Culture of Bangladesh

Table of Content

Bangladesh, which is derived from the Bengali words Bangla and Desh, is the country where the Bangla language is spoken. It was formerly known as East Pakistan and is located in South Asia. Bangladesh shares borders with Burma and India and is positioned between latitudes 20° and 27°N, and longitudes 88° and 93°E. Situated in the delta of Padma (Ganges [Ganga]) and Jamuna (Brahmaputra) rivers in the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent, Bangladesh has a total area of 144,000 sq km comprising of 133,910 sq km landmass along with an additional 10,090 sq km on water.

Culture encompasses various aspects such as shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize institutions or groups. It also includes a combination of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguish one group from another. Moreover, culture embodies the overall way of life for an entire society including manners codes; language; rituals; norms of behavior; as well as systems of belief.

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Bangladesh, also referred to as the “Land of the Bengals,” is a densely populated riverine country with a majority population practicing Islam. It was formerly a part of British India’s Bengal region and constituted a province together with West Bengal, which is presently an Indian state. After India’s partition in 1947, it became East Bengal and was subsequently renamed as East Pakistan. This area was geographically isolated from the rest of Pakistan by 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of Indian territory.

In 1971, Bangladesh gained independence and chose Dhaka as its capital. The society in the country adheres to a hierarchical system that values individuals according to their age and position. Older individuals are typically regarded as wise and given respect. It is anticipated that decisions favoring the collective will be made by the most senior male, whether based on age or position. This hierarchical arrangement is also apparent in businesses, with a significant number being family-owned or operated. Most of the population in Bangladesh follows Islam.

However, many still blend this with pre-Islam folk traditions. • Bangladeshis embrace the folk traditions of Bengali culture, which involve shamanism, the abilities of fakirs (Muslim holy men who perform exorcisms and provide spiritual healing), ojhaa (shamins with magical healing powers), and Bauls (religious mendicants and traveling musicians). • Music, dance, and literature hold a significant place in the tradition, encompassing both classical devotions of Hindu and Muslim music. ? Festivals: • Islam governs numerous festivals celebrated in Bangladesh.

The festivals in Bangladesh include various religious celebrations. These consist of the two Eids (one following Ramadan and one after the Hajj), Shab-e-Qadr (the night of power), Milad un-Nabi (commemorating the birth date of Prophet Muhammad), and Shab-e-Barat (the night of fortune). Additionally, there are Hindu-influenced festivities such as Durga Puja and Kali Puja which involve community worship of Goddess Durga and Kali. It is important to note that the entire community actively participates in each other’s religious ceremonies. Bangladesh, a country with an ethnically homogeneous population, primarily consists of Bengalis who make up 98% of its people. The majority, approximately 90%, adhere to Islam; however, there are also small populations of Hindus, Christians, and Buddhists present.

The people of Bangladesh cannot be easily stereotyped due to their vast cultural diversity, multiple dialects, hybridization of social traits and norms, as well as cultural upbringing. However, they are widely recognized for their resilience. This article explores the prevalent cultural and social norms in Bangladesh.

One significant aspect of Bangladeshi culture is its linguistic affiliation. The primary language spoken in Bangladesh is Bangla or Bengali to non-natives. It belongs to the Indo-European language family and is not only spoken by Bangladeshis but also by those who share a Bengali cultural heritage. The language has a long history dating back centuries before the birth of Christ.

Language differences in Bangladesh reflect societal and religious divisions, with Bangla being divided into two distinct forms: sadhu basha, a formal and learned language, and cholit basha, a common spoken language. Sadhu basha is associated with the literate tradition, including formal essays and poetry, and is primarily used by the educated. Cholit basha, on the other hand, is the vernacular language spoken by the majority of Bengalis. Additionally, there are slight variations in vocabulary between Muslims and Hindus. A prominent symbol of national identity in Bangladesh is the Bangla language. The national flag features a dark green rectangle with a red circle positioned just left of center.

The color green symbolizes the trees and fields of the countryside, while red represents both the rising sun and the bloodshed during the 1971 war for liberation. The national anthem, which is derived from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, connects love for nature and land with national identity. In terms of food in Bangladesh, rice and fish are crucial components of the diet, and it is unimaginable to go a day without a meal based on rice. The cuisine often includes dishes made with fish, meat, poultry, and vegetables cooked in flavorful curry sauces that incorporate spices like cumin, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, and garlic. It’s worth noting that Muslims abstain from consuming pork while Hindus avoid beef.

In the morning, it is increasingly common to prepare ruti, a whole wheat circular flatbread, which is then eaten with curries from the previous night. Another important part of the diet is dal, a thin soup made from ground lentils, chickpeas, or other legumes that is poured over rice. To end a meal, it is common to have a sweet homemade yogurt. A typical meal consists of a large bowl of rice with small portions of fish and vegetable curries added. The breakfast meal varies the most and can be either rice- or bread-based. One popular breakfast dish is panthabhat, which consists of leftover cold rice mixed with gur (date palm sugar) in water or milk.

Food is typically consumed in a specific manner in this culture. It involves using the right hand to mix the curry into the rice and then gathering portions with the fingertips. However, in city restaurants that cater to foreigners, silverware may be used instead. People have three meals a day and the most common beverage is water. Before eating, it’s customary to wash the right hand with water above the eating bowl. The clean knuckles of the right hand are then used to rub the interior of the bowl, after which the water is discarded and the bowl is filled with food. After finishing the meal, one should wash their right hand again, this time holding it over the emptied bowl.

Snacks available include a variety of fruits like banana, mango, and jackfruit, as well as puffed rice and small fried food items. In urban areas and bazaars, many men rely on a cup of sweet tea with milk from a tea stall as an essential part of their daily routine, sometimes enjoying it with sweets. Food customs during special events are significant. Weddings and important holidays feature prominently in these customs. During these occasions, guests are encouraged to eat to their fullest. Biryani, a rice dish flavored with saffron and made with lamb or beef, is a common food served at weddings.

For special occasions, a higher quality and thinner-grained rice is used. If biryani is not consumed, a full multicourse meal is served in a sequential manner, with each course added to the rice bowl after finishing the previous one. A complete dinner may consist of chicken, fish, vegetable, goat, or beef curries and dal. The final portion of rice is topped with yogurt (doi). On other important occasions like the Eid holidays, an animal is slaughtered at the location and curries are made from the fresh meat. Some of the meat is distributed among relatives and the poor. Classes and castes:

The Muslim class system resembles a caste structure, with the ashraf representing the small upper class. This elite group consists of descendants of early Muslim officials and merchants, with roots in Afghanistan, Turkey, and Iran. Some ashraf families can trace their lineage back to the Prophet Mohammed. The remaining population is referred to as the atraf and is considered the indigenous majority. This division reflects the Hindu separation between the Brahman and lower castes. While educated individuals recognize both the Muslim and Hindu categories, the majority of citizens view class in a localized, rural context.

Dress serves as a prominent symbol of social stratification within this system. Men traditionally wear the lungi, a cloth tube skirt that reaches the ankles. Women typically wear the sari. However, men who perceive themselves to have high socioeconomic status deviate from this norm and wear pants and shirts instead. Loose white cotton pajama pants and a long white shirt also indicate high standing. Among men, wearing white clothing signifies an occupation that doesn’t involve physical labor.

In terms of social class, men of high status delegate the task of carrying personal items to assistants or laborers. The level of intricacy and craftsmanship in saris also signifies social standing, with finely designed fabric representing a higher position. On the other hand, poor women wear low-cost green or indigo cotton saris as a symbol of poverty. Among women, gold jewelry indicates a high social status. Wealth is demonstrated by possessing a house with concrete walls and a roof made of ceramic tiles, as well as owning a motorcycle since cars are unaffordable for most individuals. Other indicators of wealth include color televisions, telephones, and access to electricity.
Gender discrimination prevails in society where women traditionally focus on household matters and are discouraged from venturing outside without company. Consequently, their economic and social lives revolve primarily around the home, children, and family. In Islamic practice, mosque prayer is exclusively reserved for males while women fulfill their religious duties at home. Despite some women attaining significant positions in national politics, patriarchal norms dominate almost all aspects of life.

Women of average status have limited freedom of movement and their importance in education is underestimated compared to men. They are influenced by authority figures such as their father, older brother, and husband. Marriage arrangements are typically made by parents, particularly the father. Men generally marry at twenty-five years or later, whereas women get married between the ages of fifteen and twenty. Consequently, husbands usually have an age gap of at least ten years with their wives. Although Muslim culture permits polygynous unions, they are uncommon and rely on the man’s capability to sustain multiple households.

When a parent seeks a suitable spouse for their child, they have various options such as agencies, intermediaries, relatives, and friends. The key focus is on the social status and qualities of the potential partner’s family. Typically, there is a desire to achieve a balance in regards to the family’s financial situation, educational background, and religious dedication. The father can present around five or six potential partners to the child along with pertinent information about each individual. Ultimately, it is up to the child to remove unsuitable candidates from consideration, thereby narrowing down the choices for the father to make the final decision.

The finalization of an arrangement between two families involves agreeing on a dowry and deciding the types of gifts for the groom. Divorce is considered socially unacceptable, and in the Muslim community, a man can initiate divorce by saying “I divorce you” three times. However, divorces are generally avoided due to strong family pressures. Women face particular challenges in divorces as they often have to return to their parents’ home. Islamic laws state that a daughter should inherit half as much as a son.

The practice of equal distribution of property upon the death of the household head is not commonly followed in most households. Instead, sons are given an equal share of the property while daughters do not receive any inheritance. However, brothers may compensate for this by giving produce and gifts to their sisters during visits. Widows usually do not receive a portion of their husband’s property. Nevertheless, tradition dictates that sons must care for their mothers who still wield significant power within the household. Social interactions typically begin with the greeting “Assalam Waleykum” (“peace be with you”) and are met with the customary response “Waleykum Assalam” (“and with you”).

Among Hindus, the proper greeting is Nomoshkar, where the hands are brought together under the chin. Men may shake hands in the case of equal status, but they should not grip firmly. After a handshake, respect is shown by placing the right hand over the heart. Men and women do not shake hands with one another. In same-sex conversations, it is common to touch and individuals may prefer to stand or sit very close. The proximity of individuals in terms of status determines their spatial interaction.

When parting ways, the phrase Khoda Hafez is used. Language conventions are used to distinguish differences in age and status.

People of higher status are not referred to by their personal name; instead, a title or kinship term is used. When visitors arrive, they are always requested to sit down. If there are no chairs available, a low stool or a bamboo mat is given. It is considered inappropriate for a visitor to sit on the floor or ground. It is the responsibility of the host to offer guests something to eat. In crowded public places that offer services such as train stations, the post office, or bazaars, there is no practice of queuing. Getting service depends on pushing through and maintaining one’s position in the crowd.

Open staring is not considered impolite in Arts and Literature. Artists are largely self-supporting, with the best known works coming from the two poet-heroes of the region: Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nurul Islam. Tagore’s poem “Golden Bengal” was adopted as the national anthem. Some Hindu sculptors create brightly painted works depicting Durga and other deities. Drawing and painting are most prominently displayed on the backs of rickshaws and the wooden sides of trucks. Bengali music encompasses various traditions and reflects the country’s poetry.

In Bangladesh, the harmonium, tabla, and sitar are the most commonly used musical instruments. Skilled classical musicians in the country are proficient in playing rhythms and melodies that are associated with Hindu and Urdu devotional music. Eid ul Fitr is one of the social, cultural, and religious festivals celebrated by Bangladeshis to mark the end of Ramadan. This festival involves a morning prayer with fellow Muslims. Another festival called Eid ul Azha, also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, is observed to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son.

Those who have the financial means perform a ritual sacrifice of cattle in the name of God. The meat from these sacrifices is then distributed among friends, family, and those who are less fortunate. This act marks the culmination of the hajj or holy pilgrimage. Additionally, there are other significant days on the religious calendar such as Shab-e-Barat, Jamaat-ul-Wida, Shab-e-Qudr, and Muharram (Ashura). In Bangladesh, numerous traditional festivities revolve around the Bengali Year. The most important celebration is the Bengali New Year or Pawhela Boishakh which is observed with immense enthusiasm and grandeur. The accompanying image depicts a lively rally that takes place in Dhaka City during this festive occasion.

The Bengali New Year initiates at sunrise and is celebrated with singing, parades, and fairs. On this day, it is customary for businesses to begin with a new ledger, discarding the old one. Throughout the country, faiths and festivals are organized, where singers perform traditional songs to welcome the new year. Food vendors offer traditional cuisine while artisans sell handcrafted items. The Bengali Calendar, established by Mughal Emperor Akbar around 600 years ago, is derived from ancient sub-continental calendars. It was standardized and synchronized with the Islamic calendar’s start date (i.e., Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) Hejira). This solar calendar comprises six seasons themed around the region’s agricultural cycle. Pawhela Falgoon, denoting the first day of spring, is another significant traditional celebration observed nationwide. Although not an official holiday, it features various events such as spring fairs, cultural programs, and exchanges of greetings and gifts among friends and loved ones. Attendees of these festivities dress in vibrant clothing, including traditional “spring sarees” and “Panjabi.”

Other programs of the day include exchanging flowers, gifts, and ‘Rakhi-Bandhan’, as well as reciting poetry. For Janmastami, we celebrate the birth of Rama. Durgapuja (Dashomi) is a 10-day festival that commemorates the defeat of demons, specifically Rama’s victory over Ravana in the Ramayana and Durga’s triumph over the buffalo-headed Mahishasura. On this day, people clean and decorate their vehicles with flowers and leaves from mango trees. Sweets are made, and young people distribute leaves from a certain tree that symbolize gold.

One can watch the Ram Lila, a dramatic performance depicting the life of Rama. During Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Buddhists commemorate the birth and enlightenment of Buddha on Buddho Purnima, which falls on the first full moon of the Bengali month of Baishakh. Language Movement Day is a significant aspect of Bangladesh’s culture. It is observed annually on February 21 to honor the martyrs who sacrificed their lives to establish Bengali as the official language of then East Pakistan in 1952.

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Culture of Bangladesh. (2016, Oct 12). Retrieved from

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