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Pahela Baishakh : The roots

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Mohammad Shahidul Islam :
Today, the nation celebrates Pahela Baishakh, the first day of the Bengali New Year, with traditional pomp and splendour. People from all walks of life, dressed for the occasion, will enjoy open-air cultural programmes, colourful parades, wrestling, and fairs across the country.
Pahela Baishakh marks this nation's zest to assert its Bengali way of life. Globalisation, technological changes, migration and other factors are considerably eroding national and cultural identities. While there is some merit or inevitability in the process, one must first be a good nationalist before trying to be an internationalist.  This is because without love, commitment or attachment to one's own country and a sense of belonging and striving by its people to improve conditions in their countries, there would be only a more unevenly developed world. Besides, who can say that a culturally uniform world will not be monotonous, whereas we can surely have a more culturally interesting, vibrant and enjoyable world with cultural diversities. There are common ideals and ways of organisation that societies in different countries may seek for their common benefit. But this search for common ground should not sacrifice the varied  cultures and identities of the world's peoples.
Bangladesh came under Islamic conquests and influences for six or seven centuries from the thirteen century onwards, which left indelible Islamic imprints. Then came the colonial British rule for one hundred and ninety years. This period left European influences on its polity. Next came the Pakistani interregnum when also Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan, was subjected to non-indigenous cultural influences.
Thus, Bangladesh today is a heterogeneous society. But this heterogeneity not with standing, Bangladesh society is also identified by its original language, culture, traditions and norms rooted in the soil and tracing back many centuries. The observance of Bengali New Year on the first day of the Bengali month of Baishakh as heralding the start of the year is one such event that expresses the country's culture and identity.
The unique culture of a people and the eagerness to defend it create a great stimulus called patriotism. By harnessing or utilising this force well, a country can achieve miracles to improve the lot of its people. Thus, the quest to preserve and promote national culture and identity through due observance of occasions such as Pahela Baishakh makes preeminent sense.
The majority religious faith of the people of Bangladesh is Islam. But this has not, in any way, ever conflicted with the sociological and cultural aspirations and traditions of its people who are racially Bengalis. Muslims and non-Muslims share alike their common identity as Bengalis, and this factor is the glue that binds them together in their love for and identification with the country and provides the spirit to work unitedly for its furtherance in various fields. Thus, the Bengali features of the Bangladeshis are among the country's greatest assets.
It is regrettable that, though Bangladesh has such a rich cultural legacy some in the younger generation cannot appreciate the Bangladeshi way of life, or defend or enrich it. Advances in the communications and entertainment industries have led to the emergence of a form of global culture. The dynamics of business or exploiting of economic opportunities also require open national societies and cultural free flow or assimilation. However, these realities or requirements do not negate either the need for policies to try to promote the positive elements of Bangladesh's own culture or to safeguard the country from undue cultural invasion.
The Bengali language is one of the top seven recognised international languages in the world. Many languages of the world have been obliterated. The same has not been the fate of Bengali, which is a major language of the world spoken by a very big part of all humanity. Bengali men of letters won Nobel Prizes in literature and others distinguished themselves on the world stage for other forms of creative and artistic works involving their land and culture. Bengali songs, music, musical instruments, drama, etc., enjoy international renown for their very high standards and appreciation. Art, language, music, heritage, cuisine, literature, etc., are the manifestations of a civilised and worthwhile human existence. Bangladeshis can boast of their attainments in every sphere of such an existence.
Therefore, culturally or socially at least, Bangladeshis have no reason to feel unsure of themselves. Indeed, they have a culture and way of life to be proud of, which is justification enough for their preservation and conservation. If the Americans can have their way of life, the British their way and the French theirs, then there is every reason for
Bangladeshis to aspire to preserve and promote their own way of life and living.
The European renaissance touched the shores of the Indian subcontinent and spread beyond. A similar Bengali renaissance was noted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Personalities like Rabindranath Tagore, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Iswarchandra Biddayshagar, Jagadish Cllandra Basu, Kazi Nazrul Islam and others led this renaissance in thought and action. The awakening in this part of India, then under colonial bondage, inspired Gokhale to make his famous observation: "What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow."
Occasions such as Pahela Baishakh do rightly bring to mind whether the Bengali way of life and living is coming under an unfair attack from inappropriate forms of alien culture. The enthralling lyrical Bengali songs and music of yesteryears are giving way in some cases to rock bands. But the traditional Bengali songs and music are a real pleasure for the ears and the senses, and this truth is admitted even by non-Bengalis. When there is so much appreciation for the culture of the people of Bangladesh abroad, it is sad that its appeal should be eroding among some sections of the present generation of Bangladeshis and their adopting anything foreign in the name of style or culture. Bangladeshis need to remember that their social and cultural existence is not inferior to any other. Therefore, it is not only patriotic but also eminently sensible from the perspective of utility to preserve and promote it.
There is no denying that the economic hardship now being experienced by a large segment of the population will cast a shadow on the celebration of Pahela Baishakh. Yet on this auspicious occasion, the nation will hope and expect that much of the sufferings of the poor and low-income people will subside with a turnaround in the situation.
The nation hopes that the Bengali New Year will be a harbinger of peace and prosperity. For that matter, all concerned will need to work with utmost sincerity and seriousness in their respective areas to reach a common goal-national progress and prosperity.

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