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Bangla Literature: A Critical Overview

Apratim Rajib


It is generally accepted that Bengali civilization stretches back for more than

thousand years. The two most remarkable achievements of the last millennium are

on the one hand, the growth of Bangla language and literature, and on the other

hand, a glorious achievement of sovereign Bangladesh. The literary, cultural and

political development of this land possibly advanced side by side to complement

each other. The culmination of this process is the Language Movement and the birth

of a nation state based on language of the people of the land although Bangla is

spoken by about 300 million people all over the world. It goes without saying that

Bangla literature is one of the richest ones of the world. So it is worthwhile to review

the gradual development and present status of Bangla literature for the benefit of our

present and future generation.

A nation’s history is correlated with the history of its literature. Bengal has

hardly a chronology of her ordinary people but of her aristocrats and (commonly

alien) rulers. Only the history of her literature has a glimpse of her dark past.

However, the periodization of its history is not so easy.

The sumptuous Sanskrit (not only Bengali Sanskrit) literature is a part of our

heritage. So Valmiki, Vyasa, Vaas, Kalidasa too are our own poets. But their time is

to be included in the far distant past, and our own distinctive literature started much

later. Yet the early Bengali literature was in Sanskrit. The infant Bangla language, an

Indo-Aryan language like Sanskrit itself, was born from Magadhi Prakrit via Magadhi

Abahatta around 1000 A.D. Despite the birth of a new language, the writers favored

Sanskrit and Abahatta till the 12 th century. But actually those two languages were

very close to Bangla.

In the early Middle Ages, our literary realm was mainly dominated by Sanskrit,

Prakrit and Abahatta languages. Many poets and religious thinkers, who were

renowned throughout India, appeared as contributors to those languages. In fact,

since the reign of the Gupta dynasty, Sanskrit literature was being widely practiced in

Bengal. The great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa’s being a Bengali is an assumption under

trial of the researchers. However, Sanskrit poets like Abhinanda, Sandhakar Nundi,

Sree Harsha, Gobardhan Acharya, Dhoyee and Umapatidhar caused Bengal’s glory.

Unfortunately, in periodization of the history of our literature, none of our

scholars has properly estimated the gradual development of art. In fact, a history of

literature should be written emphasizing the art-history. We should keep it in mind

that an age of literature, whether would be named after a ruling class or a person or

ideals of the era, must be relevant to the artistic trend of the time. Moreover,

periodizations made so far by the historians and critics have given birth to some

conventions, and they do not reflect the inherent consciousness of different eras.


With the gradual change of civilization and culture, human outlook goes

through continuous transition. As a result, a writer who is once dignified, may not be

forever. A critic’s judgment of literature is often consciously and sometimes

unconsciously based on the general views of his own time. So my words also are not

a superman’s gospel. The readers are entreated to keep it in mind.

After a careful scrutiny, I have prepared the following list –

• The Buddhist Age (8 th – 12 th Centuries)

• The Turkic Age (13 th – Mid 14 th Centuries)

• The Sultanate (Mid 14 th – 15 th Centuries)

• The Vaishnava Age or the Age of Chaitanya (16 th Century)

• The Mogul Age (17 th Century)

• The Nawabi Age (18 th Century)

• The Scholastic Age (1801–’58)

• The Heroic Age (1858–’90)

• The Romantic Age or the Age of Tagore (1890–1936)

• The High Modern Age (1936–’60)

• The Liberation (1960–’90)

• The Postmodern Age (Since 1990)


Historical Development

The Buddhist Age (8 th – 12 th Centuries)

Buddhism is one of the greatest philosophies of the antiquity. Buddhism,

unlike other religions, emphasizes the development of self rather than worship of an

imaginary god. It teaches a person to free oneself of evil and harmful instincts, and

to attain the blissful state of Nirvana. It is a truly humanistic religion that shows the

mankind the way of having a high order of humanity.

Actually Bangla poetry originated from the lineage of Prakrit and Pali verses,

and a group of critics like to include the entire Indian Buddhist literature in the

Bengali world of letters. But the first glimmer of our unique national literature was

actually seen around the 8 th century AD when Bengal came under the control of the

Buddhist Pal dynasty. Then people’s self-consciousness of their regional identity was

arising, and its sign was in the growth of their own culture.

Buddhism in Bengal had remarkable distinctiveness from other Buddhist

countries. People here worshipped several Buddhist gods and goddesses who were

believed to have attained Nirvana. This faith was slowly merging with other Indian

religions including Hinduism. In Bengal, Tantric and Sahajiya Buddhism developed


among common people, which later resulted in flowering of Vaishnava and Baul


By that time, Buddhism was on the way of transition from its stoic feature to

an epicurean one. Thus sexuality, which was discouraged by its early preachers,

became in course of time, an auspicious part of its ritual.

The Buddha was then accepted even by the Hindus as their avatar. Its proof

is the 12 th -century Sanskrit poet Jayadeva’s work Gitogobindam. Acclaimed as the

epic of Vaishnavism, this poem possesses a psalm on the Buddha. Now some critics

even claim this poem to belong to the Vajrayan school of Buddhism.

In 1907, Dr. Haraprasad Shastri (1853-1931) discovered a Banga-Kamrupiya

(i.e. the earliest form of Bangla and Assamese) script in Nepal’s royal archive and

published entitling Charya-Charya-Binischay. It is in fact, an anthology of Buddhist

Sahajiya mystic (Charya) songs. However, this poetic collection, actually titled

Charyagitikoshe, is claimed by at least six languages – Bangla, Assamese, Oriya,

Maithili, Hindi and Manipuri.

Charya-Charya-Binischay includes the songs of Luipa, Shabarapa, Kahnapa,

Kukkuripa, Dhendanpa, Vusukupa, Sharahapa and many others. Through this work,

Bangla literature was born, and started to walk in its long-destined way. This book is

in fact the progenitor of our dear mother-tongue.

The poets of Charyas depicted the lives of lower class and ‘untouchable’

people (like boatmen, potters, hunters, etc.) in the surface. But they in fact reveal

spiritual ideas supported by Sahajiya Tantric Buddhism.

The Tantric Buddhists relied on sexual practice as a part of their religiosity;

their notion of sex too is evident in this book. Later this cult developed into

Vaishnava Sahajiya, Nath and Baul mysticisms; so the subsequent Bengali culture

bore their inheritance.

There are some beautiful imageries in the anthology, for example –

“High mountain, there lives the hunter girl,

Peacock feathers are her attire, a Gunja-garland is around her neck.”

(Translated by the author)

The following lines refer to those days’ poverty-stricken people’s lives –

“My home is on a small hill, I have no neighbor,

No rice is there in my pitcher, starvation lasts forever.”

(Translated by the author)

Dak’s and Khana’s maxims and a huge number of fairy tales too are believed

by some scholars to belong to this era. Khana was a legendary astrologer who gave

rhymed counsels to the common public.

Atish Dipankar Sreegyan (982?-1053), the most renowned scholar of the

age, is believed to have written Charya songs in Banga-Kamrupiya. Unfortunately,

only the Tibetan translations of most of his works survive.

In that era, a rich literature developed in the Abahatta language, which was

linguistically a prior stage of Hindi and Bangla. Significant works in the language

were Dohakosh by Sharahapa and Kahnapa, Dakarnava and Pingalacharya’s



Some scholars imagine that some writings of ‘Nath’ literature (which really can

be traced since the 17 th century) might have been done in the Buddhist era. But not

a single piece of writing of that genre has been discovered yet.

In this context, it is noteworthy that the languages of the whole Eastern India

(including Bengal, Kamrupa, Maghad and Kalinga) were closely similar in those

days. So it was an age of the entire Eastern Indian literature.

The Turkic Age (13 th – Mid 14 th Centuries)

The Turkic general Bakhtiyar Khilji conquered Gaur in 1203. A fear of their

invasion had haunted the rulers’ and the common people’s mind since before. After

conquering the province, the Turks ruled it for nearly one and a half century.

Bengal’s antique cultural progress was obstructed by this unexpected and shocking

invasion by barbaric foreigners. Bloodshed, torture, harassment, forced conversion,

looting and destruction of scripts, sculptures, temples and properties followed.

Bengal’s cultural world was totally submerged by frustrating darkness; the soul of the

Bengali nation was in fact wounded and paralyzed.

As a result, probably no literature was produced in that era; and even if

produced, those have not come to our hands. Literary practice in this province had to

wait for another century. Yet some hold the idea that the medieval poet Ramai

Pundit wrote Shunyopuran in the 13 th century; but their opinion is not supported by

linguistic evidence.

The Turkic rulers began to marry native girls; as a result, a new race called

Bengali-Turkic emerged. Thus the Turkic Muslims were slowly integrating in the

mainstream of Bengali society. History gave the hint that they would make effective

role in Bengali culture in the next century.

The Sultanate (Mid 14 th – 15 th Centuries)

In course of time, the alien brutes were slowly merging with the native people

of our province. The rulers even started patronizing our art and culture. Thus, since

the 14 th century, literary pursuit had a rebirth under patronage of the independent


The historians recognize Fakruddin Mubarak Shah as the first sultan of

Bengal. He declared himself as a distinctive monarch in 1338. Thereafter many

feudal lords ruled the Bengal Sultanate until it was merged with the Mogul Empire in

the early 17 th century. But it is noteworthy that the sultans’ reign in literature lasted

only till the 15 th century; afterward it came under the influence of the Chaitanya


Poetical works of the era were quite creative, besides free translations of

Sanskrit texts. Although poets had no common trend, the age holds the features that

sultans and rajas patronized many of them, and a new language that was not more

than a dialect before, became the vehicle of literature.


Sultan Shamsuddin Ilias Shah, Raja Ganesh, Raja Shiva Singha (King of

Mithila), Sultan Ruknuddin Barbak Shah, Sultan Hussain Shah and some other

monarchs patronized Bangla literature.

Ananta Baru Chandidas’s Sree-Krishna-Shandarva is the first ever surviving

work of the period. It is considered a masterpiece of the Middle Ages.

Krittibas Ojha, patronized by either Raja Ganesh or Sultan Ruknuddin Barbak

Shah, wrote Sree-Ram-Panchali based on the Sanskrit epic Ramayana. Rama had

less popularity than Krishna in medieval Bengal. That is why literature on Rama did

not flourish here. Krittibas’s work is also not at per with Tulsidas’s Hindi epic Ram-

Charit-Manas. However, it is a remarkable work of the early Middle Ages.

Vidyapati Thakur (poet laureate of Mithila) is immortal for his Vaishnava

Padas (i.e. Kirtan songs). He composed love songs (surrounding the myth of Radha

and Krishna) that have artistic delicacy and romantic imagination.

Narayandev, Bijoy Gupta and Bipradas Piplai wrote Padmapuran (or

Manasha-Mangal). Narayandev’s long poem on the myth of Manasha is often called

an epic by some critics.

Kabindra Parameswar (urged by Sultan Hussain Shah’s military commander

Paragal Khan) and Sreekar Nundi (instructed by Paragal’s son Chuti Khan)

translated the Mahabharata in brief.

Sreedhar Kabiraz, under Shahjada Feroze Shah’s patronage, wrote the first

ever Bidya-Sundar.

And Maladhar Basu, who was given the title ‘Gunaraj Khan’ by Sultan

Ruknuddin Barbak Shah, wrote Sree-Krishna-Bijay based on Sreemad-Bhagabat.

The poets of the period were sold by heart and soul to the feudal rulers. A

sense of dependence, fear and helplessness gripped their mind. They expressed

their allegiance to the gods and goddesses in a time of feudal despotic rule. Their

gods and goddesses are also authoritarian and tyrant. Free will and humanistic ideas

are absent in their writings. They only served the demand of their age, which was – a

revival of Hinduism. And the era mainly produced mythic and folk culture.

The Vaishnava Age or the Age of Chaitanya

(16 th Century)

Vaishnavism is a stream within Hinduism that is based on the popular worship

of the god Vishnu and his two incarnations named Rama and Krishna. The

movement of Bhakti (love for a personal god) developed in the middle ages

surrounding these two avatars. Particularly in Bengal, Krishna captured the public


The 16 th century was the era of the Vaishnava movement led by the mystic

philosopher Sree Chaitanya (1485-1533). It made a vast influence on the whole

culture of the period named after him. Chaitanya preached the doctrine of ‘Love and

Devotion’ (i.e. Prem-Bhakti Dharma), which interprets the love of the heroine Radha

for her deity Krishna as a devotee’s love for God. The ritual he initiated was just

choral performances of Kirtan songs with spontaneous dance. Although he himself


was not a writer, his movement gave birth to a rich literature in an age of the


It was the age of Chaitanya. His Vaishnava mysticism changed the course of

history of the entire Eastern India. He was in fact a prophet who, with visionary and

spiritual touch, made our culture having golden fruits.

Around him, even a new genre i.e. hagiography developed in Bangla.

Brindabandas, Lochandas, Jayananda, Krishnadas Kabiraz and some other poets

wrote his hagiographies. Among these works, Krishnadas’s Sree-Chaitanya-

Charitamrita is a poetic gift and historically remarkable. Brindabandas’s Chaitanya-

Bhagabat is a well-reliable work on Chaitanya’s life and contemporary Bengal.

The Vaishnava poets saw him from very close distance. They comprehended

his mystic doctrines and greatness of his life-story. The hagiographers and Padapoets

drew their guru’s life-sketches and images like class painters. He influenced

the whole Bhakti movement of India, which he himself had initiated. The

contemporary poets glorified Chaitanya’s life what Jayadeva had done for Krishna. In

this context, two lines from Sree-Chaitanya-Charitamrita are notable: Vishnu (of who

Chaitanya is recognized an ‘incarnation’) made an oath in heaven –

“I shall descend on the earth for having three tastes

Having the complexion and appearance of Radha.”

(Translated by the author)

And his intention, as the poet says, is to know the madness of Radha’s love

for her divine lover. The message is that one gets salvation if one loves God like a

true lover. And Chaitanya is, to his followers, a ‘fusion incarnation’ of Krishna and

Radha in a single body.

The poets influenced by Chaitanya’s philosophy also made an analogy

between love and lust – lust is the sexual impulse for another living being while love

is such one for Krishna.

Chaitanya declared that there is no caste-divide for the worship of Krishna;

Brindabandas recalls his word in Chaitanya-Bhagabat –

“An untouchable is no untouchable, if he calls ‘Krishna’,

A Brahmin is no Brahmin, if he walks along sinful path,

Whoever worships, is the devotee, a heretic is a mean damned,

Neither caste nor creed Krishna-puja demands.”

(Translated by the author)

Chaitanya gave a sharp conception of the depth of mystic love. In order to

glorify his godlike guru, Krishnadas says –

“He is the main dancer, all the rest are co-dancers;

Everyone dances in the way he wishes.”

(Translated by the author)

However, these are just conceptions of the Middle Ages, and quite archaic


Nevertheless, the inner richness, ornamental language and astonishing

philosophy of Vaishnava literature are eligible to be compared to the classics of

world literature.

The period was influenced by Chaitanya in mainly four ways –

1. Vaishnava Padas conveyed his mystic ideas,


2. Vaishnava Padas even about him were composed,

3. A new genre – hagiography was created centering his life, and

4. Verse-fictions (actually Mangal-Kabyas) having humanistic ideas were


Vaishnava Pada-literature reached its peak in this period. The greatest poet of

this genre is Chandidas. Unlike others of the era, his Padas are rich in witty words

and attractive naivety. His historicity is untraced, and therefore, I include him in

Chaitanya’s era as the mystic features of his songs bear a resemblance to the poetry

of this time.

Balaramdas, Gyandas, Gobindadas Kabiraz, Narottamdas, Basanta Ray,

Shekhar Ray were other Vaishnava poets. But the fundamental difference between

the pre-Chaitanya and the Chaitanya literature is that while the former poets wrote

literally erotic poems, the latter ones composed Vaishnava lyrics based on mystic

thoughts. They even wrote songs on Chaitanya as he himself was deemed ‘an

incarnation of Krishna, who wanted to achieve a taste of the divine love of Radha for

himself having her fair complexion’.

Avayamangal (or Chandimangal), a poetical work by Mukundaram

Chakraborty, is a social document of that time. It can be called a verse-novel, and

some critics hold assumption that the author would be a novelist in lieu of poet if he

took birth in the modern era.

Raghunath Pundit wrote Sree-Krishna-Prem-Tarangini based on Sreemad-

Bhagabat. And Kashiram Das translated the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata.

The Mogul Age (17 th Century)

The Moguls of Delhi completed their occupation of Bengal in the first decade

of the 17 th century. The name of Maan Singh, the true founder of Mogul rule in

Bengal, was first mentioned in a Bangla writing in 1601. Along with the Moguls, their

art and lifestyle too were taken by the Bengalis; especially Persian and Hindustani

poetry and music made profound influence on Bengali art and culture.

Although Bengal was not endowed with any architectural masterpiece like the

Taj Mahal, our literature bore the influence of the rich Mogul culture. Leaned toward

two of the richest literatures of the world (i.e. Persian and Hindi), the Muslim poets of

Bengal introduced a new poetic tradition. So the 17 th century is justifiably named the

Mogul Age as it encompasses a huge amount of literary classics contributed

predominantly by the Muslim poets under the political and cultural influence of the

Mogul Empire.

The art and literature of the Mogul reign were secular and quixotic. Poets

under their influence championed beauty, love and mysticism in their writings. The

Bengali poets of the age followed Persian and Hindi literature a lot; many works were

either translated or adapted from these two languages. They took secular stories and

wrote verses with Sufi mystic tinge.

With the Mogul invasion, Bangla literature lost its royal patronage. The

Bengali poets now found petty feudal rulers as their patrons.


Especially the Muslim poets of Arakan (now in Burma), Chattagram and

Sreehatta contributed to the poetry of this era. Particularly Arakan court became a

centre of Bengali poets and artists. Poets like Daulat Kazi, Syed Alaol, Mardan and

Magan Thakur wrote romance poems based on stories without deities, and those

added a new dimension to medieval Bangla poetry.

Daulat Kazi wrote the romance poem Lore Chandrani O Sati Mayna. He left it

unfinished, and Alaol completed it after his death. For his charismatic use of words

and metaphors and depth of art, Kazi sometimes seems the most creative poet of

Arakan court.

But Syed Alaol is most reputed for Padmabati, which is a free adaptation of

Malik Muhammad Jayasee’s Hindi poem Padmavat. In his poem, Alaol made a good

combination of poetry, music and dance, and can be regarded as the best poet of


The saint-poet Syed Martuza composed Sufi mystic poems having structural

similarities with Vaishnava Padabali. Shah Muhammad Shagir composed the Sufi

poem Yusuf-Julekha, which is based on a love story. Syed Sultan composed the

epic Nabi-Bangsha. A poet named Dwiza Pashupati composed a romance poem

titled Chandrabali. Another poet – Khalil, probably from Sreehatta, wrote a poem

titled Chandramukhi in the Nagari alphabet. Some other poets wrote on yoga


The Palagaans (one kind of ballad) of Maimanshingha Gitika and Purbabanga

Gitika can be included in this era. Mahua and Malua are two remarkably charming

ballads; the first one was composed by the folk poet Dwiza Kanai.

In the 17 th century, a huge number of Muslim poets emerged. Other wellknown

poets are Shah Birid Khan, Sheikh Faizullah, Abdul Hakim and Mohammad

Khan. Among them, Shah Birid composed Bidya-Sundar and Faizullah wrote


The Nawabi Age (18 th Century)

The Urdu word ‘Nawab’ literally denotes a noble man in medieval India. In fact

a Nawab was lower than a Badshah, Samrat, Sultan or Raja.

Murshid Quli Khan, eventually the first ruling Nawab of Bengal – came to this

province probably in 1700 as the Diwan (i.e. Tax-collector) of Mogul empire. In 1717,

he was appointed as the ‘Nawab Nazim’ (i.e. Revenue & Civil Administrative Officer)

of Bengal by the emperor of Delhi. Gradually he captured the political power of the

state, and became its sovereign ruler. Thus in Bengal, a Nawab became practically

equal to a Sultan or Shah.

In 1757, a victory in the battle of Plassey over Nawab Sirajuddaula’s army

gave the British East India Company a recognized authority over this province. They

removed the last independent nawab from power, and made Bengal a British colony.

The company was sarcastically called ‘Nawub’ by the Bengali natives, because their

ruling system and attitudes were quite like the nawabs.


The Nawabi Age of Bangla literature actually includes the whole 18 th century –

comprising the independent Nawabs’ and the British East India Company’s (called

‘Nawub’) early rule.

Bengal’s capital Murshidabad was a center of foreign (Persian) culture, and its

impact was increasing on our own decadent culture. Then even the elite Hindus

began to learn the Persian language widely. The Hindu and Islamic cultures were

slowly merging. Even after the Battle of Plassey and Bengal’s subjection by the

British East India Company (1757), the practice of Persian was still widening.

Faced before the collision of two different foreign races, social stability and

peace were much disturbed. Aesthetic joy and pleasure were fading, and emotion

and simplicity took their place. Appreciation of sublime poetry perished, and linear

literature and simple outlook replaced it. And throughout the period, artificial,

sentimental and perverse works were written.

One of the patrons was Raja Krishnachandra Ray (1710-’82) of Nadiya. His

poet laureate Bharatchandra Ray (1712?-’60) wrote two famous poems titled

Annadamangal and Bidya-Sundar.

Ramprasad Sen (1720?-’81), another court-poet of Krishnachandra, and

Kamalakanta Vattacharya (1769?-1821) wrote Shakta Padas (devotional songs

addressed to Goddess Kali).

Rameswar Vattacharya composed Shiv-Mangal and Ghanaram Chakraborty

wrote Dharma-Mangal. Their works too are not free of artificiality.

Ali Raja was a Sufi poet. He expressed his religious ideas in his poems.

And vulgar folk tales were made around a person (historical or imaginary?)

named Gopal Bhar. Kavi and obscene Kheur songs too were written in many areas.

Thus the medieval Bengali culture came to an end, which was waiting to

revive in a new era of an entirely different environment.

The Scholastic Age (1801-’58)

The British occupied Bengal in 1757. Gradually the entire India became their

colony. As the Turkic invasion of the 13 th century had introduced a new age, the

British occupation brought an amazing change on the life, culture, economy, art and

literature of the nation. Western thoughts and culture began to enter the nation’s

mind; the biggest impact was on its literature. Thus the cultural and cognitive

movement called Bengal Renaissance occurred around the 19 th century. A new age

started for Bengal, and marked the beginning of modern Bangla literature.

Our modern literature began its journey in the early 19 th century.

Rediscovering and reshaping were two principal ideologies of the early modern era.

It was the age of the Christian missionaries, the British orientalists, the Brahmo

Samaj, the Young Bengal – the age of Jones, Carey, Rammohun, Derozio,

Vidyasagar and other reformers. The orientalist scholars of the Asiatic Society [e.g.

William Jones (1746-’94)] first sowed the seed of Renaissance by rediscovering

history and literature of the pre-Islamic era. Rammohun introduced the monotheistic

Brahmo movement. Then Derozio advanced the trend of progression further toward

enlightenment based on reason.


It was primarily an age of prose, and of academic books; most of the writers

wrote for scholastic purpose. Bangla prose came into being through translations of

foreign literary works by some scholars, most of whom were associated with the Fort

William College. This group includes Ramram Basu (1757?-1813), Chandicharan

Munshi (1760?-1808), William Carey (1761-1834), Mrityunjay Vidyalankar (1762?-

1819), Golaknath Sharma (?-1803), Tarinicharan Mitra (1772?-1837?), Rajiblochan

Mukhopadhyay, Haraprasad Roy, Kashinath Tarkapanchanan (?-1851) and so on.

Among them, perhaps, Carey contributed most, because he founded the Fort William

College, and patronized its pundits. The age began in 1801 with the publication of

Ramram Basu’s Raja Pratapaditya Charitra – the first ever prose book in Bangla.

Rammohun Roy (1774?-1833) remarkably bore their inheritance. He was a

social reformer and founder of the Brahmo Samaj, and was also engaged in a longlasting

debate with the Fort William College scholars on primitive religious and social

norms. He expressed his reformist thoughts in miscellaneous languages – Persian,

Arabic, English, Bangla, etc. His Bangla works include translations from Vedanta.

Among other mapmakers of prose, Bhabanicharan Bandyopadhyay (1787-1848)

drew satirical social sketches. And Hanna Katherine Mullence wrote the story

Fulmoni O Korunar Biboron (1852) based on a Christian theme.

The radical philosopher and educationist Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-

’31) made the pioneering role in that historical era. He was a storm-petrel in our

cultural life. As an ideal educator, he procreated an advanced generation. He was

the proponent of the Enlightenment values like bourgeois humanism, secularism and

nationalism in our country. He was a conveyor of the Romantic spirit that had turned

upside down the English culture in the early 19 th century. Derozio made Thomas

Paine’s (1737-1809) The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason popular with his

pupils, who eventually became a new vibrant generation of free thinkers. He taught

them to judge everything on the scale of reason derived from conscience, not

necessarily as he or other superiors instructed. In fact it was not Derozio’s own

philosophy but Reason that reigned over the period. His influence is evident on many

of his contemporary litterateurs especially who graduated from the Hindu College.

Vidyasagar was influenced by his rational and secular ideas, and Bankim took his

nationalistic zeal. In fact it was Derozio’s rationalistic teaching that gave birth to an

epoch that bore reason in its prose writings. He took the consciousness of scholastic

level to its maturity.

Rammohun was an iconoclast – a rebel within the halo of religion; he did not

try to exceed it. He rebelled against the shape and nature of Hinduism, not against

the concept of religion itself. It was Derozio whose scientific teaching on rational

ethics brought about the most alarming changes in those days’ Bengali life. He,

along with his students, made effective role against widow-burning, polygamy, childmarriage

and orthodox Hinduism, and spoke in favor of remarriage of widows and

also for women’s education and freedom. He was accused of being the main

contributor to Bengali youths’ inclination to drinking; his newly found work titled On

Drunkenness gives testimony to his favor of wine-addiction. Such activities of

Derozio made a deep impact on those days’ Bengali psyche.

Derozio composed poems in English, and is now recognized as the father of

modern Indian literature. His most famed disciples and pupils, who were known as


the Young Bengal, first appeared in the field of literature through Enquirer and

Gananwesan, two famous literary journals of the age. At least three Bengali writers –

Dakshinaranjan Mukhopadhyay (1812-’87), Krishnamohan Bandyopadhyay (1813-

’85) and Piarichand Mitra (1814-’83, whose pseudonym was Tekchand Thakur),

were Derozio’s pupils. The first two of them compiled encyclopedia.

Another leader of the era was Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar (1820-’91). He too

was an educationist, and used his pen mainly for scholastic purpose. But his literary

endeavor is also evident in his works. He pioneered the creed of the era for shaping

Bangla prose, and can be acclaimed the founder of its first standard form.

Vidyasagar fulfilled Derozio’s unaccomplished dream through his movement for

widow-marriage and women’s education. His Shakuntala (1854) and Sitar Banabas

(1860) have even some features of fictional work. The attempt of the Fort William

College scholars of creating Bangla prose finally achieved the goal through him. And

following his path, many other educated persons joined the mission of advancing

Bangla prose. Among them, Kaliprashanna Simha (1840-’70) made a huge prose

translation of the Mahabharata.

Akshaykumar Datta (1820-’86) is another unforgettable name. Inspired by late

Derozio’s secular outlook, he was one of the chief propagandists of materialism. His

Bharatbarshiya Upashak Sampraday (1870,’83) is an essay full of information about

the Hindu sects.

But poetic achievement of the phase is not very affluent. Ramnidhi Gupta

(1741-1839) composed secular love songs called Tappa. And Ishwarchandra Gupta

(1811-’59) composed satirical poems.

Outside the urban mainstream, mystic Baul song was developed in the

countryside by Fakir Lalan Shai (1774?-1890). His songs are exuberant in inner

depth, and remind us of the great mystic poets of medieval Persia. He was

influenced mainly by Sufi and Sahajiya philosophies. Although he composed his

songs with medieval style, history aligns him with the artists of the early modern era.

The Heroic Age (1858-’90)

The failed independence war of 1857-59 (which was called ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ by

the British rulers) created nationalistic fervor all over India. A new search for national

identity was seen in the educated class of a new generation.

Also the radical movement of the early modern era changed into reactionary

views in the late 19 th century. The secular radicalism propagated by the Derozians

gave birth to a counter-reformation, the introducer of which trend was

Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (1838-’94), and which found its culmination in the

Hindu revival finally mapped by Vivekananda. Moreover, extremely modern views on

social norms were replaced by conservative and rigid outlooks. Rigorousness on

moral codes and stiff social values were restored in a large measure; the age saw a

rebirth of religiosity. Bygone attitudes concerning love and sexual relationships came


In Bangla literature, it was an era of rise of heroic passion, and of a

resurrection of religious beliefs and theocratic nationalism. Bankim and other writers


made new explanations of Hindu scriptures. They emphasized religious values and

identity, and ignored the Derozean ideal of secularism. Above all, idealism was

restored in the place of materialism. It was an age of restoration of traditional Hindu

mythologies and glorification of historical monarchs and legendary heroes. And in

response to their Hindu nationalism, a counter Muslim nationalism too developed.

Derozio’s alcoholism too was challenged by the writers of this epoch like Tekchand,

Michael, Dinabandhu and Kaliprashanna. Rangalal Bandyopadhyay’s heroic poem

Padmini Upakhyan (1858) marked the beginning of the age, and it ended with the

publication of Tagore’s lyrical work Manashi (1890).

The poets of the era were much influenced by Western classics; in their

works, they proclaimed bourgeois values like individualism, humanism and

nationalism. The most promising and innovative genius among them was Michael

Madhusudan Datta (1824-’73). He worked in several sections – epic, romance,

sonnet, monologue, lyrical poem and drama. He first wrote in English, but later in

Bangla, and introduced blank verse in this language. His Meghnadbadh (1861) is an

epic poem where he broke the tradition of Hindu myth by making the abhorred

demon Ravana into the protagonist and Rama a brute villain. He imposed human

qualities on mythic demons, and wrote of human instincts and emotions in his

poems. Michael’s poems give testimony that he was not a secularist like Derozio,

rather he was remarkably influenced by the religious views prevalent in those days’

Bengali society. His verses also bear the mark of influence of the prose of that era.

On the other hand, Bankim was the leading writer of the period in a number of

genres – novel, philosophical essay and satire. His Kopalkundala (1866) and

Krishnakanter Will (1878) are examples of supreme romantic novels. His writings

sometimes offended Muslim sentiments, but in fact he was a great patriot, and

attacked the British colonial rule in an implicit way. It is evident especially in his great

novel Anandamath (1882). He, although wrote prose, was a sublime poet; his poetic

prose bear an introspective outlook of life and beauty. He was the composer of the

greatest national song of the age – “Bandey Mataram”. He was also the editor of

Bangadarshan, the most famous literary journal of those days.

The other writers of the era were influenced by these two genius authors’

thoughts and writing techniques. In poetry and drama, it was Michael’s reigning

period, and in fiction and non-fictional prose, it was the age of Bankim.

In this context, it needs to be said the word ‘heroic’ is not always associated

with warfare; in literature, it also refers to a high-flown and grand language. The

writers of the age (especially Michael and Bankim) fulfilled these requirements.

Besides, they were influenced by fatalistic ideas of antique Greek literature.

Michael’s and Bankim’s heroes and heroines fall victim to their predestined fate; they

had a likeness of drawing the pictures of man’s tragic fall. Even the romances of the

age uphold heroism and awful consequences of their protagonists.

The genre of epic was run on by Hemchandra Bandyopadhyay (1838-1903)

and Nabinchandra Sen (1847-1909) who were deeply influenced by Michael’s poetic

principles and Bankim’s nationalistic views. Hemchandra wrote Bitrashanghar Kabya

(1875,’77) maintaining the tradition of poetic justice. Nabinchandra, influenced by

Bankim’s Krishna-Charitra (1886), composed Raibatak (1887), Kurukshetra (1893)

and Pravas (1896), an epic-trilogy in total commonly known as ‘the Mahabharata of


the 19 th century’. And Kaikobad (1857-1951) and Ismail Hossain Siraji (1880-1931)

were two late representatives of this epic tradition. But all those ‘epic poets’, in merit,

were far behind Michael.

Krishnachandra Mazumder (1837-1907) wrote Sadbhab Shatak (1861)

following Persian Rubaiyat. Dwijendranath Tagore (1840-1926), the eldest brother of

Rabindranath, composed a romance poem in blank verse entitled Sapnaprayan

(1875). Jagatbandhu Bhadra’s (1841-1906) Chucchundaribadh (1868) is a parody of

Meghnadbadh; he satirized Michael’s epic style in this poem. Another satirist named

Indranath Bandyopadhyay (1849-1911) wrote the mock-epic Bharat-Uddhar (1878).

Biharilal Chakraborty (1835-’94), Surendranath Mazumder (1838-’78),

Gobindachandra Das (1855-1918), Devendranath Sen (1858-1920) and

Akshaykumar Baral (1860-1919) introduced lyrical poems in Bangla. Biharilal is

called the ‘Morning Bird’ of Bangla lyrical poem. He became ideal to many young

poets including Tagore. Saradamangal (1878) is his masterpiece.

Even before Bankim, Tekchand Thakur wrote the first ever Bangla novel –

Alaler Gharer Dulal (1858). But Kaliprashanna Simha’s Hutome Penchar Naksha

(1861-’62) is widely regarded as the best social document of the 19 th century.

Mir Mosharraf Hossain (1847-1912) and Rameshchandra Datta (1848-1909)

wrote historical novels following the model of Bankim. Maharastra Jibanprabhat

(1878) and Rajput Jibansandha (1879) are two famous historical novels by

Rameshchandra. Mosharraf narrated the story of assassination of Imam Hossain at

the battle-field of Karbala in his prose-epic Bishad Shindhu (1885-’91). Taraknath

Gangopadhyay (1843-’91) wrote a family-story entitled Swarnalata (1874).

Bangla drama got its birth in this period. It will not be wrong to say that

Shakespeare was the role model of the playwrights. However, they never achieved

the great writer’s height. Michael composed several good tragedies and comedies.

Besides, he wrote two farcical works. And Dinabandhu Mitra (1830-’73) wrote a

famous political play titled Nildarpan (1860) and a class farce entitled Sadhabar

Ekadashi (1866). Nildarpan was a protest against the atrocities of the British tyrants

of the 19 th century. Girishchandra Ghosh (1844-1912) wrote mythic, historical and

social plays being influenced by Bankim’s nationalistic ideologies. He excelled not as

a playwright, but as an actor and director. Amritlal Basu (1853-1929) wrote satirical


Sanjibchandra Chattopadhyay (1834-’89), elder brother of Bankim, wrote

Palamou (1880-’82) – the first ever travelogue in Bangla.

This time’s essay literature was centred on theological issues. Bankim,

Devendranath Tagore (1817-1905), Rajendralal Mitra (1822-’91), Rajnarayan Basu

(1826-’99), Bhudev Mukhopadhyay (1827-’94), Keshavchandra Sen (1838-’84) and

Dwijendranath Tagore were the renowned essayists of the age. They mainly wrote

on religion and philosophy. Devendranath preached philosophies of the

Upanishadas. Bhudev wrote on social and family values.


The Romantic Age or the Age of Tagore


Romanticism can be defined as an idealized and lofty vision of the temporal

world which, to the general mind, may seem bizarre or unfamiliar. The origin of this

concept may be dated back to the antique philosopher Plato’s time.

In Bangla literature, Romanticism was introduced by Bankim, and it reached

an incredible height in Rabindranath Tagore’s (1861-1941) era. It came possible

not only through his outstanding individual achievement but also through ambitious

efforts of many other writers of the age who were influenced by his style and diction.

Tagore’s age started with the publication of his Manashi (1890), a lyrical

poetical work. It came to an end in 1936 with the coming to light of Jibanananda’s

book of poems entitled Dhushar Pandulipi.

The difference between Bankim and Tagore is not only artistic but also

ideological. While Bankim was an admirer of Geeta, Tagore was a Brahmo, and his

philosophies were based on the Upanishadas. He had a universal vision, and loved

this world much more than any other poet has ever done to date. This is why he is

called “Biswa Kavi” (i.e. Poet of the World).

Tagore’s Manashi (1890), Sonar Tori (1894), Chitra (1896), Gitanjali (1912),

Balaka (1916), Punascha (1932), Prantik (1938) are significant contributions to

romantic and mystic poetry. He was awarded the Nobel Literature Prize in 1913 for

Gitanjali, a collection of his mystic poems that he himself translated into English

entitling Song Offerings. Chokher Bali (1903), Gora (1910), Chaturanga (1915),

Shesher Kabita (1929) are his famous novels. He introduced short story in Bangla,

and took it to its supreme shape. His short stories are collected in an anthology titled

Galpaguccha. He even invented a genre of prose. Further, he is also our greatest

dramatist; his Chitrangada (1892), Dakghar (1912) and Raktakarabi (1926) are

remarkable plays of world drama. His philosophical essays too have gained worldly


Three leading literary journals of the era were Bharati, Sabujpatra and Kallol.

Bharati was the early haven of Tagore and some other young writers who wanted to

free themselves of the strong reign of Bankim. Sabujpatra introduced the movement

of a new standard of Bangla prose (called ‘Chalita Bhasha’) led by Pramatha

Chowdhury (1868-1946). Tagore himself was engaged with that movement. And

Kallol was the leading journal of the rebels against the dominant literary trend.

Dwijendralal Roy (1863-1913), famed for his historical plays and songs, was

an early literary rival of Tagore. The works of the Tagorean school seemed

extremely modern to the conservatives, and they developed as a different group with

Roy – their leader.

The other poets of Tagore’s era gave birth to more or less individualistic styles

but failed to exceed his artistic halo. Among them, Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976)

stands next to him in many respects. He achieved the glory of ‘Rebel poet’; no other

poet has yet succeeded to express so artistically the tone of political rebellion. He

assimilated Hindu, Greco-Roman, Christian and Islamic cultural heritages, and thus

exposed himself as a model of non-communal Bengali writers. But unfortunately his


non-communal humanism was turned into sick Pakistanism (influenced by Jinnah’s

two-nation theory) by some later Muslim poets [e.g. Farrukh Ahmad (1918-’74)]. A

similar revolutionary poet and playwright called Mukunda Das (1878-1934) became

famous with jatra theatre.

Panju Shah (1851?-1914) and Hason Raza (1855?-1922) were two mystic

folk poets of the time. Kantichandra Ghosh (1886-1949) translated the Persian

polymath Omar Khayyam’s poems.

Other renowned poets of the period were Karunanidhan Bandyopadhyay

(1877-1955), Jatindramohan Bagchi (1878-1948), Satyandranath Datta (1882-1922),

Kumudranjan Mallik (1883-1970), Jatindranath Sengupta (1887-1954), Sukumar

Ray (1887-1923), Mohitlal Mazumder (1888-1952), Kalidas Roy (1889-1975) and

Jasimuddin (1903-’76). Satyandranath is famed as the ‘wizard of rhythm’, Sukumar

excelled in satirical rhymes, and Jasimuddin is well-known as the ‘pastoral poet’ of

modern Bengal.

Dakshinaranjan Mitra Mazumder (1877-1956) published his collection of

Bangla fairy tales entitling Thakurmar Jhuli (1907), Thakurdadar Jhuli (1909),

Thandidir Thale (1909) and Dadamashayer Thale (1913). His fairy tales are

remarkable literary achievement.

Saratchandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938) wrote social and psychological

novels, which are worthy assets of Bangla literature. Among his fictional writings

Pallisamaj (1916), Charitrahin (1917), Sreekanta (1917-’33), Datta (1918),

Grihadaha (1920), Pather Dabi (1926), Shesh Prashna (1931) are popular and

recognized by critics. In portraying social scenario and psychological insight, he was

influenced by Tagore’s Chokher Bali.

Gaganendranath Tagore (1867-1938) and Abanindranath Tagore (1871-

1951), two acknowledged masters of modern painting, are famed in literature for

their fantasy novels. Trailokyanath Mukhopadhyay (1847-1919) and Parashuram

(1880-1960, pseudonym of Rajshekhar Basu) wrote popular satirical stories.

Parashuram is widely regarded as the greatest humorist of the 20 th century.

Prabhatkumar Mukhopadhyay (1873-1932) was renowned for his short

stories. Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (1880-1932) wrote against suppression and

seclusion of the Bengali Muslim women. She is our first feminist writer.

Nareshchandra Sengupta (1883-1964) wrote novels with explicit sexual candor.

Manindralal Basu (1898-1986) wrote pure romantic novels [e.g. Ramala (1923) and

Sahajatrini (1941)] based on modern urban life; Tagore refined his style in Shesher


Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) and Ramendrasundar Trivedi (1864-1919)

wrote philosophical essays. Dineshchandra Sen (1866-1939), Birbal (pseudonym of

Pramatha Chowdhury) and Mohitlal Mazumder wrote critical essays on art and


Mahendranath Gupta (1854-1932, who used the pen-name ‘Sree M’) wrote

the mystic Ramakrishna’s (1836-’86) biography titled Sree-Ramakrishna-Kathamrita

(1902-’32). And Jagadishchandra Basu (1858-1937) was a famed scientist who

expressed his scientific ideas and observations through his literary works.


The High Modern Age (1936-’60)

In the first half of the 20 th century, two world wars changed the course of

human history. Highly humanistic values were replaced by inhuman and abominable

attitudes. Merciless brutalities stained the war-inflicted West, and its impact was

seen across the colonial Orient. Several genocides caused the most memorable

human disaster so far. Famine shattered the poverty-stricken India. Economic

disaster gripped the colonized and later independent nations. Besides, life and the

society fell in the grip of mechanization. A sense of helplessness and frustration was

seen among artists and intellectuals. Hyper romantic thoughts found its place in

cultural trashcans. Thus the post-Romantic era of literature, which is now called the

High Modern Age, launched its voyage.

Modernism, the general trend of the age, is the combined name of several artmovements

including symbolism, impressionism, expressionism, futurism, cubism,

surrealism, existentialism, etc. Those movements actually started their journey in the

West speeding up after the First World War. The political philosopher Karl Marx

(1818-’83) and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) influenced most of the

intellectuals since that time. Marx spoke for establishing a classless society through

the abolition of private property. And Freud dealt with man’s unconscious behaviors

in his psychoanalytical writings. Bearing their influence, the Modernist writers opened

a new artistic and philosophical world expressing the crises of modern man.

Jibanananda Das (1899-1954) is the true icon of the age and greatest

Modernist poet. Called the ‘Nilkantha of endangered humanity’, he invented a new

diction of Bangla poetry, and achieved the glory of the greatest poet after Tagore.

The age itself was initiated in the year 1936 with his book of poems titled Dhushar

Pandulipi. Beside this work, his Banalata Sen (1942), Mahaprithibi (1944), Sathti

Tarar Timir (1948), Rupashi Bangla (1957), Bela Abela Kalbela (1961) are valuable

contributions to modern poetry.

Amiya Chakraborty (1901-’86), Sudhindranath Datta (1901-’60), Manish

Ghatak (1902-’79), Ajit Datta (1907-’79), Buddhadev Basu (1908-’74), Bishnu Dey

(1909-’82), Arun Mitra (1909-2000), Bimalchandra Ghosh (1910-’82), Dinesh Das

(1913-’85), Samar Sen (1916-’87), Ahsan Habib (1917-’85), Subhash

Mukhopadhyay (1919-2004), Birendra Chattopadhyay (1920-’85), Sukanta

Vattacharya (1926-’47) – all have enriched Bangla poetry. Sudhindranath is famed

especially for his choice of high-sounding words; he was influenced by Tagore’s

diction. Bishnu is our greatest Marxist poet. Amiya, Buddhadev and Sukanta too

have made signs of their merit.

Manik Bandyopadhyay (1908-’56) is the most successful representative of

Marxism in Bangla fiction. Manik’s Putul Nacher Itikatha (1936), Padma Nadir Majhi

(1936) and Ahimsa (1941) are class works; his social and psychological revelation

takes him to an amazing height.

Jagadishchandra Gupta (1886-1957), Shailajananda Mukhopadhyay (1901-

’76), Premendra Mitra (1904-’88), Gajendrakumar Mitra (1908-’94), Subodh Ghosh

(1909-’80), Jyotirindra Nundi (1912-’82), Adwaita Mallabarman (1914-’51),


Narendranath Mitra (1916-’75), Narayan Gangopadhyay (1918-’70), Santoshkumar

Ghosh (1920-’85), Samaresh Basu (1924-’88) are other Marxist fiction-writers.

The great leader and political moralist Mahatma Gandhi’s (1869-1948)

influence is evident on many Bengali writers. His doctrines of Ahimsa and

Satyagraha showed us and many other colonized nations a peaceful way of

achieving freedom. Mahatma had exerted influence on the Bengali writers since the

very Tagore’s age. But in the High Modern era, his impact found an intense shape.

Among the Gandhian novelists, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay (1898-1971)

occupies a place in the front line. In his novels, there is a depth of social and

psychological consciousness, and also touchy poetic expressions. He masterly

portrayed the transition of Bengali society from the feudalistic to a capitalistic one.

His Jalsha-Ghar (1938), Dhatri-Devata (1939), Kalindi (1940), Gana-Devata (1942),

Panchagram (1943), Hashuli Banker Upakatha (1947), Arogyoniketan (1953) are

eternal assets of Bangla fiction.

Another great Gandhian writer was obviously Satinath Bhaduri (1906-’65).

His Jagari (1946) and Dhorai-Charit-Manash (1949, ’51) are widely appreciated

political novels.

Bonoful (1899-1979, pseudonym of Balaichand Mukhopadhyay) and

Annadashankar Roy (1904-2002) are other famed Gandhian writers. Also the poets

and playwrights of the period were inspired by Mahatma’s humanistic principles.

Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay (1899-1970) and Niharranjan Gupta (1911-’86)

penned popular detective novels.

Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay (1894-1950), Jarashanda (1902-’81) and

Ashapurna Devi (1909-’95) are other great fictionists from that era. Bibhutibhushan’s

Pather Panchali (1929) and Aranyak (1938) are widely admired novels.

This age also saw a significant turn in drama. Jogesh Chowdhury (1889-

1948), Sachin Sengupta (1892-1961), Tulshi Lahiri (1897-1959), Manmath Roy

(1899-1988), Bonoful, Manoj Basu (1901-’87), Bidhayak Vattacharya (1907-’86),

Digindrachandra Bandyopadhyay (1908-’91), Buddhadev Basu, Mahendra Gupta

(1910-’84), Bijan Vattacharya (1915-’78) were the notable dramatists. Some of them

upheld contemporary socio-political crises and struggles in their dramatic works.

They had more or less Marxist outlook.

Syed Mujtaba Ali (1904-’74) and Jajabar (1909-’83, pseudonym of Binoy

Mukhopadhyay) are famous for their belles-lettres. The latter also wrote on sports.

Muhammad Shahidullah (1885-1969), Sunitikumar Chattopadhyay (1890-

1977), Kazi Abdul Odud (1894-1970), Niradchandra Chaudhuri (1897-1999),

Sukumar Sen (1900-’92), Sudhindranath Datta, Gopal Halder (1902-’93),

Niharranjan Roy (1905-’81), Humayun Kabir (1906-’69), Abu Sayeed Ayyub (1906-

’82), Buddhadev Basu, Shashibhushan Dasgupta (1911-’64), Deviprasad

Chattopadhyay (1918-’93), Ranajit Guha (b. 1923) have added class works to essay

literature. They have written on different subjects – linguistics, history, literary

criticism, etc.


The Liberation (1960-’90)

India achieved its freedom in 1947 but unfortunately it was partitioned into two

sovereign nations based on the communal leader Jinnah’s two-nation theory. Bengal

and Punjab were also divided. West Bengal, where the Hindus were the majority,

was included in the Indian Federation, while East Bengal joined the new nation

Pakistan. And since the birth of this theocratic nation, the people of East Bengal

were deprived.

The trend of the culture and politics of East Bengal leaned toward separatist

aim after the imposing of martial law by the dictator Ayub Khan in 1958. Especially

since the 1960s the literature of East Bengal upheld revolutionary ideas against

tyranny, and the concept of a theocratic nation was gradually sickening. And the

ideological guru was no other than the independence leader and founding father of

Bangladesh – Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (1920-’75).

Litterateurs like Showkat Osman (1917-’98), Munir Chowdhury (1925-’71),

Shamsur Rahman (1929-2006), Shaheed Kadori (b. 1942) and many others began

to write against Pakistani atrocities. However, their exposition was sheltered under

myths and symbols.

Finally East Bengal torn out of Pakistani rule in 1971 but in 1975, a

reactionary military insurrection brought the country back to a revival of the

ideological darkness that the nation witnessed during its Pakistani regime. So the

struggle for liberation continued till the 1990s in this ‘liberated’ Bangladesh. As a

result the literature of independence movement lasted since 1960 till 1990 before it

was overshadowed by the latest artistic concept - Postmodernism.

East Bengal and its capital Dhaka became the centre of Bangla literature. The

writers of West Bengal, who were influenced by the leftist Nakshal movement, were

undermined. We can trace the beginning of the period with Shamsur Rahman’s

poetic collection Prothom Gan Dwitio Mrityur Aagey (1960). Showkat Osman’s

Kritadasher Hashi (1962) was a milestone in this time’s fictional literature. Also his

Janani (1958) is a widely acclaimed novel.

Shamsur Rahman, Shankha Ghosh (b. 1932), Samir Roy Chowdhury (b.

1933), Sakti Chattopadhyay (1933-’95), Sunil Gangopadhyay (1934-2012), Binoy

Mazumder (1934-2006), Al Mahmud (1936-2019), Hasnat Abdul Hye (b. 1937),

Shaheed Kadori, Sikder Aminul Haq (1942-2003), Amitabha Gupta (b. 1947),

Khandakar Ashraf Hossain (1950-2013), Joy Goswami (b. 1954) are chief poets of

the age. Among them, Rahman and Kadori have written brilliant political poems. Hye

has written witty haiku poems. And Mahmud has created a new diction of modern

poetry. His poems have rural setting, are rich in rural words, and yet uphold modern

consciousness. Unfortunately since the 1980s he leaned toward fundamentalism,

and thus a poetic style of high possibilities met its end before full bloom.

The war of 1971 has also been portrayed in contemporary fiction-writers’

works. The first among them was Anwar Pasha’s (1928-’71) Rifle Roti Aurat (1973).

Other writers include Abu Zafar Shamsuddin (1911-’88), Showkat Osman, Rashid

Karim (1925-2011), Alauddin Al Azad (1932-2009), Syed Shamsul Haq (b. 1935),

Hasan Azizul Haq (b. 1939), Mahmudul Haq (1941-2008), Akhtaruzzaman Elias


(1943-’97), Humayun Azad (1947-2004), Selina Hossain (b. 1947), Humayun Ahmed

(1948-2012) and Imdadul Haq Milon (b. 1955). Among them, Mahmudul Haq was a

master of language, and epitomized the war and contemporary life in diction of

modern poetry. His Anur Pathshala (1973), Nirapad Tandra (1974), Jiban Amar

Bone (1976), Khelaghar (1988), Kalo Baraf (1992) are great novels. But in fact Elias

occupies the top position of the age with his two outstanding novels Chilekothar

Sepai (1986) and Khoabnama (1996). And Jahanara Imam’s (1929-’94) memoir

Ekattorer Dinguli (1986) is another unique work.

Hasan Hafizur Rahman (1932-’83) compiled the documents of the liberation

war titled Bangladesher Shwadhinata Juddha: Dalilpatra (1982-’83).

It was not only an age of political liberation but also of a cultural war for

achieving freedom from rigid conventions of Bengali society, especially in its attitude

toward sex; for example – the avant-garde Hungryalist movement took place in the

1960s, with which Samir Roy Chowdhury, his brother Malay Roy Chowdhury (b.

1939), Sakti Chattopadhyay and some other writers were involved. This period also

witnessed the rise of homosexuality in fiction; for example – in Buddhadev Guha’s

(b. 1936) works.

It was accompanied with a great struggle against the emerging

fundamentalism in Pakistan-ruled East Bengal. Especially Syed Waliullah (1922-

’71) will be remembered for his critical views about fundamentalist ideologies. His

Lalshalu (1948) achieved worldly acclaim. Showkat Osman was his ideological


Also a new trend of historical novels illumined our dark past in this age.

Pramathanath Bishi (1902-’85), Bimal Mitra (1912-’91), Amiyabhushan Mazumder

(1918-2000), Sunil Gangopadhyay, Showkat Ali (1936-2018) and some others

have written historical novels. Sunil’s Shei Samay (1982), Purba-Paschim (1988)

and Prothom Alo (1996,’97) have given him a distinctive position in this field. Bimal’s

Saheb Bibi Golam (1953) and Kori Diey Kinlam (1962), Pramathanath’s Carey

Saheber Munshi (1958), Amiyabhushan’s Nayantara (1966) and Rajnagar (1984),

Showkat’s Prodoshe Prakritajan (1984) too are brilliant historical novels.

Abu Rushd (1919-2010), Bimal Kar (b. 1921), Ramapada Chowdhury (b.

1922), Samaresh Basu (1924-’88), Mahasweta Devi (1926-2016), Shamsuddin Abul

Kalam (1926-’97), Shankar (b. 1933), Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay (b. 1935),

Nabanita Dev Sen (b. 1938), Ahmad Sofa (1943-2001), Samaresh Mazumder (b.

1944) are other class fictionists. Samaresh is a versatile writer. His Kalbela (1982) is

a famous novel on the Nakshal movement.

Syed Ahmadul Haq (1918-2011) was an interpreter of Sufi literature. Dwijen

Sharma (1929-2017) was an out-of-the-way writer; he contributed to Bangla scientific


Badal Sarker (1925-2011), Mohit Chattopadhyay (1934-2012), Barnik Roy (b.

1936) have added ‘comedy of the absurd’ to dramatic literature that have become

popular nowadays. Syed Waliullah, Munir Chowdhury, Syed Shamsul Haq and

Selim Al-Deen (1949-2008) are important playwrights from East Bengal. Krishna

Dhar (b. 1928) and Manoj Mitra (b. 1938) are other famous playwrights.

Ahmad Sharif (1921-’99), Badaruddin Omar (b. 1931), Sirajul Islam

Chowdhury (b. 1936), Golam Murshid (b. 1940), Humayun Azad and some others


have made bright signs of intellect through their essay literatures. Murshid is a

celebrated biographer of Michael and Nazrul.

The Postmodern Age (Since 1990)

In the 20 th century, the society and especially family became more and more

disintegrated. Alienation gripped the society, and frustration became an inseparable

part of man’s life. Empathies and other humanistic values slowly diminished. The

inhuman brutalities during the two world wars shattered all previous norms of

civilization, which now seemed meaningless. Life gradually lost all its nobleness. The

new philosophers and artists bore anguish against this meaninglessness of human

existence in the core of their heart. The dictum of the Enlightenment failed resulting

in emergence of the new artistic idea Postmodernism.

The concept of Postmodernism is indebted to the western thinkers Jacques

Lacan (1901-’81), Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924-’98), Michel Foucault (1926-’84)

and especially Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). Based on Derrida’s deconstructionist

philosophy, it has in fact, given birth to a typical kind of absurd art – devoid of reason

and remarkably dehumanized. It denies all grand narratives, and opposes all notions

of modernity.

Postmodernism is not merely confined to literature – it has a wider concept.

Postmodernism reached its height even in the Dutch football team’s performance in

1974 world cup. Moreover, the natural tendency of literature is to follow the

Enlightenment values that are opposed by Postmodernism. Postmodernism largely

limits the capacity of the exposition of literature, and is in fact subversive of it. And

Postmodernism can also be called a distorted and poorer form of Modernism. If

Modernism is compared to a dazzling grand palace, Postmodernism is only the

wreck of that palace.

Now our literature and other genres of art are shrouded in a Postmodernist

trait. The comic magazine ‘Rosh+Alo’ is one of the most eligible exponents of

Postmodernism in this country. Its artists have assimilated visual pun, paradox and

parody; and thus have presented a new type of pictorial art. But if we take their

presentations as literature, the entire concept of literature deserves to be rewritten.

Postmodernism has given birth to some new genres: concrete poetry, antinovel,

science-fiction, pop art, installation art, video-music, and electronic and

computer games. Some ‘poetic’ genres are visual poetry, video poetry, digital poetry,

asemic writing, heptic poetry, etc, which in fact do not even qualify as literature.

Postmodernism has allowed the entrance of apparently negligible matters into

art. Poems, for example, now roam around the topics like industrial products,

scientific theories, mathematical formulas, animals, insects, human organs, etc. Thus

it has concentrated the reader’s mind on dehumanized issues, signifying the

hollowness of the new-age humans.

The genre that mostly maintains both the conditions of high intellectualism of

literature and the principles of Postmodernism at the same time, is science-fiction.

The impact of science-fiction is evident on Michael Jackson’s (1958-2009) videomusic,

his movie The Moon-Walker, video games, animation films (and reasonably


the movie Spy-Kids) and obviously sci-fi movies. Yakov Perelman’s (1882-1942)

scholastic scientific writings are another grand achievement. However, my

observation regards video games as the most postmodern genre, because it allows

the viewer not only to watch but also to take part in the story-making, proving itself a

multidimensional art-form.

Abanindranath Tagore, the eminent painter, can be regarded as the first ever

Bengali Postmodernist. His fantasy novels can be considered as the earliest

specimen of our postmodern literature. Another world-renowned Bengali, the filmdirector

Satyajit Ray (1921-’92) is famed in literature for his well-readable pop

fictions. Especially his short stories bear good examples of puzzle and paradox, and

thus are deemed to be postmodern.

But my inspection reveals the postmodern era of Bangla literature was really

initiated in the 1990s. We can identify its beginning with Nasser Husain’s book of

poems titled Operation Theatre (1990).

Reasonably pioneering the most powerful genre of the era, Muhammad Zafar

Iqbal’s (b. 1952) sci-fi stories are so far the most remarkable postmodern writings in

Bangla. His sibling Humayun Ahmed was a master of parapsychological fantasies.

Among others, Debesh Roy (b. 1936), Nabarun Vattacharya (1948-2014), Syed

Manzoorul Islam (b. 1951), Shahidul Jahir (1953-2008) and Mashrur Arefin (b.

1969) have distinction. Qazi Anwar Hossain (b. 1936) is a popular thriller writer.

Some other writers have written Western novels. And the Feminist writer Nasrin

Jahan’s (b. 1964) works are also a worthy achievement.

Many other writers have taken the mission of creating a postmodern era

through their unified attempts. But this age is still in its formative years, and it has still

miles to go for its accomplishment.


Great Writers

Postmodernism does not recognize the superiority of a writer over another

one. It ignores hierarchy, and believes in anarchy. If that is so, there is no difference

between fascism and humanism, between fundamentalism and liberalism, or even

between art and destruction. Thus, the entire existence of art falls in trouble.

Therefore, we deny this premodern concept that is dangerous for humanity and


But, while preparing the great writers’ list, I have found some traditional

concepts need reconsideration.

Literature has boundaries based on philosophies and genres. The importance

of the genres has been regarded on the basis of their inclusion in the mainstream. A

literary masterpiece is popularly believed to compulsorily belong to the mainstream.

And mainstream includes epic, lyric poetry, drama, novel, short story, philosophical

and analytical essay, and some other genres. A huge number of genres remain

excluded, e.g. fairy tale, detective thriller, science fiction, ballad, sketch, fantasy,


belles-lettres, parody, biography, journal, etc. Their significance has ever been

denied in academic and non-academic critical arenas.

But do these genres really lack artistic worth? Is a writer of such a genre really

to face academic and pedantic indifference? Must s/he be deprived of a highly

prestigious recognition or award? The answer needs to be revised.

The worth of each genre has been scaled on some historical prejudice. The

mainstream genres are deemed to be ‘serious’ and yet this word has not been

logically defined. Why should I neglect a fairy tale if it reflects a dark prehistoric past

that cannot be traced in other genres? A sketch or a biography can also be grand

literature as it substitutes a fiction with its non-fictional true contents. A detective

fiction offers credible and scientific narratives, and focuses on investigation of a

crime rather than characterization; and hence, has distinction and equal importance

with a mainstream genre. Science fiction is an idealistic genre; science is its

idealism. A ballad is significant for its naïve presentation of a people’s narrative,

which a ‘serious’ genre cannot always do. Even a journalistic writing, which is usually

undermined with its very derogatory term, can bid for a classic. A genre can be

successful for its perfection maintaining its boundary and limitation. A fantasy must

not be a short story, or a detective thriller has not the binding to be a psychological

novel. Rather, exceeding the boundary of a genre will cause its artistic failure.

So, each genre deserves importance in literary history and criticism. Each of

the genres has energy to bear great literature, but not necessarily by imitating the

academically revered ones. No genre can claim superiority over others. A genre

enriches the whole world of letters for its uniqueness and distinction from other

genres. Literature will be enriched as long as new and newer genres are invented

and developed. It doesn’t matter if an author writes in a genre outside the

mainstream. The greatness of a writer depends on how perfectly s/he moulds a

genre. But there is hierarchy among the writers of a same genre. Here every ‘great

writer’ has been selected on the condition of her/his being the best writer of an

artistic type, who took a genre to the peak, and created its masterpiece.

Shabarapa (8 th Century)

Buddhism is fundamentally ascetic and austere practice in order to achieve a

higher state of psyche free from all moral vices like lust, envy, anger, vanity, malice,

etc. Instead of subjugation to a deity, it stresses ethical and essential uplift. It

opposes all barbarities including killing or sacrificing. The ultimate goal of Buddhism

is one’s freedom of the life-cycle that both Hinduism and Buddhism recognize. This

annihilation of the soul is called Nirvana. A living being, according to Buddhism, gets

birth again and again until attaining that peaceful state (Nirvana) with cognitive

enlightenment. Buddhism also recognizes the concept of gods and goddesses who

are under the Buddhist principle of life-cycle and complete extinction.

The eventual success of a faith lies in creating a literary representative of high

order. And Buddhist literature mainly confines itself to philosophical and theological

writings. A few are creative works. It has primarily given birth to a unique stoic



Bengal once gave birth to an affluent Buddhist literature, which fell under

brutal attack and plunder by the barbaric Turks in the early 13 th century. Most of the

texts were destroyed, and a handful of them have survived till our time.

Charyagitikoshe is the most familiar Buddhist work in Bangla. Its contents are Tantric

ritual songs, and traditional concepts do not recognize it to fall in the first rank of

literature. But postmodern criticism annuls such ideas, and regards every genre to

possess equal status. Thus Buddhist literature, which upholds spiritual bliss through

asceticism and austerity, receives the recognition of high literature.

Charya songs were intended for observation of rules and customs of Sahajiya

Buddhist worship. Each of the songs has a secret connotation different from its

surface meaning. That’s why, evaluating their comparative merit, we have nothing to

do but to judge how beautifully they have composed their songs.

In his practical life, Shabarapa was a Buddhist monk, and wrote several

theological books in Sanskrit. The presentation of his poems is symbolic, and none

can realize their meaning without interpretation; this interpretation was made by

Munidatta, a Buddhist scholar.

Shabarapa composed only three Charya songs altogether – two of them

selected in Charyagitikoshe, and another in Natun Charyapad (New Charyapada)

compiled by Syed Mohammad Shahed very recently. His poems are more powerful

than other poets’ of the era regarding the assonance, similes, metaphors and

imageries. They influenced subsequent Vaishnava poetry.

His two poems of Charyagitikoshe are not only the two most original works of

the anthology but also unique in the entire world of letters. Their subject-matter is: a

hunter couple’s love and copulation, their dance in drunkenness, tragic death and

spiritual salvation (Nirvana). They thematically tell us of Buddhist Tantric practice.

Whether Shabarapa can be regarded as the best poet of charyapada, cannot

be undoubtedly answered. But at least, he is the writer of the two finest poems of

Charyagitikoshe, having picturesque and romantic beauty. They top the charya

songs in artistic ingenuity.

Dak (Between 8 th & 12 th Centuries)

Maxim or proverb means a general truth or rule of conduct expressed in a

sentence. There are hundreds of maxims in the Bengali language, most of which are

ascribed to the two names Dak and Khana. The first one is believed to be an ascetic

scholar, and the second one to be a legendary astrologer.

However, historicity of both of them is doubtful; maybe their maxims were in

fact orally made by the folk and ascribed to their name in course of a long time.

Dak’s proverbs are thus believed to be produced between the 8 th and 12 th centuries.

The word ‘dak’ means a demon subservient to God Shiva. Its other meaning

is ‘wizard’, and the name indicates a postmodern trend intriguingly.

Khana’s proverbs often seem to have similarities with miniature poetry, and

thus fail to distinguish the genre. Her proverbs are more concerned with agriculture

and astrology, while Dak gave most instructions on the issues of daily life. The

latter’s maxims are uncommon, and they have more depth of thought. Dak’s maxims


are more authentic, too, as they were discovered in their oldest form in the book

Dakarnava. His maxims are not simply advices; they reflect his diverse wisdom

about people’s inherent character.

Some of Dak’s proverbs are as follow –

1. The groom has no concern,

But neighbors can’t close their eyelids.

2. Old fools can’t manage their food,

Rather newer fools arrive.

3. I don’t want your alms,

Just refrain your dog, please.

(Translated by the author)

Some of his maxims about feminine character are –

4. Tawny eyes, restless mind,

Cute lips – hint a bad girl.

5. If you have an illiterate son and a spoilt wife,

What’s more miserable?

6. Treating the husband, lighting on eve –

Dak says, that’s a good wife’s abode.

(Translated by the author)

These maxims have been a part of the Bengali people’s everyday talks for

more than a thousand years. If maxim is a genre of literature, Dak deserves a

position in a list of its contributors.

Jayadeva (12 th /13 th Century)

It is a matter of controversy whether Jayadeva belongs to Bengal or Orissa. A

13 th -century Sanskrit book titled Shekshuvodoya narrates some events of King

Lakshman Sen’s court that include Jayadeva’s musical contest with a guest poet,

and another such contest between his wife Padmabati and Buran Misra. How can

the information of a 13 th -century book be deceitful and on what ground can it falsely

claim a poet to belong to a province, since provincialism is a fairly recent concept?

Moreover, in Gitogobindam (The Song of Gobinda), the poet gives evidence to his

companionship with other four poets of Sen’s court named Gobardhan Acharya,

Dhoyee, Umapatidhar and Sharan. Jayadeva’s life-story has achieved a mythic

stature since the Early Middle Ages in Bengal, and it’s not a 19 th -century innovation.

So they strongly indicate to his Bengali origin. And the Orissans always keep their

eyes on snatching away Bengal’s traditional assets and claiming to be their own;

thus they have claimed our Charyagitikoshe, Jayadeva and even Chaitanya’s

ancestral origin. However, even if the Orissans cling to keep their claim on Jayadeva

and try their utmost to prove him to be an inhabitant of Puri, Bengal’s claim over him

cannot be ignored. In that era, the whole Eastern India had a common cultural entity.

His writings had profound impact on medieval Bangla literature. Therefore, I include

him in this essay as he is relevant to the history of our culture.


Jayadeva appeared in the field of poetry in an era that was a lingual transition

period – an era of merging between Sanskrit and new Eastern Indian languages.

The royal patronage was biased on the Sanskrit language, and the common people’s

rebel eyes were fixed on the new-born dialects. It cannot be denied that the few

poets who wrote in Sanskrit, achieved an astonishingly high order. But many

invaluable manuscripts were totally destroyed by the barbarian Turkic invaders;

some of those have survived, and we have nothing to do but sigh for the rest until a

time-machine is invented.

Jayadeva is one of the greatest antique poets in entire India. He was not a

perfect Romantic like John Keats but was a unique one who influenced our national

literature till the 19 th century. The entire Vaishnava literature, of which we are proud,

is indebted to this genius artist.

His immortality is based on a single piece of poetical work – Gitogobindam

that he wrote in vernacularized Sanskrit. It is not really a religious poem as the

Hindus have accepted but actually a piece of artistic work. Whoever has read it,

must admire it as an extraordinary Romantic poem. And although Jayadeva’s lifestory

is now fabricated, this work of him has probably reserved its original shape to


The poem is based on the love story of Krishna and Radha. Jayadeva has

given it a possible perfection with extraordinary imageries, metaphors and erotic


In the Hindu period of India, the term ‘love’ was atypical, and ‘lust’ took its

place. It is why the erotic approach of the loving couple is entirely physical in this

poem. But this mere physical attraction has been shaped with incomparable stilted

diction. Such is his artistic exuberance –

“She is kissing the darkness black as clouds

Imagining her Lord has come.”

(Translated by the author)

Krishna tells his Radha –

“If you talk to me for a moment, the moonlight of thy teeth

Shall drive away the severe darkness of my mind;

The glittering moonbeams of thy face

Tempts this Chokor bird’s eyes to perceive.”

(Translated by the author)

Spring is the season that reigns in this poem. According to antique oriental

philosophers and artists, spring is the perfect time for falling in love. And Jayadeva

has presented a hyper-romantic picture of a love-affair that is at the same time,

physic and psychic.

But this poem’s appeal is more than a mere love-story deserves. Here

Krishna is God himself, and Radha is his devotee. And according to the Vaishnava

preachers, a mortal can have God’s blessings only when they are true lovers.

Its highly appealing presentation, ornamentation, beauty and freshness have

given it a truly high position in the entire world literature. Jayadeva deserves to have

our love and respect as he still enthralls our crude and mechanized modern world.

And he is in fact, a historic contributor to Bangla literature.


Ananta Baru Chandidas (14 th /15 th Century)

Ananta Baru Chandidas is the first ever poet of the Muslim regime of Bengal.

His Sree-Krishna-Shandarva (The Tale of Sree Krishna) is regarded as a

masterpiece of medieval literature.

It is mainly a love story. The story is: the gods and goddesses of heaven are

concerned of the atrocities of King Kans on earth. Vishnu assures them to descend

on the planet to annihilate the cruel king. He is born as Krishna. In course of time,

Krishna grows from a child to a young boy. He falls in love with Radha, a distant

relative, and attempts to seduce her. At first Radha is reluctant, but later she

surrenders to his flirtatious nature. They make love in secret. But Krishna begins to

lose his interest about Radha. He tries to forsake her beloved heroine. Radha feels

heart-rending pain, and longs for Krishna day after day. But Krishna appears a

heartless lover, and focuses on killing the ferocious ruler for what he came to earth.

The whole book has not been found; pages are torn. But the part of it that has

survived, gives the impression of a complete poem.

The poet probably gained envied popularity in his life-time. Chaitanya’s Bhakti

movement undermined his secular poetic style, and he was forgotten for at least four


Linguistic traits, reference in a Sanskrit book and Chaitanya’s biographies

trace the work to belong to the pre-Chaitanya era of Bangla literature.

The poem comes into note for its class literary language, good

characterization, lyrical quality, adept narration of a tale, and dramatic suspense.

The two characters Radha and Baraee are masterly portrayed. However, the

characterization of Krishna is flawed.

Baru Chandidas’s Krishna and Radha are men of flesh, bone and blood, and

subject to lust, greed and anger. They lead a typical rural lifestyle.

His Radha is an extraordinary character. She is at first repulsive, then slowly

moved by Krishna’s temptation, and at last found to be in deep love with him. His

betrayal leaves her in endless grief and she, in a heart-rending language, expresses

the touchy sorrows of her ungratified love.

Chandidas drew natural beauty in his poem, actually a precursor to Vaishnava

Padabali. It is the first ever romance poem in our language, and a predecessor to

Yusuf-Julekha, Laili-Majnu, Lore-Chandrani, Padmabati, Mahua, Bidya-Sundar and

even modern Nakshi-Kanthar Math. So, the poem has features of Vaishnava

literature, drama, romance poetry and even Mangal-Kabya. Thus it directed the

progress of entire medieval Bangla literature.

It is quite astonishing to find so many qualities in a single book of the 14 th

century. Reasonably Ananta Baru Chandidas is regarded as a great poet and his

poem, as a grand achievement.

Vidyapati Thakur (14 th /15 th Century)

Vidyapati is one of the greatest medieval poets of Eastern India. Although he

was Mithila’s poet laureate, he is also a Bengali poet as his most Padas have been


found in this province. His poems seem to be written in a hybrid language of

Abahatta, Bangla and Maithili; and it is closer to Bangla than Mithila’s present

language Hindi. Reasonably these songs are now a quintessential part of Bangla


Vidyapati’s works are a proof of his subtle cosmic imagination. A delicate

sense of art is found in his Padas. Also his poems are lyrical and quixotic. They

present picturesque beauty, and have a touchy sensuousness.

The Maithili poet’s greatness lies in such artistic delicacies –

“From the hair Water falls down,

Looking at the moon of her face Darkness cries.”

(Translated by the author)

His Radha tells her friend about Krishna –

“That love, that charm becomes newer and newer with growth,

Since birth I have seen his beauty, my eyes still not contended,

Have heard his sweet talks in the ears, entered not the path of hearing,

Have spent many honeyed nights with love, not fully understood,

On his eyes have fixed mine for millions of ages, but eyes not gratified.”

(Translated by the author)

Another song tells of love’s frustration in a rainy day –

“O my beloved friend, my sorrows know no ending,

This full monsoon, this heavy rain

Is my mind’s empty temple.”

(Translated by the author)

Then after a few lines –

“The frogs get mad, the Dahuks call, and my heart breaks.”

(Translated by the author)

While Jayadeva made spring the ground of his Gitogobindam, monsoon is the

season that has reigned in Vidyapati’s poems. Instead of depicting lovers’ happily

union as is evident in Jayadeva’s poem, Vidyapati drew the pictures of deprived

lovers’ pains. According to his ideas, monsoon is a suitable time for love’s sighs and


Almost all other Vaishnava poets followed Jayadeva’s model. Their Padas

can be divided into the sections as they are in Gitogobindam. In fact, a

Gitogobindam can be compiled from every Vaishnava poet’s complete works.

Vidyapati is no exception.

Vidyapati’s Maithili verse gave birth to a typical Bangla diction called Brajabuli.

Many later Vaishnava poets (e.g. Gobindadas Kabiraz and Shekhar Ray) followed

this diction. Even modern day poet Tagore wrote his Bhanushinger Padabali in

Brajabuli. This verse-diction nullifies the idea that medieval literatures were mainly

intended for religious purposes.

He wrote books on other topics. He composed poems surrounding Shiva and

Parvati. He even wrote books on rhetorical subject in Sanskrit. But it is his Vaishnava

Padabali that became popular in this region.

Vidyapati is called the ‘sovereign poet’ of the middle ages. In poetic

gorgeousness, he often looks as great as the modernist Jibanananda. Known as the


‘unique Jayadeva’ in his own time, Vidyapati will ever be remembered as a great

designer of Radha-Krishna Padabali.

Chandidas (15 th /16 th Century)

Chandidas is the only medieval Bengali poet who claims a place in the entire

world literature. In the world of poetry, his place is unique and everlasting.

This great poet’s historicity is shrouded in mystery. A large number of poets of

this same name lived in this province in the middle ages. They held different

sobriquets like Baru, Dwiza, Dina, Taruniraman, etc. As a result, a great poet of

Bangla literature (whoever he is) is in historical sense, confined to a mere name.

I have a suggestion to solve the riddle: there was a Chandidas who used no

sobriquet and wrote the finest poems in Vaishnava literature. The poems of this

Chandidas have stylistic distinction from other Vaishnava poets’ works; and can be

regarded as the poet we are concerned of.

Chandidas’s life-story (probably fictitious) is associated with a washerwoman

named Rami (or Tara). He wrote love poems to his beloved glorifying her as equal to

Krishna’s consort Radha.

Chandidas mainly wrote of the sorrows of love in his poems. However,

Chandidas’s tears of love are not the outcome of a failed lover’s broken heart (as

apparently seems), but in fact a crave for getting attached to a soul of higher order.

His poems sometimes tell of Platonic love – his perception reaches at a love

beyond any physical attraction. Sometimes his temporal love develops into divine or

mystical love. When he tells us that love is like an inscription on stone and cannot

be removed, he at the same time expresses love’s sorrows, eternity and greatness; it

does not remain an ordinary feeling.

And his love develops into a divine perception from a usual temporal idea. He

says in a song –

“I feel the joy of wearing the necklace of infamy

Around my neck

For you, my love.”

(Translated by the author)

He tells us in another poem –

“If I

Don’t see in the eye,

Then I do in my mind,

Chandidas says he wears the touch-jewel

Around his neck.”

(Translated by the author)

Then it seems he is telling of an unearthly love.

He exposes his dangling heart in such lines –

“Goes the blue sari wringing out along with my mind.”

(Translated by the author)

He professes his firm conviction of love in these two lines –

“I’ll live in Love Town, will build a house with love,

Tracing love I’ll make neighbors, except which all are far ones.”


(Translated by the author)

Again –

“Pi-ri-ti : these three syllables are the three worlds’ all substance,

Taking it in mind I think day and night, without it nothing remains.”

(Translated by the author)

Here the poet expresses the mystic sense of his love for the beloved –

“My outer door is closed, my inner door is wide open,

Come sweet-hearts, come silently, passing darkness, to the light.”

(Translated by the author)

Chandidas inwardly tells us of godly love when outwardly he just says of

human love. His poems are free of all kinds of so-called ‘vulgarism’ that are evident

in many other medieval poets’ works. He does have a journey of transition from the

bodily flesh to an enlightened soul. And the arc of this mission of the poet is his

immortal mystic songs.

Gyandas (16 th Century)

According to the Geeta, two souls reside in the world – the living soul

(Jibatma) and the supreme soul (Paramatma). The first soul is always desperate to

unite with the other. It appears in an infant’s body that gradually grows up, once

meets decay and death, the soul gets rebirth in a new body, and passes through

new and newer births and deaths. But its submission to the supreme soul never

alters; it is beyond all deaths and reincarnations. The Bengali Vaishnava poets took

this doctrine as the base of their writings. They used the symbol of Radha and

Krishna to express the grand idea.

Radha and Krishna are believed to have descended on the earth from their

divine abode to be each other’s component. Their mutual passion is regarded as an

example of the love of a devotee and God. Gyandas and the other Vaishnava poets

composed love songs underlying this mystic conception.

Gyandas is one of the greatest 16 th -century Vaishnava poets. His poems can

alongside be taken as secular love songs and poems of mystic ideas. He wrote in

Bangla colloquial and rural language, which inspired some other famous poets like

Dwiza Kanai, Lalan and Jasimuddin. He is a master of love poems in colloquial

language. He also composed verses in Brajabuli, but those did not earn popularity.

His words have a touch of sublime beauty, for example –

“I made this hut for happiness,

It was burnt in flame.

I bathed in the nectar-sea,

All seemed venom.”

(Translated by the author)

Or –

“My eyes drowned in the ocean of beauty,

My mind got lost in the woods of youth.”

(Translated by the author)

Many of his poems are paralleled with his contemporary Gobindadas’. But

what Gobindadas wrote in his artificial Brajabuli diction, was expressed in simple


Bangla in Gyandas’ poems. Gyandas composed extraordinary love poems that touch

a reader’s heart, although they have intricate religious philosophies. But they do not

possess any secret theme, and have universal appeal. Often his songs resemble

other famed mystic poets’, except the emotional overflow. This sensitiveness makes

his Padabali an object of our love and emotion.

Gobindadas Kabiraz (16 th Century)

Vidyapati’s Vaishnava verse in the medieval Maithili language ushered in a

new era in our poetry. It paved the way of a renovated diction called Brajabuli, a

compound of Maithili and Bangla. Gobindadas is in the frontline of this stream of


He was an astheticist, and placed emphasis on art and beauty. He had a

delicate sense of beauty and powerful imagination. His writings in mellifluous diction

strengthen the belief that medieval poetry had artistic worth. His poems are a

remarkable achievement of Bangla literature for outstanding artistry. They are an

asset of Chaitanya’s era.

Gobindadas took Radha-Krishna love myth and the glory of Chaitanya as his

subject matters. He attempted to beautify the images of Krishna, Radha and

Chaitanya, and of natural surroundings.

His poems tell the readers of a frenzied couple – tensed, anxious and

desperate to see each other, and breaking down in tears, craze, love-making and

even sometimes in quarrel and fight when they meet.

Some of his famous lines follow –

“The autumn moon beams, gentle breeze blows,

Fragrance fills the garden

Of Mallika, Malati and jasmine flowers

And makes the bees crazy.”

(Translated by the author)

In another poem, Radha goes to make love with –

“Musk indigo dye

on the whole body

Having a navy necklace,

An azure armlet alongside adorns the arm, too,

She wears a sapphire sari.”

(Translated by the author)

Gobindadas’ poems are marked with powerful sensuousness and wild

fascination for natural beauty. His depiction of love and nature has romantic

complexion, and he can be called a premodern Romantic. Besides, unlike other

Vaishnava poets, he wrote on all enchanting seasons – monsoon, autumn and

spring. However, he did not write simple love poems; they express the strong desire

of earthly living entity (Jibatma) for uniting with the supreme soul (Paramatma) under

the symbol of Radha’s love for Krishna.

Vidyapati was his role model, and he is sometimes referred as ‘the second

Vidyapati’. In fact, in the entire Vaishnava literature succeeding Jayadeva, he is the

creator of the most artful poems. Gobindadas wrote songs in common Bangla, too,

but they became less popular with the Vaishnava devotees. He was the master of


Brajabuli diction, and with it he added glory to our language proving its power and

beauty. Reasonably he had a big impact on subsequent poetry.

Krishnadas Kabiraz (16 th Century)

Hagiography is a genre of religious literature, and sometimes it doesn’t attract

secularist critics’ attention. But Sree-Chaitanya-Charitamrita (The Gospel of Sree

Chaitanya), an epic hagiography by Krishnadas Kabiraz, exalts the genre with floral


This book’s main content is theology, and it will not be audacious to say that

Hindu theology was not based on just blind beliefs. The priests had arguments; the

winners got opportunities to preach their ideas, and the losers were destined to slip

into oblivion.

Hindu deities were obviously imagined by the ancient Indians, but they had

philosophical base unlike the Greco-Roman gods. Thus they represented romantic

manifestations of philosophical ideas. According to Vaishnava theology, Krishna is

the supreme deity, and he makes erotic relationships with his devotees. He must not

be regarded as a mortal human being. He is again, not to be compared to the

Roman love-god Cupid, because he doesn’t bind two human beings with the

bondage of love, rather makes himself an object of their love and carnal desire. Thus

he makes himself a universal lover-god. The great mystic Chaitanya established this

traditional faith on a stronger ground.

If a man in India possesses highly idealized qualities like a deity, he is

regarded an avatar. Buddha, Chaitanya and Mahatma achieved this distinction.

The book Sree-Chaitanya-Charitamrita has artistic, philosophical and

theological opulence. It is a good combination of history, philosophy and poetry, and

is the magnum opus of Chaitanya literature.

The main objective of Krishnadas was to fortify a theology. He analyzes here

all trends of ‘Bhakti’ movements in different regions of India. He gives a sharp

conception of mystic love.

It is a long philosophical poem. It begins with the mystery of the creation and

its creator. The poet contemplates on different shapes of the creator that have both

distinction and unity. Thus the creator appears to be one with multiplicity.

Then the poet moves to the theory of love. His notion is: lust is human, and

love is godly. Love can only be attributed to the devotion for Krishna. Chaitanya is

believed to have descended on earth in order to taste Radha’s passion for Krishna;

he is regarded an avatar of Krishna and Radha combined. According to Vaishnava

theology, his aim was at the same time: to feel Radha’s love for Krishna, Krishna’s

love for Radha, and the divine love for all living objects. Thus beginning from

understanding Radha’s passion for Krishna, he finally succeeds to the realization of

cosmic love.

During mystic ecstasy, Chaitanya used to dance surrounded by his disciples.

This dance symbolizes God’s control over the humankind, since he can make us

dance in the manner he likes.


Then Krishnadas moves to Chaitnaya’s life-story – the story of his becoming a

religious hero. Chaitanya preached the love for Lord Krishna amongst the people of

all castes and creeds. His movement was both for religious and social reform.

Poets like Rumi and Dante based their works on their own religious beliefs,

and they are accepted by all irrespective of faith or community. Krishnadas glorifies

his own guru, and his work has artistic worth like the verses of famous mystic poets.

His work also proves the power of our language.

Mukundaram Chakraborty (16 th Century)

‘Kabikankan’ Mukundaram Chakraborty is the greatest poet of Mangal-Kabya.

His Avayamangal (The Psalm of Devi Avaya, which is commonly known as

Chandimangal) can be accepted as a verse-novel, and it is one of the masterpieces

of medieval literature.

Mangal-Kabya is a genre of medieval poetry that was intended to glorify a

deity. The story of such a poem would be how the puja of that deity was commenced

in the world.

The story of Avayamangal is concerned with how the puja of Goddess Chandi

was initiated through sacrifice and sufferings made by two outcastes: a hunter

named Kalketu and a merchant named Dhanpati.

Avayamangal is a remarkably unique work in respect of medieval standard.

This work encompasses at the same time, the worlds of both the earth and ‘paradise’

where the deities dwell. The gods and goddesses cast their curses and blessings

upon the mortals. Such themes of the poem remind us of the Homeric epics.

This poem is a reflection of the society and lifestyle of common people living

under the Sultanate in the late 16 th century. It is also a mirror of the political scenario

of the then Pathan-ruled Bengal. But the Pathans were then struggling with the

Moguls on the question of ruling authority. So the background of the poem is set in a

transition period of our national history.

The poet has masterly depicted the poverty, sorrows and sufferings of

ordinary people. A sense of pity, morbidity and humor is tinged with such portrayal.

Unlike other medieval poets, Mukundaram does not focus either on love or

mysticism. He is primarily a secular poet. His expressions of both happiness and

pathos are heartrending. However, he does not ignore natural landscape, and

sometimes his work bears the tone of Vaishnava Padabali. Especially he gives us a

good description of the varieties of nature and the seasons of the province.

He does not solely contemplate on Bengali Hindu community, but also

expresses his outlook of the Muslims and the non-Bengalis. He even concerns with

some political issues of different regions of India.

Mukundaram narrates even such matters as bird-hunting, cooking,

congregational prayer and merchants’ business. His narration of hunting can be

taken as a metaphor of man’s helplessness at the hands of fate.

He assimilates the story of merchants from Manashamangal into his poem.

Later Bharatchandra Ray was influenced by his narrative style. So he represents the

entire literature of Mangal-Kabya.


Mukundaram is comparable to Geoffrey Chaucer for his art of depicting the

true livelihood of humans. His rhymes and alliterations are also praiseworthy. He is a

class artist of verse-fiction. He is an object of glory for us and an asset of medieval


Syed Alaol (17 th Century)

The Middle Ages of India is marked by Muslim invasion and their subsequent

relationship with the native Hindus. Misrule influenced Hindu discontentment.

Numerous temples were razed to the ground, a huge number of people died in

sporadic clashes, some surrendered to forced conversion, and numerous women

were persecuted, and lost their chastity and honor. Alaol’s epic Padmabati upholds

that disastrous era, and its story reflects the stigmatized history of medieval India.

Our 17 th -century literature had remarkably diverse streams. A good number of

poets wrote romance poems, which were mainly rendering of Hindi and Persian

works. Some poets wrote on Sufi theologies, and some others on paralleled yoga

philosophies. Besides, chivalric romance and glorification of women’s chastity were

poets’ favorite themes. Alaol assimilated those elements in a single verse, which

represents the entire century. Krishnadas, Mukundaram and Alaol depicted medieval

India’s religious, socioeconomic and political life respectively in their epic-statured


His Padmabati is an artful classic. It contains Sufi mysticism, yoga

philosophies, and the features of romance poetry alongside. Its story is: the beautiful

princess Padmabati is married off to the king of Chitore, Raja Ratnasen. Sultan

Alauddin Khilji of Delhi and another king named Dewpal aim at snatching her off, and

involve in a battle with Ratnasen. Ratnasen fights bravely but dies, and Padmabati

cremates herself in order to save her honor and chastity.

The tale of Padmabati has a long legacy, and was a favorite theme with many

Indian writers. The story in many respects can be the theme of an epic, which Malik

Muhammad Jayasee materialized in Hindi Padmavat, and Alaol adapted it into

Bangla Padmabati. The 19 th -century poet Rangalal Bandyopadhyay wrote Padmini

Upakhyan based on the same story.

No secondary epic is entirely original as it is necessarily developed from

another work to maintain epic tradition. And reasonably the Bengali Sufi poets

adapted works of other languages, since Sufism itself came from outside. Alaol and

other Bengali poets just fulfilled the demand of time to adapt the classics of other

Indo-Aryan languages, which are actually siblings of Bangla. It is simply like

rendering a work of Sylheti dialect into that of Chittagong.

Alaol’s work, in its lion’s part, is free adaptation of the original Hindi poem. It is

a half unique and half translational work. He innovated and edited many lines to add

energy and beauty to his Bangla verse. There are songs in the poem, which Alaol

himself composed. Moreover, he added lines on Sufi and yoga philosophies that

were not in Jayasee’s original poem; it’s the most important point in the context of

the era. Finally, there is sharp contrast between the two works in respect of

significance. While Padmavat is predominantly a metaphorical Sufi poem, Alaol


primarily wrote a romantic epic of tragic ending. If Fitzgerald is credited for upgrading

Omar Khayyam’s quatrains in English translation, why not Alaol, who elevated

Jayasee’s typical Hindi poem into a Sanskritized Bangla work?

His Padmabati is an ideal Hindu woman, and Ratnasen, an ideal Indian man.

Like Iliad and Ramayana, the battle in Padmabati occurs on a woman. The

characterization and heroic end of Padmabati remind us of Seeta and Helen, and

give the poem an epic quality.

Its language is highly sensitive and exquisite. It is an illustrious poem, and the

author is a master of medieval romance poetry. He depicted natural beauty and lovemaking

maintaining Indian poetic tradition, and brought the zest of mellifluous Hindi

Sufi literature into our language. The portrayal of the beauty of Padmabati, Ceylon

and Chitore is artful. His work is at the same time, a secular love story and a poem of

mystic ideas. He also made a fusion of Hindu and Islamic concepts, giving his poem

a national type.

Alaol’s other important works are the theological poem Tohfa (Perfection),

Saifulmuluk-Badiujjamal and the last part of Daulat Kazi’s unfinished Lore Chandrani

O Sati Mayna. But the epic-statured work Padmabati makes him apart from all other

writers. It is a flowery gift of the 17 th -century literature.

Dwiza Kanai (17 th /18 th Century)

Dr Dineshchandra Sen compiled an anthology of folk ballads titled

Maimanshingha Gitika (The Ballads of Mymensingh) in 1923, which stirred the

intellectual and educated class. Its poems are orally composed by illiterate folk

poets. Rather, those poets made a sign of stunning poetic gift. The anthology itself

became a separate genre. It has become a specimen of naïve illiterate poets’ sense

of art.

The most remarkable poem of the collection is Mahua. It was composed by

the medieval poet Dwiza Kanai, who was a mostly illiterate person. He fell in love

with an outcast woman for what he had to undergo a lot of sufferings. He made an

imprint of his own sorrows in his ballad that tells us a delicate love narrative.

Mahua, which literally means a particular species of flower, is the name of the

poem’s heroine. She was born to a high caste, but was abducted and brought up by

a snake-charmer. One day a Brahmin young man called Nader Chand sees her by

chance, and falls in love with her. He expresses his feelings to her, and she also

starts adoring him. The snake-charmer asks his adopted daughter to kill that boy,

and she elopes with him. They frequently face hazards and perils. At last, Mahua’s

foster father catches hold of the fugitive loving couple. Mahua commits suicide, and

the snake-charmers kill the Brahmin boy. Thus a heart-felt love relationship faces its

end in this cruel world.

The poem is noted for its simple and naïve expressions of emotional love.

Simplicity often reveals the greatness of humanity. It is one of the best Bangla works

in respect of simplicity and humanitarian appeal. It is a sublime human document.

The loving couple’s deep passionate expressions touch any reader’s heart.


It is also a medieval poet’s boastful protest against the communal divide, a

stigma that still exists in Bengali society. The love story of Mahua and Nader Chand

violates the caste difference, and becomes a great example for the entire mankind. It

gives the message that love does not recognize any divide. Such courage is

exceptional for a medieval poet, who has given birth to a masterpiece of rural

literature. His poem is regarded as one of the best folk ballads of the world.

There are frequent lines in the ballad that reveal the poet’s sense of beauty.

For example, Nader Chand tells about his heart’s feelings to his beloved in the

following way –

“Be a full-brimmed river, where I shall drown and die.”

(Translated by the author)

Mahua is in fact a grand specimen of the intangible heritage of humanity.

Bharatchandra Ray (1712?-’60)

In the 18 th century, Bengal went through the course of a disastrous

experience. The Nawabs intensified their tyranny and persecution. The Marathi

robbers ruined the common people’s peaceful life. The nation fell in the grip of utter

poverty. Poets like Rameswar Vattacharya, Ghanaram Chakraborty, Ramprasad

Sen and Bharatchandra Ray are the spokesmen of the suffering Bengali soul of that

era of anarchy and disasters.

Ramprasad composed Shakta songs expressing his plain emotional ideas of

impoverished lifestyle. His songs gratify the emotional Bengali mind. Rameswar’s

Shiv-Mangal somewhat diverts this sentimentalism. But Bharatchandra gave birth to

the most representative literature of the whole period.

Annadamangal (The Psalm of Devi Annada) is his masterpiece, which is

based on the mythic story of Shiva and his wife.

Shiva is an extraordinary character of Hindu mythology. Unlike the other

deities who stress on pomp and grandeur, he leads a saintly lifestyle deifying riches,

comfort, consumption, sorrows and even death. He dances being surrounded by

ghosts and demons. He wears the skin of a tiger as his attire, shows off a garland of

human skulls, bears a snake over his shoulder, keeps matted locks, and adorns his

body with dust and sandal-powder. His wife, who is named Sati, Parvati, Kali, Durga,

Annapurna, Jogodhwatri, Bipadnashini, Annada, Tara and with many other names in

different situations, supports his primitive lifestyle. In Annadamangal, her wild nature

at last surrenders to her motherly affection when she accepts the boatman Iswari

Patuni’s prayer for a boon of perpetual bread and butter for his children. Thus she

possesses a humanlike crave for life and happiness.

Bharat placed Shiva and Annada in the context of the Nawabi era, who deify

all sterilities of the age with their ascetic and eccentric behavior, and thus the poet

sings the song of an eternal journey of life. Apart from Ramprasad, his characters

negate all sorrows with funny and playful acts. His mockeries of the gods deserve

readers’ intelligence to understand. Almost few poets have made such jocularities

with the deities of an established faith.


So, Bharat is an artist of fun and laughter. He is a Classicist like Dryden and

Pope, and is one of the all time’s best poets of Shaiva-Shakta literature. His diction

and style are entirely his own, and he is the master of the tradition that was carried

on by Narayandev, Bijoy Gupta, Sheikh Faizullah, Rameswar and Ghanaram. His

poetic style is totally different from that of the medieval Radha-Krishna Padabali.

His dealing with Shiva and Durga had an impact on Nazrul two centuries later.

In fact, Bharat can be called a Nazrul of the 18 th century, as a clear observation of

his works makes his deities appear as rebels against the injustice, exploitation and

luxuries made by the 18 th -century aristocrats.

His Kalikamangal (The Psalm of Devi Kali) or Bidya-Sundar (Bidya and

Sundar) is another admired work for its ornamental accomplishment. This poem is

noted for its rich diction, narrative style and overall beauty. It tops the list of romance

poems written in the 17 th and 18 th centuries.

Bharat experimented with words, which became a trend of the 20 th -century

poets. Sometimes his poetic features claim his status for the first modern poet. He

was indeed the supreme literary craftsman of the Nawabi era.

Kamalakanta Vattacharya (1769?-1821)

Through the journey of civilization, man has imagined the supreme deity in

multifarious forms. God has in different times been regarded as a despotic ruler, a

moralist king, a lover, or even as a father. In ancient India, some devoted

practitioners began to regard the supreme deity as a divine mother. She has different

names like Shakti, Parvati, Jagaddhatri, Durga and Kali.

Kali is imagined as a wild goddess, who out of her trance, terrorizes the world

with her mission of destruction. While sin and oppression reigns the world, she

appears, and destroys anarchy, vice and ignorance. This myth signifies the coexistence

of love and cruelty in the divine nature.

The followers of the goddess are called Shakta (= worshipper of power). In

the 18 th -century literature, Shakta Padabali reigned, which was a sumptuous genre

of poetry. The Shakta poets offered their love for own mother to the divine epitome of

motherhood. Theologists claim their songs to belong to Tantric worship

comprehensible to the ascetics only. Ramprasad and Kamalakanta are regarded as

the founders and developers of this genre.

In many respects, Kamalakanta seems the better of the two. His songs have

better diction, rhyme and vision, and they are more urban and artful. Ramprasad’s

poems are replete with emotionally sounding words, incoherent and ludicrous

themes, rusticity and sentimentalism. Kamalakanta’s songs are not only free of these

problems but also they represent Shakta literature most eligibly.

His divine mother is variedly affectionate, calm, wild and ferocious from time

to time. The poet, her son, addresses her with childish innocence and a sense of

fear. The mother goddess moves the world with her barbaric atrocities. She dances

and claps her hands out of her joy for destruction. But inwardly she wishes a fertile

and enlightened earth.


His Kali contradicts to the erotic god Krishna of Vaishnava Padabali.

However, she habitually transforms her gender, appearance and nature to repel

worldly darkness.

Kamalakanta’s Shakta songs diverted the progress of Bengali music, and

brought modernity in it, which advanced it up to the delicate Tagore songs. He, along

with Ramprasad, inspired the Bengali poets including Nazrul. So, he is a part of our

national orchestra.

Fakir Lalan Shai (1774?-1890)

Buddhist, Vaishnava and Islamic Sufi mysticisms were assimilated into a new

cult in the 19 th -century rural Bengal. The followers of that cult used to pray neither in

temples nor in mosques but in open field under the sky. They belonged to no specific

institutional religion. And this unique mystic practice still continues. They are called

Bauls. This artist-sect just needs flute, drum and Dotara for their musical


Lalan is considered the greatest Baul ever born. He is artistically a member of

the mystic club including Khayyam, Sadi, Rumi and Hafiz. Tagore was highly

inspired by his magical art. And his songs bear high philosophies.

In almost each song Lalan proposes his reader to think of a mystery or riddle,

then to go deep into it, and then he himself gives a solution of the riddle in the form

of a question. It’s like placing the reader in a maze, asking her/him to come out and

finally showing her/him a way to come out.

Lalan’s principal philosophy is that his birth as a human being is a divine gift.

He says in a song –

“I have not seen Him even for a day;

Near my home there is a mirror-city,

And my Neighbor dwells in it.”

(Translated by Brother James)

He wants to say that there is a mirror-city (i.e. a mirror in his own soul) where he has

a neighbor. He means he himself absorbs God’s essences; and he despairs he has

never met his distinguished neighbor.

And in another song, he finds the reason – he is a blind man.

In another song, he says –

“How does the Unknown Bird go

Into the cage and out again?

Could I but seize it,

I would put the fetters of my heart

Around its feet.”

(Translated by Brother James)

It means he imagines a bird (which he wanted to captivate) has entered the cage i.e.

his own body, and has again flown away from it. The bird is in fact, his own high soul

that gradually enters and comes out of his body similar to a cage.

Another song tells us that our bodies are just God-created factories. There

flowers get birth, and their incense spreads out into the world.

Look how beautifully introspective the following lines are,


“O Boatman, take me to the other shore;

Here I am, O Merciful One,

Sitting stranded on this side.

I have been left alone at the landing-place;

The sun has gone down already.”

(Translated by Brother James)

Some of his works apparently seem to be love songs, although those have

mystic message, such as –

“How many days do I need to meet

The man of my heart?”

(Translated by the author)

Here the ‘man of heart’ is in fact, the personified universal soul with whom the poet is

in love.

Lalan, like other Bauls, emphasized love for the ‘Creator’ and the creation.

Their devotion is not aligned with the erotic love that the Vaishnava poets held but

much deeper and stronger.

All the Bauls have a strong voice against communalism, and they are true

admirers of mankind. They believe in humanism and brotherhood. Especially Lalan,

who inspired even the great Tagore, deserves the respect of all. He in fact, made a

brilliant fusion of Bengal’s Buddhist, Vaishnava Sahajiya and Sufi mystic


Ishwarchandra Sharma Vidyasagar (1820-’91)

When the British occupied this land, they had already gone through two great

cultural movements called Renaissance and Enlightenment. They targeted at

reforming of oriental culture for the sake of colonial dominancy. In 1784, the Asiatic

Society was founded, the British-born scholars of what organization aimed at

reformation of modern Indian languages. Those orientalists led by William Jones,

had a mission to train the English officials and migrants with oriental languages and

history. Sanskrit pundits like Ramram Basu and Mrityunjay Vidyalankar assisted their

aim at an extended range. They wrote prose books, mainly for academic purpose. It

created a literary era and a separate genre of scholastic prose literature, which is

distinct from children’s literature as the former doesn’t intend a child’s entertainment

but cognitive development.

Vidyasagar was at first associated with the Fort William College, and later with

Sanskrit College, giving much effort for writing scholastic books and reforming the

Sanskrit and Bangla languages. He topped the era and the stream of scholastic

writing as well. On the way, he wrote several books of fictional qualities, Seetar

Banabas (Seeta’s Exiled Life in the Wood) being the best of them. However, his

chief contribution was constructing Bangla prose. He reorganized Bangla alphabet

and standardized its typography. He excluded some letters from the list of alphabet,

and added some to it. It finally appeared in his scholastic book of alphabet titled

Barnaparichay (Acquaintance with Letters).


His prose is regarded as the first standard form of it in Bangla. He brought

order in punctuation and sentence-making. He added beauty and vigor to prose. He

made Bangla prose suitable for fiction, scientific writing and analytical essay. The

narrative style that he created, influenced later fiction artists from Bankim to

Saratchandra, or maybe even their successors. The sentence structure that he

organized, was followed by his two contemporary writers Michael and Bankim.

Some later writers like Tekchand, Kaliprashanna, Sudhindranath and

Kamalkumar Mazumder tried their best to introduce a new format of prose, but their

attempts ended in smoke. The educated class is still following Vidyasagar’s prose

model. The smart prose that Pramatha Chowdhury introduced later is in fact verbal

and pronominal simplification of his elegant language.

Vidyasagar was an academic and educationist, and he wrote mainly for

learners; he didn’t have any artistic endeavor. He used his pen for social and

national welfare, and particularly for the development of prose. Despite this, he is an

important figure in literary history, and his lifelong work gave birth to a long-lasting

legacy. Promoting the prose form, he pioneered our literature in the early morn of

Bengal Renaissance, and hence is regarded as the father of Bangla prose.

Michael Madhusudan Datta (1824-’73)

Michael started his literary career in the English language in his very early life.

Soon his efforts proved futile, and he began to write in Bangla. Although he was

thought not to be as at per with Hemchandra Bandyopadhyay by some 19 th -century

Bengali critics, his supremacy as an epic poet is now established beyond any


In Meghnadbadh (The Slaying of Meghnada), Michael broke the tradition of

Ramayana by making Ravana the hero and Rama, the recognized prophet, a mere

villain, as I have already stated in the history part. Although written in an oriental

language, it is in fact a great epic based on western thoughts. Its invocation,

proposition, subject-matter and ending make us remember the ancient classics of

Pagan European literature.

Michael’s epic has a prehistoric base. It is dated back to the ancient past

while the Aryan invaders were involved in a centuries-long clash with the native

Dravidians. In Hindu mythology, the Aryans are honored as gods, and the native

non-Aryans are defamed as Rakshashas (i.e. demons). Rama and Ravana

represent the Aryan and the Dravidian races respectively. In Michael’s epic, the myth

of Ramayana has found a new significance. Ravana stands for the Indian soul while

Rama’s army is an implicit reflection of the British invaders. Thus Meghnadbadh

appears to be an epic of Indian nationalism.

It has also references to the poet’s own life. As he had forsaken his own

community and had been thrown aside by his conservative family and expelled from

Hindu college for conversion to Christianity, and because he had neglected his duty

towards his parents, he later expressed his ‘remorse’ through his depiction of

Meghnada, a patriot and obedient son, Ravana, a defender of his country and

Bivishana, a betrayer to his own countrymen. Besides, in this epic, he portrayed the


helplessness of man at the hands of fate. Its musical blank verse, its

characterization, its inherence of national contemporariness and above all, the tragic

presentation, rank it among the greatest epics of world literature.

Michael also wrote sonnets that are important for discovering the dark corners

of his life-history but which are, to my own judgment, quite archaic in structure and in

subject-matters, and do not reveal his real poetic merit to us. An exception is

“Kapotaksha Nad” (“River Kapotaksha”) where he expresses patriotism through his

deep love for a river.

He even wrote dramatic monologues in Birangana (The Heroines) that are

more accurate in blank verse than his recognized masterpiece, and exposes his

progressive outlook and respect for the fair sex. The versatile poet also wrote some

fables in verse and a good epitaph.

Michael’s plays are reflection of classical Greek and Sanskrit drama. He wrote

remarkable comedies like Sharmishtha and Padmabati. His Krishnakumari is a

pioneering work in Bangla tragedy. He also wrote two farces titled Ekei Ki Boley

Sabhayata? (Is It Called Civilization?) and Buro Shaliker Ghare Ro (A Marriage-

Crazy Old Man). In the first one, he attacked the Bengali youth of his time for their

blind imitation of western lifestyle.

Michael is an Augustan poet; with his sole attempt, he filled the want of Virgil,

Horace and Ovid; and also of Homer, Milton and Petrarch. He is in fact the greatest

poet of Renaissance whose works perfectly reveal the spirits of individualism,

liberalism and humanism.

Many poets of his time (e.g. Hemchandra and Nabinchandra) tried to

compose epic poems, but none of them achieved his equal position. Michael’s

Meghnadbadh has never been subsided by any other epic work in our language.

Dinabandhu Mitra (1830-’73)

Bengali drama developed since the antiquity, although history traces the first

plays in the form of jatras in the 16 th century. Modern theatre came into being in the

19 th century. Michael fathered modern drama with his noteworthy tragic, comic and

farcical works. His supremacy in the first two genres in that century claims no

encounter, but he didn’t produce the best farces in the language.

Farce is a type of ‘low’ comedy or comic play that is marked for simple

laughter it makes with its ludicrous improbable events. These plays contain social

vice, behavioral eccentricities, carnal immoralities, and juvenile delinquencies.

Despite being a low genre, they attract the common folk.

Bangla farce got establishment in the age of a cultural clash between the

Orient and the West. Farces mostly took the theme of spoilt youth – their

bohemianism, secular views and replication of Occidental way of life.

Dinabandhu mastered the genre with Sadhabar Ekadashi (Wives’ Fasting).

This play portrays the 19 th -century Bengali youth, who attracted public attention for

their drunkenness, sexual immoralities and blind imitation of western lifestyle. He

elevated the new genre that Michael had innovated before.


Michael’s farces are shallow and unrefined, which limit the merit of his works.

Sadhabar Ekadashi deals with social scenario strengthened by new comprehension

and outlook that its protagonist Nimchand upholds. He represents the 19 th -century

Bengali youth. His thoughts render a conflict between tradition and modernity. Out of

intoxication, he quotes lines from English literature, concurrently with slang and

vulgar words. On the other hand, he believes in social divide of the then Bengali

race. Through his philosophical words, he reveals a world-view. In fact, he defends

his own drunkenness with the support of sturdy Epicureanism. Thus the dramatist

marked greatness on an apparently insignificant genre.

Dinabandhu also penned the first Bangla political play – Nildarpan (The

Indigo-Planters’ Image in Mirror). It concerns the persecution of helpless Bengali

peasants by the then British indigo-planters. The play stirred the Indians, the Britons

and other westerners as well.

The language that the playwright uses in Sadhabar Ekadashi is highly

dramatic, and it reveals the psychological traits of its characters. My own observation

says: it stands second to none as a farce, and distinguishes the playwright


Kaliprashanna Simha (1840-’70)

Sketch is a genre of descriptive prose that does not necessarily have a plot. It

depicts the ins and outs of a particular society and culture. A sketch always does not

qualify as a fiction, nor is it entirely a nonfictional genre.

In Bengal, the genre developed in the 19 th century. Bhabanicharan

Bandyopadhyay was the first notable writer. Then Tekchand wrote Alaler Gharer

Dulal (A Spoilt Child) and some other works that actually are sketch stories.

Kaliprashanna Simha’s Hutome Penchar Naksha (Sketches of an Watching

Owl) is regarded as a great work of the genre. It tells us of a turmoil period of

Bengal, especially of Calcutta. It was a period of social and cultural transition. The

Christian missionaries were converting the Hindus. The Brahmo movement initiated

by Rammohun Roy was going on. A new bourgeois middle class and an intellectual

group also came into being. The Bengali Hindu society was divided during this cold

war. Kaliprashanna portrays this change in his sketches that are compiled in the


It is a satirical work. It mocks the incongruities and dishonesties of different

classes. For example, he criticizes perverted carnal practice, fraud, bygone and

conservative public outlook, superstitions and various behavioral flaws.

Kaliprashanna wrote Naksha in a colloquial language. This work gives us a

specimen of the 19 th -century dialect of Calcutta citizens. His prose is smart and

irreverent, yet poetic. He brought about a revolt in prose resulting in an avant-garde.

This new prose paved the way of a movement led by Pramatha Chowdhury. His

description has a touch of modernity and beauty. He sometimes draws natural

landscape. Characterization is not flawless, reasonably because it does not

fictionalize. But the book fulfills the need of a document of the 19 th -century Bengali

urbanity. It serves this purpose with integrity and credibility, and is a priceless gift in


this respect. The modern historians have got ideas of the then society and lifestyle

from this book.

His translation of the Mahabharata has an entirely different, Sanskritized

diction. It is the best prose-translation of the ancient meta-narrative in any provincial


Some years later Bankim brought his novels of Sanskritized prose into light,

which was regarded as a model of the whole era, and Kaliprashanna lost his

importance, His work earned cynical remarks from contemporary critics, and was

accused of vulgarity and crudeness. And he came into limelight again in the late 20 th

century, while such conservative outlook diminished. He can altogether be regarded

as the master of a less appreciated genre of prose literature.

Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (1838-’94)

Bankim is at the same time, one of the greatest and one of the most

controversial writers of Bangla literature. In his lifetime, he was hailed as ‘Sahitya-

Samrat’ (i.e. Emperor of Literature). After death, some canonized him as a ‘Rishi’

(i.e. sage). Some others, annoyed with his political and social views, have

questioned his greatness.

The first and foremost allegation against Bankim in this country is that he was

from top to bottom an anti-Muslim, therefore communal and fundamentalist, a

conservative and reactionary about social norms and also an implicit contributor to

imperialism. But a careful scrutiny of his works does not definitely vindicate such

ideas. He was a humanist, patriot, rationalist and progressive writer. It is true that he

was religious and like Tolstoy, a strict believer in a deity but he was never a

communal man, let alone fundamentalist. Such accusations are made by those who

do not read his works thoroughly and hold superficial ideas about his mind. In this

context it can be said that in his historical novels, he depicted the splendid

aristocracy of feudal Moslem India alongside its dark sides.

The severest accusations are usually made against his Anandamath (The

Abbey of Bliss). In this novel, as I have already said, he actually condemned the

contemporary British rulers considering them as a replacement of their predecessor

Muslims who too had been invaders and assaulters of India’s own culture and

civilization. Here he wished the success of a Hindu Revival that he saw had already

begun. This novel celebrates a great puja of the motherland incarnated in the shape

of Goddess Durga. The immersion of the goddess is done leaving a dream of

resurrection that predicts a recurrence of the rebellion that he narrates.

However, this novel is definitely not his masterpiece. This honor is deserved

by Kopalkundala, a highly Romantic fiction in which Bankim depicts the contradiction

between social and alienated human beings – the inadaptability of an outsider

heroine in social stream. An orphan girl, who was brought up by a hermit, elopes

with a gentleman, later marries him and then finds social life bitter for her. She

admits the hermit’s (who comes to the town in search for her) call to make her a

sacrifice for the deity. That moment never comes, but she drowns in the river along

with her husband. Thus the author gives a glory to man’s predestined fate. The


heroine, after whose name the novel is entitled, lacks social competence, and is

devoid of love that is a product of only civilized and cultivated mind.

Even his first attempt of Bangla fiction, Durges-Nandini (The Daughter of the

Fort-Lord) bears his deep consciousness of medieval Indian society and its

fabrication by communal divide. Here a Rajput prince and a Bengali princess fall in

love with each other. A Pathan princess later does have a crush on him. And finally

the prince marries the first one because of their religious commonness.

His Chandrashekhar, despite having a historical background, is exuberant in

psychological revelation of socially deprived lovers. Lovers denying social barrier

suffer from guilt-complex, and Shaivalini’s vision of hell is the result of her remorse

for committing such a ‘sin’. In this novel, Bankim depicts sexual perverts along with

true lovers. And at the end of the novel, he glorifies sacrifice for religiosity and piety

on the question of love and sexuality.

Rajani, another fictional work by him, is a dramatic presentation (comprised of

monologues) of different characters who are inflicted with psychological dilemma.

The characters uphold their own speech, and thus the exposition of the writer’s own

mind seems objective.

And Krishnakanter Will (The Will of Krishnakanta) is a social novel having

deep psychological revelation. A babu (i.e. Bengali Hindu gentleman), who loved his

wife sincerely, leaves her for a widow who has extraordinary physical beauty. Later

that woman betrays with him, and he kills her mercilessly. His first wife also dies, and

he becomes a bohemian hermit forsaking social life. Bankim, in this outstanding

novel, depicts man’s sexual hunger, thirst for beauty and false lovers’ immorality. He

champions pure and loyal love, a love based on religiosity, a love beyond mere

physical attraction and false moments’ momentary impulse.

His Kamalakanter Daptar (Kamalakanta’s Office) is a memorable satire,

perhaps the best in this genre. The behavioral incongruities of a Bengali gentleman

are drawn and ridiculed in this writing; his words are mostly philosophical and

sometimes poetic. Lokrahashya (Mysteries of Men) and Muchiram Goorer

Jibancharit (A Life-sketch of Muchiram Goor) are his other satires.

Philosophically Bankim was a Positivist – a follower of August Comte. He took

Comte’s religion of human welfare, and finally reshaped it into the service of


Bankim was also a ruthless moralist. His humanism is overshadowed by his

religious thoughts. And he always vilified the idea of ‘love’ that is to him, a mere thirst

for beauty.

His conservatism is an outcome of his extreme nationalist spirit and anguish

against the foreign intrusive culture.

Nevertheless, through his works of huge range and complexities, Bankim

shows us his gigantic might in visualizing the dark deep ocean of human mind. His

discovery of human psyche largely reminds us of the great Shakespeare. Such

attempt makes Bankim a visionary and prophet; he truly passed this tough trial.


Mir Mosharraf Hossain (1847-1912)

Our war literature is not too rich, despite its being a mellifluous genre. The

Bengalis experienced a great liberation war, which has not produced a good number

of gems in literature. More clearly, 1971 has not produced an epic war novel to date.

Its absence is still to be fulfilled.

Nevertheless, war was a favorite theme with the medieval poets. Medieval

poetry gave birth to a genre called Janganama, which concentrated on Jihad or holy

war. Many of those heroic verses made the battle of Karbala into their theme, and in

the modern era, Mir Mosharraf wrote a novel based on it.

The battle of Karbala is regarded as a tragic incident in Islamic history. Imam

Hossain, grandson of Prophet Mohammed, fought the war to restore his bloodline on

the throne, and was assassinated. He was involved in a power struggle with Ejid,

who was a cruel, shrewd and lecherous person. Hossain’s murder in the battle has

been a theme of ballads and songs throughout history. The battle split the Muslims

between the Shiites and Sunnis, and aroused bitterness between the two sects in

the succeeding Muslim history. The Shiites still celebrate his date of martyrdom with

sorrows and solemnity.

Mosharraf narrates the battle and related incidents in his epic novel Bishad-

Shindhu (The Sea of Sorrows). He portrays some people’s nobleness, religiosity and

heroism, while alongside he depicts some others’ hypocrisy, treachery and barbarity.

He also draws the alcoholics and womanizers of the medieval Arabia.

He followed the model of Bankim’s aristocratic prose. The mellifluous, flowery

language of the novel has romantic ambivalence; it has co-existence of love and

hate. The narration is sometimes calm, and sometimes chivalric and sentimental.

The language is eligible for a tragedy. But saying truthfully, it is poor in dramatic

suspense. Sometimes his description is not fit for a grand novel.

The author focuses on man’s political, religious, moral and ethical values.

Often he says such words as can be accepted as maxims, for example, “Winning the

crown is difficult, but discarding it is even more difficult”.

Mosharraf’s Jamidar-Darpan (The Landlords’ Face in the Mirror) is a good

drama, showing the atrocities of the 19th-century landlords.

Bishad-Shindhu is not paralleled with War and Peace; such a novel is yet to

be accomplished in our language. But as a war novel of medieval theme, it deserves

importance. It is the only epic war novel in the Bengali language that can be made

into account by the 21 st -century critics and readers. Thus it has fulfilled a big gap in

our fiction.

Biharilal Chakraborty (1835-’94)

Biharilal is recognized in literary history as Tagore’s inspirer. Tagore admitted

his debt to him, and called him his guru and also the ‘Morning Bird’ of lyrical poem.

His poems have, at the same time, qualities of epic and lyrical poetry. He

stressed on natural objects, naïve emotional expressions, idealized fair sex, and a


mysterious vision of the cosmos. Among the modern Romantic poets, he is the

earliest one.

However, his immortality as a poet largely relies on a single book –

Saradamangal (The Psalm of the White Goddess). His other works are not equal to

this poem in artistic success.

It is the first modern lyrical poem in Bangla – romantic and mystical alongside;

and the poet’s mind is in a dilemma about which of these two art-forms he would


This poem is a tale of the poet’s journey to meet Saraswati, the goddess

whom he sometimes imagines as a romantic heroine and sometimes as an entity

untouchable by any earthly beings. Sometimes he imagines the Muse-like goddess

as a mother or as a beloved or as a sister, and on other times he takes her to be an

object of dazzling appearance.

He takes shelter of poetic imagination to get close to his ever-cherished divine

soul. He brings imageries of natural objects (e.g. birds, insects, fountain, stars, etc)

like any other class poets. But in fact he tells us of a world similar to a land described

in a fairy tale. His Saraswati is not a religious or mythic epitome but an object of his

grand imagination.

The poet is a devotee of Saraswati; he is an ardent lover to have her touch.

His goddess is beyond the trivialities of earthly life; she is not a mere idol. That divine

soul is far beyond the reach of human senses. She is again and again lost in the flow

of the poet’s desperate passions. His vision of the heroine is subjective at times, and

it becomes objective on other times.

At the beginning the poet’s heart is in the darkness of an uncertainty; and at

the end he becomes gratified with the enlightened vision of the goddess. She seems

to the poet to enlighten the world with her heavenly illumination.

It can be said that the main theme of the poem is the poet’s dilemma – a

dilemma between his own romantic and mystical creed for the embodiment of

enlightening wisdom. His dream comes true at the end, and he takes it as an

unearthly blessing for the world and himself.

Biharilal was influenced by some writers from the 19 th -century Brahmo Samaj

– especially by Rammohun and Devendranath, and also by Brahma-Sangeet (i.e.

songs addressed to Brahma, the universal soul that appears to be the supreme

deity). However, in place of their Brahma, he wrote the psalms of Saraswati,

although in a similar style.

It is almost impossible to translate his typical Bangla verse into English. So for

going through it, the western readers at first have to learn our language.

Biharilal introduced lyrical poetry that made the way for later romantics to walk

with new sensibilities. Although he is not as great as his successor Tagore, his role

in making the new base of poetry is undeniable. He is therefore, an acknowledged

contributor to the development of modern lyrical poetry.


Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

In the 19 th century, our country gave birth to four geniuses – Derozio, Michael,

Bankim and Rabindranath Tagore. The last one took the image of the country and its

culture to an unimaginable height.

Tagore is the Angel of Romantic literature. His artistic achievement can be

compared to no one else. So much subtlety, depth of contemplation and diversity are

found in very few writers of the world. He worked in approximately five genres of

literature – poetry, novel, short story, drama and essay. Besides, he was a class

musician, painter, actor, dance-director and architect.

He is definitely not aligned with the 19 th -century English Romantics because

he was not an escapist like Keats or Coleridge. But like Goethe, he is a Romantic in

the sense that he based his artistic work strongly on an optimistic aestheticism.

Tagore’s entire poetic works possess an elemental philosophy. It is that the

world is not eternal but perishable – it is bound to a cycle of life and death; the earth

and other planets, the stars, the solar system, the cosmos, life, love and reasonably

his own grand achievement will face extinction in course of time. But all natural

objects will come back into existence following the omnipresent rule of death and

rebirth. Admitting this truth, humans have to perform their duties in this world. His

other views of life and the world surround this fundamental doctrine. He has given

this single message again and again in various (and every time uniquely new) ways

in his poems.

Tagore showed the sign of his talent in Shandha-shangeet (The Evening

Song) and Pravat-shangeet (The Morning Song). But Manashi (The Woman of

Fancy) is his first major individualistic attempt. He contemplated on nature in this

book of poems. Especially notable is the poem “Ahalyar Prati” (“To Ahalya”) that

concerns with an imaginary soul of earthly matters and its profound relation with the

spirit of the universe. “Meghdut” (“The Cloud-Messenger”) is an ode addressed to

the great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa who wrote a poem of the same name.

Manashi was undermined by his later work Sonar Tori (The Golden Boat).

And his third original effort – Chitra surpassed those all. It includes such immortal

poems as “Joytsna-Ratrey” (“In a Moonlit Night”), “Shandha” (“Evening”), “Shwarga

Hoitey Biday” (“Departure from the Paradise”), “Urvashi”, “Jiban-Devata” (“The God

of Life”), etc that covey his crave for beauty and life. In the first mentioned poem, he

tries to give a spiritual essence to a moonlit night relating it to eternity. In “Shandha”,

the world sighs on a crimson evening for its indecisive journey. “Shwarga Hoitey

Biday” asserts his preference for the temporal world to a divine one. In his “Urvashi”,

he addresses a heavenly dancer who is not a woman of flesh and blood at all, but an

epitome of timeless beauty. And in “Jiban-Devata”, he tries to illustrate a conjugal

relationship between him and the deity whom he thinks to be the immanent soul.

Tagore turned from Romanticism to Mysticism in his middle age. His personal

disasters (especially wife’s death) made him melancholy that enthused him to

compose mystic songs. The messages of Upanishadas found their supreme artistic

form in the songs of this period. Gitanjali (The Song Offerings) is the highest


achievement of this phase that earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

Here he envisions limitlessness in limitation, sings the song of real beauty unfound in

the ocean of temporal splendor.

The First World War (1914-’18) inspired his romantic and mystic trend to be a

little diverted into deep concerns of the modern catastrophic era. But he was never a

pessimist; he strongly believed in human potentiality and good will. Balaka (The

Cranes) is the masterpiece of this time. Tagore dreams of survival of the civilization

tearing up a catastrophic gloom in the entitling poem of the book; he believes in the

eternal journey of human mind from old consciousnesses to new and newer ones,

and expresses this perception through the symbol of a flight of migratory birds. In

“Chanchala” (“The Restless”), he comes to the realization that the cosmos, for its

existence, needs an unstoppable speedy motion of all its ingredients –

“O great river,

Your invisible and silent water

Continuous and inseparable

Flows for eternity.

The Space shivers at your terrible shapeless speed;

Matter-less flow’s violent trauma makes

Piles of matter-foams arise;

The sky and the earth cry out at your crimson cloud;

An intense ray is dispersed into stream of colors

From an advancing darkness;

The Sun, the Moon and all the stars

Move dying in rotation

Layer up to layer

Like a lot of bubbles.”

(Translated by the author)

And he imposes transience upon the glory of an unquestionably pure love in

“Shahjahan”. The Indian emperor Shahjahan founded the great mausoleum called

Taj Mahal to immortalize his beloved wife’s memory. Tagore believes the great

emperor has eventually forgotten her memory on his journey from this planet to a

more glorified and enlightened world.

He was still a Romantic in the broader sense, but later during the more

destructive Second World War (1939-’45), his chaste romantic nature was severely

struck. Tagore became a Modern, but his modernism is colored by romanticism; he

“carried his romanticism intact into the modern world” (a comment by William

Radice). He foresaw a demon arising to devastate the civilization exactly as W. B.

Yeats did; but he had a deep belief in a supernatural good power, and had optimism

in Man’s will for returning to purity and piety. Punascha (The Post-Script), Prantik

(The Border-Land), Shejuti (The Lamp), Shanai (The Cornet), Shesh Lekha (The

Last Writings) and some other poetical collections fall in this era. In the poem

“Shishutirtha” (“The Pilgrimage of the Child”) of Punascha, Tagore envisions the

victory of humanity and an enlightened glory of the civilization’s journey. “Banshi”

(“Flute-music”) of Punascha is a poem having the theme of unconsummated love of

a socio-economically deprived man who appears at such comprehension of the

sorrows of love through the sadness of flute-symphony –

“……nothing distinguishes Haripada the clerk


From the Emperor Akbar.

Torn umbrella and royal parasol merge,

Rise on the sad music of a flute

Towards one heaven.”

(Translated by William Radice)

In “Ekjan Loke” (“A Man”), he tells of the eternal sadness of alienation in the human

world. And in “Apaghat” (“The Shocking News”) of Shanai, he shows how the

catastrophe of another part of the world disturbs the merriment of a few ordinary men

of a distant locality.

In “Janmadin” (“My Birthday”) of Shejuti, the poet memorializes his life-history

and the gradual fall of civilization alongside. He suspects the civilization is going to

be caught in the clutches of ‘human-animals’.

In the poem “Pakshi-Manab” (“The Bird-like Man”) of Nabajatak (The Newborn

Baby), he pleads mankind to save the world from a possible catastrophe

caused by technological advancement.

His Lekhan (Writings) and Sphulinga (Sparks) are two collections of miniature


Even a few days before his death, he wrote a number of good poems that are

collected in Shesh Lekha. Especially memorable is “Prothom Diner Surya” (“The

First Day’s Sun”) –

“The first day’s Sun

Asked the being at its newer birth –

‘Who are you?’

It wasn’t replied.

Years and years passed,

The day’s last Sun

Uttered the last question across the western sea

At silent evening –

‘Who are you?’

He got no reply.”

(Translated by the author)

The same anthology contains another poem titled “Rupnaraner Kule” (“At the Bank

of Rupnaran”) where the poet’s last message is –

“Life is a worship of sorrow till death,

To get the high prize of truth,

And to pay all debts with the last breath.”

(Translated by the author)

Since his early life till the last days, he made continuously newer

experimentations of poetic techniques.

Tagore’s novels for the most part focus on sociopolitical issues of our national

life; his novels are similar to ‘national allegories’. However, he has also written

psychological and romantic novels.

His novels are not many in number, but nevertheless remarkable. And if we

wish to call a single novel the greatest in whole Bangla literature, it should be,

according to most critics’ evaluation, his Gora. A young man, who is proud of his


Hindu identity, eventually comes to the fact of his Irish blood, and asks for hands of a

Brahmo girl whom he loved but was hesitant to marry for communal distinction. Here

the writer champions Indian nationalism and identity above all communal factions.

And his own notion is that nationalism is not conflicting with cosmopolitanism. Ghare

Baire (Home and Outside) and Char Adhyay (Four Chapters) are his other two

nationalistic novels. He criticized terrorism, and supported Mahatma’s non-violent

policies in these two novels.

Tagore’s Chokher Bali (The Detested) was an epoch-making psychological

novel. Here he presents sexual love tinged with promiscuity and complexity. It is the

story of a triangular love-affair. A babu leaves his wife for a widow whose marriage

proposal he rejected some years ago. Thereafter that widow gets proposal for

marriage from that babu’s friend. But finally rejecting both of them, she takes a

pilgrim’s life. Unlike his predecessor Bankim, Tagore recognizes a widow’s right for

love-affair, although however, does not feel necessary to give it a marriage license.

Later Saratchandra Chattopadhyay too was largely influenced by this novel.

In Chaturanga (Four Jokers), four eccentric characters narrate their own

stories and views of life. It is Tagore’s first novel having poetic descriptions.

His Shesher Kabita (The Last Poem) is an amazing Romantic novel set in the

20 th -century urban background. Most of the characters here, including the

protagonist (Amit), belong to the bourgeois elite class, and their persona is shallow.

They are modern men. The main theme is: as love fades in the dullness of marital

life, a couple decides not to marry each other in order to eternalize their love. Here

the writer places love beyond all monotony and superficiality of conjugal triviality.

Tagore’s novels have a general mistake: his characters, irrespective of their

age or academic qualification, appear to be matured enough to talk highly

philosophical words. This fault has to some extent, diminished the worth of his


Tagore’s short stories are unique and empathetic; eternal human sorrows and

joys are depicted in these stories, and are worthy to be ranked with those of

Maupassant, Chekov and O’ Henry. His short stories are not based on any intricate

themes, rather they tell us of eternal humanistic ideas like father’s affection,

childhood love, the sorrows of a boy who is separated from his mother, a dumb girl’s

mental agonies, women’s sufferings in loveless marital life, one’s love for a tree that

one has seen from childhood, etc.

His “Postmaster”, “Khudhita Pashan” (“The Hungry Stones”), “Nastanir” (“The

Spoilt Nest”), “Madhyabartini” (“The Middle Woman”), “Monihara” (“The Lost Jewel”),

“Malyadan” (“Awarding of Garland”), “Guptadhan” (“The Hidden Treasure”), “Balai”,

“Laboratory” – all have eternal appeal in the world of short story.

“Postmaster” is the story of a town man, whose mind has grown up with selfcenteredness

because of urban civilization, and who creates an escapist logic to

leave an orphan and helpless village girl who loves him. That man’s escapist moral

is that none belongs to none in this world.

“Khudhita Pashan” is apparently a Gothic horror story but it in fact reveals the

dark history of medieval India’s sexual immorality.


“Nastanir” tells us about the alienation of a married couple. The wife, who

leads a lonely life for her husband’s unconcern, falls in love with her brother-in-law,

which finally leads to the breaking down of their marital life.

“Madhyabartini” tells us how marital life was often devastated by child

marriage and polygamy in the 19 th century. Here the husband and his wife both are

responsible for this family disaster. The wife provokes her husband to marry an

under-aged girl, and after the marriage, they get isolated from each other day by

day. At last the immature girl dies leaving them ashamed, repented and emotionally


“Monihara” is the story of Monimala, a complex woman whose selfcenteredness

is the outcome of her alienation from her husband. All that she cares

for is her ornaments. As a result, being requested by her husband to give him the

ornaments, she flees with her distant cousin, and thereafter becomes his victim. Her

ghost now haunts her husband’s mind. The ghost appears being adorned with the

ornaments that Monimala took for herself. It is the ghost of a woman of conservative

Bengali society, who was forced to live a loveless marital life, and whose heart was

thereby falsely glittering like golden jewelries.

“Malyadan” is the story of an undesirable love-game played by elders with an

under-aged girl, which results in bitter consequences.

In “Guptadhan” we come across a man who spends a large part of his life for

hidden treasure, and finally returns home barehanded forsaking his greed for riches.

“Balai” is a unique story. Here the writer depicts a boy whose heart is full of

admiration for a tree. This boy gradually grows up as a nature lover. And the sad

happening of uprooting that tree separates him from his beloved kith and kin.

“Laboratory” is a story of self-righteousness of modern women – a story of

contradiction between freedom and ruthlessness. The laboratory of the story is in

fact a lab of humans’ dark mind intended for animalistic sexual practice.

Tagore innovated a genre of prose literature in Lipika (Notes), Shey (S/he)

and Golposholpo (Chitchat).

The writings of Lipika have the features of prose-poetry, vignette, fairy tale

and Magic-Realist fiction alongside. In some stories, the characters grow up with

romantic imagination and fairy tale-like dreams, build castles in the air, and face

harsh realities at last. Thus fairy tales are repeated again and again in new colors in

different phases of history. “Rajputtur” (“The Prince”) is the finest example of this

type of work. Other similar writings are “Proshno” (“The Question”), “Kortar Bhut”

(“The Lord’s Ghost”), “Porir Porichoy” (“The Fairy’s Identity”), “Shuoranir Shadh”

(“The Head Queen’s Will”), etc. They show the big wall of dream and reality. These

stories are superior to Bonoful’s vignettes in beauty and depth.

Some other writings like “Ekti Din” (“One Day”), “Osposhto” (“Obscure”) and

“Prothom Chiti” (“The First Letter”) tell us about things in romantic love. And a good

number of writings are the outcome of thoughts on natural landscape.

Shey is simply out of the mainstream of fictional literature. Here the author’s

way of telling sometimes reminds us of Postmodernist forms of writing. The writer

continued this style in Golposholpo. These two works are written in a language that


the Bengali educated class use in idle gossip. The characters have similar colorful

dreams. They have marks of both adult and youth literature.

Tagore’s dramatic works are diverse; they can be divided into subgenres like

comedy, verse-drama, metaphorical play, symbolic play, dance-drama and musical


In his plays, Tagore upholds humanity, and criticizes all prejudices and

inhuman practices prevailing in the society. In a number of his dramas, he conveys

the notion that a society cannot survive without adaptations of its faiths and traditions

with the demand of time.

In the famous verse-drama Bisharjan (Immersion), he draws the conflict of

love and convention through a story of making human sacrifice at a temple.

His Chitrangada is a beautiful verse-drama; here he shows the conflict of

physical beauty and inherent competence of the female. The ugly princess

Chitrangada worships to the love-god to lend her appealing beauty for a year in

order to impress prince Arjuna. Her wish becomes fulfilled as Arjuna marries her, but

he leaves her when after a year her god-gifted beauty disappears. Then the princess

recognizes that beauty as her own antagonist.

His mystic thoughts are exposed in the metaphorical plays Raja (The King)

and Dakghar (The Post-office). Dakghar tells us of man’s dream for a union with the

cosmic soul. A boy dreams of becoming a runner, as he wishes to carry news to all

corners of the world. When the king of the world decides to meet him, he plans to

ask the lord to make him a cosmic runner. However, before his departure, a girl

expresses her love for him. Thus a mystic boy, who is on the way of the great world,

does not lose his entire existence in this earth.

In Muktadhara (The Unbound Stream), a symbolic play, Tagore shows the evil

nature of civilization in an emerging age of mechanical technology. A king builds a

dam in a river to gratify his vengeance against another kingdom. Then the prince, the

son of the king, sacrifices his own life in order to destroy the dam and make the river

water free-flowing.

But another symbolic play titled Raktakarabi (The Red Oleander) is his

dramatic masterpiece. Here he attacks materialism, religious fanaticism, imperialism,

capitalism and evil exercise of power; and sings the song of victory of love,

humanity, motherhood of nature and the invincible spirit of eternal youth. The story

is: the king of the netherworld engages his slave-laborers to get the hidden treasures

of the earth. A loving couple is suspected by the workers’ leader to be miscreants.

The couple unknowingly makes the key role to split the workers’ class. Then, as the

result of a conspiracy made by the gang-leader, the king kills the lover boy as he

fails to identify him. Out of remorse, he decides to destroy his kingdom of the

netherworld. Then the farmers’ song reaches there from the outer world, and endless

light of that free land gives them new hope.

Tagore is the greatest Buddhist playwright. Ever since the period of

Charyagitikoshe, Buddhism has found the best artistic exposure in his dramatic

works like Raja (The King), Chandalika (The Untouchable Girl) and the dance-drama

Shapmochan (Relief from Curse). Besides, in an essay, he called the Buddha the

greatest man ever born.


The musical play Tasher Desh (The Play-Cards’ Land) shows the

incongruities of home politics in the guise of personified play-cards’ tale. He also

wrote a good comedy titled Chirakumarshava (The Ever Bachelors’ Meeting).

His other important plays are Raja O Rani (The King and the Queen), Basanta

(The Spring), Sharodyotshab (The Autumn Festival), etc.

He wrote essays on different subjects like literary criticism, religion, politics,

society, education, etc. He also wrote nonfictional works like autobiographies,

memoirs, dairies, travelogues, belles-lettres and a huge number of personal letters.

He is probably the best writer of each of these genres.

Prachin Sahitya (Antique Literature), Adhunik Sahitya (Modern Literature),

Lok-Sahitya (Folk Literature), Sahityer Pathe (On the Way of Literature), etc are

essay-collections on literary criticism.

Books like Dharma (Religion), Shantiniketan (The House of Peace) and

Manusher Dharma (Religion of Man) tell us of his religious philosophy. Essays like

Atmoshakti (Self-Power), Raja Praja (The King and the Subjects), Swadesh (My

Country), Kalantor (New Age), Russiar Chithi (Letters from Russia) uphold his

progressive ideals about national and world politics. Some essays like Shiksha

(Education) hold his views on education-system.

In Biswa-Parichay (The Universe), he writes on the cosmic structure. And his

autobiographical work Jiban-Smriti (Memory of My Life) is also highly regarded in

essay literature.

He wrote these works in poetic language, replete with similes and metaphors,

which are distinct from other genres. His essays are philosophical, and they range

from individual life to world politics. Saying truly, he is the mapmaker of a wellorganised

and unique philosophy. He thought about the material structure of the

cosmos, human spirit, moral uplift, ideal social order and statehood, and welfare of


Tagore’s philosophy evident in his essays can be termed as comprehensive

liberalism. He was a theist, but never gave any typical concept of a deity, rather gave

his readers the freedom to imagine it from their own will. To an individual, he

suggests cosmic love to attain spiritual bliss.

As a political philosopher, he was an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, and

always opposed all dogmas, and championed humanism and liberal views. In his

political essays, he advocates humanity and liberalism, and also a world civilization

based on equal status of all nations. He tells the powerless nations to gradually

strengthen themselves in order to achieve a socialist world. He observes the

historical transition of the world order, and foresees an uprising of the working class.

He was also a critic of the British colonial rule in India.

Bangla literature bore Tagore’s legacy for a long time. The poems of Nazrul,

Bishnu, Sudhindranath and Buddhadev have the mark of his influence. Also the

prose of the following decades acknowledge his contribution. Even Ahmad Sofa’s

classic translation of Faust (1986) is indebted to his poetic style.

Tagore is sometimes criticized for not portraying Muslim characters or society.

Think for a while: if he did, wouldn’t the Muslims focus more on his negative


comments on them (and get angry) than on the positive ones, since a writer can’t

always praise a society or a community?

From an overall impression, Tagore’s poems are a door to the great world of

unending mysteries; his novels are a message of peace and amity for the diverged

human species; his short stories tell us of helpless and forlorn earthly beings; the

plays of Tagore are a mirror of the internal conflicts and clashes of ideological rivals;

his essays are torch for the confused mankind; his paintings are the alarm of an

impending darkness; and in his songs, all perplexities, concerns and turbulences are

subsided by a universal vision of unearthly bliss.

The following words by Saratchandra perfectly evaluate Tagore’s

achievement – “Master of poets, our astonishments find no limit looking at you.”

Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951)

Fantasy is a fictitious prose literature characterized for its highly imaginative

narration. A fantasy fiction is often set on an imaginary world or universe. Such a

work may mould a character taking from former texts or folklore. It is noted for

symbolic representation of ideas, which may be updated with the passage of time.

Abanindranath is the master of the genre in Bangla. He was predominantly a

painter, which is evident in his literary works. He is said to have ‘written pictures’ i.e.

he had the power to create highly imaginative literatures that create a visual image in

the reader’s mind. He wrote primarily for children, but his works gratify the thirst of all


His Khirer Putul (The Milk-Made Doll) is a children’s fantasy tale. It tells us the

tale of two queens – one adored and honored by her husband, and the other

deprived. A clever monkey brings her a child from a happy dream land, and restores

her dignity using his craft. The story signifies, a high dream is materialized only in the

world of fancy.

Shakuntala is a fairy tale-like work developed from a mythic story. It is notable

for romantic depiction of natural beauty.

Rajkahini (The Tale of Kings) is a tale of the royal dynasties of western India.

He assimilates history, legend and the features of fairy folk tales in this work.

Buro Angla (The Thumb-Sized Boy) is Abanindranath’s masterpiece. A

naughty boy finds himself a thumb-sized boy in dream, and travels many lands along

with wild swans. The book has mindblowing portrayal of natural landscape. The

behavior of birds and animals here seems allegorical.

Another remarkable fantasy by the writer is Bhut-Patrir Desh (The Land of

Ghost-Fighter). Here he deconstructs history, and converts historical and mythical

figures into phantoms, which make the country a domain of terror.

He was a nature-lover artist. His short stories reveal the spirit of nature, and

personify natural objects. They have concern for the mother earth, and speak for her


Abanindranath’s prose is of high order. It has the touch of a poetic mind and

artistic dexterity. An ordinary writer or simply a literary technician cannot achieve

such height.


Apparently children were his main objective, and his writings are classics for

them. But his works cannot be simply attributed as kids’ books. His stories bear such

words as “barmahal” (= whores’ palace), “kafir” (= infidel), etc that do not resemble to

children’s literature. Also, some of his works have too difficult message for children

to understand.

In fact, he was a great literary craftsman, whose works may arouse pleasure

and surprise for readers of any age or country or language. He is a master of the

genre of fantasy fiction.

Trailokyanath Mukhopadhyay (1847-1919)

The comic strip we find in animation movies and computer games first

appeared as a literary genre. I define literary cartoon as a satirical fiction that creates

the impression of a funny animation movie in the reader’s mind. Trailokyanath is the

master of this genre in Bangla. He is the best exponent of grotesque and fantastic in

our literature.

At the first reading, his works may perplex the readers with an impression of

fairy tales. But many things are available in his works that do not resemble to fairy

tale-like writings. In fact, he didn’t write fairy tales, but his works had some elements

of them, assimilated with other fantasies; and he actually fathered a different genre.

He was rationalist and progressive, and was critical about the incongruities

and hypocrisies of the Bengali society. Quite similar to Jonathan Swift, he imagined

many strange creatures to satirize the limitations of humankind. Like the Derozians,

he mocked the prejudice of the Bengali Hindus against fowl and beef. He was critical

about people’s religious beliefs, the newly emerged Bengali bourgeois class and

even of the colonial subjugation of India. In a sense, he is a master of parody; his

stories are parodies of the fantastic tales that fascinate the Bengali people in their

idle gossip. Often his works offer humanistic philosophies. Thus he elevated the

merit of his cartoon literature from that of children’s animation movies.

Damru-Charit (The Life-sketch of Damru) is his masterpiece, an embellished

satirical work, which mocks the lower middle Bengali class, and reveals their fraud,

dishonesty, flirtatiousness, treachery and hypocrisy. A liar and fraud person tells

cock and bull stories to people to make them believe in his feigned greatness, but he

actually carries out his evil interest, and subconsciously reveals his flawed

personality. He tells them of dealing with a powerful hermit, riding a divine peacock,

a strange tiger, and even of Arabian goblins.

His Kankabati is not a fairy tale as it seems to be but actually a satirical story.

Different comic characters like fish, frogs, mosquitoes, tiger, ghosts and demons are

actually presented to make a piece of cartoon work. They mock different classes of

the society like the colonial rulers, the newly educated class, the businessmen, the

politicians, and thus give it maturity differentiating from TV cartoons. Kankabati, a

village girl, holds a desperate aim to get her lover, and on the way of accomplishing

her dream, she visits the kingdom of fishes, meets the mosquitoes, an Englishmanlike

frog, and a she-monster with a long nose. They remind the reader of colorful

images of an animation movie.


Kankabati’s fairy tale-like dream reflects the real world. The goblins and

demons that she sees can be compared to the devilish people living in society; it’s

the logic that Trailokyanath makes for simultaneously drawing pictures of society and

a fantasy land.

So, his works are cartoons – not intended for children’s entertainment but

have intellectual appeal giving the reader a scope for thinking and revaluating her/his

outlook of the society. For example, he satirizes the Hindu belief that eating chickenmeat

or beef is a bigger sin than dishonesty.

Thus he elevates a pictorial art-form generally appreciated by children into a

literary genre suitable for adults’ taste. These two works rank Trailokyanath as the

greatest satirist of Bangla literature.

Mahendranath Gupta (1854-1932)

Fiction is the most popular narrative genre of prose literature; it is penned

from imagination, and lacks substantial authenticity of description. Nonfictional work

like biography, which is free from this limitation, substitutes fiction. But it similarly

gives evidence about its time and the persons it is concerned with.

Ramakrishna Paramhamsha (religious name of Gadadhar Chattopadhyay) is

a highly acclaimed mystic in modern India. He believed in a pluralistic faith

comprising the essences of all world religions. He gave the concept ‘Joto mot toto

poth’ meaning ‘the more ideas, the more ways’. Thus he established religious

pluralism on an institutional base.

His disciple Mahendranath drew his life-sketch in an epic biography titled

Sree-Ramakrishna-Kathamrita (The Gospel of Sree Ramakrishna) under the penname

‘Sreema’. It is a work of extensive range and sublime quality. It narrates

Ramakrishna’s life and the teachings he gave to his disciples in an authentic


Ramakrishna was illiterate and got his ideas about religious texts hearing from

others. He could explain those to the common folk in naïve and comprehensible

language, often using stories and parables. His talks were full of wisdom and

philosophies, and had artful and unique similes. In fact, his words, in total, can be

accepted as a masterpiece of oral literature.

As a religious teacher, he emphasized man’s realization of God, renunciation

of lust and greed, nurturing virtues, and the idea that God resides in living beings.

Mahendranath himself was a mystic alike, and he narrated his guru’s lifehistory

with sincerity and reverence. Unlike Sree-Chaitanya-Charitamrita, it is not a

hagiography but a biography as he did not imagine any supernatural tale to glorify

his guru. He upheld him as a man of flesh, blood and bone. He didn’t exaggerate


Credit goes to Ramakrishna for the book’s unique diction. The great mystic

used similes in order to make his words comprehensible to the common people, and

the writer has assembled those with beauty and integrity. Some of his similes are as

follow –

• As a kitten mews to call the mother cat, so cries a devotee to call her/his Lord.


• A magnet attracts a piece of iron; likewise the supreme soul attracts the souls

of living beings.

• A devotee’s heart is like a drawing room to God. He often comes here.

• At the time of meditation, a devotee should have the concentration of a bird

hatching its eggs.

An artist’s life-history is less important than her/his works. A religious or

political leader’s life-sketch deserves more attention as s/he contributes to the world

with her/his life-long activities.

Ramakrishna was a great religious thinker like Shankar, Ramanuza, Rumi,

Chaitanya and Sree Aravinda, which is evident in each chapter of the book. Unlike

other famous biographies, it is written from the writer’s own experiences, and it

emphasizes the unique philosophy of an ascetic. It is a masterpiece of modern

literature for its range, views and unique style.

Dakshinaranjan Mitra Mazumder (1877-1956)

Dakshinaranjan is the uncrowned emperor of Bangla fairy tales – the

matchless master of this genre. His tales are not just intended for children, at the

same time they gratify the adult readers’ thirst for art and beauty. Saying the truth,

his tales have too artistic richness for a child to appreciate. These tales are a world

of dreams, a world of unearthly beauty. They are worthy assets of the world of


The structure of his each story is almost similar: long-term sorrows and

sufferings for the heroes and heroines, and then eternal peace and happiness. For

example: in “Ghumanta Puri” (“The Sleeping City”), the long days’ slumber of a

princess and her compatriots breaks up when a prince from another country falls in

her love.

However, he didn’t innovate the stories; he just collected those from the folk.

But he gave those tales colors and worth with his strong power of presentation.

His tales inwardly tell us of a prosperous era of Bengal, while the blue blood

enjoyed immense riches and power. His tales tell us of their luxury, and long for

regaining those lost glories.

His Rakshashas inwardly reflect a picture of the internal clash and anarchy of

ancient Bengal. The Rakshashas might be cannibals; they probably reflect a barbaric

race of the prehistoric era of India.

Or the Rakshashas might be some evil and oppressive monarchs and

occupiers. Some other ruling class might be in a clash with them for grabbing power

and ruling authority.

Dakshinaranjan made pictures of the happiness, sorrows and pathos of the

Bengali people. He also sketched the pictures of quarrelsome Bengalis – especially

of women. He seems to have made the way of Bangla sentimental novel, the master

of which genre is Saratchandra. His word-paintings of gods and demons made an

implicit influence on the latter one.

He drew bright and dark natures of humans alongside respectively in his

human and monstrous characters.


“Dudher Sagar” (“The Sea of Milk”) and “Rup-Tarashi” (“Beauty-Horror”) are

two conflicting volumes of his masterpiece Thakurmar Jhuli (Grandmother’s Bag).

The first of them is full of heavenly beauty, while the second one present terror and


He was a highly romantic writer, and his works brightened the glory of the

Romantic era.

He used beautiful imageries, e.g. river of milk, helms of diamond, golden

lotus, Princess of cloud-colored hair, Shukpankhi boat, golden flute, etc. His

imageries and metaphors are highly poetic, and they support an ornamental height.

He was also a poet, and composed poems and rhymes to include in his fairy

tales. He himself illustrated his books, and the drawings are excellent.

Very reasonably, Dakshinaranjan’s position in the world of art is unparalleled

and unique.

Saratchandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938)

Saratchandra was a desperate and lonely passer-by in the way of progression

of the Bengali Hindu community. Despite being a son of a conservative Brahmin

family, he torn out of his social net, and became a bright star in the whole history of

the Bengalis’ effort of gaining social and psychological liberty. In spite of writing in

the great Tagore’s era, he presented unique creations and bluntly saying, surpassed

even Tagore in artistry of the genre of novel. And so much progressive outlook is

hardly found in other contemporary Bengali writers’ works.

In most of his works Sarat depicts social evil, some good men’s fight against it

and human (especially female) psyche; and he was a propagandist against the

institution of marriage.

His early attempt Devdas, although poor in structure, gives a little hint to his

progressive and revolutionary mind. It is the story of a young man who dies out of

anguish for his fatal love-affair. His Palli-Samaj (Country-Society) is a good portrayal

of an unconsummated love-affair in Bengal’s rural society.

Arakshaniya (The Eligible Girl) is the story of a girl of dark complexion, whose

mother finds it too difficult to marry her off. It results in her pitiable humiliation in the

society. This novel questions the anachronistic values of the heartless society that

considers physical beauty (and fair complexion) a must for the female.

Chandranath is the story of another girl’s disgrace – this time, for being a

‘dishonest’ mother’s daughter.

Charitrahin (The Characterless) questions the character of a society itself that

suppresses its members’ carnal desires due to traditional and outdated concepts. It

tells us two stories alongside; one of them is of a love-affair between a babu and her

maidservant; the other tale is of a similar relationship of a widow and her distant

brother-in-law. The first one ends in the beloved’s disapproval of a possible marriage

(as she honors the class divide), and the other relationship ends in tragic

consequences as the widow loses her mind.

Grihadaha (Burning of the House) suspects the very existence of a society

that finds itself helpless while perverted and contaminated by the betrayal of its


dishonest members. Here Sarat shows how marital bond loosens for economic

inequality amid a man, his wife’s parental home and her extramarital lover. In it he

masterly depicts illicit love and its consummation through adultery by a lustful man

(Suresh) and his friend’s (Mahim) disloyal wife (Achala). Achala is probably the most

complex female character of Bangla fiction; her passion for Suresh varies from time

to time. The writer also portrays the conflict between emotional love and physical

impulse. However, with due apology to his memory, I convict him of corruption in this

context; the reason is: he does not give the reader any scene of intimate relationship

between Achala and her husband Mahim, which he does in case of her and her lover

Suresh. Does Sarat make this bias for commercial accomplishment?

Marital bond loosens due to economic difficulties in Birajbou too. This novel is

also a mirror of physical persecution on those days’ Bengali women. A village

housewife, who is devoted to her husband, endures long days’ poverty and

persecution with great patience, a virtue that those days’ Bengali Hindu women were

believed to must have. Excessive torture forces her leave her in-laws’ house for what

she later repents.

Sarat professes his firm belief of the insignificance of marital bond in Shesh

Prashna (The Last Question). Love, if is based on trust, loyalty and sincerity, does

not need social approval; it is this novel’s motto.

Many of his works focus on family values, for example – Shuvoda, Bamuner

Meye (A Brahmin’s Daughter), etc. Datta is a love story where the writer prefers the

choice of heart to formal socio-religious convention. And his Pather Dabi (The Claim

of the Road) is a political novel that was banned by the British government.

But he excelled in Sreekanta that is regarded as a great picaresque novel. It

is the story of a bohemian man (a writer), observing the complexities of the Bengali

Hindu middle class society and commenting about those in first person narrative. In

reality, Sarat himself appears as Sreekanta as this work is recognized by him as an

autobiographical novel. It is a gigantic work, a mirror of contemporary social

attitudes, and an implicit document of Sarat’s own life and outlook.

Sarat lived in an era while the common Bengalis were much more emotional

than they are today. He wrote his novels in empathetic and compassionate language

that makes the reader schmaltzy for the deprived and oppressed.

The socioeconomic transition that Tarashankar depicted in the later age, had

had a precursor in Sarat’s works. This argument has its strongest support in the

short story “Mahesh”. Poverty leads the weaver Gafur and his daughter Amina to

leave their pitiful life under a feudal lord and to go to work at a factory in the town.

The death of the cow Mahesh is a symbol of the end of feudalistic and agricultural

economy. Sarat tells us of this change in his other works too, but he doesn’t confine

it merely to economic issues, rather he portrays a shift of the then Bengali life in a

wider perspective that includes family values, social prejudices, love and sexual


He not only won the hearts of common readers but also many younger writers

were inspired by his writing techniques; particularly his influence on Tarashankar is

worth mentioning. He had also a deep, long-lasting influence on Bangla cinema.

Personally Sarat believed in conservative and rigid ideas about society and

politics. His personal letters reveal this fact.


But through his literary works, Sarat fought against all crude and inhuman

social oppressions. Such height in the language of protest against social evils is rare

in his contemporary Bengali writers’ works. We pay our homage to the ‘Oporajeyo

Kothashilpi’ (i.e. Invincible Fictionist) as a visionary of human well-being, as a great

rebel against all evils of a backward and decadent society.

Sukumar Ray (1887-1923)

Satirical poetry first came into being in the 19 th century thanks to

Ishwarchandra Gupta, Jagadbandhu Bhadra and Indranath Bandyopadhyay. The

first of them wrote rhymes of social satire, the second wrote a good mock-epic

(which is not published anymore), and the third of them had diverse satirical works.

Sukumar Ray’s literary activities covered the early 20 th century. He is mainly

leveled as a writer of children’s nonsense literature. Such writings are generally

intended to amuse the readers with absurdity. But Sukumar’s leveling as a writer of

nonsense does not make much sense as his works bear messages on social and

political issues. He principally ridiculed people’s behavioral craze and social and

political odds of the then British India. This fact was unrevealed for long, and now it

offers his literary works to be reinterpreted.

His major works are: Abol-Tabol (The Weird and the Absurd), a book of

rhymes; Hajabarala (Topsy-turvy), a fantasy novel; Heshoram Hushiyarer Diary (The

Diary of Heshoram Hushiyar), a parody; and Pagla Dashu (The Crazy Dashu), a

collection of short school stories.

Abol-Tabol deals with the grotesque and fantastic. But its rhymes have hidden

sociopolitical commentaries, which he attempted to make in a symbolic way in order

to subvert the colonial government’s censorship of seditious and subversive

literature. Thus, in the rhyme “Ramgarurer Chana” (“Ramgarur’s Kids”), he mocks

the rulers’ cynicism of creativity. In “Shabdakalpadrum” (“The Fancy Tree of

Sounds”), he ridicules romanticism in an era of political unrest. In “Baburam

Shapure” (“Baburam the Snake-charmer”), the poet mocks the cowardice of anti-

British activists. In “Hature” (“The Quack”), he satirizes the unskilled native Indian

civil servants. Some rhymes like “Hukomukho Hengla” (“The Hookah-looking Slim

Creature”), “Nera Beltolay Jay Kobar?” (“How Many Times Does Nera Go Under the

Wood-apple Tree?”) and “Kee Mushkil!” (“What a Mess!”) bear criticism of flawed

intellectualism. The whole book shows the absurdities of the colonial regime.

Sukumar’s Hajabarala narrates strange happenings in a boy’s dream. It is a

criticism of wrong exercise of power and flawed judicial system.

Heshoram Hushiyarer Diary is a very good parody that satirizes early science


Pagla Dashu is the first collection of school stories in our language. These

stories concern with a callous boy’s whimsical behavior, and they precede many

serial fictions written by later children’s writers.

Sukumar’s varied works place him beside the great Lewis Carroll. He wrote

the most artful rhymes in respect of diction and message, and they offer originality,


pleasure and entertainment. The illustrations made by the poet himself add colors to

his works.

Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976)

India’s political and economic life went through a great upheaval in the first

half of the 20 th century. The colonial rulers intensified their atrocities; the whole

country turned to a large crematorium. Its vivid sign was in the Amritsar massacre of

1919. Economic exploitation made the nation continuously poorer day by day. The

agitation against the injustice done by the British rulers gradually increased, and it

eventually led the nation to its independence. That disrupted era of struggle for

freedom found its best artistic exposure in Nazrul’s poems. He gave birth to a typical

style and diction, which conveys the tone of violent protest.

Nazrul is commonly known in Bengal as the ‘Rebel Poet’. Perhaps no other

poet of the world has expressed so artistically the firm voice of protest against tyrant

rulers. But his entire reputation does not lie merely in these traits. He was also a poet

of love, a classical musician and a skilled translator of Persian and Arabic poems.

Not only that; he also brought Middle Eastern and Hindustani artistic flavor into our


His immortality in Bangla literature is mainly for his first book of poems

Agnibina (The Harp of Fire). However, he has another quite similar work titled Bisher

Bashi (The Flute of Poison).

“Bidrohi” (“The Rebel”), which is widely recognized as his immortal

masterpiece, is a great example of pluralistic ideas. Themes and characters of

Indian, Greek and Middle Eastern mythologies are assimilated here. He professed

his vision of himself as a poet of love and rebellion in the following line of the poem –

“A curbed bamboo-flute is in my one hand, in the other a war-drum.”

(Translated by the author)

In “Raktambardharini Ma” (“Red-colored Mother”) and “Agamani” (“The

Coming Deity”), he presents goddess Durga symbolized as the opponent to demonlike

imperial power.

“Kheyaparer Tarani” (“The River Boatman”) is based on an Islamic legend.

Nazrul presents Prophet Mohammed and his followers as social reformers and

propagators of a new age. The following line of the poem makes it a masterpiece of

anti-communal literature –

“The helmsman sings a Shari song: La sharik Allah.”

(Translated by the author)

This poem influenced some later Muslim poets like Farrukh Ahmad, although in

entirely different and limited sense.

It also needs to be said that he was not simply a preacher of noncommunalism;

he inspired the Bengali Muslims to revaluate their cultural identity. He

remarkably made an imprint of Hindu myths and philosophies on the psyche of his

community. His anti-communal and pluralistic voice was a part of his rebellion

against the British who had a master plan to split the country before quitting.


Nazrul believed in a deity; but he sometimes expressed his antagonism to that

deity to express his revolutionary thoughts. Many of his poems expose the mind of a

Renaissance poet who is in a dilemma between theistic and its contradictory beliefs;

for example, in “Dhumketu” (“The Comet”) –

“And I eat the Creator chewing.”

(Translated by the author)

Or in “Bidrohi” –

“I’m the rebel Vrigu, and shall mark my footprint on God’s breast.”

(Translated by the author)

“Jhar” (“Storm”) is a poem professing the poet’s political (implicitly Marxist)


He wrote love songs which, although not equal to Tagore’s in poetic appeal,

are rather excellent in musical artistry.

Nazrul is one of the greatest poets of Shakta literature. The spirit of Goddess

Chandi (who has other shapes like Shakti, Parvati, Durga and Kali) is in fact

incarnated in his poems and songs. He composed songs of Kali that are no less

worthy than those of Ramprasad or Kamalakanta. In fact, he is a great poet of the

18 th -century tradition, the base of which was made by Bharatchandra and


Nazrul is called “Bengal’s Bulbul” for his adept adaptation of Persian poetic

style. He also skillfully translated some classics of Persian literature into Bangla –

especially Khayyam’s and Hafiz’s poems. His fictional writings too have similar

romantic colorings.

But he has limitations. He gives few unique philosophies concerning either life

or politics. He composed verses that are worthy in the vigor and vitality of youth but

even these, if we evaluate with the scale of artistic delicacy, do not exceed the merit

of mature rhymes. Moreover, he was not a secularist like Shelley or Neruda rather

acutely religious. But he did not take the words of the ‘holy’ books in strictly literal

sense, and was even occasionally critical about those. However, it cannot be denied

that some of his works written before a lifelong sickness gives a hint to his

unprecedented fanatic ideas.

Nazrul is a late poet of Renaissance in spite of his exposition in Tagore’s

romantic era. But without his contribution, the age of Tagore would not get its

accomplishment. Now he is glorified as a preacher of progressive outlook and noncommunal

humanism, as a dreamer of national and human freedom, and above all,

as a prophet of patriotic nationalism. And throughout his life, he was a freedomfighter

and eventually a martyr (in the sense of a long-term mysterious illness) in the

war against tyrant alien rulers. And all these traits perfectly vindicate his status as

our National Poet.

Parashuram (1880-1960)

Since the 19 th century, the literature of humor has been developed by

Michael, Dinabandhu, Kaliprashanna, Bankim, Indranath, Trailokyanath, Kedarnath,


Jajabar, Syed Mujtaba Ali and some others. But Parashuram elevated this genre to

its classic standard.

His works are unlike his predecessors, equally humoristic and witty. He broke

the tradition of superficialities and vulgarities of satire. His themes are also unique

and significant; he wrote on many important issues like fanaticism, fraud,

international conflict, imperialism, conjugal strife, etc. In order to focus these issues,

he took various subject-matters like social life, fairy tale, myth and even sciencefiction.

Gaddalika (The Blind Followers) is his most famous book of stories. The book

has five distinct stories, rather it should be regarded as a whole. It begins with

deception, fraud and ill motives of social people, then moves to evil politics, and

ends in a catastrophic scenario of the world for a disaster of familial bondage. Thus,

a break of trust that issues from corporate business, turns into a clash within

humankind through the shattering of all values. Especially people deprived of marital

love face awkward problems. The writer is in fact, concerned of all human


“Sree Sree Shiddheswari Limited” is the first story of the book that tells us of

fraud and disloyalties of some businessmen. They use religion as a tool of their evil


“Chikitsha Shankat” (“Crises of Treatment”) tells us of treachery and

harassment in the world of medical treatment, and also of an aged bachelor’s

deprivation in social life for his selfish friends. His main problem was loneliness that

is at last identified by a female doctor who marries him to give him a touch of love

and support.

“Mahabidya” (“Great Wisdom”) tell us of imperial conspiracy to rob the wealth

of poor nations.

“Lambakarna” (“The Big Eared Goat”) is a tale of conjugal feud, which is at

last buried by a goat. The materialist human world undermines a beastly creature,

and only wants to taste its flesh. But in contradiction to its inborn nature, the beast

solves a human problem.

“Vushandir Mathe” (“In the Cemetery of an Omniscient Crow”) is

Parashuram’s masterpiece. In the guise of a satirical ghost story, it tells us of the

severity of conjugal strife, and mocks the concept of afterlife.

Parashuram’s other books too have some good stories. “Gagan-Chati” (“The

Heavenly Slipper”) is a portrayal of human dark character. Facing the world’s

probable doom, people of all sections of the society confess their guilt, and thus

reveal their real nature.

“Gamanush Jatir Kotha” (“A Tale of the Gama-men”) tells us of a possible

human apocalypse for their greedy and barbaric nature in a scientifically advanced


Parashuram is regarded as one of the greatest humorists. He is the pioneer of

a standard form of satire and a cartoonist in the world of letters. He is also one of the

early Modernists.


Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay (1894-1950)

Man is born in a planet of nature. He finds his attachment with the natural

world. He gradually grows up, faces the battles of life, and fulfills his life’s dreams.

Sometimes he also finds himself in sorrows and sufferings. But nature’s influence on

his life and dream remains. Thus he advances in the long way of this big world.

Bibhutibhushan wrote on the impact of the world and nature on human life. He

also drew the pictures of poor village people’s life-struggle. His narrative style is

poetic, and he brings the imageries of flora and fauna in his works.

Pather Panchali (The Panchali of the Road) is his most publicized novel. In it,

he tells the story of a village boy’s journey on the way of this great world. Durga and

Apu, two siblings, grow up together with varied experiences. They now and then go

to play, eat concealed food, roam about and gather knowledge. Once Durga and her

father Harihar dies. Apu’s and his mother Sarbajaya’s impoverished life goes on, and

he aims at finding greater meaning of life, and knows both its trifling and serious


Aparajito (Invincible) is a sequel to this novel. In it, he tells the stories of Apu’s

later life. Apu gradually goes through his higher study, professional life amid endless

poverty and then through his married and parental life. He finds life’s meaning in

executing his duties toward his near ones and the world. He feels nature as his and

all others’ nurturer.

Many critics think Aranyak (Of the Wood) to be his magnum opus. In it, he

perfected the style of Sanjibchandra’s Palamou. He describes a tribal people’s lifestyle

in a forest. He depicts their life and supernatural experiences. He draws the

pictures of forests in both a romantic and a gothic style.

His other famous novels are Ichamati, Dristipradip (The Lamp of the Eyes),

Meghmollar (The Trumpet of Clouds), Adarsha Hindu Hotel (An Ideal Hindu Hotel),


He is a Wordsworthian writer. He upholds nature as the nurturer and shapegiver

of human life quite similarly as the English romantic does.

His works have extraordinary visual qualities, and they allow the reader to

imagine as if s/he were watching a motion picture. Satyajit Ray used this feature of

his works to make some of his world-famous movies.

Bibhutibhushan is a nature-lover artist. Reasonably he is placed beside his

two great contemporaries Manik and Tarashankar. His Pather Panchali is a novel in

its genuine sense.

Jasimuddin (1903-’76)

The writers of the 1920s and ‘30s were inspired by Marxism and proletariat

literature of the West. The countryside became a favorite theme. The three

Bandyopadhyays created their classics on rural background. Tagore made some

traces of pastoral poetry, and Jasimuddin aimed at creating something grand in the



Question will definitely arise whether a poet of modern era deserves honor

even when he worked with a medieval genre – reasonably outworn and backdated.

He developed the stream of ballad that is a simple narrative song orally composed

by a semi-literate rural poet. It is a genre of folk literature, and marked by its

simplicity of description and naïve emotional expressions. Ballad generally develops

with a tale of adventure, battle, love, death or the supernatural. Mangal-Kabyas or

Sree-Krishna-Shandarva do not have this feature as their poets had different

intensions. This genre was actually initiated in Maimanshingha Gitika, whose poets

were too naïve to perfect any genre of art. It was done by Jasimuddin several

centuries later.

Ballads are categorized into three criteria: 1. Traditional or folk ballad: a ballad

orally composed by an illiterate or semi-literate folk poet, 2. Literary ballad: written by

a modern poet, having thematic difference with a traditional one, and 3. Popular

ballad: much in common with a traditional ballad, but usually intended for literate

urban readers. Jasimuddin’s poem falls in the third category, and having a bucolic

tune, it gives nobility to the country life.

He is called the ‘pastoral poet’ for poetic depiction of the nature of countryside

and simple lifestyle of rustic people. Nakshi Kanthar Math (The Field of Embroidered

Quilt) is his best work, which is the portrayal of a love affair of two rural youngsters.

The story is: Rupai, a farmer boy, falls in love with his distant cousin called Saju, and

marries her. They pass their days amid hard toil and marital happiness. But one day

he fights some intruders who robbed their harvest, kills many of them, and faces

arrest warrant. He flees for some unknown land and for unfixed time, and Saju dies

of anguish for her beloved husband. But before her death, she knits a quilt on which

she embroiders different pictures of her past colorful life.

The characterization of Rupai is a remarkable achievement. He is both a

romantic lover and a heroic warrior. We hear the footsteps of civilized men and

primitive gorillas simultaneously. The diction and meter of the poem are simplified as

deserved by ballad tradition, but the consciousness is of an educated and

enlightened modern mind. The poet carefully composed it to step on two boats


The name ‘nakshi kantha’ (i.e. embroidered quilt) was coined by the poet

himself, and it has given birth to a legacy. This embroidered quilt has now high price

and huge popularity around the world.

Jasimuddin also wrote short pastoral poems noted for their lucidness and

simple tone. “Kabar” (“The Grave”) is a popular elegy among them.

He took a medieval genre, and sealed the mark of modern sensibilities on it.

He is a modern poet of medieval tradition. He didn’t distort the tone and mood of

traditional ballad, but just assembled the flesh of refined thoughts on its old skeleton.

There was no other way of perfecting this stream of verse.


Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay (1898-1971)

Tarashankar is one of the greatest Realist and Gandhian novelists. He was

born in a time while Bengal Renaissance reached its peak. Bankim had already died,

and Tagore was in the middle of the sky like the shining sun.

He saw two great wars as a result of which there were great upheavals in

social, political and economic spheres of the world. The old order changed to the

extent never thought of, and the new waves of change rolled through life in remote

corners of Bengal. At the same time, Mahatma’s Satyagraha speeded up the Indian

nationalist movement. His movement for the country’s freedom was accompanied

with his struggle against inhuman cruelties with the so-called untouchables.

Tarashankar saw the new polarization in the society that was vividly depicted

in his vast literary works. He could feel the mood of the age, and wrote rather

documented life on the edge – life and struggle of marginal people like ‘Santal’,

‘Dom’, ‘Kahar’, ‘Bagdi’, ‘Bauri’ i.e. so-called untouchables. He amazingly penetrated

the hearts and minds of such people, and drew their lively pictures.

Also Tarashankar was a member of the decaying land-lord aristocracy. He

has described the gradual fall of the feudal system, the continued exploitation of the

poorest of the poor, and the contemporary contradictions of the rural society. His

works remained mostly confined to the dry desolate western part of Bengal and the

characters were mostly drawn from the downtrodden and exploited people of that

region for which he is sometimes referred as Bengal’s Hardy.

He professed his political ideas through his novels. He included sociopolitical

problems of Bengal in his novels. War, famine, communal riots, economic inequality

– these are the subject-matters of his novels.

Especially Tarashankar depicted the subtle conflict between feudal

traditionalism and bourgeois modernity. Among his vast works, Jalsha-Ghar (The

Dance Room), Dhatri-Devata (Goddess Mother), Kalindi, Kavi (The Poet), Gana-

Devata (People’s God), Panchagram (Five Villages), Hashuli Banker Upakatha (The

Legend of Hashuli Bank), Arogyoniketan (The Hospital) are the principal ones.

Especially Hashuli Banker Upakatha can be regarded as a grand masterpiece

of Realist fiction. Here the writer, like a sociologist, tells us the tale of a local tribe’s

own lifestyle, primitive culture, faiths, internal conflict and tragic fall. The writer also

narrates the story of struggle of two opposing generations and the rule of eternal

victory of muscle-power.

Dhatri-Devata, Gana-Devata and Panchagram are called an epic trilogy in

total set in the region of Birbhum. Tarashankar tells us the story of Indian mass

uprising in this trilogy.

Jalsha-Ghar is a novella based on the historical fact of the defeat of feudal

aristocracy to newly emerged bourgeoisie.

Kalindi is a fiction of two political activists from an inhabitance of the Santals –

one of them is a Marxist and the other one, a follower of Gandhi. At the end, both of

them embrace imprisonment, and the writer seems to be more sympathetic to the

first one.


Kavi is a tale of a proletariat folk poet who represents the all times Bengali


As Tolstoy was Gandhi’s role model, he was a source of inspiration for

Tarashankar too. Especially like Tolstoy, he gave almost his each novel an epic


In some works, he made such issues as justice, ethics and humanity as his

themes. Saptapadi (Seven Circles) and Bicharak (The Judge) are such two works.

Tarashankar followed Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophies surrounding nonviolence.

He did not follow Marx like Manik. Bearing an Indian leader’s unique

philosophies, he reached the height of fictional art.

Bishnu Dey (1909-’82)

Bishnu Dey is one of the pioneering Modernist poets. He is also the foremost

person of Marxist poetry in Bangla; and in fact, one of the greatest Marxists of world


Bishnu mainly tells us of social discrimination, its impact on culture, common

people’s deprivation, crudity and curse of poverty, and its overall effect. He left his

light on the communal riots during the country’s partition, its people’s deprivation,

poverty and a humiliating lifestyle. He has a sage-like patience. His voice is not

shrouded in a helpless frustration; he is optimistic. And his outlook of self gripped by

the world’s disturbances is tinged with a god-like aloofness.

He is the most brilliant among the accomplished elevators of Tagore’s poetic

technique and diction. He is superior to Sudhindranath, Samar, Sukanta, Subhash

and many other contemporaries. Also many poets from later generations were

influenced by his diction, for example – Amitabha Gupta, Shankha Ghosh and Anik


Bishnu’s world-view is not confined to Marxism; he gives a philosophy of

man’s achieving a high order of existence. He envisions an equalitarian society that

will attain for itself a resplendent world of supreme consciousness. On the surface,

he announces his Marxist dream and in the deeper sphere of contemplation, he is

found playing on a universal music. Amidst endless bloodsheds in Calcutta’s unrest

streets, he is optimistic of future –

“Arriving at evening sward, I see in the selfless sky –

A calm, auspicious being keeps awake

Rinsing a wrong moment gathered by the flow of time

Certain, rather ascetic like a humble lotus

Speechless in the sense of work

A flawless and perfect being

As a star of the night in the sky of sane existence –

A bunch of free, white jasmines.”

(Translated by the author)

Sometimes an exotic sense is integrated into his dialectical materialism.

Some critics have evaluated Bishnu’s such essence of life and the world as ‘Marxist

mysticism’. In this respect, he has a higher position than Manik, the other great



His world-view is comparable to Plato’s. He wanted to reform this world in

both of its material and spiritual aspects. Thus we even can call him a Platonist poet.

Not only that; his words are well-chosen, and his diction is highly standard. Through

his high category of verse, he appears as a prophetic philosopher.

And love in his poems is not confined to two persons’ mutual matter; it

develops into a collective consciousness, a wider concept leading to the concern of

the civilization’s welfare.

Frequently in his poems, he used Tagore’s lines in ironical way; some of his

poems apparently seem to be Tagore’s parody, and distinguish him as the best

parodian. But the fact is that he did so in order to draw a contrast of his modern

consciousness with the thoughts of the Romantic King having the intention of

clarifying his new philosophies.

His Chorabali (Quicksand) was a milestone in the grand road of Bangla

modern poetry. His long poems titled Smriti Sotta Vabishyat (Memory, Entity and

Future) and Jol Dao (Give Me Water) have epic qualities like Eliot’s The Waste Land.

It is not an exaggeration that Bishnu’s poems are all times classics.

Manik Bandyopadhyay (1908-’56)

Manik is the greatest Marxist fiction-writer of Bangla literature. Besides by Karl

Marx, he was deeply influenced by Sigmund Freud.

Freud reigned over his mind in the early life; his three great novels titled Putul

Nacher Itikatha (The Story of Puppets), Padma Nadir Majhi (The Boatman of the

Padma) and Ahimsha (Non-violence) are products of this period.

Putul Nacher Itikatha tells us of Man’s helplessness at the hands of his

unconscious sexual desire. Man’s suppressed carnal impulse dominates his will, and

plays with him as if with a puppet. Two women (one, a village housewife and the

other, a town man’s wife) choose two unique destinies: the first one leaves her

extramarital lover when after long days’ wait her erotic feeling dies, and the second

one admits her disturbed marital life finding sexual urge irresistible. This novel is one

of the very greatest achievements of Freudian psychoanalytical literature.

But Padma Nadir Majhi is a more matured attempt. Here he mingles Marx and

Freud; the harsh life of the proletariat (particularly fishermen) along with their psyche

is revealed in this work. Here he also presents a picture of how the common people

get trapped in the net of colonization.

But the novel that surpasses all other Bangla Modernist novels in merit is

Ahimsa. A woman, who finds her husband less energetic than she expects, chooses

a hypocrite sage who once raped her; in fact a strong masochistic impulse forces the

woman to share her life with a man of sadistic nature. It is a surprisingly complex

work; he focuses on sadism and masochism of the male and the female respectively.

And he gives freedom of choice to those who surrender to such sexual urges.

Chotuskone (Four Corners) is a unique creation of Manik. A person

(apparently bohemian) has a fondness to play love game. A girl gets mentally sick

for him and at her father’s plea, that person agrees to live with her just for her


recovery. Here he depicts human life and the exposition of the mind like a game, and

rather the last sentence of the novel is: “Human life is not a mere game.”

Halud Nadi Sabuj Ban (The Yellow River and the Green Wood) is a Marxist

novel. Since then he leaned to Marxism, and remained with it throughout the last

days of his life. But saying bluntly, the crude artistic features of Marxism largely

limited his literary merit.

Moreover, Man’s spiritual essences are quite absent in his fictions; he sees

Man as a totally material entity. These are his limitations.

He died a premature death out of poverty and hunger; and the loss caused by

a writer’s untimely demise cannot be ever fulfilled. The literary style that a writer

nourishes through his lifetime can be taken to its perfection by no other than

her/himself. Manik’s early departure too has made this mission unfinished.

But what he has given us in this short literary career is really astonishing. His

novels are like documents; portrayal of characters and presentation of stories and

dialects are so realistic. Among the Modernist fiction-writers, his place is in the first


Jibanananda Das (1899-1954)

Jibanananda is called the ‘Nilkantha (i.e. Shiva) of endangered humanity’. He

drank the death-poison of man’s inhuman and heartless conscience. His exuberance

and high aim of poetical art surpasses all other poets of the High Modern era

including Yeats and Eliot.

Generally Jibanananda’s poems tell us of a concept of ideal love, its decay

and death in the modern world and a sigh for the ‘golden’ past while it existed.

Dhushar Pandulipi (The Gray Manuscript) is his first original attempt. In this

anthology his first encounter with the filthiness of life and the world is revealed. The

book starts with “Nirjan Sakshar” (“The Desolate Sign”) that is a handsome piece of

work by any poet newly entered into the post-war modern world. “Campe” (“At the

Camp”) is the most significant poem of this anthology. Here the poet says we all are

like wild dear murdered by this cruel world because of our desperation and tire of

love. He says –

“We go on living with the valor of love – its longings – dreams – nursing our wounds,

encountering hate – death;

Don’t we?”

(Translated by Fakrul Alam)

In “Pakhira” (“The Birds”) he wishes if we had the taste of simplicity of life and love

like the flying birds. “Mrityur Agey” (“Before Death”) is another memorable piece of

poem. It was praised even by the aged Tagore for its picturesque exposition of

natural image.

Banalata Sen is one of his most popular poetical works. It starts with the

entitling poem that is famed for its romantic exposition. Banalata Sen is an epitome

of ideal beloved, who is a shelter for the frustrated modern man; man’s thousand

years’ search for an idyllic heroine has ended with the discovery of her. Another

poem entitled “Nagna Nirjan Hat” (“The Bare and Lonely Hand”) is a sigh for the past


glory of fertility of civilization that has now been exchanged with sterility. “Hower Rat”

(“A Windy Night”) is a futuristic poem. And a love poem titled “Dujan” (“The Couple”)

coveys the theme of triviality of love, life and even of the world.

Mahaprithibi (The Big Earth) is his third endeavor. This anthology has the

poem titled “Aat Bachar Aager Ekdin” (“A Day Eight Years Ago”) where the poet

masterly glorifies the significance of sustenance of life in the context of an existential

quest. He tells us the story of a suicide –

“Not riches nor deeds; nor even a life of ease –

Some other beguiling disaster

Frolics in our blood;

It wearies us;

Wearies – wears us out;

But the morgue

Is free of weariness

And that is why

Flat out on the table in the morgue

Defeated, he will lie.”

(Translated by Fakrul Alam)

But despite all filthiness of life and the world, he himself wishes to survive and to

engage himself to temporal existence. “Adim Devatara” (“The Primitive Gods”) is

another poem that tells us the worthlessness and repetitiousness of prevailing

subject-matters of art like beauty and love.

Sathti Tarar Timir (The Darkness of Seven Stars) is Jibanananda’s most

complex poetical work. In “Akashleena” (“The Sky-Suffused One”), the very first

poem of the collection, he sees how love has turned to a matter of mere

consummation in the modern world. But here the deceived narrator’s love for the

beloved is also merged with his love for the whole planet. Another poem titled

“Godhulisandhir Nritya” (“The Dance of Twilight”) shows the transition period of warinflicted


Bela Abela Kalbela (Time: Good, Bad and Awesome) is his last unique

collection of poems in lifetime, which is also tinged with philosophical thoughts.

The great poet’s masterpiece is but Rupashi Bangla (The Beautiful Bengal)

that was published posthumously. Here he longs for a gorgeous Bengal that has in

course of time, faded and fallen in an awesome crisis due to turmoil and dissection.

The sonnets of this book are the best in the language.

Some of his good poems were published in an anthology titled Shrestha

Kabita (Best Poems). Especially memorable is “1946-47” where Jibanananda

expresses his deep anguish at the communal riots between Hindus and Muslims and

the partition of our motherland. Here he utters some words of hope –

“And yet man continues to move on even now,

From blinding despair to pleasing darkness,

From total darkness to festivities marking the founding of new cities and villages,

Surmounting the sources of errors and sins in his soul,

Staying within the orbit of consciousness seemingly on his own merit.”

(Translated by Fakrul Alam)


Jibanananda’s poems possess an innate consciousness about women, which

had a precursor in Sarat’s novels. His poems tell us of the catastrophe of love in the

modern world.

If Tagore is called a modern Romanticist, Jibanananda must be called a

romantic Modernist.

His poems bear the mark of townsmen’s nostalgia for country-life and nature

from what they’ve been alienated.

There is a sham accusation against him; it is that he just copied many of his

poems from English and other Western literatures which, I sternly say, is an insulting

infamy. I have matched his poems with those of the western poets who are called his

‘preceptors’, and have found that he just assimilated those. Now if assimilation is a

sin in the world of art, then all literary artists including Shakespeare must face

posthumous penalty.

In merit, Jibanananda stands next to Tagore in modern Bangla poetry. His

accidental death did not let him achieve the supremacy in poetry. A critic (Abdul

Mannan Syed) called him ‘the perfect poet’; this honoring of Jibanananda is not

entirely imperfect.

Niharranjan Roy (1905-’81)

Historical writing is a genre of literature, and several historians have been

awarded the Nobel Prize. And why not, when historical novel is so celebrated by the

critics and scholars? So, Niharranjan Roy will definitely be included in the hall of

fame of Bengali writers for his great historical works.

His Bangalir Itihas: Adi Parba (The History of the Bengali People: the Ancient

Period) primarily narrates the history of a mass, and not of its rulers. It upholds a

time, whose traces and evidences have almost been eradicated, and just some

chronologies and epitomes live on. And the author has rediscovered the soul of the

era with careful mastery, and stunning ingenuity. The very title of the book reveals its

biasness on the common people’s history rather than of the monarchs.

He opinionates that the Bengali race had a tribal social structure in the pre-

Muslim era. It championed the worship of Devi Shakti as its religious practice. They

had wild carnal passion, and made its imprint on their literature (which was mainly in

Sanskrit and Prakrit). As a result, they were morally and spiritually weak, and fell flat

confronting foreigners’ invasion. This history was repeated even in its later phase till

the modern era.

The Bengali way of life was restricted and regulated by clans. This feature

directed to the segregation of the society into different working classes, which

confined the nation’s economic life to familial cycles. Political consciousness did not

develop reasonably.

The book has literary qualities; the historian frequently used similes and

metaphors to adorn it with poetic colorings. It is a literary masterpiece with historical

and philosophical significance for a nation. And it is a classic interpretation of the

history, art and culture of pre-Islamic Bengal.


If Niharranjan wrote it in English, he would gain much more international

acclaim than he has today. He showed his love for mother-tongue out of patriotic


Tolstoy’s War and Peace is often regarded as a history book. In this land,

historical novelists like Bankim and Sunil have achieved legendary status. In this

context, it should be said that historical writings are also literary works of high order.

Niharranjan was a bilingual writer, and also wrote on literature and art. He is a

polymath with writings of a wide range of topics. But Bangalir Itihas kindles the torch

of our dark antique history, and glorifies not only the author but also the nation and

its storehouse of intellectual jewelry.

Farrukh Ahmad (1918-’74)

Puthi poetry developed in medieval Bengal and some other regions of India.

The word ‘Puthi’ denotes a book, but as a genre puthi poetry means versified fairy

tales. It is not identical with epic poetry, because it just tells a primal tale with rhyme

and meter, ignoring the epic feature of a grand narrative. Most of the puthi poets

were Muslims, and they took middle-eastern tales as their themes. The sources of

most stories are Persian and Arabic literature. However, it did not find its perfection

in the Middle Ages, for which it had to wait till the Modern Era.

It is my opinion that Farrukh Ahmad mastered this Puthi literature. His Hatem

Taee is not a modern version of Puthi, but actually a delayed sublime form of this

typical medieval genre. In it, he tells the story of a legendary hero, who succeeds in

his mission remaining a true follower of faith and morality.

The theocratic nation Pakistan gave birth to a renovated feudal society, which

reflected its politics and culture. Farrukh was a byproduct of that society, and

reasonably a medieval genre found its best exposure in his works. His acclamation

as “the poet of Islamic renaissance’’ can be altered into “a Pakistani nationalist

verse-maker”. His book Azad Koro Pakistan (Liberate Pakistan) gives the strongest

evidence to this point.

The central themes of Farrukh’s poems are moral ethics ratified by Islam.

They include fidelity, religiosity, chastity, allegiance to a just ruler, and apathy to

alcoholism, gambling, womanizing and greed. His poems tell us of the empty soul,

and stress the importance of filling it with divine light. Like Milton, Farrukh

emphasized puritan religious ideologies. He focused on the derailment of

contemporary Muslim society apparently set on an imaginary past, and thereby can

be called a modern Islamic poet.

He cannot be called a bigot because he stood for humanity in his poems. His

depiction of natural landscape has romantic colorings, and he could be a real

Romantic if he shook off the medieval features off his writings. So, he is a more

Medievalist than a Romanticist.

He is a late poet of the 17 th -century tradition. His diction is full of Arabic,

Persian and Urdu words, and often they resemble modern Hindi songs. He did it to

bring middle-eastern essence in his works. As a poetic artist, he stands apart.


Satinath Bhaduri (1906-’65)

Gandhian literature, initiated by Tagore himself, found its culmination in

Tarashankar’s and Satinath’s writings, and was really given its perfection by the third

one. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest political novelists.

Satinath’s birth and death both happened in Bihar province that belongs to the

Hindi-speaking region. He also represents Hindi literature in our language, as he

brought Hindi tone in his Bangla writings.

His first published novel Jagari (Night-Waking Prisoners) is a one night’s tale.

There are mainly four characters in the novel: a political prisoner who is waiting to be

executed at dawn, his imprisoned parents, and his brother waiting outside the jail for

taking the corpse. These four persons contemplate on the next day’s hanging of the

young man. Their thoughts are revealed in the four chapters of the novel with

masterly skill of the writer. They have an overall observation on the countrymen’s

political life in their stream of thoughts.

His second novel Chitragupter File (Chitragupta’s File) is the tale of a millowner

and the striking laborers.

Dhorai-Charit-Manash (A Biography of Dhorai) is recognized as his magnum

opus. The title is adapted from Tulsidas’s Hindi epic Ram-Charit-Manash. The

background of the story is a district of Bihar province. It narrates how an ordinary

poor boy leads his people to achieve their political rights and freedom. That boy’s

lifestory is compared to the mythic hero Rama’s.

It has a simple yet poetic beauty. The whole novel is like a piece of epic

poem. Here the author narrates a poor community’s lifestyle, their religious and

social prejudices, and their fight for emancipation. An apparently charmless picture

of poverty has got a pretty artistic exposure. Mythic Rama finds his new incarnation

in Dhorai. The honor and exalted image that Tulsidas drew for Rama in his epic, is

repeated here for Dhorai. Dhorai succeeds in realizing the Indian dream of founding

Ramrajya. The writer brings an analogy of the Gandhian movement with the battle of

Rama, mainly because Bihar is a region of Hindi speaking people, where Rama is

the principal deity. The writer also exalts the Mahatma, and it is a really great

example of Gandhian fiction.

His short story Gono-Nayak (People’s Hero) tells us of moral downfall of the

common Indian people after the partition of 1947. When the people of both sides of

the divided country are about to migrate using a bridge, the selfish businessmen

begin their mission of provoking and cheating them. People are now evaluated with

money signifying as if they were industrial products.

His short stories are parodied criticism of reckless feminism, judicial politics

and the politics of divide and rule. These short stories are in fact the parodies of

parodies. The civil and political societies and their critiques are equally offended with

a sense of humor.

Satinath’s other well-known works are Satyi Bhraman Kahini (The True

Travelogue), Achin Ragini (The Strange Melody), Aparichita (The Unknown Woman),

Alok Dristi (The Heavenly Vision), etc.


While the Marxist Manik depicted humans to be simply of flesh, bone and

blood, the two Gandhian writers Tarashankar and Satinath applied spiritual essences

on their characters. As a result, their works have truly artistic flavor and a humanistic

zest. They are two unique names in fictional literature.

Sukanta Vattacharya (1926-’47)

Sukanta is the most short-lived among the esteemed poets, is often regarded

as a great Marxist poet, and usually his age is taken into consideration in evaluating

literary merit. But I admit him to the hall of fame not simply as a great composer of

verse but as the innovator of a subgenre.

Slogan is a chanting or inscription used for political campaign by a party or in

advertising by a business organization. It is a weapon in democratic movement, and

has always been used in history by political activists of root level. It is used either as

a processional chanting or as a wall-inscription. In the university campuses of our

country, slogans inscribed on the walls have the mark of enlightenment and

modernity, and obviously of political consciousness. The best inscriptions are

generally made by the left-wing student forums. They claim to be held as tiny literary


Sukanta actually composed rhymed slogans that were used as wallinscriptions

and posters in his time. He elevated slogan into a literary subgenre, and

is the pioneer of this subgenre. His works are the culmination of a worldwide


His Charpatra (Release-Letter), Ghum Nei (No Sleep) and Purbavash (The

Forecast) hold such poems that have Marxist views with their witty, wordy and

dreamy diction. Actually they are artful slogans. The following lines of Sukanta have

gained immortality in Bengali mind –

“The earth’s prosaic in the hungry world:

The full moon seems a half-burnt roti.”

(Translated by the author)

He expressed his revolutionary spirit in lines as follow –

“Not inert, nor dead, nor a matter in the dark,

I’m animate, I’m a sprouted seed;”

(Translated by the author)

And in the following line, he expressed his concern for the contemporary world –

“The hungry ghosts laugh with acute mockery,”

(Translated by the author)

The infamous politician Winston Churchill got the Nobel Prize for Literature

thanks to his “speeches having literary qualities”. Then, Sukanta too deserves honor

for elevating political slogan into an art-form. The lad poet’s verse influenced many

later poets including Shubhash Mukhopadhyay, Arun Mitra, Abdul Gaffar

Chowdhury, Shamsur Rahman and Rudra Muhammad Shahidullah. His poems

inspired socialist movements in West Bengal, and the province eventually had a leftwing

government. These facts give testimony to his lasting influence.


Showkat Osman (1917-’98)

The narrative style that Saratchandra had introduced in fiction, was advanced

by Tarashankar and Manik. Later it found a unique shape in the works from East

Bengal. Showkat Osman used the style of Sarat in portraying Bengali Muslim life of

the Eastern part of the province. His literary achievement (especially the novel

Janani) could be envied by Sarat himself. He took this typical style of fiction to a

different height.

Showkat’s Janani (Mother) is a great achievement not only of Bangla

literature but also of world fiction. Before him, Maxim Gorki, D.H. Lawrence, Manik

Bandyopadhay and Mahasweta Devi wrote on the similar theme. But in Showkat’s

novel, ‘mother’ has been unprecedentedly glorified. The mother portrayed by

Showkat achieves an eternal appeal.

A poor mother named Daria Bibi’s lifelong struggle for her children is

portrayed in this novel. After her first husband’s death, Daria marries for the second

time thinking of her son’s future. However, she is forced to leave the son with her inlaws.

Her second husband gives her three more children. The husband, who feels

disturbed by cruel poverty, now and then leaves his family and goes out of the village

in search of livelihood. She accepts all his conducts and for her children, she

sometimes goes against him.

Meanwhile, Daria’s distant brother-in-law, who is a lustful man, begins to

come to their house now and then. He helps them financially, and thus wins their

heart. Daria finds him to have ill motive, but allows him thinking of her economic

helplessness. Her second husband too dies. Thereafter that shrewd person gratifies

her lust for Daria. But thinking of her sons’ survival, she accepts her victimization by

him. But more pathetically, the helpless widow becomes pregnant. She does not try

to abort the child rather she gives its birth with motherly affection. Therefore thinking

of her and her children’s humiliation in the society, she decides to take her own life.

Giving the child a farewell kiss, Daria commits suicide. Her death is accompanied by

her outpouring love and heartbreaking sorrows for the children. Thus a selfless

mother’s life ends in a tragic way. Besides narrating this tale, the writer portrays

natural landscape; but nature is always indifferent to man’s weal and woe. Through

this grand novel, Showkat draws a picture of eternal Bengali mother. The mother is

glorified, and the novel gets its place in world literature with great honor.

Kritadasher Hashi (The Laugher of a Slave) is his second most acclaimed

novel. It was intended to oppose the martial rule of the then Pakistan. The Bengalis

did not have peace while living under the autocratic rule by the Pakistani army. They

did not have any pleasure in life. The writer tells us of his anguish against that in a

symbolic way. The story is: one night Caliph Harun-ur-Rashid of Baghdad hears a

Tatar slave laughing out of joy when making love to his wife. The monarch gets

pleased, makes the slave an authoritarian rich man, but makes the slave’s wife his

own queen. Thus he deprives the slave of his happiness forever. He orders the slave

to laugh, the slave doesn’t and then inhuman torture is befallen on him. But the slave

does not abide by the cruel ruler’s command till death.


Beneath the surface of this story, Showkat tells us of life’s everlasting

aspiration for survival and happiness. He prefers temporal life to an unearthly one,

and he emphasizes man’s enjoyment of life. Only thinking of death and afterlife

cannot be man’s aim. A life without freedom and pleasure is not a life at all; it is an

eternal truth that was denied by our foreign rulers.

His other remarkable novels are Boni Adam (The Mankind), Raja Upakhyan

(The Tale of a King), Nekre Aranya (Wolves’ Forest) and Patanga Pinjar (Insects’


Showkat’s novels emphasize humanity and human consciousness of life and

the world. His Daria Bibi is a great woman despite her endless poverty and

humiliation. His Tatar slave is an adamant rebel against all tyranny and persecution.

Showkat’s artistic exposition and glorification of human character takes him to the

hall of great humanists. He is a great artist whose works tell of sublime human

nature to all-time readers.

Syed Waliullah (1922-’71)

A sense of morbidity and serene sadness is traced in the art and literature of

East Bengal covering the time-span from the 1940s to 80s. It is found in poems,

songs, paintings, novels and what not? This melancholic tone is set on country life

with natural landscape. It is tinged with a sense of helplessness derived from the cry

of pitiless poverty and uncertainty. Zainul Abedin’s paintings and Waliullah’s novels

are the best representatives of this artistic type.

Waliullah is specially known as an existentialist writer. However, this

philosophy has few expositions in his first novel Lalshalu (Red Cloth). It rather

conveys his reaction to fanaticism and fundamentalism. Majid, a shrewd person from

a conservative Muslim family, comes to a village and announces an earth-pile

covered by red cloth to be the shrine of a sacred pir (i.e. saint). He achieves some

people’s obedience, and some others confront him (including his second wife

Jamila), and he seems to overcome all difficulties through his shrewd tactics. It is the

story of a religion-monger’s power-hunger, cruelty, ambition for riches and

unrestricted lust. The novel is also celebrated for its poetic language.

His second novel Chander Amabashya (The Darkness of the Moon) is a good

example of existentialist fiction. It tells us the story of a school-teacher who comes

close to a murder and does have a dilemma whether he will inform the police or keep

it a secret, because he cannot be sure whether it was a murder and if was so, then

who committed it. At last he becomes confirm of the crime and finds it his own

responsibility to expose it. And doing so, he himself is charged with murder. The

world, which is dominated by exploiters and persecutors, always backs its powerful

patrons. Even the school-teacher’s local guardians, who simulate as `pious’ persons,

are engaged in this hypocritical act. As a result, it is a story of a person’s inner

dilemma, his prolonged decision to carry out his own duty toward the society and

naked power politics of village people.

His third novel Kando Nodi Kando (Cry River Cry) can be acclaimed a

masterpiece of existentialism. A girl commits suicide for her cousin whom she loved.


The man apparently has no sympathy for her, but inwardly he suffers from confusion

and repentance. At last that man too kills himself. A more surprising incident is that

the people of the small town, where such incidents take place, hear the nearby river

cry. That ghostly happening symbolizes the woe of nature for moral decadence and

behavioral flaws of people of the town. Thus personal fall signifies the ethical

disaster of all the people living there. Man’s social role and its conflict with his inner

world are drawn in the novel with mastery. Besides, this novel is a good example of

the ‘stream of consciousness’ technique; it bears a tinge of ‘magic realism’ too. And

Waliullah’s poetic language too reaches a new height here.

Waliullah began to write in English during his exile in Europe, which we regard

as an unwise decision; his English writings have little contribution to either western

or oriental literature. However, Ugly Asians and How Does One Cook Beans are his

two remarkable English novels; they are satires of the Western civilization.

Waliullah’s novels have lucid vision. The dark inner psyche of man is

presented in his works with secular philosophies. His novels aim at some delicate

consciousness of humanity. He had a progressive mind, and he never compromised

on it. His novels are a significant addition to 200 years’ fictional art. His language is

poetic; and in this respect, he sometimes seems to be the predecessor of Mahmudul

Haq. He would certainly give much more to literature if he lived longer, as he is a

great artist of rare qualities that make him immortal in the world of letters.

Narendranath Mitra (1916-’75)

From the 1930s to 70s, some Bengali writers developed a fictional stream that

dealt with the urban middle class life. With a prosaic language and realist outlook,

the genre gratified the thirst of well-educated but casual readers. They focused on

common people’s socioeconomic complexities. Premendra Mitra, Gajendrakumar

Mitra, Narendranath Mitra, Shankar, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay and Samaresh

Mazumder were among the chief mapmakers of the fictional trend.

Narendranath is famous for his short stories and novels that concentrated on

Bengali urban and semi-urban communities. His writings have such subject-matters

as social divide, the middle class values, unemployment, insolvency, complexities in

love, and behavioral peculiarities of different people. He achieved a remarkable

success for the above mentioned criterion of fiction, and particularly for the genre of

short story.

His novels, e.g. Dippunja (The Islands), Tin Din Tin Ratri (Three Days and

Three Nights) and Surjasakkhi (The Solar Witness), reflect on the middle-class

citizens’ way of life – their weal and woe, entitlement and frustration. These novels

inspired a succeeding generation of writers.

“Bikolpo” (“The Alternative”) is one of his most praised stories. A father, who

believes in caste divide, kills an outcast boy who used to tuition his son and had a

love relationship with his daughter. He then faces his daughter’s repulsive behavior

and failing to marry her off, searches a new tutor boy.

“Ekti Nagorik Premer Upakhyan” (“The Tale of an Urban Love”) narrates the

tragic story of a love affair. A loving couple fights their paternal houses to marry them


off. They at first react, later admit, and then the couple themselves feel exhausted

and disinterested to marry each other, and say goodbye.

In “Abataranika” (“The Prelude”), Narendranath tells us of a lady who fights

her in-laws to serve an office, and once resigns defying their opposition.

The story “Headmaster” presents an ideal teacher, who teaches all he

becomes familiar with, giving them moral and cognitive instructions.

“Dicharini” (“The Dwell-lover”) is the story of a home servant provoking a

quarrel between two families in order to maintain her job in both houses,

“Dipanwita” (“The Enlightened Girl”) upholds a girl adoring a fraud electrician,

who pretends to be an established person. All come to know of his real identity when

the curtain falls.

“Avinetri” (“The Actress”) is the story of a failed actress who successfully

simulates in practical life facing financial trouble.

And “Bilambita Loy” (“Delayed Melody”) is the tale of a divorced couple, who

tie their marriage bond again after the husband has lived for some years with his


Narendranath made the best example of a fictional trend, and reached the

peak of short story. He made a good contribution to realist urban fiction.

Amiyabhushan Mazumder (1918-2000)

Amiyabhushan is called the “writers’ writer”. His works are so contemplative,

intellectual and complicated that even another writer of worth finds her/himself one of

general readers before his writings. His works are varied in theme and taste.

Most of his sentences are ambiguous. The reader stumbles at each sentence.

S/he is forced to brainstorm a lot. In this way, he lets a reader, no matter how deep

her/his schemata is, to be intellectual.

Many of his fictions center around the marginalized races and classes. He

tells us of common, subaltern people set on historical past. Thus he has created a

type of historical novel having social and class consciousness. But he speaks for no

particular class, nor does he defend any essentialism. He keeps himself at a neutral

or at least moderate position.

Amiyabhushan’s works concern for economic crises of common people at

national critical moments. He sometimes focuses on famine or war or political

repression. Garh Sreekhanda (based on the wartime famine of the 1940s) or

Rajnagar may be its good example. He attempts at revising and renovating our

vision of history and concept of a nation.

His language is highly powerful, which exemplifies modern analytical prose.

Sometimes he expresses his ideas using a new type of metaphors.

He forsook naïve fictionalizing, and aimed at drowning in the water of a

thinking tank. His novels showed the way of advancing philosophical fiction. Those

works deserve thoughtful and intellectual readers. That’s why his writings had a

limited circulation in his lifetime – confined within less sold little magazines. However,

sometimes excess of intellectualism fails those writings to become sensational.


The “writers’ writer” is an exemplar of unconventional fictional writing. He

inspired a generation of writers to write in a different, individualistic method. Then

Bangla literature diverted from conventionalism, and earned maturity and selfidentity.

This role in our literature has made him distinctive and influential.

Sunil Gangopadhyay (1934-2012)

Sunil is the most successful ambassador of the American Beat Generation in

Bangla novel and poetry. He can also be called the true shape-maker of the

Hungryalist movement of the 1960s.

Sunil’s poems are a unique play-world of sexy, smart and lucid words with a

delicate sense of morbidity. Often his poems are Dadaistic and sometimes those

lack logic or reason. His love poems are tinged with physical sensations. Pun and

humor are his likings.

He is a champion of historical novel. Another strong contender for this honor

is obviously Bankim, but he, to our judgment, focused on portraying human instincts

more perfectly than depicting the past. On the other hand, Sunil presented

picturesque document of the dark gloom of our past in his fictions.

His first novel – Atmoprakash (Self-Revelation) is the tale of a bohemian

young man.

His most acclaimed novel is Shei Shamay (Those Days); in this novel, he

drew an accurate socioeconomic picture of the 19 th -century Bengal, which was in

transition from a feudalistic to a bourgeois spirit through Renaissance. He brought

here a large number of historical figures – Vidyasagar, Devendranath, Michael,

Bankim, Dinabandhu, Kaliprasannna Simha (although he is fabricated), etc. He

astonishingly presented us the exact dialect of those days’ Bengali people centering

Calcutta. And his empathy for the poor and therefore his Marxist outlook too are

revealed in this work.

Purba-Paschim (The East and the West) is set in another era of history. The

politically segregated India of the 20 th century is drawn here. The dark and

impenetrable psyche behind the catastrophic partition of India (in 1947 and ’71) is

attempted to uphold. The novel begins with personal duality, and ends with universal

dilemma. He portrays man’s mental, carnal and intellectual darkness and his

endeavor for achieving freedom from those. And his philosophy is that an East and a

West exist not only in the planet but also in our mind.

Prothom Alo (The First Light) is a sequel to Shei Shamay. Here too, a large

number of historical characters are presented. They include Ramakrishna,

Girishchandra, Vivekananda and even Tagore. In this novel, Sunil also tells the story

of a journey of the Bengali nation in the grand road of the world civilization.

Sunil has written novels on contemporary issues too, which however, do not

reach the perfection of the above three. He also wrote novellas like Rakta (Bloodline),

Radha-Krishna and Shandhar Meghmala (The Evening Clouds).

However, to my own judgment, Sunil’s historical novels surpass any other

writers’ attempts. His delineation of the 19 th -century society has more credibility than

Bimal Mitra’s novels. His oversize and thoroughly contemplative novels bearing


historicity, in a simple word, stun us in artistry. Moreover, the documentary and

credible pictures of society in his novels rank him among the great writers of the

world; he will certainly have a long lasting fame in the genre of historical novel.

Al Mahmud (1936-2019)

Al Mahmud is probably the most gothic among the Modernist poets. However,

he turned upside down his writing style and ideologies since the 1980s, and went

against the principles of art and humanity. So my observation covers his early works

published in the phase from 1963 to ’80.

In this time-span, he brought six books of poems to light – Lok-Lokantar (In

This ’N Another World), Kaler Kalash (The Jar of the Time), Sonali Kabin (The

Golden Kabin), Mayabi Parda Dule Utho (Shake You Magical Screen),

Adristobadider Rannabanna (Cookeries of the Fatalists) and Pakhir Kache Phuler

Kache (To the Birds and the Flowers).

Mahmud elevated the style of folk poetry assimilating modernist sensibilities

with it. His poems have colloquial words and rural settings. And they tell us of a

primitive and animalistic planet, which lasts till this modern era. And the poet tells us

of animal-like passions of humans. He draws such passions through the images of

ox, snake, dead human bone, skull, totem, antique pitcher, huntsman, garland of wild

flowers, Kafan (i.e. a white cloth used to cover a dead body), black cat, etc.

Sometimes in this primitive world, he finds the intrusion and aggression of

machine, for example – in “Dredger Baleswar” (“Dredger the Lord of Sands”) of Lok-

Lokantar. In this poem, his final comment on machine is –

“The monster’s clayed belly swallows with fierce anger,

The dredger on the Titas seems a floating iron-sonnet.”

(Translated by the author)

Sonali Kabin is his most famous work. The entitling poem of the book bears

the setting of a bridal night. Here the groom narrates a history of the Bengali people

and their notion of sex to seduce his bride. And in Kaler Kalash, the entitling poem

tells us of a primitive, rather eternal conflict going on in this barbaric world.

In the Modernist era of art, Mahmud drew pictures of a crude and natural

world, which belongs to the modern humans who have brought back lost


His works uphold a primitive sensation of animalistic carnal behavior. And in

lieu of love, he takes lust to depict the sexual life of an ancient race. “Raktim

Prastab” (“Bloody Proposal”) of Lok-Lokantar is the finest example of this primitive


Yet his poems are more gothic than romantic; and they create a sense of

bizarre and fantasy in the reader’s mind.

And his poems are entirely secular; they give us the picture of an entirely

earthly life. They are also communal – in the sense that they convey the pictures of

the culture and life-style of a thousand years old community.


Mahmud bore the influence of contemporary Hungry Generation for his poetic

principle. But he elevated their writing standard with a unique and charming diction,

and made their wooden brush of coloring sexual passions into a golden one.

His fundamentalist verses do not have the spontaneity that his earlier secular

poems have. So it can be said the poems of his later life do not possess his heart’s


Did he want to fill the void created by the sense of primitiveness and so turned

to religiosity? May be, but that can’t be an acceptable reason for embracing

fundamentalism in any sense, because this act has thrown the poet himself into a

dark and primitive world. Such folly has caused the spiritual death of a highly

promising poet, actually bringing about a shameful tragedy in the history of art and


Samaresh Mazumder (b. 1944)

Samaresh is famous for the epic Animesh quartet and the semi-feminist novel

Shatkahan (The Long Tale).

Man has political aim. He struggles to change the world, involves in bloodshedding

revolt, and fights his class rivals. On the way, he gets entangled in

passionate relationship, gives birth to children. His political dream shatters; he finds

his life-struggle a futile attempt. He then leaves the liability of fulfilling his failed

dream to his issue. Thus the revolution for emancipation goes on.

The Nakshal movement of the 1970s created political fervor in the eastern

part of India. Many youths, students being their lion’s part, devoted themselves to

this movement. Many lost their life, and many others became crippled. The

movement itself failed, but it contributed to the victory of the legitimate Communist

Party in the general election of West Bengal. Samaresh narrates these events in

Kalbela (The Inauspicious Time), the second book of Animesh series.

Animesh, a postgraduate, gets involved in left-wing student politics and later

in Nakshal movement, and loses his ability to walk, his solvent future, and his

probable marital life. He witnesses his own beloved to be humiliated by the brutal

police. Then at last he rests his dream in his new-born issue.

It is the greatest novel on the historic Nakshal movement. Revolution is

accompanied with love: metaphorically ‘guns and roses’. It’s specially recognized in

the visual art of India, particularly movies. Samaresh makes a literary representative

of this trend of romance in his work.

Madhabilata’s love and child-bearing is another revolution, because she

denies all social taboos on her way.

His Shatkahan narrates the story of a girl from ordinary background to be

socially established through her lifelong struggle. His description is realistic and

credible, making it a grand novel of the modern era.

A girl finds herself repressed by all entities of the surrounding society, and

cherishes a dream to ignore all these. She fights all injustice and obstacles, faces

embarrassment, and at last smiles on her victory against the harsh world. Samaresh

tells us the girl’s tale with mastery.


Samaresh has a powerful hand for writing extensive stories. He is not only a

good technician, but also his knowledge of the world has led him to create some

modern classics. No doubt, his name will be written in our literary history with golden


Satyajit Ray (1921-’92)

Bangla short story came into being with Tagore’s hands. Ray wrote a number

of stories that ignore its tradition. They bear the features of thriller stories, crime

fictions, mysteries, spy or detective novels, and ghost or horror stories. Rather, his

stories are genuine literary works unlike popular fictions. Some of his stories have

philosophies, e.g. they present a connection between two persons of similar

appearance; some of these couples fight, and some help each other. His stories

focus on unfamiliar issues like art, psychophysical problems (e.g. color-blindness,

dementia and eccentric behavior), weird friendship, supernatural narratives, etc.

His first remarkable story is “Bipin Chowdhury’r Smritivram” (“Bipin

Chowdhury’s Dementia”), the story of a confused person, who is trapped by

deceivers, and can’t be sure whether he went somewhere years ago. From this

dilemma and agony, he begins to suffer from real dementia.

“Ratanbabu Ar Shei Lokta” (“Mr Ratan and That Man”) is a story where the

central character comes in contact of a man having similar appearance, habits and

life-history. He gets envious to that person, kills him, and then gets killed by his


“Brown Shaheber Bari” (“The House of Mr Brown”) is the story of a lonely and

eccentric person who found his best friend in the ghost of a black cat, an object of

peril and superstition.

In the story “Bhakta” (“The Admirer”), a reader of a famous writer feigns to be

the writer himself in order to face the pride and annoyance of publicity. Because of

similar facial appearance, these two persons come close to each other. The writer

wants the identical man to own his disliked publicity, which the man cherishes. Each

of them has the gratification of finding self in the other.

“Load Shedding” is the story of a man who suspects the intrusion of a thief

into a house where electricity has gone off, but at last flees from there stealing

something himself. He suffers from a conflict within himself; the conflict is between

his two entities – the first one is of a thief-catcher, and the second one is of a thief.

“Sahadevbabur Portrait” (“The Portrait of Mr Sahadev”) is another story of

conflict with the self, where the protagonist, a middle-class man, envies his own

portrait drawn in the guise of a rich landlord.

“Bhuto” (“The Little Ghost”) is the story of a doll. It is identical with a wizard,

but it serves a younger magician to whom the older one loses in profession. It later

appears to be his ghost, and symbolizes his surrender to the junior one.

“Gagan Chowdhury’r Studio” (“Gagan Chowdhury’s Studio”) is the story of a

man who lives in isolation till his death.


“Lakhpati” (“The Millionaire”) is a rich man’s story who once possessed a

generous heart, and has lost it with the passage of time. A boy of his childhood

image feigns to be his ghost, and frightens him for his heartlessness.

Ray also wrote detective thrillers that earned huge popularity with the young

readers. Badshahi Angti (The Emperor’s Ring) is a good example of them.

Metaphors and symbols are not expected in such genres, but Ray presents jewels,

maze, spider, etc in order to symbolize the complexities of crime investigation, which

has made it apart. Many of his detective novels have accounts of various tourist

spots of India, and thus serve as travelogues; Sonar Kella (The Golden Fort) is

probably the best example of them. His detective fictions are better than

Sharadindu’s, whose spy ponders more on men’s behavior and character than

events or evidences; hence the latter’s works do not have much distinction from

other literary genres.

Ray’s science fantasies too are remarkable works. A number of them have

been selected for international sci-fi anthologies. His screenplays are also wellreadable

literature; they are a subgenre of drama.

Ray wrote in a smart, lucid and powerful language that is difficult for anyone

to master. His stories uniquely have the use of puzzle, paradox and suspense. But

he created almost few female characters, and appears a male-chauvinist. This

feature gives his works a deplorable limitation and uniqueness alongside.

Humayun Ahmed (1948-2012)

The Bengali society is clad with superstitions, religious prejudice and bigotry.

The mass believe in ghosts, demons, deities, supernatural power and black magic.

Parapsychology attempts at explaining those blind beliefs with logic and scientific

reason. It rationalizes hypnotism, clairvoyance, telepathy and other psychic powers.

Social persecution gives birth to psychiatric disorder. It includes physical, sexual and

verbal oppression. Severe psychosis bears parapsychological illness, although it is

rare in reality and available in legends and literature. Rather pseudoscientific study

has influenced the new-age writers remarkably.

Modern authors always dealt with complex psychology, and some Modernist

writers focused on psychosis. But parapsychology became a favorite theme with

them in the postmodern phase. Humayun Ahmed appeared as a popular and famous

writer in the late 20 th century. Now, it should be clarified that his fictions based on

social and familial topics do not fall in the first rank. He in fact excelled with a new

type of fantasies centering some common protagonists, Misir Ali series becoming the

best of them.

Misir Ali is a parapsychologist, who penetrates into supernatural cases, and

tries to cure the minds affected by them. He is a reasonist, and explains any magical

story with the help of logic and science. Most of the mental traumas are borne by

exploitation and suppressed sexual impulse. The victims have hallucinatory dreams

of supernatural experience, and form cognition from them.

Devi (The Goddess) is an entertaining work of the series. It shows a girl

suffering trauma from a sexual assault, resulting in her supernatural delusion. Along


with pseudoscientific theme, it is a protest against female repression. Another story

of a violated girl in Brihannala arouses readers’ compession alike.

Humayun’s works do not defend people’s dark beliefs, rather question them

with a language that earns wide popularity. He has a style, a distinctive narrative

language and a delicate sense of fineness. He draws social imbalance, human

psyche and also natural landscape. Misir Ali novels can equally be accepted as class

horror fictions.

Humayun’s some other works too deserve readers’ attention, e.g. his slapstick

comedian ghost stories, which are something new in literature. His another fictional

character called Himu keeps a comparative distance from Misir Ali. While Ali

explains everything logically, the other predicts out of conjecture and blind belief.

The writer is admired thanks to his narration in an easily comprehensible and

public language. This simplicity has ushered in a new era in our fiction. Particularly

he will be regarded in future as a pioneer of parapsychological fiction.

Mahmudul Haq (1941-2008)

Mahmudul Haq is famed in Bangla fiction for his poetic language, perfect use

of dialects, true portrayal of life and deep insight of human soul. Although he was shy

of publicity and relatively unknown in his lifetime, he will surely achieve a high

position in the realm of fictional literature.

His first novel was Anur Pathshala (Anu’s School) in which his deep insight

into the psyche of childhood, his extraordinary poetic presentation and above all, his

comprehension of the deep crises of human soul and civilization in the modern era,

astonish us. These issues are presented through poetic symbols and ornamentation.

Jiban Amar Bone (Life is My Sister) is a valuable document of man’s

confusion and helplessness at times of national crises. Khoka, a sexual pervert, tries

to neutralize himself when the war of liberation has begun in this country; but his

escapist endeavor fails and his love (?) turns from his sister-in-law to his own sister.

His all aim centers on his attempt to save his sister’s life. And it ends in futility and

tragedy; and Khoka now realizes that all are integrated into mass and national halo.

Now the country seems to him a pond in which his beloved sister (as his other two

sisters did in a real one) has been drowned.

Nirapad Tandra (Safe Sleepiness) was his third publication. In it Haq depicts

the tragic life of a low-class minority girl who elopes with her Muslim lover, and is put

by fate into severe sorrows and torments through horrendous experiences. She

starves in slums day after day, is violated again and again and at last is compelled to

engage herself into white slavery. And the narrator, who does not attach himself to

any compulsion of the harsh world, is at last met with her last painful existence with a

body reduced to a thin skeleton.

Matir Jahaz (A Ship of Clay) is a novel presenting the humble lives of the

proletariat. Haq is a bit Marxist here.

Kalo Baraf (Black Ice) is his autobiographical novel that exposes the author’s

own deep anguish for the partition of Bengal in 1947. The memory of this tragic

historic incident, which is derived from the writer’s own dreamlike childhood


experience, haunts him throughout his life. Tinged with extraordinary poetic and

exuberant vision, this novel is his masterpiece.

Khelaghar (The Play-Room) is a novel set in the background of our Liberation

War of 1971. A young girl, being violated by the Pakistani army, loses all her moral

conscience. Rescued and sheltered in an old house in a village, she builds up a

love-affair with the narrator Yakub, and later forsakes him. The tortured girl no more

holds the noble essence of loyalty of love; does no more believe in its greatness.

Through this novel, the writer shows what worthy assets we have sacrificed for our

political liberty.

Ashariri (The Phantom) is another fictional work on 1971. Here Haq depicts

the unbearable pain of persecution of a war-victim. The novels Jiban Amar Bone,

Khelaghar and Ashariri represent three phases of the liberation war, and can

collectively be called a war trilogy.

And Patalpuri (The Underground World) narrates the story of an unemployed

youth who even surrenders himself to prostitutes out of tension and frustration

despite having love for a girl.

Haq’s short stories too, which concentrate on the depiction of human

character, sorrows and sufferings, are of great appeal.

Haq is undoubtedly a great fiction-writer. His deep perception of human mind,

his poetic unfolding, his humanitarian consciousness and above all, his artistic

integrity – will be a matter of great surprise as long as man’s taste of art and good

will survives; the poet of a dirty and deserted world will remain alive till that time.

Akhtaruzzaman Elias (1943-’97)

Neither a huge number of works he has written, nor has he attempted. But his

works have achieved a significant position in modern Bangla fiction. Elias’s fictions

have equalized with the word ‘photorealism’. His each sentence is like the focus

point of a camera. He mastered the narrative technique of fiction.

His Chilekothar Sepai (The Soldier of an Attic) tells us of the mass revolution

of 1969. Each word of the novel is like an inseparable brick of a grand palace. His

depiction is vivid and heart-touching. He penetrates especially into the minds of the

proletariat. Their lifestyle, behavior and talks (which may seem vulgar to any cultured

mind) are drawn with brilliant skill. The historical revolution of a poor and exploited

nation is depicted like cinematography. The picture of their poverty and deprivation

too is realistic. The fact that the mass insurrection was carried on by the poorest and

most exploited people, is mirrored here. The pictures of both village and city life are

masterly drawn.

The continuous exploitation and persecution of this impoverished nation by

the foreign rulers made traumatic affect on the common people’s psyche. Thus

alienation, a byproduct of the Pak-ruled tyrannical society, often made psychotic

disorder. It is also evident that poetic expressions also sometimes appear in this

work, though not as intensely as in Mahmudul Haq’s novels. An existential quest is

also found in this master novel.


His other novel – Khoabnama (The Tale of Dreams) is a masterpiece of Magic

Realism. It tells us of heartbreak – both in personal and political life of the

countrymen. Beginning in the British reign (during the Tebhaga movement), it is the

story of a village, the folk of which is clad with superstitions and odd behaviors. An

old man interprets people’s dreams with the use of a manuscript that previously

belonged to his wife’s grandfather. However, dreams surround personal ambitions

that differ from man to man. Some person’s aim is to get intimate to an imaginary

power; some aspire for earthly fortune; a woman desires to have her favorite man;

someone dreams of the return of a historically famous revolutionary.

All dreams shatter after the partition of the country. The man searching for a

supernatural idol drowns in the quicksand; the dreamer for a revolution is

assassinated; communal riots occur, and the country is flooded by the blood of

innocent common people. The manuscript goes to a young woman’s hand who

interprets people’s dreams in a new way. To her, dreams are no longer the most

important matter; now more important is the men and women in the dreams. High

ambitions are now constrained to some person’s own aspirations. Nights’ dreams

are wrecked, but life goes on in its own way in quest of new dreams. Thus in this

novel, the history of a political disaster is spoken in a symbolic way.

His short stories focus on poverty-stricken proletariat people’s lives. Their

shabby lifestyle, deprivation and vulgar practices are well-written in these stories. His

short stories are collected in three anthologies titled Onyo Ghore Onyo Swor

(Different Voices in Different Chambers), Dudhbhate Utpat (Disturbances in Eating

Milk and Rice) and Dojokher Om (The Heat of Hell).

As a fictionist, Elias was a good technician that can be called both his merit

and limitation. His language too is sometimes unnecessarily crude or vulgar.

However, his works reflect his extraordinary worth as a portrayer of the country and

its people. He opened a new horizon of fiction with his outstanding narrative


Selim Al-Deen (1949-2008)

Selim Al-Deen is one of the few writers in literary history who have enriched

Bangla drama with their strikingly original works. After Tagore, his place is foremost

as a playwright.

He offered the doctrine of ‘Dwaitadwaitabad’ (i.e. Fusion Theory) for drama. It

means the equal exposure of different actors/actresses in an action. He wrote plays

keeping that theatrical doctrine in mind. Structurally many of his works seem to be

standardized diversion from medieval jatras. He thus made a significant contribution

to folk theatre.

The playwright’s central philosophy is: man is a bodily entity, and subject to

hunger, lust, growth, disease, decay and death. S/he has a cyclical transition

repeated through generations. And s/he nurtures a spiritual essence in her/his

transient physical existence.

His first piece of work is Librium, which tells us the tale of an insomniac

person. This man tries to enter an alternative world from the real one. That’s why he


gets interested in entertainment, women, and at last finds his aimed relief in sleeping


Aniket Anneshan (A Homeless Inquiry) is a medieval Sultan’s tale who gets

involved in the game of throne and bloodshed all through his life; and before death

he compares himself to a big and strange-looking fish, which swallowed other fishes

and eventually suffered from a life-ending disease.

His Nil Shoytan: Tahiti Ittyadi (Blue Satan: Tahiti etc.) is a dramatic

masterpiece. Here an obsessed man tries to get relief from monotony of real life.

That’s why he at first tries to have pleasure in books and women; later he becomes

interested in traveling (which he can never accomplish), and at last in the bubbles of

wine. His dream of a sea-voyage comes true in the world of alcohol, which finally

becomes the haven of his depressed mind.

The verse-play Julan O Shalna (Julan and Shalna) compares the way of living

of primitive and modern humans. They have the same animalistic qualities as lust,

greed, power-hunger and cruelties.

Ashruto Gandhar (The Unheard Melody) is the tragedy of a helpless artist. A

young artist, who is forced to marry another man than her lover, suffers from critical

mental illness. The sophisticated mind of the artist is lost in the pitiless world of

modern society. Her highly cultured spirit is doomed at the persecution by the

controllers of modern bourgeois society.

Shakuntala is a retelling of Kalidasa’s famous play Avigman Shakuntalam

(The Fatal Ring). In Selim’s work, the mythic apsara of Kalidasa has turned to a

woman of flesh and blood – subject to disease, decay and death like all others.

Oh! Devadut (Oh! Angel) has a pessimistic message of the immortality of

human sorrows and pathos. An extraterrestrial alien comes to this earth, and takes

the mission of making a man happy applying his supernatural power. But eventually

he himself gets entrapped in the net of emotional sufferings of earthly life. Based on

a theme of science fiction, it is a brilliant achievement of Bangla drama.

Keramatmangal (The Tale of Keramat) is a drama set on the liberation war of

1971. The struggles and persecutions of the common people are presented here in a

melodramatic way.

Some of his plays concern the village folks. Kittonkhola and Granthikgan

Kohe (The Soothsayers Say) focus on the ups and downs of jatra (i.e. folk theatre)

artists’ life. Hat Hadai, Joiboti Kanyar Mon (A Young Girl’s Mind), Hargaaz, etc are

his other important plays of rural tradition.

Selim’s plays take us to the limitations, frustrations and incongruities of

modern life. His plays tell the reader of a universal human nature. Internationalism is

a distinctive feature of the playwright. His plays have a worldwide appeal, and are

therefore, an object of our pride and glory.

Jahanara Imam (1929-’94)

Journalistic writing aims at narrating true events in an easy, comprehensible

and brief language. It ignores opinions or emotional exposure, sometimes seeks


refuge in quotes, and usually uses short sentences. Hardly it claims the status of

literature, principally because it has a different objective.

A war is a historical event, and any imaginary writing on it lacks real

significance. Historicity is deserved for war literature, and that’s why Tolstoy wrote

his War and Peace on historical and philosophical background, the height of what is

yet to be achieved in Bangla war literature. The liberation war of 1971 has given birth

to a huge sum of fictional, versified and dramatic literature. There is dearth of

historicity in those works. Documented works on the war are scanty in number, and

Jahanara Imam’s diary Ekattorer Dinguli (The Days of 1971) is a remarkable work

among them. Now, diary is a true account of daily events or thoughts. It is not an

extraordinary genre, but if based on an extraordinary time, it becomes significant.

This book merges national history with personal account. It depicts a mother’s silent

tears for her martyred son, and has more appeal than any of our war novels written

so far.

Jahanara focuses on the long nine months’ struggle of the Bengali people.

She brings the entire nation’s fight, sorrows and happiness in her work along with the

tale of her son’s heroic self-sacrifice. She tells us a documented story of guerilla

fighters’ role in the war. She uses naïve and plain prose. Now and then she gives

reference to famous songs and poems.

But a new style of metaphorical sentences is also seen in the work. For

example, she writes of the cuckoo of a wall clock to substitute a real bird that was

not a matter of concern in those days of turmoil. Thus she uses a mechanical bird in

lieu of a natural one to express the vividness of the time.

It is understandable that critical commentary on the war and politics could

enrich the book, but is barely insufficient, mainly because it fulfills the terms and

conditions of a journalistic work.

Jahanara’s diary gets the height and proportion of a tragic novel by glorifying

the mother’s love and heart-breaking pathos for her assassinated son. She tells us of

the atrocities of the Pakistanis, and of the Bengali youths’ heroism. Her dairy has

become a significant work of journalistic literature in the context of a great war. The

silent cry of a woman for her beloved son and husband is revealed here. The pangs

of a war and the glory of victory held in this dairy elevate it to the standard of a novel

of real incidents, making it a remarkable achievement of war literature. Thus the

author also makes journalistic writing a genre.

Golam Murshid (b. 1940)

Biography is better than fiction as a genre, because it narrates a person’s lifehistory

in an authentic manner. Unlike a hagiography, it chooses a cultural or political

leader’s life rather than of a saint or religious preacher, and those persons are

naturally subject to pride, envy, greed and carnal passions. Although both are

sketches of human life, a biography substitutes and surpasses any fictional work in

respect of authenticity. Yet sometimes a biographer takes shelter of fancy and

conjecture if there is dearth of substantial information about the respective person.


With the two famous books Ashar Chalane Bhuli (Lured with Hope) and

Bidrohi Ranaklanta (The War-Wearied Rebel), Golam Murshid is the best Bengali

biographer to date. The first book narrates Michael Madhusudan Datta’s life-history,

and the other one is a biography of Kazi Nazrul Islam. These two persons have

legendary status in the nation’s cultural history; they were two stormy birds in our

socio-cultural life. Both of them are hailed as ‘rebel poets’ in slightly different senses.

Michael revolted against the social order and conservative outlook of the Bengali

society, while Nazrul rebelled against the colonial British rule.

Michael was a national icon of the 19 th -century Bengal. He aroused agitation

in the Hindu society with his exceptional and western-like writings, notions and

lifestyle. He set up a new example of juvenility, but at last met tragic and sorrowful


Nazrul was quite different. Being born and brought up in an impoverished

society, he received scanty education from what he got his courage and ingenuity to

raise his voice against the British oppression of India.

Both of them had unrestrained recklessness, which led to their pathetic end.

But they gave riches to the Bengali culture abundantly. They have become the

symbol of youthful vigor. Murshid has drawn their life-sketches keeping their

limitations and wild nature intact. He has evaluated their struggle, and pointed out

their constraints in religious and sexual life. His dedication to revealing facts often

seems like detective investigation. And the titles he has selected for the two books,

remind the readers of tragic novels.

However, Murshid has a philosophical conflict with the two persons he tells us

of. And that is naturally expected from a biographer who comes one or two centuries

later than the concerned historical figures. But he has tried his best to honor the

philosophies that the two poets expressed in their writings.

Murshid’s effort was neither to glorify nor to demean his heroes, but just to

depict their life on historical background. He has thus set up a milestone in the genre

of literary biography.

Muhammad Zafar Iqbal (b. 1952)

Postmodernism, the latest artistic concept, relies on irrationality. But literature

is justifiably intended for enlightenment, and thus it apparently seems unfit for this

concept. The works of pictorial art, which I recognize as one of the most typical

postmodern genres, cannot be included in the realm of literature. As literature must

convey something higher than thoughts of surface level, it cannot be similar to other

postmodern genres. Only science-fiction owns at the same time, postmodernist

illogical expression and a highly standard outlook of the world fit for literature.

In this respect, Muhammad Zafar Iqbal is not only Bengal’s greatest sciencefiction

writer, but he is also the pioneer of Postmodernism in our literature.

His sci-fi stories outwardly concern with scientific inquisitions, atomic wars,

space travels, attacks of aliens, time-machine disasters, etc. Using such themes, he

has given birth to a new diction of prose.


But his works are not just the vehicle of scientific and technological ideas; he

assimilates philosophies (sometimes his own) with those ideas for implying a higher

meaning of life. Sometimes his notion turns to utopian (and sometimes even

dystopian) thoughts. He envisions an ideal society having scientific application, a

society run by its quintessential scientific consciousness. And sometimes he depicts

the picture of the future world as a deceased waste land.

Some of his fictions show the contradictoriness between robots and men; he

depicts the dark sides of human nature while depicting those distinctions. He at the

same time draws the superiority of men over machines – not just ethically but also

intellectually, and also in the measure of scientific knowledge and innovative ability.

His machines, although at first seem mightier than men, later surrender to men’s will

and strength.

His fictions have a world-wide background (which is an essential postmodern

feature), not strictly oriental as is drawn in most other Bengali sci-fi writers’ works.

His cosmopolitanism can be compared to Tagore’s.

Human feelings and emotions are not absent in his science-fictions, rather

human values and refined essences now and then appear in his writings. He

sometimes uses natural landscape in order to express human feelings, for example

– in Nihshongo Grahachari (The Lonely Dweller of a Planet), he expresses his

lovers’ passion through the metaphor of volcanic eruption.

Sometimes keeping scientific imagination aside, he seeks shelter in

metaphysical ideas like god, fate and rebirth.

He warns mankind of a possible future catastrophe, and indirectly advises

them to be self-restrained about their evil tendencies and harmful behavioral flaws.

His fictions sometimes seem to present an ethical code for the future human race.

His works are, above all, full of optimism of human potentiality, which is

mingled with his deep confidence on man’s eternal supremacy. His robots tell us of

man’s greatness, and assure us of an unending journey of human civilization. That

makes Zafar more a human being and artist than a celebrity author, a pioneer of

humanity more than a visionary of science.

Nasrin Jahan (b. 1964)

Feminism is a philosophy developed mainly by women thinkers aiming at the

end of male autocracy and establishing a society free of gender disparity, and if

possible, female leadership.

Bangla feminist literature began with Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, and it had

gradual development by Ashapurna Devi, Mahasweta Devi, Nabanita Dev Sen and

some other writers. However, it can’t be denied that Vaishnava literature, Mangal-

Kabyas and the 19 th -century literature also have feminist characters.

Nasrin Jahan is a comparatively young writer, and she has appeared a radical

feminist. Her novels have forceful languages, and she portrays her female

characters with personalities fit for women of self-righteousness. Her women have

free will in their professional and sexual life. They are adamant in a society

dominated by the male. Her characters are not shy or timid like traditional Bengali


women. They’re able to overcome the restrictions imposed by the society and its


Nasrin’s female characters face uneasiness and teasing in a world

instinctively reptilian and hostile toward them. They experience abrasive comments,

lustful gesture, conservative suppression, homosexual eccentricities and familial

monocracy. Yet they are not hesitant to fight this antagonistic world.

Her women are not shy of sexuality. They have sexual intercourse from their

own will. They even move forward to have copulation like a brave man. And they do

not try to abort a child if they get pregnant from their fornication.

Gender relationship has a politics – a game of power that Nasrin’s characters

play willingly. They are not concerned of social criticism or disgrace. They are

determined to have their rightful place in the social mainstream. They are conscious

of protecting their social identity and prestige.

Nasrin uses special words and similes fit for feminist literature, and they

support her unique world of fantasy. She compares her characters to dogs,

monkeys, nightingales, and protagonists of fairy tales. She uses the fairy tales to

empower her voice against social fabrications of the ‘second sex’.

Her characters are not moved by the concepts made by the despotic male.

They reject traditional sexist values and create new ethics. But they preserve the

values that support the base of civilization and do not contradict female


She differentiates and merges the two worlds of reality and fantasy. Her voice

is shrill, and she takes the reader to a world where s/he begins to believe in her

persuasive ideas. Thus her works gratify the objectives of feminist philosophies.

Nasrin’s works are the best ones that Bangla feminist literature has achieved

to date. Her writings make the reader dream of a society of freedom and equality.

And they are a strong protest against the dark politics based on muscle-power.

Mashrur Arefin (b. 1969)

Mashrur Arefin, at his fifty, has stirred the Bengali world of letters arousing a

possibility of his becoming the all-time greatest novelist.

While very recently we began to think that the era of high literature had been

over, and concentrated on writing in minor genres, Arefin has shattered our beliefs

with his stunning work August Abchaya (Shadowy August), and negated the

absence of the genre ‘philosophical novel’.

The outline of the novel is: an academic and idealist bears a deep pain for

Bangabandhu’s infamous murder in his heart. He keeps contact with some secret

agents, and plans to avenge the assassination. But at last, he faces some political

wings who are too powerful for him to bring down, and finds himself helpless in this

extremely cruel world.

The writer is a philosopher and a cosmopolitanist. It will probably not be

wrong to claim the book to be a storeroom of philosophical words – focusing on life

and death, particularly murder. He lets us know that the whole history of man is one

of cruelty, treachery and homicide. He attempts to make a philosophical base of


historical killings. He does it on the way of his reasoning the barbarous assassination

of the founding father of Bangladesh.

He believes the world is forced to have its cruel nature by a universal evil

power that suppresses the good ones. He compares the existing world order to the

reign of a wild buffalo. His notion is that man is an inborn ferocious entity, and it

cannot be promoted to a civilized one. He seeks refuge of great philosophers and

authors like Aristotle, Kant, Pushkin, Shelley, Keats, Kafka, Proust, Michael

Madhusudan and Bibhutibhushan. In lieu of simply narrating events, he absorbs in

philosophical, historical and political analysis. Bangabandhu’s harsh death is nothing

but a recurrence of historical serial killings beginning with the annihilation of

Neanderthal people. The protagonist, who is a professor of philosophy, is utterly

frustrated about humankind and suffers from an internal bleeding for the murder of

his ideal leader. He cherishes a wish for vengeance in his mind.

It is a fusion of novel, fantasy, thriller and science fiction. It has a philosophical

start, historical midpoint and a fantastic end. The novel exerts an impending disaster

of world civilization and its return journey toward primitivity and anarchy. The

language of the novel is of high order. It is smart and weighty, and bears the mark of

the author’s enlightenment.

Arefin’s second novel Althusser is based on the themes of power relationship,

homicide and environmental disaster – particularly on the investigation of a woman’s

murder at the hands of her philosopher spouse.

His Ishwardi, Mayor O Muler Golpo (The Story of Ishwardi, the Mayor and a

Mule) is a collection of sexy poems of modern sensibilities.

Arefin’s position in the literary world is very high. I don’t hesitate to claim a

Nobel Prize for him. I am proud of him as a Bengali, and wish him a long, successful

and glorious writing career.


The Millennium, Prospects and Possibilities

The future and prospect of our literature seem uncertain due to the socioeconomic

crises it has faced. We are, at the same time, fighting anarchy and

fundamentalism that are eternal rivals of all norms of art, culture and civilization.

The so-called Postmodernism has grabbed the mind of our every young artist.

But the question is: will it eventually succeed? It seems a rather trivial trend and a

poor stream like Neoclassicism, because it is based on absurdity and denies all

traditional good norms of civilization. And the civilization cannot survive simply with

absurdist thoughts. It should always be based on reason.

Along with the side of the so-called Postmodernists, rationalist philosophers

too are reviving. It is like the condition of the 19 th century Bengal while progressive

visionaries were attacking the darkness of social primitivism; and now we are fighting

the darkness of a threat of tyranny and totalitarianism, an emergence of anarchy and

the arrival of a strong new force against reason. We are in a battle against all these


pre-modern opponents. So it is the time for a world-wide Renaissance. And after all

these arguments, if we continue to mark our time as ‘Postmodern’, rather it will mean

a Renaissance. In fact there is no problem of marking this period as ‘Postmodern’.

But the Postmodernist artists will definitely not be the pioneers of this artistic era.

Also excessive technological advancement has made man a crude

mechanical being. Technological innovations like TV, computer and internet have

diverted human interest. 3D movies, video music and computer games have become

the media of entertainment for the new generation. Man’s consciousness has been

confined to some shallow and limited ideas. As a result, the civilization has come

close to a tremendous change, and the whole idea of literature is under threat of

extinction; and the death of literature reasonably signifies civilization’s death.

Alongside, the concept of literature needs to be reconsidered. Literature

needs not be confined to some ideological boundaries. It also essentially does not

need to have specific features. A writer even has no liabilities of maintaining

boundaries of genres. A writer can at the same time draw replicas of Tagore,

Jibanananda, Jayadeva, Nazrul and Lalan. Championing these principles of

composition, s/he has to make her/his unique art.

Literature is not for just entertainment; it has a nobler purpose. With its power

of enlightenment of the readers, literature can serve a nation and also the entire

human society. A society’s progression can be traced with the advancement of its

literature and philosophy.

At the beginning of a new Platonic year, we hope the civilization will come out

of its long-lasted gloom, reject all primitivism, and embrace a new light of the

genuine good will of a loving heart. Let the triumph of light and love be marked on

the forehead of the human civilization in the new Millennium. May the good power be

victorious against its evil arch-rival! And may our great nation be a fellow of this




• A writer, who wrote in two literary eras, has been included in the era that

artistically or ideologically matches her/him. For example – Jasimuddin began

in the Romantic Age (i.e. Tagore’s era), and flourished in the High Modern

era. Considering his literary traits, I have included him in Tagore’s age. Again,

despite beginning in the High Modern era, Syed Waliullah has been placed in

the age of Liberation for ideological resemblance.

• For the chronology of the writers in the third chapter, I have followed the years

of publication of their first recognized books. Sometimes I have followed the

probable time of their establishment.


• Roy, Niharranjan. Bangalir Itihas: Adi Parba. Kolkata: Dey’s Publishing, 1995.

• Bandyopadhyay, Dhirendranath. Sanskrita Sahityer Itihas. Kolkata: Paschimbanga

Rajya Pustak Parshat, 2000.

• Halder, Gopal. Bangla Sahityer Ruprekha. Dhaka: Muktadhara, 1997.

• Bandyopadhyay, Ashitkumar. Bangla Sahityer Sampurna Itibritta. Kolkata: Modern

Book Agency Private Limited, 1995.

• Chowdhury, Sree Bhudev. Bangla Sahityer Itikatha. Kolkata: Dey’s Publishing,


• Murshid, Golam. Hazar Bacharer Bangali Sanskriti. Dhaka: Sahitya Prakash, 2006.

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