People & Culture

A vast majority (98 percent) of the people of Bangladesh are Bengalis and they speak the Bengali language. Minorities include Biharis numbering 250,000 and other tribes numbering about a million, with the Chakma being most numerous in number. About 83 percent of Bangladeshis are profess Islam as their religion. The next major religion is Hinduism (16 precent). Other major religions include Buddhism and Christianity.

A member of the Indo-European family of languages, Bangla (sometimes called Bengali) is the official language of Bangladesh. Bangladeshis closely identify themselves with their national language. Bangla has a rich cultural heritage in literature, music, and poetry, and at least two Bengali poets are well known in the West: Rabindranath Tagore, a Hindu and a Nobel laureate; and Kazi Nazrul Islam, a Muslim known as the “voice of Bengali nationalism and independence.” Bangla has been enriched by several regional dialects. The dialects of Sylhet, Chittagong, and Noakhali have been strongly marked by Arab-Persian influences. English, whose cultural influence seemed to have crested by the late 1980s, remained nonetheless an important language in Bangladesh.

Biharis, a group that included Urdu-speaking non-Bengali Muslim refugees from Bihar and other parts of northern India, numbered about 1 million in 1971 but had decreased to around 600,000 by the late 1980s. They once dominated the upper levels of Bengali society. Many also held jobs on the railroads and in heavy industry. As such they stood to lose from Bangladesh independence and sided with Pakistan during the 1971 war. Hundreds of thousands of Biharis were repatriated to Pakistan after the war.

Bangladesh’s tribal population consists of about 1 million people, just under 1 percent of the total population. They live primarily in the Chittagong Hills and in the regions of Mymensingh, Sylhet, and Rajshahi. The majority of the tribal population (778,425) live in rural settings, where many practice shifting cultivation. Most tribal people are of SinoTibetan descent and has distinctive Mongoloid features. They differ in their social organization, marriage customs, birth and death rites, food, and other social customs from the people of the rest of the country. They speak Tibeto-Burman languages. In the mid-1980s, the percentage distribution of tribal population by religion was Hindu 24, Buddhist 44, Christian 13, and others 19.

The four largest tribes are the Chakmas, Marmas (or Maghs), Tipperas (or Tipras), and Mros (or Moorangs). The tribes tend to intermingle and could be distinguished from one another more by differences in their dialect, dress, and customs than by tribal cohesion. Only the Chakmas and Marmas display formal tribal organization, although all groups containe distinct clans. By far the largest tribe, the Chakmas are of mixed origin but reflect more Bengali influence than any other tribe. Unlike the other tribes, the Chakmas and Marmas generally live in the highland valleys. Most Chakmas are Buddhists, but some practiced Hinduism or animism.

Culture

A new state for an old nation, Bangladesh has a culture that encompasses elements both old and new. The Bengali language boasts a rich literary heritage, which Bangladesh shares with the Indian state of West Bengal. The earliest literary text in Bangla is the eighth century Charyapada. Bangla literature in the medieval age was often either religious (e.g. Chandidas), or adaptations from other languages (e.g. Alaol). Bangla literature matured in the nineteenth century. Its greatest icons are the poets Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. Bangladesh also has a long tradition in folk literature, evidenced by Maimansingha Gitika, Thakurmar Jhuli or stories related to Gopal Bhar.

The musical tradition of Bangladesh is lyrics-based (Baniprodhan), with minimal instrumental accompaniment. The Baul tradition is a unique heritage of Bangla folk music, and there are numerous other musical traditions in Bangladesh, which vary from one region to the other. Gombhira, Bhatiali, are a few of the better-known musical forms. Folk music of Bengal is often accompanied by the ektara, an instrument with only one string. Other instruments include the dotara,dhol, flute, and tabla. Bangladesh also has an active heritage in North Indian classical music. Similarly, Bangladeshi dance forms draw from folk traditions, especially those of the 

tribal groups, as well as the broader Indian dance tradition. Bangladesh produces about 80 films a year.Mainstream Hindi films are also quite popular, as are films from Kolkata, which has its own thriving Bengali-language movie industry. Around 200 dailies are published in Bangladesh, along with more than 1800 periodicals. However, regular readership is low, nearly about 15% of the population. Bangladeshis listen to a variety of local and national radio programmes from Bangladesh Betar, as well as Bangla services from the BBC and Voice of America. There is a state-controlled television channel , but in the last few years, privately owned channels have grown considerably.

The culinary tradition of Bangladesh has close relations to Indian< and Middle Eastern cuisine as well as having many unique traits. Rice and curry are traditional favourites. Bangladeshis make distinctive sweetmeats from milk products; some common ones are Rôshogolla, Chômchôm and Kalojam.

The sari (shaŗi) is by far the most widely worn dress by Bangladeshi women. However, the salwar kameez (shaloar kamiz) is also quite popular, and in urban areas some women wear Western attire. Among men, European dressing has greater acceptance. Men also use the kurta-paejama combination, often on religious occasions. The lungi, a kind of long skirt, is widely worn by Bangladeshi men.

The two Eids, Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha are the largest festivals in the Islamic calendar. The day before Eid ul-Fitr is called Chãd Rat (the night of the Moon), and is often marked by firecrackers. Other Muslim holidays are also observed. Major Hindu festivals are Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja. Buddha Purnima, which marks the birth of Gautama Buddha, is one of the most important Buddhist festivals while Christmas, called Bôŗodin (Great day) in Bangla is celebrated by the minority Christian population. The most important secular festival is Pohela Baishakh or Bengali New Year, the beginning of the Bengali calendar. Other festivities include Nobanno, Poush parbon (festival of Poush) and observance of national days like Shohid Dibosh.

Fair & Festival of Bangladesh

Fairs and festivals have always played a significant role in the life of the citizens of this country. They derive from them a great amount of joy, entertainment and color for life. While most of the festivals have sprung from religious rituals, the fairs have their roots in the very heart of the people, irrespective of religion, caste or creed. 

Pahela Baishakh

The advent of Bengali New Year is gaily observed throughout the country. The Day (mid-April) is a public holiday. Most colorful daylong gatherings along with arrangement of cultural program and traditional Panta at Ramna Park, is a special feature of Pahela Baishakh. Tournaments, boat races etc. are held in cities and villages amidst great jubilation. Many fairs are held in Dhaka and other towns and villages. 

Independence Day

March 26 is the day of Independence of Bangladesh. It is the biggest state festival. This day is most befittingly observed and the capital wears a festive look. It is a public holiday. The citizens of Dhaka wake up early in the morning with the booming of guns heralding the day. Citizens including government leaders and sociopolitical organizations and freedom fighters place floral wreaths at the National Martyrs Monument at Savar. Bangla Academy, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy and other socio-cultural organizations hold cultural functions. At night the main public buildings are tastefully illuminated to give the capital city a dazzling look. Similar functions are arranged in other parts of the country. 

21st Feb, the National Mourning Day and World Mother Language Day

21 February is observed throughout the country to pay respect and homage to the sacred souls of the martyrs’ of Language Movement of 1952. Blood was shed on this day at the Central Shahid Minar (near Dhaka Medical College Hospital) area to establish Bangla as a state language of the then Pakistan. All subsequent movements including struggle for independence owe their origin to the historic language movement. The Shahid Minar (martyrs monument) is the symbol of sacrifice for Bangla, the mother tongue. The day is closed holiday. Mourning procedure begin in Dhaka at midnight with the song Amar vaier raktay rangano ekushay February (21st February, the day stained with my brothers’ blood). Nationals pay homage to the martyrs by placing flora wreaths at the Shahid Minar. Very recently the day has been declared World Mother Language Day by UNESCO.

Eid-e-Miladunnabi

Eid-e-Miladunnabi is the birth and death day of Prophet Muhammad (s). He was born and died the same day on 12th Rabiul Awal (Lunar Month). The day is national holiday, national flag is flown atop public and private houses and special food is served in orphanages, hospitals and jails. At night important public buildings are illuminated and milad mahfils are held. 

Eid-ul-Fitr

The biggest Muslim festival observed throughout the world. This is held on the day following the Ramadan or the month of fasting. In Dhaka big congregations are held at the National Eidgah and many mosques. 

Eid-ul-Azha

Second biggest festival of the Muslims. It is held marking the Hajj in Mecca on the 10th Zilhaj, the lunar month. Eid congregations are held throughout the country. Animals are sacrificed in reminiscence of Hazrat Ibrahim’s (AM) preparedness for the supreme sacrifice of his beloved son to Allah. It is a public holiday. 

Muharram

Muharram procession is a ceremonial mournful procession of Muslim community. A large procession is brought out from the Hussaini Dalan Imambara on 10th Muharram in memory of the tragic martyrdom of Imam Hussain (RA) on this day at Karbala in Iraq. Same observations are made elsewhere in the country.

Durga Puja

Durga Puja, the biggest festival of the Hindu community continues for ten days, the last three days being culmination with the idol immersed in rivers. In Dhaka the big celebrations are held at Dhakeswari Temple, where a fair is also held and at the Ram Krishna Mission. 

Christmas

Christmas, popularly called “Bara Din (Big Day)”, is celebrated with pomp in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country. Several day-long large gatherings are held at St. Mary’s Cathedral at Ramna, Portuguese Church at Tejgaon, Church of Bangladesh (Protestant) on Johnson Road and Bangladesh Baptist Sangha at Sadarghat Dhaka. Functions include illumination of churches, decorating Christmas tree and other Christian festivities. 

Rabindra & Nazrul Jayanti

Birth anniversary of the noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore on 25th Baishakh (May) and that of the National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam on 11th Jaystha (May) are observed throughout the country. Their death anniversaries are also marked in the same way. Big gatherings and song sessions organized by socio-cultural organizations are salient features of the observance of the days.

Tagore is the writer of our national anthem while National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam is famous as Rebel Poet.

Langalbandh Mela

At a place near Sonargaon (about 27 km. from Dhaka) a very attractive festival observed by the Hindu Community every year on the last day of Chaittra (last Bengali month) – mid April, when the devotees take religious bath in the river.

There are various other festivals that are habitually observed by Bangalees all the year round.