POST TIME: 1 July, 2016 00:00 00 AM
Eid in Paintings
By Galib Rahman Khan

Eid in Paintings

We celebrate Eid with great joy in a festive mood all over the country. Dhaka is the centre of the celebrations. This was the picture in the past, too. Especially during the Mughal period, various programmes were organised. A grand Eid procession was one of those events.
The Eid procession was the main attraction of  festivities in the city. Such an event did not take place anywhere else in Bengal, and the tradition was continued later by Naib-Nazims under British rule. Huge crowds and gorgeous arrangements were common. People from all levels attended. Those who could not attend, mainly women, watched from windows or terraces. We get this charming picture from many references. The heyday of such celebrations was at the time of Nawab Syed Ali Khan Bahadur Nusrat Jung. He was a patron and collector of fine arts and connoisseur of artworks. The Eid festival got a grand look during  his tenure as Naib-Nazim in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
There are 39 watercolours on Eid and Muharram processions in the collection of Bangladesh National Museum at Shahbagh. Twenty-two of the 39 paintings are on Eid processions. They are the most potential proof of Eid festivities in the 18th and 19th centuries. The paintings are important for another reason _ they record the history of a transitional period, from Mughal to British rule.
The artworks depict details of people, their attitude, dress, transport, architecture _ actually all issues. Women attending or enjoying from terraces were shown, too. Even foreigners, beggars and vagabonds are also seen. Structures like Boro Katra, Eidgah and Nimtali Palace’s huge gateway can be easily noticed. As a result, a clear image of late 18th & 19th century Dhaka, its society, people and their culture come alive in front of our eyes. And such details could only be possible by local artists. Now the question is: who were they?
It seems there was involvement of several artists, as the styles are different in the paintings. Unfortunately, only one painter’s name is available: Alam Musabbir. The word ‘musabbir’ means painter/designer. So, it may not be the artist’s actual name. Others have not been traced. But it is most likely that they were local artists.
As mentioned, Nusrat Jung was a great patron of the arts. It is believed that he commissioned these paintings. But some references also indicate another source, the family of Shaista Khan, the Mughal Subahdar of Bengal from 1664-88. However, use of Nimtali Palace (the resident of Naib-Nazims at the time) in the paintings direct to Nusrat Jung.
Later on, the paintings were acquired by Khan Shaheb Abul Hasnat Ahmad, a Zamindar’s son who was commissioner and twice vice-chairman of Dhaka Municipality, living in Becharam Deury. The watercolours were exhibited in a room at Becharam Deury during Muharram celebrations. When Ahmad Hasan Dani started to collect items for Dhaka Museum, now Bangladesh National Museum, the paintings were given as a gift by Abul Hasnat Ahmad, just after 1950. Ahmad also gave several other artifacts to the museum. All the items are now known as ‘Hasnat’s Collection’. By far, the paintings of Eid and Muharram are the biggest contribution as they open for us a window to Dhaka’s glorious history.
Such grand processions are not arranged nowadays _ it is also not possible as some of the attractions used, like camels, are hardly available. But the festival goes on in different ways, and a new type of procession has been started in recent times. We hope this will continue, taking our culture and heritage into consideration.

Eid Mubarak to all!

The writer is a banker, affiliated with Save the Heritages of Bangladesh as an admin.
Images: Bangladesh National Museum