Beautiful Bangladesh! This may not be your first thought when you arrive in one of most densely populated countries in the world. But, when you begin to discover the heart of its people, you see the country through different eyes. The heart and soul of this nation is found in its peoples’ faces- faces of smiling children, faces with lines that tell of national and political changes and faces wondering about the world outside of their home. This nation is a mosaic where each person adds a new dimension creating the picture of Beautiful Bangladesh.
While the nation is young, its culture is ancient. The first inhabitants in the Bengal delta were Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic who left a legacy of diverse languages still existing today. Vast trade routes carried goods and ideas through the region. Islam was brought by traders during the Mughal rule in the sixteenth century and spread through much of current day Bangladesh, which earlier was largely a Hindu and Buddhist area. Next, the British East India Company’s influence spread and gained control of the Indian subcontinent in the mid-1700s. Later, the subcontinent’s struggle for independence from Britain was finally was granted in 1947 with the decision to create the Hindu majority country of India and the Muslim majority country of Pakistan. East and West Pakistan were separated by about 2000 kilometers and each wanted their language to become the state language. To settle the debate, two countries were formed: Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Bengali people named their new land “the country of the Bengali language” because of their love for their mother language.
The pioneer missionary, William Carey, arrived in India in 1793. Eight years later he published the Bengali Bible, making the Bengalis the first people group in South Asia to receive God’s Word. Of the languages in Bangladesh, 21 have the Bible or portions of the Bible; many of these translations were completed in India. It is estimated that at least seven languages still need a Bible translation.
The languages and religions of Bangladesh further diversify the nation. Bengali, the national language is spoken in the standard form by about 80% of the population. The other 39 languages comprise the remaining 20% percent. Christians account for less than 1% percent of the population. About 87% are Muslims, 12% are Hindu and the remaining 1% are Buddhists, Animists, Christians and other religions.
Bangladesh is a country of variety. There are energetic cities, tranquil tea gardens and mangroves with prowling tigers. The relics of Buddhist temples and Hindu shrines are sprinkled between mosques calling the country to prayer five times a day. All of these factors created the nation of Beautiful Bangladesh.
Photo: Aileen Agoncillo