Bangladesher Kavita: (Poems of Bangladesh): What is it?

Bangla literature is one of the most ancient literature of the world. Kobita or Kavya is the most ancient form of Bangla literature. Bangla kavya or Bangla kabita emerged from mystic genre of Bangalee people. Bangalees are predominantly poetic in nature. They hum when they work in the field sowing seed in the plowed fields, they hum while striking hammers on the red hot iron to make sickle or plow, they hum when they trim hairs or make pottery before the spinning wheels. The melodies of the nayas (boatmen) or garials (the cart driver) are heart-rendering. There are thousands of songs young belles used to hum for their beloved, sometimes they are cute and enjoying, sometimes they are painful.

From young to the old, poems and songs are ever-pervading among all classes of people. The nature, divided into six seasons Grismwa, the scorching Summer, covering Baishakh and Jaishtha, Barsha, the devastating Rain, covering Asharh and Shravan, Sarath, the mellow early Autumn, covering Bhadra and Aswin, Hemanta, the mellower early Winter, covering Kartik and Agrahayan, Sheet with congenial chilling Winter, covering Powsh and Magh and lastly, but not the least Basanta, the tuneful Spring, covering, Falgun and Chaitra. All twelve months and six seasons have distinctive characteristics so they have their all different poems, music and songs.

The most characteristic feature of the Bengali landscape is its vast river system, which illustrates the Bengali people and their literature. Among the main rivers, the Padma (the Ganges), the Jamuna and the Surma are the three most important and these are referred to in many literary compositions. Bengal was famous in ancient times for its rivers. River and sea voyages are portrayed in Bengali folklore and literature. Bangladesh is also distinguished by a unique coming together of many religions, languages, and races.

The early history of Burma and Thailand tells us that before the arrival of Tibeto-Chinese tribes, these countries were inhabited by Mon-Khmer people. Dravidians migrated here and became the ruling race. Later, when non-Aryan Indians assimilated the Brahmic culture, they introduced the Sanskrit language and traditions as well.One of the earliest historical references to be found to date is the mention of a land named Gangaridai by the Greeks around 100 BC. The word comes from Gangahrid (Ganga + hrid = heart; Land with the Ganges in its heart) and believed to be referring to an area in the South-Western Bengal.

Lying at the crossroads of South-East Asia, South Asia and Central Asia, Bengal attracted people from the early civilizations of the fertile crescent: Central Asia, China, Arabia and Europe, as well as from rest of India.

Buddhism, the first known systematic religion flourished in Bengal, almost with the advent of Buddhism in 2500 BC. Before that, polytheism was practiced with many multiplicities.

The Bengali Buddhist mystics, used poetry as a vehicle for teaching one of the most difficult and mystic religion, that was known as the shahajia (generality) mystic school of Buddhism. Without using complicated Sanskrit scripture, they used the mother tongue of the common people, the mystic poets conveyed serious religious philosophies. The poems are a part of the cultural and religious heritage of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.

Under the Sena dynasty (CE 1000 AD), the rulers consolidated polytheistic Hindu religion into systematic procedure. Under their rule, Bangla language emerged as a distinct and important language in northern India, and Hinduism began to displace older Buddhism.

The Turkic invasion in Bengal came in the early 13th century. The invaders defeated the Sena king Laxmansena at his capital, Nabadwip in 1203 (1204?).

Far before the Muslim invaders, Muslim saints from Turkey, Yemen, Iraq, Persia, Afghanistan, Arabian peninsula or even from as far as Morocco, used to come to Bengal preaching Islam. All these countries practiced Islam in much softer way and with the influence from the saints of these countries, the Sufism (Sufi= temperate), another form of mystic culture, were introduced in Bengal, which interestingly fitted well with already practiced Buddhist mystic culture.

According to the Tibetan book, Pag Sham Jon Zang of the eleventh century, Bengal occupied first place in the field of art. Tibetan opera or old drama combines singing and dancing, which immediately reminds one of the Carya Nryta (= Carya dance) and Carya singing, which is still found in  rural areas of Nepal and Bhutan today. Dance movements in Tibetan opera correspond with lyrics and melodies, much as in the Carya Nrytas, some movements, such as bowing with the hands clasped, scriptures, and the use of metaphors in the Caryas.

The earliest literary compositions in Bengali are the forty-seven songs, called Caryapadas or Caryagiti, composed by siddhas of the Shahajia sect, and offshoot of Tantrika Mahayana Buddhism. These songs were preserved in a palm-leaf manuscript, which was discovered in 1907 from the Royal Nepalese Archive.

The subject matter of the Caryapada is highly mystic, centering round the esoteric doctrines and yoga of the Shahajias; the Sanskrit commentary does not make now sung and danced to. A number of poems in old Bengali have been translated into Tibetan and have been included in the Bstan-Hgyur (Tan-Jur), the Bengali originals having been lost.

The metres of the Carya poems are known as matra-vritta. This discovery brought to light the oldest specimen not only of Bengali poetry but also of Indo-Aryan literature.

These poem-songs in old Bengali, designed to be sung with a particular temper, constitute an integral part of the heritage of Bangladesh and the basis of a long established tradition of poetry, which has survived to the present day. These verses by Buddhist mystic poets are not only beautifully written and add greatly to Bengali literary traditions, but they also constitute an invaluable source for the study of Bengali society and the Buddhist religion between the seventh and twelfth centuries.

They give us a vivid account of the life and occupations of the common people, their work, events of birth, marriage and death, religious activities, dress and ornaments, food and utensils, and music and musical instruments. There is also a beautiful description of the riverine and green eastern part of Bengal, which is Bangladesh today. The poems describe rivers, canals, ponds, muddy shores, various types of boats and their different parts, ferrying, and rowing; all these were used as spiritual symbols.

The Caryagiti in later years, influenced Gita-govinda and Vaisnava Padabali, and much later, poets Siraj Sain, Lalan Shah (d. 1890), Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Hason Raza (1854-1922), Kazi Nazrul Islam (1898-1976), Radha Raman and Shah Abdul Karim and some other later poets and litterateurs of Bangladesh.

The Baul songs were written in a Kavya form and includes lyric drama, pastoral, an opera, a melodrama and a refined Yatra or play. The poems bear a close resemblance to the spirit and style of the Caryagiti and old Bengali poetry. The musical padabalis, although composed in Sanskrit, actually follow the Bengali manner of expression and use rhymed and melodious moraic metres, uncommon in Sanskrit poems.

One finds the impression of maya borrowed from the Buddhists. ‘The world is nothing – we have to leave it behind’ forms a common theme. ‘Like the dew on the grass the body is transient’ is an essential message. We lament for that neighbour who resides ‘In the mirror-town beside my abode’ and ‘haven’t seen him ever once’.

Buddhism and later mystic nature of Islam in Bengal also inspired the Hindu Krishna legend, an essential element of Vaishnavism in Bengal, which was formed in Bengal as early as the sixth or seventh century A.D. Evidence of this is found in the sculptures of Paharpur, the oldest belong to sixth or seventh centuries A.D. and the latest to the eighth century A.D.

The Muslim Pathans, who occupied Bengal early in the thirteenth century, settled in the plains of Bengal. This regeneration is personified in Chaitanya. The pundits’ and poets’ writing were silent, but not the singers of the mystic cults and folk culture of the common people. Middle Bengali native and lyric poetry flourished for centuries.

The Muslim rulers learnt the Bengali language and lived with the people. Mosques and temples rose side by side. The Muslim rulers ordered translations of Sanskrit classics into Bengali for the first time for the common people to understand. Poet Vidyapati praised Nasir Shah and Sultan Giasuddin for their intellectual patronage. Mahabharata was translated into Bengali. Muslim sultans patronized translations of Sanskrit and Persian works. Brahmins were compelled to write in Bengali. Bengali was adopted in Assam, Arunachal, Orissa, Arakan, Ranchi and Bihar. Bengali Punthi literature was highly influenced by Muslims and the Persian language. The Muslims introduced many Persian, Arabic and Turkish words into Bengali.

An enriched folk culture grew up in Bangladesh due to both the Hindu and Muslim common masses and Bengali was its vehicle. Bengali was the common language and literature of these masses. The unity between Hindus and Muslims in Bengali arose out of racial oneness, common interest and the communal life of the village. It was usual for Hindus and Muslims to take part in each other’s social and religious festivals.

A new culture, based on folk culture thus emerged in Bengali. The decline of orthodox Brahminism and classical Hindus culture, well before the Muslim conquest, and their virtual extinction after the conquest gave the new Bengali culture full opportunity to grow. Bengali literature found room to expand in the gap left by Sanskrit.

The tradition of mysticism still goes on in modern Bengali culture— literature, music, dances and also in religion, be it among the Hindu’s, Muslims or Christians.

Mystic culture is unique of its kind in Bangladesh. The journey that started with the introduction of Caryagiti in the early Buddhist era mingled with other living religions, nationality, ethnicity, custom, rituals, and culture. The country and the people assimilated all of them and turned all those into a new philosophy.

The people of Bengal never played the role of invaders. They never usurped treasures, wealth, women and happiness of other countries. This peace-loving country always became friends to all. This is the philosophy that present Bangladesh wants to offer to its Asian neighbours and to other nations of the world.

As poet Tagore wrote:

Hethaey Aryo, hethaey Onaryo, hethaey Dravid, Chin,

Shok, Hun dal Pathan, Mughal ek dehe holo leen . . . . .

Dibe ar nibe milabe milibe jabena firey.

(Here’s Aryans, Here’s non-Aryans, Here’s Dravid and China, the Shok, the Hun, the Pathans and the Mughals, all transformed into one body. We offer something and take something, others will mix with us and we shall mix with others and shall not return).


This is an attempt where we have tried to focus the waves of emotions flow from fourth decade of twentieth century to present time. It is the pioneering attempt ever made in Bangla literature.Thus, an attempt has been taken up to accommodate some of the representative poems of all the LIVING poets of Bangladesh in one volume. So the readers can taste the flavour of Bangla Kobita written during 1940- to the present time- a long period of six decades. We are lucky, that poets, like Abul Hussain and Abu Bakar Siddique from fourth decade, is still with us. So the Bangladesher Kobita – An Anthology of Contemporary Poems of Bangladesh The Twentieth Century is coming to light.

We have been able to accommodate more than 250 poems of as many as eighty poets. We have selected three to five poems of each poet so that one can get a more wider flavour of thoughts and emotions of each poet. The names of the poets have been serialized according to the date of birth of the poets. An alphabetic list of names has also been provided at the end of this book.

We do hope that this book of poems will become a milepost for the poetry lovers and researchers of literature as well, let aside a complied document Bangla poetry ever made.

Enjoy the poems of Bangladesh- Bangladesher Kobita.


Siddique Mahmudur Rahman

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