It was Bijoya Dashami yesterday, the 10th and the final day of Durga Puja festivities, which was celebrated amid colourful jubilations in different parts of Dhaka.
The day marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura, after fighting with the evil for ten days and nine nights.
In this aura of joy amid the Hindu community, Dhaka Tribune correspondents took the opportunity to visit several puja mandaps across the capital and found a harmonious presence of different faiths and respect among people.
Though not a scenario that can be imagined by all, the correspondents found many Muslims working with the puja organising communities at the mandaps to make the occasion a success.
In Old Dhaka’s Shakhari Bazar, huge gatherings were seen in front of each puja mandap; a total of nine were set up with a gap of not more than 15 feet from one another.
And in one of them, Fazlul Haque, a residence of Lakshmibazar, was found taking part in the festivities.
When asked, Fazlul, who had two daughters and wife with him, said: “We went inside each of the mandap and saw the Durga idols. We also had sweets there.
“It is a holiday and a festive time,” he said adding that he and two of his Hindu friends enjoy each others religious festivals equally.
Moving around, one of our correspondents came across a group of youths, all students of Jagannath University and mixed religions. The group of 11 youths was dancing on the street and roaming around from one mandap to another.
One of them, Md Abdul Aziz said: “In the old town, this is a tradition and a common culture. Hindu, Muslim, Christian – it really doesn’t matter.”
Celebrations at Dhakeswari and Jagannath Hall mandaps were no different.
When the procession with the idols was on its way to the Buriganga for immersion, a good number of people from different faiths were found riding with the motorcade.
People were seen on the footpath watching the motorcade pass and they were taking pictures and videos on their phones.
Many students of Dhaka University were also seen to join the procession when the motorcade passed Jagannath Hall.
According to leaders of Bangladesh Puja Udjapan Parishad, the Puja was celebrated at 29,395 permanent and temporary mandaps across the country this year, including 229 in Dhaka.
Asked about how he sees the communal harmony that prevailed during the festival, Shaymal Pal, president of Banglabazar Durga Puja celebration committee, said: “We are celebrating Puja for the last 83 years and it is a festivity that goes beyond the Hindu community.
“We have never faced any kind of problem. We respect all religions and to show respect we ask the organising members at mandaps to turn off music during the time of Azan. Our festivities even continue until late night.”
Centring the Puja festivities, a colourful fair is traditionally organised just beside Victoria Park in Old Dhaka where many temporary shops are set up on both sides of the road.
Talking to one of the correspondents, Sunil Chowdhury, a salesman at a sweetmeat shop there, said most of his customers during the five-day Puja festivities were not Hindus.
Saiful Islam, an attendant of Lakshmibazar mosque, said: “Why would I not show them respect? It is their right to perform their religious activities. I may not directly visit the mandaps but I join in some of the festivities like attending the fair.”
Old Dhaka’s Ekrampur Puja Committee has been celebrating Durga Puja for the last 44 years and out of their 21 members, 10 are Muslims.
Hedayet Hossain, a member of the committee, said that it was a celebration beyond religion. “So why would we not join it? I feel honoured to be a member of the Puja organising committee,” he said.
Shakharibazar’s Notun Kuri Puja Udjapon Committee President Sampad Pandit however said that they were a bit worried but all had ended well.
“We were in doubt that whether the recent militant issues would harm our festivity. But we got support from law enforcers and the general people,” he said.
Mridul Moharaj, assistant secretary of Ramkrishna Mission, Dhaka, said: “This year Durga Puja has been celebrated across the country with delightful participation from all castes and religions similar to previous years. It is our thousand-year-old tradition in which Bangali people love to take part in the celebrations regardless of their religions.”
Sociologist Professor Monirul Islam Khan said that in the concept of Bangali spirit, Durga Puja was a universal festival for the country.
He said the Puja festivities were observed in the same manner even during the Pakistan period.
However, Maulana Farid Uddin Masud told the Dhaka Tribune that every person had different views.
“In terms of celebration it can be said that Puja is an universal festivity but in religious terms it is not the same,” he added.