Bangladesh: Bengali Language Movement



Background preceding the Movement

The Bengali language movement Bhasha Andolon

Contributors to the movement

Personal experience

Celebrating Ekushe February
(21st February)

A brief account of post-language movement

Declaration ofInternational Mother Language Day

About the Bengali language and the Bangladesh National Anthem with translation


Contact me

  ~Celebrating"Ekushey February": Language Martyr's Day~

21st February has become an iconic event for Bengalis all over the world. It is more commonly referred to as Ekushey February or Ekushey, the day when all Bengalis dress in black and white, murmuring songs of lament. The day is a public holiday and the national flag flies at half-mast atop all government and private buildings.  In the very early dawn, people come out of their houses to go to the graveyard at Azimpur, Dhaka to place flowers on the graves of the martyrs before beginning other programmes. This ritualistic early morning slow procession has come to be known as “Prabhat Pheri”.  In every house, young men and women, children and older citizens, takes preparation throu

ghout the day and the night such cleaning and ironing their clothes or decorating their courtyards, before to observe the day with due seriousness. Young men and women with artistic skill draw special motifs known in Bangla as ‘alpana’ on the roads. As darkness gradually receded, silent mourners in all white go out on the roads, walking bare feet holding a bunch of flowers in hand towards the graves of the Language Martyrs. As men and women proceed towards Azimpur. At one minute past midnight on 21 February, the President of Bangladesh arrives at the Shaheed Minar to pay homage to the language martyrs. He is followed by the Prime Minister, members of the cabinet, staff of diplomatic missions in Dhaka, political leaders, representatives of various institutions and organisations etc. Throughout the day, people of all ages and from all walks of life visit the Shaheed Minar to pay tribute to those who gave their lives for Bangla. They sing the elegy/ song that marks Ekushey, “Amar Bhaier Roktey Rangano Ekushey February, Ami Ki Bhulitey Pari” (Can I forget the twenty-first of February incarnadined by the blood of my brother? ) in chorus. Once inside the graveyard, they file past the graves silently and place the flowers in their hands with tears in their eyes. Everyone wore a black ribbon as a mark of mourning for the martyrs. From Azimpur the mourners go to the central Shaheed Minar to place some more flowers on the altar. After placing the flowers on the graves the mourners either go to attend some major programme held at Ramna or join the smaller ones held at the locality under the banner of local clubs. Commemorative programmes used to be held at the major university student halls. Unfortunately over the years, the mood has undergone certain changes that are not appreciated by the older generation who have enjoyed the Prabhat Pheri for years since it was practised. Today, political parties vie for the front seat with a show of belligerence that leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many. Schools and cultural institutions host programs, plays and concerts based on the culture and Ekushey. All day and even all week long, television channels style their schedule focused around the theme of Ekushey. Shishu Academy and Shilpokola Academy, two notable cultural organizations in Dhaka, sometimes hold parades.


The celebration actually goes on for the entire month of February because of the “Ekushey Boi Mela” (“Ekushey book fair”) or Omor Ekushey Grontho Mela ("Book Fair of the Immortal 21st"). In 2008, 362 book stalls have been set up by publishers, book sellers and such other organization including Bangla Academy and Nazrul Institute. The venue of the book festival and outside is decorated with banners, festoons and placards in conformity with the spirit of Amar Ekushey (“My Ekushey”). The entire fair venue is free from smoking and polythene. It is the cultural reunion of Bangladesh where nearly every writing-related person comes. Attracted by discounted price (25%), readers rush there. Given the importance, generally head of government inaugurates the book fair on the first day of February. TVs make life broadcast of the inaugural ceremony.


The Ekushey February Song

To mark the Bengali Language Movement, famous author and columnist Mr. Abdul Gaffar Choudhury wrote the song "Amar Bhaier Rokte Rangano Ekushey February" which means "My Brothers Blood Spattered 21st February". The tune of the song represents Ekushey February in the hearts of every Bangladeshi as it plays in every corner of Bangladesh throughout the month of February. The song was first set to music by Abdul Latif, but later the composer Altaf Mahmud changed the tune to the present version. It is regarded by the listeners ofBBC Bengali Service as the third best song in Bengali.




The motif of the song is:

Can I forget the twenty-first of February
incarnadined by the blood of my brother?
The twenty-first of February, built by the tears
of a hundred mothers robbed of their sons,
Can I ever forget it?
Wake up all serpents,
wake up all summer thunder-storms,
let the whole world rise up
in anger and protest against the massacre of innocent children.
They tried to crush the demand of the people
by murdering the golden sons of the land.
Can they get away with it
at this hour when the times are poised
for a radical change?
No, no, no, no,
In the history reddened by blood
the final verdict has been given already
by the twenty-first of February.
It was a smooth and pleasant night,
with the winter nearly gone
and the moon smiling in the blue sky
and lovely fragrant flowers blossoming on the roadside,
and all of a sudden rose a storm,
fierce like a wild horde of savage beasts.
Even in the darkness we know who those beasts were.
On them we shower the bitterest hatred
of all mothers brothers and sisters.
They fired at the soul of this land,
They tried to silence the demand of the people,
They kicked at the bosom of Bengal.
They did not belong to this country.
They wanted to sell away her good fortune.
They robbed the people of food, clothing and peace.
On them we shower our bitterest hatred.
Wake up today, the twenty-first of February.
do wake you, please.
Our heroic boys and girls still languish in the prisons of the tyrant.
The souls of my martyred brothers still cry.
But today everywhere the somnolent strength
of the people have begun to stir
and we shall set February ablaze
by the flame of our fierce anger.
How can I ever forget the twenty-first of February?