Custom the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians of Bangladesh observe religious and social rites as prescribed by their scriptures. But alongside they also observe many traditional rites and ceremonies. The popular saying that there are thirteen rites in twelve months is a mere saying. In fact the number of such rites is innumerable. These rites are usually based on lunar days, months and seasons. Behind these are mainly blind faiths in supernaturalism and superstitions. When some rituals are added to these faiths they take the form of religious ceremonies. Since pre-historic and historic times, a large number of ceremonies and social rites have risen around the blind faiths and inhibitions of many segments of people. An analysis of the occasions, arrangements, tools and rituals indicates a fair link with the ceremonies and beliefs of the aborigines. Human life revolves round a host of suspicions and fears, expectations and gains and blessings and good wishes. Alongside, there is the coexistence of man and supernatural power. Man does not find peace of mind unless the celestial, physical and supernatural powers are revered and pleased to secure protection from their anger. The various rites and ceremonies have arisen in the folk society out of the people's belief in the supernatural power and concern for their own welfare. The rites based on scriptures reflect concern for both worlds while the folk rites reflect the hopes and aspirations for this world only. In observing folk culture the role of women is more prominent. At certain ceremonies even the presence of men is a taboo, let alone their participation. The folk rites can be regional or universal. A universal practice is celebrating with a great deal of joy the arrival of new rice in the house. A purely local or regional rite is 'hudma dewa' for inviting rain celebrated by the Koch women in rangpur. The folk rites reveal the nation's past history and varied elements of cultural, social and anthropological traits. The folk rites prevalent in Bangladesh can be divided into three categories such as men, animals and agriculture.
Human at every step of life, human being faces dangers and difficulties, sufferings and sorrows and misfortunes and pains. But they want a life of safety, security and peace. In seeking security and peace people have for ages been erecting rites and customs. The folk rites of Bangladesh have primarily been erected around stages of childbirth, marriage and death. Every human being wants children basically for continuity of the family and its safety. The rites mainly concern safe birth of a child, his smooth growth and his future well-being. Most rites have an influence of supernatural power. It is generally thought that the rites concerning childbirth have grown out of women's weak psychology. These rites can be divided into three categories ' prenatal, natal and postnatal.
Marriage Muslim marriages are solemnized according to Islamic shariat by way of izab qobul, khutba and kabin-nama while Hindu marriages are solemnized according to Hindu scripture by way of reciting mantras, bestowal and exchange of garlands. Through these rites men and women gain the right to enjoy conjugal life. All other ceremonies are folk culture. In some cases folk culture is stronger than religious culture and to many people marriage ceremonies remain incomplete without observing folk culture. Hindu marriage ceremonies are more elaborate and colourful than the Muslim ceremonies. The Hindus observe their ceremonies with considerable devotion. Beginning with the selection of grooms and brides through matchmakers and ending with the return of the bride from her parents' house to the house of her in-laws there are a host of ceremonies that may be described as follows:
Pre-wedding panchini, ashirbad, dhenki baran, dindhora khodani, thubra khawa, aiburo bhat, haria utsargo, gaye holud, mehedi tola, khir chakhano, khatta bhabgano, groom/bride snan, kolai mobgola, logon khela, pani bharon, furul doba, odhibas, borshajja and boron dala.
Wedding maroa shajano, borboron, hangor dhora, kalema/mantrapath, ijab qobul, pandop prodokkhin, kone singrano, gnatchora bandha, shuvodrishti/ sha'nazar, malabadal, sindur dan, panch gelassi, kannya viday.
Post-wedding bodhu boron, korikhela, pashakhela, basharghar-kovchon, basharjaga, phulsajja, bashi gosol, kholabhabga, dhanjhara, boubhat, bounachano, boufirani, ashtomobgola, bhador-katani.
In observing wedding rites, care is taken of do's and don'ts as there exist various customs, taboos, blind faiths and play of supernatural powers. The presence of widows at wedding ceremonies is regarded as undesirable and inauspicious. Women with their husbands alive conduct all ceremonies. Red colour, green bangles and white conch shells are regarded as symbols of good luck. The wicker-tray holding welcome gifts must contain a red saree and a red ribbon. Some items have anthropological and psychological significance. For instance, yellow colour enhances beauty and keeps ill omens off; sindur and lac-dye are symbols of blood or menstrual secretion; rings, cowries and bananas are symbols of sex organs of men and women; a pitcher filled with water and a green coconut are symbols of a pregnant woman; and fishes, banana plants and grasses are symbols of fertility.
Diseases although it is generally known that diseases are caused primarily by germs, many people believe there is a supernatural power behind every disease. In this matter Hindus and Muslims have identical beliefs. The deity for cholera is Oladevi or Olabibi, the deity for smallpox is Shitola and the deity for skin diseases is Ghentu. People believe that by praying before them and making vows in their names they can ward off the diseases. So they never tire out trying to earn security of life by pleasing the deities. The Muslims turned Oladevi into Olabibi, Banodurga into Banobibi and Dakkhin Roy into Gazipir. The foundation for such beliefs and superstitions is so strong that despite the spread of modern medicine people in the villages still adhere to them. Added to this is the prevalence of charms and using herbs for treatment. The bawalis, woodcutters and fishermen of southern Bangladesh vow offerings in the names of Gazipir or Banobibi before they enter the Sunder bans. Gazipir is the holy spirit of the tigers and Banobibi is the deity for the forest. It is believed security of life from the ferocious animals can be earned by vowing offerings to them. Live roosters are offered to Banobibi following the dictum of 'life for life'. This rooster is not killed by anyone.
Death There are many rites in respect of treating the dead and seeking peace for their souls. Islam does not speak of rebirth of human beings but speaks of their resurrection on the day of judgment where they will be sent to paradise or hell in terms of their deeds on earth. Similar rewards or punishments are also provided in Christianity. The bodies of Muslims and Christians are buried under earth. According to Hindu scriptures, human beings undergo repeated births and suffer pains and sorrows or enjoy peace and happiness according to their deeds. Bodies of the Hindus are burnt in fire. The aborigines believe that death is not the end of life. They worship their ancestors and observe many rites to satisfy their souls. Many of them believe that land's fertility enhances if the ashes of their burnt bones are spread over the field.
Agriculture and crops Bangladesh is an agricultural country. The social, economic and cultural life of its people is regulated by agriculture. The agricultural practices have their origins in the ancient past. In those days there was no irrigation of the modern kind. The use of fertilizers, embankments and pesticides was unknown. The farmers had no alternative to depending on nature and praying to deities for blessings. The fertile soil of this country and its climate are highly suitable for agriculture. But at times droughts, excessive rains, floods and pests cause harm to farming and damage crops. For obvious reasons people have built up their rites and practices according to time, such as 1. to invite rain 2. to stop rain 3. to tilling of soil, 4. planting of seeds 5. protecting crops and harvesting. These are all season-oriented. In different areas of the country the farmers observe brishtir magon, hudma deo, megharani, jolmongola, babgbia, putulbia, dakluxmi, nabanna utsav etc to facilitate their cultivation and protect their crops. A detailed analysis of these rites reveals many sociaological and anthropological issues and problems facing the society. [Wakil Ahmed]