Prayagraj, Jan 30 (AP/UNB) — Laxmi Narayan Tripathi expertly applies eyeliner while discussing religious matters with Hindu holy men and attending to an endless stream of visitors eager to touch her feet and receive her blessing.
Among India's best-known transgender activists, a Bollywood reality TV star and a former Asia Pacific representative to the U.N., Tripathi is capitalizing on the ruling Hindu nationalist party's emphasis on the nation's Hindu heritage to claim a place for transgender people among its religious elite, stirring both admiration and controversy.
Her newly formed Kinnar akhara, or monastic order, has set up camp at the weekslong Kumbh Mela festival, a series of ritual bathings that rotates among four Indian sites every three years and draws tens of millions of Hindu pilgrims.
The Kinnar camp on the edge of the festival grounds is adorned with images of Ardhanari, a half-male, half-female composite of the Hindu god Shiva and his consort Parvati, that religious scholars date to the 1st century.
Although hijras — the term Indians use to describe eunuchs, androgynous and transgender people — were an integral part of the ancient Hindu society described in the religion's Vedas scriptures, they have been marginalized in modern India, forced out of their family homes as children and often sold into sex trafficking.
Hindu families have continued ancient practices of paying hijras to dance at births and marriages, considering their presence auspicious, while simultaneously denying them access to these same rites.
One of the most orthodox orders, the Juna akhara, invited Kinnar to take part in the Kumbh's first royal bath — a saint-led procession into the river — on Jan. 15. Since then, Tripathi has been pushing for recognition by the umbrella group that sets rules for the akharas.
Tripathi, born a Brahmin, the highest Hindu caste according to the Vedas, said she was inspired to form the akhara after a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that found transgender citizens were a "third gender" due all rights and protections accorded by India's Constitution.
"I was not at all religious. But after the court verdict, I had a space already in my religion, so why should I see another religion than the one which I was born? What was mine had to be mine. We decided to reclaim it," she said.
Unlike other akharas, which are only open to Hindu men, Kinnar, founded in 2015, is open to all genders and religions. On the Kumbh's first bathing day, Tripathi led a train of 21 tractor chariots from their tent camp to the bathing ghats at the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers, with devotees following on foot, as observers showered them with flower petals.
One notable absence: naga sadhus, the ash-smeared Hindu ascetics — the onetime-armed defenders of the faith — naked except for prayer beads and garlands of marigolds who lead the akharas' procession on royal bathing days.
"We have stripped enough in our lives, let us just have fun," Tripathi said.
They bathed in the presence of Juna members.
"For them to bathe with one of the oldest and most orthodox of the monastic orders, I consider that quite revolutionary," said Ashok Row Kavi, chairman of the LGBTQ advocacy group Humsafar Trust.
Kavi said, though, that Tripathi had "put herself between a rock (and) a hard place" by challenging the akharas' all-male order on the one hand and, on the other, by siding with Hindu nationalists in their call for a temple to the Hindu god King Ram to be built on the site of a 16th-century mosque that Hindu hard-liners destroyed in 1992. Many hijras are Muslim.
The temple campaign is part of a broader effort by members and sympathizers of India's ruling Bharita Janata Party — led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — to establish Hinduism as the center of Indian heritage, downplaying the multiculturalism that resulted from India's place on the old Silk Road and the hundreds of years of rule by Muslim Mughal kings and the British empire.
Kinnars celebrated their inclusion at Kumbh as a victory, but greater acceptance by Hinduism's most powerful leaders — in the religious and political spheres — remains to be seen.
Mahant Suresh Das, the head of Digambar akhara, one of the largest monastic orders, said a statute limits the number of orders to 13.
"Moreover, they are hijra," he said. "They are neither man nor woman. The nature has punished them for the misdeeds of their previous lives. We are pure who follow (ancient Hindu religion). The Kinnars are impure."
The Kinnars traveled to Prayagraj, recently renamed by the Hindu nationalist-led Uttar Pradesh state government from the Mughal-era Allahabad, in October 2017, when 60 transgender people were ordained as monks.
Kinnar saint Pushpa Maa said being ordained gave new meaning to her life, "which was otherwise reduced to seeking alms by dancing in marriage or during birth of a child," she said, adding, "I used to beg in trains or main crossings of the city. (Tripathi) helped us to erase that image. We are no longer a hijra but part of an organization which is fighting for our religious rights."
Dhaka, Jan 17 (UNB) - The inaugural ceremony of group painting exhibition 'Preceptor-Disciple: Disciple-Preceptor' will be held at Alliance Française de Dhaka (AFD) at 5:30 pm on Friday.
Eminent artist Monirul Islam will inaugurate the exhibition as the chief guest while Dhaka University’s Fine Art faculty Dean Nisar Hossain and art connoisseurs Abdullah Al Mahmud and Mikhail I Islam will attend as special guests.
The Oriental Painting Studio Bangladesh is going to present its first group exhibition at La Galerie of AFD featuring artists Amit Nandi, Malay Bala, and Zahangir Alom, who will showcase oriental paintings ranging from classical to contemporary.
From the mythical sagas like the vignettes of Shakuntala, the eternal love between Radha-Krishna, and the political aspects from the Mahabharata to the realistic, abstract, semi-abstract, symbolic, and modern presentations of the idyllic beauty of Bengal, portraits of the towering literary and cultural personalities like Tagore and Nazrul, and the contemporary socio-political and cultural features all have manifested gracefully in their canvasses.
Based in Dhaka, the trio, following the conventional Guru-Shishya Parampara, runs various art activities like practising, exhibiting and promoting oriental art in Bangladesh.
They also run the Oriental Painting Study Group that has successfully organised eight oriental painting exhibitions with the participation of national and international artists.
The artists of the studio are committed to open up new possibilities for oriental art in Bangladesh.
There are around 50 artworks in mixed media will be on display for this exhibition. The exhibition will be open to all till Friday, February 1.
The visitors may throng the exhibition on Monday to Thursday from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm and on Friday and Saturday from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon and 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
Dhaka, Jan 16 (UNB) – Priota Iftekhar, the winner of ‘Miss Culture Worldwide-2018’, says her goal is to inform the world about the culture and heritage of Bangladesh.
“I’m elated at such an achievement on the Victory Day,” she told a media briefing, her first since the competition in Zimbabwe in December last year.
It was Bangladesh’s first win in the competition.
Priota shared her experiences at a press conference arranged by Surecell Medical at Jatiya Press Club on Wednesday.
“My main goal was to highlight Bangladesh and its culture. And I did it,” she said. “The feeling of hoisting the national flag at an international event cannot be described in words.”
“I dressed as a female freedom fighter in the final stage of the competition to represent my country,” Priota said. She suffered a leg injury before the competition but took part ignoring the doctor’s warning.
“I never thought that I would be the champion. I thought at best I would reach top three,” she added.
Priota established ‘Flag Girl’ in 2008 to help women travellers at home and abroad. It currently has over 200 members.
She was also a recipient of Joy Bangla Youth Award-2018.
Priota, also the ambassador of Bangladesh Tourism Corporation, starred in a telefilm titled “Impossible five” back in 2013 and later in Sri Lankan film “Pani Makuluwo” in 2017.
Dhaka, Jan 16 (UNB) - Adventure movie in Bangla ‘Hridoyer Rongdhonu’ (Life in Rainbow) will be premiered at 17th Dhaka International Film Festival 2019 on Thursday.
The movie directed by Razibul Hossain will be screened at 7:30 pm at the Public Library Auditorium in the city as part of the ongoing month-long film festival.
The movie in ‘Hridoyer Rongdhonu’ (Life in Rainbow) was selected as “View Corner” at Goa Film Bazaar in last year.
The director told UNB that the movie will be released very soon in the theaters across the country.
Asian Institute of Media and Communication Bangladesh (AIMC) informed that its first Asian Premier was held on 24th November at QUBE 2 Hall at 2 pm in India tourist city Goa.
'Life in Rainbow' is a story of four aspiring youth (3 boys and 1 girl). They are friends. They have everything in their life. One day their life turns into a mystery. They got a call from a mysterious character as the mysterious character knew everything about them (Mina, Shams, Shojon and Khing) and their desire, expectations, inner calls etc.
He offered them a trip, "If you dare enough to take any challenges you can join a trip, a trip to an unknown destination!" They never thought this journey would make them a new person with enlightens of inner knowledge, skills and personality.
After two years of straggling for censorship certificate from Bangladesh Film Censor Board, the film got finally received it on October 23, 2018.
Dhaka, Jan15 (UNB) - The tenth edition of Chobi Mela, the most prestigious photography festival in Asia, will begin on 28 February.
In a press conference held at Drik’s new gallery in Panthapath on Tuesday, the organisers updated the media on upcoming festival programme.
The festival will continue with many happenings till 9 March 2019.
Chobi Mela - International Festival of Photography is put together biannually by Drik Picture Library Ltd. and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute. Since its inception in 2000, Chobi Mela has been the most significant photography event in Asia and a regular biennale.
At the press conference Festival Director Shahidul Alam presented an overview of the upcoming festival and introduced the newly formed Chobi Mela advisory board members.
Members include prominent Indian economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, former Deputy Governor of Bangladesh Bank Khondokar Ibrahim Khaled, human rights activist Khushi Kabir, Nepali publisher, writer and editor Kunda Dixit, Indian photographer Raghu Rai, economist Rehman Sobhan, literary critic, activist and historian Serajul Islam Choudhury and human rights activist and former Advisor to the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh Sultana Kamal.
Shahidul Alam also shared that eminent writer Arundhati Roy from India will be visiting upcoming Chobi Mela to give an artist talk.
The theme for Chobi Mela X is ‘Place’. Curated by ASM Rezaur Rahman, Munem Wasif, Sarker Protick, Tanzim Wahab along with guest curators including Naeem Mohaiemen and Sabih Ahmed, the tenth edition of the festival will be more exciting with all venues situated in Dhanmondi area.
The Drik-Pathshala under construction building in Panthapath will be the main venue along with other galleries of Alliance Francaise de Dhaka, Drik Gallery 1 & 2 (Dhanmondi) and Drik Gallery 3 (Panthapath).
Chobi Mela X also brings an exciting list of events. Artist’s talks, panel discussions and curated slideshow will be organised around the theme ‘Place’ at Goethe Institut Bangladesh auditorium while Pathshala South Asian Media Institute is the educational venue where workshops, and portfolio reviews will be held.
Chobi Mela X is to feature over 27 exhibitions with works from 35 artists spanning 20 countries.
The festival has also engaged a group of young Bangladeshi artists to produce site-specific artwork for the festival. To investigate the theme ‘Place’, artists from different backgrounds of painting, drawing, animation, sculpture, photography, video, sound and installation will stretch the medium physically and conceptually.
The festival hosts workshops by photo practitioners from all around the world. This includes workshop by Peter Bialobrzeski, noted for his excellent photography teaching background.
As part of the festival, a bookmaking workshop by Valentina Abenavoli will be arranged with a group of photographers for hands on training on making their own photobooks while world renowned German publisher and bookmaker Gerhard Steidl will also give an artist talk on photobooks.
Ensuring access for the general public has always been an important part of the festival and mobile exhibitions on rikshaw vans have become its trademark. The mobile exhibition will travel all over Dhaka city including remote locations.
The festival is free and open to the public.