Church promotes harmony during Hindu festival in Bangladesh

Across the country, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians joined Hindus for Durga Puja celebrations

Stephan Uttom, Dhaka

Updated: October 15, 2021 09:16 AM GMT

A Durga Puja venue in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

Catholic Church officials in Bangladesh greeted Hindus during their largest religious festival in an effort to consolidate interfaith harmony in the Muslim-majority country.

Muslims, Buddhists and Christians joined Hindus during the Durga Puja festival from Oct. 11-15. They enjoyed cultural shows, dramas and fairs while receiving offerings of milk, sweets and fruits known as prasad.

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Brama, a major Hindu deity, sent Durga, the 10-handed goddess of power, safety and peace, to slay evil spirits oppressing angels and deities, Hindu legends say.

Durga Puja concludes with the immersion of the idol of Durga and her companions in a river in a gesture of her union with her consort Shiva, a major Hindu deity.

During the festivities, tens of thousands have thronged to 32,117 mondops (venues) in the country, according to the Bangladesh Puja Celebration Council, a major Hindu forum.

Catholic officials greeted Hindus by meeting them, printing cards and hanging banners on the streets across the country.

I have been attending Puja from a young age and I dance with my Hindu friends. This friendship takes the form of family bonding

In Rajshahi Diocese, banners were displayed in towns and cities to greet Hindus, said Father Patrick Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops' Commission for Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue.  

It is our duty to greet each other on various religious occasions to solidify inter-religious harmony. On behalf of Rajshahi Diocese, we have put up banners in towns and villages to greet Hindu brothers and sisters, while we have visited some places of worship and exchanged greetings with them, Father Gomes told UCA News.

The priest said it has become a tradition in Catholic dioceses to greet people of various faiths during religious festivals in various ways.

In the future we will discuss what more we can do besides conveying these greetings across the country. In this way, we can ensure the consolidation of religious harmony with other faiths, he said.

Sumon Biswas, 29, a Catholic nurse in a government hospital in capital Dhaka, said he joined the festivities with his friends on Oct. 11.

Durga Puja is a universal festival. When I go there personally, I have a great feeling. I have been attending Puja from a young age and I dance with my Hindu friends. This friendship takes the form of family bonding, Biswas told UCA News.

Jahangir Alam, 38, a Muslim employee of state-run Bangladesh Power Development Board in Dhaka, said he has visited several Puja venues on his way to his office.

Like other years, I have visited Puja mondops and I really like the festivities. I have Hindu friends with whom I exchange greetings, Alam, a father of two, told UCA News.  

Animesh Chakraborty, a Hindu priest from Khulna city, said it feels wonderful when people of various faiths come together and receive prasad.

We are proud because people of other religions love us and respect our mother Durga. We Hindus also respect other religious ceremonies and exchange greetings with them, Chakraborty told UCA News.

I hope that harmony will continue to grow in us and peace will prevail in the country

The Hindu priest noted that sometimes unpleasant incidents happen during Puja festivals, but these are not a reflection of the whole nation where religious harmony is strong.

I hope that harmony will continue to grow in us and peace will prevail in the country he added.

In a tragic turn of events, violence erupted in several districts on Oct. 13 after footage spread on social media showing a Quran on the knee of Hindu monkey god Hanuman at a Durga Puja venue in Cumilla district.

Muslim mobs vandalized several Hindu temples and idols deities across the country. Police opened fire on hundreds of rioters, leaving four dead and dozens injured. More than 35 attackers have been arrested and the government deployed border guards and additional police in 22 districts to avert further violence. 

Finding a Quran at a Puja venue was unfortunate but violence over it is unacceptable, said Maulana Mizanur Rahman, president of Imam Samiti (association) in Cumilla district.

We are peace-loving people but some people try to create such problems. We need to do more for peaceful coexistence, Rahman told UCA News.

Islam dominates in Bangladesh with some 90 percent adhering to the faith in a country of more than 160 million, according to government data. Hindus make up about 8 percent and the rest belong to other faiths including Buddhism and Christianity.

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