As Chhayanaut completes its five decades, The Daily Star tried (TDS) to understand the raison d’être behind the pioneering cultural organisation’s stand towards local culture and heritage.
TDS spoke to Dr. Sarwar Ali, vice president and a trustee of Chhayanaut, in this regard. He has been with Chhayanaut since 1967.
It’s widely acknowledged that the organisation has been playing a major role in upholding and promoting Bengali cultural traditions, even under the most inhospitable conditions at times. What initiated this stand? According to Dr. Ali: “Every citizen has two identities — religious and national. Culture, largely, defines one’s national identity. When Pakistan was created, a conflict regarding what our national identity arose. Chhayanaut strongly believes that one’s religion does not have to contradict the national [particularly, cultural] identity.
“Since one of the core values of the Liberation War was to maintain our cultural identity, that conflict that emerged during the Pakistan era shouldn’t exist in independent Bangladesh. But as we’ve noticed over and over, that’s not the case. There’s still ignorance, narrow-mindedness and paranoia.
“Rabindra Sangeet was banned by the Pakistan government in the ’60s. At the same time, Nazrul, a beacon of secularism and inter-religious harmony, was presented to the masses in fragments. Under those circumstances, devoted Bengali cultural activists realised that activism alone won’t be enough. That’s how Chhayanaut was born. The emphasis has always been on generating awareness in our traditions, with particular focus on musical practice.”
“What also sets Chhayanaut apart,” adds Dr. Ali, “is that we groom artistes, not performers. Not every Chhayanaut student becomes an artiste, but the education here certainly hones good taste.
“Today, the state is not limiting traditional cultural practices, but our heritage constantly faces threats from foreign cultures — thanks to innumerable satellite TV channels.
“We were shaken up but not deterred by the 2001 bombing at Chhayanaut’s Pahela Baishakh celebration. We still don’t know who did it, but we’re convinced the reason behind this heinous attack was ignorance. More reason for Chhayanaut to reach out to the masses.
“In 2001, we opened ‘Nalonda’ to provide child education with special attention to culture. This was a new trend. But Nalonda can provide education to a limited number of students, so to reach out to more children we introduced a special programme called ‘Shikor’. At Shikor, we try to acquaint children with everything Bengali.”
“It took us around Tk 6 crore to construct the Chhayanaut Bhaban; we didn’t take any assistance from the government. The funds came from citizens of Bangladesh. Chhayanaut stands tall because we know we have the support of the nation and we earnestly hope this support continues,” Dr. Ali says.