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
Famous for its wealth
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:
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
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
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
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