The Bengal region has a multifaceted folk heritage, enriched by its ancient animist, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim roots. Weaving, pottery and terracotta sculpture are some of the earliest forms of artistic expression. The best known literature of Bangladesh is the work of the great Bengali poets Rabindranath Tagore and Nasrul Islam. Folk theater is common at the village level and usually takes place during harvest time or at melas (village fairs). There are many folk dances, but classical dance is largely borrowed from Indian models and is frowned upon by the more severe religious leaders.
Bangladesh’s Muslims and Hindus live in relative harmony. The Muslim majority has religious leaders, pirs, whose status straddles the gap between that of a bishop and that of a sage. Hinduism in Bangladesh lacks the pomp and awe of the Indian version, but consequently Hindu ceremonies are rarely conducted in the depths of temples to which access is restricted. People here are very willing for you to watch and even participate. Buddhists today form only a tiny minority of the population. It’s worth noting that the Bangladeshi pride in ancestry is balanced by the Islamic slant of the country’s intellectual life which tends to deny the achievements of the preceding Hindu and Buddhist cultures.
Muslim festivals follow a lunar calendar. At the beginning of the year, Ramadan is a month-long period of fasting in February/March. At the full moon 14 days before the start of Ramadan, Shab-e-Barat is a sacred night when alms and sweets are distributed to the poor. Hindu festivals follow a different calendar but they generally fall at much the same date each year. The Holi Festival or Festival of Colours, commonly known as the spring festival, is celebrated in the first week of March. Durga Puja is celebrated during October, and statues of the goddess astride a lion, with her ten hands holding ten different weapons, are placed in every Hindu temple.
A typical Bangladeshi meal consists of beef (or sometimes mutton, chicken, fish or egg) and vegetables cooked in a hot spicy sauce, yellow watery lentils (dal) and plain rice. Fish is part of the staple diet; however, over-fishing has led to a scarcity of river fish and more sea fish are appearing on menus. Alcoholic drinks are not widely available; head for five-star hotels and ritzier restaurants when you want a tipple.