Bharatchandra Ray

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Bharatchandra Ray (1712-1760) Poet and a forerunner of modern bangali prose literature. His father, Narendranarayan Ray (Mukherji) was a Brahmin zamindar living in village Pendro in Howrah district. His ancestor, Pratapnarayan was famous in his time and is mentioned as such in the autobiographical sketch of a composer of Dharmamabgal, Ramdas. Bharatchandra Ray's mother's name was Bhavani Devi.

The family was honoured by the Mughal government with the title of Ray in view of their wealth and influence. The local people called them Rajas. Their castle/palace had a protective moat round it. Local legend goes that Narendranarayan had given offence to the dowager Maharani of Burdwan who occupied the castle at Pendro and reduced the offending zemindar to penury.

Bharatchandra was the youngest of Narendra's four sons. According to Sukumar Sen, the historian of Bangali literature, the poet was probably born in 1712. During the troubles with the Burdwan raj, he ran away to his maternal uncles' home in village Tajpur where he began to study Sanskrit and married a daughter of the Kexarkuni Acharya family of village Sarada. As knowledge in Persian was a gateway to high position at the time, Bharatchandra decided to study Persian. With this end in view, he settled in the home of the famous Persian scholar, Ramchandra Munshi, a' Kayastha from the village West Debanandapur in District Hugli. As was the custom at the time, the family of his teacher provided him with subsistence and through very hard work, he became proficient in Persian.

His first literary effort was a panchali in honour of the composite deity, Satyanarayan, conceived as an incarnation of Vishnu in the form of a fakir. This was composed on the occasion of a festival in honour of Satyanarayan held by the Munshi family. He wrote another short panchali in honour of the deity at the request of one Hiraram Ray: his considerable talent as a poet was manifest in these two juvenile efforts. One interesting feature of these juvenile efforts was the free use of Persian and Urdu terms alongside the dominant Bangali. This became a characteristic feature of his later works as well. Having proved himself as a Persian scholar, he returned home and was welcomed by his family.

Bharatchandra's father had taken some land in lease from the Burdwan maharaja. And Bharatchandra's family was given the responsibilities to manage these lands. But his brothers failed to pay the revenue for these lands in time whereupon the maharaja took the land back. As a result of some machinations in the Burdwan court, Bharatchandra was imprisoned, but as he was on good terms with the jailer, the latter helped him to escape. Under the circumstances, he decided to go to Orissa which was under the Mahrattas at that time. The local governor granted his request to be allowed to live in Puri for some time and even provided for him to some extent. In Puri, he came into touch with the Vaishnavas and for some time lived like an ascetic.

Bharatchandra was on his way to Vrindavan when he reached the village of Khanakul near Krishvagore. Hi sister-in-law's husband lived in that village. They induced him to give up his ascetic's garb and return to the householder's life. He next proceeded to the French settlement of Chandannagore, where he was befriended by Indranarayan Chaudhuri, Diwan to the French Company. The Diwan promised to help him and the poet stayed for some time at Gondalpara with Ramexwar Muhkerji, Diwan to the Dutch Company. Indranarayan introduced him to his famous friend, Krishnachandra Ray, Maharaja of Nabadwip-Krishnanagar. The Maharaja was very pleased with his scholarship and manners and appointed him a courtier on Rs 40 per month and conferred on him the title of Gunakar,i.e., abode of excellence. The poet used to entertain him with occasional pieces of poetry. Pleased with' his talent, the maharaja asked him to write an Annadamabgal, in the style of the seventeenth century poet Mukundaram's Chandimabgal. The result was the Annadamangal, one of the best known works of mediaeval Bengai literature. Delighted with this work, Krishnacahandra asked him to add the story of Vidya and Sundar. The poet did this and followed up by writing an account of the Krishnanagar family. Krishnacahandra made him his court-poet, and endowed him with land grant and helped him settle in Mulajor. There the poet lived till his death. He left behind three sons, Parikshit, Ramtanu and Bhagaban.

Besides Annadamangal, Bharatchandra also wrote a few minor works, which include Gabgashtaka and Rasamavjari, a translation from the work of the same name by Bhanu Datta of Mithila. Annapurnamabgal or Annadamabgal was sung in Krishnachandra's court by one Nilmani Dindixai. Among his later verses was Nagashtaka, written in Sanskrit and Bangali, written in praise of one Ramdev Nag, a leaseholder under the Maharaja. His stray verses in Bangali mixed with Persian and Hindustan, written in his later life make for amusing reading.

Bharatchandra's most famous poem, Annadamangal is a work in three parts covering the stories of Siva's marriage to Sati and the destruction of the great sacrifice held by her father Daksha. The second part is the story of the hunter Kalketu and how through him the worship of Annada was introduced in the world and the third story relates to the scandal of illicit amour between Bidya, the princess of Burdwan and prince Sundar. The three parts are loosely linked by a simple poetic device.

Bharatchandra was highly popular in nineteenth century Calcutta. But the western educated new elite found him rather obscene in view of the overt sexuality of his descriptions. Some modern critics have however seen great merit in the frequent eroticism in his writings. His many experiments with metres of Sanskritic origin and frequent use of Persian and Urdu words lend a special flavour to his poetry. Some of his poetry may be stylised, but without doubt he is one of the great poets in the Bengali language. [Tapan Raychaudhuri]