The Arts and Literature

Bangladesh enjoys a strong intellectual tradition. According to one saying, what Bangladeshis think today the rest of the region thinks tomorrow.

Bangladeshis love poetry and are proud of their best-known poets. Proprietors display poets'photographs in restaurants and shops.

Rabindranath Tagore, a writer, artist and philosopher, won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. Tagore, whose family's roots were in what is now Bangladesh, was the first Asian to attain that honour. A Hindu who advocated harmony with Muslims, Tagore celebrated humble lives and their miseries. One of his poems became the national anthem, Amar Shona Bangla, My Golden Bengal. The fiery works of the rebel poet, Kazi Nasrul Islam, fostered national pride during the colonial period.

Music of all kinds is popular in Bangladesh and each form has its own distinct flavour. Classical music, uchango, is often based on the works of the poets Islam and Tagore. While the lyrics of the rebel poet are often paired with energetic melodies, Tagore inspired softer, more wistful music.

Villagers have developed their own forms of song over the centuries. Laments called lalongiti deal with love and loss, while polligiti tell of work and village life. The bamboo flute gives folk music a haunting tone. Pop music is usually sentimental. There is a strong theatrical tradition in the countryside, where performances during melas, village fairs, help keep village lore alive. These plays once explored mainly religious or historic themes, but today deal with politics and social issues.

Festival crowds love to watch the remarkable spectacle of kabigan. This is a debate in verse, quick, rhythmic, and improvised on the spot. Each team is made up of about four sharp-witted debaters, who call back and forth, line by line, each matching the other side's rhythm and rhyme. Kabigan gives social issues a light-hearted treatment.

Fine weaving and intricate needlework have been points of pride for Bangladeshis down the centuries. Intricate flowers, animals and geometric designs adorn loom embroidered silk called jamdani. These were once woven for the imperial households. They continue to be produced today. Embroidered patchwork quilts that tell village stories are also treasured.

Many different kinds of architecture can be found, including carved Hindu temples, domed mosques and the mansions of long-gone princes. There are colossal state monuments in Dhaka as well as a modern National Assembly building designed by the American architect Louis Kahn.