baul music.  Baul music celebrates celestial love in earthly terms.

Weddings: Bangladeshi people consider wedding as one of the most important episode of human life. As a result, people usually make every effort to make their wedding ceremony exemplary and memorable. Bangali wedding include a series of rituals and ceremonies with elaborate details spanning over several days. Wedding is a festive occasion not only for the friends and relatives of the bride and groom; it rather involves the entire communities concerned. Main wedding traditionally takes place at bride’s palace, which includes a grand feast. The wedding ceremony concludes with a reception hosted by the groom’s side.

Amor Ekushey and the International Mother Language Day: Amor Ekushey(immortal 21st) is celebrated throughout the country on 21st February each year to commemorate and pay homage to the language martyrs who sacrificed their lives on 21st February 1952 for the right to mother language, Bangla. The programme usually includes: laying of floral wreaths at Shahid Minar (martyrs monuments) through ceremonial processions in very early hours of the day, special prayers, discussion meetings, cultural events, etc.  To promote Bangla language and literature, a month-long book fair is organized in Dhaka in February every year. Similar fairs are organized in different parts of the country. The Day has been declared International Mother Language Day by UNESCO in 1999. Since then, the Day is being celebrated regularly all over the world to uphold the importance of all mother languages of the world.

Independence and National Day: The nation celebrates its Independence and National Day on 26th March with enthusiasm and patriotic zeal. It commemorates the country’s declaration of independence from Pakistan by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the late hours of 25th March 1971. Independence Day celebration includes ceremonial laying of floral wreath at the National Mausoleum at Savar by the Hon’ble President and Hon’ble Prime Minister to pay homage to the valiant freedom fighters, colourful parades, political speeches, fairs, concerts, and many other public and private events celebrating the history and traditions of Bangladesh. TV and radio stations broadcast special programs and patriotic songs. Main streets and landmark buildings are decorated with national flags and lightings. On the eve of Independence Day, the prestigious Independence Award is bestowed upon Bangladeshi citizens. Bangladesh diplomatic missions around the world organize special programme to mark the Day.

Victory Day: Bangladesh celebrates the Victory Day on 16 December to commemorate the ultimate victory of the Allied Forces over Pakistani forces in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 marking the  of nine-month liberation war and the official secession of East Pakistan into Bangladesh. The festivity and way of celebration is almost similar to that for the Independence Day.

Eid ul-Fitr: It is the biggest Muslim festival celebrated in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world by Muslim people with due solemnity and fervour on the day following the end of the month of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Big congregations are held at the Eidgahs (open fields) and mosques in the morning. The biggest congregation of the country is held at Sholakia in Kishoreganj, where about half a million people gathers for Eid prayers. On this day, people dressed in new clothes visit each other’s houses and exchange greetings. In rural areas, Eid fairs are organized. Cultural, sports and other social events like: boat race, puppet shows, are also organized to promote friendship and solidarity among people. A colourful Eid procession is organized in old Dhaka.

Eid ul-Adha: It is another important religious festival of the Muslim in Bangladesh and elsewhere. The way of celebration of Eid ul-Adha is almost similar to that of Eid ul-Fitr. The major difference is the sacrifice of domestic animals on this occasion, to commemorate the historic sacrifice of Hazrat Ibrahim (A), which symbolizes utmost loyalty and complete submission to Allah. Eid-ul-Adha is usually observed on the 10thday of Arabic lunar calendar month of Zilhaj.

Durga Puja: It is the biggest festival of the Hindu community in Bangladesh. It is celebrated throughout the country in autumn and the entire population in fact gets involved in the grand festivity. It is the celebration of Goddess Durga’s triumph over demon Mahisasura. In some places of Bangladesh, it is celebrated in the spring as Basanti Puja. On the fourth day of worship, the idol is immersed in water through colourful possession. In Dhaka, the big celebrations are held at Dhakeswari Temple and at the Ram Krishna Mission.

Buddha Purnima: Buddha Purnima, the birth anniversary of Lord Bhuddha, is the most important festival of the Buddhists and is celebrated throughout the country with religious fervour and enthusiasm on full moon day in the month of April. This is a public holiday in Bangladesh. On this day, various religious rituals at Buddhist temples and monasteries are observed. Buddhism is one of the most ancient religions of Bangladesh, which is home to a few most important oldest Buddhist monasteries in Asia.

Christmas: Christmas is celebrated every year throughout Bangladesh with pomp and enthusiasm. Christmas in Bangladesh starts with singing of carols in churches from the first week of December. Churches, homes, city hotels are decorated with Christmas trees and colourful lightings.