Saturday, November 21, 2015

Weavers of Bangladesh: (Part-03)

In this segment of Weavers of Bangladesh, we explored into the history and method of how Benarasi and Katan fabric is made.


Red Benarasi Sari

Benarasi Sari has an ancient history beginning from the Mughal empire in the 16th century. It is known that it originated from Benaras, a northern city of India. Benarasi Sari found its way to Bangladesh, when the Muslims migrated from Benaras into Bangladesh. It was these migrants that started the practice of making Benarasi Sari at Mohammadpur and Mirpur in Dhaka. 
Texture of Benarasi Sari

The texture of a Benarasi fabric can be either light or heavy. The silk is first put into rollers that twist a single silk thread with another to thicken its texture. This is then heated and put into a Tana where it is made into a bundle. The threads are then dyed elsewhere. The threads are stretched out in a single room made of rusted tin and worn out bamboo with barely any ventilation or lighting. In another similar room, a weaver weaves the designs on a sari. A single Benarasi Sari that is 21 feet in length and 3.5 feet in breadth can take a week or longer to be completed.

Varities of Benarasi Saris
There are four main varieties of Banarasi Saree, which includes pure silk (Katan), Organza (Kora) with zari and silk; Georgette, and Shattir. They are divided into categories such as Jangla, Tanchoi, Vaskat, Cutwork, Tissue and Butidar.

Fulkoali Katan, Dulhan Katan, Mirpuri Reshmi Katan, Mellenium Katan, Benarasi Cosmos, Orgamndi, Katan, Brakett Katan and Chunri Katan are some of the different types of sarees that are woven in Mirpur Banarasi Palli. The Palli is located in 2, 3 and 5 wards of 10, 11, 12 and 13 sections of Mirpur, where more than 300 outlets display the elegant saris. Recently, craftsmen of Banarasi village have started marketing 50 items of silk saris. Three-piece and two-piece with various designs made from by jute net and jute silk.
The most popular Banarasi Saris are jute net, jute silk, jute katan, muslin, tissue sari, cosmos silk, katan, georgette saris, banarasi, boti katan, lehenga, and wedding sarees. Prices for most of the sarees are between Tk 3,000 - 15,000.
Benarasi Sari is a fabric made out of silk and zari which is worn by women in the subcontinent especially women of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Benarasi sarees are used mainly by affluent society during special occasions, especially on weddings.


Weaver are making Katan Sari
Katan silk, which originated from Persia, came to India during the rise of the Mughal Empire. Women who belonged to the royal families indulged in silk purchased from China, Persia and even parts of India, such as Benares, in order to weave stylish and elegant garments. As recorded by Inayat Khan in Shah Jahanama, the royal women were known for wearing elaborately designed clothes in fabrics like Katan silk, Satin, Tasser, Ambary and Kimkhab. Furthermore, they were known for wearing at least 2-3 different outfits in a day and clothes, once worn, were handed to the servants for their use. Through this practice, fabrics such as Katan silk were filtered down all the way to the subjects of the empire and were popularized due to their sturdy nature.Women like NurJahan Begum were also known for designing and popularizing new fashions and designs, which made these fabrics all the more desirable amongst the subjects of the empire.

Katan Sari

Katan silk is a type of silk that is created by twisting together filaments to create a sturdier and more durable fabric. Due to the nature of its creation, it also makes an interesting textured background for any work that is to be done on the fabric to make it unique. Katan silk is one of the most easily identified fabrics as it has an extremely unique look that helps it stand out from other forms of silk.

Varieties of Katan Saris
The varieties of Katan silk includes: KatanButidar, Katan Butidar Mina , Katan Butidar Paga, Katan Brocade. There are also pure silk Katan : Fulkoali Katan, Dulhan Katan, Mirpuri Reshmi Katan, Mellenium Katan, Benarasi Cosmos, Orgamndi, Katan, Brakett Katan, Reshmi Katan, Prince Katan, Rimjhim Katan, Tussiue Katan, Mirpuri Gini Gold Katan, Georgette Gini Glod Katan and Chunri Katan are some of the different types of saris that are woven in Mirpur Banarasi Palli.

These days, some of the most widely used forms of katan silk such as KatanJal Set, Katan Buti Zari Resham, Katan Butidar, has now envolved to create Katan Buti Zari Resham, which is the same fabric with a few style innovations to give it a more modern look. These innovations are mostly aesthetic and can vary from garment to garment. Other popular variants used these days are Katan stripes and checks, which have been seen recently on the runway.

Photo Courtesy:Website

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A romantic window into a half-drowned world

By Mike MacEacheran

It was just after sunset when the first hazard came dimly into view. Peering through wire-rim glasses into the inky-black waters of Bangladesh’s Buriganga River, Captain Lufthur Rahman shouted, “Starboard right! Man the boiler room pumps!” Sailing completely blind, without shipping lights and only the sonorous blast from a foghorn to help, he implausibly steered a course to avoid a hugely overloaded oncoming ferry.

Considering the mayhem in the water – a steady flow of torpedo-shaped taxis, multi-storey barges, wide-loaded junks, flimsy rubber craft and shabby freighters travelling between Dhaka and the Bay of Bengal – it could have been a major disaster. Yet this was no fluke. Every night for decades, the PS Ostrich, a historic Bangladeshi paddle-wheel steamer, has managed to sail through the centre of all this chaos, as if caught-up in a real-life game of Battleship.
The paddlewheel steamers may be old, but they are vital
(Credit: Mike MacEacheran)
Such vigilance helps keep the world’s most densely populated country afloat. Bangladesh is drenched with 8,000km of navigable rivers and waterways, creating an aqueous plain to rival any seascape that Turner could have painted. Its deltas are so huge and so unfathomable – the only way to tackle them is by boat.

And it is thanks to the steely discipline of seafarers such as Rahman that the PS Ostrich has never sunk or crashed. It is an amazing feat of nautical engineering – and blind faith – that the steamer completes the epic 20-hour journeys from Dhaka, travelling as far as the city of Morrelganj on the fringes of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest belt of mangrove forest.
Navigating the waterways can be risky
(Credit: Allen Brown/Alamy)
PS Ostrich could be called the country’s ultimate survivor. Steeped in history, it is one of only four paddlewheel steamers left in the country; they’re nicknamed “the Rockets” because they were once the fastest vessels on the water. The others – the PS Mahsud, PS Lepchaand PS Tern – are all still in operation, but it is the Ostrich that first catches the eye from the chaotic wharves of Dhaka’s Sadarghat boat terminal with its steampunk design and dirty-yellow veneer.

Up close, sitting low, almost to the point of sinking, the ship is anything but a marvel of preservation. This two-tiered, dilapidated structure, battered to within an inch of its life, was built in 1929 in the dockyards of Clydebank, Scotland before being shipped to the Bay of Bengal as a passenger ferry – an improbable colonial relic of the British East India Company’s time in Bengal. Little did those Scottish shipyard workers know, the ship would still be a lifeline in Bangladesh more than 85 years later.
Although its massive paddlewheels began being helped along by a rudimentary diesel engine in 1996 and the roof has been replaced (albeit by rusty tin sheets), the vessel still retains an out-of-time look.
All aboard the Bangladeshi Rockets
(Credit: Marcia Chambers/Alamy)

“It feels like sailing an antique,” said Rahman. “There are newer, faster boats out on the water, but life on them is not the same. This trip is more than just a journey.”

When packed with cargo – everything from three-piece suites and washing machines to sacks of grain and rickety bicycles – the steamer operates like a floating village, full of personal stories, encounters and drama. There is room for 700 passengers, but during Islamic holidays such as Eid, that figure can swell to 3,000.
Views of the river from atop the PS Ostrich (Credit: Mike MacEacheran)

The problem for the Rockets is that Bangladesh is an economy built around the water and it needs faster, sleeker vessels. There is increasing competition with neighbours India and China, who are luring passengers to newer operators with their shiny-white, multi-tiered vessels.

These deep-hulled boats can make the journey from Dhaka to the delta cities of Chittagong, Chandpur, Barisal, Hularhat and Morrelganj in up to half the time of the Rockets, with better schedules and highly competitive fares. With hallmark like these, these boats have become the moving force behind the country’s modernisation. By comparison, the Rockets are outdated and obsolete.

But this very history just might be their saviour. Ancient relics in a modern world, the Rockets are full of memories for Bangladeshis of all ages. The elderly have travelled on them since before World War II, while families continue to embrace the adventure and romance of life on deck. 
"It feels like sailing on the Titanic..

“I used to take the boat with my father, a doctor, to Dhaka when I was young – it’s something I’ll never forget,” said Chandun Sutsil, a journalist for a Dhaka newspaper. “People like me appreciate the history. It feels like sailing on the Titanic.”

Bangladesh is crowded with boats battling
through the waterway (Credit: Tarzan9280/iStock)
Officials also point to the Rockets’ unquestionable safety record. Chandpur, a city next to a three-way confluence of rivers – the Buriganga, Padma and Meghna – is famous for major boat crashes involving barges and ferries, but none that have so far decommissioned the Rockets. That’s something on which the PS Ostrich’s passengers agree. “The Rockets are more reliable – they have never had an accident in all this time,” said Rajib Ahmed Khan, a forestry department employee travelling from Barisal to Hularhat. “It’s built by the British, while the more modern boats have lots of problems. That has to count for something.”
Counter-intuitively, the Rockets’ lifeline may also be its speed, or lack of. The faster ferries only dock at major gateways, and without the Rockets’ exhaustive service, dozens of tiny communities would be cut off. These may be no more than mud hut villages surrounded by fruit trees and water-logged rice paddies, but the dependable PS Ostrich meanders through the backwaters, stopping at the rudimentary tug boat landing pontoons, to ensure that everyone can make their journey.

Passengers can drift past paddy fields in Bangladesh
(Credit: Christine Osborne/Alamy)
Sailing the Rockets brings feelings of nostalgia for many
 (Credit: Amanda Ahn/Alamy)

“It is a very old but vital service,” said Mahmoud Mehedi, a rickshaw driver travelling between villages with his elderly father. “We are only going 2km down the river, but without the Rocket this journey wouldn’t be possible.” And for the foreign traveller, the journey is a romantic window into a half-drowned world – a trip that is hard to find equal elsewhere.

The PS Ostrich trudges through the Buriganga River
 (Credit: Mike MacEacheran)

Borne by the current, it is possible to drift past flooded river lands and under-siege paddy fields, all the way to the great mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, the country’s last bastion of  the Royal Bengal Tiger. If the price of survival in Bangladesh is keeping afloat, then a creaky paddle-wheel steamer like the PS Ostrich may well still find its place. Long may she sail on these waters.

Note: This is a piece that came out on BBC's web page.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Weavers Of Bangladesh: (Part-02)

This is a continuation of Weavers of Bangladesh (Part- 1), where our article was based on Dhaka Muslin. In the second piece of Weavers of Bangladesh, we have provided an insight to the history of Jamdani and the Tangail fabric. 


Jamdani Sarees
Jamdani is an apt description for exquisitely woven fabric from Bangladesh. Its weavers are considered to be among the best in South Asia even today. It is one of the finest muslin textiles of Bangladesh for centuries. The historic production of Jamdani was introduced by the Mughal emperors. It is the most artistic textile of the Bangladeshi weavers. Traditionally woven and created on the loom brocade, Jamdani is fabulously rich in motifs and presently, it is the most attractive textile of Bangladesh and is worldwide acclaimed.

Weavers are making Jamdani

Jamdani has always been very expensive because of the fine quality of fabric and detailed workmanship. The patterns have romantic, poetic descriptions and names. Even today, Jamdani is very expensive and highly sought after. Though mostly used for saris, Jamdani is also used for scarves and handkerchiefs. Jamdani is believed to be a fusion of the ancient cloth-making techniques of Bengal (perhaps 2,000 years old) with the muslins produced by Bengali Muslims since the 14th century. Jamdani is the most expensive product of Dhaka looms since it requires the most lengthy and dedicated work.

Patterns of Jamdani
Jamdani patterns are mostly of geometric, plant, and floral designs and are said to originate in Persian and Mughal thousands of years ago.The fabric is woven very much like tapestry work. Small shuttles of colored, gold or silver threads are passed through the weft. It forms an intricate pattern in the body of the fine material. It is usually woven into six yards saris, but nowadays the material is available for kurtas for men and women. The body of the sari is scattered with delicate floral sprays – hence the name jamdani or flower vase.

Jamdanis have different names according to their design (for instance, panna hajar, dubli lala, butidar, tersa, jalar, duria, charkona & many others). Present-day Jamdani saris have on their ground designs of rose, Jasmine, lotus, bunches of bananans, Ginger and Sago. A Jamdani with small flowers diapered on the fabric is known as Butidar. If these flowers are arranged in reclined position it is called Tersa jamdani. There can be designs with peacocks and leaves of creepers. If such designs cover the entire field of the sari it is called Jalar Naksha. If the field is covered with rows of flowers it is known as Fulwar jamdani. Duria Jamdani has designs of spots all over. Belwari jamdani with colorful golden borders used to be made during the Mughal period, especially for the women of the inner court.

Tangail Sari:

Tangail Sarees
Tangail is famous for its handloom saris made of both cotton and silk thread having hand worked butti design or all over flowery design or contemporary art motif appreciated. Some of the Weavers have migrated to India after partition in 1947. These sarees owns the originality of pure Bengali Saree as the colors and designs reflect true Bengali tradition and art. They are more comfortable, durable and pleasant. These Tangail sarees have great aesthetic value as well.

Tangail Sarees are produced in Tangail Sadar, Delduwar upazila and Kaliahti upazila. Pathrail in Delduwar upazila is famous for fine and expensive Sarees. The weavers get purchases from locals and people from overseas. Tangail Sarees: A study performed in 2013 said there are around sixty thousands looms in Tangail. Out of them, near about eight thousand are pit loom, fifty thousands are Chittranjan looms and rest one thousand are energy looms. About 0.35 million workers, financiers and stockholders are linked with the career. The industries have been generating Tangail sarees value Tk 300-Tk 20,000 each.

Tangail Sarees

Tangail Sharee a handloom saree created of both genuine pure cotton and smooth soft silk range having side performed butti design or all over luxurious design or contemporary art motiff respected, bought, and used by women & women of Bangladeshi and Local Indian native resource living all over the globe. Tangail Sarees are familiar at local areas and over the world. Vast number of Sarees are usually promoted on the occasion of Eid, Puja, Pohela Boishakh and Marriage season during the period between November and February.

Photo Courtesy: Website

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Weavers Of Bangladesh: (Part-01)

Weavers are making Fabrics
Weaving is an old-age heritage of Bengal. There is a glorious history of weaving in Bangladesh. The tradition of weaving cloth by handloom constitutes one of the valuable aspects of Bangladesh culture and heritage. The fine and varied handmade fabrics; the weaving skills of the crafts people of Bengal has marveled and drawn the attention of people around the world for centuries. Exquisite hand-woven Muslin, Jamdani, raw silk as well as refined silks, a wide range of Khadi, Katan, Benarashi and extremely fine cotton have earned a place of honor for the artisans of Bengal all over the world.
The Weavers
The workers that produce the clothes, are called weavers or Tantis. The Tanti Community is a structural group that was formed due to the pressure of demand for woven cloth. In ‘Charjapada’ (The ancient inscription of Bengali language) contains the description of weavers of Bengal where their lifestyle and nature of work was described. This indicates that the artistic occupation existed even in ancient Bengal. Tantis belongs both from the Hindu and Muslim Communities. The Muslim Tantis are called as ‘Jola’ or ‘Joala’, or ‘Karigar’. In Hindu Community people use their own title such as Basak, Baras, Bhedya, Chand, Das, Datta, Pal, Sarkar etc. There are some places in Bangladesh which are specialized in weaving such as Narshingdi, Rajpura, Demra, Tangail, Sirajgonj, Shajadpur, Ullapara, Kmarkhanda, Baburhat, Gaurnadi etc.

Bengal was known to be famous for textile fabrics in old times. During first century, Muslin became famous in Rome and it was highly expensive. But Muslin is very rare now and weavers usually use other types of fabric to make daily wear which tend to be coarse and cheap.


A woman in Dhaka clad in fine Bengali muslin, 18th-century
Muslin was a brand name of pre-colonial Bengal textile, especially of Dhaka origins. Muslin was manufactured in the city of Dhaka and surrounding stations, by locals with locally produced cotton, which attained world-wide fame as the Dhaka Muslin.
The finest sort of Muslin was made of Phuti cotton, which was grown in certain localities on the banks of Brahmaputra and her branches. The other kinds of cotton called Bairait and Deshi were inferior and were produced in different parts of Dhaka and neighboring areas; they were used for manufacturing slightly inferior and course clothes

The Muslin Saris
Before, weaving was prevalent in the Dhaka district in almost every village , but some places became more famous for manufacturing superior quality of Muslins. These places were Dhaka, Sonargon, Dhamrai, Teetbady, Junglebary and Bajitpur. These places were able to manufacture fine quality cloth because they were situated near places where it was suitable to produce cotton for the Muslin. These were also the places where the headquarters of ruling dynasties, Muslim or Hindu, were established. So the weavers of these places got support and encouragement from the aristocratic class. The best quality of cotton is grown here and for centuries the finest of muslin cloth has been woven around Dhaka. This is due not only because of the quality of cotton but due to the skilled spinning on special spinning wheels and weaving by the masters of the craft who have been plying the trade for generations.

Photo Courtesy: Website

Thursday, October 29, 2015

In Memory of S.M Sultan: An Artist never to be forgotten

Details of large portrait of S.M Sultan 

features at the S.M Sultan Memorial Gallery

in Narail
The infamous S.M Sultan was born in East Bengal, which is now known as Bangladesh. Even from an early age, S.M Sultan showed passion and immense talent in art. After attending school for 5 years, he joined his father at work as a mason. It was whilst working with his father, that he took an interest in the buildings and began sketching them with great detail and finesse. This was when he started dreaming of attending an art school in Kolkata to enhance his talents as an artist.

Due to his parents not having the necessary financial means to send him to study abroad, a local landlord offered to assist the family in sending S.M Sultan to Kolkata. He arrived in Kolkata in 1938 with a bleak future of getting admission into the school due to his lack of experience. Luckily, with the help of Hasan Shahid who was an art critic and respected poet, S.M Sultan was able to attend the art school he had dreamt of only too often. But his free spirited nature resulted in him not completing his education and he decided to travel through India and Kashmir. It is known that during his travel, he ran into many soldiers, whom he sketched along the way. Sadly, none of these works survived as he took little care to use materials that would preserve them.

S.M Sultan's artwork of agricultural local farmers.
The artist’s large canvases seem to portray the vastness of life and are inspired by the simple elements of life. His artworks are a dreamlike interpretation of the agricultural laborer’s, simple householders, fishermen and hardworking men and women. What makes his art so unique is the depiction of real life situations, but with a twist of surrealism. The skinny, weak laborers are sketched as heavy muscular men. Perhaps this was as an indication of hope for a better future. His magical strokes of watercolor and oil were mainly focused on the themes of his surrounding nature and rural life.

S.M Sultan was a man that found value in all he saw. When he travelled through India, tranquil landscapes filled their way onto his canvases with watercolor and oil. However, it was in Narail that he formed his most iconic style- the rural scenes of figures with exaggerated muscles instead of the actual reality where peasant farmers are thin and bony.

He was the founder of Fine Arts Institution in Narail where he taught many, of varying talent, often for free. He always sought to encourage, challenge and to propagate the ever-present liberation and self-realization in art. In his lifetime, S.M Sultan won numerous awards for his work. He was declared ‘The Man of Asia’ in 1982 by University of Cambridge. Sultan’s desire for contentment and happiness can be seen in his dreamlike works. His drawings can be described as powerful, and he is still viewed as one of the most prolific artists to have emerged from Bangladesh.

Art Exhibition of S. M Sultan
Sultan had gone to several places to showcase his exhibitions, which included New York, Washington, Chicago, and Boston. He also went to London later for an exhibition. His first art exhibition was hosted in 1946 in Simla. He had his first Dhaka art exhibition in 1976.The great artist breathed his last breath on the 10th of October in 1994 in his own house in Sonargaon, Dhaka.

Photo Courtesy: The Daily Star & Web

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Bijoya Dashami: Durga Is Immersed With Solemnities Into the Water

Durga puja is the famous religious festival of the Hindu community, especially those in the Bengali Hindu community. Durga Puja is also known as Durgotsava. Durgotsava refers to five days festivity and these five days are observed as Shashthi,Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Navami and Bijoya Dashami. This festival usually falls in the month of October. The Goddess ‘Durga’ is the mother of the universe. She represents the infinite power of the universe and is a symbol of a female dynamism.The goddess came to be known as Durga after killing a demon named Durgo or Durgam. When demonic forces created imbalance, all gods were united and became one divine force called ‘Shakti’ or ‘Durga’. Goddess Durga killed the powerful demon ‘Oshur’ and his commanders to control the universe with goodness as God’s will. In a final burst of triumph, she pinned Mahishashur down with her foot drove the trident into his heaving chest as he strove to hold back his escaping life-breath. Thus the demon met his doom, gazing into her frenzied eye; for the glance rared his doom and his deliverance.

Face of Durga
Being the largest religious festival for minority Bengladeshi Hindus, Durga Puja is celebrated across the country with thousands of Puja Mandaps set up in villages, towns and cities. Major pujas of Dhaka are held in Dhakeswari National Temple, Joykali Temple and Ramkrishna Mission. Special boat races are held at Padma river is arranged by the Tourism Department. Most of the pujas take place in places like Jessore, Khulna, Barisal, Gopalganj, Faridpur, Mymensingh and Sylhet- where there are large concentrations of Hindus. Durga Puja is celebrated all over Bangladesh. Some perform it individually, some collectively. Collective puja is called Baroyari or Sarvajanin (open to all).

The Idol Of Devi Durga
Not only the Hindu community but the whole nation is waiting to celebrate the Durga Puja, also known as Sharbojanin Durgotshav, meaning universal Durga festival in this year. It begins with the incarnation (Bodhon) of the Goddess Durga at temples across Bangladesh on Sunday (October 18). The five-day festival starts with ‘Bodhon’ of the Goddess Durga on Sunday, while ‘Amontron’ and ‘Adhibas’ of the Goddess Durga will be held on Monday marking the Shashthi. The festival will come to an end with the emersion of the images of the Goddess Durga in the nearby rivers and water bodies on Friday. Devotees and artisans are busy making last moment preparations and tastefully decorating the temples. A total of 29,074 pandals, including 223 in the capital, have been put up across the country this year to celebrate the Durga Puja.

Durga is immersed into Buriganga
In Dhaka, the Durga images are carried to the Buriganga to be immersed on Bijoya Dashami. On the occasion, food and clothes are distributed among the poor. After nine days of worship, Hindu believers feel the unity with God through Durga puja. They respect Durga as true mother and sacrifice the statue in river at tenth day which is known as ‘doshomi’ . 

Photo Credit: Internet

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Celebrating the Mystic Poet: Lalon Shah
The man who came and went the same day.....

Sketch of Lalon (Drawn by Jatirindro Nath Tagore in 1889)
Lalon Shah, was a Bengali philosopher, poet, folk singer and humanist. His poetry, articulated in songs, are considered classics of the Bangla language. People call him a mystical and metaphysical saint. He is the most prominent figure in the baul tradition. In his songs, he blended different traditions of devotional rites such as Shahajia of Buddhism, Shahajia of Vaishnavism, Sufism of Islam and several other traditional beliefs. Lalon says he himself doesn’t know who he is.”Lalon does not fit into the usual catagory of the so called ‘bauls’ or ‘fakirs’ who believe they are spiritual types who deny all worldly affairs in desperate search for a spiritual enlightment of the soul. The melodies, tunes and themes of his Baul reflects the metaphysical philosophy as well as the natural beauty, social reality and the facts of common people of Bangladesh. Baul song is a kind of folk songs songs that reflects the fusion of both Hindu bhakti movements as well as the Sufi songs.

Some Historians believe that Lalon was born on 17th October in 1774, in the part of the former larger Nadia district which is now known as Kushtia, Bangladesh. Legend has it that Lalon was born a Hindu and became a Muslim under unusual circumstances. Lalon had set out on a pilgrimage with friends, but contracted small pox soon after departure, and was abandoned for dead. A Sufi practitioner, Malam Shah, saved him from death. Later on, he was ordained into the discipleship of a certain Shiraj Sain, but his interpretation of Islam was radically different, a far cry from the Koran-based Shariati religious order. Lalon sought to combine it with a loose reading of Tantric Vaishnavism, for to him God was One; human beings have merely made up different names and created institutions to enshrine Divinity in external forms. Lalon wanted to situate his “faith” as counter-institutional, but not as a counter-institution itself.

Lalon worked within his small space in nineteenth century Bengal, always aiming to reach higher, or even enter the world of literary fame. The Bengali literates who controlled visible culture in Bengal in the 19th and 20th century traditionally viewed his music and poetry as "folk art." The literates have always taken what they most needed from Lalon and used it in their own agendas, whether it was to fold him up in the discourse of a "feel-good" secularism or use him as an icon for a new nation. However the case, Lalon, the true philosopher and artist, has existed on his own and in his own right always.

Followers singing at the Lalon festival
Lalon composed numerous songs and poems, which described his philosophy. Amongst his most popular songs are: ‘Sob loke koy lalon ki jat songsare’ ‘Khachar bhitor auchin pakhi’, ‘Jaat gelo jat gelo bole’, ‘Dekhna mon jhokmariay duniyadari’, ‘Paare loye jao amay’, ‘Milon hobe koto dine’, ‘Aar amare marishne maa’, ‘ Tin pagoler holo mela’ etc. It is said that he had composed about 10,000 songs of which only 2000-3000 can be tracked down today while others are lost in time and the hearts of his numerous followers. Most of his followers could not read or write, therefor unluckily for the lovers of Baul, very few of his songs are found in written context. Lalon had no formal education as such but his songs can educate the most educated of minds throughout the world. Long before free thinkers around the globe started thinking of a classless society, Lalon had already composed around 1000 songs on that theme.

Shrine of Lalon
Lalon died at the age of 116 years on 17th October, 1890 which was the same day he was born. The day he was ready to say good bye to his disciples it was a kind of celebration in songs and joy. In 1963, a mausoleum and a research centre were built at the site of his shrine, the place of knowledge-practices. Thousands of people come to the shrine known in Bangla as Akhra twice a year, Dol-Purnima, in the month of Falgun (February to March) and in October, on the occasion of the anniversary of his death. During these three-days song melas, people, particularly fakirs (Muslim devotees) and bauls (section of Hindu believers) pay tribute to Lalon.

Photo Credit: Internet

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sacred Shakti Peethas across Bangladesh: (Part-2) The Southern Trail

Previously we did a blog about Shakti Peethas in North Bengal. This is a continuation of that blog providing information about Shakti Peethas that are located in the Southern part of Bangladesh-Barishal, Khulna and Chittagong. The three Shakti Peethas to be discussed in this piece are as follows: Shugandha Temple in Barishal, Jeshoreshwari Kali Temple in Khulna and lastly Chandranath Temple situated in Shitakunda.

Shugandha Temple:
Sugandha Temple
Sugandha Temple , one of the Shakti Peethas of Bangladesh is located in the village of Shikharpur, 10 miles away from the northern portion of Barishal.
It is said that a prominent body part of Sati's , ‘nose’ had fallen at Sugandha.The name Sugandha means a pleasing personality. In Sugandha, this Shakti Peetha is dedicated to the Goddess Sunanda, which means pleasing. It is famous for the festival of Shiva ‘Chaturdashi’ (14th moon during the month of March). Devi Sati is also known as Sondha and Lord Shiva or Bhairav is worshipped on this festival. A large number of devotees come here during this festival Special celebrations and rituals are held during this time of the festival. The whole complex of the Sugandha Shakti Peetha Temple is made of stone, with images and statues of gods engraved on it. The sculptures present a mesmerizing look of the temple to the visitors. Shine of the marble that decorates the temple, and how it reflects on the water is surely one thing that people do not want to miss out here.

Jeshoreshwari Kali Temple:
Jeshoreshwari Kali Temple
Jeshoreshwari Kali Temple is a famous Hindu Temple in Bangladesh , dedicated to the goddess Kali. The temple is located in Ishwaripur, a village in Shyamnagar Upazilla of Satkhira. The name "Jeshoreshwari" means "Goddess of Jeshore.
It is said that people consider Jesoreshwari as one of the 51 Peethas of Sati. It is one of the place where the various parts of Sati’s body are said to have fallen, in the course of Shiva’s Rudra Tandava(the destruction of dance). Jesoreshwari represents the site where the palm of Sati fell. It is said by many, that General of Maharaja Pratap Aditya discovered a meditative ray of light which came from the bushes, and came upon a piece of stone carved in the form of a human palm. Shakti Peethas are divine places or holy abode of the Mother Goddess Parashakti . These shrines are believed to be sanctified with the presence of Shakti . There are 51 Shakti Peeth located all around South Asia. Each temple have shrines for Shakti and Kalabhairava, The Shakti of this shrine is addressed as Jeshoreshwari and Bhairava as Chanda. Devotees visit this temple to seek fulfillment of Protection from evil, Salvation, Destruction of Ego and Liberation.

Chandranath Temple:
Front side of the temple
Chandranath Temple is situated on top of the Chandranath hill, where a famous Shakti Peetha is located near Sitakunda. According to Hindu sacred texts, the right arm of Goddess Sati fell here in Sitakunda, Chandranath Temple is a holy place of pilgrimage.

The Chandranath temple in Sitakundu may have been founded by an ancient king of the then Chattala (now Chittagong).The Chandranath Temple is known as a Shakti Peetha. The mythology of Daksha yaga and Sati's self immolation is the source of mythology behind the origin of Shakti Peethas. Shakti Peethas are divine shrines of Shakti, due to the falling of body parts of the corpse of Sati Devi, when Lord Shiva carried it and wandered throughout Aryavartha in sorrow. This Shakti Peetha is known by the name Bhavani. 

A festival named 'Siva Chaturdoshi' is held during the month of February every year at Sitakunda. A big fair is also held on 'Amabashya rat' (newmoon night) of that month. Tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims of all ages from all over the country come to Sitakunda during the fair every year.

Photo Credit: Internet

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sacred Shakti Peethas: The Northern Trail (Part 1)

According to ancient Hindu texts, King Daksha disapproved of the marriage between his daughter Sati and Lord Shiva. After Sati got married to Shiva, he organised a 'yagna', which is a prayer ceremony, and invited all the deities and heavenly creations and dignitaries, except Sati and Shiva. Due to being ridiculed by the king and the guests. Angry and insulted, Sati sacrificed her body that was given to her by her father.When Lord Shiva came to know of his wife's death, enraged Shiva started dancing with the deceased body (Tandava Nritya). To control this destructive dance of Shiva , Vishnu dismembered Sati's body into 54 pieces and dispersed them all over the world. Wherever her body parts fell, temples called Peetha or Shakti Peethas were established.

Shakti Peethas are some of the most revered sites in the Hindu religion. The Shakti Peethas are places of worship consecrated to the goddess 'Shakti', the female principal of Hinduism and the main deity of the Shakta sect. Shaki is often associated both with Gowrī / Parvati, the benevolent goddess of harmony, marital felicity and longevity, with Durga, goddess of strength and valour, and with Mahakali, goddess of destruction of the evil.Shakti Peethas are shrines or divine places of the Mother Goddess. There are 54 Shakti Peeth linking to the 54 alphabets in Sanskrit.

Five Shakti Peethas are situated in across Bangladesh. They are: Bogra, Sylhet, Barishal, Khulna and Chittagong. This two part blog will provide details of all these sites across the country.

This pice will focus on the Shaki Peethas in the northern belt of Bangladesh. In northern part of the country, there are two Shakti Peethas: one is Shri Shail Temple in Sylhet and the other is Bhabanipur Temple Complex in Bogra.

Shri Shail Temple:
Shri Shail inside neck

Shri Shail Temple is one of the Shakti Peethas which is located at Joinpur village, Dakshin Surma, near Gotatikar, 3 km north-east of Sylhet town, Bangladesh. The Hindu Goddess Sati's neck fell here. The Goddess is worshipped as Mahalaksmi and the Bhairav form is Sambaranand. Shakti Peethas are believed to have been enshrined with the presence of Shakti due to the falling of body parts of the corpse of Sati Devi, when Lord Shiva carried it and wandered throughout the land in sorrow. Each temple has shrines for Shakti and Kalabhairava

Bhabanipur Temple Complex: 
(collected from The Daily Star, originally published on 22nd May, 2015).

Photo courtesy:The Daily Star
Not too many people are aware of a small village that is rich in historical relics, called Bhabanipur. If you go a few kilometres south-west from Bogra, you will get to enjoy a historically significant, yet relatively unknown, landmark of our country – the Bhabanipur temple. Legend has it that the left anklet of Sati fell in Sherpur Upazila of Bogra, Bangladesh and the Bhabanipur temple, as a Shakti Peetha was erected there and become an important Hindu pilgrimage that is deeply respected by the devotees from all over the country. Later, Rani Bhabani had made significant renovations in the Bhabanipur temple and the Goddess Ma Tara of the Bhabanipur temple is named after Rani Bhabani. This legendary structure is equipped with a south facing key temple, Shiv temples, Naat temple, guest rooms, Bashudeb temple, the Shakhari pond and a few other temples.

So next time your are either in Sylhet or in Bogra, do take the time out to visit these sacred sites which are valuable edifices of our history.

Photo Credit: Internet

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hidden Gems along the Mighty Jamuna

Bangladesh has reason to be proud of its rich ancient heritage. There are so many archeological and historical places everywhere in Bangladesh which shows us the reflections of the ancient times.If you are thinking of a tour that compromises of historic and heritage filled locations,take a tour through North Bengal.While heading towards the North, people think mainly of sites such as Mahasthangarh or Kantajeu Temple or Shompur Mahavihara ,we have discovered a few hidden gems in course of our research travels.Following are just four small examples from many of our finds.One can easily see these sites on the way to Bogra with a few small stops.They are: Atia Mosque, Navaratna Temple, Bhabanipur Temple Complex and Kherua Mosque.

Atia Mosque:

Muslim Jamindar Sayeed Khan Panni,son of Baizid Khan Panni established the Atia Mosque in 1608.In the early 17th century, Jamindar Sayeed Khan Panni also received Atia Pargana as a gift from Mughal Emperor Jahangir.
Terracotta Work 
The mosque is near the shrine of Hazrat Shahan Shah,who came to Atia from Kashmir in 913 Hijri along with his 39 followers to preach the Islam in the region.Their graves are also located near the mosque.People believe the mosque was built in the honour of a Saint, Shah Baba Kashmiri.In the 18th Century, it was damaged during the massive earthquake; a reconstruction of the mosque was later made in 1837.In 1909, further reconstruction work was carried out jointly by the two Jaminder Wazed Ali Khan Panni from Korotia and Abu Ahmed Gaznavi Khan from Delduar,Tangail.

Atia Mosque 
Shah Baba Kashmiri Mazar
The mosque has four spherical domes at the top.The larger dome,which is located at the west part of the mosque is known as the Imam;the other three are smaller in size and located at the east side of the mosque all of which are aligned in a single row and are significantly known as Musalli.The domes have ornate design at the bottom and have a small minaret like object on the top. The mosque constitutes of four pillars at the four corners.Each of the pillarsare stylish and decorated nicely. The exterior of the structure is decorated with intricate terracotta patterns.Some has small flowers at the east side, and other two entrance at the north and south side. In recognition of the mosque’s significance as part of our heritage, it was featured on the TK10 currency that was introduced in 1996.

Navaratna Temple, Hatikumrul
Navaratna Temple Complex at Hatikumrul:

It is believed to be a 300 years old temple having similar architecture to the Kantajew Temple of Dinajpur, under the reign of Nawab Murshidkuli Khan (1704-1720 A.D). Ramnath Bhaduri, a Nayeb Dewan of Nawab Murshidkuli Khan was responsible for constructing this beautiful edifice, known as the ‘Navaratna Temple’(9 domed). It is situated at the Navaratna village of the Hatikumrul union, under the UllaparaUpazila of Sirajganj.

Navaratna Temple, Hatikumrul

The original temple is three storied. It is said that during construction of the temple, each brick was purified with ghee.
The ‘navaratna’ style of temple architecture (meaning-nine gems) incorporates two main levels, each with four spired dome pavilion, and a central pavilion above, for a total of nine spired domes. The style arose in Bengal during the 18th Century as an elaboration of the ‘panchatantra’ style that had a pavilion of five spired domes (four at the corners and one above).The Navaratna Temple and its adjacent small temples still offer enticing views to one’s eyes despite the wreckage of time.

Bhabanipur Temple Complex:

Bhabanipur temple complex is a place of worship dedicated to the Hindu goddess Shakti, also referred to as Durga, Sati or Parvati , which is located in Sherpur Upazila of Bogra Disctrict. It is one of the Shakti Peethas of the Indian subcontinent.As one of the Shakti Peethas, Bhabanipur is historically a pilgrimage destination for adherents to this particular denomination of Hinduism, which worships Shakti as their Divine Mother. The Bhabanipur Shaktipeeth is a place of worship consecrated to the Goddess MaaBhabani. The Shakti Devi here is called Arpana and the Bhairava is Vaman.

Shiv Temple
Bhabanipur temple Complex
According to the Mahabharata, in the Satya Yuga, King Daksha arranged a ritual called Yagna in which her daughter Goddess Sati and Her husband Lord Shiva was not invited. Still Goddess Sati attended the function. Unable to bear the insult towards Her husband Lord Shiva, Goddess Sati protested by sacrificing Herself into the fire of the Yagna. Enraged with grief, Lord Shiva started the dance of destruction across the Universe with the corpse of Goddess Sati on His shoulder. To stop this, Lord Vishnu cut the corpse of Goddess Sati with the Sudharshan Chakra and as a result the various pieces of Goddess Sati's body and Her ornaments fell at various places of the Indian subcontinent; of which the anklet, rib of left chest, right eye and bedding fell in the Bhabanipur Temple Complex and in another three or four places within Bangladesh. These places are now known as Shakti Peethas.
Maa Bhabani Temple

Surrounded by a boundary wall, the Temple complex comprises about an area of four acres (12 bighas) - Main Temple, Belbaran Tala, 4 Shiva Temples,Patal Bhairava Shiva Temple, Gopal Temple, Bashudev Temple and Nat Mondir. On the north side, there is a Sheba Angan, Holy Shakha-Pukur(conch-bangles pond), 2 bathing ‘ghats’, 4 Shiva Temples outside the boundary wall and a Panchamunda Asana.

Being a Shakti Peeth, Bhabanipur is a historic place of pilgrimage for the followers of Hinduism. The numerous temples at the site and the holy Shakha-Pukur pond are visited by devotees from all around Bangladesh and beyond its borders, irrespective of sectarian differences. 

Kherua Mosque:

Kherua mosque had been built more than 400 years ago, in the year of 1582 A.D. by Mirza Murad Khan Qaqshal, son of Jauhar Ali Khan Qaqshal. The Qaqshal was an Afghan tribe that, along with other Afghan groups followed Masum Khan Kabuli, who declared himself as “Sultan” and sought to oust the Mughals from Bengal. At that time in Sherpur, where the mosque is situated, had served as the headquarters of the rebels.
Kherua Mosque
The architectural observation avails that; it was built during the Mughal Era. According to the Mughal architecture, their mosques consist of only one prayer hall, which is now single-aisled with three or five bays. The exterior surfaces are plastered and paneled, the cornices are curved, and the buildings look less ponderous than Sultanate ones because of the higher domes.The Kherua mosque is a single-aisled, three domed (bayed) mosque which represents the North Indian and Mughal Era architectures in Bangladesh. But it also carries the Bengali features, such as the brick construction, curved cornice and engaged ribbed corner turrets. There was some ornamentation with terracotta tiles, which are no longer there now. There were two inscriptions engraved on the two sides of the central entrance. One inscription is still there while the other is being preserved in the Karachi Museum. From the shape of the stone used for the inscription, it is assumed that the piece was a part of a statue; and the inscription was inscribed on the backside of the statue and placed on the wall. Kherua Mosque signifies a great importance as an example of early Mughal mosques in Bengal.

Photo Credit: Tiger Tours and Internet