Bengali Literary Tradition is not old yet it is vast. The reason may be attributed to the great writers who emerged and flourished between the 19th and the 20th century. They contributed a great deal towards building a legacy for the fast emerging literary tradition in the Bengali language.
Among all those literary geniuses of the era, there were three notable figures who brought a new age in Bengali Literature—Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore and Saratchandra Chattopadhyay. Having grown up in a Bengali family, these three were prominent names that I often heard in a loop.
I was introduced to Rabindranath Tagore at a very tender age and later at school I learnt about the other two. As I read their literary works, I gradually began to discover that these three legendary writers mark a transition in language from tough and semi-hard to simple, playing their respective roles in the literary evolution.
The torch-bearer of Bengali Literature, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay was the first to introduce Bengali words into literature.
He introduced romance and imagination by intermingling them with historical plots. He took historical events and figures to weave fiction around real characters in his novels: Durgesh Nadini and Kopalkundola. He also wrote patriotic novels like Anandamath and Debi Choudhurani – rebelling against the British and supporting the Swadeshi Movement.
His books mostly highlighted social and family life, and presented the contrast in the character of men and women. The stories psychologically analysed the themes of men’s moral degradations and the conflict between a woman’s instinctive cravings versus her gender constructed desires.
The only setback of his books was their tough decorative language and descriptive narration, which was difficult for the common people to follow. Although the language had great literary value and was appreciated by the learned men well-versed in Bengali language, they failed to appeal to the general public who didn’t understand such elaborate language.
However, his books are still popular because of their deep insights into the mysterious passages of the human mind and relationships between men and women which is still relevant today. This is what continues to connect modern readers to his work.
Rabindranath Tagore brought the depth of emotion, imagination and romanticism together in Bengali Literature. He was a multi-talented artist, excelling in almost every field of creativity.
No age had ever been able to produce such a great talent. A common belief goes that one cannot complete reading all his literary works in one life – such is the vastness of his genius. No doubt, he is almost worshipped by the Bengalis. Tagore wrote short stories, poems, novels, dramas and songs.
He began writing as a child. However, as he spent the most of his childhood locked up in his house, this had somewhat locked his ideas as well. Thus his earlier poems had only the clouds of emotions, but the rain of passion was yet to come. It was only when he was transported to Shelidah that he relished the first taste of freedom which reflected in his writings that now mingled nature, love and human in one form.
Rabindranath Tagore was predominately a poet. Many pages of his stories and dramas can be read as sheer poetry. His poems are a pure blend of emotion, passion and artistic efficacy. His dramas have a lyrical taste weaved from the deeper emotions and heart-felt experiences of his life.
His novels are applauded for their sheer diversity in its emotional taste, theme and characterisation. It is through this diversity that readers find the true essence of Tagore.
Rabindranath found his joy and peace in composing short stories which were spun from the realities of human life. Love, affection, conflicts, disputes, selfishness, sensuality, litigation—all blended together in his stories to bring out the aroma of village life. And slowly as he began to grow addicted to writing short stories, he comprehended the true colours of the human mind with greater understanding and his later stories began to reflect this impact.
It is rather impossible to confine Rabindranath Tagore in a small boundary, for his artistic talent is so vast and diverse that it cannot be recapitulated within a few words. We can only see the tip of the iceberg, while the true essence still lies submerged within.
When Rabindranath Tagore was right at the peak of his career and fame, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay rose to the spotlight by composing a sensational story “Mondir” that earned him the Kuntoline Puroshkar and made him quite popular.
Unlike his predecessors, Saratchandra did not uphold the intense emotion, imagination and romanticism in his novels. Rather, he spun his stories from the tangible emotions and raw experiences of human life. He had a way of creating extraordinary characters out of ordinary human figures.
Saratchandra’s books appealed greatly to women who suffered social oppression and intense negligence in society; for his stories were weaved with their tales and the women found a part of themselves in them.
Such simple was his language that even the women of those times, who weren’t that well-educated, could also understand his novels with ease. And, such raw were the emotions knitted in those stories that the readers found no difficulty in connecting with the characters.
Saratchandra’s works still hold their popularity even after the modernisation of the Bengali Literature as they reflect realistic themes that deal with the lives of common people with no use of any elaborate language. The humane emotions that his books project, endear them to the heart of his readers.
I, personally, was deeply influenced by these three writers who were the pioneer of the Bengali Literary Tradition. The role of Rabindranath Tagore is right next to Bankimchandra in changing the course of Bengali literature, imbuing them with a new twist and unlocking the door of new possibilities. Later, Saratchandra took to himself the work of changing the course of Bengali literature yet again, but he couldn’t unwind the effect of Tagore’s fiction.
It was Tagore who stirred something in my heart and tugged at its strings with his poetic delicacy. About Tagore, Saratchandra had himself expressed:
“There is no limit to our astonishment regarding you and your works.”
About the Author
Sanchari Das is currently pursuing her Masters in English. She devotes her free time to writing, painting, singing and enhancing her photography skills. The author of three books, Sanchari dreams to inspire millions through her writing. Born with a Piscean heart beaming with creativity, she is ever ready to embark upon new ventures and discover all the hidden sides to her personality.