Court blocks shipment of priceless objects


Salaams and secular greetings from Dhaka. If you recall I blogged about a major Paris based exhibition on Bangladesh called “Shonar Bangla.” One aspect of the programme was a major exposition of films and documentaries about Bd. Another part of it was to display, for the first time outside Bangladesh, recently unearthed and priceless archaeological objects….I say “was” because, ooh la la, the organisers have hit a snag. Various Bangladeshi cultural activists and intellectuals were alerted to the lack of process and procedure in the shipment of these objects, lack of accountability, and deficiency in the sums insured. They took the matter to court and there is now a 2 month stay order on these objects (scheduled to be shown in Paris in less than a month)! Mon dieu indeed! The presitigious Guimet is in a bit of a pickle, and I suspect the local French ambassador here in Dhaka is busy twisting arms.

I must say I was a bit peeved when I asked the Museum to check the versions of two documentaries I have been involved in and to make sure they show the latest versions. It has taken 4 months, and I still have no answer! Rather insultingly, but in a sweet french way of course, they informed me I would not have to pay to attend the shows…. If that is how small issues are handled…then, sacre bleu, how are they managing the biggers ones? And from our point of view, i am glad that we are not simply surrendering precious artefacts without any kind of process. Perhaps some of this concern will rub off and be of assistance to those desperately trying to save our heritage sites.
Here is their blurb about the stuff ( which I reproduce in full from ) :

Bangladesh possesses an immensely important cultural heritage, this arising from the fact that the eastern half of Bengal has been one of the cultural richest regions of the Indian world; a vision far from the catastrophic one that the western world often tends to favour.

The region is associated with the art of the Pala and Sena dynasties (8th – 13th century). Archaeological study has however revealed vestiges that are more ancient like the Mahasthan site which stands on what used to be Pundravardhana, and goes back to the Maurya and Sunga periods (3rd – 1st century BC). It has also revealed vestiges from the Gupta period (4th – 6th century). Pundravardhana-Mahasthan is, to this day, the oldest Indian city known to be in the east. But Bangladesh also harbours the oldest Buddhist monastery of the Indian world, Paharpur, which has now been listed on the UNESCO’s list of protected monuments. Sculptures of a impressive dimension have been recently unearthed: a bronze Buddha measuring 1,3 metres in Paharpur in 1982, a Gupta Buddha (from Sarnath) sculpted on both sides at Mahasthan in 1992, a bronze Vajrasattva, 1,40 metres in height, at Mainamati in 1995, and finally an Avalokitesvara found on the same site of the same material and size. These pieces have rarely been published and will be leaving Bangladesh for the first time for the exhibition. To this one must add the fact that Bangladesh has a Muslim majority as compared to the Indian west Bengal, and consequently the Islamic heritage is original and of special interest.

The objective of this exhibition is to show for the first time outside of Bangladesh, the unbelievably rich and complex heritage of this country. Benefiting from recent archaeological research helps us to show works from the Maurya period and go on until the 19th century. And thus we will retrace history whilst emphasising on a certain number of major sites. As a matter of fact, one of the characteristics of this heritage is that a lot of the pieces are well documented and enable us to situate the same in their precise historical and artistic context. The four great religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Islam that determine the history of Bangladesh will be duly represented.

The lenders are all government institutions:
- The Bangladesh National Museum at Dhaka, under the Ministry of Culture
- The site museums under the directorate of Archaeology and thus the Ministry of Culture.
- Mahasthan Archaeological Museum
- Mainamati Archaeological Museum
- Paharpur Archaeological Museum

The Varendra Research Museum at Rajshahi, under the University of Rajshahi and thus depending on the Ministry of National Education, it is the oldest museum in Bangladesh.