Quest for a unique identity of Dhaka Eid

Shihab Sarkar | Published: June 22, 2017 21:24:49 | Updated: October 18, 2017 02:32:08

Despite the increasing jubilation and fanfare around Pahela Baishakh--the Bangla New Year in the recent times, the Eid celebrations are far too overpowering to be compared with. Even if one highlights the mass participation in the Pahela Baishakh festivities, they actually remain largely limited to urban elites. Notwithstanding the fast inclusion of the middle and lower middle-class people in the celebrations, those largely involve the culturally-oriented urban educated class. Compared to this picture, the two Eids remain popular occasions outshining the Bangla New Year.
With changes befitting time that occur in every sphere of life, the Eid festivities have come a long way from that of the bygone days. It couldn't be otherwise. But a lot of senior Dhaka residents nostalgically look for the leisurely joy of the occasion in today's Eid. Compared to its glitz, glamour and grandeur, Eid in this city four to five decades ago was outwardly plain and shorn of many embellishments. In the pre-independence times, the provincial capital of Dhaka did not have many big-city attractions. The joviality and rejoicing which would go with Eid in that period derived from the centuries-old tradition of the city. The Mughal culture and lifestyle comprised a remarkable segment of this past. One may cite the instance of the special procession-cum-carnival, which once marched the Dhaka streets. It used to be an essential part of the Eid festival even in the late 1950s. However, the tradition by that time had begun waning. But according to historians, the spectacular procession of aristocratic people donning courtly outfit on elephants, followed by band parties, became a vivid representation of Dhaka's early Eid festivities. In the later times, this procession wore a different character. During the British colonial rule, the Eid day procession in old Dhaka emerged as a medium of giving vent to the citizens' pent-up grievances. Those were chiefly related to poor civic amenities and lots of other municipal lapses and irregularities. Festoons and banners with cartoons were used to highlight the public demands.
Like any other jubilation, festivities also change character through the passage of time. Dhaka's festival of Eid was no exception. In 20 to 30 years after the 1940s, Eid in Dhaka began presenting itself as a large festival with the involvement of the urban middle, lower middle and lower classes. The largely insular upper class also came out of their cocoons. Following this noticeable break with the past, the city got a festival which it could claim as its own. As time rolled on, the Eid festivities kept assuming an inclusive character. With the addition of many urban trappings, Eid in Dhaka and the other cities emerged as a distinctive festival. It was different from that in villages, where, apart from the morning prayers, Eid continued to be passed as any other day. The farmers would go to the field, with the rural housewives getting busy with household chores after preparing a single dish of sweet sticky rice. Exceptions used to be the homes abuzz with the near and dear ones coming from the city. In spite of being invaded by the seemingly endless TV entertainments, the Eid day look of the country's villages has not yet changed much.
Being part of Bengali ethnicity, this nation cannot remain aloof from fun and festivities. Perhaps to prove this, from the 1980s on, the country's urban centres were increasingly found adding newer elements of jubilation to Eid. By that time capital Dhaka had emerged a bustling metropolis. It was not the sparsely populated quiet city of the 1940s and 50s. As could be expected, various newly launched entertainment and recreational outlets kept adding to the Eid festivities. The days following the 1980s were way ahead of the times when there were no television channels except the one run by the state. Prior to that, the only on-air medium of communication and entertainment was the state-run radio. Unlike the series of special Eid programmes broadcast  by the later-day private TV and radio channels, the 1970s-`80s and the period just before independence had to remain content with the news of moon sighting and the Eid prayers. The radio and the television had yet to include Eid entertainment slots in their programmes.
In pre-independence Bangladesh, Eid was considered a highly special day to watch newly released movies. All the mega distributors and exhibitors would eagerly wait for Eid to launch new films. Thus watching movies used to be a major entertainment on the Eid day. In the following decades, myriad types of recreations kept coming up to meet the popular demand for having a fun-filled timeout. Those included theme parks, promenades, snacks corners and restaurants etc.
Many might feel inclined to place the days of humble Eid celebrations of the past alongside those filled with the newer festivities. Different from the Eid in the good old days with its homely nature, the festival nowadays is pure pageantry in style and look. It accompanies lots of offshoots from other festivals with influences coming from regional and far-away cultures. The festivities of Eid in Dhaka decades ago bore the marks of things typically of local origin. Thus apart from the colourful Eid procession, the day's popular entertainments used to include boat race  in the Buriganga, visits to historic gardens and zoos and watching talkies --- and, later, movies. The list also included circuses and sessions of 'kawali' songs. Celebrating the evening of Eid moon sighting has been entwined with the culture of Dhaka for centuries.  The tradition of the nearly night-long 'Chand-Raat' (night of moon sighting) has lately been revived in the city by the new-generation youths. Over the last three to four decades, the event has entered the domain of the 'New Dhaka' neighbourhoods. However, the modes of celebration have changed a lot as it travelled to the upscale middle-class areas. In place of dinghy restaurants and riverside walkways, the 'New Dhaka' younger generations have taken this pre-Eid celebration to posh hotels and clubs. These days, alongside adolescent and young boys and girls, middle-aged people could also be seen joining this special occasion.
The nature of Eid festivities has been changing radically in the recent decades. Thanks to the continued influences of other celebrations from territories outside the country, the Eid festivities these days may seem strange to many senior citizens. From the Eid shopping spree to the frenzied rush for village homes, lots of today's Eid cultures were largely unknown to people in the past. Those were the days of informal observance of Eid, with celebrations limited to close circles of the family members, relatives and friends. As Dhaka joined the bandwagon of showing off its urban identity, its lifestyle also continued to embrace changes. Festivals were not excluded. Thus Eid assumed an eclectic nature, which eventually diluted the original flavour of the festival. The process was fast and interfered with the spirit of the festival, thus making it look different from the festival's native past. Changes in festivities are universal. Yet nations around the world try their best to retain the vestiges of forgotten celebrations. It's a proof of a nation's extent of passion for its past heritage. To our woes, we have failed to pass muster in this regard. Couldn't have the nation helped its Eid take a spontaneously evolving Bengali form? Except the main rituals, Eid celebrations have been fashioned for ages in separate and unique ways in different countries.  


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