Delicious dip into theology and ancient Bengal

rd01Coffee table books published in Bangladesh are still rare. Sorry to say this but the reason is while publication globally, as in industry, has undergone phenomenal changes in the last forty years, the overall thought here in Bangladesh remains somewhat ossified.
But a first glance at the book in question is ample proof that some publishing houses have shed the old and are adapting to prevailing trends within the industry.
In recent times, several coffee table books have come to the market and each one has tried to give us a compact product. To be frank, this book is almost perfect, pages are of top quality, photographs are clear, the text allows breathing space and, the pages are gilded.
So, the Taka 4,000 for a solid product on your drawing room is not wasted at all! Going beyond the decorative purpose, we now come to the actual material inside. The rule with this sort of picture based books is that no one reads the whole work, preferring to concentrate on certain sections.
But if this is taken as an archeological guide, one won’t be disappointed.
The book begins with a lucid chapter on how Buddhism spread to Bengal during the reign of Asoka going to the period of Gupta king Shashanka. For those who want to trace the beginning of the faith in ancient Bengal, these chapters are a gold mine.
Then the album continues to present in detail Buddhist sculptures, coins, paintings, etchings strewn all across Bangladesh. Scholars will find detailed description of stone images plus archaeological sites that have been excavated in the last 100 years.
In short, the overall objective here is to show the profound Buddhist link that Bangladesh possesses. For researchers of ancient Bengal, this is a must buy because in one book they will find comprehensive information of a period when communities developed holding on to the basic principles of human love, devotion, control of primal instincts and nurturing of moderate values.
But it would be wrong to say that this work will only appeal to history enthusiasts. A splendid collection of current day photos of the Buddhist community in Bangladesh adds the ‘vital’ contemporary dimension. The photos show modern day life in monasteries with people praying, monks performing religious plus everyday rituals.
This modern touch is especially important since the Buddhist community is very much a core component of a free and liberal Bangladesh.
Obviously, the book’s main target audience will be foreigners and, therefore, it would be wise for the government of Bangladesh to promote it through its missions abroad, especially in south-east Asia.
The rising number of five star hotels should also place this as a showcase of what Bangladesh has to offer as a historical site.
In recent times, one trail of tourism in Bangladesh has been dominated by Buddhists from other nations coming here to visit ancient sites; this work can easily be used to promote the strong religious footing.
Nymphea Publication deserves praise for the smart product which can easily be compared with top of the range coffee table books.
My suggestion for those who will buy this for their drawing room table: Please go through a few pages, the soft tones, countless images and the fluid descriptions may not provide instant nirvana but will certainly trigger a feeling of tranquility.
After all, Buddhism is supposed to be the faith of peace and composure.
Certainly something worth buying!

Buddhist Heritage of Bangladesh
Karunangshu Barua
Nymphea Publication
Pages: 324
Price: Tk 4000 ($50)

– reviewed by Towheed Feroze