Mela utsav - fair festival

Jober chatu taal patali makha special for winter sankranti.

Melas used to be named for the mela's purposes. For instance,  Surya-Mela  is Sun fair,  Surya-thakurer Brata named for Sun god's vow,  Chaitra-sankrantir Brater Mela vow fair on the occasion of the month Chaitra's end ,  Charak-Mela and Shiber Gajan Mela . Full moon, half moon festivals, no moon or lunar phase festivals.

The cloud god Barun-Baruni  on the other hand taking to Snaner Mela as Bath-taking Fair.  Barun or  Barunir Snaner Mela used to be held all throughout Bengal at one time name was taken from the word Baruni  cloud and sky .

All communities including Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and ethnic peoples organise fairs. These fairs can be roughly classified into six categories based on their purposes: 

1.  Religious fair and festivals

2.  Agricultural festivals

3.  Seasonal fairs 

4.  Cultural fairs 

5.  Memorials births and deaths of venerable people, secular fair

6.  Exhibition and sale of commercial goods for selling and buying. 

Among the festival-based fairs Hindu religious festival and fairs are Durga-puja, Shiv-ratri, Kali-puja, Ratha-jatra, Dol, Janmastami etc.  Muslim community fair Muharram are the most colourful. The Shia Muslims bring out Tazia. They arrange sessions of folk-songs jari-gaan at some places.  The Buddhist organises fairs on buddha purnima or Guru Purnima or Vyasa Purnima on the occasion of  Ashwini Purnima, a one-day fair used to take place  on Maghi Purnima. The biggest fair of all is that of Mahamuni which goes on throughout the month of Baishakh. Most charismatic Christian fair is few in number in Bengal. It continues for seven days from christmas eve to New Year.

Most of the agro-centric fairs in this country have links with folk religious rituals include Goushtha Mela, Kartik Mela, Poush Mela and Chaitra-sankrantir Mela. There are also other forms of agro-centric fairs. Examples include the rituals and festivals of ethnic communities. organise Biju, Boisuk and Shangrai festival-fairs each year which are related to agricultural rituals. A special agro-centric festival and fair is also organised on the occasion of Karam-puja. The greater Chittagong Hill Tracts region and the greater Rajshahi region are the seat of these fairs and festivals.

There are also some seasonal fairs.  the Baishakhi Mela held on the occasion of welcoming Bangla New Year has a longstanding tradition. In recent times, planned initiatives by the Small and Cottage Industries Corporation, Parjatan Corporation, Bangla Academy and Folk Arts Foundation have added new dimensions to the holding of Baishakhi fair. Now, Baishakhi fairs are organised in almost all towns of Bangladesh.

Fairs also take place on the occasion of Urs (religious anniversary) of various Muslim shrines. The Dol-purnima Urs fair at the den of Fakir Lalon Shah, Harithakurer Mela of Orhakandi, Gopalganj, Sanal Shah Fakirer Mela, Shah Sultaner Mela at Mohasthangarh of Bogra, Maizbhandarer Mela of Chittagong, Enayetpurir Mela of Sirajganj, Baul Thakurer Mela of Narsingdi, and Sureshwarer Mela of Faridpur deserve special mention. 

Various cultural fairs are organised on the occasion of observing  some national days. These include: Language Martyrs Day on 21 February, the Independence Day on 26 March and the Victory Day on 16 December. Book fairs are also regularly held in Bangladesh on the basis of this cultural spirit. They mostly take place in urban areas, but have spread to some district and divisional towns as well in recent times. The holding of fairs on the occasion of Twenty-first February and Victory Day is relatively recent. The Ekushey Boimela (Book-fair) held on Bangla Academy premises throughout the month of February has already become a heritage. The book-fairs are now taking place even in faraway towns. Alongside book-fair at national level, mobile book-fairs are also organised by the National Book Centre in rural townships. Fairs are also organised on the occasion of national days. In recent times, Bijoy Mela has been introduced in Chittagong on the occasion of Victory Day.

The latest addition to fairs has been the exhibition and sales fair of commercial commodities. It is basically a product of the ideas and experiences gathered from overseas. These exhibitions generally take place in towns. Administrative supervision was also added to this holding of fairs at district and sub-divisional towns. But these traditional exhibition-fairs of agro-industrial goods went through a period of decline over time. At present, an international trade and export fair is regularly held at Sherebangla Nagar of Dhaka. It may be noted that this fair is the biggest, most varied and richest one for commercial exhibition and sale of commercial goods. Besides, numerous fairs of commercial commodities take place in Dhaka on a regular basis at different times of the year. They are called handicrafts fair, handloom fair, industrial fair, textiles fair, etc. The organizers of most of these fairs are associations of commodity manufacturers, private organisations as well as established political or social personalities. The city-dwellers are found to flock in large numbers at these fairs for purchasing household or garments products.

There are invariably arrangements for recreation in these fairs. These include: swings, puppet dance, magic, circus, staging of jatra, rendering of baul songs, kavi-gan, lathi-khela, wrestling, jari-gan, etc. Besides, the clowns add colour and gaiety to these fairs. They make fun by moving around freely. Special arrangements are also made for country-wines and gambling during fairs. Many people lose everything by getting drunk as well as betting. It is a routine picture of any fair.

Baishakhi Mela traditionally, Baishakh is basically a month of fairs. Like other fairs, the Baishakhi fairs also have two aspects, one commercial and the other cultural. Businessmen open their book of accounts (halkhata) on the occasion of Chaitra-sankranti and the first day of Baishakh. The day of Chaitra-sangkranti is observed to bid farewell to the previous year, and Baishakhi fairs are launched on the occasion. A Bangla year bids adieu and a new year begins in a mirthful mood through musical presentations and consumption of food. The Baishakhi fair starts in the country towards the end of Chaitra. But it is the first day of Baishakh which dazzles in the glory of festivity. Everybody wears clean and beautiful attires. A great enthusiasm is observed in cooking cakes in most of the households. And the children rush to the fair in groups.

Opportunities are created for displaying and selling items produced by peasants, blacksmiths, potters, weavers, confectioners, and artistes-technicians in villages during Baishakhi fairs. The small businessmen decorate their shops with agro-based commodities, sweets, handicrafts, artistic items made of clay and cane. Coloured flute made of bamboo and palm-leaves, horns, one-stringed (Ektara) and two-stringed (Dotara) musical instruments, tabor, balloon, top, marble, kite, reel, rotating wheel, puppet, clay-horse, wooden-horse, birds made of wood, paper and bamboo, household utensils made of clay, pitcher, glass bangle, string of glass-beads etc. are displayed for sale. In addition, there are also furniture, beds, divan, bedstead, chairs-tables, dress-stand, cupboard, husking pedal, wooden seat, wheel, etc. Besides, brass pot, vessels and containers, plough, yoke, iron chopper, axe, sharp tool, scissor, hoe and ornamental ring with bells are also sold. Various confectionary items like kadma, jilipi, batasha, khaja, mithai, laddu, motorbhaja, tiler-khaja, khagrhai, etc. are found in abundance.

Another attraction of Baishakhi fairs is woven textiles. The weavers bring embroidered saris, dhoti, lubgi, gamchha (napkin made of handloom), bed cover etc. for selling at the fair. Children’s dresses are also found in one corner of the fair. The ladies flock to the shops displaying ornaments made of silver, bronze and brass with the intention of buying. Some educational exhibitions suitable for lifting the lifestyle of agriculturists and labourers of the village are also shown in the fair. These include display of livestock, spinning with the help of charka (spinning wheel), the technique of welding, nursery etc. Various kinds of fans, mats, quilts, and products made of string, cane and bamboo made by village-girls are also put on display. Arrangements are also there for display and sale of different high-quality vegetables, poultry and crop seeds.

The practice and pattern observed in the fairs of Bangladesh over the ages are also seen during Baishakhi fairs. These include: gathering of a large number of people; arrangement for recreation including music and songs; exhibition and sale of useful industrial products; arrangements for different types of games and sports.

Folk songs like pala-gan and baul-gan, jatra (folk-drama), kavi-gan (poet’s song), gambhira songs, alkap, jari-gan, puppet dance, circus etc. are the main cultural features of these fairs. Baishakhi fairs demonstrate that indigenous games can also entertain people. These include: lathi-khela (stick fight), wrestling, ha-du-du or kabadi, flying kites, duel of ox, horse-race, chicken-fight, game with monkeys, etc. These fairs do not conclude in a single day. They last even up to weeks, fortnights, and one or two months. Baishakhi fair lasts for the whole month in most districts of the country.

An outstanding episode of the Baishakhi fair of Chittagong is the wrestling competition called Jabbarer Balikhela. A huge number of people throng the venue for a whole day to enjoy this competition. Besides, the Buddhists of Chittagong organise a fair called Mohamunir Mela towards the end of Chaitra. This fair is part of the celebration for welcoming the new year. The new- year’s festival of the ethnic peoples of Chittagong Hill Tracts, viz. Marma, Chakma and Tripura are called Sangrai, Biju and Bishu respectively.

Moharram Mela the Moharram fairs are organised in the first and second weeks of the Islamic month of Moharram, in memory of the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hossain (R) in Karbala. Although the Sunni Muslims far outnumber the Shias in Bangladesh, Moharram is an occasion more relevant for the Shias although the Sunnis also take part in it. Although the incidents of Moharram were tragic, its observance has now turned into a festivity.

The Muharram festival in Dhaka was started during the Mughal era by the Shia elements in the government. At that time, Dhaka was dominated by Shia Muslims. The ancient Imambari Hossaini Dalan located at Bakshibazar has been at the centre of Moharram programmes and fairs in Dhaka. Each year, a large fair sits at the Hossaini Dalan premises as well as in Farashganj and Azimpur. It used to extend up to Azimpur graveyard and New Market in the past. It is gathered that a bazar used to sit around Hossaini Dalan up to 10 Moharram from 1864. Sales and purchase of goods used to take place here day and night. The products included handicrafts, essential household items, cosmetics, choppers-knives, flutes, food items like parched rice, sweetmeat, etc. Small toys made of wood and tin, swords and shields were a feature of this fair.

Punyasnan Mela the Ashtami Snan or Punyasnan Mela usually takes place according to Hindu tradition on the lunar day of Shuklashtami or Ashokashtami. At this time, around a few lakh Hindu devotees arrive at langalband. They get down into the Brahmaputra river at this place of pilgrimage, pronounce the mantra: ‘O Brahmaputra, please wash away all my sins’, and take a holy bath for ridding themselves of sins along with offerings of flowers, wood-apple leaves, paddy, grass, haritaki, green coconut and mango-shoot etc. The traditional Basanti Fair takes place on the bank of Adi-Brahmaputra river at Langalband on the occasion of this holy bath. The devotees from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Myanmar are the consumers or buyers at this fair. The colourful and popular fair spreads over an area of three and a half square kilometres on the bank of Adi-Brahmaputra; alongside it are the dens of saints-sannyasis coming from various places of the country. Although these saints provide joy to the devotees, the assembly of diverse local and foreign fancy goods in the fair become an ornament for the festival. These include wooden showpiece, ladies ornaments made from clay-wood-oyster-shell, conch-bracelet, ornamented shoes-sandals etc. There are also shops displaying ingredients for offering puja as well as ostentatious food, where various types of sweets (mithai-monda, kadma, chhanch-khaja, rasogolla, kalojam, bundia, khagrhai) are available alongside indigenous food. The local and foreign devotees perform their ritual at 14 ghats (slopes) including Gandhi-ghat, Raj-ghat, Lalit-sadhur-ghat, Annapurna-mandir-ghat, Joykali-mandir-ghat, Daksineshwar-kalibari-ghat and Akari-sadhur-ghat for absolving themselves of sins. When returning home, they take home some items from the fair as souvenirs. Besides, another Punyasnan Mela takes place beside the Brahmaputra river at Ganginar Par of mymensingh district town, where another holy bath ritual is performed. A few other Punyasnan Mela (holy bath fairs) are also organised at a few other districts including Sunamganj and Dinajpur.

Rath Mela (fair on the occasion of Ratha festival) of the Hindu community takes place at various places of the country in the last week of Ashar month, according to Bangla calendar. This fair is also called Rath-jatrar Mela. The Hindus organise these fairs at different places of Bangladesh in memory of the Ratha-jatra of Jagannath Dev, according to Hindu mythology. As prescribed by this ritual, the Ratha is dragged from in front of the temple to a specific place at a distance and then this same Rath is taken to the Jagannath temple after a gap of seven days. The Rather Mela or fairs take place in all regions of Bangladesh, in-between this Rath-jatra (journey of Ratha) and Ulta-Rath-jatra (reverse journey of Ratha). At some places, it is called Rath-jatrar Mela, while at others it is called Ulta-Rath-jatrar Mela. It can be mentioned here that the former takes place on the occasion of Rath-jatra, while the latter centres on the Ulta-Rath-jatra.

The Ratha fair held at Dhamrai upazila of Dhaka district is the most famous in Bangladesh for two reasons. First, the Jagannath temple of Dhamrai owns the biggest Rath in the country; second, the turnout of people is the largest here and the fair is also the biggest. Apart from sale of pottery goods, items made from bamboo-cane-wood, cosmetics for girls, sweets and seasonal fruits, circus performances and puppet dances are also exhibited in the fair. Besides, there are arrangements for merry-go-round and shooting-the-balloon with air-gun for children at the fair. Apart from Dhamrai, other famous Rath-fairs in the country include Rath-khola’s fair in Kushtia town, Rath-fair of Puthia in Rajshahi district, Lamapara Rath-jatra fair at Jaintapur of Sylhet, Rath-jatra fair at Moksedpur of Gopalganj, Rath-jatra fair at Ishwarganj of Mymensingh, Ulta-ratha fair of Dhaka’s Tantibazar and Radhagovinda temple, Ulta-ratha fair of Muradnagar under Comilla district, Ulta-rath-fair of Feni’s Trunk road and Ulta-rath fair of Gaibandha’s Kalibari.

Lalon Mela the Lalon fair is held twice a year at Chheuria village under Kumarkhali upazila of Kushtia district, centring on the tomb of Fakir lalon shah (1774-1890). One of these is held in memory of the Guru of Bauls Lalon Shah on the occasion of his death anniversary. The other Lalon Mela is held on the occasion of Sadhu-sabga ritual introduced by Lalon at the arrival of Dol-Purnima. These fairs have some distinct characteristics. Firstly, they are basically a get-together for the saints who follow Lalon; secondly, shops of bauls selling musical instruments are located at one corner of the fair-premises. The saints coming from home and abroad purchase their needed instrument from among the varieties of Ektara, Dotara, Doogi, Premjurhi or Kathjurhi and Mandira displayed in these shops. Some roving sellers are also seen in the fair who sell gamchha and lungi made by weavers who are disciples of Lalon. On the other hand, cassettes of Lalon songs as well as books on him are also sold along with plastic goods, handicrafts, furniture, mat, clay doll, clay containers and ornaments. Anybody coming to this fair can purchase the famous tiler-khaja of Kushtia, on the packet of which is written: ‘Hai re mojar tiler khaja/kheye dekhliney mon kemon moja’; anyone can taste hot ‘jilapi’ sweet by coming to the Lalon fair. Overall, Lalon Mela has assumed the shape of an assorted fair.

But not many years have elapsed since the Lalon festival and Dol-Purnima programme assumed this present shape. The Lalon festival was informal up to the 1950s and was mainly limited to the fakirs and devotees. At that time, the programme also had a spontaneous character. But ever since the1960s, the event lost its spontaneous flair due to administrative involvements. Previously, the Dol-Purnima or the death anniversary of Lalon were basically meant for saints, where get-together of Bauls-fakirs, rendering of services and songs as well as initiation of devotees used to take place. Now these programmes have been transformed into Lalon fairs due to presence of ministers and bureaucrats in these festivals. The initiation of saints or the bhek-khelafat ritual takes place within the confines of these fairs. This ritual is performed by wearing white attire and then circling the tomb of Lalon seven times. During the session on alms, the devotee or khelafatkari sings Lalon songs and seeks alms from other devotees and saints by moving around the fair premises. The Lalon Mela is also dubbed as Baul Mela by some people.

This kind of Baul Mela takes place at Meherpur of Kushtia and Baulpara of Narsingdi. Like Lalon Mela, gathering of Bauls as well as rendering of Baul songs occur in these fairs. Items available for sale and purchase in the fair include musical instruments needed by the Bauls, which include Ektara, Mandira, Kathjuri, etc. Shops selling gamchha and lungi are also found. Apart from Meherpur-Narsingdi, a 3-day Baul fair is also organised from 29 Magh at Dhaka’s Demra-Kayetpara Baul-bazar in memory of a saint belonging to the Baul community, where men and women gather in large numbers.

Maizbhandari Mela is held on the day the exponent of Maizbhandari system Shah Ahmad Ullah expired in 1906. The fair held for commemorating his death, where lakhs of devotees throng the Maizbhandar-Sharif, is called Maizbhandari Mela. People irrespective of religion and race including Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians are allowed at this Maizbhandar Darbar-sharif. Quite naturally, it turns into a confluence of all religionists on the occasion of the Maizbhandari Urs. The fair takes place at Maizbhandar of Fatikchhari on 10 Magh each year. Apart from the religious and spiritual ambience, the main characteristic of the fair is the huge inflow of people irrespective of class or profession and the participation of nearby tribal people, agriculturists and handicraft producers. A special attraction of Maizbhandari fair is the rendering of Maizbhandari songs. Besides, cassettes, CDs and books on Maizbhandari songs are also sold. In addition, sessions of miscellaneous songs on love and separation by rural kaviyals (poetic singers), as well fees taken by them from the audience are also witnessed during the fair.

The Rash Mela is organised towards the end of Kartik in connection with the Rash-leela ritual of the Monipuri community. Monipuri devotees from various corners of Bangladesh and even from the neighbouring countries arrive to offer sacrifices to make their wishes come true on the occasion of Rash-leela and Rakhal-khela of Lord Sri Krishna. The festival takes place at Shiv Bazar of Madhabpur union under Kamalganj upazila. Three mandaps or sacred pavilions are erected at distances of 2-3 furlongs from each other. The attractions of the Rash festival are increasing day by day. The arrivals of people of all ages make the place reverberate with life. Even before the month of Kartik, a race starts to take lessons in dance and music for participating in the Rash-leela. Girls ranging from 9 years old to unmarried virgins of 20 years are seen participating in these. According to the speciality of jora-mandap, three teenage girls belonging to three families are made experts in acting, dance and songs of Sri Radha. Three boys are kept for the role of Sri Krishna. Besides, Rash fairs are also held at Dublarchar of Khulna division, Khanpur of Bagerhat, Orhakandi of Faridpur, Kantanagar of Dinajpur, Goshinga of Barisal and Lamabazar of Sylhet.

Bishub Sankranti Mela is a festival-centric fair organised on the occasion of welcoming the Bangla new year and bidding farewell to the past year by the tribal people of Chittagong Hill Tracts. Actually Baisabi is the name of the biggest festival and fair which takes place on the occasion of bidding adieu and welcoming the new year in Chittagong Hill Tracts on the last two days of the year and the first of Baishakh. This festival is known as Biju, Baisuk and Sangrain respectively to the three main tribal population of Chittagong Hill Tracts: Chakma, Tripura and Marma. The first three letters of these festivals have been combined to give rise to the word Bai-sa-bi. The root word of Baisuk, Sangrain and Biju is probably Bishub Sankrant. Actually, in Chakma language, ‘s’ or ‘sh’ is pronounced as ‘j’. For this reason, the word ‘Bishu’ has become Biju in Chakma language. The Biju festival and fair of the Chakma community continues for three days, which are known as Phool Biju, Mool Biju and Goryaparyar Biju. The first day of Phool Biju is observed on the second-last day of Bangla calendar. The Chakma men, women and children come outside their dwellings to gardens and forests to pick up flowers before the advent of dawn. They are even allowed to steal flowers from the neighbours’ gardens on this particular day. A portion of the picked flowers is used for Buddha-puja, and the rest is submitted to the river as offerings. People take bath before offering the flowers to the river. During bath and while offering flowers, they offer prayers in the form ‘Ju Ma Gabgi, Mor Puron Jharjhar Apadbala, Fibla Beg Dhoi Ney Ja’. It means, ‘Salute to you, mother Ganga, please wash away all my adversities and hazards of the past year’.

The second day of the Biju festival or the last day of Bangla calendar is called the main Biju. It signifies that the main attraction of the festival is this day. In the morning of the day, small children scatter rice on the compound of neighbours in order to feed the chickens. Later, the children consume Biju food at the neighbours’ dwellings and no invitation is required for that. There are arrangements for a variety of food, including ‘pajan’ (mixed vegetable) at each house. The word pajan possibly has its origin in five-food (pach-an); the curry made from a minimum of five vegetables is called pajan. In some instances, pajan is prepared with a combination of over one hundred species of vegetables. Besides pajan, various type of food and drinks including home-made pitha (cakes), payesh and semai (sweets) as well as sharbat (drinks) are also prepared. Apart from pajan, the adults are also entertained with home-made wine. Usually, rice and fish or meat is not served on the main day of Biju. The youths bathe the elders by drawing water from the river and water-pit at noon. The statue of Buddha is also washed at the Buddhist temple. Bathing is a symbol of washing away the hazards and adversities of the past year and thereby making oneself pure. In the evening, puja is offered once again to the Buddha and the river (Gangi mother). The dwelling houses are decorated with light and even the cow-shed is illuminated with candles so that the darkness of all ignorance and hazards of the past year go away.

The third day of the Biju festival or the first day of Bangla calendar is called ‘Goryaporya’. A birthday is called sal-girha or the day of year’s rolling; similarly, the first of Baishakh is the day the year starts rolling for the Chakmas. On this day, the close relatives are treated with rice-fish-meat. The housewives who could not earlier participate in the main Biju due to their preoccupation in hosting people at home, move around in different places on this day.

The Tripura sect of ethnic peoples term ‘Bishub-sankranti’ as ‘Baisuk’, which has possibly emerged from the words ‘Bishu’ or ‘Baisu’. Their Baisuk festival is similar to that of the Chakmas, but an additional attraction is the ‘Gorhaia Nritya’ (dance). Each Gorhaia dance-troupe consists of 20 to 30 men and women. These Gorhaia troupes present dances by moving around neighbourhoods.

The Bishub-sankranti is known as ‘Sangrain’ to the Marma and Rakhain sects of ethnic peoples, which emerged from the word ‘Sankranti’. As against the Chakmas who take bath in river and wash the elders with the intention of removing the hazards of the past year, the new year festival Sangrain has become a festival for spraying water (jal-keli) to the Marmas through an evolution of culture. Men and women participate in this festival of spraying water on each other. Apart from Chakma, Marma and Tripura, the Bishub-sankranti festival is also celebrated by other tribal communities of Chittagong Hill Tracts amid much pomp and gaiety. On the occasion, various sports competitions are arranged in the villages of hill tracts. The games are quite distinct from the plain-land, such as Nadheng-khela and Ghila-khela etc. Besides, the tribal people of other districts also observe the Bishub-sankranti festival. This festival is known as ‘Bishu’ to the Vishnupriya Monipuri people of Kamalganj. It continues for seven days at a stretch starting from the last day of the bygone year.

Baishakh is probably the Sanskrit equivalent of Bishub-sankranti, which is known as ‘Baisuk’ in Tripura language and ‘Basagu’ in Bodo language. The Arakanis term the month of Baishakh as Thangrai Lah, or Thangrai (Sangrai), or the month of Bishub-sankranti. In that respect, Baishakh is the month of Bishu or Baisuk or Baisagu.

Baruni Mela the principal fair of the Matuya community is called Baruni Mela. The Matuyas term it as Mohabaruni. This weeklong fair is held at the Orhakandi village of Gopalganj district at the holy site of Harichand Thakur on the occasion of Baruni yogic bath; it is held each year on Madhukrishna Trayodashi or the thirteenth night prior to the full-moon of the month of Chaitra each year.

Dublar Char Mela was introduced by a sannyasi devotee of Harichand Thakur named Haribhajan (1829-1923) in 1923. A huge fair sits each year on the occasion of ‘Rash-Purnima’ at a place called ‘Dublar Char’ (shoal), which is located on the estuary of Poshur river south of the Sundarban forest in Bagerhat district. Innumerable devotees come here for sea-bathing each year on the occasion of Rash-Purnima (full-moon of Rash). [Saymon Zakaria]