With its "12 months and 13 festivals" in a calendar year, Bangladesh is known as a land of colourful celebrations for all of its amazing, jovial festivities. However, the country has suffered the havoc of the global pandemic of COVID-19 for the past two years just like the rest of the world, alongside all of its daily dozes of accidents, catastrophes and miseries. The country, which is known for constantly welcoming the Bengali new years with good tidings and colourful, traditional festivities throughout the decades, had to surrender to a deadly global disease named the Coronavirus, and the government had to call off the nationwide arrangements regarding the Pahela Baishakh, the very first day of the Bengali calendar year. The traditional 'Mangal Shobhajatra' (procession for wellbeing) and other festivities either got shelved or went virtual, celebrations got confined at homes due to the lockdowns, and people had to sacrifice the hope to celebrate unitedly under one roof, with extracting the positivity out of the dream that one day, the festivities will return.
Two years later, the county is once again gearing up this year for the celebration to welcome the Bengali New Year of 1429 with in-person festivities, as the present situation of COVID-19 has been much improved due to the rapid vaccination across the nation. Although the date this year has fallen in the holy month of Ramadan, cultural and social organizations are expecting that the netizens will admire the efforts and join the festivities, just like they have always done every year despite suffering the scorching heat of summer.
"For the past two years, we remained confined and home-quarantined due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, which was a devastating human-social-mental and economic catastrophe. Breaking all shackles, now the whole world is answering the call to wake up with enormous joy, thus Chhayanaut is also stepping up to welcome the Bengali New Year 1429 with its traditional festivity again at the Ramna Batamul in the capital, and this is not the first time we will be welcoming our new year in the holy month of Ramadan. Pahela Baishakh has been celebrated in Ramadan before; and this time too, the new year will be celebrated in Ramadan respecting the religious rituals. There is no conflict between culture and religion," said the legendary musicologist Sanjida Khatun, also the President of Chhayanaut, the country's oldest cultural institution which has regularly been arranging the traditional cultural festivity at the city's Ramna Park, to welcome the Bengali new year since 1967. The only exception was made in 1971 during the Liberation War of Bangladesh, before the back to back cancellation in 2020 and 2021 due to the global catastrophe of COVID-19.
For the past two years, Chhayanat has hosted the celebrations online. This year, it will perform the traditional Ragalap and Baishakhi music at the Ramna Batamul from 6:30 am under the theme "Nobo Anonde Jaago". Elaborating on how the institution is presenting this year, Chhayanaut General Secretary Laisa Ahmed Lisa said, "Although about 125 artists participate in the programme every year, we have decided to reduce the number of artists this year's programme considering health guidelines."
Each year, the morning celebrations of Pahela Baishakh in the city take place by two of the major cultural institutions of the country. One is the aforementioned Chhayanaut and its early-morning traditional cultural presentation which has earned its fame as one of the grandest regular cultural celebrations in the world, and the other one is arranged by the students and teachers of Dhaka University's Faculty of Fine Arts (FFA), colloquially known as 'Charukola.' Since 1989, the DU Faculty of Fine Arts has been celebrating the traditional 'Mangal Shobhajatra,' which translates to the "March of Good Tidings." In this vibrantly meaningful procession, participants move forward with masquerades and gigantic replicas of birds, fish, animals, and other cultural elements, representing the secular identity of the Bangladeshi netizens. Now cemented as one of the most vivid and significant additions to the Bengali New Year celebration in the country, the flagship procession was inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016; however, it was not held in 1427 due to the same pandemic restrictions. The FFA organised a symbolic procession on its premises last year due to the ongoing lockdown during the period.
"Due to the Coronavirus situation, nothing was arranged in 2020. On the occasion of the centenary of Dhaka University in 2021, the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the Golden Jubilee of the Independence of Bangladesh, we have organised a symbolic 'Mangal Shobhajatra' last year. Now everything has become normal almost everywhere around the world, even children's schools and educational institutions have also opened in the country. Evaluating the current situation, we have decided to arrange our traditional 'Mangal Shobhajatra' as usual, with the proper in-person celebration after two years. As much as can be done in a short time, will be done by our unified efforts," said Professor Nisar Hossain, Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Dhaka University.
On March 31, internationally acclaimed Bangladeshi artist Shahabuddin Ahmed launched the "Mangal Shobhajatra 1429 fundraising" endeavours at the FFA. The topic of this year's Mangal Shobhajatra was inspired by Rajanikanta Sen's song "Nirmal Koro Mangal Koro Malin Marma Muchhaye," meaning to encourage individuals to persevere in the face of adversity. The interesting fact is that no corporate sponsorship was sought to cover the cost of the procession. To raise the funding, teachers are drawing artworks in an exclusive art camp at FFA, and all expenses will be met with the sale of these artworks.
According to the Dhaka University authority, this year's 'Mangal Shobhajatra' will start from the university's Teacher-Student Centre (TSC) premises at 9 am. The procession will be brought out from the Sarak Deep area of the TSC, as the road in front of the FFA has been narrowed due to the ongoing construction work of Metro Rail. After parading the 'Memory Eternal' monument premises of the university, the Shobhajatra will end at the TSC premises on the campus. The festivity must be concluded within 5 pm and public entrance would be restricted to the campus area after that, which was authorized at a recent meeting called by the DU authority.
Evaluating the present context of COVID-19 in the country and the month of Holy Ramadan, the authority requested the netizens to limit the public gathering in this year's procession. Alongside requesting everyone to maintain proper hygiene, the authority announced that festive masks and bags cannot be carried on campus. However, masks made by the Faculty of Fine Arts can be carried. Playing and selling the Vuvuzela flute at this year's precision are labelled as strictly prohibited, in order to prevent sound pollution.
Alongside Dhaka University and its Faculty of Fine Arts, other public and private universities and educational institutions are also gearing up to arrange diversified festivities to celebrate this year's Pahela Baishakh, as well as the cultural organizations in the country. With less than one week left before the ultimate celebration of Bengali heritage begins after being put on an unfortunate hiatus for two years, the excitement is rising up - slowly, but surely. Despite the country is observing frequent adversities among its netizens every now and then due to religious and sentimental clashings, the good tidings of Pahela Baishakh might be the antidote the country needs after suffering from the deadly havoc of the pandemic for the last two years.
The hymn of "Shubho Noboborsho" may erase all the adversities, with the first rising sun of 1429.
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