Accepted paper:

Folk, food and folly: Bangladeshi 'folk' dance and the Bengal famine of 1943

Authors:

Munjulika Rahman (Northwestern University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes frequently performed pieces of the most common Bangladeshi dance genre, called “folk” dance by practitioners, to elaborate how and why it became a popular choice as a representation of Bangladeshi people during the Pakistan period and after independence in Bangladesh.

Paper long abstract:

The most common Bangladeshi dance form, called "folk" dance by practitioners, is an "invented tradition" that was developed in the forties and fifties by dancers of Bangladeshi origin who were based in urban centers such as Dhaka and Kolkata. The subjects of this dance genre are activities of villagers who are depicted as fishing, harvesting, tea-picking, and making merry in village fairs. They are portrayed as simple, happy villagers enjoying themselves in idyllic settings of harmony and bounty. This popular dance genre remembers and reiterates a past, and in fact, a present that is factitious because the dance form is not actually performed by rural people. When the history of the dance form and the period of its development is considered, it seems that its focus on the ordinary villager grows out of the social, cultural and economic neglect that the Bangladesh region experienced as part of British India and later as East Pakistan. While the dances, most often performed in cities, might act to remind audience members of the rural peasantry whom state administrators have historically overlooked, I contend that its emphasis on happiness and scenes of abundance is also significant. In the paper, I analyze frequently performed pieces of this dance genre to elaborate how this characteristic of the dance form - glimpses of rural life, devoid of struggles and poverty - made it a popular choice as a representation of Bangladeshi people among administrators and policy-makers, both during the Pakistan period and after independence in Bangladesh.

panel P35
Imagining Bangladesh and forty years of its aesthetic trajectory