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Bangla Prose


Bangla Prose Some elements of proto-Bangla can be traced as far back as the tenth century in the form of Buddhist mystic songs, known as charyapada. These songs survived partly because they were sung through centuries and much later recorded in written form, and partly because they were associated with a religion. The samples of Bangla prose are, on the contrary, all but extinct. Short extracts of early Bangla prose, mainly in the form of vocabulary and phrases, survived only in some inscriptions from the eleventh century. However, most of these inscriptions are not properly dated nor do the extracts reflect any linguistic characteristics of fully fledged Bangla; they are for the most part early Bangla words. More than three hundred Bangla words also survived in Sarbananda's Notes on Amarakosha, called Tikasarvaswa, written in 1159, which proves that the Bangla language was taking shape at that time. However, neither the inscriptions nor the vocabulary show any sentence structure or grammatical traits.

Reasons for the late development of Bangla prose Indeed, it is doubtful how widely, if at all, Bangla was used as a written language at the time of the Sena rulers of Bengal (c1095 -1204). The Senas were well known for their enthusiasm and generous support towards Sanskrit studies, but they gave little or no support to the local language, Bangla, which was no more than a dialect at that stage. Moreover, the rate of literacy at that time must have been extremely low. The necessity, therefore, of writing personal letters or documents in Bangla was negligible. Even if, anybody did write anything in Bangla prose, those specimens most probably written on dried palm leaves, did not survive the unfavourable wet and humid climatic conditions of Bengal.

Muslim rule saw a change of court language as Sanskrit was replaced with Arabic, but this did not help the cause of Bangla during the first two centuries of their rule. It was in the fifteenth century that Muslim sultans started patronising the local language and literature. Even then, the Bangalis who benefited from this gesture were all poets, who did not cultivate Bangla prose. Indeed, the time was not favourable for the development of prose, let alone prose literature.'

While in the absence of a written culture, poetry can still survive as an oral tradition and can be passed on from one generation to another, it is not the same for prose. The development of prose depends significantly on a culture of writing and on the printing press. Bengal, and for that matter, India, was far behind Europe in this respect. Gutenberg started printing in 1450, but the first printing press arrived in Bengal three and a half centuries later.

Early specimens of Bangla prose The earliest personal letter in Bangla that survived the test of time was written in 1555 allegedly by the king of Koch Bihar to the king of Assam. It can be assumed that around that time other people began communicating in this manner. However, a solid written culture did not develop until the seventeenth century when the Mughal rulers reinforced their rule and put an administrative structure in place. This ensured that everything from a royal order, a grant or a deed, to a judgement in the court of a Qazi was to be recorded in writing, though not in Bangla, but in Persian. This culture of writing later influenced Bangalis to write their letters and deeds in Bangla with some Persian terminology contained in them.

An analysis of the language in the above letter from the king of Koch Bihar shows that most words thereof were either Sanskrit or words derived from Sanskrit, with a few of Arabic and Persian words. More significantly, it shows that the basic sentence structure of subject-object-verb had by that time become the standard. There were also sentences with zero verbs. Another letter dated 1631 as quoted by Sajanikanta Das in his history of Bangla prose highlights the same features of vocabulary, sentence structure and syntax.

Apart from personal letters and deeds, examples of old Bangla prose can be seen in handwritten books on Ayurveda or indigenous medicine and short Vaishvava and Sahjiya tracts written mainly in the form of questions and answers. The most' important works by Vaishnavas during the seventeenth century are Narottom Das's Dehakarach (early 17th century), Rupa Goswami's Karika (1631), Chandidas's Chaityarup Prapti (1675) and Krishvadas Kabiraj's Ragmayikana.

Development of prose in the Eighteenth Century If only a small number of samples of Bangla prose survived from the seventeenth century, the eighteenth century offers not only significantly more, but these samples also show that Bangla prose had by then attained its standard form so far as sentence structure, use of an extensive vocabulary and above all, a smoothness and lucidity were concerned.'

Like the earlier ones, some more Vaishnava and Sahajiya tracts were written during the eighteenth century. While Swaroday (c.1720) sounds similar in style to the earlier Chaityarup Prapti, the style in Brindabanleela, Brindaban Parikrama,' Jvanadi Sadhana and Sadhankatha is certainly much simpler and more able to express complex ideas. Another philosophical discourse, Bhasha Parichchhed, written towards the middle of this century stands out for the excellence of its language. The enormous development that took place in Bangla prose between the middle of the seventeenth century and the middle of the next century becomes evident when an example from Dehakarach is compared with another from Bhasha Parichchhed.

"What (are) youFoodgrain I (am a) creature. What kind of (a) creatureFoodgrain' (A) land-based creature. WhereaboutsFoodgrain' In (a) container. (What was the) container made ofFoodgrain' From (ideas conceived of) abstraction. What (are) theyFoodgrain' Five spirits. Eleven senses. Six passions. (They) together made (this) container."' (Dehakarach)

The above passage has just two verbs in the past form whereas the rest of the sentences consist of nouns and zero verbs. Since it was associated with a religion which considered Muslims hostile towards it, there are no Arabic or Persian elements. As is evident, all sentences are, in the grammatical sense, simple with subjects and complements and in two cases verbs at the end.

"Disciples together asked Saint Goutam / in which way our emancipation might come / kindly tell us. At that / Goutam says / emancipation comes once all substances are known. At that/disciples together asked / what the substances are. Substances are of seven kinds ..."

This passage has different verb-forms including simple present, present continuous, simple past and imperative. There is also a zero verb. All sentences end with a verb. There is also an incomplete verb. All the sentences have multiple clauses and are, in the grammatical term, complex. It is also lucid and free flowing.

In his history of Bangla prose literature, Sukumar Sen quotes an extract from a tract written in 1752, which shows a prose style that is capable of expressing complex ideas and is written in the literary style that later came to be known as Sadhu Bhasha or standard literary style. Dinexh Chandra Sen quotes yet another extract written in 1774, which is not in any manner inferior to the prose style of Fort William College pundits or, a decade later, that of rammohun roy's. In nathaniel halhed's Collection (1772-1785) in the British Library there is a story called Vikramaditya Charitra which is another example of lucid and smooth Bangla prose. Written in simple Sadhu Bhasha, it also has a few verb-forms which indicate the spoken form of Bangla at that time.

The first two printed Bangla books (in Roman script) called Brahman Roman Catholic Sambad and Kripar Xhastrer Arthabhed, both published in Lisbon in1743, and later nineteen translated books of East India Company's English Regulations and about two thousand Bangla circulars and advertisements published from Kolkata between 1784 and 1800, heralded the advent of a culture of printed Bangla prose. Apart from these printed materials, the handwritten documents from the Kolkata Mayor's Court (1756-74), and from the personal collections of Nathaniel Halhed (1772-85), George Boggle (1774-81), Jean Verle (1776 -1830) and Augustine Aussant (1779-85), and the letters to and from weavers (1790-93) -- all show that Bangla prose was steadily maturing towards a stage which, according to Dinesh Chandra Sen and Sukumar Sen can be called fully fledged. Therefore, the myth that Bangla prose started its bumpy journey suddenly after the establishment of Fort William College has no basis. The main reasons which hastened the rapid development of Bangla prose after a slow start were the establishment of courts of law by the East India Company, the decision by the Company to publish translations of its Regulations in Bangla (1773), the new formalised administrative set-up, the endeavours by the Company's Civilians to learn Bangla (1772-), and the introduction of the printing press in the late 1770s.

Nineteenth Century Prose The first book in Bangla prose, called Raja Pratapaditya Charitra, printed in Bangla characters, however, was written by Ramram Basu in 1801. His other colleagues at the College including Mrityuvjay Vidyalankar developed and formalised Bangla prose even further. These books, written for the College, were textbooks. However, a few years later, from 1815, Rammohun Roy began to write extensively on other themes and was compelled to create a style which would suit his polemics as well as his translations of Upanishads. However, the prose style that developed after Fort William College was highly Sanskritised and archaic in character and with the exception of some passages by Mrityunjay, lacked any kind of smoothness and lucidity. The publication of the first Bangla newspaper, called Samachar-Darpan, by the Xerampore Press in 1818, followed by two others by Rammohun Roy and Bhabani Charan Bandyopadhyay (between 1821 and 1822), helped Bangla prose to acquire a degree of simplicity as well as the capability of expressing complex ideas. Two more periodicals Samband Prabhakar (1831) and Tattvabodhini Patrika (1843) advanced the development of Bangla prose even further. Particularly, Akshay Kumar Datta and Devendranath Tagore, publishing their articles in Tattvabodhini, emerged as the best prose writers till then.

Bangla prose made great strides in the hands of ishwar chandra vidyasagar when he Published Vetal-pavcha-bingxhati (Twenty-five Stories of Betal) in 1847 as it showed the real beauty and potential of Bangla prose. It was the birth of what can be termed as a literary prose. Vidyasagar achieved the right collocation, correlation of words and best word order. Moreover, by choosing words appropriate to the subject, and beautifying it with alliteration and musical words, he created a style until then unknown to this language. Furthermore, he synchronised the breath pause and the meaning pause, creating a sense of fluidity. By using English punctuation marks, especially, the comma, he also made it easy for the reader to identify these pauses. Bangla prose which was so long only capable of expressing information now acquired the beauty of literary prose. In Xhakuntala (1854), Sitar Banabas (1862) and Bhranti Bilas (1869), he ironed out the initial problems he had faced.

However, one criticism which can be made of his style was its unsuitability for ordinary people or for everyday use. The language he had shaped was, indeed, a more formal, written language than anything else. It was thus inappropriate, for example, for dialogues in a faction. peary chand mitra, who began, in 1854, publishing in instalments the first "novel" in Bangla, called Alaler Gharer Dulal, based on contemporary life in Kolkata, and which came out as a book in 1858, immediately found that Vidyasagar's style was not sufficiently adequate for some of his characters, for instance, the barber and his wife, or for that matter, the two Muslim characters, Thak Chacha and Thak Chachi, nor was it lively enough for describing a rainy day with frogs croaking. Peary Chand, therefore, used a different style, which among others, consisted of colloquial verb-endings, slang and onomatopoeic words. The use of these elements opened up an entirely unexplored region and the immense potential of Bangla prose, which was further used to its fullest extent in Hutom Pyanchar Nakxha (1861-62). Indeed, Hutom created so lively a style that it was beyond the ability of anyone to imitate it successfully. Whereas Alaler Gharer Dulal was based mainly on the Sadhu or literary style, with some narration and dialogue in the colloquial style, Hutom was wholly written in the latter form. The use of right words at the right places, an abundance of' idioms and onomatopoeic words, various and vivid descriptions of contemporary Kolkata life and above all, a generous use of wit, humour and even, sarcasm made it stand out in the entire history of Bangla literature.

Because it was so extraordinary later writers did not follow the path shown by Peary Chand Mitra and the writer of Hutom, allegedly, Kali Prasanna Singh. Rather, they realised that while Vidyasagar's style could be suitable for non-fiction, fiction called for a different style which was more flexible and appropriate for every situation. bankim chandra chattopadhay, in his first novel Durgexhnandini (1865), set an example of this style. Even though it was primarily based on the style of Vidyasagar, Bankim refined it to such an extent that it became the model for every writer until, towards the beginning of the following century, Rabindranath Tagore created another. With his style, Bankim Chandra was able to narrate every conceivable situation from extremely serious to absolutely ludicrous, from an incredibly tantalising romantic situation to exceptional pangs of separation, from a scene of violence to one of peace, and from commotion to serenity. Moreover, he brightened up every situation with a liberal use of wit and humour.

However, his language was similar to that of his predecessors in the sense that it was based on the Sadhu style and thus to an extent artificial and secluded from the colloquial style, the potential of which he did not explore. It was, however, while Bankim Chandra was at the pinnacle of glory and fame that an eighteen year old youth, named Rabindranath Tagore, began to write in the colloquial style. His letters from England (1878-79) published in the monthly Bharati showed, contrary to the impression created by Alal and Hutom, that even the colloquial style could be polite and sober, and thus could be used as the vehicle of wide-ranging literature. Again, like Alal and Hutom, Rabindranath was far too ahead of his time to be accepted by either writers or readers. As a result, he was obliged to return to the style introduced by Bankim Chandra. However, in his short stories (from 1891), he retained the Sadhu style verb-forms, while simultaneously decreasing his use of Sanskrit, thereby making it less heavy. He also began to use the colloquial forms of pronouns and in places, wrote dialogue in the colloquial style.

Twentieth Century Prose In the early years of the twentieth century he continued simplifying his prose and bringing it closer to the spoken style. As a result, it sounded far less pedantic and archaic than the language of his predecessors. Particularly, his style of narration in the Sadhu style and dialogues in the colloquial and his subtle use of wit and humour made both his non-fiction and fiction a more pleasant read. However, despite his increasing use of the colloquial elements, he continued until 1917-18 to write sometimes in the Sadhu style.

Rabindranath received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 for his contribution to poetry and became an international celebrity. As a result, he acquired a charisma unequalled by any Bengali litterateur before. In 1914, his friend and a close relation, pramathanath chaudhur i started a monthly literary journal, called Sabujpatra, meaning Green Leaf, with the avowed aim of introducing and popularising the colloquial style for all forms of literature - as the editor aptly and wittily said, 'one could pen the words that come out from the mouth, but one could not do the opposite ie put the pen in the mouth. At a time when everyone used to write in the Sadhu style, it was doubtful he would have been successful in his efforts without the unreserved support form Rabindranath. Hugely influential as Tagore was by that time, his colloquial style of writing immediately attracted other prose writers to follow and was found equally acceptable by the reader. This language can be described as the polite and literary form of the colloquial style. It was not based on any particular regional dialect, not even of Kolkata, but it was a synthesis of the spoken languages of Kolkata, the neighbouring district of Nadia and of the refined form of spoken language used in the Tagore house. In that sense, it was also artificial, particularly the type used in non-fiction.

When analysed, one can see that this language was not as radically different as it might sound; it was mainly different from the standard literary language in two areas - 1. Grammatically, it used the colloquial form of pronouns and verb-endings, and 2. In terms of vocabulary, it had a far larger proportion of tadbhaba words, that is, words derived from Sanskrit than tatsama words, that is, Sanskrit words in their original form. It also used some Arabic and Persian elements that had all but disappeared from written prose during the nineteenth century. Thus, Tagore created a new a literary colloquial style and thereby brought about a revolution in Bangla prose. By the time he died in 1941, it had become the standard language for both fiction and non-fiction. Despite the fact that novelists such as Sarat Chandra Chattopadhya and Manik Bandyopadhyay held onto the Sadhu forms of pronouns and verb-endings, their prose shows that their Sadhu style had drifted far away from the Sadhu style perfected by Bankim Chandra.

In the second half of the twentieth century, Sadhu style became all but obsolete, and the colloquial or Chalit style took its place. The Partition of Bangal in 1947 also tremendously influenced Bangla prose in two ways, namely, in East Bengal, later Bangladesh, an increasing use of Arabic and Persian elements can be seen; particularly in independent Bangladesh, as writers who feel more confident and less reliant on the West Bengal model are not only using words associated' with everyday Muslim life, but regional words as well. On the other hand, in West Bengal, writers, many of whom are originally from East Bengal, are using more and more regional words, including some from East Bangali dialects. Thus, it seems a marked difference between the prose of West Bengal and that of Bangladesh has already emerged, particularly in fiction, drama and' spoken words. [Ghulam Murshid]

Bibliography Anisuzzaman, Purano Bangla Gadya, Bangla Academy, Dhaka,1984; SK Das, Early Bengali Prose: Carey to Vidyasagar, Bookland, Kolkata, 1966; Sajanikanta Das, Bangla Gadya Sahityer Itihas, Day's Publishig, Kolkata, 1988; Ghulam Murshid, Atharo Shataker Gadya, Anya Prakash, Dhaka, 2009; Sukumar Sen, Bangala Sahitya Gadya, Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 1998; Muhammad Saiful Islam, Akshay Kumar Datta O Unish Shataker Bangla, Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, Dhaka, 2009.