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Bangla Literature: A Critical Overview
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 –
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)
“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)
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
• 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
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
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
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
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
“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
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.
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
“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
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.
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
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
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;
(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
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
If Tagore is called a modern Romanticist, Jibanananda must be called a
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
• Bimanbihari Majumdar. Chandidaser Padabali. Kolkata: Bangiya Sahitya Parishad,
• Kabiraz, Krishnadas. Sree Sree Chaitanya Charitamrita. Gorakshpur: Geeta Press,
• Hai, Muhammad Abdul & Sharif, Ahmad (Ed.). Madhyajuger Bangla Gitikabita.
Dhaka: Maula Brothers, 1998.
• Sukumar Sen (Ed.). Chandimangal (Kabikankan Mukunda Birochita). New Delhi:
Sahitya Academy, 1975.
• Kazi, Daulat. Lore Chandrani O Sati Mayna. Kolkata: Sahitya Samsad, 2010.
• Ahsan, Syed Ali (Ed.). Alaol Padmabati. Dhaka: Ahmad Publishing House, 2002.
• Sen, Sukumar. Islami Bangla Sahitya. Kolkata: Ananda Publishers Private Limited,
• Chowdhury, Abul Ahsan (Ed.). Lalan-Samagra. Dhaka: Pathak Samabesh, 2008.
• Chaudhuri, Rosinka (Ed.). Derozio: Poet of India. New Delhi: Oxford University
• Derozio, Henry Louis Vivian. Song of the Stormy Petrel: Complete Works of Henry
Louis Vivian Derozio. Kolkata: Progressive Publishers, 2001.
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