Esho hey Boishakh, esho esho/ Taposho nihshasho baye/ Murmurshore dao uraye/ Botshorer aborjona/ Dur hoye Jak, Jak, Jak/ Esho, Esho -these immortal lines of the signature song on Nababarsha by Rabindranath Tagore reflect how passionately Bangalis welcome Baishakh, the first month of Bangla calendar year, for a new beginning leaving behind the gloomy days of the past. They want to make a New Year resolution to start the year with new plans and spirit.
It is an occasion of unbridled joy for them. Like all other traditional occasions they love to celebrate Pahela Baishakh or Bangla New Year in a festive manner.
These celebrations and good wishes are combined together in the Mangal Shobhajatra, a traditional procession arranged by the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka, where the mass people regardless of cast, creed, religion, gender and age participate freely and spontaneously with colourful festoons and traditional objects reflecting Bangali culture and heritage.
The energy with which it is celebrated is something one has to witness in person in order to believe. Men wearing colourful pajama-punjabis and women wearing red and white sarees with their hair bedecked in flowers join this celebration rally. Many people decorate themselves with traditional attires and show off our conventional activities mirroring the rustic Bangali professionals including farmers, day labourers, carpenters, tantis, potters and blacksmiths. They play our customary musical instruments such as Flute, Ektara, Dotara, Dugdugi, Kortal, Dhol and Dhak. City dwellers join the parade and seek well-being for the nation and vow to build a secular, happy and prosperous Bangladesh for which three million people sacrificed their lives during our glorious Liberation War in 1971. This year the Mangal Shobhajatra will be arranged with more enthusiasm and in a befitting manner as the 11th session of the Inter-governmental Committee on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage inscribed the traditional programme on UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on November 30, 2016. The heads of all educational institutions under the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Boards have been asked to celebrate Pahela Baishakh with due importance. The government has made it compulsory for them to bring out Mangal Shobhajatra on that day. The decision was taken in an inter-ministerial meeting on February 27 this year. It is also mentionable that even before these directives were issued, people living in the CHT districts used to arrange Mangal Shobhajatra as a part of their Baishabi Festival celebration.
The Bangla New Year has been celebrated for hundreds of years. Mangal Shobhajatra was not an integral part of Pahela Baishakh observance until mid 80s. Albeit Pahela Baishakh was more known as an economic festival through village fair, tax collection and halkhata than a cultural fiesta, but during the military dictatorship of Field Martial Ayub Khan in late 60s when Pakistan government prohibited Rabindra Sangeet in Radio Pakistan, Bangali cultural activists protested and they chose to celebrate Pahela Baishakh to exhibit the strength of Bangla language and Bangali culture. Chayanaut, a front row cultural organisation, began Bangla New Year celebration programme in Ramna Batamul in Dhaka. They have been arranging the function continuously since 1967, with only exception in 1971. But that is only a musical programme, no parade or procession depicting the Bangali culture is there. The tradition of conducting Mangal Shobhajatra dates back to 1985. After completing academic studies from the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka, recluse sculptor Mahbub Jamal Shamim went back to his village home in Jessore and established an art school named ‘Charupith’. This art school arranged the first Mangal Shobhajatra of the country on Pahela Baishakh in 1985. During the tyrannous regime of Lt. General Hussain Muhammad Ershad, when religious extremism got state patronisation and the basic principle of Bangladesh constitution was changed through declaring a state religion in 1988, students and teachers of the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka, first started Mangal Shobhajatra as a part of Pahela Baishakh celebration in Dhaka in 1989 in order to project their art works highlighting the tradition and culture of our country and to create awareness against all kinds of communal extremism and imperialistic cultural aggression. Despite a prevalent neo-cultural practice in Dhaka, Mangal Shobhajatra has become a significant platform for the city dwellers to reconnect with their origin who have been detached from their root.
Students and teachers of the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka, arrange Mangal Shobhajatra with their own finance. They paint mask, clay pots and paintings using different mediums and organise art exhibitions for selling those to collect money for it. Renowned artists, present and former students and teachers of fine arts work for the exhibitions and the art enthusiasts and mass people buy their art works. They work for the exhibition and Mangal Shobhajatra simultaneously. While visiting the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka, this correspondent has found a number of students working with dedication. Mainly the students of 18 and 19 batches of fine arts are coordinating everything for this year’s Mangal Shobhajatra. Shobuj Das, one of the organisers, said, “As this year Mangal Shobhajatra has obtained an international recognition, we will try to conduct it in a more festive way. We have been working to complete twelve big structures to display in the procession. Different rural motifs and traditional designs including duck, cock, bird, owl, horse, tiger, elephant, dancing doll, sampan boat will be used this year. We hope that the residents of Dhaka city will come and join the Mangal Shobhajatra to make it more colourful.”
Fauzia Nasrin Dola, a BFA third year student of Drawing and Painting department, said, “We have never lost our secular spirit. Some of us have only got confused by the misinterpretations, but so far, they have not succeeded in tearing us apart. Our optimism runs high. We will defeat all the obstacles against our true spirit and will stay united.”
Shoaib Hossain, a second year student of Oriental Art, shared, “This day is very special because of its spirit as it tells everyone to come and gather in one place so that the differences are minimised. All our efforts will have meaning if the people of this country enjoy the Shobhajatra.”
Anisur Rahman Mohsin and Elora Ahmed, a couple from Old Town, came with their only daughter Srabosti Rahman Alo to watch the activities of the students and teachers of fine arts. They come every year to buy art works before Pahela Baishakh so that the students can arrange fund for Mangal Shobhajatra. They shared that they want to introduce Bangali culture to their daughter and requested the government to provide enough security during the festival time.
Professor Nisar Hossain, Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts, stated, “This year we have selected the theme of Mangal Shobhajatra as ‘Anondoloke mongolaloke birajo shotto shundor’. We believe that we can make a better world if we can nurture truth and beauty in every aspect of life. And it will be possible if the light can be spread in all the corners of our society. Keeping that in mind, the biggest symbol of this year’s Mangal Shobhajatra is the sun. We hope that the light of humanism will enlighten every one and remove darkness. Besides, structure of a tiger will reflect our fearlessness and an elephant will symbolise our prosperity. People belonging to all classes are cordially invited to join the procession.”
This year Mangal Shobhajatra in Shahbagh will begin after the completion of Chayanaut’s Barshabaran programme in Ramna batamul. The celebration parade will start from the Faculty of Fine Arts to reach Hotel Intercontinental and come back to the Faculty of Fine Arts. No one will be allowed to join the rally on the way. Eleven thousands of law enforcement agency members in dress and plain cloth will remain alert to avoid any kind of unexpected situation. Besides the central programme, this colourful procession will be conducted in division, district, upazilla and union level. It is understandable that in the face of gradual rise in militant activities why the government wants to extend the tradition of Mangal Shobhajatra throughout the country. But, there are debates regarding the decision. Instead of forcing the students to join in the programme, they can inspire them to take part spontaneously by inculcating the basic tenets of our culture through conducting different cultural activities all around the year.
However maintaining a tight security during Mangal Shobhajatra all over the country could be a tough task for the law enforcement agencies. So, the government as well as the mass people should remain alert as there are certain threats from the extremists to prevent Mangal Shobhajatra in different parts of the country.
Finally, some people may question the necessity of arranging such celebration? Our history is demonstrated on the very first day of the Bangla New Year where the greatness of this land comes to limelight which retells us that our culture has the potentials to join the hedonistic journey of any culture, and we do not have to look or behave like any other. Mangal Shobhajatra as a platform of Pahela Baishakh celebration reminds us that our culture and tradition refer to the lifestyles of our ancestors who worked hard to develop our civilization. We have had a time of opulence and so we could come up with such ideas that would flaunt our happy times throughout the history. Our imagination and panache about prosperity have turned into reality and the artistry has carried all those signatures to our time. One would look back in history to have a grounded identity and to claim his or her sense of belonging. The Pahela Baishakh celebration is our modus operandi to claim our identity. And Mangal Shobhajatra gives a greater meaning of it with a touch of our heritage.