Bangladesh often appears in the western media in the context of news stories about flood-stricken people and malnourished children. Such stories often neglect the courage of its people against the fury of nature, the country’s glorious history, and the spirit of its cultural diversity.

Famous for its wealth

Bangladesh, washed by three mighty rivers - the Padma, Jamuna, Meghna, and thousands of meandering brooks, is the largest delta in the world. This alluvial land is a thriving agricultural area. These rivers have also played a great role in communication since time immemorial. Once this region was famous for its wealth. Many fortune hunters came here to try their luck; several kinds of goods were exported to the west by water.
Bangladesh was famous for this kind of diversity. In medieval times a popular proverb was:

"Jodi jao Bonge Kopal jabe shonge"
if you go to Bangladesh, fortune will smile at you! .

The fertile land and wealth of Bengal have always attracted new settlers. It was indeed a crucible of various ethnic groups who commingled to form a mosaic of mixed races with a dominant non-Aryan strain.

A mighty people east of the Ganges

The Aryans came to India some 3500 years ago, and easily overtook northern India. But they encountered strong resistance from the people living east of the Ganges, now known as Bangladesh. During 326 BC Alexander, the great conqueror, invaded India and overran the Indus Valley, inhabited by a mighty people named the Gangaridae, who lived east of the Ganges. The story of their might and their wealth so overawed the Macedonians that they could not be persuaded to move to the east.

Older than Oxford

Between 321 BC and 750 AD this region was part of three Buddhist empires. From the eighth to the twelfth centuries AD, Bangladesh was ruled by the Palas, the Buddhist kings. The following four hundred years saw Bangladesh prosper and enjoy a golden age hallmarked by great achievements in education, culture, trade and commerce. This period saw the growth of its universities, which became known as centres of excellence throughout the region. Bangladesh’ universities, such as Vasu Vihara, Sompara Vihara, and Salban Vihara were founded several hundred years before Oxford, the oldest western university. The Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang, who visited Bangladesh in the seventh century, mentioned some 30 Mahaviharas or universities. This was the time when Bengali scholars were invited to China, Tibet and the Far East.
Between 1097 and 1223 the Hindu sena rulers were equally enthusiastic patrons of the arts and of education. A huge number of images representing the Hindu pantheon were created during this time.

Intellectual awakening under Muslim rule

From the early 13th century until the British occupation in 1757, the political, cultural and social life of Bengal is dominated by an overwhelming Muslim presence. The six hundred years of Muslim rule in Bengal brought about a significant change in the lives of the people, most of whose forefathers had been either Buddhist or Hindu. The Sufis played a great role in moulding the mind and culture of the land; their unpretentious lifestyle and love of humanity won the hearts of low caste Hindus and some Buddhists. The liberal patronage of the Muslim rulers to scholars, poets and educational institutions helped to create a great intellectual awaking in Bengal.

Impoverished as British colony

Bengali culture was created through the mingling of various religious traditions, which accounts for its secular philosophy and liberal ideas. This prosperous region experienced a terrible era under British colonial rule. The British established their colony to plunder the country’s wealth. The 200-year long history of looting caused the Industrial Revolution in England to flourish, but it economically marginalised the region.

East-Pakistan becomes Bangladesh

After the colonial period two religion-based states emerged: India and Pakistan. As a Muslim region, Bangladesh was then a part of Pakistan. But there were basic cultural differences between Bangladesh and Pakistan. Pakistani rulers tried to dominate Bengali culture in the name of Islam. They even denied the Bengali language the status of state language. In 1952, many people sacrificed their lives for their mother tongue. Language-based nationalism finally gave birth to a new state in 1971, called Bangladesh. The years 1952 and 1971 are two milestones in the modern history of Bangladesh.

By : Suborna Camellia and Abu Ahasan


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