Finally the 10-day grand cultural pageant, Bengal Sangskriti Utsab: Sylhet 2017, turned out to be a great achievement on the part of Bengal Foundation. The house, based in Dhaka, has been promoting literature, fine arts and music for nearly three decades. By the standard of normally successful cultural and literary festivals, the Sylhet event emerged purely as a landmark event.
The programme came to a close before an audience of around 45,000 at the Hasson Raja Dais at the Abul Maal Abdul Muhith Sports Complex in Sylhet on the night of March 03. As the evidently spellbound people were coming out of the festival ground, the fest had carved out its distinctive place in the annals of Bangladesh's modern cultural history. To a lot of people who attended the festival spontaneously, the timing could not have been more apt. The presentations of music and dance, movies and plays and, and of course, literary colloquiums and readings took place at a time which many viewed as being not-so-favourable.
The culturally-inclined people were still reeling from some unfortunate violent terror events with significant implications for the nation's flourishing of finer sensibilities. That the Bengal Festival of Culture: Sylhet 2017 would witness a spectacular success had, however, been a foregone conclusion. On November 24-28 last year, the Foundation organised its fifth edition of the Classical Music Festival in Dhaka. In spite of the organisers' confidence, the countdown to the latest edition of the Dhaka Classical Music Fest had been fraught with premonitions. But disproving all dark conjectures, the music event passed off smoothly with large attendance of music-loving audiences. The expected maestros from Bangladesh and abroad graced the five nights in style, making Dhaka eagerly await the music fest in the coming years.
Thanks to the subtle resolve of the culturally aware people and the connoisseurs to shake off the baggage of anti-culture and anti-life mayhem of the recent past, the Sylhet festival is credited with summoning its innate strength to make the occasion a watershed. Meanwhile, as things keep being registered in the annals of time, the Sylhet festival has facilely entered the realm of history. It had to, because the inhabitants of the north-eastern city of the country demonstrated their soulful belongingness to it.
That they recognised the 10-day event as their own became visible from the urban scenarios of Sylhet during this period. While one or another proramme was in progress at the festival ground in Sylhet Upashaor, the other parts of the city, like Lama Bazar or Ambarkhana, looked apparently calm and unfazed. A city's typical frenzied mood over a grand event appeared to be missing. Stunningly, it was not the truth. People standing in long queues in the afternoons to get registered for the shows of their choice belied any apathy on their part.
The sprawling festival venue was kept under a foolproof security blanket. It made the locals of all ages and occupations, some with families, enter the festival compound without least worry.
Beginning on February 22, the 10-day festival presented around sixty-six items including screening of several new and comparatively older Bangladeshi movies. Most of them were made by new-generation directors. The festival sessions featured 52 invited guest-participants, including senior and younger Bangladeshi, Indian and Nepalese writers, academics, painters and performers. Besides, over hundred cultural activists and volunteers were engaged to ensure a peaceful holding of the festival.
Titled 'Kali O Kolom Sahitya Sammelan', the literary conference brought together litterateurs from the three countries on the dais of Syed Mujtaba Ali Manch in the early part of the day on February 24, 25 and 26. Composed of discourses, lively panel discussions and readings, the 3-day sessions presented a host of prose writers, poets, critics and translators.
Syed Mujtaba Ali (1904-1974) is considered a gifted writer of wit and satire-filled essays, fictions soaked in passion and romantic pathos and travel chronicles. He is credited with proficiency in over a dozen foreign languages including English, German, Italian, Arabic and Persian. Born in greater Sylhet, his literary career blossomed in the neighbouring West Bengal capital of Kolkata in the 1940s. He continued writing later in Dhaka in the 1960s to `70s.
The presentations of music and plays showcased items by both nationally acclaimed and younger figures in their respective areas. The music events presented to audience the songs of Rabindranath and Nazrul, Bangla songs of bygone days, classical pieces and folk songs. With Sylhet being one of the country's age-old centres of folk music, this genre enjoyed a special status at the festival. The same applies to the shows based on indigenous Monipuri tradition. The musical items were presented on the open-air dais named after Hasson Raja (1854-1922), the great mystic poet and folk bard from Sylhet. Syed Mujtaba Ali Manch at the complex's indoor stadium was kept reserved for movie shows, readings and recitations and literary discussions.
The festival was dedicated to the memory of Bangladeshi scholar Gyantaposh Abdur Razzaq.
The organising of the Bengal Sanskriti Utsab in a time of unease and misgivings is reflective of the determination of the Bengal Foundation Trust's untiring workers and executives, its well-wishers, and also the participants, to gather in a cultural fraternity. The Sylhet audiences also deserve kudos. However, the whole show was steered by Abul Khair, a consummate aesthete and art lover, who founded the Trust and is its current president. He believes it's only the spurt in cultural activities which can keep the forces of obscurantism and savage violence at bay.
The Bengal Foundation has embarked on a voyage evidently to take people to the shores of enlightenment. The sea is turbulent. But unflinching resolve overcomes adversities. It's the determination of the people involved in this hazardous mission which would help it attain accomplishments.
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