(Last Updated on : 21/12/2012)
The phrase Bengali literature pertains to literary compositions scripted in the Bengali language, especially from the Indian province of West Bengal
and present-day Bangladesh. History of Bengali literature traces its venerated lineage back to hundreds of years, whilst it is inconceivable to differentiate and discriminate the literary trends of the two Bengals during the pre-independence era. Bengali or Bangla, is essentially a member of the Indo-European family of languages. The ancient language has developed from a form of Prakrit or Middle Indo-Aryan language, to finally materialise from the Apabhramsa-Avahatta in the 10th century. The modern-day Bengali script has been derived from the Brahmi alphabet of the Ashokan inscriptions (273 to 232 B.C.). History of Bengali literature, in this context, has been divided into three distinct eras - Old Bengali (950-1350), Middle Bengali (1350-1800) and Modern Bengali (1800 to the present day).
The first evidence of Bengali literature is acceptable as Charyapada
or Charyageeti, a compilation of 8th-12th century C.E. Buddhist spiritualist poems from eastern India. This mystical compilation furnishes authentic early examples of Assamese, Oriya and Bengali languages. Poets of these Charyapadas, the Siddhas or Siddhacharyas are known to have come from the various regions of Assam
, Bengal, Orissa
. Charyapada is also the oldest recognised scripted form of Bengali. The legendary Bengali linguist Harprashad Shastri
in fact had chanced upon the palm leaf Charyapada manuscript in the Nepal Royal Court Library in 1907. According yet another view of ancient history of Indian literature, Old Bengali literature is survived only through a collection of forty-eight poems (1050-1200), acknowledged as the charva songs. These were composed by the siddhacharyas (enlightened ones) who were basically Buddhists. The time period of Middle Bengali covers a mammoth time span in history of Indian literature. The 15th century mostly dealt with the narrative poetry genre, the theme being mainly of religious content. Among these, Krittivas's Ramayana
has been accredited to own a classical position. Other narrative poems include Srikrishnavijaya by Maladhar Vasu
and Srikrishnakirttan by Baru Chandidas
. Literary exploits of the 15th century also include Chaitanyamangal or Chaitanya Bhagavat (1540), biography of Saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, by Brindavan Das
With passing time, precisely during the 16th century, Bengali literature began to comprise narrative epic poems dealing principally with lores of popular goddesses like Chandi (Chandimangal by Kavikanan Mukundaram
Chakravarti) and Manasa
. Towards the culmination of this century a wave of Vaishnavism
had come over, sweeping the then Bengal region and this gave way to the new lyrical activity in the form of music combined with poetry.
The 17th century Bengali literature possessed and was equipped with the secular romantic verse tales, penned solely by the Islamic community. Even the Muslims of Arrakan, who maintained close intellectual contacts with Bengal, were active in literary pursuits in Bengali literature. Daulat Kazi, the first Bengali Arrakanese poet actually had authored the romantic verse tale Sati Mayana. Eighteenth century witnessed Bengali literature take an affinity towards secular poetry and the narrative verse. Rameshvar Bhattacharya's Sivasankirttan portrayed Shiva as a poor farmer and Gauri, his wife, as a human heroine. The climax of 18th century saw two more new forms of poetry come into age, the 'Kavi' and the 'Panchali' respectively.
Bengali literature possesses its roots in poetry. Folk tales amassed from celebrated stories or themes framed by "Kobials" or folk poets and bauls or street singers, had long arrested the imagination of audiences in the rural areas. These folk tales laid the foundation for modern poetry in Bengal. Jayadeva was one of the earliest and the most famous Bengali poets. His chef-d'oeuvre Geet Govinda remains an appropriate testimony of the classical Puranic traditions of the Vaishnava poetry. During the 12th and the 13th centuries, a new kind of religious literature came to view, which assembled its themes from popular tales, and came to be acknowledged as Panchali or Mangala literature in Bengal. Examples of this form of literature are yielded by Krttivasa's Sri Rama-panchali (15th century), Maladhara Vasu's Sri Krishna Vijaya (1480), Vipradasa of Manasa-vijaya (1495) and Vijaya Gupta's Manasa-mangala (1494). The Dharma-mangala poems of the 18th century comprehend under this category. The Chaitanya Movement also led to the materialisation of extensive narrative devotional poetry. Illustrations of this kind comprise Murari Gupta's Kadcha, Paramananda Sena's Chaitanya-chandrodaya and Chaitanya-charitamrata, Vrindavana Dasa's Chaitanya-bhagavata, Madhava Acharya's Sri Krishna-mangala and Syamadasa's Govinda-mangala.
In the year 1857, the famous legendary 'Sipahi Bidroha' (Sepoy Mutiny) occurred throughout India, with its progressing root based in Bengal. Indeed, Bengali literature was just about counting moments to burst forth in all its bleeding glory. Taking up the storm of it, 'Nil Bidroho' (Indigo Revolt) spread out all over then Bengal region. This Nil Bidroho lasted for more than a year (from 1859 to 1860). The literature world was completely rocked, shaken and stirred from its soul with this uncalled for revolt. In the light of this Sepoy Mutiny, a magnum opus drama was issued from Dhaka in the name of 'Neel Dorpon' (The Indigo Mirror). Dinabandhu Mitra was the writer of this play, absolutely turning the tables in Indian Independence Movement, looking towards its prolonged fighting future.
In the extremely significant context of Bengali literature and its evolvement, the 19th century indeed was the period when the actual literary renaissance of Bengali language took place. Throughout this period (referring to the time period in late 19th century to early 20th century), the Bengali Pandits of Fort William College performed the wearisome and tiring work of translating the text books in Bengali to help educate the British in Indian languages, comprising Bengali. This 'work' indeed had represented a vital role in the backdrop in the evolution of Bengali prose. In 1814, Raja Ram Mohan Roy
made his entry in Calcutta soil and immediately engaged himself in literary pursuits, a move which had gone down the history of Bengali literature as the most pathbreaking attempt in such a closed-up society. Translating from Sanskrit to Bengali, scripting essays on religious subjects and issuing magazines were just a few of the domains Raja Ram Mohan Roy had focused on. He also had established a cultural group in the name of 'Atmiya Sabha' (Club of Kins) in 1815. Michael Madhusudan Dutt
(1834-1873) and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee
(1838-1898) were the other crucial founders of this so-called modern epoch in Bengali literature. Madhusudan Dutt was the first Bengali poet to pen in blank verse and had combined western influences into the quintessential of Indian literature. His Meghnadvadhkavya (1861), written in blank verse possesses the same flavour of Milton's Paradise Lost. Madhusudan Dutt in fact had treated Meghnad, one of the significant characters of Ramayana with negative shades, in the same human angle as Milton had portrayed Satan, absolutely breaking away from the traditional approach.
Belonging to a similar category of blood-boiling and flaming poetry in Bengali literature is Kazi Nazrul Islam
. He indeed was invited to be a part of post-partition Bangladesh as the National Poet and whose work surpasses even the sectarian restrictions. Treasured by Bengalis both in Bangladesh and West Bengal, Kazi Nazrul Islam's work virtually comprises 3000 songs, celebrated both as nazrul geeti and "nazrul sangeet". He is frequently referred to as the rebel poet, chiefly because of his most illustrious and stirring poem Bidrohi or "The Rebel", and also because of his powerful compassion and backing for radical activities leading to India's independence from British domination. Though he is admitted as the rebel poet, Nazrul Islam quite competently had contributed in all branches of Bengali literature. He had penned poems that had enkindled the fire against inequality or injustice and simultaneously was celebrated for his heart-rending romantic poems too. He wrote a lot of Islami Ghazals and at the same time also a sizeable amount of Shyama Sangeet (songs for the Hindu Mother Goddess, Kali). Kazi Nazrul Islam was not only a poet, he was at the same time a writer, musician, journalist and philosopher. Sadly, he was sentenced behind bars for his literary works against the then reigning British Empire
The era of Bengali novel began in the later half of the 19th century. The first out-and-out romantic Bengali novel is Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's Durgeshnandini (1865), while the first Bengali novel of social realism is Peary Chand Mitra
's Alaler Gharer Dulal (1858). The leading novelist of the age however unanimously was Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, who gave the nation its national song Vande Mataram from his political novel Ananda Math, a masterpiece of Bengali literature to this date. This century also witnessed the advent of the periodical press in the form of Digdarshan (a monthly magazine) and Samachar Darpan (a weekly), both published by the Serampore missionaries. Drama and literary prose also saw a huge renewal during the pre-independence era in India, practically with every Bengali literature fighting for the nation's freedom, either directly or indirectly. The great dramatists of the 19th century were Girish Chandra Ghosh
(1844-1911), Amritlal Bose (1853-1929) and D L Ray (1863-1913), and the great prose writers were Debendranath Tagore
and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
Even the popularity of poetry in Bengali literature witnessed its sweeping rise during this period. Biharilal Chakravarti's (1834-94) Saradamangal (1879) and Sadhar Asan (1888-1889) brought in a breath of fresh air by its tender and refined lyrics. This style of writing even had influenced Rabindranath Tagore, who himself gave a new meaning to Bengali literature. Tagore was at once a poet, novelist, short-story writer, dramatist, essayist, philosopher and literary critic, all rolled into one. No other Bengali writer had written at such length and breadth of a language and age. He was the first Indian to bring home the Nobel Prize in 1913, which he had received for his book of poems, Gitanjali. In fact, Bengali literature and its contribution to Indian literature can never ever be complete without the mention of the man known as 'Rabindranath Tagore'. Tagore practically had single-handedly predominated both the Bengali and Indian philosophical and literary panorama for decades. Undoubtedly the most prolific writer in Bangla, his 2000 Rabindrasangeet play a pivotal part in determining Bengali way of life, both in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Rabindranath Tagore
is the author of the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh, both framed in Bangla. Other notable Bangla works include umpteen short stories and novels. It is universally accepted that Bangla Literature has accomplished its contemporary outlook by the writings and influence of Rabindranath Tagore.
The post Tagore age sadly had very few writers of his calibre, some of whom were Sarat Chandra Chatterjee
(1876-1938), Prabhatkumar Mukherjee (1873-1932) and Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951). The modern era in Bengali literature begins with a group of writers who had scripted for Kallol, a modernist movement magazine, founded in 1923. The most popular among the group were Kazi Nazrul Islam and Mohitlal Majumdar. During this age, two people who possessed nearly the same literary potentiality as Tagore were Jibananda Das
(poet) and Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay
(novelist). Pramathanath Bisi and Rajshekhar Basu (Parashuram) were exponents in literary criticism and humorous writings respectively. Tarashankar Bandyopadhay
is yet another notable and respected personality of Bengali literature, known for his novels, while Annadashankar for his prose of ideas.
The contemporary period of Bengali literature is led undoubtedly by several modernist thinkers with a fresh view to West Bengal under globalisation, like Sunil Gangopadhyay
- a poet, novelist, children's story writer, Buddhadev Guha - a fiction writer dealing mainly with jungle stories, Mahashweta Devi, Nirendranath Chakraborty, Samaresh Majumdar, Samaresh Basu, Suchitra Bhattacharya, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Syed Mustafa Siraj, Baren Gangopadhyay, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Amiya Bhushan Mazumdar, Debesh Roy, Atin Bandyopadhyay, Shankha Ghosh, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Moti Nandi, Kamal Kumar Majumdar, Shankar, Malay Roy Choudhury, Bani Basu.
It was in twentieth century renaissance in Bengali literature
made its presence felt. Bengal was the heart of renaissance uprising in India. A number of social movements were taking place in Bengal in the disturbed and anxious scenario of Bengal. But the renaissance period witnessed a magnificent outburst in Bengali Literature. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee had extended the panorama of literature, pioneered by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar.