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Published by monmajhi, 2016-08-02 11:49:01

Art and Crafts of Bangladesh

Arts and Crafts of Bangladesh


more elongated; the jewelry tends to cover the body, the floweret of the armlet,
for instance, grows and at a later stage, in the late 11th & 12th c., loops of pearls
and tiny pendants are attached to it. Similarly, a row of loops and pendants is
attached at the girdle. The head-dress is higher and the nimbus is practically fully
hidden behind the head. The number of attendants increases; they form pairs of
various sizes, which contribute to create a hierarchy among them. In opposition
to the frontal position of the deity, these attending figures show at times strong
bending of their body, or are depicted slightly turned towards the central deity.
Thus the central image and the attending figures form a contrasting and
simultaneously complementary composition.
Similarly, the image of the god constitutes the unmovable axis out of which the
ornamentation carved on the back of the slab emerges. This ornamentation is
highly symbolical of the divine power of creation: animals, real or fantastic, are
distributed on either side (figs. 2.2, 2.5, 2.6, 2.11, 2.16). The elephant, symbol of
the element earth, supports the leogryph, image of fire; above them, the makara,
symbol of water and the hamsa (goose) or the hybrid divine musicians (a human
body is attached to the lower part of a bird) refer to the element air. All are
displayed as if arising out of the divine body, hiding in fact the structure of the
throne. Full of energy and movement, they seem to jump out of the limits of the
back-slab, and refer to the life which finds its source in the central divine image.
fig. 2.4 (top) Surya, The ornamentation of the back-slab has also for function to identify the complete
Mahendra, Kushmandi, sculpture to a sanctuary: this explains the presence of the monstrous face or
West Dinajpur District, kirtimukha, ‘face of glory’, topping the image – as it is found above the lintel of
Varendra Research porticoes in Orissa or Java for instance, or the representation of divine couples flying
above the clouds and offering garlands to the deity – and reminding of those divine
© Joachim K. Bautze anonymous figures who are distributed on the xikhara of temples. Not only the central
deity, but all his/her attendants stand above the corolla of a lotus, all flowers being
fig. 2.5 (left) Buddha, attached to stalks which find their root in one single knot below the central deity. The
Dinajpur District, intense animation of the ornamentation which strikes the eye first, is in fact elaborated
Varendra Research on a well-organized
Museum, Rajshahi framework, and reflects
© Joachim K. Bautze the life gushing out of
the centre.
Late 11th and 12th c.
fig. 2.6 (right) Visnu, sculpture betrays a highly
Paikpara, Vikramapura, crisp treatment of the
National Museum of carving (fig. 2.5). The
Bangladesh, Dhaka, structure introduced at an
dated in the reign of earlier period is preserved
and the choice of motifs
© Joachim K. Bautze remains identical, but the


image reflects an extreme meticulousness in the carving of very tiny details, creating
large zones carved in low relief where the light gets lost. Pleats follow, for instance, a
very nervous movement and end in a frizzy line; small fantastic characters jump out
among the animals of the royal throne; tiny curls free themselves from the neatly tied
up bun; small lotus flowers are inserted among other motifs, whereas the stem of the
lotus on the pedestal spread in large curls and covers the front surface, splitting in a
number of flowers, etc. These zones enhance the plain and shining surface of the divine
bodies, drawn through sinuous, even if at times hard, lines; this is made particularly
visible in images of the Buddha. The image tends to free itself from the dark back-
ground, being even at times partly carved in the round.
The dramaturgy of the sculpture has thus for main function to underline the presence
of the divine nature, which has been achieved since the 8th c., first through the central
image of the deity standing alone and covering practically the complete plain surface
of the back-slab (Paharpur), second through the structuring of the back-slab and the
pedestal, composing three superimposed zones, each bearing very specific motifs and
through the crisp treatment of these motifs and the jewelry and head-dress of the
deities (8th-10th c.), third through the image of the god/goddess freeing him/herself
from the back-ground which reflects, as the jewelry also does, an extreme richness
(11th-12th c.). The various parts of the sculpture interact on each other, enhancing the
all-powerful and creative nature of the divine essence which materializes itself
through the ornamentation. fig. 2.7 (left)
b. Southeast Bengal Mainamati Museum
It is difficult to define with precision the style of stone sculptures prior to 9th c. in © Joachim K. Bautze
Southeast Bengal due to the extreme rarity of the images then carved. Those available fig. 2.8 (right) Buddha,
differ, however, from the early north Bengal school in giving greater importance to the Mainamati Museum
line, and thus to the proximity of the divine nature rather than in underlying its distance © Joachim K. Bautze
from the worshippers through a hieratic
unmoving icon (figs. 2.7, 2.8). The
volumes are softly modeled, the lines
fluid and elegant, and the
ornamentation is practically inexistent:
thus the divine nature shows itself in all
its compassion and generosity, with
smooth smile, slightly closed eyes,
smooth gestures, it is extremely close
to the devotee although it imposes itself
through its dignity. These images were
found on the Lalmai-Mainamati range
which imposes itself to the voyager
coming from the West, i.e. from ancient
Vikramapura, and this explains why the


stylistic development will be henceforth entirely related to the school of sculpture
which develops in the old capital and its surroundings, being located only 70 km far-
off from Lalmai-Mainamati.
Images which can be dated back to the 9th or even 10th c. betray a strong relationship
to Magadha, the stone in which they have been carved as well as their style suggest
that either the material or the finished image might have been imported from the
region, which thus reflects a situation encountered at the same period in North
Bengal (fig. 2.9). 13 The importance of such sculptures is not to be
underestimated for they did not only introduce particular iconographic
types, they also constituted a model allowing us to understand the divine
nature and its relationship to the universe, i.e. our, world emanating out
of it. The deity is depicted in full splendor and expressing his/her power
by hiding the bare back-slab where only the edge is adorned with flames
and a border of pearls, indicating the aureole, sitting or standing above a
pedestal where the devotees, who were also the donors, are pre-
eminently depicted. The jewelry, the dresses, and the head-dresses are
carved with utmost meticulousness. The forms are round, well drawn
through elegant and smooth lines; the faces are slightly fleshy, showing
a subtle smile, the eyes are half-opened.
With the bareness of their back-slab which underlines the presence of the
deity, those images lead to the first of the three stylistic idioms which developed in the
region of Vikramapura in the 11th and 12th c.(fig. 2.10). The body is slender, the head-
dress elongated, the waist and shoulders are narrow. Like in North Bengal, the
ornamentation is over-abundant although some of the jewelry can present a different
form (see for instance the girdle with a double row of loops and pendants). Attending
figures stand on either side of the deity, not in the stiffened attitude of the central
image, but slightly bent. The pedestal is inserted within the composition and becomes
a part of the sculpture which it sustains and does not
constitute an independent unit as seen in other stylistic
idiom. The whole composition is evidently based on
more fluidity between the different parts of the images
fig. 2.9 (top) Marici, (deity, attendants, back-slab, and pedestal) at the same
Bhavanipur, National time that it does not illustrate any separation between
Museum of Bangladesh, the deity and the human world symbolically
represented by the pedestal – where devotees are
© Joachim K. Bautze usually represented (figs. 2.6, 2.11). In a certain way,
this trend rediscovers the possibility of making the
deity present through its sole presence, as observed at
fig. 2.10 (bottom) Surya, Paharpur in the 8th c.
National Museum of Simultaneously and while preserving the slenderness
Bangladesh, Dhaka of the body of the previous group, another stylistic
© Joachim K. Bautze idiom works out the back-slab as observed in the


North (fig. 2.6). Carved in low-relief, the well- fig. 2.11 (top) Visnu,
organized ornamentation harmonizes with the high- Vikramapura, National
relieved images of the deity and attendants; the Museum of Bangladesh,
motifs are well-drawn and delimited from each Dhaka
other. The face shows eyes sloping slightly © Joachim K. Bautze
upwards, the mouth follows the same upwards fig. 2.12 (bottom)
direction, the chin is small; the body is elongated, Buddha, Betagi
undisturbed, clearly shaped on the back-slab which Monastery
can eventually be open. This opening creates a new © Joachim K. Bautze
space, the limits of which remain unknown, and out
of which the deity seems to emerge, as an image of
certitude which expresses its creative potentialities
through the presence of the pyramid of animals seen
on the back-slab, or through the miniaturized
representations of groups of deities related to the
main one (Âditiyas, Avatâras, etc.) – a feature that
appears to be a peculiarity of the South-eastern
ateliers. The sculpture is thus perceived as a
mandala with the central axis being the main image
around which the tiny representations irradiate (fig.
2.11 in particular). Such an understanding of the
deity, as ruling over the universe, contributes to
create a rather abstract image which practically locates the devotees at the outskirt and
depicts the representation of the creation in all its splendor and richness as testified on
11th-12th c. images of North Bengal.
However, this Northern trend found also its way in the region of Vikramapura,
particularly in the 12th c. (fig. 2.6). As a matter of fact, we find images where the
concept of the god positioned at the centre of the universe and surrounded by
tiny representations of other deities or of himself has been preserved and
merged with the idea of the creation born out of the deity. The back-slab
combines both concepts, being, as a result, completely covered by the
ornamentation (fig. 2.11). However, the motifs are clearly separated, the lines
are strongly marked, and the artists introduced different depths in the carving
of the ornamentation, thus accentuating the dramaturgy: the animals of the
royal throne and the avataras are carved on low relief on either side of the
god, the divine garland-bearers and the monstrous face show more depth; the
creation and the universe centered on the deity are clearly displayed in the
back-ground. On the contrary, the attendants and the vehicle are carved in
high-relief, being parts of the divine personality.
Also in the 12th c. (fig. 2.11), the taste for reflecting the gorgeousness of
the creation through an extremely detailed carving and a very nervous line


in the rendering of tiny motifs – a trend essentially developed in North Bengal – is
present; it does, however, blend with the fundamental tendency towards regional
distinctness, preserving bare spaces on the back-slab which enhance the crisp and
intricate ornamentation.
A particular and limited aspect of this stylistic idiom deserves to be noted, which is
exclusive to the 11th and 12th c. images of the Buddha which have been found from
Dhaka to Chittagong, and relate to some of the cast images found at Jhewari (fig.
2.12). It does preserve a clear structure, allowing a perfect reading of a rather
complicated iconography which betrays the existence of contacts with Pagan. Such an
image shares with the Brahmanical images from Vikramapura the introduction on the
back-slab of small divine representations: of the Buddha himself and of the Buddhas
of the past here, of the avataras, the Aditiyas, or the Dikpalas on the Brahmanical
images. The heaviness of the limbs, however, like the facial features of the Buddha
remind us more of his images in Pagan.
Thus the school of Southeast Bengal emerged with its own conception of style where
the clearly drawn composition contributes to emphasize the distance between the deity
and the world on which he/she rules. Although the evolution runs parallel to the way
followed in the North, showing taste for an extremely refined carving, this notion will
remain basic throughout the development.
c. West & South Bengal
West & South Bengal, which covers most of the Indian state of West Bengal, is a wide
region which incorporated the artistic impact of the neighboring regions. Due to this
geographical position, it did not develop a strong stylistic unity such as the one
observed in North and in Southeast Bengal. Images, stone as well as bronzes, collected
in the northern district of Murshidabad, relate thus to the North Bengal stylistic idiom
and their study is included here within this geographical context whereas images from
Purulia, Bankura and Midnapur districts in West Bengal relate to the artistic
production of the bordering regions of Orissa and Bihar (now Jharkhand). 14
Cast images
a. North Bengal
Probably one of the earliest cast images recovered
in North Bengal, the gilded Avalokiteshvara from
Mahasthangarh (pl. 2.2) reflects, like other
images from the 7th c. & 8th c., the impact of the
fig. 2.13 Sarnath atelier in the Delta– as it is also observed
Avalokiteshvara, in Bihar. The elongated body, the fluid lines
Mahasthangarh, Bogra following a restrained movement, the soft smile,
District Varendra
Research Museum, are all features present in contemporary images of
Rajshahi; after Asher the Buddha found at Bhasu Bihar and in North
1980, pl. 229 Bengal. Like on Nalanda bronzes of the 8th c.,


the back-slab is usually carved through: the aureole fig. 2.14 (top) Visnu,
is attached to the back of the central image through Mahasthangarh, Bogra
struts adorned with flowers, whereas flames of District, Victoria &
various sizes run along the edge of the slab. As far Albert Museum,
as one may suggest, it would appear that the stylistic London, after Asher
development of the early phase, from the 7th till the 1980, pl. 230
9th c. runs parallel to the evolution observed at
Nalanda, an observation which can be corroborated fig. 2.15 (bottom)
by the fact that the material has been basically Visnu, Los Angeles
collected in the area of Mahasthangarh and is chiefly County Museum of Art,
Buddhist. previously: Varendra
Apart from the influence originating at Sarnath in the Research Museum,
7th-8th c. and the existence of relationship to the Rajshahi (see Ray et al
1986, fig. 269)
monastery of Nalanda in the 8th-9th c., the art of the
region also assimilated features noticed at Mathura.
Some isolated testimonies which prove the existence
of contacts between the regions of Mahasthangarh
and Mathura at an earlier period; 17 a 9th c.
representation of a seated four-armed Bodhisattva
(fig. 2.13) includes a nimbus, the structure of which is based on the much earlier 5th
c. nimbus of Mathura where a lotus spread in the central part, partly hidden by the
head of the Buddha. The flower presents elongated petals and covers most of the
perfectly circular nimbus, introducing a motif which becomes a common feature in
the ornamentation of the back-slab in the 10th to 12th c. images of North Bengal. This
bronze introduces also a clear structure of the back-slab, with the nimbus standing
above the architectural structure of the throne (lintel lying above the two
vertical posts); although the back is open, the fear of emptiness imposed the
introduction of the two geese on either side of the nimbus, thus integrating the
two main parts, i.e. the nimbus and the throne, within a single composition
united by the continuous outer line.
This structure is encountered in Brahmanical images of the 9th c. (fig. 2.14).
The outer line is continuous and helps to unify the composition: the god and
his attendants stand all separately in front of the widely open lower part of the
back-slab which is only constituted by the lintel lying above the posts; struts
reminiscent of those encountered at an earlier period but now deprived of the
flowers help to consolidate the image; the upper part is constituted by the
large circular nimbus flanked by the scrolls of the birds’ tails. All elements
of the image are independently represented, separated by space. As such, this
perception of the deity, emerging out of the emptiness, differentiates itself
from the vision of fullness emerging in the contemporary cast images from
Southeast Bengal. The pedestal is here fully compact whereas in the


fig. 2.16 (top) Visnu, Southeast, it preserves empty space within which
North Bengal, The iconographic motifs are included.
Cleveland Museum of This tendency will remain permanent in the
Art subsequent centuries (from the 10th to 11th c.), 20
© Joachim K. Bautze
when the deities are cast in the round and the
fig. 2.17 (bottom) back-slab constitutes a separate unit (pl. 2.1),
Mandala, private which explains why it may have been eventually
collection lost in some cases. The result is that artists could
fig. 2.17a (left) produce extremely intricate compositions where
fig. 2.17b (right) all figures stand on their own, for instance, in the
© Joachim K. Bautze marriage scene from Mandoil. Elements are
drawn from previous centuries, such as the large
flower acting as nimbus which is pre-eminently
displayed on this bronze, not being hidden by the
head of one of the deities. The full pedestal stands
now above feet: in course of time, its height will
increase through the multiplication of levels, thus
elevating the deity from above the earthly level.
Although the back-slab can still be hollowed out,
the slanting struts have disappeared and a broad
plain band fringed with flames and supporting the
umbrella unifies the composition.
A strong tendency to raise the deity is noticed: the pedestal is constituted of
superimposed layers of moldings resting above feet; the back-plate has more presence
than in earlier time, giving prominence to the image of the deity who stands above a
high double lotus (fig. 2.15). The preference for wide open space behind the deity
which was so much evident in the early period, can still be noticed here since large
rectangular spaces are hollowed out behind the lower part of the deities. But on the
whole, the image breathes peace and calm; the body of the deities is elongated and
movements are still restrained; through loosing their nimbus, the attendants grow
since the space allotted to them remains proportionally the same.
Images of the late 11th c. and 12th c. depart from the earlier ones in including a back-
slab with motifs otherwise noticed in stone images, such as the kirtimukha topping the
image or the animals symbolizing the four elements (fig. 2.16). The overall
composition is comparatively less clear than in
the earlier images with the plain band. The high
pedestal can be partly hollowed out. The
movements of the attendants can be exaggerated
with a strong bending of the body; the images of
the deities are loaded with overwhelming
jewelry. Whereas the identification of the earlier


images was easy, whereas the eye of the viewer could apprehend them totally and
directly, the intricate iconographic and ornamental composition imposes now a longer
time of reading; the eye gets lost in tiny details all illustrated with attention. Some of
the 12th c. bronzes simultaneously reflect the divine nature as the ultimate source of
life and its presence within any sign of life.
This presence is particularly felt in Buddhist three-dimensional compositions
illustrating a mandala (fig. 2.17): the lotus within which all figures are included is the
symbol par excellence of the eternal life, it opens itself and discloses the Buddhist
cosmos which it contains in its heart (fig. 2.17a) and it closes itself, with its secret life
hidden from the outer world (fig. 2.17b). As such, these lotus-mandalas are highly
symbolical of the Buddhist thought and of the situation of the Buddhist community
within the society at that late period. The deities integrated within these compositions
are shown as individual images, breathing energy, the forms are round and smooth, the
movement is dynamic.

b. Southeast Bengal
The earliest cast images discovered on the Lalmai-Mainamati ridge and in the region
date back to the 7th and 8th c. Moreover, images from this part of the country were
also recovered at Nalanda and Kurkihar, in Bihar, as well as in the island of Java,
attesting thus of a very flourishing influence in the 8th & 9th c. Other isolated images
were found in regions located eastward, in the Sylhet and the Indian Tripura districts,
attesting thus that the Lalmai-Mainamati hills held a major position as cultural, i.e.
political, religious and art-historical, centre. Beside Mainamati, another large group of
cast images was recovered at Jhewari. fig. 2.18 Sitatapatra,
These images betray a smooth rendering of the surface (fig. 2.18): the body reflects a Comilla district,
soft modeling, the movements are delicate and fluid; the face, unfortunately very often National Museum of
rubbed out, presents a tender, if not compassionate, smile and shows half-open eyes; Bangladesh, Dhaka
without any fold being indicated, the dress clings to the body, underlining the shapes © Joachim K. Bautze
of the limbs. Locks of hair fall on the shoulders and the head-dress often presents a
round shape. The divine image is elegantly outlined in front of a plain back-slab
adorned with rows of pearls and flames running along its edge and bearing an
umbrella, unfortunately often broken away, to which wide loops are attached. The
pedestal can be highly elaborated with lions prowling above elephants on either side
of the drapery; in contrast to the back-slab, it is widely open. Variations can be, of
course, noticed: images of the Buddha can sit in front of a back-slab which is open
through with struts bearing open flowers – thus reminiscent of images encountered
at Nalanda and in North Bengal; another variation shows that the lower part of the
back-plate is open through, supporting a plain nimbus. On the whole, variations
in the composition are numerous and testify to a rich creativity. 25
This tradition apparently culminated in the 9th or early 10th c. with the
production of life-size cast images such as those recovered in the last fifteen


fig. 2.19 (top) years on the ridge (fig. 2.19). Through its evanescent
Avalokiteshvara, smile, the face simultaneously displays the feeling of
Mainamati Museum; compassion and manifests the experience of
after Harunur Rashid meditation in which the Bodhisattva is sunken. If the
1997, p. 191
features are clearly drawn – incised lines follow the
eye-brows or underline the thick lips, the eyes show
fig. 2.20 (bottom)
Buddha, Jhewari, Indian the classical form of the lotus petal, the line of the
Museum, Kolkata; after forehead is horizontal –, the lines are never hard but
Bhattacharya 1989, always smoothly and elegantly delineated. The face
fig. 24 preserves the roundness noticed in the smaller images,
which evidently contributes to the impression of
imminent presence of the Bodhisattva, making him
accessible. Similarly, the perfect distribution of the
volumes in the representation of Vajrasattva is
intermingled with the slenderness of the limbs and the
strength of the chest.
Whereas some of the bronzes found at Jhewari, near
Chittagong, clearly relate to the first group of images
mentioned above, a number of images of the Buddha were most probably produced
locally (fig. 2.20). They present a very large head covered by a cap of extremely tiny
curls and the cranial protuberance tends to loose its particular shape. The heaviness of
the limbs, the eyes – eventually widely open –, or the treatment of specific motifs,
such as the lap of the dress on the left shoulder ending in a straight horizontal line, are
features reminiscent of stone images like the one seen at Betagi. These features make
the presence of the Buddha accessible, which is also evidenced in the stone
images through other means: the central depiction arises out of the shrine; the
plainness of the depiction is clearly in contrast with the extremely
complicated, if not confused, iconographical and ornamental carving around
it. This presence of the Buddha to the world differentiates itself from the
meditative mood and expression of compassion betrayed by the images from
the Lalmai-Mainamati ridge.
Twelfth c. images cast in Southeast Bengal show a shift in the stylistic idiom
and reflect similarities with images produced in North Bengal at the same
period. It shifts away from the earlier structure showing the lower part of
the image supporting the deity cast in the round whereas the back-slab
constituted a fully closed space behind the icon. Icons are cast in the
round above a compact pedestal and stand in front of a back-slab which
is open and constituted by a broad plain band fringed with flames, each
of them individually attached to the band; a lotus flower can eventually
be open behind the head of the deity. The rich ornamentation which
adorns the deities is balanced by the plain band of the back-slab;


details are shown with utmost delicacy. This refined art reflects the divine power as an
image of richness; the abundant jewelry practically acts as a dress.
Terracotta images
Whereas stone and bronze were both used for representing icons, thus cult images,
terracotta has been a medium with a wider range of uses. The production of stone and
bronze images required importing the material from neighboring countries, but the
land of Bengal has always been an inexhaustible source of clay used for the
construction and ornamentation of monuments till the most recent period, and for the
representation of deities, as it is still the case today in the Brahmanical society.
Burnt terracotta has been used in the earlier period, from the late 2nd century BC till
the 5th-6th c., for depicting deities in a compositional structure foreshadowing the one
of the later stone and cast images. It has also been retained as main medium for
quadrangular plaques illustrating narratives in the 5th to 7th c., or representing deities
and fantastic scenes till a later period, the 9th c. The easiness with which the material
can be manipulated explains the high degree of stylishness reflected in the
ornamentation of monuments; all through the centuries, monuments were built in
bricks and adorned with exquisite stuccoed ornamentation.
This highly refined work had already reached its peak in the very first school of
Bengal sculpture known to us; numerous terracottas dating back from the late 2nd c.
BC till 2nd c. AD have been recovered at Chandraketugarh, a site, or area, located
Northeast of Kolkata, illustrating iconographic and stylistic models which have been
also discovered in other Gangetic sites, such as Kausambi (fig. 2.21). However, the fig. 2.21 Female deity,
production at Chandraketugarh was by far one of the most important to have ever been Chandraketugarh,
achieved while the aesthetics reached a high-level quality which remained unrivalled. private collection
In the iconic plaques, the deity stands facing the viewer; her large round face, open © Joachim K. Bautze
eyes, broad hips, generous breast, her restrained movements, the richness
of her jewelry, all elements meet more evident “iconographic” elements
such as the gesture of generosity (varadamudra), the coins, the ears of
corn, the lotuses, in order to illustrate the concept of the goddess
identifiable with the nature; she distributes her unlimited richness; she is
of unbounded fertility. Artists excelled in minutely presenting heavy
ornaments which cover the body of the goddess and her attendants; the
composition is very clearly drawn with the goddess facing us whereas her
attendants are smaller and distributed in various positions around her: as
such, these features will remain permanent in the aesthetics of the Delta.
Being malleable, terracotta allows the artist to infuse a dynamics in the
movement which will remain unknown in stone carving but be extolled in
the depiction of narratives, of real or fantastic motifs drawn from the
nature, and of various characters.
Terracotta remained used in the following centuries for representing
deities, as seen with the image of the Sun-god that was discovered at


Mahasthangarh, dating probably from the 6th c., or with a perhaps slightly later
head (figs. 2.22, 2.23). The smooth dress outlines the elegant lines of the body and
the softness of the volume; its plainness, moreover, is balanced by the detailed
carving of details, such as the typically Gupta row of large beads around the neck,
the curls of the hair falling on both shoulders, the beaded belt to which the sheath of
the sword is hanging, the folds of the shawl which fall on either side in vertical and
slightly undulating lines. It is likely that at Mahasthangarh, like at Mainamati, the
production of terracotta must have extended for a long period; some of the images
found at Mangalkot, in the vicinity of Mahasthan, reflect the facial features of the
Gupta style with thick sensual lips, the large eyes with heavy lids sloping towards
the temples, the round face surmounted by curly hair whereas other ones reflect a
much more simplified version with wide open and bulging eyes, flat lips, hard lines.
At the moment, it is rather difficult to decide whether this rendering reflects a
contemporary but poorer tendency, perhaps produced by less qualified artists, or a
later (or earlier?) development.
The Ramayana reliefs collected at Palashbari, also in the vicinity of Mahasthan,
constitute an example of the unsurpassed achievement reached by Bengali artists in
the course of the 6th & 7th c. (pl. 2.5). Those panels form a sequence of independent
scenes, all characterized by a harmonious composition where the characters are
depicted in high relief if not practically freed from the back, and arising out of the
inner space to hide partly the frame surrounding the panel. They show a large variety
of movements and convey with strength their feelings through numerous facial
expressions and their wide open eyes.
The Ramayana panels were certainly distributed in rows on the outer walls of a brick
temple, a tradition which was going to be preserved in the following centuries. Major
fig. 2.22 (top) Surya, Buddhist sites have indeed yielded such series of square panels, at times still found in
Mahasthangarh Museum situ. Be it at Mainamati in the 7th c., Paharpur in the 8th c., or Jagjivanpur in the 9th
c. All panels show a broad frame around the central recess out of which the images
© Joachim K. Bautze
emerge, partly covering the frame. Most plaques from Mainamati & Mahasthangarh
(pl. 2.6) retain the vivacity, the energy and the elegance of the Gupta period, which
fig. 2.23 (bottom) Male elegantly merge into the iconographic topics to be depicted: semi-divine beings are
head, Mahasthangarh seen flying, warriors are depicted rushing, animals, real or fantastic are shown in
Museum various activities. The images are carved in very deep relief, which introduces an
© Joachim K. Bautze organic interaction of dark zones framing the main character whose presence is even
more stressed through the fact that he completely covers the space of the panel. The
volumes are full, the lines nervous but elegant. It is precisely this rendering
of the movement which ties all the panels together: the warriors form an
army, all rushing and in a threatening mood, the animals reflect the world of
the nature within which semi-divine characters emerge.
On the contrary, later plaques, such as those at Paharpur, show more flatness;
the characters or animals usually remain within the limits of the frame; the


lines are harder, the facial features simplified. What comes through at
Paharpur, is the tendency to present the characters as individual icons and
no more as part of a large iconographic program; and true, beside the
topics already noticed at Mainamati and which are here repeated
(warriors, animals, semi-divine beings), images of deities and of human
characters are observed. These are shown in a frontal view, or slightly
profiled, leading the way to the panels of Jagjivanpur (fig. 2.24). Beside
the fact that the iconographic program is practically identical to the ones
encountered in earlier sites, the terracottas of this 9th c. site breathe an
extraordinary presence; the figures are tall, covering – like at Mainamati
– the frame of the panels; the warriors and the musicians are profiled and
are usually seen running, full of energy whereas those seen in frontal view
and seated peacefully depict Bodhisattvas. Although the images do not
betray any more the plasticity of the surface noticed at Mainamati, the
relative flatness of the carving is balanced by the fluid movement of the outlines. fig. 2.24 Drummer,
Jagjivanpur. After
Wood Carving Sengupta 1407 BS, p. 59.
The climate is not very congenial to the preservation of images carved in wood, and
only some utmost rare architectural elements or cult images have reached us. Dating
back to the 11th and 12th c., they were recovered from Southeast Bengal and relate
directly to the contemporary stone sculpture of the region. The material allows an
extremely smooth and detailed rendering of the surface, which is more difficult to
achieve in stone carving. The movements of the body and limbs are extremely
measured, restrained but imbued with energy and life. Carved eventually in the round,
those images express perhaps at the best the high level of achievement reached by the
artists of the Delta. 32

This short survey of the stylistic development of the sculpture from Bengal does not
fully make justice to the richness in the carving which can be observed in each of the
region, trying to focus on the main stylistic trends which shaped the development.
Although they all made use of one single model from the 8th to the 12th c. all through
Bengal, the inspiration of the artists was extremely rich and the quality of their work
could reach a very high level. They succeeded in infusing the forms with a subtle
elegance, and the carving often reveals itself to be the most elaborate among the
schools of North India at the period. Moreover, this is only but a modest attempt at
showing how the study of forms can as well as iconography if not more in specific
situations enlighten the religious dimension of art in defining the qualities of the
divine and its relationship to the universe and the human beings. It also reveals the
position of the art object as a micro-cosmos, reflection of the society and its different
components, i.e. the religious institution and the lay society, which interact.


b. Mediaeval Period
Zulekha Haque

Artwork carved on clay bricks or plaques, then dried and burnt, is an art tradition
found in the early stages of almost all civilizations. This terracotta art form is a proud
tradition of the deltaic eastern region of the Indian sub-continent. The humid and wet
atmosphere of Bengal, criss-crossed with innumerable rivers, led automatically to its
inhabitants to depend heavily on the soft clay around them to satisfy their artistic
instincts from very early times. It has been very adequately expressed by Professor
S.K. Saraswati, when he wrote, ‘Earth or clay has been regarded as the primeval
plastic material not only because of its ready availability, but also on account of its
easy tractability. It satisfies the creative impulse of the ordinary man as much for
aesthetic expression as for domestic ritualistic needs.’ 33
fig. 2.26 Terracotta Like other ancient sites all over the world, the ruins of ancient civilizations of the
figure Chandraketugarh, Indian sub-continent are rich with clay toys, animals and human figurines in the round
West Bengal, India, (1st as well as terracotta plaques and figurines, some of which may have been votive
century AD)
Courtesy Enamul Haque objects or objects of worship. In Bengal such pieces can be found from the 3rd-2nd
century BC which displays the wonderful ability and artistic expression of the people
of the period (fig. 2.26). But the Mediaeval period shows at the same time, profuse use
of terracotta plaques or bricks with carved designs, as part of architectural decoration
as is evidenced from the innumerable examples found at different ancient sites of
Bangladesh and the Indian province of West Bengal. This tradition must have
continued in the following centuries of the early mediaeval period as well. But due to
the damp and humid atmosphere of the area most of these have perished. Of the extant
monuments of Bangladesh, the Buddhist viharas or monasteries of Mainamati in
Comilla (7th-8th centuries), and Paharpur (9th century) in Jaipurhat dist., have the
unique examples of terracotta art of this mediaeval period. The plaques large in size,
almost 2 ft square, and arranged in two rows, along the circumambulatory path of the
central temple, present unique example of visual art through which the people and
society of the period can be studied in detail (fig.2.27).
In the succeeding periods, i.e. mediaeval and late mediaeval periods, people of
different races and faiths started to arrive in Bengal. The development of this art form
under their influence is going to be discussed here. The extant examples of this period
starting from the 14th century are mainly present in the form of ornamentation of walls
on monuments of both Muslim and Hindu communities. Muslims arriving in this
region from the 13th century were mostly of Turko-Afgan origin who came as
conquerors and settled down in the region as rulers. The native people of Bengal
gradually had to get acclimatised to the totally alien faith, culture, habits etc.
introduced by them. In all forms of artistic expressions, ornamentation etc. changes
started to appear, which reflected the ideas brought in by the newcomers.


The Muslim rulers and their courtiers introduced new designs, methods and materials.
For the first time, tombs and mosques started to be built, mainly with brick,
occasionally encased with stone slabs. Due to the non-availability of hard building
material like stones and rocks, the Muslim rulers of Bengal heavily relied on bricks
for their building activities. In this, they adapted the indigenous methods of the people
of this area. To relieve the plain façade of the brick walls, the Muslim builders used
ornamental bricks with designs and carvings set on various parts of the buildings,
chiefly to break-up large flat surfaces and demarcate the variations in the
constructional designs. In this task the traditional use of terracotta ornamentation
which was Bengal’s age-old tradition was adopted by the new-comers as a
compromise with local traditions, but they remodeled its style and execution to suit
their own purposes. The terracotta ornamentation of this period mainly were used
around the Mimbar and arches on the western walls which were encased in broad
borders, filled not with the vegetal designs of the later times, but mostly with
interlocking abstract themes somewhat similar to the Central Asian monuments, from
where they originated. These included hanging chain and pendant, tassel and net
design within rectangular frame, multi-foiled arches, etc. 34 But gradually use of
terracotta gained popularity with the Muslim builders and under their guidance, the
later terracotta artists of Bengal developed the art to amazing perfection and used them
on various parts of the architectural scheme.
The Ilyas Shahi rule from the middle of the 14th century which caused cessation of
relationship from Delhi, brought self reliance and stability in the region and as such fig. 2.27 Plaques along
building activity grew. Of the surviving monuments of the period, Adina mosque at the circumambulatory
Hazrat Pandua (1375 AD) in W.Bengal, India, second largest of the open courtyard path of Paharpur Vihara
mosques of India, built by Sikander Shah, still contain evidence of the use of fine
terracotta ornamentation together with stone carvings, on
various parts of the monument. These include beaded
necklace with four petalled flowers and vegetal elements,
interspersed with tassels, interlocking creepers with rosettes,
knotty abstract patterns, stepped designs etc., all in terracotta
relief and separated from the other by narrow horizontal
moldings, decorate the inner walls, the tympanum and some
of the arches of the main cloister (fig. 2.29). On the Muslim
monuments of the period, local motifs like merlons or
kirtimukha somewhat stylized, kalpataru (wish full-filling
tree), baskets with fruits hung from branches, even animal
figures, point to the congenial atmosphere where local
craftsmen were allowed to use somewhat stylized version of
their traditional art forms and local elements. 36
This acceptance of local tradition and forces, to evolve a
common cultural heritage became more pronounced in the


later periods in the appearance of buildings entirely made of bricks with stumpy
octagonal towers at the corner and curved cornices. The roofs of these buildings
somewhat imitated the curved bamboo huts of Bengal, except putting hemispherical
domes on top. The walls were not plastered, rather kept bare to display brick designs
and terracotta decorations. Eklakhi mausoleum of Pandua, in the state of W.Bengal,
India, built at the beginning of 15th century over the remains of Jalaluddin
Muhammad, the converted son of Raja Ganesh, is an epoch making monument of
Bengal, where the curved cornice of the roof, the profuse use of terracotta decoration,
began a new style for later architectural edifices. Terracotta decorates the outer surface
of the walls on all sides, lintels of doorways, spandrel above the multi-foiled arches,
pillars and corner towers with moldings and friezes etc. The motifs represent an
amalgamation of local and Muslim elements, such as chain and pendant, lotus – a
Hindu motif, local plants, shrubs etc. as well as arabesque, jali work and geometric
pattern identified with the Muslims. This monument achieved for the first time a
synthesis between the decorative technique and structural masonry. Also the principle
of surface decoration that was established here, were subsequently followed in almost
all the buildings of Bengal during this Sultani period.
fig. 2.28 This style of architecture went on throughout the Ilyas Shahi period, not only in Pandua
Chhota Sona Masjid: A and Gaur, but in the newly conquered far away regions as well. The Khalitafad area of
dilapitated side mihrab Bagerhat dist. in Khulna, has a number of monuments of this period built in the time
of Khan Jahan Ali, a general of the Ilyas Shahi rulers around 1459 AD the most famous
of which is the Shat-Gumbad masjid (sixty-domed mosque). Similar to the Gaur
buildings all these have brick fabric, thick walls, curved cornices, massive structures
and terracotta ornamentation. The Husain Shahi period,
stretching from 1493 to 1538 AD ushered in a period of
peace, prosperity and cultural activities, when together with
the extension of Muslim dominated region up to
Chittagong in the east to Kamrup (Assam) in the north,
trade and commerce, religion, literature and building
activities spread throughout Bengal. Though some of the
monuments of this period used stone, brick buildings were
much more numerous, which were coated with terracotta
ornamentation, more flamboyant than ever before. The
Tantipara mosque in Gaur, dated 1480 AD is considered the
best example of this period by scholars like Cunningham
who wrote that it ‘is the finest of the buildings at Gaur’. 37
The work of the terracotta artists, clearly indicate that they
had mastered the technique of low-relief decoration and the
finesse of execution on the Muslim monuments, compared
to those high relief large plaques of the earlier Hindu-
Buddhist period of 8th-9th centuries is truly amazing. Here


no space inside the composition is left vacant, yet the total effect is soothing and
pleasant. The rich red color of the bricks and the survival of the ornamentation for so
long, speak of the high technique used in this monument and represent the apogee of
the Muslim terracotta art in Bengal (fig.2.28).
In the following Mughal period gradual change started to set in the architectural style
and its ornamentation. The traditional building art, evolved in the soil of this region,
creating forms and decoration that suited the local climate and environment was
gradually abandoned as the new conquerors were more prone to follow the building
methods as well as materials of northern India. Though due to the non-availability of
hard materials like sandstone or marble in Bengal, they had to fall back on bricks for
their architectural edifices, yet they brought fundamental change in design and
ornamentation styles. The old terracotta decorations were replaced by plastering of the
walls, with decorative, panels, rectangular and arched frames with foliage and net
patterns etc. all in plaster. Though this developed method of terracotta art gradually
started to be used less and less due to the lack of royal patronage, yet in the far flung
areas this decorative method continued sporadically, the example of which may be
seen on the Atiya mosque of Tangail (1609 A.D). But this lack of patronage after the
Mughal conquest, could not kill the art form altogether, rather it shifted its focus,
found new patrons and started to be used on the Hindu temples that started to appear
all over Bengal from the 16th century onwards. In fact, temples with terracotta
ornamentations in late mediaeval period, retaining the developments of the Muslim
period, constitutes Bengal’s individual specialty, which is not to be found in any other
part of the sub-continent.
Hindu Monuments
The architectural revival of the Hindu community roughly coincided with the
establishment of Mughal rule in Bengal. By the third quarter of the 16th century
Mughals managed to bring the Afghan vassals and rulers of semi independent regions
in Bengal and Assam, under control and gradually a period of peace and security was
established due to the progressive administration of the Mughals. The zamindars or
landlords, be they Hindu or Muslim, became the vassals of Delhi, yet they were left
without interference within their estate as long as they paid their dues regularly and
looked after the welfare of the people. No cases of interference in the internal
administration of the estates during Mughal rule have been recorded. As such
zamindars shared the prosperity of the suba-e-bangala region. Moreover the
opportunity of obtaining high offices in the Govt. particularly in the revenue
department, under the policy of Bengal Governors of the Mughals like Murshid Quli
Khan and the succeeding Nawabs, enabled the Hindus, particularly Brahmins and
Kayasthas to acquire power and wealth which they utilised to create landed property
and indulge in increased building activity. The powerful and semi-independent Malla
kings of Bishnupur of W.Bengal in India, were mainly responsible for building a great
number of terracotta temples in this region and their achievement helped to spread the
tradition of using decorated bricks on temple walls, throughout the whole of Bengal. 39


It must be mentioned here of one new factor which appears to contribute a lot to the
unprecedented increase in temple building in this period. That was the rise of Sri
Chaitanya as propagator of the liberal Bhakti cult, preaching love and devotion to God
and equality of men in the eyes of the creator irrespective of cast and creed. The
oppressive and stringent rules of the shastras enforced by the Brahmins, was
disowned by Sri Chaitanya, who preached the love of God incarnated in Krisna or
Vishnu. This socio-religious revolution seemed to rock the age-old social order of the
Hindus and a new life dawned in Bengal. This wave of Vaishnavism and the cult of
love of Radha and Krishna preached by Sri Chaitanya, set ablaze the devotional spirit
manifested by the Bhakti movement which swept over Bengal touching people of all
classes. Especially the landed gentry of Kayastha or other lower caste, who had
acquired power and wealth during this period, became converts of the Bhakti cult and
their devotional urge was expressed through temple building and decorating these with
narrations of Radha-Krisna stories in terracotta portrayals. Thus it is said that the
Bhakti cult of Radha-Krisna preached by Sri Chaitanya provided the main inspiration
for the revival of Hindu art and architecture in late mediaeval Bengal, the decorations
of which utilized the traditional terracotta art with the refinements brought in by the
Muslims (fig. 2.29). But it must be mentioned here that though at the beginning, most
numbers of temples were dedicated to Krishna-Radha and Vishnu, yet the number of
temples dedicated to Siva or Kali of the Shakta cult were also not negligible. These
terracotta monuments adorned with scenes of various epics and myths, as well as of
secular life, are found from early 16th century until as late as the later part of the 19th
century, scattered in most districts of Bengal. The maturity and developed state of
these terracotta decorated temples of 16th century onwards have led the renowned
scholar David McCutchion to suggest that perhaps a considerable number of such
decorated temples were built even earlier. But as yet no extant proof has been found.
fig. 2.29 Creepers in The new architectural style based on the village huts of Bengal, with curved or
alpana design humped roofs, introduced in brick structures in the Sultanate period and later adopted
by the Mughal master-builders was employed in this temple architecture as well. Thus
we find terracotta decorated temples of Bangla types both in
single and twin forms (ek-bangla and jod-bangla), chala with 4
or 8 sloped roofs (chau-chala /charchala and aat- chala) type.
Of these the jod-bangla and char-chala are more common,
while the ratna or towered style of temples have enjoyed
similar popularity. Of the extant examples, the Char-chala
Simhabahini temple of Ghatal in Midnapore dist. of W.Bengal
in India, built on 1490 AD, seems to be the earliest terracotta
decorated temple. The ratna temples vary in the number of
their towers from one to nine or more, such as, ek-ratna,
pancha-ratna, nava-ratna etc. Beside these the traditional
rekha style of temples continued to be built, but not many of
these had terracotta ornamentation on their walls.


As mentioned before, the zamindars or landlords under the Mughal governors were
left with almost autonomous power within their territory as long as they were loyal to
the throne and paid their dues regularly. These zamindars were the chief patron of
temple building of this period. Moreover, the long period of internal peace and
consequent improvement of trade, industry and commerce which started from the
period of Shahjahan, together with the import of hard cash in the form of silver by the
European traders arriving during this period, resulted in creating favorable conditions
which encouraged the work of temple building as a meritorious activity. On a few
monuments of 16th century the figured subjects are relatively few in number and the
floral designs resemble those of the Muslim monuments. But on the temples of
Rainagar in Jessore (1588) and Gokarna in Murshidabad (1590), the terracotta
carvings include larger numbers of deities, which set the pattern for later temples). 41
As already mentioned, from the first quarter of the 17th century, in different areas of
Bengal, including Bankura and Birbhum in India, temples are found to be profusely
decorated with terracotta figures which were created by the powerful and semi-
independent Malla rulers of Bishnupur in the District of Bankura in West Bengal.
Their success in this field soon helped to spread the tradition of decorating temple
walls with terracotta ornamentation during the last quarter of the 17th century and the
first quarter of the 18th century.
It is curious to note that in the 18th century, when the country was undergoing a
decided and far reaching change due to the arrival of European traders of various
nationalities and the political set up was changing fast with significant importance,
temple building activity went on with greater vigor, indicating that these changes did
not affect the rural society as a whole. But it is interesting to note that, in the period
after 1770, the temple building activity was more participated in by the newly
emerging business class and the professionals or the neo-rich men in the services of
the expanding English East India Company coming often from the lower casts, rather
than the zamindars and the landed gentry. Moreover the experiment with the revenue
system lasting up to 1793 created many new zamindars not always possessing social
respectability. Their newly acquired wealth was not always sufficient to elevate their
social prestige and by commissioning the building of these temples many of them
‘could considerably neutralize their social disabilities’, and rise in the sphere of social
influence. This is possibly why the largest number of the extant temples was built in
the last quarter of the 18th and the 1st half of the 19th century.
In spite of the humid and damp atmosphere of Bengal most of these terracotta plaques
retain their original color and texture even after two / three hundred years, which is
really amazing. It is regrettable that though many of the temples contain inscriptions
which bear the name of the donor, hardly any of these mentions the name of the
architect, the artist or the modeler. Only in the inscriptions of some temples of late
18th century, the name of the chief architect and his village is mentioned, who may
have been very famous. They seem to have worked not only in their own area but also
were commissioned to build and decorate temples in far away places as well. The
craftsmanship, skill and power of observation reflected on these monuments have


extracted the sincere admiration of posterity. It is generally believed by the scholars
that these architects not only worked with clay but wood as well and were known as
sutradhars (who worked with the help of threads), because in executing these finer
decorative lines and measurements they used cotton threads. This simple method is
still practiced by the Bengali artisans and builders even today Mukul Dey in his
work on Birbhum terracottas found that even up to the last century guilds or groups
of skilled artisans worked under a master artist who was the chief architect and
responsible for executing the commissioned temple by the donor. The potters or
Kumhars of today, who make idols of Gods and Goddesses, may also possibly be
their descendants. 45
The ornamentation of these temples with terracotta plaques and friezes followed a
definite plan and pattern. In most of the smaller temples, the frontal facades mainly
had profuse decoration on the tympanum, the arches, the side walls and the bases etc.
But the other sides had one or two large panels, or repetitive molded designs, or were
left bare. In the larger and more famous temples, like the Kantanagar temple of
Dinajpur, the Shyamarai and Jor-bangla temple of Bishnupur of W.Bengal and some
fig. 2.30 Pillar of others, the walls are profusely decorated on all the four sides, including the inner walls
Kantanagar temple of the porticoes (fig. 2.30). There was a definite scheme in this decorative pattern
which was followed by the artists all over the country quite strictly. The plaques used
on these temples had figures as well as floral, geometric and vegetal designs. The
primary function of these friezes was the same as
on the Muslim monuments, i.e. to emphasize the
varying lines of architectural design and to
demarcate the area containing narrative themes
and scenes which included both mythological
stories as well as secular scenes (fig. 2.31). In this
scheme of design, the tympanum or the space
above the central archways were reserved for the
heroic acts of Gods and Goddesses and scenes
from the epics, which sometimes spilled over to
the side walls as well and the upper portion of the
columns. The upper of the two friezes at the
bottom portion of the walls and columns mostly
had narrative scenes from epics or mythologies. It
must be mentioned here that, though temples with
terracotta ornamentation covering small or large
amount of the wall space may be found in
innumerable villages inhabited by the Bengali
speaking people of Bangladesh and India, the
largest and the best preserved one is in the soil of
Bangladesh, i.e. the lavishly decorated three-
storied nava-ratna Kantaji temple in Dinajpur


built in 1722. Most of the space on the temple walls of this
three-storied huge 52 square feet temple depicts the incidents
of Mahabharata and Krishna-lila in great details and vigor,
including the scenes of the battle of Kurukshetra. The
innumerable figures of soldiers fighting with various
weapons, riding horses, elephants or chariots, getting
wounded or dying bring the whole scenes to life. 46
But the lowest frieze at the bottom of the walls and columns
of these temples, have held the attention and amazement of
the scholars and observers for the boldness, versatility and
wide observation power of the terracotta artists where they
have depicted detailed scenes of secular nature, reflecting the
society around them. Though these mostly contain the
various activities of their patrons, but often one may find
scenes which were related to the day to day life of the
common men, their livelihood etc. Thus we find scenes
showing child birth, (Kantaji temple in Dinajpur, Mahadeva
temple in Naldanga, Jessore),women engaged in household
work like cutting fish, washing clothes, husking rice,
cooking, bathing, combing hair or engaged in toiletry,
stepping over a sleeping dog, or men and women engaged in
different professions, like, spinning cotton on the spindle,
cutting wood with saw , hammering iron by the ironmonger, bringing down the sap of fig. 2.31 Tympanum of
Kantanagar temple
the date tree, taking milk products to the market, sleeping doorkeeper, soldiers of
various categories etc. (figs. 2.32, 2.33, 2.34). But all these apparently non
conventional scenes are depicted in such a manner that they fit into the whole scheme
of design and never seem incongruous. More interesting of course, are the scenes
related to the life of the patrons and donors, whose lavish lifestyle must have awed and
fascinated their subjects. Scenes of hunting, taking pleasure trip or traveling by boats
or by land, with large entourage of soldiers, helpers, flag bearers, dancing girls etc.,
aristocratic ladies, horses, elephants, various kind of palanquins, carts etc. fill the
lowest friezes of these temples scattered around rural Bangladesh and the state of
W.Bengal in India (pls. 2.7, 2.8). Other scenes from the life of these landlords, at the
same time their association with the newly arrived foreigners from Europe have been
properly recorded by these terracotta artists. These talented craftsmen observed with
keen interest these foreigners who started to arrive in the country in large numbers from
the 16th century onwards. Their method of arrival in large ocean going ships hitherto
never seen before, have been recorded in detail. Their life-style was watched from a
distance and whatever seemed interesting to them have been chiseled on the half dried
clay plaques, that have turned these terracotta temple decorations into the true and
authentic archive of the social history of the period.


Throughout the almost three hundred years, the style of the terracotta ornamentation on
these temples was not static, but went through substantial changes which is quite
significant. The early style of the 16th, 17th centuries, up to the middle of the 18th
century was linear and rhythmical. The whole of the wall space used to be filled with
various designs, friezes of different subject matters, scenes from mythologies etc. The
figures in the plaques were in low relief which were both molded and modeled by hand.
From the last quarter of the 18th century, the vigor of the style began to diminish in
varying degrees and the plaques began to be in high relief, figures more rounded, faces
carved in frontal position (fig. 2.31) But the richness of the designs began to diminish
fast, compositions were in blocks instead of being inter-related and figures were much
larger. But this attempt at bringing in greater realism was at the cost of loss of the
charm and rhythm that enveloped the work of the terracotta artists of the earlier period.
Thus the style of the terracotta decoration on the later temples showed signs of
degeneration and from the artistic viewpoint, the tradition of terracotta ornamentation
was in the process of dying out. From the middle of the 19th century, the enthusiasm
for temple building seems to become less and less and gradually the tradition of
terracotta ornamentation of temples seems to have lost popularity as stucco and plaster
began to be used on the walls of these edifices. Sometime of course both stucco and
terracotta was used on the same temple walls. But on the whole the easy and cheaper
method of stucco gradually became more acceptable to the patrons and temple builders,
causing the slow death of this wonderful art tradition, which was the proud heritage of
Bengal. The reason may be the closer contact with western ideas, education and culture
which was bringing in new sets of values and tastes. Moreover the new western
educated Bengali elite of Kolkata had come under the influence of urban culture, so
that the significance of temple building as a social and meritorious work or as a status
symbol became lost. One other reason may be that, the arrival of cheaper imported
goods from industrialized Europe brought a decline of the booming trade and industry
of the country, resulting in economic difficulty of the general populace that contributed
to the degeneration and ultimate death of this age old art tradition of Bengal.
From the first half of the 19th century the political power of India including Bengal
slipped more and more into the hands of the British, bringing in far reaching changes
in all spheres of life. This also started to become evident even in the works of the
fig. 2.32 terracotta artists in the very rural corners of the country. Many of the temple builders
Husking rice
or patrons, who became rich through their service to the English traders, the real ruling
power of the country, were excessively devoted to their foreign patrons. As such on
some of their temple walls they commissioned the
craftsmen to portray their patrons or some scenes of their
lifestyle. Thus we find European men and women engaged
in various activities i.e. drinking, hunting, marching with
guns, playing music etc. portrayed on the walls of these
houses of worship, directed by the patrons who benefited


from their services to these foreigners (pls. 2.9, 2.10,
2.11). On the Chandranath Shiva temple of Hetampur,
Birbhum, the octagonal building with nine ratnas is
topped by surprising figures of winged angels wearing
long western gowns. The tympanum above the arched
doorways have a plaque of Mahisasurmardini Durga
but next to it is also a circular plaque with the three
lions over a cross motif which was the insignia of the
British crown, as well as European figures of men and
women signifying the servile mentality of the donor.
Anyway, as by the middle of the 19th century,
terracotta decorative tradition started to disappear with
the diminishing economic prosperity of the gentry, the terracotta craftspeople tried to
survive through this new medium of stucco. But that also did not continue long, as the
theory of temple building as a virtuous act, began to disappear from amongst the newly
educated elite society of the Bengali babus. So by the first half of the 20th century,
decorated temples, be it with stucco or otherwise, became a rarity. The long tradition
of terracotta, living through many difficulties and experiencing many changes through
the various periods, finally began to disappear from the heart of Bengal. The art which
was the pride product of this deltaic region, created by the Bengali artists, became a
part of history and the descendants of the artists ultimately became absorbed in the
small community of the kumhars or idol makers, who are sought only during the fig. 2.33 (top)
different puja festivals. But in recent times the conscious educated elite society in both Combing hair and
parts of Bengal, is trying to revive the proud tradition of terracotta art, as connoisseurs engaged in toiletry
are commissioning artists to copy temple terracotta art, as well as make plaques small fig. 2.34 (bottom)
or large with new themes, to be set on the walls of important buildings of the country. Taking milk products to
Small copies of famous temple terracotta plaques are also sold as decorative pieces, the market
which are collected and cherished by people. Thus the tradition seems to be struggling
to survive in an unfriendly and unappreciative world.


C. Colonial to Contemporary Period
Lala Rukh Selim

Sculpture is an essential element of the culture of the subcontinent. From the Indus
civilization to the present age, sculpture is a gradually evolving and integral part of
life. There was an international demand for the handicrafts of the subcontinent and due
to its enormous wealth, foreigners have arrived here throughout the ages. The art of
this region was enriched with the arrival and absorption of foreign elements. However,
the elements of art that came into India were assimilated and absorbed into the ideas
and local ways of life so that the ultimate form they took became essentially local, they
could not retain their original qualities. The slowly evolved essence or form of the art
of the subcontinent represents the life force of man and nature and the endless
processes of the universe. The human form in the sculpture of this region is brimming
with life force, charged with internal energy and rhythm of life and is a harmonious
combination of full forms.
From most ancient times the river ports of Bengal have worked as Indian’s links to the
west. Many cultures from many nations have left their imprint on Bengal, but Bengal
has absorbed it all. The last locus of Buddhism in India was in Bengal. The language
of art spread from Bengal with Buddhism to south and south east Asia. Perhaps the
school of classical or high sculpture ended with the Pala and Sena eras, but terracotta
sculpture has continued to exist in an almost unbroken flow from the very remote past
to the nineteenth century, even though traditional art forms were losing vitality due to
British influence. Yet, it was with the founding of the school of Industrial Art in 1854
in Kolkata that sculpture took a completely new turn. That is when upper class Bengalis
under the influence of the British gradually began to think of British art as superior and
the cultured Bengali considered naturalism as the greatest quality of sculpture.
Colonized by Britain, upper class Bengalis tried to please the British masters by
imbibing their tastes and aesthetics. They were absorbed in imitating the masters and
overwhelmed by the greatness of the imperialist British civilization. Traditional art
remained in rural life, in the practices of women in the inner chambers and in the
rooms of worship. The upper and middle class Bengalis tried to build their
residences along the Neoclassical style of the British, Victorian furniture decorated
the interiors, on their walls hung European paintings or their reproductions, they
donned European clothes, if needed. The superiority of the aggressor’s civilization
completely overpowered them. A conflicting relationship developed with their own
language, culture and lifestyle. During the end of the mediaeval period when the
patronization of traditional Indian art became weak, the artists went into the villages.
There was a scattered demand for artworks by zamindars, wealthy farmers, religious
and social institutions. At this turning point of Indian art, European merchants


appeared on the scene and the situation changed promptly. It must be said that the
import of European civilization is not solely responsible for the individualism,
realism and materialism encountered in the artists of this country. It had found
expression through the ages in the terracotta art of Bengal's temple walls which is a
tradition much older than the colonial age. 47
A fact is that with the establishment of Muslim rule in Bengal sculpture all but lost
state patronization. The tradition of painting continued but the same did not happen in
the case of sculpture. Perhaps that is why the educated Bengali was even further
separated from sculpture. However folk sculpture, plaques on temple walls, icons etc
continued to be manufactured in rural Bengal.
When the British rulers began to import their sculptures, there was no secular or
generally accepted popular trend in Bengali sculpture which could compete with
them. The educated and cultured Bengali had no knowledge of what sculpture was.
The historical trends of the past were lost to memory because there was no real reason
to hold on to them in the present context. The national identity which is not under
threat easily accepts changes. Only when faced by identity crisis does it cling to its
existence and uniqueness.
The Neoclassical trend of British sculpture easily captivated the Bengalis and, for
that matter, the Indians. Their own lack of good taste and aesthetics pained the
Bengalis. They were prepared to correct this and welcomed the first art institution
founded in Kolkata.
The first art institute in Kolkata, that is, Bengal was called ‘School of Industrial Art’.
It was established in 1854. The name itself provides some clue as to the objective of
the institute founded by the enthusiasm of British rulers and some aristocratic
Bengalis. This institution was definitely not created to turn out artists. The sort of
artists that would emerge from this institution would be skilled in applied arts. It was
intended to teach useful and scientific art in the Victorian ideal and improve the taste
of the people of this country. What is particularly significant is the fact that from the
very beginning there were 11 Brahmin students among the total of 95 students. This
reflects the change of the Bengalis attitude towards art. Art began to be accepted
outside artisan families by the bhadralok (genteel) classes even before 1850.
However, a traditional clay artisan gained fame for his portraits long before modeling
began to be taught in educational institutions. Nabakumar Pal’s name was known
before 1850 and it is also known that there were other sculptors equally skilled in the
modeling process. There was a report published in Friends of India in 1845 after
Nabakumar received the ‘Isis’ award from the Society of Arts of London. It states that
he was a common artisan of clay figures. A doctor of the medical college, Professor
William Brook O’Shannaushey discovered Nabakumar as he was selling his artworks
at the market. It was with his support that Nabakumar modeled clay busts of many
Indians and Europeans. His clay bust of William Carey was sent to England to be
reproduced in stone. It was admired by connoisseurs and Society of Arts honored him


with the ‘Isis’ award. After the founding of the School of Industrial Art, Nabakumar
Pal was appointed teacher of modeling along with a Belgian artist. 51
The International Exhibition of Commerce and Art was held in 1951 and as a result
of its success there were many other exhibitions held in London, Paris, Amsterdam,
Melbourne etc. from the second half of the nineteenth century. Many sculptors of
Bengal gained fame by participating in these shows. They made naturalistic clay
models for these exhibitions. Ram Pal, Jadunath Pal, Rakhal Das Pal, Motilal Pal
and others gained special acclaim for the works done for these shows. Jadunath Pal
(1838-?) of Krishnanagar is the most famous amongst them for his work and his
long and colorful life.
He received an award in the second Calcutta Fine Art Exhibition the very next year
after his admission to the Calcutta Art School in 1873. Immediately upon completing
his education at the art school, he was appointed as teacher of modeling. However, he
resigned due to a disagreement with Principal Locke. In the meanwhile, his artworks
were exhibited and appreciated in many countries. During the principalship of Henry
Jobbins he was again appointed as teacher of the Art School. He was employed in
teaching during Principal E.B. Havell’s time, but due to a clash with Havell over a
sculpture of Maharshi Debendranath Tagore he again left the Art School. Jadunath Pal
returned to his home in Ghurni of Krishnanagar. Many eminent persons went to his
home to meet this talented and spirited sculptor. 52
In reality, Calcutta Art School was not founded to teach sculpture as a high art form.
Due to the crisis that England had faced in the field of art education after the Industrial
Revolution, the British government had established schools of industrial art in Britain
itself to overcome the crisis. In 1857 the Central School of Industrial Art had been
established in South Kensington. Henry Cole who directed the school accepted Indian
decorative art as the ideal of this school. 53
The Great Exhibition (The Industry of All Nations) was held in 1851 in London during
the period when the art schools were established in India. Henry Cole and Owen Jones
introduced the trend of reforming industrial design, the Arts and Crafts Movement of
William Morris gained momentum and different schools of design were established in
England. There was a clear difference between academies of art and schools of
design and the stress was placed on schools of design to face the crisis that had
developed in industrial design. It was the intention of the design schools to impart
useful knowledge to artisans to improve the design of objects produced. The high
standard of design of Indian products was discovered in the exhibition of 1851. The
attraction of British industrial designers for Indian design and the Arts and Crafts
Movement’s support for continued existence of Indian craftsmen, all of these made it
the responsibility of the British to preserve and develop the traditional arts under their
tutelage. That the art of India did not appear to be fine art in the western perspective
is clearly expressed in George Birdwood’s words, ‘Sculpture and painting are
unknown, as fine arts, in India.’ 56


Indian sculpture thoroughly upset Birdwood's Victorian aesthetics,
‘So foreign to the Hindus is the idea of figure sculpture in the
aesthetic sense, that in the noblest of temples the idol is often
found to be some obscene or monstrous symbol... the feeling for
the higher forms of sculpture has been destroyed in them. How
completely their figure sculpture fails in true art is seen at once
when they attempt to produce it in a natural or heroic scale.’ 57
Therefore, when the school of Industrial Art was founded in 1854
after the short-lived Mechanics Institution and School of Arts
founded in 1839, there was no intention of teaching fine arts there.
It was intended to develop a class of artisans who would satisfy the
specific demands of the British rulers. The other need for Indian
artists was to supply cheap imitations of western art for Indian
clients. The art institution stressed industrial and ornamental art,
i.e. applied art. British connoisseurs thought that excellence in the field of fine arts fig. 2.35 Clay modeling
was the monopoly of the west. Indian art was always valued as applied art. The skill from Krishnanagar
of Indian craftsmen and their capacity to learn methods of manufacturing better
products amazed them. It was the intention of the Calcutta School of Industrial Art
to create, ‘native drawing masters... skilled draughtsmen, architects, modellers, wood-
engravers, lithographers and designers for manufacturers.’ 59
There was no separate system for the education of craftsmen in the Calcutta Art
School but because the art of the clay modelers of Krishnanagar was considered to be
an art form that should be preserved, therefore the traditional artists of Krishnanagar
were provided free education (fig. 2.35). Jadunath Pal availed of this opportunity. 60
The art exhibitions in India and abroad created work for the clay artists. There was a
great demand for naturalistic clay work among the students of Calcutta Art School.
There was a need for life-size realistic images of different ethnic groups for these
exhibitions. These were used in the exhibitions to depict different indigenous groups,
castes, costumes, professions or different rural or agricultural scenes. These traditional
craftsmen were assimilated into the colonial art institutions and were used to fulfill the
needs of the colonial powers. In 1854 when the school of Industrial Art was first
opened 45 students were enrolled in clay modeling and 50 in painting. Rigaud was the
modeling teacher. Thus it may be gathered that sculptors in clay were much in
demand and there were many opportunities for putting them to good use of the
colonial rulers by enrolling them in the art institutes. Actually the clay industry
developed in the Krishnanagar area during the company period. Besides icons of
divinities, naturalistic clay sculptures were made there in the style of European art
which became famous as Krishnanagar dolls. The colonialist rulers began to import
European art and artists for their own use. The sculptures of the kings and queens of
England, governors, viceroys, and famous personalities were imported. Their political
intent was to impress the people by installing these in public places to exhibit their


power and superiority. These naturalistic artworks by the Europeans were faultless.
This colonial style became popular among the kings, landlords, merchants and even
the common people of India.
This colonial style was academic and it stressed the exact technical know-how of
representing naturalistic forms. The full figure marble sculpture of Lord Cornwallis by
Jone Baker imported in 1803 is the first and an important one. Among other notable
portraits is the one of Queen Victoria seated on the royal throne by George Fremton
placed on the open space in front of the Victoria Memorial (fig. 2.36). This huge bronze
portrait is an excellent example of the academic style and is very detailed in the
naturalistic manner. The Queen herself sat for the portrait and voiced her approval of
it. The bronze equestrian sculpture of the British general Sir Outram was executed by
Falley and is very well done with notable dramatic expression. As symbols of the glory
of British rule, colonial cities were decorated by many such large-scale sculptures. 64
Rohinikanta Nag (1868-1895) was the first sculptor who was not from a traditional
potter family and the first Bengali artist educated in Italy. He was born in the village
of Barodee, Maheshwardi pargana of Dhaka district in a Brahma family. He was
educated in the Calcutta Art School during the period of Principal Henry Jobbins. In
1890 he got admitted to the Royal Academy of Rome inspired by Olinto Ghilardi. 65
His success in Italy received much publicity in the Bengali press. However, he
contracted tuberculosis in Italy and died in 1895 in Kolkata. Not one of his sculptures
found their way back to his homeland. Rabindranath Tagore attempted to have these
transported back to the country but it was not possible. There was news published in
Roman newspapers of Rohinikanta Nag receiving a silver medal for his modeling of
the human figure. 67
fig. 2.36 George Shitalchandra Bandopadhaya was born in Kirtipasha of Barishal (1879-?). He was a
Fremton, Queen doctor by profession and self-taught in sculpture and painting. Shashikumar Hesh was
Victoria, Victoria amazed by his sculpture modeled in wax and advised him to go to Italy. He could not
Memorial, Kolkata go aboard due to the resistance of his family. Dr. Dineshchandra Sen was his patron
and he organized a tea party at Gaganendranath Tagore’s
residence to show the best example of Shitalchandra’s
sculpture, one of the goddess Lakshmi in marble to
Jagadis Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Sister
Nivedita and others. All of them including Abanindranath
praised the sculpture. Shitalchandra possibly died in the
sixties of the twentieth century at the age of eighty. 68
Aswinikumar Burman (Ray) (1882-?) was born in
Noapara of Mymensingh. He travelled to Europe in 1909,
lived in Bradford of England and practiced sculpture in
the studio of William Charles. Sir William Rothenstein,
the Principal of the Royal College of Art of London was
his friend and admirer. While in England he regularly


wrote articles on western painting and sculpture in journals. Possibly he died in
England. Some of his important sculptures are Bedbash, Calvary’s Anguish, Snake
Charmer, Cupids Sympathy in Love’s Distress etc. the names of which suggest that he
worked on sculptures which were not merely portraits. 70
Fanindranath Bose (1888-1926) was born in the village Bohor of Vikramapura,
Dhaka. He first enrolled at the Jubilee Art Academy and later during the Principalship
of E.B. Havell at the Government Art School. Like Rohinikanta Nag, he was also
inspired by Olinto Ghilardi (Assistant Principal of the Art School) and went to Italy.
He later went to England on Ghilardi’s advice. As he could not get admission to the
Royal College of Art he enrolled at Edinburgh College of Art and studied sculpture
under Percy Portsmouth for three years and received his diploma with the ‘Stuart
Prize’ (1911). Upon completing his education, he was awarded traveling scholarship
from the Edinburgh University and Bengal Government and traveled in Europe, got
training in Paris and his work created a good impression on Rodin. The influence of
Rodin and Mercier is also notable in the broken surface of his work. His success in
Britain was a rare phenomenon for an Indian in those days. He lived and set up his
studio in Edinburgh. 72 In 1925 he was elected Associate of the Royal Scottish
Academy. He was the first Indian to receive this honor. He participated in the
exhibitions of the Royal Scottish Academy from 1913-1920 (fig.2.37). His group
sculpture on a subject of the New Testament and his sculpture of St. John is preserved
in St. John’s Church in Perth of Scotland. He came to visit India once at the invitation
of the Maharaja of Baroda, Sayaji Rao Gaekwad (1914). There are still six bronze fig. 2.37 Fanindranath
Bose, The End of the
sculptures executed by him in the Maharaja's Durbar Museum. When he was elected Day
into the Royal Scottish Academy The Scotsman published the following comment:
‘His election is in recognition of the fact that art at its best transcends nationality ...
[but] while he has absorbed all the technique and naturalism of Western art, he is still
faithful to the interior spirit of the Oriental. In his work there may be traced a subtle
appreciation of Oriental character, yet expressed more or less in terms of the Western
art.’ In response to this Bose wrote that in those times of strained relations between
Britain and India, this honor would let the Indians know that Scotland does not want
to curb the rightful demands of the Indians. Bose was selected for the decoration of
the Victoria Memorials of Kolkata and Delhi. For some unknown reason he turned
down this greatest honor for an artist from the colony. He died at the early age of thirty
seven after a short term illness. 77
It should be mentioned in this context that in the meanwhile the attitude of the people
of India, therefore Bengal, towards colonial rule and art had changed considerably.
Indians became gradually more aware of their local culture and art. This is natural
when the identity and pride of a people is threatened. Yet it should be mentioned that
British education and policy towards art was largely responsible for this. Indians
became aware of many lost aspects of themselves through archaeological research.
Locke, Ghilardi, Percy Brown and Havell who were all admirers of Indian art,


recovered and preserved examples of Indian art and encouraged Indian artists to
become conscious of their own traditions. Inspired by Locke, Shyamacharan Srimani
of Bengal wrote the first short book on the history of art in 1874 entitled The Rise of
the Fine Arts and the Artistic Skills of the Aryans. This was written on the evidence
and information available at that time about the art of India. Judged from that
perspective, the book is revolutionary. Yet because the educated classes evaluated art
in the perspective of the British, it became very difficult to explain clearly what kind
of art would be truly ‘Indian’ to stand up in opposition to western art. From the very
beginning the colonial rulers had created a contradiction about the arts. There was no
clear distinction between Fine and Applied art. Moreover, though encouraged to taste
the flavor of Indian art, the education establishment taught in the western academic
method which was self-contradictory. The best example of this self-contradiction is
that of the historian Rajendra Lala Mitra. He himself had protested when James
Fergusson stated that the Indians had learnt the use of stone from the Greeks. Yet he
himself again wrote that it was as useless to compare the stone carvings of the artists
of Orissa with the great sculpture of the Greeks, as it is to compare Indian paintings
with the ‘chef d’oeuvre’ of Raphael. 78
Partha Mitter has discussed in detail how Victorian taste influenced three Bengali
intellectuals. The weakness of Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and
Balendranath Tagore for European art found expression in their writing. Their
perspective changed with the Swadeshi movement. Balendranath’s last writing clearly
expresses his evolution of taste and understanding. 79
Thoughtful Bengalis began to apprehend that the various rules and regulations, social
and economical changes introduced during British rule primarily had imperialistic
aims and Indians became active in the Swadeshi movement and for independence.
The modernization and westernization introduced by the British was intentionally
designed to belittle the civilization and culture of India and it awakened the need in
Indians to be ‘Indians’ inspiring them to take pride in their culture and understand its
excellence and distinction. As a result of this the Bengal School of Abanindranath
came into being in the field of painting. Its ideals and concepts encountered the Pan-
Asian theory of the Japanese theorist, Okakura. E.B. Havell, Sister Nivedita,
Ordhendra Coomar Gangoly, Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy and others also played
a role in expressing the greatness of Indian-ness. However, in the field of sculpture
this renaissance did not have a strong influence possibly because of the innate
qualities of the medium itself. The art institutions thought of sculpture as lower than
painting as an art form. The practice of sculpture was primarily centered on the study
of antiques and it laid stress on the skill of naturalistic depiction. When E.B. Havell
joined the Calcutta Government Art School as the Principal in 1896, he was the first
person who included sculpture in the Fine Art section of the school. This did not
actually change the system of education. There was really no scope for creative
practice in sculpture. Students were less interested in it and Janak Jhankar Narzary has


identified some causes for this. Firstly, sculpture is more technically difficult and
laborious than painting, particularly the process of die making and casting. Secondly,
the narrative subjects depicted in painting in those times were very difficult to
represent three dimensionally in sculpture. Thirdly, there was not enough, social,
economical or aesthetic inspiration for taking interest in sculpture. The painting
oriented revolution of the Bengal School did not really create much interest in
sculpture. It may be contextual to state that modernism came later into sculpture than
in painting in the west, and that too in the hands of painters. The root of modernism
was first expressed in painting. Only with the Constructivists did experimentation in
sculpture return to sculptors from painters. We do not find anyone comparable to
Cezanne, Van Gogh or Gauguin in the field of sculpture in the nineteenth century.
Even Rodin, who was the greatest sculptor in the shift to modernism, was actually
much more connected to the established art world, the world that the Fauvists had
rejected. Modernism was primarily elitist which is in contradiction to the place of
sculpture in society which makes it approachable for the common people. In the past,
sculpture was used for religious, commemorative functions as memorials to national
unity or memorable incidents or conjoined to architecture as decoration. With
modernism sculpture lost this function to fulfill the need of the common people. When
sculpture was created for the common people, nNeoclassical qualities were generally
sought. Painting could easily become elitist in modernism but for sculpture it was
much more difficult because of its characteristics. 83
Similarly, there were no revolutionary changes transforming sculpture alongside the
Bengal School in painting. Hironmoy Roychaudhuri and Asit Haldar arrived on the
Kolkata art scene in 1909-1910. Hironmoy Roychaudhuri’s (1884-1962) ideal was
European academic sculpture. He was born in Dakshindihi village in Jessore. He
enrolled in Calcutta Art School during Havell’s period (1905). He learnt painting and
modeling until 1910. In 1907 he worked as an assistant to Leonard Jennings, the
official architect and sculptor who arrived in Kolkata, and traveled to London in 1910
to study at the Royal College of Art on his advice. He became an Associate of the Royal
College in 1914. He learnt modeling under the supervision of Edward Lantery and
became the first Indian Associate of the Royal College. After returning to India he
became famous for this sculptures and portraits in the European classical style.
Debiprasad Roychowdhury, Sudhirranjan Khastagir and Prodosh Dasgupta learnt
sculpture under his supervision. The majority of his works are portraits and his few
compositions are based on models and the observation of the visual world. However,
no foreign patrons ever had their portraits done by any Indian sculptors because they
thought them to be inferior. It was in a way true because it had not been possible for
any Indian artist of those times to assimilate the living current of a foreign tradition.
The influential artists, art lovers, critics and specialists spoke against this attitude of the
colonial patrons and in 1937 after the death of King George the Fifth the government
commissioned three portraits of him by three Indian sculptors. Hironmoy
Roychaudhuri’s portrait of King George in marble was installed in Lucknow. 85


Gopeshwar Pal (1894-1911) was a member of a potter family of Krishnanagar. He
learnt working in clay from Jadunath Pal and was later renowned for his portraits. In
1915 his artworks were noted by Lord Carmichael. In 1924 he recommended that
Gopeshwar go to Wembly for the British Empire exhibition to demonstrate his work
in person. His skill amazed the British and his self-taught academic skill became
known overnight. On Rabindranath’s seventieth birthday celebrations at the town
hall, he modeled the poet’s head in clay in five minutes. 87
Asit Kumar Haldar (1890-1964) was born in the Tagore family of Jorasanko. From
1906-12 he studied painting as Abanindranath’s student. As a student, he learnt clay
modeling from Jadunath Pal and Bakkeshwar Pal. Later he practiced sculpture under
the government architect and sculptor, Leonard Jennings. At the beginning of his
career he taught art at the Kala Bhavana of Santiniketan. In fact, the Kala Bhavana of
Visva Bharati was founded during the period he was there (1919-1922). 88
Pramathnath Mullick (1894-1983) was born in Kolkata. In 1912 he got admitted to the
Jubilee Art Academy. Because of his attraction for sculpture he learnt modeling and
sculpture under the supervision of Ranadaprasad. His sculptures were mainly executed
in plaster. He did both portraits and original works in sculpture. With the initiative of
Gaganendranath he learnt sculpture under the Maharasthtran sculptor Vinayak
Pandurang Karmarkar. He also executed reliefs in bronze and plaster. 89
Debiprasad Roychowdhury (1899-1975) was born in Tajhat, Rangpur at his maternal
grandfather’s house. His paternal residence was at Muragachha near Diamond Harbor.
Primarily at age twenty he sought out an Italian artist and sculptor and practiced under
his supervision for almost three years. Later he met Abanindranath and practiced at the
Indian Society of Oriental Art. He was also interested in sculpture. At Abanindranath’s
suggestion he practiced sculpture under Hironmoy Roychaudhuri. He joined the
Madras Art School in 1928 and in 1929 took responsibility as principal of the
organization. He taught there for almost twenty-eight years. He is the teacher of many
famous painters and sculptors. He was both a painter and a sculptor at the same time.
A multi-faceted talent like him is rarely to be found. He was educated in both eastern
and western art trends. His sculptures showed multifarious tendencies. He did not
adhere to a particular style in his work. Yet he could by no means depart from the
European Neoclassical style. His subject matter displayed conscious nationalism but,
fig. 2.38 Debiprasad
Roychowdhury, The it was in no way reflected in his style. Though his work was academic, his style and
Triumph of Labor manner displayed originality. In the field of sculpture he was primarily a portrait artist
and executed many full figure and portrait
busts. His works were executed in plaster and
bronze. His father’s portrait executed in 1924 is
a departure from the conventional method. His
modeling was impressionistic, not mimetic but
summary in treatment. It can be labeled as
academic but in the impressionistic style which


is noticeable in the work of many painters. This is the first instance in Indian sculpture
that the modeling is so spontaneous, lively in immediate dramatic motion and
emotionally expressive. When Winter Comes done in 1940 also expresses mental and
physical distress. In some works done during this period he has expressed the social
and economical distress after the war and during the famine. The Triumph of Labor
(fig. 2.38) is a life-size sculpture by Debiprasad. The composition is dramatic. He was
shown six figures from different views at the final moment of lifting a great rock. The
movement of the figures and anatomy are very well blended in this piece. This famous
sculpture of Debiprasad is preserved on the seashore of Chennai and the Delhi
National Gallery. His work expresses the sorrows and poverty of the common people.
Debiprasad also tried to compose sculpture on the ideals of the Bengal School of
Abanindranath. Rudra Siva, Woman after Bath are influenced by the ideals of Indian
tradition (fig. 2.39). However, his style is naturalistic and he could not free himself
from the academic trend. Debiprasad’s great contribution is inspiring his students
Prodosh Dasgupta, Dhanpal and Janakiram to work in the new trends of modernism
in the 40s. We can say that Debiprasad is the forerunner of modernism in Bengal
sculpture. fig. 2.39 Debiprasad
The generation of Indian artists before Debiprasad had mastered the European academic Roychowdhury, Woman
style. However, modernism in the true sense was introduced to sculpture through after Bath
Ramkinkar Baij in Kala Bhavana of Santiniketan. Many Indians had worked with Indian
subject matter before but these did not express the essence or aesthetics of Indian art. He
crossed over many conventions, techniques and fixed regulations and expressed his own
self in sculpture, was conscious of the characteristics of the medium and expressed the
aesthetics of Indian art. Along with all of this he combined his clear concepts of the
sculpture of the modern world with its new thoughts, ideals and forms.
Perhaps it is contextual to discuss in short the characteristics of the modern sculpture
which were evinced in place of earlier Indian sculpture. A great change is seen in the
representation of women. In both the folk and classical traditions of Indian art we see
the sexual energy and attributes extremely spontaneously depicted in both male and
female forms. There is no great difference between the formal or representational
depiction of males and females. Religious sculptures were governed by regulations laid
down by iconography. They were executed in special movements and gestures. Indian
sculpture inspired by the mystery of the fertile energy of nature did not differentiate in
the artistic form of presentation between the male and the female. The nudity of male
and female are imbued by the essence of nature and creation. Natural in their own
existence and in the limitless opposing forces of nature, Indian sculptures transcend the
boundaries of the sensual world. The rhythm of life animates both male and female
forms with harmony; the energy of life imparts fullness to the forms with a centrifugal
force. Upon contact with western academic art Indian artists began to look for
sentiment in art, certain subjects appear and the nudity of the female form is objectified
for the viewer in the European manner. In western art the female form is arranged to


give sensory pleasure to the viewer. Even the knowledgeable western connoisseurs of
art who came to love Indian art could not comprehend the primordial essence of Indian
art. The irresistible sexual pleasure of the supra-sensual aspect of Indian art ultimately
seemed to be indecent to them. According to Janak Jhankar Narzary, the appeal of
sexuality in Indian art is natural and used in a larger sense - life force, energy,
movement, rhythm, pleasure etc. are conveyed through it. Many have accepted this as
the primordial essence which also has a greater meaning. The female forms are
represented in the nude, but their expression is natural, they are beautiful in harmony
with the rhythm of the universe - free from the fragile ideals of the world of morals or
sin and virtue. The ‘beauty’ of the female body that the Indian artists mastered from
the European was a new addition to Indian art. The commodification of the female
body has been accepted from the academic trend.
Traditional artisans were encouraged in the early stages of the Calcutta Government
Art School. In 1875 during Henry Hoover Locke’s period the fees were greatly
increased. His intention was to encourage the affluent into art education and discourage
students from poor artisan families. In the time of Ghilardi sculptors began to travel
abroad for education. Havell was enthusiastic about sculpture. His wife Lily Jakobson
was a pupil of Rodin. In the meanwhile, the Indian Society for Oriental Art had been
established in 1907 and Abanindranath resigned from the Calcutta Art School and
began to teach at the Indian Society of Oriental Art. There also he inspired his students
to practice in the medium of sculpture. Above all the role of Rabindranath has to be
mentioned. Whatever is good in today’s Bengal seems to have at its source the noble
and generous touch of his august personality. Rabindranath’s artistic sensibility seems
to have brought in modernism in the true sense to India. He considered art to be a
completely personal field of expression and took it above all racial and traditional
fig. 2.40 Ramkinkar ideas. Ramkinkar Baij came into contact with him and created a new horizon in
Baij, Lampstand, 1938
sculpture under his protection. ‘The art of Ramkinkar constitutes a turning point in the
general trend that had up till 1935 commercialized the art of sculpture... Rakminkar can
be considered the most important and earliest sculptor working in India during the
period of transition.’ 93
Ramkinkar Baij (1906-1980) was born in a poor barber family in Jogipara, Bankura.
From his very childhood he learnt the technique of building clay icons from a
traditional clay artisan of his village called Ananta Pal. The editor of the journals
Prabasi and Modern Review, Ramananda Chattapadhay was captivated by
Ramkinkar’s paintings and background scenes painted for theatres. He sent Ramkinkar
to Santiniketan to learn painting from Nandalal. Ramkinkar was then 19 years old. In
Santinikatan he learnt sculpture from Liza Von Pott, an Austrian sculptor, Margaret
Milward (a student of Bourdelle) and finally a British sculptor called Bateman. They
did not impose the Neoclassical style in teaching sculpture as in the government art
institutions. In the enlightened atmosphere of Santiniketan Rabindranath had
introduced a new method of education. In 1919 Kala Bhavana was established.


Nandalal was the head of this institution. Rabindranath’s creativity nurtured the
environment of Kala Bhavana. It became the first art institution to promote
experimentation. The students were introduced to modern western art as well as
traditional methods and concepts. Experiments in new media and methods were
underway and new ideas also developed. Modern artists and intellectuals arrived to
give hands on demonstrations and theorists came for discussions. Traditional artists
were also invited to exhibit the methods and techniques of traditional art.
Ramkinkar joined as teacher of sculpture and discovered an environment where there
was no hard and fast definition of art. He created monumental sculptures in
Santiniketan. He used cement and the pebbles of Birbhum as concrete and worked in
situ in the direct method, mostly out doors.
Sujata (1936), Santal Family (1938) are his figurative outdoor sculptures (pl. 2.12).
Ramkinkar’s contribution to modern Indian sculpture is the environment consciousness
of his outdoor pieces. The character of the sculptures executed in the technique he
improvised is described, ‘The throwing process of the mixture renders a rough organic
texture on the surface that look [sic.] lively, organic and homogenates [sic.] to nature.’ 94
The structure of his work reflects his original ideas and the training of Ananta Pal. He
used bamboo, iron rods, and hay for his structure on which he worked by throwing
concrete. The structural strength of his work is based on the balance of the gravitational
axis. ‘Formally it is significant for the structural strength of the forms that support each
other to stand on natural balance controlled by the axis line in the centre, rendering the
whole architectonically stable yet incorporating dynamism and movement in it.’ The
scope of his work was wide, spanning the impressionistic, abstract, semi-abstract,
cubistic, expressionistic, symbolist, and surrealistic. He worked in the various trends of
modernism. Lampstand (1938-39) is an excellent example of the vitalist trend (fig.
2.40). His portrait sculptures are remarkable in their technical and stylistic variety.
With Ramkinkar’s work we perceive for the first time, ‘Firstly, sculpture was freed
from romantic subject-matter and was either related to nature or the non-objective.
Secondly, his treatment was very personal and established that the sculptor could
invent his own particular style through which he presented his ideas... From this point
in time we see the subject-matter beginning to lose importance and sculpture owing its
meaning to purely sculptural values.’ The common people are Ramkinkar’s subject,
the working people around him, and their joy in living vibrant with life force. Perhaps
due to his early training in icon making he could grasp the essence of Indian art, not
the surface appearance but the perception of its depth. Mrinal Ghosh states, ‘He was
from the very beginning expressionistic and leaned towards primitivism. Even for
mythological subjects he rejected so-called Indian-ness or transformed it to imbue his
images with the expression of primitive energy. He had to make an equation of the
expression of energy, the tranquility that is Indian, the integrated beauty of meditation,
the fullness of volumes swelling out from the center.’ [Trans.]
Ramkinkar had a great contribution as a teacher. His student Sankho Choudhury later
went on to discover new aspects of modernity in Indian sculpture.


From the Partition of India to the Bangladesh Period
The partition took place in 1947. Two independent countries were created, India and
Pakistan. There was great India between East and West Pakistan. The disparate state
of the two Pakistan’s was due to them having a Muslim majority. The partition and the
ensuring pain, insecurity, in many cases, rootlessness is a pathetic and distressing
chapter in the history of this region. The communal riots and killings are like a scar in
its history. The history of the art of Bangladesh entered a new chapter in these restless
and insecure times. The eastern part of Bengal included in Pakistan was named East
Pakistan. The capital of the new province was Dhaka. As in all other aspects of history,
a new chapter was introduced in the history of art.
With the creation of Pakistan began the process of shifting of countries, residences,
workplaces. Government employees were given the option of being transferred to East
or West Bengal as immigrants. Bengal had developed as the center of modern art as
the capital of British India till 1911 and later as the capital of Bengal. Though Dhaka
was an older city than Kolkata, it had not development as a center of modern art.
Sculptural practice was limited to Neoclassical sculptures to decorate the palaces of
the nobles. It was only natural that famous sculptors from this Bengal went to either
Kolkata or the other centers of India where there was a demand for sculpture or where
the art institutes were located.
Two Muslim-painters who had achieved fame in India, Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin
and Safiuddin Ahmed came to East Pakistan. Quamrul Hassan, Anwarul Huq, Shafiqul
Amin, Habibur Rahman, Syed Ali Ahsan and others also came to East Pakistan. It is
particularly notable that there were no sculptors among them. It was natural for
Muslims to have less enthusiasm for sculpture. Even in the Mughal era when painting
and architecture achieved excellence, sculpture retained its existence only in folk life.
When the country was divided according to religion, naturally Islam's disapproval of
sculpture was established. If one of the founders of the Institute of Fine Art in Dhaka
had been a trained sculptor perhaps sculpture would have been introduced at the
inception of the Institute. With the creation of Pakistan Bengalis begin to express their
allegiance with Muslim culture. That is why when the artists who arrived from
Kolkata tried to establish the need for an art institute in East Pakistan they organized
a poster exhibition on the occasion of Pakistan Day on 14th August 1948, the subject
chosen was the history of the first Muslim conquest of India to the birth of Pakistan.
Perhaps due to these reasons the foundation of modern sculpture was not made under
the auspices of the art institute.
Sculpture was introduced to former East Pakistan by a Muslim woman. Novera Ahmed
(c. 1930- ) due to some extraordinary events was trained as a sculptor from the
Camberwell School of Art in England. The desire to learn sculpture was completely her
own, we do not know of any well-wisher who encouraged her. She also went to further
her study in Italy and Austria. Her professor's comments about her sculpture as a
student supports the fact that her work was quite satisfactory, that they even had some


extraordinary qualities. Moreover, she also had first hand and clear ideas about modern
sculpture. She went to the Rodin museum in Paris. While in England she must have
been exposed to the works of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and other modern
sculptors. She was sincere and devoted to sculpture and did not accept any barriers to
come between herself and her study of it. Her close friend, the artist Hamidur Rahman
possibly empathized with her passionate enthusiasm for sculpture with his own
greatness and helped her as a well-wisher for many years.
In 1956 Novera completed her study of sculpture and returned to her homeland.
Though Novera’s original parental residence was in Chittagong, her childhood had
been spent in Kolkata. Novera’s mother’s hobby was modeling in clay. Kolkata’s open
environment, blend of many cultures, diversity of mainstream and folk art may have
nurtured her dream to be an artist. Novera’s cultured family gave her enough
inspiration to practice the arts.
She created a stir in the art world of Dhaka after her return to the country. Those were
the times to realize dreams. When Pakistan was established the Bengalis had thought
that they would enjoy equal status and rights as citizens of an independent country but
this was proved wrong. Immediately after partition Bengalis were faced with a new
question about their culture and identity with the Language Movement. The strength
to sacrifice lives for the mother tongue pushed them towards greater clarity. Amid
debates, confusion and misunderstanding about language and religion, Bengalis
realized that religion was only one aspect of culture. They discovered a secular,
exploitation free, progressive ideal amidst violence, counter-violence and reactions. It
became apparent in every sector that Bangladesh had become a colony of Pakistan
instead of Britain. Bengali artists, litterateurs, intellectuals and others achieved greater
self-realization. Art, literature and music swelled with a new tide. First generation
artists like Zainul, Safiuddin, Quamrul selected rural life, nature or art as their main fig. 2.41 Novera
source. Combining modern ‘universal’ art with this ‘nationalism’ was a difficult task. Ahmed, Cow with Two
Figures, cement, 1958,
The majority of successful second generation artists received some art education in photograph Amirul
Europe or the United States to return home. The fast-moving, modern and apparently Rajib, courtesy
free western art world created in them a fierce attraction for the new. Slowly but firmly Drishyakarma
abstraction grew in their work. Yet it must
be admitted that secularism and a kind of
open, progressive thinking were
characteristics of the artists of those days.
Mohammad Kibria, Rashid Choudhury,
Aminul Islam, Abdur Razzaque, Hamidur
Rahman and others had faith in freedom of
ideas. It cannot be denied that the freedom
was mingled with the particular concept of
freedom of the west. They had to go to
considerable trouble to combine patriotism
and the attraction for the west.


Novera belonged to this generation. Being a woman and a sculptor, she was also an
exception and definitely extraordinary. She was completely devoted to her work,
which is perhaps why she was undeterred by the hostility that surrounded her, at least
for some time. Her goal was to animate Dhaka with sculptures as other great cities of
the world, where art would guide people towards greatness, show them the inner truth
of life. To this end she created almost a hundred pieces of sculpture between 1956 and
1960, installed the first outdoor sculpture in Dhaka (fig. 2.41), created the first relief
on a public edifice on the wall of the Public Library (presently the Central Library of
the Dhaka University), in 1960 she had the first sculpture exhibition in Dhaka.
Moreover, she contributed to the design of the Central Shaheed Minar and she created
three sculptures for it.
Novera’s subject was the peasant or the common people of the land. She had perhaps
romanticized their lives a little to give a local flavor to her work. She also wished to
touch the source of spirituality of Bengal in her work. She had discovered victory over
pain in the meditative posture of the Buddha. Her work also comprised of simplified
rhythms and minimized primitive forms.
In terms of form, Novera’s work may be seen to combine two streams, the modernism
of the west and the changeless tradition of the clay art of Bengal. Among the western
trends the Vitalist movement, particularly Henry Moore’s simplified human forms and
Hepworth's discovery much used by Moore, creation of abstract space in sculptural
forms. Novera had worked in cement, wood, plaster and clay. Due to technical
limitations her work in cement took on a rather linear, simple and almost flat form
following the inflexible structure of iron rods. However, some of her work exemplifies
the use of the cylindrical form.
Novera’s work showed the use of local forms, clear knowledge of modern art
movements and the desire to reach modernism through the primitive, all of which
combined to take the sculpture of Bangladesh to quite a position of strength at its
introduction (pl. 2.13). However, Novera could not stay in Dhaka for very long due to
unfavorable circumstances. She left for West Pakistan in search of a better atmosphere.
As in the sphere of architecture Muzharul Islam took modern architecture to an
unprecedented level, similarly Novera ushered in the tide of free sculpture to
Bangladesh. Yet both of them seem to float in vacuums, with none to precede or to
succeed them.
In 1963 sculpture was included in the curriculum of the art institute in Dhaka. The
department was established with the enthusiasm of Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin and
Abdur Razzaque (1932-2005) was the founding head of the department, organizing
and developing it. Abdur Razzaque was primarily a student of painting and
printmaking. He was particularly accomplished in drawing. While studying for his
MFA degree at the Iowa University of USA he took a year’s special training in
drawing under the supervision of James Leachey. He studied sculpture for two


semesters and a summer course though printmaking was his major subject. Abdur
Razzaque was almost equally attracted to the different media of art. He worked in
painting, printmaking and sculpture. In sculpture he worked in the media of wood-
carving and metal welding. He also worked in the modeling technique. He was very
conscious about the finishing of his work. He believed in purity and completeness.
This is perhaps why he did not have a large oeuvre.
It is perhaps contextual to mention that he began to work on sculpture after the
sculpture department was set up. The established trend of sculpture in Bangladesh is
largely the contribution of Abdur Razzaque. He had not learnt sculpture in the
academic process, thus we do not note the same struggle to break from the bonds of the
academic method that is seen in India. On the contrary, the academic or Neoclassical
style seems to be an ideal which pervades the world of sculpture of this country to this
very day. The absence of the academic trend seems to be a gaping wound. It continues
to be a dream of many sculptors to master the western academic method. In this aspect
the Dhaka centered art world is completely different from the west.
If we observe the work of Abdur Razzaque we note that he himself has worked on
experimental pieces and a variety of media. On analysis we can trace three different
trends in this work. One is related to the Neoclassical style, in his carving we perceive
the feel for the organic, other than these are his assemblages which retain the
individuality of the found object.
His figurative sculptures may generally be related to the neoclassical style. These
show the simplified presentation of the natural or real. His Face of a Woman of 1964
(pl. 2.14) or Seated Figure represents this trend. In addition, his large-scale Freedom fig. 2.42 Abdur
Fighter of 1972 at the crossroads of Jaydevpur, 12.8 meters in height, is an example Razzaque,
of this trend (fig. 2.50). These works are mainly done in the modeling process. His Construction-2, wood,
woodcarving displays the contrast of smooth and rough surfaces, the balance of the 1995
convex and concave or creates drama through light and shade. These seem to
represent nature through the organic. Abdur Razzaque’s childhood was spent in the
village which is perhaps why he thought of nature as his greatest inspiration. 99
Important examples of this trend are Construction-2 (1975) (fig. 2.42) and Form
(1976). These seem to represent different organic elements in nature. His assemblages
are done in wood or metal. His works in the metal welding process exemplifies Abdur
Razzaque’s sense of amazement in the individuality of the material, its uniqueness and
beauty. His sculpture has been composed by keeping intact the individual quality of
the material. In his wooden pieces he has tried to transform the material with his ideas.
Abdur Razzaque’s greatest contribution was nurturing the study of sculpture among
his students. His inquiring spirit, his absorption in the multi-dimensionality of nature
and art, his curiosity about the international and local trends in sculpture, his
enthusiasm and wonder about the varied world of art has lent him distinction. His
work depicts experimentation in style and technique. He has not directed himself to
any particular point but has experimented from different directions.


Abdur Razzaque’s classmate Rashid Choudhury (1932-1986) went to France in
1960 to study sculpture and fresco at the Ecole de Beaux Arts. On his return to
Bangladesh in 1964 he executed some sculptures but it is now unknown where they
are and in what condition.
Anwar Jahan (1940-1993) was born in Narayanganj. He was the first student of
sculpture at the Institute of Fine Art in Dhaka. In 1965 he completed the five year
course on painting and then a one year course on sculpture under Abdur Razzaque's
supervision. His medium was primarily woodcarving but he also has worked in clay
and metal welding. Notable too is his use of mixed media. In wood, his work was
figurative. He has done large-scale wooden pieces. Some of his work in wood hint at
primitivism as the figure is carved out from the wooden block (pl.2.15). He also did a
fig. 2.43 Syed Abdullah number of relief sculptures. His figures are somewhat simplified, the basic form has
Khalid, Atmabishleshan, received more emphasis than details. We see him most active in the sixties.
terracotta, 2000 Syed Abdullah Khalid (1945- ) was born in Sylhet. He studied in the Painting
Department of the Institute of Fine Art in Dhaka. As a student, he worked at the
Ceramics Department. His main oeuvre is portraits in clay. He also has done some
compositions in clay. These are in terracotta. His most important work is Aparajeyo
Bangla commemorating the Liberation War of 1971 (pl. 2.35). It has become a symbol
of national inspiration. 100 It stands on the open space in front of the Arts Faculty
building of the University of Dhaka. Figurative sculptures in terracotta features most
importantly in his sculptural works (fig. 2.43). Moreover, he has executed some
cement castings by dissecting the figure.
The Language Movement, self-rule movement and War of Liberation has played an
enormous role in changing the spirit and consciousness of the people and the art world.
The progressive, secular perspective that grew in the artist community extended the
scope of sculpture in Bangladesh. This became particularly apparent after 1971. The
fig. 2.44
Hamiduzzaman Khan, freedom of thought of the intellectuals of the newly liberated country, the inclusion of
The Gate – secularism and socialism in its constitution etc. were the reasons which made people
Remembrance ’71, feel that it was possible to realize the pre-liberation ideals. Moreover, cultural
bronze, 1976 exchanges with many different countries began to grow. New ties were formed with
India. As a free country and with the improvement in international communication,
exchanges and contacts with many different countries of the world
increased. With government scholarships and other means artists from
Bangladesh were exposed to India, Japan, China and East European
countries. The traditional role of sculpture in civilization to
commemorate important events and express views inspired the artists of
Bangladesh, added to this was the aesthetics of Socialist Realism from
the socialist countries. The sixties and seventies were a time of strength
for Socialism. People were inspired anew by the example of the small
country of Vietnam defeating the imperialistic USA.
It became important for Bangladesh to immortalize the Liberation War
by creating monumental out-door sculptures. These expressed a


hybridization of the Neoclassical and Socialist
Realism in their inspiration and expression.
However, as the technique of western academic
sculpture was not known in this country they did
not express the ideals of naturalism or realism. A
hybrid form of sculpture was born where greater
interest was taken in details than in inner structure
or total form. The importance of visual and
material structures was not dealt with.
Hamiduzzaman Khan (1946-) was born in
Kishoreganj of Mymensingh. He began to practice
sculpture based on studies from life before the War of Liberation. He was awarded the
BFA degree from the painting department of the Institute of Fine Art in 1967. Later in
1976, he was awarded MFA in sculpture from the M.S. University of Baroda, India.
His work during this period featuring the War of Liberation showed a remarkable
blending of subject and material (fig. 2.44). His experience of the atrocities of the
Pakistani armed forces imparted an expressionist quality to his work. His
consciousness of the qualities of the medium he uses has made his work successful to
a large extent. Some of his outdoor sculptural works on the subject of the Liberation
War are figurative. In some sculptures, for example Samsaptak placed in the
Jahangirnagar University in 1990, he has created a figurative sculpture by keeping
intact the character of metal sheets. In 1980 he decorated the fountain in front of the
Bangabhavan with a sculpture entitled Bird Family. This sculpture in brass sheets and
pipes is geometric and linear in composition. According to Nazrul Islam this is not
only Hamiduzzamans’ best work, it is also the most important amongst the out door
sculptures situated in Dhaka. 101
From 1982 to 1983 Hamiduzzaman did a year’s internship in Sculpture Centre School
of New York, USA. He was most impressed by the extensive use of abstract sculpture
in urban beautification and on his return to Dhaka he tried to introduce the trend (pl.
2.16). He returned to turn his attention to creating abstract forms, yet he did not
completely abandon figurative sculpture, especially when he worked on commissions
from various organizations on the subject of the Liberation War. 102 He installed a
sculpture at the invitation of the Olympic Association in the Olympic park in Seoul,
South Korea in 1988. According to Nazrul Islam, Hamiduzzaman is the first important
artist of Bangladesh who has introduced installation. He has contributed considerably fig. 2.45 (top) Alak
to popularizing sculpture in Bangladesh. Hamiduzzaman Khan is the pioneer of pure Roy, No More Slavery,
terracotta, 1988
abstraction in the art of Bangladesh,
though he also works on figurative fig. 2.46 (bottom)
compositions when needed. Towfiqur Rahman,
Hamiduzzaman began his practice of Expression, welded
abstraction in sculpture in the eighties. iron, 2006


Alak Roy (1950- ) studied in the painting Department of the Institute of Fine Art of Dhaka
for his BFA. He than went on to study murals at the MS University of Baroda for his
MFA. He studied terracotta there as the pupil of famous artist K.G. Subramanyan. In the
early stages, his work showed considerable influence of Subramanyan. It showed the
capacity for creating different textures in clay, coiling and twisting clay to create forms,
experimentation with the quality of clay. His work was formed from slabs of clay. He
began with creating relief sculptures. Later he went on to free-stranding work. Due to
working directly in clay, the cylindrical form is predominant in his work. His work has
basically turned to the portrait (pl. 2.17). However, the expressionistic quality of his early
portraits (fig. 2.45) is not to be seen in his later work. His simplified portraits hint at
primitivism. His work showed the combinations of multiple forms from the eighties and
was installed on sand, coal or brick chips and other materials. Alak Roy is inspired by the
tradition of terracotta of Bangladesh in terms of medium and technique. He uses color in
his work in the ceramic medium. He also works in the medium of wood and stone.
In 1974 Shamim Shikdar (1953- ) finished her BFA in sculpture from the Institute of Fine
Art. She concentrated on portraits and became well known in this field (pl.2.18). She has
created many portraits of eminent personalities.
Md. Enamul Huq (1954 - ) was born in Dhaka. He completed his BFA in sculpture in 1980
and MFA degree from the MS University of Baroda in 1985. His work is mainly figurative.
The main elements of his sculpture are groups of people and people in association with
architectural elements. He shows particular interest in metal casting (pl. 2.19).
Rasha (1958- ) was born in Comilla district. He was associated with the Bulbul Lalitkala
Academy (BAFA). He is unique for his figurative sculpture in the wood-carving medium.
He practices sculpture in both the carving and modeling methods. But his skill in
woodcarving is acclaimed (pl. 2.20). His work became well known through various
National and Asian art exhibitions. 104
Akhtar Jahan Ivy (1958 - ) was born in Bogra. She completed her BFA from the Institute
of Fine Art, Dhaka in 1980. She studied sculpture from 1988-
1989 at Santiniketan, Visva Bharati The prime characteristic
of her work is simplifying and abstracting from nature and the
known world. As subject, she has taken the mud houses of her
birthplace, Bogra (pl. 2.20). This again conjures up memories
of the ancient ruins of Mahasthan by the Korotoya. The life
force of the tiny seed is a symbol of nature’s endless energy
and has become a main subject of her sculpture. 105 The bird
has continued to be one of her themes. She is comfortable in
fig. 2.47 (top) Sultanul both the media of casting and welding.
Islam, Life Circle, Md. Towfiqur Rahman (1959- ) was born in Shariatpur. He
cement, 1985
completed his BFA from the Sculpture Department of the Art
Institute in Dhaka in 1981 and his MFA from the Central
fig. 2.48 (bottom)
Mahbub Jamal, Girl, Academy of Fine Art, Beijing. In the nineties his figurative
cement, 1990 sculptures in welded metal presented people and their


domestic animals. At present, his sculptures depict human and
animal figures in different expressions in welded metal (fig. 2.46).
The harmony of form and structure is the special character of
these works. Consciousness of material quality lends aesthetic
value to his work.
Ferdousi Priyabhashini (1948- ) is an unusual sculptor.
Assembling different found objects from nature and giving them
new meaning is the distinction of her work (pl. 2.23). She is a
self-taught sculptor. Her sculpture grew from the practice of
adding aesthetics to daily life. Like a magician she combines
different elements to create a new meaning and this is the prime
quality of her work.
Shyamal Chowdhury (1962- ) completed his BFA from the Sculpture Department in fig. 2.49 Nasima Haque
1982 and his MFA in 1986 in Dhaka. His work is basically figurative. Among his Mitu, Neo Balance,
noteworthy works is Manabbandhan, a monumental outdoor sculpture. Nasimul wood, 2006
Khabir states that Shyamal is a well-known artist of monumental commemorative out-
doors sculptures on independence, the liberation movement and anti-terrorism.
Currently he is experimenting in figurative sculpture combining elements from myth
and traditions. 106 (pl. 2.27)
Mrinal Haque (1960- ) is best known as an artist working on commissions for various
government and private organization. He also creates figurative sculptures from different
found objects in metal through the welding media (pl. 2.22). Mukul Muksuddin (1959- )
was born in Dhaka. He now creates somewhat decorative figural sculptures through
welding metal sheets and wire (pl. 2.26). Sultanul Islam (1958-) created sculptures mainly
on the subject of the child in the super-realistic style in life-size in the eighties and nineties
(fig. 2.47). These are done in the modeling process. Mahbub Jamal (1960- ) was born in
Jessore and resides there. He works on outdoor sculptures with the patronization of
different organizations. His sculptures presented exaggerated human figures in the
nineties (fig. 2.48). Sheikh Sadi Bhuiyan (1964- ) was born in Kishoreganj. He combines
human and animal forms to create hybrids in his sculptures (pl. 2.32). Mostafa Sharif
Anowar (1965- ) was born in Jamalpur. He carves figurative sculptures in the
comparatively unusual medium of stone (pl. 2.24).
The Asian Art Biennale is being held in Bangladesh since 1981. Bangladeshi artists get
the opportunity to see the works of artists from different countries of the world.
Particularly important is the fact that they were introduced to new trends in art through
works by Japanese artists. Japan is one of most developed nations of Asia. Bangladeshi
artists experienced performance, process and installation art through the works of
Japanese artists. This opened a new horizon in the field of sculptural expression. Very
recently, in the twelfth Asian Biennale held in 2005 installations by Bangladeshi artists
were presented. It is to be noted that in the west Conceptual Art was a way of overcoming
the limits of formalism of modern art and out of this evolved the variety of media in


expression such as installation, performance, earth art, video installation etc. This is not
what happened in Bangladesh. Pure concept as art is not a notion which has found
acceptance in the Bangladesh art world. The expression of a concept or, as in most cases,
to express socio-political statements the materials, method and aesthetics of expression
appear to get greater importance than the concept in its purity. As other new innovations
and trends of western art, this new trend of art too has gained ground in Bangladesh.
This trend gains patronage from the developed world. Due to current globalization and the
revolution in information technology, artists can exchange ideas and participate in art
processes throughout the world without any difference in time.
Mahbubur Rahman was born in Dhaka in 1960. He studied painting in the Institute of Fine
Art and completed has MFA in 1993. He began to work on sculpture as a student and is
quite active from the nineties. The Bangladesh art world was introduced to installation,
performance and other new trends through his work. Traveling to different countries has
brought diversity to his expression. However, he works within the context of Bangladeshi
political and social problems. The subject of Mahbub’s work is the absurdities of reality,
violence and terror. Reality is presented in exaggerated form in his oversized and
grotesque human figures (pl. 2.34). The dramatic subject of his figure based sculptures is
sensational. In the early stages he constructed large and bloated figures. From the mid-
nineties he gradually abandoned this style.
Maynul Islam Paul (1966- ) has been creating sculpture in wood, cement and later, paper
representing organic and manmade forms (Plate 2.25). Nasima Haque Mitu (1967- )
creates simplified form mainly in woodcarving. From the year 2000 onwards Mitu’s work
has shown variety in material, a consciousness of heritage and symbolic representation.
Her work shows purity of form and a tendency to impart a final finishing to the material
(fig. 2.49). Sudipto Mallik Sweden (1969- ) completed his MFA from Chittagong
University in 1995. He blends a variety of materials in his forms, for example bamboo,
roots, paper and wood (pl. 2.28). The human head is the most frequently used form in his
work. Diversity in material and new trends are observed in the work of Imran Hossain
(1970- ) (pl. 2.31) , Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisty (1976- ) (pl. 2.30), Mukul Kumar Baroi
(1972- ), Md. Hasanur Rahman Reaz (1975- ) and others. Many of them use readily
available and ephemeral materials. Some of them have done installations. Nasimul Khabir
(1972- ) has created heritage conscious and significant work in the carving and modeling
processes using traditional materials (pl. 2.33). Farzana Islam Milky (1974- ) creates
simplified figural forms in cast metal (pl. 2.29).
The sculpture of Bangladesh is comparatively new so it is perhaps unwise to make any
final statements about it. Sculptors are few in numbers, the acceptance of sculpture is
limited and not above controversy in certain respects. Novera Ahmed is the pioneer of
sculpture in this land and her contribution is without doubt, an inspiration for the
following generations. Yet, there is a considerable gap between her and the next
generation in terms of time and concept. In the final analysis, it cannot be said that a
trend or order has been established. However, individual attempts and expressions are
of course notable.


D. Reflection of the Liberation War in Post
Independence Sculptures and Monuments
Abu Md. Delwar Hossain

Sculptures on the War of Liberation are undoubtedly a new addition to the fine arts
following the Independence of Bangladesh. Sculptures have been used in representing
national pride, victories, royal or political power at different times and places across
the globe. The people of Bangladesh have also tried to make the memory of the
Liberation War indelible through sculptures on this glorious chapter of the country. 107
The most important and remarkable event in the history of Bangladesh and the Bengali
nation is the Liberation War of 1971. After Independence there has been a
comprehensive change in every sphere of life and this change is also observable in the
fine arts. Despite superstition, illiteracy and fanaticism, modern architecture and
sculpture of the country have progressed with a new enthusiasm during the Post
Liberation Period. Sculptures on the War of Liberation have advanced the sculptural
art of Bangladesh quite remarkably. Through large sized sculptures and architectures
on the theme of the War of Liberation, our artists have been able to break the shackles
of conservative norms and customs of society.
Sculptures and architectures on the War of Liberation were in most cases built to
uphold the Liberation War, mass killing, sacrifices and heroism of the Bengalis. In
addition to institutionally trained artists, some memorials and columns were built
through the enthusiasm of local freedom fighters, educational institutions and other
enterprising people. Though at the beginning, sculptures and architectures were
built at the universities, educational institutions and cantonments, nowadays
sculptures of different sizes are being built at different places of interest and
various establishments.
Sculptures of the Liberation War
Combining the qualities of permanence, evocativeness and possibilities there is no
other medium stronger than sculpture. Despite various efforts to manifest the spirit of
the Liberation War, sculptures in their monumentality most effectively uphold the
essence of the noble Liberation War.
The first sculpture on the Liberation War Freedom Fighter (fig. 2.50) was built by Abdur
Razzaque at the initiative of the Bangladesh Army on the island of the Chowrasta or
crossroad in Jaydevpur in 1972-73. Built on a 22ft high base, the 18ft sculpture shows a
freedom fighter about to throw a grenade with his right hand and holding a rifle in the
other. Around the base of the sculpture the names of 207 martyrs are inscribed. Discussing
the style of the sculpture, architect Rabiul Hussain states that it seems to lack movement.


It may be criticized by pointing out that more undaunted strength may have been infused
in to the sculpture. However, its vivid presence cannot be denied. Other than this, Abdur
Razzaque’s sculpture named Anushilan (Training) at the Jalalabad Cantonment in Sylhet
in cement shows a freedom fighter in ambush waiting for the enemy.
The well-known sculpture of Bangladesh Aparajeyo Bangla (Undefeated Bengal) by
Abdullah Khalid stands in front of the Arts Faculty Building of the Dhaka University
(pl. 2.34). The construction of the sculpture was completed in 1979. It is 18ft high from
the ground. Of the three figures, the central character, a village youth stands in the
middle clutching the strap of a rifle in his hand and a grenade in the left. To the left of
him is an urban youth with a rifle. At the right is a young lady devoted to nursing with
a first aid box at her shoulder. These three represent the concerted strength of the whole
Bengali nation. The composition of the Aparajeyo Bangla is quite mature, the figures
are dynamic. 109 All things considered Aparajeyo Bangla is a pioneer in the field of
sculptures on the Liberation War. Another important creation of Abdullah Khalid is the
sculpture Angikar (Promise) placed at the Railway Lake of Chandpur town. A 22ft and
7 inch fist holding a stengun is the main theme of the sculpture which was completed
in 1988. The fist clutching the stengun reflects firmness and conviction.
Hamiduzzaman added a different dimension to the field of sculptures based on the War
of Liberation. His large-scale work is Samsaptak in front of the Library of
fig. 2.50 Abdur Jahangirnagar University. Samsaptak is the name of a classical fighter. Samsaptak is
Razzaque, Freedom seen with one arm and one leg amputated, holding a rifle in his single hand as he
Fighter, cement and lunges forward (fig. 2.51). The sculpture itself is 13ft. in height, made of bronze, and
concrete, 1972-73 is set on a base15 ft. high. The geometric movement of the sculpture adds a sharp
dynamism to it. Hamiduzzaman has executed Shadhinata
(Independence) on the Judge Court premises in Faridpur,
Muktijoddha (Freedom Fighter) at the Bangla Academy, 50 feet
high Jagrata Bangla (Alert Bangla) with a fist holding up a rifle
at the entrance of the Ashuganj Zia Fertilizer Factory and an 8ft.
high metal sculpture at the gate of Jalalabad Cantonment in
Sylhet. Moreover his important artworks in metal
commemorating the War of Liberation also include, Darja (Door)
(fig. 2.44), Jhulanta Manush (Hanging Men), Hamla (Attack),
Muktijoddha-1 (Freedom Fighter-1), and Muktijoddha-2
(Freedom Fighter-2). These are in bronze, copper and steel.
Though artist Shamim Shikdar is better known for her sculpture
Swoparjita Sadhinata (Self Earned Independence), there are a
number of her sculptures at different places in Dhaka. The
construction work of Swoparjita Sadhinata on the island of a road
of the University of Dhaka ended in 1988. The 17ft. high
sculpture largely represents various events beginning from the
Language Movement of 1952 to the War of Liberation. Slogans
are inscribed between the panels. White cement, white marble and


marble dust was used in constructing it. 111
The largest work of Shamim Sikder
Sadhinata Sangram (Independence
Movement) is on the island of the road in
front of Udayan School in the Dhaka
University Campus and its construction
was completed in 1998. The sculpture
which is 60ft high and 85.75ft. in
perimeter depicts the great Language
Movement, self-determination movement
of the 60s, mass movement of 1969 and
the War of Liberation. The other
sculptures based on the War of Liberation
by Shamim Shikdar include Birshrestho
(Foremost among the braves) at the Anwar
Pasha Bhaban of Dhaka University, War
and Peace and La-Guernica at the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Nitun Kundu built the sculpture Sabash
Bangladesh (Bravo Bangladesh) at the
University of Rajshahi (pl. 2.36). Both sculpture and architecture were combined in this fig. 2.51
multidimensional artwork built on a 40sq.ft. area. A figure of a freedom fighter is Hamiduzzaman Khan,
standing with arms raised. It represents the rural youth with bare torso, bare feet, wearing Samsaptak,
lungi, rifle in the raised fist of his left hand and gamchha (napkin made of handloom) Jahangirnagar
tied round the head. Another figure is slightly bent and stands at a height of 12.5 ft., University, Savar, 1988
wearing trousers, he is the symbol of an urban youth with rifle held in the right hand and
gamchha tied at the waist. Concrete was used in constructing Sabash Bangladesh.
Senior artist Murtaja Baseer who is in fact a painter, erected Shadhinata Juddher
Smarak Bashkarja (Independence War Memorial Sculpture) at the University of
Chittagong. At the base of the sculpture is a water-lily on which is a round platform
and on it is a book cover without any pages where the flag of Bangladesh is visible.
The chronological evolution of the Bengali alphabet from the ancient to modern
period is presented there in the metaphorical form of paper.
Besides these, sculptures were built at a number of places in Bangladesh. Among
these, Chiro Durjoy (Ever Invincible) built at Rajarbagh in Dhaka is noteworthy.
Members of the police force were among the first to offer resistance in the War of
Liberation. Seven hundred and fifty one members of this force were martyred during
the Liberation War. In their memory, Mrinal Haque has built Chiro Durjoy sculpture
at the Rajarbagh Police Line. The sculpture made of white cement portrays 5 police
constables poised for resistance. Behind the main sculpture, there is a 72ft. wide mural
in mosaic tiles which presents the attack by the Pakistani force on the Rajarbagh
Police Line, their atrocities, resistance by the freedom fighters and most of all various


depictions of the joy of victory celebrations. An 8ft. high and 3ft. wide memorial
column made of red bricks was erected at the Fuller Road in the University of Dhaka
on 14 December, 1987. Hamiduzzaman placed a sculpture in steel on three triangular
white mosaic stairs at the residential area adjacent to the central Shaheed Minar.
Moreover, a monument in memory of the martyred teachers, employees and students
was built at the Jagannath Hall in 1974.
Rasha completed the construction of two remarkable sculptures near the main gate of
Jagannath College in Dhaka. One is titled Ekattarer Ganahatya (Genocide of 1971)
and the other Muktijuddher Prostuti (Preparation for the War of Liberation). The 25ft
high Ekattarer Ganahatya was built on a base containing 34 scattered figures.
Cement, rod and stone chips were used as construction materials for the sculpture
which focuses on mass killing and atrocities. The other 25ft. high Muktijuddher
Prostuti with 19 complete figures projects resistance by the Bengalis.
Two sculptures at Bangladesh Agriculture University in Mymensingh are notable
among the sculptures of Dhaka division which stand outside the Dhaka city. One of
them, Muktijuddher Smritistambha (Monument to the War of Liberation), was built in
memory of the martyrs of Bangladesh Agriculture University following the model for
the monument developed by Professor AKM Abdul Quddus Mian. The 34ft. red
passage and red stairs around the monument signify the blood stained earth. Four
stairs on each side indicate the Language Movement of 1952, education movement of
1962, mass uprisal of 1969 and Liberation War of 1971. The four stairs are also
imagined as the four basic principles of the constitution of Bangladesh. The names of
the 18 martyred teachers, employees and students are engraved at the front of the top
most triangular step. A fist holding a rifle is placed within the petals of a blooming
water-lily on the triangular step. 112
The other sculpture of the University, Bijoy Ekattar (Victory ’71), is placed in front of
the Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Auditorium. Shyamal Chowdhury built the artwork in
which a student, a farmer and a woman fighter in three distinct poses are standing on
fig. 2.52 Tanvir Karim, three separate steps. The student freedom fighter holds a grenade in one hand and rifle
Mujibnagar in the other. The farmer freedom fighter holds the flag of independence flying atop. In
Smritisoudha the right, the eternal woman of Bengal, her hand in a firm gesture is urging others to
join the War of Liberation. The figures are 7ft. in height. 113


Besides, the largest monument of Mymensingh Muktijuddha Smritisoudha
Mymensingh (Liberation War Monument Mymensingh) was set up at the Sambhuganj- fig. 2.53 Farid Uddin
and Jami Al-Shafi,
Brahmaputra Bridge premises in Mymensingh town. Constructed by Rashid Ahmed, Rayerbazaar
the memorial is in the shape of a table lamp standing on four steps and resembles a Baddhabhumi
shining lamp. The first six rings on the main pillar symbolize the historic six points. Smritisoudha, Dhaka,
The 71 triangular panels stand for the Liberation War of 1971. The 7 rings based on 1999
triangular panels indicate the address of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the historic 7th
of March. The 26 rifles are the symbol of the declaration of Independence on the 26th
of March and the armed Liberation War. The water lily represents the achievement of
an independent and sovereign state and the flag inscribed with the red sun on green
background depicts our victory, commitment to national solidarity and patriotism.
There are a number of remarkable sculptures in Chittagong. Banglar Bijoy (Victory of
Bengal) and Smriti Amlan (Unfading Memories) are among them. Banglar Bijoy was
initiated by the Chittagong City Corporation at the Biplab Udyan (square) of
Sholoshahar in 1995. Built by Anwar Chowdhury, the main part of the memorial
sculpture is 20ft. high. Symbols used in the sculpture are a rifle in a raised hand with
clenched fists on both sides. The hands have risen by breaking the shackles, the
national flag is behind them and the hand holding the rifle symbolizes protests against
injustice and repression. The two hands breaking the shackles symbolize the response
to the noble call of independence from subjugation. 114 The national flag stands for
sovereignty. The sculpture was constructed of cast cement and stones.


The memorial Smriti Amlan (Unfading Memories) was planned by the architect
Rajiuddin Ahmed and built at Bhatiyari of Sitakundu upazila in Chittagong. The
names of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the organizers and martyrs of the
War of Liberation from Bhatiyari union are carved on it.
The sculpture titled Durjoy Bangla (Invincible Bangla) was built in Sirajgonj. The
sculpture by Khondaker Aminul Karim Dulal is 30 ft. high. It represents the sacrifice
of 30 lakh martyrs. The sculpture shows a man holding a rifle, a woman with a flag
inscribed with the map of Bangladesh in her hand and a child holding a harpoon
prepared to combat the enemy. The notable sculpture of Khulna Division is Anushilan
(Training) set up at the Jessore Cantonment. It was constructed by Bimanesh
Bhattacharya in 1972. Moreover, Chetana Ekattar (Inspiration ’71) was built at the
Kushtia Police Line and Muktabangla (Liberated Bangla) at the Islamic University.
Yunus from Kushtia built Chetana Ekattar to uphold the contribution of the Kushtia
based police force to the War of Liberation. The sculpture named Muktabangla at the
Islamic University was designed by Rashid Ahmed. The seven members of the
Mujibnagar cabinet are symbolized by seven pillars with bayonets on them. The
sculpture was inaugurated in 2001.
Rasha, Alak Roy and Anwar Jahan are remarkable for their distinctive sculptures.
Rasha and Anwar Jahan have used wood extensively. Anwar Jahan has created a
number of sculptures at his home in Rankin Street. He has also executed quite a few
small artworks on the mass killing by the occupying forces. An 18 inch brass-sculpture
of a kneeling youth is one of his outstanding works. The youth with his eyes blind
folded is bent to one side, killed by the bullets of the Pakistani forces, he represents
hundreds of thousands of martyrs. Alak Roy has installed the sculpture Shadinatar
Manchitra (The Map of Independence) near the Bangladesh Military Academy in
Chittagong. It is built on an area of 410 × 240 sq.ft. Straight west on the road to the
memorial, the map of Bangladesh is made of green grass on a 40 × 30 sq.ft. base.
Seven sculptures of the 7 Birshresthas (foremost among the braves) stand on the green
map with heads held high in pride. The pillars of the sculptures are 6 to 14 ft. high.
Roots of the banyan tree and rocks are arranged on the green court yard on either side.
Roots of the banyan tree which symbolize antiquity and stability indicate that our
independence has stemmed from the War of Liberation. At the west of the base, on the
map of the country demarked with marble stones are the 11 sectors of the Liberation
War and the names of each of the sector commander’s are also written there. In the
north-western side of the base, the word ‘Bir’ (hero) is carved in white marble on
which the names of the 578 gallantry award winning freedom fighters are listed. The
diversity and developed technique used in this sculpture has made it a unique creation
of the history of the War of Liberation.
Our architects as well as our sculptors have also made considerable progress in
building monuments based on the War of Liberation. Among them the important ones
are- Jatiya Smriti Shoudha (National Memorial) in Savar, Rayerbazaar Baddhabhumi
(Rayerbazar Mass Killing Ground), Rajarbagh Shaheed Smritishoudha (Rajarbagh
Martyrs Memorial), Mujibnagar Smritishoudha (Mujibnagar Memorial), Smriti


Amlan (Unfading Memories) of Rajshahi, Shadinata Smritishoudha (Memorial to
Liberation) of Comilla Victoria College.
The National Memorial is at Nabinagar of Savar adjacent to Aricha Road, 33
kilometers north-west from Dhaka. Syed Moinul Hossain is its architect; the main
structure of it combines seven triangular towers (fins) the peaks of which grow
progressively slimmer as they climb upwards. These seven fins signify seven phases
of the Liberation Movement of Bangladesh, which are the Language Movement of
1952, mass uprisal of 1954, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1969 and finally the Liberation War of
1971. The outer most fin is 21ft. high and progressively the inner fins are respectively
42, 63, 84, 105, 126 and 147ft. high. The base of the monument is 6ft. high. Excepting
the first and the last fins, each of the other fins have two entrance passages which are
architecturally termed ‘punch’. The fins are at 7.5 feet distance from one another and
open to the sky. As a sculpture, it is free and complete. It is also termed a moving
column (pls. 2.37, 2.38). 117
During the nine months of the War of Liberation, the Pakistani occupying forces and
their collaborators took many people, especially intellectuals, to Rayerbazar in Dhaka
and killed them there. The Rayerbazaar Baddhabhumi Smritishoudha (Rayerbazar
Killing Ground Memorial) was built at Rayerbazaar killing ground in 1999(fig. 2.53).
The main part of the monument is a curved wall which is 380 feet long and 36 feet
high. The upper part of the wall is broken on both sides to deliberately create an
environment of sadness. There is a square hollow of 20 × 20 sq.ft. in the middle of the
wall. The nature and sky behind the wall of the monument can be viewed in different
colors within this visual frame. There is an artificial water reservoir of 16,600 sq. ft.
in front of the curved wall. A 33 ft. black pillar has risen out of the water body which
takes the hearts of visitors back to the days of 1971. Originally there was a banyan tree
at this spot in Rayerbazaar. Imitating that, another banyan tree was planted on the east-
west axis of the main monument. In its totality this monument will uphold the history
of self-sacrifice for the liberation of the motherland to the future generations.
Rajarbagh Shaheed Smritishoudha erected at the Rajarbagh Police Line in Dhaka is a
noteworthy architectural work on the War of Liberation. The names of 751 members
of the police force martyred in the War of Liberation are inscribed on it. The 110 ft.
high monument was designed by police officer Monsur-ul-Aziz. This high column or
minar is the combination of 3 angular walls. The national flower, water lily is at the
top of the minar. The three walls stand for the active participation of people from all
walks of life in the War of Liberation. The height of the tower stands for the success
of the Liberation War that won the water lily which is placed at top the of the column.
On the top of the minar, there is a round roof which represents the form of the
independence and also symbolizes national security.
Two more monuments in Dhaka are Shaheed Buddhijibi Smritishoudha (Martyred
Intellectuals Memorial) designed by architect Harun Quddus, and architect Rabiul
Hussain’s BDR Smritishoudha (BDR Memorial) built inside the Pilkhana. The BDR
Smritishoudha is comprised of four columns which represent the four national

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