Mezban a social festival of the Chittagong region. The host is called Mezban in Persian and Mezbani means hosting or arranging a feast for the guests. Mezbani is held on the occasions of death or death anniversary, birth or birth anniversary, own successes, launching of a new business, entry into a new house, birth of a sought after child in a family, marriage, akika and sunnate-khatna, ear-drilling of girls and naming of the newly born. The invitation of Mezban remains open for all. If a rich man arranges Mezbani in a village, various people to different villages and neighbourhoods convey the invitation for the feast. The invitation cards are printed and distributed among the guests only in urban areas.
Mezban is called Mejjan in the local dialect of chittagong. In the neighbouring Noakhali region of Chittagong, Mezbani is popular and widely known as zeafat. Besides, feasts are also arranged in different districts of Bangladesh on various occasions. But Mezbani is most popular and widely practiced in the Chittagong region and known throughout the country. Previously, the Mezbani invitation used to be publicised by beating drums or blowing tin-pipes, and the news reached the doorsteps of neighbourhoods through the mouths of people. People belonging to all ages used to come on the specified date to consume the Mezbani food. Even today, the affluent people of Chittagong convey the Mezbani invitation through various individuals as much as they can. It is a very ancient heritage of Chittagong.
Mezban and Mezbani are symbols of social prestige. In Chittagong, the rich and the poor arrange feasts on various occasions as much as circumstances allow them. Alongside white rice, three or four types of curries are served, eg beef, 'nawla kanji', and 'kaloi' or chick-pea pulse. It has a characteristic cooking style; for example, (a) spicy meat cooked with lot of red chillies; (b) less hot but sour and spicy broth made from tubular bone of cow, which is known as nawla kanji; (c) a kind of pulse which is cooked after peeling the skin of beans and then crushing them; it is called Bhuna dal; (d) food of slightly pungent taste made from chick-pea pulse, bone, fat and meat. Fish can also be cooked for Mezbani.
The Zamindar of Tripura, Chakla-Rawshanabad and the northern region of Chittagong (Islamabad) shamsher gazi dug a large pond after the name of his mother Koyara Begum in the middle of the 18th century and arranged a huge feast by bringing fishes from the neighbouring ponds as well as those in Nizampur area of Chittagong. In the areas of Chittagong inhabited by Hindus, fish instead of cow is cooked for Mezban. The Hindu community of Chittagong living in Paschimbanga organises Mezbani each year under the banner of 'Chittagong Parishad', with curries made from fish, vegetable and dried fish.
The practice of Mezbani started in capital dhaka when National Professor Dr Nurul Islam became the president of Chittagong Association, Dhaka (1968-83). On his request, late Mozammel Haque, who was the proprietor of Bubbly Industry, Tejgaon, started hosting Mezbani single-handedly; after crossing the constraints of space in various community centres, it has now become a gathering of almost fifty thousand people at Sultana Kamal Women's Sports Complex of Dhanmondi. In addition, Mezbani has also proliferated in Sylhet, Khulna and various countries of Europe, America and Asia. Apart from individual initiatives, Mezbani is also organised through organisational and institutional initiatives. The poets and litterateurs of Chittagong have composed numerous rhymes, poems, stories and essays on the theme of Mezban. For example:
Aner Ada Jira Dhanya
Ar Na Lagey Ilish-Ghanya
Goru Khashi Butor Dailor
Bosta Dekha Jay –
Mezbani Khati Ay….”
Consumption of food at Mezbani usually takes place from morning to afternoon. The people, workers and neighbours who come under special invitation of the host during the previous night take food together for consultations. This is termed by the Muslims of Chittagong as Ag-dawat or Ag-dawoti. This Ag-dawoti programme mainly takes place on the occasion of Majbani the following day. The people of Feni-Noakhali region calls this programme Pan-salat.
Friends, well-wishers, relatives and even people from other districts are invited on the occasion of Mezbani. Usually, nobody avoids consumption of Mezbani food. In Chittagong, all the cooks and their colleagues at Mezbani hail from Chittagong. Even the chillies, turmeric etc of especial tastes produced in the Chittagong region are used for cooking Mezbani food. [Ahmad Mamtaz]