Cultural, International, Literary, Political, Religious

When Continents Clash

It is not the collision of the tectonic plates that I am alluding to here or the drift of the continents nudging each other out, it is the mighty clash of dominant religions from the adjoining Continents. The religion of Islam from the East (the Middle East and North Africa) crossed over to the West in Spain and clashed for centuries for prominence.

Spain was the battle ground of two dominant religions vying out for territorial gains. Islam from North Africa and North West of Middle East eyed Spain some twelve centuries ago as the gateway to Europe for religious expansion. Obviously, the dominant religion (Catholicism) of the region resisted and fought back and what happened during the next few centuries not only shaped Spain but also the whole of Europe.

Recently I travelled to ‘Classical Spain’ with the Riviera Travels visiting places like Seville, Cordoba and Granada, among others, where Islam came, conquered and eventually beaten and relinquished the gains some centuries later in the face of relentless adversarial reaction from the indigenous religions.

Our travel started when we landed at Malaga airport (a southern coastal city of Spain), when Riviera Travels grouped together tourists from Manchester and South of England and brought them through Manchester and Gatwick airports. We spent the night at a 4* hotel which was some 1100 ft above the sea level and hemmed in on the sloping banks of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. After a drink reception in the evening followed by buffet dinner where I came to know other tourists, I retired.

Next morning, we travelled to Ronda, a small town on the outskirts of Sierra de Grazalema national park trekking a scenic route past Marbella (a holiday resort famous for night clubs) and on the way managed to have a glimpse of Gibraltar across the sea. It is surprising that for such a desolate rocky mountainous outpost, two countries went to battles a number of times over the centuries. We spent nearly five hours in Ronda, which is famous for bull fighting, in particular. It is claimed that bull fighting started in Ronda, but other cities like Seville and Madrid would dispute that vehemently. After having fantastic mixed tapas for lunch, we went to see the ‘new bridge’ connecting two hill cliffs over a gorge of some four hundred feet drop. The sound of cascading water in the gorge is soothing, but the sight of hundreds of feet of almost vertical drop is awesome. As I looked from the bridge down the gorge, I saw people trekking along the small stream meandering along the boulders, rocks and some tropical trees.

Another three hours of bus trip took us to the famous city of Seville. After checking in at the hotel at the centre of the city, we went to have ‘tapas tasting’ at a local restaurant (given free for Riviera travellers) and then after the dinner, we went to see the famous ‘Mushroom Tower’. This ‘Mushroom Tower’ has a fascinating history. Some twelve years ago, Seville politicians had the bright idea of digging a tunnel across that area to construct a relief road. As they dug, they started getting more and more Roman artefacts and then they found a Roman burial chamber. Obviously, they could not demolish the Roman Remains for the relief road. They built an archeological museum on the burial site and a fantastic mushroom bridge towering over the surrounding areas (some three hundred feet above the street level) had also been built. The site now is a major tourist attraction.

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Mushroom tower in Seville

Seville is a place bristling with numerous historical and cultural monuments from both Islam and Christianity. The next morning, we had been taken by a bus to have a whirlwind tour of the city – so that afterwards we could go and see individual attractions at our leisure. We saw Seville Cathedral with the Giralda, Alcazar palace, the bullring and then we walked through the Maria Luisa garden to Plaza de Espania (half-crescent palace).

Seville Cathedral (Spanish: Catedral de Santa Maria) is a Roman Catholic cathedral. It is the third largest cathedral in the world (after the St Peter’s cathedral in Rome and St Paul’s cathedral in London). Seville was conquered by the Umayyad in 712 AD. The Almohad caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf decided to construct a grand mosque in the city in 1172 on the site where a mosque was built in 829 by Umar Ibn Adabbas. The grand mosque that was built was massive in size (15,000 sq.m. internal space) but it was not completed until 1198.

Shortly after the conquest of the city by Ferdinand III, the grand mosque was ‘Christianized’ by converting it to city’s cathedral. In 1401, city’s leaders decided to build a massive cathedral on the site so grand that people would say after its completion that the leaders were simply mad. The work was not, however, completed until 1506!

But some aspects of the grand mosque were preserved. The courtyard for ablution for the Muslim faithful was preserved. Now it is a long pool of water, some 15 ft wide, with fountains on both sides criss-crossing the pool and orange trees adorning it. Also, the minaret of the mosque (some 342 ft high) was kept, but converted into a bell tower, known as La Giralda, which is now the iconic symbol of the city. There are wide ramps, not steps, that lead up to the bell tower. The muezzin used to go up the ramps on horse back to the bell tower to carry out calls for prayers five times a day! The cathedral also contains Christopher Columbus’ burial site.

Alcazar is a royal palace, built for the Christian king, Peter of Castile, on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress. The name Alcazar comes from the Arabic word al-qasr (the castle). The castle, with its extensive garden, was used as a royal palace by the Moorish rulers. It is still being used as a royal palace and, in fact, it is the oldest royal palace in Europe. In 1987 the cathedral, the adjacent Alcazar palace complex were all given the status of World Heritage Sites.

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Flamenco dance

In the evening, at 9pm, we went to the Flamenco performance. The gypsies from Southern Spain created the flamenco dance and music since their arrival at Andalusia in the 15th century. It is said that the gypsies came from a region of northern India called Sid, which is now in Pakistan. The folk-lore of Andalusia is conveyed by vibrant expressive dance, trapping of feet and the accompanying music. It was very entertaining.

After spending three nights in Seville we headed for the famous Moorish city of Cordoba. We did not spend night in Cordoba, but spent the whole day there. We visited the Royal Palace, the famous Mezquita (mosque) and a museum. Cordoba, during the Moorish time, had the largest library in the world and the Cordoba University is reputed to be the oldest university (older than Oxford by centuries). After lunch we headed for Granada through the countryside covered with olive groves and absorbed the spectacular views of Sierra Nevada Mountains.

We stayed in a hotel in Granada right on top of a mountain next to the Alhambra palace. Next morning we walked to Alhambra Palace and spent literally the whole day exploring various avenues and absorbing the lifestyles and traditions of bygone days. The history and tradition of Muslim rulers were conveyed to us by a local tourist guide. That the ruler would come in to one of the chambers (which chamber would not be disclosed previously for security reasons), sit on a high chair to give audience to the public is still being practiced by many Muslim leaders in many countries. (It is said that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh practiced the same tradition). The following morning we went on a train tour (actually a bus shaped like a train) of the city, had lunch there and came back in time to board a bus to go back to Malaga airport.

After the hectic seven days we headed back to England.

 

A Rahman is an author and a columnist

 

Bangladesh, Cultural, International, Life as it is, Literary

Origin of Bengali Calendar and the celebration of ‘Noboborsho’

cc614c7fe3b876a539e58a314e7a94c5[1]Only three more days to go before another Bengali New Year (also known as Noboborsho), year 1425 on the 14th of April 2018, ushers in sweeping away the misery and pain of the past year. Welcoming the Noboborsho (also known as Pohela Baishakh i.e. the first of the Bengali month called Baishakh) is a very joyous occasion in Bengali culture and it is very much steeped in tradition. That tradition overrides any religious divide, narrow sectarianism and tribalism.

The day normally starts with boys and girls, men and women, all waking up early in the morning before the sun-rise. They are all dressed in bright colourful outfits and women are donned in bright yellow saris and garlands in their hair. The women carry garlands in their hands as they walk the streets, as if to offer garlands to the exalted souls of the New Year and they chant Noboborsho-welcoming songs. As the sun rises, they would welcome the new day ushering in the new year and pray in songs and kirtons that the new year will bring peace, prosperity and happiness. The procession of men and women in convivial mood continues throughout the day and in the evening, there are theatre stages where songs (mainly Tagore songs), plays, dramas etc. are presented.

The Noboborsho (New Year) is not just the beginning of a year in Bengali tradition, it is the beginning of a new chapter, a new undertaking in life. In olden days (before the creation of Pakistan), the Noboborsho would also see the beginning of a new book – a business ledger – for the traders, small businesses or even professionals such as teachers, doctors, engineers etc. For them the new book was like a diary where past experiences, present accomplishments and future aspirations are all depicted. And, as usual, no big occasion in Bengal would go without distribution of sweets!

There used to be a Ponjika – a short printed book giving major events of the next one year and guiding people through thick and thin of their lives. Altogether, Noboborsho is the culmination of the past year and the beginning of a new year, both of them are of equal significance.

This tradition stretching back centuries was temporarily interrupted by the new state, Pakistan, which was created in 1947 on the basis of religious doctrines. Since the Bengali language and culture evolved over the centuries in the land where Hindus and Muslims (as well as Buddhists, Jains and so forth) lived side by side, Islamic fundamentalists of Pakistan felt threatened by this long-held tradition. They insisted that Bengali language, Bengali tradition are all Hindu tradition and Muslims of Bangladesh should avoid, indeed boycott, these things and become ‘true Muslims’ by adopting Pakistan’s Urdu language. For the Bengali Muslims, it was like tearing up the age-old tradition and identity for the sake of imported religion. This conflict eventually led to the breakup of Pakistan and thence Bengali Muslims reclaimed their tradition and identity now.

Even now, nearly fifty years after the creation of Bangladesh on the basis of language and culture, there are strident calls by the over-jealous Islamists within the country to stop celebrating Bangla Noboborsho on the plea that it is anti-Islamic and blatantly Hinduism. Even the Bengali Calendar is viewed as anti-Islamic practice. These religious bigots preach things without any shred of knowledge and understanding.

The view that Bangla Noboborsho and Bangla calendar are imports from Hindu culture to Muslim Bangladesh is not only blatantly communal and racist, but also grossly misconceived. This assertion on the basis of religious bigotry could not be farthest from the truth.

Let me give a brief background of the history of Bengali Calendar and how the 14th of April came to be used to usher in the Noboborsho, 1425 BS (Bangla Sôn).

The third Mughal Emperor, Muhammad Akbar (also reverentially addressed as Akbar the Great), was a great reformer and instrumental in promulgating a new Bengali Calendar after modifying the then existing calendar. He did so in order to facilitate the administrative procedures and to fix a firm tax collection date in Bengal.

At that time, the calendar that used to be utilised was known as Tarikh-e-Elahi, which followed the Islamic lunar calendar. The lunar year consists of twelve months, but has 354 or 355 days (following 12 lunar rotations round the earth). Thus, there is a drift of about 10 or 11 days every year between the lunar and solar (Gregorian) calendars. That created a major practical problem. A fixed date for the collection of taxes from the farmers and peasants, normally set at the end of a harvest period, gradually came forward by about 11 days every year and fell out of season.

That meant that whereas a tax collection date might have been originally fixed after the harvest period gradually drifted forward and became a date prior to the harvest after just a few years. That created immense misery to the farmers to pay taxes before the harvest! Realising this serious practical problem, Mughal Emperor, Akbar along with the royal astronomer, Fathullah Shirazi developed the Bengali calendar. It was a synthesis of Islamic lunar calendar and the modern solar calendar.

The year Akbar took over the reign of the Mughal Empire was 1556 AD (Gregorian Calendar). That year in Islamic calendar was 963 AH (Anno Hegirae). He promulgated that a new calendar would be started on the 1st of Muharram (which is the first month of the Islamic Calendar) in that year of 963 AH. Following that system, the year would follow the solar year (365 days) and so no mismatch between the new calendar and the seasons would arise from that time. That calendar came eventually to be known as the Bangla Calendar with Bangla months such as Boishakh, Jyoishto etc. assigned to it.

However, that calendar was slightly revised during the Pakistan days by a committee headed by Dr Mohammad Shahidullah under the auspices of the Bangla Academy in 1966. That revised version (when 14th April was fixed as the beginning of the year) was adopted officially in Bangladesh in 1987. That is the calendar that ushers in the Bengali Noboborsho.

Now the question is how do we get to the year 1425 BS on the 14th of April 2018 AD? The following consideration would show how it is done.

As the start of this calendar was 1556 AD (Akbar’s accession to the throne), which was also the beginning of the Islamic year 963 AH, 462 years (2018 AD – 1556 AD) had passed since then until now. Now adding 462 years to the Islamic year of 963 AH (when the system started), we get 1425. This is how we have the incoming New Year of 1425 BS this year.

Also, one can analyse the difference between the Bengali Calendar and the Islamic Calendar. The Islamic year now is 1439 AH, whereas the Bengali year is 1425 BS. The time when divergence took place was in 1556 AD and during these intervening 462 years (2018-1556) the Islamic calendar fell short by 462 x 11 = 5082 days with regard to solar calendar. This then produced over 14 years (5082/355) in Islamic calendar. In other words, an extra 14 years were produced in the Islamic calendar since the commencement of the Bengali calendar, and that explains why it is 1439 AH, but in Bangla calendar it is 1425 BS.

The adoption and modification of calendars are done by many countries – Islamic or non-Islamic – to suit their needs.

Islamic Republic of Iran uses the Solar Hijri Calendar, called the Sham Hijri (SH), which begins with the vernal equinox (the start of spring in the northern hemisphere). The length of time between vernal equinox and autumnal equinox is about 186 days and 10 hours and the other cycle is 178 days. Afghanistan uses a slight variation of the Iranian calendar. West Bengal uses a Bengali calendar where the Noboborsho is on 15th of April.

Thus, any claim that the Bengali Calendar belongs to a Hindu religion or culture and that adoption of this calendar is un-Islamic can be categorically rejected. Such assertions are utter rubbish and pure bigotry.
A. Rahman is an author and columnist.

Bangladesh, Cultural, Economic, International, Literary, Political

Tagore and Bengali Identity

If there is one person who embodies Bengal, Bengali language and culture that must be Tagore.

Tagore , ca, 1930
Rabindranath Tagore, ca. 1930

Bangladesh was liberated from the yoke of Pakistan in 1971 as the land of Bangla (বাংলা) speaking people; not as an outpost of alien culture of Pakistan or Middle East. What started as the language movement, following the brutal killing of university students in 1952 demanding Bengali as a national language, eventually turned into ‘linguistic nationalism’ that culminated in the liberation of Bangladesh.

For long 24 years, from 1947 to 1971, Pakistan tried to impose Urdu as the national language of Pakistan and obliterate Bengali language and Bengali culture from the indigenous population of the then East Pakistan. The leaders of Pakistan implanted and patronised Islamism in East Pakistan and that helped to evolve Razakar, al-Badr and many other factions of Islamist organisations during the liberation war not only to defeat the nationalist movement but also to wipe out Bengali-ness among the people. But they failed. These Razakars changed their guise, but maintained their ‘Muslim-ness’ as an opposition force against the dominant cultural identity of the people in post-independent Bangladesh.

The ‘Muslim’ identity people might have retreated temporarily following the defeat of their patron, Pakistan, but they were not beaten. They kept reappearing, as and when opportunity arose, to undermine Bengali language and culture. The other arm of their strategy is to propagate Islamic culture as a replacement of Bengali culture. The proliferation of ‘hijab’, ‘niqab’ and ‘burqa’ among Bangladeshi women, the trend of inserting adjuncts like ‘bin’ or ‘bint’ (for men and women respectively) in names, increasing use of Arabic words replacing common Bengali words, all testify cultural invasion under the guise of religion.

This twin strategy of undermining Bengali language and culture, and the import of alien culture had become apparent during the period of military rules in Bangladesh from 1975 to 1992 and then whenever Islamic-oriented political party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), often supported by the more overtly Islamist organisations like Jamaat-e-Islam, came to power. Of late, in anticipation of the BNP coming to power in the forthcoming national election at the end of this year, these ‘Muslim’ identity people at the behest of BNP are gearing up and attacking Bengali language and culture.

Although, Willem van Schendel in his book ‘A History of Bangladesh’ identified two competing identity groups distinguishing them as (i) “Bengali-ness” that upholds Bangladesh as the homeland for Bengalis and embraces linguistic community of Tagore, Nazrul, Bankim, Madhushudan, Jasimuddin, Jibanananda Das, Sarat Chandra, Golam Mostafa and so forth and (ii) “Bangladeshi-ness” which takes the view that Bangladesh is, in effect, a logical outcome of Pakistan and the homeland of Muslim Bengal. As, the argument goes, without Pakistan, Bangladesh would not have come into existence and hence Bangladesh remains Muslim and it is ‘overwhelmingly and essentially Muslim’. (They conveniently forget or ignore the fact that during the liberation struggle they did everything to stop Bangladesh coming into existence and now they are claiming it to be Muslim Bangladesh!)

This second group, despite Schendel’s branding it as “Bangladeshi-ness”, is a misnomer and gross misrepresentation. It should rightly be put under “Muslim-ness”, as they put Muslim as their prime identity and their country affiliation comes far below. They accept disgruntledly Bengali as the national language, but many of them would happily accept Urdu as the national language, which conforms to their Muslim identity. They are, in effect, the remnants of the Pakistani period.

Bengali is one of the richest languages in the world. It is the direct descendant of Sanskrit, which is a Proto Indo-European language that has evolved over four millennia. That is why one can find similarities and resemblances between many Bengali words and Italian, English and Cyrillic words.

Of all the Bengali litterateurs, the person that stands out head and shoulder above the rest is Rabindranath Tagore, who was the poet, essayist, novelist, song writer and composer, playwright, philosopher and educationist. He was simply a literary giant not only in India but also in the whole world. He was the only person from Indian subcontinent who was awarded Nobel Prize for Literature (1913) and his songs are sung as national anthems in two sovereign States – India and Bangladesh.

If there is one person who embodies Bengal and Bengali language and culture that must be Tagore. Although he was born in Kolkata, his ancestors were from Jessore in Bangladesh. Tagore married Mrinalini Devi who hailed from Khulna. Tagore spent more than two decades looking after the zamindari in the then East Bengal and spent extended periods in Shelaidah, Kushtia and Shahjadpur, Pabna and Petishar, Rajshahi. His poetic genius, his philosophy, his perception of life were all moulded by everyday lives of people in this part of East Bengal. He wrote many famous poems, songs, short stories while he was in the houseboat (called Padma) in Shelaidah and Shahjadpur. The most famous book of poems ‘Sonar Tari’ ( সোনার তরী) (The Golden Boat) was written in those days. He gave poetic expressions to occasions such as Bengali New Year (বাংলা নববর্ষ), welcoming rainy season (বর্ষাবরণ), spring festival (বসন্ত উৎসব) and so on that ripple through the hearts and minds of Bengali people the world over.

Tagore felt very strongly for the plight of his poor Muslim tenants (প্রজা). One such occasion that had been narrated by Krisna Dutta like this: When he called a meeting of his tenants one afternoon, he noticed that Hindu tenants were sitting on mattresses and poor Muslim tenants were sitting on grass farther apart. He was cross at this segregation and asked his tenants that everyone must sit together on mattresses; if there were not enough space in the mattresses, everyone must sit on the grass. Quite often he would relieve his poor Muslim tenants of taxes and that did not endear him to his father, Debendranath Tagore.

There is a concerted move by the ‘Muslim’ identity people – the Islamists and Islamist sympathisers – to denigrate Tagore by egregious falsification and trumped up stories. They branded Tagore as a plagiarist, a second-rate poet who attained fame only by British patronising. Needless to say, any attempt to counter such grossly egregious allegations is like going into the dirty gutters with them.

Also, it had been said by those bigots that Tagore was anti-Muslim as, they assert, he wrote a number of poems praising Hindu culture and Hindu religion; he wrote none for Islam. That is quite frankly utterly ridiculous. As a Hindu (in fact he was a follower of Brahmo sect), it was quite natural that he would write about these religions; that does not imply that he was against Islam or Jain or Buddhism. Did he write anything against Islam? No. No. So, how on earth, could he be called an anti-Muslim or racist?

Only one point that merits addressing here is that he had been accused of opposing the foundation of Dhaka University. He might have opposed it initially on economic grounds. It is also possible that he was not enthusiastic about it as he was in the process of setting up his own university at that time, which came into existence the same year that Dhaka university did. But, later on, he supported the Dhaka University when adequate financial provisions were made. He could not have opposed it strongly, as brazen Islamists claim, on grounds of race or religion, because in East Bengal in those days overwhelmingly large fraction (between 70 to 75%) of educated people primed to go to the university were Hindus. So, Tagore’s opposition to Dhaka University would have affected predominantly Hindus. The problem with semi-literate Islamists is that they think that he opposed Dhaka University because it was in Muslim-Bangladesh! How ridiculous!

Syed Abul Maksud in his book ‘Purabange Rabindranath’ (পূর্ববঙ্গে রবীন্দ্রনাথ ) (Rabindranath in East Bengal) stated that Tagore had cordial relations with Muslims in East Bengal. The Muslim aristocrat of Dhaka, Nawab Sir Salimullah “paid rich tributes to the greatest poetical genius of modern India” in a meeting organized in the city on 26 November 1912 to celebrate his Nobel Prize award. Maksud also pointed out that Tagore was given a very enthusiastic reception by the Salimullah Muslim Hall Students’ Union of the University of Dhaka on the 10th of February, 1926 during his second and last visit to Dhaka. It may be pointed out that Dhaka University was founded only five years previously. (If Tagore had opposed it, then SM Hall students’ Union was probably unaware of it and now nearly 100 years later the brazen Islamists had found it out!) It should also be pointed out that the University of Dhaka awarded Tagore an honorary doctorate in 1936.

To say that Tagore had opposed Dhaka university is totally disingenuous and dishonest. Also, the accusation that he was against Muslims has racist connotation. The ‘Muslim’ identity people are hell-bent on carrying out character assassination of Tagore and thereby undermine the very essence of ‘Bengali’ identity of the Bangladeshi people. The sooner these clandestine agents doing Pakistan’s bidding for ‘Muslim-ness’ are exposed, the better it is for the country.

 

A. Rahman is an author and a columnist

Bangladesh, Cultural, Life as it is, Literary, Political

Pioneering Contributions of Bengali Women

Today we are used to seeing Bengali women working side by side with men in almost every sphere of life. But it had not been so easy for them to achieve this position. Women had to struggle and overcome many hurdles. But given the opportunity, they can perform as well as men, if not better. Leaving aside the current women leaders of Bangladesh and West Bengal, Bengali women had shown in the past that they were no inferior to men.

Bhabashankari was a remarkable woman in the sixteenth century. Impressed by her bravery, the king of Bhurshuti, Rudranarayan married her. After king’s death, she took over the reign. The Pathan ruler Osman Khan attacked her kingdom thinking that it will be an easy prey with a weak female ruler. But she fought valiantly and defeated him. Impressed by her gallantry, Emperor Akbar bestowed upon her the title, ‘Raibaghini’. In the 18th century, Devi Choudhurani was an associate of the Monk revolutionaries. Rani Shiromoni was a famous zamindar who supported the Choar and Pike revolution. During the same period, Rani Bhabani managed her zamindari very skilfully on her own.

Women made immense contribution to various fields of Bengali culture such as literature, music, art, architecture, acting, fashion etc. In the seventeenth century, Hemlata Devi gained prominence for her superb performance of Dhrupango kirton. She had profound knowledge of ‘Vaishnab’ literature. She had written a book called ‘Manabi Bilash’. From 1830, female education began on a small scale. Women were given lessons by home tuition. By 1850s this gathered momentum, the result of which was manifested in a series of writings by women. In 1856 Krishnakamini Dasi published an anthology of poetry called ‘Ontobashini’. Between 1863 and 1869, Koilasbashini Devi had published three books of poetry and prose. Then a deluge of female writers started in Bengal. Writers such as Rassundari Devi, Naveenkali Devi, Foyezunnesa Khatun, Birajmohini Dasi, Girindramohini Dasi and Swarnakumari Devi inundated the Bengali literature. During the 1880s, Krishnabhabini Das has written a travel story. We must give them credit as none of them had any formal education in educational institution.

From the early twentieth century, women started to write poetry, novel, short stories and other forms of literature in earnest. The poetries of Mankumari Basu, Kamini Roy, Kusumkumari Das were all well received by the society. At the same time writers such as Probhaboti Devi Swarassati, Priyongboda Devi, Prafullamoyi Devi, Nirupoma Devi, Pankajini Basu, Shoilobala Ghosjaya, Sorojini Naidu had written innumerable novels. Number of Probhaboti Devi Swarassati’s novels had surpassed that of Rabindranath Tagore. Other prominent ones were Leela Majumdar, Ashpurna Devi, Bani Basy, Protibha Basu and so on. Among Muslim female writers Begum Rokeya was the pioneer followed by Sufia Kamal, Rabeya Khatun, Romena Afaz, Mukbula Manzoor, Selina Hussain and others.

Women were not just content with writing, they also ventured in the field of editing and publishing. In 1860 first women magazine was published in Bengal. Within years it gained so much popularity and confidence that in 1870, a woman took over the responsibility of its editing. Mokshadayini Devi was its first editor. In 1875, Thakmoni started editing the magazine, ‘Onathini’. In the 1880s, Mohini Sen took the editorial responsibility of ‘Poricharika’. During the same period, Swarnakumari Devi took the charge of editing ‘Bharati. She carried the role for ten years and then Sarla Devi took over. In 1947, first female Muslim, Nurjahan Begum started the magazine called ‘Begum’ from Kolkata and she was its editor.

Bengali women left their mark in Bengali theatre and film quite early. In the 1830s when female education was absent in Bengal, a woman called Radhamoni played the role of ‘Vidya’ in a play called ‘Vidya Sundari’. She proved that woman could perform high quality acting. In the later part of the nineteenth century when stage performance became very popular, many women joined the theatre. Among them Golapsundari, alias Sukumari Dutta, Khetramoni, Jadumoni,and Elokaeshi are worth mentioning. But Binodini earned the most fame in that era. After Binodini came Tarasundari, Tinkori, Gangamoni and Norisundari.Outside the world of theatre. The women from Rabindranath Thakur’s family gained huge popularity. Among them Protibha Chowdhury excelled in both acting and music.

From the middle of twentieth century, film industry started growing exponentially. Number and quality of female actors also increased at the same time. In this area women’s contribution was no less than men’s. In the thirties and forties notable actresses like Kanan Devi, Devika Rani, Kusumkumari, Renuka Ray, Anupama Devi, brought new life to the Bengali cinema. In the 1950s, actresses such as Suchitra Sen, Mala Sinha, Savitri Chatterajee, Supriya Chatterjee and so on had outperformed their male counterparts. They brought a renaissance in Bengali films.

Sandhya MukherjeeSandhya Mukharjee

In the nineteenth century women were chastised for singing in public. They had overcome this stigma by the charm of their melodious voice. By the early twentieth century the women earned the recognition for their talent in music. Music lesson, singing in public even recording songs became widespread. In some areas they surpassed men. Being disadvantaged by marriage, childbearing, family responsibilities a lot of women had to abandon the profession. But this did not dissuade singers like Gohar Jan, Binodini Dasi, Amala Das, Manada Sundari Dasi, Niharbala, Kamala Jharia, Indubala, Angurbala, Uma Basu, Malati Ghosal etc. Amya Thakur, Premlata Devi, Dipali Nag and others. They have enriched the Bengali vocal music with their sweet voices. In the early fifties of the twentieth century, a new generation of female singers brought a new dimension to Bengali music. Most notable among them were Sandhya Mukharjee, Lata Mungheshkar, Utpala Sen, Alpona Bondopadahy, Arati Mukhupadhya, Protima Bannerjee, Hoimanti Shukla and others.

One of the dominant branches of culture is dance. In this field the women are definitely more skilful than men. That is not because of their physical beauty alone; over the years women took this profession much more ardently. In the nineteenth century those who were dancers were courtesans and actresses. Kusumkumari was one of those dancers and singers. In those days, dance was associated with drinks, prostitution and sex. Women from middle class families shunned it and even some women ventured to display their talent they were castigated by the society. In 1921-22 Reba Ray was criticised in the media for dancing on the stage. In 1925, Nandalal Bose’s daughter Gauri Devi danced in a play written by Rabindranath Tagore. Whole society was up in arms against Tagore for corrupting the society. But Rabindranath Tagore, Udayshankar and Gurushodoy Dutta turned this round and made dance popular. Udayshankar’s wife Amalashankar herself was an accomplished dancer. She had improvised Bengali dance by fusing it with Manipuri and Gujarati Garba dance.

Modern women should take a leaf out of these pioneering women and strive to strengthen women’s position in the society. The way women can drive the society towards progress and prosperity men cannot. So, it should be the motto of women of today to perpetuate the legacy of their predecessors.

  • The writer, Dr Sarwar Jamil, is a retired Education Manager, Southampton City Council

 

Bangladesh, International, Life as it is, Literary, Political, Religious, Technical

Tagore’s philosophical views and quantum mechanics

Tagore , ca, 1930
Rabindranath Tagore, ca. 1930

Rabindranath Tagore (actual Bengali name: Rabindranath Thakur) (1861 – 1941), the great Indian philosopher, a Bengali poet and a polymath, lived during the transition period of Indian history in general and the Bengali culture in particular, when physics also went through revolutionary changes. Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955), the most prominent physicist of the 20th century, was the pioneer of the modern physics who produced theories which advanced physics to unprecedented dimensions. Although Einstein produced the ‘the principle of photoelectric effect’ for which he received the Nobel Prize in physics and which was pivotal to the advent of quantum mechanics, he could not fully reconcile with the multifarious implications of quantum mechanics.

These two stalwarts of the first half of the 20th century met a number of times from 1926 onward. When Tagore visited continental Europe and then America in 1930, they met at least four times in Berlin and New York. The meeting at Einstein’s summer villa outside Berlin was of particular interest when they exchanged views and philosophical ideas extensively. That meeting was very poignantly described by Dmitri Marianoff, a journalist in the New York Times, as “Tagore, the poet with the head of a thinker, and Einstein, the thinker with the head of a poet” exchanged views on reality of nature.

Einstein held the view that the world and, for that matter, the whole universe is there independent of humanity. Tagore held the view that the world is a human world and hence without human, world is irrelevant and non-existent. Einstein persisted and queried that aren’t beauty and truth absolute and independent of human beings? Tagore disagreed and said that truth is realised through man and without man it does not exist. The whole conversation between these two stalwarts was absolutely fascinating – it brought out the mindset of a scientist seeking out nature as it exists and that of a poet observing nature through the eyes and minds of human beings.

Einstein’s commitment to reality of nature was absolute and that absolutism brought him in conflict with the quantum reality proposed by Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and others. Einstein believed in the existence of causal, observer independent reality; whereas quantum mechanics considers reality is dependent on the act of observation. Bohr/Heisenberg proposed that a  subatomic particle like an electron is there only when it is observed. If it is not observed, it is not there; it could be anywhere only to be shown by quantum functional description. But Einstein would not accept that. He retorted by saying that the moon is there in the sky whether one observes it or not. Quantum mechanics states that an entity having unobserved presence cannot be claimed to be present with absolute certainty (with the probability of 1). Quantum mechanics tells us that the observer and the observed are entwined. The reality is not pre-ordained; reality is what is observed.

In 1928, Tagore received Arnold Sommerfeld, professor of theoretical physics at the university of Munich and a pioneer of atomic spectra, at Shantiniketan, West Bengal. Sommerfeld stated ‘Tagore is to India what Goethe (pronounced as Görta) is to Germany’. Sommerfeld’s student Werner Heisenberg visited India the following year.

Heisenberg was one of the principal architects of quantum mechanics and his ‘uncertainty principle’ is the corner stone of quantum mechanics. During the 1920s he along with Niels Bohr and others produced what is now known as the ‘Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics’, where multiple existence of an atomic particle at different locations with superposition of quantum states was considered to be the reality of nature.

Although quantum mechanics had enormous success and explained various physical phenomena, which classical physics was incapable of explaining, opposition of Einstein to quantum mechanical fundamental assumptions of probabilistic description was deep rooted. Einstein considered quantum mechanics as incomplete description of nature.

In 1929, when Heisenberg undertook a lecture tour around the world, he came to India. On 4 October 1929, he visited the University of Calcutta and in the afternoon he visited Tagore. In fact, he was taken to Tagore’s house at Jorasanko by the scientist Debendra Mohan Bose, a nephew of Jagadish Chandra Bose, and they had a number of conversations over the next few days. Heisenberg was very much impressed by Tagore’s philosophical views. Fritjof Capra in his book ‘Uncommon Wisdom’ wrote, “In 1929 Heisenberg spent some time in India as the guest of the celebrated Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, with whom he had long conversations about science and Indian philosophy. The introduction to Indian thought brought Heisenberg great comfort. He began to see that the recognition of relativity, interconnectedness and impermanence as fundamental aspects of physical reality, which had been so difficult for himself and his fellow physicists, was the very basis of the Indian spiritual traditions”. Heisenberg said, “After these conversations, some of the ideas that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense. That was great help for me.”

Heisenberg’s comfort was to be seen in the context of great intellectual battle that had been raging at that time between Einstein and Bohr/Heisenberg on the reality of nature. Indian mysticism or more accurately, Tagore’s interpretation of Oriental (Brahma) philosophy, giving a support to the modern physics and quantum theory was undoubtedly a great comfort to Heisenberg. No wonder, Heisenberg even said after their conversations that Tagore reminded him of a prophet of the old days!

Tagore’s philosophy of viewing the world with human eyes may seem to conflict with Einstein’s observer independent reality, but these are two perspectives of the reality. But Tagore’s view of reality resonates very well with the quantum philosophy of observer dependent reality.

–  Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.