What is “tradition”? A dictionary will define tradition as a set of customs and beliefs that have been passed from one generation to the next over a long period of time. This includes all of the major religions when we speak of tradition. A tradition is like a ring. It is complete within itself, all-encompassing, self-defining.
Bangladeshi traditions are largely entertwined with cultures harbored from neighboring countries. To begin with, let us read deep into religions practiced in Bangladesh, traditional cuisine, matrimonial perspectives and celebrations foiled in tradition all around Bangladesh.
Over 80% of the Bangladeshi population follows Islam. The majority of the populations who follow Islam pursue the Sunni branch of the Muslim religion whilst a small group is Shiite. Other religions that are active in Bangladesh include Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, animism and tribal belief systems.
The Islamic religion in Bangladesh plays a vital role in everyday life of the people as is evidenced in the celebration of festivals such as Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-e-Miladunnabi, Muharram and others. Whilst Muslims in Bangladesh are committed to Islam, devotion to certain rituals and beliefs may vary depending on a number of factors. In some rural areas the people have began to incorporate other beliefs into their religion, some of which may be in disagreement with orthodox Islam.
Followers of the Hindu religion in Bangladesh amount to around 13% of the country's population. Hindu communities are concentrated in areas such as Barisal, Khulna, Dinajpur, Jessore and Faridpur. Hindu temples can be found scattered throughout the country. There are significant numbers of Buddhists and Christians in Bangladesh. In the Chittagong Hills, Buddhist tribes formed the majority of the population and their religion appeared to be a mixture of tribal cults and Buddhist doctrines. Christians make up 1% of Bangladesh's population. The majority are part of the Roman Catholic Church. Another prominent church is the Church of Bangladesh, a united church formed by several protestant churches.
Bangladesh, land of poets and artists, is also known for its delicious food. Cooking is considered an art, and as a guest in a Bengali home, one never lacks for delicious foods. Bengali curries, pulaos, and sweets are loved the world over. But there are a few recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation and in today’s times these traditional recipes are served with slight alterations to cater to the needs of the taste buds of people living globally.
A winter morning in Bangladesh cannot begin without “peetha” for breakfast. Different types of peetha’s are made in the whole year. Some known peetha’s are – Chitoi, Milk Chitoi, Bhapa Peetha, Patishapta Peetha, Chui Peetha, etc. Village girls and women make different shapes and designed peethas. It is called “Nakshi Peetha”. Generally different kinds of Nakshi Peetha are served in the weddings. Peetha is also an important delicacy in the rural areas during “Nobanno” (month of harvest) when farmers store their crops at home and with this joy they celebrate Nobanno. Peetha is also popular during Pohela Boishakh (first day of Bangla Year) . This is also a festive moment when people start their day having breakfast with panta bhat (watered rice), elish bhaja (hilsa fish fry) and some sweet dishes.
Bangladeshi cuisine is known globally for its biryani. The word biryani is derived from a Persian word which means “fried” or “roasted”. This dish is made from a mixture of spices, rice, meat or vegetable and yogurt. The spices used in this food are what contribute to the taste. Weddings in Dhaka are incomplete without this meal.
Then you have the achar (pickles) that are still made the traditional way and no Bangladeshi meal can be complete without this. Depending on the region and the intended use, achar can be sweet and spicy. It is enjoyed with curries, breads and other dishes to add a new dimension of flavour.
While rice forms the basic staple of Bangladesh, bread is often a part of a meal.A luchi is deep-fried flat bread made of wheat flour. A typical luchi will measure 4-5 inches in diameter. They are usually served with curries or gravies.
Then we have the “pheerni”. It is also known as “kheer” and is traditionally made with rice. It is sprinkled with cashews and raisins, served in most festive occassions, such as weddings, Eid’s, Puja’s, etc. Although sugar is commonly used when preparing this dessert, adding “gur” makes it tasty too.
Finally, we wrap it up with another delicacy known as the “paan”. Paan is a South East Asian tradition which consists of chewing betel leaf combined with areca nut. Paan is offered to the guests and festivals irrespective of all religion. The sweet paan of the Khasi tribe is famous for its special quality. Paan is also used in Hindu puja, wedding festivals (especially “gaye holuds”) and to visit relatives. It has become a ritual, tradition and culture of our society. Mostly adults are seen enjoying paan with friends and relatives!!
Traditional perspective of marriage in Bangladesh is that it is almost always an arranged affair and takes place when the parents, particularly the father, decide that a child should be married. Men marry typically around age twenty-five or older, and women marry between ages fifteen and twenty; thus the husband is usually at least ten years older than the wife. Of immediate concern are the status and characteristics of the potential in-law's family. Generally an equal match is sought in terms of family economic status, educational background, and piousness. It is customary for the child to rule out clearly unacceptable candidates, leaving a slate of candidates from which the father can choose.
A traditional wedding is arranged by Ghotoks (matchmakers), who are generally friends or relatives of the couple. The matchmakers facilitate the introduction, and also help agree the amount of any settlement. In Muslim marriages another settlement to make is the 'Mahr' or 'Kabin' that is to be paid by the groom to the bride - which is a religious requirement in Muslim marriages.
Bengali weddings are traditionally in five parts: the mehendi shondha, the bride's Gaye holud, the groom's Gaye holud, the wedding ceremony, and the reception. Typically, wedding customs in Bangladesh take three days from engagement to post wedding rituals. For the mehendi shondha the bride's side applies henna to each other as well as the bride. A Gayer Holud serves two purposes: It’s the day the bride gets all her goodies—her wedding trousseau which includes her bridal dress (sari), jewelry, shoes as well as other gifts such as makeup, perfume, dresses, basically anything a girl could possibly need. The groom’s family and friends officially hand-deliver the bride’s wedding trousseau as well as presents for the bride’s family. The procession traditionally centers on the (younger) female relative and friends of bride, and they are traditionally all in matching clothes, mostly orange in color. The bride is seated on a dais, and the henna is used to decorate the bride's hands and feet with elaborate abstract designs. The other important ritual performed on this day happens when the guests bless the bride by applying yellow paste called ‘holud,’ made of turmeric powder and milk, on her face, arms and basically any other body parts that are exposed. The sweets are then fed to the bride by all involved, piece by piece. A Bengali groom also gets his moment to shine with his very own ‘Gayer Holud,’ which mirrors his bride’s.
The actual wedding ceremony "Beeye" follows the Gaye Holud ceremonies. The wedding ceremony is arranged by the bride's family. There are many different traditions to follow, such as playing a prank on the groom like stealing his shoe, and preventing the groom from entering the wedding venue until he pays a fee.The bride and groom are seated separately, and a Kazi (authorized person by the govt. to perform the wedding), accompanied by the parents and a Wakil (witness) from each side formally asks the bride for her consent to the union, and then the groom for his. The bride's side of the family tries to play some kind of practical joke on the groom such as stealing the groom's shoe.
The wedding is typically hosted by the bride’s family and the reception or ‘boubhath’ is thrown by the groom’s family a few days or weeks after the wedding, to welcome the new bride into the family. The boubhath is basically a relaxed version of the wedding day where the bride and groom can mingle with their guests, dance and have fun. The wedding day is typically more rigid as the newlyweds have many customs to follow, so the guests usually end up having more fun than the couple!
Nowadays perspective on marriage has changed incredibly. Part of this change is due to what we see on cable television and also due to growing number of Bangladeshi women pursuing a career, thus, choosing to settle down late. Males and females both are given the opportunity to look for a life-long companion in someone they have grown to know through varied circumstances. Moreover, we also see many Bangladeshis who have chosen to marry non-Bangladeshis, thus, blending our traditional wedding rituals with that of the foreigner’s.
Gradual Change in Matrimonial Perspective: