Bangladesh has been aptly described as a new state in an ancient land. Much has been written about the past glory of Bangladesh, notably in old records like the evidence of Pliny and Periplus of the Erythrean Sea (first century AD). It was drawn in Ptolemy’s map. These indicate that from the earliest times Bangladesh was known to the West, particularly for its Muslin, the finest fabric the world has ever produced. Travellers and scholars who were attracted by the charms and fame of Bangladesh since time immemorial had showered effusive epithets on its bounties and wealth, affluence and prosperity, craftsmanship and cultural advancement.
They include the Chinese travellers Fa-hien (fourth century AD), Hue-an-tsung (seventh century), Ma-hoen and Fei-shin (fifteenth century), Ibne Batuta (fourteenth century) from Africa, Nicola Kanti (fifteenth century) and Ceasar the Frederik (sixteenth century) from Venice, Verthema, an Italian in the sixteenth century, Barbosa and Sebastin Manric (sixteenth century) from Portugal, Travernier and Bernier from France (seventeenth century) and Queen Elizabeth-the First’s ambassador Ralf Fish.
To Ibne Batuta, Bangladesh was a ‘hell full of bounties and wealthiest and cheapest land of the world.’ So great were the attractions of Bangladesh that to quote Bernier ‘it has a hundred gates open for entrance but not one for departure.’ Ladies of Imperial Rome were literally crazy for Bangladesh’s Muslin and luxury items, which according to Pliny, resulted in serious drain of gold of the Empire. Because of its location, Bangladesh served as a flourishing entry port and intermediary in trade and commerce between South Asia and the Far East. The region also played a seminal role in disseminating its belief art and architecture in the wider world of Asia. Ancient Bangladesh took great pride as a coveted seat of learning and education and scholars from far away countries regularly flocked to its numerous universities and monasteries.
Etymologically, the word Bangladesh is derived from the cognate Vanga which was first mentioned in Aitarey Aranyaka, a Hindu scripture composed between 500 BC and 500 AD. Literally it means a wetland. Muslim merchants of Arab origin used to refer it as Bangalah from which its present nomenclature is believed to have gradually evolved.
Geological evidence indicates that much of Bangladesh was formed 1 to 6.5 million years ago during the tertiary era. Human habitation in this region, therefore, is likely to be very old with the evidence of Palaeolithic civilization dating back to about 1,00,000 years.
Bangladesh has an area of 148,393 sq km and occupies the apex of the arch formed by the Bay of Bengal into which all the rivers flowing through the country drain. Bangladesh has one of the most complex river systems in the world numbering about 230 with their tributaries having a total length of about 24,140 km. The climate of Bangladesh is characterised by high temperature and high humidity, heavy rainfall and marked seasonal variation. Daily temperature ranges from 10ï¿½ C to 12ï¿½ C in the cool months and in the other months it varies between 28ï¿½ C and 40ï¿½ C. Soil of Bangladesh may be divided into three main categories, namely hill soils (Chittagong and Sylhet regions), terrace soils (Barind and Madhupur tracts) and alluvial and flood plain soils.
Bangladesh contains greater biodiversity than that of many countries taken together. Indeed few countries in the world can match its rich and varied flora and fauna which are not only aunique biological phenomenon but are also a great natural resource of the country.
Bangladeshis are historically descendants of various races and nationalities. An Austro-Asian race first inhabited this region followed by Dravidians and Aryans. There was also an influx of the Mongolians from Tibet and Mayanmar. The Arab Muslims started coming here in the early ninth century AD. Persians, Armenians, Turks, Afghans and lastly the Mughals came in quick succession.
As per the census of 1991 Bangladesh has a population of 111.5 million with an average density of 755 people per sq. km. It is the second largest Muslim country. Traditionally a land of communal harmony, followers of other religions enjoy full freedom of worship. The economy is mainly agrarian. Recently there is a spurt in industrialisation with the utilisation of country’s available natural resources and manpower. Trade and commerce are increasing and widening. Bangladesh is a repository of rich cultural heritage and tradition.
The landscape of Bangladesh, as if, looks like a magical tapestry in green woven intricately by nature. Across the tropic of cancer it lies in the north-eastern part of South Asia between latitudes 20ï¿½ – 34′ and 26ï¿½ 38′ north and longitudes 88ï¿½ 01′ and 92ï¿½ 41′ east. The country is fenced by India on the west, north and the Northeast, Myanmar on the Southeast and the Bay of Bengal on the south. Strategically located Bangladesh is virtually a bridge between south and Southeast Asia. It has a landmass of 1,48,393 sq. km criss-crossed by a network of several major rivers, their numerous tributaries and canals forming a lace of interconnecting channels. In fact, Bangladesh is the largest riverine delta in the world. The extensive river systems are fundamental to the country’s economy and the people’s way of life. Its low flat alluvial deltaic plains present an enchanting vista of vast verdant green fields sweeping the horizon. Bangladesh has some of the world’s most fertile agricultural lands accounting for abundant growth of various crops. The north-eastern and south-eastern parts of the country are dotted with small hills and ridges, their average elevations being 244m and 610m respectively. The highest peak Keokradong in the south-east end of Bandarban district 1230 meters above the sea level. Thus with its variegated topographical features Bangladesh appears like a vibrant motif splashed with enchanting beauty and serenity.
Bangladeshis are essentially simple in nature. Since time immemorial they are noted for their valour and resilience as well as hospitality and friendliness. Bangladeshis are also equally known for their creativity. They have an innate quality of open mindedness. Communal or ethnic feeling is alien to them and despite diverse racial mix from pre-historic days they are, by and large, a homogeneous group. Almost all the people speak and understand Bangla, a language which occupies an exalted position because of the richness of its literature. Generally speaking, fish, rice and lentils constitute the main diet of the masses, the vast majority of whom live in the country’s villages. A cotton lungi and a jersey called kurta are the common attire for men in rural areas. The urban people have, however, largely adapted to western costume. Sari is women’s universal dress, both in the cities and countryside.
Bangladeshi women are traditionally adored for their charm, beauty and elegance. They are now increasingly adapting themselves to changing needs of time; working shoulder to shoulder with the men-folk in fields, factories and offices. In fact, they can be found in all professions and there is no exclusive male domain. Agriculture and its related fields still provide the main livelihood of the people. The expanding industrial and service sectors together with trade and commerce offer increasing alternate occupations for the people.
There are about a million, mostly Mongoloid origin, tribal people, the majority of whom live in Hill Tracts districts. They zealously guard their customs, traditions and cultural heritage which are quite distinct from one another and, till to date, largely remain unspoilt. For their living, they mainly depend on traditional cultivation called jhum and cottage craft in which they greatly excel.