The history of Eid celebrations is steeped in commerce
Festivals are common to all societies and cultures. With changes in socio-economic structure, the nature of festivals also changes. But some festivals are so deeply rooted in the social organism, that they continue to entertain from generation to generation.
Some festivals bear the mark of community and nationality, some have the stamp of religion, and, again, some bear the impression of politics. The main foundation of religious festivals are rituals.
Many of the rituals were related to agriculture and were determined by lunar months. The ancient rituals were magical processes to tame the supernatural. In subsequent cultures, this characteristic feature was retained. Although most festivals were related to religions, they did not evolve on account of religions -- they originated spontaneously in society. Later on, they assumed a more formal character.
As for example, not very long ago, singing and music were part of the Eid festivals of the Muslims of Bengal, which was an expression of spontaneity. But now it is not there. These days, they are more formal than before, but new social dimensions have been added to them. They have become occasions of mutual exchange of pleasantries among friends and relatives, an event of economic boom, cultural activities, and even political manoeuvrings.
Now, in Bangladesh, Eid is observed colourfully in a befitting manner and with great zeal and zest. The night before Eid -- chand raat, Muslims will often visit bazaars and shopping malls with their families. Women, especially young girls, will often apply henna on their hands and feet.
The traditional Eid greeting is “Eid Mubarak,” and it is frequently followed by a formal embrace. Gifts are frequently given -- new clothes are part of the tradition -- and it is also common for children to be given small sums of money by their elders.
The Eid ul-Fitr effect exists around the festivities, which have an impact on the socio-economic arena. Shops which sell clothes, footwear, cosmetics, jewelry, and electronic gadgets witness bumper sales.
Commercial banks witness a rush of monetary transaction as a large number of clients withdraw from and deposit cash in the banks only a few days ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr. Commercial banks, which face liquidity shortage, borrow from the call money market to tackle the rush.
Banks and non-bank financial institutions made a record of the transactions on the “call money market” by borrowing a thousand crore taka from the market. Bangladesh Bank has had to pump a record amount of money into the banking system, as clients flooded almost all the branches of banks across the country before the start of Eid vacation.
Given that the majority of Muslim businesses spend a substantial amount of cash during the festival, the stock market shows up with new zeal, remittances pour in, a special business spree starts on the transportation sector as a large number of people travel.
These media reports confirm the magnitude of the financial transaction that marks the celebration of Eid, in an economy of 162 million people with $1,830 per capita GDP.
The joy and pomp with which Eid was celebrated in this land during the Mughal period -- the ruins of Shahi Eidgahs in various parts of Bangladesh -- bear testimony to the fact that the Mughals accorded importance to Eid.
By the end of the 19th century, a new ingredient, the folk-fair, was added as an accompanying source of pleasure during Eid. This trend still continues to this day -- at least 12 fairs are held on the occasion of Eid in different regions of Bangladesh.
Eid was not celebrated with the same importance in the colonial days, however. The reason was the absence of government patronage, the abject poverty of our people back then, and their ignorance about religion.
An account of the Eid celebration by the Bengal Muslims during the last 100 years reveals that one of the main features of the Eid festival was the arrangement of special food and drink.
One of the main characteristic features of the 19th century Eid in Dhaka was the Eid procession.
It’s likely that the Naib-Nazims of Dhaka introduced the practice of holding a procession after being inspired by the Janmastami celebrations.
In many cases, local or urban socio-culture has also made an impact on this festival. During the 1930s and 1940s, on Eid day in Dhaka, kathhak dance was performed in Ramna, Armanitola, and other grounds. Additionally, boat races, kite flying, horse races, and other competitive affairs were held.
At the start of the last century, when the political movement for a separate Muslim identity began, Eid festival assumed a new importance. After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, both Eids became the national religious festivals in the state, of which present-day Bangladesh was a part, and enjoyed patronization from the government.
Muhammad Abdul Mazid, former Secretary to the Government and former Chairman, NBR.