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Persian  was the state language of the Muslim empire from the early thirteenth century to early nineteenth century, when it was replaced by English. The development of the Persian language may be divided into four phases: (1) Avesta (2) Old Persian (3) Middle Persian (4) Modern Persian.

Avesta The language of Kitab-e-Avesta, composed by Zoroaster (c 1100 BC) the founder of Zoroastrianism. Avesta originated in the Media region of North Iran. Kitab-e-Avesta is in five parts, with the most significant and ancient portion of the book, known as Gatha, at more or less the same linguistic stage as the vedas. The remaining parts of the Avesta are later than the Gatha and contain texts written at various times. The Kitab-e-Avesta was an oral text and by the time it had been written down, Avesta was a dead language.

Old Persian This form of the language may be dated to the period of the Achaemanian kings around 550 BC. It was written in what is known as the cuneiform system of writing. However, it was used only for royal inscriptions, because few people could read it. Some examples of Old Persian can be found in the cuneiform inscriptions engraved on the rocks of Besotun and Naqsh-i-Rustam, and on the walls and the massive columns of Persepolis. The language of these inscriptions is very closely allied to Avesta. Old Persian is highly inflectional and possesses most of the grammatical peculiarities of Avesta, Sanskrit, and other ancient languages of the Indo-European family.

Middle Persian  or Pahlavi, a simplified form of Avesta and Old Persian, originated in Iran during the Ashkani era (249-226 BC). Later, during the reign of Sassanides (226 BC-652 AD), remarkable improvements took place in the pronunciation and form of this language. Thus Pahlavi lasted for about a thousand years, being used both during the reigns of the Ashkanides and the Sassanides. A few books written in Pahlavi dating back to the Ashkani era are still extant.

The reign of the Sassanides is considered to be the golden era of ancient Iran. Iranian art, literature and culture etc developed immensely during this era. The Sassanides, for the first time, began to translate valuable Greek and Indian books into Pahlavi. The Sassanide emperor, Anushirwan, got Pavchatantra, a noted Indian book, translated into Pahlavi. Later, Rudaki, a blind poet of the Samanide era, rendered it into a metrical composition.

Innumerable lyrical compositions, diaries, tales, poems, songs are available in Pahlavi, some of which were later rendered into Persian poetry by Persian poets. Pieces worth mentioning in particular are Khoshrow O Shirin, Iskandernamah, Bahramnamah, Rostomnamah etc. The Hezar Dastan (literally, a thousand stories) dating from the Sassanide era, was rendered into Persian and later from Persian into arabic under the title of Alfa Layla wa Layla (One Thousand and One Nights).

Modern Persian Iranians embraced Islam in huge numbers during the Muslim conquest of the country in the reign of the last Sassanide emperor, Yazdgard III (634-652 AD). Consequently, under the influence of Arabic, Pahlavi began to be transformed gradually into Persian. Many books written in Pahlavi were destroyed.

Introduction of Persian in Bengal  From ancient times Bengal and Iran had been in contact with each other. There was trade between the Indian ports of Daybul, Nirun, Suparaka, Barygaza, Tagara, Muziris, Nelkynda, Ariake, Tamralipti, Gange, Saptagrama, and Sarandip and the ports of Ubulla, Omana, Eudaimon, Siraf, Qais, and Hormuz along the Persian Gulf. The ancient city ports of Bengal, viz Tamralipti, Gange and Saptagram or Satgaon, Wari-Bateshwer were great centres of maritime trade and commerce in ancient times, interacting between sailors and merchants from both the eastern and western seas. The importance of Tamralipti increased at the beginning of the Christian era due to the establishment of a brisk trade between Bengal, the Middle East and the Greco-Roman world.

Consequently, Bengal came into contact with the Middle East and Iran. Along with Iranian merchants and commodities came soldiers and generals, engineers and craftsmen, Sufis and darwishes. The cultivation of the Persian language and the propagation of islam started from before the establishment of the Muslim rule in Bengal, though on very small scale. As people converted to Islam, they became acquainted with the quran and Sunnah in Arabic, as well as with Persian, the language of the Sufi preacher. The compilation of numerous books on theology and mysticism by the Sufis, influenced the development of Persian language in Bengal.

Sultanate Period (1203-1576 AD) Though traders and mystics had contributed greatly to the spread of Persian language in the subcontinent as well as in Bengal, the language spread rapidly throughout the subcontinent after Persian gained the status of court language.

In 1203 AD Ikhtiyaruddin Mohammad bakhtiyar khalji, an army chief of Kutubuddin Eibek, the Emperor of Delhi, conquered Nadia and Gouda. Later, he spread his domain over all of Northern Bengal. The Muslim rule of Bengal changed the entire course of history. Most of the population of Bengal, specially of eastern Bengal, was converted to Islam. The importance of the Brahmans along with their Sanskrit language was gradually obscured, and Persian as the Muslim court language, became the most influential language.

The Islamic system of education was introduced in places where the followers of Islam settled. The proliferation of the traditional centres of instruction and learning, ie, mosques, madrasahs and maktabs, created a congenial atmosphere for the development of literary writings in both Arabic and Persian. These institutions were directly responsible for native efforts at original composition in Persian, in both the religious and the secular fields. Apart from extending their munificent patronage and encouragement to writers and poets, the reigning monarchs of the day themselves took part in intellectual pursuits. Among the reputed centres of study were those situated in gaur and pandua, Darasbari, Rangpur, Sonargaon, Dhaka, Sylhet, Bogra and Chittagong. The number of madrassahs in Bengal at the beginning of British rule was nearly 80,000.

For more than 600 years (from 1203-1837 AD) Persian was the state language in Bengal. During this long period, thousands of books were written in Persian, and hundreds of poets composed their poems in Persian. Copies of these contributions have been preserved in different libraries of Bengal as well as in the subcontinent either in book or manuscript form. From the middle of the 18th century to the end of the 19th century, five to six Persian dailies, including Sultanul Akhbar and Durbeen, were published regularly from Calcutta, suggesting that Persian was a popular language of the region.

The earliest Persian work compiled in Bengal was the translation of Amrtakunda from sanskrit into Persian by Qadi Ruknu’d-Din Abu Hamid Muhammad bin Muhammad al-’Amidi of Samarqand, a famous Hanafi jurist and Sufi. Amrtakunda is a book on yoga. It has ten chapters and fifty xlokas.

Nasiru’d-Din Mahmud Bogra Khan (1283-91 AD), eldest son of sultan ghiyasuddin balban, the Emperor of Delhi (1281-1291 AD), and Governor of Lakhnawati, assumed independence after his father’s death. He was a generous patron of art and literature, and his assemblies were a popular rendezvous for poets. Many writers like Shamsu’d-Din Dabir and Qadi Athir came to Bengal from Delhi and, under his patronage, played a significant role in nurturing Persian literature in Bengal.

shaikh sharfuddin abu tawwamah, the teacher and father-in-law of the famous saint of Bihar, Shaikh Sharafu’d-Din Yahya Munyari, came to Sonargaon between 1282-1287 AD. He maintained a madrasah for his students and a khanqah for his disciples, which were the leading centres of learning in that age. His book on mysticism, Maqamat, enjoyed an immense reputation even in the author’s own lifetime.

During the reign of Roknuddin Kaikaus (1291-1301 AD), son of Sultan Nasiruddin Bogra Khan, Nam-i-Haq, a book on fiqh (jurisprudence), was written in elegant Persian poetry, at Sonargaon, the then capital of Bengal. It is in 10 volumes and contains 180 poems. Though the authorship of this book has been ascribed to Shaikh Sharafu’d-Din Abu Tawwama, the author’s introduction testifies that the book was actually written by one of the disciples of Shaikh Sharafu’d-Din on the basis of his teachings.

During the reign of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah (1390-1409 AD), Sonargaon flourished as a centre for famous writers and faqihs ie lawyers well versed in Islamic Law. So much Persian prose and poetry was written during this period that it may well be called ‘the Golden Age’ of Persian literature in Bengal. The flourishing of Persian in the region during this period is evident from a lyric the mystic poet, Hafiz Shirazi, wrote in response to Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah. Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah was writing a Persian ghazal, but was able to complete only the first hemistich: Saqi hadise sarv o gul o laleh mi ravad (O Saqi! The tale of the cypress, the rose and the tulip is going on). Failing to complete the poem, he wrote to Hafiz, inviting him to Bengal and requesting him to complete the lyric. The poet completed the poem, acknowledging the grandeur of the king’s court and the literary qualities of the Persian poets of Bengal. Part of the poet’s ghazal, which is included in his divan, reads:

Vin bahas ba salase ghasaleh mi ravad

Shekar shekan shavand hamah totiane hind

Zin qande parsi keh beh bangaleh mi ravad.

(And with the three washers [cups of wine], this dispute is going on.

All the parrots [poets] of Hindustan have become sugar shattering [excited]

That this Persian candy [Persian ode], to Bengal is going [on].)

Sultan Jalaluddin Mohammad Shah (1415-1432 AD) was a patron of Islamic knowledge and literature. He paid for the upkeep of a madrasah at makkah which is said to have been awe-inspiring. The court of Rukunuddin Barbak Shah (1459-1474 AD) was graced by the presence of numerous scholars like Amir Zainuddin Harawi, poet laureate; Amir Shihabuddin Hakim Kirmani, physician and compiler of a Persian lexicon entitled Farhabgi Amir Shihabuddin Kirmani, and poets such as Mansur Shirazi, Malik Yusuf bin Hamid, Sayyid Jalal, Sayyid Muhammad Rukun, etc.

Farhang-i-Ibrahimi, the earliest Persian lexicon in the sub-continent and perhaps the most important, was composed by Maulana Ibrahim Qawwam Faruqi during this period. The work is better known as Sharafnamah, for it was dedicated to the memory of Makhdum Sharafuddin Yahya Munyari. This remarkable compilation marks a significant progress in the development of Persian studies in Bengal. During the Hussein Shahi reign, specially during the time of alauddin husain shah (1493-1519 AD), the usage of Persian and Arabic had greatly spread in this locality. During this time Muhammad Budai, better known as Sayyid Mir Alawi, wrote a book on archery entitled, Hidayatu-ur-Rumi, containing twenty-seven chapters. Thus the Sultanate period of Bengal from 1203-1576 AD, when Bengal was ruled by the benevolent and cultured Sultans, paved the ground for further development of Persian studies.

Mughal period (1576-1717 AD) During the Mughal period, Persian language and literature reached the highest stages of development in Bengal and greatly influenced the local language and literature. Contemporary and later chronicles and biographers have referred to the dignitaries of learning at the courts of the Mughal governors of Bengal: Munim Khan, Islam Khan, Qasim Khan, Shah Shuja, Shayesta Khan and Mir Jumla. These governors encouraged Persian poetry and offered asylums to many poets.

Mirza Jafar Beg Qazvini, another immigrant poet in Bengal, during akbar’s rule, complied a masnavi, titled Shirin-o-Khusrau, in the style of Nizami Ganjawi, a renowned poet of Persia. Mirza Nathan, a petty military officer, wrote Baharistan-i-Ghaibi which contains references to numerous soldier poets such as Luqman, Mir Qasim and Malik Mubarak, who accompanied the army and composed poems commemorating the victories and achievements of soldiers in the battle-field. Mirza Nathan, who served in Bengal for about twenty years, gives an explicit account of events that took place during Emperor Jahangir’s reign in Bengal and Assam. Mir Jumla who hailed from Isfahan was an accomplished scholar and poet. His kulliyat (collection of poems) contained 20,000 verses. Shahabuddin Talish, a chronicler of Mir Jumla, who accompanied his master on his military campaigns in Cooch Bihar and Assam, compiled an authentic account of Assam entitled Fath-i-Ibriyya in 1663.

Muhammad Sadiq, who came to Bengal in the company of Qasim Khan, governor of Bengal, in 1628, was the author of a historical and biographical work, Subh-i-Sadiq. He attached himself to the court of Shah Shuja when the latter became the governor of Bengal in 1639. The Subh-i-Sadiq contains the biographies of a number of Persian writers resident in Jahangirnagar as well as examples of verses of several poets, some of whom were professional soldiers. Abdul Hamid Lahuri, the author of the Padshahnamah, describes Sadiq as an embodiment of the sciences and traditions, excelling others in theology, medicine and mathematics. Among the renowned historians of the age was Mir Muhammad Masum who compiled the Tarikh-i-Shah Shujai under the patronage of Shah Shuja.

In the early 18th century, Murshid Quli Khan established an independent subadari in Bengal. This led to another influx of poets and writers from strife-torn Iran and northern India to the capital city of Murshidabad, which attracted quite a number of intelligentsia and versifiers from the eastern parts of Bengal, particularly Dhaka. Nawab Nusratjang, Nawab Nazim of Dhaka from 1796 to 1823, wrote a Persian history named Tarikh-i-Nusratjabgi. It was published by the Asiatic Society of Calcutta in 1908.

Persian during British rule  In 1757 AD, nawab sirajuddaula was defeated by the east india company at the Battle of Plassey, ushering in British rule. Persian, however, continued to be the dominating language during the first century of British rule in Bengal. In 1765 Mirza I’tesamuddin accompanied Captain Archibald Swinton to Europe and wrote his travels in Persian under the title of Shigurfnama-i-wilayat. Among other Persian writings of this period are Seiru-al Motaakkherin (1783 AD) of Golam Hossein Tabatabai, Siraj-ussalatin (1787 AD) of Golam Hossein Selim, Tarikhe Bangalah (1763 AD) of Munshi Salimullah. Considering the position of Persian in society, the British Government was obliged to continue Persian as an official language for eighty years (1757 to 1837 AD) after the establishment of its dominance in the region.

In 1882 AD, Nawab abdool luteef, highlighting the social importance of the study of Arabic and Persian, expressed his comments to the Hunter Education Commission as follows: ‘Unless a Mohamedan is a Persian and Arabic scholar, he cannot attain a respectable position in Mohamedan society, he will not be regarded as a scholar. And unless he has such a position, he can have no influence in the Mohamedan community.’

Dhaka contributed to both literary and scholarly work in Persian. Agha Ahmad Ali, for example, was born in Dhaka around 1783 and earned considerable fame by compiling Muayyid-i-Burhan and Shamshir-i-Tiztar, Persian dictionaries that continue to be used in the subcontinent even today. Among his other scholarly works are Risala-i-Tarana and Haft-Asman. khwaja haidEr jan Shaiq was called Bulbul-i-Bangalah, ie parrot of Bengal, by Ghalib. He has left a diwan (anthology) of Persian verses as well as a book of epistles. Other celebrated Persian composers of Dhaka were Khwaja Abdur Rahim Saba, whose magnum opus in Persian prose is called Tarikh-i-kashmiriyan-i-Dhaka; Khwaja Ahasanullah Shaheen, a great patron of Persian poets and writers, who inspired Mirza Mahmud Shirazi Makhmur to write in elegant Persian a history of the husaini dalan, a historic imambara of Dhaka; Maulvi abdul ghafur nassakh, a skilled writer of both poetry and prose, whose major work in Persian is Tazkiratul Ma’asirin, a literary biography; Syed Muhammad Baqir Tabataba’i, who migrated from Iran to Bengal and settled in Dhaka where he died in 1910 and lies buried in the Husaini Dalan. Tabatabai’s anthology of exquisite odes and panegyrics were highly regarded by literary critics. Other notable Persian poets of Dhaka were Abdul Munim Zauqi, Munshi Waris Ali Zia, Agha Mahmud Ali, Masihuddin Shurish, Kazimuddin Siddiqi, Maulana Fazlul Karim, Shah Burhanullah, Munshi Jalauddin and Maulvi Muazzamuddin Sa’id.

Maulana ubaidullah al ubaidi suhrawardY (1834-1885 AD), superintendent of the Dhaka Alia Madrasah, wrote verses in Persian reflective of classical masters like Sa’di, Hafiz, Jami, Sa’ib, Naziri and Ghalib. His Dastan-i-Parsi Amuz, in five volumes, is a standard work on Persian grammar. hakim habibur rahman (1881-1947 AD), another dignitary of Dhaka, was intimately connected with the cultivation of Persian learning. His bibliographical work, Salasa-i-Ghassalah, gives an account of 173 Persian works written in Bengal.

Apart from Dhaka, Chittagong was also a centre of Persian. Among the prominent Persian writers from Chittagong were Hakim Mohammad Husain Alawi, who wrote Makhzanul Adwiya, and Khan Bahadur Hamidullah, who published Ahadisul Khawanin in 1871 AD. Among Chittagong’s little known Persian poets were Maulana Abdul Awwal of sandwip, Muhammad Abdul Ali, Maulvi Faizul Kabir Shauq, Maulvi Faizullah Islamabadi, Muhammad Sulaiman Arman and Abdul Ali Durri.

Sylhet, which flourished during the medieval period as a leading centre of Persian-speaking Muslim missionaries, played a remarkable role in the dissemination of Persian learning. Writers from this region included Syed Shah Israil, author of Ma’danu’l Fawa’id, and Muhammad Arshad of baniachang, who wrote Zaraul Musannif. Syed Raihanuddin of Pail was a noted Persian poet who wrote Khwabnamah and the masnavi, gule bakawali.

faridpur also contributed to the promotion of Persian language and literature. The Qadi family of Rajapur holds a pre-eminent position in this regard. The most distinguished literary figure of the family was Abdul Ghafur Nassakh whose contributions have been mentioned earlier. His father, Qazi Faqir Muhammad, was the author of several works, chief among which is the Jamiut Tawarikh, a universal history published in Kolkata in 1836. Faqir Muhammad’s two other sons, Abdul Hamid and Abdul Bari Sayd were accomplished poets.

Abu Muin Azduddin Azud, Shah Syed Reyazatullah, Nasiruddin Ahmad, Samsamuddin Samsam and Ashrafuddin Shraf were leading Persian poets of comilla. barisal produced poets like Muhammad Fazil, Ilaichiram Taleb. Versifiers such as Syed Najmuddin Ahmad Nadir and Muhammad Abdul Hai Akhtar hailed from mymensingh. Syed Abdur Rashid Shahzadpuri from pabna was a learned man with a mystic bent of mind. He displayed his mastery in Persian verse by composing excellent qasidas on the model of Iranian poets like Khaqani and Urfi.

With the introduction of the printing press and the establishment of the modern libraries in the 19th century, the study of Persian rapidly spread in Bengal. Hindus also studied Persian. For example, raja rammohUn roy, founder of the Brahmo Samaj, wrote the book Tuhfatul Mowwahhadin in Persian.

By the middle of the 19th century, however, the importance of Persian faded in Bengal. The use of Persian as an official language was prohibited by Act no. XXIX of 1837 passed by the president of the Council of India in Council, on the 20th November 1837 which read in part:

I.    It is hereby enacted, that from the First Day of December 1837, it shall be lawful for the Governor-General of India in Council, by an Order in Council, to dispense, either generally, or within such local limits as may to him seem meet, with any provision of any Regulation of the Bengal Code which enjoins the use of the Persian language in any Judicial proceeding, or in any proceeding relating to the Revenue and to prescribe the language and character to be used in such proceedings.

II.  And it is hereby enacted, that from the said day it will be lawful for the said Governor-General for India in Council, by an order in Council, to delegate all or any of the powers given to him by this Act, to any subordinate Authority, under such restrictions as may seem meet.

Protests followed immediately. A memorandum, signed by 800 dignitaries from Kolkata, was submitted to the British Government, demanding cancellation of this declaration. In 1839 another memorandum, signed by 481 dignitaries from Dhaka, was submitted to the Government of Bengal through Justice JFG Cook. It is important to note that 199 persons among the signatories were from the Hindu community. An English translation of the original Persian, included in the Report of the Madrasah Education Committee, 1941, reveals the attitude of the signatories towards Persian.

I.     The benefits from the use of Persian are – that it is used over a very large extent of country and is the same in all parts – the letters are clear and the subject written easily understood. To reject this for Bengalee cannot be considered any good.

II.   The cleanness of expressions in Persian cannot be reached in the Bengalee language. The first may also be written in various styles, viz, with care and clearly or in a careless and off- hand manner.

III.  Many gentlemen understand Persian well, and people of all classes can understand it, when read, as it is of much general use and sufficient for common purpose may be learnt in a short time.

IV.  All persons whether Hindus or Mussalmans wish the language to be still continued, and are sorry to hear that it is to be abolished, from this no benefit can be arise to the Government and it is likely that detriment will ensue from the use of Bengalee.

It is noteworthy that the above memorandum failed to bring any change in the policy of the British Government. Despite the demand of the large number of dignitaries from Calcutta and Dhaka the declaration was enacted. Nevertheless, the study of Persian continued. Educated Bengali Muslims cultivated Persian and the language continued to be taught at madrasahs, schools, colleges and universities.

The Department of Persian and urdu formed one of the departments of the newly opened university of dhaka in 1921. In East Pakistan, Persian was taught as an optional language at schools till 1971. Though Persian is not offered in general schools today, it continues to be taught at the University, as a classical language in the Department of Persian and Urdu and as a contemporary language at the Institute of Modern Languages. In addition to this, almost all the public and private libraries in Bengal and India contain Persian manuscripts, which scholars are studying and editing for publication.

Influence of Persian on Bangla Literature  With the Persian-speaking Turko-Afghan conquerors making Bengal their new home, an age of cultural assimilation set in and continued for the subsequent seven hundred years. As a consequence, bangla language and literature were greatly affected by the dominant language of the rulers. Muslim efforts at original Bangla composition or at rendering Islamic matter into Bangla resulted in the introduction of numerous Persian words into the native vernaculars. In most cases, the Muslims accepted the existing forms but also made some additions and alternations in order to eliminate or suppress typically non-Islamic elements. For example, the Muslims replaced the invocation to Hindu gods and goddesses at the beginning of the mangalkavya with hamd and nat, praises of Allah and the Prophet muhammad (Sm) respectively following Muslim, specially Iranian, tradition. This was a consistent practice of the Iranian writers of epics and long narratives like Ferdousi, Sadi, and Attar. Thus, when alaol wrote padmavati, the story of a Hindu princess, or when Daulat Qazi wrote the story of Sati Maina, another Hindu princess, they started by hymning the praises of Allah and His Prophet.

Persian influenced what is known as dobhasi literature, literally literature of two languages. Even today the practice of using Arabic and Persian words in order to describe a typically Muslim context is very common. Thus, in dobhasi literature, if a Muslim court was described, a Muslim king addressed, Islamic thoughts and ideals and the Quran or the holy books referred to, Muslim saints and learned men mentioned, Arabic and Persian words were used. This was true of both Muslim and Hindu writers. shah muhammad saghir, the great Bengali poet of the court of Sultan Ghiasuddin Azam Shah (1389-1410 AD), referred to holy books as kitab, learned men as aliman. Zainuddin (15th century AD) used a host of these prototypical phrases and words in his Rasul Vijay: taj was used instead of mukut, sawar instead of arohi, dada instead of pitamaha. This becomes more conspicuous in a later poet like syed sultan (1550-1648 AD) who, in Shab-i-Miraj, used words such as Allah, Rasule Khuda, Noore Muhammadi, peer paigambar, in addition to kitab, aliman, alim.

Romantic Narratives  There was considerable Persian influence on the different genres of bangla literature, the most important perhaps being the romantic, humanistic love story. The most significant writers in the field were Shah Muhammad Saghir, the author of yusuf-zulekha, an adoption of Jami’s poem of the same title; daulat uzir bahram khan, the writer of laily-majnu; Daulat Qazi of Arakan (c 1600-1638 AD), author of Chandrani or Sati Maina; Alaol (c 1607-1680 AD), the writer of Padmavati, Saiful Mulk Badiuzzamal, Haft Paikar and Sikander Nama; abdul hakim (c 1620-1690 AD), author of Yusuf-Zulekha; quraishi magan thakur, author of Mrigavati; Abdul Nabi, author of amir hamza; heyat mahmud (1693-1760 AD), author of janganama; muhammad mukim writer of Mrigavati. Of the dobhasi puthi writers following this tradition, the most famous are Gharibullah, author of Yusuf-Zulekha and Amir Hamza (1st part) and Hatem Tai.

The traditional dobhasi love-story has certain common features: immutability in love, bravery and heroism. During the early eighteenth century, this tradition of writing got mixed up with the tradition of writing on the fantastic exploits of heroes in vijay kavyas. In most of the narratives of dobhasi literature there was a growing tradition of escapism, fairy tale, romance and fantastic adventures.

The first works in this tradition are Yusuf-Zulekha and Amir Hamza (1st part) of Gharibullah. The next important poet is syed hamza who wrote Madhumalati in the traditional linguistic style but resorted to Persianized dobhasi style in Amir Hamza (2nd part), jaiguner puthi and Hatem Tai. Arif’s Mrigavati and Shahnama and Janab Ali’s Shaheede Karbala can also be mentioned here. Moreover, the tales of the Arabian Nights were adapted in this linguistic and thematic style. There were at least three such versions: Mafizuddin Ahmad’s Keccha Alif-Laila, Raushan Ali’s Alif Laila and the third, and the most popular, version by Syed Nasir Ali, Habibul Hossain and Aizuddin Ahmed.

Heroic Verse  The vijay kavya illustrate the romantic, imaginative, miraculous exploits of the Holy Prophet (S) his companions and well-known Muslim heroes. These verses were the product of the urge to popularize Islamic precepts and glorify Muslim heroes. Hence they relate the vijay or victories of the Holy Prophet over his non-Muslim adversaries. Zainuddin’s rasulbijay is the earliest known work in this genre. Rasul Vijay and Hanifer Digvijay of Shah Barid (or Sabirid) Khan followed the pattern set by jainuddin. This pattern was also followed in Syed Sultan’s Rasul Vijay, Muhammad Khan’s Hanifar Ladai, Gharibullah’s Jabganama, Heyat Mahmud’s Janganama and Syed Hamza’s Amir Hamza.

Historical Narratives  Historical Narratives The first important writer in this tradition is Syed Sultan (c 1555-1648 AD), a Chittagonian poet of genuine merit. In NABI BANGSHA he narrates the life and history of the Prophet Muhammad (Sm) from the creation to the death of Imam Hussain (R), the Prophet’s grandson, at Karbala. Muhammad Khan had earlier written a book titled Maqtul Hussain. The central theme of these poems is the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. The entire story leads to the catastrophe at Karbala but does not end with it. In every poem from Muhammad Khan’s Maqtul Hussain, the earliest book so far known in this tradition, to Muharram Shareef of kaikobad, there is a marsia (elegy), following the death of Imam Hussain (R). The chief characteristic of these laments is the freedom with which the imaginations of the poets roam from earth to heaven and describe not only the lamentation of trees and the skies and the earth, but also of the angels and departed souls.

Religious Verse: Historical and theological  The 16-17th centuries were the period of Muslim cultural expansion. Many Muslims poets described the creation of the world or the life of the Prophet Muhammad (Sm) and prescribed the ways of Islam. Thus, Muzammil (1430 AD), one of the earliest writers in this genre, turns his Neeti-Shastravarta into a simple enunciation of rules. Afzal Ali preaches the rules and regulations of Islam in his Nasihatnamah, which follows the style of the mangalkavyas. He describes how his pir, Shah Rustam, appeared to him in a dream and gave him instructions. The poet then conveyed what he dreamt in the poem. Syed Sultan’s Nabibamsa, Shab-i-Miraj, Wafat-i-Rasul and Muhammad Khan’s Maqtul Hussain and Kiyamatnamah describe the Muslim concept of the origin, evolution, and destruction of the Earth and of the final judgement of good and wicked souls.

In Shariatnamah, Nasrullah Khan (c 1560-1625 AD) tells Muslims what the orders of God are and warns them against doing what God has forbidden. It is clear that Nasrullah Khan did not mean this book for non-Muslims. He wanted to make Muslims conscious of their religious laws. Similarly, Shaikh Muttalib expresses the rules and regulations of namaz, roza, zakat and other essentials of Islam in his Kifayat-ul-Muslemin. Nasrullah’s Shariatnama and Shaikh Muttalib’s Kifayat-ul-Muslemin were popular books, which is testified by the large number of extant manuscripts.

Mystic Literature  The Sufis played a significant role in preaching Islam in this country. Both the literary and folk traditions in Bangla were shaped by Sufi mysticism. The literary tradition fall into two categories: philosophical exposition of the theory and practice of mysticism, and the tradition of songs, mainly padavalis. The folk tradition consists mainly of the traditions of baul and murshidi songs, which describe the different stages that a disciple should pass through in order to reach the final stage of illumination and self annihilation. Among the writers of the philosophic tradition are Haji Muhammad and Syed Sultan.

Haji Muhammad’s Noor Jamal is more philosophical than Syed Sultan’s Jnan Pradip. Haji Muhammad tells his readers about Shariat, and then goes deep into the philosophical expositions of different theories about wahdatul wujud, pantheism. He also discusses the different theories of Ibn-ul-Arabi and Mujaddid-i-Alf-e-Sani. The popular murshidi and baul songs are deeply philosophical. Most of the murshidi songs found in Bengal are influenced by Maulana Jalal Uddin Rumi’s Masnavi and Shaikh Fariduddin Attar’s Mantiq-ut-Tair.

Influence of Persian on Bangla Language  Under the Turk and Afghan rulers, the administration of Bengal was left in the hands of Hindu feudatories, who were mostly kayasthas, by caste. Usually very little influence could be exerted on the life and language of the people from the Muslim court at gauda or sonargaon. The Muslims who settled down in Bengal came themselves to be influenced by their subjects. Undoubtedly, at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries, the Muslim kings of Bengal were active patrons of Bangla literature. Nevertheless, contact between the indigenous population and the Muslims brought in a number of Persian words into Bangla during the early period of Muslim rule.

The Mughal rule in Bengal, which began with Akbar’s conquest of the province, caused Bangla to be exposed to a greater degree than before to the influence of Persian. By 1605, when Akbar died, a synthesis had been effected, out of which rose an Indo-Muslim culture, with Hindustani (Urdu) as its vehicle. Hindustani made itself the inheritor and propagator of the Persian and Muslim spirit in India, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It came to Bengal, and Persian words, which formerly were brought into Bangla directly, now began to be admitted in larger numbers into Bangla through Hindustani. The result was that, towards the end of the eighteenth century, the Bangla speech of the upper classes, even the among Hindus, was highly Persianised. Munshis from the Upper Provinces, Bihar, and Bengal taught Persian to sons of rich people, and there were maktabs and madrassahs frequented both by Hindus and Muslims. This is evidenced from the following lines from raymangal by Krishnaram Das, written in 1686 AD:

অবিলম্বে উওরিল রাজার নগরে।

বালকে পারসী পড়ে আখন হুজুরে॥

কানেতে সোনার কলম দোয়াত সম্মুখে।

কিতাবত নিপুণ কায়স্থগণ লেখে॥

(In the city of the king

The boy is learning Persian from his master;

With a golden pen on the ear

And an inkpot in front of him,

The Kayastha is busy writing.)

The influence of Persian on Bangla language is apparent in three areas: vocabulary, gender formation, and sentence structure. In the first instance, Persian influenced Bangla vocabulary in two ways: a) by substituting Persian words for Bangla ones, and b) by incorporating many Persian words into Bangla. Thus, many Persian words, as well as Arabic and Turkish words through Persian, not only began to be used increasingly, but, in a few cases, drove out some genuine Bengali words as the following examples show:

শশারু খরগোশ
(shosharu (Khorgosh)
সাঁচান/সয়চান বাজ
(Sanchan/saichan) (Baj)
আখেট শিকার
(Akhet) (Shikar)
গোহারি নালিশ
(Gohari) (Nalish)
মেলানি বিদায়
(Melani) (Viday)
বুহিত জাহাজ
(Buhit) (Jahaj)
দশ শ হাজার
(Dash sha) (Hazar)

Bangla vocabulary was greatly influenced by Persian in almost all areas. However, with the ascendance of Muslims to power, a great number of words relating to revenue, administration, the kingly state, warfare, business, etc, found their way into Bangla. The following is a list of Persian words, and Arabic through Persian words, which are in vogue in Bangla:

1 Words relating to revenue and administration and to law, for example, আইন (ain), জেরা (jera), দারোগা (daroga), নালিশ (nalish), ফয়সালা (faisala), ফরিয়াদ (fariad), রায় (ray), etc.

2 Words pertaining to kingly state, warfare, chase: জমিদার (zamidar), তখত (takhat), তহশিলদার (tahshildar), নবাব (nawab), বাদশা (badsha), বেগম (begum), বাহাদুর (bahadur), কামান (kaman), তীর (tir), তোপ (top), ফৌজ (fauj), kni (shahar) etc.

3 Words relating to religion: খোদা (khoda), পয়গম্বর (paygambar), ফিরেশতা (fireshta), বেহেশত (behesht), দোজখ (dojakh), মসজিদ (masjid), ইদগাহ (eidgah), খানকাহ (khanqah), দরগাহ (dargah), নামাজ (namaz), রোজা (roza), মারসিয়া (marsiya), মাতম (matam), জায়নামাজ (jaynamaj), ওযু (wazu), গুনাহ (gunah), etc.

4 Words relating to education: কাগজ (kagaj), পীর (pir), বুযুরগ (buzurg) etc.

5 Words relating to the objects of luxury, trade, arts and crafts: আতর (atar), অায়না (ayna), গোলাপ (golap), গুলদানী (guldani), চশমা (chashma), দালান (dalan), মখমল (makhmal), ফরাশ (pharash) etc.

6 Words relating to the body and its organs: বায়ু (bayu), বদন (badan), পা (pa), সের (ser), সিনা (sina), গরদান gardan), পাঞ্জা (pavja), যবান (yaban), নাখন (nakhan), দেল (del) etc.

7 Words relating to garments: আচকান (achkan), আবা (aba), জোব্বা (jobba), চাদর (chadar), পর্দা (parda), শাওয়াল (shalwar), পিরহান (pirahan), বায়ুবান্দ (bazuband), কামারবন্দ (kamarband), পোষাক (posak) etc.

8 Words relating to foods: কালিয়া (kaliya), কোপ্তা (kopta), কোর্মা (korma), পোলাও (polao), বিরিয়ানী (biriyani), গোশত (goshta), পনির (panir), চা (cha), হালুয়া (haluya), কাবাব (kabab), কিমা (kima), মোরব্বা morabba), সবজী (sabji), খোরাক (khorak), কিশমিশ (kishmish), পেস্তা (pesta), বাদাম (badam) etc.

9 Words relating to nations: হিন্দু (Hindu), ফিরিঙ্গি (Firibgi) etc.

10 Words relating to business: কারিগর (karigar), খানসামা (khansama), খানা (khana), খিদমত (khidmat), খিদমতগার (khidmatgar), চাকর (chakar), দোকানদার (dokandar), বাজিগর (bajikar), যাদুকর (yadukar) etc.

11 Words relating to family and relatives: বাবা (baba), মা (ma), বেরাদার (beradar), দাদা (dada), খালা (khala), দামাদ (damad), শওহার (shaohar), কানীজ (kanij), দোস্ত (dost), ইয়ার (iyar) etc.

12 Words relating to male and female names: দিল-আফরুয (Dil-aphruz), দিলরুবা (Dilruba), নুরজাহান (Nurjahan), জামশীদ (Jamshid), রোস্তম (Rostam), সোহরাব (Sohrab) etc.

13 Words relating to places: হাম্মামখানা (hammamkhana), গোসলখানা (gosalkhana), সরাইখানা (saraikhana), মোসাফেরখানা (mosapherkhana), ইয়াতীমখানা (yatimkhana), কারখানা (karkhana), আসমান (asman), যমীন (zamin), বাজার (bazar) etc.

14 Words relating to birds and animals: বুলবুল (bulbul), কবুতর (kabutar), বাজ (baz), তোতা (tota), গাভী (gabhi), খরগোশ (khargosh), হাইওয়ান (haiwan), জানোয়ার (janoyar) etc.

15 Words relating to common things and notions of life: আওয়াজ (aoyaz), আবহাওয়া (abhaoya), আফসোস (aphsos), কম (kam), কোমর (komar), গরম (garam), তাজা (taja), নরম (naram), পেশা (pesha), লাল (lal), সবুজ (sabuj), সফেদ (saphed), হুশিয়ার (hushiyar), হরদম (hardam), সেতার (sitar) etc.

16 Words relating to the names of cities as well as provinces: নবাবপুর (Nawabpur), গুলিস্তান Gulistan), রাজশাহী (Rajshahi), রংপুর (Rangpur), etc.

More than two thousand such words have come to have a permanent place in Bangla vocabulary.

Persian also influenced Bangla grammar. For example, gender is often indicated by using the words nar, madi and marda (marda is a distorted form of Persian mard): nar-kabutar (নর-কবুতর), madi-kabutar ( মাদী কবুতর); marda-kukur (মর্দা কুকুর), madi kukur (মাদী-কুকুর) etc. In Persian these gender indicatives are used after the nouns. For instance: ahuye nar (male deer) ahuye madi (female deer). In Bangla, however, these words are used before the nouns. On the other hand, the Persian word morg means both cock and hen, but in Bangla the word morg is used only for cock while hen is called murgi.

Bangla vocabulary has also been increased by attaching Persian prefixes and suffixes to Bangla words. In the process of borrowings from Persian, numerous changes take place, some of them in pronuciation. For example, in many cases, the Persian a (আ) or sign v has been elided: কামার (কামার) > কমর (kamar); গারম (garam) > গরম (garam); নারম (naram) > নরম (naram) etc. In many cases Persian prefixes and suffixes form compounds with Bangla words. For example: কৈরানিগিরি (Keranigiry), বাবুগিরি (Babugiry) etc.

The influence of Persian can also be observed in Bangla sentence-construction as may be noted in the following instances:

Persian   Bangla
(man yin kar kardebudam) আমি একাজ করেছিলাম (ami ekaj karechhilam)
(man yek ta nan Khordam) আমি একটা নান খেলাম (ami ekta nan khelam)
(to kuja rafti) তুই কোথায় গেলি (tui kothay geli)

As in Persian, in Bangla as well, verbs are not affected by gender. For example:

Persian   Bangla
(baba raft)  বাবা গেলেন (baba gelen)
(mama raft) মাতা গেলেন (mata gelen)
(berador aomad) ভাই এলেন (bhai elen)
(khahar aomad) বোন এলেন (bon elen)

Both Bangla and Persian verbs end with a stop-sound, called hasanta in Bangla and saken in Persian.

Adjectives are not affected by number or gender in either Persian or Bangla. For example:

Persian   Bangla
(gule safid) সাদা ফুল (sada Phul)
(gulhaye safid) সাদা ফুলগুলো (sada Phulgulo)
(pesare khob) ভাল ছেলে (bhala chhele)
(dokhtare khob) ভাল মেয়ে (bhala meye)

Though the study of Persian is relegated to a minuscule minority in bangladesh today, the legacy of seven hundred years has become permanently embedded in Bangla language. Thousands of Persian words are part of not only standard Bangla but also of many local dialects of the region. Words and sentences that are familiar to us may often be more likely than not derived from Persian. The sentence Abahawa ekhan bexi garam achhe (The weather is very warm now) in Bangla is very similar in both vocabulary and syntax to Abohawa aknon besh garm ast in Persian. [Abu Musa Mohammad Arif Billah]

Bibliography  ME Haq, Muslim Bangla Sahitya, Dhaka, 1965; Abdul Karim, Banglar Itihas: Sultani Amal, Dhaka, 1967; AKM Morshed ed, Shahidullah Rachanabali (3rd Part), Bangla Academy, Dhaka, 1995; SK Chatterji, The Origin and Development of the Bengali Language, Kolkata, 1993; Sirajul Islam ed, History of Bangladesh, Vol. III, Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, Dhaka, 1997.