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Mrityunjay Vidyalankar


Mrityunjay Vidyalankar (c 1762-1819) linguist and writer, was born in Medinipur district, at that time in the province of Orissa, later in West Bengal. He studied at the court of the raja of natore and turned into a Sanskrit scholar. Although not known where he studied Bangla, he made his name as the best Bangla prose writer during the first two decades of the nineteenth century.

On the recommendation of william carey, he was appointed as the head pundit in Bangla Department at the fort william college on 4 May 1801. Later in 1805, again on Carey's recommendation, he was given the responsibility of the head pundit in Sanskrit Department. He worked at this college until July 1816, when he resigned his post and worked for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, as his judge-pundit.

It was not because he published more books than any of his contemporary Bengali colleagues, but because of his prose style that he became so distinguished a writer; according to many, the best before ishawar chandra vidyasagar. Although his style was highly Sanskritised, he found the right and rhythmic structure of Bangla sentences with proper collocation, syntax and correlation of words. More significantly, in that formative stage, he played a vital role in shaping Bangla prose style giving it a formalised character, and thus, distancing it from spoken Bangla. He also persuaded Carey and his other Bengali colleagues to avoid, and even discard, Arabic and Persian elements, widely used in Bangla at that time, and to use more Sanskrit words instead. Consequently, he changed the whole course of Bangla prose style for the rest of the century. He wrote Batrish Singhasan (1802), Hitopadesh (1808), Rajabali (1808) and Prabodhachandrika (written in 1813, printed in 1833). He also wrote Vedantachandrika (1817). Even though these books are mainly translations from Sanskrit works, they acquired an originality because of his style.

As a sanskrit scholar he perceived as conservative in his social outlook, but he was, indeed, in some linguistic matters a modern man. He wrote against the practice of sati even before rammohun roy. When the latter first published his pamphlet in favour of banning the custom, he cited the same shastric endorsement as Mrityunjay had done earlier. He died in early June 1819. [Ghulam Murshid]