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The Baishakhi Mela in Spitalfields

May 24, 2010
by the gentle author

The streets of Spitalfields were closed off from dawn yesterday and, in the cool of early morning, an expectant hush lay upon the neighbourhood. Then, in the distance, came the sound of drumming which grew and grew until around midday the Baishakhi Mela procession arrived, beneath a transparent blue sky, filling Brick Lane with a joyful chaos of colour and noise and life. The Mela, celebrating the Bengali New Year, is the largest Bengali festival held outside Bangladesh and, for one day, Spitalfields is transported to another continent.

From mid-morning, drummers, dancers, groups of children, and fantastic carnival animals gathered on the far side of Spitalfields Market, before lining up in Lamb St. Once everyone was assembled, the mayor took a photocall and cut a ribbon. Then they all set off past the Golden Heart and into Hanbury St before erupting onto Brick Lane where, among curry houses, Bangladeshi grocers and in the shadow of the mosque, the whole extravagant drama took on its full meaning. The narrow street and tall buildings intensified the din of drumming, whistles and horns, while spectators found themselves crowded together and swept along by the infectious sense of carnival that ruled Brick Lane. This annual moment, of the Baishakhi Mela procession passing through Brick Lane, manifests the jubilant apotheosis of Bangladeshi culture, both here in East London and for members of the Bangladeshi diaspora across Britain.

Meanwhile, I was nipping around, in and out the crowd, jumping onto street furniture and sprinting through the side streets to catch every detail of the parade. Standing upon a telephone junction box, I found myself eye-to-eye with those riding the magnificent elephant, and party to spectacular perspectives up and down Brick Lane, of the procession of dancers and drummers stretching in either direction, as far as I could see. The lyrical images passing before my eyes added up to a poem, with each carnival float and attendants attired in silk and tinsel, comprising a sequence of verses featuring an owl, butterflies, a giant waterlily, an elephant and a turtle. It evoked the imaginative universe of a dream, or a collection of Indian folk tales, or a set of miniature paintings, except it was here now – loud and brash – and in your face in Brick Lane!

I followed the procession as it turned into Old Montague St where the atmosphere changed as the crowds ebbed away. In the residential streets, people leaned out of the windows of their houses to wave, and homeless people woke from sleeping on the grass to witness an unlikely vision. From here, it was a short journey to arrive at Weavers’ Fields which held a funfair and a huge concert stage. The parade was merely the catalyst to ignite the festivities and, for the rest of the day, the streets, parks and curry houses of the East End were full with high-spirited revellers enjoying the blessing of the sunshine. Everyone had plenty to celebrate, because it was Bengali New Year and the day Summer arrived in Spitalfields too.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    December 14, 2014

    the bright south asian colors and then the marguerites in the grass, so beautiful.

  2. Amanda permalink
    December 20, 2018

    l learn something fascinating from the GA every day.
    l hopped over from Spitalfields Nativity procession onto this page to see the colourful Bengali parade.
    Thanks to Jeanette l now learn the
    French for our common DAISY is Marguerite.
    Moreover having loved and grown the bigger white or purple Margaritas in patio pots, l’d never associated the fairy like DAISIES on the lawn as being the miniature of my favourites.

    Wonderful photo of the daisies in the dappled shadows of the tree.
    One imagines they may light up at night when the streets are deserted.

  3. Study the time traveller permalink
    June 16, 2023

    Just popped in from 2023 to note the total lack of mobile phone usage in these pics! The nearest we got was a camcorder (remember those?) and a compact camera in the first pic.

    If anyone goes to this parade nowadays all you see is a crowd of people holding up their mobiles to capture the scene for – well – prosperity I suppose!

  4. Debra. E. Sewell permalink
    December 20, 2023

    facinating! I learn something every time. All these you shared made me want to be there to see in person. I will get to England in future and to these neighborhoods you teach us about. History is everything. It must be remembered and told. Thank you always for peoples stories of days past. And their photos. to see their faces.

    thank you

    Debra Sewell

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