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Monday, February 13, 2006

Basanta: Sixth Season


According to the Bangla calendar, Spring begins today, and so do the color-drenched festivities in Bangladesh.


image

Feb. 13 begins the month of Falgoon and marks the first day of spring in Bangladesh. Women in Dhaka celebrated with floral adornments and yellow costume.

Photo: Rafiqur Rahman, for Reuters

The population of Bangladesh is greater than Russia’s. Dhaka, the capitol, is now the ninth most populous city on earth with some 12 million inhabitants, a megalopolis that, like all others, is firmly enmeshed with world economics and culture. Even so, two thirds of Bangladesh’s people farm for a living, and because of the nation’s geography, dominated by immense rivers and weather blowing in from the Bay of Bengal, contemporary culture is still steeped in the seasons.

Bangladesh actually observes not two or four but six seasons, “Grisma (summer), Barsa (rainy), Sarat (autumn), Hemanta (late autumn), Shhit (winter) and Basanta (spring).” And by the Bangali calendar Basanta/Spring begins today, a celebration known as Basanta Utsab.

“People of all ages with yellow and festive dress gathered at the compound of Farida Biddayatan, to welcome the season.” An audience showered with flower petals is treated to Bangali dance, music, and poetry. The young women do it up especially right with Bashonti (yellow) sarees and alluring eye paint. This site includes an array of photos taken at Dhaka University’s festivities.

While the celebration of spring likely has roots in rural folk tradition, the current outpouring of cultural performances in the capitol seems to have begun more recently. Chhayanaut, a cultural organization, started holding artistic programmes “celebrating the advent of spring in the city in the late 1960’s,” and the annual event “gradually gained a wide currency among the people….It is a reunion for the people who love the Bangali culture, irrespective of caste, creed and colour.”

Consider what wintertime’s like if you live on the streets, as many thousands do in Bangladesh. It’s no wonder the Bangali people call Spring (Basanta) king of seasons, a king crowned with shimul and palash.

imageGirls in bashonti sarees, for Basanta Utsab

Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain

Yet it seems no coincidence that the festival arrives just at Valentine’s Day, a western holiday that is being adopted in much of urban Bangladesh. Basanta Utsab, as well as seasonal, is a cultural pushback, an affirmation of Bangla history and customs as not only spring but Western styles and habits advance. One commentator wrote, “The people of the Parishad think that Basanta Utsab is not merely a cultural programme, involving music, dance or performing arts; it is rather an effort to introduce the Bangali culture to the new generation.”

And what finer introduction than young women adorned with yellow silks, yellow bands of flowers.


Posted by Julie on 02/13 at 02:39 PM
Culture & SocietySecular CustomsPermalink