Short Answer Questions
Question 1: What can we say about the regional cultures that exist today?
Answer: The regional cultures that exist today have not been exclusively unique to that region. Some traditions appear specific to some regions whereas some seem to be similar across regions. Some are derived from older practices in a particular area but take a new form in other regions.
Question 2: Briefly describe Jagannatha cult.
Answer: Jagannatha cult was the best example of regional cultures growing around religious traditions. Jagannatha which literally translates to ‘the lord of the world’ is a name for Vishnu. This cult is found in Puri, Orissa. Till date, the local tribals make the wooden image of the deity, which suggests that the deity was originally a local god which was later identified with Vishnu.
Question 3: How are women described in the stories about Rajput heroes?
Answer: Women often found a place in these stories either as the ‘cause’ for conflicts wherein men fought to either win or protect women or as following their husbands in life as well as death. There are stories about the practice of ‘sati’ that was prevalent during the period. This is a practice in which there is immolation of widows on the funeral pyre of their husbands.
Question 4: Write a note on migration of people in the 16th century.
Answer: Sixteenth century onwards, people began to migrate from the less fertile western Bengal to the forested and marshy areas of south-eastern Bengal. As they moved eastwards, they cleared the forests and started practicing agriculture there. They cultivated rice crop there. In due course of time, the local communities of fisherfolk and shifting cultivators, often tribals, merged with the new community of peasants.
Long Answer Questions
Question 1: Describe the temples in Bengal.
Answer: The temple-building spree that started in the late 15th century in Bengal, culminated in the 19th century. Temples and other religious structures, as mentioned in the earlier chapters, were built by powerful individuals and groups for demonstrating their power and to proclaim piety. Many ‘low’ social groups in Bengal, such as the Kolu (oil pressers) and Kansari (bell metal workers) helped in building many of the modest brick and terracotta temples. Many families belonging to these social groups availed of the new economic opportunities created by the incoming European trading companies. They proclaimed their improved social and economic position through the construction of temples. The local deities which were once worshipped in the thatched houses of the villages began to be housed as images in temples when they gained the recognition of the Brahamanas. The temples began to copy the roof styles of the thatched huts which were either double-roofed (dochala) or four-roofed (chauchala). This led to the evolution of the architecture that was of Bengali style.
Question 2: Who were pirs?
Answer: Some order and stability was brought about by the early settlers in Bengal, in the conditions of the new settlements. These were provided by people who are respectfully and affectionately called pirs. Pirs were community leaders who also functioned as teachers and adjudicators and were sometimes ascribed with supernatural powers. The term also included:
- Saints or Sufis and other religious personalities
- Daring colonizers
- Deified soldiers
- Various Hindu and Buddhist deities
- Animistic spirits
The cult of pirs became famous and many of their shrines can be found everywhere in Bengal.
Question 3: Describe Bengali literature.
Answer: The early Bengali literature can be divided into two categories:
Bengali literature indebted to Sanskrit: It includes the translations of the Sanskrit epics, the Mangalakavyas and bhakti literature such as the biographies of Chaitanyadeva (the leader of the Vaishnava bhakti movement). These are easier to date because many manuscripts have been found indicating that they were composed between the late 15th and the middle of the 18th centuries.
Bengali literature independent of Sanskrit: It includes Nath literature such as the songs of Maynamati and Gopichandra, stories concerning the worship of Dharma Thakur, and fairy tales, folk tales and ballads. These were circulated orally and cannot be precisely dated and were particularly popular in eastern Bengal where the Brahmanical influence was relatively weak.