At the August 4 inauguration of Chittagong's five-day Janmashtami celebrations, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made a clarion call to all, irrespective of religious and political identity, to stand against injustice and reject the enemies of humanity and democracy. It was a welcome gesture for the eleven-million-strong Hindu community which has seen all too much injustice.
At the same time, in the nation's capital of Dhaka, minister for religious affairs Moulana Mohammad Nurul Islam inaugurated celebrations at the historic Dhakeswari Temple, whose Goddess is regarded as the city's presiding Deity. The Janmashtami procession, honoring the birthday of Lord Krishna, then paraded into the streets with enthusiastic devotees of all ages dancing and singing religious songs. People streamed out onto streets and balconies to glimpse the colorful procession, with its portraits of Krishna and displays of His activities.
On the second day of celebrations, the state minister for land, Rashed Mosharraf, appealed to the devotees, "We have to create a congenial atmosphere where minorities would be assured of equal rights and privileges." Humayun Rashid Chowdhury, the speaker of parliament, said such harmony was essential for economic development.
The day of Janmashtami is a national public holiday, second in importance only to the Muslim's Maharram festival. Newspapers published editorials, while radio and television aired special programs. The day's events included Krishna abahan, puja, recitation from the Gita, bhog, arati, yajna, discussions and cultural functions.
The procession from Dhakeswari dates back to 1902. It was stopped in 1948 due to widespread communal disturbances. The solid gold idol of the Goddess was looted in what was then East Pakistan. The procession resumed in 1989.
In October 1990 the temple complex was again attacked by communal forces. They destroyed the shrines, plundered the properties and set fire to the Deities. This was prior to the violent aftermath of Ayodhya in December, 1992, when thousands of Hindu temples in Bangladesh were damaged or destroyed. Initial government promises to rebuild Dhakeswari went unfulfilled, so last year devotees personally saw to the temple's repair and the establishment of a new Deity. Buddhists, Christians and Hindus alike have called for a declaration of Dhakeswari as Bangladesh's national temple.