PAHELA BAISHAKH CELEBRATIONS AT RAMNA
The story of genesisErshad Kamol
Pahela Baishakh 1373 dawn (April 14, 1967 according to Gregorian calendar) - A mixture of thrill and anxiety engulfed the artistes of newly formed Chhayanaut Sangeet Vidyatan, who gathered under the Pakur tree, widely known as Batamul, at the Ramna green, to celebrate the Bangla New Year through an open air programme.
There was, however, no formal stage like there is these days, neither was there much audience, except those, who were associated with Chhayanaut. The determined artists, who had succeeded to uphold the spirit of Bengali nationalism by organising several cultural programmes overcoming the threats imposed by the then Pakistani military regime, gathered there to create history by arranging an open air musical programme to welcome the first day of the Bangla calendar, in an urban setting.
As the sun let out its golden rays in the east, the artists in chorus began rendering Tagore song Aloker oi jhorna dhara chhariye dao to welcome the New Year. That was the beginning of Pahela Baishakh celebrations in Dhaka city, which has now become the biggest public gathering in the country where people from every walk of life attend, in special attires, to welcome the Bangla New Year.
‘The programme began at 6:00am with a chorus presentation of Tagore song Aloker oi jhorna dhara by Chhayanaut singers like Fahmida Khatun, Afsari Khanom, Maleka Azam Khan, Selina Malek, Ahsan Morshed, Mahmudur Rahman Benu, Iffat Ara Dewan and others. The singers also presented some other songs relevant with morning ambience such as Ananda dhwani jagao gagoney. Golam Mostafa recited poems at the programme,’ Sanjida Khatun, president of Chhayanut, told New Age.
‘I still feel the charm of performing in the early morning at the Ramna green, in the midst of nature. There was no formal stage like these days. And some participants were infected by insect bites from the tree. We became even more excited when we were treated with traditional food after the successful programme,’ renowned Tagore singer Iffat Ara Dewan, the first batch student of Chhayanaut Sangeet Vidyayatan, told New Age.
‘Throughout the night I along with freedom fighter Komal Siddiqui cleaned the tree and its terrace, which was full of insects, to prepare it for the next morning show,’ renowned theatre activist Aly Zaker, who provided volunteer service for the show, told New Age.
It was, however, not the first Pahela Baishikh celebration for Chhhayanaut. The organisation started celebrating the day through indoor programmes in 1965, two years after the inception of Chhayanaut Sangeet Vidyatan on Pahela Baishakh, 1963. In her article titled ‘Chhayanaut’ published in the book ‘Stheer Pratyoe Jatra’, Sanjida Khatun writes that the organisation did not want to restrict its Pahela Baishakh programme just to a mere certificate awarding ceremony of the students of the music school.
According to the article, they wanted to celebrate the day more colourfully to welcome the New Year for which they stopped formal founding anniversary celebration of the music school and Chhyanaut as well, which had been founded in 1961.
But, the decision to welcome the Bangla New Year through an open air concert faced challenges from inside and outside. Sanjida Khatun’s article states that when scientist-photographer Dr Noazesh Ahmed identified the Pakur tree at Ramna as a suitable place for the open air celebration programme, Chhayanaut accepted it as the venue. ‘We, however, wanted to label it as banyan tree, since a banyan tree is more relevant to such programmes,’ her article reads.
‘But many artistes showed reluctance to perform in open air thinking audiences would not enjoy the experience. But we preferred the zeal of the soul of welcoming the New Year, rendering our performance in midst of nature, to the amusement of audiences,’ she adds.
Other quarters criticised the initiative as an act of ‘sun worship’, as done by religious minorities. ‘Not only the anti-progressive forces and Islamic fanatics, even deviated intellectuals highly criticised such activities. Even more pathetic was when some female students attending Pahela Baishakh programme used to abuse us saying that after the sun worship they [Chhayanaut activists] bathe for amusement in the Ramna lake,’ reads Sanjida Khatun’s article.
Such criticism and misuse of religion to restrict them from arranging the programme left them panicked but at the same time boosted their confidence to continue it. The following year, even a greater number of cultural activists and progressive-minded people participated in the celebration and Chhayanaut gave maximum effort to make the programme an even more colourful one.
‘The Pakistani regime could not resist us from celebrating Pahela Baishakh at the Ramna green. We have been organising the programme since 1967, except during the war of independence. And just after liberation, we organised a huge programme to welcome the Bangla New Year in 1972, which was broadcasted on the state run BTV. After independence, Chayanaut’s programme at the Ramna turned to a universal Pahela Baishakh celebration programme for city dwellers,’ Khairul Anam Shakil, general secretary of Chhayanaut, told New Age.
‘Even after independence we faced some problems: BTV broadcast of the programme was stopped from 1976 to 1996. Again it was stopped from 2001 for the next five years. But, the biggest threat was definitely the suicide bomb attack at the Pahela Baishakh celebration programme in 2001, which killed 10 people,’ he added.
Shakil further said, ‘It was the biggest threat the universal celebration programme ever faced. After the attack, we called an emergency meeting. We told the parents of the students of the Chhayanaut Vidyatan that considering the threat if they did not want to allow their children at the celebration programme for the next they could avoid it.’
‘But the parents rather encouraged us to continue the programme, which is even more encouraging, said Shakil.
According to Khairul Anam Khakil over 100 artistes perform in a very well-organised programme these days wearing traditional dresses to attend the programme where the members of Chhyanaut perform at the ‘Ramna Batumul’ to begin the festive occasion.
It is not their own programme, rather a programme of the Bengalis. That is why when the sun sends its golden rays down on earth in the ‘first morning’ of Bangla Year as people enthusiastically go to Ramna Batomul. More than a cultural event, Pahela Baishakh has become an integral part of the traditional culture of the urban dwellers.
comments powered by Disqus