Karam: Indigenous festival gets a spirited celebration

'Karam Puja', a major festival of the Orao -- an indigenous community living in the northern districts of Bangladesh. Young indigenous girls observed a dawn to dusk fast on the first day of the festival. In the evening they prepared special dishes for guests and kinfolk and served them after offering the food to their deities. Later they fetched branches of the Karam tree from the nearest point in a colourful procession, while boys and girls sang and danced to the beats of drums. At sunset they built an altar, where they planted the branches of the Karam tree. During the ritual, young indigenous men and women danced around the altar. The priest began the puja by reciting verses explaining the significance of the festival.  According to researchers, the Karam festival is a way of the indigenous people expressing their affinity with nature. They also pray for happy conjugal lives through the puja. The festival ended the next day with offering branches of the Karam tree to the Tangon river. The festival starts on the last day of Bhadra and ends on the first day of Ashwin, according to the Bengali calendar.

Dance Tradition in Ancient Bengal

In order to have precise notion about the advancement of a nation, there is little scope to pay indifferent look to its culture. If it is so, the acquaintance will be dim and almost meaningless. To find the answer, how much old the Bangalees as a nation and since when we have been identified as Bangalees, we need to study the disciplines of human knowledge-like anthropology, history, language, literature, culture etc. And needless to say, the scope ofculture is enormously wide-belief, behaviour, habits, dance, music and what not?
As in case of numerous branches of ancient Bengali culture, we do not get adequate information about dance. Hence, we cannot tell about ancient dance culture following the mathematical account, two and two make four. But if we pay attention to our classic literature, epigraphs, history of art we can have an idea it and the present article is based on such information.
Having information from Ramayana1 Charyagitika, Dohakosh, Ramacaritam, Pavandutam, Aryasaptasati, ragatarangini,  Sangeetamodar, Brihatdharmapuran, Bramhavaivartapurana, Orders and Psalms of Pala Sena regime and specially from terracotta and sculptures found during the Pala regime, we can deduce that the dance culture prevailed in both higher and lower classes of people in Bengal.
Bararama and woman belonging to the community of slaves to gods usually participated to dance performed in temples.
Reference to dance is also found in Charyagitika and Nathagitika, which are considered the oldest instances of Bengali literature.
The bratya dominees (lower class of women) of charyapada were expert in dance and music. kanhapadanam, one of the authors of Charyapada, writes in a verse:
ek so padma chosatti pakhuri,
tanhi chari nach o dombi bapuri.2
It means that a lotus has sixty-four petals and a dominee dance on them. Dancers of this dance as described in Charya, belonged to the class of antaja (lower class) women. They danced to recreate the mind of aristocratic people. Hence, they could take dance as their profession at the consent of the society they lived in. At that time, dance was also introduced in dramas. It can be conjectured from the context of Buddhist drama written in the charya of Binapadanam:
“nachanti bajila ga antidevi
buddha nataka bisma hoie.”3
Dancing female: Paharpur terracotta (c. 9 century A.D)
It means that Brajacharya dance the goddess sings and Buddha drama are very
difficult or hard. Kalhan says in ‘Rajatarangini’, the dance, which was performed in the Kartikeya temple at Pundravardhana (Now at Mahasthan in Bogra), totally followed the principles of Indian drama. Kalhan depicts, when Joyapeer, the king of Kashmir entered into Pundravardhana in disguise, Kamala, a familiar dancer, was dancing with hymn in the temple of Kartikeya.

parabibesh kramaynatha
nagarang Poundravardhanam
lashyang sha dristam bishat kartikeya-niketanam
bhartalugamalaksma nityagitadi mantryachit
tatadeva grihaddara shila mdhyasta saksyanam
nartaki kamalar nama
kantimantong dadarshatam4

On the other hand, in the ‘Brihatdharmapuran’ and Brahmavaibartapurana’s, dancers are described, and it is said that they belonging to the lower class of people lived on dancing and singing and they were not allowed to take part in other social activities.
The role of aristocratic class in dance culture of ancient Bengal was not negligible. It is known that Padmawati, wife of Joydeva, a familiar poet, earned much reputation as dancer in her pre-married life. Another instance in this connection may be quoted here that Behula as described in the Manasamangala, was expert in dance and music. She danced in the court of gods to save the life of her husband.
devata sobhai giya
kholkaratal laya
nachey kanya Behula nachani.5
And the gods being pleased at the dance, returned the life of Laksmindar, husband of Behula.
Govardhanacharya, a court-poet to Laksman Sena, describes the relation of music to dance in ‘Aryasaptasati’ in details. This poetical work reveals cordial feelings as expressed in gestures and postures of dancers. Lochanpandit, another court poet of Sena kings, mentions about slaves to gods and barabama in his Ragatarangini. He also mentions about ‘tambaru’, a drama from which it can be deduced that the drama was introduced with dance and music. Suvankara was one of the 111 poets as described in ‘Sangitdamodar’. It was devided in five chapters of which one chapter was totally dealt with dance.
In ancient Bengal, temples were simultaneously theater halls, where dance and music were regularly performanced. It is confirmed from some scenes about dance and music found in terracotta’s discovered at Paharpur and Mainamati Vihara in Bangladesh. These scenes of women dancing and singing represent classic dance and music.  Not only that, these scenes were drawn to present vivid picture of common and simple life. Dancing gods and goddesses and other dancers are also found in stone sculptures.
It can be said that dancing Nataraja, Ganesa, Dasavatara, and other gods and goddesses are glaring instances of the dance culture of Bangalee tradition.
If we pay deep attention, we can find that there is close relation between classic dance and traditional dance of ancient Bengal.
While introducing the complete identity of the Bangalee nationhood, we do not have the scope of attaching less importance to dance culture as we do it in case of other fields of ancient culture, otherwise it will remain incomplete.

1.    Benoykumar Sarkar, ‘The Folk Element in Hindu Culture’, New Delhi, 1972
2.    Charyapada no. 10 (kanhupadanam)
3.    Charyapada no. 17 (Visnupadam)
4.     Kalhan’s Rajatarangini, vol. v, Bengali Translation, Calcutta 1317 BS, Ps. 349.
5.    Ketakadas khemananda’s Manasamangala, Ed. Akshay Kayal & Chitra Deva, Calcutta, 1384 BS, P.273.
6.    Laksmansena Ragata­rangini, Calcutta.

Writer: Saifuddin Chowdhury, Professor of Folklore, Rajshahi University

Marriage culture of Bangladesh

Bangladesh has a long history in its cultures. The land, the rivers, and the lives of the Bengali people formed a rich heritage with marked differences from neighbouring regions. It has evolved over the centuries and encompasses the cultural diversity of several social groups of Bangladesh. The Bengal Renaissance of the 19th and early 20th centuries, noted Bengali writers, saints, authors, scientists, researchers, thinkers, music composers, painters, and film-makers have played a significant role in the development of Bengali culture. The Bengal Renaissance contained the seeds of a nascent political Indian nationalism and was the precursor in many ways to modern Indian artistic and cultural expression. The culture of Bangladesh is composite and over the centuries has assimilated influences of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. It is manifested in various forms, including music, dance, and drama; art and craft; folklore and folktale; languages and literature; philosophy and religion; festivals and celebrations; as well as in a distinct cuisine and culinary tradition.

Wedding / Marriage
Bengali wedding (Bengali: বিয়ে,বিবাহ) includes many rituals and ceremonies that can span several days. Although Muslim and Hindu marriages have their distinctive religious rituals, there are many common Bengali rituals in weddings across both West Bengal and Bangladesh

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 which is called 'Mahr' or 'Kabin' to be paid by the groom to the bride - which is a religious requirement.

Bengali weddings are traditionally in four parts: the bride's gaye holud, the groom's gaye holud, the wedding ceremony, and the reception. These often take place on separate days. The first event in a wedding is an informal one: the groom presents the bride with a ring marking the "engagement" which is gaining popularity. This can sometimes be considered as Ashirwaad.

A Bengali Hindu Marriage can be divided into the following parts:
Pre-wedding Rituals: Adan Pradan, Patri Patra, Ashirvad, Aai Budo Bhaat, Vridhi, Dodhi Mangal, Holud Kota, Adhibas Tatva, Kubi Patta, Snan, Saankha Porano
 Wedding Rituals: Bor Boron, Potto Bastra, Saat Paak, Mala Badal, Subho Drishti, Sampradan, Yagna, Saat Pak (couple), Anjali, Sindur Daan and Ghomta
Post-Wedding Rituals: Bashar Ghar, Bashi Biye, Bidaye, Bou Boron, Kaal Ratri, Bou Bhaat, Phool Sajja, Dwira Gaman

The turmeric ceremonies or gaye holud (Bengali: গায়ে হলুদ gaee holud, lit. "yellowing the body") take place before the wedding ceremony. There is one turmeric ceremony for the bride and one for the groom. For the bride's gaye holud, the groom's family - except the groom himself - go in procession to the bride's home. They carry with them the bride's wedding outfit, wedding decoration including turmeric paste and henna, sweetmeats and gifts. They also take two large fish decorated as a groom and bride. There are local variations on this tradition, such as the number of fish, the party responsible for cooking the fish and time the fish is taken to the groom'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 colour. 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 turmeric paste is applied by the bride's friends to her body. This is said to soften the skin, but also colours her with the distinctive yellow hue that gives its name to this ceremony. The sweets are then fed to the bride by all involved, piece by piece. There is, of course, a feast for the guests. The groom's gaye holud comes next, and has the same form as the bridal ceremony

The wedding ceremony (Bengali: বিবাহ or বিয়ে bibaho/bie) follows the gaye holud ceremonies. As the wedding ceremony is arranged by the bride's family, much of the traditions revolve around embarrassing the groom. The groom, along with his friends and family, traditionally arrive later than the bride's side. As they arrive, the younger members of the bride's family barricade the entrance to the venue, demanding money from the groom in return for allowing him to enter. There is a bargaining between groom and the bride's family members on the amount of money of the admission. There is typically much good-natured pushing and shoving involved. Another custom is for the bride's younger siblings, friends, and cousins to conceal the groom's shoes for money; to get them back the groom must usually pay off the children. Siblings, friends and cousins also play many practical jokes on the groom.

For a Hindu wedding, a priest asks the couple to chant mantras from the holy texts that formalises the following: Kanya sampradaan (Bengali: কন্যাসম্প্রদান konnasomprodan lit. "giving the bride"): the ceremonial giving away of the bride by the father of the bride. Saat Paake Ghora Bengali: সাত পাকে ঘোরা (The couple walks round the ceremonial fire seven times.)''

For a Muslim wedding, the bride and groom are seated separately, and a kazi (person authorized by the government to perform the wedding), accompanied by the parents and a witness (Bengali: ওয়াকিল wakil) from each side formally asks the bride for her consent to the union, and then the groom for his.

At this time, for Muslim weddings, the amount of the dowry or mahr is verified, and if all is well, the formal papers are signed, and the couple are seated side by side on a dais. The bride's veil (Bengali: ওরনা or ঘোমটা orna/ghomṭa) is draped over both the bride and groom, and a mirror is placed in front of them. The groom is then supposed to say something romantic on what he sees in the mirror—notionally the first time he has laid eyes on his bride. A traditional answer is to say that he has seen the moon. The bride and groom then feed each other sweets, while the bride's family members try to push the groom's face into the food. All the guests then celebrate the union with a feast.

In Hindu marriages on the day of the marriage (after wedding ceremony is over), close friends and relatives remain awake for the entire night. This is called the Basor Raat. Generally the day on which wedding is held Basor Raat starts after midnight if the wedding ceremony is over by evening. Most Hindu Bengali marriages happen in the evening. The next day, preferably before noon, the couple make their way from the venue to the groom's home, where a bridal room has been prepared.

The reception, also known as the Bou Bhaat (Bengali: বউ ভাত lit. "bride feast") or walima (Bengali: ওয়ালিমা) among Muslims, is a party given by the groom's family in return for the wedding ceremony. It is generally a much more relaxed affair, with only the second-best wedding outfit being worn. Unlike in the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom act as a couple at the reception; the bride and groom arrive together, receive and see off guests together, and dine together. After the party, the bride and groom go to the bride's family house for two nights. On the second day, the groom's family are invited to the bride's family house for a meal, and they leave with the bride and groom. This meal is called firani.

In the flower bed ceremony (Bengali: ফুল শয্যা ful shôjja, lit. "flower bed"), the bride wears a lot of floral ornaments and their marriage bed is decorated with flowers by the groom's family. This is the night of consummation. In Muslim marriages, this takes place on the night of the wedding. In Hindu marriages, this takes place on the night of the reception.

Bangladesh: Family, household, kinship and marriage

Family and kinship are the core of social life in Bangladesh. A family group residing in a bari functions as the basic unit of economic endeavor, landholding, and social identity. In the eyes of rural people, the chula defined the effective household—--an extended family exploiting jointly-held property and being fed from a jointly operated kitchen. A bari might consist of one or more such functional households, depending on the circumstances of family relationship. Married sons generally live in their parents' household during the father's lifetime. Although sons usually build separate houses for their nuclear families, they remain under their fathers' authority, and wives under their mothers-in-law's authority. The death of the father usually precipitates the separation of adult brothers into their own households. Such a split generally causes little change in the physical layout of the bari, however. Families at different stages of the cycle display different configurations of household membership.

Patrilineal ties dominate the ideology of family life, but in practice matrilineal ties are almost as important. Married women provide especially important links between their husbands' brothers' families. Brothers and sisters often visit their brothers' households, which are in fact the households of their deceased fathers. By Islamic law, women inherit a share of their fathers' property and thus retain a claim on the often scanty fields worked by their brothers. By not exercising this claim, however, they do their brothers the important service of keeping the family lands in the patrilineal line and thus ensure themselves a warm welcome and permanent place in their brothers' homes.

A woman begins to gain respect and security in her husband's or father-in-law's household only after giving birth to a son. Mothers therefore cherish and indulge their sons, while daughters are frequently more strictly disciplined and are assigned heavy household chores from an early age. In many families the closest, most intimate, and most enduring emotional relationship is that between mother and son. The father is a more distant figure, worthy of formal respect, and the son's wife may remain a virtual stranger for a long time after marriage.

Marriage is a civil contract rather than a religious sacrament in Islam (see Islamic marriage contract), and the parties to the contract represent the interests of families rather than the direct personal interests of the prospective spouses. In Bangladesh, parents ordinarily select spouses for their children, although men frequently exercise some influence over the choice of their spouses. In middle-class urban families men negotiate their own marriages. Only in the most sophisticated elite class does a woman participate in her own marriage arrangements. Marriage generally is made between families of similar social standing, although a woman might properly marry a man of somewhat higher status. Financial standing came to outweigh family background in the late 20th century in any case. Often a person with a good job in a Middle Eastern country is preferred over a person of highly regarded lineage.

Marriages are often preceded by extensive negotiations between the families of the prospective bride and groom. One of the functions of the marriage negotiations is to reduce any discrepancy in status through financial arrangements. The groom's family ordinarily pledges the traditional cash payment, or bride-price, part or all of which can be deferred to fall due in case of divorce initiated by the husband or in case the contract is otherwise broken. As in many Muslim countries, the cash payment system provides women some protection against the summary divorce permitted by Islam. Some families also adopt the Hindu custom of providing a dowry for the bride.

Of the total population in 1981, an estimated 34 million were married. A total of 19 million citizens of marriageable age were single or had never married, 3 million were widowed, and 322,000 were divorced. Although the majority of married men (10 million) had only one wife, there were about 580,000 households, between 6 and 10 percent of all marriages, in which a man had two or more wives.

Although the age at marriage appeared to be rising in the 1980s, early marriage remained the rule even among the educated, and especially among women. The mean age at marriage in 1981 for males was 23.9, and for females 16.7. Women students frequently married in their late teens and continued their studies in the households of their fathers-in-law. Divorce, especially of young couples without children, was becoming increasingly common in Bangladesh, with approximately one in six marriages ending in this fashion in the 1980s.

Typical spouses know each other only slightly, if at all, before marriage. Although marriages between cousins and other more distant kin occur frequently, segregation of the sexes generally keep young men and women of different households from knowing each other well. Marriage functions to ensure the continuity of families rather than to provide companionship to individuals, and the new bride's relationship with her mother-in-law is probably more important to her well-being than her frequently impersonal relationship with her husband.

HIZRA (Transgender) : a community within community

In the culture of South Asia, hijras (Hindi: हिजड़ा, Urdu: ہِجڑا‎, Bengali: হিজড়া, Kannada: ಹಿಜಡಾ, Telugu: హిజ్ర Punjabi ਹਿਜਰਅ) or chhakka in Kannada, khusra - ਕੁਸਅਰਅ in Punjabi and kojja in Telugu are physiological males who have feminine gender identity, women's clothing and other feminine gender roles. Hijras have a long recorded history in the Indian subcontinent, from antiquity, as suggested by the Kama Sutra period onwards. This history features a number of well-known roles within subcontinental cultures, part gender-liminal, part spiritual and part survival.

In South Asia, many hijras live in well-defined, organized, all-hijra communities, led by a guru. These communities have sustained themselves over generations by "adopting" young boys who are rejected by, or flee their family of origin. Many work as sex workers for survival. The word hijra is a Hindi-Urdu word, derived from the Arabic root hjr in its sense of "leaving one's tribe," and has been borrowed into Hindi. The Indian usage has traditionally been translated into English as "eunuch" or "hermaphrodite," where "the irregularity of the male genitalia is central to the definition." However, in general hijras are born with typically male physiology, only a few having been born with male intersex variations. Some Hijras undergo an initiation rite into the hijra community called nirwaan, which refers to the removal of penis, testicles and scrotum.

Since the late 20th century, some hijra activists and Western non-government organizations (NGOs) have been lobbying for official recognition of the hijra as a kind of "third sex" or "third gender," as neither man nor woman.

The Urdu and Hindi word hijra may alternately be romanized as hijira, hijda, hijada, hijara, hijrah and is pronounced [ˈɦɪdʒɽaː]. This term is generally considered derogatory in Urdu and the word Khwaja Saraa is used instead. Another such term is khasuaa (खसुआ) or khusaraa (खुसरा). In Bengali hijra is called হিজড়া, hijra, hijla, hijre, hizra, or hizre.

A number of terms across the culturally and linguistically diverse Indian subcontinent represent similar sex or gender categories. While these are rough synonyms, they may be better understood as separate identities due to regional cultural differences. In Telugu, a hijra is referred to as napunsakudu (నపుంసకుడు), kojja (కొజ్జ) or maada (మాడ). In Tamil Nadu the equivalent term is Thiru nangai (mister woman), Ali, aravanni, aravani, or aruvani. In Punjabi, both in Pakistan and India, the term khusra is used. Other terms include jankha. In Gujarati they are called pavaiyaa (પાવૈયા). In Urdu another common term is khwaaja sira (خواجه سرا).

In North India the goddess Bahuchara Mata is worshipped by Pavaiyaa (પાવૈયા). In South India, the goddess Renuka is believed to have the power to change one's sex. Male devotees in female clothing are known as Jogappa. They perform similar roles to hijra, such as dancing and singing at birth ceremonies and weddings.

The word kothi (or koti) is common across India, similar to the Kathoey of Thailand, although kothis are often distinguished from hijras. Kothis are regarded as feminine men or boys who take a feminine role in sex with men, but do not live in the kind of intentional communities that hijras usually live in. Additionally, not all kothis have undergone initiation rites or the body modification steps to become a hijra. Local equivalents include durani (Kolkata), menaka (Cochin), meti (Nepal), and zenana (Pakistan).

Hijra used to be translated in English as "eunuch" or "hermaphrodite," although LGBT historians or human rights activists have sought to include them as being transgender.

Gender and sexuality
These identities have no exact match in the modern Western taxonomy of gender and sexual orientation, and challenge Western ideas of sex and gender. Most are born apparently male, but some may be intersex (with ambiguous genitalia). They are often perceived as a third sex, and most see themselves as neither men nor women. However, some may see themselves (or be seen as) females, feminine males or androgynes. Some, especially those who speak English and are influenced by international discourses around sexual minorities, may identify as transgender or transsexual women. Unlike some Western transsexual women, hijras generally do not attempt to pass as women. Reportedly, few have genital modifications, although some certainly do, and some consider nirwaan ("castrated") hijras to be the "true" hijras.

A male who takes a "receptive" or feminine role in sex with a man will often identify as a kothi (or the local equivalent term). While kothis are usually distinguished from hijras as a separate gender identity, they often dress as women and act in a feminine manner in public spaces, even using feminine language to refer to themselves and each other. The usual partners of hijras and kothis are masculine men, whose gender identity is as a "normal" male who penetrates. These male partners are often married, and any relationships or sex with "kothis" or hijras are usually kept secret from the community at large. Some hijras may form relationships with men and even marry, although their marriage is not usually recognized by law or religion. Hijras and kothis often have a name for these masculine sexual or romantic partners; for example, panthi in Bangladesh, giriya in Delhi or sridhar in Cochin.

Social status and economic circumstances
Most hijras live at the margins of society with very low status; the very word "hijra" is sometimes used in a derogatory manner. Few employment opportunities are available to hijras. Many get their income from performing at ceremonies, begging, or sex work—an occupation of eunuchs also recorded in premodern times. Violence against hijras, especially hijra sex workers, is often brutal, and occurs in public spaces, police stations, prisons, and their homes. As with transgender people in most of the world, they face extreme discrimination in health, housing, education, employment, immigration, law, and any bureaucracy that is unable to place them into male or female gender categories.

Beginning in 2006, hijras were engaged to accompany Patna city revenue officials to collect unpaid taxes, receiving a 4-percent commission. Hijras are often encountered on streets, trains, and other public places demanding money from people. If refused, the hijra may attempt to embarrass the man into giving money, using obscene gestures, profane language, and even sexual advances. In India for example, threatening to open their private parts in front of the man if he does not donate something. Hijras also perform religious ceremonies at weddings and at the birth of male babies, involving music, singing, and sexually suggestive dancing. These are intended to bring good luck and fertility. Although hijras are most often uninvited, the host usually pays the hijras a fee. Many fear the hijras' curse if they are not appeased, bringing bad luck or infertility, but for the fee they receive, they can bless goodwill and fortune on to the newly born. Hijras are said to be able to do this because, since they do not engage in sexual activities, they accumulate their sexual energy which they can use to either bestow a boon or a bane.

Hijras can also come as an invitee to one's home, and their wages can be very high for the services they perform. Supposedly, they can give insight into future events as well bestow blessings for health. Hijras that perform these services can make a very good living if they work for the upper classes.

The ancient Kama Sutra mentions the performance of fellatio by feminine people of a third sex (tritiya prakriti). This passage has been variously interpreted as referring to men who desired other men, so-called eunuchs ("those disguised as males, and those that are disguised as females"), male and female transvestites ("the male takes on the appearance of a female and the female takes on the appearance of the male"), or two kinds of biological males, one dressed as a woman, the other as a man.

During the era of the British Raj, authorities attempted to eradicate hijras, whom they saw as "a breach of public decency." Anti-hijra laws were repealed; but a law outlawing castration, a central part of the hijra community, was left intact, though rarely enforced. Also during British rule in India they were placed under Criminal Tribes Act 1871 and labelled a "criminal tribe," hence subjected to compulsory registration, strict monitoring and stigmatized for a long time; after independence however they were denotified in 1952, though the centuries-old stigma continues. Recently campaigns have emerged with the intent of protecting the hijras from persecution. Raheed Patel, known locally in the hijra community as Pineapple Andy Kaid, has been quite active in this quest and the push to recognize marriage amongst the hijra. A hijra polygamist himself, Mr. Kaid has lobbied in earnest for the hijra cause.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hijra_%28South_Asia%29