Preparations are underway in full swing to observe Mongol Shobhajatra, an iconic colourful procession being organised since 1989 in Dhaka’s Shahbagh on Pohela Boishakh, the first day of every Bangla New Year.
More than 150 students of the Fine Arts Faculty of Dhaka University are working around the clock in presence of the police to make this year’s celebrations a success.
The procession was recognised by the Unesco as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in November last year. Later the government decided to observe the day will utmost importance while the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education asked all educational institutions to bring out Mongol Shobhajatra on April 14.
The government move, however, has irked the hardline Islamist groups who have threatened to thwart the celebrations terming Mongol Shobhajatra anti-Islamic and part of a Hindu culture.
This year, the organisers are focusing on celebrating truth and justice with the slogan “Anondo Loke, Mongol Aloke, Birajo Sottyo Sundro” (in the abode of joy and benevolence lies the beautiful truth).
During a visit on Friday, they are making motifs of birds and animals, folk characters and masks among other colourful components that the participants would carry during the procession.
The students are also making different small products to raise funds for the procession.
The organisers, who are concerned over the threats by Islamists, say more than 100 other students would join them in the last three days.
On November 30, the Inter-governmental Committee on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Unesco agreed that 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.”
Earlier, the government announced special allowance for public servants on the occasion of Pohela Boishakh.
The Islamist groups campaigning against the Pohela Boishakh celebrations and Mongol Shobhajatra include Hefazat-e-Islam, Islami Oikyo Jote, Islami Andolon Bangladesh and Awami Olama League.
Some influential clerics who have long been opposing Pohela Boishakh are Abdur Razzak Bin Yusuf, Delawar Hossain Sayedee, Kazi Md Ibrahim, Rafiqullah Afsari, Mozaffar Bin Mohosin, Khondokar Abdullah Jahangir and Sifat Hasan.
In recent statements, militant groups Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s Bangladesh offshoot Ansar al-Islam have criticised the Muslims for allowing the Pohela Boishakh celebrations.
Members of banned militant group HujiB killed 10 people and injured dozens of others in a bomb attack on the decade-old traditional performance of Chhayanaut cultural academy bracing Pohela Boishakh at Ramna Batamul in 2001.
But the people did not stop attending the day’s programmes in Dhaka or elsewhere. Mongol Shobhajatra is also replicated by Bangladeshis living abroad.