The review of the creative traditions of Bangladesh, as well as the perspectives derived from them. underscore the indispensable role of the material sub-stratum in shaping the content of the ideological superstructure.

The historical experience of Bangladesh would indicate that creative traditions are clearly linked to alignments of social structure and classes, producing specific combinations of the social, economic, and political environments which were either more or less favourable to the impulse of endogenous intellectual creativity. For example, the remarkable terracotta art of Paharpur corresponded to an historical phase when Bengal had experienced the first bout of populism leading to an indigenous monarchy; the articulation of Bengali literature was the contingent result of the need of the Sahajayana adherents to communicate more widely with the masses; and the patronage of the Bengali language and culture by the early Muslim rulers can be seen to arise from the consideration that, based solely in Bengal, they responded to the imperatives of forging greater bonds with the indigenous people and traditions.

In the later historical periods, creativity began to emerge as a result of collective self-questioning of broad social groups. Thus the resurgence of creativity of Bengal in the nineteenth century can be seen as the outgrowth of the concern of a nascent nationalist consciousness beginning, on the one hand, to question the prerogatives of the colonial order, and on the other, to search for its own identity. Similarly, the creative efflorescence of the Bengali Muslims in the erstwhile polity of Pakistan must be interpreted as arising out of the collective cognition of its predicament and apprehensions by the Bengali middle class. At the same time the articulation arising out of such consciousness itself helped to intensify further the conditions which had given rise to it in the first place. The resolution of this set of contradictions through the emergence of Bangladesh itself led to relative sterility of the very same middle class, shorn of the social and economic "motors" of its creative impulse.

There is no need, however, to reduce this correspondence of the creative tradition with its social and economic foundation to one of mechanical convergence, There is sufficient incidence of the creativity of dissent within established social orders to argue the case for the autonomy of the superstructure from the material substratum. However, this autonomy is also relative, for as we have seen, dissenting creativity was only tolerated within limits, and generally when they did not pose any serious threats to the status quo. In contrast, when peasant movements and jacqueries threatened the existing order with their forces of latent social and political creativity. they were repressed, often with the aid of state power. In those rare cases where the forces of dissent overwhelmed the established order, as was the case with movement of Bengali nationalism leading to the emergence of Bangladesh, it was precisely because the forces of intellectual creativity were integrally tied with an organized social and political movement, which itself assumed the proportions of a legitimized state in the succeeding epoch. The relative autonomy of the creative tradition must therefore be viewed as operating within the structural limits set up by the socio-economic matrix in which it was embedded:

Any view into the future of creativity or the endogenous creative tradition in Bangladesh is fraught with the dangers of mispronounce, for the very nature of the subject defies predictability. What might be attempted, at best, would be a formulation of the limits of such creativity as conditioned by the alignments of the social and economic order, somewhat like we have observed in our review of the past.

In this review we have tried to point out the structural constraints under which endogenous intellectual creativity developed in this part of the world and also the exogenous constraints imposed on such creativity by colonialism. In the, post-colonial period the social structure has not undergone any basic change and the ruling elite, true to their character, have continued to depend on the West for both political authority and economic support. This, in turn, has opened up channels through which forces of domination have encroached on the cultural arena.

It is not surprising, therefore, that there is much in the realm of artistic creation that is borrowed and emulated. Worse still is the fact that the sheer market power of mass entertainment goods churned out from the industrial countries threatens to swamp the endogenous tradition. The explosive proliferation of canned music and films, the omnipresence of television with a world of its own, the massive promotion of paperback thrillers and expensive "glossies" - all lead to a pattern of cultural conformity which does not necessarily follow from the fact that the world is becoming increasingly smaller. The pattern is rather too systematic to be labeled accidental either.

In the field of science and technology, the scenario is no different. There is a total dependence on the industrialized countries both for the supply of apparatus and equipment and for transmitting scientific and technical knowledge in the form of advanced training provided to personnel. This is generally believed to be adequate for generating self-sustaining scientific capability in the future. But mere emulation of received doctrines is never a substitute for developing research and problem-solving creativity. Moreover it does not equip the recipient to grapple with unexpected or unpredicted problems and solve them in a manner suited to the resources and endowments of his own country. The situation only paves the way for permanent technological and intellectual dependence.

The remedy does not lie in the promotion of cultural antiquarianism, as prescribed by the obscurantist's in Bangladesh, or in the development of cultural chauvinism, as envisaged by some others. But in the creation of conditions in which the structural barriers, both endogenous and exogenous, are removed. An essentially anti-imperialist structural alignment committed to putting an end to the exploitative relations of production within the country may provide the basis from which the culture of dissent and social revolution can emanate. Only the success of such forces can ensure a major efflorescence in endogenous traditions and achieve a measure of cultural autonomy under which a creative synthesis of the endogenous and exogenous may become meaningful. There is little in the bleak prospects now apparent in Bangladesh to indicate the eventual emergence of such forces. But it is a curious irony of history that these do often arise in times and conditions in which they are least expected.


  1. Some scholars have reminded us, in the South Asian context, that "its very self-sufficiency has also been its weakness in times of famine, when poor distribution and lack of social mobility, which both arise from the self-sufficient nature of village life, have proved almost insurmountable obstacles in dealing with the situation," Bridget and Raymond Allchin, The Birth of Indian Civilization (Middlesex, 1968), p 46.
  2. There is some controversy as to the date of composition of several works on the subject, but it may be assumed that these were produced between the sixth and the tenth century A.D. See R. C. Majumder (ed.), History of Bengal, Vol 1 (Dacca, 1943), pp 295-300.
  3. Ibid., p 528.
  4. J. C. Ghosh, Bengali Literature (Oxford, 1948), p 24.
  5. M. R. Tarafdar, Husain Shahi Bengal (Dacca, 1965), p 21: "The
    problem of adjustment between the square shape of the compartment and the circular base of the dome was faced by the masons of Bengal who tried to solve it in Eklakht mosque in Pandua by filling up the core from floor to ceiling with bricks."
  6. Ibid., p 291.
  7. Ibid.. p 308.
  8. Tapan Raychaudhurt, Bengal under Akbar and Jahangir (2nd impression; Delhi, 1969), p 187.
  9. In the all-India context, this may be said to have begun with Shah Waliullah of Delhi. Waliullah attacked the idolatrous practices that had entered Indian Islam, wanted acceptance of widow-remarriage by the Muslim society, and called for economic and social equality.

Source: Anisuzzaman, Creativity, Reality and Identity, Dhaka: International Centre for Bengal Studies, Dhaka University, 1993.


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