Hundreds of people have taken part in the colourful Mongol Shobhajatra procession, welcoming Pohela Boishakh 1424 with a call to denounce militancy.
The Mongol Shobhajatra was brought out from the Dhaka University campus on Friday morning by participants carrying masks and sculptures of flowers, birds, the sun and animals.
With the slogan ‘Anondoloke Mongolaloke Biraj Satyasundor’, this year's Mongol Shobhajatra urged Bangladeshis to shun militancy.
The procession, organised by the Faculty of Fine Arts like previous years, prominently featured a sun at the front.
“The sun stands for our call to come to the light shunning the darkness,” Fine Arts Dean Prof Nisar Hossain said. “Militancy wants to drag us into the darkness. This time, we are calling for people to ignore the call of darkness and look towards light.”
Unesco last year recognised the Mongol Shobhajatra as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.
It said that the Mongol Shobhajatra “symbolises the pride of the people of Bangladesh in their living heritage, as well as their strength and courage to fight sinister forces, and their vindication of truth and justice”.
Various religion-based parties and organisations have been demanding a stop to the procession, dubbing it "anti-Islamic".
Taking part in Friday's procession, Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor said Noboborsho is the main festival of Bengalis.
"This colourful and enthusiastic programme is a protest against the communal forces and to welcome the new year," he said. "The massive turnout at the procession means that Bengalis are not scared of any threat from any party or group".
DU Vice Chancellor AAMS Arefin Siddique said that the attendance of general people at the procession proved that they did not believe in segregation and communalism.
The Mongol Shobhajatra was first organised in 1985 in Jessore and has been replicated in Dhaka since 1989, featuring colourful masks, carnival floats of birds and animals, and other motifs of Bangladeshi culture.
Over the years, it has become a key element of the Pohela Boishakh celebrations.
Last year's recognition by Unesco added more colour to the festival. Businessman Parvez Hossain joined in Mongol Shobhajatra with his son and wife, all clad in traditional dresses.
Computer Engineer Mizanur Rahman came to Dhaka from Narayanganj to join the procession.
“I wanted to be part of history. This is the first Mongol Shobhajatra after it was recognised by Unesco,” he said.
With Dhaka Metropolitan Police deploying 11,000 policemen onto the streets of the capital on Friday, revellers said they were satisfied with security measures and had been encouraged to take part in the procession without any fear thanks to the heightened security.
The carrying of bags and wearing of masks were not allowed.
Special police teams have also been deployed at Ramna Batamul, Suhrawardy Udyan, DU and adjacent areas to prevent any kind of sexual harassment, mugging and other criminal activities.