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Meghnadvodh Kabya

Meghnadvodh Kabya epic poem by michael madhusudan dutt (1824-1873) in nine cantos. It was published from Calcutta in two volumes ' the first volume in January and the second volume in August 1861. The first edition contained at the opening a symbolic illustration drawn by the poet himself. In it India was represented by an elephant, Europe by a lion, the poet's own talent by a sun and the epic itself by a lotus. In other words, the epic was a product of the combined talents of India, Europe and of the poet himself. Underneath the illustration, there was a Sanskrit couplet ' Shariram ba patjejam karzam ba sadhjejam ' meaning 'I shall achieve what I have vowed to achieve even if at the cost of my life'. The symbolic illustration shows that Madhusudan aimed to write an epic that would synthesise the epic traditions of India and Europe and that would achieve the status of a literary classic. This dream of him was realized. His epic fully lived up to the standard of those who were his ideals ' Vyasa, Valmiki, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton and Tasso. No one succeeded in equaling the standard of his epic not only in the 19th century Bengali literature but also in the entire modern literature in the whole of the subcontinent.

Madhusudan constructed a kind of blank verse in Bengali for composing his epic. In this scheme he retained the 14-syllable 'payar' metre of the Middle Ages but played free to use full-stop at any place of a line. This allowed him to travel at ease from one line to the other.

He planned his epic very thoughtfully. He synchronized time and place in the flow of events with the past events brought back in the form of flashbacks. He used Valmiki's Ramayana for his subject matter but focused on the defeat of Ravan at the hands of Ramchandra and his associates keeping an eye, as in fourth canto, on the killing of Ravan's son Meghnad at the hands of Laxman assisted by Bivision. In Valmiki's Ramayana, Meghnad was killed by Laxman in a frontal battle. But Madhusudan did not depict the event that way. He showed that Laxman unjustly killed unarmed Meghnad while he was praying to Fire to bless him to become invincible. This way Madhusudan fulfilled his vow to depict the demons as tragic heroes. Comparable to this is the siege of Troy by the Greeks as portrayed in Homer's Iliad.

The Greek influence in his epic is also seen in the similes and the roles played by the gods and goddesses. The influence of Shiva in his epic perhaps came from Krittibasa's Ramayana where Ravan was depicted as a devotee of Shiva. To depict gods and goddesses as humans, as illustrated in the second canto by way of goddess Durga employing her own beauty in winning over her husband to her views, is distinctly a Greek feature.

As a believer in Christianity, Madhusudan's sense of guilt was quite strong and in Milton's Paradise Lost he found not only the ideal for blank verse but also an ideal for morality. In one of his letters in English, he said: 'I hate Rama and his monkey army; the thoughts on Ravan excite me and blaze my imagination. From this it appears that although personally he was sympathetic to Ravan he accepted what the divine deities ordained as illustrated by the fact that by stealing Sita, Ravan invited the downfall of himself.

Like any other classic piece of literature, any generation may interpret Meghnadbodh Kavya afresh. To some, Ravan and Meghnad personified a reflection of the hopes and aspirations of 'Bengali renaissance'. Some others viewed the killing of Meghnad at the hands of Madhusudan as a revolutionary instance of destruction of historic evaluation. The way Madhusudan's epic depicts the beauty of Lanka is reflective of the subcontinent's eternal culture and religion described by the poet as 'our ancestors' story of glory'. This epic rekindles a perception of tragedy in the scenario of many ancient traditions facing extinction under the universal trend of mass culture of the present times. Above all, Madhusudan's epic will live on as the incomparable evidence of the poet's abundance of sentiments, enthusiasm, artistic excellence, rich thoughts and finally of self-destruction. He was, in his own words, 'a strong literary revolutionary'. His daring venture of creating a classic will enthrall every new generation in Bangladesh, India and elsewhere. [William Radichi]