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Customs of Bangladesh

Bangladesh Table of Contents

Marriage and Family

Groom putting a ring on Bride's fingerMany women, especially those in rural areas, marry before they are 18. Men marry after they finish their education or have some financial security. Marriage is often arranged through a ghatak, or matchmaker, who can be a relative or family friend. If a man and woman get to know each other on their own, the man sends a formal proposal to the woman’s parents through an older relative. For weddings, both the bride’s house and the groom’s house are decorated with lights. Bamboo gates, decorated with colorful pieces of cloth, are placed at the entrance. The bride wears a sharee, a long piece of printed cloth wrapped around the body, and her jewelry; the groom wears a shirwani (knee-length coat), a pagri (traditional cap), and nagra (flat shoes that curl upward in front). A Muslim groom pledges money for the bride’s future in case the marriage fails; the pledge is recorded in the ka’been (marriage registry). Another common, although illegal, custom in Bangladesh is the presentation of a dowry to the groom’s family.

Divorce and polygamy are both legal in Bangladesh; it is increasingly rare for a man to have more than one wife, but divorce is on the rise. Both meet with a degree of public disapproval, however. Bangladesh society, in general, remains strongly male dominated, and except among the upper class, women have low status. However, there is a growing movement to promote women’s rights.

Owing to economic necessity, extended families often share the same dwelling, but the nuclear family is becoming more common among the younger generation. Bangladesh has no social security system or nursing homes. Children, especially sons, are expected to care for their elderly parents. Grandparents or older siblings are generally responsible for child care when the parents are away or working.


A woman cooking in a roadside restaurantRice is the main staple. Because Bangladesh has many rivers, fish is cheaper and more readily available than meat. Vegetables other than carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes are usually fried in oil. One of the most common dishes is dal, a souplike lentil dish that is high in protein and inexpensive. Spices such as cumin, ginger, coriander, turmeric, and pepper are used a great deal in cooking. Food is often marinated in shurwa, a sauce made from onions and spices, and cooking is often judged by the quality of the shurwa. Desserts are usually eaten only on special occasions. Rashogolla and kalojam, two popular sweets, are variations of dough boiled in syrup.

Bangladeshis generally do not use knives and forks at home, but spoons are used to eat sweets. Food is eaten with the right hand, which is washed before each meal, and people do not dip their fingers into shurwa above their knuckles.

Bangladeshis do not talk much during a meal, especially at home. Food is not passed around the table; instead, plates are taken to a main dish for serving. Bones and other food wastes are placed on separate plates to keep them apart from the food. On special occasions, children often eat first. Men and women eat separately at large social gatherings such as weddings, but not at everyday meals.

At restaurants, the wealthiest person often pays for everyone’s meal, particularly among relatives. However, it has become more common among students to pay individually. Expensive restaurants have utensils, but many ordinary restaurants do not.


Muslim Bangladeshis greet each other with Assalaa-mualaikum (“Peace be upon you”) and respond with Waalaikum assalaam (“And peace be upon you”). Each person may raise his or her right hand to the forehead, palm curved and relaxed, in a salute-like gesture. Men sometimes also shake hands and may embrace during religious festivals. People do not shake hands with, kiss, or embrace a member of the opposite sex in public. A common Hindu greeting is Namashkar (“Hello”). Upon parting, a Muslim might say Khoda hafiz (“May God be with you”). Ashi (“So long”) is common among all groups.

When addressing someone, Bangladeshis add different suffixes to names to show not only respect for age or status, but also closeness. For example, a man may add bhabi (wife of older brother) to the name of his friend’s wife, even though there is no family tie. The terms sister and brother are used for friends and colleagues as well as for family members. A person of the same age is usually addressed by name, whereas an older person (regardless of how few years separate the two) may be addressed by name plus a family-related suffix (for example, older brother, son of father’s brother, or older sister) or by the suffix alone. For example, a young adult might address an older woman by adding apa (older sister) to her name or simply by calling her Apa.

Eye contact during conversation shows sincerity. However, to show respect to an older person or someone of higher social standing, one usually looks down and speaks only when spoken to. In general, it is impolite to cross one’s legs or to smoke in the presence of elders, regardless of what the older person does. It is disrespectful to point the bottom of the shoe or foot at someone. Bangladeshis are also sensitive about a foot touching books or other reading material. If a book is accidentally touched with the foot, an apology is made by touching the book with the fingertips of the right hand and then touching the chest and lips. Because the left hand is used for personal hygiene, objects are passed with the right hand.

Bangladeshis often visit one another, usually in the late morning or late afternoon. It is customary for guests to decline an offer of refreshments a few times but to eventually accept at least some tea. When people are invited to an event but cannot go, they may still say they will try to attend. Saying “no” may be interpreted as not valuing the host’s friendship. Traditionally, the entire family is included in an invitation. Bangladeshis usually avoid extending invitations to those they feel unable to entertain satisfactorily, and they may evade certain invitations, such as birthday parties, if they feel they cannot take an appropriate gift. Dinner guests are not expected to bring gifts, only to reciprocate the hospitality.

Picnics are a popular way to socialize. They are a common annual event for schools and businesses.


Kabadi - National SportVisiting friends and relatives is one of the main ways Bangladeshis spend their leisure time. The most popular sports are soccer, field hockey, cricket, table tennis, and badminton. In villages, many young people also enjoy hadudu or kabaddi. Kabaddi is called by different names in Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, and other countries in the region. Played on a square court, kabaddi is an ancient sport involving two teams with seven players each. One player from each team—the raider—must touch as many opponents as possible on the opponents’ side of the court, while the opponents try to avoid being touched and seek to prevent the raider from returning to the other side. The raider must chant the entire time, in order to accomplish the mission in one breath.

Televisions and videocassette recorders (VCRs) are becoming more popular in cities. Movie theaters are plentiful; Hindi films (often musicals) from India are very popular, and young people also enjoy films from the United States. Bangladeshis have a long artistic tradition that embraces poetry, literature, music, and dance.

Holidays and Celebrations

Secular holidays follow the Western calendar, but religious holidays follow the lunar calendar, so they fall on different days each year. A third calendar, the Bangla, determines seasons and the New Year, called Pahela Baishakh.

Ekushe February (21 February), or Martyrs’ Day, is a national day of mourning in honor of three students who died in a political protest in 1952. On this day, mourners form a procession from the Azimpur graveyard to Shaheed Minar. Independence Day (26 March, when independence was declared), Labor Day (1 May), and Victory Day (16 December, when independence was actually achieved) are the other secular holidays.

Eid ShoppingThe most important Muslim holidays are Eid al-Fitr, a three-day feast at the end of the monthlong fast of Ramzan (Ramadan); Eid al-Adha, which commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son; and Shab-i-Barat, a special night for asking for blessings. The Eid holidays begin with prayer services and are marked by three days of feasting and visiting. A common ritual is for children to bow and touch the feet of older people to show respect. The older people then give the children gifts, usually money. It is also customary to exchange one-third of the meat sacrificed during Eid al-Adha as gifts; another third is donated to the poor, and the remainder is kept. During Shab-i-Barat, neighbors exchange sweets.

Some Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian feasts are also celebrated as national holidays.


Bangladesh Table of Contents

Source: Microsoft ® Encarta ® Encyclopedia 2004

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