Toponyms of Bangladesh: Footprints of History | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 23, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:25 AM, June 01, 2015

Toponyms of Bangladesh: Footprints of History

Reviewed by Sheikh Tawhidul Islam

DARA Shamsuddin in his book titled “Bangladesher Sthan Nam: Itihasher Padachinho” (in English it stands Toponyms of Bangladesh: Footprints of History) told us a story of how Bangla language, along with developments in allied areas such as social, religious, economic and political processes, has evolved in this deltaic regions through historical progression of actions and events. Place names of Bangladesh have been used by the author as proxy to show how fusion of multiple variables of external and internal origins contributed to the evolution of Bangla language and also facilitated the process of emergence of the country as a sovereign nation. In addition to the historical episodes and chronicles presented, the author also illustrated the influence of local physical attributes/processes in labeling a place with a certain name.

The place names (using mauza names) of Bangladesh were thoroughly analyzed in the book for their historical lineage, structural forms and patterns (including phonetics, forms of spelling, evolution and conversion of Bangla words from English, into English and in many cases re-conversion) and literary sources. Application of computer technology helped the author to provide precise indications of occurrences of place names in certain conditions (e.g. sample assessment showed that 46 percent of place names have two syllabi in their construction, see Table 5.13 page 114). A spatial analysis was presented with geographical clustering of different prefixes and suffixes of place names superimposed on physical maps of Bangladesh. These maps give indications that the place names have strong correlation with their being with physical and social phenomena (like distribution of canal, rivers, sediment deposited islands, presence of settlements) of an area. Gradual progress in reading will give the reader a sense that the book is the end-result of a long and painstaking research, where results were seamlessly knitted to form a single piece. 

The book demonstrates that primary thrusts of developing the lexis of Bangla, rich stock of words (e.g. Austric language lend us the names of numerous plants and animals; please see Appendix 1) and their evolution through different kingdoms such as Maurya, Kushan-Gupta, Pal, Afghan-Turks-Mughals are important contributions of past events and the products of historical processes. This might open up two avenues of thoughts to the readers; firstly people of this region were open to embracing external elements to which they were exposed to and/or secondly they had limited capacity and strength to hold back the infringements whether it was the imposition of the foreign rulers or diffusion of foreign cultures including language. Whatever way we accept it, the historical analysis showed that the main attributes of Bangla language remained in aspects like plurality, multiplicity, diversity and profusion. Thus liberalism, tolerance and progressiveness become the defining characteristics of Bangla language. 

It is important to note that the author demonstrated an extraordinary skill in combining wide ranging elements for which he has to be conversant with at least five disciplines like Bangla language, History, Anthropology, Archaeology and Geography. In addition, control over computer aided applications specially the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), strong field exposure, deep knowledge of development programme of the country and finally strong commitment towards the nation, all in collective fashion, contributed to supplying the materials needed to write this book. Hence the readers of the book would be wide-ranging including students and teachers of academic disciplines, development planners and practitioners, government officials and people who are engaged in curriculum development and training on Bangladesh affairs. The author very effectively showed how history could be used to recognize self identity, map the roots of Bangla language and how local norms and religious practices influence, how production processes and production relations take place and progress made. The annexure would be of direct use as reference where 239 gods and goddess of Hindu communities, 364 (profession based) family names, origins of Bangla words are given. The book is well structured and reader friendly; even the author provided a guideline for different reader groups how to navigate to different sections of the book. The author acknowledged that he could not undertake all necessary research to unearth more facts on the subject matter and provided specific indications where others may pay attention and do further research.

Ashok Karmakar used James Rennell's 1776 map of the then Bengal to design the cover of the book which epitomized the substance of the book. Finally it appears from the quality of publication that the publisher Sahitya Prakash was careful and meticulous in bringing the book to the readers' community. Big thanks and appreciation to the author and supporting team!

The reviewer is a faculty of Department of Geogrpahy and Environment, Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka.

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