the Heritage of
My eyes entire Bangladesh is a museum" writes Babu Ahmed
in the brochure published on the occasion of his solo exhibition.
Ahmed spent 18 years of his life documenting the archeological
treasures of Bangladesh. This is the third attempt on his
part to showcase the vast treasures that are spread across
this country. His first show was composed of glimpses of archeological
sites strewn across the land, the second solo was exclusively
on Mughal Muslim architecture and this one, his third solo,
is a homage to the Hindu temple architecture of Bangladesh.
the show is a reminder of lost expertise. After one has taken
a tour through the Bengal Gallery, where Ahmed's one hundred
photographs of temples are on display, one will wake up to
the richness and the variety of the temple architecture in
temples in Bangladesh are left to ruin. With the absence of
government intervention, and at most cases, with the blatant
transgression by many land-grabbing neo-rich of the rural
areas, who have no inkling of what archeological treasures
mean, most temples are in danger of being obliterated from
the face of this part of Bengal.
Bangladesh, there are near about five hundred temples. That
is a lot for a small country," assures Ahmed. While the
Department of Archeology has earmarked only a handful of temples
as heritage sights and brought them under their protection
programme, Ahmed has meticulously catalogued five hundred
of them. "I have only had the opportunity to photograph
three hundred temples, and in this show I had to take that
number down to one hundred because of space constraint,"
Gallery walls are crammed with photos of temples, most showing
clear signs of being in neglect. The temples that still stand
and had not reached the irreparable stage were built within
the time starting from the last three hundred years to the
early 19th century. "You will not find a single temple
that dates back to the time before Muslim invasion of Bengal.
They either could not stand the test of time or were brought
down by Muslim invaders," Ahmed continues.
among the photographs of one hundred temples that hang on
the walls of the Bengal Gallery, one will have little time
to rue over the ones lost in time, as anyone will be gripped
by a strong sense of reclamation of the past just by looking
at the ones that the photographer captured. As most of them
fell into disuse long ago, they too, it seems, ominously stand
only to meet the fate of their predecessors.
Joydevpur, Gazipur, circa 1900, built by Maharaya Kalinarayana
of Bhawal, a pancho-ratno type temple
photos are a strong testimony to the decaying architectural
landscape of bygone Bangladesh. The photographer himself found
many of the structures devoid of their spire or with a great
chunk gone missing during his recent visits. "Every time
I go back to my subjects after an interval of a number of
years, I find them in a diminished condition. Many temples
are being used as bathans -- meaning barn for cattle,"
Ahmed discloses. It pains him to see this wealth being on
the verge of disappearance as a result of both vandalism and
apathy of humans.
first encounter with a mondir (temple) was the "Twin-Shiva
Temple" in Bolihar, Naogaon. "Now it houses
cattle, and the spire of the temple at the right is gone,"
Ahmed picturises the temple in ruin, one that he photographed
ten years back with the temple in one piece.
time and weather have a drastic effect on these structures,
it is human encroachment that deals the greatest blow and
set the final stage for their demise. As more and more temples
fall in the hands of land-grabbers, all traces of past glories
of building and designing are under threat of being erased.
Ahmed's contention is that, at least through his photographs
the future generation would be able to relive a glorious past.
says that the listed archeological sites are quite few. Many
temples remain unlisted by the government; even the listed
ones are not being given proper attention and care. Conservation
remains a far cry in this land that is a treasure trove in
archeological terms. "Some people are pulling out bricks
from the temple walls as they lie unguarded or abandoned or
are being used as homes by derelicts. Pieces of terracotta
are also going missing as there is a good price for these
exquisitely done relief works," Ahmed raises a voice
was during his childhood that Ahmed developed an interest
for history or things of historical importance. "I loved
reading history, and I also liked to look at what the kings
and zamindars had built in their times," Ahmed
explains his affinity towards history. As he grew up, that
affinity was transformed into a mission. "I always carry
a mesuring-tape along with the camera and other paraphernalia,
to take the measurement of the structure I photograph. Taking
measurements is crucial for the drawing I later develop to
determine the plan for each building that I photograph,"
adds Ahmed whose works are more about keeping a document of
the historical structure than about aesthetic pleasure.
interest was always archeological in nature. And it made him
roam around the length and breadth of Bangladesh. He even
went on to cross the boarder to capture the temples of West
Bengal. "In the last eighteen years I have kept at my
job, recording whatever buildings that I thought had historical
value," he proclaims. He is doing what the Bangladesh
government has failed to even consider. If it had not been
for the photographs, many of the most ingeniously built architecture
of Bengal would have remained unexposed to a vast majority
of Bangladeshis. The photographer too is happy to notice that
his works have induced a sense of pride and an urgency to
preserve the national treasures among the visitors.
he was led through the gallery, the UNESCO Chief Wolfgang
Vollmann could not hide his astonishment, he was swept away
by the sheer number and the variety of the temples. Vollman
was heard saying that he would not have imagined that in such
a small country so many historical sites were built and are
Madhukahli, Faridpur, circa 1600.
Gournadi, Barisal, circa 1800
photographer Babu Ahmed it was just one batch of temples he
chose from his huge collection. Ahmed did his stint as a press
photographer. He virtually worked for almost half the national
dailies. From Sangbad, Azadi to Prothom Alo,
he worked for them with abiding interest. However, at present,
he has given up his job to pursue his dream of building up
an archive of the archeological treasures of Bengal.
Hindu population has decimated, but the efforts of people
like Ahmed, at least, may go to serve to raise a voice of
concern to save the crumbling structures that stand proof
of a culture based on the idea of integration. In the show,
with many a temple, the melding of styles is detected. A Twin-Shiva
Temple of Mymensing built in the 1820s shows a strong
presence of Muslim architecture; even the colonial patterns
are visible in Navo-Ratno Temple of Tantiband, Pabna.
Many of the temples are simply memorials, and are called maths
or deuls. These are the structures either built to crown the
ground where the ashes of the nobles were buried or just with
their memories in mind.
they are temples or maths, many of the structures
have lost their original contour. Successive renovation works
have robbed them of their original relief work that used to
adorn the surface. Those that did not lose the original intricate
ornaments or the repetitive ornate cornices that runs the
length of the spire, are sights of extraordinary beauty. The
Dhakeshwary Temple with its living deity is a prime
example of a temple that lost its ornaments to renovations.
solo exhibition titled "One Hundred Temples" strives
to relocate our point of attention, it initiates a change
of heart on the visitors part. Those who had no idea of the
vast architectural riches that Bangladesh holds inside its
periphery, will have a clear idea of it after a single visit.
Yet the question remains, will this break the slumber of the
relevant authorities? Will they hear Ahmed's clarion call?
exhibition was held from 1 to 10 August 2004.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004