Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor on Tuesday said although Bangladesh is progressing as an economy, it is facing the threat of communalism which needs to be addressed involving youths with the spirit of social harmony.
“The evil efforts of creating disputes among people and dividing them in the name of religion have now become more acute in recent times,” he said terming the problem a ‘big challenge’.
The minister was addressing the Cosmos Dialogue on ‘Baul Philosophy, Literature and Music’ at Cosmos Centre in the city.
Noor said people have been carrying the poison of communalism since the British era and it spread further during the Pakistan rule and subsequent periods.
He said people need to practise the philosophy of Baul, the philosophy of humanity, love and unity in their lifetime to overcome the communal threat.
Haider A Khan, John Evans Distinguished University Professor of Economics at the University of Denver, USA, chaired the dialogue while Cosmos Foundation Executive Director Nahar Khan delivered the welcome speech.
Eminent Lalon researcher Dr Anwarul Karim delivered a tour de force on the history and condition of the Bauls of Kushtia, close to his own home district of Pabna.
Bangla Academy Deputy Director Dr Tapan Kumar Bagchi, writer and researcher Sumon Kumar Das and musician Maqsoodul Haque proceeded to discuss on the Baul philosophy, literature and music respectively.
The Cultural Affairs Minister said Bangladesh walked towards the opposite direction after the assassination of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who dreamt of a non-communal state.
He noted that the Bauls in Bangladesh often come under attack for their lifestyle, including several times in the past years. “I don’t think those were isolated incidents. But those were planned attacks. Those who don’t believe in non-communal spirit actually carried out the attacks on Bauls,” Noor said.
He laid emphasis on showing the new generation the right direction to maintain peace and harmony in the society taking the message of peace and love deep into the society. “Youths need to be guided properly as they want to do something positive for the country.”
Prof Haider Khan said Baul philosophy, literature and music will undoubtedly continue to play their historically progressive role in this planetary struggle.
“Indeed, Baul art and philosophy are part of the current slogan for global justice: A better world is possible,” he said.
Haider Khan also presented a paper at the dialogue, titled “The Bauls: Their Mystical Path and Social Contradictions”, where he cited the example of the Bangladeshi national anthem “Amar Shonar Bangla”, written by Tagore, but was originally set to the melody of a Baul song by Gagan Harkara.
Citing another example of Baul Samrat Shah Abdul Karim, a Baul exponent with whom he had memorable interactions, he said Karim was a very special person and his views were way ahead of his time.
Deputy director at Bangla Academy Dr Tapan Kumar Bagchi complained that lack of awareness prompted many to call themselves Bauls and take credit for popular Baul songs which had been composed hundreds of years ago, but their origins remained undocumented.
“The question that persists was whether today’s Bauls are moving away from the actual Baul philosophy, or forming a neo-philosophy without staying true to the Baul roots,” he said.
Cosmos Foundation Executive Director Nahar Khan said although Baul music is uniquely indigenous to Bangladesh, UNESCO has embraced its universal message by enlisting it as part of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.
She also said Baul music has the capacity to touch lives and hearts and that there is a great opportunity to learn from them.
Nahar thanked the cultural affairs minister Asaduzzaman Noor for his encouragement to organizations such as Cosmos Foundation to conserve and promote Bangladeshi arts and culture.
Researcher and critic Sumankumar Dash opined that Bauls are devoid of communalism, as is evident through their philosophy and reflected through their songs.
Maqsoodul (Mac) Haque , prominent musician turned researcher, said that listening to Baul music had motivated him towards Bangla music.
He pointed out key misconceptions about thelifestyle that Bauls tend to lead, leading to their ostracisation. Previously, Lalon songs were sung in schools during Pahela Kartik, Maqsood pointed out. But after backlash from religious fundamentalists, he said the schools had bowed down to pressure.
Trustee and Member Secretary of Liberation War Museum Mofidul Haque said Lalon songs have made quite a journey.
“The expressions in the songs are humane,” he added, “although those are subject to further criticism, the message remains the same.”
Among others, UNB Chairman Amanullah Khan, Gallery Cosmos Director Tehmina Enayet and Cosmos Group Director Masud Jamil Khan, were present during the occasion.