Bangladesh is not only a land of rivers and rivulets but also a land of festivals and fairs. as proverb goes, "there are thirteen festivals in a circle of twelve months". According to Charles Metcalte:
The village communities are little Republics having nearly everything they want within themselves, and almost independent of any foreign relations. They seem to last where nothing else lasts. Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down... evolution succeeds to revolution. But the village communities remain the same... (Twilight of the Mughals, Cambridge, p. 117).
Almost in all villages, markets or even under a banyan tree, we had invariably a fair (mela) where all the village folks will assemble with their eternal rejoicing, amidst music and merriment and what not!
If we start with Baishak, the first month of the Bengali year (April-May) we have Naba-Barsha, the happy Bengali New Year, reverberated with songs, dances, regional games, kite-flying-ox, fighting or reciting of poems with all their regional traits and festivity. Even before the Naba-Barsha, we have Chaitra-Sankranti, the last day of the last month of the Bengali Year, which bids farewell to the past year with equal festivity. The rural areas now echo not only with the sound of drum and merrymaking but also with festive village fairs where one can buy household to all kinds of folk-arts and crafts made by the village or folk artists.
Naba-Barsha, now-a-days, has become an important and one of the popular festivals in city and metropolitan areas as well, where along with the various festivities, book exhibitions have also gained much popularity. This Naba-Barsha being a secular festival, is also popular among the tribal people in the Hill areas.
Other prominent festivals are Idul-Fitr, after Ramzan, the holy month of fasting, the first day of the Islamic month Shawal (April), Idul, Azha, in the Islamic month Zilhaj; Moharram in the Holy month of Moharram; among the Hindus-Durga-Puja: Rath Jatra; Jhulan; Gajon; Charak; Dole; Nabami; Ashtami; Baruni; Maghi-Purnima: among the Buddhists-Buddha Purnima and many others are celebrated. Fairs used to take place also in the shrines or Darghas of religious spiritual mystic personalities such as Gazi-Pir, Hazrat Shah Jalal (R.A.), Lalan Shah, Hasan Raja, Pagla Kanai and many others. We had fairs exclusively with local products, boat race, horse race and such others, as well.
C.A. Bentley, M.B.. D.P.H., Director of Public Health, Bengal, Calcutta, in his book Fairs and Festivals in Bengal (1920), divided all the fairs into two categories: (1) Permanent Fairs, where fairs and festivals are held permanently each year, and (2) temporary fairs; where in any place of a locality or a bazar fairs can take place and the same venue may also be changed the following year or years. He wrote that there were as many as 7,000 melas, both permanent and temporary, then.
According to Bentley in some of the these fairs, the number of people assembled were from five hundred to even five thousand.
It cannot be denied that fairs or festivals which used to take place one hundred years ago or so, by this time, in many places have changed their initial character. In some places fairs of those good old days are not held at all. Nevertheless, even today, however, as we find from various reports, the number of fairs range as follows:
Dhaka Division-339, Chittagong-221; Rajahshi-324; and Khulna-130. Al these fairs and festivals usually included the holy occasions mentioned above. Some new items were also added in some places. We can here, in short, name some of these fairs which are held in the Dhaka District only. These are:
Barani; Dole-Purnima: Chaitra-Sankranti; Naba-barsha; Snan; Holy bath in the rivers, Rash Jatra; Mahanam-Kirtan, Kali Puja, Bishnu Priya Festivals: Loknath Festival, Oras; Maghi-Purnima, Maghi-Saptami, Baulmel Keshab Pagaler Mela, Moharrum; Durga Puja; Pous-Sankranti; Dole-Jatra: Poush Mela, Ratha-Jata; Biswakarma Puja. Jhulan; Idul Fitr: Idul Zoha. and many others.
According to the District Gazetters: Now-a-days fairs and melas assume more of commercial importance since traders utilise the opportunity of these occasions of social gatherings to dispose of their goods. Such gatherings which occur several times a year serve to boost business of the small traders and village hawkers- it combines entertainments with business..
In recent months I participated in some of those fairs e.g. Lalan Mela (Kushtia), Hasan Raja Mela (Sunamganj), Netrakona Poush Mela (Netrokona) and lastly in Rangpur Poush Mela. Selling of handicrafts, cottage industry products, toys, countrymade clothes, satranchis. home procured honey, folk instruments and varieties of regional sweets even pithas (cakes) attracted people from all walks of life. It seemed that "they are in it". I was much surprised to see that folk arts and crafts which were popular for thousands of years, are no less attractive, even to-day, under the dazzling neon lights.
The history of Rangpur Poush Mela, like many others, has a long antiquity as well as tradition. We came to know that the Maharaja of Tazhat (Rangpur) even before the partition (1947) used to invite His Excellency the Viceroy of Bengal with Her Excellency, all the Maharajas and Zemindars of adjacent States and a large procession with as many as fifty elephants and horses would proceed towards the venue of Poush Mela. Similar Melas took place in Naba Barsha also. There was reverberated amusements with regional songs and dances, which the honourable invitees enjoyed with great applause. This Melas remained open for days and weeks, even for a month.
We heard that from horses to elephants were also sold among many other merchandise in some of these melas. Our recent visits to these Mela were not unpaying. We saw hundreds and thousands of people from all walks of life coming and buying household materials from bags to bangles from plates to sweets and what not! The entire Mela ground, as if, was humming with the sounds of folks and songs of folk singers. The BSCIC, who are cooperating with these fairs, we believe, has a great role to play. They can patronise the poor craftsmen with financial assistance through the Grameen Bank and also encourage them to follow the new designs that they have been developing. We hope that BSCIC will continue their good efforts to revive the age-old tradition of our motherland in cooperation with the artists, who blossom like unknown flowers who are gifted but less known to the world outside.
|Source: The New Nation, April 14, 2002|
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