Thursday, March 4, 2010

Savonarola and the Carnival of 1497

First, here are some nice collections of Carnival photos:

Joe Marquez (The Smoking Camera)

Anna Pagnacco

Frantisek Staud


Silvano Candeo

Alaskan Dude

Oliver F. Lehmann

[I know, I know. These are all pics from the Venetian Carnival, not the Florentine. If anyone knows of any comparable collections of photos from the Florentine Carnival, please let me know!]

. . . . . . . .

The Carnival of 1497

A little later the carnival of 1497 drew nigh. Savonarola determined to celebrate it in a manner Florence had never witnessed. And to this day she remembers it. Some others also recall it—not with approbation, but with astonishment. At that period, probably no other city excelled Florence in wealth. It was replete with luxury.

Among the carnival customs was the making of bonfires on the plaza in the evening of Shrove Tuesday, and the dancing around them while singing songs. The reader will recall that at the last carnival, a great reform was affected through the children. This year Savonarola determined a more sweeping change should take place. To this end he enlisted, under the generalship of Fra Domenico, a band of youths, who should traverse the city, "dressed as angels, and calling from door to door for whatsoever articles were calculated to minister to luxury, or worldliness, to be consumed upon the bonfire."

Many delivered up their possessions, while others considered these "angels" a most unheavenly order. However, the amount of trinkets, ornaments, money, books of bad tendency, pictures, sculptures, and designs accumulated, was marvelous. An immense scaffolding, pyramidal in form, with fifteen tiers of shelves arranged around it, was erected on the plaza chosen for the grand display. The pyramid was filled with fagots; and the shelves, with the articles to be destroyed. Many of them were the works of famous artists and writers. Bartolommeo and Lorenzo di Credi contributed many of their designs.

Women contributed to the senseless waste, costly India shawls, expensive perfumes, and other articles innumerable. Men increased the flames with chess-boards, cards, card-tables, and instruments of music. Burlamacchi relates that for the collection, before the torch was applied, a merchant of Venice offered nearly twenty thousand pounds sterling. But his offer was rejected, and the man's portrait—placed above the colossal figure intended to personify the carnival—was burned therewith. A wild mob danced around the blazing pile to the music of trumpets.

[Savonarola, the Florentine Martyr, by Emma Hildreth Adams, published in 1890]

Lajja means "Shame"

In 1993 Taslima Nasreen's novel Lajja was published. The word Lajja in the Bengali language means "shame." The novel is a dramatized account of the wave of violence against the Hindu minority in Bangladesh that occurred in 1992-93.

In July of 1994, Barbara Crossette wrote the following for the New York Times under the title "A cry for tolerance brings new hatred down on a writer":
FOR much of the last two weeks, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, has been the scene of demonstrations over the fate of a 31-year-old writer, Taslima Nasrin. Now in hiding, she has angered Muslim zealots by calling herself a humanist in a country that calls itself Islamic. Worse, she has written an Asian best seller, "Lajja," ("Shame") that tells a story of the intolerance and violence of Bangladeshi Muslims against Hindus and other religious minorities.

With this theme, she has touched a central fact of life on the Indian subcontinent: For 50 years, hatreds between fanatical adherents of Hinduism and Islam have repeatedly provoked slaughter and undermined the principle of secular government. Bangladesh, which is 90 percent Muslim, separated from predominantly Hindu India as East Pakistan when Britain left in 1947, and seceded from Pakistan in 1971.

Militants have variously demanded that Ms. Nasrin, who was born to a Muslim family, be tried for disrupting religious harmony, or killed for heresy. "Lajja" was banned last year in Bangladesh, but was quickly pirated, translated from Bengali and widely circulated in India by militant Hindus; this year it was published in New Delhi by Penguin Books India.

Bangladesh has a secular civil law code, but it is perennially challenged by Islamic fundamentalists and the Government often bows to the pressure. The Islamic crusade, Ms. Nasrin says, has fallen hardest on women.

Ms. Nasrin, a physician who became a columnist, poet and novelist, has been divorced several times. Her books contain erotic passages that Islamic fundamentalists find especially offensive, though Bengali-speaking culture, which Dhaka shares with Calcutta, is known for sensuous poetry and sophistication.

Officials are seeking her arrest on charges of blaspheming the Koran. Meredith Tax, head of International PEN's Women Writers' Committee, says Ms. Nasrin wants to find haven outside Bangladesh but is afraid to emerge from hiding.
The following is a chronology of the events leading up to Taslima's flight from her native Bangladesh in 1994. This timeline is from the website of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Dec 1992 Muslims attacked and burnt down Hindu temples and shops across Bangladesh and disrupted an India-Bangladesh cricket match following the destruction of the Babri Masjid in India by Hindu fundamentalists. About 5,000 young men with rods and bamboo sticks tried to storm Dhaka National Stadium, but they were beaten back by police firing tear gas and rubber bullets. At least 10 people have died, many Hindu women have been raped, and hundreds of Hindu homes and temples have been destroyed.
Oct 1993 Hindus in Bangladesh have decided to curtail this year's Durga Puja (Hindu religious festival) celebrations beginning on the 21st in view of the "atrocities" committed against them following the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, All-India Radio reported (0245 gmt, 16 Oct. 1993). The Hindus have demanded that damaged and destroyed temples be repaired and that an inquiry be held into the attack on a Hindu religious procession in Dhaka in August.
Nov 1993 Several thousand Muslim radicals marched through the streets of Dhaka to demand the arrest and execution of Taslima Nasrin, a female Muslim author critical of male chauvinism and Islamic fundamentalism. Nasrin, 31, has received death threats for her novel "Lajja" (Shame), which condemns Muslim mobs that attacked Hindus in Bangladesh to avenge the destruction of the Babri Masjid in India. The government banned Lajja last July, six months after it was published. The campaign against Nasrin gained momentum last month after a little known group called the Council of the Soldiers of Islam placed a 50,000 taka price ($1,250) on her head at a public meeting in the conservative north-eastern district of Sylhet. The group claimed that Nasrin's books decried the Koran and the Prophet Mohammad, causing offence to the country's majority Muslim population.
Feb 1994 A 15th century temple housing a priceless record of Hindu history attracts thousands of devotees every year to remote Dinajpur, a town in the northernmost corner of Bangladesh. According to government archeology department records, it was built in 1452 by a Hindu Raja (King), who hired architects and artisans from the Mughal court in Delhi to build the temple. Every autumn, after the rainy season is over, nearly 100,000 Hindus and people from other faiths camp near the temple for a 3-week annual fair. Many also come from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other countries.
Jun 1994 The federal government has ordered the arrest of Taslima Nasrin, a feminist writer whose novel, Lajja (Shame), led to a fatwa (death threat) being issued against her by Islamicists. 3000 orthodox Muslims marched in the streets of Dhaka on June 3 to protest against her allegedly "anti-Islamic" remarks (Reuters, 06/04/94).
Aug 1994 Taslima Nasrin, the feminist Bangladeshi writer, has arrived in Sweden. She is in Sweden for a writer’s conference and has gone into hiding following death threats by orthodox Muslims. Nasrin's book, Lajja, describes how Hindu homes and temples were destroyed and Hindu women were raped following the 1992 destruction of the Ayodhya mosque in India (Reuters, 08/10/94).