Proverbs (probad) short intelligent and wise sayings that convey the essence of human experience about life, society and the world. Etymologically, the Bangla word 'probad' means a particular 'saying' or 'statement. Such expressions orally handed down from one generation to another are called' proverbs. In addition to the long experience of human beings, proverbs also hold the essence of everyday wisdom, talent, spirit, tradition, education and folk beliefs of a society or a nation They are an important segment of folk literature. Although they grow out of things of the past, proverbs concern contemporary life as well.

Proverbs are epigrammatic: they may extend from a tiny sentence to a rhyming couplet, but convey a meaningful idea. These short statements are generally accepted observations of life based on experience. Some oft-quoted proverbs are: অনেক সন্ন্যাসীতে গাজন নষ্ট/ anek sannyasite gajan nasta (too many cooks spoil the broth), চোর পালালে বুদ্ধি বাড়ে/ chor palale buddhi bare (getting wise after the event), জোর যার মুলুক তার/ jor jar muluk tar (might is right), লাগে টাকা দেবে গৌরীসেন/ lage taka debe gaurisen (don't worry, someone is there to pay). Proverbs are withy. No other form of folk literature can express so much in such few words.

Proverbs change over time before taking a final shape. Sometimes a proverb may have regional variations. Both the proverbs ধান ভানতে শিবের গীত dhan bhante shiver git and ধান ভানতে মহীপালের গীত dhan bhante mahipaler git mean the same thing- 'sounding high in mundane affairs'. The god of agriculture Shiva precedes Mahipala, so it is assumed that the former is the original proverb. Substituting Shiva with Mahipala is a later variation.

Proverbs change their meaning, from a literal meaning become figurative. The proverb অতি ভক্তি চোরের লক্ষণ/ ati bhakti chorer laksan (too much reverence is the mark of a cheat) might be a specific experience of an individual, but it has widened its meaning and use. It now applies to anyone who shows good intentions but harbours a bad one. The proverbs চোরের মার বড় গলা/ chorer mar bada gala (the mother of a thief is the loudest in denunciation), চোরা না শোনে ধর্মের কাহিনী/ chora na shone dharmer kahini (a rogue does not listen to a discourse on honesty), চোর পালালে বুদ্ধি বাড়ে/ chor palale buddhi bade (getting wise after the event) etc, are not necessarily related to thieves or theft, rather mean that sermons are futile after harm has been done. The proverb ঘোলা পানিতে মাছ শিকার/ ghola panite machh shikar (to fish in troubled water) might be a fact but it means exploiting a situation for social or political gain. The proverb নাচতে না জানলে উঠান বাঁকা/ nachte na janle uthan banka (a bad workman quarrels with his tools) might point to a dancer who once found fault with the place she was dancing on, but it now means finding an excuse for failure.

The Germans have a proverb about proverbs: As the country, so the proverb. In Scotland, people say, As the people, so the proverb. So, the nature of proverbs depends on the nature of the people of a country. This means that proverbs are based on the nature, environment, surroundings, trends in the national life, history, culture, religion, society and family of a country. Proverbs are the mirror of lifestyle of a people, and, although fragmentary, depict the real picture of a society.

Since the proverbs are the essence of the wisdom of human beings, it is assumed the people acquired the knowledge of proverbs after other branches of folk literature flourished. The use of proverbs can be traced back to a story written on papyrus in Egypt around the 5th century BC. Proverbs are also found in the vedas and the upanisads. The oldest specimen of bangla literature, the charyapada, also has a few proverbs, including the proverb আপনা মাংসে হরিণা বৈরি/ apna mangse harina bairi (the deer has enemies because of its own flesh) used by Bhusuku. baru chandidas in his Srikrsnakirtan used the same proverb in the 14th century while mukundaram used it in Chandimabgal in the 16th century.

The classification of proverbs is a complex task. Most compilations of proverbs list them in an alphabetical order. Archer Taylor and B J Whiting classify them on the basis of nouns, adjectives or some main words. According to their system, the proverbs অল্প শোকে কাতর, অধিক শোকে পাথর/ alpa shoke katar, adhik shoke pathar (small misfortunes are distressing, huge ones are petrifying) and দুই সতিনের ঘর, খোদায় রা কর/ dui satiner ghar, khoday raksa kar (Only God can save the family of a man with co-wives) are classified under the mainwords শোক/ shok (misfortune) and সতিন satin (co-wife). This system of classification is convenient for compilation but not for judging the merit of the proverbs.

Like other branches of folk literature, proverbs also speak of human beings and their social and natural environment. The proverbs জলে কুমির ডাঙায় বাঘ/ jale kumir dangay bagh (crocodile in the water and tiger on the land or between the devil and the deep sea), যেখানে বাঘের ভয় সেখানে সন্ধ্যা হয়/ yekhane bagher bhay, sekhane sandhya hay (danger comes where danger is feared), মরা হাতির দাম লাখ টাকা/ mara hatir dam lakh taka (a dead elephant can still yield a hundred thousand coins in value, meaning the ruins of the great are still great), হাতি খাদে পড়লে ব্যাঙেও লাথি মারে/ hati khade padle byangeo lathi mare (even frogs may kick an elephant fallen in a ditch, or even little birds may peck at a dead lion), হাতি-ঘোড়া গেল তল, মশা বলে কত জল/ hati-ghoda gelo tal, masha bale kata jal (fools rush in where angels fear to tread), ঘুঘু দেখেছ, ফাঁদ দেখনি/ ghughu dekhechha, phand dekhani (you have seen the dove and not its trap) all relate to man's behavior, nature and character.

The proverbs চাচা আপন জান বাঁচা/ chacha apan jan bancha (o uncle! save yourself first, meaning self-preservation is the first law of nature), আপ ভাল তো জগত ভাল/ ap bhalo to jagat bhalo (if you are good, everything will appear good to you), আপনি বাঁচলে বাপের নাম/ apni banchle baper nam (father's name will come if I survive, meaning self-preservation is the foremost task) etc, express self-consciousness. Once again, proverbs like দশের লাঠি একের বোঝা/ dasher lathi eker bojha (ten men's sticks are one man's load, meaning sharing makes the task simpler), দশচক্রে ভগবান ভুত/ dashchakre bhagaban bhut (when ten people say so, God turns out to be a ghost, meaning the majority rules the world) and যেদিকে দশ সেদিকেই খোদা/ yedike dash sedikei khoda (the voice of the people is the voice of God) speak of unity and solidarity. Many proverbs are fatalistic in nature, for example, রাখে আল্লা মারে কে/ rakhe allah mare ke (If God protects, none can destroy), কপালের লিখন না যায় খণ্ডন/ kapaler likhan na yay khandan (you cannot erase fate, meaning destiny is inevitable), অভাগা যেদিকে চায় সাগর শুকায়ে যায়/ abhaga yedike chay, sagar shukaye yay (whichever way the unlucky looks, the sea dries up, meaning once unlucky, always unlucky) etc.

Other proverbs relate to the ways of winning or losing wealth, for example, খাটে খাটায় দ্বিগুণ পায়, বসে খাটায় অর্ধেক পায়/ khate khatay digun pay, base khatay ardhek pay (he who works for himself earns double, he who makes others work for him earns half), বসে খেলে রাজার ভাণ্ডার ফুরায়/ base khele rajar bhandar phuray (idle consumption empties even a king's treasure) etc all relate. Materialism and pessimism are evident in proverbs such as the following: যে গরু দুধ দেয়, তার লাথিও ভাল/ ye garu dudh dey, tar lathio bhalo (it is better if the kick comes from a milk cow, meaning give me the roast meat and beat me with the spit), দুষ্ট গরুর চেয়ে শূন্য গোয়াল ভাল/ dusta garur cheye shunya goyal bhala (better an empty shed than a wicked cow), etc.

There are countless proverbs in Bangla relating to the ways of men and women and the peculiarities of their positions in family and society. But proverbs in this category are generally satirical and highlight only their faults. Parents, uncles and aunts, in-laws, grandchildren, co-wives, stepmothers, friends etc are the subjects of such proverbs. Only fathers, mothers and maternal aunts have been spared.

Women are most severely denounced in these proverbs; for instance, ঝি জব্দ শিলে, বউ জব্দ কিলে/ jhi jabda shile, bau jabda kile (teach your maid-servant a lesson by giving her a tough tool to use and teach your daughter-in-law with your fist, meaning maid-servants should be given hard tasks and a daughter-in-law a beating), শাশুড়ি মল সকালে, খেয়ে দেয়ে সময় থাকে তো কাঁদব আমি বিকালে/ shashudi mala sakale, kheye deye samay thake to kandba ami bikale (my mother-in-law died in the morning and I'll try to weep over her if I have time at the day's end, meaning indifference on the part of a wife to her mother-in-law), ননদিনী রায়বাঘিনী, দাঁড়িয়ে আছে কাল-সাপিনী/ nanadini raybaghini, dandiye achhe kal-sapini (my husband's sister is like a tigress, standing like a venomous snake, referring to the rivalry between the wife and the husband's sister), শ্বশুড়বাড়ি মধুর হাড়ি, তিন দিন পর ঝাঁটার বাড়ি/ shvashurbadi madhur hadi, tin din par jhantar badi (a father-in-law's house is most hospitable, but only for three days, দুই সতিনের ঘর, খোদায় রা কর/ dui satiner ghar, khoday raksa kar (Only God can save the family of a man with co-wives), etc.

There are proverbs related to occupations: অতি লোভে তাঁতি নষ্ট/ ati lobhe tanti nasta (grasp all, lose all), মোগল-পাঠান হদ্দ হল ফারসী পড়ে তাঁতি/ moghal pathan hadda hala, pharsi pade tanti (when Mughals and Pathans fail, a weaver comes forward to read Persian, meaning fools rush in where angels fear to tread), ঢাল নাই তলোয়ার নাই নিধিরাম সর্দার/ dhal nai taloyar nai nidhiram sardar (Nidhiram poses as a captain without shield or sword, meaning a carpet knight), আনাড়ি বৈদ্যে কান নষ্ট, কাঠমোল্লায় ঈমান নষ্ট/ anadi baidya kan nasta, kathmollay iman nasta (a quack is always a bad healer and an ill-educated man is a bad religious leader, meaning a little learning is a dangerous thing), ঘুষ পেলে আমলা তুষ্ট/ ghus pele amla tusta (bureaucrats are gratified by bribes, meaning every man has his price), কড়ি দিয়ে কিনব দই, গয়লানী মোর কিসের সই/ kadi diye kinba dai, gaylani mor kiser sai (If I'm to pay for the curd, why is the milkwoman my friend?), হাকিম নড়ে তো হুকুম নড়ে না/ hakim nade to hukum nade na (the judge may change but not his verdict, meaning justice goes its own way), গাঁয়ে মানে না আপনি মোড়ল/ ganye mane na apni modal (a headman without support in his village, meaning a self-styled leader).

Proverbs are the gems of a language. These gems make language crisp and meaningful. In the words of muhammad shahidullah, 'Sundarir alak-tilaker nyay probadbakyaguli bhasay saundarya phutaiya tole' (Just as beauty spots and hair beautify women, proverbs beautify language). [Wakil Ahmed]

See also folk literature.