Hope, Aspiration and Sense of Beauty are symbols of Bangladeshi Folk Art


By Syeda Munawara Qazi

Bangladesh is a young country but Bangladeshi Culture is as old as any other culture of Indus Valley Civilisation.
There is a fallacy that Bangladeshi Culture is based on Indian or Pakistani cultures. There was no India or Pakistan before 1947. There was no Bangladesh before 1971 and this land where all three cultures live was called Subcontinent.
I will take lead from an introduction of Folk Culture and Art from the statement of Farzana Afroz Sharothi who has done a long work on Bangladeshi Art and Culture. She believes that Folk Art is an art of the folk, by the folk and for the folk. Using the phrase of Abraham Lincoln, Farzana says that Folk Culture cannot be represented better than an activity that is done by the Folk (people) and for the Folk (people) because Folk Art is an indigenous art practiced by the people for their own consumption and use. Folk Music reflects traditional art forms of diverse community groups — ethnic, tribal, religious, occupational, geographical.
The ancient art activity of all kinds centered around the social functions of the ancient people and various magical arts were evolved in the belief that these might help increase the fertility of the soil and with that idea, they tried to please the gods and goddesses through songs, music, and dances. Therefore, Folk Music and Folk Dance became core components of any Folk Art.
Bangladeshi Folk Art is filled with symbolic representations of hope, aspiration, and a sense of the beauty of the rural Bangladeshi folk. The environment and the agricultural activities greatly helped to enrich the traditional folk art of Bangladesh. It uses traditional motifs reflecting the land and its people.

Different forms of Folk Art tend to repeat these common motifs. For instance, the lotus, the sun, the tree-of-life, flowery creepers, etc. are seen in paintings, embroidery, weaving, carving, and engraving. Other common motifs are fish, elephant, horse, peacock, circle, swastika, waves, temple, mosque, etc. Many of these motifs have symbolic meanings. For example, the fish represents fertility, the sheaf of paddy represents prosperity, the lotus represents purity and the Swastika represents good fortune.
Generations of rural poets and composers have enriched the tradition of Bangla Folk Music. Folk Music showcases a great variety, with songs being composed on the culture, festivals, view of life, nature, and social issues.
Bangladeshi Music can be categorized into a number of genres. The main genres are:
Classical Music
Rabindra Sangeet
Nazrul Geeti,
Folk songs
Adhunik Gaan
Each of these categories is very broad and integrates a number of different styles and musical movements. The most distinguishable characteristic of classical music is that it is based on Raqas (Dance) modes. Rabindra Sangeet is more often characterized by the words used, which are usually either prayer songs, love songs, seasonal songs or patriotic songs. All Rabindra Sangeet (music) has a theme of philosophy and love and often they incorporate masterful poetry.
Nazrul Geeti is more easily classified because all musical works in this genre incorporate the works of Kazi Nazrul Islam, one of the country’s national poets and a major revolutionist. The style tends to incorporate revolutionary thoughts as well as spiritual and philosophical themes. Most folk songs related to the particular lifestyles of various types of people such as hermits, fishermen, and cart drivers. They have survived from generation to generation and often include words of worship to various Bengali gods.
Adhunik Gaan is basically a genre of more modern music that is often loosely categorized by the area where it originated. The style started to emerge in the early 60s. While these songs are still called “Adhunik Gaan” which means ‘modern songs’ many of them are half a century old.
The musical tradition of Bangladesh is lyrics-based (Baniprodhan), with minimal instrumental accompaniment. The Baul tradition is a distinctive element of Bengali Folk Music. Numerous other musical traditions exist including Gombhira, Bhatiali, and Bhawaiya, varying from one region to the next.
Bangladesh has a good number of indigenous musical instruments include, including Banshi (bamboo flute), Dhole (wooden drums), Ektara (a single-stringed instrument), Dotara (a four-stringed instrument), Mandira (a pair of metal bawls used as rhythm instrument), Khanjani, Sharinda etc.
Classical forms of the sub-continent predominate in Bangladeshi dance. The folk, tribal, and Middle Eastern traits are also common. Among the tribal dances, particularly popular are Monipuri and Santal. Rural girls are in the habit of dancing that does not require any grammar or regulations. Bangla songs like jari and shari are presented accompanied with dance of both male and female performers.
Jatra (Folk Drama) is another vital chapter of Bangali culture. It depicts mythological episodes of love and tragedy. Legendary plays of heroism are also popular, particularly in rural areas. In the near past Jatra was the biggest entertainment means for the rural Bangalis and in that sense for 80% of the population since the same percentage of the population lived in rural Bangladesh. Nowadays Jatra has been placed in the back seat in the entertainment era. Gradually western culture is occupying the place of traditional culture like Jatra.
The Folk Art of Bangladesh has been largely contributed by the rural women because of the aesthetic value as well as the quality of their work. A key reason behind it was that in most cases their art has been non-commercial, whereas the folk art produced by men has a commercial value attached to it. Thus, artists like blacksmiths, potters, cobblers, painters, goldsmiths, brass-smiths, weavers earn their livelihood from what they produce while traditionally, from the past, Alpana artists or Nakshi Kantha needlewomen were working within the home and received no monetary recompense for their labor.
Both Alpana and Nakshi Kantha are some of the most attractive forms of Bangladeshi Folk Art.
Alpana is one of the oldest surviving indigenous practices in folk painting. It means painting floral motifs and intricate designs on a courtyard or on a long stretch of road during weddings and festivals. Wall painting and wood carvings are two other oldest forms. The paint of Alpana is mainly a paste of rice and flour. The word Alpana is derived from the Sanskrit alimpana, which means ‘to plaster’ or ‘to coat with’. Traditionally, it was drawn by the women of the house before sunset.
Nakshi Kantha, a type of embroidered quilt. The art has been practiced in rural Bengal for centuries. The colourful patterns and designs that are embroidered resulted in the name “Nakshi Kantha”, which was derived from the Bengali word “naksha”, which refers to artistic patterns. Traditionally, Kantha was produced for the use of the family. Today, after the revival of the Nakshi Kantha, they are produced commercially.


Note: Syeda Munawara Qazi is a freelance writer from Dhaka and has been writing for DND News Agency since the year 2016.

The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.


Central Desk
Central News Desk.

Must read

Latest article