6 months ago

Tusu Festival: A fading tradition of the Sylheti tea farmer community

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Bangladesh celebrates a lot of festivals during the winter regionally. The most famous might be the Shakrain, held specifically in Old Dhaka at the end of the Bengali month Poush. 

Like Shakrain, the tea farmers of the Sylhet and Assam regions celebrate a festival marking the end of Poush, which is not much known. It's the Tusu festival, a unique celebration of the tea gardens of greater Sylhet composed of folk singing and worship of the local deity Tusu.

Unfortunately, the soulful tunes of Tusu songs, once resonating through the lush tea plantations, are fading away due to a lack of practice. 

Originating as a folk festival, Tusu marks its commencement on the last day of Agrahayan and concludes on Poush Sankranti. The festival pays homage to Tusu Debi, a local goddess worshipped and celebrated by unmarried women in the community.

Tusu songs, a distinctive feature of this celebration, were once cherished. These songs, composed spontaneously by young girls, capture the myriad aspects of life, from nature's beauty to the intricacies of social and political issues. 

The girls, accompanied by young men playing instruments like dhol and harmonium, would go door-to-door, delivering impromptu performances reflecting the essence of their surroundings. The competition among different groups added a layer of excitement to the festivities.

The festival took on a significant role during historical moments, notably during the Bengali language movement in 1912. In the Manbhum region, Tusu songs became a form of Satyagraha, symbolizing resistance against the imposition of Hindi over Bengali. The movement, backed by the cultural aristocracy of the region, used Tusu songs to protest linguistic dominance. This chapter in history marked the longest language movement globally, showing a community's resilience bound by cultural expression.

In the present day, the scenario in the tea gardens has evolved, and the Tusu festival, once a powerful cultural movement, has weakened. Despite once being a core part of the tea garden communities, the lack of practice has gradually made these melodious expressions disappear. 

The ritualistic aspects of Tusu, involving the worship of the Tusu Goddess with offerings of rice, cow dung, grass, and flowers, are still observed. Local girls come together during the evenings, sharing their personal and social experiences and presenting offerings to the goddess.

The decline of Tusu songs reflects a shift in cultural practices reminiscent of the dynamic nature of traditions. The tea gardens, once echoing with the spontaneous compositions of young voices, now stand as witnesses to a fading tradition. 

As the Tusu festival bids farewell to Paush Sankranti, its vanishing tunes leave a longing for the days when the air in Sylhet's tea gardens was filled with the enchanting melodies of a unique celebration.

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