Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy on Friday premiered Mahasthan, the great land, an archaeo-play chronicling 2,500 years of history of Mahasthangarh, one of the earliest urban centres in this part of the world.
Several thousand people, including academics and theatre activists from Dhaka, turned up at the premiere of the play at Vasu Vihara, believed to be a Buddhist university about 1,300 years ago, at Shibganj in Bogura.
Considered the biggest ever theatre production in the country, the play saw more than 350 actors perform, accompanied by visual presentation of different historical incidents on a huge LED screen set up at the top of the vihara.
‘Mahasthan is the place where civilisations met,’ said eminent litterateur Hasan Azizul Haque, as he spoke at the event preceding the premiere.
‘The history of Mahasthangarh is also the history of what shaped Bengali identity over centuries,’ he said.
The play opened with a scene dating back to 500 BC showing a bison being hunted down in a dense forest at Mahasthan. Hunters fought with predators in the forest to get close to their prey and returned home with food at dusk.
The civilisation in this part of the world changed over the next two centuries as the Macedonian king Alexander arrived in India in 326 BC.
Alexander conquered some parts of the then Indian subcontinent to materialise his dream of ruling the world.
The play showed the efforts Alexander made to defeat the then king of Bengal, Nanda, but eventually backtracked as Nanda was too strong.
‘Historical descriptions may vary depending on the identity of the person writing it. History is what you want people to know about the past,’ said the narrator of the play as it advanced to show the arrival of Buddhism in Mahasthan.
Buddhism came to Mahasthangarh with Mauryan emperor Ashoka, who brought the region under his rule through war about 2,250 years ago.
The king’s arrival was marked by widespread murders.
Ashoka soon came to his senses and took a number of initiatives for which he is still revered.
Ashoka helped the famine hit people in the Mahasthangarh with money and food. An imperial decree written in Brahmi script was unearthed in Mahasthangarh.
The play then showed the arrival and departure of the Gupta kings, Pal kings and Sen kings in Mahasthangarh.
It showed how the arrival of a new force always went against the interests of the masses, who built big cities, though they were never a part of those.
In fact it was not until the 9th century that people in the area got their first democratic ruler, though for a short time as history repeated itself with oppressors taking center stage in politics.
With the rise of an oppressor, the number of refugees leaving the country increased. People were made to leave their homes because of their faith.
The play ended in today’s Bangladesh, where the present prime minister Sheikh Hasina was shown as one of the major women figures to influence the history of the people of this area.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was depicted in the play for his contribution in the liberation war of Bangladesh.
Signs and symbols were extensively used in the play. The symbol of horse represented the might of Alexander while elephant was the symbol of power for his counterpart Nanda.
Written by Selim Mojahar, the play has been directed by BSA director general Liaquat Ali Lucky.
‘The play offers us a glimpse into our glorious past,’ said Lucky.