Culture is thus a way of life what one learns from the society. It is the way that one pursues throughout the life. Foster puts it thus, “Social, economic, and juridical understanding of religion and its various forms which, in turn, are expressed through social speech patterns, social rites, mythology, music and material culture (Foster, G.M.1962:14). In our study we have noticed the importance of religion in the making of culture. What is pagan to the modern mind, it is associated with animism and magic. Frazer enunciated it in his epic work, ‘The Golden Bough’. Rain making is a wonderful pagan culture. Foster adds, “Culture makes possible the reasonably efficient, largely automatic interaction between individuals that is a pre-requisite to social life.” (Foster, G, M, 1948:19). Every culture has a value system. Be it Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Jewish or Islam, people react emotionally to their-own culture or heritage. (There are people not neutral in attitude toward most of its elements. This is very much true when we talk of a particular community. Here, a section of the people in the community is occasionally communal so far as the religion is concerned) The Great Divide was the outcome of a two nation theory, professed both by the Congress and the Muslim League. But we also do not forget those moments when Hindu and Muslims fought hand in hand against the British. Religions did not stand on their way. In fact, religion is one of the vital components of culture. Similarly language is the inspiring force in the making of culture. It helps constitute one’s culture. But things happened in a different wanly, when the Pakistani army junta, being Muslim, tortured the majority Muslims along with the Hindus and the Buddhists. It was the language which was the cohesive force that made all united and these people fought for Liberation. And Bangladesh came into being as a nation comprising Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and the Tribal. Each religious community has its own culture and the language is one that unites all people of culture together. It also helps create a common culture which is well represented in music and literary activities. In Bangladesh, people are non-communal and secular in their approach to life. Religious beliefs and practices thus never have appeared as a discrimination figure during a nine-month Liberation War. The long 48 years of our Independence Bangladesh has proved most successfully that she is a unique country in the world where culture formed the basis of a nation. Bengali as their mother language has been made the world heritage and so, too, the date, 21st February has also been an International Mother Language Day in the world heritage.
Agriculture played a significant part in the life of human beings from the beginning of civilization. Initially it was a peasant society. No food could be grown without water. Human society grew up beside the rivers, streams and lakes. Livestock also needed water. In the early part of life man created villages as a part of civilization. Plowing and harrowing were necessary. Man started tilling of lands for food and also learned how to make clothes for their uses. It was a kind of folk wisdom or folklore.
The Idyllic Culture
The culture of Bangladesh is pre-eminently idyllic. The country has lush green meadows and overflowing rivers and rivulets. People here are moody. The wonderful nature has made them so. Here men and nature are almost the same. This is true with regard to their moods that also change according to a change in season. The culture of Bangladesh is rural and folk-based. The majority of the people still have been living in rural Bangladesh. Weaving and Pottery still serve the need of the rural people.
Boishakh is the first month of Bengali year (April 14). The day was fixed by the Emperor Akbar as a day for collection of revenue. The farmers were ready to pay agricultural tax. It is day of festivity because the year begins with Boisakh. And everybody greets each other visiting and merry making. In fact, Agriculture is the basis of Bengali culture. Our literature, music, games and sports all center round agriculture and related activities.
Bangladesh is also the land of the Tribes. Although these tribals are settled in Bangladesh they are originally from outside. Hundreds of years back they came from different countries. They took as Bangladeshi, these tribal’s have their own native script for learning and also have distinct culture. It is commonly held that the tribal people live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. It is partially true. Eleven ethnic groups such as Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Tanchangya, Lushai, Pankho, Bawm, Mro, Khyang, Khumi and Chak live in harmony with nature. Among all of them the Chakma are the largest ethnic group in Bangladesh. The majority of them are Buddhists and the rest of them are Hindus, Christians etc.
Tribal dance Beside them, many tribal people live in Sylhet, Dinajpur, Cox’s Bazar, Mymensingh, Rajshahi and in many other districts also. They go by different names as Khashi, Garo, Santals, Oraon, Rajbangshi, Bindi etc.
The Folkloric Bangladesh
Folklore is as old as the civilization. Although it has its roots in the peasant or agrarian society, folklore never has ceased to grow. It bears the wisdom of people which had been orally transmitted for generations. The country has people belonging to different religions like Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and animism in tribal life but they are all Bangalee or Bangladeshi by birth and each of these people have common way of life or culture which does not affect other religion. Bengali language forms the basis of Bangladeshi culture. The thing that matters in folklore is its continuity and changeability and also variability. Folklore is transmitted orally and also by acts and deeds of the people belonging to the non-literate society. It passes through change and transformation from one generation to the other without losing its efficacy and quality.
Bangladesh is a living museum of folklore. The country has more than 68 thousands of villages. These villages are enormously rich in folk culture and tradition. The people work day long and enjoy life as when the situation so demands. When there is rain and the rivers are full of water they enjoy boat race.
Large crowds would gather along the banks of the river to celebrate boat race. Boats would be gracefully prepared with colorful decorations. Sari means the song sung by the leader of the party in rows on boat. In Bangladesh, the song is sung when there is a ‘nouka-baich’ or boat-race. It is a remarkable folk song of Bangladesh. There is always a festivity when such boat-race takes place.
When there is no rain for months together, continuous drought is feared. Apprehension arises that there might be crop failure. The people pray according to religion they belong to. They also go for rain making. In certain areas folk people in villages go for frog marriage. In fact the use of frog as a symbol for rain is not uncommon among the folk people. It is a kind of animistic belief. It is a practice that is in vogue among the peasant society. In many remote villages people still go for frog marriage for rain. In some areas, villagers would gather together in an open field when persistent drought prevails, dig a number of holes and put frogs into them, and then they would pour water on them singing a special kind of folk song known as ‘jhapan’, and ‘gajon’. They go for folk song praying to Allah for rain. Many folk songs have been composed invoking cloud for rain. “Allah Megh de, pani de, chaya de re Tui” -Oh Allah, bring in clouds as a shade to protect us from the scorching heat of the sun and give us rain.
Photo : collected
In Bangladesh, too, the peasant society still undertakes many activities when drought appears.
Folk art produces functional, handmade objects for a variety of purposes within the community, reflecting its needs and aesthetic preferences. These objects range from pottery to metalwork, from painting to weaving, from children’s toys to religious images, and so on.
The producers of folk art, called folk artists, utilize imagery and symbols meaningful to the community. Folk artists generally do not concentrate on originality but rather on conservatism, preserving the traditional forms and designs taught by the previous generation. However, like folk songs, folk art is also subject to fluctuations of fashion and external influence.
With the rise of industrialization and increased communication in Bangladesh, pure folk art is dying out in the face of functional items that are being made available more quickly, cheaply and with a higher technical standard than the handworker can really compete with. In the study of folk art it is of utmost importance to compare and contrast objects from different regions. The variations in shape, design, and decoration, if any, represent regional contexts of folk art, and on a larger scale these variations indicate different cultural traditions based on local materials and the basic technologies that are useful to the harnessing of those materials.
Folk wisdom : Our rich folkloric heritage
Bangladesh has a very rich folkloric heritage. Folklore plays a significant role in the life and living condition of the people. There are proverbs known as ‘Khona-r bochon’ (sayings of Khona), a woman legendary in Bengal. These sayings are tested truth in house building, food and dress of the folk people in rural areas. The food, dress and housing pattern of the people are water-oriented.
Khona and folklore
Khona is a female astrologer, poet and non literate sociologist. She was reportedly born in a village Deuli under Barasat district in 24 parganas, West Bengal, India. She was a non-Aryan Bangalee who opposed the Aryan culture and Brahmanism. Although she was widely popular among her people for her wisdom, her name was not recorded in the Vedic literature. There are two popular accounts of her life. In one, she was married to the son of a Hindu astrologer who ordered her son to cut her tongue out of jealousy, when Khona superseded her father-in-law in knowledge and wisdom. In another account, it is said that Khona was the daughter of a king in Sri-Lanka. Later, she was married to Mihir who was also famous for forecasting public good. However, the sayings of Khona were orally transmitted, in matters of house-building, agriculture, fishery, live-stock, food and nutrition and health and these were proverbial. Till now, Khona is unrivalled in Bengali proverbs. Her name is a household matter in Bangladesh and in India. She is very popular among the peasants for she guides them through proverbs in farm field, in house-building, in food and nutrition, health and sanitation. She also guides in marriage and various social functions.
Recently a mound has been discovered at Chandraketugarh in Southern Bengal with the names of Khona and Mihir associated with it. It is further reported that Khona, the daughter in-law Baraho who was in the court of Bikramadittya. Barah, however, could not endure Khona for her outstanding astrological performance and finally cut off her tongue and made her silent. Barah belonged to Southern Bengal’
‘Daak’ is also a name very important in our folklore, particularly in regard to proverbs. He is a male person. His identity is also not very clear. The name of ‘Baraha’ and ‘Mihir’ is equally important in our folklore. ‘Gopal Bhar’ is a humorous character in our folktales. Many of his stories have water and women in his discourses. In nursery rhymes gods and goddesses are involved along with women.
Water is a part of our folklore and folk life. Our folktales, legends, proverbs, riddles, nursery rhymes, folksongs, wedding songs and ballads, etc., have matters relating to water and women. In all cases women are intelligent, smart, clever and cooperative.
Brishti pore tapur tupur nodey elo ban
Shiv Thakurer Biye holo tin konya dan
Ek konya radhen baren, ek konya khan
Ek konya na kheye baper bari jan
There is continuous rain- fall and the river is full of flood water. In such a situation, the god Shiba is offered three women for marriage. One woman cooks in his house, another eats and the other one angrily goes to her father’s house. There is one more story concerning Shaba:
Rodh holo brishti holo
Shiv Thakurer Biye holo
There is sun and shower on the same breath. And the god Shiva is getting married. It is a kind of fun concerning Shiva who has abnormality in his character. Nature also functions abnormally in collaboration with Shiva as god. People make fun with god Shiva as they take him as their own, very close to the family. They do not maintain any distance between god Shiva and themselves. The two folk songs which are taken as nursery song for small kids are part of Bangali life. ‘Sun and shower both are together’. And is proper time to give Shiva, the god in marriage, and it will be fanfare. There is, however, another version in which it is jackal instead of god Shiva who gets married.
In fact, there are a hundred and one stories in our folklore which involve water and women. In some stories men are made fool and less intelligent.
Our proverbs known as ‘Khanar bacan’ suggest a lot of traditional knowledge to combat drought and flood. They also speak of impending rain and drought by referring the movement of wind, star, sun and cloud. A rainbow also suggests whether there would be rainfall or not. For example: Signs of impending rain: thick clouds and lightning in the northeast combined with the moon having a ‘halo;’ streaks of lightning in the east with a rainbow in the west and high winds from the north-western and southern winds.
No rain is signaled by a wind from the south-west, the frequent formation of ‘halo’ around the sun and moon; a rainbow in the east with the occurrence of cloud followed by the sky remaining clear at night and the sun hiding behind the clouds.
There is, however, another version in which it is jackal instead of god Shiva who gets married.
Forecasting of storm and rain : Folk knowledge
When weather remains very dry in the month of Choitro (March and April) storms and thunder will follow in the month of Boishakh (April and May). When the sky remains very clear in the month of Joishtho (May and June), there will be heavy rain during the monsoon.
From the time immemorial, the rural folk shaped their life and living condition observing closely the activities of animals, birds and insects and also the environment around. It is their folk wisdom or folklore that helped build their life a secured one in moments of crisis and disaster. They had an animal and insect-friendly society. Domestic animals, birds and insects in trees and plants could sense on-coming disaster or good omen that the humans sometimes could not.
Fish sense the smell of the stream where they hatched, and coral fish also have a smell memory of the reef where they came from. Corals also spawn in response to a combination of environmental factors – water temperature, time of year and the phase of the moon.
The rural folk understand that in extreme hot days, ants miraculously sprout wings and fly to the skies. Similarly when there is rain or storm, the ants go to their holes for protection.
Birds and animals can sense and predict the arrival of summer or spring and change in weather by their behavior. Ants grow wings just before the first storm of summer hits; they are actually ready for weeks.
Folk knowledge on agriculture and forestry
Folk people in Bangladesh have wisdom on agricultural cultivation and forestry. If there is rainfall in the Bangla month of Magh (Late December-January), production will be vigorous and rampant. Application of soil mulch in bamboo groves in spring (March-April) will help induce regeneration and vigorous growth of bamboo shoots. Water hyacinth and other mulching materials at the base of coconut and other trees during the dry season helps conserve soil moisture. The use of dried neem leaves protect stored grains from insect infestation. Folk people have lots of knowledge which is orally transmitted for generations.
Folk wisdom : Forecasting a good harvest
If there is rainfall by the end of Magh (January-February), the land is blessed because of good harvest.
People living along the river banks very well understand the advent of flood by experience. They move to safer zones or store things for use during the flood. They also store seeds which they use in their fields when the water recedes. They also build flood embankments by raising mounds and planting trees along the bank for their protection from river erosion.
Following are few proverbs that relate to Khana :
Jodi borshe agone
Raja jabe magone
Meaning : If it rains in the month of Ogrohayon ( agone), there shall be crop failure and the king then will have to go a-begging (magone).
Jodi borshe magher shesh
Dhonyi rajar punyi desh
Meaning: If it rains in the month of Magh (January -February), both the king and the country would be blessed and the crops would grow in abundance. The period covers Poush (December -January.) punyi means blessed.
According to Khana, if the sky is covered by mist in Choitro (March-April) there may be plenty of paddy in Bhadro (August -September)
If the southern wind blows in the month of Ashar( June-July), there may be flood in the year. Khana maintains further : If in Poush (December-January) there is heat in the atmosphere and cold in Boishakh (March -April), there may be heavy rainfall in the year.
If the cloud takes the form of Kodaly megh, as if clouds are cut by spade and axe and the wind blows off and on, it is understood that there may be rainfall in a day or two.
In fact, there are several hundred of such sayings made by Khana and all these cover the peasant society, their way of life and living condition.
Following are the few more :
thakte bolod na kore chas
tar dukkh baro mas
Meaning: He who owns, but does not plough, his suffering never in twelve months of the year.” This suggests that if anyone is idle and does not plough his land, he will suffer in his life.
Kola ruye na katey path
Tatei kapor, Tatei bhat
Meaning : One who plants banana and does not cut its leaves, he would easily arrange food and clothes for himself and for others.
Age pute kola
Meaning: If one intends to have an orchard, he should go for plantation of banana and this will help him have an orchard as he will desire. One understands that Banana cultivation will bring fortune for him.
Bish hat kore fak
Am kanthal pute rakh
Gache gach rope na
Fol tate folbe na
Meaning: For plantation of mango and jackfruit one needs to give a good space to begin with.
If there is no gap and trees are planted very close to each other, no fruits will grow.
Mathe giye age koro dik nirupon
Purbo dik hote hal koroho chalon
Khana bole mor kotha shuyo mohashoy
Phosol pholibe odhik nahi songsoy
After going to the field, the farmers, at first should select the spot to start plowing and it should be from eastside
Khana says if someone follows this suggestion he definitely will have good harvest.
Omaboshya ar purnimate je ba dhore hal
Tar dhukhkho thake chirokal
A farmer who holds the plow on the Amaboshya (new-moon-day) and on Purnima (full-moon-day) he will be unhappy throughout his life.
Aush dhaner chash
Lagey tin mash
It takes three months to cultivate Aasuh paddy (One kind of rice in Bangladesh)
House building and environment
Ghor korogey pota jure
Meaning: Duck in east means, One should dig a pond in the eastern part of the dwellings. Duck will swim in the pond; it would be good for farming poultry. Evaporation of water in association with southern breeze will help reduce heat and humidity. This would also be good for health and environment.
Bamboo in west
It means the cluster of bamboo trees should be in the west to protect one from heat and the sun. It will also
keep house and its courtyard cool and also will provide shades.
Fencing on the north
Plantation of banana tree along with other fruit bearing will help protect cold. It will provide defused light
Southern part will be kept free
If the southern side of any dwelling is kept open, it will help flow of southern breeze and the span of life will be purified.
Neem nishinda jotha
Manush ki more totha
Meaning : One who plants neem -nishinda tree, there environment remains fine and none dies unusually.
Forecasting of weather
In old days, folk people, who were in most cases non-literate, could forecast if there would be rain or no rain. They acquired this knowledge for generations through oral transmission.
‘Signs of impending rain: Thick clouds and lightening in the north-east combined with the moon having a halo;’ streaks of lightening in the east with a rainbow in the west and high winds from the north, north-west and southern winds; ants building mounds. Signs of no rain: a wind from the south-west, the frequent formation of a halo around the sun and the moon, a rainbow in the east with the occurrence of clouds followed by the sky remaining clear at night, and the sun hiding behind the clouds. If the weather remains very dry in the month of Chaitra (March-April), storms and thunder will follow in the following month of Baishakh(April-May). Again, if there is clear sky in the month of Jaistha (May-June), there will be heavy rain during the monsoon’ (Dwijen Mallick Investigating Indigenous Knowledge in Paul Sillitoe, 2000: 41).
Traditional knowledge for soil conservation and land management
It has been found that the major rivers of Bangladesh and their innumerable tributaries deposit a vast quantity of silt beyond the river basins and across the entire flood plain delta each year when the flow of the rivers is obstructed or changed in any way. This may cause decline in soil fertility. In order to help improve the situation, local people set up ‘bands’ or temporary embankments for the protection of crops from inundation. Further, the farmers plant a kind of shrub known as ‘dhoincha’ in the farm field in erosion-prone areas. These shrubs are generally cut down when their purpose is served and then are mixed into the soil for use as fertilizers. The rural people also use banana leaves, stems, logs and roots to prevent soil erosion from rainwater. Ashes are very often used to improve soil structure and fertility in agriculture, particularly in broadcast ‘amon’ cultivation. The Agro-Scientists are of the opinion that this practice increases the nutrient and water holding capacity of the soil and thereby helps improve soil structure and quality.
Proverbs are orally transmitted from generation to generation. These are tested truth and learnt from experience. Proverb is part of folklore. Folks are non literate Proverbs change over time before taking a final shape. Sometimes a proverb may have regional variations. These are not only epigrammatic but in these there are free play of satire and irony also. These are oft-quoted and presented as the truth. Proverbs are witty and humorous as well. No other form of folk literature can express such kind of wit and humor in such few words.
Below are the few examples of proverbs :
Dhan bhante shiver geet.
Meaning : irrelevant talks.’Onek sonyasite gajon nosto (too many cooks spoil the broth),chor palale buddhi bare (getting wise after the event), / jor jar muluk tar (might is right), / lage taka debe Gauri Sen (don’t worry, someone is there to pay). / Oti bhokti chorer lokshmon (too much reverence is the mark of a cheat) chorer mar boro gola (the mother of a thief is the loudest in denunciation), chora na shone dhormer kahini (a rogue does not listen to a discourse on honesty), ghola panite machh shikar (to fish in the troubled water) nachte na janle uthan banka (a bad workman quarrels with his tools). These proverbs are used on occasions when some specific things happen.
Riddles are generally quite specific to socio-cultural settings. It is shared and enjoyed amidst a social gathering.
Riddles are taken as knowledge bank. It’s function though the purpose of entertainment it has educative value. It is an exercise of educational skill and quickness of wit. These riddles which though may look a funny, these, however, contain practical meaning also. There is a saying in Bangla:
Bagan theke berolo Tiye (bird)
Sonar topor mathay diye.
A bird local name tiye is out of wood with a golden crown on the top of its head.
The meaning is : pineapple
Folk songs of Bangladesh : Land, river and people
In fact, the culture of Bangladesh is the product of land, river and people.
The folk songs of Bangladesh deal with themes pertaining to community activity, mark the significance of certain times in the calendar, exemplify the moral code of an entire group and its shared heritage, or bind the life of an individual into the wider life of the community. Of the folk songs, particular mention may be made of, baroshiya, baromasi, baul, bhadu, bhatiyali, bhawaiya, cchadpitanor gan, chotka, dhua, dhamali, dhan bhanar gan, dhan katar gan, gajan, gajir gan, gombhira, ghetu, jag, jari, khemta,kirton, madar peerer gan, marfati, murshidi, sari maizthandari etc.
Bangali folk songs have both riddles and proverbs and all these relate human society and activities.
In many of our folk songs-be it religious or secular-we enjoy the use of riddles. In Baul, Marifati, Bhawaiya and Bhatiali, riddles are common. These are used mainly for those who are inducted to any religious cult. The Bauls consider the human body as something very important because it contains the Divine soul. The human body is a kind of microcosm .It consists of four elements such as earth, air, water and fire. Each of these four elements are taken as ‘moon’ and one who understands its implication, he is a Baul or learned. This is called Chondro-bhed.
The human body contains sun and moon, the Ganges and the Jamuna. These are, however, interpreted symbolically.
Onek bhagyer fole she chando keo dekhte pay
Only the fortunate can have a glimpse of the moon.
There is no dark phase (Omabosya, new moon) in the cycle
And its glow is visible in the two petals.
The domain of the moon is shining all time and there is no change in it. Innumerable moons shine brightly over there and lightning moves briskly all the time
The water pipe contains the sea of waters and the golden mountain stands between.
And herein rests the elusive moon.
The very sight of it frees one from pain and sufferings
And His caressing touch makes one a touch stone.
Such is the grace and glory of the moon.
Lalon occasionally dips into it but is not get lost.
Traditional and folk music of Bangladesh
The mighty rivers with tributaries and the monsoon rain, although occasionally bringing in floods high floods, yet these, all the more, have inspired poets, writers and singers to glorify the country in moments of joy and happiness and death and despair. Our folk songs, such as Bhatiali and Sari (boatmen song) Bhawaiya (cartmen song) Baul (mystic songs) are the products of rivers. The mighty Padma, the Brahmaputra, the Jamuna and the Meghna have greatly influenced the love-lorn soul of the music loving people of Bangladesh. Rains sometimes help people raise bumper crops and sometimes bring untold sufferings to them when crops are damaged by heavy rainfall and flood. The wonderful nature of Bangladesh endowed the people with a lyrical temperament. In Bangladesh people work for nine months a year and the other three months, they rest and are engaged in recreational activities like music and storytelling. These folk songs of Bangladesh are simple, spontaneous and pastoral. They represent the mode of life of the people, their pride and prejudices, their love, hopes and despair, their mystical approach to God. These songs made Bangladesh a land of music too. In fact, Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, Lalon Shah, Hason Raja, Pagla Kanai, Panju Shah, Duddu Shah, Ramesh Sheel, Mukundo Das, Radha Raman, Bijoy Sarkar and Shah Abdul Karim-all contributed much to the greatness of Bangladesh culture. Abbasuddin, Poet Jasimuddin, Abdul Alim are names that are part and parcel of our culture.
Folk Plays : Pala and Jatra
Mahua a noted medieval pala gan
Our folk literature which is orally transmitted from one generation to the other, the Mymensingh ballad, which thrilled the Western mind, particularly the Bengali belles as they fought for their survival in male dominated society is unique.’ Mahua, the heroine in the folk drama, ‘Mahua” committed suicide when her right to chose her life partner was terribly ignored or turned down by her foster father and instead she was asked to kill her love in their presence.
In this folk play of Bangladesh, which is over three hundred years old and was collected from a Mymensingh village by researchers in 1921, has presented a crucial gender issue which posed a serious threat to our development program. The play was usually sung in all the villages of Mymensingh and elsewhere as a part of our cultural heritage. Mymensingh Geetika also includes folk plays like Malua, Dewan Madinna and many others. Not only these, there appears several folk ballads which we produced from different areas of Bangladesh. There is another kind of medieval literary product, known as ‘puthi’ written on palm leaves when paper was not available in villages.
A number of medieval Muslim poets of the period wrote a number of Puthis like ‘yusuf – zuleka by Garibullah in verse. He also wrote Sonabhan, Satyapirer Puthi, janganama and Amir Hamza in the mixed or do-bhashi language. Syed Hamza 1795. first work, Madhumalati, jaiguner puthi (1798) and Hatem Tai (1804) – were written in dobhasi. These are very rich in cultural heritage.
These folk songs present a social relation. It takes into consideration the life of the rural people in moments of pleasure and pain. The rural people have dependence on nature and its beauty. They are deeply in communion with nature, the clouds and stars, rivers and trees. It is nature that tells them when to sow, when to reap; and when the fish will be in plenty. So the village singer either in farm field or in boat sings in praise of nature and God Almighty. The singer sings:
“It will rain fairly mother. The country will turn green, thus will it rain,
Roundly, roundly will rain.”
In fact, in Bangladesh, we have song for every month, for every season. Baromasya songs, the songs of 12