Dhaka: Bangladesh and India Friday launched joint celebrations of the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, the globally revered poet whose poems they have adopted as their respective national anthems.
Specially here for the launch, Indian Vice President Mohammed Hamid Ansari pointed out that the South Asian neighbours had separately celebrated Tagore`s birth centenary half a century back, but "this time we are celebrating the poet`s 150th birth anniversary jointly". In 1961, what is now Bangladesh was East Pakistan.
"I am delighted to be here today to represent the government of India," Ansari said at the grand opening in the presence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Amidst thunderous applause, Ansari received a replica of the `Padma Boat` used by Tagore, Star Online, the website of a daily, reported.
Hasina utilized the occasion to call for concerted efforts to build a poverty-free South Asia "being imbued with the spirit of democracy and secularism".
"As I always say, the main enemy for the people of South Asia is poverty... we need to make concerted efforts to tackle hunger and poverty in the region," she said, declaring open three-day celebrations in Dhaka.
The Indian part is scheduled for New Delhi Saturday, to be opened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in the presence of Bangladesh`s Planning Minister A.K. Khandaker, a former air force chief and hero of the 1971 liberation movement.
Bangladesh and India are observing the sesquicentennial birth anniversary of the Nobel laureate as per a decision taken by the two prime ministers in January last year.
Hasina expressed her strong commitment to build Bangladesh "as a true welfare state in all respect cherishing the dreams of Tagore and her father and the country`s founding leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
"We want to build a nation that is modern in outlook, secular in orientation and democratic in approach," she said.
Hasina said her government had taken steps to set up Rabindra University in Shelaidaha, where Tagore lived on his estate, United News of Bangladesh (UNB) news agency reported.
She said her government wanted to set up a Bangladesh Bhaban in Shantiniketan, a small town near Bolpur in the Birbhum district of West Bengal.
Tagore wrote many of his literary classics there and set up a university.
Describing Rabindranath Tagore as the guiding star of Bengali nation, the prime minister said his creation, dream and vision cannot be kept confined to any particular region.
"The great poet has become a part of a universal consciousness that has not become outdated even after 150 years of his birth."
She said Tagore is not merely a poet or writer to the Bengali nation; rather, he is a lighthouse that guides both the individual and social consciousness of the Bengali people. "We feel his presence at times of love or pain, peace or struggle."
On a personal note, Hasina said her first brush with Tagore was through her father who read the poet`s works during the 19 years he spent in Pakistan`s prisons. She herself followed that while in jail during 2007-08.