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The Boishakhi Mela Parade

June 29, 2019
by the gentle author

Tomorrow, the Boishakhi Mela is celebrated in Spitalfields starting around 11am

The streets of Spitalfields are closed off from dawn and, in the cool of early morning, an expectant hush lies upon the neighbourhood. Then, in the distance, comes the sound of drumming which grows and grows until around midday the Boishakhi Mela procession arrives, 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 gather on the far side of Spitalfields Market, before lining up in Lamb St. Once everyone is assembled, the mayor takes a photocall and cuts a ribbon. Then they all set off past the Golden Heart and into Hanbury St before erupting onto Brick Lane where, among curry houses, Bengali grocers and in the shadow of the mosque, the whole extravagant drama takes on its full meaning. The narrow street and tall buildings intensify the din of drumming, whistles and horns, while spectators find themselves crowded together and swept along by the infectious sense of carnival that rules Brick Lane. This annual moment, of the Boishakhi Mela procession passing through Brick Lane, manifests the jubilant apotheosis of Bengali culture, both here in the East End and for members of the Bengali diaspora across Britain.

I nipped 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 homes to wave and the homeless 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 is merely the catalyst to ignite the festivities and, for the rest of the day, the streets, parks and curry houses of the East End are full with high-spirited revellers enjoying the blessing of the sunshine. Everyone has plenty to celebrate, because it is Bengali New Year and the weekend summer arrives in Spitalfields too.

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At the Great Yiddish Parade

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    June 29, 2019

    Love the elephant!

  2. June 29, 2019

    Thank goodness there are these wonderful, exuberant, colourful celebrations of life within our cities. This blending of people from across the globe adds to the wellbeing of everyone.

  3. Richard permalink
    June 29, 2019

    Happy New year!

  4. Lois Tarr permalink
    June 29, 2019

    Want to echo Jan Toms’ comments and add-what great photography that’s clear and bright.
    Thank you!

  5. Anne Scott permalink
    July 1, 2019

    Thank you for posting this celebration. I learn something new all the time reading spitalfieldslife!

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