Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Persian influence in Bangla (Bengali) Literature

The issue of Persian influence in Bangla literature can be treated from 3 points of views: Use of Persian words in Bangla literature, translations of works from Persian poets and writers and influence of Persian writing, religion, society and philosophy in the works of Bengali poets and writers. This is such a vast topic that a number of books can be written about it. In this article, I will just cast some light about this topic based on the 3 categories I just mentioned. There has been some research about this theme in Bangla language but nothing substantial in English or in Persian (Farsi).

There is no accurate statistics of the number of Persian words in Bangla language. Estimates vary from 3000-8000 words. Some words are used in everyday language and most people even do not know that these words are foreign words. After the Muslim conquest of Bengal in 1204, for the next 2 centuries we hardly find any works written by Muslims in Bangla. Muslims writers were always divided in using Persian words from first. Some writers used a lot of Persian and Arabic words in their writings. Some writers have completely refrained from doing so. Many poets and writers have followed a middle ground by mainly using the religious words and very common words. The current trend is to use the every day used Persian words of Bangla language in literature. However, one thing should be noted here. Persian words have been used by both Hindu and Muslim poets and writers.

From first the Muslims writers and even some Hindu writers have either directly translated texts from Persian literature or wrote their own version of a popular story. Not only Persian texts on religion have been translated but romantic tales were very popular also. Leili Majnu, Yousuf Joleykha are among the popular Persian tales that have been either translated or retold by more than one poets in Bangla literature. Works of Hafiz, Omar Khyam, Jalaluddin Rumi, Ferdowsi have also been translated in Bangla.

Many poets in Bangla literature have been deeply influenced by Persian literature, philosophy and religion. The influence of Persian literature is clearly evident in the writings of two of the greatest figures of Bangla literature, Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. Tagore was influenced by the mysticism of Hafiz. Tagore's father was a passionate admirer of the poems of Hafiz and in Taore's poetry is heavily domainted by love, beauty and mysticism- common themes in the poetry of Hafiz too. On the other hand, Kazi Nazrul Islam knew Persian very well and he was familiar with Persian literature perhaps more than any other writer in Bangla literature in 20th century. Kazi Nazrul Islam has used Persian words very skillfully and surpassed every poet before or after him in this matter.

Persian influence in Bangla literature has enriched Bangla literature a lot. It has added a new flavor to Bangla literature and has contributed a lot in its development.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:01 PM


    I published some observations in several blogs as to the popularity of
    Rabindranath Tagore. We the Bengalis deeply respect him for his
    beautiful writings and songs.

    A few words about the Nobel Prize for Rabindranath Tagore:

    1. Tagore was presented as an Anglo-Indian before the Nobel Committee.
    This was never disclosed by Visva Bharati;

    2. Ignoring Americans, it was for the first time that the Nobel Prize
    for literature was awarded to a non-European;

    3. Interestingly, Tagore never visited the Swedish Academy for about 7
    years even after the award (when he was awarded the Nobel Prize he was
    in England and not in Calcutta);

    4. Tagore never made any contact or speech marking the Nobel Prize (he
    just made a two-line acknowledgement only);

    5. The British Ambassador received Tagore's Nobel prize in person;

    6. The prize medal was home delivered at Jorasanko in Calcutta (or in

    7. None of the Nobel Committee members either knew Bengali or ever
    read Tagore's writings; and

    8. The library of the Swedish Academy had no book by Tagore
    accessioned in its record at that time. What do these points signify?

    I do not want to interrupt any body. I understand that Rabindranath
    Tagore is sacrilege to many of his fans. But the truth should not be
    suppressed by way of propaganda.

    I cordially welcome the objectively substantiated replies to my above
    points. In fact, if can get such satisfactory replies then I shall
    surely stop my project on the subject towards publication of a book.
    Even Swedish Academy confirmed some of the above points.

    By my survey results it appears that 80% of popularity of Rabindranath
    Tagore is due to his getting the Nobel Prize. At least the facts
    reveal it. I take this opportunity to say that no book on the history
    of Bengali Literature ever mentioned even the name of Rabindranath
    Tagore until 1912 when the poet was about 52 years of age.

    My above observations are not based on the figments of imagination but
    available facts.

    Looking forward to objectively substantiated replies with good
    references, if any.

    A.B.M. Shamsud Doulah
    G.P.O. Box 351, Dhaka-1000