At a time when it's all but impossible to organise large-scale events without corporate sponsorship, the Faculty of Fine Arts (FFA), popularly known as the Charukola, University of Dhaka, has been able to keep the Mongol Shobhajatra – a mass procession that welcomes the dawn of the Bengali New Year – free of commercial signage of big companies. Instead, the FFA raises funds by selling the artworks of following the day of the inauguration, which, this year, was on March 19. They also make some money by selling the giant replicas and masks from the procession throughout the year.
Professor Nisar Hossain, eminent artist and dean of the FFA, is one of the pioneers of the Mongol Shobhajatra. He informs that from the very beginning, the FFA has been aspiring to make the procession an event for the masses, free of financial assistance of commercial organisations. “Whenever money of a corporate sponsor is involved, the relationship inevitably becomes commercial. It then becomes difficult to maintain the true spirit of our cultural identity,” argues Hossain.
Initially, people didn't really understand what the Mongol Shobhajatra was, let alone buy the artwork and other items. “Despite that, we have never depended on corporate sponsors for funding. Rather, students would spare their pocket or lunch money and everyone would bring food from home while working to bring the arrangements together,” he says with a hint of pride.
Prominent artist and cartoonist Rafiqun Nabi, another pioneer of the Mongol Shobhajatra, also agrees with Hossain. “We avoid taking money from others so that we don't have to use advertisements, monograms or slogans which don't go with our objectives. Since it is a procession that is derived from our love for our culture and tradition, we always try to maintain the uniqueness of the FFA,” says Nabi.
Many buy these artworks, not only because they are made by the students themselves and are unique but also because they create public ownership to some degree. For example, when someone buys a small paper flower with Tk 100, or a small tiger mask for Tk 200, s/he can take pride in that their money eventually goes to support the whole event. This way, the Mongol Shobhajatra creates a platform for the masses to participate in the event in more ways than one. And, that very attribute of procession is one of many reasons behind it achieving UNESCO's proclamation of 'an intangible cultural heritage of humanity'.
The 18th and 19th batch of Charukala were in charge of the preparations this year, but teachers, artists, and students – seniors and juniors – all worked together to create something worthy of the celebration of the first morning of the Bengali New Year. It is the collective effort they put into making the individual art pieces that make the whole process – and the Shobhajatra – so memorable.
“If we took money from others, we would not need to put in so much effort for a whole gruelling month and there would be no engagement among teachers, students, artists and the public. Rather, the whole process would take a very small period of time and people would forget the whole thing, as if it were just like any ordinary event,” says Nisar Hossain.
Also, students feel inspired when they work in such close proximity of prominent artists and seniors. “You cannot imagine how blessed we feel that we are being able to learn so much from our seniors,” says Tanjila Siddiqui, a master's student of the FFA.
One of the many underlying messages we can take from all the hard work that goes behind Mongol Shobhajatra is our need to ease dependence on the international community and corporations for commercial sponsorships. We should all come forward to do whatever we can, in our own little ways, to preserve and showcase the beauty of our culture, heritage and tradition.