Shell-shocked Buddhists scrap Bangladesh festivities

Dhaka, Bangladesh - Buddhists in southeastern Bangladesh cancelled celebrations for their most colourful annual festival in protest at mob attacks against their community last month, religious leaders said on Tuesday.

Buddhist leaders said a boating jamboree known as the Jahajbhasa Utsab and a paper lantern extravaganza had been scrapped Monday in the Cox’s Bazaar district where at least 19 temples were torched or ransacked by Muslims in late September.

The events usually form the centrepiece of celebrations for Prabarana Purnima, a festival which marks the conclusion of a three-month period of seclusion for monks inside their monasteries in Bangladesh.

“This is the first time for a hundred years that we have not taken part in the ceremonies,” Rajat Barua Riko, the leader of Young Buddhists Council in Cox’s Bazaar told AFP.

“We did not celebrate these two key features of Prabarana Purnima, which are also religious rites, to protest the attacks.”

Progyananda Vhikkhu, a Buddhist spiritual leader, said the Jahajbhasa Utsab had been held in Cox’s Bazaar for over a century. Devotees usually float ornate boats on the Bakkhali River to commemorate Lord Buddha’s voyages down the Ganges.

“The Buddist festivals are joined by the people from other religions including Muslims. We had been proud of our communal harmony,” Progyananda said.

“We are still shell-shocked from the attacks, we do not have peace in mind, so we could not think of celebrating this year,” he added.

Buddhists, who make up less than one percent of Bangladesh’s 153 million mostly Muslim population, are based mainly in southeastern districts, close to the border with Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

The violence originated at Ramu town in Cox’s Bazaar and spread to five towns and a dozen villages as rumours circulated that a young Buddhist man had posted photographs on Facebook insulting Islam.

Police said thousands of Muslims had taken part in the riots and nearly 300 people have been arrested.