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Beirut's Bangladeshi community celebrates New Year in style.

Summary: Hundreds of Bangladeshis from all walks of life gathered at the UNESCO Palace late last week to usher in the Bengali New Year, in festive style.

BEIRUT: Hundreds of Bangladeshis from all walks of life gathered at the UNESCO Palace late last week to usher in the Bengali New Year, in festive style. Men dressed in traditional Punjabi suits, women attired in saris and children in colorful dresses met each other warmly at the event Sunday, using the traditional greeting of the celebration, "Shubho Naboborsho," which means "Happy New Year."

Bangladesh's Ambassador to Lebanon Abdul-Motaleb Sarkar, welcomed the gathered crowds and gave a short presentation about the origins of this national holiday.

Pohela Baishakh, Bangla Naboborsho and Naba Barsha are all names that refer to the same New Year festival celebrated by the Bengali community.

Emperor Akbar of the Mughal Empire reportedly introduced the Bengali calendar in the year 1556, and the celebration of Bengali New Year began under his rule.

Today, the celebration usually held on April 14 is an essential part of Bengali tradition.

"The Bengali New Year rekindles our nationalist spirit," Sarkar told The Daily Star after her presentation.

"Halkhata," referring to the opening of the accounting book, is a common tradition practiced by many in the Bengali community during the New Year celebration. The tradition involves opening new bank accounts, since the New Year is considered a favorable time to start new projects and pay back old debts and loans.

Sarkar was keen to encourage a clean slate. "We encourage all Bangladeshis to take this New Year as an opportunity to let go of past grudges and stand together in order to improve Bangladesh."

"Our country is very diverse, we have Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and other religions living together. But on this day we all decide to put our differences aside and enjoy our day as Bangladeshis."

The Bengali New Year is a public holiday in Bangladesh, and is accompanied by singing, processions and fairs. Some of these shows include theatrical performances, while many feature folk songs.

The fairs also include stands that offer traditional outfits, makeup and handiwork -- including silk costumes, handmade journals, handbags and paintings by local artists.

Dressed in a black and red shalwar kameez Sunday, Mahmud Hussein, a Bangladeshi national working in Lebanon, gushed with pride. "It's a great day to celebrate our heritage, even when we are residing overseas," Hussein said.

Sarmeen Shafayat, another expatriate, dressed in sparkling silver, expressed nostalgia for her home. "I often miss Bangladesh terribly, however this event took me back in time to when I was a young girl living in Dhaka," she said.

"Back home, my mother and I would cook a huge feast and invite our relatives over from all over the country ... We'd paint our house, we'd cook and clean, we'd buy new clothes just for the occasion."

Last year, UNESCO recognized Mangal Shobhajatra, the spectacular annual Bangla New Year Rally organized by Dhaka University's Fine Arts faculty, as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Sunday's entertainment was less monumental but was still very much appreciated by Lebanon's sizable Bangladeshi community. Momo and Pema, two Bangladeshi singers, preformed traditional songs and danced in vibrantly colored dresses, as the crowd clapped and whistled enthusiastically, urging them on.

Platters of traditional food and sweets made the rounds, heaped with delights such as chicken puli, prepared with lots of chili and spices; batasa, a popular candy distributed at all festivals in Bangladesh; and pakon pitha, a coconut-flavored, syrup-drenched fried pastry.

Ambassador Sarkar's 7-year-old daughter, Samiha, dressed in a red sari teaming with gold and silver accessories, preformed a traditional dance as the crowd cheered her on.

With her delicately styled bun bobbing up and down to the rhythm of the music as she moved, the dancer melted the hearts of the audience.

As the song came to an end, Samiha ran down happily to the open arms of her mother, leaving behind a pleased audience.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:9BANG
Date:Apr 26, 2017
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