Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country of 163 million people with only small pockets of Hindu communities, comprising around 14 percent of the population. Hindu-Muslim relations are generally good in Bangladesh and during my five years there, I felt right at home, even during Dashain. Planting jamara in my Asian University for Women (AUW) hostel, getting tika from my professors and seniors instead of my grandmother, playing cards with my friends instead of my cousins, and eating Nepali food cooked with friends instead of with my family—there were some variations, but we tried to celebrate the festival pretty much as we would back in Nepal.
We did not get long holidays for Dashain but on the night of Dashami Nepali students gathered and played the Mangal Dhun, sang Nepali songs, and danced and played cards. Some even cried as they missed Nepal. There were students who felt lonely during Dashain, especially those celebrating it for the first time away from their families.
Hundreds of Nepali students will celebrate their Dashain in Bangladesh this year as well. Currently, around 400 Nepali students are studying medicine in Bangladesh. The number of Nepali students in other technical subjects has been increasing as well. Besides them, there are around 10,000 permanently settled Nepalis in the country.
“This is going to be my first Dashain away from family”, says Archana Suwal, 20, a current student in AUW Chittagong. “But I am not sad as I have found many senior Nepali sisters to celebrate Dashain with.” Sanjay Karki, 25, who studied MBBS in Bangladesh and is now working in Maldives, says that he gets excited when he remembers Dashain celebrations in Bangladesh.
“During Dashain, we used to gaze out at the flock of Hindus going for Durga Puja at a nearby temple from our rented apartment in Zam Zam building [in Chittagong]. We Nepalis too formed a group to go visit local temples,” Karki says. Reminiscing the moments spent celebrating Dashain with his Bangladeshi friends, he says, “Despite being a Muslim country, Bangladesh knows how to respect and value other religions. I am thankful to my Bengali friends for being there for us.”
There are also working professionals who feel right at home in Bangladesh. One of them is Biswas Kafle, 32, a tour operator who has been staying in Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka for the past one decade. “I visit Shakti Peeths and go to Durga Pujas organized by Hindus in Bangladesh. In my view, the Hindus here feel a little dominated by Muslims so when we foreigners visit the temples and meet the local Hindus, they feel good and proud to be a part of the bigger Hindu community.”
When asked if he misses Dashain celebrations in Nepal, he answers “Not really!” as he frequently visits Nepal. “For last Dashain celebrations, I along with some other Nepali students in Dhaka had reserved a whole ship for a DJ party.”
But alcohol was not a part of the party. The absurdly high tax, as high as 605 per cent, and Islam’s ban on alcohol makes it hard to get in Bangladesh, even for foreigners. However, most Nepalis in Bangladesh that APEX talked to seemed to have no problem celebrating without it.
You cannot experience in Bangladesh the kind of Dashain vibe that sweeps Nepal this time of the year. There are no swings or kites in the sky. But Nepalis, who have been staying in Bangladesh for some time, have found a way to connect with their Nepali roots during this festival: dancing to the rhythm of Sugam Pokharel’s “Dashain Tihar” and cooking masu bhat and tarkari.