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    Volume 6 Issue 3 | January 26, 2007 |

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Lalon Academy Complex
The Controversy Unravels

Ershad Kamol

A frontal view of Lalon Academy Complex

The recently opened Lalon Academy Complex is riddled with controversy. Lalon experts allege that the complex is not functional at all. Preservation and patronisation of Lalon songs as well as those of other Fakirs are still not a priority. The only function the complex seems to do is arrange the death anniversary of Fakir Lalon Shah on the first day of the Bangla month of Kartik.

Lalon Academy Complex, under Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, was opened in December 2005 in Kushtia. In 1996, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs decided to establish Lalon Academy Complex, as an improvement on of the former Lalon Academy, founded in 1978 to patronise Lalon songs. The ministry spent Taka 4.49 crore on a four storey building structure, an auditorium and renovation of the library and a music school at the Lalon's shrine. As no recruitment has been carried out for Lalon Academy Complex, an ad hoc committee runs the academy complex. The District Commissioner of Kushtia, is the president and public prosecutor of the district Advocate Golam Mohammad is the member secretary. The other executive members of the ad hoc committee are the influential locals.

Each day many fakirs and locals perform Lalon songs inside the academy complex, however, the ambience is not suitable for mystic songs

Cultural activists from different corners of the country went to Lalon's shrine to protest against the decision of the then minister of Cultural Affairs to set up the Lalon Academy Complex in 1996.

One of the protesters, Lalon exponent Farida Parveen, says, "I do not support the idea and have pointed this out to the authorities several times. The fakirs should be allowed to live in the midst of nature, not under artificial structures. A complex could have been built near Lalon's shrine, but definitely not at the shrine."

Earlier Lalon's shrine was replete with big trees, flora and fauna. This ambience was ideal for the Lalon devotees. After the inception of Lalon Academy Complex, the place is now filled with constructions.

Fakir Lalon Shah's shrine

Not more than five metres away from the Lalon Academy Complex, Hindi and Bangla popular songs are played at the shops, though Lalon songs are appreciated all over the world and have been announced as world oral heritage by UNESCO. These shops are also a source of income for the academy complex.

But what is the main source of income of the Lalon Academy Complex? One ad hoc committee members says, “Through Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy we get a nominal amount from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. But the main source of income is the donation from the visitors at the shrine as well as the fixed fund of the shrine.”


The open stage near river Kaliganga where Lalon devotees from different corners of the country gather to observe their Shain's death anniversary

On the type of 'business' by the Academy Complex Fakir Mantu Shah informs, “Each day several affluent persons as well as foreigners come here to listen to live performance of the Fakirs. The committee members of the complex arrange everything and earn money by depriving the Fakirs.”

During the visit of this reporter many musical soirees were held at a room of the four- storey building. Performers informed that the seasoned fakirs get a share of about Taka 80 for any performances, although the visitors often pay handsomely ranging to thousands of Takas to the committee members of Lalon Academy Complex. “The elder fakirs do not visit their Shain's (Lalon devotees call Lalon as Shain) shrine,” says a seasoned fakir. “Former Khadem Fakir Bader Shah arranges Shadhushongha (where the Fakirs are entertained) at his house on Dolpurnima (on the full-moon of Bangla month Phalgun) and on the first day of Bangla month of Kartik. At these gatherings Fakirs perform religious rites and render Kalams.”


An outlet of indigenous music instruments such as ektara and dotara near the complex, but inside the shops popular Bangla and Hindi songs are played

Fakir Anwar Hossain Mantu Shah on behalf of Lalon Mazhar Rakkha O Sheba Committee, a platform of elderly fakirs, asserts, “In 1984 during the military regime, Lalon Academy led by the local musclemen turned out the fakirs from the shrine and began using Lalon Shah and fakirs to further their own ends.”

“The Bangladesh Supreme Court in February 11, 2004 issued an order declaring Lalon's shrine as fakirs' property, as the fakirs have been taking care of Lalon's shrine since 1890. However, the syndicate of the influential locals belonging to two major political parties, in the name of ad hoc committee of Lalon Academy Complex, have been violating the Supreme Court's verdict of continuing its illegal business”, adds Mantu Shah.





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