May 23, 2010

creativeBangladesh turns 1 this May and to celebrate cB is giving away this unique Folk Desktop Wallpaper (above) to its readers in appreciation for their continued support and encouragement.  

Thank you, readers!

To download to your PC, please click the links below:

Folk Desktop Wallpaper jpg

Folk Desktop Wallpaper with Bangla months-seasons calendar jpg

The Folk Desktop Wallpaper was specially designed for cB’s first birthday by graphic designer ANITA RAHMAN. I fell in love with Anita’s aesthetic when we first worked together on a project for Drishtipat in 2004. When I asked Anita to provide a short bio of hers for this post, this is how she wittily responded….

Anita Rahman is formally trained as a designer. As a Bangladeshi, she happily contributes her skills to non profits, such as VAB, Drishtipat and Amnesty International. She is currently working on Wall Street with Jim Cramer’s company, Anita’s inspiration and muse is her mom. Her dream in life is to make a great horror movie.


creativeBangladesh would also like to convey a very special  THANK  YOU to each of its Feature Contributors for 2009/2010!

(in order of appearance)
















April 25, 2010

On April 14, 2010 we ushered in a new Bengali year – 1417. While we celebrated our Pohela Boishakh with many festivities all around the world last week, let’s take a step back today into the past to listen to the evergreen folk songs of the great ABDUL ALIM. As I listen to his throaty voice rendering songs like Padma-r khul nai, Holudia Pakhi, I feel nostaligic for the colors of Boishakh and the smell of belly phool. I wish all the creativeBangladesh readers a very beautiful Pohela Boishakh!

-Labiba / creativeBangladesh


 ABDUL ALIM: the King of folk songs

A forgotten chapter

By Sadya Afreen Mallick

from Daily Star, July 25, 2004

‘Every artiste is identified by his/her tonal colour,’ said Abdullah Abu Sayeed, chairman of the trustee board of the Biswa Sahittya Kendra. ‘Only the radiant ‘golden glow’ can match that of Alim’s admirable vocal range and tonal quality,’ he added. ‘He displayed unparalleled talent in songs such as Premer mora jole dobe na, Holudia pakhi shonar boron, Amare shajay dio nowshar shajey, Porer jayga porer jomi, Mone boro asha chhilo jabo Modinay, Sharbonasha Padma nadirey, Babu selam bare bar, Shab shakhire par korite nebo ana ana, Ujan ganger naiya and many more,’ Sayeed said.


The Folk Music Council (FMC) recently gathered to pay rich tributes to the folk maestro Abdul Alim at the Biswa Sahittya Kendra. Chief guest Sayeed, special guest Tax Inspector M Khurshid Alam, eminent artistes Nadira Begum, Abdul Latif and others spoke on the occasion.

The founder president of FMC, Indra Mohon Rajbangshi took great pride in organising the programme commemorating the birth anniversary of the legendary singer for the first time in Bangladesh. ‘Abdul Alim’s talent in Bhatiyali songs was a treat to the listeners. His melodious and gifted voice is yet to be surpassed by any other folk artiste. Alim played a vital role in popularising folk music and epitomised the very essence of folk culture,’ said Rajbanshi.


Nadira Begum, a prominent folk singer, reminisced on how Alim often spent time with her father Abdul Aziz, a noted lyricist. Alim had often visited her house and stayed over to collect songs. ‘In those days cassettes were not common. Gurumukhi bidda or learning from the Guru was the only way artistes developed themselves,’ she said.

‘Once, while returning from a programme,’ Nadira said, ‘our train was halted for several hours by the local people at Akhaura, keen to have a glimpse of the great singer Alim. And this was not an uncommon feature,’ she added. ‘Often the other accompanying artistes fled from the scene, fearing audience reaction once Alim declined to perform any more,’ Nadira added.


Abdul Alim was born on July 27, 1931 at Talibpur village of Murshidabad, India. Soon after the Partition, he came to Dhaka and joined the Dhaka Station of Pakistan Radio as a staff artiste. His musical talents flourished from a very young age. He grew fond of music through listening to records of the Gramophone Company. At the age of 14 he recorded two songs for the company. It is said that Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Haque, was so moved by his voice that he gifted him with a handsome honorarium.

Once he settled here, he started to take music lessons from Mumtaz Ali Khan and Mohammad Hossain Khasru. Later he got in touch with Poet Jasimuddin, Kanailal Shil, M Osman Khan, Abdul Latif, Shamsher Ali and others.


He recorded over 300 Gramophone records and sang playbacks in over 100 films. He recorded songs for Mukh O Mukhosh, the first film ever produced in the erstwhile East Pakistan. He won the National Award 1974 posthumously for playback in Shujan Shokhi directed by Khan Ataur Rahman. During his career, he performed at a number of music conferences. Alim was awarded five gold medals for his virtuoso performance and contribution to music.

I vividly remember our music classes at Chayyanaut. Eminent Nazrul singer Sohrab Hossain, a very close associate of Alim, often filled us with humorous anecdotes on their long friendship. ‘He was very afraid of heights, and dreaded the government delegations which were sent to far away countries by plane. Then there were times when the microphone had to be kept at a fair distance to avoid distortion while recording a song because of his powerful vocal range,’ Sohrab Hossain would reminisce.


Stout and short in stature with deep penetrating eyes, Alim was a man of simple habits. Many of you who have seen Alim perform on stage or at the BTV will remember him in his simple dress of white pajama-panjabi. Popularity never drove him into illusory glamour.

With a life of great achievement, it is unfortunate that his work is gradually fading.  BTV has stopped airing the recorded programmes of Alim, which are now mostly damaged due to the sheer negligence of the authority.

It was however, praiseworthy and heartening to see Bibi Russell organising Alim’s popular songs to be presented by his children at the recently held Aarong Bangladesh Fashion display.

The Bangladesh Betar is the birthplace of so many talents. The authority should wake up and take immediate steps to preserve the golden voices of yesteryears. Let’s not pay tribute to the legends who left a powerful footprint in the realm of music in death only.

Let’s give folk music a boost!

source, The Daily Star







image: photographs are from varous sources in the internet. 
graphic design & layout: Labiba Ali for creativeBangladesh.


March 28, 2010

On the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8), I decided to dig out some books and, then, proceeded to explore the Status of Bengali Women Over The Years. While doing research for this article, I have been educated myself, not only, on Bengali women’s history (or rather, I should say, herstory) but also on the trajectory of Bengali society in general. I hope that the readers of creativeBangladesh, upon reading this article, will also experience, at least, some of the enlightenment that I went through.

The sole purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the subject. For more detailed analysis and scholarly opinions, readers can look at the books I have cited as sources below. Some of these books are conveniently available on google books (you gotta love google for this!).  After the article, I have included a list of leading Bengali/Bangladeshi women who have contributed to our progress.

Also of importance to note is that this article is not meant to vilify men. There are very wonderful men out there (including among cB readers) who respect, cherish, and give importance to the women in their lives.

And to those equally very wonderful women out there – Congratulations on carrying on the torch for women, children, the underprivileged, and humanity for hundreds of years! (now, you can give yourself a pat on the back).

Best Wishes,  Labiba / creativeBangladesh 


The Status of Bengali Women Over The Years

  by Labiba Ali for creativeBangladesh

Ancient Times :  Not much is known about the history of ancient Bengal and so it is also difficult to decipher the status of Bengali women in antiquity. However, the presence of Goddesses in indigenous and non-Aryan societies in Bengal show that women were revered for their ability to give birth and, hence, were worshipped as a symbol of fertility. This is not an exclusively Bengali phenomenon. Other ancient, egalitarian, and non-urban cultures also worshipped Goddesses before patriarchy fully entrenched itself in society with the advent of the agricultural revolution and urban centers.  Archaeology findings in Catal Huyuk in present-day Turkey ( 7500 BCE to 5700 BCE) and parts of the Middle East from the Neolithic period (9500 BCE) show the supremacy of a goddess figure, thereby, indicating women’s elevated and, maybe, even dominant position in society. In recent times we can see equal status for women among the egalitarian societies of the Pygmies of Central Africa. Meanwhile, women in many Native American tribes such as the Iroquois in the northeast were important and respected. Inheritance passed through the mother, women were politically active and when a woman wanted a divorce, she simply put her husband’s things outside the door (what a cost effective way to divorce – no lawyer’s fees or headaches!).

In ancient Bengal, Goddesses such as Chandi and Manasa (snake Goddess) held very important positions among the indigenous peoples.  Under Tantric traditions, which prevailed in ancient Bengal, women were accorded a high respect as they were supposed to be the embodiment of the female energy. Some tribal and native groups even credited women with the invention of agriculture. In present day Bankura district of West Bengal, a festival called Bhadu Puja still takes place to worship Goddess Bhadu during the early harvest season (Samaren Roy). The belief is that praying to Goddess Bhadu will bring a good harvest.

These early Goddesses were eventually integrated into the Aryan/Brahmanic pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, whereby they became a wife or a daughter of Shiva. Chandi evolved into Durga/Kali as Shiva’s wife whereas Manasa became his daughter. But what is important to note is that originally these Goddesses ruled supreme without being affiliated to a male counterpart. This shows that in our indigenous society, the male God did not play a significant part and this may indicate that the prevailing culture at that time might have been matrilineal or even matriarchal with women holding a more central position in society than men. The Garo community in Bangladesh continues to maintain a matrilineal tradition where the women inherit and own property. And, to this day, there is a major festival and a major national holiday, in both Bengals, that is dedicated to a Goddess –  Durga Puja. Does this not, then, signify women’s importance in indigenous, ancient Bengal and which has trickled down in some form to the present?

[above image: print of ‘Girl’ by Abdus Satter; watercolor]

Folk ballads or, rupkatha in Bangla are a good source to learn about the nuances of rural history. Richard Eaton commented on a folk ballad from Chittagong called ‘Nizam Dacoit’ which conferred special reverence on women. Eaton reflected, ‘… we see the tenacity of the Bengali emphasis on divine power as manifested in female agency’.  The Mymensingh Geetika, published in 1905, is a volume of folk ballads collected by Dinesh Chandra Sen, who was the Ramtanu Lahiri Professor at Calcutta University. These folk ballads provide us with a valuable insight into the position of Bengali women in rural societies of East Bengal, which was less Aryanized and Brahmanic than West Bengal, and, consequently, retained more of its indigenous culture. Dinesh Chandra Sen wrote:

‘The high cultural level reached by the people of Eastern Mymensingh is manifest in their folklore and ballads. Here the girls select their own bride-grooms and they do not marry before attaining puberty. If the choice of the girls ran counter to that of their guardians they did not yield to the decision of their elders, but followed the bent of their minds. In doing so they remained true to their vows and still behaved as modest women without showing that spirit of defiance and coquettish revolt which have characterized the heroines of some of our modern novels (Labiba’s comment: for an example of modern novels, think of Sarat Chandra’s stories where the image of the woman is one of a docile homemaker who devotes her entire life to caring for her husband and his family). On the other hand their spirit shows the holy flame of unflickering devotion with a graceful modesty and firmness of purpose which truly adorn the feminine nature.’

Recent scholarly research has disputed the original dates of these folk ballads and have now dated them to be of more recent times. Nevertheless, they still give us a glimpse of indigenous Bengali rural culture and women’s significant role in it.

[above image: print of ‘Santal Woman’ by Safiuddin Ahmed; wood engraving]

Pala Dynasty (750 CE – 1174 CE): From Emperor Ashoka’s reign (304 BCE – 232 BCE) to the Pala Kings, Buddhism was the main religion of Bengal.  The Pala Kings were Buddhists and during their reign much of Bengal was also Buddhist. Historical evidence from this period suggests that women enjoyed a relatively good status in society. They tended to be educated, did not live in seclusion and travelled freely. The Buddhist Bhikhunis (female monks) were experts in religious texts and customs and conducted religious ceremonies.

Tantric Buddhism also developed during the height of Buddhism in Bengal. It was a synergy between Tantric and Buddhist rituals. Therefore, the high respect accorded to women in Tantric traditions, in all likelihood, carried over to Tantric Buddhism giving the women of Bengal at that time a higher status than, as we shall see below, in later periods.

Sena Dynasty (1070 CE – 1230 CE):  The Sena Kings were warriors from Karnataka (South India) who served in the army of the Pala Kings. With the demise of the Pala Kings, the Sena Kings took over and established their dynasty. During the Senas’ rule, there was a revival of Brahmanism, specifically Kulinism, and, gradually, Buddhism lost its prominence. Under the Brahmanic influence, society became more stratified and caste conscious with the Brahmins residing at the top of the class hierarchy. As a result, while the ‘male elite’ occupied a superior class, women slowly began to lose their prior status and to live under stricter environments.

Later in the 16th century, there was a religious reform movement led by Chaitanya that, to some extent, undermined the established Brahmanic order. He revitalised Vaishnavism, which revered Vishnu rather than Shiva, and gave devotion (bhakti) a priority in religious practice over the scriptures. The rigid caste structure of Brahmanism was not allowed to make an entrance in Chaitanya’s Vaishnavism. Ghulam Murshid surmised that since Vaishnavism had close ties to folk culture, Vaishnava women also enjoyed more rights. Many Vaishanava women had knowledge of the sastras (religious scriptures) and helped to spread the new religion’s message.

[above image: print of ‘Prosadhan‘ by Samarjit Roy Chowdhury; pastel]

Delhi Sultanate / Mughal Empire (1204 CE – 1760 CE): The status of women did not improve under the Muslim Sultans or, the Mughal Empire. The seclusion of both Hindu and Muslim women were fully established and rooted, predominantly, in the urban areas and the upper classes. Most women were not educated during this period. In the case of Bengali Muslim women, at the most, they may have been taught basic Arabic to read the Quran but not to understand it.

It is very important to note here that in Bengal urban Muslims and rural Muslims differed significantly from each other. Most of the urban ‘ashraf’ Muslims were descendents of Arabs/Turks/Central Asians/North Indians who settled in Bengal  after the Turkish conquest. They followed a more orthodox form of Islam, which had its roots in the male-centric Islam largely developed during the Abbasid empire. Conversely, the rural Muslims were mostly converted to Islam by Sufi pirs. Under Sufism, women had a much higher status than in orthodox Islam. As Leila Ahmed noted in her book, ‘Sufi ideas permitted women to give a central place in their lives to their spiritual vocation, thus by implication affirming the paramouncy of the spiritual over the biological….in contrast, establishment Islam gave precedence to women’s obligations to be wives and mothers’. Of course, the Bengali rural culture was already more liberal and open, which made Sufism more attractive to rural Bengalis than orthodox Islam. Therefore during this period in Bengal, rural Muslim women were, in effect, more emancipated than upper class and urban Muslim women.

Eaton wrote in regard to Bengal, ‘The idea of Islam as a closed system with definite and rigid boundaries is itself largely a product of 19th and 20th century reform movements’. And sadly due to these ‘reform’ movements, we have lost much of the beauty of the original rural Bengali-Islamic culture, which was organic, spiritual, and porous. Even then, quite a bit of it still exists in our present rural culture. For example, Bauls have seamlessly incorporated teachings from three schools of thoughts: Tantric, Vaishnavism, and Sufism. Meanwhile, Murshidi folk songs, which are sung in our villages, have traces of Buddhist ideology.

[above image: print of ‘Tribal Girl’ by Abdus Satter; watercolor]

Bengal Renaissance – 1940s (late 1700s CE – 1940s):  Historically, poor rural women probably had a higher status and were more vocal than their upper class counterparts. This was because a poor rural woman, in most cases ,worked alongside her husband in the fields to provide for the family or tended to the vegetable garden which brought in additional income. During harvest, certain jobs were the domain of the woman, for example, chaffing the rice stalks. Her contribution to the family income, hence, gave her more voice which women from richer families did not have as they did not participate in the economic activities of their families. But with the Bengal Renaissance, the upper class women usurped her rural sisters. This period saw upper class women beginning to be educated, coming out of seclusion, and even going onto to having careers. Some notable Bengali women from this period were:

1. Bamashundori, Brokhomoyee Devi, Nistarini, Radharani Lahiri, Jyotirmoyee Gangopadhyay, & Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain were instrumental in spearheading Bengali women’s education. 

2. Chandramukhi Basu (was likely the first highly educated Bengali woman), Bidhimukhi Basu (MBBS doctor), Jamini Sen (medical doctor), Kadombini Ganguli (medical degree from UK), Fozilatunnessa (was likely the first Bengali Muslim women to pursue higher education, was also a professor at Bethune and Eden Colleges ). 

3. Gyandanandini Devi and Krishnobhabini Das helped to bring women out of seclusion and the purdah. Gyandanandini Devi allowed her daughter to choose her own husband, which was unheard of in those days. 

4. Nawab Faizunnessa Choudhurani contributed to women’s education by establishing schools, the most famous one being Faizunnessa Girls’ High School in Comilla. After her mother’s death in 1883, Faizunnesa inherited her property and became the zamindar of Pashchimgaon. For her social work, Queen Victoria awarded her the title ‘Nawab’. She was also the author of several books.

[above image: print of ‘Uki‘ by Quamrul Hassan; goauche]

Now let’s take a look at why the Bengal Renaissance brought about the subsequent women’s liberation movement in Bengal. The East India Company arrived in Bengal in the 17th century (1600s). In 1757, the English defeated Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah at the Battle of Plassey (aka Palashi). Although Nawab rule continued for a few years after the battle, it was not until 1765 that the East India Company took over the complete rule of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa from the Nawabs. By the latter decades of the 1700s the English had established Company rule, colonialism officially started, and Calcutta became a major hub for economic and intellectual activity. Consequently, towards the end of 1700s and beginning of 1800s, there arose a new Bengali middle class employed in Company administration and well-versed in English and western education.

It was in this environment that Raja Rammohan Roy started the Brahmo Sabha in 1828. The main thesis of the Brahmo Sabha was to reform Hindu society. Rammohan strongly believed that for these social reforms to be successful, women had to be emancipated because they reared and shaped the minds of their children. The Brahmo Sabha became the Brahmo Samaj in 1843 at the initiation of Debendranath Tagore (Rabindranath’s father) long after Rammohan’s death in 1833 in distant Bristol, UK (his grave is still there at Arnos Vale Cemetery, if anyone wishes to visit). According to David Kopf, who has done extensive research on the Brahmo Samaj, ‘…this community played a crucial role in the genesis and development of every major religious, social and political movement in India from 1820 to 1930. It is no wonder that Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a Marathi politician and a member of Congress, made that famous comment in the early 1900s: ‘What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.

Earlier in 1817, the Hindu College, which later became the renowned Presidency College, was set up in Calcutta (also by Rammohan Roy) to provide Bengali men with a western style education. Many of these newly western educated young men of Hindu College were attracted to the ideas of social reforms promulgated by the Brahmo Samaj. With the influence of Brahma Samaj’s progressive philosophies combined with a western style education, these young men desired a wife who could be a supportive life companion and with whom they could have lively intellectual discussions. Prior to this, husbands and wives in Bengal did not have a relationship based on friendship; marriage fulfilled other purposes, namely procreation and safeguarding the inheritance line. 

[above image: print of ‘Fallen Tree’ by Abdus Satter; watercolor]

Around this time wives were encouraged by their western educated husbands to take up studies and become educated like them. This brings to mind a scene from Satyajit Ray’s rendition of Rabindranath’s ‘Ghore-Baire’ where Swatilekha Chatterjee is taking lessons from a female English tutor hired by her husband. In 1849, the Bethune School was established in Calcutta by John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune to provide education to Bengali women. By the 1850s, more girls’ schools were set up in other districts outside Calcutta through the efforts of Vidyasagar. Bengali women took this opportunity and maximized it to their advantage, using education to carve out a new modern image of Bengali women. At this junction of the Bengali women’s movement, Bengali Hindu women played a very crucial role – their contribution helped to shatter the initial barriers. They had to overcome various obstacles, the biggest being the criticisms from mainstream society. Many families who sent their daughters to schools were shunned by society and some even lost their castes. 

It is interesting to observe that the near exact phenomenon occurred in Egypt during its British occupation of 1882-1922, where Egyptian men educated in western-type secular schools began to also educate their wives and daughters. The same maybe said about other nations under colonial rule and exposed to ‘western education’. 

For Bengali Muslim women, the journey to education and, subsequent, emancipation was longer. This was because Bengali Muslim men embraced western style education much later than their Hindu brothers. And as a result, Bengali Muslim women had to wait until their husbands were themselves educated to realize the gift of education. Bangladeshi women’s activist, Farida Akhter, pointed out a noteworthy observation of Bengali Muslim women (which I couldn’t resist not sharing). She remarked that while Bengali Muslim women have held onto wearing the sari, Bengali Muslim men (at least in the urban areas) have forsaken the lungi in favor of the ‘punjabi-pajama’ and ‘pant-suit’. With this she gave an example of how Bengali Muslim women did not readily give up her heritage as did their men. And with this she also showed that Bengali Muslim women were indeed fighting for their rights even from behind seclusion. I, for one, find the lungi-clad village farmer with his natural biceps to be quite sexy!

With perseverance and with trailblazer women such as Begum Rokeya, Sarala Devi and Sufia Kamal, the women’s movement in Bengal gained more momentum in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. It took several more decades and well into the 1900s to see women actively participating in most aspects of Bengali/Bangladeshi society. It was not an easy ride for those pioneer Bengali women. And there are yet many more miles to go before we can rest, not only for Bengali/Bangladeshi women but for the entire women race. Hopefully, someday soon, we will regain our lost ancient status as strong, independent women, who are respected and revered by all of society.


100 years of Bengali/Bangladeshi Women

The ten names that appear below are taken from the book, Shoto Bochorer Bangladesher Nari (100 years of Bangladesh’s Women), which was published by Narigrantha Prabartana in 2003. The order of names was not determined by me but by the book’s editors, most probably by date of birth. There are a total of 79 women featured in this book. It was not possible to type in all of their names (I only have two pairs of hands and limited time!). Therefore, I hope the readers will be satisfied with the ten names below. This obviously does not encompass the countless unnamed women who have led and continue to lead the Bengali/Bangladeshi women’s movement.

1. Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (1880-1932) birthplace: Rangpurshe needs no introduction. What she has done for Bengali women, especially for Bengali Muslim women, is immeasurable. If it wasn’t for her, I might not be sitting here in NY, with a college degree and a career, writing this article. My immense gratitude to this wonderful celebration of womanhood  – Begum Rokeya.

2. Nurunnessa Khatun Bidyabinodhini (1892-1975) birthplace: Murshidabadfirst Bengali Muslim female published novelist. She was widely published in the literary magazines of those times including Shawgat and Kohinoor. In a short time she published six novels, which was rare for any women or, men during that period. Nikhil Bongo Shahitya (literary organization) conferred the title ‘Bidyabinodhini‘ (knowledgeable one) upon her.

3. Sara Taifur (1893-1971) birthplace: Barisal – was a writer and social worker. Her writings were published in Shawgat as well as in other publications. She also wrote a biography of Prophet Mohammad. Through her social work, she was a member of Nikhil Bharat Mohila Samiti-Dhaka, All India Women’s Council and Bengal Presidency Women’s Council. She was also Dhaka Radio’s first Muslim female broadcaster. In 1939, Sara Taifur caused quite a stir when she led a congregation of women to the mosque for Eid prayers.

4. Ashalata Sen (1894-1986) birthplace: Noakhali – was a poet, a social worker, and politically active. She played a significant role in India’s Independence Movement. At the age of ten, a nationalistic poem written by her was published in Ontopur, a monthly magazine. At a young age she would help her grandmother to get signatures for petitions for the Swadeshi Movement. For her social work, she established ‘Mohila Samiti’, where women would sell deshi made koddor as part of the Swadeshi Movement. During her life she set up many such organizations such as Kalyan Kutir Ashram, Jurain Shikkah Mondir, Bikrampur Rashtrio Mohila Shongyo.

5. Akikunnessa Ahmed (1896-1982) birthplace: Mymensingh – she was the writer of two books on modern marriage: ‘Adhunik Stri’ (modern wife) and ‘Adhunik Shami’ (modern husband). Her first book, ‘Adhunik Stri’ became very popular and was hotly debated. In response to these debates, she wrote ‘Adhunik Shami’ to show that men must put in as much effort as women do to make a marriage work. Her books were instrumental in shaping a new image for the modern Bengali marriage.

6. Monorama Mashima (1897-1986) birthplace: Barisal – although she was not educated and grew up in a poor family, Mashima was very active in social work, politics, and the Swadeshi Movement.  In Barisal, she set up a branch of Sorojonlini Mohila Samiti where underprivileged women were given training in handicrafts so that they could earn an income. She also started the Matrimondir Ashram for destitute women. Until her last days, she continued to live in Bangladesh and carried on her social work, even though, her children had already moved to India. Such was her love for her motherland.

7. Meherbanu Khanom (1885-1925) birthplace: Dhaka – a famous female painter of her time. One of her paintings inspired Kazi Nazrul Islam to write the poem, ‘Keyaparer Toruni’.

8. Nawabzadi Poribanu Khanom (1884-1958) – birthplace: Dhaka – although she was brought up in purdah, she educated herself and learnt as many 7-8 languages. To help out her father, she used to actively manage their zamindari estates. At 21 she was widowed but managed to raise her children single-handedly and made sure that they were brought up in a liberal, progressive environment. Her daughter was one of the first Muslim woman to be awarded a BA in Sanskrit from Calcutta University in 1927.

9. Leela Nag (1900-1962) birthplace: Sylhet – first female student of Dhaka University. Previously, DU did not enroll female students, but it was due to Leela Nag’s insistence that the authorities started to admit female students. Prior to her MA from DU, she got her BA from Bethune College. She was also politically active, especially, during the Quit India Movement. Through her efforts, Dipali Shongho, a women’s organization, was established in Dhaka. In 1931, she started publishing a women’s magazine called Jayashree, which was administered by an all-female management.

10. Jobeda Khatun Chowdhury (1901-1986) birthplace: Assam – she spent most of her life in politics and social work. Jobeda Khatun was politically active during India’s Independence Movement. She helped to set up ‘Shrihot Mohila Shongyo’ during Gandhi’s Salt March. Later she helped to start 28 more branches of this organization throughout Sylhet. During WWII, a women’s organization called ‘Mohila Attorokka Samiti’ was established in which Jobeda Khatun played a huge part. This organization taught women how to develop self-confidence and think independently. After partition, she participated in the Bangla Language Movement – she and a few other women signed a petition, which stated that Bangla should be declared as the state language, and sent it to the government.  It was mainly through her efforts that Sylhet Mohila College (women’s college) was able to re-establish itself after partition.


Credits: the first print used as cover is titled ‘Four Women’ by Abdus Satter; mixed media.


1. Shoto Bochorer Bangladesher Nari (100 years of Bangladesh’s Women), published by Narigrantha Prabartana, 2003.

2. Hajar Bochorer Bangali Sanskriti (1000 years of Bengali Culture) by Ghulam Murshid, Abosar Publishers, 2006.

3. The Ballads of Bengal by Dinesh Chandra Sen, Mittal Publications, 1923.

4. The Bengalees: glimpses of history and culture by Samaren Roy, Allied Publishers Ltd, 1999.

5. The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier (1204-1760) by Richard Eaton, University of California Press, 1993.

6. Women and Gender in Islam by Leila Ahmed, Yale University Press, 1992.

7. The Brahmo Samaj and shaping of the modern Indian mind by David Kopf, Princeton University Press, 1979.

8. A People’s History of the United States (1492-Present) by Howard Zinn, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2001.


March 28, 2010

Announcement – Adhunika Pohela Boishakh Celebrations

This is 1417 Bangla New Year’s much awaited event!

Adhunika is a global volunteer based organization that aims to bring about social change in the lives of women through the use of technology. This event will help to raise much needed funds to administer Adhunika’s IT training center for women in Azimpur, Dhaka, Bangladesh. In the past, many women have benefited from the free classes provided by Adhunika’s IT training center. You can also help with donations or, if you are in the NYC area, you can show your support for Bangladeshi women by attending this event. The Adhunika team is looking forward to seeing you there!

Festivities will include:
• Band performances by the Heights Collective, GanJam, Notun, Tin Konna and featured performance by Shoma Rahman
• Dazzling dance performance
• Tribute to the renowned Bangladeshi designer, Late Shahruk Shahid – vibrant fashion show featuring exclusive Shahruk’s Collection
• Nityoshongee products by Shahruk’s Collection
• Keynote speakers
• Authentic Bangladeshi food
• Complementary raffle draw (exciting prizes in store) and much more!

DATE: Saturday – April 17, 2010
TIME: 6.30 – 10pm
LOCATION: PS 234, 30-15 29th St, Astoria, NY 11102

For more information and to find out how to buy tickets, please visit Adhunika’s Facebook Group or their brand new smashing website.


February 21, 2010

On the occasion of Ekushey February (1952 Bangla Language Movement), I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to do some research on The Origins of Bangla Language and share it with you. So, I went on a treasure hunt on the internet and visited the usual sites (wikipedia, cornell bangla dept, sadly banglapedia is no longer online) to gather some information. Below is a compilation of what I have found (sources are credited at the end of the feature).
Out of curiosity I also explored to see what Bangla books are available out there for those of us living outside Bangladesh. Below I list a few selection of books which I thought were particularly good or interesting. Those of you with young children, the language books might be of special interest to you. Another website for Bangla books is Boi Mela, which has a wide selection of books. The books are shipped from Bangladesh while the e-books can be downloaded from their website (some are even free!). 
I hope you are taking full advantage of all the Ekushey February cultural events happening in your area. I always love going to these events so that I can get my share of delicious Bangali food (did I mention how much I adore food?).  

Labiba / creativeBangladesh



BANGLA is an Eastern Indo-Aryan language of the Indo-European language family. Its immediate predecessor was Magadhi Apabhransha. From this emerged the three languages – Bangla, Oriya and Assamese.

Bangla exhibits a strong case of diglossia between the formal, written and the vernacular (spoken language) [diglossia is a situation where a community uses two languages or dialects]. The two standard written forms of Bangla, Shadhubhasha and Choltibhasha, stand in sharp contrast with the spoken forms of Bangla, often referred to as Ancholik Bangla (regional bangla). Choltibhasha (literally, ‘the current language’) comprises the standard pronunciation of Bangla and thus serves as the basis for the orthography of most Bangla writing today.

Shadhubhasha (shadhu = ‘chaste’ or ‘sage’; bhasha = ‘language’) was the written language with longer verb inflections and more of a Sanskrit-derived vocabulary. However, use of Shadhubhasha in modern writing is negligible, except when it is used deliberately to achieve some effect.

Choltibhasha or Cholitobhasha (cholito = ‘current’ or ‘running’), known by linguists as Manno Cholit Bangla (Standard Colloquial Bangla), is a written Bangla style exhibiting a preponderance of colloquial idiom and shortened verb forms, and is now the standard for written Bangla. This form came into vogue towards the turn of the 19th century, promoted by the writings of Peary Chand Mitra (Alaler Gharer Dulal, 1857), Pramatha Chowdhury (Sabujpatra, 1914) and in the later writings of Rabindranath Tagore. It is modeled on the dialect spoken in the Shantipur region in Nadia district, West Bengal and districts bordering on the lower reaches of the Hooghly River. This form of Bengali is often referred to as the ‘Nadia standard’ or ‘Shantipuri Bangla’.

[above image: genealogically, Bangla belongs to the group of Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, here marked in yellow.]


Like other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, Bangla arose from the eastern Middle Indic languages of the Indian subcontinent. Magadhi Prakrit and Maithili, the earliest recorded spoken languages in the region and the language of the Buddha, evolved into Ardhamagadhi (‘Half Magadhi’) in the early part of the first millennium CE. Ardhamagadhi, as with all of the Prakrits of North India, began to give way to what are called Apabhramsa languages just before the turn of the first millennium. The local Apabhramsa language of the eastern subcontinent, Purvi Apabhramsa or Apabhramsa Abahatta, eventually evolved into regional dialects, which in turn formed three groups: the Bihari languages, the Oriya languages, and the Bengali-Assamese languages. Some argue that the points of divergence occurred much earlier—going back to even 500 but the language was not static: different varieties coexisted and authors often wrote in multiple dialects. For example, Magadhi Prakrit is believed to have evolved into Apabhramsa Abahatta around the 6th century which competed with Bangla for a period of time.

Usually three periods are identified in the history of Bangla Language:

Old Bangla: (900/1000–1400) –  texts include Charyapada, devotional songs; emergence of pronouns Ami, tumi, etc; verb inflections -ila, -iba, etc. Oriya and Assamese branch out in this period.

Middle Bangla: (1400–1800) – major texts of the period include Chandidas’s ‘Sri Krishna Kirtan’; elision of word-final ô sound; spread of compound verbs; Persian influence. Some scholars further divide this period into early and late middle periods.

New Bangla: (since 1800) – shortening of verbs and pronouns, among other changes (e.g. tahar → tar ‘his/her’; koriyachhilô → korechhilo ‘he/she had done’).

[above image: distribution of native Bangla speakers in South Asia (the darker shade of pink denotes Bangladesh).]


The Bangla writing system is not an alphabetic writing system (e.g. the Latin alphabet), rather an abugida, i.e. its consonant graphemes in general represent a consonant followed by an ‘inherent’ vowel. The script is a variant of the Eastern Nagari script used throughout Bangladesh and eastern India (Assam, West Bengal and the Mithila region of Bihar). The Eastern Nagari script is believed to have evolved from a modified Brahmic script around 1000 CE and is similar to the Devanagari abugida used for Sanskrit and many modern Indic languages (e.g. Hindi, Marathi and Nepali). The Bangla script has particularly close historical relationships with the Assamese script, the Oriya script (although this relationship is not strongly evident in appearance) and Mithilakshar (the native script for Maithili language).

[above image: The extent of Bangla inside Bangladesh.]


Old Bangla: (950 – 1350 AD) – the oldest document of Bangla literature, Caryapada,  was written during this time. It is a collection of 47 songs religious and philosophical in nature.

Middle Bangla: (1350-1800 AD)Chandidas’s ‘Sri Krishna Kirtan’ represents the Bangla language of the early middle period. The Vaishnava influence is visible in the development of the language. Various Vaishnava Padavalis (verses) and the tradition of writing biographies started. During the later middle period Mangal Kavyas that eulogized non-Aryan Gods – Manasa, Chandi and Dharma were written. The Ramayana (by Krittivas Ojha) and the Mahabharata (by Kasiramdas) were translated into Bangla.

Modern Bangla: (1800 AD – ) – this period witnessed the development of Bengali language as we speak it today. It developed through the writings of Bankim Chandra, Sharatchandra, Rabindranath Tagore and others. Michael Madhusudan Dutt introduced blank verse. Jibanananda Das and Sukanta Bhattacharya were influential poets in the post Tagore period. The language developed further through the works of novelists like Tarashankar, Bibhutibhushan Banerjee, Premendra Mitra, Buddhdeb Basu, and many other great writers of Bangladesh and West Bengal.

Sources: Cornell University Bangla Department, Wikipedia.



Language Books:

Teach Yourself Bengali (Book + 2CD’s) (TY: Complete Courses) (Paperback) by William Radice – the author is an established authority in Bangla literature and language. His English translations of Tagore’s works are the best ones (even better than Tagore’s own English translations!).

Exploring Bengali – Kids Learn Bengali by Ruchira Agarwal

Learning the Bengali Alphabet (Paperback) by Bani Paul

Milet Mini Picture Dictionary: English-Bengali (Board book) by Sedat Turhin and Sally Hagin – I found the illustrations on this book really cute. A good gift for friends’ kids!

Learn Bengali Alphabet Activity Workbook (Paperback) by Dinesh Verma

History Books:

History of the Bengali People (Ancient Period) (Hardcover) by Niharranjan Ray

History of the Bengali-Speaking People (Paperback) by Nitish Sengupta – I have a copy of this and it covers a lot of ground! A good reference book. 

Bengal in Global Concept History: Culturalism in the Age of Capital (Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning) (Paperback) by Andrew Sartori

Literature Books:

Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology (Paperback) by Rabindranath Tagore

The Dissent of Nazrul Islam: Poetry and History (Oxford India Paperbacks) (Paperback) by Priti Kumar Mitra

Bengal the Beautiful (Paperback) by Jibanananda Das

100 Songs of Hasan Raja (Bengali Literature in English) (Hardcover) by Hasan Raja

Pather Panchali: Song of the Road (A Bengali Novel: UNESCO Collection of Representative Works, Indian Series) (Paperback) by Bibhutibhusan Banerjee

The Complete Adventures of Feluda by Satyajit Ray

The Heart of a Rebel Poet: Letters of Michael Madhusudan Dutt (Hardcover) by Michael Madhusudan Dutt &  edited by Ghulam Murshid

The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folk Tales (International Folk Tales Series) (Paperback) by Sayantani Dasgupta & Shamita Das Dasgupta

Women’s Studies Books:

Sultana’s Dream and Selections from The Secluded Ones (A Feminist Press Sourcebook) (Paperback) by Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain

Women Writing in Bengal: An Anthology of Short Stories (Hardcover) by Saumita Chakravarty



February 21, 2010

Announcement – Rohingya Photo Story by Sheikh Rajibul Islam Rajib.

Photo is copyright of Sheikh Rajibul Islam Rajib

The Rohingya issue still continues leaving these people stateless and homeless. Although they are not Bangladeshi citizens, as fellow human beings don’t we have a responsibility towards them? Doesn’t the child above deserve to go to school?

Photographer SHEIKH RAJIBUL ISLAM RAJIB has a photo story of the Rohingyas at the SocialDocumentary website. To see his extremely well-photographed photostory, please visit here.

Rajib’s Photographer Statement which accompanies the photo story:

‘When I first visited the camp in Kutupalong, I saw that the area where they are living, making a small slum, is so dirty that no human being can live in that place. In a 8′ X 6′ house  more than five people are sleeping and there is no sanitary toilet there. Hundreds of people are waiting to go to their work. But they can’t because the Police and BDR (Border military) are arresting the unregistered people. And they are pushing them back to the Myanmar side. But the Myanmar military (NASAKA) shoot if they find any people crossing the border. These people have nowhere to go. They have no food, no land and no identity.’  – Sheikh Rajibul Islam Rajib


December 15, 2009



designed by creativeBangladesh for your family and friends


Dear Friends and creativeBangladeshis,
Happy Holidays! Hope your preparations for the Holidays are coming along splendidly.
We are happy to announce that creativeBangladesh has designed beautiful Bangladesh Travel Photography Cards for you this holiday season.

Now is your chance to take a photograph home! The photographs were featured in creativeBangladesh over the past year. The photographers are SHABBIR FERDOUS and ASHIK MASUD.

        – Each card tells a story and includes travel information regarding the photograph in the front cover.

       – The cards are a unique way to send your Holiday Greetings to family, friends, coworkers, & bosses. This is also a great way to promote Bangladesh Travel to non-Bangladeshis.
       – The cards are printed on 100% recycled paper using vegetable based ink. A great way to save the planet, too!

       – The packaged card comes with its own envelope made from recycled parchment paper and is wrapped in a protective clear sleeve.
We hope you will share these beautiful cards this holiday season with your loved and dear ones.

You can buy the cards securely online via PayPal.  Shipping is currently only available in US and Canada.

Each card is $5.00 only. There is no additional charge for shipping.

[Scroll down for more photos of cards]

Thank you for your support over the last year and we hope you will continue to read us in 2010. Merry Xmas and Happy New Year from creativeBangladesh!


Boat with Fishermen – SHABBIR FERDOUS


Drum in Pottery Village – ASHIK MASUD


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