Bangladesh spiritual gathering features religious folk music

Diocese, lay organisation seek to keep alive Christianized Hindu cultural traditions
Bangladesh spiritual gathering features religious folk music

A Catholic group performs a Pala Gaan folk musical play at Holy Redeemer Church in Baniarchar, Gopalganj district, during the annual spiritual gathering hosted by Barishal Diocese from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2. (Photo supplied)

A Catholic diocese in Bangladesh has featured religious folk music during an annual spiritual gathering as part of an effort to save this popular tradition from extinction.

Two Pala Gaan (folk musical plays) depicting a pair of Biblical stories — the Creation and Abraham’s sacrifice of son Isaac — were showcased during the 48th Annual Gathering for Spiritual Awakening, also known as Boro Sobha (Great Gathering), hosted by Barishal Diocese at Holy Redeemer Church in Baniarchar, Gopalganj district, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2.

Hundreds of Catholics from parishes of the diocese joined an event that included liturgy, spiritual talks, shared meals and cultural events.

Additionally, hundreds of local Muslims and Hindus attended a Pala Gaan performance staged by a 15-member team on Jan. 31.

Pala Gaan, also known as Padaboli Kirtan, is originally a Hindu religious tradition which became a part of Christian religious culture when many lower-caste Hindus converted to the new faith centuries ago.

A Christianized Pala Gaan uses recitations, music, theatre and dance to tell stories from the Bible, including the Creation, the fall of Adam and the exile of the Israelites to Egypt as well as life, death and the Resurrection. It usually takes 10-20 actors, dancers and musicians to stage a show. 

Incorporating Pala Gaan with Boro Sobha was a dream come true, said Holy Cross Father Anol Terence D’Costa, secretary of the diocese and coordinator of a seven-member diocesan committee for Pala Gaan.

“Boro Sobha is a traditional harvest and spiritual festival in some parts of southern Bangladesh, where people thank God through prayer, music and dance at the end of the harvest season in January and February. We promoted and funded Pala Gaan groups as this popular musical tradition is on the decline for various reasons,” Father D’Costa told UCA News.

With funding from SIGNIS, the Catholic lay movement for communications media professionals, the diocese encouraged the revival of Pala Gaan traditions over the past year and formed a 40-member diocesan team.

The first show was staged on Dec. 12 at the Cathedral Church of Barishal. It featured two Biblical stories — the birth of Jesus and the death of Lazarus.

“For months, the team practiced passionately to perform the show. From the main team, 15 members were selected to perform during Boro Sobha. The team has unique costumes and musical instruments, and we hope to record the performance for preservation and propagation,” Father D’Costa added.

Subhash Baroi, leader of the Pala Gaan team, said he finds spiritual solace in carrying on the tradition. Baroi is a Catholic father of one. Both he and his wife are performers.

“My grandfather, father and neighbors were involved with Pala Gaan as far as I can recall from my childhood memories. I believe Pala Gaan is more powerful than any church liturgy in terms of preaching the Good News. Church leaders including our bishop have encouraged me to continue singing Pala Gaan, and I am happy to do so,” Baroi told UCA News.

“Hindus have strongly continued the Pala Gaan tradition, but Christians didn’t make enough of an attempt to preserve it. However, I think if the Church extends support continuously, it will survive and continue.” 

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