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Anwarul Karim’s ‘Water and Culture in Bangladesh Past and Present’

A New Pathway to Measure the Value of Water through the Culture of Bangladesh

By: Mohammad Jashim Uddin and K Ahmed Alam


Professor Dr. Anwarul Karim is a worldwide famous and recognized researcher of Bangladesh History, culture and norms. He is also a true educationist and organizer. He is best known for his pioneering research on the Bauls of Bangladesh and Lalon Faquir.

Dr. Karim has a chequered career in the field of research and education. He joined at Harvard University as its visiting scholar in 1985. Later, he used to visit Japan, Korea and some other western and Middle East countries as visiting scholar. Before 1985, he was regular in different Indian universities as guest scholar of Folklore and cultural representative of Bangla.

As the first Bengali, he did his PhD on Folklore under the supervision of Dr. Nilima Ibrahim, a renowned literary critic in Bangla. Professor Karim where he goes represents Bangladesh and her culture. Though he is nearly eighty, he is ever youth to show his affectionate for Bangladesh doing research on various fields of Bangladesh culture.

Dr. Karim worked as a Professor of English and Vice Chancellor at Islamic University, Kushtia. Now he is working as Pro-Vice Chancellor at Northern University Bangladesh. He was the founder Director, Lalon Academy and Chairman, Folklore Research Institute, Kushtia. He has around 25 books in English and Bangla to his credit. He was awarded nationally and internationally for his research and publication. Water and Culture in Bangladesh Past and Present is his last addition which is one of his most worthy works as it focuses how water is very close to our culture and how water and culture play a vital role in achieving the economic development of Bangladesh. The book also finds out the reasons of destructive steps of man-made obstacles to confine the water resources and the reason of changing culture of Bangladesh because of industrial revolution and greedy attempts of capitalistic society. Here he also recommends how we can overcome all the obstacles and fulfill our economic goal and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2030.

The book has nine detail chapters excluding ‘Acknowledgements’, ‘Preface’ ‘Opinion of Experts’, ‘Annexure’ and ‘Reference and Bibliography’. It was published from Murdhonno, Dhaka in December, 2017. It consists of 476 pages and costs 700.00 BDT. The contents include Chapter 1: “Introduction and Background Study”; Chapter II: “Civilization Begins with Water”; Chapter III: “Water and Culture and its Various Uses”; Chapter IV: “Bangladesh: A Land of Tanks and Mosques”; Chapter V: “Bangladesh: Land, River, People”; Chapter VI: “Water in Bengali Folklore”; Chapter VII: “The Culture of Bangladesh”; Chapter VIII: “Problems Confronting Water and Culture in Bangladesh”, and Chapter IX: “Postscript, Annexure, References and Bibliography”.

In ‘Message’, Aktari Mamtaz, Secretary of Ministry of Cultural Affairs, asserts that “Civilization of Bangladesh, a riverine country, has been evolved on the banks of rivers. Water has been the source to touch all aspects of development, livelihood and cultural dimensions. Agricultural, trade, fisheries, communication and transportation have strong nexus with water as well as rivers.” And “culture as the evolving set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of social groups encompassing lifestyle, ways of living, values systems, traditions and beliefs, cultural diversity; stakeholder involvement and intercultural dialogue and education should be instrumental to development in human values.” The very few words are enough to understand the present value of the book.

In ‘Opinion of Experts’, Dr. Phill Parashall, Divinity School Harvard University, USA, Professor Dr. Richard Bales, Dean, Faculty of Law, Ohio Northern University, USA, Chris Brown, Visiting Scholar of Oxford University, and Dr. Tone Bleie, Professor of University of Tromso, Norway have commented on Dr. Karim’s worthy book. Their opinions undoubtedly enhance the value of such writing by Anwarul Karim.

In ‘Preface’, the author claims that “The book, Water and Culture in Bangladesh: Past and Present, has been named in view of the fact that Bangladesh is one of the oldest civilized countries in the world and she is best known as the land of rivers in the history of the world. Her culture in the past was mostly shaped by water.” Here he strongly demands that “Yet never has such diversification affected our culture. Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians together with the minor religious groups, such as tribes, maintain their own religious culture living side by side for generations.” So it will not be an exaggeration if we claim that the writer has attempted to portray the realistic picture of Bangladesh, where the people live years after years harmoniously as they depend on water to perform their ritual activities.

An interesting part of the book is the discovery of a kingdom, named Gangaridae that covered almost the whole of Southwest region of Bangladesh. Kotalipara, presently an Upozila under Gopalganj district of Bangladesh, was the capital of Gangaridae.The History of Greece recorded a story that Alexander, the Great feared to invade Bengal because of Gangaridae. The story is given in complete form in the chapters dealing in ‘Archaeology”.

In the very first chapter entitled ‘Introduction and Background of Study’, he briefs why and how water and culture are inseparable and influence the life of Bangladesh and her economic growth. According to Prof. Karim, “No religion is without the use of water. It is considered very sacred. Water is the basic element for culture. It has always been a primary need of human being. The Veda, The Tripitaka, the Bible, and the Qur’an all speak of water as not only sacred but a very basic and useful element in human life also.” Then the book shows how the researchers prioritize the use of water to perform the cultural activities. By citing Foster, the author says, “Cultural makes possible the reasonably efficient, largely automatic interaction between individuals that is a pre-requisite to social life.”

In the chapter then he notes of the writing purpose of the book. He asserts, “My intention in this book is to find out the roots of the people of Bangladesh and the culture thereof as there has been controversy regarding the influence of Dravidians in the Bengal way of life.”

In Chapter II entitled “Civilization Begins with Water”, the researcher highlights which civilizations flourished depend on water. In the chapter he details explains ‘The Ganges Basin Civilization’, ‘Bangladesh: A Brief Historical Background’, ‘Human Settlement: Southern State of Bengal and Kotalipara as the Capital’, ‘Ptolemy’s Geography’, ‘Megasthenes Indica’, ‘Diodorus Siccus’, ‘Archaeological Relics’, ‘West Bengal, India: Pandu Rajar Dhibi’, ‘Mahishdal and Baneshwar Danga’, ‘Bangladesh: Wari Bateshaw in Narsindhi’, ‘Mainamoti in Comilla’, etc. He places historical evidences to prove that these civilizations and ancient cities established based on water.

In the very third chapter entitled “Water and Culture and Its Various Uses”, Dr. Karim notifies that primitive culture of human beings was closely related with water. “Water has been related to man’s cultural heritage since the bygone days. But the supply of water, in most countries, depends on rain and showers. Without rain, drought continues; vegetation withers; animals and men suffer and die. In primitive societies, where formal religion is absent, Animism steps in and magic controls everything.” There are a number of Shamanists leading their lives on water and they have an individual culture. Then he shows that rain making is a source of power and authority. After that, the book claims that ‘water is a symbol of fertility’. Moreover, “In all cultures water stands as a symbol of fertility. This is particularly true with the belief in animism. Female fertility and agricultural fertility belong to the same order of existence. We have already talked of human reproduction and agricultural production. The Anthropologists agree that women were the first agriculturists. Briffault (1952) suggests that “The fertility of the soil retained its immemorial association with the woman who had been the tiller of the Earth and were regarded as the depositories of agricultural magic.”

In the next chapter entitled ‘Bangladesh: a Land of Tanks and Mosques’, Dr. Karim depicts the long history of Bangladesh and her cultural development. The chapter is very important as he analyzes the chapter from economist’s perspective. Because of famine in different years how the people were affected financially. Here he also recommends how people can be benefited if they use the water properly. He claims that we can improve our GDP rate gradually.

In the next chapter entitled ‘Bangladesh: Land River People’, the book shows ‘land and water use in Bangladesh: navigation’, ‘the country boats and their various types’, ‘the golden Bengal: agriculture and commerce’, ‘traditional cropping pattern’, ‘harvesting’, ‘Folk forecasting on weather: folklore and folk wisdom’, ‘folklore or indigenous heritage, patronization by the government’, ‘Fisher in Bangladesh : Folklore knowledge in increasing fish production’, ‘Traditional water management practices in agricultural water production’, and so on. The author here again analyzes the importance of water for the development of Bangladesh culture and economic.

In ‘Water in Bengali Folklore’, he analyzes the forecasting storm and rain, folk knowledge in culture, agriculture and forestry, folk wisdom and forecasting a good harvest, folk medicine and environmental impact on human life. Interestingly, the book rejects the concepts of so-called superstitious; rather he claims these are the traditional beliefs that have really good impact on human’s life.

In “The Culture of Bangladesh”, the writer emphasizes on the cultural values which construct, reconstruct, shape, reshape, restructure and decentralize the traditional values and norms of Bangladesh. What culture is is also defined here. According to the author, The Bangladesh culture has its diversity because of the presence of different religious such as Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Tribal’s. The folk cults such as Sufi, Baul, Marfati, Maizbhandari, Vaishnava, etc. also play an important role in the making of the Bengali culture. Then the book shows the Bengali New Year and Nabnna festivals. Besides, the book shows the economical values these festivals.

In “Problems Confronting Water and Culture in Bangladesh”, he identifies threats of using water in Bangladesh for future. The random use of water and misuse of water and arsenic contamination in ground water are the main threads. Besides, Farrakhan dam and Tipaimukh dam are also the human-created threads of Bangladesh. Here he also suggests how we can overcome the threads easily and contribute in our economic growth using water.

Finally, we can conclude the writing mentioning the evaluation of Dr. Tone Bleie, Professor of Public Policy and Planning at UIT-The Arctic University of Norway, and author of books and articles on Bangladesh’s multicultural legacy and contemporary development and human rights challenges, appreciates the book and remarks that “Dr. Karim combines passion with a rigorous analytical mind, creating a multi-layered narrative about one of the world’s great riparian civilizations. These intricate pre-historic and historic dynamics are sadly unknown not only internationally, but also among Bangladeshis ….I dearly hope the book will be read by many and help replace ethnocentric myths with new and well-established evidence about the country’s rich pre-Arean past and make us realize that Bangladesh’s woes, as a lower riparian country, should be considered an international issue of mega proportions.”

In a nut shell, it can be said that Professor Anwarul Karim scholarly represents the importance of water and culture in a single book which is a new dimensional and remarkable path for the future researchers to find out the alternative economic ideas. So, undoubtedly the book is a milestone in achieving the new economic development of Bangladesh and all credits go to Professor Dr. anwarul Karim, who is known as the best folklorist in Asia.


1. Mohammad Jashim Uddin is a Senior Lecturer of English at Northern University Bangladesh.
2. K Ahmed Alam is an Associate Professor of English at Northern University Bangladesh.


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