Bangladesh is a close knit, family oriented culture. Most festivals, including weddings, religious occasions or traditional functions, always involve family get-togethers.
Most of the tribal populations of Bangladesh live along the northern border of Bangladesh and in the hills of Bandarban in the southeast. The tribal people are not as isolated as expected. The tribal population accounts for about 1% of the population of Bangladesh. Due to the uniqueness of each tribe it is fascinating to learn about their different festivals, rituals and lifestyle. There are about 14 tribes in the Major Industries Hill Tracks. They each have their individual customs, rituals, dress and dialect, and some are fully integrated into the rest of society.
Ethnically, the Chakmas are Tibeto-Burman, and are thus closely related to tribes in the foothills of the Himalayas. The existence of the Chakmas has been first recorded in the 1550AD by the Portuguese. After an Aryan king, Meng Rajagri Salim Shah (1593-1612) conquered there land which was then on the Eastern bank of Karnaphuli river, they moved to the Chittagong Hill Tracks. Around the year 1666 the Chakmas disputed with the Mughals and around the 1780’s with the East India Company concerning trading with Chittagong and taxing, both ending after signing treaties. So basically, the Chakmas have lived in the modern state of Bangladesh much before it gained its independence and is still here being the largest tribe in Bangladesh.
The Chakmas, devout followers of Theravada Buddhism, wear an ankle length, colorfully hand weaved cloth around the waist which is also calledPhinon and also a Khadi wrapped above the waist. They speak a language known as Changma Vaj which is influenced by an Eastern-Indo Aryan language partially related to Bengali. Their main cultural festival is three day long, Biju celebrated with singing and dancing.
The Marmas are of Myanmar ancestry and their culture is heavily Myanmarese. Most people in the Marmas tribe are Buddhists. The Marma people live in elevated houses made of bamboo, wild grass and straw. Their main occupation is agriculture, and other important economic activities of Marmas include basketry, weaving, brewing and wage labor. The traditional administration in the community consists of a “karbari” heading village administration, a headman and a Raja, the circle chief.
The Tripuri people are considered part of the Tibeto-Burmese ethnic group. Their history goes back to Western China near the Yangtze and Hwang Ho rivers around 65 AD. The people mostly speak various dialects of Kokborok. They live on the slopes of hills, in houses made of bamboo. These houses are usually raised a few feet above the ground to ensure safety of the inhabitants. According to survey’s about 90% of the Tripuras follow Vaishnav Hinduism. Therefore this tribe makes up most of the Hindu population of the Chittagong hills.
The Mrus can be considered to be among the original people living in the Chittagong hills. Like the other tribes, the Mrus(or the Moorangs) also have their unique dialect, dress and customs. They are less integrated than the others and therefore they are fully self-sufficient. In fact, they can be acclaimed to be the most peaceful and independent tribe in the area. Their choices of occupation include weaving and cultivation. Since music is a part of every Mrus’ life, they sing throughout the day, even when working or cooking and in the evenings some Mrus play bagpipe-like flutes made of bamboo and gourd.
The Garo tribe has its origins in Tibet(around 400 BC), and the Bangladeshi Garo people are mostly based around the north of the country. The Garos were originally part of a religious system that can now only be described as animist. However after the opening of missionaries in the 19th century, most Garos are now Christian. The Garos speak their own language which is not written down, so most formalities are done orally. Surprisingly, the official language for the Garo tribe is now English. Another fact that sets the Garos apart from other tribes is that they are one of the few remaining matrilineal (clan titles are taken from their mothers) societies in the world.
Bangladesh has a plethora of festivals that focus on different aspects of our culture. These festivals illustrate the explosive dynamics of our people.
Click here to learn more about Festivals of Bangladesh
Bangladeshi drawings and paintings are beautifully tragic. A lot of our art is heavily influenced by rural life and by the struggles of individuals and races. There is also a large amount of focus on abstract art. Both folk and international trends exist in our pictures.
Clothing is a major part of our culture and Bangladesh is home to inimitable fabrics – Rajshahi silk and Jamdani are two that have always been prized. These are woven by artisans whose families have been weaving for generations. Another prized fabric is muslin. Ancient Bengal was famous in Asia and all over Europe for its incredibly soft muslins. Now, you can find intricate embroidery and bold block prints on many of the clothes at Bangladeshi markets.
Terracotta art is another unique art form that has been practiced in Bangladesh for more than 2300 years. All over the country you’ll find clay and terracotta workers sitting in the shade working magic with their wheels and their hands. Terracotta items are in daily use in Bangladeshi households. You can buy them at very cheap prices.
Bangladesh’s very first art exhibition took place on 16 January 1951 and was hosted by the Dhaka Art Group. From then on, Bangladesh has come a long way in this sector and day by day artists are getting more oppurtunities to display their work. Not only are there more exhibitions, there is a greater sense of curiousity and fascination towards art in the general people who are going to these exhibitions. Numerous galleries around the city have painting, pottery, handicraft, photography, etc. exhibitions which include both local and international art.
National Art Gallery at Shilpakala Academy
The gallery was established in 1974 and is the largest in Bangladesh. The Asia Art Biennial, the largest art exhibition in Asia, is organized here every two years.
Address: Segun Bagicha, Dhaka
Folk Art Museum
Located in the ancient capital of the Mughals, this museum was established in 1975. It showcases a rich collection of folk objects of Bengal. This museum is a must-see to learn about Bengal culture. It’s about an hour away from Dhaka City.
Address: Sonargaon, Dhaka
Open: 10 am to 5 pm all days of the week, except Wednesdays
Contemporary Arts Ensemble
48/1 Commercial Building
This is a hugely popular gallery for exhibitions of paintings, pottery and handicrafts. A lot of the modern Bangladeshi artists have their exhibitions here. The gallery offers workshops throughout the year, and more information in regard to these events is available from the gallery.
Address: House 58, Road 15A, Dhanmondi
Phone: 02 9120125
26 Mirpur Road
Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts
The Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts was opened in the year 2000, and since then the gallery has hosted exhibitions and showcased the works of more than 250 artists, both local and international.The gallery frequently hosts workshops where local and international artists are given the opportunity to share their enthusiasm for art. The Bengal Gallery has also organized exhibitions by Bangladeshi artists in other parts of the world, including New York in the United States and Brussels in Belgium, and in this way continues to introduce the immense talent of Bangladeshi artists to art-lovers beyond the borders of Bangladesh.
275F, Road 27
Telephone: 880-2-9146111, 9128942, 8123115
Two traditional and very popular forms of music in Bangladesh are Baul music and the Lalon songs. The Bauls are minstrels mostly live in rural areas; some of them are settled while others are gypsies. Baul is a mystic movement that does not believe in any caste or creed and considers God as residing within the human body. Hence, Baul music is very spiritual and philosophical. Lalon songs, on the other hand, refer to the music of Fakir Lalon Shah. His music is very thought provoking and has baul tendencies. A nineteenth century philosopher, Lalon Shah suffered from amnesia after a bout of smallpox and could never tell his adopted family about his childhood. He preferred that his childhood would remain a mystery because he did not believe in the caste and communal identities of that time. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore confessed to having been influenced by him. The Lalon Shrine is at Kushtia in Northwestern Bangladesh. Lalon singers regularly perform there.
The national poet of Bangladesh is Kazi Nazrul Islam. His songs instill high spirits in those who listen to it and almost have a rebellious tone to it. The songs have inspired the freedom fighters during the Liberation War and continue to inspire the Bangladeshi people. Singers like Boshir Ahmed, Topon Chowdhury, Shubir Nondi are also among the popular modern classic artists in the country.
Apart from traditional classical music, there are many popular bands that perform modern music, like L.R.B, Miles, Warfaze, oldest of them being Souls. One of the most influential performers in the history of the country is Azam Khan, who has earned the title of the “king of pop” in Bangladesh with his patriotic lyrics and seemingly endless energy has been able to charge the music industry of the country to life. These bands play at concerts at the various cultural centers including the Shilpakala Academy in Dhaka.
Artists like R.D Burman and his son S.D Burman have originated from Bangladesh, and have been able to prove their talents in West Bengal and far India. Singers like Runa Laila have been able to make the country proud by her fame in the western world. Upcoming musicians like Habib and Arnob, who try to create fusion with classic and modern, have been hugely influential too.
When Bangladeshis think about theater, usually the first thing that comes to mind is the jatra. Jatras, practiced for almost 500 years, encompass a variety of skills such as music, singing and acting. Adding to that are loud thunderous music, dramatic props, bright lighting and a stylized delivery with expressive tones and gestures. All of this is typically set on a simple outdoor stage with the musicians and chorus standing off stage. Spectators attending folk theatre performances in Bangladesh enjoy an up-close-and-personal experience as they surround the stage on all sides.
Bailey Road is a popular place to visit for theater enthusiasts. Now known as Theater Road, this place is the heart of Bangladeshi theater. There are two famous theaters located on this road itself. They regularly stage pieces by both the modern and the classical Bangladeshi playwrights, including celebrated playwrights like Zahir Raihan, Munir Chowdhury, Selim Al Deen and Abdullah Al Mamun.
The academy was established in 1974 in newly formed Bangladesh as the country’s national cultural centre. It regularly organizes drama festivals, among other things, throughout the year.
Address: Segun Bagicha, Dhaka
Guide House Auditorium
Originally built in 1982, this theater was built by the Bangladesh Girls’ Guide Association to raise funds. Performances are held here throughout the year.
Address: Bailey Road, Dhaka
Mahila Samity Auditorium
Since the 1970s, this theater has been hugely popular for its stage plays. It is run by the Bangladesh Women’s Association, from which it gets its name.
Address: Bailey Road, Dhaka