India Bengali Literature

By | December 16, 2021

Bengali literature begins with a series of Buddhist and esoteric songs called c ā ry ā ; these songs date back perhaps to the century. X, preserve the oldest surviving forms of the Bengali dialect and overshadow, in a deliberately enigmatic diction, mystical liturgies and profound meditations of the later Buddhist schools.

The book is therefore of more spiritual or linguistic interest than poetic. But it is a remarkable document of the great flourishing that the Buddhist schools sponsored by dynasties such as that of the Pāla (VIII-XI centuries) reached in Bengal; even after the Brahmin reform of the Sen (11th century) and the growing triumph of Hinduism, Buddhist currents survived especially in the lower classes.

Of Buddhist inspiration are the S ū nyapur āṇ a of Rāmāipaṇḍit and the poems of the Dharma ṅ gala: the latter, probably composed around the century. Xl in their original form, describe Buddhist cults not yet extinguished in the villages of West Bengal.

But these works of the most ancient period of Bengali literature, which closes around 1300, are preserved in recent manuscripts, through which we cannot have an exact idea of ​​their original redaction, because they were unconsciously adapted by copyists to the language spoken in their time. The first giuntaci operates in its original form is the Kri sn ak ī rtan composed before 1400. It is a collection of songs in which we describe the loves of Krishna and Radha, loves human soul symbolic and its celestial archetype; is called k ī rta ṇ a because these poems were sung in meetings of devotees (bhakta). Because the religion from which these poems were inspired is that of bhakti, that is, the loving dedication of the faithful to the god Kriṣṇa.

The Kri sn ak ī rtan is the most significant work of the second of times when we can divide the Indian literature and that goes from 1300 to 1500; but the most important poetically is the collection of the poems of Caṇḍīdās. Tradition hands them down under this single name: but in fact they belong to two different authors. The first, a follower of śivaite and tantric schools (section r ā g ā tmika), apparently singing his loves for a low-class girl, a washerwoman, in fact describes the technique of the most arduous yoga practices: the other poet, on the other hand, or the other part of the poems, belongs to the tradition of the Kriṣṇite school and exalts with refinement of images and harmony of towards the loves of Kriṣṇa and Rādhā, continuing with popular simplicity the example of Jayadeva (12th century) and Vidy ā pati (end of the 14th century and beginning of the 15th century); delicate, tenuous, idyllic poetry to which the great musicality of the verse increases its charm. Later, during the century. XV, Kīrtivāsa completed his Bengali translation of R ā m ā ya ṇ a, which more than a translation is a remake that still enjoys great popularity today. For India 2000, please check

In the third period, which goes approximately from 1500 to 1800, we are witnessing a great flourishing of the schools seen; Caitanya (1485-1533) arouses ardors of faith and followed by a crowd of disciples intoxicated with divine love, gives new life to the religion that was threatening to die out. He had found suitable ground in that emotionalism which is the dominant character of the Bengali people: in the viṣṇuit songs of his predecessors he inserts the abandonments and languors of a tender human passion; the intoxication of divine ecstasies defines with the terms of earthly love. God is no longer the terrible lord, I ś vara, but the sv ā min, that is, the bridegroom. The highest peaks of religious experience are reached by means of the prema, which is the dedication of the individual man to God, love like that which binds the lover to the beloved. And this love is not like that regulated by human laws, that is, conventional love (vaidhika), but freely follows the fulfillment of passion (parak ī ya) and does not take into account social norms. Such is the love of Kriṣṇa for Rādhā, a woman legally already of others, and of Rādhā for Kriṣṇa.

The charm of Caitanya’s personality arouses great enthusiasm in the crowds tired of the cold conventionalism that legists like Raghunandana had codified in their treatises. Caitanya emerges above all as a living incarnation of God: and then the biography is born: which will now be reverent exaltation of his figure as in CaitanyaBh ā gavata, now it will be the work of firm dogmatic texture and proud lyrical abandonments as in Caitanya Charit ā m ṛ ta by Kriṣṇadās Kavirāj, one of the most significant works of medieval Indian literature. And his most famous disciples also had their own biography (Advaitaprak āśa, etc.) while the literature of sacred songs (pad ā val ī) grew dramatically on the model of the symbolic effusions of love between Kriṣṇa and Rādhā: among the two best authors it also boasts some Muslim poets. An apparently strange fact that should not surprise us, however, in a country where even the abstractions of yoga were put into verse by Muslim poets as it is in Sekh Phaijullah ‘s Gorak ṣ avijaya.

The epic of the Mahābhārata found in this same period its interpreter in Kāśirām who put the whole poem in Bengali verses, adapting it to popular taste and sensibility: and the terrible goddess Caṇḍī, whom Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa had already sung, inspires one of the most famous poems of Bengali literature, namely the Ca ṇ ḍ ī ma ṅ gal of Mukundarām Kavikaṅkan, who discovers and sings the participation of the goddess in the life of her people.

In the last period that begins around 1800 we are witnessing the rise of Bengali prose. This prose gradually asserted itself through the polemics that accompanied and followed the daring reforms of the Brahmo-Samāj, which under the impulse of Rammohan Roy and his followers, including Akshay Kumār Dutt and Devendranāth Tagore, led for the first time in India a true dream of redemption with less sympathetic and more rigidly orthodox traditions: either it was refined or ennobled in the imitation of the Western novel. The place of honor among writers belongs to Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, who, although deriving from European and especially English models (Walter Scott), nevertheless created the Indian novel in India: the most famous among his works is the, in which the revolt of the Sannyāsi is told and the song continues that begins with the words: banda m ā taram, and then became the national anthem of the Indian nationalists.

The social problems together inspired the drama which, without departing far from traditional schemes or models, is revived to deal with issues that politics or the Brahmo-Samāj had put in the forefront: thus the Kul ī nakulasarvasva of Rām Nārāyan Tarkaratna and the N ī ladarpan by Dinabandhu Mitra.

But this literature, while trying to free itself from traditional schemes, was nevertheless written in a very elaborate language in which Sanskrit and Sanskrit words predominate. Tagore deserves the merit of having redeemed Bengali literature from this tyranny, which, moreover, can be explained because the letters had always remained the privilege of the Brahmans or of the educated people trained in the schools of the pundits; Tagore returns to the people, to their spontaneous expressions, to their living and gushing language always fresh from their experiences. Thus literature was no longer the privilege of the educated classes, but returned to the very people from which the poet had drawn his inspiration and his teachings. In some of his works, such as in Lipik ā, the language is quickened to such an extent that it acquires a nervous conciseness and has a vividness of plastic efficacy. Of course, Western models also influenced Tagore poet: but nevertheless it remains undeniable that his main sources of inspiration were the sâdhus and bâhûl (da v ā tula = vates), itinerant ascetics who expressed in spontaneous songs, which are perhaps one of the liveliest and most human riches of Indian literature, the ardor of their faith and the sublime visions of their ecstasies. The Tagore of G ī t ā ñjali or of S ā dhana he is certainly its greatest continuator; for depth of conception and novelty of images and subtle symbolisms he literally rises above Rām Prasāda (1718-1775) in whom, however, the song flowed simple and immediate like a prayer in those raptures in which the devotee revealed himself in all his tragic greatness the great mother Kālī.

This symbolic lyricism of Tagore perhaps sometimes takes away the dramatic immediacy of his theatrical works, which move in a world of ideas, rather than in everyday reality; the action often takes place in distant spheres, so distant that the figures seem to lose outlines and acquire the diaphanous appearance of visions or dreams. Everything is transfigured by the most noble art of these dramas, which transport us to a world that is not ours, a context of delicacies, depths, harmonies, angelications of which the poems, which are the soul of these works, give us the immediate feeling, rather than the drama tell us the events.

If Tagore has with his figure overshadowed many other great writers and poets of modern India, he cannot, however, make us forget perhaps the greatest of the Bengali novelists who recently passed away: Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, in whom life bursts with all the his arrogance and tragedy; contrasts and doubts and enthusiasms in the new Indian generation appear there with their pathos and their anguished complexity. Born of the people, led to see the concrete rather than to dream, Sarat Chandra has created the truly Indian novel and two superb masterpieces such as Ś r ī ka ṇṭ a and Devad ā si.

A short summary which often leaves out important names can also be found in Winternitz, Geschichte der indischen Litteratur, III, Leipzig 1923, p. 592 ff. On Caitanya and her thoughts v. the various works of (Dinesh Chandra) Sen, especially Chaitanya and his Age, Calcutta 1922 and T. Melville Kennedy, The Chaitanya movement, Calcutta 1925.

India Bengali Literature