The Bengalis have been prominently cherishing an enriched tradition from the historical times. Termed as a cosmopolitan or a mixed culture, we have been highly influenced by our geographical position. Flanked by the Himalayas on the top, the Ganges flowing through its heart, the Sunderbans contributing to the enchanting wilderness, the stretched beaches along the Bay of Bengal, our culture has been a complete blend of the various life styles of the various people dwelling here. You get the flavour of the ‘lal mati’ and the intoxicating rhythms of the santhal drums, the green paddy fields, the mesmerizing tunes of the ‘bhantialis’ (songs sang by the boatmen), or even the evergreen Rabindrasangeet or Tagore songs all under the same roof of the all encompassing blue sky and the ever accepting wonderful people. Today the ‘Bindas Bangali’ epitomizes a culture that has emerged from the traditional and contemporary norms of life. Spiced by the art, music , literature and cuisines to name a few, we, the ‘Bangalis’ have quite successfully made our presence felt in all walks of life. What more, we are elated to carry the essence of ‘Bangaliana’ or celebrate the fact that we are the Bengalis with great panache.
To understand the culture of Bengal let us turn the pages of history. The culture of Bengal has its roots way back in the past . Although with no fixed rulers, Bengal was to some extent under the reigns of the Muslim rulers after being governed by the Mauryans , Guptas, Palas, and the Senas.It was during the famous Sepoy Mutiny of 1757 that Bengal became another niche for the English from whom Nawab of Bengal Siraj Ud Daula tried to regain the control but in vain. He lost at the battle of Plassey. Later in 1947 when India was free from the British rule, Bengal was divided into East Bengal and West Bengal where the East Bengal became a part of Pakistan though today East Bengal lies in the Iindependent Bangla Desh. The standing culture of Bengal is a mixture of both East and West Bengal. Well, when have you experienced a Bengali ‘Adda’ to be complete without the arguments between Mohunbagan and East Bengal!
Our culture as it is, could never have reached this point had it not been the works of the magnificent maestros in the past as well as at present. For instance let us take literature. Our famous literary creations form a rich base holding the hands of Rabindranath Tagore, Sarathchandra Chattopadhyay, Bankim Chandra, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar and the likes. The religious ultimate, ‘Kathamrita’ by Sri Promohansa Ramkrishna, teachings of Swami Vivekanada and the well known reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy accompanied by the poems of Michael Madhusudan Dutta with his renowned “Amritakhkho Chhando” have given us some of the finest legendary collections strengthening our foundation. We are no way lagging behind in modern times when jewels like, Buddhadeb Guha, Sunil Gangopadhaya, Satyajit Ray, Suchitra Bhattracharya, Navaneeta Dev Sen, Ashapurna Devi, Mahashweta Devi, Dr. Nihar Ranjan Gupta and many more have and are still holding on to this strong base. Consequently the Pulitzer Prize, Magsaysay Prize and other prestigious awards have been bagged by our famed authors.
In the fields of Art , eminent painters like Shubhaprashanna, Jogen Chowdhury, Ganesh Pyne, Sanatan Dinda are just a few among the deluge of painters and artists that we have, making our country and our state proud with their art work. Apart from drawing and paintings how can we forget our renowned artisans in Kolkata, the famous ‘potua para’ in Kumortuli? They play a great part in our culture as they form the Durga, Kali, Laxmi, Saraswati and other idols who are worshipped with a lot of ardour during the respective festivals. Talking on art and crafts we cannot afford to overlook the Bengal weavers who weave the mostly worn cotton sarees, ”Tant”. The brilliant handwork of the artisans of Bishnupur crafting terracotta figures or the world famous “Baluchari” silks of intricate thread work, the exquisit colourful ‘nakshikatha’ sewn by the village women, all back our richness from various aspects.
Music in the form of songs have always played an eminent part of the Bengali culture. The night long classical ‘jalsha’ of Dover Lane music Conference or the Bijoya Shommeloni functions at different localities prove our love for music. Apart from the celebrated genres of Rabindrasangeet, Nazrulgeeti, Atulprasadi, we have the bright stars like, Pdt. Ravishankar playing the sitar, vocalists like Pdt. Ajay Chkraborty , or Bikram Ghosh the renowned percussionist or even the tabla expert Kumar Bose who are only a few of the constellation of stars that we own. Not only the rich classical music but also the simple folk songs, ‘baul gaan’ curve a very special corner in the hearts of the villages of Bengal. The highly respected ‘Nidhu Babu’s Toppa’ or 'Thumri' are no less behind, reminding us of the typical babu Culture of the heritage city Kolkata. Today we also have the Bengali rock bands and the ‘Jeevan mukhi’ songs all woven from the prevailing social status.
The Bindas Bangali can never be actually called bindas without the style and zeal with which we celebrate our festivals. Our Durga puja or the sarodostav, Shyama puja, Saraswati puja , along with the ‘vrats’ of Shiv Puja, or “Neel shoshthi”, “Jamai Shashthi”, “Bhai Fonta”, “Poush Sankranti” or “Poila Baishakh “ are only some festivals that embark our zest to celebrate throughout the year. The tradition of “Shankha Sidoor”, “Lal pere shari”, “Dhakka par dhuti”, the essence of the perfumed sticks or “dhup dhuno” all form a very integral part of our daily lives. In this age of fast pace, although we have been compelled to reform our life styles for convenience and to cope up with the day to day pressure, at heart we still are the “machhe bhate “ Bangali who love to surreneder to our “Bangaliana” especially during our very own ceremonials.
Our way of living and our ways of celebration depends to a great extent on our food. Bengalis are said to have a sensitive tongue for tasty food, usually a bit spicy. However our food habits include a whole lot of wholesome pulses as well as fibre products which act not only as seasonal preventives but also keep our metabolism fit as a fiddle. We have a keen eagerness on adding a lot of flavor to our food by using various spices either whole or ground. Our staple food though fish and rice, the famous spicy fish curry or ‘machcher kalia’, hot mutton or ‘kosha mangsho’ stand for some of the mouth watering menus of Bengali cuisine. On the other hand rice, a slice of lime or “pati lebu/gondhoraj lebu’ along with “biuli dal’ and ‘alu posto’ can make a complete summer afternoon’s lunch keeping you light on one hand and enhancing your taste buds on the other. A Bengali cuisine can never be complete without luchi, ‘aloor dum’, ‘ghugni’, ‘tele bhaja’ or the so called fries either veg or non veg, including the typical “moshla muri” or ‘fuchka’ as simple snacks. Apart from the ‘hot and spicy’ we have a special fetish for sweet dishes as well, especially the sandesh or sweet meat. The world famous sweet explosives ‘rosogolla’ which alone can symbolize the Bengali culture and obviously the very tasty ‘pithas’ made at home from, ’kheer’, ‘suji’, and milk during poush sankranti lengthen our menu list . In fact our cuisines keep varying depending on both East and west Bengal’s traditional cooking methods. With a huge range of variety, attributing to the food loving people, Bengal and ‘Bangali’ have always been known for their sense and sensitivity of refinement. In other words we are quite lovingly named the ‘bhojon roshik’.
The modern Bengali culture has undergone many phases. Today the social scenario has changed a lot due to the competitive life style. Men and women both are working shoulder to shoulder, trying to gear up their life status, which is why professionalism to the core is becoming the key word. The present generation is fast and smart and trust the sleek and chik fashion. They want to be well informed and up to the mark, not only nationally but internationally as well. Stealthily, the western culture has tip toed in our daily lives influencing both our food and fashion. The ‘jalshas’ have been replaced by week-end nightclubs and discos, the saris by salwaars and jeans, the ‘pithas’ by pastas but the sweet scent of ‘shiuli’ flowers at the commencement of the most awaited autumn(sarat kaal), the ever lingering ‘Mahalaya’ in the early mornings, the sound of dhak, the colourful ‘sindoor khela’, the ‘gaye holud’ during the weddings, the calls of the ‘feriwalas’, the pouring crowds at the book fair, the ‘nattomela’, the lilting tunes of Rabindrasangeet’, a Jamini Roy painting, or the all time favourite ‘ adda’ at the ‘parar rock ‘ or tea stall are still very much alive, keeping us, the Bengalis alive till date. The cakes and pastries have played their roll but don’t we hear our stomach rumbling at the strong essence of Hilsa fried in mustard oil or ‘Shorsher tel’! The existing times have made us more mature be it cinema or literature. Today’s cinema sees controversial themes which provide not only food for thought but try to bring forward the so called social taboos right in the fore front. Thanks to our eminent film makers, Rituparno Ghosh, Gautam Ghosh, Aparna Sen to name a few who have brought laurels to us through their exclusive work. Yes, this culture has modernized, has grown up but we have not lost it all. The quintessential Bengali lives and will live forever with the zest and vigour and individuality with which we have carried on since ages. Come what may, we will live and relive our heritage and will eagerly pass it on to our generation next so that they learn to respect and love this richness of which we are the sole beholders. Join us, know us, and follow our motto of 'live and let live' as we the “Bindas Bangali’ are here to rock
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