Boishabi- the biggest indigenous festival of Bangladesh
Come April, and it is time to celebrate Boishabi Utsab- the biggest indigenous festival in Bangladesh. The three hill districts in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of the country- Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban wore festive look attracting greater national attention when traditional fanfare and gaiety marked the three day annual festivity from April 12 to 15.
In fact, Boishabi is not merely a festival; it is the glorification of traditional and cultural festivals of the indigenous communities in the three hill districts. Eight communities – Chakma, Marma, Tangchangya, Tripura, Mro, Khumi, Khiyang and Chak – celebrate the festival, which displays a greater amity among themselves and a similarity in their culture and traditions. The word “Boishabi” is comprised of “Boi” from Boisuk of the Tripura, “sa” from Sangrai of the Marma, and “bi” from Bizu of the Chakma community.
April 12 is the first day of the Boishabi festival. It is called Phulbiju. The second day is Mulbiju and the third day, which coincides with the Bengali New Year Pohela Boshak, is called Gojya Pojya Din.
Pohela Boshak, the Bengali New Year’s celebrations has already turned out to be the greatest national festivity in Bangladesh. It draws hundreds of thousands surrounding Dhaka’s traditional Ramna Green, where it first started in 1997, in protest against cultural subjugation and also undermining of Poet Rabindranath Tagore during Pakistan’s first military ruler Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan.
The celebration has already gained an extraordinary mass popularity, mainly due to its non-communal character, and growing participation of the people from all strata of social life. Despite violent attacks on the festival by the radical Islamists, who consistently try to portray it as “ anti-Islamic”, the Bengali Pohela Boshak celebrations across villages and towns have achieved a unique standing, when the Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddha’s re-discover their linguistic and cultural affinity in a land, where divisive politics had caused repeated harm to the peoples united approach in past several decades.
Festival has no religion, and if it has, is humanity. This has amply demonstrated in the Boishabi of the indigenous people. Although traditionally it is more a cultural and religious, it is now growingly participated by the Bengalis, who constitute the overwhelming majority.
The district administrations of the three hill districts organise elaborate programmes to mark the celebration. However, the greater part of the festivity is done by the people who belong to the soil for centuries. Nevertheless, in both official and unofficial celebrations, hundreds of men and women in colourful attire participate dancing and singing.
According to rituals, the indigenous people celebrate Bengali New Year by holding the Sangrai water festival in which young boys and girls sprinkle water on each other. On April 13, Buddhist devotees, coming from all parts of the three districts, deliver Chhoaing (food) to the venerable monks.
People of Mro community in Bandarban district celebrate their Sankran Poi festival at Sakhoy para and remote Ruifu Mro para, where thousands gather to mark this special occasion. The Tanchangya and Chakma communities also arrange their traditional Ghila Khela to celebrate the occasion. The traditional 'Flute Dance' is also notable.
Although the indigenous people seemed not happy with the “slow implementation” of the historic Peace Agreement of 1997, which has brought down the decades-old insurgency in the Hill Tracts region, the Boishabi festival comes as a breather.
Like the celebration of the Bwisagu festival by the Bodos, Bishu festival of by the Deoris, Baikhu festival by the Rabhas in the Assamese calander month of Bohag (beginning mid-April), Spring festival is celebrted by different indigenous communties of Bangladesh in different forms, such as, Boisu of the Tripuras, Bjiu of the Chakmas, Bishu of the Tangchangya, Sangrai of the Marmas, Sankran of the Mros, Changran of the Khiayngs.
( Haroon Habib is a journalist, writer and columnst based in Dhaka )