People, Society & Culture
According to the Census Report of 2001, the district of Dinajpur has a population of 26,17,942, of which 51.12% are male and 48.88% are female.Among them Muslims are 76.65%, Hindus are 20.58%, Christians are 0.80%, Buddhists are 0.11% and others 1.86%; ethnic nationals are the Santal and Oraon.
Bengali, the mother tongue of 95 per cent of the population of the district, is not spoken in the same form by all. In case of the more respectable classes, it differs little from that spoken in other parts of Bangladesh. The lower orders, especially those of paliya origin(Both in Muslim and Hindu sect), speak a rather unintelligible Bengali patois(like “Kothai Jaben Vhai” as “Kunthe Jabu bare” or “Niye aai” as “Dhori aaishek” etc.), which is characterised by contraction of words, and by the use of a large number of Urdu and Hindi words, and some words of Dravidian origin. There is also a marked difference between Bengali spoken by the Muslims and that spoken by the Hindus and others.
The aboriginals of the district, namely, the Santhals, the Oraons and the Mundas are bilinguists, speaking Bengali besides their own language which they use while talking among themselves. The language, and some typical words which were used in medieval Bengali literature are still found and used in their original form in the dialects of the district. The words “Hami” for “Ami” and “Hamara” for “Amara” are still in use in the district. After Partition in 1947 some of the refugees have come from Bihar (India) and its adjacent places and settled in the district, especially in urban areas, mostly in parbatipur, These people speak Urdu, As the district had a common border with purnea(North Dinajpur india has still now), a bilingual district of Bihar (India) a large section of the people of the district, especially those in the north-western part, understand Hindi and Urdu and can, to some extent, speak the same in addition to their mother tongue.
Dinajpur is a multi-racial district, but no race except aboriginals, among whom the intermixing of blood is almost an impossibility, can claim to have been able to preserve the purity of blood, The Rajbansis and the paliyas who the original inhabitants of the district are, no doubt, of Mongolian descent(Majority number in Hindu society and a good number in Muslim society). They are of short stature and have small eyes, flat nose with protruded cheek bones, scanty beard and a dusty yellowish complexion, the distinctive characteristics of the Mongolian race. Attempts have been made to class these people as Dravidians in common with the Koch, another Mongoloid tribe inhabiting the neighboring districts of Rangpur and Cooch Behar (India), but there appears to be no justification for such assumption in the face of the strong evidence of their physical features.
Religion in ancient period
The pala king were Buddhists and Naland Vihara attained fame as a seat of learning during their time According to Taranatha, a Tibetan historian, Dharmapala established fifty religious institutions his kingdom. Though the Pala emperors were themselves ardent Buddhists, persons professing other religions were not deprived of their support and bounty. In the inscriptions, the pala emperors have recorded gifts of villages to Brahmins or to a deity. The khalimpur inscription of Dharmapala mentions the temple of saraswati, the goddess of learning, at kadambari. This is of interest, as the present custom is to worship the goddess only once a year. The emperors did not hesitate to appoint devout Brahmins as their prime Ministers. They also did not think it inconsistent with their belief in Buddhism to attend jagyas and at was during their reign that the Vikramshila Vihara , Sitakot vihara & Jagaddala vihara attained fame as centres of Buddhistic learning.
Religions during Sena period
The village of Belahisti was given in honour of the god Narayana by Lakshmansena who described himself as a vaisnab. It is evident that vedic Hindu religion received a new lease of life during the reign of the Senas. Buddhism however, had not entirely disappeared from the district at that time, as the inscription itself records the existence of a Buddhist mansena on the boundary of the land donated to Narayana.
Aniruddha Bhatta, one of the Dharmadhykshas of Laksh mansena was born in Champathatti in Varendra. He is said to have been a teacher of Vallalsena. Vallalsena wrote the Danasagara at the request of Aniruddha Bhatta. Aniruddha Bhatta’s own work: Haralata and Pitridayita, relate to the ritualistic side of Hindu religion. This pre-occupation with the ritualistic side of religion testifies to the decadence of Hinduism as practiced at that time.
While the bulk of the Muslims of the district are converts from Hinduism, who are chiefly the descendants of Palia Rajbansis; there are quite others trace their origin to Pathan and Mughal ancestors, who came in different capacities when the district was under the Muslim rule or who migrated to it from India after the partition of 1947. The Muslims of the district were formerly divided into four classes, namely, the Sheikhs, Syeds, Mughals and Pathans. It was the common view that all Mullaha were Syeds, the police and peons were Pathans, woolen cloth dealers were Mughals and the cultivators were Sheikhs. But now-a-days such distinction does not exist. The Muslims are all sunnis with a sprinkling of Shias among the refugees from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh of India, The followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmed Qadian, popularly known as Qadianis or Ahmadis, of late made their presence felt by organising themselves into a compact community now inhabiting the Ahmad Nagar colony near panchagarh.
Caste Hindus and Scheduled Caste Hindus form around 25% among dinajpur population. Although majority of them are Palia Rajbansis, there are large numbers of Caste hindus like brahmins, ksatriyas, vaishyas and shudras; among them a bulk of upper caste hindus had been brought from different parts of Bengal during Dinajpur Raj due to the development in the field of Raj’s administration, education, Business and also for Religious Affairs.Marwari hindus also are quite old here, having businesses for more than three hundred years.Brahmins namely with surnames like Mukhopadhyaya, Bandopadhyaya, Chattopadhyaya, Bhattacharya, Gangopadhyaya, Chakraborty etc. who are highly educated mainly involved with Religious affairs containing the highest rank among hindu caste system, the system which is also called Kulinism was introduced by Famous Sena king of Bengal, Ballal sena(1159 – 1179 AD).The majority of the Hindus(Rajbansis and paliyas) are Vaisnabs(followers of Lord Shri Krishna), who are averse to killing animals, seldom practice animal sacrifices as offerings to their gods and goddesses. After the partition of 1947, so many hindu families migrated to India and settled there.
Religious Practices & Ceremonies
The different religious groups observe their religious rites and rituals in the manner prescribed by their respective religions. Besides saying their prayers five times daily, the Muslims of the district congregate in the mosques every Friday to offer their Jumma prayer. Ramadan is a monthly programs for fasting in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, that is in excess or ill-natured; from dawn until sunset.During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.To break the 30 days long fasting period “Eid ul-Fitr” is being observed after it.A larger part of Muslims in Dinajpur town assemble in Gora shahid Bara Maidan(Boromaath)on the occasion of Idul-Fitr offer their Idprayer. On the other hand, the Hindus throng the temples for the observance of their religious ceremonies. Durga Puja is of particular importance among Hindu in the district. Dedicated to the goddess Durga, who is a manifestation of Shakti, the festivities last for nine days. Months before the festival, special images are made of Durga. These show her mounted on a lion and killing the evil demon Mahishasura. They are worshiped on each day of the festival.On the tenth day, the image is decorated with flowers and carried through the streets. The parade makes it way to Kanchan Ghat where the image of Durga is thrown into the water to be carried away by the current or tide. Religion plays an important role in moulding the social life of the people and restrains its adherents form indulging in immoral activities. The acceptance of interest is prohibited in Islam, so the devout Muslims refrain from it. The influence of pirs and Murshids among the Muslims and that of Sannyasis and sadhus among the Hindus and aboriginals is still very great. Many superstitions have their origin in religion. These are encouraged by the half-literate pirs and sannyasis and are still deep-rooted among the people.
Births & Deaths
The birth of a baby is generally regarded as an auspicious event among the people of the district. The Hindus greet it with blowing of conch-shells and beating of drums. When a baby is born among the Muslims, it is first bathed and then azan (call to paryer) is uttered into its ears. Afterwards aqiqa ceremony is held when a formal Muslim name is given to the child. Two goats or sheep are sacrificed in case so male child and one in case of a female child. Meat is distributed among friends and neighbours and feasts are held for the entertainment of relations and friends. Hindus observe the naming ceremony, the initiation ritual known as the “first feeding of rice” (annaprasana), and the sacred thread ceremony (upanayana). Muslim boys undergo the all-important circumcision rite (sunnat). The funeral ceremony among the Muslims is a sombre affair. The dead-body is washed, covered with new white clothes and perfumed. A special prayer called namaj-e-janaja is offered to invoke blessings of Allah on the departed soul. Then the dead-body is carried on a wooden khatia (bier) by the relations. The dead-body followed by a procession of mourners is finally taken to the graveyard where it is laid to rest decently and reverentially. Verses from the Holy Quran are recited at the time of the funeral. After the burial fateha khawani is offered, when people gather in the house of the deceased and pray for the salvation of the departed soul. Hindus in Dinajpur generally cremate the dead. The funeral prayer is usually lit by the eldest son of the dead on the bank of a river. Death is followed by a period of mourning (which varies in length), purification rites, and the sraddha or death feast held at the end of the mourning period.
A number of superstitions is found among both the Hindus and Muslims of the district. In this respect reciprocal influence of the Hindus and Muslims on each other is evident. The Hindus are very careful about the omens and auspicious days. Dates for wedding are often fixed after consulting a Hindu artrologer. Bamboos are not cut, nor the building of new houses commenced on certain days of the week and journeys are often undertaken only after referring to the Hindu almanacs to see if the proposed day is auspicious. When disease is prevalent, goddess’s sitla and Rakshya kali are worshippd.
Apart from the Hindu superstitions there are certain forms of worship common among Muslims which are not based on the Quran. The most common of these is the adoration of the departed pirs, As opposed to the mullah or learned teacher who teaches or pir inculcate the spiritual submission to and communion with Allah in early times the people were very devoted to the pir who was supposed to possess supernatural powers. There are innumerable pirattars which have been recorded in the khatians. Bars pir sahib, panch pir sahib, satya pir sahib, Madar pir saheb are only a few of the commoner saints in whose names pirattars were fund. Then there are those dedicated to Bibi Fatema, Bibi Shahebani and Nur Bibi Shaheba. Sometimes the villagers were more catholic, and pirsthans and debsthans are shared with Hindu villagers. The nabanna or ceremony at the beginning of harvest is observed by both Hindus and Muslims.
Cultural pattern of the peoples
In the cultural sphere the people of the district are not very much advanced, though the percentage of literacy is higher than many other districts of Bangladesh. The people live a simple life and their intellectual level is not high. As a rule, they are fatalistic, and accept life as it is without bothering about the intricacies of the philosophy of higher life. A Section of the people who have the light of modern education are, however, progressive-minded, and strive hard for raising their cultural standard.
Music and Dance
A section of the people of the district are lovers of music, both instrumental and vocal. The musical instruments include dhol, kartal, ektara, modal, flute, harmonium and table. They also enjoy with great enthusiasm jatragan, kavigan, and other folksongs. The people have a great liking for bhawaiya songs, which with their great emotional notes move the hearts of the simple village folk. Dance as a social form of entertainment is common among the aboriginals. Even the girls and young women of Hindu and Muslim families take part in dance and frolicsome music arranged during marriage ceremonies.
The Muslims almost without any exception wear lungi, genji (cotton vest) and shirt, and on special occasions, such as Id-ul-Fitr, etc, wear pyjamas and caps of various shapes and colour. The Hindus including the Rajansis put on dhoti. Both the Muslims and the Hindus of the district carry a napkin. Locally called gamcha which, when occasions demand, is wrapped round the middle portion of bare body. In summer, upper part of the body usually remains uncovered and during the cold season only a coarse chadar (wrapper) is used to cover the body as protection against cold. The women of means use sarees, blouses and petticoats, coloured sarees, specially of blue, green, red and mixed bright stripes and checks are preferred by the women. There is practically no difference between winter and summer clothing for them. The noticeable change in the scanty dress of the people during the winter is the addition of a cotton chadar (wrapper), occasionally a mixed cotton and woolen one, which is wrapped round the body. In rainy season when men remain engaged in cultivation work in mud and water, they put on only a kopni or lengti (loin cloth) a very small piece of cloth and gamcha tightly wrapped round their heads. In summer and rainy seasons umbrellas are used by those who can afford to buy them, the rest of the people have their mathalis or jhapies, a wide brimmed bamboo and leaf hat that protects them from sun and rain, western dress is making its appearance to supplant the indigenus one in urban areas.
Festivals, fairs, melas etc.
Dinajpur is well known for its fairs and melas which are held throughout the winter and spring months. Brisk business in clothes, hosiery, stationery, trinkets and fancy goods are also made and the traders reap a rich harvest in these fairs, as the villagers are only too eager to buy things rarely found in their locality. Arrangements for circus, carnival and dramatic performances are also made in these fairs for the entertainment of the visitors who have fortnight of spree in buying and merry-making. At kantanagar, where there is a temple of great architectural beauty, a mela is held in honour of kantaji, a Hindu god, and thousands of Hindus assemble there to offer puja. The names of the most notable melas are given below; (1)Cheradangi, (2) Dhukarjhari, (3) Fasiladanga, (4) Katla Mela, (5) Chintaman (6) Kantanagar etc.
Main and subsidiary occupation
The principal occupation of the people of the district is cultivation, Persons in business, trade, professions, or government services form a very small percentage of the population. Unlike other districts of the province, the pressure of population on land is not high and the people in general are not in want of food; they do not like t move outside the district, even temporarily to seek other means of livelihood. Moreover, they are nostalgic to a degree and unless very hard pressed they do not leave their homes. Seasonal migration from other districts during the harvest time and for making bricks in the kilns is not an uncommon sight. There is practically no skilled labor or professional class here. As they have fewer works, they have little inclination to exert themselves fully. Lack of initiative appears to be such a noticeable characteristic of the people that administrators and other well-wishers of the district have been making pointed remarks about it for a considerable time. The hours of work and rest among them are not precisely fixed, but usually they go out to the field early in the morning and take a long nap in the afternoon. Women and children also work both at home and in the field when occasion demands.