Festivals are common to all societies and cultures. With the change of social and economic structures, the nature of festivals also changes. But some festivals are so deeply ingrained in the social organism that they continue to remain a source of enjoyment from generation to generation. Some of the festivals bear the mark of the community and nationality, some have the stamp of religion, and again some bear the impression of politics. The main foundation of religious festivals is based on rituals. Many of the rituals are related to agriculture and determined by lunar months.
Ancient rituals were magical processes to tame supernatural powers. In the subsequent cultures, this characteristic feature was retained. Some spontaneous agro-based ancient festivals lost their spontaneity with the passing of time and became more formal. Although most of the festivals were related to religions, these did not evolve on account of religions -- they originated spontaneously in the society. Later, they assumed more formal character. As for example, not very long ago, music was a part of the Eid festival of the Muslims of Bengal, which was an expression of spontaneity. But now it is not so. Now a days, celebrations are more formal than before, and new social dimensions have been added to them. They have become occasions for exchange of pleasantries among friends and relatives, and have become an event of economic boom, cultural activities and even political maneuverings.
Eid ul-Fitr is a Muslim festival that follows the Islamic calendar and marks the end of Ramadan -- the Islamic holy month of fasting. The first day of Eid ul-Fitr falls on the first day of the month of Shawwal. Shawwal, the tenth month of the Islamic calendar, is a month of celebration and festival for Muslims in South Asia, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia. The meaning of Eid is joyful festival, while its etymological meaning denotes returning time and again, returning to normal life style after fasting for one month. Like all other social festivals, Eid returns every year. Eid ul-Fitr is also meant as a festival for distributing fitra, a form of charity to help the poor celebrate Eid . Eid ul-Fitr goes by various names around the world, including: Idul Fitri, Hari Lebaran (Indonesia); Hari Raya Puasa, Hari Lebaran, Aidilfitri (Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei); Wakas ng Ramadan, Hari Raya Puasa (the Philippines); Nonbu Perunaal (Tamilnadu); Boboran Siyam (Sund); Rojar Eid (Bangladesh); Ramazan Bayram?, ?eker Bayram?, Küçük Bayram (Turky); Orozo Mayram (Kyrgyz); Eid Nimaz (Sindh); Korite (Senegal); Id (Uganda); Id al-Fater (Ethiopia).
Eid is observed colourfully with great zeal and zest in Bangladesh. The night before Eid is called Chand Rat, which means "Night of the Moon." Muslims will often visit bazaars and shopping malls with their families for Eid shopping. Women, especially younger girls, apply the traditional Mehendi, or henna on their hands and feet and wear colourful bangles. The traditional Eid greeting is Eid Mubarak, and it is frequently followed by a formal embrace. Gifts are frequently given - new clothes are part of the tradition - and it is also common for children to be given small sums of money (Eidi) by their elders. It is common for children to offer salam to parents and adult relatives. After the Eid prayers, it is common for some families to visit graveyards and pray for the salvation of the departed family members. It is also common to visit neighbours, family members, especially senior relatives called Murubbis and to get together to share sweets, snacks and special meals including some special dishes that are prepared specifically on Eid.
Eid ul-Fitr has an impact on socio economic arena too. Markets for clothes, footwear, cosmetics, jewellery and electronic gadgets witness bumper sales hovering around hundreds of billion of taka. Commercial banks witness a heavy rush for money transaction as a huge number of clients draw cash only few days ahead of Eid ul-Fitr. The commercial banks, which face liquidity shortage, borrow from the call money market to tackle the rush. Banks and non-bank financial institutions make a record transaction on the call money market by borrowing from the market. Bangladesh Bank has to pump a record amount of money into the banking system to facilitate clients.
Given that the majority of Muslim businesses spend a substantial amount of cash for the festival, stock market shows a new zeal. Remittances from abroad increase, the transportation sector experiences a business spree as large number of people travel all over the country.
The joy and pomp with which Eid was celebrated in this land during the Mughal period was confined to the rich immigrant Muslims. The general body of people remained aloof from it. Over time, the celebration got spread across all sections of the people. Eid used to be not celebrated with the same importance in colonial days as it is being done now. The reason was the absence of government patronage, poverty of the people and their ignorance about religion.
An account of the Eid celebration by the Bengal Muslims during the last hundred years reveals that one of the main features of the Eid festival was the arrangement of special food and drink. In the rural areas, the food would include korma, polao, and various types of homemade pitha, semai and jarda. Unmarried girls would draw butterflies, which have long been recognised by the Bengalis as a symbol of marriage, on the pitha. However, in the urban areas, this type of indigenous practice is absent.
One of the main characteristic features of the nineteenth century Eid in Dhaka was the Eid procession. Probably the Naib-Nazims of Dhaka introduced this practice of procession after taking the cue from the famous Janmastami procession of Dhaka. After being stopped for some time, such processions have again been started a few years ago.
In many cases, local or urban culture has also made an impact on this festival. During the 1930s and 1940s, on the Eid day in Dhaka, Khatak dance used to be performed in Ramna, Armanitola and other areas. Besides, boat race, kite flying, horse race etc were held. At the start of the last century, when the political movement for a separate Muslim identity began, Eid festival assumed new importance. After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the two Eids - Eid ul-Fitre and Eid ul-Azha -- became the national religious festivals in the state of which present-day Bangladesh was a part, and enjoyed patronisation from the government.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Mazid, former Secretary to the Government and former Chairman, NBR.
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