Monsoon has arrived late this year. The rainy season usually begins in June and ends in September, but it starts raining continuously from September. So it is too late to catch hilsa. Hilsa, or ilish, is costlier than any other fish in the country. Even so, it is difficult to find a Bengali who does not want to buy and eat the fish during the monsoon. Apart from being the national fish of the country, there is no end to the passion and enthusiasm of the people of this country about the fish.
According to the fisheries and livestock ministry, there are 735 species of fish in Bangladesh. But there is no clear explanation in government or non-government records or in history books as to why hilsa has been named the national fish. While studying the co-relation between Bangladesh’s seas, rivers, water bodies and fish, the issue of big rivers like the Brahmaputra and the Ganges flowing from the upstream will come up.
There is a geographical cause and effect that after originating from those two basins, thousands of small and big rivers flow into the Bay of Bengal. Alongside hilsa, Bangalees have also passion for chital, pangash and rui.
In search of the history as to why hilsa is selected as the national fish of the newly independent country in 1972, we spoke to the country’s leading and senior fisheries experts who were in charge of administration and research in 1971 and 1972, many of whom have witnessed the selection of Bangladesh’s national fish, fruits, flowers and animals in 1972. However, most of them could not give any single reason for selecting hilsa as the national fish. Because, historically, apart from hilsha, the fishes rui, katla, boal, koi, shrimps, poa, puti and tengra were also popular in the country’s rivers. These people who were in important positions at that time had a common opinion — the level of excitement and discussion about hilsha was not at the same level as in the sixties or seventies as is now. Hilsha was popular indeed, but there were fish with similar levels of popularity.
Even Mohammed Farashuddin, the personal assistant of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1972 , was asked why hisha was picked as national fish among so much fishes. The economist, who later worked as governor of Bangladesh Bank, said it cannot be said hilsha took top spot in the list of Bangabandhu’s favourite fishes. During most of the time, Bangabandhu used to eat puti, tengra, mola and pabda. He seldom had hilsha.
But the close aide of Bangabandhu believes the taste of hilsha had been famous for centuries. It looks bright and found mostly in Bangladesh. This can be caught easily without cultivating. Bangabandhu might have taken these factors in consideration when selecting it as the national fish.