Updated: April 14, 2021 04:37 PM GMT
Pehela Boishakh is considered a strong pillar of Bangla language, culture and nationalism for native Bangalees. (File photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)
A surge in Covid-19 infections and deaths has forced Bangladesh’s government to declare a strict nationwide lockdown, dampening the spirit of Bangla New Year that coincided with the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan this year.
The lockdown from April 14-21 follows one from April 5-11.
The move came following a massive surge in Covid-19 infections averaging 6,500 to 7,000 cases and 60-70 deaths each day in recent weeks. The country has recorded about 698,000 cases and 9,891 deaths so far.
The second lockdown entails a shutdown of public movement, transport, markets and all government and non-government offices except for emergency services.
Bangla New Year on April 14 is the largest non-sectarian and cultural festival in Bangladesh. It celebrates traditional rural culture and roots and is also considered a beacon of pluralism and harmony in the Muslim-majority country.
The day is also called Pehela Boishakh (First of Boishakh) as it falls on the first day of Boishakh, the first month of the 12-month Bangla calendar.
The festival is considered a strong pillar of Bangla language, culture and nationalism for native Bangalees
The festival is considered a strong pillar of Bangla language, culture and nationalism for native Bangalees, the largest ethno-linguistic group in South Asia.
Musical concerts, cultural programs, singing, dancing and a colorful mongol shovajatra (welfare procession) with masks and figurines of birds, animals and dolls are common features of the festivities. Traditionally, women wear red-edged white saree and men wear white or red pajama and panjbai during the festival.
All are absent this year due to restrictions.
For Hindus, the day is also a religious feast when the faithful attend puja at home and temples to receive divine blessings for the new year.
Suvash Chakraborty, a Hindu priest from Dinajpur district, said that a festive mood is missing like last year when similar restrictions were in place for the pandemic.
“As part of Hindu tradition, we celebrate Bangla New Year by organizing puja where people join and pray together. But again we are confined in our rooms. Our children were excited about puja but nothing has happened,” Chakraborty told UCA News.
The Hindu priest hopes the coming year will be better and blessed as he wished Muslims around the world a happy and holy Ramadan.
“We can do nothing about dullness during Covid time. I’m hopeful that the coming year will be better and next year we will celebrate this day gorgeously. I greet my Muslim friends on Ramadan. Even though life is difficult and a pale situation prevails, I hope they will prepare spiritually to celebrate Eid,” he added.
Iftar parties promote harmony and friendship between religions, but they cannot take place
Maolana Mohammad Abdul Mojid from Mymensingh district says many Muslims won’t have a good Ramadan this year.
“Many people have lost jobs and have no income. A festive atmosphere that prevails in the country from the start of Ramadan is absent and it will continue up to Eid,” the cleric told UCA News.
During Ramadan, Muslims organize Iftar parties for people from various walks of life and also invite non-Muslim friends, which will not be possible this year, he said.
“Iftar parties promote harmony and friendship between religions, but they cannot take place. All these shortcomings will mean the Eid won’t be as joyful as it used to be in the past,” he added.
Despite such doom and gloom on New Year and Ramadan, people in Bangladesh have taken to social media to greet friends, families and others.
Clergy and pastors from Christian denominations held special services for the well-being of the nation and the world and a relief from Covid-19.
Father Anol D’Costa, coordinator of the social communication commission in Barishal Diocese, has found positivity in celebrating Bangla New Year and Ramadan at home.
“Young people usually go out in the morning to celebrate the festival, but today they are with their families. It’s good to spend time with families as we continue to pray for the well-being of all and for deliverance from Covid-19,” Father D’Costa told UCA News.
While there will be fewer Iftar parties this Ramadan, Muslim brothers can save money for Eid and donate more to needy people ahead of the feast, the priest added.