Upon arrival in Mograpara, a town in Sonargaon (southeast of Dhaka), my guide Mafuz flagged a rickshaw for the three of us – Karin (a Swiss backpacker), Mafuz, and me. It was short of a miracle to get the driver to agree since he would be pedaling for three. We were rowdy, clowning around on our cams, knowing fully well that it looked like a circus act fitting us together in a craggy rickshaw. It was fun!
We crossed Kanchpur Bridge, then plied through a narrow winding road and not long after, we reached this beautiful 2-story colonial, lavishly decorated with stucco floral scrolls outside. It was a combination of pink and white, with a lake rendering the façade a dreamy countenance.
The building itself was built in 1901 as a rajbari, a Raj-style residential palace of a zamindar (landlord). As a consequence of the exodus of the Hindu traders, this rajbari – a Sadarbari – was abandoned, the property left under government administration. While pretty much neglected, in 1975, a famous national painter Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin (known for his Bengal famine paintings), conceptualized a place that would showcase folk arts, traditional craftsmanship, and everything that encompasses cultural heritage. He picked Sonargaon – and commissioned this rajbari from the government.
It is now known as Folk Arts and Crafts Museum - otherwise locally referred to as Lok Shilpa Jadughar .
The whole complex is huge – around 150 bighas (probably 60 acres) characterized by a big lake and 6 ponds, a documentation center, a library, a craft village, 3 bridges, a garden of fruit-bearing and medicinal trees, and of course the 2 museums (the folk arts and crafts and Zainul Abedin Museum).
The disadvantage of having a guide is that you pass through places without knowing much. It’s perfect for lazy tourists but a bit of a downer for people like me. But hey, it was ok to be lazy for a day. There were 2 entrance fees to be paid: 4 taka to enter the grounds, 3 taka for the museum entrance. Rather ridiculously cheap.
Upon stepping inside the Folk Arts and Crafts, I started snapping away. Though not beautifully preserved or maintained (some parts were stained and molding, plants growing through ledges), you cannot deny the captivating beauty of its intricate stucco designs. Then Mafuz shyly reminded me, no photography allowed. Oopss! Sorry, but I had a naughty smile on my face. What’s done is done, and we weren’t forewarned. Honestly, I didn’t see signs prohibiting photography. The displays at the museum were divided into 11 galleries: terracotta dolls, pottery, iron products and metal crafts, etc. There were traditional handicrafts, sarees, and depictions of local rural life back in the days. Abedin’s Museum had some of his painting (majority of which were stolen and looted).
The complex grounds were as picturesque: a lake where you could go boating, wooden bridges crossing ponds, a crafts center selling those beautiful, colorful sarees (although a bit too expensive). It’s easy to find this a favorite, but then, our next itinerary was even more fascinating – a virtual ghost town, the Painam-Nagar.
This is the Eye in the Sky!
This sculpture in Sonargaon's Sadarbari is based on Zainul Abedin's painting, "The Struggle." The acclaimed painter eventually died from lung cancer.