Bangladesh's unique cultural history dates back more than 2500 years. Subsumed within the multidimensional cultural heritage of Bangladesh is the cultural diversity of several social groups.
Festivities form an integral part of the culture of Bangladesh, epitomise the cultural traits and express the friendly nature and camaraderie of the people.
The foremost of the festivities, from a popular and secular participation point of view, however, would be the Bangla New Year celebration, commonly known as Pohela Boishakh.
Pohela Boishakh or the first day ('Pohela' means first) of the first month of Boishakh of Bangla year has also a long and interesting history. Under the Mughals, who ruled the Indian subcontinent for close to two hundred years, agricultural taxes were collected according to the Hijri calendar.
On 17 February 1966, the Bengali Calendar was modified by a committee headed by the celebrated scholar Dr Muhammad Shahidullah under the auspices of the Bangla Academy of the then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.
New Year's festivities are closely linked with rural life in Bengal.
Usually on Pohela Boishakh, the home is thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned; people bathe early in the morning and dress in fine clothes. They spend the day visiting relatives and friends, share special food with guests. The other attraction is the Boishakhi fair arranged in many parts of the country.
Various agricultural products, traditional handicrafts, toys, cosmetics, as well as different kinds of food and sweets are sold at these fairs.
The fairs also provide entertainment, with singers and dancers staging jatra (traditional plays), pala gan, kobigan, jarigan, gambhira gan, gazir gan and alkap gan. They present folk songs as well as baul, marfati, murshidi and bhatiali songs.
Narrative plays, puppet shows and merry-go-rounds are among other attractions of these fairs. Many old festivals connected with New Year's Day have disappeared, while new festivals have been added. Kite flying and bull racing used to be very colourful events. Other popular games and sports were horse race, bullfight, cockfight, flying pigeons and boat racing.
Observance of Pohela Boishakh has become popular in the cities too. Early in the morning, people gather under a big tree or on the bank of a lake to witness the sunrise.
Artists present songs to usher in the new year. People wear traditional Bengali dress: young women wear white saris with red borders, and adorn themselves with churi (bangles), ful (flowers), and tip (bindis). Men wear white paejama (pants) or lunggi (man's skirts) and kurta (long shirt).
Social and cultural organisations celebrate the day with cultural programmes. Newspapers bring out special supplements. There are also special programmes on radio and television.
Courtesy of Bangladesh High Commission, Brunei