For Dhaka dwellers, the two Eids --- Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha, have been the two widely participated festivities over the last four centuries. Researchers have traced the roots of Eid celebrations and the accompanying carnivals in the city to the Mughal era. Of the two, the Eid-ul-Fitr, celebrated at the end of the month-long fasting month of Ramadan, is still considered the most joyous of all Dhaka-based festivals. It begins with the sighting of the Shawal moon, the evening before the Eid Day. The evening has long been known as 'chan rait' (the night of moon). It is welcomed with special Eid songs, dance and youthful jubilation. The Eid-ul-Azha marks the sacrifice of animals in the name of Almighty. The two Eids are virtually unmatched by any other social festivals in this land.
Since long the Eids, observed throughout the Muslim world, have stood out with their distinctive nature. Celebrations were part of them from the beginning; but those were strikingly different from what we have found later. In fact, the style of Eid celebrations has continued to undergo changes. They eventually wore a permanent look in this land in the 1940s.
The nature of Eid festivals has changed in accordance with the demands of time. But those also keep changing with the addition of newer elements and trends. Yet today's younger generations, especially the teenagers, can hardly think of the sparse and humble nature of the Eid festivals in Dhaka in the decades of the 1960s. By that time, Dhaka had already emerged as a sprawling city full of urban bustle. But when it comes to Eid celebrations, these two events appeared to be devoid of many fanfares accompanying them today. Except the educational institutions, offices and other workplaces, and business centres like markets etc would remain closed for two days only. The main festivities in Dhaka used to be confined to the Eid Day only. It meant the festivities would start in the morning following the Eid prayers and conclude with the sunset. The centre-piece of the few attractions which added colour to the 1-day festival, participated by mainly the young, comprised watching a newly released movie.
Those seeking amusement from other venues would pass hours along with families at the city's Ramna Park. Many used to prefer visiting the Tejgaon Airport to watch the planes' landing and takeoff and those on the tarmac. A few others would visit the makeshift zoo opposite the present Matsya Bhaban or spend the whole day visiting the relatives in different parts of the city. Although the then Pakistan Television had started broadcasts from 1964 onwards, the programmes would be on air for three hours in the evening --- with a no-TV day on Mondays. Today's pageant-filled 24-hour special Eid programmes had been a pipedream till the mid-1980s. Bangladesh had then already passed 1-and-half decades of its independence. Even back in the 1980s, few middle and lower-middle class families had the financial capability to buy a black-and-white TV. However, it took a few more years for the BTV to earn the ability to telecast full-time colour programmes.
A startling aspect of those humble Eid celebrations was the general people's spontaneous participation in them. Compared to the festivities, dazzle and glitz featuring today's Eid, the occasion's earlier nature seems joyless. But, in reality, there was no dearth of inherent merriment. Rather, many feel puzzled over the abundance of entertainment outlets against the limited opportunities of the time. Bengalees, unlike many other ethnicities, remain content with whatever the prevailing circumstances offer them. This trend is reflected in their big religious festivals. Apart from the two Eids, the annual religious festivals of both the Hindu and Buddhist communities, as well as that of the Bengalee Christians, do not allow excesses. A few such festivals, like that of the indigenous peoples in the Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT), appear to overtly raucous in character. This feature has a lot to do with their very special essence. Since ancient times, these festivals have continued to be influenced by the cultural practices of different ethnic components.
In most of the cases, the time's social rituals have made inroads on the festivals. It finds vivid expression in the New Year's festivals celebrated by different aboriginal entities in the CHT and the country's northeastern region. In order to bring all the seemingly distinctive festivals under one broader definition, the tribesmen have decided to observe these days as a common festival called 'Boisabi'. The occasion's celebration coincides with the Bangla New Year's Day festivities.
This day of the start of the Bangla calendar has veritably been integrated into the secular Bengalee culture. Although the celebration on the first day of the Bangla month of Baishakh commenced in Dhaka in 1967, after the independence of Bangladesh it began assuming the status of an officially approved national festival. In a couple of decades, the Bangla New Year's Day, or 'Nobo-borsho' became the largest festival outside the precincts of religious celebrations. It was declared a national holiday. As years wore on, the Nobo-borsho continued to add to its celebrations scores of Bengalee folk practices. A striking aspect of the celebration has emerged in the form of the increasing participation of people in the day-long festivities. At the same time, the annually held celebration fanned out to almost all cities of the country. In the past, the 'Pahela Baishakh' celebration was limited to the Bengal's rural areas. Ironically, it originated in the Bengal villages as an auspicious day of the business people for opening their new ledgers for the coming year. The celebration was different back in the villages. Unlike its urban and pageant-centred version, the rural Nobo-borsho still remains centred round business people entertaining their valued client-guests with sweetmeats.
The modern world witnesses nearly a hundred large and centuries-old festivals. The Gregorian New Year's Day, indisputably, is the most widely participated among them. It begins with the solemnly observed Christmas on 25th December, and ends with the New Year. Thanks to the generous cultural exchanges, these days many non-Christian communities and nations also join the New Year jubilations.
Festivals have been integral parts of different civilisations since their dawn. The prehistoric man used to engage in wild rejoicings after a successful hunting mission. Those cannot be termed disciplined festivities. Mankind had to wait many more centuries to see the early days of festivals. It is believed that kings and emperors were generally behind the arrangement of festivals. These events were centred round mainly socio-religious and crop-related occasions. Due to their prevalence during the pre-Christ period in western Asia and northern Africa, these festivals were pagan in nature. Yearly assemblages of the royal families and the common people to celebrate good harvests and the New Year used to be a common sight in a number of kingdoms. Those included the ancient Sumer, Mesopotamia including Babylon-Assyria, and of course, the kingdoms of Egyptian Pharaohs.
The pre-Christ Greece and Rome did not lag behind in the later years. There were numerous types of celebrations in the ancient Indian sub-continent, China and the Southeast Asian countries. The Indian Hindu community's 'Holi' festival is one of them.
Notwithstanding the present world's major festivals having their roots in religion, a lot of others originated in their folk past and regional mythologies. The 3,500-year-old Chinese Lunar New Year Festival has been shaped by the vast land's cultural influences. On the other hand, Brazil's annual carnival, and the dance and song-based Samba festival have their origins in the remembrance of the slavery-dominant colonial past. Unlike many other national festivals, Samba is relatively new. It began in 1888. The newer festivals include Nowruz, the New Year festivities celebrated in ancient Persia, today's Iran. It began in 1079 A.D. It underwent remarkable changes in style in the 18th century as it entered India.
As has been recorded in the history of different nations and ethnic communities, man has introduced festivals not for recreations and fanfare only. Festivals also allow mankind to renew their zest for life. But the corona-hounded coming Eid might turn out to be a different festival altogether.