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
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.
Anisuzzaman, Creativity, Reality and Identity,
Dhaka: International Centre for Bengal Studies, Dhaka University,
- 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),
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.
Ibid., p 528.
J. C. Ghosh, Bengali Literature (Oxford,
1948), p 24.
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."
Ibid., p 291.
Ibid.. p 308.
Tapan Raychaudhurt, Bengal under Akbar
and Jahangir (2nd impression; Delhi, 1969), p 187.
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.