Poetry goes back to the charyapada, composed between the 9th and the 12th centuries. The Charyapada poems contain abstract thoughts of the sahajiya school of buddhism. They also portray contemporary society. The Charyapada lyrics were composed by eminent Buddhist sages such as Luipa, kahnapa, Dhendhanpa and Bhusukupa. Other examples of early Bangla poetry include shunyapurana, Mainamatir Gan and goraksavijay.
The composition of srikrishnakirtan by Baru chandidas in the second half of the 14th century ended this barrenness. Xrikrishvakirtan is recognized as the earliest Bangla lyrics with dramatic approach. Although this work, which narrates the story of radha and krishna, was based on Xrimadbhagavat, Baru Chandidas added several original touches. For example, the yearning of Radha for Krishna is depicted as the yearning of the Bengali woman for love. The dramatic nature of the narrative, the superb characterizations, and the artistic representation of the pangs of separation elevate the poem into a masterpiece.
Srikrishnakirtan was followed by three different streams of poetry, rich in form and content: the mangalkavyas, the romances and the Vaisnava padavali. The Mangalkavyas, composed during the 15th to 18th centuries, are about how the worship of various Hindu gods and goddesses was introduced in Bengal. These groups of poems are named after the particular deities whom they are about; they are accordingly known as manasamangal, chandimangal, Dharmamabgal and Kalikamabgal. However, while ostensibly eulogizing the deities, the poets in fact depict their contemporary society and the life of the people of those days. mukundaram chakravarti was regarded as the greatest of the Mangalkavya composers.
Vaishvava padavali or Vaishnava poetry describes, through the story of Radha and Krishna, the philosophy of vaisnavism: the relationship between the eternal soul and the human soul. vidyapati and Chandidas were the best known composers of Vaishnava padavali. Vidyapati, who hailed from Mithila, employed the tender brajabuli dialect to depict Radha's forlornness. Chandidas used very simple expressions to reflect the deepest thoughts of the Bengali mind. The other great padavali poets were Dwija Chandidas, Dina Chandidas, jnanadas and govindadas kaviraj.
The medieval period was a period of translation and adaptation. krittivas ojha, for example, translated the ramayana, and kashiram das translated the mahabharata. Like Baru Chandidas, when they translated the Sanskrit texts they incorporated details from Bengali society, culture and lifestyle in their work. Other poets and translators who followed Krittivas and Kashiram were kavindra parameshwar, Chhuti Khan, Srikar Nandi, chandravati, Adbhutacharya and Bhavanidas.
The Muslim poets introduced elements from persian and arabic literature into Bangla poetry. By translating or adapting into Bangla, Persian and Arabic tales of human love and war, they introduced a new romantic element into Bangla literature. The first work in this genre is shah muhammad sagir's yusuf-zulekha. Other representative works of this genre are alaol's padmavati, muhammad kabir's Madhumalati, daulat qazi's Satimayna Lor Chandrani and daulat uzir bahram khan's laily-majnu. Alaol, who was perhaps the greatest medieval poet, displayed his poetic craftsmanship in Padmavati to portray the lifestyle of the Bengalis.
Bangla medieval poetry was also enriched with biographical works, Shaktapadavali, bilingual puthis etc. Well-known poets of these genres included Brindavan Das, krishnadasa kaviraj, ramprasad sen, Dashu Roy, syed hamza and Fakir Garibullah.
Modern Bangla poetry dates from the 19th century when, under the influence of the British, the people of Bengal, like the rest of India, were introduced to English language and literature. This contact with western thoughts and western literary forms led to the rejuvenation and revival known as the bengal renaissance. It resulted in experimentation with form and content in both prose and poetry. In contrast to the ancient and medieval poets who wrote poems about the lives of deities and supernatural events, the 19th century poets, armed with techniques, idioms and philosophies of western literature, presented the complexities of contemporary life. They broke the confines of the metrical verses of the earlier poets, and adopted a variety of metres.
ishwar chandra gupta (1812-1859) belonged to the period of transition and combined modernistic ideas with traditional metres. michael madhusudan dutt (1824-1873) succeeded in breaking with the past. In Meghnadbadh Kavya (1861) he wrote the first Bangla epic modelled on the western literary epic. Though he borrowed from the well-known story of Rama for his epic, he made Ravana, Rama's enemy, his hero. Emulating the unrhymed verse of John Milton, Madhusudan discarded the metrical verses of the medieval period for blank verse. He also introduced the 14-line sonnet into Bangla poetry.
biharilal chakravarty was the first to introduce European romanticism into Bangla poetry. Like the English romantics, he turned away from city life and towards nature and imagination. The European romanticism which he introduced greatly influenced rabindranath tagore (1861-1941). Tagore established a romantic, humanistic philosophy of his own and created in Bangla poetry a 'Rabindra sphere' of themes, forms and philosophy. Rabindranath towered over other poets and, for several years, there were a number of poets, including satyendranath dutta and Jatindranath Bagchi, who were only too eager to follow him.
However, the early years of the 20th century saw another group of poets such as mohitlal majumder, kazi nazrul islam and jatindranath sengupta who differed from Rabindranath in both form and content. The most prominent of them was Nazrul Islam who, with his wild emotions, rebellious spirit, and heady rhythms, shattered the humanistic quietude celebrated by Tagore.
A complete break with Rabindranath was brought about by a group of five poets in the thirties: jibananANda das, buddhadev bose, sudhindranath dutta, bishnu de and amiya chakravarty (1901-1986). Influenced by European modernism, they brought into Bangla poetry the modernistic ideas of fragmentation, alienation, atheism and individualism, and a sense of a humanity imperiled by modern inhumanity.
The division of Bengal with the partition of India in 1947 also saw a division in Bangla poetry as well and the migration of Bengali Muslim poets to Dhaka. The new East Pakistani poets based in Dhaka attempted to create a genre of Bangla poetry distinct from that of west bengal and one which celebrated the Pakistani ideals and the glory of the Muslims. Among these poets were golam mostafa, Talim Hossain, raushan yazdani, farrukh ahmad (1918-1974). Farrukh Ahmed had started as a socialist in Kolkata, but later focused on Islamic themes. Other poets of this period include abul hussain, syed ali ahsan, Sanaul Huq, and ahsan habib. Though Syed Ali Ahsan began in the Islamic vein he shifted to a more liberal humanistic outlook and, together with Sanaul Huq, introduced modern themes and techniques in Bangla poetry.
The events of 1952 made East Bengalis aware of differences and discriminations. East Bengali poets found their own voice as they wrote about the events of February 1952, the Bangla language, repression and struggle, politics and economics, their growing sense of nationalism, their search for identity, etc. The most prominent poets of this period were hasan hafizur rahman, Shamsur Rahman and Al-Mahmud.
The 1960s saw the rise of a group of angry young men who thought that, despite the nationalistic themes, the Eliotic influences and the modern techniques, Bangla poetry had become middle class. This group of poets, among them, Rafiq Azad, Abdul Mannan Syed, Nirmalendu Goon, Humayun Kabir, Mohammad Rafiq, Asad Chowdhury, Farhad Mazhar, Abul Hasan, Mahadev Saha, are united by a sense of frustration and struggle. They have an urban sensibility and, in their poems, draw upon an urban culture and imagery, quite contrary to the Bengali ideal of the pristine countryside.
The events of 1971 inspired Bengali poets to write about the horrors of the war as they did about the heroism of the people. Many older poets, jasimuddin, begum sufia kamal, Alauddin Al Azad, Shamsur Rahman wrote about the destruction of landmarks and of inhuman massacres. They were joined by younger poets who spoke about sacrifice and hope.
Since the 1980s, nationalist themes have been joined by a new internationalism, with younger poets looking to their own roots as well as drawing from poets of other languages. While poets have not eschewed political themes, many are turning to the personal and subjective. Among this younger group of poets are Rudro Mohammad Shahidullah, Abid Azad, Shihab Sarkar, Khondakar Ashraf Hossain. Khondakar Ashraf Hossain is also editor and publisher of Ekobingsha, a poetry magazine.
While the overwhelming majority of Bengali poets are male, a few women poets have also made their mark, the most prominent being Sufia Kamal, who became a cultural and political icon as much as a literary figure. She was joined by a host of other women poets, among them Ruby Rahman, Quazi Rosy, Taslima Nasreen etc., who introduced feminist themes into poetry. [Hakim Arif]