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Prosody


Prosody The metres of Bangla poetry go back to Sanskrit prosody though later Bengali poets, beginning with those of the charyapada, modified and developed them further.

sanskrit poetry has essentially two metres: aksarbrtta and matrabrtta. The aksarbrtta metre is based on the number of letters in a line, whereas the matrabrtta metre is based on the length of the vowel sound. The letters A (a), B (i) and D (u) are counted as being of one matra each, that is a mora or short vowel, and Av (a), C (i), E (u), v (e), H (ai), I (o), and J (au) are counted as being of two matra each, that is a macron or a long vowel. Furthermore, at the end of a line a short vowel may be counted as a long one. A line written in the aksarbrtta metre consists of a minimum of 8+6 units, whereas in the matrabrtta metre a line consists of a minimum of 4 + 6 units.

Sanskrit prosody is also based on the idea of the open and the closed syllable. A word which ends on a vowel sound is known as a closed syllable, whereas one that ends without the vowel sound is known as open. Thus, the word Kvh' (karya) is counted as closed whereas MxZGMvwe'`g& (gitagovindam) is counted as open. Furthermore, in Sanskrit poetry the number of letters is counted rather than the number of syllables. Thus Kvh' (karya) is counted as two letters and two syllables.

While Bangla prosody is based on Sanskrit prosody, there are some differences. Thus, in the aksarbrtta metre, the number of syllables are counted rather than the number of letters. Furthermore, whether the syllable is open or closed, it is considered as of one or two matra, depending on its position in the line. Thus, if a line begins with a closed syllable, the syllable is supposed to have 1 matra; if it occurs at the end of a line it has two. In the matrabrtta metre, the position of the closed syllable does not matter. Whether the closed syllable is at the beginning or the end of a line, it is considered to have two matra, to be a macron.

In addition to the aksarbrtta and matrabrtta metres which Bangla inherited from Sanskrit, Bangla poetry, beginning with the Charyapada, added the svarabrtta metre, a stressed metre, which counts all the syllables, open or closed, as a mora. Bangla poetry continues to be written in mainly these three metres though there has been further modification by later poets. There are also other metres such as the dhamali, bhabgapayar, lalita, digaksara, mahapayar etc, but they are relatively uncommon.

Although the Charyapada poems use the matrabrtta metre, the metre as used in the distiches is very simple and primitive. Only measures of four syllables have been used. In some instances in the Charyapada, the open syllables are counted as macrons rather than moras, to compensate for the missing moras. After the Charyapada, the matrabritta metre was prominently used in poetry written in brajabuli, where the metre has overcome its shortcomings, with measures of five, six or even seven syllables. Vaishnava poets such as govindadas, Balaramdas, Shashishekhar etc have successfully employed such measures of more than four syllables. Furthermore, the use of a half or broken measure at the end of verses has succeeded in producing variety in the metre.

In the late 19th century rabindranath tagore modified Bangla prosody by freeing it from the influence of the aksarbrtta by counting a halanta syllable (a closed syllable) as a macron. Rabindranath used this metre considerably in his volume of poems, Manasi. Although poets before him had said that six-mora metres like laghu tripadi, laghu chaupadi, ekabali etc were aksarbrtta, Rabindranath, judging by the way the metres sounded, proved that these were in effect variations of the matrabrtta metre. This is considered to be one of Rabindranath's greatest achievements in Bangla prosody.

The svarabrtta metre is the contribution of the Bangla language to Bangla prosody and is based on Bangla pronunciation. Bangla words are by nature pronounced with closed syllables, or in a 'matrix of devocalisation,' or hasanter chhanch, to put it in a phrase coined by Rabindranath Tagore. This characteristic of Bangla pronunciation is maintained in the svarabrtta metre, which is mainly found outside chaste literary forms, in baul songs, folk songs and rhymes.

The svarabrtta metre has a lively rhythm, with bars of four moras, followed by a short measure, such as the following line from a Mymensingh folk ballad: uira yao re/ baner kuda/ kai-o mayer/ age // Toma-r na/ chand binode/ khaichhe jamlar/ baghe. The last foot in each line consists of two syllables rather than four, and is stretched out to compensate for the missing syllables. This elasticity of Bangla prosody is fairly common, especially in oral poetry.

The svarabrtta metre has, according to some experts, developed from the dhamali metre, employed in the medieval Srikrsnakirtan kavya. Since there are no closed syllables in this metre'all syllables, even the words ending the lines and ending in a being considered open'the stress at the beginning of a beat of the dhamali measure is implied. The Xrikrsvakirtan has some tatsama words, inherited from Sanskrit, which show a stress on the first syllable, such as, asukha (asukh, disease), anala (anal, fire), antara (antar, between, heart), adhika (adhik, much) etc. The stress on the first syllables of the words has been extended so that they are treated as long vowels. Such short vowels graded into long ones are indications of the stress on the first syllables, which is a chief component of the svarabrtta metre. Lochan Das, a poet of the Vaishnava school, also used this metre as is evident in the following line: ar xunyachha/ alo sai/ gora bhaber/ katha// koner bhitar/ kulabadhu/ kandya akul/ tatha. The svarabrtta metre continued to be used in the eighteenth century in poems and songs such as gopichandrer gan, sHyamasangit, Baul songs, panchali, and maimansingha gitika.

The aksarbrtta, which is more natural in pronunciation than the other two and closer to the pronunciation of prose, is the principal Bangla metre and the most commonly used metre in Bangla poetry. The Bangla translations of the ramayana and the mahabharata in the fifteenth century could be sung in tune only because of the adoption of the aksarbrtta metre. The metre shook off its musical notes at the hands of michael madhusudan dutt, in a new form called amitraksar metre, or blank verse.

The aksarbrtta has been differently named by different poets of medieval Bangla literature due to its elasticity as a metre. The payar cadence, which is the principal metre of medieval bangla literature, is a variation of the aksarbrtta with 8/6 syllables. Since the measures of the payar were not explicit, dispensed with its frivolity, it could easily be used for works like epics and any other serious work. This is why the translation of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata was done in the payar metre in the Medieval period. The cadence is also employed in the Mabgalkavya. One example of the payar metre is as follows: mahabharater katha/ amrta saman// kaxiram das bhane/ xune punyaban (The stories of the Mahabharata are like nectar/ Says Kashiram Das and devotees listen to it).

One extension to the payar is known as the mahapayar, having measures of 10 syllables, instead of six. This metre is found in the Padmini Upakhyan by rangalal banerjee. Apart from this, mukundaram chakravarti introduced a variation of the payar, known as bhangapayar (the broken payar) in his poetical works. The bhangapayar has six syllables, instead of the first eight, with two additional two syllables, known as atiparba (beyond the caesura) which rhyme with another line of the couplet. Later, bharatchandra Raigunakar also used the bhangapayar metre in vidyasundar. In addition to freeing Bangla metres from their limitations, Bharatchandra also recreated some Sanskrit metres like brttachhanda, totaka, tunaka and bhujabgaprayata in his Bangla poems. Towards the close of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, Bangla poets broke out of the payar metre and introduced new cadences like ekabali, dirgha tripadi, dirgha chaupadi, laghu tripadi etc.

Apart from introducing new subjects for poetry, Madhusudan Dutt also contributed significantly to Bangla prosody, by introducing the amitraksar metre in imitation of English blank verse. The end-stopped rhymes and songlike quality of the payar cadence made it unsuitable for Madhusudan's serious subject. In these circumstances, and influenced by his reading of Milton, the English epic poet, Madhusudan introduced the amitraksar metre, dispensing with end-stopped lines and lyrical measures. He also introduced the chaturdaxpadi, the fourteen-line sonnet.

Apart from his modification of the matrabrtta metre, Rabindranath also devised a new metre called muktak, with unevenly long lines of verse. His poems in the volume called Balaka are written in this metre. satyendranath dutta and kazi nazrul islam also substantially contributed to the newer metres. Besides successfully experimenting with the matrabrtta metre in his poems, Satyendranath Dutta composed some Bangla poems in the Sanskrit gayatri metre, which is now known as Gaudi Gayatri. Kazi Nazrul Islam was markedly inclined to the svarabrtta and the matrabrtta metres. Although he composed some poems using the aksarbritta, he felt more comfortable with the other two measures. He tried to devise a new kind of stress in the matrabrtta metre in many of his poems included in Agnivina (The Fiery Lyre) and in poems like 'Bidrohi' (the Rebel), 'Dhumketu' (The Comet) etc. Apart from this, he introduced a new tune for the ghazals with a svarabrtta metre of four measures and an additional three-syllable bar at the end of each line of verse.

Bangla poets today, while continuing to use traditional metres as well as the forms introduced in the 19th century, are also experimenting with vers libre, dispensing with rhyme as well as rhythm. [Hakim Arif]

Bibliography Tarapada Bhattacharya, Chhanda-tattva O Chhandobibartan, Calcutta University, 1971; Prabodhchandra Sen, Chhanda Jijnasa, Calcutta, 1974; Rabindranath Tagore, Chhanda, Sri Prabodhchandra Sen ed, Viswa-Bharati Granthabibhag, Calcutta, 1976; Prabodhchandra Sen, Chhanda Parikrama, Jijnasa, Calcutta, 1977; Abdul Quadir, Chhanda-Samiksan, Muktadhara, Dhaka, 1979.