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The Root of Bangladesh

part-3


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The Root of Bangladesh

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Ancient Bangladesh also witnessed the flowering of temple, stupa and monastic architecture as well as Buddhist art and sculpture. There was discernible influence of the Pala art of Bengal on Javanese art. There was a close affinity between the scripts used on certain Javanese sculptures and proto-Bengali alphabet. A group of temples in Burma were built on the model of Bangladeshi temples. The architecture and iconographic ideas of Bengal inspired architects, sculptors and artists in Cambodia and the Indonesian archipelago. The influence of Pala art in Bengal could be easily traced in Nepalese and Tibetan paintings, as well as in Tang Art of China.

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Evolution of Mediaeval Bengal (1204-l757)
The Middle age in Bengal coincided with the Muslim rule. Out of about 550 years of Muslim rule, Bengal was effectively ruled by Delhi-based all India empires for only about two hundred years. For about 350 years Bengal remained virtually independent. The Muslim rule in Bengal is usually divided into three phases. The first phase which lasted from 1204 to 1342 witnessed the consolidation of Muslim rule in Bengal. It was characterized by extreme political instability. The second phase which spanned the period 1342 to 1575 saw the emergence of independent local dynasties such as the Ilyas Shahi dynasty (1342-1414), the dynasty of King Ganesha (1414-1442) and Husain Shahi dynasty (l493-1539). The third phase which lasted from 1575 to 1757 witnessed the emergence of a centralized administration in Bengal within the framework of the Mughal empire. The Mughal viceroys in Bengal curbed the independence of powerful landlords who were known as Bara Bhuiyas and suppressed the Portuguese pirates who frequently interfered with the flow of foreign trade.

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There were two major achievements of Muslim rule in the region. First, prior to Muslim rule in this area, Bengal was an ever-shifting mosaic of principalities. The natural limits of Bengal were not clearly perceived till its political unification by the Ilyas Shahi rulers in the fourteenth century. The political unification of Bengal was thus a gift of the Muslim rulers. Secondly, the political unity fashioned by the Muslim rulers also promoted linguistic homogeneity. Unlike their predecessors, the Muslim rulers were ardent patrons of Bengali language and literature. Prior to Muslim rule, the Bengali vernacular was despised for its impurities and vulgarities by Hindu elites who were the beneficiaries and champions of Sanskrit education. The spread of Islam challenged the spiritual leadership of upper caste Hindus. The intense competition between Islam and resurgent Hinduism in the form of Vaisnavism for capturing the imagination of unlettered masses resulted in an outpouring of their stirring messages in the vernacular.

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The Muslim rule in Bengal also witnessed the gradual expansion of Islam in this region. Contrary to popular beliefs, the Muslim rulers in Bengal were not in the least idealists and proselytizers; they were primarily adventurers whose sole aim was to perpetuate their own rule. The preponderance of the Muslims in Bangladesh region stands out in striking contrast to signal failure of the Muslims in converting local people in other parts of north and south India. The distribution of Muslims in different regions of South Asia clearly contradicts the hypothesis that the patronage of the temporal authority was the most crucial variable in the spread of Islam. If this hypothesis was correct there would have been Muslim preponderance in areas around the seats of Muslim rule in North India. The fact that the Muslims remained an insignificant minority in the Delhi region where they ruled for more than six hundred years clearly suggests that Islam in South Asia was not imposed from above. In Bengal also, the share of Muslims in the total population was higher in areas remote from the seats of Muslim rule.

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Islam was propagated in the Bangladesh region by a large number of Muslim saints who were mostly active from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. Among these missionaries Hazrat Shah Jalal, Rasti Shah, Khan Jahan Ali, Shaikh Sharafuddin Abu Tawamah, Shah Makhdoom Ruposh, Shaikh Baba Adam Shahid, Shah Sultan Mahisawar, Shaikh Alauddin Alaul Huq, Shah Ali Bagdadi, etc. deserve special mention. While similar Muslim missionary activities failed in other regions of South Asia, Islam ultimately succeeded in penetrating deeply into Bengal because the social environment of this region was congenial to the diffusion of a new religion. In much of South Asia, strong village communities were impenetrable barriers to the spread of alien faiths.

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In Bengal, the corporations of village institutions was weak in eastern areas; it gradually increased towards the western areas. The distribution of Muslim population also followed similar spatial pattern in this region. The Muslims in Bengal were concentrated in the eastern areas and the share of Hindu population was much higher in western areas.

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