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Population, Culture

Zainul Abedin, Bangladesh National Museum, dotara, banshi, Kazi Nazrul Islam

Bangladeshi culture is, in many respects, inseparable from that of greater Bengal. Beginning in the early 19th century a majority of the most widely read and admired Bengali writers and artists, Hindu as well as Muslim, worked for a time in the Indian metropolis of Calcutta (now Kolkata). Thus began the Bengal Renaissance, a cultural movement among Bengalis in Calcutta that reached its height in the early 20th century. After the capital of British India was moved from Calcutta to New Delhi in 1911, Calcutta continued to be a center of Bengali culture.

The writers of the Bengal Renaissance were the pioneers of modern Bengali literature. Poet Michael Madhusudan Datta broke with established tradition to write Bengali poetry in the blank verse style, and the novelist and essayist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote what is considered the first Bengali novel, Durgeshnandini (1865). The Hindu writer, artist, and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore (in Bengali, Ravindranatha Thakura) earned distinction as the first non-European writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, in 1913 for his volume of poems Gitanjali (Song Offerings, 1910). Several contemporaries of Tagore also gained recognition for their works. Most notably, Kazi Nazrul Islam became the first widely acclaimed Muslim Bengali writer. Today he is revered in Bangladesh as the voice of Bengali independence and nationalism. Common themes in many Bengali works include rural life, class conflict, and human struggle.

Painting, sculpture, and architecture were strongly influenced by Muslim rule in the region during the 16th and 17th centuries. Modern painting was pioneered by Zainul Abedin, Kamrul Hassan, and S. M. Sultan, among others. Their abstract and realist paintings achieved international renown, including Abedinís black-and-white sketches of the Calcutta famine of 1943. Many of their works are part of the permanent collection of the Bangladesh National Museum.

Classical, light-classical, devotional, and popular music enjoy a wide following in Bangladesh. Classical forms include Hindustani devotional songs. The principal schools of classical Indian dance, including bharata natyam and kathakali, are performed by professional dance troupes of Bangladesh. The manipuri is a traditional and widely popular devotional dance that has both classical and folk forms. Bengali folk dances are commonly performed during festivals and other special occasions. Folk music styles include baul, devotional songs that often combine Hindu and Muslim themes and are performed by wandering mystics. Traditional musical instruments of Bangladesh include the banshi (bamboo flute), dhole (wooden drums), and dotara (a two-stringed instrument).



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