Monday, April 2, 2012

160 - The Arrakan poets and the later Muslim writers

The Arrakan poets and the later Muslim writers

A closed cultural contact between Bengal and Arrakan, the neighbouring province of lower Burma speaking a Tibeto-Burman language, was first made early in the fifteenth century when Narameikhia, the king of, Arrakan, dispossessed by the king of Burma, came to Bengal and took, refuge in the court of Gaud (1404).After a sojourn of many years he was helped by Jalaluddin, the Bengal Sultan, to regain his throne (1430).
We can reasonably assume that the king had acquired some liking for Bengali song and music, among other things, during his stay in Bengal and introduced them in his own country after he had returned home and to power. But, there is no evidence to show how far this engrafting of Bengali culture in the Arrakan court was enduring, in spite of the fact that Arrakan continued to be dominated politically by Bengal and its external affairs controlled by the Sultan’s governors in Chittagong. The position was however reversed for some years at least in the third quarter of the century when the Arrakan power annexed Chittagong and kept it under its control until, in the first decade of the sixteenth century, it was recovered by Nusrat Khan, a general of Husain Shah. During the years Chittagong was in occupation by the Arrakanese it appears that some cultural contact between Bengal (and the rest of India) and Arrakan was established. From this time Bengali was accepted at the Arrakan court as the chief cultural language, mainly because many of the high officials of Arrakan came from Chittagong and the other neighbouring territories whose mother-tongue was Bengali.
After the overthrow of the dynasty of Husain Shah, Arrakan seems to have regained its full political independence. But, the influence of the Bengali language did not suffer; on the countray it grew. The kings of Arrakan now adopted also Bengali names for themselves and sometimes it was, as in the case of Thiri Thu Dhamma (Arrakanese pronunciation of srisudharma), the only name known to history. The Bengali immigrants or sojourners in Arrakan were almost all Muslims, and the officials and ministers were mostly Bengali Muslims. Muslim influence in the Arrakan court was therefore potent, and as happened quite often in the seventeenth century, the kings took Muslim names as well. The literary tradition which Paragal Khan and his son Nusrat Khan had started in South-east Bengal reached the court of Arrakan by the end of the sixteenth century.
The people of Arrakan and their rulers had for their mother-tongue, Arrakanese, a Tibeto-Chinese speech closely connected to Burmese, which latter was outside the pale of Aryandom. But from the middle of the fifteenth century the culture of Bengal began to percolate into Arrakan not only   through the officials but also through merchants and adventurers who came across the sea or hill tracts to seek their fortunes. In about a century the court of Arrakan had accepted some of the manners and customs of the Bengali court. Bengali poetry and Bengali dance and music became quite popular in the cultured section of Arrakan society.
So far as we know the first Bengali poet to write under the aegis of the Arrakan court was Daulat Kazi. His patron Ashraf Khan was a commanding officer of king srisudharma (Thiri Thu Dhamma) who ruled between 1622 and 1638. Ashraf was a Sufi and so presumably was Daulat Kazi. To popularize the romantic tales current in West Indian poetry (Rajasthani, Gujarati,  Hindi, Avadhi and Bhojpuri). Ashraf had asked Daulat to render the story of Lor-Candrani and Mayana into Bengali narrative verse (Paticili). The story had been popular in folk-song and dance, and the mention of ‘Lorik Dance’ in an early fourteenth century Maithili work indicates that it was a popular amusement in North Bihar in the early fourteenth century. The Lorik song is now popular in South Bihar (where the story has assumed the form of a saga), especially among the Ahir. But the story Lorik as now current in South Bihar is not its original from. The story was probably not well known in Bengal. Daulat Kazi took it from the old Rajasthani poem by Sadhan, manuscripts of which have come to light recently. Daulat Kazi died before he could finish his poem. It was completed years later by Alaol (1659), another Bengali poet from Arrakan. Kazi’s poem has a double title, Sati Mayana and Lor-Candrani. The story is as follows.
Lor1, the ruler of Gohari 2, was married happily to Mayana (or Mayanamati). After a time a yogi mendicant came to Lor and showed him the portrait of Candrani, the beautiful princess of Mohara 3. Candrani was married to a valiant warrior who was an impotent midget. Lor was tempted to seek the love of the princess. He went to Mohara and managed to meet Candrani. She reciprocated Lor’s feeling and the lovers were united. Candrari’s husband, who had been away, now returned home and the couple had to flee the country. The husband gives chase. They met in a forest. A duel ensued which resulted in the death of Candrani’s husband. Candiani’s father accepted Lor as his son-in law and made over the kingdom to him. Here ends the first part of the story (Lor-Candrani).
The scene now shifts to Lor’s home where his neglected wife was pining away. Her only solace was praying to Durga who alone could bring back her husband. Meanwhile a rich young fellow named Chatan had fallen for Mayana and engaged a woman to procure her for him. The woman came to Mayana and introduced herself as her old wet nurse. She was a clever woman and her words of commiseration convinced Mayana of her sincerity. But, when she proposed a liaison with Chatan. Mayana became furious. The woman was thrown out with ignominy. Mayana was now it the end of her tether and she sent a trusted Brahman, carrying her pet parrot, in search of her husband. The Brahman travelled through many lands and at last came to Mohara. When Lor met him he at once remembered his forgotten wife and was all remorse. Placing his son on the throne of Mohara he with Candrani returned home to Mayana. This is the second and last part of the story (Sati Mayana).
Daulat Kazi vw a competent poet; he was well acquainted with the contemporary poet’s craft. His knowledge of Sanskrit poetry was not superficial. He has drawn similes from Kali dasa and some metrical patterns from Jayadeva. His indebtedness to Vaishnav poetry is evident.
The following lines are from the ‘Baramasiya’ song describing the procuress’s attempts at turning Mayana’s sorrowing heart to a contemplation of love’s pleasures:
0 Mayana, the month of Sravan brings much pleasure; the soft steady drizzling excites passionate love.On the earth flow low streams of water; the night is dark, and lovers are engaged in love sports.
The sky is dark; the fields and meadows are green; the horizons are dark and the daylight is dim and soft. Flashes of lightning dailies with the cloud lover at night which is filled with darkness and terror, enjoying the various .sports of love.
The season is very seasonable in Sravan,but how can one pass the time when Hari is not there.4   The rivers are torrential ; the wind blows sharp. This kindles four-fold the fire of unrequited passion.
Yon are a king’s daughter, but you let yourself suffer for life. What is the meaning of thinking you are Lor’s wife still? You should know that the love of the true-hearted is a garland that never fades.
The chief of (he commanders, the General (i.e. Ashraf Khan),is glorious in the world (and he knows this).
Alaol, another Sufi poet succeeding Daulat Kazi in the court of Arrakan, was also a good scholar. His knowledge of Persion poetry was deep, and of Sanskrit lore adequate. He was well versed in music too. But as a writer Alaol shows less facility and ingenuity than his predecessor. He was more religiously minded and the devotional strain in him dominated his fancy to the detriment of his poetry.
Alaol’s life was never smooth. He was the son of Majlis Kutub, governor of a Lower Bengal region. While the father and son were once making a journey by boat, they were attacked by foreign pirates. There was a fight, the father was killed and the son was capture and ‘sold as an Arrakan. Alaol was brought for the army and, was taken in the cavalry. ln a short time  the young cavalry man’s, reputation for scholarship and efficiently in music spread around and reached, the ears  of sulaiman, a minister of king Sricandra. Sudharma. (reign 1652-1684). It was at the request of Sulaiman that, Alaol wrote (1659) the sequel to the unfinished poem of Daulat Kazi and translated (1663) the religious, treatise Tuhfa from Persian.
Magan Thakur 5 the foster-son of the sister of Sri Candra Sudharma and co-regent o£ Arrakan, became a fast friend of Alaol. Two of his poems, including his best work (Padmavati) were written at the instance of Magan. Magan was indined towards Sufism and was an admirer of Jaisi’s poetry. He requested Alaol to render Jaisi’s. Padmavati into Bengali verse so that it might be readily appreciated by the men of Arrakan. Alaol’s translation is neither complete nor wholly faithful. He abridged and revised the story to suit the pattern of a Bengali narrative (Pancali) and added some extraneous episodes and stories.The story of Alaol’s Padmnvati is briefly as follows:
Nagasen was the king of Chitor. His wife was Nigamati. The king came to hear of the extraordinary beauty of Padmavati, the daughter of the king of Ceylon, and desired to marry her. Dressed as a yogi Nagasen went to Ceylon, and by showing his power and skill won the hand of the princess. When the couples were returning home their boat foundered on the high sea but they were saved by the god of ocean. The king came back home and lived happily with his two wives. But he was not destined to enjoy peace for long, Nagasen’s ministers became jealous of the favours which the king bestowed on Raghavcetan, a Tantric scholar, possessing occult power. They contrived a disgrace of Raghavcetan before the king who had him banished from the kingdom. Padmavati tried to appease the pandit and offered him a bangle from her- wrist Raghavcctan went to Delhi and showed the bangle to Sultan Alauddin and told him of the ravishing- Iooks of Padmivati
The sultan desired to possess her. He sent a messenger to Chitor to fetch Padmavati. On being refused Alauddin attacked Chitor. Nagasen was defeated and taken a captive to Delhi, but Cora and Badila (or Badal), two of his most loyal followers, managed to get the king back to Chitor.
While the king was away from Chitor, Deopal, the king of Kumbhalner, attempted to seduce Padmavati. When Nagasen came back and heard this, he challenged Deopal to a duel. Deopal
was killed and Nagasen was mortally wounded. Nagamati and Padmavati died suttees and were cremated in the same pyre with their husband. The pyre was still smoking when Alauddin and his army entered Chitor. On coming to know of the noble and tragic end of Ratnasen and his two wives the tultan paid homage before the pyre and returned to Delhi.
Alaol adapted in Bengali verse the story of the Persian romance saiful-mulk baoiup-jamal at the instances of Magan Thakur. The work was interrupted when Magan died and it was resumed and completed years later at the request of Saiyad Muhammad Musa who after prince Magan’s death
took Alaol under his patronage. At Musa’s request he also rendered Haft Paikar of Nizami into Bengali verse.  At that time Shah Shuja, son of Shahjehan and subedar of Bengal, had taken refuge at the Arrakan court. Shuja met Alaol and the two exiles were mutually attracted. Shuja was assassinated and Alaol came under suspicion and was thrown into prison with his belongings confiscated. When he was released after some years he was a broken man. Saiyad Musa and Majlis Navaraj, both ministers of Sri Candra Sudharma, took rare of him. At the request of the Majlis, Alaol wrote Dara-sikandar-nama,a Bengali adaptation of Nizami’s Iskandar-namah.
Alaol appears to be the first Bengali writer to translate from Persian poetry. His good knowledge of several languages, such as Sanskrit, Bengali, Avadhi and Persian, gave a distinction to his style. His poetic fancy however was seldom as original as Daulat Kazi’s, but his achievement was more solid. The following song from Padmavati illustrates the poet’s allegiance to the contemporary form of vernacular lyric poetry:
Ah! my heart breaks. Awake or dreaming I always see him only. I know not how fate has decreed for me: I obtained a touchstone but have lost it out of carelessness. To whom can I reveal the burning of my heart? My sympathizing friends would break their hearts over it. Through sorrow and distress my days and nights drag on like ages. How can I live like a fish out of water? Why does my insufferable life continue? My heart is stone hard and it does not break under such stress. Lord Saiyad Musa is an adept in wisdom. The sufferings of separation in love are sung by
the humble Alaol.
Muslim writers were not impervious to the influence of the religious poetry of the Hindus. Their first attempts at writing religious narrative poems for their brothers in faith frankly imitated the narrative poems of the Hindu authors. Such poems, dealing with the stories of Muhammad and the earlier prophets were entitled Nabivamsa (after the Hindu Harivamsa) or Rasulvijay (after the Hindu Pandavvijay). The older Muslim writers of this class belonged to Chittagong and
Sylhet as these places were the best centres of Muslim literary culture in East Bengal from the sixteenth century.
Saiyad Sultan of Chittagong wrote his Rasulvijay(also called Nabivamsa) in 1654 and he included some Hindu gods and avatars among the prophets. He had also written treatises on Yoga as well as some ‘Vaishnav’ songs. The Bengali Muslims had their own Mahabharnta in the Jangnama (Battle Stories) poems which describe either the conquest and conversion of Iran by the followers of the prophet or narrate the cruel fate of the brothers Hasan and Husain, the grandsons of the prophet.
The latter story being as tragic as that of Abhimanyu in the Mahabharata became very popular among the Shia Muslims of Bengal.  The oldest Jangnama in Bengali is Makyub-hosen (Death of Husain) by Mohamad Khan of Chittagong. It was written at the instance of the poet’s spiritual master (murshid) Pri Shah Sultan and was completed in 1645. Among the other writer of Jangnama works from Chittngong mention may be made of Nasarullah Khan who wrote towards the beginning of the eighteenth century at the command of his murshid Pri Hamiduddin, and of Mansur who wrote at the instance of Muhammad Shah. 
The earliest known Muslim poet of North Bengal was Hayat. Mamud whose Jangnama. is also called Maharamparva (after the books of the Mahdbharnta). It was written in 1723. His
other works include a Bengali adaptation of Persian version of Hitopsaesa written in 1732, an Islamic theological treatise Hitajnanavani, (Words of Good Knowledge) written in 1753, and Ambiyavani (Voice of the Prophets) written in 1758.
By the beginning of the eighteenth century a literary and cultural centre for the West Bengal Muslims was established in the Bhursut (ancient Bhurisresthi) region on the lower reaches of the Damodar. The mid-eighteenth century poet Bharatcandra Ray belonged to this region and his highly Persianized style of poetry reflects the influence of the style of the popular Muslim writers from that locality. The most notable of these writers was Garibullah who in all probability belonged
to the early part of the eighteenth century. Two poems of Garibullah are known. One is a version of Jangnama of Amir Hamza and the other is Yusuf-Zulekha based, on the Persian
poem of Nuruddin Jami. Garibullah, was followed by .Saiyad Hamza who completed the formers’ Jangnama by writing the second part (1792-94). Before that he had written Madhu-malati, a. romantic poem based on a popular folk-tale. Hamza’s third poem, printed under the title Jaiguner Pathi (Book of Zaigun), is the Jangnama of Hanifa completed in October
1797. His last work is Hatem-Tair Keccha (Stories of Hatim Tayyi). It was completed in 1804.
The early nineteenth century Muslim writers from this region are not worth mention here. They produced mainly for the consumption of the illiterate people residing in Calcutta, and they drew; largely from Persian, Hindi and Urdu popular tales. Their language was, so much saturated with Perso-Arabic and Hindi words and phrases that it was often unintelligible to persons not acquainted with those tongues. This jargon was known as Muslim Bengali (Echlami Bangala). It was a creation by the West Bengal Muslim writers and was taken up by their North and East Bengal brethren only towards the close of the century.
The Muslim Bengali poetry does not appear to have been cultivated exclusively by Muslim. Sometimes a Hindu writer was commissioned or himself inclined to write it. A good instance is the Jangnama by Radhacaran Gop who belonged to North-west Bengal. It is known, in manuscripts.
The influence of Hindu poetry on the Muslim writers was increasing so that by the beginning of the nineteenth century, we find several Islamic themes recast in the Hindu mould. The very much popular story of the boyhood sportiveness of the brothers Hasan and Husain was a frank, imitation of the similar exploits of Krsna and Balaram narrated in, Krsna- mangal. The story of Hariscandra (in Dharmamangal) and of Karna the Charitable (data) (in tlie eighteenth century Krsna-mangal poetry) had its Muslim version in Islam- Nabi Keccha (Stories of the Prophets of Islam) by Abdul Matin of Burdwan. The latter part of the story of Surajjamal by Abdul Rahman of Faridpur imitates the story of Bchula as in Manasamangal.
The Muslim settlement of Sylhet remained in cultural isolation more or less. They had never lost contact with their west-country co-religionists. They cultivated Hindi poetry and had kept up the use of Kayathi script among themselves.In the last quarter of the nineteenth century some books were printed in this script which came to be known as the Sylhet variety of Nagari (‘Sileti Nagari’). The Muslim writers of Sylhet preferred romantic narratives as well as ‘Vaishnav’ lyrics and mystic songs.
The traditional stories of the local Muslim saints (‘Pir’) were woven with tales to form a new type of religious poetry a West and North Bengal and were responsible for the emergence of a new deity called Satyanarayan (i.e. Satya the Narayana) by the Hindus and Satya Pir (i.e. Haq the Pir) by the Muslims. The writers of such poems (Satyapir PancaliI) were almost all Hindus. The earliest traditions regarding the Muslim Pirs in Bengal are recorded in Sekaiubhodayd written a hybrid language which is as much Sanskrit as Bengali.It contains stories of the spiritual powers of Sheikh Jalaluddin who is said to have come to Bengal during the reign of Laks-manasen (late twelfth century). Some of the stories and anecdotes are old. One story that is not known from any source says that woman was so much enraptured by a melody that she mistook her infant son for her pitcher and dropped him down a well where she had come to fetch water. The story is illustrated in a terra cotta plaque from the ruins of the eighth century temple at Mahasthan. Sekasubhodaya has obviously utilized materials from an earlier work of the same type which
was probably in verse.
At any rate the tradition of the Pirs in Bengal has its origin in the thirteenth century, and it originated independently from North and West Bengal. A few writers took up folk-tales to illustrate the greatness of Satya Pir. A North Bengal writer, Krsnaharidas, who wrote the biggest poem of the genre at the instance of a Muslim landlord, exploited local traditional lore. But the majority of them produced only very small books using the same story that was obviously modelled after the merchant episodes of Candimangal   and Manarimangal. As literary products this Pir literature is entirely valueless except that it bears evidence of a widespread attempt at a rapprochement between the two major faiths. The novel deity Satya-Pir or Satya-Narayan achieved high popularity in the eighteenth century and we find there the best writers of the century, Ghanaram Kaviratna, Ramesver Bhattacarya and Rharatcandra Ray writing short Satyanarayan-Pancali poems.

  1. Literally, a young man ( Hindi laurda)
  2. Literally, a rustic region ( Hindi gaoari)
  3. Literally, (the land of ) enchantment ( merchant )
  4. This is obviously an echo from Vaishnav wings
  5. The name Magan (Literally obtained by begging) indicates that he came from a Bengali speaking family

This paper was contained in History of Bengali Literature of Chapter 13, which was published by Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi on First publish January 1960 and revised edition 1971 and wrote by Dr. Sukumar Sen, M.A, Ph.D,  Khaira Professor of Linguistics and Phonetics and Head of the Department of Comparative Philology, University Calcutta, Forewords by Jawahrial Nehru

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