Pali classical language of ancient India in which Gautam Buddha preached his religion and the Buddhist scriptures were written and preserved. The word pali means sacred text and might have originated from the words saddattang paleti'ti pali, that is, 'one who protects or saves'. Pali also means tanti (Sanskrit word tantri), that is, rope or principle or formula. Tantri was the language of the original Buddhist scriptures. Some scholars conjecture that the word might have originated from the word patali, from Pataliputra, the capital of ancient Magadha and a very rich city at the time of the Buddha. Another explanation is that the word pali might have originated from Palas, the ancient name of Magadha.
Pali language and literature gradually developed from 600 BC to 500 AD. Gautam Buddha travelled widely across northern India, spreading his message of non-violence and love and drawing converts to his religious ideals. The language the Buddha chose for his sermons was not sanskrit, the language of the Brahmins, but the common language of the ordinary person: Pali or prakrit. As buddhism spread, many temples and monasteries were built which served not only as dwelling places for Buddhist monks but were also centres for the study of the Buddhist religion and its scriptures. People from various parts of India came to these centres to study. Gradually Buddhist monks made Pali the medium of religious discussion and subsequently compiled and preserved the tripitaka in this language.
The word pitaka is a Pali word which means basket, box, chest, pot etc. An agent who preserves something is also called pitaka. Buddha himself used pitaka in this sense. Conserving modesty is called Vinayapitaka, conserving principles is called Suttapitaka, conserving religion is called Abhidhammapitaka. The combination of these three pitakas is known as Tripitaka. The word Tripitaka is a Sanskrit word; the Pali word is Tipitaka. However, the Sanskrit term Tripitaka is more commonly used than the Pali one.
Pali is related to Sanskrit, but different from it as the following line, praying for universal happiness and recited at the end of religious texts, clearly shows:
Sanskrit: Sarve sattvah sukhino bhavantu
Pali: Savve satta sukhino hontu
Bangla:' [Jagater] sakal prani sukhi hoka
Pali does not have a script of its own, but adopts the script of the region. Thus in Bengal Pali is written in bangla script.
Buddhists in Bengal learn Pali as a religious language. However, it is not known when the first book in Pali was written. At present Pali language and literature are taught at Buddhist institutions as well as at colleges and universities.
In Bangladesh the study of Pali language and literature started primarily to meet religious needs. Initially scholars did not feel the necessity of translating the Tripitaka into Bangla. Religious scholars, researchers and readers from home and abroad learned to study Pali in Devanagari and Roman letters. Subsequently, the study of the Tripitaka in Pali, using Bangla letters, started and is still continuing.
Acharya Chandramohan substantially contributed to Pali education in Bengal by establishing the first Pali tol at Mahamuni under Pahartali in Chittagong in 1885 with the financial support of Zamindar Haragovinda Mutsuddi. The second Pali tol was established at the same place in 1902 by the efforts of Sarananda, a Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka. Later on tols were started in villages such as Rajanagar, Satbaria, Mirzapur, and Unainpur. In 1908 arrangements were made to teach Pali at Chittagong Collegiate School, and dharmabangsha mahasthavir was appointed to teach. Gradually opportunities were created to study Pali at the major schools of Chittagong. Thus some more Pali tols were established in Chittagong during the first two decades of the 20th century. Pali was also introduced at the college level, and three colleges were given permission to teach Pali: presidency college and Vidyasagar College in Kolkata and chittagong college. The scholars who taught at these colleges included Mahamahopadhyay Satish Chandra Vidyabhushan, Amulyacharan Ghosh, Nirad Ranjan Mutsuddi, Prankrishna Bhikkhu and Dharmavangsha Mahasthavir.
In 1899 a Pali department was opened at the university of calcutta. The study of Pali and the Tripitaka also developed in other educational institutions of Bengal and India. During this period benimadhab barua, Nalinaksha Dutta, Shailendranath Mitra, Bhagawan Chandra Mahasthavir, Anukul Chandra Bandyopadhyay, Prabhash Chandra Majumdar, Sukumar Sengupta, Kanailal Hazra, Shyamsundar Bandyopadhyay and Dharmadhar Mahasthavir taught Pali at Calcutta University. Some of them also translated Pali texts into Bangla. The study of Pali was also introduced in the university of dhaka (1921), university of rajshahi (1955) and university of chittagong (1968).
During British rule, a number of Buddhists of Bengali origin established Buddhist Mission Press (1930) in Rangoon where the study of the Tripitaka in Bangla was initiated. prajnalok mahasthavir and Sudhanshu Bimal Barua played a vital role in this regard. In 1937 Benimadhab Barua translated the first part of the Madhyama Nikaya of the Tripitaka. A 'Tripitaka Publication Fund' was also established in Chittagong to publish books. Under its patronage Mahavagga (1937), a translation of Vinayapitaka by Prajnananda Mahasthavir, and Madhyama Nikaya (vol I, 1940), a translation of Sutrapitaka by Benimadhab Barua, were published. Ishan Chandra Ghosh completed the Bangla translation of the jatakas in 1929.
Some major personalities played a significant role in the study of Pali language and literature. Fulchandra Barua (mid-19th century) earned fame by writing three books: Padimukha, Bauddharavjika and Visandara Jataka. Some opine that Padimukha is the first book written in Pali. Bauddharanjika is written in verse and its theme is taken from the Pali Dhatuvangsha. Four famous books of Ramchandra Barua (1847-1922) are Shramanakartavya (1931), Abhidharmarthasanggraha (1941), Nirvana Darshana (1942) and Mahasatipatthan Sutta.
Pundit Dharmaraj Barua (1860-94) was a renowned scholar of Pali and Buddhism. He translated the sutras of Khuddak Nikaya's Sutranipata, as Sutrapitaka (1887) in simple Bangla verse. Subsequently, he translated Dharmapuravrtta, Sigalovadasutra, Hastasara (1-3 Parts), Shyamavati, Jvanasopan, Satyasara, and Matrdevi. His most famous book was Hastasara. Sadhu Dharmaraj Barua (1866-96), who played an active part in preaching Theravada Buddhism, wrote Bauddhalabkara, Nitiratna, Prathamik Bauddhashiksa, Prasannajitopakhyan, Prakrt Sukhi Ke, Abhidhanappadipika, and Buddhaparichaya. He also wrote a Pali grammar in Bangla.
Sarvananda Barua (1866-1908) was a famous poet. His memorable work is Jagatjjyoti Kavya based on Edwin Arnold's The Light of Asia. His other two books are Shrishribuddhacharitamrta and Rsisandarshana. He also composed many Sangkirtan and songs. He edited a monthly magazine, Bauddha Patrika as well.
Aggasar Mahasthavir (1871-1942) was a Buddhist monk whose writings and speeches helped to make the study of the Tripitaka in Bangla easier. His books include Gathasanggraha, Buddhabhajana, and Pali-Bangla Abhidhan as well as a Bangla translation of Dhammapadatthkatha.
Prajnalok Mahasthavir was a prominent scholar, writer and orator of Pali and Buddhism. He wrote and edited more than thirty books. bangshadip mahasthavir (1880-1971) undertook research on different subjects of the Tripitaka in Bangla. He wrote and edited more than seven books. Bhikkhu Shilabhadra (1884-1955) earned fame for translating Dirgha-Nikaya (3 Parts), Dhammapada etc. Girish Chandra Barua (1891-1960) was an educationst, linguist, litterateur and philanthropist. In recognition of his knowledge of Sanskrit and Pali, Bangiya Saraswat Samaj conferred him the title of Vidyavinod. The books edited and compiled by him include Pratityasamutpada, Aryapatha, Andher Drsti, Madammohan, Dharmapada, Bhuler Bojha, Jataker Katha, Bibidha Bidhi, Bhratrrakta, and Kholakatha.
Dharmadhar Mahasthavir (1901-?) was a scholar who had studied the Tripitaka in Sri Lanka. His works include the translations of Dhammapada, Madhyama Nikaya (2nd Part), Shasanavangsa, Adhimasa Vinishchaya, Milindaprashna and Rahul Sangkrityayan's Bauddhadarshan. His original works are Saddharmer Punarutthan and Buddher Dharmadarshan.
haraprasad shastri (1853-1931) was a famous scholar and linguist, who was proficient in Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit and Bangla. He collected a number of manuscripts, among them Bauddha Gan O Doha (1916), the earliest instance of bangla literature. He wrote many books on Buddhism and Pali language and literature. His scholarly books in Pali are An Introduction to the Lalitabistar (1877), Buddhagaya the Hermitage of Shakyamuni (1878), and The Sanskrit Buddhist Literature of Nepal (1882).
Sir asutosh mookerjee. pioneered the study of Pali in Kolkata. Pali studies started at the University of Calcutta under his initiative. shantapada mahathera (1915-1987) was general secretary of the Bangladesh Supreme Sangha Council and introducer of Theravada Buddhism and social reformer. He wrote Milindaprashna, Dhatukatha, Apadan, Chariyapitaka, Abguttaranikaya, Shilarthadipana, and Abhidhamarthasanggraha.
kripasharan mahasthavir was the founder principal of Calcutta Bauddha Dharmankur Vihara and editor of its magazine, Jagajjyoti. He was intimate with Sir Asutosh Mookherjee and together they widened the scope of studying Pali in undivided Bengal. Benimadhab Barua played a significant role in opening a Pali tol, Nalanda-Vidyabhavan, in the Dharmankur Vihara. Nalinaksha Dutta was a professor of Pali at Calcutta University. His books include Aspects of Mahayana and its Relation to Hinayana (1930) and Early Monastic Buddhism (2 vols, 1941).
Others who helped and contributed to the study of Pali include Sharachchandra Dev (Shakyasingha-Pratibha ba Buddhadeva Charita, 1888), dwijendranath tagore (Aryadharma O Bauddhadharmer Paraspar Ghat-Pratighat O Sanghat, 1891), Ramdas Sen (Aitihasik Rahasya, 3 Parts, 1876-79, Bauddhadharma, Shakyasingher Digvijay, Palibhasa O Tatsamalochana, Bauddhamat O Tatsamalochana, Buddhadever Danta, Buddhadeva, 1891), nabinchandra sen (Amitabha, 1895), satyendranath tagore (Bauddhadharma, 1901), Rathindranath Tagore (Buddhacharita, 1906), PN Bose (Indian Teachers of Buddhist University, 1923), Sukumar Dutta (Early Buddhist Monarchism, 1924, Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India, 1962), niharranjan ray (Sanskrit Buddhism in Burma, 1936, An Introduction to the study of Theravada Buddhism in Burma, 1946); shashibhusan dasgupta (Bauddhadharma O Charyagiti), Bidhushekhar Shastri (Paliprakash), etc. Rahul Sangkrityayan was a renowned Buddhist scholar, who wrote more than a hundred books on Buddhism and Pali.
Principal Pramodranjan Barua (1918-?) taught Pali at Chittagong College. He also taught Pali and Prakrit at Chittagong University as a part-time teacher (1966-68). His noteworthy books on Pali literature, Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy include Matriculation Pali Selection (1953), Intermediate Pali Selection (1961), Pali Grammar (1961), Early Buddhism and the Brahmanical Doctrines (1967), and A New Pali Reader (1968).
Professor Ranadhir Barua (1918-1988) taught Pali at Chittagong College and then at Teachers Training College and Chittagong University. He wrote many research essays on Pali literature and Buddhist religion and philosophy. His Bhagavan Buddha (1956) earned great acclaim from scholars and general readers.
After completing his studies from Benares Hindu University, Shilachar Shastri joined Chittagong University as a lecturer. He wrote many books and articles on Pali literature as well as Buddhist religion and philosophy. His books include Isipatan, Buddhavandana, Saranatha Tirtha, Char Punyatirtha, Mahayana, Bauddhadharma-Darshan, and Chattagrame Bauddhadharma (1981).
Rabindra Bijoy Barua (1933-1990) taught Pali language and literature for ten years at the Bangla and Sanskrit Department, Dhaka University. In 1972, when Sanskrit and Pali opened as a separate department, he joined the new department. He contributed a great deal to the study of Pali at the BA Honours and Postgraduate levels at Dhaka University. He wrote Madhyabharatiya Aryabhasa Sangkalan (1966), Kathay Dhammapada (1968), Madhya Bharatiya Aryabhasa O Sahitya (1970), and Pali Sahityer Itihas (two parts, 1980 and 1988). Many of his valuable manuscripts remain unpublished. His doctoral dissertation was published in 1978 by the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh under the title of Theravada Sangha. He published about fifty research essays in different magazines at home and abroad.
Organisations and educational institutions such as Bangiya Sanskrit Parisad and Nalanda Vidyabhavan and publishing societies such as the mahabodhi society (India), Bauddha Dharmankur Vihara and Dharmadhar Bauddha Grantha Prakashana Sangstha also played a significant role in the study and cultivation of Pali. The development and practice of Pali was also aided by different magazines published from Kolkata and Chittagong, namely, The Mahabodhi (1892, Kolkata), Bauddha Patrika (1906, Chittagong), Jagajjyoti (1908, Kolkata), Bauddha Bandhu (1911, Chittagong), Buddhist India (1934, Kolkata), and Maitrivani (Dhaka).
After 1990 the opportunities for the study of Pali in Bangladesh have widened. Under the auspices of societies such as the bangladesh bauddha kristi prachar sangha, National Buddhist Youth Federation and bangladesh bauddha samiti and under the patronage of the Buddha Educational Foundation of Taiwan a number of rare translations of the Tripitaka of the early 19th and 20th centuries have been reprinted. The buddhist welfare trust under the Ministry of Religion has taken over the responsibility of translating the Tripitaka and various other religious scriptures. Pali-Bangla Abhidhan by shanta rakkhit Mahasthavir has been printed under this programme. [Sukomal Barua]