08May2019

Pahela Baishakh, the best time to be in Bangladesh


Pahela Baishakh, the best time to be in Bangladesh

 

An invitation to visit Bangladesh came my way. I didn’t now what to expect from the place, but I hopped on the plane anyway. Three plane rides and 21 hours later, I was in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

Arriving at 3AM local time, it was good to receive a warm Bengali welcome. Ashiq Billah, an assistant secretary from the Foreign Ministry, was efficient in assisting in the processing of entry and acquiring a local SIM card. “So we can be in touch at any time during your stay here,” he said. Impressive. It was the start of good things ahead.

There was a flurry of excitement in the hotel. The staff was busy decorating the interiors like there was an important event about to happen. “Your arrival is in time for the celebration of the Pahela Baishakh,” said the receptionist.

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
At the hotel, staff was busy preparing traditional food on clay dishes & pots.

 

Pahela Baishakh translates to “first of Baishak,” referring to the first day of the Bengali Calendar. Yes, that’s the Bengali New Year aka Bangla Noboborsho, a public holiday celebrated on April 14th of the Gregorian calendar. It’s one of the country’s major festivals.

I was in Bangladesh at a most auspicious time. Greetings of Shubho Noboborsho (Happy New Year) was in order.

What’s the festival like? The New Year’s festivity kicks off at dawn with one of the integral components—a mass procession called Mangal Shobhajatra. It’s a tradition conceived by the Faculty of Fine Arts and students of the University of Dhaka in 1989 (their way of demonstrating against the regime). In 2016, the festival was declared by the UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
Festival masks

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year

 

In their festival best of red and white—men in punjabis and women in saris and flower garlands crowning their heads, the revelers take part in the colorful procession. They walk alongside themed floats, gigantic masks and replicas of animals that represent evil, courage and peace. They march united with a vision of progress for their nation.

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year

 

With song and dance as part of the celebration, the Ramna Batamul is the go-to venue. Under the giant banyan tree, performers from the Chhayanaut Sangeet Vidyatan, an institution devoted to Bengali culture, take center stage. The tune of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Esho He Baishakh” fills the air at the break of dawn.

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
Under the banyan tree at Ramna Batamul the Chhayanaut Sangeet Vidyatan performed

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
A panoramic view of the park

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
All dressed up for the big event

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
Police officers giving out michri (sugar rocks) and roses to revelers. It’s all about red and white. Does it signify luck?

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
Young Bengali miss in sari and head garland

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
The crowd heading towards the center of the park

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
Korean journalist gets her face painted

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
New Year prosperity shot

 

 

I witnessed what the festival is all about. The locals were filled with joy, beaming the most brilliant of smiles and it was infectious.

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
Maidens in red saris

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year

 

You know what makes Pahela Baishakh truly special? In a country with 164 million people composed of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians, the day celebrates one thing—being Bengali. One people united regardless of religion, class, age or gender. This was Lesson No. 1 for me on Day 1 in Bangladesh.

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
With the Korean journalist Kim

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
Marila, a Brazilian journalist, donning a festival head band

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
From Thailand, Bangkok Post journalist and former Ambassador of Thailand to Bangladesh.

 

Mangal Shobhajatra, the mass procession during the Pahela Baishakh, the Bengal New Year
Visit Bangladesh 2019 delegates arrive at the parade venue

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