Vanga and Pundra were two dominant tribes in Bangladesh in ancient time. The 4th century Hindu epic Mahavarata mentions that the Vanga and Pundra kings took part in the battle of Kurukshetra. Kouravas and Pandavas fought this battle near Delhi about three thousand years back.
Present day North Bangladesh plus some part of northern West Bengal was the territory of Pundra tribe, and their Capital City was Pundranagara, now known as Mahasthangar, a ruin in Bogra. The heartland of Vanga tribe was comprised of the greater districts of Maymensing, Dhaka, and Faridpur. Some historians think that Jessor, Khulna and the district of 24-Paragana of West Bengal were also the part of Vanga. Gange was the Capital of Vanga Kingdom. Barabazar in Magura (Jessore) might have been the location of Gange.
Another great city of Vangas was located at Warri-Bateshwar in Narsingdi. This City as well as Gange had maritime trades with Roman Empire, Middle East and Far East. Garments made of Muslin textile produced in Vanga were the liking of the emperors, kings and noblemen all over the world, including Roman Emperors and Egyptian Pharaohs. Muslin was used to make the garments for the mummies of the Pharaohs. Muslin imported from Bangladesh by the Middle East traders used to be sold in Mosul, now a Kurd township in North Iraq, for the European markets. The highly specialized textile of Bangladesh, Muslin, got its name from the City of Mosul. Muslin was so fine that European used to say, it was made of air.
The British rulers of Bengal destroyed the Muslin industry in the nineteenth century AD, allegedly by chopping off the thumbs of Muslin weavers.
The Mughal Emperor Aurangajeb used to call Bangladesh ‘Soobah jennat ul Belaod Bengala’ – the paradise of Nations, the Subah Bengal. Lord Carzon (1785-93), the Governor General of British India, once wrote, in a letter, about Bengal, that ‘England is fortunate enough to establish dominion over one of the richest regions on the earth.’
Just before the invasion of India by Alexander, Vanga was a mighty kingdom. At that time the northern boundary of Vanga Empire was along the east bank of Bias River in Punjab. In the year of 327 BC, Alexander, with his army, reached on the west bank of River Bias. His Army, having learnt about the strength of Vanga Army, refused to cross the river to fight against that mighty enemy. So Alexander backed out from his India Expedition, and went toward Iran. At that time the king of Vanga was Dhanananda. All this history of Vanga was written by the Sicilian historian, Diadorous. He wrote that Vanga army had the strength of two hundred thousand infantry soldiers, twenty thousand cavalry and 3 – 4 thousand trained elephants.
Greek and Sicilian historians mentioned Vanga as Gangaderoi or the heart of Ganges, and its capital as Gange.
The Shishunag Dynasty based in Bihar used to rule the whole of North India. In the year of 354 BC, Dhanananda defeated Shishunags in a battle, and made the whole of North India a part of his Vanga Kingdom.
It is supposed by many historians that Chandragupta Morya, the founder of the Moryan Empire, was the son of Dhanananda by one of his maidservant or concubine. Chandragupta was not in the good book of his father. He revolted against his father and deposed him or curved out a vast portion of his father’s Empire. In the 3rd century BC during the Moryan Emperor, Asoka, the grandson of Chandragupta, almost all of Indian sub-continent came under the rule of Moryan Empire.
It is also supposed, based on logic, that the Gupta Empire, the most illustrious empire of the ancient India, was a Bengali Empire, as the Gupta rulers were originally of Bengali descents.
Guptas ruled India during 3rd to 5th centuries. Within a few years after the fall of Letter Gupta Empire, Sasanka became the king of Bengal. During his time Bengal became known as Gawradesh.
Sasanka founded his capital in Karnasubarna. To mark the foundation of his capital, he introduced a new calendar now known as ‘Bangla Borsha’ or Bengali Calendar. As he founded his capital in the month of Baisakh, so the Bengali Calendar starts from this month. During the Turk rulers of Bengal, in the 13th century AD, Bengali Calendar was replaced by the Hijri Calendar.
Bengali Calendar is a solar calendar and the Hijri Calendar is a lunar calendar. It became difficult to collect tax from the farmers of Bengal on the basis of a lunar calendar; so the Mughals Emperor Akbar reintroduced the Bengali Calendar with some reformations. On the day of 1st Baishakh we celebrate Bengali New Year. It has become a part of our culture.
After the death of Sasanka in 670 AD, anarchy gripped Bengal; and that anarchy lasted for many years. There was no central rule in this land. At last in 730 AD people elected Gopala, a feudal lord of Pundra or Pundrabardana (North Bengal) as their king. He soon annexed Vanga (East Bengal) to his kingdom, and a golden age of Bengal started anew. With Gopala started the history of Pala Dynasty, which ruled Bengal as well as many parts of India for about four hundred years.
Pundranagara was the capital of Gopal. Dharmapala, the son of Gopala conquered Bihar and some other parts of North India. He shifted the capital of his Empire from Pundranagara to Pataliputra in Bihar. The ruins of Pataliputra lie at the outskirt of present day Patna City. Dharmapala built Paharpur Mahavihara. Dharmapala and his son Devapala established Bengali rule over many parts of North India as well as over Assam.
After four hundred years of Pala rule, the Senas, who came from Karnataka in South India, were able to occupy South-west Bengal from the Palas. This change of rule in that part of Bengal took place in the end of 11th century AD; with that started the foreign rule in Bengal which lasted for about 1000 years. Senas soon conquered North Bengal. Gawra or Lakhanwati was their Capital. South part of Gawra fell in present day Nawabganj District of Bangladesh, and the north part, in Maldah district of West Bengal. When Senas were ruling North and south Bengal, East Bengal or Vanga was a separate kingdom, and its capital was Vikrampur – not far from Dhaka. Here in Vikrampur, in the year of 980 AD was born Atisha Dipankara, a great scholar.
In 1204 the Turks derived away the Senas from North Bengal. Sena King, Laksmansena fled to Vanga or East Bengal, and made Vikrampur his capital. These Turks were from Turkmenistan in Central Asia, not from Turkey. Many Turk rulers made Gawr their capital for Turk occupied North Bengal. From 1204 to next 80 years the Turks occupied almost all parts of Bengal. These Turks were very skilled in killing each other. In first fifty years of their rule in Bangladesh, they killed five Sultans or rulers. During that short span of time 12 Turks became the rulers of Bengal.
In the year of 1325, Turks made Sonargaon the capital of their East Bengal province. Soon Sonargaon became the capital of whole of Bengal. At present Sonargaon lies only 17 miles off the capital city of Dhaka on the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway.
In the map prepared by Rennell in 1785, Sonargaon was shown as a large town. The decline of this city was due partly to the main rivers altering courses and partly due to the erosion of the River Meghna, which devoured a large part of this fabulous city. The area of Sonargaon City was about 24 square miles.
After Turks came Arabs, Abyssinians, Afghan, Mughals and British in Bengal as foreign rulers. Not even Sirajdaula was a Bengali ruler. His father was an Arab, his mother, a Turk; he was born in Bihar and he used to speak Farsi. His army was manned by Afghans, Uzbek, Rajput and Kashmiries. Mir Jafar was an Uzbek. In his youth he used to drive a mule cart in Uzbekistan. To change his fate he came to Bengal, and managed a job in the army of Alibordi Khan–the grandfather of Sirajdaula.
Mughals derived away Afghans from Bengal by the first quarter of 17th Century. In 1612 the Mughals viceroy Islam Khan shifted the Capital from Sonargaon to Dhaka; and that was the beginning of Dhaka as a capital. After about 100 years Murshid Kuli Khan shifted the capital from Dhaka to Murshidabad in 1717.
When the British became the ruler of Bengal and India, Kolkata became the capital of British-India Empire. In 1905 Dhaka was given the status of the capital of the newly formed East Bengal and Assam Province. It remained the capital till 1911. In 1911 In the face of “terrorism activities” the British shifted the capital of their Empire from Kolkata to New Delhi. In the same year East Bengal merged with West Bengal, together to be known as Bengal Province. Dhaka lost the status of a capital, and Kolkata became the capital of Bengal Province.
In 1947 we achieved our independence from the British rule as a part of Pakistan. Soon our independence turned into subjugation. In 1952 we started Language Movement against the Pakistani rulers. In 21 February in that year four young men sacrificed their lives for the mother tongue. Every year on 21 February, we commemorate ‘Bhasha Dibash’. The commemoration of ‘Bhasha Dibash’ has become a part of our culture. Through the recognition by the United Nations, in 2001, ’21 February’ has become the ‘International Mother Language Day’ to be observed all other the world every year. Fighting against Pakinastini brutal forces for more than nine months, Bangladesh acquired its independence on December 16, 1971. Followed by a armed coup in 1975 we entered into a dark period, which was whitened with a mass upsurge of 1990. Since the 90s, Bangladesh is having a healthy political culture and continuing its success in different sectors.
Bangladesh has an area of approximately 147,540 square kilometer in the south Asian region. The country is surrounded by India completely in the West, North, and partially in the East sharing a total of 4,053 kilometer border, while the rest 193 kilometer of the Eastern side is bordered by Myanmar. The Bay of Bengal retains its boundary In the South, where we have a 580 kilometer of coastline.
About half the total area is actively deltaic and never higher than 10m from mean sea level. This flat low lying land is very fertile and is suitable for rice cultivation. The vast river delta area is home to the dominant plains culture. In the northeast and the southeast the land is more hilly and dry, and tea is grown. The hilly areas of the northeast and southeast are occupied by much smaller tribal groups.
Ganges and Brahmaputra are the two main rivers of Bangladesh, carrying tones of silts from the mighty Himalayans that eventually fertile the plain. Apart from these two rivers, we have hundreds of others comprising a very wide and complex river system.
Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest of the world, is situated in the southwest. The Chittagong Hill Tracts have extensive hardwood forests. Lawachara is a semi-evergreen forest situated in the northeast in Sri Mangal. The Sal forest is spread around in various parts of the country, like Bhawal and Modhupur National Park.
Bangladesh has tropical monsoon climate characterized by wide seasonal variations in rainfall, high temperatures, and high humidity. Regional climatic differences in this flat country are minor. Three seasons are generally recognized: a hot, muggy summer from March to June; a hot, humid and rainy monsoon season from June to November; and a warm-hot, dry winter from December to February. In general, maximum summer temperatures range between 38 and 41 °C (100.4 and 105.8 °F). April is the hottest month in most parts of the country. January is the coolest (but still hot) month, when the average temperature for most of the country is 16–20 °C (61–68 °F) during the day and around 10 °C (50 °F) at night.
Winds are mostly from the north and northwest in the winter, blowing gently over the country. From March to May, violent thunderstorms, called northwesters, produce winds of up to 60 kilometers per hour (37.3 mph).
Heavy rainfall is characteristic of Bangladesh that helps irrigation in the rice field during the burning months of June – August. About 80 % of Bangladesh’s rain falls during the monsoon season. Most parts of the country receive at least 2,300 mm (90.6 in) of rainfall per year, but because of its location just south of the foothills of the Himalayas, Sylhet in northeastern Bangladesh receives the greatest average precipitation. Annual rainfall in that region ranges between 3,280 and 4,780 mm (129.1 and 188.2 in).
FESTIVAL & CULTURE
Bangladesh is a land of festivity. Muslims celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Azha, Eid-e-Miladunnabi, Muharram etc. Hindus observe Durga Puja, Kali Puja, and Sarashwati Puja among others. Buddha Purnima is the biggest festival for Bangali Buddhists, and Borodin (Christmas) is celebrated by the Christians. People from several tribal communities also have their respective festival as well.
Apart from these religious and tribal celebrations we also have several secular festivals. Pohela Boishakh (Bangla New Year) is the biggest among all the festivals in Bangladesh. This day People get into their best attires, go out with friends or family, business men open their new book of records and send sweets & fruits to their regular clients, cultural organizations organize cultural programmes, students bring morning processions called Probhat Ferry. Nobanno (New Rice) is another of our festivals, which is strongly based in the rural Bangladesh. When the farmers get new rice, they observe this day with Rice flour and sugar mixed in water and Puffed rice.
We also observe 21st February as Shahid Dibash (as observed worldwide as International Mother Language Day), 26th March as Independence Day, and 16th December as Victory Day.
Rice is our staple food. In general we eat steam boiled rice with vegetables and fish or meat. We cook Polau rice, Biriani or fried rice in celebrating special occasions. Puffed and popped rice are common especially in villages, where a guest is entertained with puffed rice and a piece of Gurh (a replacement of sugar made by boiling date palm sap).
Women usually wear Sari, but younger ladies wear Salwar Kamij. Jewelry of gold and silver is very popular among ladies of all ages. Ladies keep long hair. A special twisted bun, called Beni, is popular a hair style among young girls, while ladies prefer Khopa (kind of tying the hair mass at the back of head) in general. Males casually wear Lungi or Pajamas with or without under shirt, Panjabi or Fatua. In formal occasions or in offices men wear western shirt and pants. In general, people love to wear colourful dresses.
People in Bangladesh are still family oriented. We either live together as an extended family or frequently visit our parents and relatives in vacations and weekends. Respecting elders is a norm here. In every major occasion of our lives we have our parents and relatives playing a major role. Arranged marriage is still a common sight, even when people chose their partner they proceed through their respective families to arrange the wedding.
Traditional music in Bangladesh shares the perspectives of that of the Indian sub-continent. Music in Bangladesh can be divided into three distinct categories -classical, folk and modern. Ustad Alauddin Khan and Ustad Ayet Ali Khan are two names in classical instrumental music who are internationally recognized.
The store of folk song abounds in spiritual lyrics of Lalan Shah, Hasan Raja, Romesh Shill and many anonymous lyricists. Bangla music arena is enriched with Jari, Shari, Bhatiali, Murshidi and other types of folk songs. Rabindra Sangeet and Nazrul Sangeet are our precious heritage. Modern music is also practiced widely. Contemporary patterns have more inclinations to west. Pop song and band groups are also coming up mainly in big cities.
Bangladesh has a good number of musical instruments of her own. Original musical instruments include Banshi (bamboo flute), Dhole (wooden drums), Ektara (a single stringed instrument), Dotara (a two stringed instrument), Mandira (a pair of metal bawls used as rhythm instrument), Khanjani, Sharinda etc. Now-a-days western instruments such as Guitar, Drums, Saxophone, and Synthesizer etc. are being used alongside country instruments.
Bangladesh has a rich tradition of modern painting which was pioneered by Zainul Abedin, Kamrul Hassan, Anwarul Haque, Shafiuddin Ahmed and S.M. Sultan. Zainul Abedin earned international fame for his sketches on famine of 1943 in Bangladesh. Other famous artists of Bangladesh are Abdur Razzak, Qayum Chowdhury, Murtaza Bashir, Aminul Islam, Debdas Chakraborti, Kazi Abdul Baset, Syed Jahangir, and Mohammad Kibria.
Classical forms of the sub-continent predominate in Bangladeshi dance. The folk, tribal and Middle Eastern traits are also common. Among the tribal dances, particularly popular are Monipuri and Santal. Rural girls are in the habit of dancing that does not require any grammar or regulations. Bangla songs like jari and shari are presented accompanied with dance of both male and female performers.
Jatra (Folk Drama) is another vital chapter of Bangalee culture. It depicts mythological episodes of love and tragedy. Legendary plays of heroism are also popular, particularly in the rural areas. In near past jatra was the biggest entertainment means for the rural Bangalees. Gradually western culture is occupying the place of traditional culture like jatra.
Bangladesh has made significant strides in its economic sectors since independence in 1971. The country is in 46th position among 193 countries with a gross domestic product of US$ 242,200 million. The economy has grown at the rate of 6-7% annually over the past few years. More than half of the GDP belongs to the service sector that employs 25% of the work force, while half of the work force is employed in the agricultural sector that counts for 18% of our GDP.
With sound planning and forward vision of the regulatory body as well as the Government, Bangladesh proved to be resilient to the latest global meltdown. Rather it showed a very healthy and steady growth of its GDP during last few years and is predicted to have similar trend in the coming years, while most of the developed and developing countries of the world are experiencing either gridlock or backward move of their GDP.
Remittances from Bangladeshis working overseas, mainly in the Middle East and East Asia, as well as exports of garments and textiles are the main sources of foreign exchange earning. Bangladeshi entrepreneurs have shown themselves adept at competing in the global garments marketplace. This industry is now worth more than $11 billion. Among other export items Tea, Shrimp & Sea fishes, Cement, Ceramics wear, Medicine, leather & leather goods, jute, and Ships are notable ones.
Bangladesh has significant reserve of natural gas and coal alongside a little reserve of hard rock and oil. However, the best natural resource of Bangladesh is the soil itself. Land is so fertile that it produces nearly everything that could be grown on earth. The land is mainly devoted to produce rice. Because of the fertile soil and normally ample water supply, rice can be grown and harvested three times a year in many areas that made Bangladesh the third largest producer of rice on earth. We also produce Jute, sugar cane, Banana, oil seeds, several fruits and vegetables.
Micro Credit, initiated by Nobel Laureate Dr. Md. Yunus, is being implemented by NGOs and local banks. This was a leap forward for the country in terms of rural development as well as women empowerment. This also helped Bangladesh achieve very low rate of unemployment, which is only 2.50%. Despite regular natural calamities and frequent political instabilities over the years, Bangladesh has set an example for the world in keeping constant economic development through industrialization in an open market policy without shifting its concentration from Agricultural base and maintaining a low disparity between rich and poor (GINI ratio 33.2).
The majority of the population (98 percent) is Bengali, with 2 percent belonging to tribal or other non-Bengali groups. Approximately 88 percent of the population is Muslim, 10 percent is Hindu, and 2 percent is Buddhist, Christian and people from various tribal groups. Majority of the Muslim community are Sunni, while some Shias, Ahmadiyas and Sufis also live in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has an approximate population density of 1,084 per square kilometer (2,808 per square mile). Annual population growth rate is at about 1.30 percent. Infant mortality is approximately fifty nine per one thousand live births. Life expectancy at birth for both men and women is 60 years, yet the sex ratios for cohorts above sixty years of age are skewed toward females.
Primary enrollment rate being very high, 97%, with very satisfactory performance of schooling throughout the country, adult literacy rate (53%) is expected to increase to a good height soon. Among primary and high schools 53% are girls and 47% are boys.
Approximately 75% of the people live in the rural areas of Bangladesh. By and large the country is agro based that generates more than 45% of country’s employment. About 35% of out total population is aged below 15, while 61% are aged between 15 and 64 years indicating that majority of its population is young.