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date: 21 March 2018

Literary History of Bengal

Summary and Keywords

The literary history of Bengal is characterized by a multilingual ecology that nurtured the development of Middle Bengali literature. It is around the turn of the second millennium, during the Pāla period (c. 8th–12th century), that eastern South Asia became a major region for the production of literary texts in Sanskrit and Apabhramsha. Early on, Bengal developed a distinct literary identity within the Sanskrit tradition and, despite abrupt political transitions and the fragmentation of the landscape of literary patronage, fundamental aspects of the literary culture of Pāla Bengal were transmitted during later periods. It was during the Sultanate period, from the 14th century onward that courtly milieus began to cultivate Middle Bengali. This patronage was mostly provided by upper-caste Hindu dignitaries and (in the case of lyric poetry at least) by the Sultans themselves. During the period ranging from the 15th to the early 19th centuries, vernacular literature can be divided into two broad categories: short narrative forms called padas or gītas (songs), which were often composed in an idiom derived from songs by the Old Maithili poet Vidyāpati (c. 1370–1460); and long narrative forms in Middle Bengali called pā̃cālīs, which are characterized by the alternation of the prosodic forms called paẏār and tripadī and the occasional insertion of songs.

These poetic forms are the principal markers of the literary identity of Bengal and eastern South Asia (including Assam, Orissa, and Arakan). The Ḥusayn Shāhī period (1433–1486) contributed to the consolidation and expansion eastward of vernacular literary practices. Then, the political landscape became fragmented, and the multiplication of centers of literary production occurred. This fragmentation fostered the formation of new, locally grounded literary trends. These could involve the cultivation of specific genres, the propounding of various religious doctrines and ritual practices, the fashioning of new idioms fostered by either dialectal resources, classical idioms such as Sanskrit or Persian, and other vernacular poetic traditions (Maithili, Avadhi, Hindustani). The late Mughal and early colonial periods witnessed the making of new trends, characterized by a radical modification of the lexical component of the Middle Bengali idiom (i.e., Dobhāṣī), or the recourse to scripts other than Bengali (e.g., Sylhet Nagari/Kaithi, Arabic). The making of such new trends often implied changes in the way that authors interacted with Sanskrit, Persian, and other vernacular traditions. For instance, Persian played as crucial a role as Sanskrit in the various trajectories that Middle Bengali poetry took. On the one hand, Persian in Bengal had a history distinct from that of Bengali; on the other hand, it constituted a major traditional model for Bengali authors and, at times, Persianate education replaced the one based on Sanskrit as the default way to access literacy.

Even if Middle Bengali poetic forms continued to be used in the context of various traditional performances, the making of a new literary language in the 19th century, the adoption of Western genres, and the development of prose and Western prosodic forms occasioned a radical break with premodern literary practices. From the second half of the 19th century, with the notable exception of some ritual and sectarian texts, access to the ancient literature of Bengal began to be mediated by philological analysis and textual criticism.

Keywords: Bengal, Bengali, Brajabuli, Sanskrit, Persian, Avadhi, Urdu, multilingualism, lyric poetry, narrative poetry

Bengal as a Multilingual Literary Space

A literary history of Bengal is quintessentially multilingual. The cultural region of Bengal, which is today defined by the use of Bengali as a first or second language, sits at the crossroads of several areas that may themselves be defined on geographical, political, religious, or linguistic grounds. To these, we may add another approach based on the cultivation of specific literary practices, genres, and prosodic forms. In this article, the literature produced in the premodern literary form of Bengali language, called Middle Bengali, is seen as a point of convergence of the multilingual ecology of Bengal. The so-called vernacular aspect of Middle Bengali as a literary idiom is at times emphasized by its local grounding, and at other times, Middle Bengali appears to be a major supraregional idiom in eastern South Asia from Nepal to Arakan (in today’s Myanmar). The following discussion reflects the various paths that one may take to trace the literary history of Bengal, from the making of the region as a space of literary production at the turn of the first millennium, to the early colonial period and the creation of new literary idioms due to significant transformations in vernacular literacy.

The Making of Bengal as a Space of Literary Production (c. 8th–13th Century)

Bengal as a cultural region and geographical domain of literary production was largely shaped during the rule of the Buddhist Pāla rulers (c. 8th–12th century).1 Although eastern South Asia was the locus of the production of literary texts before Pāla rule—see, for instance, the grammatical and dramatic works of the Buddhist author Candragomin (c. 5th century)—the region developed a distinct literary and artistic identity after the establishment of the Buddhist dynasty.2 The literary texts from Pāla Bengal that came down to us are linked to the court and the activities of imperial monasteries such as Vikramaśīla or Jagaddala. The languages cultivated at the time were Sanskrit, Apabhramsha, and a form of literary vernacular that we will call proto-Bengali.3

Despite the growing influence of Apabhramsha and vernacular (deśī) aesthetics, the dominant language of Pāla courtly literature was Sanskrit. Inscriptions of the Pāla period show the role of ornate prose and poetry in the fashioning of public discourses, whereas the earliest anthology of single-stanza poems (muktakas) titled Subhāṣitaratnakoṣa (A treasury of well-turned verse) displays other, more intimate aspects of courtly aesthetics and subjectivity. Two Sanskrit ornate narrative poems (mahākāvyas) bearing the same title—namely, Rāmacarita (The deeds of Rāma)—can be safely dated to the Pāla period.

The first Rāmacarita was composed by the court poet Abhinanda (9th century) and dedicated to the Yuvarāja Hāravarṣa.4 It is a partial retelling of the Rāmāyaṇa in an elaborate but accessible poetic style, which is reflected in the fact that no commentary was ever written on it despite its popularity throughout the subcontinent. Abhinanda’s naturalist style is characteristic of the Sanskrit literature of Pāla courtly milieus that was uniquely captured in Vidyākara’s anthology (as discussed later in this article). Scholars regard Abhinanda as “the earliest influential practitioner of distinctively regional Sanskrit.”5

The other Rāmacarita (c. 1100) is a bitextual poem by Sandhyākaranandin, one reading of which tells the story of Prince Rāma, the god Viṣṇu’s avatar, while the other narrates the Kaivarta uprising that occurred during King Rāmapāla’s rule (c. 1072–1126).6 To this, we may add Dharmadāsa’s Vidagdhamukhamaṇḍana (The ornament for the connoisseur’s mouth) and Ratnākaraśānti’s Vidagdhavismāpana (An amazement for connoisseurs), both of which are treatises-cum-anthologies of riddles;7 and in the domain of technical literature on prosody (chandas) and rhetoric (alaṅkāra), Jñānaśrīmitra’s treatise on Sanskrit meters titled Vr̥ttimālāstuti (A praise that is a garland of meters) and Ratnaśrījñāna’s commentary on Daṇḍin’s Kāvyādarśa (The mirror of poetry).8

This formative moment of the literary history of Bengal is characterized by a creative engagement with classics of the previous periods, a “Buddhification” of ornate literature, and bold attempts to push further the limits of Sanskrit poetics through a recourse to a pronounced naturalism and the depiction of scenes of everyday rural life—what D. Ingalls called “a Sanskrit poetry of the village and field.”9 The Subhāṣitaratnakoṣa provides a rich overview of the literary culture of Pāla Bengal. According to D. D. Kosambi, Vidyākara, the compiler of the anthology, was probably an abbot or clergyman of high office at the Jaggadala monastery (in today’s Bangladesh).10 Despite the religious obedience of the compiler, the possible monastic context in which the verses were gathered, and the presence of praises of the Buddha alongside other Brahmanical deities in the opening sections, the anthology is primarily a work of belles lettres. It contains verses from well-known classics of Sanskrit literature—dramas are particularly well represented—as well as single-stanza poems, some by renowned authors and others by obscure poets. The names and titles appended to most stanzas indicate the variety in the social backgrounds of the poets: some were Hindu, others Buddhist; they were princes and high officials, Kayasthas and Vaidyas, or even members of lower castes or women. Each section (vrajyā) is devoted to a particular theme, a deity, a poetic trope, a character type, or a figure of speech. The organization thus mirrors the tastes current among the literati of Pāla Bengal. It draws the outline of a literary canon through its quotations of ancient poets who wrote from various locations on the subcontinent.

The anthology records what must have been the newest trends in poetry at that time. The section on characterization (jāti) is representative of the naturalist fashion of Pāla poetic milieus. Not only does the description of scenes from rural life characterize Pāla poetry in the wider history of Sanskrit literature, the references to realia and the natural environment of Bengal uniquely locate this poetry in the geography of the subcontinent. Further, it introduces a vernacular voice into the otherwise cosmopolitan literary idiom that was Sanskrit. Here is a verse by Yogeśvara that illustrates the vernacular aesthetics of Pāla court poetry:

  • How charming are the women’s songs as they
  • husk the winter rice;
  • a music interspersed with sound of bracelets
  • that knock together on round arms swinging
  • with the bright and smoothly rising pounder;
  • and accompanied by the drone of hum, hum
  • breaking from the sharply heaving breasts.11

The fact that it was compiled in a monastery echoes other aspects of the artistic life of Mahāyāna Buddhism as it was practiced in eastern South Asia. Whereas ornate poetry eventually became a subject of contention in Theravāda Buddhist lands, kāvya and its corollary sciences (rhetoric and prosody) were cultivated by Buddhist intellectuals in Pāla Bengal. Some works, like the Subhāṣitaratnakoṣa and Ratnaśrījñāna’s commentary on Daṇḍin’s Kāvyādarśa, were secular, others, such as Jñānaśrīmitra and Ratnākaraśānti’s treatises, were clearly Buddhist in content. Among other strategies, this Buddhification took place through the choice of specifically Buddhist rather than mundane or Purāṇic themes to illustrate the topics under scrutiny.

Buddhist doctrine, poetry, and vernacular aesthetics also characterize the Apabhramsha and proto-Bengali texts composed between the 8th and 11th centuries in Pāla Bengal.12 This corpus comprises single-stanza poems composed in the dohā meter of Middle Indic poetry and songs (gītas/padas) attributed to accomplished practitioners (siddhās) of the Vajrayāna school of Mahāyāna Tantric Buddhism. Dohās were dense poetic statements used for homiletic purposes by Jain, Buddhist, and Hindu practitioners.13 The language of those compositions was the literary idiom called Apabhramsha or Avahaṭṭha, which gained currency throughout the subcontinent from the 8th century onward.14 Although this idiom was not a vernacular language per se, its simplified grammatical features and regional inflections reached beyond the audience of Sanskrit literati. Dohās typically express provocative, sometimes paradoxical views to compel the listener to move from scholastic discourse toward philosophical introspection. Here is an eloquent example of dohā, attributed to Saraha:

  • If going naked means release,
  • then the dog and the jackal
  • must have it;
  • if baldness is perfection,
  • then a young girl’s bottom
  • must have it.15

The Caryāpadas rely on similar rhetorical strategies, but the song format provided more space for didactic and narrative elaboration. In the same way that Apbhramsha dohās were used throughout the subcontinent by members of various religious groups, the main features of the vernacular song format are found outside this specific time, place, and sectarian group. Each song contains about five stanzas: an opening, a few couplets, and a final stanza called bhaṇitā that gives the name of the author. Here is the text and translation by Muhammad Shahidullah of the first song of the collection, titled Āścaryacaryācaya (Collection of stupendous practice [songs]) or Caryācaryaviniścaya (Final statement on proper and improper conducts):

  • Melody on the mode Paṭamañjarī; [song] by Luipāda:
  • The body is an excellent tree. Five only are its branches.
  • Time (the agent of destruction) enters the unsteady mind.
  • Making it steady measure the great pleasure.
  • Lui says, “Know by asking the Guru (preceptor).”
  • Why are the concentrations practiced?
  • One is surely caused to die by pleasure and pain.
  • Avoiding binding and fastening (of yogic postures), the hope of the cheats,
  • Bring closely to (your) side the Void party (in embrace).
  • Lui says, “We have seen (the Void) in meditation,
  • seated on the two seats of inhalation and exhalation.”

The images in these songs are deliberately obscure, and in the Sanskrit commentary that accompanied the text, this idiom was called sandhyā-bhāṣā (twilight-language/language of the initiated). Later discoveries from Nepal suggest that caryā songs may have been composed as late as the 14th or 15th century.16 Despite the absence of explicit references that would connect the Caryāgīti to later poetic traditions, very similar rhetorical strategies are found in later vernacular mystic songs throughout northern South Asia, from Panjab to Bengal. If one cannot claim that these songs are the source of later mystical lyrics, there is no doubt that they partook of a shared poetic idiom that remained long after the disappearance of Mahāyāna Buddhism in Bengal.17

The following period of the political history of eastern South Asia (i.e., the rule of the Brahmanical Sena dynasty) brought about some important changes within Bengal’s society. But so far as literature is concerned, the literary salons of Sena Bengal largely continued the trends initiated during the Pāla period.18 Sanskrit was the literary idiom of the courtly elite, and once again, we witness a creative engagement with the classics of the time. The literary life of the period is documented by several texts composed by eminent poets of the Sena court, as well as an anthology titled Saduktikarṇāmr̥ta (A nectar of good poems for the ears) compiled in 1205, a few months after the Ghurid invasion, led by Muḥammad Bakhtyār Khaljī.19 To this, we may add the anecdotes related in later Sanskrit narrative texts that deal with events supposed to have taken place at the court of Lakṣmaṇa Sena (1178–1206).

The circulation of semilegendary stories on the literary milieu of the Sena court results from a conscious will to produce an iconic image of literary patronage. In the prologue of Jayadeva’s text, the luminaries of Lakṣmaṇa Sena’s court are praised for their scholarship and poetic style, and the king himself is turned into the protagonist of Dhoyī’s Pavanadūta (The messenger wind), fashioned after Kālidāsa’s Meghadūta (The messenger cloud).20 The most influential poet of the Sena court is undoubtedly Jayadeva, the author of the Gītagovinda (Govinda sung). He was the first poet to relate the love story between the cowherdess Rādhā and Kr̥ṣṇa (the avatar of the god Viṣṇu) in a lyric Sanskrit poem.

The prosodic features, rather simple vocabulary, and emphasis on phonic ornamentation of the Gītagovinda led some modern commentators to see it as an Apabhramsha poem in Sanskrit garb, while others interpreted such innovations from within the Sanskrit kāvya tradition.21 Indeed, the Gītagovinda did not correspond to any of the existing genres of classical Sanskrit poetry, and its characteristic features (e.g., end-rhymes, metrical irregularities) are largely due to the lyric nature of a poem that was meant to be performed. Rather than a straightforward vernacular influence, its innovations may be attributed to the fact that it belonged to the lyric domain, which it shared with emerging vernacular poetry.

Another poet of the Sena court, Govardhana, engaged in an explicit dialogue with Prakrit poetry in his anthology of erotic verses titled Āryāsaptaśatī (Seven hundred Āryā verses). Like the Gītagovinda, the Prakrit subtext is suggested by the choice of the prosodic format itself—the āryā is a quantitative meter characteristic of Middle Indic poetry. The poet explicitly acknowledged the nature of his intervention on the poetic tradition in the following lines:

Speech whose flavor is suited to Prakrit has been here forcefully drawn into Sanskrit, as if the Yamunā, whose waters naturally flow downward, were dragged forcibly to the firmament of the sky just as Balarāma dragged the Yamunā upward.22

The dissolution of the Sena courtly milieu in the first decade of the 13th century occasioned a radical reorganization of the linguistic economy and literary practices in Bengal. Some texts were preserved in Nepal and Tibet, where Buddhist monks already had started traveling during the Pāla period, while others kept being studied and read in Bengal. The early specimens of vernacular lyric poetry that were the Caryāgītis disappeared with Vajrayāna Buddhism in Bengal, but a rich tradition developed around this corpus in Nepal and Tibet. The Sanskrit poetry of the Sena court was handed down in the subsequent period, and some texts, like the Gītagovinda, deeply influenced later generations of poets writing in Sanskrit and in various vernacular languages.

The Pāla-Sena period also drew the outline of the diffusion of scripts in eastern South Asia. The eastern Siddhamātr̥kā script was used predominantly in inscriptions from the 10th to the 14th centuries and, toward the late Sena period and early sultanate, the Bengali script used to write down manuscripts per se seemed to have reached some level of standardization and was used to write Sanskrit and vernacular languages from Mithila to Arakan.23 The revival of Sanskrit belles lettres that took place in the 16th and 17th centuries among members of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava movement (as discussed later in this article) shows signs of the cultivation of the literary culture of this formative period in the later literary history of Bengal.

In later centuries, up to the colonial period, Sanskrit remained a central component of the literary culture of Bengal, for both Hindu and Muslim authors. If the production of creative literature slowed after the fall of the Sena dynasty, Sanskrit literacy was cultivated, if not by the sultans themselves, at least by the Hindu dignitaries who patronized the production of Sanskrit and vernacular texts. The regional courts of eastern South Asia, such as the town kingdoms of Nepal, the polities of Mithila, Kuch Bihar (West Bengal/Assam, India), Bhulua (southeastern Bangladesh), and Krishnanagar (West Bengal, India), patronized Sanskrit scholars and were vibrant centers of literary production between the 16th and 18th centuries.24 Moreover, in the absence of a vernacular tradition of grammar and poetics, Sanskrit remained the principal epistemic domain of reference for vernacular authors when it came to conceptual and didactic discourse.

Middle Bengali: The Literary Idiom of Regional Polities

After the fall of the Sena dynasty in Bengal, the linguistic economy and literary culture of the region underwent radical changes. The period that extends from 1204 until the last decade of the 15th century does not provide any clear sense of the production of literary texts. The Sanskrit, Apabhramsha, and proto-Bengali texts of the Pāla-Sena periods were closely linked to either courtly patronage or specific sectarian groups. With the dissolution of this courtly milieu and the gradual disappearance of Mahāyāna Buddhism in the region, we have to wait for the formation of new contexts that would support the production of literary texts. Stone and coin inscriptions constitute the richest source of written material from this period. In addition to Sanskrit, Arabic and, to a lesser extent, Persian constituted the predominant official idiom of the rulers. The consolidation of the independent sultanate eventually benefited the resurgence of literary patronage by the elite, and at least some of the early specimens of Middle Bengali literature were clearly the product of this restored courtly culture.25

Caṇḍīdāsa’s Śrīkr̥ṣṇakīrtan (The song of Lord Kr̥ṣṇa) or Śrīkr̥ṣṇasandarbha (The composition about Lord Kr̥ṣṇa) is the earliest Middle Bengali text that came down to us.26 The language of the text is archaic, and its general features do not correspond exactly with that of the later Middle Bengali literary idiom.27 Today, scholars agree on an early dating of the poem to the second half of the 14th century. The poem was first discovered in 1910 in a cowshed in a village of the Bankura district of West Bengal. The manuscript, itself rather old and displaying unusual paleographic features, was probably kept for some time in the royal library of Bishnupur, a major center of Vaiṣṇava devotion in the 17th century. Because it constituted the only specimen of early Middle Bengali poetry, and because of its literary value, the text received a remarkable amount of scholarly attention. No other manuscript of the Śrīkr̥ṣṇakīrtan was found until 2011, when Makoto Kitada and Kashinath Tamot found fragments of the text in Nepal.28 This shows that Caṇḍīdās’s poem circulated outside the region of Bankura and was probably performed in courtly ritual contexts in eastern South Asia. The Śrīkr̥ṣṇakīrtan seems to have been the product of a semioral, performance-based poetic tradition from western Bengal that was gradually literarized.29 No patron is mentioned in the signature lines of the songs (bhaṇitās). Instead, the poet pays homage to his tutelary deity, Vāsuli (i.e., the goddess Caṇḍī). The primary context of the poem must have been some ritual performance, in which the worldly patron played only a secondary role.

In terms of language and genre, the Śrīkr̥ṣṇakīrtan presents rather unique features. The plot is not adapted from any known Sanskrit work and, in that respect, it echoes the creative stance of Jayadeva regarding the theme of Rādhā and Kr̥ṣṇa’s love games. As a matter of fact, the Gītagovinda clearly figures in Baṛu Caṇḍīdāsa’s intertext.30 Like the Sanskrit Gītagovinda, the Śrīkr̥ṣṇakīrtan is constituted of a series of songs grouped in thirteen sections (khaṇḍas) of varying length. The songs are introduced by Sanskrit verses that indicate who is addressing whom and provide basic information about the context of the song. The paratext also contains the musical mode (rāga) and rhythm (tāla) on which each song must be performed. The dialectal features of the language and plain style of the songs contrast with both the lyric and narrative traditions that developed around the same period in eastern Bihar and Bengal. Here is a song from the opening of one of the most characteristic sections of the work, the Dāna-khaṇḍa (Episode of the tax), in which Kr̥ṣṇa pretends to be a revenue official and detains Rādhā on her way to the market. After Kr̥ṣṇa formulated his request, Rādhā turns to her grand-aunt, Baṛāẏi (Granny), to intercede in her favor:

  • Song 3
  • [Musical mode: dhānusī; rhythm: laghuśekhara]
  • Rādhā’s slender body trembled when she heard Krishna’s answer.
  • She spoke in distress to Granny as follows:
  • A girl of only eleven years
  • Is delicate, Granny, like lotus petals.
  • A man whose lust is roused to see her
  • Should perish for his baseness. Granny,
  • Krishna asked for my embrace.
  • I’ll die if he should touch me.
  • My friends are leaving one by one,
  • But Krishna blocks and teases me,
  • Pretending that he’s taking tax;
  • He wants to unfasten my bodice, Granny.
  • Why does Vanamālī trouble
  • Me and not the other cowmaids?
  • Sometimes he demands a tax, and
  • Other times he blurts out nonsense.
  • Granny, do as I request:
  • Try to discourage Madhusūdana.
  • He must renounce his hopes for me.
  • [So sang Baṛu Caṇḍīdās.]31

The fact that the Śrīkr̥ṣṇakīrtan constitutes by itself an entire phase of the development of Bengali language is not the only cause of its unique status in the literary history of Bengal. Through its reworking of the Gītagovinda, the poem carries on the rustic aesthetics of Pāla and Sena Sanskrit poetry, and although it is hard to ascertain any direct intertextual connection, it seems to echo (and subvert?) the Tantric erotic imagery of the Caryāpada, which draws from the transgressive domain of the lower strata of rural life in Bengal. As Jesse Knutson put it, Baḍu Caṇḍīdās “stares elite culture in the face, makes use of it, and both rises above and hovers below it.”32

From the 15th century onward, we observe the actual formation of the Middle Bengali literary idiom.33 A new form of narrative poetry takes shape, characterized by the alternation of two prosodic forms already present in the songs of the Śrīkr̥ṣṇakīrtan: the narrative paẏār and the lyrical tripadī.34 This poetic form was given a variety of names by the poets themselves in their prologues and signature lines (bhaṇitā), but the most commonly used term was pā̃cālī.35 The etymology and exact meaning of pā̃cālī is not known. Early pā̃cālīs were primarily narrative texts in paẏār meter, with occasional lyrical sections composed in tripadī. Over time, the pā̃cālī, which always remained an open-ended poetic form that was never restricted to a particular genre, contained an increasing number of lyric sections.

In addition to the passages in tripadī, poets interspersed the narrative with full-fledged songs (gīta) composed in syllabic or moraic meter. While the early specimens of pā̃cālī were predominantly narrative texts, the form also was used for didactic purposes. Eventually, Middle Bengali authors wrote treatises using this form, in which case the performance dimension lost its relevance. The Middle Bengali literary idiom was so closely associated with the pā̃cālī form that even with the advent of such technical literature, which were presumably not meant to be read aloud in front of an audience but rather studied individually (if not silently), prose did not develop as a major literary form until the colonial period.36

The following comments of Nathaniel Halhed (1751–1830), who wrote the first English-language grammar of the Bengali language in 1778, testify to the close association of the literary idiom with verse forms until the colonial period:

I might observe, that Bengali is at present in the same state with Greece before the time of Thucydides; when poetry was the only style to which authors applied themselves, and studied prose was utterly unknown. Letters of business, petitions, public notifications, and all such concerns of common life are necessarily, and of course, written without measure or rhyme: I might almost have added, without Grammar. But all the compilations dedicated to Religion, to History and to Morality, and all such works as are expected or intended to survive the composer, are invariably written in Verse; and it is probable no other style will ever be adopted.37

Of course, this prognostic did not hold true, and Bengali prose would develop in the following decades under the aegis of missionary and colonial institutions.38

The other predominant poetic form of premodern Bengal is the pada, that is a short lyric poem typically composed in quantitative meter. The language of those sung poems differs from that of the Middle Bengali associated with the pā̃cālī. Sometime around the 19th century, this idiom became known as Brajabuli (“the idiom of the Braj region”), in reference to the predominant theme of those lyrics: the depiction of the love games of Kr̥ṣṇa and Rādhā in the Braj country.39

Despite the antecedent of the Śrīkr̥ṣṇakīrtan, it is not this text that gave rise to Brajabuli lyrics in Bengal, but the success of Vidyāpati’s Old Maithili lyrics—called “maithilāpabhraṃśabhāṣā” (the Apabhramsha language of Mithila) by Locana (1708), a court pandit and theoretician of vernacular lyrics in neighboring Mithila.40 It is through the spread of Vidyāpati’s love lyrics in regional courtly circles and the encounter with the regional literary idioms of Assam, Bengal, and Orissa that the Brajabuli idiom was formed.41 Because of its theme and of the patronage of various forms of Vaiṣṇavism by regional courts, Brajabuli became mainly associated with devotional literature. But the idiom was also widely used outside sectarian contexts, by Śākta (i.e., devotees of Śiva and the Goddess) and Muslim authors.42

In addition to the traditional saying, “kānu bine gīta nāhi” (there is no song without Kr̥ṣṇa), one could add that there were no love lyrics without Brajabuli. In the same way that the Middle Bengali idiom became the “paẏārera bhāṣā” (language of the paẏār meter), so did Brajabuli become the language of lyric poetry. The dichotomy narrative/lyric and the association of Middle Bengali with the pā̃cālī and Brajabuli with pada literature are not absolute, however, and it is not rare to see a narrative section with Brajabuli features and padas composed in standard Middle Bengali and in syllabic meters.43

If the exact context of the making of Middle Bengali literature remains difficult to assess, it seems clear that it took shape in courtly contexts, and that it was first cultivated by Brahman, Kayastha, and Vaidya authors. One of the earliest Middle Bengali texts, the Śrīkr̥ṣṇavijaẏ of Mālādhar Vasu “Guṇarāj Khān,” can be safely dated to the 1470s and testifies to the cultivation of vernacular narrative poetry in what we may call “secondary courts”—i.e., the courts of upper-caste Hindu dignitaries working at the service of the independent sultans of Bengal. The Ilyās Shāhī (1433–1486) and Ḥusayn Shāhī (1493–1538) periods have played a key role in shaping the tradition and the literary geography of Bengal.44

The Śkr̥ṣṇavijaẏ and the Rāmāẏaṇ of Kr̥ttivās (tentatively dated to the 15th century) are among the few pā̃cālīs that circulated throughout the area where Middle Bengali was used as a literary idiom.45 The latter text was preserved in no less than 1,500 fragmentary and complete manuscripts.46 No other texts written in the subsequent period would gain such currency in Bengal. It is, therefore, reasonable to consider that the expansion and consolidation of the Bengali sultanate during this period enabled the standardization and spread of the Middle Bengali poetic tradition from Gauḍa eastward. Moreover, both trends of Middle Bengali literature that we will explore next—the Bengali Muslim literature of southeastern Bengal and the Gauḍīẏa Vaiṣṇava tradition—are historically connected to the Ḥusayn Shāhī court.

The pā̃cālīs of the Brahman Kr̥ttivās and the Kayastha Guṇarāj Khān are adaptations of two Sanskrit works: Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa and the tenth book of the Bhāgavatapurāṇa, respectively. Kr̥ttivās’s poem is a very unstable text that resists all historical reading of its content. No patron is ever mentioned, and the poet’s approach to his sources—Vālmīki and other regional Purāṇic texts—is never explicit.47 On the other hand, Guṇarāj Khān’s text is more stable, and the poet did provide some information about the circumstances of the composition of the text. The more reliable part of those accounts (i.e., widely shared in the manuscripts that came down to us), relates that the poet undertook to provide a vernacular rendering of the oral comments that he gathered during readings of the Sanskrit Bhāgavatapurāṇa.

This does not mean that Guṇarāj Khān himself did not know Sanskrit, which is unlikely considering the close textual parallels with its model found in his Middle Bengali poem, but rather that oral performance was instrumental in the transition from the Sanskrit source text to the vernacular pā̃cālī, which was itself meant to be orally performed. This example is characteristic of the status of semiorality of Middle Bengali narrative poetry: pā̃cālīs constantly engaged with Sanskrit texts, but their own textuality starkly contrasted with that of their models and was deeply influenced by performance and orality.

Middle Bengali Literature in Gauda, Eastern Bengal, and Arakan

Performance is also central in the circumstances that led to the composition of the first adaptation of the Mahābhārata in Middle Bengali. With the spread eastward of Ḥusayn Shāh’s political domain, we witness the formation of a local elite under Gauḍa’s authority in the regions of Tripura and Chittagong. The local lineage of Rāstī Khān, son of a certain Rudra and thus part of a local noble family that converted to Islam, contributed in various ways to the adoption of the Middle Bengali idiom in eastern Bengal. Around 1513–1519, Parāgal Khān, the local Ḥusayn Shāhī governor and descendant of Rāstī Khān, commissioned the adaptation of the Mahābhārata to Parameśvar Dās, the Brahman kavīndra (poet laureate, literally “the Indra/king among poets”) of his court.48 The poet himself testifies to the transfer of literati from western to eastern Bengal, as he was himself originally for Saptagrām (Satgaon/Hoogly). When describing the commissioning of the poem, Kavīndra highlights the central role of performance in the shift from Sanskrit to Middle Bengali. He relates that Parāgal Khān “eagerly asked him about the Bhārata story, / how the Pāṇḍava lost their capital, [etc.],” and added: “you should summarize all this / so that I can listen to it within a single day of reading.”49

Lyric poetry and some kind of continuation of the Śrīkr̥ṣṇakīrtan’s theatrical poetic form also characterize the Ḥusayn Shāhī literary culture. If there is no clear evidence of direct patronage of Middle Bengali pā̃cālīs by the sultans of Bengal, lyric and dramatic poetry suggest a closer proximity to the royal court. A handful of padas contain a mention of the ruler of Gauḍa in the signature line (bhaṇitā), which may indicate that the poems were addressed to the sultan directly.

A pada signed by Yaśorāj Khān and addressed to Ḥusayn Shāh constitutes one of the earliest instances of Brajabuli poetry composed in Bengal that came down to us. It was preserved in a treatise-cum-anthology on the kinds of heroine titled Rasamañjarī written in the last decades of the 17th century by Pītāmbar Dās. Here is a translation of this beautifully crafted pada:

  • eka paodhara: candane lepita: āre sahajaïgora |
  • One breast
  • smeared with sandal paste;
  • the other
  • naturally white.
  • A Himalayan snowy peak,
  • Meru’s golden summit,
  • both have met on her chest.
  • Mādhava, eager to see you,
  • the beauty stumbles
  • as she crosses the outer gate. (Refrain)
  • Her right eye colored with kohl,
  • the left one plainly fair.
  • With blue and white lotuses
  • a thousand gods of love
  • have worshiped the new moon.
  • The noble Husana (i.e., Ḥusayn Shāh),
  • the ornament of this world,
  • only he knows such delights.
  • So says Yaśorāj Khān
  • to the Lord-of-the-Five-Gauḍas,
  • a king of gods in enjoyments.50

Another work preserved and collected in eastern Bengal also testifies to the cultivation of performance-based vernacular literature at the royal court of Gauḍa (or perhaps as the sultan was campaigning in the eastern provinces of Bengal). Vidyāsundar is a quintessentially courtly narrative about cultural refinement and distinction through knowledge and wit. The poem is the earliest vernacular version of a story that was adapted several times in eastern South Asia: Vidyāsundar. Śrīdhar was a court poet of the crown prince (yuvarāja) ’Alā al-Dīn Fīrūz Shāh, who eventually would rule for a very brief period of time in 1532. Śrīdhar’s version contains narrative sections in paẏār, songs, and a paratext in Sanskrit prose. A few generations later, a Muslim poet named Śābārid Khān, whose ancestors worked at the service of the local Ḥusayn Shāhī governors and subsequently integrated the Arakanese administration, reworked Śrīdhara’s text. This illustrates the transmission of literary practices from Ḥusayn Shāhī courtly circles to Arakan, which became a major center of Middle Bengali literary production in the mid-17th century.51

The region of Chittagong constituted the western marches of the Arakanese kingdom for an uninterrupted period of about a century until the Mughal conquest of the port city in 1666. It is during this period that Bengali Muslim literature was formed by poets who addressed either a rural, probably rather recently converted readership or a courtly, cosmopolitan audience. This social line of demarcation corresponds to the mostly rural, western province of Chittagong and the urban domain of the capital city, called Rosāṅga in Bengali and Mrauk U in Arakanese. The central figure of the rural, more religiously oriented literature of Chittagong is Saiẏad Sultān (fl. 1630–1645), whereas the towering figure of the urban courtly milieus of Mrauk U is the poet and translator Ālāol (fl. 1651–1671).52

Saiẏad Sultān wrote several poems, versified treatises, and love lyrics. The same pattern of migration from Gauḍa to Chittagong is visible in the fact that his spiritual master was Saiẏad Hāsān, who is said to have settled in the region at the time of Ḥusayn Shāh’s campaigns. His main work is the Nabīvaṃśa (The line of the prophets), which relates the stories of the prophets of Islam up to Muḥammad, whose life is narrated in the final section titled Rasulcarit (The deeds of the Prophet). Written in the pā̃cālī form, Saiẏad Sultān’s poems draw from a variety of sources in Arabic and Persian whose exact titles he did not provide. He shaped his religious idiom using already-existing Nāth and Vaiṣṇava terms and concepts, only occasionally importing Arabic-Persian terminology. Another indication of the local grounding of his literary activity and audience is the presence of dialectal features in his language. Many authors belonging to the second half of the 17th and the 18th centuries claim some spiritual or filial relation with Saiẏad Sultān. Although Sufism plays an important role in his poems, he does not claim any affiliation with any brotherhood (ṭarīqa) with supraregional connections, which adds to the localized relevance of his literary output; the same observation applies to his later followers. Although he was widely read locally, his texts never traveled outside southeastern Bengal.53

Ālāol was originally from the kingdom of Fatiḥābād, in today’s central Bangladesh. He and his father were attacked by a Portuguese-led Arakanese flotilla, and he ended up as a royal slave enrolled in the king’s cavalry. A son of the minister of an Indo-Afghan court, his multilingual literacy in Sanskrit, Persian, eastern Hindavi (i.e., Avadhi), Brajabuli, and Bengali attracted the attention of the Bengali-speaking Muslim dignitaries of the Buddhist king. He soon joined the secondary courts of these Muslim dignitaries and read poetry in the abovementioned languages in their company.

Ālāol was then asked to translate five narrative poems and one versified treatise from Avadhi and Persian into Bengali. His first poem was Padmāvatī (1651), based on Muḥammad Jāyasī’s Avadhi poem composed in 1540, and his last work was Sikāndarnāmā, a close rendering of the Persian poet Niẓāmī’s Sharafnāma, about Alexander the Great’s conquests and quest for eternal life. Ālāol began the translation of Niẓāmī’s narrative poem (mathnawī) around 1671, but never completed the very last sections of the text. He was also the author of songs displaying the influence of Vidyāpati’s lyrics that were either inserted into his pā̃cālīs or preserved in anthologies and treatises on lyrical arts.

Unlike Saiẏad Sultān, the poetic idiom of Ālāol does not show significant dialectal features, and despite his close engagement with models written in various literary languages, he always cultivated a highly Sanskritized Middle Bengali diction. He expressed an unusual self-awareness for a vernacular court poet and performed remarkable interventions on the pā̃cālī poetic form. An expert in lyrical arts (saṅgīta), which he taught as a preceptor to the local elites, Ālāol generally provided elements for a conceptualization of the pā̃cālī and vernacular poetics. Beyond the narrative and dramatic features of the form, he invited his readers to engage with the semantic elaboration of his poems, thus bringing Middle Bengali closer to Persian, Sanskrit, and Avadhi literary practices.

Ālāol’s texts continued to be read and studied in Chittagong, where his works remained very influential until the close of the 19th century. Some of his poems also were printed several times in popular presses in Calcutta in the second half of the century. In a Persian history of Chittagong published in 1871, Ālāol was remembered as “the most eloquent among the poets of Bengal and the most tasteful of the connoisseurs of that place.”54

After the Ḥusayn Shāhī period and continuing until the mid-18th century, Middle Bengali court literature was mostly produced in peripheral areas—namely, in Assam, Nepal, Arakan, and Tripura. The kingdom of Orissa was also a major center of literary and religious patronage, where Brajabuli and, to some extent, Bengali were part of the multilingual literacy cultivated by Oriya literati. Lyrics and dramatic forms were prevalent in Nepal, Assam, and Orissa, while narrative and didactic pā̃cālīs were produced mostly in Assam and Bengal proper.

Bengali Brahmans sought patronage in the regional courts of Assam and Nepal, either as Sanskrit scholars, vernacular poets, or as vernacular performers/commentators of epic and purāṇic Sanskrit texts. These Brahmans and upper-caste literati played a major role in spreading Middle Bengali literary practices. It is noteworthy that literary idioms and forms traveled, but not necessarily the texts themselves. We thus observe a very restricted circulation of texts composed after the mid-16th century and an ever-increasing diversity of experiments with the pada and pā̃cālī literary forms.

Gauḍīẏa Vaiṣṇava Literature

The corpus of Gauḍīẏa Vaiṣṇava texts constitutes yet another trend of the literary history of Bengal, which stems from Ḥusayn Shāhī Bengal and benefited from the developing networks of patronage in the regional courts of eastern South Asia. Although the term Gauḍīẏa Vaiṣṇava simply refers to Bengali Vishnuism, it actually designates a specific sect in the religious landscape of premodern Bengal. Its founding figure is Śrīkr̥ṣṇa Caitanya (1486–1533), a Sanskrit pandit from the town of Navadvīpa, then a major center of Sanskrit scholarship, especially logic (nyāya). Caitanya himself, although an expert on Sanskrit poetics, a connoisseur of dramatic and lyric Sanskrit poetry, and an avid listener of vernacular padas and pā̃cālīs, did not compose any vernacular poems. The only work that he left behind is a short collection of eight Sanskrit stanzas on doctrinal matters. His followers then formulated a theology inspired by his teaching and arranged it in a complex system combining classical aesthetic theory and the Vaiṣṇava theology, based on the Bhāgavatapurāṇa.

This convergence of poetics and theology had a long-lasting influence on literary practices in Bengal. Hagiographies composed soon after Caitanya’s death in Sanskrit and Middle Bengali present the intellectual and religious environment of Navadvīpa in the late 15th century as the main cause for the manifestation of a new avatar of Viṣṇu in the person of Caitanya. His life and career as a court pandit show that he and his followers offered a new approach to the courtly practice of commenting on Vaiṣṇava scriptures. The many debates with well-established logicians, grammarians, and poeticians that are depicted in his hagiographies aim to show that intellectual approaches are invalid and invariably lead to sophistry. The only true means to acquire divine knowledge is through one’s emotion (bhāva).

By declaring that bhāva is the touchstone of all hermeneutic debates, Gauḍīẏa Vaiṣṇavas managed to short-circuit well-established systems of courtly patronage and carve for themselves a new domain. The literary production of Gauḍīẏa Vaiṣṇavas also shows that they did not do away with scholastic methods, but rather reinvested the Sanskrit knowledge system to serve their own sectarian purposes. From this phenomenon ensued a creative period of literary production in both Sanskrit and vernacular languages. The strong presence of Gauḍīẏa Vaiṣṇavas in Vrindavan—with the city of Mathura as the sacred center of Vaiṣṇavas in northern India—also gave a supraregional dimension to the movement. It was the first time in the history of Middle Bengali that the idiom was cultivated outside eastern South Asia. In addition to the Sanskrit treatises and poetic and dramatic works, some foundational vernacular texts were written in Vrindavan.55

The text that brought together the various trends that had developed around Caitanya’s teaching and charismatic figure to form a unified movement in Bengal is the Caitanyacaritāmr̥ta (The ambrosia of Caitanya’s deeds), written by Kr̥ṣṇadās “Kavirāj” in c. 1615.56 This work presents itself as a Middle Bengali pā̃cālī, but Kr̥ṣṇadās tremendously expanded the generic scope of this literary form. Tony Stewart, in his study of the Caitanyacaritāmr̥ta, called this work a “grammar of religious tradition” that hierarchized theology, standardized ritual, and fixed literary canons.57 In addition to narrative and lyric sections in paẏār and tripadī, the text contains elaborate speculative sections on doctrinal points and extensively quotes Sanskrit texts belonging to the wider Vaiṣṇava corpus and to the works of the Gosvāmīs—the six architects of the theological and ritual apparatus of the movement that Kr̥ṣṇadās synthesized in his work.

Among these men, two stand out as particularly prolific and influential theoreticians and Sanskrit poets: Rūpa and Sanātana. Both were high-ranking administrators at the service of Ḥusayn Shāh and abandoned their positions after they encountered Caitanya. Rūpa’s outstanding literary output and expertise in poetics are proof of the cultivation of Sanskrit literary culture in Ḥusayn Shāhī courtly milieus. Although Rūpa’s writings largely shaped the poetics of later vernacular poets, he never used Bengali as a means of literary expression. Rūpa’s anthology of Sanskrit verses, Padyāvalī (A necklace of songs), also shows the perpetuation of Pāla-Sena Sanskrit poetry among the elites of the independent Sultanate period.58

Another foundational work compiled in Vrindavan by a member of the sect was written by Viśvanāth Cakravratī “Harivallabh” (fl. 1704)—namely, Kṣaṇadāgītacintāmaṇi (The wishing gem of night sessions).59 The earliest anthology of Vaiṣṇava lyrics that came down to us, the Kṣaṇadāgītacintāmaṇi is a liturgical text, in that it is meant to provide songs for the daily rituals of the devotee. Unlike earlier courtly anthologies, the governing principle of the arrangement of the song is not exclusively the themes and tropes that they may contain and illustrate, but rather the ritual calendar of the month. Hence, each section of the anthology is called a kṣaṇadā—that is to say, a “night” of song performance (kīrtan).

Each section opens with a poem in praise of Caitanya called gauracandrikā, and another to his disciple, Nityānanda. Vidyāpati’s Old Maithili padas and songs by the Brajabuli poet of Bengal Govindadās “Kavirāj” figure prominently in the anthology. The other authors represented are later Bengali poets who wrote in Brajabuli, including the compiler himself, and a few Sanskrit stanzas, such as excerpts from Jayadeva’s Gītagovinda.

Viśvanāth Cakravartī was himself a prolific Sanskrit scholar who authored several commentaries on the works of the Gosvāmīs, as well as an incomplete one on the Caitanyacaritāmr̥ta. After him, many anthologies of padas were compiled in Bengal. Most noticeable among them are 18th-century anthologies by Rādhāmohan Ṭhākur (c. 1698–1736) and his disciple Vaiṣṇav Dās. Vaiṣṇav Dās’s Padakalpataru (c. 1750) is the largest collection of vaiṣṇava songs, and it was edited masterfully by Satish Chandra Ray (1886–1932). Rādhāmohan Ṭhākur complied the Padāmr̥tasindhu, on which he also composed a valuable Sanskrit commentary that provides unique insights into the way that those sometimes-difficult poems were read in a traditional context. It is noteworthy that Viśvanāth Cakravartī’s and Rādhāmohan Ṭhākur’s commentaries are extremely rare instances of Sanskrit commentaries on vernacular works produced by Bengali authors.60

Ritual and Other Sectarian Middle Bengali Poems

Gauḍīẏa Vaiṣṇava literature is closely connected to courtly culture, but its scope and sociotextual community also reached beyond the restricted domain of the court. Kīrtan public performances reached a wide audience and played a major role in popularizing courtly literary practices—especially pada literature. Even if we are not in a position to assess precisely the impact that translations had on literacy, it is also undeniable that texts such as the Caitnaycaritāmr̥ta and the monumental oeuvre of the poet and translator Yadunandan Dās (fl. 1607) must have contributed to spreading vernacular literacy deeper within Bengal’s society.61 But Middle Bengali literature also was cultivated before the advent of Gauḍīẏa Vaiṣṇavism in Bengal and outside the royal and secondary courts of the sultanate and, later, among members of the Mughal administration.

This phenomenon is particularly difficult to explain because the texts that came down to us produced outside those sectarian and courtly spheres tell us very little about the circumstances of their composition. This, of course, does not make them less important for creating an account of the literary history of Bengal. Because social and political history does not feature prominently in those texts, one must adopt other disciplinary approaches to locate them in the history of literary practices in Bengal. Moreover, unlike Gauḍīẏa Vaiṣṇava texts and the courtly poems of Arakan, they do not cultivate a strong sense of textual genealogy, and the idea of canon did not play an important role in the way that poets thought of their art. Each new pā̃cālī was virtually self-generated and rarely do we find explicit references to other texts.

Among the texts produced outside the contexts that are mentioned in this article and that do not stem directly from Ḥusayn Shāhī elite milieus, we find the poems called maṅgalkāvyas (literally, “propitiatory poems”).62 The maṅgalkāvya category may well be considered a genre based on the pā̃cālī literary form. They are ritual poems that relate the way that a given deity spreads her or his worship on Earth or, more accurately, in Bengal. The chapter division corresponds to the schedule of the performance of the entire text. Maṅgalkāvyas were, and are still, performed either at specific periods of the ritual calendar associated with the worship of the deity, or for the purpose of carrying out specific vows (mānat).

In addition to shared modes of ritual performance, the narratives themselves display specific generic features. Maṅgalkāvyas typically contain four sections: (a) a long invocation to the various deities of the pantheon, followed by an enumeration of the regional places of pilgrimage (digvandanā); (b) an account of the circumstances of the composition of the poem that usually involves a dream or an encounter with the deity, who orders the composition of the poem and sometime dictates it herself; (c) a section called devakhaṇḍa (divine section), about the origin of the deity and her relationship with other gods; and (d) another part, called narakhaṇḍa (human section), which relates the spread of the deity’s worship among humans.

The earliest maṅgalkāvyas that came down to us are from the second half of the 15th century—once again, the restored Ilyās Shāhī and Ḥusayn Shāhī periods. One earlier text by a certain Haridatta is mentioned by Vijaẏgupta in his Padmāpurāṇ (1495). Vijaẏgupta blames his predecessor Haridatta for his lack of skills in poetic composition.63 Such literary critical debates are not typical of maṅgalkāvya literature, but they show that, despite the strong commonalities with folktales and oral literature, these texts were conceived as poetic compositions, not mere reiteration of well-known narratives.

Similarly, in the most celebrated maṅgalkāvya of the Caṇḍī cycle, the Caṇḍīmaṅgal (1589) of Mukundarām Cakravartī, who bore the title kavikaṅkan (The-golden-bracelet-among-poets), the poet foregrounds his consumed skills in the art of poetical composition. None of the early maṅgalkāvya poets wrote for the sultan, but they acknowledged the virtues of his rule and openly mentioned Ḥusayn Shāh as the ruler of the time.64 But maṅgalkāvya poets did receive the patronage of local chiefs and landowners.

The crucial difference with actual courtly texts is that the commissioner of the poem was the deity herself, not the patron. In fact, the latter was mentioned more as the patron of the celebration that provided the occasion for the performance of the poem, and it is in that respect that his name was occasionally mentioned in the text. This also appears clearly in the fact that, unlike in courtly poems, the poet pays homage to the deity, not to his worldly patron, in his signature lines at the end of each section.

The main deities to whom maṅgalkāvyas are devoted are Manasā—the goddess of snakes, Caṇḍī—a form of Śiva’s consort, Śitalā—the goddess of smallpox, and Dharma—a god who has no prescribed form and who is worshiped mainly in western Bengal. The form also was used for works dedicated to deities belonging to the pan-Indian purāṇic pantheon, such as Śiva or Kr̥ṣṇa. One of the last representatives of this genre is the Annadāmaṅgal (Annadā’s auspicious favor, 1752) by Bhāratcandra Rāẏ “Guṇākar,” the only maṅgal-kāvya devoted to the goddess Annadā, aka Annapūrṇā, the “Rice-Giver.”65 With his poem, Bhāratcandra self-consciously performed a variety of shifts vis-à-vis the earlier maṅgalkāvya tradition. While he framed his text along the lines of the generic models mentioned here, the Annadāmaṅgal is also a courtly text in which the deity commissioned the poem through the figure of the patron, rather than directly to the poet in a dream or an encounter.

In the 18th century, the humoristic and subversive tone that was already present in the earliest specimens of the genre becomes a central feature of the poems. Bhāratcandra skillfully plays with all the registers of Middle Bengali and of the emerging modern Bengali literary idioms. He was also a clerk (munshī) trained in Sanskrit, Persian, and Hindustani—all languages that he drew from when composing his poem. Another striking feature of the Annadāmaṅgal is the role of historical referentiality, which led some scholars to see in his poem the convergence of the vernacular maṅgalkāvya genre and the Persian tārīkh (historical chronicle).66

The courtly dimension appears clearly in his rendering of the story of Vidyā and Sundar, the action of which he relocated in Bardhaman in western Bengal. On the one hand, the Vidyā-Sundar story connects his work with the long-standing courtly literary tradition stemming from the Ḥusayn Shāhī period (see the previous discussion of Śrīdhar and Śābārid Khān), and it is this central section of the Annadāmaṅgal that would become a very influential, and controversial, text in the formative period of modern Bengali literature in 19th-century Calcutta. It is also worth noting that in 1254 H/1838, Bhāratcandra’s Vidyā-Sundar was adapted in the form of a Persian mathnawī by a poet whose pen name was Naẓārat.67

So far, this account of the literary history of Bengal focused on long-standing courtly and ritual literary practices. But there are many other trends that do not necessarily constitute clearly delimited sectarian corpora, nor can they be easily placed in a courtly context. Among what we may call the major subterranean trends of Middle Bengali literature is the Nāth tradition. Stories about Śaiva saints called Siddhās, who were associated with yoga and tantric practices, bring us back to the Pāla period. These figures overlap with Mahāyāna Buddhist traditions, and a rich literature is devoted to them in Tibetan as well. Nāthism spread far and wide on the subcontinent, and we find stories about these figures in Nepal and southern and western India, where their cult eventually took an institutionalized form. In Bengal, their stories were mainly preserved among the Muslim population. The symbols and motifs of their narrative cycles are clearly visible in a variety of genres, such as maṅgalkāvyas or Sufi romances.

From the late 16th century onward, a major literary tradition developed around the figure of Satya Pīr.68 The corpus of texts dealing with Satya Pīr are narrative cycles that draw from a wide range of religious idioms currently in Bengal. The poems dedicated to Satya Pīr are pā͂cālīs and vrata-kathās (stories told during women’s household ritual vows). There is also a small corpus of texts dealing with ritual prescriptions for the formal worship (pūjā) of Satya Pīr. His worship is closely related to pragmatic concerns and the acquisition of wealth.

Tony Stewart has identified three narrative types around which Satya Pīr stories may be organized: Satya Pīr as (a) a Hindu Vaiṣṇava god, (b) a Muslim moral exemplar, and (c) a personal, spiritual guide. His worship spread from southwestern Bengal eastward, and its presence is attested in a variety of urban and rural, courtly and noncourtly contexts. The literary idioms utilized to relate Satya Pīr’s exploits are very diverse, from more or less Sanskritized Middle Bengali to the composite literary idiom called Dobhāṣī (as discussed later in this article). From the mid-19th century onward, popular printed poems composed in Dobhāṣī became very popular in Calcutta and Dhaka. The stories of Satya Pīr, and of other local Pīrs often associated with his figure, provide a wealth of narrative material, which sometimes revisits motifs present in the other trends discussed thus far, but also displays creativity and humor in the fashioning of the plot.69

The Elusive Presence of Persian in Bengal

The literary languages Persian and Arabic played major roles in the development of Middle Bengali literature.70 Many of the authors mentioned when surveying the history of Middle Bengali poetry had some sort of exposure to Persian, either through bureaucracy and courtly interactions or through the study of this language and its classics, often alongside Sanskrit. We may well assume that virtually all Bengali Muslim authors had some command of Persian—and to a lesser extent Arabic—and we have several examples of Hindu authors who were versed in Persian—like Bhāratcandra Rāẏ, discussed earlier in this article. This kind of multiliteracy, which included Bengali, Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit, persisted until the early 18th century, as evidenced by the figures of Rāmmohan Rāẏ (1772–1833) and Mīr Muśarraph Hosen (1847–1912).71 But it is also necessary to note that the precise economy of this multilingual education varied greatly from one period or one region to another. Therefore, Ālāol’s multilingual literacy in mid-17th century Arakan may have involved the same set of languages, but it did not imply the same approach to genres and the heuristic use of each language as Rāmohan Rāẏ’s multilingualism in early colonial Calcutta. Multilingualism is a constant feature of the literary history of Bengal, but there is not one continuous tradition of literary multilingualism that may be traced from the Sultanate period to the colonial era.

There are few traces of the cultivation of Persian at the court of the independent sultans of Bengal.72 The main language for inscriptional records was Arabic, and Persian was used only occasionally. We do not have any clear evidence of patronage of Persian poets at the court, and no chronicle commissioned by a Bengali sultan came down to us—the first full-fledged history of Bengali written in Persian dates from the mid-18th century. A very famous anecdote that relates how Ḥāfiẓ completed a poem begun by Ghiyāth al-Dīn Aʿẓam Shāh (r. 1389–1410) is probably the product of later commentators’ speculations when grappling with the dense conceits of a lyric poem (ghazal) found in the poet’s dīwān.

The passive consumption of Persian classics at the court, though, is attested by one illustrated manuscript of Niẓāmī’s Sharafnāma produced in the atelier of Ḥusayn Shāh’s successor, Nuṣrat Shāh (r. 1519–1532).73 The miniatures of this manuscript indicate the development of a specific style in Ḥusayn Shāhī Bengal, but in the absence of other such manuscripts, it is difficult to ascertain that a school of painting actually developed, as was the case during the late Mughal period in Murshidabad. However, we do have one important source to study the cultivation of Persian literature at the court of Bārbak Shāh of Bengal (r. 1459–1474): Ibrāhhīm Qawāmī Fārūqī’s Farhang-i manyarī aka Farhang-i Ibrāhīmī (c. 1473–1474).74 This dictionary (farhang) provides the meanings of words found in the poetry of classical Persian authors. It thus gives us an idea of the works that were read and studied. The dictionary is also remarkable for the attention given to Turkic words used in Persian and its occasional reference to Hindavi terms. The preface also contains one of the early attempts to provide elements of a grammar of Persian.

Finally, perhaps the most substantive body of texts in Persian produced during the Sultanate period is comprised of religious texts and Sufi treatises. The treatises and letters of the Chishti saint Nūr Quṭb-i ʿĀlam (d. 1459) are rich sources for the religious, but also the political history of Bengal.75 In his writings, we also find traces of multilingual literacy in verses that mix Persian and some eastern form of Hindavī—but not Bengali. It is noteworthy that the vernacular elements in the Farhang-i manyarī and in Nūr Quṭb-i ʿĀlam’s works point to linguistic domains located farther west, in Bihar, rather than Bengal proper.

It is during the Mughal period that Bengal became a major center for the patronage of Persian literature.76 Many literati from Iran, Central Asia, and northern India came to Bengal to serve in the then-developing Mughal administration. The capitals of the province, Jahangirnagar (Dhaka), Rajmahal (in today’s Jharkhand), and finally Murshidabad, were vibrant centers of literary production. Later, in the 19th century, Sylhet and Chittagong also produced Persian poets and historians.77 However, more research needs to be done on the vast corpus of Persian texts written in Bengal to identify features that would allow us to speak of a specifically regional trend of Persian literature.

Clearly, a certain imagery became associated with Bengal as Mughal literati spent more time in the region. A good example is Maẓhar-i gul (aka Mathnawī dar ṣifat-i bangāla) by Munīr Lāhūrī (1610–1644), in which the young munshī reviews various items of Bengal’s climate and landscape.78 Similarly, the encyclopedist and cosmographer Ṣādiq Iṣfahānī (d. 1650) shared his perception of the region in his writings.79 We also have some examples of Bengali Persian poets, such as Sirāj al-Dīn Farīdpūrī (fl. 1860–1870s), but their works still wait to be studied in a regionalist perspective.80

Despite the well-attested fact that knowledge of Persian was not rare among Middle Bengali poets, we have few examples of authors who composed in both languages. One such example was Ḥamīd Allāh Khān (1789–1870), the historian of Chittagong, naturalist, and reformist author who was equally prolific in Persian and Bengali. Similarly, in the 18th and 19th centuries, Bengal was home to a rich tradition of Urdu literature, and we find examples of authors writing in both Urdu and Persian, such as Khān Bahādur ʿAbd al-Ghafūr “Nassākh” (1833–1889), philologist of both Persian and Urdu languages and friend of the celebrated poet Mirzā Asad Allāh Khān “Ghālib” (1797–1869).81 We also have testimonies of the cultivation of Persian in the later colonial period in provincial areas and of the departure from this mode of literacy, and especially from the pedagogy that characterized it, by men of letters like Mīr Muśarraph Hosen, who sought new ways to conceive of vernacular education.82

New Vernacular Trends in Late Mughal Bengal: Dobhāṣī and Sylhet Nāgarī

The 17th and 18th centuries witnessed the emergence of a myriad of noncourtly genres in Middle Bengali. The development of new trends in vernacular literature certainly testifies to a wider spread of literacy that already has been discussed in the context of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava literature. But other factors also seem to have fostered the penetration of literacy in Bengal’s society. In Mughal Bengal, the training of low-level administrators and secretaries included the study of literary texts and poetry and prose, as well as stories (qiṣṣas) and epistolary models (inshāʾ). During the Sultanate and early Mughal periods, literary multilingualism remained relatively compartmented at the purely linguistic level, and recourse to Persian or Hindavi in Middle Bengali texts was meant to create specific stylistic effects; it did not radically affect the texture of the idiom as a whole. For instance, when Bhāratcandra decided to use Bengali mixed with Persian and Hindustani—which he called yāvanī-miśāla—in the third book of his Annadāmaṅgal, he paused in the narration and explained that his linguistic choice was meant to create an effect of reality without tarnishing the limpid style of his poem (nā rabe prasāda guṇa nā habe rasāla) and losing readers unfamiliar with those idioms.83 The poet wanted to color his idiom with that of the Mughal emperor and his dignitaries, without having to actually write in Persian or Hindustani, which languages he had studied and mastered.

Later, we observe the formation of poetic idioms characterized by the systematic and consistent use of Perso-Arabic terms and Hindustani grammatical forms in a Bengali prosodic and grammatical framework. What connects Bhāratcandra with those later trends is his training as a Persianate secretary (munshī). Around the same period, a few miles from Krishnanagar, where Bhāratcandra was living, in the village of Hafizpur near Calcutta, a local Sufi named Śāh Garībullāh (fl. 1750–1770s) created a new composite idiom, which was later called Dobhāṣī (i.e., “made of two languages” or “[the language] of the interpreter”).84

Little is known about the life of Dobhāṣī’s founding figure, except that he belonged to a Sayyid family and that he was the son of a charismatic Sufi saint. Nothing is known about his professional activities, but one cannot rule out that he may have occupied some function in the local Mughal administration, as the term deoẏān (Persian dīwān) sometimes appended to his name seems to indicate. This would fit with what we know about later Dobhāṣi authors, most of whom were munshīs.

Garībullāh composed several poems in this new idiom, some of which were adaptations from Persian texts read for devotional, didactic, or entertainment purposes—the three contexts being hard to distinguish in the literary practices of the time. Garībullāh’s most famous poem is certainly Iusuph Jolekhā (Joseph and Zulaykha), implicitly adapted from Jāmī’s eponymous Persian poem, composed in Herat in 1483. This poem became a major best-seller in the second half of the 19th century, when a market for Dobhāṣī poems (often called puthis) developed in Calcutta and Dhaka.

Another poem adapted from anonymous Persian (and possibly Hindustani) sources is the Jaṅganāmā (The book of war), an epic poem on the battle of Karbala and the martyrdom of Imām Ḥusayn, the Prophet Muḥammad’s grandson. Garībullāh also composed two short poems based on local narratives entitled Satyapīrer kathā and Śonābhāner puthi, which highlights the fact that he was promoting locally grounded forms of Islam. This local grounding also clearly appears in his adaptations of more widely spread Islamic narratives. Finally, he began a Dobhāṣī adaptation of the story of Amīr Ḥamza, which was the most popular narrative of the dāstān-goʾī/qiṣṣa-khwānī (storytelling) tradition in Persian and in the then-emerging Hindustani/Urdu literary idiom. Garībullāh’s Āmir Hāmjār puthi was completed c. 1794 by his disciple Saiẏad Hāmjā (c. 1733–1807), who had himself begun his career as a poet by composing a version of the story of Madhumālatī in standard Middle Bengali.

In the 19th century, Dobhāṣī developed in the western part of Bengal, in the region around Calcutta, and then spread eastward and southward. Although Garībullāh addressed a religiously mixed audience, the idiom bore within it the potential for the making of a communal poetic language. During the colonial period, Dobhāṣī was perceived as a Muslim form of Bengali and was labeled “Musulmani Bengali” in the first surveys of Bengali printed books. This communal association was also claimed by the authors themselves, who came to use terms like Islāmī Bāṅgālā to designate the language of their texts.

A fascinating development of the history of Dobhāṣī is found in its encounter with another regionally grounded trend characterized by the use of a script called Sylhet Nagari, in reference to the region of northeastern Bengal where this script gained currency.85 Sylhet Nagari literature is not merely an offshoot of Dobhāṣī; it has a more complex, and still rather obscure, history. However, it is evident that starting from the early 19th century, Sylhet Nagari authors read Dobhāṣī texts, used Garībullāh’s poems to compose their versions of the same narratives, and fashioned their literary idiom after the model that Dobhāṣī provided.

All those features, from communalism to creative linguistic hybridity, are present in the works of one of the most prolific and influential authors of Dobhāṣī literature: Sādek Ālī (b. 1798). Sādek Ālī’s life and career as a man of letters provides a paradigmatic example of the social life of Dobḥāṣī in the early colonial period. He was born a Vaidya Brahman, and after attending the Sanskrit school of his village, he learned Persian and Arabic and was trained as a munshī. He then became a local judge (munṣif) and suddenly lost his position in the early 1830s. He then decided to go to Dhaka and convert to Islam. The Sufi master in whose hands he converted suggested that he returns to Sylhet and reforms the religious practices of his new coreligionists. This is how he began his career as a poet. All his works evince a reformist agenda, and while he draws from Garībullāh’s texts and style, he promotes a vision of Islam that is almost diametrically opposed to that of the poet from Hafizpur.

The formation of Dobhāṣī literature is closely tied to the social history of Bengali Muslims and of the spread of literacy in late Mughal and early colonial Bengal. While Sanskrit constituted the main episteme for the Middle Bengali tradition, and Sanskrit didacticism provided the default mode to access vernacular literacy, Dobhāṣī literature testifies to the shift to a Persianate mode of literacy in some areas and social-professional milieus in western Bengal, and then progressively farther, into eastern Bengal.

Another account could be given of the role played by the Arabic—as distinct from the Persianate—episteme to cultivate vernacular literacy in Chittagong (and probably Arakan) between the 17th and 19th centuries. This last Arabicized chapter of Bengali Muslim literacy is represented by the manuscripts written in Arabic script in Chittagong. These manuscripts were never properly studied and often are dismissively treated as mere oddities by philologists and historians of Bengali literature, but they actually tell yet another story about how the vernacular was considered in the multilingual ecology of Bengal.

Discussion of the Literature

The making of philology and literary history as institutionalized disciplines over the last decades of the 19th and early 20th centuries has given rise to a very strong body of scholarship on Bengali literature. With the early development of Bengali as a language that suited the administrative, intellectual, and political demands of the colonial period, the historiography of Bengali literature soon became central to debates around the identity of Bengal as a cultural and political entity. As we can see in this overview of the literary history of Bengal, even if one can trace the making of a loosely defined cultural space in the Pāla-Sena period, and despite brief but significant episodes of political centralism (like the Ḥusayn Shāhī period, which facilitated the diffusion and reinforcement of literary practices in wider geographical areas), what characterizes the history of Bengal is its fragmented landscape and absence—or regular relocation—of its political centers. Until the middle of the 20th century, this fragmented landscape was not—indeed could not—be taken into account to write the history of Bengal. Calcutta was the main center for the production of scholarly works on Bengali literature, and it is only mid-20th century that other regions appeared as alternative vantage points to write the literary history of Bengal. Hence, regional “canons” were seen as relevant for the entire region where Middle Bengali was used, and entire trends were ignored.

The first histories of Bengali literature virtually ignored the contribution of Muslim authors, and, until today, some trends (such as Dobhāṣī or Sylheti Nagari) have hardly been recognized as integral parts of Bengali literature. After the partition of 1947 and, later, the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, historians of Bengali literature acknowledged the fragmented literary landscape of Bengal, but mostly by emphasizing the east-west dichotomy, rather than by observing what empirically connected and separated one region from another in terms of recourse to specific idioms, canonical models, cultivation of genres, or prosodic forms—which perhaps constitute more reliable features upon which to base the contours of the literary history of the region.

Also fostered by nationalist concerns was the strong tendency to divide Bengali literature into Hindu and Muslim works. We have observed that the communal dimension played an important role at times, but one should subordinate it to overarching formal and aesthetic features that give this literature its unity as a corpus. The study of premodern Bengali literature has drastically decreased since the 1980s, and although attempts to invigorate the domain through the adoption of new theoretical and disciplinary approaches must be acknowledged, these frameworks are still widely accepted and taught in departments of Bengali literature. The last wide-ranging survey of Bengali literature based on a first-hand analysis of Middle Bengali texts was Ahmad Sharif’s Bāṅālī o bāṅlā sāhitya (The Bengali people and Bengali literature), published in 1978. Since then, the number of editions of original texts and monographs on Middle Bengali literature generally declined. More recently, in a book chapter published in 2003, which is titled “Two Histories of Literary Culture in Bengal,” Sudipta Kaviraj discussed topics related to the temporalities of tradition and history and reviewed some of the key texts of the canon established by the inherited historiography mentioned earlier. The author acknowledged the issue of the boundaries of socio-textual communities and problematized the question: “What is Bangla literature?” The section devoted to the premodern period emphasizes “the fluctuating relationship with the canons of Sanskrit high literature.” The organizing principal of this account follows sectarian divisions rather than the specific features of literary idioms, styles, literary genres, or the role of linguistic traditions other than Sanskrit in the background of the authors.

The study of Middle Bengali literature involved remarkable efforts to collect, catalog, describe, and edit texts preserved in manuscripts scattered throughout Bengal and the neighboring regions of eastern South Asia. This took place through the efforts of learned societies, first based in Calcutta and then in so-called provincial areas, and thanks to individual initiatives. Then, universities and language academies—such as the Bangla Academy in Dhaka (founded in 1955)—centralized those efforts and continued the work of cataloguing and publishing texts.

The most authoritative histories of Bengali literature based on the resources provided by these catalogs and edited texts were written between the 1950s and 1970s. Since the 1980s, the focus moved toward paleography and a reflection on the methods of textual criticism. In terms of the disciplinary approach, Middle Bengali texts were primarily read for their historical and religious content, as well as their assumed significance for the study of social history. With the exception of some outstanding works on lyric poetry, much less attention was paid to the poetics and aesthetics of Middle Bengali poetry. Similarly, the prosody and musicological dimensions of Bengali pā̃cālīs and padas still wait to be studied properly.

Finally, the multilingual literary history of Bengal still remains to be written. Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, Maithili, Avadhi, Brajabuli, Hindustani, and Middle Bengali were invariably taken as discrete entities discussed within a single frame only in terms of translation or influence. The fact that they were part of a common linguistic ecology still needs to be conceptualized and proper methods need to be defined in order to revisit the literary history of Bengal and update the accounts of Asitkumar Bandyopadhyay, Sukumar Sen, Muhammad Enamul Haq, and Ahmad Sharif (see the “Further Reading” section).

Primary Sources

There is no comprehensive handbook or bibliography that could help scholars to navigate the available primary sources for the study of premodern literature in Bengal. One of the most useful tools to navigate manuscript collections and gather a sense of the diffusion of a work is Jatindra Mohan Bhattacharjee’s Catalogus Catalogorum of Bengali Manuscripts.86 The descriptive catalog of Abdul Karim’s “Sāhityaviśārad” remains a valuable source for the study of Bengali Muslim texts produced in southeastern Bengal. Muhammad Sadiq’s Sileṭī nāgrī: phakiri dhārār phasal and the British Library’s endangered archive project (EAP071) “Archiving Texts in the Sylhet Nagri Script” provide a good picture of the manuscript and printed Sylhet Nagari materials collected in recent years.87

In the absence of a comprehensive bibliography of Middle Bengali texts that have been edited since the late 19th century, the references provided in the following dictionaries constitute useful resources: Sukumar Sen’s An Etymological Dictionary of Bengali, c. 1000–1800 A.D., the two-volume Prācīn o madhyayuger bāṃlā bhāṣār abhidhān, and the three-volume Bāṃlā ekāḍemī vivartanmūlak bāṃlā abhidhān.88 Historically, the main publishers of Middle Bengali texts have been the Baṅgīẏa Sāhitya Pariṣat (in Kolkata), the Bangla Academy (in Dhaka), and the presses of the Universities of Kolkata and Dhaka.

Further Reading

Bandyopādhyāẏ, Asitakumār. Bāṃlā sāhityer itivr̥tta. 2d ed. Kalikātā, India: Maḍārṇ Buk Ejensī, 1962.Find this resource:

Banerji, Sures Chandra. Sanskrit Culture of Bengal. Delhi: Sharada Publishing House, 2004.Find this resource:

Dimock, Edward C., trans. The Thief of Love: Bengali Tales from Court and Village. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.Find this resource:

Haq, Muhammad Enamul. Muslim Bengali Literature. Karachi, Pakistan: Pakistan Publications, 1957.Find this resource:

Haq, Muhammad Enamul. Muslim bāṃlā sāhitya. 2d ed. Dhaka: Mowla Brothers, 1998.Find this resource:

Kaviraj, Sudipta. “The Two Histories of Literary Culture in Bengal.” In Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia. Edited by Sheldon Pollock, 503–566. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Sahsarāmi, Muḥammad Kalīm. Khidmatguzārān-i fārsī dar Banglādish. Dhaka: Rāyzanī-i Farhang-i Jumhūrī-i Islāmī-i Īrān, 1999.Find this resource:

Sen, Sukumar. A History of Brajabuli Literature: Being a Study of the Vaiṣṇava Lyric Poetry and Poets of Bengal. Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1935.Find this resource:

Sen, Sukumar. History of Bengali Literature. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1992.Find this resource:

Sen, Sukumar. Bāṅgālā sāhityer itihās. 6th ed. Reprint. 5 vols. Kolkata: Ānanda Publishers, 2001–2002.Find this resource:

Shahidullah, Muhammad. Bāṃlā sāhityer kathā. Reprint. 2 vols. Dhaka: Māolā Brādārs, 2002.Find this resource:

Sharif, Ahmad. Bāṅgālī o bāṅlā sāhitya. Reprint. 2 vols. Dhaka: New Age Publication, 2008.Find this resource:

Zbavitel, Dušan. Bengali Literature. A History of Indian Literature. 9.3: Modern Indo-Aryan Literatures. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harassowitz, 1976.Find this resource:


(1.) R. C. Majumdar, Hindu Period, Vol. 1 of The History of Bengal, reprint (Dhaka: University of Dhaka, 2006); Jhunu Bagchi, The History and Culture of the Pālas of Bengal and Bihar: cir. 750 A.D.–cir. 1200 A.D. (New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1993). For a discussion on the formative period of the literary culture of Bengal, see Sukumar Sen, History of Bengali Literature (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1992), 10–33; and Sukumar Sen, Bāṅgālā sāhityer itihās, 6th ed., vol. 1, reprint (Kolkata: Ānanda Publishers, 2001), 19–90.

(2.) Susan L. Huntington and John C. Huntington, Leaves from the Bodhi Tree: The Art of Pāla India (8th–12th Centuries) and Its International Legacy (Dayton, OH: Dayton Art Institute, in association with the University of Washington Press, 1989)

(3.) We still do not have a comprehensive study of the literary history of Pāla Bengal. See the subsequent text for references to various studies of specific aspects of literature during the Pāla period.

(4.) Abhinanda, Rāmacarita of Abhinanda, ed. K. S. Ramaswami Sastri, Gaekwad’s Oriental Series 46 (Baroda, India: Oriental Institute, 1930).

(5.) Gary Tubb, “Something New in the Air: Abhinanda’s Rāmacarita and Its Ancestry,” in Innovations and Turning Points: Toward a History of Kāvya Literature, eds. Yigal Bronner, David D. Shulman, and Gary Tubb (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015), 360.

(6.) Sandhyākaranandin, Rāmacaritam of Sandhyākaranandin, ed. Radhagovinda Basak, Memoir Series 3.1 (Kolkata: Asiatic Society, 2012); and La geste de Rāma: Poème à double sens de Sandhyākaranandin, trans. Sylvain Brocquet, Collection indologie 110 (Pondicherry, India: Institut français de Pondichéry Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, 2010).

(7.) The date and location of the Vidagdhamukhamaṇḍana have not been ascertained, but internal evidence seems to indicate that it was composed in the Buddhist courtly milieu of Pāla Bengal, sometime around the 10th century. See Martin Kraatz, “Das Vidagdhamukhamaṇḍana des Dharmadāsa, ein Lehrbuch der Rätselkunde, 1. u. 2. Kapitel” (1968); Dharmadāsasūri, Śrīdharmadāsasūrikr̥taṃ Vidagdhamukhamaṇḍanam:“Candrakalā”-vyākhyayā hindībhāṣānuvādena ca vibhūṣitam (Vārāṇasī, India: Caukhambha Oriental Series, 1984); Michael Hahn, “The Middle-Indic Stanzas in Dharmadāsa’s Vidagdhamukhamaṇḍana,” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens/Vienna Journal of South Asian Studies 55 (2013): 77–109; and “Ratnākaraśānti’s Vidagdhavismāpana: An Old and Unpublished Work on Sanskrit Riddles,” Bulletin d’Études Indiennes 20, no. 2 (2002): 3–81.

(8.) Michael Hahn, “The Buddhist Contribution to the Indian Belles Lettres,” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 63, no. 4 (2010): 455–471; and Dragomir Dimitrov, The Legacy of the Jewel Mind: On the Sanskrit, Pali, and Sinhalese Works by Ratnamati: A Philological Chronicle (Phullalocanavaṃsa), Series Minor 82 (Naples, Italy: Università degli studi di Napoli “L’Orientale,” Dipartimento Asia Africa e Mediterraneo, 2016).

(9.) Daniel H. H. Ingalls, “A Sanskrit Poetry of Village and Field: Yogeśvara and His Fellow Poets,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 74, no. 3 (July 1, 1954): 119–131.

(10.) Vidyākara, The Subhāṣitaratnakoṣa, eds. D. D. Kosambi and Vasudeo Vishwanath Gokhale, Harvard Oriental Series 42 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957).

(11.) Vidyākara, An Anthology of Sanskrit Court Poetry: Vidyākara’s Subhāṣitaratnakośa, trans. Daniel H. H. Ingalls, Harvard Oriental Series 44 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965), 334, poem no. 1178.

(12.) Muhammad Shahidullah, Les chants mystiques de Kānha et de Saraha: Les Dohākosa (en apabhraṃśa, avec les versions tibétaines) et les Caryā (en vieux-bengali) avec introduction, vocabulaires, et notes, Textes pour l’étude du bouddhisme tardif (Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1928); Per Kværne, An Anthology of Buddhist Tantric Songs: A Study of the Caryāgīti., 3rd ed. (Bangkok: Orchid Press, 2010); and Roger R. Jackson trans., Tantric Treasures: Three Collections of Mystical Verse from Buddhist India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

(13.) Friedhelm Hardy, “Creative Corruption: Some Comments on Apabhraṃśa Literature, Particularly Yogîndu,” in Studies in South Asian Devotional Literature: Research Papers, 1988–1991, Presented at the Fifth Conference on “Devotional Literature in New Indo-Aryan Languages,” Held at Paris-École Française d’Extrême-Orient, eds. Alan W. Entwistle and Françoise Mallison (New Delhi and Paris: Manohar; École française d’Extrême Orient, 1994), 3–23.

(14.) Subhadra Kumar Sen, Proto-New Indo-Aryan (Calcutta: Eastern Publishers, 1973).

(15.) Sarahapāda et al., Tantric Treasures, 56, dohā no. 7.

(16.) Syed Mohammad Shahed, Natun Caryāpada (Dhaka: Kathāprakāś, 2017).

(17.) Shashi Bhushan Dasgupta, Obscure Religious Cults as Background of Bengali Literature (Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1946).

(18.) Jesse Ross Knutson, Into the Twilight of Sanskrit Court Poetry: The Sena Salon of Bengal and Beyond (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014).

(19.) Śrīdharadāsa, Sadukti-Karṇāmṛta of Śridharadāsa, ed. Sures Chandra Banerji (Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1965); and Saduktikarṇāmr̥tam, ed. Rāmāvatāra Śarmā, Hindi trans. Omprakāśa Pāṇḍeya (Lucknow, India: Uttara Pradeśa Saṃskr̥ta Saṃsthāna, 1997).

(20.) Jayadeva, Love Song of the Dark Lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda, UNESCO Collection of Representative Works, Indian Series (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977).

(21.) Edwin Gerow, “Jayadeva’s Poetics and the Classical Style,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 109, no. 4 (1989): 533–544.

(22.) Knutson, Into the Twilight of Sanskrit Court Poetry, 13.

(23.) Richard Salomon, Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the Other Indo-Aryan Languages, South Asia Research (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 40–104; Dragomir Dimitrov, “Tables of the Old Bengali Script (on the Basis of the Nepalese Manuscript of Daṇḍin’s Kāvyādarśa),” in Śikṣāsamuccayaḥ: Indian and Tibetan Studies (Collectanea Marpurgensia Indologica et Tibetica), eds. Dragomir Dimitrov, Ulrike Roesler, and Roland Steiner (Vienna: Arbeitskreise für Tibetische und Buddhsitische Studien, Universität Wien, 2002), 27–78. We also may note that, until the colonial period, the Devanāgarī script was almost never used in Bengal to write Sanskrit texts. Also, the Bengali language is virtually absent from inscriptional records until the 18th century.

(24.) Rāmdev Jhā, Jagajjyotirmalla (New Delhi: Sāhitya Akādemī, 1995); Biswanarayan Shastri, Sanskrit in Assam Through the Ages, Golden Jubliee of India’s Independence Series 28 (Delhi: Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, 1998); Madhusūdana Kavīndra, Rasacandrikā; Kavīndra-Keśavadāsaviracita-Rasikapriyoditarasodbhāṣitā., eds. S. N. Ghoshal, Visva-Bharati Research Publications 1 (Santiniketan, India: Viśvabhāratī, 1969); Dinesh Chandra Bhattacharyya, “A Forgotten Family of Royal Poets: The Sura Kings of Bhulua,” Bengal, Past and Present 48, no. 1 (1934): 17–22; Dulal Kanti Bhowmik, “Contribution of Māṇikya Dynasty of Bhuluā to Sanskrit Literature,” Journal of the Department of Sanskrit, Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta 4 (1989–1990): 84–91; Chintaharan Chakravarti, “Sanskrit Literature of the Vaishnavas of Bengal,” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 10, no. 1/2 (1929): 114–126; Kali Kumar Datta, Bengal’s Contributions to Sanskrit Literature, Calcutta Sanskrit College Research Series 103 (Calcutta: Sanskrit College, 1974); and Sures Chandra Banerji, Sanskrit Culture of Bengal (Delhi: Sharada Publishing House, 2004).

(25.) For general accounts of the early period of Middle Bengali literature, see Sen, History of Bengali Literature, 34–76; Dušan Zbavitel, Bengali Literature Bengali Literature. A History of Indian Literature. 9.3: Modern Indo-Aryan Literatures (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harassowitz, 1976), 139–169.

(26.) No title is given in the poem itself. The title Śrīkr̥ṣṇakīrtan was given by the first editor of the text, Vasanta Rañjan Rāẏ (1865–1952). A slip of paper found in the manuscripts that indicates that someone borrowed a few pages in 1682 provides the title Śrīkr̥ṣṇasandabba (Śrīkr̥ṣṇasandarbha). Baṛu Caṇḍīdāsa, Singing the Glory of Lord Krishna: The Śrīkrṣṇakīrtana, trans. from Bengali by M. H. Klaiman (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1984), 17–18. For editions of the text, see Baṛu Caṇḍīdāsa, Śrīkr̥ṣṇakīrtan, ed. Vasantarañjan Rāẏ Vidvadvallabh (Calcutta: Vaṅgīya Sāhitya Pariṣat, 1361); and Baṛu Caṇḍīdās, Śrīkr̥ṣṇakīrttan: mūl puthir phaṭomudraṇ saṃskaraṇ, ed. Nīlratan Sen (Kolkata: Sāhityalok, 2004).

(27.) Baṛu Caṇḍīdāsa, Singing the Glory of Lord Krishna, 19–20.

(28.) Kashinath Tamot and Makoto Kitada, “A Newly Discovered Fragment of the Śrīkr̥ṣṇakīrtan,” Tokyo University Liniguistic Pappers (TULIP) 33 (2013): 293–300.

(29.) Knutson, Into the Twilight of Sanskrit Court Poetry, 89–114.

(30.) Knutson, Into the Twilight of Sanskrit Court Poetry, 147–154.

(31.) Baṛu Caṇḍīdāsa, Singing the Glory of Lord Krishna, 48–49; and Baṛu Caṇḍīdāsa , Śrīkr̥ṣṇakīrtan, ed. Vasantarañjan Rāẏ Vidvadvallabh, 14.

(32.) Knutson, Into the Twilight of Sanskrit Court Poetry, 114.

(33.) Suniti Kumar Chatterji, Origin and Development of the Bengali Language, reprint (Calcutta: Rupa, 1993), 127–136; and Alibhā Dākṣī, Prācya āryabhāṣā: prāk caturdaś-pañcadaś śataker bhāṣātāttvik utsa sandhāne (Kolkata, India: Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, 2014).

(34.) Both prosodic forms are syllabic and do not take into account the weight of the syllables (paẏār: 8 + 6 = 14, rhyme scheme: aa, bb, cc . . .; tripadī: 6 + 6 + 8 = 20 or 8 + 8 + 10 = 26 syllables, rhyme scheme: aab, ccb . . .).

(35.) Thibaut d’Hubert, “Patterns of Composition in the Seventeenth-Century Bengali Literature of Arakan,” in Tellings and Texts: Music, Literature, and Performance Cultures in North India, eds. Francesca Orsini and Katherine Butler Schofield (Cambridge, UK: Open Books Publishers, 2015), 423–443.

(36.) For detailed discussions on the development of early Bengali prose based on the study of treatises and administrative and epistolary documents, see Anisuzzaman, Purono Bāṃlā gadya (Calcutta: Ekuśe, 1994) and Bhaktimādhav Caṭṭopadhyāẏ, Prācīn bāṃlā gadyer itihās, ādi parva (Kolkata, India: Pārul, 2008).

(37.) Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, A Grammar of the Bengal Language (Hoogly, India: Charles Wilkins, 1778), 36.

(38.) Sisir Kumar Das, Early Bengali Prose, Carey to Vidyāsāgar (Calcutta: Bookland, 1966).

(39.) Sukumar Sen, A History of Brajabuli Literature: Being a Study of the Vaisnava Lyric Poetry and Poets of Bengal (Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1935); and “Barajabulir Kāhinī,” in Śrī Sukumar Sen prabandha saṃkalan, eds. Subhdra Kumar Sen and Sunanda Kumar Sen (Kolkata, India: Ānanda, 2014), 506–521.

(40.) Locana, Rāgataraṅgiṇī, ed. Śaśināth Jhā, Maithilī Akādamī prakāśan 98 (Patna, India: Maithilī Akādamī, 1981), 64.

(41.) Sukumar Sen, Vidyāpati-goṣṭhī (Bardhaman, India: Sāhitya Sabhā, 1947); and William L. Smith, “Brajabuli, Vrajāvalī, and Maithili,” in Sauhṛdyamaṅgalam: Studies in Honour of Siegfried Lienhard on His 70th Birthday, eds. Mirja Juntunen, William L. Smith, and Carl Suneson (Stockholm: Association of Oriental Studies, 1995), 311–341.

(42.) See Rachel McDermott, Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kālī and Umā from Bengal (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Jatindra Mohan Bhattacharjee, Bāṅgālār vaiṣṇavabhāvāpanna musalmān kavir padamañjuṣā (Calcutta: Kalikātā Viśvavidyālaẏa, 1984); and Edward Dimock, “Muslim Vaiṣṇava Poets of Bengal,” in Languages and Areas: Studies Presented to George V. Bobrinskoy on the Occasion of His Academic Retirement (Chicago: Division of the Humanities, University of Chicago, 1967), 28–36.

(43.) For translations of a selection of pada, see Edward C Dimock, In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967).

(44.) Momtazur Rahman Tarafdar, Husain Shahi Bengal, 1494–1538 A.D.: A Socio-Political Study, 2nd revised edition (Dhaka: University of Dhaka, 1999); and Richard M. Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier 1204–1760 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 95–112.

(45.) Mālādhar Vasu, Śrīkr̥ṣṇavijaẏ, eds. Amitrasudan Bhattacharya and Sumangal Rana (Kolkata, India: Ratnāvalī, 1409/2002); Kr̥ttivās, Kr̥ttivāsī Rāmāyaṇ, ed. Harekrishna Mukhopadhyay (Kolkata, India: Sāhitya Saṃsad, 2002); Ramayana, trans. Shudha Mazumdar (Bombay: Orient Longman, 1974); and Kṛttivāsa Rāmāyaṇa, trans. Shanti Lal Nagar and Suriti Nagar (Delhi: Eastern Book Linkers, 1997).

(46.) Amiya Shankar Caudhuri, “Kṛttivāser puthi saṃvād,” in Kavi Kṛttivās saṃkalan grantha (Phuliya, India: Kavi Kṛttivās Smārak Grantha Prakāśak Samiti, 1989), 183–201.

(47.) William L. Smith, Rāmāyaṇa Traditions in Eastern India: Assam, Bengal, Orissa (Stockholm: Department of Indology, University of Stockholm, 1988).

(48.) Kavīndra Parameśvar Dās, Kavīndra-Mahābhārat, ed. Kalpana Bhowmik, 2 vols. (Dhaka: Bangla Academy, 1999).

(49.) Kavīndra Parameśvar Dās, Kavīndra-Mahābhārat, 1, 332.

(50.) Rāmagopāl Dās and Pītāmbar Dās, Rāmagopāl Dās-viracita Rasakalpavallī o anyānya nibandha, Pītāmbar Dās-viracita Aṣṭarasavyākhyā o Rasamañjarī, eds. Harekrishna Mukhopadhyay, Sukumar Sen, and Praphullachandra Pal (Calcutta: Calcutta University, 1963), 271; and Sen, A History of Brajabuli Literature, 23–24.

(51.) Sailendranath Mitra, “The Long Lost Sanskrit Vidyāsundara,” in Proceedings and Transactions of the Second All-India Oriental Conference (Calcutta: Calcutta University, 1923), 215–220; and Ahmad Sharif, “Vidyāsundarer Kavi: Dvija Śrīdhar (1520–1532 khr̥ṣṭābda) o Sābirid Khān (1517–1585 khr̥ṣṭābda),” Sāhitya Patrikā 1, no. 1 (1957): 77–135.

(52.) Thibaut d’Hubert, “Pirates, Poets, and Merchants: Bengali Language and Literature in Seventeenth-Century Mrauk-U,” in Culture and Circulation: Literature in Motion in Early Modern India, eds. Thomas de Bruijn and Allison Busch, Brill’s Indological Library 46 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014), 47–74.

(53.) Thibaut d’Hubert, “Sayyid Sulṭān,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, eds. Denis Matringe, Everett Rowson, and Gudrun Krämer (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Online, 2014). Available online.

(54.) Thibaut d’Hubert, “Ālāol,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, eds. Denis Matringe, Everett Rowson, and Gudrun Krämer (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Online, 2013). Available online; d’Hubert, “Pirates, Poets, and Merchants”; and Mawlawī Ḥamīd Allāh Khān Bahādur, Aḥādīth al-khawānīn, yaʿnī tārīkh-i Islāmābād Chāṭgām ki ham musammá ba-Tārīkh-i Ḥamīd ast (Calcutta: Maẓhar al-ʿAjāʾib, 1871), 54–55.

(55.) For a comprehensive and critical overview of scholarship on Gauḍīẏa Vaiṣṇava literature, see Lucian Wong, “Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Studies: Mapping the Field,” Religions of South Asia 9, no. 3 (2016): 305–331. For an in-depth analysis of the early history (i.e., 16th–17th centuries) of the movement and hagiographical texts, see Tony K. Stewart, The Final Word: The Caitanya Caritāmṛta and the Grammar of Religious Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

(56.) Kr̥ṣṇadās Kavirāj, Caitanya Caritāmṛta of Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, ed. Tony K. Stewart, trans. Edward C. Dimock (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1999).

(57.) Tony K. Stewart, The Final Word.

(58.) For an English translation of Rūpa’s main work in which he exposes his aesthetic theology, see Rūpagosvāmī, The Bhaktirasāmṛtasindhu of Rūpa Gosvāmin, trans. David L. Haberman (New Delhi and Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2003).

(59.) Viśvanāth Cakravartin “Harivallabh,” Kṣaṇadāgītacintāmaṇi, ed. Bimanbehari Majumdar (Calcutta: Jenārel Lāibrerī, 1369/1962).

(60.) Vaiṣṇavdās, Śrī Śrī Padakalpataru, ed. Satish Chandra Ray, 4 vols. (Calcutta: Baṅgiya-Sāhitya-Pariṣat-Mandir, 1322/1915), reprint of vol. 1 (Baṅgīẏa Sahitya Pariṣat, 2003); and Rādhāmohana Ṭhākura, Śrīpadāmr̥tasamudra, ed. Uma Ray (Calcutta: Kalikātā Viśvavidyālaẏa, 1391).

(61.) Śāntilatā Rāẏ, Vaiṣṇav sāhitya o Yadunandan (Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1960).

(62.) Āśutoṣ Bhaṭṭācārya, Bāṃlā maṅgalkāvyer itihās, reprint (Kolkata, India: A. Mukhopdhyay and Co., 2015). For studies and translations into French and English, see William L. Smith, The One-Eyed Goddess: A Study of the Manasā Maṅgal (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1980); Bipradāsa, La victoire de la déesse Manasā: Traduction française du Manasā Vijaya, poème bengali de Vipradāsa (XVe), trans. France Bhattacharya, Collection Indologie 105 (Pondicherry, India, and Paris: Institut français de Pondichéry; École française d’Extrême-Orient, 2007); Kaiser Haq, trans., The Triumph of the Snake Goddess (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015); and Kavikankan Mukundaram Chakravarti, Chandimangal, trans. Edward M. Yazijian (Gurgaon, India: Penguin, 2015).

(63.) Vijaẏgupta, Kavi Vijaẏgupter Padmāpurāṇ, ed. Jaẏantakumār Dāsagupta (Calcutta: Kalikātā Viśvavidyālaẏ, 1962).

(64.) Mukundarām Cakravartī, Caṇḍīmaṅgal: Bhūmikā, pāṭhāntar o mantabya, ebaṃ śabdārtha saṃbalita, ed. Sukumar Sen (Delhi: Sāhitya Akādemī, 1975); and Chakravarti, Chandimangal.

(65.) Bhāratcandra Rāẏ, In Praise of Annada, vol. 1, trans. France Bhattacharya, Murty Classical Library of India 12 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017).

(66.) Kumkum Chatterjee, “The Persianization of Itihasa: Performance Narratives and Mughal Political Culture in Eighteenth-Century Bengal,” Journal of Asian Studies 67, no. 2 (2008): 513–543.

(67.) A. B. M. Habibullah, “A Persian Translation of Vidyāsundara,” Indian Historical Quarterly 15 (1939): 125–128.

(68.) Tony K. Stewart, “Alternate Structures of Authority: Satya Pir on the Frontiers of Bengal.” In Beyond Turk and Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities in Islamicate South Asia, eds. David Gilmartin and Bruce Lawrence (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2000), 21–54.

(69.) Tony K. Stewart, trans., Fabulous Females and Peerless Pirs (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

(70.) The most comprehensive survey of Persian literature in Bengal is Muḥammad Kalīm Sahsarāmī, Khidmatguzārān-i fārsī dar Banglādish (Dhaka: Rāyzanī-i Farhang-i Jumhūrī-i Islāmī-i Īrān, 1999). For a brief, but now dated, account of Persian and Arabic in premodern Bengal, see Chinmoy Dutt, “Contribution of Bengal to Arabic and Persian Literature in the Turko-Afghan Period (A.D. 1203–1538),” Iran Society Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 1944–1969, c. 1970, 81–104.

(71.) T. W. Clark, “The Languages of Calcutta, 1760–1840,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 18, no. 3 (1956): 453–474.

(72.) Sahsarāmī, Khidmatguzārān-i fārsī dar Banglādish, 11–39.

(73.) Eloïse Brac de la Perrière, L’art du livre dans l’Inde des Sultanats, Islam (Paris: Presse de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2008), 73, no. 54.

(74.) Ibrāhīm Qavām Fārūqī, Sharafnāma-yi manyarī yā Farhang-i ibrāhīmī, ed. Ḥakīma Dabīrān (Tehran: Pazhūhishgāh-i ʿulūm-i insānī wa muṭālāʿāt-i farhangī, 1385/2006).

(75.) Nūr Quṭb-i ’Ālam Pandawī, Anīs al-ghurabā, ed. Ghulām Sarwar (New Delhi: Markaz-i taḥqīqāt-i fārsī, 2010). For a study of Sufism in the Bengali sultanate with a comprehensive survey of Persian sources, see Abdul Latif, The Muslim Mystic Movement in Bengal, 1301–1550 (Calcutta: K. P. Bagchi, 1993).

(76.) Sahsarāmī, Khidmatguzārān-i fārsī dar Banglādish; Eaton, The Rise of Islam, 40–70.

(77.) Muḥammad ʿĪsá Shāhidī, “Nufūdh-i fārsī dar minṭaqa-yi Chītāgang, Bangāldish,” Nāma-yi Pārsī, no. 2 (1375/1996): 89–111.

(78.) Abū al-Barakāt Munīr Lāhūrī, Surūda-hā wa Niwishta-hā-yi Munīr Lāhūrī (Tehran: Bunyād-i Mawqūfāt-i Duktur Maḥmūd Afshār Yazdī, 1388/2009), 148–191.

(79.) Nazir Ahmad, “Muhammad Sadiq Isfahani, an Official of Bengal of Shah Jahan’s Time,” Indo-Iranica 24 (1972): 103–125.

(80.) Sirāj al-Dīn Farīdpūrī, Dīwān-i Sirāj al-Dīn Farīdpūrī, ed. Muḥammad Muḥsin al-Dīn Miyā (Dhaka: Rāyzanī-i farhangī-i sifārat-i jumhūrī-i Islāmī-i Īrān, 2013).

(81.) Sayyid Laṭīf al-Raḥmān, Nassākh se Waḥshat tak: Ya’nī ek silsila-yi ustādī wa shāgirdī ke cār Bangālī shuʿarā-yi Urdū kā tadhkira, 2nd rev. ed. (Calcutta: Mag̲hribī Bangāl Urdū Akāḍmī, 1988).

(82.) Seely, Clinton B., “A Muslim Voice in Modern Bengali Literature: Mir Mosharraf Hosain,” in Understanding Bengal Muslims: Interpretative Essays, ed. Rafiuddin Ahmed (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001), 113–138.

(83.) Bhāratcandra Rāẏ, Bhāratcandra granthāvalī, eds. Brajendranāth Bandyopadhyāẏ and Sajanīkānta Dās, 3rd ed. (Calcutta: Baṅgīẏa Sahitya Parishat, 1963), 303.

(84.) Qazi Abdul Mannan, The Emergence and Development of Dobhāsī Literature in Bengal, up to 1855 A.D. (Dhaka: Department of Bengali and Sanskrit, University of Dacca, 1966).

(85.) Anuradha Chanda, ed., Script, Identity, Region: A Study in Sylhet Nagri (Kolkata, India: Dey’s Publishing, 2013).

(86.) Jatindra Mohan Bhattacharjee, Catalogus Catalogorum of Bengali Manuscripts (Calcutta: Asiatic Society, 1978).

(87.) Muhammad Sadiq, Sileṭī nāgrī: phakiri dhārār phasal (Dhaka: Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, 2008). This collection is available online.

(88.) Sukumar Sen, An Etymological Dictionary of Bengali, c. 1000–1800 A.D. (Calcutta: Eastern Publishers, 1971); Muhammad Abdul Qayyum and Razia Sultana, eds., Prācīn o madhyayuger bāṃlā bhāṣār abhidhān, 2 vols. (Dhaka: Bangla Academy, 2007); and Ghulam Murshid, ed., Bāṃlā ekāḍemī vivartanmūlak bāṃlā abhidhān, 3 vols. (Dhaka: Bangla Academy, 2014).