On Thursday, April 12, 2018, contributing writer, Moraima Bambaren, joins young professionals at the Embassy of Bangladesh for a ThingstodoDC Culture event that celebrates Pahela Baishakh, the traditional New Year day of the Bengali people.
I was lucky enough to attend Pahela Baishakh, the traditional New Year Festival of Bangladesh, held at Embassy of Bangladesh (3510 International Dr NW, Washington, DC 20008). As part of my New Year’s resolution to take full advantage of all the cultural events DC has to offer, I knew the Embassy of Bangladesh would be a great start!
I learned so much about the culture and even learned how to say Happy New Year or Shubho Nabobarsho!
This year’s Pahela Baishakh will be celebrated on April 14 in Bangladesh and on April 15th in the Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura. The festival is traditionally celebrated with processions, fairs and family time. In fact, Mangal Shovajatra, a mass procession that begins at dawn on the first day of the Bengali New Year, was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2016. In lieu of a procession, the embassy gifted attendees with several performances that celebrated the rich tradition of Bengali music and dance. Beautifully dressed women and girls took over the main stage after the ambassador’s greeting to the guests, giving way to other artists who sang and performed for the delighted crowd.
This year, Pahela Baishakh was celebrated on April 14th in Bangladesh, and on April 15th in the Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura. The festival is traditionally celebrated with processions, fairs and family time. In fact, Mangal Shovajatra, a mass procession that begins at dawn on the first day of the Bengali New Year, was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2016. In lieu of a procession, the embassy gifted us with several performances that celebrated the rich tradition of Bengali music and dance.
For those of us who are unfamiliar with Bangladesh, here is a course on history 101: Located in South Asia and bordering with India and Myanmar, Bangladesh formed part of British India up until the partition in 1947. It then became a province of Pakistan and eventually became an independent nation in 1971. Their culture is immensely rich due to its long history in the region and enthusiasts can find influences of Islam, Hindusim, Buddhism and Christianity in their music, dance, art and craft, language and festivals.
Women, men and children were dressed in magnificent, colorful garments: men wearing smart dhoti kurta, women and girls in bright saris; I apparently missed the memo and wore a simple blue jumpsuit from J. Crew. After the ambassador’s greetings to the guests, several artists took over the main stage and performed traditional dances and songs for the delighted crowd.
As you can see above everything was just colorful. The clothing, children’s arts and crafts and decoration was vibrant. After the dancing and music ended, it was time to eat. The culinary fare of Bangladesh has similarities to North-East Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. On Pahela Baishakh, Bengali natives enjoyed festive foods that include panta bhat (watered rice), and Hilsha dishes – Hilsha is the national fish of Bangladesh and is incredibly popular in South Asia.
I have to confess I don’t normally like spicy food and the few times I have been to restaurants that served South Asian or Middle Eastern food, I ended up eating the naan, which in my opinion is one of the best breads out there. But because of the few libations I had at the open bar, I knew I had to eat something and the food smelled delicious! And I’m so glad I did! I ate slightly spicy rice, baked eggplants and fish. Other guests savored the food as you can see below. Plates were packed with food!
In addition, I was also lucky to meet Ambassador Mohammad Ziauddin, who emphasized in his speech towards the packed crowd, how the rapid growth of Bangladesh in the international political and economic sector.
It was definitely a happy celebration and now that spring is (almost) here, I look forward to exploring the world by attending and writing about more embassy events in the comfort of my new home city: Washington D.C.
Love to wanderlust? Ever want to step onto foreign soil for a night? Join ThingstodoDC Cultural Society to get a remarkable privilege of visiting various Embassies throughout the District.
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