Glorification of the history and cultural achievements of Bengal

This work seeks to compare the cultural productions of two socio-economic groups of Bengalis in nineteenth century Kolkata. It is a study of the major types of representation in Bengali, in the print (published literature) and audio-visual (songs, dramatic performances, paintings, etc.) media—as they reflect the patterns of behavior and attitudes acquired from the past by the respective socio-economic groups, and as well as their responses to the social trends of the period.

Glorification of the history and cultural achievements of Bengal

In Bengal the glorification of the history and cultural achievements of the past Hindu era, set in motion by the nineteenth century Orientalists, contributed to the awakening of national self-consciousness among the Bengali Hindu intelligentsia at the turn of the twentieth century. But the cultural nationalism which became an ally of the political movement against British colonial rule took the form of a return to the past the past of the feudal kings and nawabs. Besides, its emphasis on the Hindu classics and history drove a wedge between the indigenous Bengali Hindu and Muslim populations.

Marxist cultural criticism began in Bengal

This absence of a coherent correlation between socioeconomic conditions and cultural output in the theories of development of culture in a colonial society was overcome to a great extent by the Marxist theory of culture, which came into prominence in the colonies during the late 1920s with the growth of an organized working class movement. In this theory, there was an attempt to trace the growth of culture to the relations of production in the economic sphere. As a result, Marxist critics in the Third World turned to the lower orders of their own countries.

In Bengal, from the 1930s, Marxist cultural criticism began to lay stress on the representation of the working class in cultural productions. To quote an Indian Marxist cultural theoretician: 'Our literature will not acquire reality and vitality unless it broadens so as to include the consciousness of the working masses of our country. The hard realities of their life, their zeal and unselfconscious freshness, their innate practicality and simple courage shall be our weapons to root out the anemic tendencies in our cultural heritage.' As a result, fiction, songs and plays were composed by the middle class litterateurs, with workers and peasants as heroes.

But within the framework of the Marxist theory of culture in Bengal, very little was done to evaluate the cultural output of the nineteenth century lower orders in their own right. Some attempts were made in the 1940s by the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) a cultural organization influenced by the Marxist cultural theory to collect folk songs from the villages. But most often, they were urbanized or punctuated with slogans to meet the demands of an immediate political situation or to make them acceptable to the city's middle class audience.

Conventional Marxist concept of the political party's in Bengal

One of the reasons for the desire of the Marxist cultural theoreticians and workers to improve upon the available specimens of original folk culture by introducing political slogans, or using folk song tunes to compose agit-prop songs could have been the conventional Marxist concept of the political party's leading role in the creation of culture similar to the role of making a revolution in the domain of politics. But this again was another form of imposition of alien ideas and interruption of a spontaneous growth a danger recognized by some Marxist intellectuals. ('The domain of art is not one in which the Party is called upon to command. It can and must protect and help it, but it can only lead it indirectly.')


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