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Bangladeshi Buddhists call to shun politics on festival day

Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and ruling Awami League have announced political programs on 'Prabarana Purnima'
A Buddhist monk prays in a temple in Bangladesh in this file image

A Buddhist monk prays in a temple in Bangladesh in this file image. (Photo: AFP)

Published: October 23, 2023 12:19 PM GMT
Updated: October 23, 2023 02:12 PM GMT

Leaders of Buddhist people in Bangladesh have appealed to the ruling and opposition parties to postpone confrontational political programs to allow their tiny community to celebrate its second biggest religious festival on Oct. 28.

The call came amid heightened fear in the Muslim-majority South Asian nation as the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies are scheduled to hold a grand rally in the capital Dhaka on the day of Prabarana Purnima.

The BNP is expected to launch its first round of nationwide anti-government movement seeking to overthrow the ruling Awami League (AL) of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and install a neutral caretaker administration to oversee the national election to be held next January.

The party leaders say two past elections in 2014 and 2018 under the ruling party were rigged to keep AL in power, and this time Hasina government must step down to ensure a free and fair election.

The ruling party leaders have said the election will be under the incumbent government “as per the Constitution” and vowed to resist the BNP agitation with a counter-rally on the same day.

During a press conference in Dhaka on Oct. 23, the major Buddhist group Bangladesh Sammilito Bouddha Samaj (BSBS), regretted political parties have declared aggressive programs on the Prabarana Purnima day despite its existence in all official and unofficial calendars.

“The Buddhist population has become scared to move on the festival day amidst all these programs," said the statement.

The BSBS also reminded that Buddhist religious festivals are celebrated at Vihara centers requiring the second-largest minority community in Bangladesh to travel to their temples to attend their religious programs.

Earlier on Oct. 21, the Bangladesh Buddhist Federation (BBF) issued a press release requesting the BNP to postpone its grand rally scheduled for Oct. 28.

Some 50,000 Buddhists living in Dhaka would like to celebrate their religious festival with uninterrupted movement, federation’s secretary and monk Sunandapriya Bhikkhu said.

The Prabarana Purnima marks the end of three-month-long religious rituals involving fasting on 12 certain days over the period, the monk explained.

Prabarana literally means both adopting and forbidding, according to a national encyclopedia of Bangladesh. In the first sense, it means dedicating oneself to the ideal of a life of humility; in the sense of forbidding, it means avoiding all acts contrary to the ideals of Buddhism.

Prabarana is observed on the day of the full moon in the Bengali month of Ashvin at the end of monsoon. After Prabarana, the monks are required to go to the villages to spread the message of Buddhism. At the end of Prabarana, every Buddhist vihara celebrates the festival of Kathin Chivar Dan, when robes are given to the monks.

According to Buddhist traditions, on this day Lord Buddha went to the abode of the gods, and, after blessing his mother, returned to earth. To mark this event, the Buddhists send up colorful balloons and paper lanterns as a symbol of lighting up the sky.

The festival attracts Muslims, Hindus and Christians as well, particularly for the celebration of the day with the release of colorful hot air balloons.

Buddhists are the second largest religious minority group after Hindus accounting for 0.61 percent of Bangladesh’s more than 169 million people.

Unlike Hindus, Buddhists have endured much less persecution in the Muslim-majority nation.

However, on Sept. 29, 2012, a Muslim mob vandalized and set ablaze 12 Buddhist temples and about 100 Buddhist houses in southeast Bangladesh over alleged defamation of the Quran by a Buddhist youth.

It came shortly after sectarian violence against Rohingya Muslims by Buddhists in Rakhine state of neighboring Myanmar.

Media investigations later revealed the doctored image was posted from a fake Facebook page to instigate communal violence.

The government later rebuilt the temples and houses. However, centuries-old Buddhist scriptures and heritage were completely lost.

Observers also cite that Oct. 28 also revokes the memory of deadly political clashes between the BNP and AL supporters that left dozens killed in 2006.

Then in opposition, the AL launched a strong movement against the BNP-led government that consequently led to the military-backed caretaker administration.

The national poll held under the caretaker regime on Dec. 29, 2008, saw the AL return to power with a landslide victory.

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