The History of Bangladesh: Early Bengal in Regional Perspectives (up to c. 1200 CE) in two volumes belongs to the series History of Bangladesh under the auspices of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. In these two volumes the remote past of the region called Bengal (Bengal before 1947) has been explored and studied by going beyond the boundaries of modern nation states.
This historical study stems from a rigorous survey and examination of a wide variety of primary sources (field archaeological, epigraphic, numismatic, art historical and textual materials) which may or may not always converge; the volumes attempt to make audible the many voices of the past of early Bengal. The contents of the two volumes have been immensely enriched by the Foreword from the celebrity historian Professor Romila Thapar, internationally acclaimed authority on early Indian history. Her Foreword drives home the significance of the studies of regions and subregions for a better explanation of the contours of historical developments in the subcontinent which cannot at all be grasped by harping on homogenized, majoritarian approaches to the past. The chapters in the two volumes have been penned by established experts who belong not only to Bangladesh and India, but to various parts of the globe. The volumes truly rest on international cooperative scholarship.
The first volume looks into the historical geography of the ancient region and its inhabitants; it also pays meticulous attention to the pre-literate phase in the early history of Bengal. One of the salient features of this volume is the archaeological materials win reliable window to grasp the transition from the pre-literate to the early historic times (up to c. 300 CE). Elaborate discussions on political history have been also accommodated as new epigraphic and numismatic sources have led to the considerable rewriting of the political history of the regions and sub-regions (especially of the Pala period and southeastern Bangladesh). The understanding of the polity and nature of the state forms another important aspect of discussion in the first volume.
Volume 2 takes a close look at economic life, circulation of money and different media of exchange, social life (including the relevance of the vama-jati norms and the question of gender). everyday life, religious beliefs and practices (Brahmanical, Buddhist, Jaina an activities (terracotta art, sciuhy, painting and architecture) and language and literature. The last point is of crucial significance as the language Bangla is the quintessential marker of identity of the inhabitants of Bengal; it is from the ninth-tenth centuries that the earliest traces of the vernacular, Bangla, are traceable in historical sources. Each chapter combines the state of the art of the subject concerned with the specific researches of the contributor(s) who have meticulously highlighted the regional features and the sub-regional diversities. Rich in empirical details, the chapters offer critical analyses of available data in view of the current historiographical issues and debates.
The two volumes are expected to fill a long-felt gap in the historiography of early Bengal and will possibly serve as a standard reference work for both the specialist scholars and the general readers.
Abdul Momin Chowdhury studied at the University of Dhaka (1956-1960) and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (1962-1965). He taught at the University of Dhaka (1960-2005) and retired as Professor of History. He spent an academic year (2013-2014) at the Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A., as a visiting scholar with a Senior Fulbright Fellowship. From 2000 to 2003 he was the Vice-Chancellor of the National University, Bangladesh. In 2014 he was made a Fellow of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. His Dynastic History of Bengal c. 750-1200 A.D. (Dhaka, 1967) was acclaimed as an authentic work for the period covered. Among his other publications mention may be made of Bang/adder Batas (Dhaka, 1973) and Pracin Bariglar Itihas 0 Sangskrti (Dhaka, 2002). He has a number of contributions to edited volumes, and himself edited many volumes including Bangladesh in the Threshold of Twenty First Century (Dhaka, 2004), A Revered Offering to Nalini Kanta Bhattasali, A Versatile Scholar (Dhaka, 2016). He has published widely in scholarly Journals, home and abroad.
Ranabir Chakravarti has just retired as Professor of Ancient History, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He specializes in the socio-economic history of early India with a particular interest in the Indian Ocean maritime history. A regular contributor to international peer-reviewd journals, Chakravarti has authored/edited A Sourcebook of Indian Civilization (Hyderabad, 2000), Trade in Early India (New Delhi, 2001), Trade and Traders in Early Indian Society (New Delhi, 2007), Indo-Judaic Studies in the Twenty First Century: A View from the Margins (New York, 2007) and Exploring Early India up to c. AD 1300 (New Delhi, 2016). He has annotated the English translation (by Giles Constable) of a 14th century Latin Crusade text (How to Defeat the Saracens, Washington DC, 2012). Chakravarti has also authored/ edited three books in l3angla on early Indian history.
Since the publication of the two volumes of the History of Bengal by the University of Dhaka (Dacca) back in the 1940s, scholars have attempted to narrate, in English and Bengali, histories covered by those two volumes or come up with their sequels. Without undermining the worth of such works, the need for a comprehensive history of Bengal continues to be felt. In the 1990s the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh had brought out a History of Bangladesh (1704-1971) in three volumes in both English and Bengali. Despite the title it was a history of Bengal for the given period prepared with the help of the latest available researches into the field. The Society has now embarked upon a project to produce a history of Bengal for the period usually known as ancient and medieval, with contributions from specialists in India, Bangladesh and the world at large. The choice of the editor fell rightly on Professor Abdul Momin Chowdhury, author of the Dynastic History of Bengal c. 750-1200 A.D. (Dhaka: 1967) and a renowned historian in his own right and on Professor Ranabir Chakravarti, who is also well-known as a profound scholar in the field of ancient Indian history with his main focus on the history of the Bengal region. I was adopted as the Chairman of the Editorial Board because I was around and not due to any intrinsic merit that befits the position. I am, however, greatly elated to present the two volumes, covering the period from the earliest times to 1200 CE to the scholars and the reading public in the belief that they contain the most up-to-date information on the subject compiled by the most competent scholars in the field. Another set of two volumes will follow to bring the story to the eighteenth century CE and the Bengali versions of the volumes will appear shortly.
I would like to put on record my grateful thanks to the contributors and sincere felicitation to the Editors and all those who helped them in this arduous task. It is needless to say that the President and the Council of the Asiatic Society deserve our heartfelt thanks for making these volumes possible. I would also like to put on record my deep sense of appreciation for the Foreword written by my friend, Professor Romila Thapar, which has certainly added to the value of the work.
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