Culture in ancient Bengal


The kings and other rulers went hunting for pleasure, whereas, the lowest economic stratum nodoubt used it both as pastime and as means of livelihood. Wrestling was common sport among the lower classes, as were various kinds of physical exercises. Women playing in the water and tending to gardens has been mentioned in the pavandUta. Dice and chess were very common, dice being a part of the marriage ceremony, the dyUta pratipada festival (to ascertain the future: it was accompanied by dressing up, parties, and lovers spending the night together), and the kojAgarI festival. The date of origin of chess is difficult to ascertain (similar games are spread all over the eastern world, so it is not clear where it originated. It is clear, however, that the modern version of Indian and European chess traces its origins to the Indian caturaGga going back to at least 6th century AD) but the carYyagItis (c. 11th cent) refer to it.

Among the lower classes, one can assume that the many board games played with cowries were common: gu~Ti/ghuNTi, bAghbandI, Solaghara, dashpa~cish, AD.AIghara, etc. Gambling is mentioned in sarvAnanda: people gambled over lamb and chicken fights.

Horse and elephant riding is also mentioned as sports for the kings.

Dance and Music

Songs, music and dance formed an integral part of life in ancient bengal: the composition of rAmacarita and pavanadUta, the poetic sprinklings in many writings, the many couplets in saduktikarNAmRta, the carYAgItis, and the do~hAkoSa bear witness to this. Music and dance were probably popular in both the upper and the lower classes. The prostitutes, both the bArarAmAs and the devadAsIs were experts in these arts. rAjataraGgiNI (set in 8th century puNDra) describes dances following the precepts of bharata in the kArttika temple of puNDravaradhana. Sculptures and etchings of dancing men and women abound in the archaelogical record. The bRhaddharma and brahmavaivarta purANas describe the dancers as a separate class. The wife of jayadeva was a dancer. Many musical instruments are depicted in the mud tablets: kÃshar, karatAla, dhAka, vINA, bÃshi, mRdaGga, mRtbhANDa, etc. A kind of mRdaGga was supposed to be a speciality of varendrI. saduktikarNAmRta mentions tumbivINA.

The carYAgItis also mention a gourd shell with a bamboo stick with a string. People using these moved frm village to village, singing along. A kind of story telling through the medium of song and dance was also known. Special mention seems to be made of lower caste women (like DombI) playing music and dancng. The same text mentions paThaha, mAdala, karaNDa, kasAlA, and dundubhI during marriage processions.

Music and dance forms an integral part of the marriage ceremonies. In fact, the description of marriage in naiSadhacarita includes vermillion on the forehead, ululation and sound of conchshell, the floor patterning with rice paste, the songs, banana plants around the door, the tying of the bride's and groom's dress, the stealing from and overhearing of the couple in their wedding room: all traditions visible in bengal today. Some more information on this topic is in the page on dress in ancient bengal, and the discussion of early tribal religious practices.

See the page on arts for details of rAgas and tAlas, and musical treatises, and the page on the caste system for a description of some festivals.

Up to history of ancient Bengal

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