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As Hinduism in Bangladesh lacks Indian version's pomp, Hindu ceremonies are rarely conducted in the depths of temples to which access is restricted.
PTI | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON FEB 01, 2006 05:46 PM IST


About 82 per cent of the people of Bangladesh live in rural areas. Bangladesh's Muslims and Hindus live in relative harmony. The Muslim majority has religious leaders, pirs, whose status straddles the gap between that of a bishop and that of a sage.

As Hinduism in Bangladesh lacks Indian version's pomp, Hindu ceremonies are rarely conducted in the depths of temples to which access is restricted.

Islamic slant of the country's intellectual life tends to deny the achievements of the preceding Hindu and Buddhist cultures.

People and religion: About 90 per cent of the people are Muslims. Less than 10 per cent of the people of Bangladesh are Hindus.

Hindus are divided into various castes. Inter-marriage between castes is rare. Hindu women have few legal rights. Most of the ethnic groups of the Chittagong Hills area practise Buddhism.

Some groups combine Buddhist principles with local religious beliefs. Less than 1 per cent of the people of Bangladesh are Christians. Most Muslim parents arrange marriages for their children. Most Muslim men in Bangladesh are too poor.

Women's status: The men in a Muslim family have far more authority and freedom than the women have. Many Muslim women avoid social contact with men who do not belong to their family, and they participate in few activities outside the home.

They cover their heads with veils in the presence of strangers. In 1988, a constitutional amendment made Islam the state religion of Bangladesh.

Art and literature: Bangla literature - in the form of stories and folk ballads -tell romantic legends and tales of everyday life. Dramas based on religious stories are popular forms of entertainment in Bangladesh.

Kazi Nazrul Islam is the national poet born in Bangladesh and died there too. Nobel prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, a Bangla poet born in India, still ranks as popular literary figure in Bangladesh.

Of late, these giants have been overshadowed recently by the furore over the writings of Taslima Nasrin -Lajja  author - who has received death threats from Muslim fundamentalists for her outspoken critiques of Islam's oppression of women.

Much of the traditional architecture of Bangladesh developed under Muslim rule during the 15th and 16th centuries. This style features domes, towers and pointed arches.

While traditional painting has the brilliant colours and elaborate decorations of Muslim religious art, some contemporary artists of Bangladesh use techniques of modern Western art in painting.

The Bengal region has a multifaceted folk heritage, enriched by its ancient animist, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim roots. Weaving, pottery and terracotta sculpture are some of the earliest forms of artistic expression. 

There are many folk dances, but classical dance is largely borrowed from Indian models and is frowned upon by the more severe religious leaders.

Education: About 30 per cent of all Bangladeshis can read and write. Bangladesh has about 31,700 elementary and high schools and about 300 colleges and technical schools. The University of Dhaka is the nation's largest university. Dhaka is also the home of the Jahangirnagar University and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. Other universities are in Chittagong, Mymensing (Agricultural University), Khulna (Shahjalal Science and Technology University), Rajshahi and Sylhat.

Communication: Bangladesh has many Bangla and English-language newspapers. The government owns the nation's radio stations and television stations. Radio is available everywhere.

Economy: Bangladesh ranks as one of the poorest nations of the world. It has an average annual per capita income of about $150 a year. The economy of Bangladesh is underdeveloped and depends almost entire on agriculture. Waterways serve as the chief transportation routes in Bangladesh. Chittagong is the nation's chief seaport. Major river ports include Barisal, Chilna Port, Chandpur, Dhaka and Narayanganj.

Health: Food shortages and unsanitary living conditions in Bangladesh are largely responsible for widespread cholera, leprosy, tuberculosis and other diseases. Add to this a serious shortage of doctors, nurses, hospitals, and medical supplies. Malaria kills thousands of Bangladeshis annually.

Way of life

Most Bangladeshis farm the land with simple tools and ancient methods, much as their ancestors did many years ago.

Since the mid-1970s, however, there has been increasing use of fertilizers and new kinds of seeds. About 70 per cent of all adult Bangladeshis cannot read and write.

Few homes in rural areas have electricity or plumbing. Most of the families in the cities and towns live crowded together in small wooden houses.

Some wealthy city families have large brick or concrete homes. Most Hindus and members of other minority groups live together in distinct neighbourhoods.

Dress: People throughout Bangladesh wear loose, lightweight clothing because of the warm, humid climate. Most of the women wear a sari and a short blouse is worn underneath. Many Muslim men wear a lungi, while Hindu men wear dhoti and shirts.

Food and drink: Many of the people of Bangladesh do not have enough food to eat. Although food product has increased since the mid-1970s, the nation neither raises nor imports enough to feed its large population.

A typical Bangladeshi meal consists of beef (or sometimes mutton, chicken, fish or egg) and vegetables cooked in a hot spicy sauce with mustard-oil, yellow watery lentils (dal) and plain rice.

The laws of Islam, the Muslim religion, forbid the eating of pork. Fish is part of the staple diet; however, over-fishing has led to a scarcity of river fish and more sea fish are appearing on menus.

Alcoholic drinks are not widely available; head for five-star hotels and ritzier restaurants when you want a tipple. Tea sweetened with sugar is a popular beverage, though some people may drink only water most of the time.

Geography: Almost all of Bangladesh consists of a flat, low-lying alluvial plain (land formed from soil deposited by rivers). Most of the country lies less than 50 feet (15 meters) above sea level. The far northeast and southeast corners of Bangladesh have many hills. Mount Keokradong, the country's highest peak, rises 4,034 feet (1,230 meters) above sea level in the Chittagong Hills area in the southeast.

Rivers and streams: Three major rivers - the Brahmaputra, the Ganges, and the Meghna - flow through the flat plains over most of Bangladesh. These rivers and their branches overflow during the rainy season and deposits that have built up at the mouths of the rivers form the broad Ganges Delta. Rice and jute, the most important crops of Bangladesh, thrive in the wet delta region. Many small streams and canals also crisscross the country. Boats can reach almost every part of the Bangladesh interior.

Coastline of Bangladesh extends 357 miles (575 kilometres) along the Bay of Bengal. Deep inlets mark the jagged coastline of the country and small islands dot the offshore delta area.

Forests: Bamboo and such trees as mango, palm and tamarind grow throughout most of Bangladesh. But the most valuable forest resources are in the Chittagong Hills in south eastern Bangladesh and in the Sundarbans in the southwest.

Teak is an important product of the Chittagong Hills forests. The Sundarbans is a swampy region covered by mangrove trees and other tropical plants. Bengal tigers live in the area.

Climate: Bangladesh is generally warm and humid throughout the year. The temperature varies little from one part of the country to another, though the north may be slightly cooler than the south in winter. Temperatures in Bangladesh average about 82'F(28'C) in April, the hottest month in most parts of the country. January, the coldest month in Bangladesh, has an average temperature of 64'f.(18'C).

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