Dhaka University, the hotbed of Bengali nationalism since the Language Movement of the Fifties, was challenging the drag of military rule when the Bengali New Year dawned in 1989.
General Ershad, the second general to become the head of the state, had established Islam as state religion only a year ago. The spirit of the Liberation War was up against the challenge of a military-backed fundamentalist turnaround that sought to bring back the ghost of Pakistan.
That is when the Fine Arts Institute of Dhaka University came up with the "Mongol Shobhajatra| (loosely translates to "Procession for wellbeing") themed on the country's cultural heritage. It was to observe good wishes for the New Year that lay ahead, but its underlying message was to the Ershad junta subtle yet strong.
The procession symbolised a secular, non-communal Bangladesh, in which people from all walks of life participated. This all-inclusive initiative defied the demonstrative Pakistan style religiosity of the military ruler Hussain Muhammad Ershad, who made Islam the state religion.
Mongol Shobhajatra was met with resistance from fundamentalists ever since it started.
Even the celebration of the Bengali New Year has been attacked with bombings, during the BNP Jamaat regime, as Pakistan-inspired Islamists sought to erase the markers of secular linguistic Bengali nationalism and culture, on which rests the edifice of Bangladesh.
Thought-leaders of secular Bengali culture -- writers, bloggers, publishers, even folk singers -- have been killed mercilessly.
But the appeal of Mangal Shobhajatra continued to grow alongside the struggle for democracy that ousted the military regime and finally the Islamist alliance of BNP and Jamaat e Islami.
From Dhaka where it first happened, the Mongol Shobhajatra spread to districts where it is now organised every Bangla New Year.
It is now a cultural marker of Bengali nationalism, a part and parcel of Bangladesh's festival calendar, an occasion to showcase the vibrant art and floral motifs that add to Bengali life.
Mangal Shobhajatra was soon incorporated on the list of Intangible Heritage by UNESCO.
It was a cause for celebration for liberals in Bengali society who had kept it going year after year.
Professor Nisar Hossain, the dean of the Fine Arts faculty of Dhaka University, was one of the masterminds responsible for getting global recognition for Mongol Shobhajatra as a cultural marker of Bengali life.
Now Professor Hossain's efforts have been recognised by the nation when he has conferred the Pathfinder of 50 award, on the golden jubilee of Bangladesh's Independence.
The Pathfinder of 50 was introduced this year by Young Bangla alongside its usual Joy Bangla Youth Award, which recognises the young changemakers of Bangladesh. The idea was to recognise those who have contributed to Bangladesh in the past and those who were now doing it with their bright ideas.
Nisar Hossain turned emotional while receiving the award saying, "Mongol Shobhajatra was an initiative to revive the Liberation War spirit that led to the Joy Bangla slogan, the spirit that led to the birth of Bangladesh, the spirit that they attempted to wipe out forever by murdering the Father of the Nation and his family on 15 August."
"The spirit inspiring us to organise Mongol Shobhajatra is the same spirit that made our nation fight for independence. An award conferred on the occasion of celebrating the 50th year of that independence is the best achievement one can aspire for," he said in a television interview where he came down heavily on those who want to wipe out the secular and non-communal spirit at the heart of Bangladesh's formation.
Nisar Hossain lashed out against those who oppose installing statues of the father of the nation, who refuses to hoist the national flag in their institutions and who want to change the national anthem - that same quarter that spews venom on YouTube and other platforms against Mongol Shobhajatra continuously.
"Our Fine Arts Institute itself faced hurdles at birth. These artists were involved in the language movement. In all political and cultural movements, they have been upholding the spirit of the Liberation War of Bangladesh," he said.
Prof Hossain said Bangladesh is no exception in a world where religious obscurantism threatens the secular spirit.
"But it is heartening to see how Mongol Shobajatra has spread and is even observed in many parts of West Bengal," he added.
Prof Hossain said Mongol Shobhajatra is not limited to Pahela Baishakh.
Mongol Shobhajatra is a spirit. It s a cultural and social movement. The moment it was named Mongol Shobhajatra, it got a political character."
He said that the event is also backed by Chhayanaut and other institutions who through social and political movements upheld Bangladesh's non-communal spirit.
Cultural activists played the role in its transition from Baishakhi Shobhajatra to Mongol Shobhajatra, Hossain said.
" We must not forget that the biggest damage that Bangladesh suffered was inflicted by Ershad, starting from introducing our state religion to making Friday the weekend. These were not present even during the days of Pakistan.
Prof Hossain went on saying, "When we felt that Ershad was out to ruin the spirit of Bangladesh, Baishakhi Shobhajatra was transformed into Mongol Shobhajatra within one year. Two people helped it get a political characteristic - Waheedul Haq and Imdad Hossain. They were very close to artists."
"The first president of Bangladesh Charushilpi Sangsad Rafiqun Nabi and others were also with us. But there was much resistance when we started. Even teachers of different departments of Dhaka University threatened us. Now all support Mongol Shobajatra and join it," he added.
But Nisar Hossain is not oblivious to the "loss of cultural space" in rural areas where the syncretic folk songs of Marfoti or Murshidi variety has been replaced by Waz that get increasingly hardline. A space that needs to be recovered if Bangladesh has to grow in the true spirit that led to its birth.