The oral literature of a region grows out of its own accord, in its own way, following the trend of the tradition of the land itself. But there are some common features which could be found in any oral literature of any region. The foremost feature is, it would Primarily be a group product, anonymous in nature; anonymous in the same that it embodies the emotion and psychology of an ethnic group of people, embraces all the views and values of them regarding the social, economic and political events and affairs; thoughts which are handed down from generation to generation; the form employed in the literature would be a traditional one. The village elders are there to approve new songs and composition and without their approval nothing would be accepted by them.
A word to remember in this context : Tribal psychology and folk psychology differ from each other; Tribal people raise a cultural wall around them and they want to live within it, and as such their oral literature remain undisturbed. That is why their culture is insulatory. The folk-psychology, on the other hand, is a dynamic one, they re-new the aspects of life and society annually, though in spirit the values are kept undisturbed.
Bengali folklore terms based on oral traditions are not far from this truth. Bengali folk songs and folk dramas are diversely used and applied according to the need of the situation and dynamic changes are always noticeable in spirits. As a result, non-ritual elements creep into rituals, making them more and more secular in nature.
Bengali (after the partition of India in 1947, and in the year 1972, the eastern wing of Bengali has formed a new state, - Bangladesh , and throughout their writing,'Bengal' will mean the West Bengal) oral literature is one of the richest oral literatures in its domain, both in variety and its depth.
It must be remembered that, individual forms of folksongs are said to be the fruits of modern times. Songs are sung singularly where the personal feelings and emotions are poignant and intense in nature. These songs are small in extent also. In Bengali oral tradition, forms executed by individual efforts are good in number : e.g: The Bhawayia and the Catra (both are the representative types of folk songs of North Bengal, the most popular types of songs among the Rajbansi community ; the former one is generally of serious nature, while the latter one is of light moods ; both are sung to the accompaniment of indigenous string instruments - Dotora (an instrument of two strings) and Sarinda (a string instrument) ; both are composed in the dialects); the Bhatiyali (though mainly of the Eastern Bengal, still it is not uncommon in west Bengal. Bhati means the ' down stream of a river' ; yali of Bhati , song of a boat-man' s personal emotion); the Baul song ( it is reckoned as a kind of folk song, - because there is a controversy regarding this); the Baro masya (' Baro' means twelve, the twelve months of a year; the heroine's sense of separation from the hero, her sorrows and pangs are expressed, which prevail through out the year. It may commence from any month of the year, but the repeated twelve months must be introduced in succession, to complete the course of a year) ; the love songs (mostly fared on Radha Krishna love-myth; besides, there are secular love songs also; these are called Premar gan (love- songs). Love songs are mainly solo songs, either by the male or by the female persons. But there are duet songs also, in the form of a dialogue between the two, these are called, eclogue' s; some devotional songs (' Pujar gan' ) may fall in to a separate category (the devotee seeks his/her salvation through there, surrenders to the good, seeks of analyze his/her soul).
Songs and dramas, produced and presented through collective efforts are numerous in Bengali, in comparison with those presented individually. The Mecheni from Mech , the name of a tribe of Assam and ni denotes the adjective here. This is to propitiate the river Tista , by the Rajbansi women folk, of North Bengal, collectively, through the month of Baisakh (April- May), to ensure the supply of water for the annual cultivation); Huduma/Hudman Deo (a native rain-god of the same community; he is worshipped when a drought prevails in the region, this Sanskrit counterpart is Barun Devata ; the Gambhira gan (the main temple of the god amongst other collective temples, is called the Gambhira temple of a village; The Gambhira Gan or the Gambhirar Gan (songs performed at the Gambhiras) are observed as the last festival of the Bengali year; The Bhadu; the Tusu , the Jhumur , and the Bandna , are the, main folk songs, performed collectively, in the Rarha Bengal. The term Bhadu itself suggests that this type of songs are sung during the month of Bhacha (< Bhadra +uka> Bhadu, a mythical girl, who died on the eve of her marriage; actually the Paddy of the rainy season); Tusu is said be an Austric word, meaning a girl, a tiny girl, who died on the eve of her marriage ; actually the Paddy of the winter season). The Jhunam is an onomatopoeic word, which reflects the jingling of an anklet round the feet of a dancer. It is very small in extent, and there are many types of Jhunam songs, sung collectively at the time of dancing. It enjoys a wide distribution. The Bandna festival is observed by the abhirs of Midnapore, immediately after the Kali Puja, to express gratitude to the cow. All these are performed and observed by village maids or by the village urchins, roaming from place to place, and from door to door of house holders.
Broadly speaking, ballads are the acute and poignant parts of a prevailing tale, presented in the form of a long narrative song. Bengali ballads have its own characteristics in contrast to a western ballads. Western ballads are short in form, highly dramatic, follow the climatic part of the tale, while Bengali ballads are long and narrative in nature, elaborated tale and finally assume its climax. Both the eastern and the western ballads are generally in a tragic note.
There are some special motifs which could be found in most of the Bengali ballads. The end is generally a tragic one. After the final separation, the hero abandons all worldly affairs and tries to become indifferent in his life. All the ballads are of romantic affairs, start with love at first sight and end with an inevitable separation. The literary merits of the comedies are not so high. In some cases, the conservative father or the in-laws take a different view, which are invariably against love, when the hero comes from a different economic stratum, or caste. Some times the hero goes to trade in a foreign place and the heroine at home is oppressed either by the local administrator or by her in-laws. In this part of the tale the heroine becomes the most active character. They are to face many deals and in every case they get through those, but in the final turn of events they are defeated, which brings about the tragedy itself. Abduction, kidnapping, escape from the home are very common in these ballads. Omens, ill-omens and fortune telling all come true, with no exception at all.
Prof. Dinesh Chandra Sen, of the University of Calcutta was the first scholar to discover the Bengali ballads (with the help of some sub scholars under him) from the eastern part of the then Bengal and it was in 1920's that the University of Calcutta began to publish those ballads (translated into English by Sen Himself), in several volumes, numbering 54 in all. Prof. Sen has, given the Bengali synonym gitika (literally a small song), for Ballad and it has been accepted by both Indian and Bangladeshi scholars since then. Ballads have been published as follow:
Sen, Dinesh Ch.: Maimonsingha Gitika, Ballads from Mymensing (vol. I No.Z c.be 1923); Purbabanga Gitika (Eastern Bengal Ballads (Vol. II, No 2, c.u. 1923); Purbabanga gitika (Vol. IV, No 2, c.u. 1932).
After Sen, two other collections have been published:
Prof. Sukhomoy Mukhopadhyay; Moymon Sinha Gitika (Bharati Book Stall, Calcutta, 1982).
Prof. Ashraf Siddiqui: Maimonsingha Gitika (Complete in one vol. with an introduction), Bangladesh, 1995.
The Late Kshitish Ch. Moulik, of Nadia, a good scholar in this field, in 1950' s compiled another series of Bengali ballads (in 7 Vols), from the same region, as Sen did. K.C. Moulik' s compilations have their own importance: it has provided the reader with numerous variants ; word-notes are also more specific and accurate than Sen' s.
There rose a great hurdle regarding the authenticity and genuineness of the ballads published by Prof. Sen. It came to an end when Dr. Duran Zbavitel (of oriental Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of sciences, Praha), wrote a book with great ability, under the title Bengali folk Ballads from Mymensingh and the problem of there authenticity (Published by the University of Calcutta, 1963). The book is an excellent one to prove the question in point.
Lyrics are the main domain of literary achievement of Bengal. There are many types of lyrics in this literature, composed both individually and collectively. As for the origin of this literary type, only one source cannot be assigned. One has to look and to enumerate different sources also. The first source is the medieval Bengali literature. It was the practice in presenting a piece of literature to the audience at that time, to sing a lyrical song, referring to the context, as an introductory say, which were called as Dhuya (Dhrutak) songs. These ' Dhuya' songs are the origin of Bengali lyric poetry, though there were ' Carya giti' s as the oldest specimen. The great poets of mediaeval Bengali literature, Mukunda cakrabarti or Bharat Candra Roy were the two master hands in this sphere. The trends of the ' Vaiṣṇava Padabali' s and following that the ' Sakta Padabali' s had been the two most important current of lyrical poetry of Bengal, which had its climax with the western influences in the 19th century, convergent into it.
The lyrical trends had its Parallel in folk songs: lyrical poems had no independent existence, they were all intended to be sung, and as such, there had been no differences between them. It is peculiar to note that songs from the oral traditions were purposely used to be sung in written literature. The lyrical poems and the songs, both from the written and the oral traditions, have influenced each other, since the mediaeval period. It is for this reason that some Bengali folk songs bear a tinge of classical knot. This is true in the case of other Indian folk songs.
A hymn means a song of praise; to sing a song in praise of some one, mostly the songs in praise of the god or god like persons. In this way hymns are very akin to devotional songs. Though hymns are always addressed to some one, devotional songs are the personal emotions of the singer or of the composer. This kind of songs form a part of the folk songs of Bengali either isolately and as a piece meal song, or may be included in a longer poem. It is the usual practice to sing a Bandana (an ' invocation' ; to implore the gods/goddess and the like objects to call upon the singer) song, these may be called hymns or when a hero of mediaeval literature, is in great distress, he implores his desired god/goddess to come down to him ; this kind of hymn had formed a literary style, called as Coutisa (made of coutris ; there are 34 letters, vowels and consonants taken together; the hymn would be a composition, in which all the vowel and consonant letters would be employed as first letter of each verse, in succession). In a Bengali Vow, observed by the maids, called as the Magh Mondal Brata (this vow is observed during the month of Magh , at dawn in the north of equator ; the sun is implored to rise early in the morning and to accept the oblations offered to him by the devotees), a hymn is sung in praise of sun. In north Bengal, the Raffansis sing songs in adoration of the village gods. There are also hymnal songs by the Muslims, at the time of performing Jasi (a Persian word, means to ' mourn' ) songs addressed to Fatima on other Muslim Prophets.
Travelogues, as such, cannot be found in Bengali oral literature, but one can derive some indirect literary pleasure from the adventures of the heroes of folk tales. The folk tales are the oral documents of the activities and achievements, ordeals and adventures of the Prince or the hero. The prince travels from one land to the other, in quest of the princess or goes to gain a wonderful object and has to face a series of ordeals, and in his way the prince or the hero gathers varied experiences of life; he has to walk through the lonely Iceland's, impenetrable forests, inaccessible stretch of lands, has to surmount snowy mountains ; has to pass through the dark caves of hills, has to wrestle with a mammoth demon. These are the only instances of travelogues in oral tradition ; real and natural travelogues are not found in oral literature of Bengal.
Rituals are performed and observed according to the dates mentioned in the scripts and almanacs. Naturally there is some rigidity
regarding the observance of the sacred rules, and conveniences. One cannot go beyond the rules set by the scriptures.
The songs sung at this time are also fixed and rigid in nature. But now a days, one can find some ethnic people
who have not been maintaining this code of conduct. They observe the sacred rules to some extent , but add new aspects
and literature. As a result many changes are effected in this regard.
The descriptions of some rites of Bengal are given below:
(a) Following the life-line, from birth to death; all these rites are observed by offering oblations, some times with dances and songs. Some times arpana's (rituals drawings, traditional drawings with the paste of rice-powder) are drawn at the place of Puja ; some times Homa' s (a burnt offering, a sacrifice with fire) are done:
Anna prasan (taking rice for the first time by the child),upabita (a Brahmin lad is invested with the sacred thread), marriage (there are immemorable marriage rites, oblation are offered to the deceased ancestors, songs and dances one performed); after death obsequial rites are observed at appointed time (sesame is offered, a ring made of sacrificial gross is worn)
(b) Following the appointed dates, as prescribed by the scriptures and almanacs, rites are observed and performed with songs and dances, alpana's are drawn; but the priests are not always called in and employed, the folk people do it themselves, even the women folks are empowered to enact the rites.
In any agrarian society there are many rites to observe right from the transplantation of the paddy plants, down to the harvesting. It is to be noted that most of the rites are enacted by the women folk. When the paddy plants are being transplanted for the first time in the season, they adore the plants, with earthen lamps enkindled and other sacred things. In the evening of the last day of the Aswin month (September - October), the farmers go to the paddy fields with a bundle of fate-stick, lit in one end, and utter some charms, to drive away the insects and worms from the fields. It is believed, that Paddy is the symbol of goddess Lakshmi and her impregnation starts from this day. The Paddy-plant being a pregnant woman, is offered agreeable things, as to fulfill her longing of a pregnant woman. The harvesting takes place in the month of November. The navanna (Naba + anna, New rice; and the ceremony of taking new rice of the year) is the most important festival of the farmers, throughout the world. Heavy loads of Paddy are brought to the farm yard by the farm labourers and many rites are enacted at this time. It is further to be noted here that the first bundle of paddy is harvested by the house wife of the farmer, and that too, by her left hand (the left hand represents the north-east corner of the field, as there is a belief that Lord Siva resides in this corner of heaven. Traditionally, in Bengal, there are two types of paddy ; the one is Awsh (Abriśa, the rainy season, it is called as ' Autumn rice' ), and the other is ' Winter rice' . (Haimantic < Hemanta + ika). The autumn harvesting is associated with Bhadu ( Bhadra + uka) song and dance, while Tusu (an Austric word, meaning a doll, a tiny girl) is associated with the winter rice. Both the Bhodu and the Tusu are more festivals than rites. On the eighth day of the dark half of the month of Bhadra (August - September ), Lord Krishna is believed to be in form, and on the following morning his birth day is observed as Nandotsav , In west Bengal, at this period of the year, Indparva ( Indra, the rain god of the Vedic India), Karam ( Kad#am, a kind of tree) and the Jawa (the village maids who observed this, allow different kinds of seeds to germinate in an eastern pot) festivals are observed. All these are homeopathic magic rites to cause rains or to grow seeds. Songs and dances are the main affectivities here. During the Kali Puja, the abhirs of West Bengal ( mainly the Midnapore district), performs a rite, called Bandana ( Bandana, to adore, to propitiate the cow. This is enacted with great enthusiasm by the abhirs , for a couple of days. Cosmological questions are set to one party and the other party has to answer in a right and proper way.
In the last week of the month of Caitra (March-April, it bring the last month of the Indian calendar), Gajan (< Garjan, roaring or howling of the devotees) festivals are observed through out W. Bengal which has gained popularity among the folk people. The devotees leave homes, become ascetic, lead a restraint life in the temples of a village, become vegetarians for the time being, take a new piece of loin cloth and a napkin round their neck. Different kinds of thorns are thrown on their ways to stop them. conundrums and cosmological question are put forward , with the hope that they would never fail to answer those. They collect left or abandoned heads of the dead ones from the nearby burning ghats and play with those. In the district of Maldah, in North Bengal, this is called Gambhira , or Gambhirar gan (Songs in the Gambhira , the main temple amongst other temples). Men, along with the devotees, from different walks of life, gain in a procession, take masks on the faces, and dress themselves as Pantonimists, or Unimes. Some villagers form parties of their own, they walk in a body from village to village. The song they sing, at this time is known as Bolan . The Cadak (the ceremony of swingling as a post, their post is called Cadak gach ) is a part of this Gafan festival ; it is the symbol of the sun. Piece meal folk dramas are enacted, on the current and contemporary issues ; all these are extemporization by the folk artists. Some scholars say, the Cadak festival is nothing, but the revival of the sun, who is believed to be died along with the end of the year, and to restore to life through the movements of the ' Cadak' . In this way this is an act of following the homoeopathic methods of magic.
These types of songs are composed and performed both individually or collectively; some times ritual songs assumes the character of festival songs, as have been seen above, so also with any other types of songs.
The Bhadu and the Tusu. These two types of folksongs are very close to each other, both in nature and presentation. Both are enacted by village maids, both are associated with harvesting. The compositions of these two types of songs bear similarities, small in extent. But a Tusu song has a concluding part which a Bhadu song has not. The concluding part of a ' Tusu' is known as the ' Rang' ( literally means a colour' ) of that song . the ' Rang' implies the inner meaning, the interpretation or the extra contents, the Rang is added by the associates of the singer, but as this is an extemporization, the cohesion with the former or with the original part is not always found. Some times it seems to be a mechanical addition only. The substitute word for ' Rang' is ' Reg' ( the etymon is still unknown ). The most interesting part of these two types of songs lies in the competition held on the last nights of the related months. No male person is allowed to stay there, as these are all feminine in nature, save and except the drama player and his assistants who plays a sounding plate of fell-metal (' Kanson' ). Some times a Shehenai is also added to the party. The leaders on the song stresses stand vis-a-vis and they cap verses extempore to the sound of the instruments played at that time, while the associate maids keep dancing. On the following morning they go in a procession to a fixed place to immerse their idols on icons of Bhadu and Tusu . The ' Tusu' is so wide spread a festival that it has acquired a national importance to the performers and to the natives of the regions.
The Jhumur ; The Jhumur enjoys a wide distribution. Its area is a vast stretch of land, covering several ethnic groups of people of different states of eastern India. Naturally it has a wide variety, even in a single region, according to the needs and situations. But in spite of its varied existence, it bear some characteristics ; these are small song in extent, and this is the proof that they are archaic and antique. Primarily they are love-songs and secular in spirit. These are examples of group songs performed with dancing. But as time went on, the Jhumur evolved many changes and has been employed in to different literary works, even in the Kirtan songs. The male and the female stand face to face, start singing and dancing, while the Madal Player plays the instrument. They are Provided with the opportunities of evolving a drama (an embryo of the drama) out of it. Basically a Jhumur is an amorous type of song, but peculiarly enough it has been taken to the domain of devotional songs even. It owes its origin to the innocent village life and lore, but gradually it has been raised to the level of a professional prostitute. Economically there came into being a set of women as the dance hostesses and dancing girls, (' Nacni' ), in the far west regions of west Bengal. There are Bhaduria Jhumur's of great literary merits, which reflect fine sentiment and acute pangs of separation, but at the same time there are also Thnd Jhumur which could not be sang properly in the village . Besides, there are Kathi Nacer Jhumar (Jhumur song to the sound of sticks, forming a circle, specially in the district of Bauturla), ' Dnad? Salia Jhumur' (' Dnad#' means a fixed forms) and so on.
The Bhatiyali : Bhatiyali. (< Bhati down stream of a river + ' yali' , of ' Bhati' ) These songs mostly belong to east Bengal. These are songs of boat-men, but traces of these songs could be found in West Bengal also. Bhatiyali songs are said to be the best type of Bengali folk songs, in consideration of its literary merits. In modern times, the Bhatiyali has lost its original subject matter. In East Bengal it is based with the Baul songs. The Bauls want to have their physical existence, and it is ' He' who resides in the uppermost part of the human body. The Baul starts his quest for ' Him' from his own body. as if He wants to go to the upper stream from the down stream. In this way the Bhatiyali has converged with the Baul philosophy, even when the Bauls have other esoteric and sexoyogic practices. A boat always goes down the stream, but it is always the effort of a boatman to take the century course of the stream ; the mysterious ' He' is believed to reside at the uppermost part of the human body ( that is ' Ufan' on the up stream ) or ( ' His abode is believed to be situated on the other bank of the river); the Baul ( on the boat - man) has been separated from their desired ' Man' . It is for this reason, the Band and the Bhatiyali songs have converged with each - other, at least in some cases. In this context, it must be stated , that, some scholars do not agree to include the Baul songs in folk songs.
The mention about the ' Bhawayia' and the ' Catka' of North Bengal, and other types of Bengali folksongs (E.g. Bandna ; ' Baro masia,' ' Jari' ) is already made. As for the marriage songs, a few more words should be added. Marriage or wedding songs are purely by the women and for the women. It has nothing to do with the male person, though they are referred to in the songs, indirectly. These songs may be divided into two broad parts : some songs are composed and used to enact the rites of the marriage of that people ; and songs which depict the characters, prevailing situations, economic condition of the bride's house, the social context, and the mental condition of the parents and kinds of the bride and her own self. A good member of marriage songs are to divide and to ridicule the other party (bride/bride groom). Even at times the married women of both the parties are engaged in severe song competition, women- poets of both the parties compose songs extempore, to ridicule the opposite party. Dancing is the indispensable part of the marriage song. Men who beat the drums provide the rhythm, while others enjoy the scene. More often than not, the bride and the groom are referred to, figuratively and allegorically; Ram- Sita, Hara- Parvati, Raja- Rani, secular marriage songs are really rare, now a days; these are only to be found in the marriage songs of the Rajbansis of the North Bengal. Marriage songs performed at the groom's house are not so important in comparison with those of the bride' s house, for obvious reasons.
Loka Natya or the folk drama / folk play is the most effective and important vehicle of communication in other places , where as in W. Bengal the regional folk dramas could not be found. Almost every annual occasion has an indispensable part as folk drama. It is to be mentioned in this connection, that there is no India- based nomenclature for folk drama ; every region of India has invariably a form of folk drama of their own and in their regional form and language. Similarly in W. Bengal also one cannot find a general term for folk drama; instead, a regional and a particular people - based folk dramas would be found. It is for this reason also, the people of every region of this state have the folk drama of their own but there are close similarities between adjacent and neighboring folk dramas, in the form and Presentation.
North Bengal is very rich in this respect. In the extreme North Bengal, in the district of Jalpaiguri, there prevails three types of folk dramas; the Khas Pancali (Folk dramas based on village scandals or based on contemporary incident and events); The Ray Pancali (based on imaginary love affairs or romantic tales); the Man Pancali (based on mythological and scriptural episodes, or on some enigmas or problems related to those). There are also little mask plays or mask drama associated with dances performed as interludes, in regular musical plays. Cor-cunnir gan (a short play like performance, by two characters only, by a thief and his wife; this is very popular and performed at the time of the Kali Puja, performed by the village urchins , while traveling from door to door, or at the time of moving in body along the village roads ; this form of drama is very ancient in nature) is as important type of folk drama of this region. The wife of the thief puts questions in the form of a song about the present state of affairs and the thief answers them in his own way, in a reply-song. In Cooch Behar there is Kusan pala, based on the Ramayana and other medieval literatures. Dotora palas ( Dotora means a dicord, this folk instruments has two main strings) are the social plays, a very popular form of folk drama. In the district of Dinajpur, we find Khan gan (Khanda > Khan, which means an episode). In Maldah and Murshidabad there is Alkap (' Kap' mean to feign, to play), the ' Domni' (' Dom' means an inferior class of people), and the Gambhira (the main temple in a cluster of temples). All these are presented in a sequence of different phases. Needless to say they are all extemporaneous. In the Rardh Bengal one finds ; Neto' s (etymologically : Nat+va), the Bhand? yatra (' Yatra' means : a journey of the gods and goddess, from one place to the other, in a procession, on special occasions). The term yatra in this particular case has been used to denote a ' drama' . In South Bengal, there is Banabibir Pala (' Banabibi' is a sylvan goddess, and has emerged from the point of culture of the Hindus and the Muslims, during the 17th & 18th centuries), this Pala (or the drama) is performed mainly to appease the bibi , for the safe return of the collectors to their homes.
In remembrances of the deaths of Hassan and Hussain, the two sons of Fatima, the Muslims observe a mournful service in the month of Muharram, every year. According to the religious principle, the Muslims are divided into two sects : The Siya and the Sunni. It is the Siya community who mainly observe the Muharram, while the Bengali Muslims belong to the Sunni community, in general. It is for this reason that the Marsiya (' Marsiya' is a kind of elegy, a literature of mourning, first originated in Iranian Arabic literature. Hence the Persian translation was introduced in Bengali literature in the 16th and 17th centuries) literature was not popular in Bengal, but only a few books had been written. Scholars have enlightened everone on this point.
Lullabies are a kind of eternal literature, and will remain so, as long as there is a mother (or motherly women) and her children. Some times it is a necessity to a mother, and for this reason the mother projects her self in these songs. From this stand-point lullabies could be divided in two parts ; (a) aspects of the children ; (b) aspects of the mother (and the parents). These songs are sung when the mother, grandmother or motherly women swing the cradle or swing the baby in her lap. This swinging itself has rhythm which lulls the baby and takes them to sleep. When the baby grows a little, the singer also embraces a new world. Thus there is a development in the language and the subject of a lullaby, and the images of the songs start changing. The changes are ; (a) to frighten and to terrify the baby. A fearful and a dreadful object is mentioned, and the baby is made to sleep. (b) the singer projects her problems in these songs.
In West Bengal, lullabies are sung with usual enthusiasm and with intense interest. Even here one can find two types of lullabies. Here the objects of fear are many. A Jufu ( a foreign word: in Africa it means 'a fetish' ; in French it is 'a toy', in Bengali the meaning has deteriorated more, 'a headless trunk', 'a demon without head' , some imaginary figures. The second type of songs embody the real fearful objects. Take an example, a free translation of a Bengali song:
"The baby goes to sleep, the ward is quiet, (Because) the Burgis have arrived in the land. The Bulbul birds (a bird thrush type) have eaten. all the paddy in the fields. How shall we pay the rent (to the land lord) wait for a few days, we have sowed some garlic .
Apparently, there is an inconsistency in the construction of the song. The first line is obviously meant for the baby, to frighten him/her making a direct reference to the Bargis ( Bargis is a Persian word to denote the Maharatta in roads), who used to come to the south fringes of Bengal as invaders, and it left a deep mark of fear in the mind of Bengal people. Here the terrifying historical event has become an object of fear both to the baby and his parents, - rather the fear of the parents has been projected in the mind of a baby.
Another aspect of the Bengali lullabies is to invocate two imaginary figures.
(you) may paternal and maternal aunts.
come down to our place to lull my baby to sleep But there is no bedstead on a cot to sit upon, you take your sit on the eyes of every baby; I shall give you betel Full of a betel box chew that (to your pleasure) .
Often one finds the elders or the singers to depict a future life of the baby, according to the economic stratum, the singer belongs to. If it is a baby girl, her future marriage life would be portrayed, along with her prospective in-laws (as child marriage was in vogue). If it is a baby boy, his future economic life would be depicted according to the will rof the singer.
The term Kirtan denotes many meanings, but in Bengali it is restricted to a special meaning, beyond its lexical meaning. Technically it means a type of song regarding Radha and Krishna. The Kirtan has its long history through the ages and at last it has developed in to a technical type of Vaisņva lyrical song. Following the Vaisņava Poetics and keeping Radha as the central figure, the Kirtan - singers anthologise the Vaisņava ' Pada' s (Verses), in such a manner that a complete phase of love of Radha- Krishna or an episode comes out of that. This is called a Pala Kirtan (a ' Pala' means an episode or a phase of love of Radha and Krishņa) this types pf Pala Kirtan was in vogue during the 16th & 18th centuries. The Kirtan is a composition of several sections or parts ; the singer or the anthologist divide those sections in a prescribed order, according to the needs of that particular Pala , so that it creates a devotional impression in the mind of a listener.One can enumerate those sections as follows:
1. The introductory part: Famous Vaisņava rages and devotees are remembered in this part or section
2. When a Kirtan- singer goes from one Pada of a poet to the other Pada' s related with each other. The main objective is to make different Pada's a compact one.
3. Adding interpretations (to add ' Akhor' < Akshar, literally a ' letter' ) is the most vital part of a Kirtan; the merits of a Kirtan completely rests with this part. The more an Akhar is acute and precise, the more it would be appreciated by the listeners. Akhar means finally- additional sentences employed to interpret the situation.
4. At times, the singer collects parallel instances and draws similarities and sings slokas or songs composed by a totally former or different poet.
5. When a singer sings or recite a rhyme as an interpretation, it is called a Tukka/Tuk
6. Piece meal songs are called Chuts ; the persisting Tala is broken here and the Chuts are songs deviating from persisting Tala .
7. The Jhumur/Jhumuri is the concluding part or section of a Kirtan song ; it is the custom with the singers to finish a Kirtan by singing the union of Radha-Krishņa, this song of union is called Jhumur/Jhurmuri .
Now-a-days many Kirtan singers do not follow the above sequential part strictly. Day by day they are becoming deviants in this regard.
There are as many as five schools (or ' gharama' s) as to the mode of singing a, Kirtan song; e.g.: the Garanhata mode (or Garanbati), the Manohar sahi mode, the Ranihati/Reneti mode. The Mandarani mode, and the Jharkhandi mode, it is obvious that all of these modes have emerged from local or regional style of singing. The Mandarani and the Jharkhandi styles are now extinct, as these modes and styles have grown and developed through folksongs of the region, - and because a Kirtan song is believed to belong to a classical style of song, there is a sharp differences of opinions, whether a Kirtan song would be regarded as a folksong.
Bhajan means adoration, a divine song, a song in praise of God. There are two kinds of Bhajan songs , the one is to address the god, it is a kind of ' ode'. The other type is to dedicate oneself, to draw one's soul and self nearer to the spiritual world. These two types are very common in any language, as in Bengali. The Kirtan is a type of Bhajan.
In the mediaeval and modern Bengali literature, the Bhajan is generally called the Malsi (< Malabasri, name of the Raga) or the Mayur (it is also a name of a raga) - both in praise or to express devotion to a goddess, mainly Durga and Kali. The Malsi or the Mayur are sung right before the Durga Puja or at the time of Kali Puja. In this connection it is to be mentioned that the whole of the medieval Bengali literature is a kind of devotional literature. There had been translations from the Bhagabad, from the Ramayana, and from Mahabharata. In the Mongal Kavyas (the Manasa Mongal, the Caņdi Mongal, the Dharma Mongal, and so on, one finds lyrics/songs in praise of the related gods and goddess. Piece-meal Bhajan songs are song on different occasions, both singularly or collectively.
Historians have found a beginning on a commencement of Bengali literature, before 19th century, when the Bengali language was yet to come into existence, in the prevailing Sanskrit and the Prakrit - Apabhramsa literature. Poet Jaydeva's Git Govinda , written in a lucid Sanskrit, is an example of this period. Jaydeva is said to have hailed from the village Kendubilwa, in the Birbhuen District of West Bengal. But there is a controversy regarding his nativity. People of Orissa claim him to be an Oriya, but still Jaydeva is regarded as a Bengali Poet and many of them followed his style and metre.
It is about in the 10th century A.D., that the Bengali language was established. It emerged as one of the New Indo-Aryan languages from the Magadhi - Apabhramsa and Abahatta languages. Historians have periodised the language as below;
1. The old Bengali language : from 900 - 1200 A.D: The oldest specimen of Bengali literature is the Caryacaryabiniscaya (discovered by Haraprasad Sastri, from the library of Nepal court and was published by Bangiya Sahitya Parisat, in 1316 B.C. under the title Hazar Bacharer, Purano Bengla Bhasaya Bouddha gan o doha ), composed by the 24 Buddhist Sahajia poets. Scholars have not found any trace, neither of language nor of literature during 1200 - 1350 A.D and this period has been ascribed as the dark age.
2. Early middle Bengali period : 1350- 1500 A.D. the SriKrisņKirtan (discovered by Basanta Ranjan Roy, and published by the Bangiya Sahitya Parisat in 1323 B.C. The manuscript was without any title. This book aroused many controversies regarding the poet himself as there appeared more than one Candidas in Bengali literature.
3. Late middle Bengali period : 1500 - 1760 A.D.
4. Modern Bengali period : 1760 A.D to till date.
One of the eminent historian of Bengali literature proposes to periodise the history as follows:
1.The first phase: from 10th century to 1493 A.D. (from the inceptive period to Pre-Caitanya era). 2.The second phase: from 1493 A.D to 1605 (the Caitanya era) 3.The third phase: from 1606 A.D to 1800 (the Post Caitanya era). 4.The fourth phase : the 19th century (the first phase of modern age). 5.The fifth phase : the 20th century ( the second phase of modern age).
One can easily understand that Sri Caitanya Dev had been placed in the center in this periodisation, as he ushered in a cultural renaissance in Bengali life and literature. It is for his great contribution, that the 16th century is called the ' Golden age' in Bengali literature. Candidas and vidya pati are the two great poets of Pre-Caitanya era. Vidyapati , a versatile poet, hailed from Mithila and is regarded as a Bengali poet also. There had been four trends of mediaeval Bengali literature;
a) The trend of translation : This trend was more an adaptation than literal translations from the Sanskrit classics, from Bhagbad,from Ramayana, or from the Mahabharata.
b) The trend of Vaisņava literature, the Vaisņava lyrics (' Padavali' literature), biographical literature, are in Sanskrit and Bengali. Kritlivas and Kasiram Das were the two great poets who translated Bengali works.
c) The trends of the Mangal Kavya : the Manasa Mongal, the Candi Mongal, the Dharwa Mongal and other minor Mongal Kavyas. Mukunda Chakraborti and Bharat Candra Roy had been the two great poets of this trend.
d) The trend of Sakta lyrics: Ram Prasad Sen and Kamala Kanta are considered the two great eminent poets.
The modern age was brought to existence after the battle of Plassey in 1757, when the British took the scepter. A new horizon was open to the Indians. Bengali people extended their minds to different objects and subjects. The Bengali prose was established and through this, different genres of literature took place. In poetry, western influences were very effective. Patriotism was another trend in literature. Thus a true renaissance was ushered in. Many great poets and patriots appeared to serve the country, and of them Rabindranath Tagore was the greatest, in every sense and the Bengali culture culminated in him.
In 1905, Lord Curzon proposed to divide Bengal, to separate the Hindus of West Bengal from the Muslims of east Bengal, a great commotion was created thereby and all the national leaders rose to the occasion to prevent the sinister motive of the English rulers. This founded a rich store house of patriotic literature in Bengal, which persisted till 1947, in unbroken continuity. In 1942, during the 2nd world war, there was a terrific man made famine, lakhs of people died of starvation at that time and ultimately it become a socio-literary issue to the Bengali writers in general. In the same year, Mahatma Gandhi served an ultimatum to the British rulers to quit India and it became a clarion call to Indian people to rise against the rulers. Finally, in 1947, when India was divided and Pakistan emerged out of that a great exodus of the refugees from the east Bengal, caused social, political, economic and humanitarian problems in the cultural profiles of Bengal and India as well, as the famine of 1942 created the ' famine-literature' , so in the post-1947 there appeared a literature, which has been termed as 'refugee-literature'. From the above and brief culture-contour of Bengal, it may be inferred that, Bengali people are very conscious and are alive to the circumstances they have gone through the ages and are in the habit of depicting those in their literature, and thus making their literature a moving one.
The first Bengal fiction, in the correct name of the term Durges Nandini (daughter of the lord of a fortress) by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee appeared in 1865. It was a semi historical romance ; Chatterjee wrote some other novels of this type: Chandrashekar (name of the hero); Rajsingha (name of the hero) is the first purely, historical novel in Bengali. His social novels are Bisbriksha (' the poison tree' ), trilogy on the Gita , Ananda math , Debi Chaudhurani , Sitaram. The Bande Mataram mantra was first uttered in the Ananda math and was translated by Sri Aurobindo. Chatterjee's novels are known to the Indian readers through translations. After Chatterjee, Rabindranath Tagore came with his Cokher bali (' An eye sore' , the first Bengali Psychological novel) and Gora (name of the hero : the first Bengali novel in which the hero embraces the whole of India as his workplace). Saratchandra Chatterjee is the most popular novelist, not only of Bengal , but of entire India. His Devdas , through a Pre-mature writing made him immerse popular. Srikanta an autobiographical novel (in 4 vols) was his masterpiece. Bengal's social life have been mirrored in his works. Then comes in a sequence - Bibhuti Bhusan Bannerjee, Tarasankar Bannerjee and Manik Bannerjee. Bibhuti Bhusan's Pather Pancali (song of life, also an autobiographical novel), Tarashanka's Hansuli banker upakatha (a tale of the Hansulibank ) and Manik's Padma Nadir Mathi (Boatmen of the river Padma) have won international fame through translations, are also the masterpieces of these three authors. Satinath Bhaduri, a contemporary writer, wrote Jagari (wake fullness) on the freedom struggle of India.
Bengali fiction had its golden days during 1930's when Rabhindranath Tagore was alive. The above mentioned three Bannerjee's started writing, the group writers of the Kallol period (' Kallol' was a Bengali monthly magazine, which introduced some modern ideas and style. Author's : Buddhadev Basu, Premendra Mitra, Achintya Kumar Sen Gupta, Probodh Kumar Sanyal). Sailajananda Mukharjee was the first Bengali novelist to extend the field of Bengali fiction from the ordinary social life to the life of the coal-miners. Annada Sankar Roy was most intellectual writer of this period. During 1940's and 1950's, a host of Bengali novelists appeared and caused immerse progress in this field.
Like the novel, the short story made a later arrival in Bengali. But it seems, short stories are the richest branch of literature of Bengal. In this sphere, Rabindranath Tagore's name is to be mentioned in the first place. It is Tagore, who introduced the short story in Bengali literature. He has written 123 odd short stories, covering every walk of life. These early works are based on the rural life and the last phase depict the urban. Many of his short stories are internationally famous through translations, and are immortal for their craftsmanship. Tagore' s contemporary Bengali short story writers are of no less talent. All the eminent novelists have written short-stories of international standards. It has been said that the lyrical poetry and the short stories, the two genres of literature, are the fruits of Bengal' s national character. Some of the master short story composers are Prabhat Kumar Mukherjee (who executed in light and humorous short stories). Jagadish Gupta (famous for psychological treatment of characters). Rajsekhar Basu (His pen-name was ' Parasu Ram' , famous for his satirical stories), Premendra Mitra (famous for his poignant view point), Balai Chand Mukherjee (his pen name was ' Banaphool; introduced very short stories), Saradindu Bannerjee (for his historic- romantic stories), Bibhuti Bhusan Mukherjee (excelled in humorous story), Manoj Basu etc. Bengal saw a galaxy of short story writers in 1950' s like Narendra Nath Mitra, Narayan Gangully, Santosh Ghose, Subodh Ghose, Hari Narayan Chatterjee, and many others.
Following the style and treatment of the matter, essays have been placed in two categories : (a) essays of serious nature, dissertations; (b) Essays pertaining to light subjects and written in a light mood, Belles - letters, unless the prose of the related language is involved to a degree. It is impossible to create and introduce this kind of essay as the Bengali prose had not improved to an expected extent. The example of light essay in Bengali could not be found before Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. His Kamala Kanter Duptar (' Kamala Kant' s Register' , 1872) remains the best examples in this regard. Even now Kamala Kanta, an opium eater, every evening, chats with his lady-love Prasanna, the milkmaid, but obliquely observes the social and political states of things with equal seriousness. Chatterjee's Loka Rahasya is also an example of this type of literature. The contemporary writers of Bankim Chandra also employed their pens in this direction and created good success. This combination of seriousness with that of lightness was a unique feature of Bengali literature at one time. Even the intellectual writers did not shrink to write in this way. Akshay Chandra Sarkar, Satyendranath and Dwijendra Nath Tagore, were the authors of this type of literature. Later, Parimal Goswami, Syed Muztaba Ali, and others become the eminent authors of their genre.
It was through the plays and dramas in the later half of the 19th century that the Bengali people expressed their national emotions and literary abilities. It began through the translation works on the Sanskrit and the western drama which ultimately found its own field of drama. At this period, the Bengali language was under developed, but with the earnest efforts of many talented dramatists and playwrights, the Bengali drama reached a stage of maturity. All those efforts were by the amateurs as there was no national and professional stage and it was only in 1872 that a National theatre was established and the Bengali theatre gained a momentum and got ameliorated by that. Dinabandhu Mitra wrote the Nil Durpan (translated in to English, under the title; the Indigo planting mirror by Madhusudan Dutta, a tragedy), Madhusudan Dutta wrote Krisņakumari (a historical tragedy), these two contemporary great works gave the Bengali drama a good impetuous. After them Girish Chandra Ghose, (the ' Garrick of Bengal' , his works ; Jana , ' Bilwa Mangal' , ' Paņdava Gourav' , - devotional and mythological plays ; ' Prafulla' - a social tragedy, Amrita Lal Basu (a satirist playwright), Kshirod Prasad Vidya Vinode (Mythological, historical play-wright), D.L. Roy (Propagated patriotism through historical plays), are the most famous dramatists of this period. Rabindranath Tagore appeared with the Shakespearean style of drama (' Raja O Rani' , ' Visarjan' ), dramatic poems (' Citrangada' ) and finally turned to his own world of symbolic drama (' Raja' , ' Acalayatan' , ' Mukta dhara' , ' Rakta Karavi' , ' Falguni' ,) ; in the last phase of his life Tagore was engaged in composing dance drama (' Caņdalika' , ' Citrangada' , ' Shyama' , ' Tasher desh' ) - completely a new trend in Bengali theatre, and remain without a parallel, till date. The I.P.T.A. (Indian People' s Theatre Association) staged the Navanna (by Bijon Bhattacharya) in 1943, and a new era was introduced thereby in the history of Bengali drama and stage. In 1950's the Bengali drama turned to western drama and borrowed different types of dramas through translation or through the Bengali fictions. The group theatres appeared and they made immense progress through their experiments. They also brought out many journals and papers on the drama in general. The Yatra or the indigenous theatre came closer to the professional stage and ultimately became a rival of the former. Meanwhile the trend of one act play gained popularity with the audience and encouraged by the dramatic festivals and dramatic competitions. This form of drama went on prevailing upon them more and more. One act plays borrowed from the other languages or written originally in Bengali, are now the most favourite form of drama with the Bengali people now. Many modern Bengali poets have written poetic drama, but those are yet to find place on the stage. The closet drama (reading drama/ drawing room drama) is also a popular form of drama with the sophisticated renders of the present day.
There was a great tradition of the epic literature in Sanskrit and those had been written according to the canons of the Sanskrit poetics. Modern western critics have envisaged this branch of literature in a different way and have dwelt upon this in an elaborate method. The style and compositions of the modern epic was quite unknown to the Indians and to the Bengali poets. Naturally this branch of literature remained virgin, until Michel Madhusudan Dutta wrote the literary epic Meghnad Badh Kavya (the slain of Meghnad, the son of Ravaņa, 1861), the first of its Kind in Bengali, before this Michel wrote Tilottama Sambhav Kavya but that cannot be reckoned as an epic in the western sense of the term. The age of epic in Bengali literature was introduced by Madhusudan Dutta, through the lyric is more favourite to the Bengali poets. Hemchandra Bannerjee (' Br?tra Samhar Kavya' the slain of Br?tra. the demon) took the episode from the Mahabharata , as Michael did from the Ramayana . Though Hem Chandra resorted to the blank verse at times, he preferred variety of rhymes here, and it is for this reason that the grandeur and glory of an epic is marred. After the trend set by Michel M.S. Dutta, there was an irresistible flow of epics and epic lings, even by mediocre poets of the then Bengali. Nabin Chandra Sen was a worth mentioning poet, and he composed a trilogy (Kurukshetra, ' Raivatak' and ' Prabhas?' ) based on the Mahabharata. It seems that Bengali poets had been very eager and active in selecting episodes from the Indian mythologies. However, the epic trend did not last long and in course of time it became extinct and passed into oblivion.
From the very inception, Bengali literature has always meant for poetry . There was no other branch of literature, as the poetry has always been the only way of expression of emotions, whatsoever may be the type of emotion be. Poetry, at this time, would mean long and narrative poems, sung by an anchor singer and his associates. Sometimes he would recite or chant some poems, or Slokas to link up the story line. Sometimes he would dance to amuse his audience. He would take a fly- brush (a Chowrie) in his right hand and wear a tinkling anklet round his feet, while singing. Thus in medieval Bengali literature, poetry would always mean singing and dancing . Of course, there had been trends of lyrics in the form of Vaisņava and Sakta Padubalis, (verses).
After the battle of Plassey in 1757, the Kaviwallas (a type of poets who use to extemporize poems and rhymes, cap verses, before the audience ) became the major poets of Bengal. It was the Kaviwallas , who reigned till 1850. A new era in Bengali poetry took a good start from this point. Rangalal Bannerjee may be ascribed as the first modern Bengali poet who wrote the Padminir upakhyan ( the tale of Padmini, a historical character) in the medieval style. Iswar Gupta was neither a great poet, nor a journalist, but under his leadership the Bengali literature was ameliorated to a degree. Patriotism became a subject of literature, as the poets of this age became conscious of their worldly circumstances and existence. The sense of the nature, the sense of the Romanticism and wonder and the subjectivism - these are main characteristics of modern lyricism, which the modern Bengali poets acquired from the Romantic poets of England. Bengali poets had been in a cross-road ; whether the classicism or the romanticism would be their real literary path. Ultimately they went for the romanticism and lyricism. Biharilal Chakraborti, the precursor of Bengali lyrical poetry was also master - hand in this sphere of literature. After Chakraborti, Bengali saw a galaxy of lyrical poet, which include Rabindranath Tagore, alongwith Nabinchandra Sen, Hem Chandra Bannerjee, Devendra Nath Sen, Akshay Chandra Baral, and many others. Woman poets also came forward with their pens and depicted the romance of household life in their own way. The impact of romanticism and lyricism was extended to the other branches of lyric, Sonnets, Odes, Literary Ballads, Epistolary poems. Michel M.S. Dutta was the first poet in Bengali who introduced the sonnet ( Caturdaspadi Kavitaboli , verses in 14 lines), the ode ( Brajangana , the lady of Braja, that is Radha), the epistolary poem (the Birangana , mythological heroin's of India) and reflexive poems. The sonnet became very popular with the poets and the readers alike, - various experimentations had been held by many poets. The lyric form had inspired the modern Bengali song. It also helped develop the dramatic poems of Bengal, which ultimately turned to the poetic drama. The epic poetry had a bright inception and had its sequel in course of time.
These branches of literature are highly rich and varied in Bengali. All these started at the time when Bengali prose was established. Female writers had also joined in these fields.
If the above literary types mean the autobiography, biography or the memories (Memoirs, Daisy, Journal and Memoir novel) of an ordinary man of a society, it was quite unknown in the medieval period and was the sole subject of biographies (in Sanskrit and Bengali languages, and that too in verses only). As the mundane and terrestrial states of things were to be ignored at that time, spiritual world being the objective, men of rank and file did not take any interest in writing these. Bengali people's view towards life begun to be changed by the influences of the western culture. As a result of this, they began to write, autobiographies and memoirs in prose, of their own. Even the housewives with little education felt writing these. These biographies and autobiographies are very valuable from the social and literary stand points. There are priceless information regarding the daily and house hold life of ordinary men and women.
The Caitanya Bhagabad by Brindaban Das and the Caitanya Caritamrita by Krishņa Das Kaviraj (in verses, of course), are the two most important biographies in Bengali. But the view points of these two devotee-cum-biographers are quite different. Brindaban Das had been more practical and close to the real life of Sri Caitanya, while Krisna das stand point was that of a philosopher and had preached the Vaisnava theory, keeping Sri Caitanyadev at the center. It is for this reason that, Brindaban Das's work became very popular even to an ordinary man, but Krisndas's Caitanya Caritamrita remained close to the men of taste and Knowledge.
In the 19th century, when the mundane world became a vital force and when the Bengali prose was found, many authors felt writing on the lives of the poets and prophets: Ishwar Gupta's Kavibar Bharat Candra Roy Gunakarer Jivan Brittanta (life of the poet Bharat Candra Roy); Rajani Kanta Gupta's Joy dev Carit (life sketch of the poet Jay dev) .
Giris Candra Sen's Mohammader Jivani (life of the prophet Mohammad ); Paramhamsa Ramkris?ņer Ukti O Sankshipta Jivani ( Sayings and a short life sketch of Parama Hamsa Ramkrishna ) Krisnabehari Sen's Asok Carit (life of emperor Asoka) are worth mentioning;
Many autobiography writers resorted to point the social and political backdrop of his life, as:
Rajnarayan Basu's Sekal or Ekal , (the past and present days ); Gramya Upakhyan (' a village tale' );
Shiv Nath Sastri's Ramtanu Lahiri O Tatkalin Bangla Samaj ( Ramtanu Lahiri and Bengali society at his time );
Monomohan Basu's Samaj Citra: Purba O Bartaman (Social sketches: Part and present)
Raj Narayan Basu's Atma Carit, Shiv Nath Sastri's Atma Carit Kartikeya Chandra Roy's Atma Jivan Carit Pratap Chandra Mujumdar's Atmakatha . Devendra Nath Tagore's Swa-racita Jivan Carit ( autobiography written by himself ) Vidyasagar completed only two chapters of his autobiography. Autobiographies written by women writers; Sarada Sundari Devi (Keshav Candra Sen' s mother): Atma Katha Nistrarini Devi's Sekaler Katha (tales of the past days) Rasa Sundari Devi's Amar Jivan (My life).
Many other women writers, of modern period have written biographies and autobiographies.
Though there were Maitryees and Gargis is ancient India, women in classical literature of medieval Bengali period is very rare. The Ramayana or the Mahabharata, the two great epics had never been written with the woman artists, with the lone exception of Candravati, a poetess of East Bengal who had, written a Ramayana. But the full text is not obtained.
In the 20th century, there appeared many talented women who wrote novels in the classical style: Swarnakumari Devi (Tagore's elder sister), Anurupa Devi, Sita Devi, Santa Devi, Leela Majumdar, - all these women writers have contributed literature of eternal value. In the very modern period Alhapurna Devi (who has a trilogy) and Mahasweta Devi were awarded Akademi prizes. Her Aranyer Adhikar - Rights over the forest, is a novel about the Santali rebels. Hazar Curasir Ma - Mother of the prisoner No 1084 , is a political novel. The whole novel states the affairs of a single day. Ashapurna was a prolific authoress, while Mahasweta has been writing on how Ashapurna's literary world war of middle class families treads on the political ideas.
Travelogues in Bengali literature could be found from the 19th century, when the Bengali people turned their eyes to the mundane world and wanted to extend themselves in the different branches of life and knowledge. It is a vicarious way to know the life and society, customs and manners of the people of other lands. It is through this branch of literature that the Bengali people could know the modern moving world and could gather knowledge about it and could expand their minds in different direction.
Travelogues could be written in different styles: some times it is simply a description of the journey, the pleasures and the experiences of the traveller are stated effectively. Sometimes the mode is subjective. Even there could be an indistinct storyline behind it and thus this style of presentation is akin to a creative literature. In some case the travelogues are presented in an epistolary style, an intimate style of expression. It is only an affair between the writer and the receiver and on the other end, the reader enjoys it. Lastly, travelogues may be presented in the form of a dairy, the traveller being the diarist.
All the above mentioned forms are available in the Bengali literature. Of course in some cases there are admixtures of more than one form. Sanjeev Candra Chatterjee's Palamon (a district in Bihar) is a kind of this sort of a travelogue - mainly a narration of the journey, but there are observations like that of a novelist. The second type of the above are abundant in Bengali ; Annada Sankar Roy's Pathey Pravasi (' In the roads and abroad' ), Probodh Kumar Sanyal's Mahaparasthaner Pathey (' towards Mahaprasthan' ), Subodh Chakraborti's Ramyani Bikshya ( Reactions after seeing a beautiful objects ), Samares Basu's Othaya Pabo tare ( where shall I get Him ) are a few instances. Iswara Gupta' s Bhramankari Bandhur Patra ( Letters from a traveling friend ) is the first instance of its Kind and has been followed by Rabindranath Tagore, in his Europe Pravasir Patra . (Letters from Europe) and in his Europe Yatrir Diary (Diary of the Europe traveller) had resorted to the style of a diarist.
This branch of literature is gaining popularity with the modern Bengali readers in general.
It was only in the 19th century that the Bengali poetics in the true sense came into being. Sanskrit poetics used to prevail upon the readers and the poets. Some of ancient Indian theories are of eternal values and the critics had discovered all the intricacies regarding ' Dhwani' (Suggestiveness) and ' Rasa' (the literary pleasures). In the third century the great Bharat Muni wrote ' Natya sastra' (a book on Dramaturgey) and it was announced by Abhinava Gupta in the 11th century. Then came Dandi (7th century), Bhamaha (8th century), Baman (9th century); but in the 9th century one person appeared with the ' Dwanyaloka' (the light of Dhwani) and in the 9th/10th century, Ananda Bandhan expanded the theory. The Bengali writers had been very much influenced by Biswanath's (1300 - 1380 A.D) Sahitya Durpan . Michel M.S Dutta has referred to his name in many cases. Rupa-Goswami's (16th century)' Ujjwal Nila moni was another book in this regard.
But the rich tradition of the Sanskrit poetics did not satisfy the modern Bengali writer, nor did they appreciate that Michel M.S. Dutta and Bankim Candra, - the two great writers revolted against the Sanskrit translation. Bankim Candra did not appreciate the enumerative nine Rasas (' Nava Rasa' ), as the human mind has a thousand and one variety and could not be counted at all. Secondly, in the sphere of criticism, a ' Sloka' or a particular part of the whole composition are explained and annotated in such an elaborate manner, that those are never viewed in their entirety. In his critical essay, Uttar Ram Carit (a drama based on the later half of the life of Ram Candra, by Bhababhuti), Bankim Candra first proposes to view every part of the drama, with the sense of the whole ; but at the time of actual implementation, Bankim Candra fails and forgets his task. But still, one must say that Bankim Candra introduced some literary terminologies (and of course some literary form also) in his Biti Kavya. It was Bankim Candra himself who supplied the Bengali synonym for the ' Lyric' .
Michel Madhu Sudan Dutta also was of the opinion that Bengali literature should not always be viewed by the western canons of literature, because literary and social perspectives are quite different here. Nor did he want to follow the line of the Sanskrit traditions. Michel's literary taste was a bit ethical, and it is for this reason that he could not appreciate the works of Bharat Candra, though Michel refers to Bharat Candra every now and then.
After Michel and Bankim Candra, came Rabindranath Tagore with his own unique message. He wrote a series of books on poetics, and all of those are equally valuable. To mention some of them are Sahitya , Sahityer Pathe (towards literature). Sahityer Swarup (the nature of literature), Adhunik Sahitya (modern literature). Rabindranath's criticisms are the result of his own perception of literature , and he cares a little for the canons of literature preached by the predecessors.
After Tagore we find several scholars to appear. Some of the works are worth mentioning. Atul Candra Gupta's Kavya, Jignasa (on the poetics); Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta's Kavyalok , (the light of poetry). Late Sisir Kumar Das's Kava tatwa is the direct translation in Bengali of Aristotle's Poetics.
When in 1861, the first Bengali epic (the Meghanad Badh Kavya ) was published, Bengali readers and the writers came in touch with different literary terminologies and movements. The genre epic was involved with authentic epic, ' literary epic' , ' Classicism' , when in 1872 the lyrical poetry had begun to be composed. ' Romanticism' and ' lyricism' were two main subjects, which the Bengali people came into contact with. The novel was also unknown to the readers and in 1865 Bankim Candra' s first novel Durgesh Nandini , was published. It was a ' Historical romance' . Thus in this way different kinds of novels were written and on the basis of that, ' realism' was an important issue in the literary movements. The term ' realism' , in the sequel, brought ' social realism' , and ' naturalism' . In 1930' s, the Kallol group of writers ushered in a fresh kind of ' realism' , which is known as the ' romantic realism' . The French novelists went for the ' naturalism'. The Bengali novelists did not go to that extent, but the sex was an important matter with them and they discovered a new kind of romanticism in it. The ' Social realism' of Russia had inspired the Bengali poets, novelists and of course the dramatists, mainly in the 1940's. The first world war (1914 - 1918) had a great impact on the European literature. But during the second world war (1939 - 1945), Bengali people come in to direct touch with the war itself. The second world war was also accompanied by a terrific famine. As a result, ' realism' become a ' grim realism' to the authors and to the artists. With the death of Rabindranath Tagore (1941), the post - Rabindra literature was introduced.
Various literature form, on the model of European and Western literature had begun to be introduced. Short stories in different extent and forms, novellets (Tagore himself introduced this form of the novels), Prose - poems, Poetic-drama, one act plays - all these made an issue of them at different times.
' Dalit' is a Sanskrit word, which literately means, ' a trodden' , ' a trampled' , more precisely, a person trodden down on trampled under foot. Of late it has assumed a political colour and figuratively denotes - a class or a group of people who are exploited and their economic and social growths are obstructed by the upper classes, by taking under advantages over them. The issue gained momentum for the first time in Maharastra around 1955 and a college was established there by the Dalits. Politically the Dalit movement is a grave issue in the North and the west India and a literature solely on the life and economy of the Dalits has been developing since then, in those states.
In West Bengal, the Dalit Movement on the Dalit literature seems to be weaker, in comparison with those of the above states. Prof. Acintya Kumar Biswas has established a formal Caturtha Duniya (the fourth world ) to propagate the issues of the Dalits in general and he is the founder-leader in West Bengal, since 1992. He has composed a book of poems Caru Baruier gan (' songs of Caru Barui' ), Barui is a caste who raises betel trees and trades on that (< Barujiti). Another writer, Kapil Kris?ņa Thakur, has authored a novel Iswar talir upakatha (' a tale of Iswara tali' ). Be that as it may, the movement is yet to struck roots in Bengal.
The term itself suggests its contention : it is a gender - based literature and the criticism on this literature, in favour of the women in general, has been termed as the feminist criticism. This type of criticism had its origin in the Western countries around 1960's and since 1960 this movement has been extending its sphere and domain of activities. Literature which had been dominated by the male writes, obviously became the opposite party to them. Peculiarly and hopefully, many male writers and critics came forward to sympathize with the movement.
In the British parliament in England, John Stuart Mill became very active for the emancipation of women, as they had no proper education and many social rights had been denied to them. It is in the Arya darsan (a monthly Magazine of good repute, in mid-1880) that the editor Jogendra Candra Vidyabhusan compiled a full life- sketch of J.S. Mill, with interpretative remarks and subscribe his own view on this point. Vidyabhusan's contemporary Bankim Candra Chatterjee also wanted to raise Draupadi from her disgrace as she had as many as five husbands ; for ages it remained a question whether Draupadi was Chaste or unchaste. After discussing the tale of the Mahabharata in many ways, it was Bankim Candra who attended the honour of the heroine of the Mahabharata to Draupadi, spoke highly of her courageous activities and bravery. Thus Draupadi's honour was recovered to a degree, which was a burning question at that time in Bengal.
Coming to the Bankim Candra's own works one can find, in all his fictions, all the events and incidents that have taken place during the night and all these have been caused to happen by the women. The heroines of Bankim Candra, with no exception, are all exquisitely beautiful and even the heroes of high merits take those women as their Dulcinea (= an idolized sweet heart), have been charmed by their physical beauties and were on their Knees, as if to worship them.
Take another example from the literature of the 19th century : the Bengali lyrical poets of the second half of this century had poets like Biharilal Cakraborti, Devendra Nath Sen, Akshay Candra Baral who had discovered their ' Muses' or goddesses of inspiration in their dead or alive wives. They wrote elegies also on the death of their devoted wives, including Rabindranath Tagore himself.
Now, the other side of the picture : in the later half of the 19th century there appeared a host of Bengali poetesses (many of them here quite educated), who have pointed tender pictures of their household world, a world of their own, full of Conjugal love and full of affection for their children. It seems, the household world had been their center of all kinds of attraction. In the 20th century one can find a different picture : the awakening of the women folk, as the day advanced through social and political turmoil's, made the women novelists aware of the prevailing situation ; their efforts had been at this point of time, to escape from the bondage and to find out ways of emancipation. This was the main aim and purpose of all the short stories and fictions written by the women writers. It is to be mentioned in this connection that one has seen women novelists in this regard, but no rebel poetess in Bengal.
Awards and prizes of west Bengal, accorded for literary and scientific contributions, may be divided in the classes:
a. Governmental b. Non Governmental, Private
Rabindranath Tagore prizes : there are three annual Prizes : one for literary contribution ; one for scientific contribution ; one for literature, but written in language other than Bengali.
Bankim Candra Chatterjee Prize: on prose and fiction
Vidyasagar Prize : on the whole works of the awardee.
Dinabandhu Mitra Prize: on dramatic works and performances. State award (sponsored by the Rabindra Bharati University);
Dinesh Chandra Sen Prize: for contribution on folklore and literature;
On other branches of arts and crafts: Abanindra Prize;Alauddin prize;Dinabandhu Prize; Lalan Prize;Unday Sankar prize.
Medals awarded by the Asiatic society ( on the whole contribution of the awardee) Prizes and Medels awarded by ; Bangiya Sahitya Parisat; Sarat Sahitya Samiti Vivekananda Society.
Jagattarini Gold Medal and other gold-ring and silver medal. (the list of all awards and prizes of West Bengal presented here is not a complete one)
It has already been stated above that Bengali literature has a long and ancient traditions of translations .But those works were not the translation in the proper sense of the term, but were adaptations in nature. In the medieval period, the Bhagabad, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in Sanskrit, had been the main source language. In the 19th century, when the Bengali people had begun to learn English (and other European languages), and the necessity of the translations(from English as the source language) had badly crept in. The translation works of this period may be observed in different trends;
Translation works by the missionaries : Missionaries from different parts of Europe came to Bengal to spread and propagand the Christianity among the natives of Bengal. Naturally the age being was the main aim, the source language being the English. Srirampur, in the district of Hooghly, was a big center of this; William Carrey, a Baptist missionary, came to Bengal in 1793 A.D. from England, established a press in Srirampur and in May 1800 A.D., he published a translated part from the New testament, entitled Mangal Samacar Matiur Racita (' Gospel of st, Mathew' ). It took nine years more to publish the translation of the whole Bible. But this translation was not at all appreciated by the readers, as the prose was not satisfactory and were distorted. Two other translations of the Bible were again published; Christabibaranamritang ( the descriptions of the Christ as ambrosia ) and Nistar-ratnakar ( the ocean of deliverance ). After this, many other translations of the holy Bible were found to be published.
Indian mythological works in Sanskrit were still the major source books for translations in to Bengali; the Bhagabad, the Markondeya Puran etc. had been such books. Rames Candra Dutta's monumental translation work was the Rig veda. Kaliprasanna Sigha set a group of writers, including Iswar Candra Vidyasagar, to translate the Mahabharata in Bengali prose. Hem Candra Bhattacharya, by his personal and single efforts translated it. The Ramayana in Bengali Prose, though an abridged edition, Rajsekhar Basu translated both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in standard colloquial Bengali for the first time.
Shakespeare and Kalidasa, the two great dramatists of the east and the west remained the permanent sources of translation. In translating Shakespeare, the Bengali writers preferred ' adaptation' than literarily translation. Among Kalidasa's works, popular works had been the Megh duta , the Abhignan Sukuntala , and the Raghuvamsa , Bhavabhuti's Uttar Ram Carit had been translated by more than one translator.
Other works of the European artists have also found place. Among poems, Tennyson's In Memoriam is worth mentioning (Some continental poets, who wrote in languages other than English attracted the Bengali writers, e.g. Mallarme, Prowst, Charles Bandelaire. Besides, English poets: D.H Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, etc). Among the short-story writers and the novelists, there are : (continental : B.D. Maupassant, K. Hamsun, A. Daudat, Tolstoy; etc); A. Poe, O' Henry.
The literature of the middle east, the Arabic and the Persian literatures have also supplied source books. Bengali translators have taken the Arabian Nights or the works of Omer Khuiyam through English Translations. Crime stories have been taken from the direct source language.
b. Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali was translated in different languages. The English version was done by Rabindranath himself, - ' Song offerings' is the literal translation of the term - ' Gitanjali'. His other works have been translated into English and other languages, by his friends and relatives and by himself.
Bankim Candra started writing in English, wrote a novel even (' Rajmohan' s wife ) then turned to his another tongue; later his fictions were all rendered into English. Sarat Candra Chatterjee was the most popular novelist of Bengal, and all his works have been translated into English and into other Indian languages, Bibhuti Bannerjee's Pather Pancali and Manik Bannerjee's Padma Nadir Majhi have earned inter national fame among the recent translations. A large number of short stories of recent writers and the poems of modern Bengali poets have also been rendered into English. These translation works have been worked out either by Governmental level or by Private organizations or by Personal efforts.
Given below are the names of all the books , used as resources in this writing:
a. Benglar Lokosahitya (Folk literature of Bengal) vols 1 to VI, Calcutta Publishers.
b) Bangla Lokosangit Ratnakar (An encyclopedia of Bengali Folk songs); 36 Becharam Chatterjee Street (Prof. Bhattacharya is the most recognized scholar in this field)
a) Srihatter Loka sangit (Folk songs of Sylhet) (University of Calcutta, 1963. Collected by : G.S. Dutta, I.C.S.)
b) Pranta Uttar Banger Loka sangit (Folk songs of the extreme North Bengal) (University of Calcutta, 1977). (A Ph.D. Thesis on this subject)
Banglar Loka Sahitya a (Folk songs of Bengal) (Bangladesh, Dhaka). (A senior and recognized scholar of Bangladesh)
a) Banglar Mukh Ami Dekhiyachi (I have seen the face of Bengal) (3 British India street, Calcutta-1) ( the village life of Bengal have been depicted in this book).
Loka Sanskritir Anginay (On the courtyard of Folk culture) (Pustaka Bipani. 27 Beniatola Lane, Calcutta-9) (A comparative study of the motifs of Northern India and that of W. Bengal).
Uttar Banger Loka Natya (Pustaka Bipani, 27 Beniatala Lane, Calcutta - 9) (An anthology of the folk drama of North Bengal, with notes).
Coochbiharer Loka Natya (Folk drama of Coochbihar) (Anima Prakashani, 141 K.C.Sen street, Calcutta-9) (An anthology)
Bangla Gramin Lokanatak (Folk drama of the Bengal-village); (An anthology of essays written by different authors).
Banga Bhara O Sahitya (On the literature and the language of Bengal) (Modern book Agency) (Are of the primary works on this subject).
1. Bangala Sahityer Itihas (Vols. 1 to V); (New edition, Ananda Publisher, 2000) (History of Bengali literature). (Most reliable books on this subject)
1) Bangla Sahityer Itibritta (Vols 1 , 2) (Modern Book Agency, Calcutta-9): (History of Bengali literature) (A popular book, and authentic at the same time).
Sahitya Sandarsan (A dictionary of Bengali literary terms) (Bama Pustakalaya, Calcutta - 73) (A recognized book by a Veteran Professor of English)
iii) Major works and writers:
a. The Gitagovida : Joy dev;
b. Old Bengali literature:
Edited by Hara Prasad Sastri (Bangiya Sahitya Parisat)
c. Early Medieval Bengali literature:
Edited by Basanta Ranjan Roy (Bangiya Sahitya Parisat).
(Published by the Calcutta University and Bangiya Sahitya Parisat)
Maladhar, Basu. (Published by Calcutta University)
d. Middle Bengali literature:
By Bipradass, Narayan Dev, Vijoy Gupta.
by Mukunda Chakraborti, Bharat Chandra Roy.
by Rupram Cakraborty, Ghanaram Chakraborti.
Caitanya Bhagabat: Brindavan Dass
Caitanya Caritamrita: Krisņa dass Kaviraj
Jnandass, Govinda dass
Ramprasad Sen, Kamalakanta Bhattacharya
a) Kazi Daulat : Sati maynabati or Lora Candrani(Completed by Syed Alawal)
b) Syed Alawal: Padmabali Pancali or Padumabat
Edited by D.C.Sen (Calcutta University)
e) Modern Bengali literature:
(by Ram Babu, Horu Thakur, Bhola Moyra, Antony Firingi etc.)
Ram Nidhi Gupta (Nidhu Babu)
a) Kathopkathan (The dialogues)
b) Itihasmala (Historical accounts)
Raja Ram Mohan Roy:
a. Vedanta Grantha (a book on the Vedanta)
b. Vedanta Sar (the essence of the Vedanta)
b. Sakuntala (Adaptation)
c. Kathamala (from Aeshope)
d. Sitar Vanavas (Adaptation)
e. Akhyan Manjari
Alaler Gharer Dulal (Son of an indulgent rich man)
Hutom Pyancar Naksa (Sketches by Hutom)
Swaracita Jivan Carit (An Autobiography)
a) Sekal an ekal (story of his life and ago)
b) Gramya Upakhyan (a story of village life)
a) Amar Balyakatha (Stories of any childhood days)
b) Bombai Citra (Sketches of Bombay)
c) Pramatha Choudhuri : Vir Valer Halkhata
Michel Madhusudan Dutta:
a) Meghnad badh kavya (The slain of Meganad, the son of Ravana, an epic)
b) Birangana (Written in epistolary style)
c) Caturdash Padi Kavitabali (a buch of sonnets)
Vritta Sanghar Kavya (the slain of the demon Vritta).
a. Palasir Yuddha (the battle of Plassey)
b. Kurukshetra, Raibatak, Prabhas.
a. His whole work
b. Kazi Nazrul Illam : his whole works
' Nil Darpan'
a. Krisņa Kumari (a tragedy in five act)
b. Ekei Ki Sabhayata ? (Is this civilizatioņ) (a low comedy/farce)
c. Buro Saliker Ghad?e non (a farce)
a. Jana, Bilwa Mongal, Pandava Gourav (Mythological plays)
b. Prafulla (a social play)
c. Sirajdaullah (a historical play)
a. Alibaba (a musical play)
b. Naranarayan (a mythological play)
c. Pratapaditya (a historical play)
a. Khasdakhal (a comedy )
a. Nurjahan, Sha Jahan, Candra Gupta, Mewar Patan (all historical plays).
a. Malini, Raja O Rani (his early dramatic works)
b. Raja, Acalayatan, Muktadhara, RaktaKaravi, Dakghor, (his symbolic dramas)
c. Citrangada, Candalika, Shyama Taser desh (Dance dramas).
a. Monmotha Roy: Karagar (a mythological play)
b. Sacindra Nath Sen Gupta: Sirajaddoullah (a historical play)
c. Bijon Bhatta Charya: Navanna : Debi Garjan
d. Utpal Dutta: Kallol, Rifel (based on modern problems)
e. Sambhu Mitra: Cand Baniker Pala (based on medieval literature)
f. Buddha Dev Basu: Tapaswi O Tarangini (based on the Mahabharata)
g. Badal Serkar : Ebang Indrajit.
a. Bankim Candra Chatterjee: Durgesh Nandini, Kapal Kundala, Bisbriksha, Candrasekhar, Krisna Kanter will, Rajsingha, Ananda Math, Dabi Chowdhurani, Sita Rani.
b. Ramesh Candra Dutta: Samaj, Maharastra Jivan Probhat.
c. Rabindranath Tagore: Gora, Cokherbali, Sesher Kavita
d. Sarat Candra Chatterjee: Devdas, Grinadaha, Srikanta (in 4 Vols), Caritra hin.
e. Bibhuti Bhusan Bannerjee: Pathar Pancali, Aranyak
f. Manik Bannerjee: Padma Nadir Majhi, Putul Nacer Itikatha,
g. Tara sankar Bannerjee: Dhatri devata, Kalindi, Hansuli Banker Upakatha,
h. Radha Annada Sankar Roy: ' Satya Satya'
The following writers are the best short story writers of Bengali literature:
Rabindranath Tagore, Probhat Kumar Mukherjee, Jagadish Gupta, Rajsekhar Basu, Premendra Kumar Mitra, Subodh Ghose, Narayan Gangully, Narendra Nath Mitra, Saradindu Bannerjee, Asapurna Devi, Probodh Kumar Sanyal, Balai Cand Mukherjee, Bibhuti Bhusan Mukherjee, Manoj Basu, Samares Basu, and many other.
The complete works of all these writers have been published and a reader can avail himself of this opportunity, according to his will and wish.
Buddha Dev Basu, Jibananda Dass, Amiya Chakraborti, Sudhindra Nath Dutta, Bishnu Dey, Subhas Mukherjee, Sukanta Bhattacharya.
The complete works of the above poets are easily available.
In this whole selection, Bangladesi books have been excluded ; if one wishes, a separate selection is to be done.
Nirmalendu Bhowawick, Ph.D(C.U), D. Litt. (R.B.U), D. Litt. (C.U)., Ex-head of the deptt. of Bengali, University of Calcutta.
Copyright CIIL-India Mysore