History of the Amar Ekushey Grantha Mela (Book Fair)
The Bangla language has always been at the forefront of our national identity. Amar Ekushey Boi Mela (Book Fair) is a significant part of Bangladesh's history, culture and literature. Every year, the book fair is held in the month of February. It is the biggest book fair in the country where publishers display and sell printed books under diverse categories. This fair offers great opportunities for the readers to meet their favourite writers, poets, novelists, and publishers face-to-face. Besides serving as a platform to encourage readers to read and buy books, the Boi Mela also works as a monthlong cultural hub - showcasing the diversity of Bangladesh. Let's look into the history of the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela.
Chittaranjan Saha: Starting Boi Mela from a Mat at Bangla Academy Premises
Chittaranjan Saha was born in the Noakhali district in 1927. His publishing house Punthighar Prokashoni, located at Banglabazar in Dhaka, was burnt down in 1971. Chittaranjan Saha left Dhaka after March 26. He took shelter in Agartala and then moved to Calcutta (Kolkata) during the Liberation War.
During the Liberation War, many prominent writers, artists, and journalists from Bangladesh had to stay in Calcutta as refugees. During that period, Chittaranjan arranged a meeting with some of the most prominent litterateurs residing in Calcutta. They decided to write and publish about the injustice and war in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan). Thus, Muktodhara was born.
In February, 1972, Chittaranjan Saha laid a mat under the tree in front of the Bangla Academy building and put on display about 32 (33 according to some sources) books as a homage to the Language Movement martyrs of 1952.
Though Chittaranjan Saha initiated the Boi Mela from a humble beginning, according to some sources, he was not the first person who started selling books at Bangla Academy premises in February. Ruhul Amin Nizami of Standard Publishers started displaying Russian books. Those books were very popular at that time for their rich content and affordable prices.
History Behind the First Book Fair in Bangladesh
Though Chittaranjan Saha is recognised as the initiator of Ekushey Boi Mela, the root of the book fair goes deeper.
The first book fair in then East Pakistan was held in 1965. The initiative was taken by Sardar Jainuddin, who was born in 1918 in Pabna.
In 1965, he started displaying some children's books on the ground floor of the Dhaka University Library. At that time, he was working on a project for UNESCO regarding children's books.
In 1970, Jainuddin organised a book fair in Narayanganj in association with Narayanganj Club.
As UNESCO declared 1972 the 'International Book Year', in December, Jainuddin took initiative to arrange a book fair inside Bangla Academy. Since then, Bangla Academy got directly involved with book fair events.
The Journey of Ekushey Boi Mela
Chittaranjan Saha continued putting books on display and selling them at the Bangla Academy premises for a few more years. In 1976, getting inspired by this idea of selling books, other publishers came together and joined in. Bangla Academy merged with this initiative in 1978.
Ashraf Siddiqui was the director general of Bangla Academy at that time, and he had an active role in the association of academy with the book fair. Bangla Academy's association took Boi Mela to another level.
In 1979, a book fair was held at the courtyard of Bangla Academy with the collaboration of 'Bangladesh Pustok Bikreta O Prokashok Samity' (founded by Chittaranjan Saha) and the Bangla Academy authority.
How did Ekushey Book fair get the official title?
Though the book fair event was organized for several years, it had no definite title or clear format. It was known as the 'Annual Book Fair' or 'Dhaka Book Fair.' Later in 1984, the book fair was embraced permanently with the spirit of February 21. Manjure Mawla - the then director general of Bangla Academy - tried to organize the book fair with the title 'Amar Ekushey Grantha Mela' in 1983. However, the event was moved to the following year.
A guideline was prepared for the book fair and the first ever 'Amar Ekushey Grantha Mela' took place in 1984. Since then, the book fair has had its official title.
Duration And Venue of Amar Ekushey Grantha Mela
In the initial years, the book fair was arranged for a very short duration. It was held for a week - from the 15th to the 21st of February. During this time, there was a special discount on Bangla Academy books.
Later, the book fair was held for 21 days - from February 1 to 21. However, the duration of the book fair was once reduced to 14 days. But as per the demand of the publishers, the duration of the book fair was extended again to 21 days.
As the Boi Mela got wide acceptance, it was extended from 21 days to the whole month of February. It also lasts for 29 days in leap years. In 2013 or 2014, there was a demand to extend the duration of the fair to March 26. However, this demand was not considered.
The venue of the fair has also gone some through changes. In the very beginning, there were few publishers. The book fair events were organised inside Bangla Academy. During the fair, the publishers' stalls were separated by making partitions on the ground and walls. As the years passed by, the book fair became hugely popular, and many publishers showed interest to join the Amar Ekushey Grantha Mela.
In 2012, the number of publishers participating in the book fair was 425. Due to a large number of publishers and crowds, the Ekushey Boi Mela was extended to Suhrawardy Udyan near Bangla Academy in 2014. As a result, the fair has expanded considerably.
The history and roots aside, when Chittaranjan Saha, Sardar Jainuddin, and other publishers initiated the Ekushey Boi Mela, their main objective was not financial gain but to encourage a society that embraces and showcases the cultural identity of Bangladesh and Bangla literature. Another goal was to enlighten people about the history and culture of other parts of the world. The Ekushey Book Fair also serves as a platform for discussions on important cultural and social issues and provides a space for writers, publishers, and readers to come together.
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