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Special feature
Behind the scene: Boishakhi rally

All set for the final episode. Only a few hours left of the year 1410. After that, a whole new beginning. From early dawn amidst a sombre ambience enthusiastic people will greet the year 1411. Then begins the merrymaking, dancing and singing, the celebration of the Boishakhi utshab. Crowd gathers slowly hoping for a blissful day. Jubilation continues all day long.

The Boishakhi utshab in Dhaka is generally centred in and around the Dhaka University campus. Events that unite people from all corners are Chayanaut's Boishakh boron at Ramna botomul followed by the Boishakhi Shovajatra arranged by the students of Fine Arts. Chayanaut's programme started way back in the 1960s. Boishakhi Shovajatra is comparatively a new phenomenon. The aspiration of the rally is to reflect the colours and joy of the Bengali lifestyle, which is portrayed through various images. Yellow tiger, a prominent feature of Bangladesh with its black stripes and whiskers is depicted. Sometimes there is a gigantic snake with vivid colours like red, blue, yellow, green and pink patterns all over it or maybe the Goddess of good fortune, Laxmi. The beat of traditional drums (dhuck and dhol) accompanies these figures creating a lively mood.

The Boishakhi Shovajatra has quickly become widely popular among the revellers of Dhaka. A bustling crowd assembles in the Fine Arts venue to share the rapture of the day, painting their faces with colours, wearing traditional outfits.

The rally did not just appear in one day. Some of the most inquisitive minds of Chaarukala first initiated the idea. Do we ever wonder who are these people behind the scene and how they made it happen? Let us have a brief look at the stories and scenes behind the Boishakhi rally.

It was 29th December of the year 1989. Students of Fine Arts were celebrating Jainul Utshab. Among them were some people whose hearts were craving for something new. On that day amidst the grand festivity seven bosom friends of the institute came up with the idea of a Boishakhi Shovajatra.

It was the brainchild of Shakhawat Hossain, Saleh Mahmud, Shahid Ahmed Mithu, Moniruzzaman, Ahsan Habib, Faridul Quader, and Faruque Elahi. When these young minds approached their seniors with the idea it did not quite get any support. The effort went on any way. Very few teachers agreed to help eminent cartoonist Shishir Bhattacharya, who is a teacher in the Department of Drawing and Painting was one of them. Some other figures who lend in a hand by raising the fund, was Mamunur Rashid, Asaduzzaman Nur, Nasir Uddin Usuf, Nazma Anwar, Dr, Sarwar Ali and Akku Chowdhury. A segment of BSCIC artists and some BTV officials also backed the effort.

At the beginning no one actually realised what a huge success it would soon become. No one really envisioned that hundreds of revellers would stop by the Fine Arts premise just to dance along with the Shovajatra.

Shakhawat Hossain and Saleh Mahmud recall some memories of the earliest years. "The crowd was thin the first time round. Only 50 paper masks, effigies of 10 colourful traditional horses and an elephant festooned the rally. With the rhythms of traditional drums, the students danced along and paraded the streets. A few curious onlookers joined in. When the rally crossed the Boishakhi programme arranged by Chayanaut at Ramna botomul, a segment of their audience merged in with the rally".

According to the initiators it was the most organised rally so far. "However distracting some crowds from the Chayanaut programme created slight misunderstandings", they told us. In the next year a meeting between the two groups was arranged hoping to eliminate the minor glitch. The two parties decided that the rally would be held after the wrap up of Botomul programme around ten.

It has been going on since then. The rally is now a splendid episode of Pohela Boishakh. However it has been facing some minor setbacks recently. "The question of finance has always been a dilemma for the rally. Although some companies sponsored it several times, the problem still exists", we were informed. It was the inner strength of the students that helped the whole process from falling apart. For them it was always an event of ecstasy. During the making of the colourful mask they work day and night sometimes even with an empty stomach. So many times employees of the institute cooked khichuri for the hard-working participants, which were later shared by all, using banana leaves as plates. This only brought them delight. Sometimes families of the participants provided homemade food.

Back then it was a common practice to rag the juniors. The juniors would later retaliate in unique ways. It was all an expression of joy and only for this pleasure of the heart every one would join spontaneously.

It was different than what we see today. Nowadays on the day of the rally everyone wants to chime in which leaves only a few spectators on the streets. The general aspiration of the rally has changed to some extent. Internal politics of the institute is creeping in, slowly inhibiting the original spirit, which is why a strong aversion is working in the minds of the students.

Even during the interview of this story on April 04 no meeting took place in the institute regarding the arrangement of the rally. Usually it takes place long before Pohela Boishakh. Finally there was a meeting summoned by the director of the institute on 6th. Delay in the meeting eventually lingers the whole process of the rally. It is observed by many that more and more the event is fading away.

"The Shovajatra is now a magnificent heritage of the DU campus. If there was a regular fund provided by the university authority it would have been more vibrant", added Shakhawat Hossain. Every year masks made by the students are sold. This money, which is very small in amount and not enough for the arrangement, is saved for the later year. Other sources from the institute tell us that this year's Boishakhi rally will not be a grand one. Number of workers is less than the previous years. In addition, because of the delay in the whole process of arrangement, it is likely that the Shovajatra this year will lose some of its original features and eventually the grandeur.

Students of Fine Arts however, hope to overcome all the setbacks faced at present and keep on going with the wonderful tradition they have pioneered 15 years back. They wish to nourish the original spirit of the Shovajatra. So that the merrymaking, dancing, and singing, the celebration of Boishakhi utshab echoes in the DU campus.

By Shahnaz Parveen


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