The practice of music in the ancient Indian subcontinent originated from a diverse lineage, deeply rooted in spiritual and ethnic traditions. The ancient forms were passed down from one generation to the next and has been upheld by scores of important musicians throughout history – musicians who were patronised by kings, feudal lords, and spiritual leaders, forming the backbone of eastern classical music.
Contemporary practices of classical music, however, was established in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and well-ordained traditions formed the basis for the evolution of modern eastern classical forms. Documentation of music using notations is a fairly new practice in the subcontinent. Yet, many aspects of the ancient traditions remained un-affected by the phenomenon. Music from the region remained free-flowing and improvised, rather than becoming scripted, similar to its western counterpart – a culture surviving the test of time. The remnants of the era is still traceable in today’s guru–shishya, parampara, practices. Ustad Alauddin Khan, Sangeetacharya Tarapada Chakrabarty, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ayat Ali Khan, Ustad Vilayet Khan and many others were born in East Bengal (presently Bangladesh); and later played a role similar to that of the ancient legendary maestros before them, upholding the practices of eastern classical music during present times.
However, as we approach the era of cultural globalisation, the appreciation of this practice is lost on younger generations.
Bengal Foundation, a private trust which started its journey during the late eighties, has been promoting Bengali culture for decades. The Foundation regularly organises events, workshops, and a number of initiatives, in an attempt to nurture the traditions of music in Bangladesh. Bengal Classical Music Festival, an initiative of Bengal Foundation’s Music Programme, is the world’s largest classical music festival in terms of the number of performers on a single stage, audience capacity and duration. The festival is a free annual public event with the aim of creating, in the long run, a discerning audience with a taste for quality music. Through these events the Foundation hopes to pave the way for better appreciation and understanding of the fundamentals of music, as well as energise, sensitise, influence, and promote the music industry of Bangladesh.
It was more than twenty-six years ago that Bengal Foundation embarked upon its journey to project a culturally rich Bangladesh. Born out of the Chairman and Founder Abul Khair’s personal regard for the arts, the Foundation’s main objectives were to conserve tradition, allow diversity, evolution and growth from within. Bengal Foundation operates purely for public benefit and since its beginning has pursued the policy of making its events free for all. Today, it runs several programmes on Music, Visual Arts, Literature and Publications, Cinema, and Architecture.
The Foundation’s Music programme involves producing musical recordings, organising local and international events such as festivals, concerts, talent-searches, lectures and workshops. Bengal Foundation also organises annually, the largest classical music festival in terms of number of performers on a single stage, audience capacity and duration. The ideology of the Festival was always backed by the intent to establish a school for training in classical music by renowned maestros, and the success of the first festival in 2012 led to Bengal Parampara Sangeetalay being introduced, in 2014. The school offers free tuition to deserving students. Bengal Foundation also focuses on the revival of natural dyes through its crafts outlet Aranya and in 2010, it introduced the Mastercraftsperson Award in collaboration with the National Crafts Council of Bangladesh. In 2003, the Foundation launched Jamini, the country’s first international arts magazine, and Kali O Kalam, a Bengali literary magazine. Later, Shilpa O Shilpi, a Bengali arts periodical, Six Seasons Review, an English literary magazine, and Jal Pore Pata Nore, a children’s magazine and the only one to be available in Braille, also came into being. In 2015 Kali O Kalam was launched in Kolkata whereby the magazine, in its 12th year in Bangladesh, is being printed and distributed in India. Bengal Foundation jointly publishes worldclass monographs on renowned Bangladeshi painters, with Skira Editore of Milan, for international distribution. The Foundation’s publishing wing, Bengal Publications, brings out books in Bengali and English with a mission to promote good authors and encourage readership. In 2016, the Foundation launched Bengal eBoi, with a collection of over 200 books and possibly the first eBooks in Bangla, in a proper format. The Foundation’s Visual Arts programme runs exhibitions, talks, film screenings, art workshops and residencies, and publishes books, catalogues and folios on art. In 2000, Bengal Foundation launched one of the first commercial galleries in Dhaka, the Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, which was followed by the Bengal Art Lounge in 2012. In 2013, the Foundation launched the Daily Star-Bengal Arts Precinct as a platform for emerging artists. It also established the Safiuddin Bengal Printmaking Studio, which along with a space for collaborative shows, forms the Bengal Open Studios. The Foundation set up the SM Sultan Bengal Art College in south-west Bangladesh. Abul Khair’s own acquisitions, together with the Foundation’s collection, has over the years, created an art repository of over 5000 works by modern painters of the region. Bengal Museum of Arts and Crafts, the first of its kind, is envisioned as a project in the near future, to be built in the suburbs of Dhaka, where this substantive collection will be on public display. The museum will be the first adaptive re-use project of its kind. By 2016, the Visual Arts programme seemed to have fulfilled its initial mission of introducing existing and potential art enthusiasts to a certain echelon of art and bridging the gap between them and the artists. In the natural course if its evolution, the programme continued on its path by moving away from the commercial aspect of it to concentrate on being a platform for nurturing young and prospective artists, and highlighting the modernist legacy of Bangladesh.
Realizing the need for positive contributions to the Bangladesh Film Industry, Bengal Cinema Development Forum was established under the Cinema Programme to invest in movies by young and promising filmmakers. The aim is also to revive the Bangladesh Film Industry in a way that lends a good movie-going experience to all members of a family. In 2015 the Foundation set up the Bengal Institute for Architecture, Landscapes and Settlements, with an aim to offer an advanced platform for developing ideas and programs to improve the qualities of architecture, landscapes and settlements.
In 2002, the Abdur Razzaq Foundation was set up with an aim to carry out work in political science and humanities. Under this Foundation, in 2015, was established the Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Bidyapeeth, which allows researchers and serious readers to access,
Abul Khair’s uncle and mentor, Professor Razzaq’s outstanding collection of books. The Bidyapeeth is managed by Bengal Foundation.
Bengal Foundation has faith in the power of art as an agent of change and believes that in order to make that change, initiation must come from within and with one’s own resources as much as possible. It maintains a strong belief in the excellence and singularity of Bangladesh’s cultural wealth and therefore strives to work unconditionally to accommodate cultural advancement and growth.
Please visit www.bengalfoundation.org for more information.