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Cultural Fascism in Bangladesh: The Case of Mangal Shobhayatra

Cultural Fascism in Bangladesh: The Case of Mangal Shobhayatra

30-06-2024
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During the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar, Bengal was completely dependent on agriculture. Astronomer Amir Fathullah Siraji converted the lunar calendar to the solar calendar at the behest of Emperor Akbar to facilitate tax collection in Bengal at that time. Based on this, Emperor Akbar introduced the Hijri solar calendar in 1584, according to 992 Hijri. Emperor Akbar ordered the circulation of this calendar from the year of his accession to the throne. That is why Bengali year-counting began in 963 Hijri. Muharram month of 963 Hijri was Bengali Baisakh month. For this reason, the Bengali calendar recognizes Baisakh as the first month, and the country celebrates Pahela Baisakh on the first day of this month.

During the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar, Bengal was completely dependent on agriculture. Astronomer Amir Fathullah Siraji converted the lunar calendar to the solar calendar at the behest of Emperor Akbar to facilitate tax collection in Bengal at that time. Based on this, Emperor Akbar introduced the Hijri solar calendar in 1584, according to 992 Hijri. Emperor Akbar ordered the circulation of this calendar from the year of his accession to the throne. That is why Bengali year-counting began in 963 Hijri. Muharram month of 963 Hijri was Bengali Baisakh month. For this reason, the Bengali calendar recognizes Baisakh as the first month, and the country celebrates Pahela Baisakh on the first day of this month.

Pahela Boishakh fairs have traditionally been held in villages in Bengal since long after the Bangabda tradition. A huge array of household and agricultural products, including furniture, can be seen at these fairs. Apart from this, the display of different types of toys made of clay, bamboo, and wood and different types of sweets such as jilapi, batasa, kadma, muri, and chinar moa are particularly noticeable in the fair. As the rural economy gradually turned towards the city, such fairs could be witnessed in different parts of the city on the occasion of Pahela Baisakh. Apart from the mentioned food in such mela, the ceremony of chatpoti, fuska, different types of pitha, khichuri, biryani, panta-ilish with various fillings, etc. is observed.

On the occasion of Pahela Boishakh, a common culture that has been followed and used by the businessmen of our Bengal region for a long time to open a new account after paying off old debts is called ‘Halkhata’. During the Halkhata festival, traders make plans to sweeten their debts. The traders organize this festival to collect the full dues, but the debtors pay the debts according to their ability. Therefore, despite the opening of a new Halkhata, old accounts often persist.

For a long time, Muslims and Hindus lived in Bengal in harmony, but there were occasional incidents of disruption due to political reasons. The people of Bengal have a Bengali culture, but the religious culture of Muslims and Hindus is different. The religion of Muslims, the main religious group in this country, has no place for idolatry, i.e., idol worship. Muslims believe in one God, and He has no image. Hindus believe in many gods and goddesses, and they make idols of these gods and goddesses, worship in front of the idols, and pray for their grace.

Since 1989, the last year of the eighth decade of the last century, a festival called Mangal Shobhayatra has been celebrated by playing drums, dancing, and singing, under the initiative of the Fine Arts Institute of Dhaka University. Among the symbols that have been used in the procession since its inception are owls, tigers, lions, peacocks, rats, elephants, ducks, bulls, butterflies, the sun, various masks, and Mars lamps. Each of these symbols is closely associated with Hindu religious culture. On the other hand, it is completely unrelated to Muslim religious culture.

According to Hindu religious beliefs, the peacock is the vehicle of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. According to the same religious belief, the vehicles of Goddess Durga are tigers and lions. In Hindu religious tradition, the vehicle of the deva commander, Karthik, is the peacock. The rat is the vehicle of Ganesha, the son of the Hindu religious deity Durga. Ganesha's face resembles that of an elephant. Hindu religious practices and beliefs show us that the duck is the vehicle of Vidyadevi Saraswati. Bull is the vehicle of Hindu religious god Shiva. Prajapati is the god of marriage, according to Hindu religious customs and culture. In the Hindu Dharmasastra, the sun is called the solar deity. In their religious accounts, the sun is the only deity whose presence can be witnessed every day. The masks that are used in the procession are images of humans, monsters, and various animals. Mangalpradeep is a special ritual performed by Hindus by lighting a lamp for the good wishes of various events.

Before 1989, there was no Mars procession observed anywhere in Bangladesh. Since 1989, the Mars procession started at the Dhaka University Fine Arts Institute and has expanded to different district cities over time and era. The organizers of the Mars procession and those who participate in this procession always claim to be non-sectarian and the festival universal. However, the question arises: given the absence of the traditions and cultures of the country's larger religious groups, why are the Mars procession and the presence of animal symbols used as vehicles for a particular religion?

Due to religious restrictions, the Muslim population of our country does not eat meat such as pigs, turtles, fish, etc. Similarly, Hindu people do not eat beef due to religious prohibitions. In our country, in any social or family event organized by a person or group of the Muslim or Hindu community, if other religions are invited, the host of the event should try not to disturb the religious culture in any way while serving food. There have been rare instances in the past of Muslims and Hindus forcing people from one community to eat something forbidden in their religion. But this does not mean that a person of one community who does not eat such food shall be prohibited in places where the presence or entry of another community is not prohibited.

A large portion of Dhaka University's art teachers and students claim to be non-communal. One year after the completion of the Mangal Sobhayatra, the teachers and a section of the participants in the procession from the Art Canteen were beaten up by the owner and manager of the canteen and vandalized the canteen furniture, claiming that the food served to them was Tehari made of beef and was fed without the knowledge of the Hindus. . In this regard, the Dean of Fine Arts and the convenor of the Mangal Shobhayatra commented that the question of Tehari supply of beef does not arise because the cooking of beef in the fine arts canteen has been prohibited for the past few years. When the owner and manager of the canteen were asked about this, they said that on that day, chicken polao was arranged for the Hindus, beef tehari for the Muslims, and khichuri and vegetables for the vegetarians. According to the canteen owner and manager, the slander, beatings, and vandalism were due to the failure of some leaders associated with organizing the Mangal Shobhayatra to take hundreds of free food packets.

The Fine Arts Institute is an educational institution under Dhaka University. Those who study various subjects at Dhaka University live in different residential halls of the university. There is a residential hall for Hindus called Jagannath Hall. Beef is never cooked in this hall, which is forbidden in Hinduism. On the other hand, it has the practice of cooking meat from all kinds of animals, which is not forbidden in Hinduism. Other residential halls are mainly occupied by Muslim students, and the canteens and dining halls of these residential halls cook meat from all animals that are not forbidden in Islam. If a Hindu student wants to live in these halls, there is no obstacle according to university law, but usually no one is interested. Cooking and serving beef is not prohibited as food for the majority of the people in the canteens in the various faculties and institutes of the university. If fine arts is an institution of Dhaka University, there is no room for cooking beef and serving it in the canteen here. The owner and manager of the fine arts canteen claimed that the Hindu students of the institute who beat him up and vandalized his canteen for cooking beef forced Tehari to cook pork for them in his canteen.

According to the dean of fine arts and the convenor of the Mangal procession, if indeed the ban on cooking and serving beef in fine arts is out of respect for the religious order of the Hindu students studying in the institute, the number of Hindu students studying at the institute is not less than the number of Muslim students. In this situation, among the Muslim students who want to pray during their stay in the institute, have the institute authorities arranged any separate room for praying there to help them observe the religious rules? If not, how can we say that the institute authorities and the students studying at the institute are non-sectarian?

The Pahela Boishakh Mangal procession organized by the Institute of Fine Arts in our country for the last three decades is completely associated with the culture and beliefs of the Hindus. It is not Bengali Muslim or universal Bengali culture. According to Hindus, Lord Krishna was born to destroy evil forces. Therefore, Hindus organize Mars processions in Bangladesh every year on Janmashtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna, to ward off evil spirits.

Pahela Boishakh, with the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna by the Hindus, the Mangal procession, which is universally known as the vehicle of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, and the use of distorted masks of various animals, including humans, to symbolize the destruction of evil forces and demons, is not in any way related to the religion and culture of Muslims, the main religion of the country.

For the past several years in our country, on the occasion of Pahela Boishakh, there has been a trend among people of different classes to wear new clothes and organize food related to Bengali culture according to their ability. Other nations around the world also have a tradition of celebrating the first day of the year in a festive atmosphere. Boishakhi Allowance has been introduced in the recently announced 8th National Pay Scale so that the government employees of our country can celebrate Pahela Boishakh in a festive atmosphere. Following in the footsteps of the government, the Boishakhi allowance has been introduced in a few private institutions, but most of the owners of private institutions are reluctant to give it. There is no doubt that if the owners of these recalcitrant institutions fail to pay Baisakhi allowance in the future, it will lead to disruption of peace and order and stability due to the dissatisfaction of the workers and employees.

The Pahela Boishakh trend among people of all classes in our country to wear new clothes produced in the country is positive for the country's economy. In Pahela Boishakh, women in our country wear sarees, and men wear pajama-punjabi. Although the sari is part of Bengali culture, the lungi and fatwa for Bengali Muslim men and the dhoti and fatwa for Bengali Hindu men are more closely related than the pajama-punjabi. We will certainly celebrate Pahela Boishakh on the first day of the Bengali New Year in a festive atmosphere. And that should be a festival of universal Bengali culture, unrelated to Bengali Muslim and Hindu culture. If a procession is to be taken out alone on that festival, it will carry the message of a happy new year, irrespective of religion or caste. Moreover, when the people of this country have a higher Muslim majority and the Quran also displays the importance of worshipping one God, Muslims should avoid the procession in order to keep their beliefs in one God. We should not consider any culture that fosters fascism within a religion as a mandate of the Quran. A Hindu culture has been tried to promote in this country, remarking that it is an integral part of the Bengali culture. We all need to be aware of these events, as they only promote fascism in Muslim beliefs and Islamic practices.

References:

Alom, Zahangir. (2018, April 18). Mangal Shobhajatra: An Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The Daily Star. https://www.thedailystar.net/arts-entertainment/event/mangal-shobhajatra-intangible-cultural-heritage-humanity-1561927

Md Fazla Rabby, Mir. (2021, January). Mangal Shobhajatra : A symbolic representation of Bangladesh's syncretistic culture. The Jahangirnagar Review, Part-C, Vol-XXX, pp 423-446, ISSN 2306-3920

Mangal Shobhajatra to have a new look, new route. The Daily Ittefaq. https://en.ittefaq.com.bd/8289/mangal-shobhajatra-to-have-a-new-look-new-route

Arefin, Abu. (2026, December 1). The traditional Rally of Bangla New Year is now a UNESCO cultural heritage. SBS Bangla. https://www.sbs.com.au/language/bangla/en/article/the-traditional- rally-of- bangla- new- year-is- now-a- unesco-cultural-heritage/e9f3wc10e

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Md Uzzal Hossain
Md Uzzal Hossain is a writer and political analyst
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