Culture and Heritage

History, culture, and local communities

Bangladesh has a diverse culture, deeply influenced by the three major religions of the region: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Music, dance, and theater are vessels for rich folk stories and expressions of emotion. Locals still celebrate traditions that have been inherited for thousands of years.

In the Sundarbans’ adjacent villages, religion is informed by the environment. Almost all locals, no matter their primary religion, venerate Bonbibi, the Mother of the Forest, whose protection is necessary for entering the forest, and Dakshin Rai, the Lord of the South, who rules the Sundarbans in his aspect as Tiger. Visiting a local village or tourist lodge between September and March is an excellent learning opportunity, for this is the time of Bonbibi’r Palagaan, the story of the local guardian spirit’s battle with a demon king. There are approximately 30 acting troupes in the Sundarbans area that perform this epic. Relatedly, in January, there is the festival Bonbibi Mela, where clay figurines, that decorate the many shrines to Bonbibi in and around the forest, are colorfully painted and replaced for the year.

Dependent on the lunar calendar, though generally occurring in late November, is the Rash Mela. This month-long festival celebrates the divine love between Lord Krishna and Radha, the combined masculine and feminine aspects of God. Celebrations, music, dance, food, and fair games last all night, while morning finds Hindu pilgrims at the water’s edge. There they make offerings and hope to receive a blessing in return.

Year-round, many tours bring visitors to local fishing villages to experience a day-in-the-life. Often, the women of the village cook a delicious meal, while the men take people on short fishing excursions. Lucky visitors may even see the traditional, but now less employed, fishing tool used by locals: otters! Local fishermen have bred and trained their own otters for generations. A net is laid in the water, off to the side of the boat, and leashed otters are released to shepherd fish and crabs into it. Additionally, local performers entertain with traditional song and dance, and local craftspeople sell their unique wares. The care put into these village tours gives visitors a true culturally-immersive experience.

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