On Pahela Baishakh, communities from diverse ethnic backgrounds and religions welcome the Bangla Solar New Year through festivity,
rituals and cultural programmes.
Different age groups wearing colourful clothes cerebrate the day with traditional rural Bangla meals: hilsa fish and ‘panta’. Pahela Baishakh promotes the values of peace, solidarity and reconciliation between people of different origins and beliefs, thus contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among various communities.
Yet, according to cultural activists, the government – and in particular the Bangladesh National Commission for UNESCO – has taken no tangible initiative to place this universal festival of the people of Bangladesh on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity set up by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
UNESCO established this list in 2009 to ensure better protection of important intangible cultural heritages worldwide and increase the awareness of their significance as a repository of cultural diversity and creative expression.
At least eight festivals have been placed on the list including two linked to New Year celebrations – Nowruz, the first day of the Persian New Year, and Ramman, a religious festival and ritual theatre of the Garhwal Himalayas in India.
Both of the festivals were inscribed in 2009. Nowruz marks the New Year and the beginning of spring across a vast geographical area covering inter alia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan when Ramman is celebrated in the Indian state Uttarakhand.
Pahela Baishakh originated during Mughal emperor Akbar’s reign, when he introduced the new ‘fasli san’ [agricultural year] for tax collection purposes. Subsequently, it became a major festival in some parts of the subcontinent where people, in both urban and rural areas celebrate it through different types of customs, cultural shows, traditional games and sports.
Dhaka turns into a city of festivity as do other cities and district towns. Hundreds of artistes wearing traditional clothes perform in programmes starting from dawn when the sun shines brightly upon the earth in the ‘first morning’ of the Bangla Year.
People in the rural areas celebrate Pahela Baishakh following the age-old traditions organising weeklong programmes. Among Bengalis and other ethnic minorities, the nature of the celebrations may vary, but the spirit is the same: well wishes, merriment and festivity. Events usually included in such festivals can be categorised in three groups: ritual based performances, customs and traditions, and entertainment.
‘Undoubtedly it has become an integral part of our traditional culture. People from all walks of life welcome the New Year with festivity and cultural activities. It should be included as a world heritage day,’ Khairul Anam Shakil, the general secretary of Chhayanaut, which has been organsing the Pahela Baishakh celebrations at Ramna Batamul since 1967, told New Age.
‘Bangladesh National Commission for UNESCO is not active at all to promote and protect the cultural heritage of the country. The government department, under the ministry of education, has no relation with the stake holders of the cultural field. It represents only the education sectors,’ Ramendu Majumdar, the worldwide president of international theatre institute, a UNESCO enterprise, told New Age.
‘Moreover, the national commission has a bureaucratic mindset as the department is headed by the education minister and officials from the ministry and universities are members,’ he added.
Supplementing Majumdar, cultural activist Mafidul Haque said, ‘The national commission did not take any initiative even when Dhaka was declared the capital of Islamic Culture of Asia last year or even when baul songs were inscribed in the UNESCO list in 2009.’
‘The commission rather forwarded the proposals insisted by the foreign stakeholders, who wanted Bangladesh to proclaim those as its heritage,’ he added.
Mafidul Haque further claimed that neither government nor the commission had any idea that Pahela Baishakh deserved to be proclaimed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. ‘Attending a seminar on globalisation of culture in Tehran last January, I came to know that Nowruz was listed in the UNESCO’s ICH list. After returning home, I requested the Ministry of Cultural Affairs to take the initiative to enlist our new year,’ he said.
From his personal experience, folklore expert Mustafa Zaman Abbasi, the former director general of Bangladesh Shilpakla Academy, said, ‘Bangladesh National Commission for UNESCO has never been functional in terms of its mandate for promoting the cultural heritage of the country.’
‘Undoubtedly Pahela Baishakh celebrations deserve to be listed as the intangible cultural heritage for humanity for its unique character, upholding peace and reconciliation,’ he added
Education minister Nurul Islam Nahid, who is also the chairman of the commission, admits that the commission is not that focused on cultural heritage. ‘There is a gap, which should be minimised. We will give our best effort to enlist Pahela Baishakh in the representative list of ICH,’ Nahid said.
The cultural activists observe that the government should take immediate steps to proclaim Pahela Baishakh in the representative list of intangible cultural heritage for humanity.
-With New Age input