Phela Baishakh (Bengali New Year)

I really lucked out...it turned out my trip to Bangladesh coincided with the Bengali NewYear on April 14th, otherwise known as Phela Baishakh. This holiday connects all ethnic groups in Bangladesh and is celebrated throughout the country.

The day started with a parade through the main street in Brahmanbaria. I marched with the school in the parade. Everyone dresses in red clothing and marches with colorful signs and traditional music. Following the parade, there were several street fairs with performances and vendors selling artisanal merchandise.

Many people wore traditional clothing:

There were performances of traditional street fighting:

In the afternoon, the school hosted a festival in my honor. The administrators, teachers, and students organized musical and dance performances. There was traditional dance and singing:

There was also modern dance:

And a few tributes to Michael Jackson:

I am so grateful to my host, Mustofa, and all of the teachers and students, who worked to put on this amazing show to introduce me to the culture of Bangladesh!

Inner Eyes Music Institute for the Blind

One of the highlights of my time in Brahmanbaria was the chance I had to visit the Inner Eyes Music Institute for the Blind. The Institute was started by Afzalur Rahman and his 2 daughters. Afzalur Rahman was blind at the age of 9 after suffering from typhoid. He did not let his blindness hold him back. He started playing the violin and the sarod at a young age and was until his death, the top classical musician in all of Bangladesh. He was also thought to have been the only blind sarod player in the world.

I was able to meet Afzalur Rahman's two daughters during my visit to Bangladesh. The older of the two is Mohua Rahman Ruba who started losing her eyesight at an early age due to a glaucoma attack. Mohua has specialized in singing popular Bengali songs as well as in sub-continental classics. She sings fluently in Hindi, Japanese and English, and has participated in several concerts both at home and abroad. She, like her father, plays the sarod and the violin. The youngest daughter is Antara Rahman TungTang, who is completely visually impaired. Antara is an expert violin player.

I was fortunate to have the chance to be invited into the home of Mohua and Antara for a small concert. They were truly the kindest hostesses. The following clip shows the sisters performing classical music from Bangladesh:

The sisters also performed an original song they wrote in English:

Afzalur Rahman and his daughters started the Inner Eyes Institue in Brahmanbaria and his daughter continue to run the school out of their home today. While their primary focus is on music, they also teach their students how to use computers using special software. Almost all of the blind students who attend Brahmanbaria High School take classes at the Institute.

Ustad Afzalur Rahman passed away in 2009, so I unfortunately I did not have the chance to see him play. Lianain Films posted the following video of Maestro Rahman after their visit with the family shortly before he passed away:

Aljazeera recently posted a slideshow featuring Ustad Afzalur Rahman and his daughters. You can view the slideshow at the following link the following link:


Hinduism in Brahmanbaria

Hinduism is the second largest religion in Bangladesh. Just over 9% of the population practice hinduism. In terms of population, Bangladesh is the third largest Hindu state in the world after India and Nepal.

In Brahmanbaria, I was able to visit a Hindu temple, Kal Bhairab dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. In the Shaiva tradition of Hinduism, Shiva is seen as the Supreme God. The temple, dating back to the 19th century, is famed for the giant statue of Shiva, said to be the largest in the country. The temple is a major pilgrimage place for Shaivites in Bangladesh.

I was also able to visit the Hindu burning grounds in Brahmanbaria. In the Hindu religion, outdoor cremation takes place when a person passes away. During the day of the funeral, family members cover the corpse with bright orange cloths and carry it along the streets while singing songs to Shiva. They wear white clothing and do not cry because public display of sadness are thought to bring bad luck to the karma of the person who is about to be cremated. Once they arrive at the burning grounds, the cremation ritual takes place. The body is given a last bath and then is given to Agni, the Hindu God of fire.


A Typical Day at Brahmanbaria High School

Brahmanbaria High School is an all boys private high school in the city of Brahmanbaria. Classes run from Monday through Sunday, starting at around 9:00 a.m. and ending around 5:00 p.m. Upon entering through the school gate, there is a large courtyard surrounding by several small buildings where classrooms are located. Each school day starts with a large assembly in the courtyard. Students line up in rows, by class to listen to do morning stretches, sing the national anthem, recite Islamic, Christian, and Hindi prayers, and listen to announcements made by the school leaders.

After the assembly, students walk in lines to their classrooms and the day begins. Each class is about an hour long and students break for an hour at lunch. Each class roster has at least 80 students names, though there are usually "only" 60 students present.

With so many students in one classroom, I would have thought classroom management would be challenging. This was not the case at all. In the classroom, the teacher is highly respected by the students. Students stand any time an adult enters the room. They listen attentively when the teacher is speaking and they complete activities quickly when assigned. Students are eager to participate in class and those who do not complete their homework are embarrassed when they show up empty handed. Many teachers use group work and have student created visuals related to their content hanging around the room.

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