R A Mahmud Selim
Director, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy
Md. Tazuddin
Programme Officer, Bangladesh National Commission for UNESCO

Bangladesh, the world’s largest delta is crisscrossed by many great rivers and their innumerable tributaries. With a vast expanse of lush crop fields and hilly borderland thickly covered with virgin forests, it has always been known as a land full of nature’s bounties. Ancient chroniclers have described it as “a land of emerald and silver”, “a garden fit for kings”, or “a paradise among countries”. It is no wonder that this country has always attracted settlers, traders, and conquerors who turned the land into a crucible of diverse creeds and cultures. Despite this, little has been done for the safeguarding of the very rich and varied cultural heritages of our ancestors.

The essence of being careless with our very rich cultural traditions lies in the very mindset of the people of Bangladesh. This is a country of Muslim majority and the people have a general tendency to downgrade the importance of worldly items as they give high priority to elements of the afterlife. Therefore, there is little effort toward the preservation and protection of their cultural traditions and cultures due to a lack of awareness. Therefore, Bangladesh does not have a comprehensive inventory of its cultural heritage neither tangible nor intangible. Despite this, some great individuals have taken pains to leave invaluable assets for the generations to come and , we were able to obtain the following collections:

  • Prubabanga Geetika (A Collection of Folklore of East Bengal), compiled and edited by Dinesh Chandra Sen collected by Chandra Kumar Dey, (Voulme 4: Mymensingha Geetika), 1920s to 1930s (6 Volumes)
  • Haramoni (A Collection of Folklore and Folksongs), by Muhamad Monsur Uddin, 1961, Bangla Academy (10 Volumes)
  • Pracheen Purbabanga Geetika (A Collection of Folklore of East Bengal), 1950s, by Kshiteesh Moulik (5 Volumes)
  • Encyclopedia of Bengali Folk-songs, by Dr Ashutosh Bhattacharya, 1966, West Bengal Folklore Research Council, Kolkata, India (4 Volumes)
  • Sangeet Kosh (Encyclopedia of Songs), Korunamaya Goswami, 1985, Published By Bangla Academy
  • Hajar Bachharer Bangla Nattyo (Bangla Drama of Thousand Years), by Jamil Ahmed, Department of Drama, University of Dhaka
  • Indigenous Theatre of Bangladesh, by Jamil Ahmed, Department of Drama, University of Dhaka

Moreover, the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has conducted substantial research on the identification, valuation, and intellectual property protection of traditional cultural expressions of Bangladesh. It was edited by Mohammad Nurul Huda, a renowned poet and former director of the Bangla Academy and was published in 2010. This study is the result of an extensive field survey and a series of inquiries into the traditional cultural expressions of the tangible and intangible genres of folk creativity in Bangladesh. Based on WIPO’s categorization of traditional cultural expressions, a survey was conducted concerning (i) verbal expressions, (ii) musical expressions (iii) expressions of actions and (iv) tangible expressions. Verbal expressions included legends, tales, narratives, rhymes, proverbs, riddles, sayings and pathkavita; musical expressions included baulbhawaiya, Muslim mystic songs, bhatiali, wedding songs, regional songs and kirton; expressions demonstrated by actions included traditional games and contests, fairs and festivals; and tangible expressions included handicrafts and other items such as pottery, clay-work, terracotta, woodwork, bamboo-work, cane-work, jewelry, pitha (indigenous cake), agricultural equipment, fishing equipment, folk architecture, musical instruments and rickshaw art.

Among other things, the achievement of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, a private organization working for the protection and promotion of intangible cultural heritage in Bangladesh, is very significant. It has completed the ‘Cultural Survey of Bangladesh’ and printed their findings in twelve volumes, which is a milestone in the inventory-making efforts of Bangladesh in the field of ICH. Renowned scholars and researchers of Bangladesh took part in the project and it was supported by the government of Bangladesh.

The latest initiative in making a comprehensive inventory on the intangible cultural heritage of Bangladesh has been taken on by the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, the apex public institution for the safeguarding of ICH in Bangladesh. The Academy will implement a massive three-year project under the direct supervision and cooperation of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs from  July 2011 to June 2014. Keeping in mind lessons learnt from the previous work done by WIPO and the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, it will conduct a nationwide survey and research. To this end, the government of Bangladesh has already approved a project to the cost of US$1.36 million. If everything goes according to plan, at the end of 2014, Bangladesh will have a complete inventory of its intangible cultural heritage.