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Another decade of the academy

  • Published at 07:12 pm December 5th, 2015
Another decade of the academy

Bangla Academy, the National Academy of Arts and Letters in Bangladesh, observes its 60th anniversary today. The 60 years of its existence were eventful, and beyond the scope of words to chronicle its success.

Bangla Academy owes its inception to the historic Language Movement which attained its peak on February 21, 1952, as a result a number of activists giving their lives to demand Bangla as the state language. On November 26, 1955, the provincial government promulgated an order forming a preparatory committee for the establishment of Bangla Academy. Muhammad Barkatullah was appointed special officer on December 2, 1955, and the Bangla Academy was formally inaugurated the day after, on December 3.

Renowned litterateur and journalist Maulana Akram Khan was the first president, while scholar Dr Muhammad Enamul Haque became the first director of Bangla Academy on December 1 the next year.

The Bangla Academy Act, 1957 was adopted on April 3, 1957 in the Legislative Assembly of East Pakistan. The Bangla Academy Order 1972 was promulgated. The Central Board for Development of Bengali was merged with Bangla Academy on May 17, 1972. Dr. Mazharul Islam became the first Director General of Bangla Academy on June 2, 1972. The Bangla Academy Ordinance, 1978 was promulgated during the military regime of Ziaur Rahman. As a result, Bangla Academy lost its autonomy. The Jatiya Sangsad passed The Bangla Academy Act, 2013 on September 15, 2013. 

Since its inception on December 3, 1955 Bangla Academy has played a remarkable role in collection, research, translation, compilation and publication as well as in cultural activity, scholarly discussion and dissemination of thoughts and ideas for the development of Bangla language and literature and for the promotion of Bangla culture. Initially many writers and scholars contributed immensely to put the Academy on a firm footing.

The first book published by Bangla Academy was Laili-Majnu edited by Ahmad Sharif (1921-1999). Among its numerous publications, special mention may be made of Anchalik Bhasar Abhidhan—a dictionary of the regional dialects of Bangladesh. Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah, one of the outstanding scholars and linguists of the subcontinent, compiled and edited this monumental work.

As the struggle of the Bengalis for cultural freedom and political independence gained a momentum in the late 1960s, Bangla Academy, by virtue of its unique position as the epitome of Bengali resurgence, not only heightened the conscious fostering of a common linguistic medium for Bengali solidarity but also sharpened Bengali nationalism through its various activities of cultural awakening, especially its annual Ekushe celebration. As a result, Bangla Academy was a special target of gunfire following the brutal military crackdown on March 25, 1971.

After liberation Bangla Academy became endowed with fresh vigour. The Academy organised the First National Literary Congress of Bangladesh in 1974. It was inaugurated by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Prime Minister of Bangladesh. This Literary Congress, held for eight days at the premises of Bangla Academy, was attended by 83 writers from six countries and 313 writers of Bangladesh.

Bangla Academy has been playing a key role in the field of folklore in Bangladesh. The Academy organised three national folklore workshops. Bangla Academy embarked upon a massive project to survey the current status of folklore in each district.  Bangla Academy sponsored the First International Folklore Conference in Dhaka from April 13-15, 2013. Since 2014 Bangla Academy has been holding The Folklore Summer School annually.

The longest book fair of Bangladesh is held annually at the behest of Bangla Academy. Dedicated to the martyrs of the Language Movement, this book fair is called the Immortal Ekushe Book Fair, and it is popularly known as Ekushe Boi Mela.  As the Immortal Ekushe Book Fair coincides with the program of Ekushe that Bangla Academy launches annually, this month-long event has evolved into a national cultural festival reflecting the indomitable spirit of the modern Bengali nation. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh inaugurates the Book Fair on the first day of February each year.

Bangla Academy is committed to studying and understanding Rabindranath Tagore through manifold programmes from year to year. Bangla Academy celebrated the 150th Birth Anniversary of the universal poet and humanist Rabindranath Tagore in 2011. On this occasion Bangla Academy published 30 books. Bangla Academy is similarly committed to conducting research on national poet Nazrul Islam and his works. The Academy has already published the complete works of the poet.

Two pioneer works of Bangla Academy are Standard Bangla Grammar edited by Pabitra Sarkar and Bangla Bibartanmulok Abhidhan edited by Golam Murshid. The second one was a massive work in three volumes. These two publications have tremendously enhanced the prestige of Bangla Academy in the academic circles of both Bangladesh and West Bengal.

Among the ongoing research activities of Bangla Academy the most noteworthy are Bangla Sahityer Itihas, Bangla O Bangalir Itihas in four volumes, The Writers’ Bibliography Series, and Publication of Critical Works on Fiction, Essays and Plays. Bangla Academy also undertakes the serious job of translating major works in English and other languages into Bangla and those in Bangla into English.

An International Literary Conference was held on February 1-4, 2015 as part of the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Bangla Academy. Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, inaugurated it at Bangla Academy on February 1, 2015. The International Literary Conference was attended by many litterateurs, essayists, novelists and poets from home and abroad.   

The Government of Bangladesh awarded the Swadinata Purushkar (the highest national award) to Bangla Academy in 2010 in recognition of its excellent work and attainments in the development and promotion of Bangla language, literature and culture.

As we look back and look forward, it is our expectation that Bangla Academy will move ahead with its mission and vision to meet the new challenges in the years to come.