Though the coronavirus pandemic has marred all celebrations over the past two years, the touch of spring is evident everywhere, even in the greenery that peeks through the concrete jungle of the cities.
Pahela Phalgun, or the first day of spring according to the Bengali calendar, has fallen on the same day as Valentine’s Day, which is a celebration of love across the world. Though not on the same scale, the arrival of spring is being heralded with music and laughter in Dhaka.
The Jatiya Basanta Udjapon Parishad has arranged a programme at the Suhrawardy Udyan to celebrate the day. The traditional spring festival organised every year at the Faculty of Fine Arts of Dhaka University has been cancelled this year because of the pandemic.
The festival began with ‘Bengal Music’ performing at the open stage in Suhrawardy Udyan starting at 7 am and continuing until 10 am.
The event included poetry recitations, music, songs, dances, performances by indigenous groups and a discussion titled ‘Basanta Kathon.’
“We’ve scaled down the celebration due to the pandemic. Usually, we hold a day-long event at Bakul Tala. Other programmes were also organised at Rabindra Sarobar, Bahadur Shah Park and Uttara. This time, there’s only one central event at the Suhrawardy Udyan,” said Shafiuddin Ahmed, president of the Jatiya Basanta Udjapon Parishad.
They organised the programme amid the pandemic, as people are quite enthusiastic to celebrate spring, he said.
“The festival is a popular one, beloved by all, just like the Pahela Baishakh.”
Pahela Phalgun, or the first day of spring, has had an added dimension because it has coincided with Valentine’s Day for the past two years, he said.
“You see women clad in yellow sarees in the morning and red in the evening. We call it a spring of love.”
All festivals try to connect people with each other and bring them close, said Prof Nisar Hossain, dean of the Fine Arts Faculty.
“Humans are called ‘unsocial’ when they stay away from each other. COVID is such a disease that requires people to maintain social distancing. It’s an irony,” he said.
“We look forward to the day when we can resume celebrating all festivals without maintaining social distancing.”
In 1585, Mughal Emperor Akbar introduced the Bengali calendar and a tradition of celebrating 14 festivals throughout the year. The spring festival was one of them.
Bangladesh began to celebrate the Basanta Utsab or spring festival in the 1990s. The cultural revolution that emerged during the anti-autocracy movement led to the celebration of the spring festival at a limited scale at Bakul Tala.
Later in the Bengali year of 1401, the Jatiya Basanta Utsab Parishad began formal celebrations of the day in Dhaka.
The pandemic has left its mark everywhere and people have lost their loved ones, said Sangeeta Imam, a member of the Utsab Parishad. “But nature lives on, moving at its own pace. Following the cycle of seasons, spring has appeared in our lives to spread the colours of happiness,” she said.
“For the people in this part of the world, spring is the season of mirth and movement. It was in spring that Bengalis shed their blood in demand of their mother language. It was the time that the struggle for independence started. Finally, it was in spring that the movement to demand the trials of war criminals took place.”
She said the Parishad has been spreading the happiness and love of spring among the people for the past 28 years.
“Now we don’t have to tell anyone that spring is here; they adorn themselves with garlands of marigolds. You step outside and you’ll realise it’s Pahela Phalgun,” she said.
Tarupallab, an organisation of nature lovers celebrates a ‘Madhabi Boron’ festival at Ramna Park every year. The celebration was cancelled this year due to the surge in coronavirus cases, said Mokaram Hossain, general secretary of Tarupallab.
“We used to organise the festival in Ramna to introduce Madhabi or Modhumanjari flowers to everyone. The nature lovers used to gather in Ramna, where those flowers blossom.”
He said that climate change has hampered the balance of nature and therefore, the spring season.
“The winter is not cold enough, and there’s no continuity in weather patterns. In some places, the spring flowers blossomed 15-20 days before the expected time. Also, in some places, they were destroyed in untimely rain. Altogether, nature has lost its balance.”
Nevertheless, nature will celebrate spring in its own way. The southern breeze, the calls by cuckoo birds, the blaring red hues of Ashok, Palash and Shimul flowers and the bees buzzing over the blooms will show everyone that spring has arrived.