Blaze of 'Boisabi' colour | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 13, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:01 AM, April 24, 2015

Blaze of 'Boisabi' colour

Indigenous fest in hills welcomes Bangla New Year
Tamanna Khan and Sanjoy Barua

Noboborsho, Boisuk, Biju, Bisu, Sangrain, Klubong Plai, Hongorani, Baha, Faguya -- the names are different in different languages but they all stand for one occasion and one occasion only: the celebration of New Year in Bangladesh.

With the hope of a peaceful and prosperous year ahead, overcoming the failures and sorrows of the past, different ethnic groups -- including Bangalee, Tripura, Chakma, Chak, Tanchangya, Marma, Rakhine, Mro, Hajong, Santal and Orao -- indulge in festivities.

While the Bangalees celebrate Pahela Baishakh (the first day of the Bangla calendar) on April 14, the indigenous communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts exalt in Boisabi around the same time.

On Boisabi --  a term formed by the first syllables of Tripura festival Boisuk, Marma's Sangrain and Chakma festival Biju or Tanchangya's Bisu -- the merriments in the hills in fact begin two to three days before April 14 and continues for as long as the whole week in some communities.

"We start the celebrations on the second last day of the month of Chaitra [the 12th month of the Bangla calendar] and we call it the Ful Biju," said Bijoy Ketan Chakma, convener of MN Larma Memorial Foundation and vice president of Adivasi Forum, Rangamati.

People get up early in the morning, bathe in chharas (small streams), float flowers to worship the god of water and pray for a beautiful and holy life like flowers, he said.

According to an article by indigenous researcher Kumar Pritish Bol, young people also bathe the elders with water from the streams as a gesture of respect, as part of the Ful Biju rituals.

"We call the last day of Chaitra Mul Biju and spend it by exchanging greetings, visiting friends and relatives and entertaining guests with food and drinks," said Bijoy.

"Pajon, a dish made with as many vegetables as one can get, is a specialty of the day," he said, adding that sometimes dried sea fish or shark jerky is mixed to add flavour.

"Mida Dagra, a sweet drink made from rice is another popular homemade preparation for the occasion.

"The first day of the year is called 'Goijjya Poijjya' which means lying down and resting. It is celebrated with the hope that the rest of the year will also be spent in joy and relaxation," he went on.

"However, things have changed over the years," said Bijoy, reminiscing how in his childhood he would start the first day of the new year by feeding the cattle and fowls and paying homage to all the elders of the neighbourhood.

The flower ritual is also common among the Chaks.

"We call is Teng Chhoye,'' said Uching Nue Chak, a young doctor from Bandarban's Chak community. "We clean our houses and decorate them with flowers as part of the ritual."

For the Marma and the Rakhine communities, who follow the Moghi or Burmese calendar, the New Year celebration lasts four days.

Nonagenarian Kyaw Swe Prue Marma of Bandarban's Ujani Para said, "The New Year celebrations started in the early nineteenth century and according the Burmese calendar, the upcoming year would be 1377."

The popular water festival called Sangrain Poye or Thangrain begins on the second day when men and women splash each other with water, in a symbolic gesture of washing away the sins and sorrows of the past year, he said.

"To the Marma people, rain symbolises respect, prosperity and blessings. By spraying water on each other, they not only mean to shake off the sorrows of the past year, but also pray for peace and prosperity of mankind in the year ahead," Kyaw Swe said.

"On the first day, we bathe statues of the Buddha with sandalwood water, light lanterns in the temples and offer our prayers," said Aung Rakhine, an independent filmmaker.

"People whose birthdates are on the first day of the year are considered special and they have to perform some special prayers with flowers at the temple of Buddha and offer food," said Aung.

Though the Bom follow the Gregorian calendar, they do not miss out on the merriment.

"Everyone in the neighbourhood joins the celebrations and it is an occasion to meet your friends," said musician Jemson Amlai, while on his way home in Bandarban from Dhaka.

"I have a programme on the 12th. It is the first time the Jumma Underground Band Community is organising a concert at the Khudranrigoshthi Sangsritik Institute auditorium in Rangamati," said the artiste.

Chhoton Tanchangya left for his home in the hill districts a week before the celebrations as he did not want to miss out on their traditional sport Ghila Khela, held on the New Year's day.

"It becomes very hard to get bus tickets to the hill region during this time of the year as most people of the indigenous communities head home to be with their friends and families," he said.

New Year celebration Hongorani of Hajong and Garo, two indigenous communities of the plains, coincide with the Bangla New Year, according to an article by researcher-writer Sanjeeb Drong, also general secretary of Adivasi Forum.

But the Santals and the Oraos celebrate their New Year festival -- Baha or Faguya -- with the advent of spring, wrote indigenous researcher Pritish Bol in his article.

Despite this slight difference in timing, the New Year is one occasion when the joy of celebration takes a universal shape in Bangladesh, transcending religious, ethnic, language and cultural boundaries.

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