Bangla Literature



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Bangla Literature dates back to at least the 7th century and may be divided into three main periods: ancient, medieval, and modern. The different periods may be dated as follows: ancient period from 650-1200, medieval period from 1200-1800, and the modern period from 1800 to the present. The medieval period may again be divided into three periods: early medieval-also known as the period of transition- from 1200-1350; high medieval from 1350-1700, including the pre-Chaitanya period from 1350-1500 and the Chaitanya period from 1500-1700; and late medieval from 1700-1800. The modern period begins in 1800 and can again be divided into six phases: the era of prose from 1800-1860, the era of development from 1860-1900, the phase of rabindranath tagore (1861-1941) from 1890-1930, the post-Rabindranath phase from 1930 to 1947, the post-partition phase from 1947 to 1970, and the Bangladesh phase from 1971 to the present.

Ancient period The conquest of Bengal by the Mauryas in the 3rd century BC led to the spread of Aryan languages in the Bengal delta. The bangla language, however, developed from prakrit, through apabhrangsha and abahattha and outside the direct influence of Aryan languages. The earliest extant specimens of ancient Bangla are the 47 spiritual hymns now known as charyapada composed by Buddhist monks. Because the language of these hymns is only partly understood, it is called sandhya or twilight language. The Charyapada hymns possess both linguistic and literary value. The Siddhacharya, or composers of the Charyapada hymns, include Luipa, Bhusukupa, kahnapa and Shavarpa.

Early medieval: Period of transition (1201-1350) The anecdotes, rhymes and sayings of dak and khana may be dated to this period. The Apabhramsa of the Charyapada became more Bangla in character. Among the specimens of this period is Ramai Pandit's narrative poem shunyapurana (13th-14th century). Another example of early Bangla is a collection of lyrical poems in Apabhramsa entitled Prakrtapaingala. A Bangla song has also been found in Halayudh Mishra's sanskrit book shekhashubhodaya (c 1203).

High medieval: Pre-Chaitanya period (1350-1500) During this period, Bangla literature developed in three main areas: vaisnava literature, Mangala literature and translation literature. This period also saw the beginning of Muslim Bangla literature in the form of romantic and narrative poems.

The greatest of Vaishnava writers was the poet Baru Chandidas (14th century) who rendered jaydev's Sanskrit lyrics about radha and krishna into Bangla. The names of several poets who went by the name of chandidas have been found in the Middle Ages: Adi Chandidas, Kavi Chandidas, Dvija Chandidas and Dina Chandidas. The confusion about whether there were one or several poets called Chandidas is known in Bangla literature as the 'Chandidas riddle'. Chandidas has been credited with over a thousand lyrics. The introduction to srikrishnakirtan edited by Basantaranjan Ray Vidvadvallabh and published in 1916 by vangiya sahitya parishad mentions the name of Baru Chandidas. He was perhaps the original Chandidas who composed verses in 1350.

The patronage provided by the Muslim rulers, particularly Sultan Alauddin Hussein Shah, his son Nasrat Shah and commander-in-chief, paragal khan, in promoting Bangla literature is specially noteworthy. The 45-year rule of the Hussein Shah dynasty (1493-1538) in Bengal not only led to political, social and cultural prosperity, but also nurtured bangla language and literature. It was during the rule of Hussein Shah that some Bengali poets began composing lyrics in brajabuli. It was also during his rule that Kanka wrote Vidyasundar Kahini in praise of satya pir (c 1502).

Padavali or lyrical literature Padavali and other medieval lyrics were based on the story of Radha and Krishna and were written by innumerable poets, Hindu and Muslim, including some women poets. Among the padavali poets were Chandidas, jnanadas, Lochandas, govindadas, Rayshekhar, Shashishekhar, Balaram Das, Narottam Das, Narahari Das and Radhamohan Thakur.

Translated literature Maladhar Basu composed Srikrsnavijay, a free translation of the Sanskrit Shrimadbhagavata. The poem is also known as Govindamangal or Govindavijay and is believed to be the earliest translation work in Bangla. Several poets translated the Sanskrit Bhagavata, Ramayana and Mahabharata into Bangla during this period. krittivas ojha (15th century) was the first to translate the Ramayana into Bangla. He was followed by several other poets. In the 17th century, chandravati, daughter of dwija bansidas, the composer of Manasamangal, wrote Ramayanagatha. The first Bangla version of the Mahabharata was possibly Kavindra Parameshwar's Mahabharata or Kavindra Mahabharata (1525). Sanjay and Shrikar Nandi also wrote versions of the Mahabharata. Popularly, the most important Bangla Mahabharata was, however, composed by kashiram das around 1602-10. It is probable, however, that other poets also contributed towards the final version that was printed at Serampore Press in 1801-3. Because of its refined language and feelings of devotion, this version became more popular than other Bangla versions.

Mangalkavya The oldest of the extant mangalkavyas is Manasamangal, by vijay gupta, composed perhaps in 1494-95. According to the bhanita, or signature piece, Vijay Gupta was a resident of the village of Fullasri in barisal. Vijay Gupta's contemporary, bipradas pipilai, also wrote a poem on manasa titled Manasavijay (c 1494). Another version of Manasamangal is Narayan Dev's Padmapurana. These narrative lyrics describe the greatness of the gods and goddesses, but also provide vivid pictures of a land oppressed on the one hand by kings and on the other by floods, famines, epidemics, snakes, and tigers. Another important genre of mangalkavya is Chandimangal. Its first composer, Manik Datta, perhaps belonged to the pre-Chaitanya era. He was followed by the poet Madhavacharya towards the end of the 16th century. Two other famous poets of Chandimangal were mukundaram chakravarti and Dvija Madhav.

Muslim Bangla literature The poems written by Muslims during the Middle Ages can be divided into 6 groups: narrative poems (based on Muslim and Indian stories), religious poems, poems on cultural links, dirges, poems on astrology and poems on musicology. The greatest contribution of the Muslims to Bangla literature during this period was, however, the introduction of narrative and romantic poems, many of them being free translations or adaptations of arabic or persian romances.

Shah Muhammad Sagir (c 1400) was one of the earliest of the Bengali Muslim poets. Though his romance yusuf-zulekha contains no signature piece identifying him, he is generally regarded as being from East Bengal as copies of his poems have been found in the Chittagong-Comilla-Tripura region. Other epic poets include Jainuddin, Muzammil, Sheikh Faizullah, Daulat Uzir Bahram Khan. Jainuddin became famous with Rasulbijay, his only epic. Muzammil became famous mainly for his three poetic works: Nitishastravarta, Sayatnama and Khanjancharita.

Donagazi's Saifulmuluk Badiuzzamal (mid-16th century) is written in simple language and reveals the influence of Prakrit. Sheikh Faizullah occupies an important place among the Muslim poets of the medieval period with Goraksavijay, Gazivijay, Satyapir (1575), Zainaber Chautisha and Ragnama. Goraksavijay, which is based on Kavindra's poem, is in two parts. Part one describes how Gorakhnath rescued his guru, Minanath, while part two describes the ascetic life of King Gopichandra. Zainaber Chautisa narrates the sad story of Karbala in the form of Zainab's lament. Daulat Uzir Bahram Khan's only extant work, laily-majnu, evidently composed between 1560 and 1575, is a thematic translation of the Persian poet Zami's Laily-Majnu.

Several Muslim poets were influenced by vaisnavism, among them Chand Kazi (15th century), and Afzal Ali (17th century). Chand Kazi was the Kazi of Nabadwip under Sultan Hussein Shah (1493-1519) when Vaishnavism spread to Nabadwip. Afzal Ali's Nasihatnama is composed in the Vaishnava style.

Other medieval Muslim poets include syed sultan (c 1550-1648, nabi bangsha, Shab-i-Miraj, Rasulbijay, Ofat-i-Rasul, Jaykum Rajar Ladai, Iblisnama, Jnanachautisha, Jnanapradip, marfati gan, padavali), Sheikh Paran (c 1550-1615, nurnama, Nasihatnama), Haji Muhammad (c 1550-1620, Nur Jamal, Suratnama), Nasrullah Khan (c 1560-1625, janganama, Musar Sawwal, Shariatnama, Hidayitul Islam), Muhammad Khan (c 1580-1650, Satya-Kali-Vivad-Sangbad, Hanifar Ladai, Maktul Husein), Syed Martuza (c 1590-1662, Yog-Kalandar, padavali), Sheikh Muttalib (c 1595-1660, Kifayitul-Musallin), Mir Muhammad Shafi (c 1559-1630, Nurnama, Nurkandil, Sayatnama), abdul hakim (c 1620-1690, Lalmati-Sayfulmulk, Nurnama). Poets who composed between 1600 and 1757 include nawajis khan, Qamar Ali, Mangal (Chand), Abdul Nabi, Muhammad Fasih, Fakir Garibullah, Muhammad Yakub, Sheikh Mansur, Muhammad Uzir Ali, Sheikh Sadi and Heyat Mamud. Syed Sultan's Nabibamsa, Muhammad Khan's Maktul Husein and sheikh chand's Rasulbijay are known as Islamic Puranas.

Chaitanya era (1500-1700) sri chaitanya not only introduced the Gaudiya school of Vaishavism in Bengal, but also inspired a powerful group of writers to write biographies about him, among them Govindadas Karmakar's Govindadaser Kadacha, Jayananda's chaitanyamangal (end of the 16th century), Brndabandas' Chaitanyabhagavat (1573), Lochandas' (1523-1589) Chaitanyamangal and krishnadasa kaviraja's chaitanya charitamrita (1615). Several other biographies were also written about Chaitanyadev's followers including Narahari Chakravarti's Bhaktiratnakar (biographies of Chaitanya followers) Nityananda Das' Premavilas (biographies of Shrinivas, Narottam and Shyamananda) and Ishan Nagar's Advaitaprakash (1568-69). Chaitanyacharitamrta is considered to be the best biography of Chaitanyadev. This scholarly book contains his life story, his philosophy and devotion, all expressed in simple language. Jayananda's Chaitanyamangal contains many interesting facts of the period, for example, how the Hindus were learning Persian and wearing Muslim outfits.

Bangla literature in Arakan Towards the end of the Middle Ages, there was considerable cultivation of Bangla literature in the independent and semi-independent states on the borders of Bengal. Arakan became a tributary state of Gaud in 1430. For the subsequent 200 years the rulers of Arakan patronised Bangla language and literature. Among those who wrote poetry in Bangla under the patronage of the Arakan court was daulat qazi (about 1600-1638) whose Satimayna O Lorchandrani was the first Bangla romance. Daulat Qazi was unable to complete the poem which was later completed by alaol (c 1607-1680). Apart from padmavati, believed to be his finest poem, Alaol also wrote Saifulmulk Badiuzzamal, a Bangla rendering of a Persian narrative about the romance of prince Saifulmulk and the fairy princess Badiuzzamal. Arakan's other poets include Maradan (about 1600-1645) who wrote Nasirnama, and quraishi magan thakur who wrote Chandravati, a fairy-tale narrative.

Late Medieval period (1700-1800) The close of the medieval period was in many ways a period of decline. The decline of the Mughal Empire, the inroads of the European trading powers and the establishment of the British halted the natural flow of literary creation. However, the tradition of Vaishnava literature, mangalkavya, and translation work continued. There was a great deal of influence of both the Hindu Puranas and Islamic thoughts. The main literary productions of the period include padavali and mangalkavya.

Padavali Padavali writers in the 18th century include Narahari Chakravarti, Natavar Das, Dinabandhu Das, Chandrashekhar-Shashishekhar and Jagadananda. Their poems were, however, more full of ornamentation than meaning.

Mangalkavya Versions of Chandimangal continued to be composed, an important version being that by Ramchandra Yati written 1766-67. Interest also grew in Dharmamangal, with several poets, including Ghanaram Chakravarti, Narasingha Basu, Manikram Ganguli, Ramkanta Ray and Sahadev Chakravarti, writing different versions. Mangalkavyas also started being composed about new deities, for example, Suryamangal, Gangamangal, Shitalamangal, Laksmimangal, Sasthimangal and Sarasvatimangal. Special mention may be made of Durgadas Mukherjee's Gabgabhaktitarabgini.

bharatchandra, perhaps the greatest poet of the 18th century, wrote Nagastak and Gangastak in Sanskrit and, in Bangla, satyanarayaner panchali, Rasamanjari as well as Annadamangal. Annadamangal contains eight episodes and three parts: Shivayan-Annadamangal, Vidyasundar-Kalikamangal and Mansingha-Annapurnamangal. The character of Annada links the different parts although the main story is how Bhavananda's fortunes were transformed through Annada's blessings. Bharatchandra had originally planned to write an epic on the model of Kavikankan's Shrishrichandimangal, but, bowing to the taste of the 18th century and the desire of Raja krishnachandra roy, he turned it into the story of Vidyasundar. As a result, Bharatchandra's poem is a mangalkavya only in form. Although the poet was himself inclined towards Vaishnavism, he presented the deities as fun-loving human beings. Annadamangal influenced later poets in many ways; the poets of Kalikamangal copied it extensively.

Ramprasad and others In the artificial atmosphere of an age of decline, ramprasad sen (1721-1781) was an exception because of his sincere devotionalism and simplicity of language. Although he was reputed for his Shaktapadavali, he also wrote Vidyasundarkahini and Krsnakirtan. In the songs of Ramprasad the fierce Kali turned into a kindly mother. Some other poets of this genre were Radhakanta Mishra (perhaps the first poet of Kolkata), Kavindra Chakravarti and Nidhiram Acharya of chittagong.

Folklore An important part of 18th century literature was oral literature, the main theme of which was love. Because this literature was unwritten it kept on changing, right up to the 19th century. In much folklore the main role is played by a woman. The most important folkore collections are maimansingha gitika by Dinesh Chandra Sen and Purbabanga-Gitika by Chandrakumar De.

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