Print and Publishing in Colonial Bengal: The Journey of Bidyasundar 9781138625112, 9780429397578

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Print and Publishing in Colonial Bengal: The Journey of Bidyasundar
 9781138625112, 9780429397578

Table of contents :
Cover
Half Title
Title
Copyright
Dedication
CONTENTS
List of figures
Acknowledgements
Introduction
1 Bards in court: birth of a text
2 Publishers in city: birth of a book
3 Missionary among critics: start of reviews
4 Actors on stage: recreation of the fable
5 Tale among tales: the spread of print
6 Slokas from the past: reproduction of the legend
7 Intellectuals in discussion: reinstating the classic
Epilogue
Select bibliography
Index

Citation preview

PRINT AND PUBLISHING IN COLONIAL BENGAL

This book reconstructs the history of print and publishing in colonial Bengal by tracing the unexpected journey of Bharat Chandra’s Bidyasundar, the first Bengali book published by an entrepreneur. The introduction of printing technology by the British in Bengal expanded the scope of publication and consumption of books significantly. This book looks at the developments and the parallel publishing initiatives of that time. It examines local enterprises in colonial Bengal engaged in producing and selling books and explores the ways in which they charted out a cultural space in the 19th century. The work sheds fresh light on book production and the culture of print, and narrates the processes behind the printing of books to understand the multi-layered literary practices they sustained. A valuable addition to the history of publishing in India, this book will be useful to scholars and researchers of South Asian and Indian history, English literature, Bengali literature, media and cultural studies, print and publishing studies, and South Asian studies. It will also appeal to those interested in the history of Bengal and the Bengali diaspora. Tapti Roy is an independent scholar based in Cambridge, UK. She is the author of The Politics of Popular Uprising: Bundelkhand in 1857 (1994) and Raj of the Rani (2006). She has also contributed chapters to edited volumes: ‘Disciplining the Printed Text: Colonial and Nationalist Surveillance of Bengali Literature’ in Texts of Power: Emerging Disciplines in Colonial Bengal (1995) and ‘Tracking the Ephemeral: Elokeshi-Nabin-Mohanto Episode and the History of Print in Bengal’ in On Modern Indian Sensibilities: Culture, Politics, History (2018). She manages the blog pastconnect.net.

PRINT AND PUBLISHING IN COLONIAL BENGAL The Journey of Bidyasundar

Tapti Roy

First published 2019 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2019 Tapti Roy The right of Tapti Roy to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN: 978-1-138-62511-2 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-429-39757-8 (ebk) Typeset in Sabon by Apex CoVantage, LLC

FOR ANIMESH, ANWITA AND ANGAD, THE A’S IN MY LIFE

CONTENTS

List of figures Acknowledgements

viii ix

Introduction

1

1

Bards in court: birth of a text

25

2

Publishers in city: birth of a book

50

3

Missionary among critics: start of reviews

75

4

Actors on stage: recreation of the fable

100

5

Tale among tales: the spread of print

120

6

Slokas from the past: reproduction of the legend

140

7

Intellectuals in discussion: reinstating the classic

165

Epilogue

183

Select bibliography Index

188 202

vii

FIGURES

1.1 2.1 2.2 2.3 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6

Bharat Chandra in the Court of Krishna Chandra, 1868 Front Page of Annadamangal, 1823 Annada and Shiva, 1823 Bidya and Sundar: first sight, 1823 Bidya and Sundar in Bidya’s room as her friends look on, 1889 Annada on the ferry, 1874 Bidya and Sundar: first sight, 1874 Rani berating Bidya, 1874 Sundar in court as prisoner, 1874 Bidya and Sundar blessed, 1874

viii

31 56 57 57 149 159 160 160 161 161

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

My forays into reading Bengali literature systematically led me from the high portals of refinement to the indulgent domain of ordinariness. The project received a boost with the opportunity that a scholarship gave me of researching for three months at the India Office Library in London way back in 1992. Quarter of a century later, I have been able to bring closure to the project in a manner I could never have imagined then. Not only has the book taken a shape that is completely different from what I had inchoately imagined it to be, it has been written under circumstances that were beyond anything I could have envisaged. I started reading when I was a scholar at an institution when it was still Calcutta. Decades later, unfettered by any institutional support or sustenance, I found the opportunity to continue work in the British Library and the Cambridge University Library for some years. The outcome has I hope favourably reflected on the shape of research and the nature of the book. Strictly speaking, I have ceased being a professional ‘scholar’ since 1993 even though I continued to write history and teach it too. I have survived the challenge of having to tutor uninitiated students and write for non-specialist readers. I hope I have been able to use the experience – while not losing sight of the rules of research – to the advantage of writing this book. It contains many stories that not only record aspects of the history of printing and publishing hitherto untold, but also recounts them in a manner that may seem somewhat ‘unconventional.’ That I had the confidence of travelling this route and was able to sustain the belief that I will reach the end, and in the manner in which I did, is because of the faith, trust and support of scholars, friends and family. My guru has and will always be Gautam Bhadra, to whom I owe my intellectual grooming but who is no way responsible for my errant wanderings and unattained rigour and discipline. This is my promised ix

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

offering to him, as it brings to fruition his years of support and constant prodding and his hope and patience that the book would happen, for which I am immensely grateful. He told me how to kick this project off and the rest of the chapters took shape in its wake. The first time I wrote a draft of a scheme for the book, tentative and unsure, it was Kumkum Chatterjee, who by endorsing it with her charitable comments and excellent suggestions, gave me the confidence to carry on. All through the years of research and writing, I have missed Kumkum dearly. This book has been as much of putting together my reading and reflections as an exercise in building and sustaining confidence that I owe to my scholar friends, who read, vetted and commented on different chapters. I am immensely thankful to Sudeshna Guha for befriending me in a new place, for supporting me, for criticising me and keeping me intellectually grounded. At different stages of working, I had taken Joyshree Ghosh’s time for granted and imposed on her several drafts of writing, and she never declined to read and respond and do her best to keep my drive going with her positive comments. The person who stood by me with her implicit understanding of my struggles has been Tapati Guha-Thakurta; she helped me in as many ways as she could as well as constantly nudged me to complete the book. I hope the book will justify her belief in my ability. Indira Chaudhuri’s encouraging comments on the scheme of the book made a real difference at a time when my spirits were beginning to fray. Suman Ghosh and Baijayanti Ray were good enough to take time off their schedule and read the Introduction and share their views for which I am grateful. I would like to thank Kamalika Mukherjee for always finding time for my nagging demands on her for information from Kolkata. My close friends, Sujata Ghosh and Tikli Basu, I know will be happy I have done it. It is difficult to express the contribution of all friends or to thank them enough for standing by me while I trudged along. I wish to thank Eivind Kahrs for finding time to explain the meaning of Chorpanchashat and help me appreciate the poetry and the pun. After the manuscript was complete, it was Rosinka Chaudhuri who read it very carefully and recommended it for publication, making some critical comments that helped me correct mistakes and improve it. I am truly beholden to her. x

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Finally, I am extremely grateful to Shashank S. Sinha of Routledge India for agreeing to have a read of the proposal and for taking it forward and to Antara Ray Chaudhury, Rimina Mohapatra and Kate Fornadel for patiently bearing with me. The two anonymous readers of the proposals had in their own differing ways bolstered my morale. This book is because of my family who have been with me through all the ups and downs, emotional as well as physical. I would not have been able to write this book anywhere else but staying and using the libraries in England where my husband Animesh moved and generously and happily funded my research. Anwita, who was a toddler when I was writing the first book, is now more sensitive to what her mother does, and I hope more pleased. My sister Urmi Ray uncomplainingly read several of my chapters unaware that I was using her to test if they would be of interest to a wider readership. From far and near, Sriparna Ray and Arijit Ray have been unfailing in pampering me. To see it through is the only way I can thank them all. This book is also for my parents – to my father who I know would have liked to read this and to my mother who through all her own sadness will be cheered at seeing it complete, and to my mother-in-law who I hope will find some romance in it. July 2018

xi

INTRODUCTION

The reconstruction of book history in 19th-century Bengal must involve recreating a pattern much like stitching a quilt of dissimilar and variegated threads, materials, sizes and stitches. The ensemble includes different kinds of initiatives and dissimilar outcomes at different times that cohered within the field of printing and publications. These various initiatives are not hard to find for imprinted on a single book and its different editions were signs of multiple efforts of dissimilar kinds that came together within the defined arena of activities that included them and were in turn constituted by them. And the conditions that made any of it possible were laid out by the introduction of the technology of printing in Bengal, the opportunity of publishing and the enterprise of the local people to make use of them. These came to operate within the context of a preexisting custom and tradition of composing and ‘consuming’ the written word and of a new scheme of writing books introduced by the British and adopted by the local Bengalis. Every published book carried its own history in a unique combination of these features. While printing was new, publishing of texts was not since there existed older means of putting out literary compositions to the public in the preprint custom of copying, reading and performance.1 Printing enabled the production of many more copies of the same text and demanded that they be disbursed; books were products that were priced and sold in the market. Whatever the intent of a piece of writing may have been, whatever the quality of content and production, every printed book was the creation of an enterprise, a product made with the objective of circulation and dissemination, in most cases for profit. Commerce and book production were mates from the beginning. ‘From its earliest days printing existed as an industry; the book was a piece of merchandise which men produced before anything to earn a living.’2 It held true like elsewhere for Bengal too. 1

INTRODUCTION

Printing was introduced in Bengal in the late 18th century but took off significantly from the early 19th century,3 when British evangelical missionaries set up a printing press called Baptist Mission Press in Srirampur in 1800 for purposes of spreading the Christian word.4 Their resources were soon marshalled by the government of the East India Company for producing textbooks to educate young novices freshly arrived from Britain, in Indian languages, custom and traditions. Despite their expertise at the use of technology, the British required the assistance of the local people to discharge essential functions of typesetting and compositing words in their language.5 These involved two major tasks –crafting letters from wood or metal and arranging them to form words and sentences. The high caste Bengalis, largely Brahmins who could read and write, partnered with more humble craftsmen from the artisanal castes to collaborate with the foreign masters. In the process, the local Bengalis learnt the craft and the technique of printing books. They made use of their expertise, combining the new mechanical innovation with traditional literary practices since writing and use of texts had a long lineage and a strongly entrenched convention. In preprint times, handwritten manuscripts production, composition, copying and oration of texts constituted active professional fields. It thus made for a not so difficult transition, and we find that not long after the introduction of printing press in Bengal, members of the native community beginning to participate in the business of producing, selling, buying, acquiring and consuming books.6 The scribal and oral world of Bengal that had been shaped around writing and copying of manuscripts to be read aloud and listened to and brought together a medley of people – literate and unlettered, high castes and lowly, rich and indigent, men and women, adults and children, now served as the mainstay for the production and circulation of printed books. The wide use of texts that existed not only encouraged the publication of printed books but also ensured the latter’s easy induction into an already existing field of text generation and dispersion. Within two decades of printing coming to Bengal, therefore, the active participation of the local community complemented that of the British. Printing was started by the missionaries in the village of Srirampur by the river Hugli, 16 miles north of Calcutta. Denied presence in the capital by officials of the East India Company who feared reprisals from local Indians against their proselytising zeal, the missionaries operated from Srirampur, a Danish colony. The first generation of scholar missionaries led by William Carey, Joshua Marshman and Charles Wilkins, set up the Baptist Mission Press 2

INTRODUCTION

in 1800 to publicise Christian catechism; the print copy of the New Testament was completed the following year. They learnt the local languages that people wrote and spoke, as well as classical Sanskrit. The Press invested in costly fonts and types for several Indian languages. ‘By 1805 the Serampore Mission Press could print any work in Bengali, Urdu, Oriya, Tamil, Telegu, Kanarese, or Marathi.’7 In 1800, the governor general of India Lord Wellesley set up the Fort William College in Calcutta to train fresh recruits from England in the service of the Company. He also made the study of Bengali compulsory and invited William Carey to be the first teacher of the vernacular. Carey was later asked to oversee the study of Sanskrit as well. Together with his associates, Carey began work on compiling a grammar but soon realised that they also had to find appropriate textbooks for teaching languages to the novices. What was available as literature in Bengali was composed in verse, religious in content and thus for the most part unsuitable for learning. Carey selected local Bengali scholars and Brahmin pundits and tutored them in the Western scheme of writing books in prose.8 Thereafter, prose texts were produced-written by the new Bengali authors and printed by the Mission Press, as textbooks for the College. The more basic craft of making wooden and later metal blocks of letters continued to be done by the modest artisans while members of the upper castes composed the text. Thus, three sets of local Bengalis were mobilised into action – the scholar/pundit, the Brahmin compositor and the low caste artisan. The native Indians recognised the potential for growth in the business of books. A man from North India, Baburam, set up a printing press in Calcutta to reprint the textbooks that Baptist Missionary Press published for the Fort William College. Within the first decade of 19th century, local Bengalis started their own ventures in printing and publishing. They must have had good reasons to find this to be an enterprise worth pursuing, and their drive in the early phase offers us a crucial lead to track preexisting practices of text creation and consumption and their gradual transformation under the print regime. For unlike Baburam, these printers and pioneers looked to the Bengalis as their putative customers. There was an opportunity for publishing older manuscripts, extant and widely available, of epics, puranas, books of scriptures and of religious stanzaic verses. But there was equally an incentive to author new texts. The rise of a new urban settlement in Calcutta where large numbers of people congregated offered an appropriate setting for the generation and sale of printed books. Old habits in new habitats made interesting pairing. Manuscripts were 3

INTRODUCTION

turned into printed books often with substantial textual emendations that the new technology made possible at the hands of a new group of men called editors. Authors started writing new texts, some along the lines of older ones, some after the new fashion introduced by the British. Very soon in the 1820s, a variety of books appeared in the field of printing and publication. And a host of people became involved. Apart from the publisher and printers who were entrepreneurs, there were editors, authors, craftsmen of typesetters, artists for pictures and designs, and sellers and distributors. These were a motley lot, united by the common purpose of making their venture of publishing books profitable. They worked hard to make books sell. Out in the unknown and uncharted till later, were the consumers-readers and listeners. Printing and publishing became busy and increasingly competitive soon after its inception in the first decade of the 19th century. It was not only books that were being produced but newspapers, magazines and journals appeared in growing numbers. Following the example set by the British missionaries, local Bengalis began publishing journals and newspapers and it was not uncommon for a Bengali entrepreneur to print books and bring out a journal or a newspaper in parallel.9 The latter kept the printing machines running and helped optimise resources while also augmenting commercial potentials through advertising and publicity. These journals and newspapers contributed substantially in keeping the field of publishing alive with discussions and comments on books and their quality, on tastes and preferences, on literary traditions, modern practices especially since there was quite a variety to comment on – newly written books, older writings remodelled or manuscripts printed. Books catered to a host of purposes and predispositions that ranged from scholarly, sacred and profound to light hearted, entertaining and at times deliberately irreverential. Literary efforts and outcomes as the books showcased crisscrossed and overlapped. It was a process that was long in the making. The steady growth in this field was not overlooked, and journals edited and run by the British missionaries often carried notices on books, their numbers and quality. The British state took its time to attend to this field of local initiative and made its responsibility to take stock of books produced by the subjects, only when it seemed urgent following the uprising of 1857 in large swathes of northern India. Largely prescribed by missionaries and scholars who were now engaged by the government in the task of scrutinising books and cataloguing them, a broad scheme of auditing emerged and came to be followed. All printed books were catalogued in accordance to the 4

INTRODUCTION

subjects they covered, with separate mention of the publishing houses, year of publication and circulation figures. The last column was often reserved for comments of the compiler of books who was supposed to be vigilant about the quality of printed books. Therefore, labels marked good books that were useful, refined and produced well from the bad ones that were found wanting on all scores. This structure of ordering and marking books seemed to minimise subjective reading and therefore reports compiled by different record keepers were often written in the same vein.10 When Bengalis responded to these notices they did not always agree with the British labels on books though they did not question the larger sorting plan. Refined books of improved and superior quality and books of lowly standards and cheap taste stood as opposites of one another and the difference emerged as one of the most significant defining features and descriptor for the entire field of 19th and early 20th century printing and publishing. Discussions from the Bengali press came thick and fast in books reviews, comments, literary histories, introductions to new writings on the past, present and future of the custom, practices and culture of print. Modern scholarships have produced nuanced and sophisticated studies within this scheme of separating good books from bad. But the discourse is invariably predicated upon the twofold sorting of intellectual and the pulp with an uncertain middle ground. To substantiate this scheme of division of books, there would have to be obfuscation of the process through which books evolved over the first half of the century, engaging people, machines and commerce in a shared world of new opportunities with fading and emerging fashions that connected literary, cultural and social practices, past and present. So, is there still an untold story? The account of Annadamangal and Bidyasundar, the course of their journey in the world of books and the many transformations they were made to undertake cannot all be fitted into any of the frames of book histories available. It is, however, significant because the trajectory of the path they were to follow touched upon critical moments of print history in the 19th century. The two together made up the book that a Bengali entrepreneur printed for the first time in Calcutta in 1816. The continuous presence of the two texts throughout the century and their changing forms in print compels us to search for a different history which includes differences but is neither constituted nor limited by them. As a printed book, the texts lent themselves to alterations and emendations. Bidyasundar began a travel on its own, with quite unexpected consequences. In the widely followed account 5

INTRODUCTION

of printing in Bengal, there has been no scope for matching the story of the books Annadamangal and Bidyasundar.

The texts As texts, Annadamangal and Bidyasundar need to be introduced. They belong to a literary genre known as mangalkabya that referred to verses composed in honour of a god to seek her/his blessings in the hope of ‘mangal,’ or well-being. Intended to be read out and listened with deep piety, the verses regaled the powers and greatness of one patron god, through tales based on the lives of mortals affected by divine wrath and salvaged by divine blessings. Everyone associated with the ‘kabya’ or poetry – and that included the poet and his patron, readers, raconteurs and listeners – could hope for spiritual benefits. Annadamangal, composed as a paean to goddess Annada, another form of Durga and Annapurna, also contained an encomium to the founder of the family of the raja of Nadia, a principality to the east of Calcutta. His origins were traced to the celestial world of gods. Commissioned in the middle of the 18th century by Krishna Chandra, the raja of Nadia, poet Bharat Chandra Roy, acknowledged his obligation at the end of every verse in the long poem. The text was composed in three sections – Annadamangal, Bidyasundar and Man Singh parba – and was completed in 1752 in the court of Krishnanagar, capital of Nadia. Following its first appearance in print in 1816 Annadamangal proved a trail blazer, and other mangalkabyas followed in print. Chandimangal11 by Kabi Kankan Mukundaram, originally composed in the 16th century, was printed in 1823. Annadamangal and Chandimangal were the most popular of the mangalkabyas, in the print world till the middle of the 19th century, though Manashamangal and Sitalamangal12 were published as well. Annadamangal had 13 editions, and Chandimangal came a close second with 11; Manasamangal had six editions, and Sitala Gaan or Jagaran had one till the end of the 1850s. As the 19th century wore on, mangalkabyas came to be written about in histories of literature and in biographies of poets. Scholars traced the growth and development of mangalkabyas as a distinctive form of sacred compositions from the 13th to the 18th century. Despite being composed over five long centuries, mangalkabyas demonstrated a degree of consistency sharing features that validated the reason for them being classified under a single category. At the beginning, they were composed by rural poets and supported by their surrounding 6

INTRODUCTION

community before whom the compositions were read out and sung. If any mangalkabya became well known and popular, local village scribes wrote it down by hand and made duplicate copies. In course of time, poets of mangalkabyas found support and patronage from the local landlords and then gradually scaled several social rungs to reach the courts of regional kings. Verses sang the praise of a host of local deities and gods revered by sects in the villages. Praises were sung of the principal gods, Shiva, Durga, Saraswati and Ganesh as a preamble before introducing lesser known gods and seeking their place and fame within the pantheon. As a genre, mangalkabyas were defined by ‘characteristics (laksan), which texts and their performances were expected to have.’13 The kabyas were composed and structured so that they could be sung and performed before an audience. A single verse story was divided into separate ‘palas,’ or sections, that were aligned to a schedule of recitation and singing. For example, Chandimangal and later Annadamangal were sung over eight days, each day comprising two sessions of performance that stretched from afternoon to late evening and then late evening to midnight. The entire text was divided into 16 palas. Each pala contained episodes described in different poetic styles and rhythms. The larger narrative in every mangalkabya was arranged keeping this convention in mind.14 The penultimate session, an all-night affair, was designated ‘jagaran’ (keeping awake). All mangalkabyas ended after an afternoon session. Since they were intended for spiritual experience, the sessions of reciting and singing as well as listening were organised as ceremonies. They were regarded as no ordinary verses, since it was believed that they were outcomes of directives from god or goddess. No human imagined them; composers simply followed instructions from gods, transmitted through dreams. The invocation of the gods in the course of the recitation and singing ensured that the gods were always present.15 Mangalkabyas assumed a definite pattern and structure by the 15th century and hereafter ceased to be new or imaginative.16 The chief elements, comprising each, became repetitive and mnemonic. They began with salutations to different gods with Ganesh in the lead, followed by retelling of myths involving Sati, Parvati and Shiva. The central deity was introduced often through tales of origins, and the ovation was built into a narrative that described the manner in which divine powers affected human lives. Chronicles of the lives of ordinary mortals were therefore essential to affirm and establish the greatness of the deity. 7

INTRODUCTION

Mangalkabyas contained fascinating reportage of current times. These were achieved by means of conventions that included repeated use of literary imageries and stylistic and sometimes detailed descriptions; they were intended to improve the scope for performance and to enhance the pleasures of listening. Eventually, it was faith and belief that held all participants together and assured collective spiritual experience. Edward C. Dimock describes the custom premised on this faith from reading Sitalamangal: It is an aspect of the grace of the goddess that she allows us to learn – if we have the eyes to see – through poetry and myth rather than through her ignorance-destroying and otherwise edifying visits. To assure the goddess of their enlightenment, the mangala poets invite her, at the beginning of the poems, to come down on to the stage, witness the play, approve of the music, and be pleased by the verse.17 It was the experience of contentment and being ‘pleased’ that were to be the common purpose of composing and performing these verses. The performance had an opera-like structure, ‘complete with arias, duets, trios, choruses (none of these, unfortunately harmonized), and recitative.’18 All participants including the presiding deity were imbued with a feeling of goodness as a total experience. While human situations differed, as did the manifestations of the deities in their lives, authors deployed metaphors and images that they chose from a shared pool of literary devices. For example, all mangalkabyas included Baramasya, a poetic description of 12 months of a year in which the lives of the protagonists, the man and woman, are described in simple, rural terms, a mixture of happiness and sorrow. The verses were beautifully evocative descriptions of seasons and human lives. Some were very poignant when they recounted a woman’s loneliness from being separated from her ‘lover’ for a long stretch of time, each month prolonging the agony, verses redolent of lament and grief.19 Others as in the case of Annadamangal were happy invocation of what possibilities each month held out for the lovers together. Descriptions of beauty comprised a central trope of mangalkabyas. They were particularly significant in Annadamangal, especially in Bidyasundar, the second part. The depictions were affective, intended to evoke the appropriate emotions (bhava) for the ultimate mood (rasa) to prevail and pervade the entire experience of reading and listening. It began with portraying the chief protagonists – Bidya and Sundar. 8

INTRODUCTION

The poet was not alone in describing their handsomeness. Different characters in the tale spoke of their looks in adulatory tones. The poet then narrated the effect their handsomeness had on others. Village women swooned at the sight of Sundar. To emphasise the impact Sundar had on ordinary women a second literary trope, patininda (cursing the husband), was deployed. Women became aware of their own fates wedded as they were to husbands who fared poorly in comparison to the hero. Beauty was also evoked in the depiction of nature and its changing seasons and in man-made cities like Bardhhaman in Bidyasundar. Sketches of town planning and urban settlements and mention of all the different communities that lived in them were details that were intended for augmenting the sense of wonder and delight. From the fictive to his real world, the poet Bharat Chandra registered his own identity mentioning his family and village, names of his parents and forefathers, and lodging his own account in the narrative, reiterating the directives he received from his patron and the goddess to compose the kabya. The ultimate prayer to the goddess was the chant of her praise 34 times, each line beginning with a consonant and called ‘choutisha stob.’ There were descriptions of wars and of burial grounds, elements that created the mood of repulsion before being redeemed by divine mercy. At the end of the tale, the chief protagonists ascended to heaven, having completed their term on earth as they all had been celestial beings cursed to live a lifetime among mortals. While composing Annadamangal, in the court of Krishna Chandra Roy, Bharat Chandra was supposed to have had two assistants, one who wrote the verses down for him and the other who set his verses to tune. The text was subsequently copied several times by local scribes and it was one such copy that found its way to the printing desk.

In print There is nothing on record to explore how the first Bengali publisher, Gangakishore Bhattacharya, decided upon the right manuscript for printing. We can only speculate: that he selected Annadamangal to place his bets on signified that the text must have been popularly used and if so, there were bound to have been several copies of the original manuscript scripted in the court of the raja of Nadia in Krishnanagar. Sacred manuscripts, like mangalkabyas, wrapped carefully in special red cloth were treated with as much awe and reverence as the gods they invoked and shared the same space as the latter, in the inner sanctum of the prayer room. Those who could afford acquired them and 9

INTRODUCTION

cherished them. People must have been aware that rural scribes were notorious for making mistakes in making copies. There was a saying in Bengal that seven copies tattered the original.20 And it was not unusual to find a modest scribe seeking forgiveness in the foreword, should there be any mistakes in his manuscript.21 Manuscripts also seldom survived in their entirety due to normal decay of paper and smudging of handwriting. The last pages were often missing. Scribal errors, however, did not depreciate the sacredness of the text. For they were accessories to faith, not vestiges to reason with and these minor glitches were unlikely to dim their ‘aura.’ The relationship and connections between scribal conventions and printing practices were manifold and were particularly marked in the early years of printing when handwritten manuscripts were being transformed into printed books by the new machine. For a starter, printing recorded the inconsistency of handwritten manuscripts while being compelled by its own rules of order and fixity and the need to offer ‘error-free’ complete scripts. From the very beginning, all manuscripts had to be checked and corrected. Publishers engaged learned scholars for editing, every new edition claiming to be a revised and corrected one, the scope for newer and improved versions never ceasing. Despite all the good intentions, however, discrepancies and inaccuracies remained, as scholar Sukumar Sen discovered while editing Chandimangal in modern times.22 There were physical comparisons to be made as well. Manuscripts, by and large were copied in a continuous line without any break to register poetic metre and often a word would flow on to the following line. With the introduction of print and British insistence on clearer script for the ease of reading, lines in verse were broken in accordance to the rhythm of poetry. In his version of Annadamangal, Gangakishore Bhattacharya kept to the manuscript plan of long continuous lines, without breaking them in any poetic arrangement.23 Changes appeared in the 1823 version of the text but became significant in the later editions of Sanskrit Press. Lines were broken to be in sync with the manner in which the last words rhymed. Yet, Sanskrit Press, the new publishing house started by scholars Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Mrintunjaya Vidyalankar, ‘claimed’ that it was printing for the first time the original manuscript obtained from the court of Krishnanagar. Well into the 1860s, we find a modest publishing house reverting to the older practice of continuous lines not to reiterate ‘authenticity,’ as its many alterations belied, but to save space and paper. The 88-page book was a slimmer edition compared to the 10

INTRODUCTION

192-page one from Sanskrit Press and was on offer for a much cheaper price too.24 Printing, however, registered its own decree on older texts in other ways as Ralph W. Nicholas and Aditinath Sarkar’s study of four mangalkabyas dedicated to Sitala affirm.25 Three of the Sitala texts were manuscripts while the fourth was printed. Regarding the printed version, the authors note, Nityananda Cakravarti was by all odds the foremost composer of poems to Sitala. . . . We know of his work from two Battala26 editions and not from any manuscript sources. The earlier printed version published in Calcutta in 1878 under the title of Sitalar Jagaran Pala is 91 pages of solid type, much longer than any of the manuscripts of which we have knowledge.27 In the title, the book claimed: In metric verse, Sitala’s Jagaran Pala, that is, the narrative of Sitala Devi’s glory in Matsya Desa. Written by Dvija Nityananda, translated by Sri Sivanarayan Simha into metric verse from the language of Orissa. Corrected by Sri Tinkari Biswas. Printed and published by Sri Trailokyanath Datta.28 As hand copied manuscripts were seldom free from errors, a corrected printed version claimed to be an improved one which in a competitive field was publicised as a selling point. While printing did not compromise the spiritual significance of the text and when read out could stir up comparable spiritual experience, it recorded its own presence. The goddess was now saddled with an extra responsibility of preventing copyright violation too. ‘Let Mother Sitala not leave an heir to light the lamp of the lineage of him who seeks to get this, my book, by fraud,’ warned the publisher. For a later edition of 1931, the new publisher, Manik Library, carried a notice that the book had been purchased from ‘Sriyukta Binodbihari Sil,’ the publisher of the 1285 (1878–79) edition. ‘Damages must be paid for the copying of this book according to the notice of 28th July 1931.’29 By this time, more awareness on copyright and penalties that the violations could lead to, relieved Sitala of her vigilance. It is difficult to establish when manuscripts stopped being copied or composed; religious texts continued to be handwritten till the end 11

INTRODUCTION

of the 19th century even when printing had become widespread with increased numbers and cheaper cost. Copying was still regarded as an act of piety as it would seem from a copy of Chandimangal and Kalimangal by Kaileshwar Basu.30 There were two manuscripts, the first Kabi Kankan Mukundaram’s Chandimangal and the second Kalimangal copied by Kaileshwar Basu, dated 1848. At the time of his death in 1885, Midnapur was still some distance away from the centres of printing in and around Calcutta and other suburban towns.31 An undated and incomplete manuscript titled ‘Kalikamangal’ by Bharat Chandra also appears to be copied in the 19th century not only for the use of paper but clear orthography and major omissions of sections of Bidyasundar.32 Handwritten copies of manuscripts, however, were gradually pushed out of fashion. In 1703, it cost 1 rupee to procure a handwritten version of the Virat Parba section of Mahabharata. In 1846, a much larger Shanti Parba was available for 13 annas, 3 annas less than a rupee.33 As professionals, the scribes lost out to the typesetters. This is not to suggest that reading from handwritten manuscripts ceased. Reminiscing his childhood, scholar Adbul Karim recalled sessions of reading from manuscripts in his village home which infused him with a love of literature and his subsequent passion of searching for authentic handwritten texts.34 But despite their admirers, making a living from copying manuscripts was becoming difficult as printed books served the purpose of communal reading and listening better, with no compromise in the spiritual experience. In cities like Calcutta, Dhaka, suburban towns and nearby villages too, books were evidently scoring higher. Nagendranath Basu, historian and the compiler of the first encyclopaedia in Bengali, built up a huge collection of manuscripts by buying them off from hawkers who peddled books in the villages where people unable to pay for them were happy to exchange them for ‘punthi.’35

The experience of books Investigating the effect on the worship of Sitala, Ralph Nicholas argues that printing ushered in fundamental changes especially in the transmission of knowledge which in the manuscript tradition was mediated by a ‘preceptor,’ who tutored his disciples, the handwritten copies often serving ‘mnemonic function.’ The technology of printing completely altered the dynamics between the author and the reader, by throwing open the text to a ‘mass’ market. The market, with the requirement 12

INTRODUCTION

that goods be displayed and attractively priced, and the anonymous relationship that existed between buyer and seller meant that the esoteric element could not be preserved. And the ‘mass’ characteristic of the product means that it had to be standardised.36 Of the four texts of Sitalamangal that Nicholas read, only the one by Nityananada was printed. However, printed decisively tilted the balance in favour of Nityananada as others gradually lost out as a means of disseminating spiritual succour. Both these observations are open to further discussions. For even though in principle, printed books become more widely visible in the public domain, they were used as texts that served mnemonic purposes and as reference to ‘private knowledge’ and/or accessory to instruction in a guru-disciple relationship. Second, there was a lag between the time of the beginning of printing in the early 19th century when literacy levels were as low as 3 per cent and in the 1860s and later when education filtered down and spread among larger population. Religious texts continued to be regarded ‘esoteric’ and required exegetical assistance. Printed religious books, like manuscripts, continued to be revered and shelved in places of worship together with other icons. This awe is extended to all books which in Bengal are regarded sacred, not to be touched or sullied by feet. In the case of a religious text, at the end of a reading, it was common for the narrator to bow his or her head to the book, as would be done to the deity the text addressed. However, it is true that printed books became more viewable, in many more numbers which drew new readers especially from among the British colonists. For Annadamangal and especially Bidyasundar, these different reading audiences proved quite critical in determining their fates thereafter. Regarding ‘standardization,’ the new editions of Annadamangal and Bidyasundar did much more than simply condense the original text, as Nicholas argued. The purpose of our study is to substantiate a contrary position. The significant question, however, hovers over the presence of the scribal, manuscript culture and the new connection that evolved between it and print. Gautam Bhadra in his seminal study of popular printing and publications underlines a critical point. In the 19th and early 20th century, as printing and presses increased in numbers, collecting and editing manuscripts (punthis) on the one hand and reading them gained a new significance. Deciphering an old manuscript became a new pursuit and skill. This skill gathered institutional support from a different source and a new context. In nurturing the development of knowledge about the Orient, it was crucial that older 13

INTRODUCTION

manuscript texts were found and read. Not only were older Sanskrit texts sought after but Bengali manuscripts too became objects of new search. The search for the elusive ‘original’ script, unmediated by the printing press, engaged scholars in the 19th and early 20th century. Printed versions, despite claims of proper editing always had to bear the burden of scrutiny. As Bhadra argues, oriental studies were built largely on the discovery and deciphering of older manuscripts and the practice and politics surrounding the intellectual quest centred on it.37 In the course of 19th century, we come across different book versions of Annadamangal and Bidyasundar in Bengal as examples of the diverse possibilities that print offered and the initiatives of creativity and enterprise it prompted within the colonial, largely urban setting. The multiple and different editions of the same text in print demonstrated differences and fractures within the community of book producers. By tracking them, we become privy to their busy and competitive world that absorbed and reflected continuity as well as change and to the many strategies that they were compelled to deploy for survival and success. We see bearing on these two printed texts, marks of the presence of different readers too, commentators and critics, British as well as native Bengalis. Put together, we see the emergence of a unique ‘culture’ of printing in 19th-century Bengal that interlaced and overlapped space, time, order, categories and their different intersections. Elizabeth Eisenstein’s authoritative study of printing in early modern Europe remains central to the discussion of its impact in the world of letters, both in terms of changes and continuity in practices and traditions of writing and publishing. Of her arguments, two appear as most relevant for our discussion: the first is that we can only reconstruct the experience of the ‘literate elites,’ in the scribal and oral/ aural traditions by tracing back post print trends. It is thus difficult ‘to envisage the existence of a distinctive literary culture based on hand copying. There is not even an agreed upon term in common use which designates the system of written communications that prevailed before print.’38 The second set of observations relates to the effects of printing. It increased productivity that improved exponentially the intake of knowledge, fostering new ideas; it generated multiple copies of the same text thus enabling standardisation by letting many eyes spot the same error and suggest emendations; the consistent format of a printed text that print created helped ‘to reorder thought of all readers’ which in turn helped ‘rationalizing, codifying and cataloguing data’; it helped produce improved versions and had the power to preserve texts. ‘Intellectual and spiritual life, far from remaining 14

INTRODUCTION

unaffected, were profoundly transformed by the multiplication of new tools for duplicating books in fifteenth-century Europe. . . . It is still responsible for our museum without walls.’39 While the possibilities offered by printing that Eisenstein points out are definitive, the people involved and the ‘processes’ that they instituted shaped the cultural field of printing, as Adrian Johns stressed in his debate with Eisenstein. The point that he makes, pertinent to understanding the nature of the field in which printed books operated in Bengal in the 19th century, is that ‘the printing revolution’ was a ‘construct’ devised by people and circumstances. ‘Indeed, the very point of showing how central representations of print were to practices in the printing and bookselling community is to demonstrate the inseparability of social reality and cultural understanding.’ The way printing in Bengal was ‘conditioned’ by history and concurrent social reality is best exemplified in the reports which the British assessors sent to the government. Their enthusiasm at the participation of the local Bengalis in printing and publishing books soon transformed to dismay and disappointment at the kind of books that were being produced. The program that the British had in mind when introducing printing in India and the hopes they harboured for this technology to affect the intellectual space were considerably ‘compromised’ by participation of local printers and publishers. The book market looked very different from what the British missionaries and officials had visualised. The state of book printing, selling and consuming endorsed Johns’ statement, that ‘print is conditioned by history as well as conditioning it’ and that we need to ‘explain the development and consequences of print in terms of how communities involved with the book as producers, distributors, regulators, and readers actually put the press and its products to use.’40 Our attempt through the history of a single text that turned into a popular book is to understand how different groups of people featured in the space of printing in Bengal. I choose for the purpose, Bidyasundar, the second section of the larger text Annadamangal that despite its umbilical links with the latter, was celebrated as a love story in the print and performing worlds of Bengal.

The inescapable choice The choice of Bidyasundar is inescapable. It dominated the space of printing in the 19th century in as many ways as a text possibly could. There were several editions of this text in varying qualities both as a separate book and as a section of the larger mangalkabya. It was 15

INTRODUCTION

central to a range of discussions which followed on printing and production of books. Christian missionaries acting as reviewers on behalf of the East India Company’s government commented both on the content of the book and its popularity. Bengali literati reacted in different ways; some endorsed British views, others opposed them. Erudite editors and scholars turned to compiling histories of older writings that Bidyasundar represented. The enterprising authors encouraged by the opportunity that printing presses offered wrote new romantic tales in the same vein as Bidyasundar. They were new writings in new surroundings with strong connections to older literary practices. In the modified circumstances, these printed texts reverted to the ‘indeterminate space of oral and aural exchange,’41 as books of romance and fantasy were intended to serve public performances. Bidyasundar in this regard was the most significant success story as it came to be adapted for different kinds of performances, rewritten as musical, traditional enactments and stage plays. Largely attributed to repeated printed versions, its familiarity made it an obvious choice for a wide range of permutations. In its various avatars, Bidyasundar brought together people of varied tastes, sensibilities and preferences. As a text composed in the 18th century and as a popular printed book of the 19th century, Bidyasundar journeyed different textual practices. The anecdote of Bidyasundar featured in the biography of Raja Krishna Chandra Roy of Nadia, written by Rajiblochan Mukhopadhyay as a text for students of Fort William College and printed by Srirampur missionary press in 1806.42 The second edition was printed in London in 1811. The account was located in historical times and focused on the engagement of the British in the fight against the local Nawab, Sirajudaulah,43 who was said to have been very cruel to the local Hindu families who turned to Krishna Chandra Roy for leadership and support. The description of Krishna Chandra’s birth was apocryphal, and interestingly the chronicle of the family began with Bhabananda Mazumdar accompanying Man Singh, a general under the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, to Bardhhaman.44 The general on spotting the tunnel asked after it and was narrated the story of Bidya and Sundar. Bhabananda told him that the incident has been described in Chor Panchashat.45 The Mughal general ordered that the book Chor should be brought to him and the verses (slokas) recited.46 There was no mention of Bharat Chandra or Annadamangal in this account and the story of Bidya and Sundar was said to be included in the slokas, not in any kabya. Rajiblochan’s biography was published about the same time as Gangakishore Bhattacharya printed Annadamangal for 16

INTRODUCTION

the first time. Was this elision deliberate on Rajiblochan’s part or was Bharat Chandra not in general consideration and the importance generally ascribed to him was after his fame in the world of print? However, the reference to the love tale of Bidya and Sundar in an account that was historical in purpose is interesting. The present study traces the history of Bidyasundar’s journey in print to outline the way the field and the practices that constituted it evolved in Bengal in the 19th century, under the shadow of older customs and new prescriptions. The fate of Bidyasundar was largely determined by the ‘predicament’ in which it found itself, unwittingly.47 Its plight was governed by a ‘network of communications circuit,’48 in which writers, publishers, printers, distributors, reviewers and readers participated. The afterlife and fate of Bidyasundar as a printed text, extracted from the larger mangalkabya, was arbitrated by these different groups. The role of the 18th-century author was usurped by editors and publishers, with every new edition trying to reach out to larger readership while the manner of its reception was decided by changing literary politics. And then there was the situation of print, determined by the intransigence of the technology and the demands of commerce. Alvin Kernan’s study of mid-18th-century Europe underlines changes from an oral-scribal to a print society. An older system of polite or courtly letters – primarily oral, aristocratic, amateur, authoritarian, court-centered – was swept away at this time and gradually replaced by a new print-based, market-centered, democratic literary system in which the major conceptions and values of literature were, while not strictly determined by print ways, still indirectly in accordance with the actualities of the print situation.49 It is worth exploring how much of this was relevant in colonial Bengal where the technology of the printing press was imported by the British and the initiative of the local Bengalis in printing and publishing books that followed, and came as a pleasant surprise to the ruling classes. Once the printing presses proliferated, the growing ‘hunger’ of the machines was a challenge to meet. Local publishers and entrepreneurs pulled out all stops to keep the machines running. Bidyasundar proved a dependable venture, in its original format as part of the larger Annadamangal, as a stand-alone book and then inserted in a larger compendium volume that included the complete works of Bharat Chandra.50 17

INTRODUCTION

The new and thicker book which was produced contained much more than Annadamangal or Bidyasundar. The latter, however, continued to play a vital role in soliciting new readers by allowing accretions that embellished its original text. New sections linked to the tale of Bidya and Sundar were added and with the success of the larger volume, publishers were happy to supply the market with repeated editions. New editions manifested the intertwining of cultures and commerce at the hands of the imaginative Bengali entrepreneur. Bidyasundar as the quintessential text in print through the course of its journey in the 19th century captured diverse and dissimilar custom and practices of printing in Bengal and the way they were constituted around the efforts and initiatives of the local Bengalis. It prods us to interrogate the stages that are usually believed to have constituted the transition to print culture comprising in that order the oral/aural conventions, practices of manuscript production and the inauguration of commercialisation with mass production of books.51 Bidyasundar embodied all these features in a single book. Bidyasundar from being a sacred text preexisting as what seems a widely known manuscript was converted into a book and set off the inexorable process of commercial printing. That the first edition was intended to augment pleasure in the use and consumption of a book is evident from the insertion of illustrations that depicted critical moments in the texts of Annadamangal and Bidyasundar. And yet, it is difficult to describe Bidyasundar simply as a text of pleasure that enhanced the effects of performances.52 At the same time, its changes and permutations call into question the argument in favour of a continuity of manuscript practices into the print world.53 Shortly after its appearance in print, Bidyasundar acquired features that were typical of a printed book, including reformatting of the text, distribution and reduction of cost, and soon its disaggregation from religious content became imminent. The inauguration of commercial printing and publishing with Annadamangal and Bidyasundar also underlined the temporal difference of Bengal with other regions of India. While the publishing enterprises in Hindi, Urdu and Marathi waited till the introduction of lithography and the emergence of a reading public, Bengal provide quite the exception with the growth and dispersion of printing from the first and second decades of the 19th century.54 It is therefore quite surprising that in the history of printing in Bengal, Bidyasundar never appears except as the undisputed example of ‘lowly literature,’55 or ‘gross and immoral tendency,’ preferred by women of limited intellectual capacity,56 or as inspiring a form of popular song and performance that the 18

INTRODUCTION

working classes of Calcutta sponsored.57 This assimilation of Bidyasundar with popular printing insinuated it within the narrative of another category associated with publishing in Calcutta, the presses of Battala that stood not only for physical presence of printing but a label for qualifying the nature of books produced. Both were imbued with the feature of being undifferentiated and absolute in terms of representing pedestrian efforts and outcome. Tracking the route of Bidyasundar allows us not only to pry into the interwoven efforts of men engaged in the business of publishing but the many fates and lives that they accorded the text.58 In Bengal, ‘Battala,’ the contiguous region in North Calcutta where all cheap printing presses were located, became a generic term to tell apart their relatively inferior quality. Just the mention of the word Battala obviated any further explanation of the kinds of books being referred to for they meant the cheap and ephemeral publications. It is impossible to limit the recovery of the history of Bidyasundar in print, within the space of these contested positions, without shutting out many interlocked aspects of the world of books in 19th-century Bengal. These aspects were related to the larger print history that has unfortunately been restricted to defining and defending the ‘popular’ in opposition to the ‘refined.’ Thus, this scheme of demarcation is unable to include all the events that attend to the birth and sustained growth of Bidyasundar in the field of printing. There is no scope, for example, to discuss how publishers by altering the format of the text drew the notice of British reviewers of books and in the process how the same book came to acquire different features, or the way in which the commercial success of Bidyasundar beckoned other textual and cultural initiatives around it. At the heart of the new book world was a commercial venture that the technology of printing allowed local Bengalis to undertake. The variety of books that appeared in the market reflected different efforts, all of which hoped to be profitable. There certainly were printing presses which aimed at the lower end of the scale and produced books that were hurriedly put together at a small cost for quick turn over. But all printing presses of Battala did not print books of poor quality, and more sophisticated printing presses too picked up popular texts to keep their machines rolling. Annadamangal and Bidyasundar were great levellers. But so were almanacs and school books which were hugely in demand, and no publishing house turned down the possibility of good business. I argue that the domain of the ‘popular’ in 19th-century Bengal was in the process of being constituted for even though it was an indicative 19

INTRODUCTION

and defining word, opinions and perspectives regarding them continued to shift. As different sets of people came to occupy, cohere and determine the field of printing, the frame of ‘acceptability,’ and of ‘rejection,’ kept moving. How Annadamangal and Bidyasundar were read and ‘received,’ as we will see, contributed decisively to its prospects as texts.59 Its popularity, however, proved to be its bane as it increasingly came to be equated with the ‘people,’ untutored in modern learning. Towards the close of the century, a new edition and new format was deliberately contrived to give Bidyasundar back its respectability. The fame of the text remained unaffected as its repeated editions prove. How do we then characterise a text such as Bidyasundar? Different voices and opinions attended upon the text and contributed to its ‘actualization’ in the 19th and early 20th century. Starting from James Long, the Irish missionary and the first official reviewer of books to Indian intellectuals exploring and revitalising intellectual traditions of Bengal commented on Bidyasundar and touched its rebirth in print. Bidyasundar was a good example of a printed book, ‘not merely as a source of ideas and images, but as a carrier of relationships.’60 To pick through different voices and trace Bidyasundar’s journey juxtaposing it with its print and sale is to chart out the field of ‘popular,’ not lowly but one that was in continuous notice. Bidyasundar was everywhere in the 19th century and in different forms – revised, expunged, on stage, in discourse, being condemned or valorised. Even as this discourse was under way, Bidyasundar touched upon larger issues of tradition and modernity, cultural conventions and colonial invasion, popular and elite, past and future. Bidyasundar seemed to have touched various enterprises, signifying its potential to straddle multiple creative and cultural zones as well as signalling their existence in the field. As signifiers of the practices that comprised printing in Bengal, Bidyasundar in its many avatars appear as a crucial filling of blanks. The seven chapters that comprise this book trace the genesis of Annadamangal and Bidyasundar from the 18th century to its transformation in the 19th century and its predominance in the world of letters right till the early 20th century. The chapters are devoted to episodes in the life of Bidyasundar, as a separate book as well as part of the larger Annadamangal with all the attending features that impacted their presence in the world of print. Composed in the 18th-century culture of manuscript production and oral use the journey of Bidyasundar became so inextricably intertwined with the custom and practice of print that one cannot begin the account of the text outside of it. The first biography of Bharat Chandra published in the 1850s 20

INTRODUCTION

described the cultural context in which Annadamangal and Bidyasundar were composed and the genealogy that it followed. Equally critical in the 19th century was the text and the story of Bidyasundar. That is what the first chapter will recount.

Notes 1 Peter Francis Kornicki, Manuscript, Not Print: Sribal Culture in the Edo Period, Journal of Japanese Studies, 32:1, 2006, p. 24. 2 Lucien Febre and Henri-Jean Martin, The Coming of the Book, London: Verso, 1994, p. 109. 3 In the 18th century, printing presses owned by the Europeans were concentrated around Tank Square in the White Town where they lived, away from the Black Town of the natives. 4 There were government presses set up in the late 18th century and James A. Hickey’s press in Calcutta. 5 Charles Wilkins, referred to as the Indian Caxton was the first to cut punches for the first Bengali font with his own hands. He later trained Panchanan Karmakar, a Bengali blacksmith. 6 Those who could not read, and there were more in this category than those who could, were avid listeners of texts being read out. 7 David Kopf, British Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance: The Dynamics of Indian Modernization 1773–1835, California: University of California Press, 1969, pp. 69–71. 8 Kumkum Chatterjee, The Cultures of History in Early Modern IndiaPersianization and Mughal Culture in Bengal, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 123–154. 9 The missionaries began by publishing a monthly news magazine, Digdarshan, in 1818, followed in the same year by the weekly Bengali magazine called Samachar Darpan. An English daily called The Friend of India was started in 1821. 10 Farina Mir, however, cautions us against the use of British catalogues without circumspection as ‘they more accurately record colonial classification, codification, and epistemology’ than the actual activity of print. See, Farina Mir, The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010, pp. 65–66. 11 Verse in praise of goddess Chandi, another form of Kali. 12 Verses in praise of Manasha, the goddess of snakes, and Sitala, goddess of smallpox. 13 David L. Curley, Poetry and History-Bengali Mangal-kabya and Social Change in Precolonial Bengal, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2008, p. 17. 14 Ashutosh Bhattacharya, Bangla Mangalkabyer Itihash, Enlarged 6th ed., Calcutta: A. Mukherji, 1975, pp. 11–14. 15 In India, although writing was known from a very early date, the highest traditions of religion and culture were preserved chiefly by oral

21

INTRODUCTION

means. Even when texts were committed to writing, and later to print, the oral medium remained primary and most respected.

16 17 18 19

20

21 22

23 24 25

26 27 28 29 30 31

See Milton Singer, Traditional India: Structure and Change, Philadelphia: The American Folklore Society, 1959, Preface. Bhattacharya, Bangla Mangalkabyer Itihash, pp. 20–55 and Curley, Poetry and History-Bengali Mangal-kabya and Social Change in Precolonial Bengal, p. 17. Edward C. Dimock, A Theology of the Repulsive: Myth of the Goddess Sitala, in J.S. Hawley and Donna M. Wulff (eds.), The Divine Consort, Berkeley: University of Berkeley, 1982, p. 138. Ralph W. Nicolas, Sitala and the Art of Printing: The Transmission and Propagation of the Myth of the Goddess of Smallpox in Rural West Bengal, Studies in History, New Delhi: Sage, 1994, p. 172. Shantanu Phukan, ‘Through Throats Where Many Rivers Meet’: The Ecology of Hindi in the World of Persian, Indian Economic & Social History Review, 38:1, 2001, p. 39, Curley, Poetry and History-Bengali Mangal-kabya and Social Change in Precolonial Bengal, p. 17. Sudhibhushan Bhattacharya, Mangalchandir Gaan, Calcutta: Calcutta University, 1965, p. 4. Bhattacharya discusses differences in spelling, attributed to either the ignorance of the scribes and narrators or to variations in usage in different parts. Editors disagreed if all spellings should be standardised when printing though no one questioned the need to correct mistakes of scribes, often men of modest intellect. Jatindramohan Bhattacharya, Punthir pore boyee, in Chittaranjan Bandyopadhyay (ed.), Dui Shotoker Bangla Mudran O Prakashan, Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1981, p. 26. Sukumar Sen (ed.), Chandimangal, Calcutta: Sahitya Academy, 1993, Introduction, p. 11. See, J.A.B Van Buitenan, Written Texts and Their Preservation, in Edward C. Dimock Jr. (ed.), The Literatures of India: An Introduction, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1974, p. 34. Bhattacharya, Punthir pore boyee, p. 24. Annadamangal, corrected having seen the original text of Krishnanager Royal Palace, Sanskrit Press, Calcutta. 1847. Bidyasundar, Calcutta: Sudhasindhu Press, owned by Ramkanai Das, 1868. Ralph W. Nicholas and Aditinath Sarkar, The Fever Demon and the Census Commissioner-Sitala Mythology in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Bengal, in Asian Studies Center, Michigan: Michigan State University, East Lansing, 1976, pp. 3–68. The region in north Calcutta where a large number of popular presses were huddled, in course of time lending a generic label to all books produced here. Nicholas and Sarkar, The Fever Demon and the Census Commissioner, p. 5. Datta became a very busy publisher of popular books as we will have occasion to discuss. Ibid., pp. 5–6. I am grateful to Suman Ghosh, his great-great-grandson for this information. The manuscript was handed over to the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad in 1910. It is currently in Asiatic Society, Calcutta.

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32 This is evident from reading this manuscript in Manuscriptorium, Lipika Bhavan, Rabindra Bhavan, Visva-bharati University collection. 33 Chintaharan Chakrabarti, Value and Importance of Manuscripts in Olden Times, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1950, p. 256 and Amiya P. Sen, Explorations in Modern Bengal c.1800–1900 Essays on Religion, History and Culture, New Delhi: Primus Books, 2010, p. 14. 34 Quoted in Gautam Bhadra, Nera Battolai Jai Kaw’bar, Calcutta: Chhatim Books, 2011, p. 10. 35 Manuscript. Sukumar Sen, Battalar Chhapa O Chobi, Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1989, pp. 59–60. 36 Ralph W. Nicolas, Sitala and the Art of Printing: The Transmission and Propagation of the Myth of the Goddess of Smallpox in Rural West Bengal, in Mahadev L. Apte (ed.), Mass Culture, Language and Arts in India, Papers presented at a Symposium at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1978, pp. 152–180. 37 Bhadra, Nera Battolai Jai Kaw’bar, pp. 3–47. Rajendralal Mitra, a tireless scholar in search of manuscripts, found one on a birch bark which was supposed to be worn as amulet. See Sen, Explorations in Modern Bengal, p. 14. 38 Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, p. 6. 39 Ibid., p. 275. 40 Adrian Johns, How to Acknowledge a Revolution, American Historical Review, 107:1, February 2002, 123. 41 Jack Goody (ed.), Literacy in Traditional Societies, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968, Introduction, p. 1. 42 I am grateful to Kumkum Chatterjee for this reference. 43 The last independent ruler of Bengal. 44 Bhabananda Mazumdar was the founder of the family and Krishna Chandra Roy’s ancestor and Man Singh, the Mughal general in Bengal. 45 Fifty poetic stanzas that Sundar is supposed to have chanted. Discussed at length in Chapter 6. 46 Rajiblochan Mukhopadhyay, Maharja Krishnachandra Rayasya Charitra, London, 1811, p. 11. 47 I borrow the term from Peter McDonald who suggests that as texts are situated as ‘material forms with a specific status in the field, the first task of any literary analysis is not to interpret their meaning, but to reconstruct their predicament.’ See Peter D. McDonald, British Literary Culture and Publishing Practice 1880–1914, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 13. 48 Ibid., p. 18. 49 Alvin Kernan, Printing Technology, Letters & Samuel Johnson, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987, p. 4. 50 This was comparable to the Book of Hours that were printed in large quantities in 16th-century France. It provided the basic market for the publishing profession since it catered to both ‘notable’ and ‘popular’ clientele. Roger Chartier, The Cultural Uses of Print in Early Modern France, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987, p. 150. 51 Ulrike Stark, An Empire of Books: The Naval Kishore Press and the Diffusion of the Printed Word in Colonial India, Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2007, p. 4.

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52 Francesca Orsini, Print and Pleasure: Popular Literature and Entertaining Fictions in Colonial North India, New Delhi: Orient Black Swan, 2009, p. 10. 53 Christopher A. Bayly, Empire and Information-Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 242. 54 See, Stark, An Empire of Books, Orsini, Print and Pleasure, and Veena Naregal, Language Politics, Elites, and the Public Sphere: Western India under Colonialism, New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001, p. 179. 55 Jibananda Chattopadhyay, Battalar Basantak, Samakaleen, 16 (Jyastha, 1375), 1968. 56 Anindita Ghosh, Power in Print: Popular Publishing and the Politics of Language and Culture in a Colonial Society, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 85, 160. 57 Sumanta Bannerjee, The Parlour and the Street: Elite and Popular Culture in Nineteenth Century Bengal, Kolkata: Seagull Books, 1989, pp. 103–105. 58 Gautam Bhadra’s account, however, takes note of Bidyasundar as a part of the larger ‘revered’ text and the role of differing publishing initiatives in the creation of the book. Gautam Bhadra, Nera Battolai Jai Kaw’bar, pp. 146–147. 59 Roger Chartier suggests, To reconstruct this process of the ‘actualization’ of texts in its historical dimensions first requires that we accept the notion that their meanings are dependent upon the forms through which they are received and appropriated by their readers (or hearers). The Cultural Uses of Print in Early Modern France, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987, Introduction. 60 Natalie Zemon Davis, Printing and People, in Society and Culture in Modern France, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1987, p. 192.

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1 BARDS IN COURT Birth of a text

Gangakishore Bhattacharya, the first Bengali to start a publishing house in Kolkata, in 1816 launched his business with Annadamangal and Bidyasundar. The double ‘firsts’ proved opportune as both native enterprise in printing and publication in Bengal and the text in print went on to enjoy remarkable careers. ‘For the entire 19th century, no other Bengali text was so widely publicized and read in Bengal,’ observed Brajendranath Bandhyopadhyay and Sajanikanta Das in the introduction to a new version of Bharat Chandra Roy’s complete works they edited in 1943.1 Bhattacharya’s choice may have been an obvious one since Annadamangal and Bidyasundar were already familiar in the world of print even if they had not been printed as a separate book. Words and phrases incorporated in Bengali grammars and dictionaries compiled by the British contained examples from both texts, particularly the latter.2 With the growth of printing business, the popularity of the texts and the fame of the poet persisted to increase manifold. The attention and publicity that Annadamangal and Bidyasundar attracted during the 19th century paralleled the unprompted and unexpected growth of indigenous publishing practice and enterprise of the period. The text featured in different forms and formats at critical moments and junctures of printing history in Bengal. Much like the narrative it enclosed, episodes embedded in one another and the reciting of each referring to the other, the history of Annadamangal and Bidyasundar in print constantly alluded to different practices and moments of publishing in Bengal of the period. Nearly 40 years after Annadamangal and Bidyasundar were printed, the biography of its composer, Bharat Chandra, was published in a monthly journal called Sambad Prabhakar. Written by its editor, a poet, Ishwar Gupta, it was part of a series on the lives of Bengali poets that appeared regularly in the journal between 1853 and 1855. Bharat 25

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Chandra’s biography, which was the longest in the series, was printed as a separate book in 1855. Sambad Prabhakar began as a weekly paper in 1831, became a daily newspaper from 1839 and in 1853 started publishing a monthly journal, alongside. In the span of these years, Sambad Prabhakar acquired a separate printing press in 1846. It was one of the examples of the practice of publishing journals initiated by the British missionaries in Srirampur and followed by the Bengalis. The local publishers realised that journals and newspapers offered a good platform for sharing news and views; they were excellent means of advertising and publicity and equally important, they kept printing presses engaged in between producing books. The monthly edition of Sambad Prabhakar was started from the beginning of the Bengali year 1260 (1 Baisakh) which fell somewhere around the second week of April 1853. From the 1st of April, the newspaper began carrying regular insertions, announcing the proposed commencement of a weekly which among other matter, intended to publish profiles of famous figures.3 The series that started appearing from September 1853 featured Bengali poets and songwriters. Ishwar Gupta introduced it with an essay titled ‘Prachin Kabi,’ laying down the objectives behind the exercise. He wanted young educated Bengalis to be aware of the older poets and to be sensitive to their capabilities and talents for composing rich and melodious poetry of fine quality. Schooled under the British education system young Bengalis, Gupta felt, were losing touch with their own traditions, their only exposure to native poetry being lewd and crass songs by lowly jatra singers in the local bazaars which they understandably found despicable. Ishwar Gupta made a passionate appeal to everybody in the publishing world to help give back to Bengali poetry the notice and regard it deserved. The biography series was in two parts – of poets and of songwriters or Kabiwallahs as they were widely called. The accounts began in the early 18th century with the birth of Bharat Chandra Roy and ended with Ram Basu and Lakshmikanta Biswas who sang and performed in and around Calcutta, till the third decade of 19th century.4 They were not published in any chronological order nor were they of the same length.5 Bharat Chandra, unsurprisingly the longest, was the first to be published. Ishwar Gupta worked tirelessly for ten years to gather information on the poets, especially Bharat Chandra who had been dead almost a century. There was nothing recorded in writing and memories had faded. Fortunately, one of his sons, Ramtanu Roy, was still alive and Gupta was able to meet him to gather first-hand knowledge about 26

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his father. The biography that Gupta put together remained the only complete one that was written of Bharat Chandra Roy. Gupta’s writing became something of a model and it became a convention to reprint it as preface to all editions of Bharat Chandra’s works, later in the course of the 19th century. It was customary to publish Bharat Chandra Roy’s masterpiece, Annadamangal, framed within the context of the times he lived in and circumstances he wrote under. While in the 19th century, Gupta’s version was reproduced, in the 20th century, scholars and editors like Bandyopadhyay and Das revalidated it with critical comments, indicating facts and figures that Ishwar Gupta may have got wrong. But all acknowledged unequivocally that but for his singular effort and tireless exploration, most of what is known of the poet’s life would have been lost. Gupta and Sambad Prabhakar memorialised Bharat Chandra and Annadamangal in the age of print.

The poet Following the chronology of the text, Annadamangal and Bidyasundar, we begin with the events that constituted the life and times of Bharat Chandra Roy. He was born to Narendranarayan Roy, called Raja locally, who was a well-respected Brahmin zamindar with lands in pargana Bhurshoot within the kingdom of Bardhhaman, an estate north west of Calcutta. The Roy family lived in a village called Pero and the people called their home encircled as it was by a wall and moat, a ‘garh,’ or fort. Narendranarayan Roy had four sons among whom Bharat Chandra was the youngest. The family fortunes seemingly well entrenched suddenly took a downturn when Narendranarayan Roy fell afoul of the Dowager queen of Bardhhaman, Maharani Bishnukumari. It was believed that he had made uncharitable comments regarding the Maharani who in a rather dramatic manner ordered two of her Rajput generals to reclaim Bhurshoot. She threatened to kill her young son and starve herself to death if the Raja wasn’t evicted and his land attached to the kingdom. The generals led a force of 10,000 and occupied two forts in Bhurshoot. The following morning, Maharani Bishnukumari marched to the fort in Pero to find that Roy had fled with his sons and other male members of his staff leaving women in great anguish. Bishnukumari assured them that she would not harm any of them. She granted some land for the maintenance and upkeep of the local temple but did not return the wealth and land seized from the Roy family. 27

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Narendranarayan and his family turned destitute overnight forcing the sons to fend for themselves. Bharat Chandra went to live with his mother’s family in Noapara, a village in pargana Mandalghat. While he was there, he studied treatises of grammar and lexicon and by the age of 14, acquired quite a bit of expertise in both. He also married a Brahmin girl from an adjoining village. His older brothers were upset both with his choice of study and his early marriage. They reprimanded him for adding to his liabilities without taking any proper steps towards earning a proper living. Grammar and lexicon, they feared, would not fetch him a profitable job. The reprimand prompted Bharat Chandra to move further away to the south in the Hugli district where he lodged with the family of Ramchandra Munshi, a Kayastha. He began his studies in Persian in the hope of finding work with the state bureaucracy. Leaving his wife in her parent’s home, Bharat Chandra adopted the Spartan life of a young student, devoting himself completely to study. The only pastime he indulged in was to compose verses in Sanskrit and Bengali, and these he shared with no one. One day, Ramchandra Munshi arranged for satyanarayan puja which is usually accompanied by readings from a katha, or a short laudatory text dedicated to the god. He asked Bharat Chandra to do the reading. Instead of reciting from a manuscript, Bharat Chandra composed his own katha. The high quality of verse that he chanted left everyone spellbound. When at the end of the recitation, Bharat Chandra disclosed that he was the composer, the listeners went into raptures over his extraordinary poetical skills. His listeners thought his gift for verse, divine. Bharat Chandra was around 15 or thereabouts when he was supposed to have written this panegyric to satyanarayan. By the age of 20, Bharat Chandra had penned another long verse, putting to use his knowledge of languages and loaning words from Persian, Sanskrit and Hindi. Having gained a degree of mastery over two classical languages, Persian and Sanskrit, Bharat Chandra returned to his family – parents and brothers – none among them being as educated as he was. The family had meanwhile returned to the kingdom of Bardhhaman and leased a small portion of land. The brothers wanted Bharat Chandra to put his education to use in the royal court by taking care of their revenues and other interests connected with property. Bharat Chandra moved to Bardhhaman. His brothers, however, failed to send revenue on time, and their property was again confiscated by the state. When Bharat Chandra tried to plead their case, he was falsely implicated in a conspiracy and imprisoned. Bharat 28

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entreated with the local jailor, telling him how the revenue could still be retrieved and promising him to leave the kingdom of the Bardhhaman Raj if he was freed. The jailor warned him that he must go far because the Bardhhaman Raj’s authority was spread wide. Bharat Chandra travelled south to Cuttack, in Orissa then under Mahratha rule and met Shiva Bhatt, the local Subehdar or magistrate and gained his protection and permission to visit different Hindu temples and monasteries in the region, including Puri, free of charge. Similar hospitality was extended to his attendant, Raghunath. In the monastery of Purushottam, Bharat Chandra lived off the offerings made by the local palace. Most of his time was spent studying Bhagawat and scriptures from the Vaishnav order and discoursing with local scholars.6 He severed links with his domestic, householder’s life, even taking to wearing saffron clothes, in the manner of religious mendicants. Circumstances took a different turn when a group of Vaishnav followers in Puri planned a visit to Vrindavan in the north and Bharat Chandra decided to accompany them. The route by foot took them through Bengal once more and they stopped at the village Khanakul in district Hugli where they were treated to some fine music in the local Krishna temple. Bharat Chandra was completely mesmerised by the kirtan in the temple. This village also happened to be the home of Bharat Chandra’s wife’s sister and her husband Bhattacharya. While he was engrossed in the music, his attendant Raghunath, possibly disturbed at his master’s turn of heart, visited the brother-in-law. Bhattacharya gathered other members of his Brahmin clan and came to the temple and persuaded Bharat Chandra to return his own family. They made him change his attire and shave off his beard. Bharat Chandra agreed to return to his wife he had for all purposes abandoned, on condition that till he earned enough money he would not return to his brothers and father as he felt let down by them. Bhattacharya and Bharat Chandra travelled to their father-in-law’s house in Sharda village much to the joy and celebrations of the family and the larger community. Bharat Chandra spent time with his wife to both their pleasure and satisfaction. He, however, categorically instructed both his wife and her father not to go to his parents’ house, even if invited, till he had a proper income. Bharat Chandra set out for Pharashdanga to meet Indranath Chowdhury of the Pal dynasty who apart from being a distinguished landlord also acted as the agent to the local French trading company. Young Bharat narrated his predicament and begged for support. He also demonstrated his erudition and talent for poetry. Impressed with 29

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his intellect and moved by his circumstances, Chowdhury agreed to help. Due to some scandal in Chowdhury’s family, Bharat Chandra lived in the house of Rameshwar Mukhopadhyay who worked with the Danish merchants in Gondolpara. Bharat Chandra, however, made sure that he visited Indranath Chowdhury daily. Chowdhury was suitably flattered and said in a conversation to Bharat that he would like to find him an appropriate engagement. The person he had in mind was Krishna Chandra Roy, ruler of the kingdom of Nadia, who happened to have borrowed money from Chowdhury and often came to visit him. Chowdhury promised to put in a word in favour of Bharat Chandra. Krishna Chandra Roy was known to be a great patron of literature and arts. Bharat Chandra was introduced to Krishna Chandra during one of his visits. He asked Bharat to meet him in his court in Krishnanagar. Bharat Chandra’s journey to the capital proved to be the ultimate turning point of his career. He was engaged by Krishna Chandra as the court poet on a monthly salary of 40 rupees and a house to live in. He was expected to pay visits to the court twice daily which he did and to compose poems for the Rajah’s enjoyment. Pleased with his poetic skills, the Raja gave him the title of ‘Gunakar,’ meaning a repository of talents. Sometime later, he asked Bharat Chandra to compose a Mangalkabya dedicated to goddess Annada, modelled on the celebrated kavya by Kabi Kankan Mukundaram Chakravarty in praise of Chandi.7 Krishna Chandra wished for a work that would not only be fashioned after Chandimangal but would match its excellence and lasting fame. Bharat Chandra did not disappoint his patron. Annadamangal, composed in three sections, became the masterpiece of the century, the best example of refined Bengali poetry and exquisite descriptive imageries.

The tale Annadamangal, Bidyasundar and Man Singh comprised the three-part opus of which the second, Bidyasundar, gained exceptional fame in print, drawing a lot of attention in literary discourse. The attention was far from being flattering but frequent mention kept it in circulation. Bidyasundar became central to discussions and debates on aesthetics and taste, on tradition and modernity, and on refinement and coarseness. It engaged the British and Bengalis with different preferences as larger issues of identity, heritage and autonomy within the colonial presence and predominance were debated upon. In many ways, the discussions resonated with issues that were relevant to all 30

Source: The Poetical Works of Bharut Chunder Roy with His Life and Notes (Calcutta: Hindu Press, 1868). Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library (8833.e.6)

Figure 1.1 Bharat Chandra in the Court of Krishna Chandra, 1868

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literary works being published in profusion by printing presses run by the natives. That is why Bidyasundar becomes so critical to print history of 19th-century Bengal. Everybody was in consensus when it came to admitting Bharat Chandra’s superior poetry and his significance in the lineage of Bengali poetry writing. It was in the tale of Bidyasundar that they were ambivalent. To fully understand it we need to describe Bharat Chandra Roy’s style of writing and read the popular love tale of Bidya and Sundar. Bharat Chandra Roy followed the prescriptive rules for composing mangalkabyas. Creatively braiding spiritual and mythical time and space with the temporal and historical, he deftly placed his patron, Bharat Chandra Roy and benefactor-goddess Annada/Kalika/Annapurna, in a relationship of mutual interdependence. Krishna Chandra was the chosen one to spread the word and greatness ‘mahatya’ of Annada, who stood in for Sati, Gauri, Durga and Bhawani. And Bharat Chandra was the designated bard to make this happen. Of the three parts, the first, Annadamangal, devoted to Annapurna the goddess – extolling her powers and potency – introduced Bhabananda Mazumdar, the founder of the royal family. The second was a retelling of a popular medieval tale, cleverly inserted within the larger sacred frame dominated by goddess Annapurna. The last narrated Bhabananda Mazumdar’s career as it progressed through historical times when the Mughal general Man Singh visited Bengal. The spiritual and mythical, the allegorical and the historical together allowed the imaginative Bharat Chandra to deploy a wide range of lyrical methods to draw out different moods (rasa) in a rich descriptive tapestry. Nilmani Dingasai, an eminent singer, was appointed in the Krishnanagar court to recite and sing Annadamangal with his own troupe of performers. Bharat Chandra began his preamble to Annadamangal with the customary salutations (vandanas) to Ganesh, the god of scribes, Shiva, Surya, Vishnu, Kaushiki, Lakshmi, Saraswati and finally Annapurna. A subsection was devoted to each in which first the god’s visual appearance was described, his or her powers extolled and the benefits of prayers listed. Throughout the composition, each paragraph unfailingly ended with the poet acknowledging the piety and greatness of his patron, the king whose directions he had followed in the composition. The text began with a special ovation to goddess Annada, in alliteration playing on the letter ‘A.’ He narrated the political situation of Bengal and the manner in which Nawab Alivardi Khan became the ruler following the death of Murshid Quli and how Orissa was annexed to his realm.8 The temporal world of kings had never been 32

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independent of the gods who watch with pleasure or dismay at the turn of events. Therefore, when Alivardi’s forces plunder Bhubaneswar in Orissa, a seat of Shiva, the god sent word to his follower, ruler of the Mahrathas, to come and teach the Muslim ruler of Bengal a lesson. The Peshwa sent Raghuraj Bhaskar to ravage Bengal. Three of the Nawab’s provinces were laid waste as punishment for his sin of plundering Bhubaneshwar. Next, Krishna Chandra, the ruler of Nadia, a pious god-fearing man whose political fortune had been steadfast, was unfairly implicated in tax evasion by the Murshidabad court and sent to prison. Krishna Chandra offered prayers to the goddess and sought her blessings. She came to him in his dreams and gave him very precise instructions. He was to worship Annada in the month of Chaitra (March–April), on the eighth day of the new moon. But more significantly, he was to undertake the composition of her ‘greatness’ in poetry and put it out to the public. He had to ask his court poet Bharat Chandra who the goddess promised to help. Bharat Chandra spent the next section listing at great length members of Krishna Chandra’s immediate and extended family and his court, describing in some details their responsibilities. He demarcated the raja’s territory, confirming his political credentials based on which Krishna Chandra claimed undisputed authority over his lands. He ended this section by admitting that he was writing under clear guidance from the goddess who had blessed him that he would never go wrong. The next subsection called geet or song is a lyrical account of the various manifestations of the goddess known in Bengal as Sati. Bharat Chandra described ten forms in graphic details, together with their associated mythologies. These figured alongside the widely known legend of Shiva and Sati, the latter’s death and the former’s outrage. Annapurna or Annada was thereafter inserted into the fable of Durga within the mythology. There followed narration of Shiva’s marriage to Parvati featuring several minor characters. Within this lyrical narration were inserted larger theological principles as well as for comic relief, humorous account of the sundry, including Shiva’s famed weakness for opium. Mythology was set side by side with philosophy and world view stated in the language of humans, which, Shiva and Parvati shared in their ordinary banter. Underlying the repartee was the constant stating of the Shaiva ideology of the inextricable union of purush (consciousness) and prakriti (matter) and of Shiva and Shakti. Shiva and Parvati were the dominant gods and Annada had to be inducted. Annada, 33

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the name etymologically means ‘one who gives food (grain),’ could be interchanged with Annapurna, one who fills the world with grain, possibly a local deity revered by farming communities. She was introduced as one of Parvati’s manifestations. As she distributed grain, starting with her husband Shiva, there followed loud ovation in honour of the goddess of the world, Mahamaya. By underlying the centrality of ‘food’ in an agrarian society such as Bengal, the poet highlighted the significance of Annada or Annapurna. Since no one could be indifferent to her benevolence, god or man, it was therefore in the interest of all that her ‘mahatmya’ or greatness be composed, sung and heard. All persons involved with these acts of composing, singing and hearing as well as that of patronising became claimants to piety and kindness of the goddess. As a literary mode mangalkabyas involved everyone in the community – the patron, scribe, listener – but it was the poet’s creative talent that made the experience enthralling. Having offered salutations to different manifested forms of Uma, Mahamaya, Durga, Bharat Chandra highlighted the essence of mangalkabya by pleading with her to look upon all with kindness and take pity: ‘Give pleasure to the King and ensure welfare of his kingdom; bless those who listen to this composition with happiness; as a composer and singer, I seek this favor of you, Mother that our home be filled with grain to keep my voice intact; whoever is filled with piety listening to this “mangal,” may his wealth, sons and Lakshmi (general welfare) remain steady. Bharat Chandra sings at the command of Krishna Chandra.’ This reading ends with all chanting ‘Hari, Hari ’ (96–97).9 Communal participation in the performance as well as in the piety and benefits that followed was the essence of all mangalkabyas. The manner in which Annada was then established in other forms of veneration demonstrated Bharat Chandra’s knowledge and brilliance. He described how Annapurna temple came to be built in Benares which was otherwise renowned as the seat of Shiva worship. The description of nature and the landscape around are outstanding examples of fine lyrics. The temple was formally consecrated by Shiva who worshipped Annapurna in the presence of gods invited for the occasion. An interesting interlacing of parallel practices installed the worship of Annapurna within the Shaiva sectarian practice and she formally consecrated her idol by descending upon Kashi (Benares) and giving life to it, beautifully crafted by the god of artisans, Vishwakarma. In another brilliant spin, Bharat Chandra connected Annapurna to other goddesses thus bringing together all their manifested 34

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forms within a consistent theological narrative. Bharat Chandra also dwelt upon the tension between the Shaivite and the Vaishnavite sects, followers of Shiva and Vishnu. This was resolved through the intervention of Vyas, the composer of Mahabharata who a follower of Vishnu was made to realise that it is in the worship of both in union that true salvation is achieved. Annapurna, having been consecrated in a temple, now had to be brought to the homes of ordinary men and women where she was to be invoked daily through prayers and her ‘greatness’ spread. Bharat Chandra employed a familiar trope, of lesser gods being cursed to a life on earth. What was to happen was foretold by Jaya Bijaya, companions of Durga/Parbati/Annada, and so the listeners knew exactly what to expect. Bashundhar was a follower of Kuber, lord of wealth, more a protector. Kuber asked him to gather flowers for Annada’s puja. Instead, Bashundhar succumbed to his wife Bashundhara’s seduction and failed in his duty. The two were in due course banished from the heavens to live out a lifetime on earth, as retribution. On pleading for mercy, Annada granted them the opportunity for redeeming their sin by their efforts to spread her worship among the people. Bhabananda Mazumdar, the founder of Krishna Chandra’s dynasty, was the son of Kuber who was similarly cursed for transgressions to live on earth. He was told that he was to be born to a Brahmin family and establish a dynasty which would rule for subsequent generations. Annada, in person, undertook a journey to visit Bhabananda Mazumdar and the description that followed was to become in the future, one of the most celebrated passages of Annadamangal. Annapurna stepped on the bank of river Ganges and called for a boatman. Ishwari Patuni was the man who ferried people on his boat. Upon hearing a woman’s voice, he hurriedly brought his boat to her. Ishwari Patuni, seeing an unaccompanied married woman, wanted to know who she was. In one of the most cleverly written and beautifully composed verses, Annapurna described her true background, without giving away her identity. The use of punning as a literary device was put to excellent affect. Patuni agreed to ferry her but his boat was filled with water. Where was she to keep her pretty feet? The boatman asked her to rest her feet on the wooden plank used to dredge water. After some time, because her feet were on it, the plank turned golden. Patuni realised that she was no ordinary woman. He fell at her feet and asked her to reveal herself and bless him. Annapurna disclosed who she was and that she was headed for the home of Bhabananda Mazumdar and told Ishwari to ask for a boon. All he asked for was that his children may always have enough 35

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of milk and rice, two basic foods in rural Bengal. Ishwari Patuni’s request remains of the most discussed lines in Bengali literature, as an essential demand of a simple agrarian community. In keeping with the larger narrative, it was a classic instance of grounding spirituality in temporal, every day needs. The first part ended with the Debi visiting Bhabananda’s home, leaving behind a small box, with instructions never to open it. She promised that his dynasty would always have Annada’s mercy. Bhabananda offered his prayers to the goddess through elaborate rituals and his fame and family prospered.

Bidyasundar Once men and real time were introduced and the first section ends, the second was devoted entirely to earthly concerns and thus was inserted the story of Bidyasundar. Here again there was an overlaying of two kinds of time real and fictive in place of divine. Written in two metres, short couplets or payar consisting of 14 or 16 syllables each and caesura at the end of the first seven or eight and the longer tripadi with two caesuras,10 the story was narrated in a sequence of events, described with elegant poetic embellishments. Each event carried the narrative forward by situating a new possibility to the story and at the same time offered a pretext to deploy a new literary trope. The events were then arranged under separate captions, each self-enclosed, capable of standing alone as a literary motif yet dependent for its existence on the larger structure of the tale. Some of these motifs later offered themselves to other kinds of fictional writings and claimed a future outside of its original text as printing triggered a burst of literary efforts. It was the love story of Bidya, the daughter of the King of Bardhhaman, and Sundar, the son of the King of Kanchi in the south of India, and the way they met, fell in love, transgressed social mores to remain together till they were apprehended, separated and eventually united forever. Bidyasundar began with a situation located in the world of men with ‘historical’ personalities and geographical locations. Raja Man Singh, the Mughal general, arrived in Bengal to vanquish a local king, Pratapaditya of Jessore, who refused to acknowledge the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and killed his own uncle, Basanta Roy. The latter’s son Kochu Roy complained to the Emperor who sent one his best generals at the head of a substantial army to conquer the refractory raja. It was significant that Pratapaditya was able to garner so much 36

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strength because he was blessed by the goddess Bhabani (another manifestation of Durga) and enjoyed her special dispensation. Bhabananda Mazumdar was appointed the quanungo, as the legal and revenue expert to assist Man Singh. The general reached Bardhhaman where Bhabananda met him and updated him on the situation in Bengal. During his stay in Bardhhaman, Man Singh heard about the tale of Bidyasundar and on one of his tours of the city with Bhabananda, came upon an underground tunnel. Bhabananda narrated to Man Singh the secret behind the tunnel and thus begins the story of Bidya and Sundar. The story introduced the principal characters in the first section. Bir Singh was the King of Bardhhaman whose daughter Bidya, beautiful and accomplished as her name signified, pledged to marry the person who would defeat her in a theoretical debate. There were several suitors, but none matched her intellect. The harried King heard of Sundar, the son of Gunasindhu Roy, the King of Kanchi in the south, and sent his ambassador, the Bhat or scribe, named Keshab with a letter to invite the young prince to Bardhhaman. Bidya and Sundar signifying knowledge and beauty, two qualities when combined made for a perfect union. Keshab reached the court and extolled the beauty and talents of Bidya and asked Sundar to marry her and become Bidyapati. This could have been a perfect match without any tension, but that wouldn’t be a perfect story, least of all a love story. Therefore, situations wholly contrived were introduced to inject into the account, suspense and thrill. Sundar was greatly moved by the poet’s description of the young princess. In a brilliantly composed alliterative verse, Bharat Chandra described the obsession of Sundar over Bidya leading to his determination to visit her on his own and in disguise. A devotee of Kali, Sundar decided to travel to Bardhhaman in the belief that if the goddess blessed him, he would win over his love. The story was set out in a series of manipulative ploys, subterfuges, disguises and disclosures composed in one of the finest examples of 18th-century poetic devices and tropes. Love, passion, anger, fear and danger are interwoven in a spirit of deep piety and complete submission to the powers and generosity of the goddess. The dominant mood and tone were one of beauty, imagined, described, observed, appreciated, absorbed in as many ways as is possible in poetry. Sundar arrived in Bardhhaman riding his special horse called ‘Manorath,’ literally meaning desire. A journey that normally took six months was cut short to six days. Sundar dressed carefully taking with him his only companion, the wise bird, mythical ‘Suk.’ The account easily moved 37

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from the real to the mythical, from graphic to allegorical, from evocative to surreal. On reaching Bardhhaman, Sundar was struck by the magnificence and grandeur of the city. At the gate, he was stopped by the guard and the young prince had to use all the skill he had with words to get past the post. He said he had come in the hope of Bidya, knowledge, and would like to meet the king. The story carried forward through a series of images and imageries, flawlessly crafted for reading and listening. Words, phrases, metaphors were chosen well for their affective potential by Bharat Chandra. In a vivid portrayal of a capital city of medieval Bengal, the poet introduced readers/listeners to the grandeur of Bardhhaman, beckoning them to see through his gaze. There were detailed accounts of different kinds of people, their castes and professions, like an ethnographical listing together with account of the city in some details. It was inhabited by people, rich and poor, honest and conniving, local and foreign, powerful and weak, a rich brocade of differing fates, myriad professions and castes. In his inimitable style Bharat Chandra depicted a graphic account of the city’s idyllic balance between nature and people, never shifting attention from the hero, called Nagor, the young lover. The beauty of the city made Sundar more restless to meet Bidya. He had a bath in a pond and lay down under a tree. It was evening, and the local women came to the pond to fetch water. The sight of the handsome young man drove them to distraction. Here Bharat Chandra described the handsomeness of Sundar through the gaze of the women and the reactions that his sight evoked. The depiction was replete with sexual innuendos. It, however, also recorded the humdrum nature of their ordinary lives driven home by the sight of the young man. Women lamented over their own loveless lives and indulged in fantasy of making love to Sundar. The entire account was underlined by explicit suggestions, reminiscent of the effect Krishna had on Radha’s companions, a trope widely used to insert the physical description of the hero. It was a repeated hyperbole in Bidyasundar intended for accentuating the pleasure of reading and listening. The story proceeded as a flower woman named Hira Malini came to the flower tree and found Sundar. Her observations regarding his looks further reiterated his handsomeness. Hira introduced herself as the person who supplied flowers to the princess every morning and then offered to put Sundar up in her house. This seemed fortuitous or as manifestation of Kali’s blessings because Hira had direct access to Bidya. Small, amusing vignettes acted as preamble to the actual tale. 38

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Sundar divulged to Hira his identity and his purpose of visit. Hira was awestruck and told him all about the royal family. The next section was devoted to Hira’s depiction of Bidya’s beauty seen through her eyes and portrayed using imageries from nature and metaphors from mythology. It was a beautiful piece of verse devoted to expressing and depicting beauty in its fullest. Hira offered to speak to the raja and rani about Sundar, but the latter dissuaded her. He wanted to test Bidya himself and if he was defeated in the debate, he would rather not be made the laughing stock in Bengal. It was the beginning of a series of subterfuges and ploys for injecting tension and suspense for better affect. Sundar decided to braid a garland for Bidya the next day. Inspired by Rati, the goddess of love, he created a magical one with a small box made of flowers put inside with a Sanskrit verse of love and a small arrow that was supposed to pop out and strike the princess as she opened it. Hira carried Sundar’s creation to Bidya. The effect on the princess was instantaneous. The love story of Bidya and Sundar was thereafter rolled out. It was now an occasion for Hira to describe Sundar – his family background handsomeness as Bidya confessed at the end of listening that she had been totally besotted. In a dialogue, suggestive of her restless passion, the princess pleaded with Hira to arrange for the couple to see one another. Bidya suggested that Hira brought Sundar to stand before the ‘Rath,’ the chariot in front of her living room. It had been the chariot of desire that had carried Sundar from Kanchi to Bardhhaman and now it was to be another chariot that was about to bring them together. Bidya sent back a response to Sundar’s couplet and said her daily prayers to goddess Kali, whose presence and blessing act as the pivot to the unfolding of their fates. As planned, Hira escorted Sundar to the chariot while Bidya looked on. As their eyes locked, they fell hopelessly in love. Hira suggested to Bidya that she speak to her parents about arranging their marriage. The princess became apprehensive that the raja and rani would not believe Sundar to be a prince, certainly of the kingdom where their emissary the poet was visiting. It would seem to them incredible that a prince had such a modest demeanour. Lest, they missed the opportunity of being together that Bidya was so impatient about, the princess asked Hira to bring Sundar to her, leaving stratagem to goddess and Sundar’s better wisdom. The prince was at the end of his wits and appealed to Kali, seeking her advice. The goddess granted his wish and gave him a stick to drill a tunnel linking Hira’s home to Bidya’s bed chamber. 39

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Bidya’s agony was narrated with strong suggestions of her sexuality, her desires exacerbated by spring and memory of Sundar. As she restlessly fidgeted, without getting any sleep at night, much to the consternation of her companions, Sundar appeared like an apparition in her room. His presence and handsomeness, godlike, mesmerised all. Sundar disclosed his identity and purpose of visit; the companions were left speechless as he next engaged in a discourse with Bidya on theology and philosophy, including Vedanta, Mimangsha, Patanjali’s grammar, Puranas, Smriti, Samhita by Manu. The only matter Bidya could not discuss as a woman was Shruti or the Vedas, a monopoly of the male Brahmin. Suitably impressed with Sundar’s knowledge and depth of analysis, she admitted defeat and declared him to be her husband. They exchanged garlands and keeping Har Gouri their witness, they were married before the night was over. The few sections that followed, a continuous 29 printed pages, were devoted to a stylistic and rather elaborate rendition of Bidya and Sundar’s coition.11 In the absence of any social ceremony and parental sanction, they had gods to stand witness to their marriage and sanctify their union. The atmosphere was charged with their physical attraction that Bharat Chandra described, alluding to nature, its seasonality, signs and sounds of seasons, of birds and flowers, signifying spring and creation. Read as an allegory, their physical union, through stages of foreplay and copulations, signified the perfect harmony of knowledge and beauty best demonstrated in nature. Parallels with nature abound Bharat Chandra’s descriptions. The poet, aware of transgressions, reiterated that Bidya and Sundar’s lovemaking was an act of consummating their marriage conducted in the ‘gandharva,’ method, affirmed by the blessing of the goddess. It was Sundar’s devotion and Kali’s active participation that consecrated his relationship, a privilege denied to lesser mortals. Using alliterative words signifying sounds that suggested body movements, the scenes of lovemaking were stylistically depicted, intercepted by dialogue dripping with desire and passion. Within the poetic and stylised framework, nothing of the description was explicit or indelicate. Certain words (bihar, ratiranga, biporeetbihar), identifiable indications of sounds, signs and allusions depicted copulation. On the other hand, various fictive strategies like Sundar’s indiscretion and Bidya’s anger provided pretext for adding more sections on their lovemaking. In five sections, Bharat Chandra described the acts of lovemaking undertaken over two nights without repeating or overdoing any of it and then mentioning that they met every night. Bidya and Sundar’s 40

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copulation was pivotal to the unfolding of the tale as it moved towards the climax and its resolution. Inserted in the account were dramatic ruses. For instance, Sundar went around the city dressed in various guises, finally choosing to meet the king as a sanyasi and offering to hold the princess in a debate. Bharat Chandra expended other dramatic ploys to prolong the depiction of Bidya and Sundar’s dalliance. Sundar tricked Bidya and made love while she was sleeping; Bidya got very upset at being cheated and Sundar then had to cajole her in the manner that Krishna had to sweet talk Radha, celebrated as Manbhanjan. Bidya found another occasion to retaliate. Meanwhile, Bidya used the same tunnel to visit Hira Malini’s home where they find a partner for Sundar’s lonely bird. The inevitable followed. Bidya became pregnant and the news was carried by her companions to the rani and all hell let loose. The mood of love was replaced by anger as the rani first reprimanded her daughter for being indiscreet and bringing shame to the family and then the raja for not doing enough to marry the daughter who for natural reasons was unable to resist her carnal instincts. She also questioned the raja’s guards who let an outsider enter the princess’s chamber without impunity. With a brilliant selection of words, Bharat Chandra portrayed the atmosphere of rage that pervaded the royal palace. The raja upbraided the kotwal, head of his guards, who pleaded that he be given seven days to find the thief responsible for the princess’s condition. In the following sections, the kotwal’s distress, his hunt and his success were narrated with equal aplomb. The kotwal and his seven brothers discovered the tunnel in Bidya’s chamber but stopped from entering. Instead, they dressed as women and waited for the culprit to appear in the room through the tunnel, with the guards surrounding the palace and city. The subterfuge was brilliantly executed and narrated with wit and eloquence. Sundar was captured, and Hira Malini harassed; the kotwal and his men rejoiced, Hira cursed and Bidya relented. The tale moved to its logical finish. Sundar was apprehended and taken to court, and then began his interrogation. Sundar was asked to give his identity which he did not, to prolong the moments of tension, insisting that he was indeed a thief and that winning Bidya was his ultimate end. Once again, the literary strategy of badinage was employed to keep the element of suspense going. In court, he recited 50 verses dedicated to goddess Kali that amazed the people present. He then recited verses to the raja who was now faced with a dilemma. The raja recognised him to be someone extraordinary but could not 41

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fathom who he was nor could he exonerate him for the serious crime he was accused of. At the kotwal suggesting that Sundar should be taken to the burning ground, the raja agreed. At the crematorium, Sundar began his prayers to Kali, in verses that were exceptional in their lucidity and spiritual depth. Kali promised to come to his help. Meanwhile, the Bhatt returned from Kanchi and the raja realised his mistake. Sundar and Bidya were married and in due course their son was born. Sundar then became impatient to return to Kanchi while Bidya tried to keep him back. Sundar organised an elaborate prayer for Kali, who made an appearance. She told the couple who they are, her followers in heaven and that their time on earth was done. Sundar and Bidya installed their son as the heir to the throne and ascended to take their place among gods. Some of the best pieces of composition were reserved for the last sections, both facetious, like the women cursing their husbands (patininda) on seeing Sundar being carried to the court and sublime and intense verses in Sanskrit and Bengali addressed to Kali. Bharat Chandra also added a Baramasya, in the tradition of Mangalkabyas in which Bidya described the seasons and the pleasures in them, in the effort to keep Sundar in Bardhhaman for another year.

Man Singh In the last historical sequence, Bhabananda Mazumdar, founder of the Roy clan, was put back as the central figure. Bharat Chandra continued the account of the Mughal general Man Singh’s expedition in Bengal, with Bhabananda as his principal adviser. Singh travelled from Bardhhaman on route to Nawadwip to Bhabananda’s village, Bagoan, before marching on to Jessore. Every journey was an opportunity for the poet to enthral his readers and listeners with a description of the march as well as of his soldiers and the place. Inserted occasionally was the need to remember and say a prayer to the goddess. Man Singh fought and vanquished Pratapditya, a battle Bharat Chandra depicted vividly. He also at the end of this subsection, put down that the next subsection should be read at night in a rendition that was called, ‘jagaran,’ or ‘to keep awake,’ the penultimate reading before the last session. Man Singh asked Bhabananda to accompany him to the Mughal capital, which he did after seeking his parents’ blessings and offering prayers to Annapurna and Ganga. The following section titled ‘description of lands – home and abroad,’ begins with the depiction 42

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of the route and description of places, with reference to mythology, fables,12 sacred spaces and historical figures and events. Puri or the abode of god Jagannath warranted a separate subdivision. Composing, reading and listening to an account of the gods in Puri offered piety to all. These also offered diversion and opportunities for the poet to display his knowledge, imagination and talents for composing poetry. Man Singh and Bhabananda arrived at the Mughal Court where the general recounted his adventure, the indispensable support of Bhabananda and the mercy of Annapurna that saved them from a near disaster before the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. The Emperor’s angry response to this was a discourse on Islam over Hinduism, its superstitions and power of the unholy Brahmins. Bhabananda’s spirited rejoinder landed him in prison. His two followers Dasu and Basu’s lament provided comic relief, containing humorous caricature of various ethnic communities. Bhabananda’s invocation of Annada by reciting scriptures in Sanskrit altered the mood back to serious contemplation. Annada assured Bhabananda of her support and descended on earth with her companions, Jaya and Bijaya. What followed was a wild storm causing mayhem in the capital, brought on by the goddess’s wrath and described delightfully through play of words, depicting sounds and situations. The Emperor relented and released Bhabananda, but matters were not settled in the narrative till Annapurna’s powers were recited again and she was reinstated in all her glory in the larger sacred space of the Hindu pantheon. Jahangir issued a farman that everyone should offer prayers to Annada and asked Bhabananda to organise one for the welfare of the empire. It was time for Bhabananda to return home and for Bharat Chandra to launch another travelogue describing Ganges, Ayodhya, Prayag, Kashi, interlaced with reading of Valmiki’s Ramayana. Bhabananda made his last stop in Kashi, the abode of Shiva and Annapurna where his prayers were answered with the goddess’s pledge that he and his descendants would always remain blessed. Bhabananda returned to his two wives. Another digression lightened the mood as the two wives bickered and competed for their husband’s attention. After some dilemma, he visited both his wives and indulged in lovemaking. The poet added flippantly that he did not wish to elaborate on this since he had already described Bidya’s wedding night in detail. Annadamangal ended with the inauguration of Bhabananda’s kingdom based on Mughal sanad (order) and a lavish worship of Annapurna that all married women were invited by to attend. A sumptuous 43

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array of foods was prepared for the goddess, signifying variety and abundance. The description was a register of contemporary Bengali gastronomic range. Annapurna made her appearance and informed Bhabananda of his past life and future redemption. She then summed up the entire Annadamangal which Bharat Chandra devoted a subsection to, that read like a quick recapitulation of the larger text. The goddess reiterated the lineage of Bhabananda’s lineage till the times of Krishna Chandra Roy and his chosen poet, Bharat Chandra. Bhabananda returned to the gods with his two wives, leaving his kingdom to his sons. Bharat Chandra pleaded for blessings from Annapurna for the last time.

After Annadamangal Personally, in his lifetime, Annadamangal won Bharat Chandra praise and his benefactor’s gratitude. He was granted land in a village called Mulajhar, on the Ganga, not far from where his first patron, Indranarayan Chowdhury, lived. He was also given 100 rupees to build a house and some more property worth annual revenue of 600 rupees. He built a house for his family of three sons and his old parents. It wasn’t to be a peaceful life yet for the long arm of Bardhhaman raj shadowed him. The rani of Bardhhaman wanted land in the same village and the astute Krishna Chandra, eager to ingratiate himself to a stronger fellow ruler, agreed and Bharat Chandra faced eviction. The local village community of Mulajhar, however, refused to let go of their favourite bard and he continued to stay here till his death at the age of 48 in 1860. Annadamangal was certainly Bharat Chandra’s tour de force though he wrote other pieces that were believed to have been greatly appreciated in his time. He composed Rasamanjari soon after completing the mangalkabya, followed by Nagashtak, which was composed in Sanskrit and was a satire of a troublesome landlord, Ramdeb Nag. Krishna Chandra was greatly amused by the composition and took steps to curb the recalcitrant Nag. Shortly before he died, Bharat Chandra started writing a play in Bengali using a lot of Hindi and Sanskrit words but could not complete it. Bharat Chandra served his patron with more than a perfect Mangalkabya. The rajas of Nadia, in reality large zamindaris, were known to have commissioned and supported scholars and scholarships in the centuries past. This was largely to consecrate the capital Krishnanagar newly constructed by Raghava, the grandson of Bhabananda 44

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Majumdar, who moved his family here sometime in the second half of the 17th century. His policy of supporting scholars was continued by his successors and by the time of Krishna Chandra Roy came to rule, Krishnagar had emerged as another centre of learning and creativity that compared well with the medieval city of Nawadwip, across the Ganges.13 Bharat Chandra recorded for posterity, as scholar Suniti Kumar Chatterji observed, an ‘authoritative document of Bengali life and culture in its various aspects during the middle of the 18th century.’ No study of the period is complete without reference to Bharat Chandra, and it was quite providential that he was associated with one of the most celebrated local rulers of the century. Krishna Chandra Roy, according to Chatterji, was a many-faceted personality – a man of culture and a patron of arts and letters, a god-fearing and pious man who was equally a man of means under whose rule his capital, Krishnanager, prospered. The ideals that Krishna Chandra symbolised were a blend of Brahmanical, Puranic philosophy, embracing the cultural world of Sanskrit literature and the urbane court practices of the north followed by the Mughals and the Rajputs derived from the more ‘exotic culture of Persia.’14 Bharat Chandra’s description of the court of Krishnanagar embodied the dual aspect of the courtly culture of 18th-century Nadia. The poet enumerated a list of people who attended to the raja and contributed to ‘the cultural and intellectual milieu.’ The person who finds no mention among them was the celebrated composer of Shymasangeet (songs devoted to goddess Shyama or Kai) was Ramprasad Sen. Sen did not reside in Krishnanagar, and it is questionable if he attended court at all or met Bharat Chandra. Yet the two were connected by the fact that both were beneficiaries of Krishna Chandra Roy’s patronage, around the same time. And significantly for our discussion, they were both authors of Bidyasundar. Ramprasad Sen mentioned no dates in his composition, and therefore it is difficult to ascertain the year in which he completed Bidyasundar. Even less is known about his life which in popular imagination turned apocryphal because of his fame as the composer of devotional songs dedicated to goddess Kali. In his case too, Ishwar Gupta’s account was the basis for all future descriptions. Writing the first history of Bengali literature and language published two decades later in 1872, Ramgati Nyayratna tried to make connections between the two 18th-century poets for which dating their work was essential.15 Ramprasad Sen was supposed to have composed Bidyasundar and offered it as a tribute to Krishna Chandra Roy for all the favours he received 45

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from the raja that included 100 bighas of rent-free land, close to his village in Halishahar, about 50 miles north of Calcutta. He called the verse tale ‘kabiranjan,’ after the appellation that he received from his patron. Nyayratna put the date of Sen’s composition between 1850 and 1852, a few years before Bharat Chandra. His reasoning was that Bidyasundar which was inserted in Annadamangal was a more refined composition and the poetry more melodious and erudite. In the presence of such high-quality verse, it was unlikely that Ramprasad would be composing and offering something of lesser worth. On the other hand, it was more plausible that Krishna Chandra, struck by the tale of Bidyasundar that Ramprasad penned for him, asked his court poet, Bharat Chandra, to embellish it further.16 Scholar Dinesh Chandra Sen in his account of Bengali literature supported the deduction regarding dates, citing their mention by another composer of Bidyasundar. A poet by the name Pranram wrote Bidyasundar which he introduced by putting down the names of poets who had written the same tale in verse before him. Krishnaram, Ramprasad and Bharat Chandra featured in that order in Pranram’s preface.17

Comparing Bidyasundars The structure of the two legends is very similar – the characters are the same as are their locations, the subterfuges, meetings of lovers, their lovemaking, the way they are caught out, their secrets revealed, climax and the final resolution. Minor vignettes differed. In Ramprasad’s version, before setting out for Bardhhaman, Kali visited Sundar in his dreams and forecasted his future course of actions and their outcomes. On his way Sundar met with several challenges, the last posed by a yogi who asked him to renounce Kali for Shiva. Sundar answered angrily that no master would ever preach that there can be Shiva without Shakti. There was an additional character, too, called Bidu Brahmani who advised the kotwal on a new ruse to track down the intruder responsible for transgression. She suggested that he smeared Bidya’s room with sindur (vermillion) that would stain the person’s clothes. Sundar fell for the trap. He asked Hira Malini to get his clothes washed by a local dhobi, which she did. The dhobi, alerted by the kotwal, reported the matter to his men. The rest of the story moved along similar vein as Bharat Chandra’s. Ramprasad Sen’s Bidyasundar, however, was much more underlined by religious sentiments and metaphysical preoccupations. Each time he signed off a verse, he saluted Kali and not his patron, as Bharat Chandra did. He 46

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used every opportunity to compose a dedication to the goddess, his last being seven pages long.

The two Bidyasundars: life in Print Ramprasad’s Bidyasundar faded in the presence of Bharat Chandra’s dazzling narration. Before Ishwar Gupta launched his biographical research and publication, Kalikirtan, a book of verse by Ramprasad had been printed and published three times in 1833, 1845 and 1848. In 1839, a poetry series called Paramartha Sangeet edited by Rajnarayan Sen and Lakshmikanta Biswas was published containing works of different poets, including Ramprasad Sen. This may well have inspired Gupta to write and publish their life stories in his monthly journal. Ramprasad Sen wrote a third text called Krishnakirtan which did not make it to print and did not survive except for a few stanzas. Two months after Ishwar Gupta’s three-part account of the poet’s life was brought out by Sambad Prabhakar, in March–April 1856 (Chaitra, 1260 BS), Bhaskar Jantra printed and published his rendition of Bidyasundar for the first time. The book claimed that the text had been corrected by several pundits. The book never made it to a second reprint in the 19th century. In 1855, Ramprasad’s Kalikirtan was published for the fourth time with a short description of his life by Srinath Bandyopadhyay and Biharilal Nandi, signifying the popularity of his songs and relative disregard of his longer tale composition.18 As in the case of Bharat Chandra, this account too was based on Gupta’s writing which had become a standard practice. Therefore, when Bidyaratna Jantra published a collection of Ramprasad Sen’s poems edited by Nandalal Datta, in 1862 it carried his biography too. Around 200 of his songs were later collected and printed in 1865 under the title ‘Prasad Prashanga.’ His songs, however, continued to remain in the oral domain because of the itinerant singers who earned their livelihood by begging.19 Compared to Bharat Chandra Roy, Ramprasad Sen’s life was a lot less dramatic. He was born in Kumarhatta, a village in pargana Halishahar, where he lived all his life, composing and singing songs dedicated to Kali. He attended local schools where he learnt Sanskrit and Persian but instead of following the family profession of traditional medicine, he began writing songs. His father’s early death forced him to move for a few years to Calcutta and seek employment in a rich Bengali landlord’s office where he worked in the accounts department. Legend has it that he would often be distracted much to the annoyance 47

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of his colleagues. When his employer looked at his accounting book, he discovered some brilliant pieces of verse dedicated to Kali. He ordered that Ramprasad Sen must return to his village where he was to be paid his monthly stipend of 30 rupees all his life.20 His songs and perhaps singing drew the attention of Bharat Chandra Roy who had an outpost close to Sen’s village. The raja of Nadia granted him 100 bighas of rent-free land. One of his relatives, Rajkishore Mukhopdhyay, was another of his patrons; he asked Sen to compose Kalikirtan and the poet obligingly dedicated it to him.21 Bharat Chandra Roy and Ramprasad Sen dominated the literary field of 18th-century Bengal as all scholars of literature affirm. Measuring the metre and harmony of verse lines, Ramgati Nyayratna regards Ramprasad closing the line of medieval poets and Bharat Chandra inaugurating a new beginning, an opinion few of his contemporaries endorsed. In the course of the 19th century, Ramprasad Sen dominated the singing and oral world of kirtans and shyamasangeets while Bharat Chandra towered over all others in the print world. In 1853 when Ishwar Gupta’s lives of poets were published, there were close to 12 editions of Annadamangal and Bidyasundar as separate printed books. The oral realm of performance, singing and myth making interlaced with the emerging domain of printed texts for a good part of the 19th century, but changes were fast on their way as the publishing business flew high in Bengal. It is an aspect that is well worth starting from the beginning.

Notes 1 Brajendrananth Bandhyopadhyay and Sajanikanta Das (eds.), Bharat Chandra Granthavali, Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishat, 1943, p. 22. Also see, Clinton B. Seeley, Secular and Sacred Legitimation in Bharatcandra Ray’s Annada-Mangal, Archiv orientalni, 68:3, 2000, p. 357, fn. 2 Bharat Chandra Granthavali, p. 20. The success of the first commercial theatre staged by the Russian Gerasim Stepanovish Lebedev was attributed to the songs from Bidyasundar that he included in the translated play. Sripantha, Kolkata, Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999, p.113. I am grateful to Anita Kar for this reference. 3 Brajendranath Bandyopadhyay, Bamla Samayik Patra 1818–1868, 5th ed., Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishat, (1397) 1991, pp. 37–38. 4 Bhabatosh Datta (ed.), Kabi Jiboni, Calcutta: Paschimbanga Bamla Academy, 1998, pp. 344–345. 5 Bandyopadhyay, Bamla Samayik Patra 1818–1835, p. 38. 6 Bhagawat was based on the life and philosophy of Krishna. 7 Mangalkabya was composed in the 16th century.

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8 Nawab of Bengal from 1717 to 1727 and Alivardi Khan from 1740 to 1756. 9 Translation mine. 10 See Asim Roy, The Islamic Syncretic Tradition in Bengal, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983, p. 87; Edward C. Dimock, The Thief of Love: Bengali Tales from Court and Village, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1963, p. 21. 11 Brajendranath Bandhyopadhyay and Sajanikanta Das (eds.), Bharat Chandra Granthavali, 4th ed., Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishat, 1943. 12 There were repeated references to Chandimangal by Kabikankan Mukundaram Chakravarti. 13 Samuel Wright, From Prasasti to Politcal Culture: The Nadia Raj and Malla Dynasty in Seventeenth-Century Bengal, The Journal of Asian Studies, 73:2, May 2014, pp. 397–418, 410. 14 Suniti Chatterji, The Court of Raja Krishna Chandra of Krishnagar: A Centre of Culture in 18th Century Bengal, Krishnanagar College Centenary Commemoration Volume, Nadia: Krishnagar College, 1948, pp. 148–149. I am grateful to Gautam Bhadra for this reference. 15 Ramgati Nyayaratna, Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya, Calcutta: Supreme Book Distributors, 1991, pp. 126–141. He acknowledged that he drew his information from Kabijiboni. 16 Ibid., p. 133. 17 Dinesh Chandra Sen, Banga Bhasha O Sahitya, vol. 2, Calcutta: Pashchimbanga Bhasha Pustak Parshad, 1991, p. 586. 18 Jatindramohan Bhattacharya, Bangla Mudrita Granthadir Talika, 1743– 1852, Calcutta: A. Mukherji & Co., 1990, p. 138. 19 Nyayratna, Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya, p. 130 and Jatindramohan Bhattacharya, Mudrita Bangla Granther Panji, 1853–1867, Calcutta: Paschimbanga Bangla Academy, 1993, p. 83. 20 Nyayratna, Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya, p. 128; Kanchan Bose (ed.), Ramprasad Bharat Chandra Rachanasamgraha, Calcutta: Reflect Publication, 1985, pp. 1–10. 21 Sen, Banga Bhasha O Sahitya, p. 591.

49

2 PUBLISHERS IN CITY Birth of a book

Gangakishore Bhattacharya, who introduced Annadamangal and Bidyasundar to the world of printing, trained as a compositor under the British missionaries and worked for them in the Srirampur press. He lived in village Bahra, not far from Srirampur, and as a literate Brahmin was eligible for the task of arranging moveable types crafted from wooden blocks and for composing the script for printing. In 1814, Bhattacharya moved to Calcutta, the emerging metropolis and capital of East India Company’s territories, to start his business in printing and publishing. This certainly was an astute move as there were no printing houses in the city owned by Bengali for producing books that could cater to local needs. Baburam, a Hindi speaker from north India, set up Sanskrit Press in 1807 in Khidirpur, a suburb of Calcutta, to produce Hindi and Sanskrit books in the Devanagari script for Fort William College.1 Bhattacharya decided to explore the field, both new and potentially rich.2 On 8 February 1816, there appeared a small insertion in the Government Gazette, In Mr. Ferris and Company’s press will soon be published the book Annadamangal and Bidyasundar. It has been corrected by several pundits and Padmalochan Churamoni Bhattacharya has personally ensured that the letters are accurate and thus the book will be in fine Bengali with pictures on appropriate pages. The price has, therefore, been put at 4 rupees. Whoever wishes to have a copy may secure it from the press or by getting in touch with Gangakishore Bhattacharya.3 Paul Ferris, co-proprietor of Morning Post Press, trained under J.A. Hicky at the latter’s Original Printing Office and like many others 50

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started his own venture of publications. When not in use, he rented his machine to others setting out like Bhattacharya.4 Annadamangal and Bidyasundar, the book, did not have the name of Gangakishore Bhattacharya, the publisher, on it. The pictures it carried illustrated different episodes and characters, chosen, it seems, somewhat randomly. There were for instance two of Sundar on horseback with the signature below, ‘Engraved by Ramchand Roy.’ These two and one of Annapurna were engraved on metal blocks. The others were printed from wooden blocks and, given the difference in style and design, were possibly etched by a different artist. Ramchandra Roy’s name in English suggested familiarity with the language; he may have been a senior employee in Ferris’s company.5 Gangakishore Bhattacharya remained remarkably active in the field of book production making use of every opportunity that commercial printing offered. He compiled two texts and published them in the same year (1816): A Grammar in English and Bengali and another on Bengali Regulations, possibly from the same printing press.6 He printed and published two religious texts: Gangabhakti Tarangini and Lakshmicharita, a secular medieval tale Betal Panchabingshati, and Chanakyasloka, a set of lay instructions.7 He next collaborated with Lallu Lal, a teacher of Hindi in Fort William College and a poet who bought Sanskrit Press and rights to all its publications from Baburam. Bhattacharya and Lallu Lal printed and published a book on astronomy, Jyotish Sangrahashar by Ramchandra Bidyabagish in 1817, and several of Rammohan Roy’s early writings.8 As the sale of his books grew, Bhattacharya acquired an office and started a book store. And, from the proceeds of this business, he purchased a printing press in 1818 and named it Bengal Gazetti Press.9 He must have taken the idea from Lallu Lal who ran a book shop too. Distribution and sale of books were essential activities, complementing printing and publishing of books. Agents were engaged for the circulation of books outside of the city of Calcutta in suburbs and villages, and book stores in the city stocked and sold all available printed books. Bhattacharya acted as an agent for books printed by Srirampur Missionary Press as a small mention in October 1818 bears out. A book, published in Bengali for easy learning of English and priced 3 rupees, was available as the following notice read: ‘Whoever wished to buy it must enquire in Calcutta at the office of Gangakishore Bhattacharya or in Srirampur at the house of Mr. John Derozio, next to the Collectorate.’ Local entrepreneurs worked hard at profit, right from the start.10 51

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Bhattacharya did brisk trade and entered into partnership with Harachandra Roy for acquiring a printing press and setting up the Bengali Press at 45, Chorbagan Street in 1818. In an insertion in Government Gazette in May that year, Roy announced that their newly found press would bring out a WEEKLY BENGAL GAZETTE carrying the essential notifications and information issued by the government in ‘correct’ and ‘concise’ Bengali language together with an almanac in which would be registered among other things, news of births, marriages and deaths among the Hindus. The price of subscription was 2 rupees a month.11 This was another pioneering project for it was the first weekly brought out by a Bengali. Two months later, Government Gazette carried a report confirming that the weekly gazette had been started: No publication of this nature having hitherto been before the Public, HURROCHUNDER ROY trusts that the community in general will encourage and support his exertions in the attempt which he has made and afford him a small share of their Patronage.12 It was a weekly newspaper that appeared every Friday. No copy of this paper, evidence of a remarkable initiative, has survived nor did the paper live longer than a year. It found mention in the contemporary Asiatic Journal of July 1819 that Bengal Gazette reprinted some of Rammohan Roy’s essays on Sati. The support and patronage that Roy solicited was either not forthcoming or may have tapered off. The partnership of Bhattacharya and Roy too ended in 1820 as reported in the September edition of the missionary paper, The Friend of India: For more than six years, he (Bhattacharya) continued to print in Calcutta various works in the Bengalee language, but having disagreed with his coadjutor, he has now removed his press to his native village. He appointed agents in the chief towns and villages in Bengal, from whom his books were purchased with great avidity.13 It was actually four years between the time that Annadamangal and Bidyasundar were published and Bhattacharya returned home to his village where we know of at least two books that he published – Bhagawat Gita and Drobyogun in 1824.14 52

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By the end of the 1820s, as other entrepreneurs entered the business, it was reported that four presses were, ‘in constant employ, conducted by natives, and supported by the native population.’15 The number of printed books recorded was 27, allowing an average of 5.4 to each printing house. Eight out of these books can be tracked back to Bhattacharya’s enterprise, all of them but the dictionary being older texts and involved conversion of manuscripts to books. Three others including Bhagwat Gita had already been printed by the missionary press for Fort William College and Bhattacharya regarded it worth printing again. The other printing house that we already know of in 1820 was Lallu Lal’s Sanskrit Press. Only two in the list of 27 new books seemed to have been contemporary writings – Karuna Nidhan Bilas and Shanti Shatak – critical commentaries on current changes in situation – a theme that would soon become a rage. There is no reason to think that the list exhausted all books that were printed and published.16 Karuna Nidhi Bilas compiled by Raja Joy Narayan Ghoshal was printed and published in 1820 by a new press started by Bishwambhar Deb three years earlier. Deb was in all likelihood related to the family of prosperous banians, the Debs of Shobhabazar elevated in economic and social status with the title ‘Raja.’ He was also the publisher of Shanti Shatak written by Kali Krishna Deb.17 In judging the state and standard of publishing by local Indians, a prerogative the missionaries took upon themselves, having introduced the technology and an authority they subsequently gained from Company’s government, the essay in The Friend of India gave an appreciative report. Compared to Europe where printing was introduced when intellect was still undeveloped, In India the case is different: the energies of the human mind have been already called into action; and the acuteness, penetration, and literary skill, which distinguish the eastern productions of the last twenty centuries, have astonished even the enlightened scholars of Europe.18 This was reflected in ‘native works’ printed by ‘Natives themselves, and sold among the Hindoo population with astonishing rapidity. An unprecedented impulse has been communicated to the inhabitants of Bengal, and the avidity for reading has increased beyond all former example.’19 Following Gangakishore Bhattacharya’s pioneering efforts, the lively engagement of local Bengalis in the field of printing and publishing 53

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resulted in the most startling proliferation of activities. Bishwambhar Deb had already embarked upon his business and within a year of Bhattacharya’s departure from Calcutta, Tarachand Datta and Bhabani Charan Bandyopadhyay, residents of Kolutala, a neighbourhood in the north, launched another Bengali weekly, Sambad Kaumudi. Its first issue appeared on 4 December 1821 by which time Bengal Gazette of Bhattacharya and Roy had ceased to exist. Kaumudi became the platform for Rammohan Roy’s polemical essays, a cause for its distinction but one that also contributed to its troubled existence. Bhabani Charan Bandyopadhyay broke away from the partnership on grounds of ideological difference with Roy’s radical position on Hindu idolatry and Sati, championing the cause of conserving tradition and convention of time-honoured practices, instead. Within three months, he acquired a new press in the same locality and started a newspaper called Samachar Chandrika whose first issue appeared on 5 March 1822. What gave his publishing house lasting fame were the satires that Bhabani Charan wrote on contemporary changes in habits and behaviour in the new urban culture of Calcutta.20 The animus between Sambad Kaumudi and Samachar Chandrika was often expressed in the vitriolic exchanges of comments about one another. Shortly after taking off, the business of printing and publishing drew in different sets of people by providing new impetus to traditional professions of the author/writer and creating new ones of the editor, printer and publisher. There was an enthusiastic embracing of the new technology, an acute awareness of the dominant presence of the British and the new intellectual directives and a canny appreciation that traditional local textual practices and customs could serve the opportunities on offer. An exciting braid of past and present, of culture and technology, of praxis and learning determined the print culture in the early decades of the 19th century. The choice of Annadamangal as the first text to be printed proved prescient as its subsequent success demonstrated; in all likelihood, it may have been a very popular text and therefore an obvious choice for Gangakishore Bhattacharya. Having severed ties with Bhattacharya when Harachandra Roy decided to go on his own, Bengali Press printed and published the second edition of Annadamangal in 1823. It appears to be the same text as Bhattacharya’s because like the former it was only Annadamangal and Bidyasundar, without the last section, Man Singh pala. There was now a new artist for all the illustrations in the book, named Bishwanath Mukherjee (spelt Bissonaut Mukherjea). The pictures were all woodcut prints. Designing 54

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and engraving were usually done by the same person. Deep captions below the pictures described the moments depicted, similar to the earlier one.21 The 1823 edition is the oldest surviving printed version of Annadamangal. The imprint of the manuscript with run-on lines and continuous words was very strong and this must have been because there was a deliberate attempt to keep the convention intact and maintain the difference with the codex format of the book introduced by print. The first page of a manuscript usually had the name of the author and then the scribe/writer who copied it, with a brief note addressing readers, by way of establishing a connection with them. It also mentioned the date of completion of the text.22 Many features of this practice appeared on the 1823 edition. The name of the scribe was replaced by the name of the printing press and its address. On top of the front of the printed page featuring salutation to goddess Durga, introduced Bharat Chandra as the courtier of Krishna Chandra Roy, a king among peers who composed Annadamangal within which Bidyasundar is now being published by Bengali Press in Arpuli, ‘near Kanai Datta’s house on the eastern corner of Ishwarikali Thakurani’s house.’23 Printing the address with clear instructions about location was to be a standard practice before proper house address and street names appeared. Two separate contents, new to printing, divided Annadamangal of 168 pages from Bidyasundar, 136 pages long. And lines in each page were continuous as they were in manuscripts, not breaking them in any order of rhythm. About to go into print, Gangakishore Bhattacharya informed through a published announcement that the text had been ‘corrected’ by several pundits and that none other than Padmalochan Churamoni had given his final approval. Did this assertion make a claim to an improved version? Or was it making a case for printing? Or was it indicating that hand copied manuscripts were liable to scribal mistakes and orthographical inconsistencies? Or was he trying to get around objections from Brahmin pundits regarding printing of religious texts?24 Manuscripts of religious texts and its hallowed presence amidst gods in the prayer rooms had to be taken out to the public domain which required some justification that was provided by claims of accuracy and authenticity. Every new edition of print stated that the manuscript had been ‘corrected’ by scholars repeatedly, as frequent copying by scribes made them susceptible to inaccuracies, and the original was never found. The 192-page long Bidyasundar by Ramprasad Sen published for the first time by Bhaskar Press in 1853 was also prefaced that it had been 55

Figure 2.1 Front Page of Annadamangal, 1823 Source: Bharat Chandra Roy, Annadamangal (Calcutta: Bengali Press, 1823). © The British Library Board (14129.c.2)

Figure 2.2 Annada and Shiva, 1823 Source: Bharat Chandra Roy, Annadamangal (Calcutta: Bengali Press, 1823). © The British Library Board (14129.c.2)

Figure 2.3 Bidya and Sundar: first sight, 1823 Source: Bharat Chandra Roy, Annadamangal (Calcutta: Bengali Press, 1823). © The British Library Board (14129.c.2)

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checked by many scholars several times. Ishwar Gupta faced a huge challenge when trying to put together the songs Ramprasad Sen had composed. Ramprasad was believed to have composed his songs and sang them while in a state of deep contemplation and devotion while some of his contemporaries tried to write them down, but Gupta had a hard time locating these manuscripts and ascertain their authenticity.25 As the technology of printing was introduced on the back of colonial rule, the primacy of ‘authorship’ in textual validation, a singularly European import, came to bear upon the practice of proving the genuineness and worthiness of a book.26 The Orientalist scholars, led by William Jones, set an example of writing poetry that would be ‘authentic’ representations of the East. This had a huge impact on the Bengali poets writing in English.27 The convention could well have percolated down to the publishers some of whom had been working with the British Orientalists. Printed texts, however, did not put an end to this pursuit for the perfect copy. At the beginning of the 20th century, more than 100 years after Ramayana had been printed by the missionaries and reprints and new copies by other publishers must have run into thousands, a new Ramayana by Kritibas in seven volumes, ‘annotated,’ ‘illustrated’ and ‘pure’ was published in 1928. The editor, Kabibhushan Purna Chandra De, in his long explanatory introduction described how he had selected 11 of the oldest manuscripts dating from the time of the Mughals and found discrepancies and differences in all of them. He edited and compiled a text that seemed most appropriate and meaningful.28 It was not unheard of that the copiers wrote from an oral rendition of the poem by a rural raconteur. While editing Krishnaram Das’s complete works,29 Satyanarayan Bhattacharya observed regarding at least two manuscripts – of Kalikamangal and Sashtimangal – preserved in the Asiatic Society that appeared so full of mistakes in spellings and words used that they seemed to have been written down after listening, rather than being copied from another written script.30 Copiers were never famed for their intellect and mistakes were common, especially with regards to loan words. On a different discussion, William Adam on the state of education in Bengali observed in 1835 that manuscripts were so inaccurate that they ‘vitiated’ rather than helped the study of language.31 There was always a rationale for publishing a new edition on the basis of ‘correctness.’ When a new publishing house was started in 1847, called the Sanskrit Press, there was no introduction but only a single line on the front page, printed on improved machine and in refined script, ‘Corrected 58

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with reference to the original manuscript obtained from the court of Krishnanagar.’ Printed texts were not intended to replace oral/aural culture of manuscripts but to improve the experience of reading and listening. The printed book, after all, made many copies available to many more people. As a matter of fact, their demand lay in their ability to augment oral traditions as printed and published texts were put back into the domain of the reader and listeners. Thus, we find in the printed versions of Annadamangal a line carried at the end of a pala or section that it was concluding the day’s reading on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Print thus aligned itself to the scribal world facilitating an easy transition by registering the oral practices and their features in the formation of the book. This was a characteristic that marked the printed versions of older manuscripts in the early years of book production. They were often arranged like a manuscript and were expected to be read like them. All religious texts were edited by leading Brahmin scholars and the more well known they were the better it was for marketing the books they edited.32 The interlocking of the scribal and print cultures, the common space they shared, was mirrored in the journey of the book, Annadamangal and Bidyasundar. At 4 rupees, Annadamangal published by Bhattacharya was certainly an expensive book but not an exceptional one. Texts in the first decade of the century were chosen with care, produced well and priced high. There were two kinds of paper available – imported English paper cost a lot more than the local variety called Patna which was a generic term for locally made paper. In the early 19th century, the Christian missionaries started producing paper in Srirampur.33 But some books warranted good quality. A book on local inheritance law called Mitakshara, written by Lakshmikanta Nyayalankar and published by Baptist Missionary Press in 1823 on good paper in Bengali with Sanskrit originals, 505 pages long was priced at 16 rupees. Bengalis like Bhattacharya and Roy also catered to this niche demand and catered to students of Fort William College, government officials or private collections of local wealthy Bengalis. As books made their appearance in Bengal, they became artefacts for possession. Thus, buying books and building up private libraries became fashionable with ‘men of wealth.’ Even those of more modest means were proud to possess printed books34 especially if they offered piety in the bargain. Books printed in the first two decades were all priced on an average at 3 rupees. The second mangalkabya that went into print was Chandimangal by Kabi Kankan Mukundaram Chakrabarti in 1823–24. Revised by 59

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Ramjoy Vidyasagar Bhattacharya, this was published by Bishwambhar Deb.35 There was a second edition in the following year and it proved to be as popular in print as Annadamangal. Between their first printed versions and 1850, there were seven Chandimangal and eight Annadamangal, a close competition. Books relating to religion, including epics, mythologies, scriptures and praises of various gods, dominated the publishing space till the middle of the 19th century, continuing the custom of oral and scribal culture.36

In the footsteps of the book Gangakishore Bhattacharya may have pioneered another trend. By advertising that he was publishing Annadamangal and Bidyasundar, he indicated the potential of the latter to hold its own as a separate text. In fact, the 1823 edition with two disconnected contents page demarcated the first volume from the second. The popularity of the story of Bidyasundar in the 18th century had been adequately proven by it being composed by two poets in the court of Krishnanagar. In 1817–18, Bishwanath Deb started a new printing house, not far from where he lived in Shobhabazar. Taking the hint from Bhattacharya, he published Bidyasundar and it was thus responsible for launching its journey as a separate printed book with consequences the early publishers could never have foreseen. There is no record of how Deb fared with his first publication, but he came to be regarded as the founder of popular printing that in time was labelled by the generic term ‘Battala,’ the name drawn from a region in north Calcutta around which local Bengalis gradually came to build homes and live. The significance of this publishing house and others that followed was in that they produced books at a low cost, brought the prices down and set off in the process an irreversible trend in the publishing world. In the densely populated part of the city, these entrepreneurs developed a keenly competitive field of book printing and publishing. They created new demand for printed books and the many uses they were put to. Bidyasundar thrived in these new conditions with nine editions till 1851, outnumbered only by epics and Bhagawat Gita.37 ‘Of the most lucrative books the leading one was the composition of poet Bharat Chandra, popularly known as Bidyasundar,’ surmised scholar Sukumar Sen.38 None of these cheap editions of Bidyasundar carried any editorial comments regarding corrections or emendations. After several editions, Bidyasundar did not need any as its familiarity 60

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was the strongest guarantee against printing errors. Motivated by the success of the editions, publishers now innovated. Disengaged from the larger verse composition, Bidyasundar emerged as a separate text that allowed for accretion to create a longer and more embellished piece. The 1836 edition was named Bidyasundar O Chorpanchashika, a set of verses that was ascribed to Bharat Chandra, triggering a debate among scholars and publishers later in the century over authorship and authenticity.39 Another book with a slightly expanded title, Bidyasundar Namok Grantha O Chor Panchashak Sloka (the book named Bidyasundar and Chorpanchashik verses), was published in the same year. These verses could be recited with flourish and interpreted for spiritual and temporal gratification. The life of Bidyasundar was now well under way reflecting the process by which Bengali printed books were gradually beginning to outline a space for local enterprises in publishing to come of their own.

A new version Thirty-one years after its first public appearance, Annadamangal surfaced in a new avatar in 1847 due to the enterprise of one who was to become another very successful book publisher and seller. Having resigned from his position as the Deputy Secretary of Sanskrit College, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the scholar, educationist and social reformer, decided to set up a press and a book store. By this time, there were more than 20 presses operating in the region around Shobhabazar. Vidyasagar chose a new spot next to the pond called Lal Dighi a little north east of Shobhabazar, and the book he selected for the venture was Annadamangal. Vidyasagar collaborated with his colleague and friend Madan Mohan Tarkalankar in this project; the two borrowed 600 rupees for acquiring a wooden printing press and typographical blocks. They were supposed to have paid off his debts from the sale of the book.40 Vidyasagar did become a very successful textbook writer. Sanskrit Press Depository as the book store was called turned into a ‘model’ book store of its time. Annadamangal did brisk business for Sanskrit Press as its multiple editions confirm. The first edition in 1847 made no mention of Bharat Chandra on the front page. This was changed in the 1853 edition that carried the name of Shri Bharat Chandra Roy as the composer of Annadamangal. Both carried the crucial mention, just below the title, that the printed version was based on the original manuscript, 61

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obtained from the royal court of Krishnanagar. Therefore, there was no need for correction as there could be no doubts over its genuineness. The first did not carry any contents page, which made it quite different from other contemporary editions. Annadamangal was 259 pages long while Bidyasundar was combined with Man Singh pala and was 302 pages. The 1853 edition included two separate pages of content (suchipatra). There were, however, no omissions in the descriptions of Sundar and Bidya’s lovemaking or attempts at sanitisation that Ishwar Chandra came to be known for. These early editions were priced at 6 rupees. The striking feature of Sanskrit Press publications lay in their neatly set type scripts, improved printing with metal blocks on good paper without any illustrations. An older version of Annadamangal printed in 1845 comes very close to the Sanskrit Press edition with exactly the same number of pages. Unfortunately, the copy in the National Library Kolkata is frayed with the front page missing, together with the price. The quality of printing and improved orthography lent credibility to these editions of Annadamangal and raised the standards of publication. By this time, indigenous publishing, 40 years old (1816–56), started to show signs of severing its ties from the scribal/oral past. The number of books that the ‘native’ publishing houses produced had grown significantly by the middle of the century.41 Encouraged by the demand and market for books, publishers were beginning to explore different opportunities for printing; there was a substantial rise in the number of newly written books. They continued to print older manuscripts but with time, reprints of older texts outnumbered new editions of them. The culture of print evolved in Bengal with the rise in local enterprises, through all their differences and diverse interests. These were increasingly reflected in the commentaries, discussions and debates on books that newspapers and journals carried as the Bengalis discoursed on their own literature – past and present. New kinds of writing including satires and spoofs on the experience of urban living under colonial dispensation were features singular to print culture as were new textual productions for recreation and different kinds of performance. The choice of Annadamangal as the first book for a new enterprise was an outcome of tactical consideration not of faith and superstition. On its own Bidyasundar unfettered by spiritual prescriptions could flit through differing domains of slim, cheap productions, wide market, of performance, of tales and retelling. As printing and publishing in the 19th century came of its own, a whole new world was born. The story of Bidyasundar was a product of this world. 62

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The textual journey of Bidyasundar shared similarities with another extremely popular publication which too connected two different cultural worlds: the publication of the almanac, locally called ‘panjika’ or ‘panji.’ The first newspaper Bengal Gazette that Bhattacharya and Dutt published was to include ‘the Almanack, for the subsequent Months with the Hindoo Births, Marriages, and Deaths.’42 As a separate volume, the first almanac was published the same year in 1818 by at least two persons – Ramhari and Durgaprasad Bidyabhushan.43 From the following year, the press owned by Samachar Darpan, the newspaper run by missionaries of Srirampur, published yearly almanac and soon other publishers of newspaper and books joined in, to follow the example. They included Bishwambhar Deb, Pitambar Sen and Bhabani Charan Bandhyopadhyay. More than 250,000 copies of almanacs were reported to be doing their rounds as separate books yearly, their circulation surpassing all publications.44 Almanacs too had been imported from the manuscript world. Astrologers travelled around the villages reading from handwritten directory of the lunar calendar as women and priests made note of the dates for essential religious ceremonies. Printing made it easy for this information to be circulated and printers and publishers were quick to take advantage of the opportunity. Competition in the market ensured imaginative additions to staid registry of dates and information of stars. The sales pitch lay precisely in these accretions even while they often sought credence from tracing their lineage to the court of Krishna Chandra Roy. Gautam Bhadra’s detailed discussion of the almanacs show how over the 19th century, they accumulated features to stay ahead of commercial competition. Illustrations formed essential components as did registry of time – sacred and temporal, historical and contemporary – and essential nuggets associated with and crucial to life in the city.45 A brief posting in the periodical Somprakash dated 17 December 1866 had very good things to say about an almanac that Srichandra Vidyanidhi had published and had become quite popular. The reason for its success was that corresponding with the English calendar, it enumerated Bengali dates, time and lunar moments (tithi) indicating the favourable juncture for different religious rites particularly funerary (shradhha). It also carried sayings of mythical Khana, a repository of practical wisdom, life’s guide book. All the information was put together by Rasiklal Thakur.46 Publishing and an urban market made a new text of almanacs that became a substantial book of immense value to the people. 63

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The journey forward The presence of Annadamangal and Bidyasundar was now well established within the larger field of indigenous publishing practices. On 6 October 1851, Sambad Purnachandradoy Press, which had been running a weekly since 1838, announced that it proposed to publish the whole of Annadamangal. Run by a traditional business family, it had positioned itself among the more discerning publishing enterprises, with a clear feel for the market for books. The short preface summarised the view from within the Bengali community of the increasingly fractured field of local printing and publishing business and their dissimilar standards of products keeping in focus Annadamangal and Bidyasundar: Everybody would admit that compared to all books of verses, poet Bharat Chandra Roy’s compositions were very mellifluous and can be regarded as ideal in poetry writing. One could repeatedly read Bharat Chandra and still remain yearn for more. ‘. . . . Since the beginning of the printing press, these compositions have been published several times by many presses and made available widely. Nevertheless, all put together have never been easily obtainable. In other words, Annadmangal, Bidyasundar, Chorpanchashat and Man Singh, these four books, properly edited, produced well, using fine font and all together have hardly ever been published. The first two books had been printed by small presses in large quantities making them accessible to a large number of people. But the effect of reading such available books is grief and therefore pointless. Whoever benefits from reading horribly scripted, on grubby paper, badly printed books full of mistakes? Therefore, for the awareness of everybody, all compositions by Bharat Chandra are being printed at low cost and after being edited and corrected with reference to other texts, on good paper, using fine font so that people truly benefit from reading them.’ The cost of such a compilation was to be 1 mudra or 1 rupee.47 Purnachandradoy Press was started in 1838 with the objective of improving the existing standard of printing in Bengal and began a weekly edited by Aditya Charan Auddy. In one of its early editorials it remarked critically that the plethora of presses and the huge increase in printed books in recent years had not achieved the expected outcome 64

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of improving knowledge. There had been a huge influx of cheap prints from small presses that used bad paper and poor scripts. These cheap prints offered no intellectual gratification to persons of the genteel class and were consumed by the lowly and vulgar. Due to the proliferation of presses, printed books had become cheap and more modest people were encouraged to read. But it was indeed a pity that because of the poor quality of these productions, there has been no improvement in the level of knowledge. The outcry was against books that were printed carelessly without proper corrections or editing. Predicated by such a definitive assertion, the press was confident 13 years later that its edition of Annadamangal and Bidyasundar together with Chorpanchashak and Man Singh would make it to a refined publication. The difference in quality and standards of printing was embossed on the body of Annadamangal and Bidyasundar. It was printed on their improved machine and paper with Muktaram Bidyabagish as the editor of Annadamangal. Nandakumar Kabiratna Bhattacharya translated Chorpanchashat.

Book in its own right By now Bidyasundar was quite on its own, and there were several editions in the market. The latest were published in 1853 and 1857, bringing the total to 11 editions from the beginning. In 1853, Bhaskar Press in Shobhabazar brought out Bidyasundar and Lakshmibilas Press, at 265 Chitpur Road, published it in 1857.48 Many more were to follow in the 1860s and 1870s. What does this variety of editions tell us about popular printing in Bengal in the 19th century? We compare three editions published in 1867, 1868 and 1874. The 1867 edition was published by Ramkanai Das on the Sudhasindhu Press, located in Jorasanko on Balaram De Street, house number 33. The date of publication was 25th Bhadra, 1275 (August–September 1867). A slim volume of bold legible print using Patna paper, this edition scrimped by combining illustrations with written matter on the same page with continuous lines, not broken according to rhythm of the verse. The following year, Sudhanidhi Press owned by Indranath Ghosh on Chitpur Road in Battala published a new edition with illustrations on separate pages. The script looked much the same. Both these books carried complete texts of Roy’s composition. The third one was printed by Jaharilal Shil and published by Troilakyanath Datta on Sudharnava Press at 117, Chitpur Road in 1282 (1874). In the 94 pages, four sections describing Bidya and Sundar’s coition in 65

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the original text was deleted. Instead, a signature line that this has been stated by Bharat Chandra was inserted to keep the continuity of the narrative. The omission broke the narrative but not the coherence of the tale. This was the first attempt at publishing a censored and sanitised version. The book that Sil and Datta published used clear font and used good quality paper. It also registered progress in printing practices. Sixty years after its first appearance in print there were several versions of Bidyasundar in the market and this edition, therefore, did not have to go back to any manuscript for verification. Instead, in a brief prelude, Datta the publisher stated that after referring to other printed editions, he had tried to maintain some sort of consistency and parity with them in his edition of Bidyasundar. It marked a decisive departure from the world of manuscripts, signifying at the same time the maturing and coming of age of the publishing business. Prices meanwhile made a significant climb down. The Sanskrit Press edition of Annadamangal, Bidyasundar and Man Singh combined cost 1 rupee, 8 annas in the 1860s. Popular Battala editions cost as little as 1 anna or 4 paisa whereas a book of songs would have easily cost 6 paisa. Prices of books in general had reduced as larger numbers were produced in the market. Barnaparichay by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the Bengali primer that till 1875 had run its 64th edition with 20,000 print runs each time, cost 1 anna. However, Ramayana published by Sanskrit Press, despite several popular editions cost as much as 20 rupees, and Kalidasa’s Raghuvansham cost 6 rupees in 1865.49 Prices reflected the nature of demand. One rupee for Annadamangal was what Purnachandradoy edition cost too. Printing presses in general profited from the popularity of Bidyasundar and Annadamangal, especially when they were competitively priced. In the year 1853–54, Bhagirathi Press at Garanahata Street published Annadamangal, 166 pages long, at 1 rupee. Of the 1,000 copies printed, 600 were sold. Bhaskar Press published Bidyasundar at 1 rupee but sold only 100 of the 500 copies printed. Chaitanya Chandraday Press did better when it published the same year Annadamangal at 1 rupee 2 annas and sold 900 of 1,000 copies. In comparison, Bidyasundar published by Kamalalay Press at Banstala in 1853–54 and priced at 1 anna 3 paisa sold the entire 1,200 copies. Bhaskar Press, however, got a beating when only 100 of its 500 Bidyasundar were sold perhaps because it had over priced it at 1 rupee for only one section of the text.50 66

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As the business of books expanded, prices became a critical indicator. Gangakishore had priced Annadamangal at 4 rupees in 1816. In 1825, Bidyasundar alone was priced at 2 rupees. In 1857, a 61-page Bidyasundar cost only 2 annas if the paper was coarse and 1 rupee if it was fine.51 The reason these books could afford to be so cheap was because they were sold in huge numbers as Bidyasundar did; it was comparable to almanacs both in price and quantities available in the market. Prices, went down to 1 anna or 4 paisa for a copy of Bidyasundar. In the year 1857–58, the largest print runs in this list of books were claimed by almanacs (5–15,000), Christian tracts (2–10,000) and textbooks (1–10,000). Among fictions and literary works, Bidyasundar topped the chart. Lakshmibilas Press started operations in 1857 with eight titles with an average print run of between 500 and 3,000 books. At 2 and a half annas, it printed 3,750 copies of Bidyasundar, the highest figure for a book in that category from all the 50 presses put together. Once again Bidyasundar did not fail the confidence of the publisher. ‘In four months nearly the whole sold; a most popular tale; clever but obscene,’ observed Long. In the same year, two other presses printed 2,000 copies of 432 pages and 1,000 copies of 450 pages of Annadamangal. There were thus 6,750 editions of Bidyasundar doing its round in the market in that year. During a period in which 600,000 books were printed for sale annually, it was an impressive percentage for a single text to claim. For most of the decade of the 1850s, Bidyasundar and Annadamangal remained popular texts that printers and publishers could bank on. Price of books as indicative of the quality of production was somewhat misleading because books printed by the Christian missionaries for purposes of propaganda and proselytising were deliberately kept low as were books that catered to a large readership who could ill afford to pay more. A thousand books were acquired by the Public Library in 1855 with money that the wealthy zamindar of Uttarpara, Joykrishna Mukherjee, a bibliophile paid for. Books may have been sold at prices lower than the ones printed on the texts. The most expensive books were textbooks such as Haughton’s Bengali Selections and Yates’ Introduction to Bengali, Mahabharata and Ramayana printed by Srirampur Press at 5 and 4 rupees respectively. Gobind Chandra Munsif’s Guide was equally expensive costing 4 rupees. Almanacs were cheaper at 8 annas, which was half a rupee. The cheapest in the list costing 2 paisa was a thin 20-page tract called Erotic Stanzas of Kalidasa. Close on its heels at 3 paisa was a Christian tract named 67

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Ramhari O Sadhu followed by Parables at 6 paisa. They were longer texts as was the one against caste system called Jati Britanta which cost 6 paisa. The price quoted for Annadamangal and Bidyasundar seemed to reflect much more the reality of the market. A combined volume comprising all three texts and of 302 pages was priced at 1 rupee in 1849 and in 1851 and later too. But disaggregated, they could be sold cheaper. Annadmangal and Bidyasundar cost 6 annas each, and Man Singh 4 annas.52 Of the three sections, Bidyasundar, as expected, sold the largest number of copies and often cheaper than the printed price.

Books and the city There was without a doubt an urban background to the growth of indigenous publishing of Bengali books, though it gradually spread to the suburbs and villages. The kind of books that were being published did reflect the changing nature of people’s lives in the budding city of Calcutta where various sets of people came to settle. Reading aloud in street corners was not an uncommon sight in Calcutta. But books offered something more than just an aural session for religious gratification. They became a successful means of entertainment for an urban cluster, especially if they were poetry and verse tales. Of the books published between 1816 and 1852, classic tales and poetry claim a significant share of the total numbers of prints. As Sukumar Sen points out not very charitably, till the middle of the 19th century, before educated Bengalis, influenced by the sensibilities of Western taste, started composing modern poetry, Bharat Chandra’s composition was the ideal for local bards to emulate though no one was comparable to his intellect and refinement.53 But these compositions offered the publishing house ready materials to print. Once a printing press was set up, it had to keep running and publishers often engaged people to write. We know from Samuel Johnson’s experience how in the 18th century, printing houses in London created hack writers.54 To keep busy, publishing houses often compromised on quality. The situation in Calcutta was summed up in the editorial of the journal Sambad Purnachandradoy in its 20 April 1850 edition (9 Baisakh, 1257). The profusion of printing presses, it felt, in reality, had not extended the field of knowledge to the extent they could have done by their large numbers. A large number of books were being published, full of errors and printed on inferior quality paper. Available at cheap price, they could not be taken with any seriousness by the genteel folks as they did little to add to their interest but catered to that of the 68

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vulgar and lowly. Those who had set up publishing houses did so for purposes of making profits and this had badly affected the standard of books produced. The editorial compared early printed books in Calcutta to the ones published later and found a palpable drop in quality, attributable to the runaway commercialisation of publishing.55 Such censorious outrage expressed by members of contemporary Bengali educated, well-bred class was not uncommon but despite thriving in the alleys of Battala, Bidyasundar invalidated the obvious divide between ‘trash’ and ‘refined,’ the popularity of the story reaching the portals of high culture. Severed from the larger text, however, Bidyasundar, the structure of its story and the manner in which it unfolded, inspired a wide spectrum of compositions – easy poetry, pedestrian songs and elite theatre. It was the first Bengali play publicly staged by Nabin Chandra Bose in his house in Shyambazar in the north of the city in 1831, and it continued till 1835. Bose staged these plays four or five times a year completely at his own cost. It is no surprise that he shortly ran out of funds and the plays had to be stopped. The Hindu Pioneer of the 22 October 1835 edition carried a long review of the play Bidyasundar complimenting on the music played by an all Brahmin crew. It seems that it was Bharat Chandra’s composition that was used as dialogue of the play for there is no record of any drama being written specifically to be enacted based on Bidyasundar till later. Two decades later, the first prose drama based on the story and called Bidyasundar was written in 1858 by Jyotindramohan Tagore.56 This version, because of its author’s fame in the cultural world of Calcutta, became something of a model for plays in the 1850s. This was published seven years later in 1865 by Ishwar Chandra Bose on his new Stanhope Press. The small insertion by way of a broadcast said: Seven years ago, one respectable gentleman at the request of some friends had written this book and only for them had printed 100 copies from his own liberality has given us the copyright of the book. He has also edited the book, changed and revised it. We have printed it along with 6 pictures.57 It was priced at 1 rupee. The author Tagore and the publisher Bose were somewhat doubtful of the success of the reconstructed version of Bidyasundar. For the author, it was offering a rehashed version of a widely known story and text. Bidyasundar was so widely known that 69

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to write a play based on the story was like passing off something old for new. He had written it at the request of friends and printed enough copies only to circulate among them. The publisher, in his turn, wondered if the text sheared of the original mood for which Bharat Chandra’s composition was noted for, discouraged Tagore from publishing it earlier. The love scenes had to be eliminated, the text ‘sanitized’ and the essential mood (rasa) of beauty and love (sringara) largely compromised. The storyline and its many climacteric episodes were intact and possibilities of theatrical performances immense. The dramatic moments were interspersed by songs, each of which was prefaced by clear instructions of raga and tala, to be followed. Bidyasundar tugged at the tension between what was well known, popular and thus guaranteed participation and a conscious design to improve cultural taste and preference of the public. The first could not be overlooked, even when the second became a priority. Meanwhile, its fame crossed the linguistic barrier. In 1870, the Chandraprabha Press of Benaras published a translation of Bidyasundar by the famous litterateur, Bharatendu Harishchandra. The introduction laid it down: The tale of Vidya Sundar is very popular in Bengal. . . . It is said that poet Chaur who is the composer of Chaur Panchashika is Sundar. . . . The famous poet Bharat Chandra had reconstructed this story in the form of lyric and his poetry was so fine that in Bengal, children, elderly, women are all aware of it. Jyotindramohan Tagore had, adapted that ballad into a play. Based on that play, today 15 years later (12 more likely), the Hindi version has been written. In the history of written drama, this is the second in pure Hindi (not diluted by Vraj Basha). . . . The government of North Western Province by buying 100 copies has raised the importance and prestige.58 The wide popularity of the first edition in 1870 led to its reprint in 1883. The Hindi translation was true to the original text in Bengali. The only difference was in the choice of ragas for the songs inserted and perhaps there are more songs in the latter. Raga Behag dominated Hindi Vidyasundar while ragini Khambaj in taal Khemta was the Bengali choice. Within Bengal, Bidyasundar transitioned from the stage to pages of a printed text as its songs were collated into a new operatic mode. In 70

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1876, Kedarnath Gangopadhyay wrote Bidyasundar Jatra, which was a compilation of songs by the famous performer Gopal Ure.59 In a new unfamiliar world, Bidyasundar thrived and its ubiquitous presence and dominance on the urban cultural scene of the 19th century was unquestioned but not unchallenged. For reasons completely outside itself, Bidyasundar found itself in the eye of a different storm that formed the context of Bengal’s negotiation with the British in the field of literary creativity, conventions and practices. There was no easy resolution. The man who was quite central to these negotiations was Reverend James Long, introduced earlier as the most diligent of cataloguers of Bengali printed books. His contribution in the life of Bidyasundar was, however, far greater as we see in the next chapter.

Notes 1 Baburam amassed quite a bit of wealth, enough to retire to Benaras. Essays published in The Friend of India, a periodical of Serampore Missionaries. Essays Relative to the Habits, Character and Moral Improvement of the Hindoos, London: Kingsbury, Parbury & Allen, 1823, p. 143. 2 Sukumar Sen believed missionary William Carey may have used Bhattacharya as the front for printing and selling Anandamangal. Padmalochan Churamoni who was named the editor may have worked for Carey as an assistant. Sen surmises this because the edition did not have re-run and the Mission Press could not have printed this book. Is it because of Bidyasundar? Sukumar Sen, Battalar Chhapa O Chobi, Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1989, pp. 12–13. 3 Brajen Bandhyopadhyay, Khodai Chitre Bangali, Sahitya Parishat Patrika, 1346, 1939, pp. 154–155. 4 Graham Shaw, Printing in Calcutta to 1800: A Description and Checklist of Printing in Late 18th-Century Calcutta, London: The Bibliographical Society, 1981, p. 2. James Augustus Hicky was the first to start a business in printing. See Tapti Roy, Disciplining the Printed Text: Colonial and Nationalist Surveillance of Bengali Literature, in P. Chatterjee (ed.), Texts of PowerEmerging Disciplines in Colonial Bengal, Calcutta: Samya, 1996, p. 3. 5 Sen, Battalar Chhapa O Chobi, pp. 21–22; Barunkumar Mukhopadhyay, Bamla Mudroner Chaarjug, in Chittaranjan Bandhyopadhyay (ed.), Bamla Mudron O Prokashan, Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1981, p. 15. 6 Jyotindramohan Bhattacharya, Bamla Mudrito Granthadir Talika, 1743– 1852, Calcutta: A. Mukherjee & Co., 1990, p. 124. 7 Brajendranath Bandhyopadhyay, Bangla Samayik Patra, Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishat, 1990, p. 11. 8 Mukhopadhyay, Bamla Mudroner Chaarjug, p. 95. 9 Bandhyopadhyay, Bangla Samayik Patra, pp. 11–12. 10 Benoy Ghosh, Mudron O Sanskriti, in Chittaranjan Bandhyopadhyay (ed.), Bamla Mudron O Prokashan, Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1981, p. 147, Mukhopadhyay, Bamla Mudroner Chaarjug, p. 95.

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11 Government Gazette quoted in Bandhyopadhyay, Bangla Samayik Patra, p. 12. 12 Ibid. 13 On the effect of the Native Press in India, The Friend of India, Quarterly series. Sept. 1820 quoted in Bandhyopadhyay, Bangla Samayik Patra, p. 13. 14 Mukhopadhyaya, Bamla Mudroner Chaarjug, p. 99. 15 Essays published in The Friend of India, a periodical of Serampore Missionaries, in Essays Relative to the Habits, Character and Moral Improvement of the Hindoos, London: Kingsbury, Parbury & Allen, 1823, p. 144. 16 Government Regulations that Bhattacharya published does not feature in the list, for instance. 17 Sen, Battalar Chhapa O Chobi, p. 13. 18 Essays Relative to the Habits, Character and Moral Improvement of the Hindoos, pp. 145–146. 19 Ibid. 20 Bandhyopadhyay, Bangla Samayik Patra, pp. 17–22; Bhabani Charan Bandhyopadhyay, Rasarachanasamagraha, Calcutta: Nabapatra Prakashan, 1987, pp. 1–10. They were the precursors to the farces and skits that 19th century popular publishing came to be notorious for. See John Clark Marshman, The Life and Times of Carey, Marshman, and Ward, London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts, 1859, p. 240. 21 On Native Press, The Friend of India, pp. 146–147. 22 Saiyid Hamza, Madhumalatir Katha, Manuscript, British Museum Collection. Also, Bidyasundar, Manuscript, British Museum Collection. MSS. BEN c3. 23 British Library Collection. 24 Benoy Ghosh, Mudron O Sanskriti, Chittaranjan Bandhyopadhyay (ed.), Bamla Mudron O Prokashan, Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1981, p. 147. 25 Bhabatosh Datta (ed.), Kabi Jiboni, Calcutta: Paschimbanga Bamla Academy, 1998, p. 64. 26 See Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, Refashioning Iran Orientalism and Historiography, Hampshire and New York: Palgrave, 2001, p. 33. 27 Rosinka Chaudhuri, Gentlemen Poets in Colonial Bengal-Emergent Nationalism and the Orientalist Project, Calcutta: Seagull, 2002, pp. 6–7. 28 Kabibhushan Sri Purna Chandra De Kabyaratna, edited, corrected and enlarged, Satik, Sachitra O Bishudhho, Saptkanda Kritibas Ramayana, 2nd ed., Calcutta: Ramesh Chandra Chakravorty, Chatterjee and Company Ltd., 1928, p. 13. 29 Author of Kalikamangal written in the 17th century. 30 Satyanarayan Bhattacharya (ed.), Kabi Krishnaram Daser Granthaval, Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1958, Introduction. 31 Anathnath Basu (ed.), William Adam, Reports on the State of Education in Bengal 1835 & 1838, Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1941, p. 8. 32 Ghosh, Mudran o Samskriti, p. 148. 33 Atul Sur, Kagaz O Kali, in C. Bandyopadhyay (ed.) Bamla Mudron O Prokashan, Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1981, pp. 400–406. 34 Essays Relative to the Habits, Character and Moral Improvement of the Hindoos, p. 144.

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35 Sen, Battalar Chhapa O Chobi, p. 13. 36 Roy, Disciplining the Printed Text, p. 40. 37 Jatindra Mohan Bhattacharya, Bangla Mudrita Granthadir Talika, 1743– 1852, Calcutta: A. Mukherjee & Co., 1990. 38 Sen, Battalar Chappa O Chobi, p. 26. 39 Bhattacharya, Bangla Mudrita Granthadir Talika. Discussed in Chapter 6. 40 Mukhopadhyay, Bamla Mudroner Chaarjug, p. 101. 41 According to Sambad Purnachandradoy (14 April 1851), there were 19 publishing houses of which 16 were in Battala. Quoted in Gautam Bhadra, Nera Bottolai Jai Kaw’bar?, Kolkata: Chhatim Books, 2011, pp. 326–327. 42 Bandhyopadhyay, Bangla Samayik Patra, p. 12. 43 Bhattacharya, Bangla Mudrita Granthadir Talika, p. 28 and Bhadra, Nera Bottolai Jai Kaw’bar?, p. 408. 44 Roy, Disciplining the Printed Text, p. 41. On Almanacs and Calendars published by the British, see Shaw, Printing in Calcutta to 1800, p. 16. 45 Bhadra, Nera Bottolai Jai Kaw’bar?, pp. 407–424. 46 J. Bhattacharya, Bangla Sambadpatre Bangla Granthaparichoy, 1818–1867, Sahitya Parishat Patrika, 1:62, 1956, p. 178. 47 Purnachandradoy, 21 Ashwin, 1258 (6/10/1851). Also see James Long, Returns Relating to Publications in the Bengali Language in 1857, in Selections from the Records of the Bengal Government, no. XXXII, Calcutta: General Printing Department, 1859, p. 35. 48 James Long, Returns of the names and writings of 515 persons connected with Bengali literature . . . 1818 to 1855. Selections from the Records of the Bengal Government Published by Authority, no. XXII, p. 90 and Returns relating to Publications in the Bengali Language in 1857, Calcutta, 1859. 49 J. Wenger, Catalogue of Sanskrit and Bengalee Publications Printed in Bengal, 1865, in Selections from the Records of the Bengal Government, Calcutta: The Bengal Central Press, 1865. 50 Correspondence relating to the Vernacular Education in the Lower Provinces of Bengal (Calcutta, 1855) Selections from the Records of the Bengal Government Published by Authority. No. XXII. 51 James Long, Returns relating to Publications in the Bengali Language in 1857 (Calcutta: 1859) Selections from the Records of the Bengal Government, No. XXXII, p. XIII. 16 annas made 1 rupee. 52 James Long (compiled), Catalogue of the Vernacular Literature Committee’s Library. Deposited by the Public Library. Babu Jaykissen Mukerjea. Calcutta 1855. Printed by Sanders Cones & Co. No. 16 Cossitollah. 53 Sukumar Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihas, vol. 2, Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1975, pp. 430–431. 54 Alvin Kernan, Printing Technology, Letters & Samuel Johnson, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987, p. 12. 55 Sambad Purnachndradoy, Daily. Editor, Adaityachandra Adhya. Calcutta, Amratala, No. 12, Published by Ramratna Bandhyopadhyay on Sambad Purnachndradoy press, Saturday, 9th Baisakh, 1257. The press was started in 1838. 56 He belonged to an adjoining branch of the celebrated Tagore family of Dwarakanath and Rabindranath.

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57 Bidyasundar Natak, Printed and published by Ishwar Chandra Bose and Co. 2nd edition. Stanhope Press. No. 182 Bowbazar Road, 1865. 58 Bharatendu Harishchandra, Vidyasundar Natak. Supported by the local government and Radha Prasad Singh Deo Bahadur, ruler of Domraj. Published by Mallikchandra and Company. Benaras, The Chandraprabha Press, 1883. 1st edition 1870. 59 Jatra or the more traditional theatrical performances with songs and dances performed on open stage. They became very popular in the 19th century. See Chapter 4.

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3 MISSIONARY AMONG CRITICS Start of reviews

James Long journeyed a long way from Cork in Ireland in 1840 as a young member of the Christian Missionary Society (CMS) to take charge of the school on Amherst Street, in north Calcutta that needed improvement from low enrolment of students and even fewer potential converts. The young missionary was soon distracted as he became deeply involved instead in exploring the ‘vernacular’ literary milieu of Bengal.1 He resigned from being the superintendent of CMS School in 1849 and began learning Bengali and training assistants to work among people in rural Bengal, to be able to read and understand what was circulating as printed texts.

The situation The British missionaries had put their hopes on the printing press that they believed would place ‘the means of acquiring knowledge within the reach of the great bulk of the people.’ Barbarism was to be driven away by ‘the light of truth to the suffering masses of India.’2 Long was the first missionary to find out if the hopes were for real. In 1850, 34 years after Gangakishore Bhattacharya’s venture, publishing in Calcutta and its neighbourhood was flourishing and a clear market for printed books had evolved largely due to the enthusiasm of the local Bengalis. The British government, still in the process of consolidation and embroiled in its own political and economic issues, spared little attention to the private enterprise of the people; the few observations in British-run journals were largely optimistic about the outcome of printing and publishing.3 Samacar Darpan, the weekly newspaper published by the Baptist Missionary Society of Srirampur, commented on the salubrious effect of the new machine on several occasions. In 1819, it noted that ‘printed books reached all ranks of people in the 75

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province’; in 1825, it observed that ‘works on many different branches of knowledge are being published by different scholars’; and in 1830, it wrote, ‘It surprises us that in so short a time, (16 years), they (people of Bengal) have achieved such progress in the field of printing.’4 James Long undertook a proper survey of the print world for the first time. His interest was both altruistic and calculated for he was genuinely curious and appreciative of ‘native’ literary and creative minds but hoped that refined Western sensibility would eventually prevail, useful books would be produced in greater numbers and evangelicalism would succeed. In the raging controversy within the British ruling class between groups who advocated the spread of education in English in India and those who supported the language of the people, the vernaculars, Long pitched in favour of the latter. He was dismayed that ‘the educated native generally despises, through ignorance, his own language, his conversation, reading and teaching is all through English, as it was last century through Persian, and six centuries ago through Sanskrit.’5 Long felt that English education, ‘helped to denationalize the educated classes and chill their enthusiasm for their own language.’6 He attributed this apathy to lack of awareness among Western-educated Bengalis about what was being published. His opinion echoed Ishwar Gupta’s concern that was driving him to investigate the lives of the past poets around the same time. The missionary launched a different project, but both their drives proved seminal in the life of Bengali books of the 19th century. Long began a thorough task of compiling lists of printed books and journals/magazines that were being produced by the local publishing houses in Calcutta and its neighbourhood, together with as much information as he could gather on them, their authors, editors and publishers. He completed what was to be the first of many catalogues. It was printed by the Srirampur Missionary Press in 1852 and received by the India Office Library in London in 1853.7 This catalogue arranged all publications that Long was able to locate, under definite categories such as History, Tale, Puranic, Vaishnav, Christian, Geography and so on. He hoped to bring to public notice the wide range of books that were being printed in Bengal. In 1853, the government of India instructed police officers to acquire returns of books printed in various presses within their jurisdictions. Long enthusiastically teamed up with the officials and the outcome was a comprehensive compilation – Return of the Names and Writings of 515 persons connected with Bengali Literature either as authors or translators of printed works chiefly during the last fifty years and a Catalogue of 76

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Bengali Newspapers . . . from the year 1818 to 1855. In the same year (1855) Long also published A Descriptive Catalogue of Bengali Works (containing a classified list of Fourteen Hundred Bengali Books and Pamphlets, Calcutta, 1855).8 He also put together a ‘Register of Bengali Authors, Editors, Translators, and a List of Books and Pamphlets published in the Town of Calcutta in 1853–54 or the Bengali year 1260.’

The beginning of a new life The catalogues listed Bidyasundar as a separate book. In the 1852 list of books arranged alphabetically, Long labelled Annadamangal as ‘Pauranic’ or scriptural, while listing Bidyasundar under ‘Upakhyan’ or tale. In 1855, of the eight titles attributed to Bharat Chandra, Videa Sundra (sic) was mentioned as ‘a Tale of Burdwan.’9 Catalogues, however, did more than index its presence; the typical exegesis that accompanied every mention of Bidyasundar marked a new beginning for the text. In the first descriptive catalogue (1855), under the category ‘Sivite Works,’ Long chronicled Annadamangal as ‘written by Bharat Chundra, the Burnes of Bengal, who flourished last century as poet Laureate at the Court of the Raja of Krishnanagar, the first native book ever printed, very popular.’10 Videa Sundar(sic) featured under Tale with the following comment, a book that will serve to amuse those who are but little acquainted with the Hindu system of courtship. It is perhaps the most classic poem we now possess in the Bengali language: but is disfigured in some places by licentious allusions . . . though not fit for general circulation is worth reading by Europeans for the style and the account of native customs given. Three separate presses had published Bidyasundar that single year.11 Labels were changed. Annadamangal was ‘Passages in Durga’s Life,’ while Vidyea Sundar became an ‘An Amatory Tale.’12 Bidyasundar’s segregation from the larger text was affected by print; its separate classification set it further away. Attentive and assiduous reader that Long was, it is surprising that he never referred to Bidyasundar as part of Annadamangal. But it is not difficult to explain his unease. Nothing that this 18th-century tale of love and piety contained matched the expectations that the British missionary harboured with regards to the effects of printed books over 77

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means of spreading knowledge among the masses. And whatever the motivations may have been in composing Bidyasundar in an 18thcentury court, the poet never bargained for it to be read as a printed book by a British missionary. For the patron and the poet, the verse compositions were to provide appropriate aesthetic and spiritual experience to individuals as they listened collectively to their recitation and singing. In the Western scheme, every individual was part of a collective, waiting to be educated and morally and intellectually improved. As an 18thcentury religious text representing an older tradition, Bidyasundar was a travesty of all principles of refinement and usefulness that the British scholars had been espousing from the beginning of the 19th century and refuted the statist drive. To Long’s alien reading, it was a tale of love written in fine verse containing indiscreet descriptions of women’s beauty and of lovemaking. Its immense popularity attributed to the proliferation of modest publishing houses that thrived on large sales of inexpensively produced books served no useful purpose and did not help the cause of Bengali books that Long had been trying to espouse. The list of 1853–54 carried details with separate columns for names of presses, books, descriptions of each work, numbers of copies printed, prices, numbers sold or pulped for that year along with remarks. Annadamangal continued to be noted as ‘Passages in Durga’s life’ composed in the last century by Bharat Chandra and printed in many editions. Bidyasundar remained a tale, ‘most popular.’ The poet was now called ‘The Walter Scot of Bengal.’13 Long’s deep involvement with education continued to be the defining principle underlying these catalogues. He wanted to prove his detractors wrong that as a language Bengali was still not developed enough for subjects in modern fields of knowledge. The list he produced was to substantiate his views. There were a significant number of books on subjects like history, geography, arithmetic and Western philosophy in Bengali proving its competence to impart useful knowledge. This was favourably summed up in an editorial in The Friend of India (14 June 1855): The ground on which the opponents of vernacular and national education have hitherto taken their stand has been, that the Bengalee language was so rude and uncultivated, that it was impossible to adopt it as an instrument of national instruction. That objection has been at once disposed of by the catalogue of works in the various branches of knowledge which Mr. Long has just published, and which we reviewed last week.14 78

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Long’s advocacy for ‘vernacular education’ became much stronger in his comprehensive report published in 1859, urged by the uprising of 1857 and the large number of books that were printed each year. With no more than 3 per cent literacy among the people, 600,000 books had been produced in one year. If masses were educated, the missionary commented ‘we should have 5,00,000 Bengali volumes annually published . . . for the Bengali peasant is anxious for knowledge when his curiosity is aroused.’15 Prices of books had substantially come down, particularly books not copy-righted and those that were printed in large numbers. Three books competed for the spot of highest production, sale and lowest price – the almanac, a grammar, Shishubodh comparable to Lindlay Murray’s16 text and Bidyasundar. They all sold for an anna each. Despite his discomfort over the popularity of Bidyasundar, Long’s verdicts on the publishing scene continued to be favourable: ‘That the Bengali mind has been roused from the torpor of ages, is pretty clear from the increase of the number of Bengali Authors.’17 And ‘The cooperation of Europeans with Natives in the Vernacular Press has heretofore been very valuable, as the working of various Societies shows.’18 He was referring to the School Book Society and the Vernacular Translation Society set up to provide textbooks for educational institutions. Approbations were suitably qualified with the mention that there was need to monitor indigenous publishing space and encourage ‘healthier’ taste in writing and reading/listening of books. What rankled was that he found quite a few books ‘erotic’ and ‘obscene.’19 In close correspondence with the Bengal government, Long persuaded the Legislative Council that an Act should be passed to prevent the ‘public sale or exposure of obscene books and pictures.’20 On completing his exhaustive catalogues, he felt that the government must take steps to curb the publication of what he regarded ‘filthy and polluting’ texts. These were largely ‘tales’ whose ‘moral tone’ left the missionary distressed. At his prodding C. Allen, Secretary to the government of Bengal, introduced a Bill in the Council in July 1855, ‘to prevent the public sale or exposure of obscene books and pictures.’ Allen quoted ‘a Reverend Gentleman’ who ‘calculated that in Calcutta alone 40,000 copies of such books were sold annually.’21 There is little doubt about who the ‘Reverend Gentleman’ was. The Obscene Books and Pictures Act was passed the following year in 1856. Long did not hope for a complete clean-up within a year but the threat of a fine of 100 rupees and three months’ imprisonment had at least stopped the circulation of one ‘hideously obscene book’ with 79

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filthy pictures that sold 30,000 copies. In a separate section with the heading ‘Erotic,’ he mentioned that 14,250 copies of ‘books abounding in obscene passages’ had been printed.22 Long was, however, optimistic that ‘with the introduction of a better class of works, moral tales, and innocent works of fiction, the number of these is diminishing, and the terror of law against obscene publications is effecting what a regard to morality could not.’23 Long was certainly more expansive in 1859. He described Annadamangal as ‘the mythological history of Durga and Shiva’ in the list of presses and brief introductions of the books.24 Reporting on Lakshmibilas Press which was established in 1857 and sold 3,750 copies of Bidyasundar at 2 and a half annas, Long commented, ‘In four months nearly the whole sold; a most popular tale; clever but obscene.’ The amatory tale had now turned obscene. Earlier he regarded the composer of Bidyasundar as Bengal’s Sir Walter Scott. Now, Long’s verdict was somewhat different: ‘Bengal needs,’ he wrote, ‘a Sir W. Scott who will make fiction the vehicle of historic and other instruction, thus gradually superseding the old love tales.’25 Bidyasundar was fated for worse censure, though was never counted among the ‘erotic’ tales and despite its denigration, the Act did not lead to banning the publication of Bidyasundar. Reverend J. Wenger, an office bearer of the Baptist Missionary Society in Calcutta, was nominated to the committee of Christian Tract and Book Society set up in March 1823.26 A contemporary of James Long, Wenger knew and read Bengali and later became the official translator of Bengali books. The 13th edition of Calcutta Review Magazine of 1850 carried an essay by him on ‘Popular Literature of Bengal.’27 In a discussion on Annadamangal and Bidyasundar, Wenger was in generous praise of Bharat Chandra’s poetry that he described as a mere creditable specimen of elegant literature than any other work of genuine Bengali origin. . . . Bharat Chandra appears to have been possessed of a true poetical genius. His work contains poetry of almost all kinds, and in all metres: and some of the pieces are really beautiful.28 With regard to Bidyasundar, ‘the great favourite of Hindu ladies,’ his comments were patently disparaging. If ever vice has been decked out in gaudy colours, and made to appear attractive, it has been this novel. The study of it must 80

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destroy all purity of mind yet it can not be doubted, that if any book is read by, and to respectably Bengali females, this is it.29 Bidyasundar thus came to be defined by the missionary critics, not by its literary style or spiritual association but by the story it contained and the norms of gentility that it putatively transgressed.30

The battle within Discussions on Bidyasundar among contemporary Bengali literati were divergent and changing. They reflected the anxiety among them with regards to preserving tradition and embracing modernity within a cultural space quite their own, and at the same time, demonstrated how opinions altered and shifted according to contingencies. It proved quite a challenge to reach an agreement on literary norms and on building canons of ‘literature’ within the Bengali community as they had to consider several existing contexts – representing traditional literature of Bengal and preserving older conventions of literary creation; refashioning new writings under the influence of British literary practices and creating a body of ‘useful’ writings; and reckoning with the unbridled world of printing and publishing in which men from different strata of society engaged for profit. The Bengalis dealt with these matters in various ways on different forums and platforms. Early comments appeared in the review of Nabin Chandra Basu’s adaptation of Bidyasundar on stage. The discussions that followed were by Bengalis writing in English. The monthly Hindu Pioneer edited by K.C. Dey carried a long review that praised Basu’s amateur theatre and the performance of the play Bidyasundar, comparing its story to Romeo and Juliet, the most popular of the Shakespearean plays in Bengal. This prompted an outrage from another newspaper Bengal Hurkura.31 Reacting to the review, the writer described Bidyasundar ‘as revolting to morality’ and found the comparison with the English play totally inappropriate: ‘It is an abuse of English education to deceive the European public by comparing the plot of the Indian play with that of Romeo and Juliet. . . . I wonder that any person having pretense to decency could have disgraced it by such comparison.’ The reviewer of Hindu Pioneer responded to this strident criticism in a letter to the editor. Much has been said by the correspondent of the Hurkura about Bidyasundar’s being a very indecent play. Is it indecent 81

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because it is a Bengali work? Is it devoid of novelty and utility because it is a play composed in the vernacular language of the country? Surely this has proceeded from nothing else but the writer’s utter ignorance of his own language. He compared the story lines of the two plays, Bidyasundar and Romeo and Juliet, and wondered, ‘God knows why the one is considered a master piece of morality and the other indecent and devoid of every excellency (sic).’ He also commented that the critic did not understand the spirit of Bharat Chandra’s writings.32 A month later, the editor of Hindu Pioneer published his rejoinder. He did not think Bidyasundar to be an immoral play. The plot, the denouement, and the general moral purport of the play are in no respect objectionable. The production would do honor to the most refined stage in Europe. It contains, indeed, some ‘free’ expressions that might perhaps be displeasing to a modest ear, but then the popular taste and the state of the language at the time in which the work was produced ought to be taken into consideration. . . . The force and accuracy of the style of Bidya Sundar, the truth and nature of its characters, and its happy admixture of pathos and burlesque render it as valuable an ornament to the literature of Bengal, as is Shakespeare’s drama of Henry the Fourth to the literature of England . . . there are two or three passages in the Bengali play, which are highly objectionable; but we are given to understand on good authority that they were omitted in the representation.33 The argument rested on two critical issues that were posited on either side. The first that Bidyasundar was ‘filthy’ (a term repeated later) was anchored to the idea of the danger of ‘polluting’ minds. The second was that western-educated Bengali men did not read enough in their own language to develop any taste for it, and therefore did not write enough to create good literature. A familiar and much read text was caught in the vortex of transformation and bustling activities in unfamiliar and alien circumstances.

Of indecency and obscenity Writing on ‘Raja Rammohan Roy’ in an essay published in 1845, Kishori Chand Mitra observed that the celebrated reformer and intellectual was 82

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fond of the poetry of Bharat Chandra. Unequivocal denunciation reserved for Bidyasundar followed: ‘The Vida-Sundar of Varut Chundar Roy, the most popular poem in Bengal and the words of which are . . . household words with its people . . . is nevertheless a filthy production . . . Its immoral tendency cannot be too strongly reprobated.’34 Even the British missionaries were more charitable. Words such as filthy, immoral, indecent and obscene were being associated with the 18th-century tale since Bidyasundar became a separate book, and at any given year in the 1850s there were more than 5,000 copies of Bidyasundar annually in the market doing brisk business. The concern among the literati over books being obviously ‘vulgar’ and ‘obscene’ had not only to do with the proliferation of cheap books and the government legislation proscribing them but also with nurturing and nourishing an evolving print culture. As time progressed and more and more texts began to be written and published in prose and poetry, this exercise became an urgent and equally complex one as intelligentsia struggled to reach a conclusive position. Bidyasundar featured prominently in this challenge for in deprecating the verse tale or admiring it, the battle within the Bengali community was a long way from settling. Some of the voices and opinions that had been building over decades manifested in the deliberations of 1873. On the 20th of September that year, a public meeting in the Town Hall inaugurated the Society for the Suppression of Public Obscenity in India. Dr George Smith, editor of The Friend of India, the missionary weekly who chaired the meeting set the tone as well as the intent. All who are interested in the progress of the country must hail it as a significant fact that so many hundred native gentlemen should have gathered today in the Town Hall of Calcutta for such a purpose as the promotion of pure, and the suppression of undoubtedly vicious literature. He observed that the vernacular Bengali literature was still in its infancy. In a manner that James Long would find too condescending, Smith added You Bengalee gentlemen especially have good reason to be proud of the position already achieved by your native literature. You are only in the second generation, as it were, of educated men, and there are some of you still living who 83

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can remember when the Bengali language and literature were almost unformed. Using qualifying words like ‘polluted,’ ‘turbid and pestilential’ applicable to older writings, as opposed to ‘pure,’ and giver of ‘life and beauty,’ his speech complemented modern prose and poetry which he hoped would replace traditional compositions with the active participation of the Society such as this. The office bearers and managing committee members were Indians and British, including Reverend J. Wenger, who had quite recently compiled a catalogue of Sanskrit and Bengali publications printed in Bengal in 1865. It wasn’t long before Bidyasundar came swirling back to the centre of discussion. The Brahmo leader Keshab Chandra Sen’s long speech tried to put at rest the anxiety some Hindu Bengalis expressed at the proposal for setting up of such a society. Many felt at the inclusion of Christian missionaries as members that forming such a society would lead to an assault on the ‘national’ religion and literature of the country. Sen strongly defended the intentions of the Society which did not include suppressing ‘vernacular’ works except those that were indisputably objectionable. The Bidya-Sundar has often been instanced in support of the arguments of our opponents, and considerable anxiety seems to have been felt about the fate of that book in the hands of our society. Now it is an incontestable fact, and, few I believe will gainsay it, that as a literary work it possesses a high order of merit . . . it has been held up as a pattern of Bengali poetry and is extensively read as a classical work. He added immediately after, It is however to be deeply regretted that this book blends the purest poetry with the grossest and foulest obscenity . . . Its obscenity is most shocking and outrageous, and no man with a grain of regard for decency would venture to give it a place in the family library. If, my countrymen, you really value the literary ability and beauty of the book, why do you not try to weed out all its 15 impure passages? Is it not a matter of shame that not one of those who are so eloquent and enthusiastic in extolling this book ever took it into his head to publish a revised edition, expurgating all its objectionable passages?35 84

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On its own, Bidyasundar turned polluting, a transformation that printing had brought about to its corporeal form and therefore it was printing alone that could remedy it. It also assumed a centrality in that the arguments seem to suggest that the publication of this text was responsible for widespread corruption of popular literature. A month earlier, Keshab Chandra Sen expressed these sentiments in Sulabha Samachar, the newspaper he edited, perhaps in preparation for the establishment of the Society. Underscoring the need to eradicate the extensive use of ‘abusive’ and ‘obscene’ language, the essay severely criticised writers who used ‘Battala’ printing to spread vice. Regarding Bidyasundar, there was prevarication. It was not entirely obscene, but sections should have been eliminated in the printed copies.36 Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar as we know published several editions of Annadamangal in Sanskrit Press. He loved Bharat Chandra’s poetic style and used his compositions to teach in Sanskrit College. Later memoirs suggested that Bidyasundar often embarrassed him. But he did not think of ‘expurgating’ the ‘harmful’ portions in the Annadamangal that his printing press published.37 There was loud outrage at the fate of Bidyasundar from among other members of the literati. Krishnadas Pal, editor of Hindu Patriot, was particularly disturbed by the setting up of the Society for the Suppression of Public Obscenity in India and at the slur of ‘obscenity’ directed at Bidyasundar. Supported by Amrita Bazar Patrika, he argued that matters relating to aesthetics and literary taste were best left to the judgement of the community.38 Newspapers and journals that the British and the Brahmos edited lauded the efforts of members for setting up Society for the Suppression of Public Obscenity in India and for working with the government in weeding out ‘vulgarity’ and ‘obscenity’ in literature. The constant reference to Bidyasundar as an example of ‘sleaze’ and the possibility of Bharat Chandra being maligned by association became unacceptable to editors of Bengalee and Education Gazette, Saptahik Samachar. The intent of the Society was to suppress books like Bidyasundar, observed Tamluk Patrika. It went on to further add, not without sarcasm, that if padres had to be the judge of ‘taste’ then anything other than catechism and theology would be ‘obscene.’ The concept of ‘ras’ was a distant possibility.39 Some like a local correspondent of ‘Jnanakur’ felt that steps such as the setting of the Society would herald misfortune to the nation.40 The self-righteous attitude of Bengalis comprising the Society, their unquestioning support for missionary view of literature and criticisms drew a slew of criticism from detractors. They condemned the censuring of Bharat 85

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Chandra, which they felt amounted to a complete surrender to British, particularly missionary invasion of ‘traditional’ Bengali literature and culture. After Bharat Chandra was condemned, they feared, it would soon be the turn of epics and classics by Kalidas to be damned too. The monthly journal Basantak, first published in 1873 by Sucharu Press, at 336 Garanhata Street, at the heart of Battala printing presses, deliberately flaunted its location to express solidarity with the ‘popular,’ and used this vantage point to mount a scathing diatribe against the ‘high-brow’ position. It criticised people it called the ‘enlightened,’ who spoke Bengali with liberal use of English words, wore Western clothes, imbibed imported affectation. The target of this attack was the Society for Suppression of Public Obscenity in India. It assured its readers who may be members of the Society in undisguised sarcasm that it would recite ‘mangalacharan,’ or traditional verses of well-being whose language was ornate not ‘obscene,’ since everything that was ‘traditional’ was now under the scanner.41 It was edited by Chandra Kumar Mukhopadhyay and published by Srihari Sinha.42

A single voice Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, the civil servant and leading writer of his time and now editor of Bangadarshan, the journal he started in 1872, the one that was to emerge as the most vocal and magisterial voice representing the elite of Bengal, was least ambivalent in the assessment of Bharat Chandra. In a paper entitled ‘A Popular Literature of Bengal,’ he read in the Bengal Social Science Association in February 1870, Bankim began by a sociological analysis of readers and reading. Addressing the common complaint that few in Bengal read anything but English books, he said in their defence that there were few books ‘capable of being read through.’ The large bulk of readers were moderately educated masses, ‘all in fact between the ignorant peasant and the really well-educated classes,’ who read nothing but in Bengali. A popular literature for Bengal is just blundering into existence. It is a movement which requires to be carefully studied and wisely stimulated, for it may exert a healthy or a pernicious influence on the national character, according to the direction it takes. The popular literature of a nation and the national character act and react on each other. 86

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Of older poets and their compositions Bankim regarded Jaydev to be ‘a poet of effeminate and sensual race,’ who set the fashion for future poets. The writings of the poets who wrote under the patronage of the Nuddea (Nadia) Raja were the same in character, and worse perhaps, for they had all the faults of Jaydeva in an exaggerated form but few of his redeeming beauties. That the legacy continued to hover over the literary space was proven by Bidyasundar ‘the best known production of that age, (that) continued to be the most popular book in all Bengali literature.’ He did credit Bharat Chandra with being the father of modern Bengali literature whose verse style was fine and was being followed by contemporary poets like Rangalal Banerji (Bandhyopadhyay). Known most for ‘his Vidya Sundara and his Ananda Mangal’. . . . Bharat Chandra was inferior to many who have preceded and followed him, Bankim reasoned. ‘His works are disfigured, too, by a disgusting obscenity which unfits them for republication at a time when Bengali readers are not all of the rougher sex.’43 Adirasa, the first or primaeval rasa, the erotic impulse transformed into an aesthetic experience, was disgustingly ugly (kadarya) to Bankim. The poet Bharat Chandra who often rose to great heights of sensitive lyricism was described as a person of low instincts.44 The idea that there were clear signs of literary decadence in Bharat Chandra’s poetry was further underlined in an essay written by Akshay Chandra Sarkar that Bankim published in the April 1873 issue of Bangadarshan. Bharat Chandra who in the past had catered to royal court, according to Sarkar, was now reduced to wandering the lanes of ‘shonagachi,’ and ‘mechhobazar,’ the red-light areas of Calcutta, where he is as much sought after as strings of ‘bel’ flowers, that men wound around their writs when visiting brothels.45 His vitriolic was directed against the cheap publications of Bidyasundar not its poet, Bharat Chandra. This we gather from his essay ‘Hemchandra O Ishwar Gupta,’ published in 1893, in which he evaluates poetry with the measure of authentic and genuine Bengali verse tradition that was upheld by Bharat Chandra and in more recent times, by Ishwar Gupta, who he admired greatly.46 In the winter (Poush) edition of the journal in 1873, Bankim published a long essay titled ‘Ashleelata,’ (indelicacy, obscenity) on the Society, its intent and the response of people. It briefly described the 87

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reactions among the literati. Bankim was surprised that most Bengali newspapers were opposed to the Society. The only people who were wholeheartedly in support were Brahmos and Christians. A paper like Hindu Patriot approved of the idea but was sceptical about its practical effect. Those who were opposed to the idea of the Society were not all fond of ‘indecent’ writings but genuinely felt more harm than good would come out of a Society such as this. And there were those who made a business of vulgarity, obscenity and rudeness. Bangadarshan was of the opinion that if the Society acts with circumspection it would achieve much good since vulgarity and indecency were becoming rampant. Bankim ended the essay with a caveat written as an allegory. Once the master of a gardener on finding the garden overgrown with wild weeds rebuked his employee and asked him to clear it. The following day, the Babu came and found the garden clean but several fine flower plants destroyed. ‘The Babu asked, “Why did you cut the flowering plants?” The gardener responded that otherwise the garden wouldn’t have been cleared. The work (of the Society) should not turn out to be like the gardener. In trying to clean the weed, some fine poetry, like beautiful plants, should not be uprooted,’47 was the subtle warning. Bharat Chandra by his association with Bidyasundar stood condemned and losing his stature, came to be regarded as ‘pedestrian,’ ‘decadent’ catering to lowly taste. Grudgingly admitting his poetic talents, contemporaries were critical of the poet’s choice of Bidyasundar and his graphic and what was regarded as ‘indelicate’ depiction of beauty and the text’s crossing over to more popular fields of amusement, like songs and jatras. The publication of Bidyasundar in several editions by the popular presses of Battala did not do any good to the text as it became aligned to all that was commonplace and cheap. The new generation of readers, youth and women, was an increasing concern as was the need to safeguard the literary space to rebuild the nation.

A new discourse On a different publishing enterprise, the ambivalence persisted. In the 1870s, more than half a century had passed since Annadamangal and Bidyasundar appeared in print and the publishing field swelled beyond recognition to include a whole range of new books, but the two texts remained difficult to unseat. As part of textbook writing, Mohendranath Bhattacharya, M.A, head of the Physics Department in Calcutta 88

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Normal School, compiled a handbook of Bengali literature and published it in November 1872. Bhattacharya wanted to present in one volume, specimens from the writing of principal poets of Bengal, ‘suited to be read in school or committed to memory.’48 He carried excerpts from Vidyapati to Bharat Chandra with a qualification, not so suitable for school reading: ‘He (Bharat Chandra) demonstrated an exceptional ability to describe “Adirasa” but it is regrettable that in places it is so indecent that one is ashamed to read it alone.’49 Bidyasundar’s displacement was not only its shift from manuscript to printing. It was the totality of the new experience that was so completely different to the culture it was bred in. When recited and listened to in a collective, the pervading spirit of an aesthetic and spiritual experience overshadowed detailed descriptions which could be construed ‘indelicate;’ but when read individually as a book, the graphic descriptions stood out stark. The predicament of Bharat Chandra was that he was pivotal to any discussion on Bengali literature but in the new cultural space that he was being read and interpreted, all that stood out was the story of Bidyasundar and its unfolding, singularly unsuitable in the new times. In the same year of 1872, the first comprehensive history of the evolution of Bengali language and literature was compiled by Ramgati Nyayratna, who graduated from Sanskrit College and took up a career in teaching. A student of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and a close friend of Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay, scholar and writer, Ramgati had published in Bengali translations and adaptations from English and Sanskrit originals as well as textbooks for schools. ‘Bamla Bhasha o Bamla Sahityabishayak Prostab’ was his own research based on his wide reading of past and contemporary Bengali literary writings facilitated by his background in Sanskrit pedagogy. He divided literature into three periods: ancient ended with Kritibas’s Ramayani; medieval included Kashiram Das’s Mahabharat and ended with Ramprasad Sen; modern started with Bharat Chandra and incorporated current works updated with new editions. Ramgati Nyayratna was critical of the publishing industry being hijacked by ‘lowly’ printers and hack writers leading to some very poor and ‘unrefined’ texts. He was, however, lavish in his praise of Bharat Chandra’s poetic talents and erudition and was in complete agreement with Ishwar Gupta that the poet’s style was both matchless and timeless, forever charming like the cuckoo’s songs in spring. He attributes the fame of Bidyasundar to Bharat Chandra’s composition, its superior quality and wide popularity. The graphic description of 89

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Bardhhaman, for example, remains etched in the minds of readers. The predominant mood (ras) of Bidyasundar is one of beauty (sringara or adi); he admitted though that there are some ‘obscene,’ ‘indelicate’ descriptions that ‘taste’ of the contemporary literati condemned. Comparing Bharat Chandra with Pope’s writings in English and Valmiki’s in Sanskrit, Ramgati concluded that notwithstanding critics, Bharat Chandra deserves the highest ‘throne in the court of Bengali poetry.’50 Several among his contemporaries would have agreed with Ramgati Nyayaratna’s admiration for Bharat Chandra’s fine poetry. Romesh C. Dutt, member of the Indian Civil Service, commentator and author published ‘Cultural Heritage of Bengal’ in 1877 that was reprinted in 1896 with a new title, ‘The Literature of Bengal.’ Discussing Bharat Chandra, Dutt commented, Bharat Chandra’s style is always rich, graceful and flowing. Nowhere perhaps in the entire range of Bengali literature do we find the language of poetry so rich, so graceful, so overpowering in artistic beauty as in Bidya Sundar. He is complete master of the art of versification, and his appropriate phrases and rich descriptions have passed into by-words. It would be difficult to overestimate the polish he has given to the Bengali language.51 His final words were: The last thing we shall mention about Bharat Chandra’s poetry is the vividness of his descriptions. As his descriptions are not always of a healthy character, we regret that they are so vivid, but still we must confess that they are so. He has the power of raising in the reader’s mind the very feeling he describes, though the feeling is of a reprehensible character. His poetry has the character of the Satan, but it has also the power of Satan, to tempt and to seduce.52 And seduced it certainly had the people of Bengal. While writing in English Bengali scholars tended to be protective of traditional writings, especially poetry; in Bengali they were a lot less forgiving. Comparing the works of Kabi Kankan Mukundaram and Bharat Chandra, R.C. Dutt in a Bengali essay writes that whatever Mukundaram composed was simple and normal. Women in his work lamented over their bad fortune, while acknowledging that 90

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serving the needs of husbands was their fundamental duty. ‘Imitating this description (by Mukundaram) readers are aware of the manner in which Bharat Chandra described women criticizing their husbands. Mukundaram’s description is natural and reads well. Bharat Chandra’s account is abnormal and cannot be read in genteel society.’ Dutt concluded that Mukundaram talked about ordinary life, while Bharat Chandra depicted an ugly society’s vulgar sense of humour.53 In the field of collating, compiling and critically evaluating Bengali literature, Dinesh Chandra Sen’s Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya published in 1896 was a significant intervention. The two volumes were an outcome of six years of painstaking research and in the scholar’s lifetime there were seven editions of what came to be regarded as the most authoritative study till date. Based on extensive investigation which included visiting rural homes in search for manuscripts, Sen’s comprehensive account traced the evolution and growth of the language and literature of Bengal. He concluded, before the onset of British rule, it was Krishna Chandra’s court in Krishnanagar that provided the favourable environment for literary creativity, Bharat Chandra being the best example. Outside of the court and far removed from its culture, Sen discovered songs and verses that were widely known. His appraisal of the ‘new canons in literature’ that Krishna Chandra’s court inaugurated was: In reality poetry is no longer ‘peasants’ songs;’ now Bengali language like the naturally beautiful, shy rural bride is not only the rural poet’s muse. It has now come to the attention of significant Sanskrit and Persian scholars (and) an abundance of ornaments has covered its personality; now Bengali language is deferential to the royal court . . . It has left behind shy, bucolic beauty and chaste love in the villages (while) in the royal court by its sensual acts excite the minds of spectators like fiery alcohol.54 With a prequel such as this, the drift of the discussion on Bharat Chandra and Bidyasundar was far from complimentary. He was faulted for poor taste and for degrading a rich literary tradition. ‘Bharat Chandra was not used to communicating profound ideas, in the sacred platform of Annadamangal, he had displayed a courtesan dancing.’55 Bidyasundar which was the best verse composition of this category was shaped in the mould of Islamic tales of love written in Urdu and Persian, known for their overtones of lasciviousness. 91

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In the emerging consciousness among the Hindu Bengalis in the last decades of the 19th century, the search for glory in the ancient past was very much a political project of nation building. Within that context, tracing connections to Islamic literary conventions was to highlight and explain reasons for decadence and decline.

Bharat Chandra, the poet In the field of contemporary creative verse writing of the same period, Bharat Chandra Roy was hard to depose, though bitter debates and differences of opinions were no less rife, the most famous being the arguments between Harachandra Dutt and Kailashnath Bose, anglicised young men and Rangalal Bandhyopadhyay, a poet and writer. On 8 April 1852, Harachandra Dutt, a young Bengali read an essay entitled ‘Bengali Poetry,’ before a meeting of the Bethune Society.56 He was very critical of Bengali poetry’s penchant for excessive allusions to beauty and references to sexual licentiousness. His most trenchant comments were predictably reserved for Bidyasundar for all the ‘vulgar and obscene descriptions,’ and for being so popular among all classes of Bengalis, especially young women who read it avidly. He was supported in this by Kailash Chandra Bose, his class mate in Hindu College. It was later published as an essay in Calcutta Review. Endorsing his views, Kailashchandra Basu dismissed every composition in Bengali as ‘worthless.’57 His essay raised quite a storm as others felt it was totally one sided and repetitive. ‘The old ground is gone over again, and we hear for the fiftieth time all about the derivation of Bengalee from the Sanskrit, the versified description of the fall of the Ganges, and the immortality of the Bidya Sundar,’ was written in a letter to a local journal.58 To cast aside all Bengali poetry as substandard was unacceptable to another group of literati and the reaction was the sharpest from men who were poets themselves and were experimenting with different verse forms including borrowing from the rich repertoire of past poets of Bengal. The most famous of the response came from Rangalal Bandhyopadhyay, who spoke at next meeting of the Bethune Society on 13 May 1852.59 His was a well-calculated move to combat Dutt’s criticisms and a strategy to publicise his counter arguments. A day after his speech, a short pamphlet titled ‘Bamla Kabita Bishayak Probondho,’ or ‘Essay regarding Bengali poetry,’ was published with the notice that all subscribers of Sambad Sagar were to get a copy free.60 92

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Using very ornate and formal style Bengali in the essay, Rangalal set the tone by making two points – first that the practices of English verse writing were very different from Bengali conventions (English was comparable to an elderly lady full of sagacity while Bengali was a beautiful woman, eternally youthful, winsome, full of laughter and charm); second, he was speaking to reiterate his deep respect and love for Bengali poetry. He proceeded to make a case for Bengali poetry strictly following the rule book with repeated quotes from and reference to English maxims and samples of poetry. Quoting an unnamed author, Rangalal wrote: ‘Poetry . . . requires a figurative, melodious, rich and abundant language; . . . a language whose various ways, enable the poet to blend his primitive colours, and to produce from the mixture, an infinity of new and appropriate shades.’61 Despite the opinions of the members of Young Bengal to the contrary, the Bengali language displayed all qualities prescribed for refined poetry. Rangalal admitted that Bharat Chandra’s poetry did contain descriptions of passion that were somewhat indiscreet, but they were in keeping with the taste and preference of the people he had composed for. It was on the issue of obscenity and indelicacy that Rangalal undertook to deflect the ‘slur’ on Bidyasundar by drawing analogies with instances from English verse, classical and popular. Kailash Basu’s comparison of Bidyasundar to the erotic Fanny Hill, Rangalal found distasteful and inappropriate. He then launched on a lengthy defence of Bidyasundar by measuring its scurrilous sections to Shakespeare’s ‘Venus and Adonis’ and demonstrating how the latter was no less ‘offending’ and brazen in sexual licentiousness. The other connections he made were descriptions of women’s beauty in the Bible, decadence in Byron’s poem ‘Don Juan,’ and Virgil and Milton’s borrowed ideas. In the end, Rangalal judged Bharat Chandra to be singular and unmatched in the melody of his verse compositions that the shackles of subjections would not be able to blur.62

In the court of contemporary poets Bharat Chandra’s presence among the new generation of Bengali poets was interesting because in whatever manner he was judged, no discussion of poetry could avoid referring to him. Hemchandra Bandhyopadhyay, a contemporary of Rangalal, about to get his first book of poems, ‘Chintarangini,’ published in 1861, admitted with modesty in the introduction that he would never be able to match Bharat Chandra in fame and renown but hoped his poems would be 93

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more in tune with changing times and contemporary ideas. Introducing and appraising Michael Madhusudhan Dutt’s Meghnad Bodh Kavya two years later, Hemchandra remarked on the young poet’s outstanding talent that would mark a new beginning in literary conventions and replace Bharat Chandra.63 A rising star among poets of the 19th century, Michael Madhusudhan Dutt was widely recognised as the forbearer of modern Bengali poetry, especially his experiments with new styles. Rajendralal Mitra, a leading intellectual and editor of the monthly magazine Vividhartha Samgraha, in his review of Michael’s ballad Tillottamasambhav remarked that the poet’s language and the introduction of blank verses had enriched the Bengali language, adding in the same time that the melody of Bharat Chandra’s composition and his gift for expressing different moods had been singular and irreplaceable.64 Madhusudan himself was aware of the long lineage of poets of the past and consciously tried to move away from them to make a new beginning. He was somewhat dismissive of Bharat Chandra’s poetry but two of his poems were on subjects from Annadamangal – Bhabananda Majumdar, the chief human protagonist in Annadamangal, and Ishwari Patni, the boatman who ferried Annapurna across.65 These were familiar figures that people could connect to as did Madhusudan himself, when trying to experiment with new lyrical forms. Therefore, it is not surprising that in the reviews of his innovative style particularly his composing poetry using blank verse (amitrakhhar chanda), there was constant reference to Bharat Chandra. Discussing Bharat Chandra’s poetry did not detract attention from Bidyasundar that was the focus of three essays by the young poet Balendranath Tagore, nephew of Rabindranath Tagore, published in the literary journals the family edited – Bharati and Balaka in their winter editions in 1889–90 (Poush and Phalgun 1296).66 He regarded all that had been composed prior to the onset of British of British influence as prachin sahitya or older literature that was predominantly verse whose underlying mood (ras) was one of love and beauty (adi) which in his opinion could not be faulted for being vulgar given the nature of the prevailing society. In the second essay on Ramprasad’s Bidyasundar, Balendranath chronicles two contemporary phenomena: Ramprasad’s fame was well established as the composer of devotional songs and few knew him as the author of Bidyasundar. The infamy of Bidyasundar made this connection in public perception difficult to make and to discharge Ramprasad of any fault of crassness, the ballad was given an abstruse, spiritual 94

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interpretation. The young poet, however, found Ramprasad’s version dry and too esoteric in parts but in no sense wanting in lewdness. Balendranath acknowledged Bharat Chandra as the last poet in the lineage of past literature and the most fêted of them all, his fame resting on his superior and unmatched literary talent. Bharat Chandra’s sense of rhythm and poetic beauty, his ability to narrate a story with all poetic embellishments and the extraordinary comic moments in his verse tales, he felt, were unparalleled. The ubiquity of beauty dazzled the dark underside of vulgarity and coarseness. In Balendranath’s estimate Bharat Chandra lacked the intellect and depth of thoughts of modern poets and compared to Mukundaram Chakraborty was a poet of luxury and extravagance that bordered on decadence attributed to his times and Islamic influence. But his verse and phrases have turned common aphorisms. Balendranath’s voice sounded no different from many of his contemporary scholars and writers. The recording of conflicting opinions, different voices and ambivalent attitude regarding Bharat Chandra and Bidyasundar uncovers the imbricated world of publishing and reading of books that prevailed for the better part of the 19th century. The text and the publishers of the book Bidyasundar were very much a part of the wider literary circle; neither had dipped low to escape notice and be trashed, even when connections were made with popular publications of the Battala. Fractures in the printed world had certainly appeared, but they were still not clearly defined and definite. The different voices and differing opinions regarding the texts belonged to the Bengali literati who were deeply engaged in various kinds of literary writings themselves. Their discourse on Bidyasundar and the poet was not a response to the disapproval and criticism of the missionary reading, but an outcome of their own tension trying to grapple with the inherited literary traditions in the wake of imported Western conventions they were still ingesting. Printing presses and published editions were critical in ensuring the ubiquity of a text such as Bidyasundar as well as measuring popular preferences reflected in the rising sales. Their space of operations was not marked by a simple line dividing the elite from the pedestrian; it was the politics of both that determined the fate of Bidyasundar.

Notes 1 Geoffrey A. Oddie, Missionaries, Rebellion and Proto-Nationalism: James Long of Bengal 1814–87, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1999, p. 27. 2 David Kopf, The Dimensions of Literature as an Analytical Tool for the Study of Bengal, 1800–1830, in Edward C. Dimock (ed.), Bengal-Literature

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3 4

5 6 7 8 9

10 11 12 13 14 15 16

17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

and History, Asian Studies Center, East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1967, p. 110. Press Acts of 1823 and 1835 regulated newspapers and journals and expected prospective editors to register with the government. Cited in Brajendranath Bandhyopadhyay, Sambadpatre Sekaler Katha, vol. 1, Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishat, 1946, pp. 60, 70, 85. Also Tapti Roy, Disciplining the Printed Text: Colonial and Nationalist Surveillance of Bengali Literature, in P. Chatterjee (ed.), Texts of Power-Emerging Disciplines in Colonial Bengal, Calcutta: Samya, 1996, pp. 34–35. He wrote this in 1855. Oddie, Missionaries, Rebellion and Proto-Nationalism, p. 82. Oddie, Missionaries, Rebellion and Proto-Nationalism, p. 82. Jyotindramohan Bhattacharya edited and annotated the catalogue in Bamla Mudrita Granthadir Talika, 1743–1852, Calcutta: A. Mukherjee & Co., 1990. James Long, A Descriptive Catalogue of Bengali Works, Calcutta: Sanders, Cones, 1855 reprinted in 1855 reprinted in Dinesh Sen, Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya, vol. 2, Calcutta: West Bengal State Book Board, 1991. Correspondence relating to the Vernacular Education in the Lower Provinces of Bengal. Returns of the names and writings of 515 persons connected with Bengali literature, either as author or translator of printed works, chiefly during the last 50 years, and a catalogue of Bengali newspapers and periodicals which have issues from the press from 1818 to 1855. Selections from the Records of the Bengal Government Published by Authority, no. XXII, p. 125. Sen, Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya, p. 859. Ibid., p. 831. Correspondence relating to the Vernacular Education in the Lower Provinces of Bengal, Appendix p. 77. He had been compared to Robert Burns earlier. These titles indicated that Long acknowledged Bharat Chandra’s status as the ‘national’ poet. Quoted in Oddie, Missionaries, Rebellion and Proto-Nationalism, p. 83. James Long, Returns Relating to Publications in the Bengali Language in 1857, in Selections from the Records of the Bengal Government, no. XXXII, Calcutta: General Printing Department, 1859, p. XIII. Murray was an American Quaker who moved to England in the late 18th century and authored several lesson books on teaching English. His books included English Grammar, English Exercises followed by A Key, English Reader. They were all very popular and sold several editions. They became equally popular in Bengal. Long, Returns in 1857, p. XV. Ibid., p. LX. Oddie, Missionaries, Rebellion and Proto-Nationalism, p. 86. The Act was eventually passed on 21 January 1856. Judicial Proceedings, 7 February 1856. Oddie, Missionaries, Rebellion and Proto-Nationalism, p. 85. Long, Returns in 1857, p. XXV. Ibid. Long, Returns in 1857, Appendices.

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25 Long, Returns in 1857, p. XXVII. 26 J. Wenger, Officiating Bengalee Translator to the Government to the Government of Bengal, Catalogue of Sanskrit and Bengalee Publications printed in Bengal. Selections from the Records of the Bengal Government, no. XLI, Calcutta: Bengal Central Press, 1865. Wenger’s ‘order’ and ‘arrangement’ of books came in for severe criticism from Rajendra Lal Mitra, the Secretary of Asiatic Society of Bengal. See, Proceedings of the Hon’ble Lt. Gov. of Bengal. General Department Miscellaneous Branch. No. 97. Sept. 1866 and No. 53. Oct. 1870. 27 Shankari Prasad Basu, Kabi Bharat Chandra, Calcutta: De’s Publishing, 2007, pp. 30–34. 28 Ibid., p. 30. 29 Ibid., p. 34. 30 Other British observers were encouraging of publishing in Bengal. The Royal Asiatic Society reported: It is doubtless well known to you that, of late years, the Hindus have shown great literary activity, partly by editing numerous texts of their ancient Sanskrit literature, partly by translating English and Sanskrit works into their vernacular dialects, and partly by producing original compositions on subjects of a political, scientific, and religious character.

31

32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42

Quoted in Descriptive Catalogue of Vernacular Books & Pamphlets compiled by Rev. J. Long, Calcutta: Thacker Spink And Co’s Press. 1867, Preface. A paper that not long ago had been merged with Indian Gazette. The managing shares of this merger were in the hands of leading members of Bengali elite, Dwarakanath Tagore, and his cousin, Prasanna Kumar Tagore though the staff was largely British. This review seemed to have been written by a Bengali. Hindu Pioneer, November, 1835. Hindu Pioneer, December, 1835. Quoted in Basu, Kabi Bharat Chandra, p. 29. Mitra, a student of Hindu College joined the British civil service. Alok Ray, Society in Dilemma: Nineteenth Century India, Calcutta: Riddhi India, 1979. The Society for the Suppression of Public Obscenity in India, pp. 179–180, 191–193. Ray, Society in Dilemma: Nineteenth Century India, p. 210. Basu, Kabi Bharat Chandra, p. 39. Swapan Bose, Ashleelatar Birudhhe Uneesh Shataker Bangalisamaj, Desh, 28 February 1996, p. 41. Ibid., pp. 43–47. Ibid., p. 43. Basantak, Number 1, Volume 1, 1873, Vasantak Karyalaya, pp. 1–2. Basantak, Number 4, pp. 62–63. In its 4th number, it carried the spoof built on an imagined member of the Society, who is disturbed by the ‘vulgar’ call of the cuckoo that is reminiscent of love. His daughter-in-law is in the family way and his wife had to break the news to him and ask for some money to conduct the ceremony done in the fifth month of pregnancy. But she could not come before him in her traditional sari which was

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43

44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59

60 61

obscene. She sent a man servant (women being banned in the house) for an appointment and then dressed like a man, including painting on her face, moustache and beard and typing a turban on her head to hide her long braid. The Babu recognised her but quickly turned his gaze away. As soon as his wife broached the subject of the five-month ceremony, he screamed in horror. ‘Oh Almighty, this is the state in my home! I have just returned after putting the seller of Bharat Chandra in prison. What obscenity in my own home!’ He promptly banished his son for committing sin and obscenity as the wife slowly went out wiping her tears. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, A Popular Literature for Bengal, in Brajendra Nath Banerji and Sajani Kanta Das (eds.), Essays and Letters: Centenary Edition, Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishat, 1940, pp. 13–18. I am grateful to Rosinka Chaudhuri for this reference. Tapan Raychaudhuri, Europe Reconsidered, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 128–129. Bangadarshan Baisakh, 1280 (March–April 1873), pp. 36–43. Rosinka Chaudhuri, Cutlets or Fish Curry?: Debating Indian Authenticity in Late Nineteenth-Century Bengal, Modern Asian Studies, 40:2, 2006, pp. 258–260, 269–270. Bangadarshan, Poush, 1270 (December–January, 1873), pp. 419–424. Mohendranath Bhattacharya M.A., Handbook of Bengali Literature Part I (Bangla Sahitya-Samgraha Part I) Calcutta: Hitoyishi Press. Printed by Kailashchandra Bandyopadhyay, 1279 (1872), Preface. Ibid. Ramgati Nyayratna, Bangla Bhasha O Bangla Sahityabishoyok Prostab, New ed., Calcutta: Supreme Book Distributors, 1991, pp. 151–154. Romesh Chunder Dutt, Cultural Heritage of Bengal, 3rd and revised ed., Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1962, p. 89. Romesh Chunder Dutt, The Literature of Bengal, Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co., 1895, p. 163. Sahitya Parishad Patrika, Pt I, No. 2, Magh, 1301 (1894), p. 168. Dinesh Chandra Sen, Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya, vol. 2, 2nd ed., Calcutta: Paschimbanga Rajya Pushtak Parshad, 1991, p. 565. Sen, Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya, p. 567. A literary association established in Calcutta in 1851 by the British and educated Indians to promote knowledge and foster racial harmony. Basu, Kabi Bharat Chandra, pp. 48–49; Rangalal Bandhyopadhyay, Bangla Kabita Bishayak Prabandha, ed. by Sudeep Bose, Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishat, 2009, p. 110. Bandhyopadhyay, Bangla Kabita Bishayak Prabandha, p. 113. In 1851, Rangalal had published a verse translation of the Ritusanghar from the Sanksrit and Bhek-mushiker Yudhha, a translation from the Greek of the Batracomiomachia in 1848. His articles, poems and translations regularly appeared in journals like Sambad Prabhakar, Education Gazette and the Sambad Sagar. Bandhyopadhyay, Bangla Kabita Bishayak Prabandha, Introduction, p. 28. It was sent to the press before the meeting so that it was published the following morning. Bandhyopadhyay, Bangla Kabita Bishayak Prabandha, p. 47.

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62 Ibid., pp. 69, 72, 73, 75. 63 Basu, Kabi Bharat Chandra, pp. 42–43. 64 Vividhartha Sangraha, Agrahan, 1782 quoted in Nagendranath Shome, Madhu-Smriti, 2nd ed., Calcutta: Gurudas Chattopadhyay & Sons, 1956, p. 110. 65 Haraprasad Mitra, Bamla Kavya e Prak-Rabindra, Calcutta: The Book Emporium, 1950, p. 59. 66 Brajendranath Bandhyopadhyay and Sajanikanta Das (eds.), Balendranath Granthavali, 3rd ed., Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishat, 1372 (1965). The essays were Prachin Bangasahitya (first published Asar 1296, 1889–90), pp. 169–174, Ramprasader Bidyasundar (Poush, 1295, 1888–89), pp. 261– 266 and Bharatchandra Ray (Phalgun, 1296, 1889–90), pp. 270–280. I am grateful to Gautam Bhadra for this reference.

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4 ACTORS ON STAGE Recreation of the fable

Five years after its publication in print, Bidyasundar made its debut in a jatra performance in 1821. A young man by the name of Gopal Ure played the role of Hira Malini, to huge success among audiences in urban Calcutta.1 A flower seller by profession, Ure stormed the jatra stage and became a legend in his lifetime. Jatras were musical dramas structured around themes from Krishna’s life that became very popular in the 18th century. They were loosely called Kaliadaman jatras.2 These jatras were orally broadcasted and disseminated, seldom written down. The chief artist was the Adhikari, who directed the drama, introduced it, explained and commented on it as other actors, singers and dancers performed around him. The texts were often improvised with each rendition of the drama, the Adhikari taking his cue from the reactions of the audience/spectators to make impromptu changes. With Bidyasundar, jatra imported a new story to this conventional performance. Gopal Ure made a few structural changes to Bidyasundar, adding new dialogues and introducing many more songs and dances. A new form of dance called khemta, sprightly and somewhat bawdy, came to be associated with Bidyasundar jatra and songs particularly those sung by Hira Malini, the flower seller, became widely popular. Together with his associates, Kailashchandra Barui and Shyamlal Mukhopadhyay, Gopal Ure’s performance of Bidyasundar became illustrative of an emerging urban popular culture that gradually spread to the suburbs.3 The songs became so popular that people were heard singing them all the time in public places for decades to come.4 The subsequent popularity of jatras in Calcutta and its neighbourhood and the many editions of Bidyasundar suggest a partnership between printing practices and different customs of oral performance ranging from reading to enacting on stage as urban performative culture came to be supported by popular printing and publishing to the 100

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benefit of both. This also corroborates what Francesca Orsini has observed of the commercial publishers of Urdu and Hindi books in 19th-century North India who succeeded because books ‘infiltrated existing sites and patterns of leisure.’5 In the case of Bidyasundar it went a step more by creating newer forms of entertainment and new books. For a good measure the two interlocked to drive the space of popular culture at the beginning of the century – spontaneous and untutored. This arena of public entertainment that print increasingly became part of was shared by different social clusters. Musical soirees became the rage in Calcutta within the walls of expensive mansions, owned and flaunted by the likes of Nabakrishna Deb and Nilmoni Mallick, leading members of nouveau riche trading families of early 19th century. Ceremonial declamations known as kathokatha were also widely relished. Singing was high in the chart of fame. Experimenting with different adaptations and inflections of semi-classical music, singers and songwriters became celebrities in their own right. One of the many songwriters in the 18th century was Ramnidhi Gupta, who introduced short love songs that came to be known as ‘tappa.’6 He was among the composers whose biography was compiled by Ishwar Gupta. Ramnidhi’s songs of Nidhubabu’s Tappa were widely sung in performances even half a century later in urban Calcutta, and new songs were composed inspired by his ballads and melodies.

Print and performance Even though song books did not merit a separate mention in the list of books and were clubbed under the label ‘poetry,’ by James Long in 1853, in the longer descriptive catalogue of 1855, he devoted a separate section to ‘Popular Songs,’ commenting disapprovingly on their rather racy nature and making his point by adding para on ‘Erotic subjects,’ at the end. ‘The Bengali Songs . . . are devoted to Venus and the popular deities; they are filthy and polluting.’7 The leading composers were Dasarathi Ray and Rasik Chandra Ray whose compositions were better known as panchali and Nidhubabu’s tappa. Several song books appeared in the market, including compilation of older songs and newly composed ones, like Bichar Sar Sangita (1832), Sangitabali and Sangitbilas by the Rajah of Bardhhaman, Sangitrasmadhuri (1844), Rasik Tarangini by Madan Mohan Tarkalankar.8 The missionary found them to be ‘fragments of erotic poems on love,’ even though they were written by prominent members of the Bengali literati. 101

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He also regarded jatras as extended forms of songs and singing all of which he denounced in the same vein as books on erotic subjects. ‘These works are beastly, equal to the worst of French school.’9 Long’s comments are of interest because they point to the close relationship that printing of books had to public performances in the 19th century. There was a perceptible rise in the number of song books in the 1850s and 1860s. Twenty-four song books were published in 14 years between 1853 and 1867,10 with a few running second editions.11 Different kinds of other songs were produced and performed to differing audiences. Repeated, oral performances encouraged printing of the texts and printed texts returned to performance. Printing responded to the popularity of performance and Bidyasundar rose to the occasion with several editions appearing in the market in the 1860s and 1870s and songs based on the tale whirring all around.

Of publishing business The trail of songs from Bidyasundar in print leads to the busy and active world of local publishing houses, closely huddled along the street, keen to outdo one another. It allows us to be privy to the busy and lively world of ‘native’ enterprises in printing and publishing without simply dismissing them, as was often done, as cheap printers, hack writers and poor-quality books. In 1874, a thin pamphlet of 12 pages titled Bidyasundarer Nutan Tappa or new verses on Bidya Sundar, was composed and published by Nandalal Raya. Raya blended the tale of Bidyasundar with the distinct style of singing Nidhubabu’s Tappa, in this collection of refashioned songs. We cite the example of this pamphlet and its many editions to chronicle the competitive field of popular printing and the business of publishing. In the official government catalogue, there are two addresses associated with this publication. One, no. 335, Chitpur Road belonged to the publisher Raya, who was also a popular author. The printer who he engaged was Jaharilal Sil.12 Two thousand copies of this pamphlet13 of songs were printed priced at 6 paisa. The printing was done by Jaharilal Sil at Nityalal Sil’s Press at no.117, Chitpur Road. This printing facility was used by two other publishing houses – Sudharnava Press owned by Troilakyanath Datta and Kabita Koumudi Press belonging to Rasiklal Chandra. There were several pamphlets of slim songs that the printing presses produced – all of the same length of between 12 and 16 pages and priced between 3 and 12 paisa or 3 annas. The print run ranged from 1,000 to 4,000 copies. 102

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Nandalal closed his publishing operations down and concentrated on writing. He composed another long poem called ‘Notun Poler Panchali’ or metrical verses on a new pontoon bridge built over the river Hughli near Haora.14 It was printed by Nityalal Sil and published by Troilakyanath Datta, from the same address: 117, Chitpur Road. Raya’s pamphlet on the new bridge had a large print run of 9,000 copies and was priced at 3 paisa, slightly cheaper than Bidyasundar.15 The bridge was a new wonder and of great popular interest. In the same year, four pamphlets appeared in the market bearing the title notun pole (new bridge) but variously described as tappa or panchali or kabita. Three of these by different authors were published from 117, Chitpur Road; the publisher of two was Troilakyanath Datta. The third, called Haorar Ghater Poler Kabi, also 12 pages, was published by Amin Chandra Datta, whose Kabita Koumudi Press shared the same address as Datta’s press: No. 117, Chitpur Road. The printer of the 3,000 copies at 3 annas was Rasiklal Chandra. The fourth was the only exception. Ekei bole Pol by Aghor Chandra Das Ghosh was printed and published by Gyanollas Press, at No.19, Brindaban Basak Lane, south of Chitpur Road.16 The competition in the market was clearly very keen and the need to keep the printing machines busy intense. Troilakyanath Datta kept his price low and most of the thin pamphlets he produced cost 3 paisa. Rasik Chandra’s publication was priced higher at 3 annas or 12 paisa and the last by Aghor Chandra cost 1 anna or 4 paisa. From the following year (1875), the address 117, Chitpur Road gets somewhat regular, with Troilakyanath Datta becoming its sole owner and starting the Sudharnava Press there, indicating growth and control of a business by one person. Jaharilal Sil became his official printer. The competition was close. Nandalal Raya’s Bidyasundar Tappa set off a series of similar song books. Two blocks away, at No. 319 Chitpur Road Chaitanya Chandradaya, brought out Bidyasundar Tappa Part I by Aghor Chandra Das Ghosh in 1875. Printed by Makhanlal Ghosh and published by Jadunath Datta, this 47-page long book cost 3 annas. Two thousand copies were printed. Shortly after this, the same press brought out Bidyasundar Tappa Part IV again by Aghorchandra. There was now a new printer, Ramchandra Mitra. The 36-page book cost 3 annas, and once more 2,000 copies were published. Not to be beaten by their rival in business, the Datta and Sil engaged Nandalal Raya to compile and edit Bidyasundar Notun Tappa Part IV.17 It was 36 pages but cost 1 anna. They were a little careful with the numbers. Only 1,500 copies were put out in the market. For the 103

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same price of an anna, Sil and Datta collaborated to reprint the original Bidyasundar in 94 pages. This was the ‘expurgated’ version, the first of its kind that dropped sections describing Bidya and Sundar’s coition. The pronouncement and suggestion that the Brahmo ideologue and intellect Keshab Chandra Sen made at the meeting of the Society for the Suppression of Public Obscenity was carried out by a printer publisher duo in Battala, engaged in publishing books that the former would have found too commonplace to comment on. But clearly Datta and Sil’s canny business sense found a demand for a censored version in the wake of all that was being discoursed on ‘obscenity.’ Books made interesting connections in the wider cultural and literary web of varied interests and enterprises. One thousand five hundred copies of versions of Bidyasundar were published. Troilakyanath Datta was a busy publisher. Apart from the thin pamphlets that indulged the popular market, he also published Chandimangal by Mukundaram Chakraborty and one section of Ramayana (Lanka Kanda). The first cost 4 annas and the second 2. Irrespective of the nature of the publications, Datta followed the business model of keeping prices of books low. With the publication of Bidyasundar Natak by Ishwar Chandra Bose on his Stanhope Press, in 1875, the 95-pages long Bidyasundar made quite a journey from the platform of popular jatra to the sophisticated stage of Calcutta’s theatre. The 1870s publications were testimony to the profusion of performance particularly after stage theatre caught on with educated Bengali elite. There was no getting away from the presence of Bidyasundar. Six months later (1876), further along the road from Sudharnava and Chaitanya Chandradaya presses, on Upper Chitpur Road, Vidyaratna Press printed and published, as the front page mentioned: ‘Vidyasundar-Gitabhinaya Tappa; or, Verses from the Vidyasundar Opera (Illustrated). (They were) collected and arranged by the late Shyamlal Mukherji.’ Three thousand copies of the 116-page long book were each priced at 8 annas. Arunodaya Ghosh was the printer and Pandavcharan De, the publisher. A couple of years later, there appeared to be a fall out between Nandalal Raya and his publisher and printer, Datta and Sil. Early in 1878, Raya walked few steps to the next address, Harihar Press at 118, Chitpur Road and from here his Part V of Bidyasundar Tappa was printed by Govindachandra Datta and published by Akshaykumar Roy & Co. The first 1,000 copies were priced at 3 annas. Harihar Press together with Jnanollas Press and Kamalakanta Press gained some notoriety for their publication of 104

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cheap skits on the raging scandal involving a man’s adulterous relationship with his niece. Another kind of book appeared with new songs inserted in the original script of Bharat Chandra’s Bidyasundar and original verses set to tune for their musical adaptation. We read one in which songs with specific musical score (raga) and beat (tala) were mentioned before all the verses of Bidyasundar at the start of each section. There were a few lines changed too, for affect.18 In 1877, a slightly longer book combined a newly composed drama with songs. Bidyasundar Geetabhinaya or Bidyasundar Opera by Rajendranath Kunwar was printed and published by Brajendranath De at the Wellington Press, No. 27, Bow bazaar Street. Only 500 copies cost 4 annas, each.19 The text in this book was a mixture of prose and verse. They were written in colloquial Bengali with several new supporting casts added to the original ones. After being on stage for a few decades, Bidyasundar Jatra was printed for the first time in 1876. It was written by Kedarnath Gangopadhyay, who had authored other books including Bangali Babu and Sitar Banabas; now he appeared to have commissioned the publisher, Jadunath Datta, who owned The General Printing Press at 115, Chitpur Road, two shops away from Sudharnava Press of Datta and Sil. It was printed here by Benimadhab Bhattacharya. The sale’s pitch was that it was based on music by the late Gopal Ure and included in addition some short catchy tunes (chutkisur). In his preface dated 2 Sravan 1283(1876) Gangopadhyay wrote that he had intended to publish the entire book, much longer in length, but refrained from doing so because he feared it that would become very expensive. To keep the price low, he decided to publish the first volume only and added that ‘should it be accepted by the public, he would feel his efforts gratified.’ The price of this volume was 8 annas. There was eventually five parts. Two years later, the same publisher reprinted four volumes of Bidyasundar Jatra. The 406-pages long drama cost 2 rupees 8 annas.20 The high price was a confirmation that the jatra was well received, and the publisher hoped the book would sell despite the raised price and printed 1,200 copies.

Fresh ponderings The publication of songs did Bidyasundar no good in the literary world but it is interesting that despite the distance that these modest enterprises and their writers were supposed to have from the elite and 105

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the highbrow, they continued to draw attention. Dinesh Chandra Sen’s verdict on Gopal Ure’s songs echoed Long’s comments that many would agree with: ‘Lyrical in nature, the songs smacked of vulgar state of mind. Ure diluted a drop of Bharat Chandra thick “ras,” to make it lighter and then put it in jars.’21 A review article published in the very respectable Rahasya Sandarbha commented that most of the verse tales in Bengali appear to have been conceived under the shadow of Bidyasundar which in turn had been a replication of an older Sanskrit composition, Chorpanchashat.22 What is worth mentioning is that these remarks in the journal were made as a preamble to the review of Durgeshnandini, the first novel in Bengali by none other than Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. In the debate over taste and aesthetics that dominated concern for refinement in literary writings, when tradition was held hostage to new learning of the craft, Bharat Chandra and particularly Bidyasundar offered a convenient threshing board. At the same time, a new reading came to attend upon the text when scholars putting together histories of Bengali literature explored the genealogy of this old romantic tale. If regarded somewhat unkindly in literary reviews, did Bidyasundar get a fair hearing when put in the context of past poetic practices? The story was intriguing even if widely familiar. Therefore, while compiling the history of literature, Ramgati Nyayratna decided to explore the sites mentioned in Bidyasundar during a visit to Bardhhaman in 1866. Like Man Singh, they started with the tunnel. After some asking they reached the edge of the town along the meandering river. On its northern bank, in the fold of the land clutching the river in one of its turns, they came upon a Muslim mendicant living on an old mound of bricks overlaid with shrubs. He pointed to a place below hidden by wild growth where the tunnel was supposed to have been. They also found names of other places that corresponded with those in the tale such as Malini’s hut and Bir Singh’s palace.23 Many believed that Bharat Chandra had deliberately set his tale in Bardhhaman to embarrass the ruler who had been responsible for the harassment of the poet and his family. Nyayratna argued that there was nothing derogatory or defamatory in the tale because every step that Sundar and Bidya took was under the specific guidance of goddess Kali. How could Bidya, the symbol of perfection, bring anything but glory to the family she was to be associated with?24 The prevalence and persistence of Bidyasundar in print and performance – in poetry, in prose, in songs, in discourse, on stage and in street corners was reason enough to explore its magnetic quality that 106

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held generations riveted. The underlying accent on sensuality, suggestions followed by graphic descriptions of lovemaking and ‘immoral’ acts of familial transgressions may have damned its cause to the emerging puritanical sensibilities of Bengali gentlemen, but its fine poetry and seductive story refused to let it go away even when disapproval and censure were implicated in the notice that it demanded. That was the irony of the fate of Bidyasundar in the world of print. It nested in multiple cultural systems and conventions, as a section of mangalkabya, as an example of very fine 18th-century poetry and as a secular tale comparable to other tales from the past. The depiction of Bidya’s beauty became a celebrated trope in the 19th century. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, who infused British literary form with Bengali themes to create the first novel, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, referred to Bharat Chandra’s beautiful portrayal of Bidya’s beauty as a model before embarking on his own description of women that earned him some rebuke from the reviewer of Rahasya Sandarbha. The essence of the story in the novel, Durgesnandini derived from ‘Adi Ras,’ the journal felt with its emphasis on love and beauty and that the author’s explicit descriptions of feminine beauty and his attempt to evoke laughter were inappropriate for young readers and cultured women.25 Despite its career in print and performance, Bidyasundar was embedded within a distinct narrative tradition that modern scholars now traced to mangalkabyas, or praise verses composed over centuries in medieval Bengal. Dinesh Chandra Sen found the oldest rendition of Bidyasundar in the verses of Kanka, a local bard who lived in the 16th century in eastern Mymensingh district of Bengal (now Bangladesh). A contemporary of Chaitanya, he included this tale in a religious paean to the local deity, Satyapir. Simple in its composition, its significant feature in Sen’s reckoning was that it was not obscene. Sukumar Sen, writing almost 50 years later, strongly refuted the suggestion that Kabi Kanka was a 16th-century poet and the first to compose Bidyasundar. In his opinion, Satyanarayan Panchali by Kanka was not written before the 17th century.26 But then this was more a difference in chronological reconstruction. Bidyasundar became an accessory in all Kalikamangals, or praise verses dedicated to the goddess Durga revered in various forms. The first Kalikalamangal containing Bidyasundar was written by Gobindadas in 1595 in Chittagong.27 The character names and locations in the tale were different from Bharat Chandra’s and the narration was imbued with deep spirituality rather than sensuality. Bidya’s father Bir 107

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Singha ruled over Ratnapur and Sundar and was from Kanchannagar that lay within the kingdom of Gaur. ‘Ratna’ meant jewels and ‘kanchan’ was gold, metaphors for prosperity and shine.28 Gobindadas’s Kalikamangal was a substantial piece of work that contained four other tales from Puranas – killing of the demon and spread of Devi or goddess’s praise (mahatmya) in the world of gods; Indra seducing Ahalya and committing a sin, atoned by the goddess’s mercy; slaying of Mahishasur and Shumbha Nishumbha by the Devi; and of a different nature, stories from the court of Vikramaditya, Betal and marriage of Bhanumati. Bidyasundar was the fifth and last one. All of the stories contained several songs set to different ragas.29 Another author of Kalikamangal, Balaram Chakravarti was a 17th-century poet from the south of Bengal and was a courtier of the ruler of Kashijora, Lakshminarayan. In his rendering of the tale, Bidya lived in Bardhhaman and Sundar was from Utkal or Orissa. Closer to Bharat Chandra’s time, Krishnaram Das Kabiballabh, who lived in the village Nimta, north of the city Calcutta, composed Kalikamangal and Bidyasundar between 1676 and 1677. He was, however, better known for his Raimangal, dedicated to Dakshin Rai, the god of Sunderbans.30 Satyanarayan Bhattacharya, the editor of Das’s complete works that included five mangalkabyas in all, credits Krishnaram with injecting a dose of irreverence to Bidyasundar before including it in the goddess’s encomium. The graphic description of Bidya and Sundar’s acts of lovemaking, Bhattacharya observed, was more to pander to taste that popular culture spawned largely because of the trading communities in Bengal than to meet the spiritual needs of believers. The story of Bidyasundar rendered into poetry by Das set the pattern for its future retelling and therefore was somewhat similar to Bharat Chandra’s.31 However, despite being close to Calcutta and despite containing features of a more ‘profane’’ and ‘sensual’ nature, Krishnaram Das’s Kalikamangal was printed only once in the 19th century. The date is not mentioned in any of the catalogues and was for all practical purposes lost. When compiling the volume, Satyanarayan Bhattacharya used one of the four manuscripts preserved in different libraries. Having been copied several times by the rural scribes, words in Hindi, Urdu or Arabic were almost unintelligible, the editor attributing this to the rural copiers’ limited linguistic capacity.32 The only other Kalikamangal that was printed in 1836 was composed by Pranram Chakraborty and edited by Ramchandra Tarkalankar. This too did not have a second edition. While editing Pranram Chakraborty’s 108

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Kalikamangal Akshay Kumar Kayal too had to go back to manuscripts because the 1836 printed version just had too many errors. He found several manuscripts of this Kalikamangal in Calcutta and its neighbourhood though none made it to the publisher’s list.33 The date of its original composition is uncertain, and there is some difference of opinions among scholars over who was the first to write Kalikamangal – Krishnaram or Pranram. They were both quite close in terms of time and place, in south Bengal in the late 17th century. Another manuscript of Kalikamangal that carried a preface by an author who signed Kabichandra was found in Bangiya Sahitya Parishad. This may have been composed in the early 18th century. The author in a couple places called himself Madhusudhan Kabichandra.34 Radhakanta Mishra composed Shyama Mangal with the story of Bidyasundar inserted not long after Bharat Chandra in 1760. This text was not printed in the 19th century. Once Bidyasundar was found customarily to be a part of Kalikamangal, the next step was to tease out two other features: its storyline and its poetic rendering. Where in the chain did they fit in? Shorn of its spiritual elements, Bidyasundar featured as a passionate love story. Writing of secular love stories became a fashion in the literary world of Bengal in the 16th and 17th century. Tapan Raychaudhuri traced its origin to the court of Roshang in the Arakan valley. ‘Thenceforward there followed in Bengal a stream of secular romantic poetry which reached its high water-mark in the Vidya-Sundara of Bharat chandra,’ he observed.35 Sukumar Sen also attributed the popularity of romances to Islamic traditions of secular tales or ‘qissas,’ which the patronage of local Muslim courts in Bengal helped spawn. The oldest secular ‘romantic’ tale is traced to 16th century during the rule of Hussain Shah. Few sheets of a manuscript that have survived show writings by Dwij Sridhar who acknowledges the patronage of Hussain Shah.36 From about the 17th century, according to Ashutosh Bhattacharya, love stories imported from Persian and Arabic traditions began to be included in Mangalkabyas. The strongest influence of Islamic love tales was on Bidyasundar and Kalikamangal, Bhattacharya feels. In the region of Sylhet and Chittagong in northeastern Bengal, with the support of local jagirdars, Persian and Hindustani tales were imported and adapted to local language and verse conventions. From here they moved further east to Arakan or northern Burma in the court of the Roshang rulers. These rajas were great patrons of local talents and at least two poets, Daulat Kazi and Aloal, became famous in the history of Bengali literature. Daulat Kazi was the author of the famous tale, 109

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Sati Moyna or Lor Chandrani. He died before the composition was complete and Aloal completed it. The tale was built around leitmotifs that were to become iterative – beauty in youth, passion and ecstasy, union, separation, anguish, opposition, struggle and final resolution in lasting happiness. The themes were woven around principal and subsidiary characters acting as friends and adversaries with the employment of different poetic strategies. One of the many descriptive devices to portray intensity of ‘longing’ was the Baramasya, which became a descriptive trope in all mangalkabyas. They were in no sense a faithful rendering of the original, but a recounting of the story in Bengali verse – forms which were standardized by the 15th century. The ancient world of the epics was much changed in accordance with the Bengal of the poet’s own times, and the mysticism of the tales thinned out to stress the human elements – often the love episodes.37 Persian influence in the mangalkabyas and local puranas composed in the 17th and 18th centuries, like Raimangal by Krishnaram Das, Shunya Purana by Ramaji Pandit, Satyanarayan Panchali by Bidyapati, Annadamangal by Bharat Chandra and Bidyasundar by Ramprasad Sen, therefore became conspicuous.38 Bidyasundar, therefore, figured prominently in discussions on Islamic syncretistic tradition that generated a host of secular tales which were published in large numbers from the very start of printing business. In 1857, Mussalmani Bengali books – the category these tales were labelled under – produced 23 titles with 24,000 copies, slightly less than fiction but far ahead of Sanskrit Bengali.39 The easy language and familiar tales made them suitable for the oral and aural experience of storytelling. Asim Roy places Bidyasundar in line with ‘romantic narratives based on Perso-Arabic and Indian materials,’ like Yusuf-Zulaikha, Laila Manjun, Saif-al-Muluk Badi al Jamal, Lalmati Saif-al-Muluk and non slamic tales like Padmavati, Sati Moyna, Lor Chandrani and Manohar Madhumalati, all of which were originally composed by Muslim poets, under the patronage of the local courts.40 Some of these tales, like Saghir’s Yusuf-Zulaikha, contained ‘couplets in the classical vaisnav style with rather suggestive references to the frolics of Zulaikha and her friends in Vrindavan.’ The authors emphasised love (prem) as the essence of the entire creative process. Wisdom and truth was not embodied in shastras but in the lesson of love. Muslim writers, like Ali Raja, believed that ‘The supreme “love” is 110

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like “nectar,” while “the four Vedas” and their fourteen shastras are as dry as wood.’ They also liberally dipped into imageries involving Krishna and Radha, Ram and Sita, Indra and Sachi, in which the basis of love and union was physical beauty, to which feelings and devotion were directed. Emmanuel Haq attributes these to the influence of Sufic concepts of ashiq and mashuq, shama (lamp) and parwana (moth) and Vaishnav concepts of biraha (sorrow) and milan (union).41

A model love story There evolved something like a ‘generic model’ that was an amalgam of different traditions, Sanskrit, Persian, Chisti Sufism, generating regional religious and literary principles.42 While the story had Islamic influence, its prosody had deep connections with Sanskrit poetics. Bidyasundar and similar ‘Hindu’ verse tales were influenced especially in their stress on motifs such as beauty, love, union, rapture, separation, agony and final resolution by the pattern of storytelling, introduced by Islamic practices, but the model that they evolved became increasingly distinctive. There were, enough to trace features of Sanskrit poetics with an accent on rasa (stable mood) as well as means of grafting a secular tale into a religious text. In the introduction to his translation of Bidyasundar, Edward C. Dimock remarked: The imagery which Bharat chandra uses is largely unoriginal, though originally phrased. It is for the most part the imagery of the Sanskrit court poetry of the high classical period, and the court tradition itself was never one of great creativity. But the refinement and grace which the Sanskrit court poetry did possess appealed very strongly to Bharat chandra.43 In terms of Sanskrit poetics and dramatics, every work of poetry or verse tale had a dominant rasa, ‘and it is toward causing his audience to appreciate and experience this rasa that the poet directed his whole art. His subject matter, his words, his images, his linguistic devices – all these are combined by the poet’s skill to bring the rasa to the audience, and all must be entirely appropriate to the rasa which the poet treats; no image must carry a suggestion which would jar this unity.’44 As Edward Dimock explains, This type of court poetry is particularly difficult to translate, for the audience has as much responsibility for its success as 111

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the poet. It was written for the sahrdaya, ‘the man with heart,’ the man of cultured taste; it assumes a knowledge and a background such that a single image can arouse a whole series of associations. The aesthetics of beauty, sringara, was the first of the nine rasas and thus also the adi or first. The ubiquity of beauty manifested in all permissible expressions – in metaphor, in physical union, in marriage and domesticity, and in ‘lila’ or illusion, deployed as allegories.45 They were literary devices, not to be interpreted literally. The purpose of language was to evoke the appropriate ‘mood,’ rasa, which by nature was expansive and mellifluous, evoked through familiar descriptive tropes intended to trigger different emotions. In this the tales broadly conformed to the prescriptions of Sanskrit poetics, according to which shifting ‘emotions’ contributed to the more stable rasa, in this case sringara or one of beauty and love. The mood for love was stirred up by the mention of stimulants, like rain clouds, sandal wood, ‘malay’ breeze, bees and more meticulous description of beauty in nature and in human form. Beauty of the woman’s body was intended to arouse wonder followed by sexual excitement. Sensuality and sexuality were cardinal prerequisites for the culmination of love which could be savoured in enjoyment (sambhoga) and/or in separation (vipralamba).46 Rich and ancient canons of poetics evolved in the course of 16th, 17th and 18th centuries as did certain pan-Indian features which ‘encouraged schematization and minute sub divisions of rhetorical devices, and regulated poetic activity.’ Poets could exercise some freedom but seldom operated outside the prescribed framework that preserved the traditions till the end of the 18th century.47 Bidyasundar’s birth in the shared space of syncretism, the structure of the story with elements of illicit love, subterfuge, apprehension and a climactic end not without divine intervention were also resonant of Sanskrit accounts by the apocryphal Baruchhi, one of the poets in Chandragupta Vikramaditya’s court. In 1872, Ishan Chandra Ghosh published at Prakrit Press, Bidyasundar written in Sanskrit with 54 short scriptural verses of Chourpanchashika.48 Scholars have had very diverse opinions regarding the authenticity of the composition and its descent from ancient literary piece of poetry.

Old tales in new environment Despite their diverse origins, verse tales flourished in the new book market of 19th-century Calcutta. Tales had circulated many times 112

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over through courts, reading sessions, memories and storytelling, often reproduced for specific occasions and needs. Printing encouraged the composition of many more texts along similar and familiar motifs for the newly emergent urban population. Pared off the earlier rural/courtly ambience and torn away from their scribal/aural culture, these tales in bold print lost their ‘validity,’ except to provide inexpensive entertainment to many lettered and unlettered folks. Their strong overtone of sensuality and sexual innuendos made them especially dubious in the new situation of colonial rule. The verse tales old or new flew in the face of all improvement programs and statist schemes for improvement of the subjects. Their content replicated in the new context failed to justify any other objective but to amuse and, as the British puritans perhaps felt, to ‘titillate.’ The Bengali literati completely endorsed such disapproval and were especially alarmed as printed texts came within the reach of a new community of readers – young men of impressionable age and women of all ages. Expressing their disapprobation plainly, the Bengali bhadralok situated these verse tales within the framework of a model that they pinned down to Bidyasundar. Its singular success in the world of print proved to be its bête noire. So long as Bidyasundar served the modernist/reformist venture of theatre performance, censored and refined under proper guidance, it passed muster. But it still could not shake off its culpability in providing printing presses with the opportunity of producing similar verse tales for easy ‘consumption.’ It fell victim to different readings in a shared space. Traditionally, there were prescribed rules for the recital of tales in gatherings which offered means of circulation of the texts through spaces ranging from the courts of regional rulers and landlords to humble gatherings of ordinary men and women. Mangalkavyas for instance were sung over eight successive nights according to the raga and tala, indicated by the poet.49 In the emerging culture of print in urban Calcutta, mangalkavyas converted into books circulated through sales. The city especially in the section where the Indians (natives) lived emerged as a large trading depot with separate smaller markets within it, with myriad tradesmen dealing with products ranging from cabinets to books, stationery, idol makers, sweetmeats and books, in close proximity. But book shops became special, and in the heart of a local Indian settlement, a book store often had an impressive collection of English books that included practically ‘every author of note’ and sometimes had American authors too.50 113

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James Long on a visit to the ‘native part of the town,’ in the region around Chitpur, discovered a very busy book trade sustained by small shops tucked away in the lanes and alleys with the most unimpressive frontage. Many educated ‘natives’ opened stores for the sale of Bengali books, and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was a leading entrepreneur among them. Bengali books, however, had other means of circulation. Long records, The usual mode of sale is by hawkers, of whom there are more than 200 in connection with the Calcutta presses. These men may be seen going through the native part of Calcutta and the adjacent towns with a pyramid of books on their head. These hawkers made a decent income, buying books at a wholesale price and selling them at double the rate. But the crucial role of the hawker was in acting as a ‘living agent who shows the book itself. Various valuable Bengali works have been printed, which have rotted on a book-seller’s shelves, because the assistance of hawkers was not brought into action.’51 Scholars like Haraprasad Shastri reminiscing about their childhood recalled books being peddled by hawkers in their villages. Did Bidyasundar and other verse tales feature among the customers’ favourites? In the case of texts like Bidyasundar, it was the preexisting culture of ‘orality’ and ‘aurality’ that determined its life in the world of print and substantially accounted for its phenomenal success. This seems to be a widespread feature. 52 In the manuscript culture of India‘listening’ to what was being narrated was also an ‘act.’ Religious and scriptural texts extended piety to all those who heard them being recited and listening was a form of participating in the rituals. Whether they were epics or encomium of any patron god or saint, those listening to the texts could claim a share in the blessings bestowed. They were all believers. And Bidyasundar was intended to be listened to as a part of the longer recital of Annadamangal. In a large gathering of people, reading was a professional and practiced act that was undertaken by professionals called kathaks with strong memory and excellent skills of oratory. Kathaks were public readers much in demand and men were known to earn anything between 500 and 2,000 rupees. Rich men employed readers for members of the household daily for a couple of hours. Reading was performative, involving prescriptive intonation and 114

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gesture. Women sat around a literate woman, usually belonging to a religious sect, to listen to her read. The popularity of reading sessions and the fame of the performers were at their height soon after printing provided people with editions of puranas, epics and traditional tales. Kathaks acted as the natural conduit between printed texts and their consumers. Not only because most of the listeners could not read but because the texts involved were best appreciated when read aloud, embellished with songs. Gautam Bhadra notes a decline in their performance from the second half of the 19th century and attributes it to changing taste in Bengal as people preferred to read by themselves books like novels which did not lend themselves to communal reading. But it is interesting to note that the widespread replacement of manuscripts by printed text was instrumental in raising the popularity of public reading associated with preprint culture.53 This was not dissimilar to the instance of Harikatha in Maharashtra which in its structured form evolved as a feature of urban development, that travelling Kathakars carried back to ‘folk’ societies.54 Long surmised as a professional record keeper, ‘Allowing an average of 10 hearers or readers to each book, we calculate that these 600,000 Bengali books (as registered in 1857) have 2,000,000 readers or hearers.’55 He quoted similar figures to make a case for basic education for all. Even though Bidyasundar was never part of the ritualistic Kathokatha sessions, it was nurtured by the existing conventions of public reading and listening. In high caste literate families, children were exposed to reading at an early age by parents. Shibnath Shastri recalled his first encounter of Ramayana, Mahabharata and Annadamangal when his mother read them together with Romeo and Juliet, setting quite an example in the rural neighbourhood.56 Poet Nabin Chandra Sen’s father was an excellent raconteur. Years later, writing his autobiography, Sen compared his father’s narration of Bidyasundar and Mukundaram’s Chandimangal with the melodies of a Veena, evoked from distant memory. When he grew up, Nabin Sen himself became a competent raconteur who often entertained the women of his family – his grandmother, mother and aunts. It wasn’t uncommon for young men to regale their female relatives with their newly acquired skill of reading aloud.57 There were different occasions for listening to different kinds of texts and compositions. Practically all religious rituals involved listening to chants and mantras. But some rituals like brata, that women did, involved recanting ‘katha,’ or narratives which were essentially tales, known to all, yet repeated endlessly. The act of listening with deep reverence after all was an act of piety. 115

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There were broadly two kinds of reading and listening – one that scholars remembered from childhood at home and the other was the more structured public arena that included large number of people. In the first, an older member of the family would be reading scriptures or epics; public readings, however, had to follow certain ground rules. In the case of Annadamangal, for example, the text was prearranged in such a manner that it could be read over eight days in two sessions – afternoon and evening. Reading started at noon and carried on till before dusk. The second session started a little after dark and continued till midnight. Each session, called ‘pala,’ contained a mixture of poetic metres, like payar, tripadi, long and short rhythms. The manner in which the complete mangalkabya was divided into 16 readings depended on the raconteur and singer.58 The narrator was a key figure in the text being put out to the public. The act of reading was a performance that transported written words into spectacles, created by the ambience and the narrator’s skill and talent. In the east of Chittagong, a thriving port where traders and merchants gathered, the Muslim poets often imitated the style of the mangalkabyas and epics, and structured their secular tales in a manner that they too could be sung or recited before a gathering by a lead singer/ narrator and a set of companions who supported him in chorus. In this literary creation of synergetic writing, Bidyasundar became a raging success. Not only were several Bidyasundars composed, the tale inspired similar romances that continued several decades after Bharat Chandra when mangalkabyas were no longer being written.59 Reading aloud and listening in a large gathering were thus critical elements in the way these texts were ‘consumed’ and gained popularity. Storytelling or narrating was not an external feature that bore upon the text and determined its composition and arrangement. It was internal to the account and was a crucial means for informing. Bidyasundar, for example, was a tale that Man Singh ‘heard’ as he came upon a tunnel in Bardhhaman. It was related to him by Bhabananda Mazumdar. What followed was supposed to be an oral reconstruction of events that took place a long time ago. Similarly, other texts that imitated Bidyasundar such as Kamini Kumar and Manmatha Manjari were tales that ancient poet Kalidas was supposed to have been narrating to his master, Emperor Chandragupta Vikramaditya. There were two voices embedded in the text. The preexisting and well-structured culture and tradition of reading aloud and listening helped the beginning and fast growth of local enterprises in printing and publishing. From the choice of texts the 116

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publishers made, beginning with Gangakishore Bhattacharya, it is evident that they assessed the situation and went into business. Till the middle of the 19th century, scriptures and mythologies were among the largest percentage of total books printed and, in this scenario, Annadamangal and Bidyasundar seldom let them down. Just as printing presses enabled the spread of ‘peasant lores’ in France,60 publishing houses in Calcutta in the 19th century were responsible for the proliferation of older texts and were the best record keepers of the custom of the use and consumption of these texts in the century preceding British occupation of Bengal. This feature worked well for Bharat Chandra especially among a section of modern poets who tried to project their compositions with reference to his fine poetry. It, however, worked to the detriment of Bidyasundar as the tale came to be chastised for perpetuating and spreading popular taste for ‘Adi Ras,’ that the decadent society of the 18th century sponsored, and that the new regime was set to reform by a progressive program of new writings. What appeared to them as more reprehensible was that new tales were being produced under the ‘shadow’ of Bidyasundar. Some were older texts that were re-scripted, and some were written new but in the mould of Bidyasundar. For our purpose, they were all new texts printed and published as new books by several publishing houses across the old city. How much of these books and their publishers registered the prevailing printing trend can only be assessed if we read some of them.

Notes 1 Sumanta Bannerji, The Parlour and the Street, Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1989, pp. 103–105. 2 Based on the episode of Krishna slaying the demon Kalia in the Mahabharata. 3 Bannerji, The Parlour and the Street, p. 104. 4 Dinesh Sen, Bhasha O Sahitya, vol. 2, 2nd ed., Calcutta: West Bengal State Book Board, 1991, p. 635. 5 Francesca Orsini, Print and Pleasure: Popular Literature and Entertaining Fictions in Colonial North India, New Delhi: Orient Black Swan, 2009, p. 10. 6 Sen, Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya, vol. 2, pp. 640–641. 7 James Long, A Descriptive Catalogue of Bengali Works, in Sen, Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya, vol. 2, pp. 827–828. Mentioning Ramnidhi Gupta, better known as Nidhubabu, Long writes that he was supposed to have written best when he was drunk. It was a century ago. 8 Panchalis were based on episodes from mythologies. Old song books included Geetratna by Ram Nidhi, ibid.

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9 Sen, Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya, p. 828. 10 Jatindramohan Bhattacharya, Mudrita Bangla Granther Panji 1853–1867, Calcutta: Panchimbangal Bangla Academy, 1993, p. 209. 11 These did not include Brahmo or Christian religious songs. 12 Bengal Library Catalogues. For the quarter ending 31 March 1874. 13 Thin books of under 20 pages were labelled ‘pamphlets.’ 14 20 kilometres, south west of Calcutta. 15 Songs on Bidyasundar had 2,000 copies and cost a slightly more: 6 paisa. 16 Bengal Library Catalogues. For the quarter ending 31 December 1875. 17 There is no information about sections two and three of the Bidyasundar Tappa. 18 See Introduction. 19 Bengali Library Catalogues. 20 Kedarnath Bhattacharya, Bidyasundar Jatra, Calcutta: General Printing Press, 1876. Bengal Library Catalogues. 21 Sen, Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya, p. 635. 22 Rahasya Sandarbha, 2nd series, vol. 21, Sambat 1921 (1872), p. 139. It was an illustrated monthly magazine dealing with miscellaneous subjects edited by Rajendralal Mitra. 23 Nyayratna, Bangla Bhasha O Bangla Sahityabishoyok Prostab, p. 150. 24 Ibid., p. 151. 25 Rahasya Sandarbha, 2nd series, vol. 21, Sambat 1921 (1872), p. 139. 26 Sukumar Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihas, vol. 2, Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1978, p. 422. 27 Satyanaryan Bhattacharya refutes this and believes that Gobindadas was a later poet. Satyanaryan Bhattacharya (ed.), Kabi Krishnaram Daser Granthavali, Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1958, Introduction. 28 Dinesh Chandra Sen, Banga Bhasha O Sahitya, vol. 2, Calcutta: Pashchimbanga Bhasha Pustak Parshad, pp. 583–585. 29 Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihas, vol. 2, p. 423. 30 Ibid., p. 589. 31 Bhattacharya, Kabi Krishnaram Daser Granthavali, Introduction. 32 Ibid. 33 Akshay Kumar Kayal, Pranram Kabiballabh, Kalikamangal, Calcutta: Sahityalok, 1398 (1991), Introduction. 34 Ibid. 35 Tapan Raychaudhuri, Bengal under Akbar and Jahangir, Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1969, p. 182. 36 Bhattacharya, Kabi Krishnaram Daser Granthavali, Introduction. 37 Anisuzzaman, Creativity, Reality and Identity, Dhaka: International Centre for Bengal Studies, 1993, pp. 20–21. 38 Anisuzzaman, Muslim Manas O Bamla Sahitya (1757–1918), Kolkata: Muktadhara, 1971, p. 113. 39 Tapti Roy, Disciplining the Printed Text: Colonial and Nationalist Surveillance of Bengali Literature, in P. Chatterjee (ed.), Texts of Power-Emerging Disciplines in Colonial Bengal, Calcutta: Samya, 1996, p. 42. 40 Asim Roy, The Islamic Syncretistic Tradition in Bengal, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983, p. 90. 41 Ibid., pp. 145, 188.

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42 Mir Sayyid Manjhan Shattari Rajgiri, Madhumalati: An Indian Sufi Romance, Translations with an Introduction and Notes by Aditya Behl and Simon Weightman, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. xv. 43 Edward C. Dimock, Jr. (translated), The Thief of Love: Bengali Tales from Court and Village, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1963, p. 22. 44 Ibid., p. 9. 45 Ibid., p. 44. 46 Daniel H.H. Ingalls, An Anthology of Sanskrit Court Poetry-Vidyakara’s ‘Subhasitaratnakosa,’ Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1965, Introduction, pp. 2–29. 47 Sisir K. Das, A History of Indian Literature, vol. VIII, 1800–1910, New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1991, p. 56. 48 Bharat Chandra, Granthavali, Bangiya Sahitya Parishat, in Brajendranath Bandhyopadhyay and Sajanikanta Das (eds.), Bharatchandra-Granthavali. Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishat, 1943, p. 10. More on this will be discussed in Chapter 6. 49 Anisuzzaman, Creativity, Reality and Identity, p. 22. 50 Sketches of Calcutta, Or, Notes of a Late Sojourn in the ‘City of Palaces’ by a Griffin, 1843, Robertson. 51 James Long, Returns Relating to Publications in the Bengali Language in 1857, Selections from the Records of the Bengal Government, no. XXXII, Calcutta: General Printing Department, 1859, p. xiv. 52 See Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, 30th Anniversary ed., London: Routledge, 2012, p. 117. 53 Gautam Bhadra, Kathakathar Nana Katha, Jogsutra, October–December, 1993. It must be added that Bidyasundar was never part of the Kathakatha sessions. 54 Y.B. Damle, Harikatha: A Study in Communication, Bulletin of the Deccan College of Research Institute, 20, Parts 1–4, Poona 1960 (Sushil De felicitation volume), p. 65. Harikatha, meaning story of Hari or Krishna is a traditional form of storytelling that includes recitation, singing and dancing too. 55 Long, Publications in the Bengali Language, in 1857, p. XV. 56 Shibnath Shastri, Atmacharit, Calcutta: New Edition, Vishwavani Prakashani, 1983, p. 28. 57 Quoted in Bhadra, Kathakathar Nana Katha, p. 173. 58 Ashutosh Bhattacharya, Bangla Mangalkabyer Itihas, 6th ed., Calcutta: A. Mukherjee and Co., 1975, p. 14. 59 Ibid., pp. 102–106. 60 Natalie Z. Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France: Printing and the People, London: Duckworth, 1975, p. 205.

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5 TALE AMONG TALES The spread of print

Printed and published in substantial number till the last quarter of the 19th century were books that the official catalogues registered under the category ‘Tales.’ These were long writings, of more than 100 pages, written largely in verse drawing on stories that were set in an indefinable past. They were without exceptions romances cast in familiar tropes with imageries and metaphors of beauty, love and longing. Each account was constituted by episodes that comprised critical moments and situations involving the heroine and hero-encounter, coming together, separation, climax and final resolution, underlined by dominant emotions such as love, ecstasy, pathos, anxiety, fear and eventual happiness. Scholar Sushil Kumar De described them as ‘verse tales,’ belonging to the school of Bharat Chandra. ‘Writing under the shadow of his genius, this belated group of writers,’ wrote De in his account of Bengali Literature of the 19th century, ‘are all sterile copyists, reproducing the style and scheme of his Bidya-Sundar down to minute details, but unable to repeat its poetry, they exaggerate its freedom into license.’1 The imitative style of compositions and somewhat repetitious subjects and situations in these tales made them different from reprints of older, ‘classical’ texts and popular contemporary prose writings like dramas, short spoofs, skits, satires and subsequently novels. Located in an imaginary time zone, they were long stories written for the printing press in the 19th century and like other publications, their fashion peaked and declined in the course of time. The titles of these tales were usually formed from names of main protagonist/s: Chandrakanto, Kamini Kumar, Manmatha Manjari, Yojana-Gandha, Mohun Monohurra, Madan Madhuri, Hemlata Ratikanta; Naba Ramani Natak and Ramani Natak were exceptions. Nobody mistook them for anything but love stories which became very popular and had several reprints. 120

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De lists five books in this category, but several others could be counted among them. Women as nayika or heroine were usually the prime movers in these long romances.

Reading romances The common structural schemes that were deployed in these verse tales (with some prose content too), and features they shared, in terms of plots and denouement, motifs and descriptions, connected these long verse tales of love and romance, and made them quite distinctive among the books produced in the 19th century. I refer to three tales in print – Chandrakanto, Kamini Kumar and Manmatha Manjari – but use the structure of the first as the template for enumerating the chief characteristics of the others; series have been broken into parts and described in relation to the whole.2 1 Tales of romance and adventure: Chandrakanto (CK) was composed by Kaliprasad Kabiraj, ‘using different poetic rhythm.’ Kamini Kumar (KK), the verse writing (kabya) in ‘classical Bengali language with various prosodic techniques,’ was written by Kalikrishna Das, Baidyanath Bagchi and Madhusudhan Sarkar. Manmatha Manjari (MM), intended for the discerning, romantic and talented persons, was composed by Kanthanath Roy in ‘modern verse using refined (sadhu) language and assorted verse meters.’ These attestations that typically appeared on the title pages of the printed books underline two features – they were authored by recent poets and they were written in refined and diverse poetic forms, in attempts to link them to older verse tradition. This set them apart from any hurriedly scribbled prose in coarse, colloquial Bengali. All three were more than 100 pages long.3 They were not to be dismissed as ordinary for they were produced well. 2 The beginning: The narration of the story began after gods had been adequately extolled – Ganesh, Narayani (Chandrakanto), Vishnu, Shyama (Kamini Kumar), the formless, omnipresent god (Manmantha Manjari). 3 A tale within tale: They were tales embedded within another narration. In CK, sage Bibhandak recounted the story of Ram’s exile and Sita’s capture to Yudhishthir when he and his four brothers with wife Draupadi were exiled to the forest. The sage presaged the unfolding of the actual romance by citing instances from the epics of the power of women and what they could achieve by the 121

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4

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strength of their devotion to husbands. There was Sita who took the form of Shakti to destroy a demon her husband was unable to slay and of Savitri who outwitted Yama, the lord of death to get her husband Satyavan back to life. The saga of Chandrakanto and his devoted wife Tillotama was set in this context. The birth of the hero, the curse of the god: A celestial personage named Chitrasena descended on earth to study the shastras with sage Baishwanar. One day while the sage was away, his wife seduced the handsome young man who was reluctant to begin with since she was a mother figure but eventually gave in. The sage returned to find the two in the act of lovemaking. Enraged, he cursed Chitrasena that he would have to live a lifetime as a human who will be imprisoned because of someone else’s wife. His wife was cursed to live as a prostitute. Circumstances of his birth and marriage: Chandrakanto was born to Srikanta, a merchant in Birbhum. When he grew up, he married Tilottama, daughter of Ratan Datta, a trader in Shantipur. Tilottama was exceptionally beautiful just as he was superbly handsome, their union reminiscent of Rati and Kamdev, the gods of love. Oblivious of his responsibilities to his father’s trade, Chandrakanto shut himself in with his newly wedded wife, never leaving her side, submitting instead to youthful passions of love. Leaving home: The merchant became worried that the obsession with wife may turn his son away from his profession and arranged to send him on a trading voyage by sea. Saddened at the thought of going away from his wife, Chandrakanto was reminded of the story of Parshuram, the mythological hero who severed his mother’s head at the command of his father. Chandrakanto decided to abide by his father’s orders and begged leave from his grieving mother first and then his love-struck wife. Tillottama was inconsolable but finally agreed to let him go when Chandrakanto explained that he would bring back a lot of wealth and would never have to undertake another voyage. Tillottama warned him against speaking to any other woman. Following other rituals including blessings of a Brahmin, the young merchant set out. The journey: Seven ships were loaded with precious goods under one captain, who made adequate provisions of food, water, ammunition and men. The fleet sailed down the river from the north to reach the sea in the south of Bengal, touching on Shantipur, Guptipara, Tribeni, Nawadwip, Khardah, Kalighat where he stopped to offer prayers to goddess Kali. Finally, the fleet reached Ganga 122

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Sagar, the estuary at the mouth of river Bhagirathi where it met the Bay of Bengal. At Hijuli, the ships reached the sea as mountain high waves convulsed the ship, to Chandrakanto’s distress. The journey continued for two months; after crossing Puri and Rameshwar, the fleet finally reached shores of Gujarat. Hero in the city: After some altercation with the guard at the entry gate of the city of Gujarat, Chandrakanto marched to the king’s palace. His handsome bearing turned heads in the city, especially young women. Uninhibitedly admitting to being sexually aroused at the perfect looks of the young merchant, the besotted women cursed their fates and berated their husbands. Hero’s introduction to the King: Chandrakanto was welcomed by the local ruler as well as other merchants and began business. The entry of the mediator: Gopi was the milkmaid, goyalini, with easy access to all including royal homes. She was pretty herself even though getting on in age. Gopi chatted up to Chandrakanto and told him about the king and his family. Chitrarekha, the young and very beautiful princess, was married but had been left behind by her husband; she was very sorry, her distress made worse by youth and the season of spring. Gopi described to the young merchant the irresistible beauty and physical grace of Chitrarekha, accentuating her sexual appeal. Chandrakanto enthralled, pleaded with her to arrange for a meeting with the princess. Gopi thereafter went to Chitrarekha and inveigled her not to let the season of spring and love go waste. She also advised that the princess must teach her recalcitrant husband a lesson. And she then sketched the image of handsome Chandrakanto in all the vividness to disturb Chitrarekha’s composure. Lovers meet and the subterfuge begins: The rendezvous was arranged at the temple of Kali, the significance of divine presence and approval being unmistakable. The effect of the encounter was electrifying with Chandrakanto and Chitrarekha immediately smitten at each other’s sight. The young merchant was surreptitiously brought to the palace, dressed as a woman Mohini, pretending to be the granddaughter of Gopi. Love making: Chitrarekha asked her companions to leave her and Mohini alone. Chandrakanto initiated the princess into the acts of coition. There followed explicit and dense descriptions of intense sexual desire, followed by foreplay and love making, man and woman taking turns to be on top. While Chitrarekha was ecstatic, Chandrakanto dreamt of his parents and wife and 123

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woke up lamenting, determined to return. The princess became distraught and Gopi cast a spell over the young merchant and he drifted into amnesia. Eleven months passed. 13 The second journey: Back home in Bengal, Chandrakanto’s family became desperate for news of his return. Tillotama in extreme anxiety prayed for divine intervention, invoking goddess Kali by chanting her praise 36 times using every letter in the alphabet. The goddess, moved by Tillotama’s despair, turned to her assistant, Padmavati, who related to the goddess the incident of her past life in which Sulochana, a celestial dancer, was cursed by an affronted brahmin to live a life on earth. She was born Tilottama. Kali sent Padmavati to the distressed wife. She informed Tillotama that her husband was under the spell of another woman whose absconding husband was the son of the Telangana country. Padmavati drew out a detailed plan of action. To get Chandrakanto back, Tilottama must disguise as this absentee husband. Despite being a simple protected wife, it was her devotion to her husband that would eventually win her success. After a night of long prayers and incantation to goddess, dressed as a young prince and accompanied by one companion, also dressed as a man, Tillotama rode on a horse and travels overland passing Ayodhya on the way. They reached Gujarat on the eighth day. Only her unquestioned devotion to the goddess enabled her to achieve the impossible. 14 The disguise: Tilottama dressed as Kishorimohan, the absentee husband of Chitrarekha and son of Bijoy Kishore, the king of Telangana. There was much rejoicing in the palace. On being quizzed by Chitrarekha’s father, Tillotama, alias Kishorimohan, said that he had been on a long pilgrimage for the past five years during which he visited Kashi, Ayodhya, Vrindaban, Badrika ashram and Haridwar. Now on his way home to the south, he had come to visit his wife. 15 Unravelling mystery: In a dialogue thick with allusions and suggestions, Chitrarekha and Tilottoma keep up their pretences. Chitrarekha was unwilling to give up Chandrakanto and continued to make love even after the putative arrival of her husband. Kishorimohan discovered love bites and nail marks on Chitrarekha which offered pretexts to him(her) for desisting from making love. In a long dialogue the two women try to upstage one another, keeping the charade on. In the banter as Kishorimohan made advances on Mohini, the false breasts fall off and his guile exposed. The queen was summoned, and she rebuked her daughter for being shameful. 124

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Kishorimohan (Tilottama) offered to escort Chandrakanto back home while Chitrarekha broke down in inconsolable grief. 16 The journey back: Still unaware of Kishorimohan’s identity, Chandrakanto revealed his identity and admitted to having conceded to passion, though blamed Gopi goyalini’s machinations. Chandrakanto agreed to write all his wealth in the name of Kishorimohan, if his life was spared. Meanwhile, Gopi was punished and the king presented Kishorimohan (Tilottama) with another large ship fitted with all kinds of food and riches. On the way back, they stopped to visit Puri, where they stayed for a few days and one night, Tilottama took off her guise and made love to Chandrakanto in the dark. The following morning, the young man was filled with remorse at the thought of his parents and doting wife. On their return home in Birbhum, amidst joy, cheer and much celebrations, Chandrakanto met his father and mother before he and Tillotama were reunited and reconciled; Tilottama revealed her deceptions after she found herself pregnant. There were long sections in which Chandrakanto recounted his experience to his parents and his transgression and unfaithful conduct. Eventually, having completed their allotted time on earth, fulfilling all their domestic duties and earthly commitments, the two returned to the heavens.

The common theme The organising theme of Chandrakanto was spun around the centrality of women and even though Chandrakanto was the hero and primary doer, it was the women who act as the movers of his (mis) fortunes. They are instrumental in leading him astray (Gopi) and again bringing him back on track (Tilottama). Yet women were not active agents – they were conditioned by their natural instincts, the most dominant desire being sexual in nature. Trapped in their bodies and victims of passions evoked by external stimuli such as their youth, changes in seasons and drift of wind and the presence of handsome men, women reacted in a manner that was sensual. This became a repeated motif as the factor (woman) and conditions (nature) were to have a predictable outcome. The narrative was set in a ‘time-less’ zone as various moments are entangled in different narrative spins – real, historical and mythical – each embedded in a different episode. While the supposedly historical was drawn from older tales and epics and mythical from religious texts, the real moments were 125

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played out in genuine geographical locations. Journey and displacement which were key features of these sagas provided definite spatial markers. The routes that the journeys take were ‘real,’ in an otherwise fantastic account. For example, to make these journeys mandatory, the chief protagonist had to be a merchant or trader, reminiscent of the mangalkabyas. However, even if he was not a merchant, there are other occasions that make travel essential. The plot, its climax and the denouement were woven around these features which become almost prescriptive. The descriptive medium was typically poetry though some used a mixture of colloquial prose too. Before the start of each section, the poetic rhythm was specified, such as payar or deergha tripodi and ragas mentioned too. Of the 16 features listed at least in ten were comparable to Bidyasundar apart from the larger arrangement of the story and its unfolding. Kamini Kumar was more of an adventure tale that incorporated most of the 16 characteristics mentioned.4 After the customary praise to gods, it was legendary Emperor Vikramaditya’s court in which poet Kalidasa narrated the tale as an example of women’s strength of mind. The story was supposed to act as a foil to the former’s admiration for his two wives. The birth of Kamini and Kumar were due to a curse by sage Durbasha on celestial couple Tarabati and Chitrarath. They were born to trading families in Midnapur. They grew up to be an exquisitely handsome pair who get married. After their marriage, the young merchant had to undertake the mandatory journey. Here it was to the north as far as Kashmir that the trading route was set. Kamini was reluctant to let him go and decided to follow him incognito. Disguise and subterfuge became essential elements in the manner in which the story evolved. Kamini had wagered in a non-serious argument with Kumar that she would make her husband prepare the smoking pipe for her. To fulfil her pledge, she followed Kumar with two of her trusted maids. The places they stopped at included Patna and Benaras and Kamini’s various escapades were arranged at selected spots within the cities – the temples and famous ghats. Meanwhile, she masqueraded as different women – a Hindu sage (Bhairavi), a prostitute and finally a Muslim girl in Kashmir. Kumar was always outwitted and in one situation had to give up all his money to Kamini, just as Chandrakanto had to write all his merchandise in favour of Tilottama. Kamini in all her allures remained steadfast in her devotion to the husband whom she also managed to seduce and became pregnant. It was her conception that eventually forced her to confess and seek her husband’s forgiveness. The tale returned to Kalidas and the Emperor. 126

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The long story with its numerous moments of tensions made it ideal for a session of storytelling in which the imaginative raconteur could marshal all her diverse talents. On the cover page, it mentions that the listener was Emperor Vikramaditya and the orator, poet Kalidas. But now or recently (idaning), it has been composed by new poets in refined Bengali. Manmatha Manjari, similar in structure to Kamini Kumar, is also set in Vikramadiyta’s court.5 It is the tale of the prince of Mithila, Manmatha, and his marriage to Manjari, the princess of Surat. They were originally Pramod Pramodi of the heavens who were cursed by Parvati for having watched her making love to Shiva. Once more, the princess was under her own pledge that stood in the way of their union, but situations got the better of them and especially her own incapacity to overcome sexual weakness. She gave in to her natural desire on the way. Incidents were repeated as were occasions and descriptions of the two making love. It had the weakest storyline with repeated mention of the occasions in which the two were able to be together. Yojan-Gandha or lyrical verse regarding hero and heroine written by Banoarilal Roy closely resembled most the storyline of Bidyasundar.6 Yojana was a handsome young man of Khatri caste much obliged to the patronage of the Maharaja of Bardhaman, who gave him shelter and support after his father passed away. Gandha was the princess of a city named Sairat (Surat?). Unlike other tales, apart from Bardhaman, all other place names here are imaginary. Yojana’s youth and handsomeness tempt even the fairies. He saw Gandha in his dreams and was entranced by her beauty and her exuding sexuality. Their first act of virginal lovemaking took place in his dream, the description extremely graphic. He woke up to a reality where the lady was still absent. The usual roles of ‘helpmates,’ ranging from the ‘suk’ bird, goddess Kali and friends of the princess, come together to arrange for their rendezvous. Deliberate ploys like Gandha’s reflection on the mirror provide occasions to describe her beauty. Yojana disguised as a painter to gain entry into Gandha’s palace. The two meet, fall in love, get married in the presence of Gandha’s companion, unknown to her parents. They consummate their marriage, Gandha’s virginal blood gives her away. Yojana was killed by the Kotwal but resuscitated by Kali. Yojana and Gandha return to Bengal. Naba Ramani Natak was constructed somewhat differently. Unlike the others, it mixed poetry with coarse colloquial prose in which local rural women conversed. Ramani was a princess from Bengal, 127

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daughter of Mahendra, the ruler of Upendranagar.7 To find a suitable groom for his young and pretty daughter, the king sent a matchmaker (ghatak) to different places – Magadh, Gaya, Orissa, Sindh, Bihar, Haridwar, Mithila, Gujarat, Dravida, Kashi, Telanga, Kanchi, Kamakhya, Kalinga, Ayodhya, Karnataka. He eventually located a fine young Kayastha in Bhopal. While Upendranagar was a fictitious name, the other place names were real. There was, however, no travel here. The young man, Bhubonmohan (literally meaning one who charms the world), was brought back to the kingdom and there was much excitement among women at his sight. Bhubonmohan and Ramani were happily married, but he had to go back for work and the young wife was left forlorn. Shortly after the husband left, Ramani spotted a young Brahmin from her window that she looked out of in her despair. The young man induced passion and strong longing. She persuaded him to come to her and thereafter they become lovers. Conversations followed by passionate lovemaking engage several long passages. The handsome looks of the lover evoked lust among Ramani’s companions too. It was a long and repetitive narration of love, lust and longing. The husband on his return overheard the mythical suk birds discuss women and adultery. Bhubanmohan was alerted and hurried to his wife. Ramani owned up but pleaded helplessness in wake of the assault of spring and the weakness of her body. All was forgiven in the happiness of reunion.

Tales in print On the cover page of two tales, Kamini Kumar and Manmatha Manjari, there was mention of another setting that the listener of both had been Emperor Vikramaditya and the storyteller, none other than poet Kalidas.8 These tales became very popular in the middle of the 19th century and began to decline from the 1870s. They abound in Bengali, observed Long, ‘thick as leaves in “Vallambrosa,” (Benedictine Abbey in Apennines) like those in England last century love with all its difficulties and agitations from the chief subject. We shall notice in the numbered catalogue only those fit for general circulation, . . . they are all love tales,’ observed Long.9 Chandrakanto, Kamini Kumar, Manmatha Manjari and YojanaGandha made it to Long’s list. Chandrakanto and Kamini Kumar were without doubt the most successful of the printed tales. Chandrakanto was printed and published for the first time in 1829, followed by editions in 1833,1852, 1854, 1856, 1858, 1860 and 1865.10 128

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The first edition of the book carried pictures and a passage introducing the author, Kaliprasad Kabiraj, who belonged to a Baidya family that lived in Sutanati, within the town of Calcutta.11 The story was said to have been circulating in a popular doggerel in the Chittagong region of east Bengal. Kaliprasad was the author of three other books – tales based on Vikramaditya’s court, Betal Panchabingshati and Bhanumati’s tale.12 The version of Chandrakanto we read was published on the 2nd of Ashwin 1865 for the fifth time by Indranath Ghosh who owned Sudhanidhi Press, located at house number 244, on Chitpur Road. The 1858 edition was printed by Kamalaya Press. Sukumar Sen briefly mentions these two books in his account of popular presses in Battala.13 These busy presses brought out ‘old fashioned’ tales translated loosely from their Sanskrit and Persian originals; some like Chandrakanto were newly conceived, Sen observed. Chandrakanto became hugely popular in the print world. But we don’t know much about the way it was ‘consumed’ – who read them and how. Common tropes including descriptions of beauty, of women criticising their husbands and accounts of coition made it a familiar and repeated narrative frame quite characteristic of this genre of storytelling. Perhaps to enhance the antique worth of the text, author Kaliprasad Kabiraj inserted the colophon ‘Gourikanta’ at the end of each section, in the fashion of older poets. It was not enacted on stage of Calcutta but must have been quite the favourite in communal readings. We, however, know something of the two publishing houses that produced the same book and were located in close proximity. Kamalaya Press was started in 1848 at 265, Chitpur Road Battala, and in the one year (April 1857 to April 1858) had five publications to its credit. In the previous year, it had sold 17,000 books. In this year, it published five titles, of which five were religious (two based on the Mahabharata). Kabi Kankan Mukundaram’s Chandi at 1 rupee was the priciest and Shishubodhak, the only secular text at 1 anna, the cheapest. The average print run of each was 1,200 with the exception of 9,000 copies of Shishubodhak. This was indeed a modest enterprise compared to other publishing houses in the neighbourhood.14 Shishubodhak, a spelling book for local schools which in the missionary’s reckoning ‘taught bad morals and mythology,’ was its best seller; there were three other publishers producing the same text.15 Sometime later in the year, 1858, Kamalaya Press, printed around 1,200 copies of Chandrakanto. Down the same road at 242–1, Chitpur Road, Battala, was Sudhanidhi Press that published Chandrakanto in 1865. Long registered ten titles to its credit in 1856–57, comprising 129

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school books (3), sections of Ramayana (2), slim religious texts (3), almanac (1) and a long tale of 156 pages called Shuk Bilas based on the court of Vikramaditya. Within a couple of years, it had printed 28,500 books and currently around 27,700, making it a substantially larger enterprise than Kamalaya. Ten years later, it was still doing brisk business, and its owner Indranarayan Ghosh now ran a shop at 245 Chitpur Road. At the back of Chandrakanto Ghosh carried an insertion regarding a new Bengali dictionary that he had published and was available at the shop. At 2 rupees it was a not a cheap print. Kamini Kumar in print had an interesting life. Composed by three authors, it was printed for the first time in 1833 followed by two editions in 1850 and 1868. The 1850 version was a crude publication with old style fonts, printed at Kamalasan Press belonging to Gurucharan Dhar on 20th Asar (June–July) 1257 (1850). For informing the public it carried a notice: ‘Whoever has any need for this book will find it if they enquire at the house of Babu Dukhiram Deb, number 1/12, Ahiritolah, Calcutta.’ This 197-long page text was completely in verse. Kamalasan Press started operations in 1850, the same year that it published Kamini Kumar. Like Kamalaya Press, this was a small publishing house that in a year brought out 18,000 copies of nine titles, of which two were almanacs with 8,500 print runs. It printed Shishubodhak in lesser numbers, the rest being sections from epics, prayer books and two school books. Another edition of Kamini Kumar was printed and published in 1868 by Nrityalal Sil who we know from several editions of Bidyasundar. His press was then located at 65 Ahiritollah, not far from Kamalasan. The print and the font showed a marked improvement from what the latter produced. Kamini Kumar, however, had a second comeback when it was recast in the form of a drama by Tinkari Biswas and was printed and published by Hridaylal Sil and Trailakyanath Datta at house number 19 on Chitpur Road, another of the latter’s successful partnerships. At 8 annas, it ran two editions, the second in 1876 (1283). Mixing prose conversation with verse stanzas, Kamini Kumar was rewritten for a more commonplace reading containing ribald dialogues like the young Kamini’s lament to a friend about her sexual deprivation that the season of spring and her youthful age make it difficult for her to endure. Such conversations were not uncommon in texts produced in abundance by the printing houses. Tinkari Biswas, belonging to Paunan village in the Hugli district, had been a busy hack writer who also converted older mythological texts into plays.16 The third edition of Kamini Kumar was also 130

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published in 1880 by Hridaylal Sil but from a new premise and a fresh collaborator. The printer was Ramchandra Mitra who used Jadunath Datta’s Suryadoy Press at house number 68 at Nimu Goswami’s Lane. The price remained 8 annas. This edition carried an insertion: It is to be made known to all that I am publishing this drama, Kamini Kumar having purchased it from Tinkari Biswas once and for all. Therefore, anyone who prints this text as it stands, or has it printed will owe me a debt. While longer verse tales gradually dwindled, prose dramas continued to be published for much longer. Manmatha Manjari was composed by Srikanthanath Roy and corrected by Kashinath Nyayratna and was being published with the permission of Babu Trailokyanath Mukhopadhyay, clearly a man of some standing. In a brief note addressed to his readers, the author appealed that they must overlook mistakes or correct them and read the text with their superior intellect. Then a caution follows: if anyone publishes the book again without the permission of the author, the act will be construed as sinful and the killing of cows or killing a woman or Brahmins. He will be tried in the court of religion as well as of law. The book did not make it to another edition. Comparable with the rest was Hariharmangal with significant differences that underlined the popularity and fashion for tales. The name was a misnomer and Long was deceived and listed it under ‘Puranas’ when it was a tale or ‘golpo,’ like Chandrakanto. It was composed by Paranchand, the Diwan (prime minister) and brother-inlaw to the Maharaja of Bardhhaman, Tejchand Bahadur (1770–1832). The book, in all likelihood, was sponsored by the court of Bardhhaman and published around 1830, soon after Chandrakanto, with 71 metal engraved illustrations by an artist called Ramdhan Swarnakar and in the format of a manuscript. The structure of the story was a close copy of Bidyasundar, and composed to amuse and flatter the king and also seek the blessings of the gods. It was the love story of Jaysen and Jayanti, both celestial beings, born on earth to live out a curse. Apart from their escapades and explicit descriptions of their attraction and lovemaking, very detailed sketch of the palace of Bardhhaman, the streets and market places, the people in the city were reminiscent of Bidyasundar. It was, however, regarded as one of the most ‘obscene’ books of the time. ‘In the talented poet Bharat Chandra’s hand, the description of body and its indulgence acquired the status 131

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of art. In this, at the hand of the rural poet, it turned into Kamasutra’s unabashed prose translation.’ It did run a second edition.17

The story of publishing Long tales that thrived in the book market in Bengal till they were gradually edged out by the coming of modern novels, the first of which was published in 1865 by Bankim Chandra Chattapadhayay, were regarded as broadly structured on the Bidyasundar scheme. Like the text they were supposed to resemble, these tales and their wide sale were attributed to popular taste among people in the growing urban settlements of south Bengal.18 Anchored in past traditions of verse compositions, newer editions made allowance for easy reading with hopes of greater commercial success in the space of printing and publishing. Chandrakanto, Manmatha Manjari and early versions of Kamini Kumar were in fine verse. When the language was changed, it involved the introduction and use of colloquial prose especially in dialogues among women. Naba Ramani Natak was an example of the latter. Lavish in its reference to sensuality and lust, this book indulged the popular book market. If anyone were to review this book, it would have been registered as an example of declining standards in taste even when compared to the likes of Chandrakanto and Kamini Kumar. Composed by a resident of Srirampur, Shyama Charan Bandyopadhyay, it contained as the title page broadcasted various rhythmic verses with best known ragas in a language redolent with the right mood and fine songs. Bandyopadhyay authored two other books – Nabakamini and Parishraom Prayog. Naba Ramani was first published in 1855 and then again in 1861 by two different publishing houses. One would have inferred that the publishing houses were among the several in the neighbourhood of Chitpur Road and Battala. Therefore, it is not without surprise that we find Naba Ramani being printed and published for the first time by Ishwar Chandra Bose on his Stanhope Press at 185 Bowbazar Street. Stanhope Press, the first iron press invented by the Earl of Stanhope, revolutionised printing in England in the early decades of the 19th century.19 In Bengal, Ishwar Chandra Bose invested in this expensive machine in 1840 to improve the quality of printing, the first Bengali entrepreneur to do. In Bowbazar, it stood apart from the cluster of printing presses of Battala, marking its distance spatially as well as in terms of the quality of books. I.C. Bose’s Stanhope Press stood for finer prints and improved books and the use of lithography for the images. 132

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In 1856–57, James Long noted five titles and a total print run of 3,500 copies of books that he produced. Of these, Ratnabali, a historical drama ‘compiled’ in Sanskrit by a Kashmir poet, was published under the patronage of Joykrishna Mukherji, the zamindar of Uttarpara and bibliophile and collector. It also published its dramatised version, Ratnabali Natak by Ram Narayan Tarkalankar, that was successfully enacted by Bengali literati many times over.20 In 1863, after 20 years of being in operation, it earned praiseful comments from the journal Rahasya Sandarbha: ‘A number of fine Bengali books have been published by the Stanhope Press belonging to Ishwar Chandra Bose’s firm situated in Bowbazar.’ Madhusudhan Dutt’s plays were printed by this printing house with a lot of care, ensuring the books looked elegant. These observations were especially being made in the context of it publishing a monthly exclusively for women, to improve their knowledge and awareness.21 It had published Bidyasundar Natak, the remodelled and dramatised version. Naba Ramani was, therefore, completely out of sync with the kind of books that I.S. Bose’s enterprise published and increasingly came to be associated with by contemporary litterateurs. More in order was the second edition of Naba Ramani, printed and published by Chaitanya Chandradoya Press at 9, Ahiritollah Street, in Garanhata, contiguous to Battala in 1861. In 1856–57, this press had printed a host of popular tales and monographs in the pidgin language of Persian/Urdu and Bengali from the Musalmani tradition.22 Naba Ramani would have been quite appropriate. A very similar piece, but shorter in length, called Ramani Natak was written by Panchanan Bandhyopadhyay and first published in 1848. The structure of the story and names of the characters are very similar to Naba Ramani. Ramani was the young woman married to Bhubonmohan who left her after marriage and she befriended the son of a Brahmin. It was printed for the second time by Kashinath Sil on his Jnandipak Press at number 92, Garanhata Street on the 15th of Chaitra (March–April) of 1272 (1865), having sought the permission of Mahesh Chandra Sil and Bishwambhar Sil who may have been the first publishers. Since this was an earlier publication, Naba Ramani was somewhat a plagiarised version, making it of even a lesser literary value and a surprising entry in the otherwise reformed and refined collection of books that I.C. Bose’s firm produced. So long as tales were circulated and widely read, their popularity appeared to have bridged the difference between ordinary presses in Chitpur or Ahiritollah and the improved one in Bowbazar, in the 133

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manner Annadamangal and Bidyasundar did. But unlike this older text, the tales gradually went out of fashion. The Copyright Act of 1867 was a serious deterrent for reprints as publishers became acutely conscious of ownership and rights on publications. These tales were also very long and were perhaps becoming commercially unviable. The 147-page Chandrakanto published in 1855 at 3 annas now had to compete with slimmer pamphlets costing anything between a few paisa and 1 or 2 annas. A 12-page pamphlet for example on the tale of Nal Damayanti written and published by the author at the end of 1869 cost 6 paisa.23 Prices from now on were on the decline and to remain viable, publishing houses had to choose shorter editions. Cultural practices were changing too. The rise and popularity of theatre led to the rise of dramas that outnumbered prose fictions significantly from the 1860s. Reading aloud was increasingly being replaced by performance on stage – acting and singing. This was largely in the domain of the popular. On the other hand, new prose of the novels gradually began to replace older literary practice. Dramas, however, offered a more diverse platform on which prose and verse could happily coexist for some time longer. The instance of Kamini Kumar and its lasting fame and endurance was largely due to its transformation by Tinkari Biswas. Through all the shifts in reading preferences, Bidyasundar’s presence in the world of printed books continued. In a list of books printed by the firm I.C. Chandra and brothers owning the Kamalakanta Press at 140 Chitpur Road in 1880, were two plays based on the tale: Bidyasundar Nabanatak and Notun Bidyasundar. A year later in 1881, Bidyasundar Abhinaya was published under the direction of none other than the ruler of Bardhhaman, Aftab Chand Mahtab Bahadur. Written by Kalidas Sanyal, it was printed locally in Bardhhaman at the Adhiraj Press. Among the features that overlapped and those that were shared, allusion to women’s sexuality and all the associated metaphors of beauty, of spring, of passion, of weakness and of ultimate surrender lingered on in newer writings too, sometimes of the most unexpected kind.

Social reform We discover references to woman’s sexuality were often made in serious discussions on social issues such as polygamy, child marriage and especially widow remarriage. It was quite significant in the context of the remarriage of widows, a proposal raised by Ishwar 134

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Chandra Vidyasagar and supported by British reformers in the government, and became a favoured theme for popular dramas and skits often written as farces. Typical of this category of fictional writings were titles such as Soobhussau Sighram (The Sooner the Better),24 Bidhoba Shukher Dasa (A Widow is Slave to Comfort, 1860),25 Chapala Chitta Chapalya Natak (Chapala, with a restless mind),26 Bidhobamonoranjan Natak (Entertainment of Widows Play, 1856),27 Bidhoba Parinaya Utsob (Festival of Widow Marriage)28 and Consolation to the Hindu Widows or Bidhoba Bilas Natak.29 Whether in sympathy or in disdain, women were portrayed as victims of passion and unfulfilled desire. The depiction made connections across the board among the cheaper and slimmer books and more discerning ones. Familiar metaphors of spring, youth and cupid’s presence projecting the sexual need and deprivation of women were marshalled to narrate the situations and describe their predicament. Bidhobamonoranjan Natak (Entertainment of Widows) was written by Radhamadhab Mitra, published by Nabin Chandra Bose and printed by Sheikh Siraj Jemadar on his Anglo-Indian Union Press at 92, Garanhata Street in 1857. A 48-page long drama in verse and prose, it was a caricature of women’s sexual desires that widowhood suppressed. The dialogues were intended to evoke laughter at the desperation of the young widows, though the author was sympathetic and, in the end, arranged for their marriage. Compassion at the condition of young widows underlay Bidhoba Parinaya Utsob (Festivities over Marriage of Widows) amidst raging debate between those in favour of their remarriage and those against, but the author did not spare the opportunity for amusement at the cost of women.30 Considering its modest production, this 178page long book cost 1 rupee. Whatever the arguments rallied in favour or against the initiative and proposed law may have been, it seemed there could be no resolution without talking of women’s sexuality as we read a drama by one of the intelligentsia that hit the market to great success. The play Bidobha Bibaha Natak (Widow Remarriage Play) written by Umesh Chandra Mitra appeared in 1856 and then ran into three more editions in 1857, 1868 and 1878.31 It was first printed and published by the Hindu Patriot Press, that ran the journal of the same name, counted among the more intellectual of its kind carrying book reviews and comments on contemporary literary publications. The popularity of this play in print was largely due to its success on stage. Bidobha Bibaha Natak was the second social drama (all others being historical or mythological) to be publicly staged in Calcutta. 135

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Directed by the Brahmo reformer, Keshab Chandra Sen, it was enacted at the Hindu Metropolitan College in Chitpur in 1860, with a production cost of nearly 4,000 rupees. Six years later, Girindranath Tagore’s sons, Gunendranath and Ganendranath inaugurated the Jorasanko Amateur Theatre Group with performances of Kulin-Kula Sarbashya and Bidobha Bibaha Natak.32 The author was the brother of Ramesh Mitra, who was nominated a Judge in the Calcutta High Court. Despite his socially exalted position Umesh Mitra was very humble in his preface to the second edition in which he explains his purpose in English: Composed originally with a view to aid a good but not a very popular cause, the piece was simply adapted to the circumstances of the time. The author intended it neither for the stage nor for a permanent place in the vernacular library. And even if it possessed much more literary merit than partial friends have ascribed to it, the prejudices of a considerable and influential section of the Bengalee reading public would have (as it was supposed) presented a bar to its success. Bidobha Bibaha Natak centred around the family of an upper caste Hindu called Kirtiman Ghosh and his wife (after four marriages), Padmabati. They had a widowed daughter-in-law, Sukhomoyee, and three widowed daughters, Sulochana, Rebati and Raikishori. Kirtiman, a conservative patriarch, would not hear of any modern reforms and abhorred the idea of widow remarriage. Padmabati acquiesced with him. The young widows, on the other hand, lived in torment. Sukhomoyee confided in her friend, the neighbour’s wife: ‘See! The sensuous season (spring) has begun. I am made of flesh and blood after all. How much more pain can I bear?’ As Bidyullata, the friend, was taken aback at her words, she added: ‘No! We are no longer human beings. The day we were widowed, we ceased being so and achieved Godhood with four pairs of hands and feet.’ This is what her friend had come to believe. ‘When women become widows, they turn to religion. Their minds never stray to other things.’ One of the daughters, Sulochana, had an affair with a neighbour, Manmatha, and following their nocturnal rendezvous, fell pregnant. In shame and regret, she took poison but before her dramatic and painful death, the whole family assembled, and the parents traumatised at her suffering, relented for resisting marriage. The language was colloquial, the motifs common and the characters familiar. Dramas written with the purpose of public 136

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awareness deployed popular leitmotif for best affect, in this case of women’s sexual weakness. The Bengali loved a good story well told. Stories had promised spiritual salvation and moral upliftment, distraction, entertainment and education too. In that conventional habit, the printing press and the books it created offered a new medium to indulge in the fondness for a good listen or a good read. If stories were captivating, they remained. The incentive to remake old tales and create new ones was harnessed to the opportunities that books offered. Books soon made tales more abundant in all narrative forms. They also created a space in which different sorts of alignments and connections were forged, with older traditions and present fashion and contingencies. In the course of time, publications began to respond, react and change within the field of book creation and reading. They were examples of changing cultural and intellectual practices while simultaneously recording the changes. They assessed readership and judged the relevance of an older story; they converted a contemporary event into a story for capturing new readers; they mixed and matched stories to cater to evolving cultural practices; they recorded contemporary events by converting into marvellous fictional moments. They served a whole range of needs – across generations, gender, social groups and intellectual standards. And in the process, the very structured involvement of people in the making of the book, its distribution and its consumption also touched a wide spectrum of people, otherwise fractured and divided. Once again, the career of Bidyasundar proved quite singular. Its diverse rendering took it to the high roads of polish and the narrow alleys of roughness, from print to performance and back to print again. Print that had sullied it now attempted to put it back to where it belonged and to retrieve for it, its hallowed place of reverence.

Notes 1 Sushil K. De, Bengali Literature in the 19th Century (1757–1857) in Two Parts, Calcutta: Firma KLM, 1962, pp. 392–394. 2 This is very broadly based on the Proppian scheme of classification. Vladimir Propp, Morphology of the Folktale, 2nd ed., Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1968. 3 Kaliprasad Kabiraj, Chandrakanto, Calcutta: Indranath Ghosh’s Sudhanidhi Press, House No. 244, Chitpur Road, Battala, 2 Ashwin 1272 (September– October, 1875), 131 pages. 4 Kalikrishna Das, Baidyanath Bagchi and Madhusudan Sarkar, Rasaratnakarantargata Kamini Kumar Namak Kabya, Calcutta: Printed at Gurucharan Dhar’s Kamalasan Press, 1257, 20 Asar (June–July, 1850), 197 pages.

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11 12 13 14 15

16

Available at House no. 1/12 of Babu Dukhiram Deb in Ahiritollah. The next edition was printed and published by Nrityalal Sil at 65 Ahiritollah, dated 1868. Srikanthanath Roy, resident of Bhugandhya, Manmatha Manjari, corrected by Kashinath Nyayratna, with the permission of Trailokyanath Mukhopadhyay of Gondolpara, Calcutta: Kumartuli, Shastra Prakash Press, 1258, 7 Baisakh (April–May 1850), 172 pages. Banoarilal Roy, Yojana-Gandha meaning (orthath) verses of love involving hero and heroine, Printed by New Press. Available at the house of Harachandra Mitra, 54/1, Hogol Kuria. 138 pages. Date of publication not given. It was acquired by the Bengal Library on 31 January 1859. Shyamacharan Bandhyopadhyay, Naba Ramani or descriptions in verse of the romance between a young man and a young woman. With the support of Parameshwar Sarkar and Gopalchandra Ghosh. Printed at Ishwar Chandra Bose’s Stanhope Press, 180 Bowbazar Street. 1865. Other printed tales with similar story lines include Mohun Monohurra by Gopaul Chunder Rakshit, Sucharu Press, 1859, Madan Madhuri by Umacharan Trivedi, Chaitanya Chandrodaya Press, 1858 among others. The legendary Emperor of ancient India known to be patron of intellectuals. The nine gems of his court included the playwright Kalidas. James Long, Descriptive Catalogue of 1855, in Dinesh Sen, Banga Bhasha O Sahitya, vol. 2, Calcutta: West Bengal State Book Board, 1991, p. 828. Long, Descriptive Catalogue of 1855; and J. Bhattacharya, Bamla Mudrita Granthadi, Calcutta: A. Mukherji & Co., 1990, p. 21; Jatindramohan Bhattacharya, Mudrita Bangla Granther Panji 1853–1867, Calcutta: Paschhimbanga Bangla Academy, 1993, p. 28. Sukumar Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihas, vol. 2, Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1975, p. 534. Ibid., p. 499. Sukumar Sen, Battalar Chhapa O Chobi, Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1989, pp. 25–26, 16. Chaitanya Chandradoy in Ahiritollah Street, for example had 34 publications in that year. Shishubodhak was a textbook for beginners to learn the basics of Bengali language but contained a host of other information, including how to do basic calculations, make applications, write letters et al. Usually they carried lots of pictures and had old proverbs, sayings and mythical moral tales. There were several authors who wrote Shishubodhak and each advertised their book by listing all the information that it contained. By Shubhankar Pandit (Jnandwipak Press, 268, Garanhata Street, 1868; at 117, Chitpur Road published by Trailokyanath Datta, 1876): By Gouricharan Pal (100–101/3, Chitpur Road, 1880). The long list of his writings included Abhimanyu Jatra, Arjun Parajoy ebong Chitrangada Jatra, Dakshayajna Jatra, Draupadir Batraharan, Lakshmaner Shaktishel Jatra, Lakshman barjan Natak, Sitar Banabas. These are all themes from Mahabharata and Ramayana. There were several writers and poets who translated Sanskrit scriptural texts into short monographs suitable for printing. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihas, vol. 2, p. 498.

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17 Abdul Samad, Bardhhaman Rajsabha o Bamla Sahitya, PhD thesis. University of Calcutta, 1980. Jatindramohan Bhattacharya, Bamla Mudrita Granthadir Talika, 1743–1852, Calcutta: A. Mukherjee and Co., 1990, Long’s Catalogue, 1852, pp. 13, 46. 18 Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihas, vol. 2, pp. 499–501. 19 www.poltroonpress.com/our-stanhope-press 20 James Long, Returns Relating to Publications in the Bengali Language in 1857, in Selections from the Records of the Bengal Government, no. XXXII, Calcutta: General Printing Department, 1859, pp. 47–48. 21 Rahasya Sandarbha, Part 1, vol. 8, Bhadra Sambat 1920 (1863), p. 129. 22 Long, Publications in the Bengali Language in 1857, pp. 17–18. 23 Bengal Library Catalogue, quarter ending 31 December 1869. 24 Written by Jadugopal Basu and published by Harishchandra Mitra. Dhaka Bangla Jantra, 1862. 25 Anon., Bidhoba Shukher Dasa, 2nd ed., Calcutta: Mirzapur, Prakrit Press, Holwell Lane, 1860. 26 Written by Jadugopal Chattopdhyay and published by Gobindo Chandra Bhattacharya. 1857. 27 Written by Radhamadhab Mitra and Published by Nabinchandra Bose. Printed at Anglo-Indian Union Press owned by Sri Sheikh Siraj Jemadar, 1856. 28 Written by Babu Nimaichand Sil with the help of Biharilal Nandi. Printed at Saudamini Press, 1856. 29 Written by Jodoonath Chatterjee and published by Biharilal Dutta. Srirampur Writers’ Friend Press, 1864. 30 Biharilal Nandi, Bidhoba Parinaya Utsob Natak with the Help of Nimai Chand Sil. Calcutta: Saudamini Press, Saka 1779, 1 rupee. 31 Umeshchandra Mitra, Bidhoba Bibaha Natak, edited and printed for the fourth time, Calcutta: J.P. Roy & Co. Press, 21, Bowbazar Street, 1878. This press was close to Stanhope Press of I.C. Bose. 32 Ramnarayan Tarkaratna’s Kulin Kula Sarbashy. See, Kiran Chandra Datta, Bangiya Nataker Itihas, ed. by Prabhat Kumar Das, Calcutta: Paschimbanga Natya Academy, 1996, pp. 26, 28.

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6 SLOKAS FROM THE PAST Reproduction of the legend

In the spring of 1860, a new book hit the stands. Titled Bharat Chandra Roy Gunakarer Grantha Sankalan, or The Complete Works of Bharat Chandra Roy Gunakar, it was published by New Press. All of the poet’s writings were put together in a single volume and included as the title page said, Annadamangal, Man Singh, Bidyasundar, Rasamanjari and several short verses in Bengali and Sanskrit. Lower down the page was mentioned two other accretions to the book: ‘Chour Panchashat,’ and a short biography put together by the compiler, along with notes and annotations. It also contained illustrations of persons and incidents from Annadamangal, Bidyasundar and Man Singh. A volume such as this justified the relatively high price of 2 rupees. The New Press at 28, Prasanna Kumar Ghose Street in Simliya, off Beadon Street and slightly south of Garanhata Street ran a small operation that printed different texts, like collections of poetry, of moral aphorisms, and a book on law.1 Despite its location in the humble neighbourhood of ordinary publishing enterprises, some of the books that New Press produced were purposeful and exclusive. In 1855, it had published Sri Sri Kalikirtan, a collection of songs by Ramprasad Sen, compiled by Srinath Bandyopadhyay and Biharilal Nandi. A slim book of 36 pages cost a modest half anna.2 In the introduction to Kalikirtan, the editors wrote: About 22/23 years ago, Kalikirtan was published twice. Now the books are not easily available. The educated youth of present day are not aware of the magical power of Ramprasad’s poetry and his outstanding talent for description and deep thoughts. But reading these will give thoughtful, discerning persons such pleasure as they would not perhaps derive from reading the great Raygunakar’s (Bharat Chandra Roy) complete works. There is no mention of anything that is remotely 140

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indecent. It is Ramprasad Sen’s deep devotion that has been underlined and brought together.3 In the middle of the 19th century, at a time when Bidyasundar and its several printed versions flooded the market and talks on books never stopped pointing that out, here was a project to reproduce older verse compositions in the interest of spirituality and to redeem the cause of religious writings somewhat tainted by the former. Despite the editors’ hopes in its capacity to improve taste and heighten mystical experience, Ramprasad’s Kalikirtan did not run another edition after this, though not without setting a precedent. It had prefaced the collection with an account of Ramprasad’s life based on the biography by Ishwar Gupta and this practice set off a new publishing trend. Five years later, New Press put together the thick volume, Gunakarer Grantha Sankalan or complete works, despite the unflattering comments of editors of Kalikirtan about Bharat Chandra. A new practice born of the efforts of a modest printing house in the cluttered neighbourhood of old town, continued well into the next century with different publishers embarking on similar projects of bringing out Bharat Chandra Roy’s complete works. In the same category can be included the modern and scholarly version that is widely read, edited by Brajendranath Bandyopadhaya and Sajanikanta Das and published by Bangiya Sahitya Parishat in 1943.4 What may have started as a commercial initiative became an established publishing practice in a trajectory characteristic of 19thcentury print culture and the fate of Bidyasundar. The volume was printed and published by Nalbehari De, in the summer of 1860. The introduction was long and defining, structured around three significant themes, written in refined Bengali prose: Bharat Chandra’s poetry, changed circumstances and contemporary readers. A synoptic translation would read as follows: In Bengal, of all the poetry that have been composed and broadcasted among people till date, Annadamangal by Bharat Chandra Roy Gunakar is the most beautiful and superior in its entirety. It is, therefore, unnecessary to comment much to prove the fine quality of his captivating creations. The present volume has tried to preserve untarnished the melody and elegance of his poetry that no connoisseur can deny. Nor can anyone find fault with his rhetorical stylizations and the adornment of moods (rasa). Bharat Chandra has complemented his poetry in a manner comparable to a young beautiful woman 141

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covered in the glitter of alamkara.5 His verses are redolent of youth and spring, denying age and decay. His poetry is eternally youthful and engaging. Just as youthful, affluent men and women are always good to look at, Bharat Chandra’s verses too are like everlasting spring blossoms. Thereafter follows the second and third arguments regarding changed conditions and contemporary reading habits: Fifty years back [this would have put the time to the beginning of 19th century], Bengali poetry was widely appreciated and glorified. It is no longer the same now. Several affluent patrons among landlords and rulers earlier would accept and read with great relish all newly composed poetry. In those days, there was no printing technique. Handwritten manuscripts were preserved with care in the repositories of rich men. These rich patrons used to encourage poets, showed them due respect and importantly supported them. Such generosity inspired poets to convert their poetical talents into writing. Unfortunately, the number among the proponents of poetry has dwindled while those of critics has gone up. That is why appreciation of poetry is at its lowest. In recent years, however, there has been a revival of interest in the Bengali language and many are turning their attention to their mother tongue. With the efforts of the educated persons, books are being written in prose. But they have shown little interest in writing poetry. There is great merit in good poetry and therefore new generation of poets must follow Bharat Chandra’s style of verse composition. Sadly, it does not receive even a fraction of the reverence it deserves. There have been many reasons for such apathy towards this mellifluous verse, chief being the general disregard for local language. The Sanskrit scholars of shastras and teachers are engrossed in the interpretations of scriptures. They are also not very practised in the Bengali language. Those who do compose poetry are not very literate. Those in school do not care for their mother tongue. Their parents when they are barely five send them to school to acquire English education. They consider English to be the only language worth pursuing. The development of Bengali language is, therefore, hindered. If the privileged in society can open doors to evoke interest in Bengali poetry, then their initiative will lead to much satisfaction 142

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and pleasure. Unfortunately, few have come forward in this matter.6 The long commentary ended with a tribute to Ishwar Gupta, celebrated as the last of the great poets after Bharat Chandra Roy. It was his own talent that enabled Gupta to appreciate Bharat Chandra and motivated him to spend time and energy in compiling the biography of the 18th-century bard with great care. In a similar and somewhat repetitive spiel, the note continued its lament on the neglect that Bengali language and literary traditions faced. Apart from the more well known of Bharat Chandra’s compositions, the volume also incorporated lesser known of his short verses and their explanations. Words and terms in Annadamangal which seemed difficult were explained with notes and 16 metal engraved illustrations were included to improve the look and feel of the book. ‘If all of Bharat Chandra’s poetry are accepted and appreciated by the Bengali community (samaj), then the efforts of the compiler will be vindicated,’ added the compilers who used the nom de plume, ‘Ordinary Friend.’ This was a direct appeal made as a sales pitch but underlying it was also a conscious positioning of the book project. The Ordinary Friend stood apart from the elite Bengalis who tutored under a British system of education that no longer valued traditional Bengali poetry. Tradition and ‘ordinariness’ partnered to re-introduce to modern literati, the richness and grandeur of Bharat Chandra’s poetry through a comprehensive volume of all his compositions, lately trivialised by the phenomenal presence of the pamphlet like Bidyasundar. This initiative was intended to replace the ephemeral, and the project proved immensely successful. Even though the New Press did not run a second edition, there were several other publishing houses that replicated the format and within the next few decades it became an accessory to the nationalist scheme of reinstating older Bengali verse traditions and reiterating national pride.7 Between 1865 and 1868, an identical volume called Gunakarer Grantha Sankalan appeared, printed by Sidheswar Ghosh at Hindu Press 92, Ahiritolla Street 1865.8 The minor difference in the title was an English translation, ‘The Poetical Works of Bharut Chunder Roy with His Life and Notes.’ A second edition of this book was printed by the same publishing house in 1868. It carried a brief note from the compiler (sangrahakarak) that all explanations and other descriptions had been updated in the text with an additional 500 annotations. In order to make it more attractive and competitive and for the pleasure of the readers, it used improved quality of paper and superior typesets.9 The 143

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long introduction, justification for the compilation and the biography of the poet were identical to the New Press version. The minor differences included that this edition carried 17 woodcut prints instead of 14 and the signature ‘ordinary friend’ was dropped from the end of the introduction. This seems to suggest that New Press was merged with Hindu Press after 1862 or the copyright for the volume had changed hands.10 Sidheswar Ghosh and the Hindu Press, one of the Battala presses, invested in an expensive undertaking and the outcome was a volume of some substance which invalidated the general impression that all small-time presses produced cheaply printed thin books. This world of lowbrow publishing business was neither undifferentiated nor static.11 Bharat Chandra’s complete works became a unique production in print comparable to none in that period. Mukundaram Chakraborti composed Chandimangal, so often likened to Bharat Chandra’s Annadamangal; when printed his work too was edited by learnt scholars but none of the editions contained any introductory comments or a biography.12 Though far fewer in numbers, Ramprasad Sen’s compositions were put together around the same time. Nandalal Datta who edited Kabiranjaner Kabyasamgraha, in 1862, comprising Kabiranjan Bidyasundar, Kalikirtan, some stanzas of Krishnakirtan and several verses (padavali) mentioned in a brief note: Ramprasad is known by the songs that mendicants and beggars sing. People will find it difficult to conceive that he composed Bidyasundar and Kalikirtan too. Therefore, it is imperative that they are combined and published. It is to be regretted that contemporary Bengalis are ignorant of poets and their creations even if only a hundred years back. The editors/authors have had to look for materials and information as well as songs. A short account of the poet’s life based on Ishwar Gupta’s biography was included. Dayalchandra Ghosh, who compiled Sen’s songs in a separate book called Prasad Prasanga in 1875, described in the introduction how he had been collecting songs attributed to the poet for a long time from ordinary men and women in the villages. The book that became very popular was the outcome of years of his search for songs from the world of performance and their transference to the fixity of print. These notices were more in the nature of advertisement to solicit readers and enlarge market to boost sales. There was nothing equal to the long and wellargued discourse that became part of Bharat Chandra’s oeuvre in print. 144

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In fact, the label ‘Granthavali’ was a recent induction to the world of printing.13 A Granthabali of Rammohan Roy’s works was printed and published by Adi Brahmao Samaj Press in 1873. The preface by the compilers, Rajnarayan Bose and Anandachandra Bedantabagish, translated in Bengali as ‘Bigyapan,’ also defined the objective of this exercise, which was to retrieve many of Roy’s writings in print, feared misplaced and lost. It was a difficult and expensive task but a necessary one for the sake of the interest of Bengal.14 This was the purpose of all compilations.15 Bharat Chandra’s Granthavali was therefore a trendsetter in every respect, and an example of a unique publishing inventiveness. In the 1880s, the inauguration of a new enterprise marked a major improvement in the printing business. Jogendra Chandra Bose launched the journal Bangabasi after acquiring a steam run press in 1881.16 This press was located at 34/1, Kollutallah Street, just off College Street. Like other presses devoted to publishing journals, like Hindu Patriot, Sadharani, Purnachandradoy and Bangadarshan, Bangabasi too launched a parallel career in printing of books. A conservative who was rabidly opposed to westernisation and reformist views of the educated Bengalis especially among the Brahmos, Bose expressed his conservatism through scathing satires on the ‘modern’ man and woman in his journal.17 A series of books including epics, Srimadbhagavat, Vishnupuran, Manusamhita, Haribangsha as well as contemporary novels were published by Bangabasi Press. Different series had separate printer and publisher, all using the Bangabasi Press. Krishna Chandra Bandyopadhyay, for instance, was the editor and publisher for scriptures and epics under the Bangabasi banner. An interesting feature of this printing house was that it brought out cheaper, pulp editions of hard bound books and carried long advertisements at the end of all editions to inform readers. In 1886, Bangabasi Press published the collected works of Bharat Chandra titled Bharat Chandrer Granthavali printed and published by Biharilal Sarkar. In the sub title was mentioned what was included in the collection: Annadamangal, Bidyasundar, Man Sngh, Rasa Manjari, Chourpanchashat, Nagashtak, Chandinatak etc. Annotated and illustrated. The volume was priced at 2 and a half rupees. Three years later in 1889, there was a second edition. It carried 41 illustrations of scenes and motifs from Annadamangal, Bidyasundar, Man Singh and Rasamanjari. Like the editions of New Press and Hindu Press, the Bangabasi version too had a publisher’s note, though not as long. It read, not without the sting of sarcasm: Ask an educated, modern Bengali young man – who is Bharat Chandra? He will probably gape at the sky with his mouth 145

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open. Where is Bharat’s home, when was he born, how was he as a person? If asked questions on these, the young man will certainly faint. We do not know Bharat, we do not recognize Mukundaram, we do not acknowledge Ramprasad, we do not understand Ghanaram. Yet, we drool at the mention of Byron, Shelley evokes expressions of admiration and we proclaim Cowper as a natural poet . . . This is called the true invasion by the British. When a person obliterates all his own wealth, his existence and subsumes himself in the other, then we consider him to be completely conquered. In the battle of Plassey, Clive wasn’t able to overpower Bengal; English guns, English sword have not been the principal instruments of the conquest of Bengal. But English education and instruction, the great power of English persuasion have been the cause of Bengali’s ruin.18 As a discourse on displacement and change in literary writings, it moved from reiterating the need to conserve traditional literary practices to berating imported fashion and commenting on the political and intellectual of Bengal. It was produced in a period, such as the 1880s and 1890s were, that witnessed a remarkable rise of Hindu revivalism, and enterprises such as Bangabasi Press not only endorsed the prevailing sentiments among some sections in Bengal over Hindu past and glory but made commercial use of them. Their phenomenal popularity among readers outside the city of Calcutta in the suburbs and rural Bengal may have contributed to their conservative stand. As a product the repackaged Bharat Chandra’s works, Granthavali had been a novel creation and a new kind of book. The discourse in the long introduction deployed refined, contemporary prose with arguments logically arranged, registering changes in contemporary reading manner and habits at the cost of ‘traditional writing’; editions such as Granthavalis, intended to ‘conserve’ older, literary heritage and help reverse the process. However, within the practices of publishing, it is difficult to brand the Granthavalis as ‘regressive.’ As a product the Bharat Chandra’s works, Granthavali was an innovation and there is no denying the strong commercial motivation behind the production of this new book. There were a series of these books, publishers borrowing from one another, since as an older and much printed text, editors could not insist on exclusive rights to their own copies. The 1895 edition of Ray Gunakar Bharatchandrer Granthavali, with annotation and the poet’s biography, published under the guidance of Dwarakanath Bose by Sanskrit Press Depository at 20, Cornwallis 146

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Street was conceived somewhat differently. It was printed by N.G. Goswami at Guru Press at 4 Sukhea Street. The introduction outlining the purpose of the publication was set on a different track: In the country, it is desirable that with the spread of education there should be advancement of literature. It is the aspiration of all well-wishers of the language that complete works, carefully compiled of famous authors who have been responsible for enriching and augmenting literature be made available to all. To fulfill partially such aspiration, the collected works of Bharat Chandra Roy Gunakar is being published. This bit went along with the older editions, as did the note that anyone reading a book would always be curious about the life of the author and therefore, it included the biography of Bharat Chandra. The version corresponded to the earlier editions that Vidyasagar had published with reference to the copy from the court of Krishnanagar. To make difficult passages and words easy to comprehend, annotations and notes were included, also like the others. And then came the departure: ‘there are sections in the book which are regarded ‘obscene,’ and there are differences of opinions. ‘But all agree that by excluding these stanzas, beauty of the composition would not be affected. In this edition, those sections have been dropped.’19 Though titled Granthavali, this volume comprised three texts – Annadamangal, Bidyasundar, Man Singh, together with Chourapanchashat, and did not include shorter verses. This was the ‘expurgated’ edition. However, this was not the first time that sections describing Sundar and Bidya making love had been purposefully excluded. Even in censoring Bidyasundar, popular presses seemed to lead the way. We have seen Trailokyanath Datta and Jaharilal Sil had in 1875 published Bidyasundar from Sudharnav Press. Shortly after this, Trailokyanath Datta published Annadamangal comprising the three texts and Chourapanchashat with scenes of ‘Bihar,’ or lovemaking, dropped.20 Close to the end of the 19th century, The Hindu Press now at 61 Ahiritollah Street (instead of 92) was acquired by De Brothers who published in 1902 another version of the Collected Works. The front page read: ‘The Poetical Works of Bharutchunder Roy, with his Life and Notes, by Day Brothers.’ Printed by Priyanath Ghosh who succeeded Sidheswar Ghosh the earlier printer of the 1868 edition, this book using neat font and fine paper appears to be another version of the earlier one, even though it was not mentioned as a reprint. It used 147

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the same introduction with a small correction. Talking of old times, the 1868 version had mentioned that 50 years ago poetry was well sponsored. Now the dateline was moved to 80 years. There was also a brief note before the start of the third section, Man Singh which was described as the only historical account. Bidyasundar, it said, based on the what Bhabananda Majumdar orally narrated as a rumoured incident, was completely irrelevant and would have not made any difference to the quality of the larger composition had it been dropped. Man Singh was the true sequel to the first part, the new publishers felt. It carried many more illustrations.21 A slightly more modest production of the same time carried a few lines by way of introducing the volume of Bharat Chandra’s Collected Works that included the biography of Bharat Chandra, as compiled by Ishwar Gupta, exactly as it had been published earlier for the pleasure of learnt readers. Within the biography, it inserted the verses that the poet was supposed to have written at that particular stage of his life, with short explanatory notes.22 These volumes produced by ordinary presses of the region, Battala, were well planned and carefully produced books of enduring worth. The introduction of Granthavali in the print world did not mean that Annadamangal or Bidyasundar stopped being published. In the winter of 1869, a few blocks down the same street at 34 Ahiritollah, the Bengali Printing Press brought out The Works of Bharut Chunder Roy, under the direction of Khetramohan Dhar, printed by Girish Chandra Das Ghosh. The 310-pages long book was priced at a moderate 4 annas. Two and a half thousand copies were printed.23 This was a palpable climb down in cost just as there was an evident compromise in quality of production; the modest price was reflected in the manner in which this book was designed with the long introduction, publisher’s note and biography dropped, without illustrations and lines arranged in the manner of long prose sentences, allowing more words to fit into one page and thus making it slimmer and cheaper. Interesting is the title of the book in English: ‘The Works of Bharut Chunder Roy,’ which in Bengali translated as Kabi Bharat Chandra Roy composed Annadamangal, Bidyasundar, Chourpanchash (sic) and Man Singh. This volume did not include Rasamanjari or Ray’s other short verses and incomplete writings. In the 1850s, this would simply have been Annadamangal but now ‘Works’ became the new catchword. Granthavalis or collected works, therefore, came in different combinations of accretions from various publishing practices. They included illustrations, Ishwar Gupta’s biography, notes and annotations, and foreword 148

Figure 6.1 Bidya and Sundar in Bidya’s room as her friends look on, 1889 Source: Bharat Chandrer Granthavali (Calcutta: Bangabasi Steam Press, 1889). Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library (836:11.c.85.15)

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or longer introduction. There was no standardised model that appeared common to all these books as publishers chose in accordance to their own schemes. Therefore, some had illustrations, some did not and so on. However, if there was anything common to all these printed books, it was the act of putting Bidyasundar back to the larger text, thereby making it part of sacred literature beyond the capacity to cause any harm to public literary taste or be harmed by a different reading. The effort to recover for Bharat Chandra the position he deserved, the Granthavalis in effect, did redeem the cause of Bidyasundar, though not immediately. It had to wait a few couple of more decades. The second feature that all publications of Granthavali and Annadamangal from the 1860s onwards shared without exception was the inclusion of Chorpanchashat.

Reading Choura The first time we come across Chor Panchashat is in Rajiblochan Mukhopadhyay’s biography of Krishna Chandra Roy published in 1806, in which the Raja’s ancestor, Bhavananda Majumdar, while explaining the mystery of the tunnel in Bardhhaman to Mughal general Man Singh, referred to Chor containing the tale of Bidya and Sundar. In 1825, from the press of Harachandra Roy, the partner and successor of Gangakishore Bhattacharya, Nandakumar Dutta published Chourapanchashika which was translated by Kashinath Sharbabhoumo.24 In 1836, two separate books were published titled, Bidyasundar and Chor Panchashika and Bidyasundar Namak Grantha and Chor Panchash Sloka.25 In terms of its etymology, Chor Panchashat was derived from two words – Chor, meaning thief, and Panchashat, five hundred. On being apprehended as a thief who stealthily entered the royal palace and made love to the princess, Sundar was branded the ‘thief,’ guilty of a terrible crime that deserved the harshest of punishments. Before condemning him to death, however, Raja Bir Singh demanded that Sundar reveal his identity. Instead of a simple confession, the young prince resorted to a poetic ruse, punning on the meaning of Bidya or knowledge and Chor, the thief. At the end of his repartee, Sundar recited ‘fifty slokas, thinking of Abhaya.’26 In the section, ‘Chanting of slokas by the thief in the presence of the king,’ Bharat Chandra quoted three Sanskrit verses that Sundar recited and followed it up by their Bengali rendition in the manner of a double entendre in which graphic beauty of Bidya could also be read as a salutation to goddess Kali. Bir Singh was embarrassed at the description 150

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of his daughter, while his courtiers were stunned at the beauty and flourish of Sundar’s poetry.27 So, what were these slokas? They were a cluster of verses in Sanskrit, attributed to an older poet, and were titled Chaurapanchasika or 50 verses by a thief, each verse of four lines (quatrain) beginning with the phrase adapi (even now) was spoken in the first person, ‘in which the parted lover evokes his mistress’s presence by recollecting her beauty and the pleasures of their love.’28 The verses in Chaurapanchasika in a ‘formulaic style’ and ‘uniform meter’ repeated itself in terms of the images and stylistic device. Repetition was intended to evoke a deep mood for intense, passionate love (sringararasa). ‘The particular mood of love expressed in the Choura is a blending of the ordinarily antithetical moods of love-in-separation (vipralamba) and love-in-enjoyment (sambhoga).’29 These verses of love, longing and invocation were extant in the oral world, without definite authorship. They were attributed to the 11th-century poet Bilhana who was born in Kashmir and travelled south where he stayed in the court of the Chalukya King, Vikramaditya VI and under his patronage composed Vikramankadevacharita. According to Barbara Stoler Miller, these verses are also ‘known as part of longer works entitled Bilhanakavya and Bilhanacarita.’30 They were for the first time brought to public notice in an essay published in Journal Asiatique in 1848 by a French scholar under the title, Chorpanchashat or Bilhancharita. Chaurapanchasika, or Chorpanchashat, seemed to have been immensely popular throughout India as a format for expressing deep longing caused by separation of lovers and memories of intense togetherness. Manuscripts found from Gujarat, Rajasthan and later in Bengali, Tamil and Telugu were proof of their persistent use for a variety of different circumstances and situations. There were southern, southern-western, northern and eastern recensions, widely in use till the 18th century, several hundred years after Bilhana’s supposed times. In Bengal, Chorpanchashat came to be associated with Sundar and the work is ascribed to the composition of Cauramahakavi, who complemented the tale of his love affair with Bidya.31 Tales and legends travelled through regions, fashioning new imaginative narrative ploys and devices for improving the scope for composing poetry for greater listening pleasure. When embedded in religious texts, they added spiritual succour to delight. The widespread popularity of Bidyasundar as a tale was closely linked to Chorpanchashat, as a literary metaphor, that was threaded into the larger frame of the tale. It was printing that put it out to prominent notice. Before we trace the history of its visible 151

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appearance on the front page of the book, let us look back to its fictive lineage. There were two tales that appear connected.

Tales behind the Slokas The first hint of such a tale was found in a 14th-century composition by a Jain poet. In Ujjaini, there lived a Digambar Jain sadhu, called Vishalkirti. One of his disciples was Madankirti, who named after the god of love was a famous logician, who had defeated leading scholars in debates in different parts of the land in the East, West and North. After winning accolades, Madankirti came to pay his respects to his guru, Vishalkirti, who complimented his pupil on his success. A few days later, Madankirti asked his guru for permission to travel South. Guru forbade him to do so, warning him that the prevailing atmosphere of luxury and worldly pleasure there was enough to break the resolve of the most erudite of ascetics. Disregarding his guru’s warning, Madankirti with his own followers travelled to Maharashtra, defeated scholars there and marched to Karnataka. Here, he impressed the King Kuntibhoj with his intellect and literary talents. The king offered him a place to stay close to the palace and asked him to compose a panegyric dedicated to his ancestors. Madankirti said he could compose 500 slokas or verses every day and recite them verbally but needed someone to write them down. The king said his daughter, Madanmanjari, would act as the scribe, writing out the verses but from behind a partition. It was not long before the princess, charmed by Madankirti’s voice and oration, fell in love. She wondered how handsome a person with such talents must be; the young yogi too was not unaffected by the presence of the princess. With a little chicanery, they managed to bring the barrier down and what followed was a passionate love affair, each composing an appropriate verse to express their emotional state. Needless to say, the tribute to the ancestors did not progress very far. The king noticed the slack of pace and not satisfied with Madankirti’s excuse went to find out and discovered the two lovers deep in ardent conversation. He ordered Madankirti to be arrested and put to death. The princess together with her 33 companions marched to the king’s court, dagger in hand and threatened to kill themselves if Madankirti was not released. Fearing accumulated sin caused by the deaths of a Digambar Jain sadhu and 34 women and advised by his courtiers, the king gave in. Madankirti married the princess and inherited half of the kingdom. Forsaking the life of an ascetic, Madankirti became a happily 152

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married man and the love story that began in stealth after some tense climax, ended in fulfilment. The second tale was about the poet Bilhana, a poet and linguistic. There was a king named Madanabhiram who ruled over the kingdom of Mahapanchal with the capital in Lakshmimandir. He and his queen, Mandarmala, had a beautiful daughter called Jaminipurnatilaka, an accomplished singer who could do with some proper education. The king began looking for a qualified tutor and selected Bilhana, who had quite a reputation as a scholar. Bilhana despised anyone suffering from leprosy and the princess abhorred blindness. The poet was warned that the princess was a leper and she in turn was told that he was blind. One evening in spring, the princess overhead Bilhana reciting verses describing the beauty of the full moon.32 She realised that a sightless poet could not compose such lines and broke the barrier down, following which the poet and the princess fell in love and a passionate and illicit courtship ensued. The secret was soon out and Bilhana, anticipating his own imminent demise, composed the 500 slokas both in veneration of his lover’s beauty and his patron goddess.33 The poet here is referred to as the Chor or thief for having stolen the princess’s heart clandestinely. This apocryphal tale was traced to Gujarat where in the royal court of Anhalipattan, Bilhana the Kashmiri poet had migrated and settled.34 Some ascribed the broad storyline of Bidyasundar to the writings of Barucchi, one of the nine gems in the court of Emperor Chandragupta Vikramaditya of the third century, but this remains uncorroborated. Common motifs of youth, beauty, riches, scholarship, knowledge and stealth and subterfuge were welded together in tales to create moments of suspense and climax which only single-minded prayers to Kali could resolve. The first rendition of Bidyasundar, attributed to Dwij Sridhar, may have been inspired by the tale of Bilhana and his reciting 50 verses of Chourapanchashika.35 As he was being led away to the grounds to be killed, Bilhana asked his executioner to hurry and cut his head off. The slayer, surprised at his nonchalance, inquired him if he was not afraid. Why should he be, Bilhana replied, since his presiding deity resided in his heart. His description of the female goddess was surprisingly suggestive, bordering on being ‘erotic.’ This imagined space in which devotion, passion and deep involvement with body and sensuality came together to create some of the best pieces of poetry was infused with the mood for love evoked by beauty (sringara). Bilhana then recited 50 slokas. It is impossible to ascertain the historicity of these slokas or if they 153

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were indeed composed by any 11th-century poet. What is certain and relevant is that they were widely dispersed in different regions of India and the fact that these verses were homologised with different fictive situations. Or they may have represented one of the many literary and stylistic devices and metaphoric schemes used in poetry of a certain genre. Their accretion to a love story between a man and a woman only enhanced the affective power of verse composition as ‘secular’ love was conflated with deep piety. The way in which the tale of Bidyasundar unfolded was curiously mnemonic of Bilhana’s predicament. The scholar was apprehended as a ‘thief’ who had stealthily made love to the princess, in complete disregard to all conventions of decency and morality. The punishment that the act deserved was death. The young lover was unrepentant and unafraid; he garnered his poetic skills to recite his masterpiece dedicated to the beauty of his mistress. She is regarded ‘the vehicle of emotion (vibhava) . . . Her manifestations of feeling (are) the dramatic stimuli by which an overpowering state of emotion (sthayibhava) is induced in the audience. . . . In the Caura verses everything is subservient to the erotic emotion.’36 Yet, they were equally evocative of his complete surrender to the powers of goddess Kali to save him. It was the climactic scene – the atmosphere bristled with anticipated tension as all actors assembled in the ground for the punishment to be meted out. This moment too was a replication of the situation that confronted Bilhana.37

Bidyasundar and Choura How did these verses feature in the retelling of Bidyasundar? The convention was that each Sanskrit verse (quatrain) was followed by a Bengali gloss. Bharat Chandra included three verses with their Bengali interpretations. Describing the impression on the father of Bidya, the poet in an aside, shared with his readers that he has included the verses without adding their double meaning so the manuscript did not become too long. The pundits were supposed to understand from the notes to the Chourapanchashi.38 This was how Chorpanchashat featured in all the printed versions of Bidyasundar, including the Sanskrit Press editions of the 1850s. Other poets who composed Bidyasundar, as part of the larger Kalikamangal, repeated this pattern, though every poet chose differently. They depicted the identical moment of tension and anticipation to wedge in the Sanskrit slokas. In Govinda Das’s Bidyasundar 154

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written in 1595, considered the oldest composition, Sundar did not recite Chorpanchashat but chanted praise of Bidya using all the 34 letters of the alphabet. Written 100 years before Bharat Chandra, near about in 1666, Krishnaram Das set the model. As the final verdict was given by the king that Sundar must die, the prince asks for a reprieve that will let him offer his final tribute to his lover. As the people around listened in silence, the young prince recanted the thief’s verses. The Sanskrit quatrain was quoted, followed by the Bengali translation ending with the king’s incensed reaction. Krishnaram Das chose nine of the 50 verses before Sundar chanted the glory of goddess Kali, using all the letters in the alphabet. Radhakanta Misra in the mid-18th century, a near contemporary of Bharat Chandra, enumerated first seven slokas, then the tenth and finally the 49th and 50th. Like Krishnaram, the Sanskrit lines were followed by Bengali translations and the reactions they induced in the father. Sundar in both accounts was brazenly insolent, almost mocking. Kabichandra Madhusudhan Chakraborty later in the century translated all the 50 verses in Bengali, without quoting any of the Sanskrit slokas of Chorpanchashat. Finally, Ramprasad Sen selected five verses from the 50 – the first two, 28th, 33rd and the 50th, with his own transcription. It was Aditya Charan Auddy who first advertised in 1851 that his improved version of Annadamangal was edited by the scholar Muktaram Bidyabagish and included Chorpanchashat translated by Kabiratna Bhattacharya.39 Chorpanchashat was never mentioned in the title page of Annadamangal and Bidyasundar until now and this was more a one off than a regular practice till 1860 when the first Granthavali appeared. From now on, it was present unfailingly in every edition of the complete works of Bharat Chandra and in versions of Annadamangal as well. Only slimmer editions of Bidyasundar did not incorporate them. The publishers were aware of modifications they were making to the original composition by Bharat Chandra. The Hindu Press edition of 1868 was once more the most expansive: In the late Bharat Chandra Roy Gunakar’s Bidyasundar, some have added the famous Chourapanchashika text. But this is not correct because that is not composed by Bharat by his own admission. Some are of the opinion that the wondrous events of Bidyasundar did not unfold in Bardhhaman but in some other place and that the verse tale was written by Baruchi in the court of Vikramaditya. But no one can confirm the truth of this, 155

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nor has that text been found. Anyway, since on the pretext of divulging Sundar’s identity before Raja Bir Singh, Bharat Chandra Roy had quoted a few of the verses of Chourapanchashika, we have published the rest of the verses at the end of the book. Chorpanchashat was a separate section which was added after the Man Singh parba, like the texts Rasamanjari and Chandinatak, so that it did not have to disturb the text or make any changes to it. This became the standard pattern for all later publications. The Sanskrit verses were identical, but the Bengali interpretative commentaries to each stanza differed.40 The exception was the 1869 edition published Bengali Press which grafted the 50 verses within the text of Bidyasundar, making crucial alteration to the text. Chorpanchashat comprised 50 slokas, each of four lines in Sanskrit with longer explanatory lines in Bengali addressed to Bidya followed by salutations to Kali, respectively designated Bidyapaksha (for Bidya) and Kalipaksha (for Kali). Verses addressed to Bidya played on her beauty, graphically describing her face, complexion, her waist, her breasts, and stressed upon her sexuality, her restlessness and passion. The supplications to Kali were of pure veneration and complete submission to her mercy, even though sometimes hinting at the goddess’s physical attributes and her union with Shiva. We know of two persons who translated and interpreted Chorpanchashat for publication in the 19th century – Kashinath Sarbabhouma and Kabiratna Bhattacharya – but other editors exercised their liberty to carry their own exegesis. The verses in Sanskrit were largely the same. As an older text, it sidestepped copyright restrictions and offered instead a common repository that everyone had access to. Here, we compare two versions. The first is the 1868 edition in which the Chorpanchashat was acknowledged as a separate text, not composed by Bharat Chandra and added at the end of Man Singh parbal. The Bangabasi version was nearly identical. One can assume that all books that printed Chorpanchashat as a separate section reproduced the same text. The second was the 1869 version by Kshetramohan Dhar in which the 50 slokas were implanted into the text, thus making substantial changes to body of Bidyasundar. Here the section ‘Thief’s reciting of the slokas before the King’ that featured in the original Bidyasundar was replaced by the 50 slokas and their Bengali gloss. It called for some redaction in the original. 156

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Choura consisted of short four line slokas in Sanskrit followed by ‘Asyartha and Dwitartha, Bidyapaksha and Kalipaksha,’ meaning that each could be construed to express admiration for either, with strong suggestions of sensuality and physical intimacy. In both he describes every single instance of lovemaking including when he tricked her into having sex in the morning. But having inserted the verses within the text of Bidyasundar, Khetramohan Dhar had to do more than simply carry their explanations. He had to elaborate them with contexts and situations and here the local scribe was at his imaginative best. Between the Sanskrit verses, Dhar added lines in Bengali, describing the situation, including reactions of the king, more appeal from Sundar to the king and his courtiers and his final prayer to the goddess. Quite often the king’s ire and threats were followed by Sundar’s supplication to Kali. In one example, at the end of one Bidyapaksha section, it says, The meaning of the third sloka is very pleasant. Sundar increases the anger of the king. Hearing him making fun (parihash) the king rebukes Sundar who imagines the feet of Abhaya. He repeats the explanation of the sloka, again. Gods, fathom the essence of the lines. (p. 182) Each gloss was predicated by a couple of lines that read more like prose than poetry as the dialogue move from graphic description of Sundar’s ardour for Bidya to his devotion to Abhaya. The first elicits the king’s anger, the second his hesitation and eventual regret. After each stanza there was mention of the number of slokas recited. Thus, after the sixth sloka, Sundar reminiscing his moments of intimacy with Bidya composed the seventh sloka dedicated to Bidyapaksha. And so it went on – Bir Singh threatening and Sundar provoking him with his irreverence and humour, his confidence derived from his belief in Kali. In one instance, Sundar described an act of lovemaking with Bidya on top and how she had asked Sundar to dress and behave like a woman in a reversal of roles. These additional lines were inserted in the body of the Bidyapaksha section, as additional notes or ‘tipponi,’ even though they had no bearing to the slokas as additional notes or ‘tipponi.’ When Sundar affirmed that Bidya was his married wife, the courtiers wondered how he could have married the princess without the knowledge of her parents. The interventions get longer as the king deliberated on what he is to do with this thief. Dhumketu, the kotwal threatened him too. 157

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Sundar’s obsession with Bidya, evoke sneering from seniors and admiration from women. The scholars (pundits) taunt him for his explicit descriptions. Instead of concentrating on god, Sundar seemed infatuated by his mistress, they say in derision. Then there was the queen’s reaction. She heard of Sundar’s descriptions and had a look at him from the window to be totally taken in by his handsomeness and began repenting for his impending death. Dhumketu pushed Sundar to move towards the cremation ground even while he was reciting the slokas. Sundar pleaded to let him complete the 50 Kali slokas since he had already finished 47. The section ended with the Raja’s contrition. The Choura is ended with a colophon: Annapurnamangal rochilo kabibor. Srijukta Bharat Chandra Roy Gunakar. Editing the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad edition in 1943, Brajendranath Bandyopadhyay and Sajanikanta Das claimed to make corrections by excluding Chourapanchashat verses from the complete works comprising Annadamangal in three parts, Rasamanjari, other poems, meanings of difficult words and notes and annotations. After the original Sanskrit Press edition of Annadamangal, they wanted this edition of Sahitya Parishad to be regarded ‘authentic.’ Therefore, Chorpanchashat slokas had to go. But enclosing them within Bharat Chandra Granthavali became so much of a standard practice that the editors despite their intellectual standing had to justify the emendation. They quote Bharat Chandra’s own words in Bidyasundar in which he refers to pundits’ annotations and refrains from adding his own. According to Bandyopadhyay and Das, the Chorpanchashat that featured in most collected works was taken from the 1825 version printed by Harachandra Roy. The Sanskrit verses were composed by Kashinath Sarbabhouma and translated by Nanda Kumar Datta.41 But as with the 1869 edition, there were others who pitched in with their gloss of the Sanskrit slokas. The textual content of Bharat Chandra’s complete works was far from being fixed or uniform. Printing in no way closed options for multiple renderings that copying by hand in the scribal world had allowed. On the contrary, printing enabled the text to be constituted by factors that had specific connections with time, context and the purpose for which it was created. The complete works hit the market in the 1860s and continued being printed as the first edition and later as reprints well into the next century. Even when published by relatively modest printing houses the Collected Works of Bharat Chandra were no cheap books, hurriedly put together. Editorial comments, long glosses and meanings, illustrations and biography were evidence of serious efforts 158

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at publishing a substantial book, an example set and continued by a small printing house and followed by more distinguished enterprises. If it was an attempt to give Bharat Chandra’s opus respectability, it succeeded but that did not affect the fate of Bidyasundar. Back in the larger volume, did not mean that Bidyasundar was less talked about. In fact, it was being pilloried in the Society for Prevention of Public Obscenity and in discriminating journals around the same time as these improved volumes appeared in the market. Ironically, Bidyasundar was castigated for compromising the literary standards of its creator Bharat Chandra. The responses to these criticisms were censored editions once again brought out by publishing houses, both modest and sophisticated. A different criterion now came to attend upon Bharat Chandra’s collected works and Bidyasundar too. They represented older literary traditions that were to be preserved not pursued. They symbolised a culture and practice that were revered for their historical worth, removed from contemporary, reformed literary training and practice. The thick volumes could once again go back to the shelves on which epics, scriptures and religious texts shared space with figures of gods. Yet, there were features in these volumes that indicated more profane and practical preoccupations, like the inclusion of illustrations to make them more alluring.

Figure 6.2 Annada on the ferry, 1874 Source: Author’s personal copy, front page missing

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Figure 6.3 Bidya and Sundar: first sight, 1874 Source: Author’s personal copy of Annadamangal, front page missing

Figure 6.4 Rani berating Bidya, 1874 Source: Author’s personal copy of Annadamangal, front page missing

Figure 6.5 Sundar in court as prisoner, 1874 Source: Author’s personal copy of Annadamangal, front page missing

Figure 6.6 Bidya and Sundar blessed, 1874 Source: Author’s personal copy of Annadamangal, front page missing

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Beginning with Gangakishore Bhattacharya’s copy, illustrations have been a significant appendage to printed editions of Annadamangal, which if they could afford, publishers always included.42 Over the course of the century, many decades later following innumerable editions, scenes from Annadamangal, Bidyasundar and Man Singh became formulaic and comprised among others Shiva dressed as the groom, Annada’s boat ride, Sundar on horseback and his meeting Malini next to the pond, Bidya watching from the window Sundar standing next to the chariot, Sundar being tried in the royal court, scenes of Pratapaditya fighting the Mughal general and that of complete turmoil that the goddess wreaks havoc on Delhi. With addition of Rasamanjari came the portrayal of four kinds of women and men in the same frame, the nayikas and nayaks.43 In the Bangabasi Press editions, these four women and men portrayed individually with separate labels. Padmini, Chitrini, Shankini and Hastini were the women while Sashajati, Mrigajati, Brishajati and Ashwajati were the men. These names were not used by Bharat Chandra in Rasamanjari even though he described different kinds of women and men and their sexual proclivities. The early illustrations were metal and wood engraved. Metal engraving gradually faded away but woodcut illustrations continued to be popular with Bharat Chandra’s volumes.44 Despite the widespread use and popularity of lithography, the illustrations for the collected works were always woodcuts. The resourceful publishers and printers took advantage of the change in popular sensibilities in the wake of the rise in nationalist temper to create a new product to great success. Dominating all were depictions of Kali or Annada in her various guises, through all the three narratives of Annadamangal. As Sundar would have maintained in his acts and transgressions, total belief in Annada was the only way to salvation. And so it was.

Notes 1 James Long, Returns Relating to Publications in the Bengali Language in 1857, in Selections from the Records of the Bengali Government, no. XXXII, Calcutta: General Printing Department, 1859, p. 32. 2 Biharilal Nandi was another busy author who wrote Bidhoba Parinaya Utsab Natak, see chapter V, note 22. 3 Srinath Bandyopadhyay and Biharilal Nandi, Kalikirtan, Calcutta: The New Press, Simliya, 1855. 4 In 1893, Bangiya Sahitya Parishat was set up with the objective of studying and supporting the development of Bengali language and literature. It

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5 6 7 8

9

10 11

12

13 14 15

16 17

18

published a large number of rare and valuable books, research work and manuscripts. It is this edition that I have read. Jewellery, rhetorical embellishments. Translation mine. Nalbehari De, printed & published, Bharat Chandra, Raygunakarer Grantha Sankalan, Calcutta: New Press, 28, Nayanchand Dutta Street, Simuliya, 1267 (1860). Introduction. The Bangiya Sahitya Parishat version is in line with this scheme. We can surmise this from the fact that there is no mention of Grantha Sankalan in Wengar’s Catalogue of 1865. The second edition was dated 1868. Wengar, however, mentions a volume containing three parts of Annadamangal and Rasamanjari published by Bidyaratna Press for 1 rupee. It is uncertain if it included Chourapanchashat too. The Poetical Works of Bharut Chunder Roy with His Life and Notes, 2nd ed., Printed by Sidheswar Ghosh. Hindu Press, Ahiritollah, House No.92, 1868. This copy was presented to Prof. E.B. Cowell, Professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge by Romesh Chandra Dutt. Unfortunately, the price is missing from the copy. New Press was in operations certainly till 1862. See, Jatindramohan Bhattacharya, Mudrita Bangla Granther Panji, Calcutta: Pashchim Bangla Academy, 1993. In 1869, it published 3,000 copies of the 918 pages of Mahabharata for 1 rupee 8 annas. It had a new house number, 61, Ahiritollah Street, close to their earlier operations. Bengal Library Catalogues, quarter ending 31 December 1869. Ishwarchandra Tarkachuramoni (corrected), Kabikankan Chandi by Kabikankan Chakraborty. Printed by Bishwanath Chakraborty and Srinath Chakraborty. Kamalaya Press, Shobhabazar, Battala, 1851; Akshay Chandra Sarkar (ed.), Kabikankan Chandi, Chinsurah: Sadharani Press, Printed and published by Nandalal Bose, 1878, Rs. 4. Till 1867, there was only one listed Grantha Sankalan and that was of Bharat Chandra. See, Bhattacharya, Mudrita Bangla Granther Panji, p. 180. Raja Rammohan Roy, Pranito Granthavali, vol. 1, Calcutta: Adi Brahmo Samaj Jantra, Saka 1795 (1873). Rajkrishna Roy, Pranita Granthavali, 2nd ed., Calcutta: Bengal Medical Library, 97, College Street. Publisher, Gurudas Chattopadhyay and printer, Srishchandra Deb, 37 Mechuabazar Street. 1884. The purpose was to reprint all the writings from fear of getting lost. Gautam Bhadra, Nera Bottolai Jai Kaw’baar, Calcutta: Chhatim Books, 2011, p. 154. They included Model Bhagini (1868), Chinibas Charitamrita (1890). Jogendra Chandra along with Chandranath Basu and Indranath Bandopadhyay came to be regarded as the ‘ultra-conservative’ spokespersons. Bangabasi became the chief vehicle for the spread of Hinduism with missionary zeal. See, Amiya P. Sen, Hindu Revivalism in Bengal 1872–1905: Some Essays in Interpretation, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993; Tapan Raychaudhuri, Europe Reconsidered–Perceptions of the West in Nineteenth Century Bengal, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 11. Bharat Chandra Granthavali, 34/1, Kolutala Street, Bangabashi Steam and Machine Press, 1889, Rs. 2.50. The comments which in other volumes

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19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37

38 39 40 41 42 43 44

comprised the Introduction that came ahead of the text, here was printed at the end. Instead there were a series of illustrations at the beginning. Ray Gunakar Bharat Chandrer Granthavali, ed. by Dwarkanath Bose. Printed by N.G.Goswami, Guru Press. 4, Sukea’s Street. Published by the Sanskrit Press Depository, 20, Cornwallis Street, 1895. I refer to the 2nd edition published in 1880 (1287). The Poetical Works of Bharutchunder Roy by Day Brothers, Calcutta: De Brothers, 61 Ahiritollah Street, 1309 (1902), p. 11. Undated volume with title page missing. Personal collection. Bengal Library Catalogue, quarter ending 31 December 1869. The Calcutta Gazette, Wednesday, 2 February 1870. It added, ‘The works are well known. In some parts very obscene.’ Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihas, vol. 2, fn. p. 438. Jatindramohan Bhattacharya, Bangla Mudrita Granthadir Talika, 1743– 1852, Calcutta: A. Mukherjee & Co., 1990, p. 33. Another name for Durga or Annapurna. Brajendranath Bandyopadhyay and Sajanikanta Das, Bharat Chandra Granthavali, Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Prishat, 1997, pp. 332–334. Barbara Stoler Miller, Phantasies of a Love-Thief: The Caurapancasika Attributed to Bilhana, New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1971, pp. 2–11. Ibid., p. 8. Ibid., p. 3. Chorpanchashat or Bilhan-charitra. Prafullachandra Pal (ed.), Bidyasundar Granthavali Calcutta: Basumati-Sahitya-Mandir. Pal (ed.), Bidyasundar Granthavali. Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihas, pp. 420–422. Bandyopadhyay and Das, Bharat Chandra Granthavali, p. 9 Introduction. Satyanaryan Bhattacharya (ed.), Kabi Krishnaram Daser Granthavali, Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1958, Introduction. Miller, Phantasies of a Love-Thief, pp. 10–11. Slesa or pun was another type of alamkara or figure of speech. It is hyperbolic simile, defined as ‘simultaneous expression of two or more meanings.’ See Edwin Gerow, The Poetics of Stanzaic Poetry: Alamkara- Sastra, in Edward C. Dimock et al. (eds.), The Literatures of India: An Introduction, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1974, p. 122. Bandyopadhyay and Das (eds.), Bharat Chandra Granthavali, p. 334. I haven’t been able to find this copy. In some it was added after Bidyasundar before Man Singh. Bandyopadhyay and Das, Bharat Chandra Granthavali, pp. 17–19. But this older version did not include Choura as a separate section as the later editions did. The Sanskrit Press editions were the exception. In the 1868 edition by Sidheswar Ghosh. Hindu Press. ‘Chari jaati Naari. Chaari jaati Purush.’ Kamal Sarkar, Bangla Boyer Chhobi, in Chittaranjan Bandyopadhyay (ed.), Bangla Mudran O Prokashan, Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1981, pp. 113–130.

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7 INTELLECTUALS IN DISCUSSION Reinstating the classic

The appearance of Granthavalis or Collected Works in print and its wide publicity became an occasion for a fresh appraisal of Bharat Chandra and his works especially within the larger context of a growing consciousness of the nation, among Bengali intelligentsia at the end of the 19th century. It served well the urge to reclaim the distinction that older verse compositions, of which Bharat Chandra’s was one of the best examples, deserved. The long deliberate introductions underlying the new scheme in the thick volumes of Bharat Chandra’s complete works, and their attribution of the contempt for the poet to the anglicisation of modern Bengali elite, turned the initiative to produce a large volume, an intellectual and an elite one. As public attention moved from Bidyasundar, a critical discourse emerged around the poet’s oeuvre with literary and philosophical analyses replacing social and cultural censure.1 The new discussion probed the essence of Bharat Chandra’s writings and the deeper significance of his poetry which characterised his narrative style. It was reiterated that even during the worst phase of criticism, Bharat Chandra was always applauded for his refined poetic imagination and erudition while being censored for ‘indecency’ (ashleelata).2 Ashleelata did not go away as a concern now; it was coated by different kind of notices, chiefly on the real significance of poetry – the inner meaning and the rasa or mood that it conveyed. Discussions on the text progressed beyond the apparent to the abstruse, although differences of opinions and views were expressed. Bidyasundar, however, never left centre stage. Of more recent extraction has been a discussion that in some ways helps the narrative on Bharat Chandra and Bidyasundar complete a full circle. Scholars in the 20th century have compared different printed versions of Annadamangal and Bidyasundar to establish their

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authenticity. The purpose has been to enquire into the connections between manuscripts and codices, registering the inescapable role of printing and publications, both of low priced editions and improved versions. Locating the ‘original’ and finding the error-free variant became a scholarly pursuit, if only to track changes and distortions that could be attributed to printing presses and in the process deflect attention from the smear of obscenity attributed to Bidyasundar and its composer. In the 19th century, the world of popular publications and modest publishing houses was alive and thriving, part of the livedin experience of the Bengali literati. With more established printing houses embarking on the project of producing ‘improved’ editions of religious tracts, epics and mythologies, the cheaper printing houses declined and a palpable difference in quality and content marked their space. From after the second half of the 20th century, these popular printed books produced in the cheaper presses of Battala of the 19th century became a theme in history, with the difference between what represented the ‘vulgar’ and the ordinary and the highbrow becoming unbridgeable, especially after Battala prints ceased to exist except as ephemera peddled on the railway stations of suburban Bengal.

Granthavali reviewed Pramath Chaudhuri, scholar and author, wrote a long review of the complete works of Bharat Chandra edited by Dwarakanath Bose.3 This essay is significant because Chaudhuri prefaced it with a reference to his English essay which he had written on the history of Bengali literature a decade or so earlier in which he had not been expected to judge the merit or weakness of the verse Bidyasundar. He had neither praised nor castigated the poet but had stated unequivocally: ‘Bharat Chandra, as a supreme literary craftsman, will ever remain a master to us writers of the Bengali language.’4 Chaudhuri reasoned that the poet had succeeded in crafting his compositions for pleasant reading and listening, suffused in a pure and stable mood (rasa). The problem lay precisely here. The ‘mood’ that had been the defining feature of his poetry had become forbidden, a taboo in the present age. ‘Because it was Adirasa. The physical expression of this rasa is not acceptable in the poetry of contemporary times. What is admissible is a minor science called physiology.’5 He admitted that there were sections in Bharat Chandra’s verse which were ‘indelicate.’ The poet was perhaps conscious of sections that were obscene which was why the most brazen descriptions in the sections, were beautifully 166

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draped in fine language and some of the best metaphors and literary imageries were chosen for the purpose. Were Bengali and Sanskrit poets who preceded Bharat Chandra very decent? asked Chaudhuri. Ramprasad Sen was widely known for his spirituality as a writer of religious songs, beyond reproach. Could Ramprasad the composer of Bidyasundar be regarded as flawless? Chandidas was regarded a true poet. But was his Krishnakirtan any worse than Bidyasundar in terms of literary taste? The obscenity in Bidyasundar was well adorned while in Krishnakirtan, it was exposed. ‘I do not wish,’ Chaudhuri continued, ‘to erase the stigma of impropriety associated with Bharat Chandra’s poetry for that is impossible and unnecessary.’ His question was: Why was Bharat Chandra denounced for a fault that all ancient poets were guilty of? Chaudhuri believed that no other poet’s compositions had been as widely popular as Bharat Chandra’s; his fame had been his undoing. There was ‘art’ in Bharat Chandra’s indelicate verses, while it was ‘nature’ in those of the others. The eloquence of his language and the fine rhetoric he employed made it impossible to overlook Bharat Chandra’s portrayal. Many readers did not even notice the obscenity; they simply relished his ‘art.’ Chaudhuri posited a contrary view. The prevailing mood (rasa) of Bharat Chandra’s literature was not ‘Adi’ but ‘Hasya,’ one of laughter. This mood may have been beyond the comprehension of ordinary readers because the source of this rasa was not in the heart but in the head, not in life but in mind. None of Bengal’s ancient poets had been deprived of this ‘rasa,’ or mood. But in Bharat Chandra’s composition, the mood appeared most conspicuous. Laughter that often crossed the boundaries of propriety was by nature irreverent as was evident from the writings ‘beginning with Aristophanes to Anatol France.’ Several critics found women chastising their husbands while drooling over the prince’s looks, distasteful. The sarcasm in such banter made Bengali men unhappy. Chaudhuri felt such criticism unwarranted since older texts too included these narrative devices. Bharat Chandra had made fun of mythology and Hindu gods and goddesses. Chaudhuri concluded by asking: ‘Does the modern-day English educated community have so much faith in mythology that they cannot bear such caricature?’ Most critics of Bharat Chandra seemed to lack the ability to fathom different moods, ‘rasa.’ ‘I hope the notion that those who cannot laugh are genteel and those who can are vulgar, never takes root in the minds of people.’6 Chaudhuri’s entire discussion of Bharat Chandra pivoted on Bidyasundar. It stood above the larger opus in another contemporary intellectual 167

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Haraprasad Shastri’s comments on Bharat Chandra’s writings. In an essay published in 1893 he observed ‘Bharat Chandra is a big name . . . his language is beyond imitation, his intellect is sharp and talent is versatile. Bidyasundar is his chief literary work, the chief pillar of his achievement and receptacle of amrita.’7 Repeatedly thus, the centrality of Bidyasundar in discussions on aesthetics and literary taste within the larger canvas of printing and publishing was evident. Pramatha Chaudhuri attributed the fascination for Bidyasundar to the unparalleled quality of its poetry. This had a lot to do with its visible and ubiquitous presence in the world of print and performance that overshadowed other compositions of its creator for better or for worse. Its various printed embodiments registered the conditions and contingencies of the publishing world with its differences, conflicts and connections and its opportunities and challenges. Bidyasundar also outlined the reticulate space of publishing and producing books in which within an overlapping and interwoven network, the elite and the lowly cohered. As Rabindranath Tagore noted in an essay that we will be reading in greater detail, there was always an internal connection between ordinary and highbrow literature. Deploying a metaphor, the poet felt though there was no comparison between branches and flowers that looked high above the ground and roots that dug deep, to the expert botanist, their similarity and connection were not to be overlooked.8 The name of Rabindranath’s essay is ‘Gramya Sahitya,’ or ‘Rural Literature,’ which appeared in a collection of essays titled, Lok Sahitya, or ‘Folk Literature,’ published in 1898. Rabindranath felt that even though Kabi Kankan Mukundaram and Bharat Chandra were scholars and well versed in Sanskrit poetry and were poets of the royal court who wrote for the rich and powerful, they were never quite able to leave the local, popular literature of the countryside far behind them. The god and goddess extolled in Annadamangal were rural Bengal’s Haragauri (Shiva and Durga). Kabikankan’s Chandi, Dharmamangal, Manashar Bhason, Satyapirer Katha were based on rural tales to fully understand which a familiarity with village oral verses and doggerels was necessary. In poetic rhythm and rhetoric, their poetry was undoubtedly complete and well rounded. But in essence, there was little to differentiate them from the verses extant in the village.9 In the same essay, Rabindranath discusses the universal nature of love between a woman and man, its power to enchant, its universal appeal, its defiance of societal norms, its significance in the composition of poetry. The composer of Bidyasundar, in Rabindranath’s view, was guilty of acting against society. With open impudence and great 168

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humour, Bharat Chandra dug a tunnel beneath the edifice of society, in which sunshine and fresh air could not enter. Despite that, Bidyasundar was very popular in verse and in jatras because it exemplified human nature and its penchant for mocking as strict and cruel society’s strictures. What Vaishnav poets have portrayed beautifully in the realm of ideas, Bharat Chandra painted a black mark on the back of society, much to the amusement of his readers and listeners.10 In Rabindranath’s schematic analysis, separate cultural conventions demarcated the pastoral, the courtly and modern urban spaces, all connected in historical time and space. Bharat Chandra’s poetry was timeless but the spirit in which the tales were constructed and told were largely temporal and rural and thus fell out of favour in modern times. Rabindranath attributed the popularity and wide appreciation of Bharat Chandra and Bidyasundar to a ‘molten’ state of urbanisation.11 They had been a major influence on the writings of 19th-century scholars like Madanmohan Tarkalankar. Rabindranath compared this influence to a temporary intoxication that with time had worn off.12 As a poet and songwriter, Rabindranath could not have been unmoved by Bharat Chandra. In Kabi Sangeet, he paid homage to Bharat Chandra. ‘Court poet Raygunakar’s songs of Annadamangal are like precious gems around the King’s neck. They are so bright and beautifully crafted.’13 This acclaim and the analogy of ‘gems’ stuck to the larger text and was often repeated by later scholars.

Scholars in study Thirteen years after his magisterial two volume history of Bengali language and literature was published, Dinesh Chandra Sen delivered a series of lectures in the University of Calcutta in 1911 in English. The scholar, who had been unsparing in his criticism of Bharat Chandra in his history of literature written in Bengali, now takes a more mellowed stand on the poet. Along the lines of Rabindranath’s argument, Sen observed that ‘our early Bengali literature had the strange characteristic of forming a gift from the lower to the higher classes.’ That was in his opinion responsible for the ‘somewhat vulgar humor,’ characteristic of older compositions. ‘But in spite of occasional coarseness a depth of poetry throbbed in the hearts of the multitude.’14 Sen regarded the ambience in the court of Krishna Chandra Roy to be responsible for the creation of certain kind of poetry. ‘It no longer aimed at offering its tribute to God but tried to please the fancy of a Raja; the poets 169

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found the gates of the palace open to receive them and cared not if the doors of the heaven were shut.’15 He attributes this decline in literary taste to the influence of Persian poetry with its ‘similes verging on the ridiculous,’ a feature that was replicated in the ‘artificial compositions’ introduced in Bengal at the encouragement of noblemen and scholars. But in Sen’s views, Krishna Chandra Roy, the court poet of Raja Krishna Chandra, stands alone in the field of our old literature as a word-painter. No poet before him contributed so much to our wealth of expression or built such success in importing elegance to our Sanskritic metres . . . He hunted for and found choicest expressions and strung them into the most elegant metres and carried the whole school of Bengali poets after him maddened by the zeal to imitate his style. . . . After the strain of a high-strung idealistic spirituality (as exemplified by Vaishnavism), they were glad to revel in grossly sensual ideas. They descended from heaven to have a little taste of the mundane pleasures.16 Dinesh Sen discussed Bidyasundar separately, tracing its first appearance to Bhavisya Purana written in the 16th century and connecting it to the 50 slokas of ‘Chora Panchacata,’ attributing the final ‘mould’ in which it was cast once more to ‘Mohamedan influence.’ His analysis of Annadamangal featured discussions on Bharat Chandra’s mastery over the language, especially his ‘harmonious assemblage of words not to be found in any vocabulary, yet nevertheless conveying sense by the imitation of natural sounds. This is made very effective to the ear by the clever manipulation of the poet.’ And, ‘Poetry was now reduced to an art; it delighted in niceties of sound.’ There was scarcely a young man or young woman in Bengal ‘with any pretension of learning who could not reproduce passages from it (Annadamangal).’17 By carrying a parallel account of Bidyasundar and Annadamangal, Dinesh Sen thwarted the charge of ashleelata brought against Bharat Chandra. Instead, he felt the poet had perfected the use of Sanskrit poetics in Bengali, and his compositions were samples of classical refinement. Dinesh Sen’s Bangabhasha O Sahitya in Bengali now became the talking point in a discussion on Bharat Chandra in a literary forum called Sahitya Sabha one evening in 1916.18 Speakers refuted the slur of obscenity against Bharat Chandra in the wake of the enduring respect he still commanded among people of Bengal. Indelicate 170

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obscene compositions could never have survived this long, they reasoned. Changed taste in literary appreciation regarded Sanskrit poetics as ‘obscene’ because they were based on ‘Adi Ras’ on the lasting mood of beauty. A better understanding of Sanskrit perhaps would have enabled Dinesh Sen to recognise the worth of older verse traditions, of which Bharat Chandra was one of the best examples. S.K. De was quite the exception in the early 20th century to indisputably slight Bharat Chandra, who he felt was imitative, and chose from ‘second-rate’ models of artificial kavya poets and ‘a class of degenerate Mohammedan tales of dubious taste and excellence.’ He regarded Bharat Chandra gross, indecent and shamelessly responsible for the contagion from which even Ramprasad Sen could not escape. De applauded ‘British occupation of Bengal’ that ‘helped and turned to good a process of decadence in literature.’19 In 1939, Bangla Mangalkabyer Itihas (History of the Mangalkabyas), one of the most definitive works till date by scholar Ashutosh Bhattacharya, was published, endorsed by none other than Rabindranath Tagore. Bhattacharya explained the lasting influence of Bharat Chandra by separating the tales from the language of Annadamangal, the former being largely drawn from local Puranas and imitative while the latter singular and matchless. Bharat Chandra’s knowledge of three languages – Sanskrit, Persian and Prakrit – and his talent for combining words with ease, elegance and beauty lent his poetry richness, and music made it quite unique. His verses never tired. Some of his lines, and Bhattacharya quotes a few, had gone down among the educated Bengalis as aphorisms. Not only did they testify to the popularity of Bharat Chandra but underlined the fact that he was the poet of the discerning, and Annadamangal and Bidyasundar were no pulp for the unschooled masses. Bhattacharya traced a lineage of mangalkabya as part of the exercise of history writing and traced the influence on Ray of Vaishnab poets and older mangalkabya poets like Ghanaram Chakraborty. Bharat Chandra, according to Bhattacharya, perfected the art of poetry writing within the tradition of mangalkabyas, carrying it to its pinnacle, as the culmination of a tradition spanning centuries. In Bhattacharya’s views, Bengali poetry was to start afresh with new conventions started by Rabindranath, thereby dismissing all literary endeavours of the 19th century as hackneyed. Bhattacharya addressed the issue of indelicacy, ashleelata, in Bharat Chandra. He admitted that Ray followed a certain convention of narrating tales that were indelicate. But while the older poets had regarded 171

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indelicacy as natural to real life, Bharat Chandra realised that indecorous matters could be raised to the level of fine art. In his composition, Bhattacharya argued in the same vein as Pramatha Chaudhury, the sections that were ‘indecent’ demonstrated the striking quality of his language; the ornamental rhetoric and the sparkle of the mood (rasa) touched the hearts of the educated. His poetry proved that indelicacy could be an intrinsic part of the art of verse writing. Therefore, even if Annadamangal was faulted for being obscene in some parts, the success of its poet in providing it with the unique quality of fine art made its worth undeniable, according to the scholar historian.20 Bharat Chandra was a poet of satire, Bhattacharya surmised. He described with wit and sarcasm the prevailing social ills, cowardice and the prevailing lack of spirituality. Bhattacharya goes as far as to detect the origins of ‘rational’ and ‘unprejudiced’ perspective in Bengali literature not to western education but to Bharat Chandra’s satirical writings that was indeed the first step in the transition. The firm foundation of religiosity and piety on which medieval Bengali society was founded was suddenly shaken by Bharat Chandra’ irreverence and caustic comments. He did not spare gods either. Such scepticism prepared the society for the 19th-century intellectual resurgence. Bharat Chandra’s dominating intellect left a lasting mark on verse of mangalkabya, giving it depth and significance by his satire and critical observations. He was a true harbinger of a new era of consciousness.21 Disagreeing with Pramath Chaudhuri, Bhattacharya’s verdict was that Bharat Chandra was a poet of sarcasm not laughter. Sarcasm was deeper than laughter as it revealed the sharpness and depth of his social awareness and insight. He summed up his arguments by corroborating the difference that the Collected Works of Bharat Chandra had made to the evaluation of his verse. The 19th-century educated Bengalis had chastised Bharat Chandra because he was equated to Bidyasundar. In the 20th century, a more balanced, objective literary assessment was being made of his oeuvre and his intellect and skills were now being re-evaluated. Bidyasundar did not detract the admiration of Mohitlal Majumdar, a modern poet and literary critic for Bharat Chandra’s poetry. Majumdar regarded Bharat Chandra to be the true representative of ‘classical’ age of Bengali poetry and an intellectual poet whose refined, simple yet profound language was reflective of his scholarship. It was a tradition, unfortunately, that proved short lived.22 Bidyasundar, however, continued to overcast Annadamangal. In his authoritative two volume history of Bengali literature (Bamla Sahityer 172

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Itihas) first published in 1940, Sukumar Sen discussed Bharat Chandra under the chapter, ‘Bidyasundar Kahini,’ (Story of Bidyasundar). His suggestion that the 18th-century poet merits discussion only in connection with Bidyasundar determined and in some ways restricted the review of the larger text, Annadamangal. Sen felt that Bharat Chandra in Annadamangal had undermined piety and a sense of devotion that marked earlier religious texts. There was an element of profanity and impiety in the portrayal of gods and goddesses that evoked neither piety nor fear.23 Irreverence and derision were common adjectives that modern scholars attributed to Bharat Chandra. Sukumar Sen acknowledged that Bharat Chandra possessed extraordinary dexterity in use of words loaning them from his wide repertoire of linguistic knowledge. But overall, he was very disparaging of the poet who he felt lacked in originality and owed a lot to Kabi Kankan Mukundaram, the composer of Chandimangal. The element of burlesque in Bharat Chandra’s depiction of women and their ways was strongly frowned upon by the later scholar. Bharat Chandra’s portrayal lacked any realism; all his characters seemed to have been moulded from casts, according to Sen. While Mukundaram humanised gods, Bharat Chandra turned them into comic performers. The only authentic and credible individual in Bharat Chandra’s writing had been the boatman Ishwar Patni who ferried goddess Annapurna across, and whose simple demands from her, became metaphor for basic wants of a village person. Sukumar Sen, however, admitted that Bharat Chandra’s influence was strong. Not only did lines from his composition become oft quoted proverbs, but poets of the 19th century, including Madhusudhan Datta, admitted to his impact.24 It was from a similar perspective that J.C. Ghosh judged Bharat Chandra, a verdict not uninflected by the reading of Bidyasundar: The author laughs at high society, but not in a corrective or reforming spirit, and has no morals to inculcate, no norms to uphold. He is moved by the spirit of pure fun, and his whole object is to amuse and entertain. He plays with everyone and everything, with gods, and men and with love and sorrow, and he takes nothing seriously except his art.25 In 2002, 250 years after Annadamangal was completed and put out to the public, scholars in Bengal revisited the text and printed another edition of Annadamangal. In the introduction, editor Sunil Kumar Ojha set out the scheme. Following the tradition of other 173

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compilations, he summarised the life of Bharat Chandra Roy drawn largely from Ishwar Gupta’s biography and then included comments on the poet’s verse style. Ojha agreed with older scholars that the poet did experiment with language and rhythm, even though the mood (rasa) everywhere was not of a refined order. Contradicting Rabindranath, he felt that Bharat Chandra, superior to his peers, was an urban, court poet, not a rural bard who demonstrated exceptional skills in the use of a whole range of linguistic tropes ranging from the pastoral and rustic to the sophisticated and urbane. He was an artist par excellence who had a unique way with words. Ojha finds Bharat Chandra as an advocate of religious syncretism as he tried to bring together various sects and factions.26

Unravelling the mystery The censures and critical evaluations had taken away from Bidyasundar the essence of a religious text and the possibility that it could be read as an allegory of a spiritual experience. Nibaran Chandra Basu in a thin book called The Symbolism of Vidya-Sundar in 1935 did attempt to correct this. From the theatrical stage and the roadside peddling cart, Bidyasundar was hoisted to the abstruse realm of the spiritual, but not very satisfactorily nor clearing it of the ‘blot.’ Hirendranath Datta in writing the foreword to the book was trenchant: ‘In Bharat Chandra’s hand, the story (of Vidyasundara) became the acme of eroticism and the apotheosis of sexuality – as bad in some parts as Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point, which is saying a great deal.’27 Basu appeared somewhat ambivalent commenting on the ‘levity’ that Bharat Chandra and Ramprasad Sen had demonstrated in composing Bidyasundar. Yet, he attempted a complex interpretation of the text, underlining its profound philosophy. Bidyasundar represented the journey of the ‘Ideal Pilgrim’ through the yogic path by the process of chakra-bheda.28 It symbolised the passage of the ascetic as he makes his ascent from the bottom most muladhar chakra through different layers to the final chakra which leads to awakening. In that state of yogic consciousness, the devotee was wedded to Vidya, also translated as divine knowledge. Sundar represented the devotee in search of knowledge; other characters acted as essential instruments or conduits for the attainment of godhood. The episodes and encounters described were the inescapable halts of the yogi as he paused at each of the points or chakras. The final objective of the yogi was to attain freedom from rebirth. Never in the 19th century was Bidyasundar read in this manner. 174

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In the same vein of a philosophical analysis but decades later, Prasun Bandhyopadhyay decoded the text to outline basic principles of Shaivism, which essentially was the union of Shakti, who represents physics of matter/energy and Shiva, the ultimate consciousness.29 According to him, Bharat Chandra used the two texts – Annadamangal and Bidyasundar – to address different concerns: first related to the wider cognisance, the second to an individual realisation within one’s own body. Bidya was another manifestation of the power of Shakti and Sundar, the source of realisation. Matter was always required to straddle over consciousness for the ultimate knowledge to evolve and therefore the coital posture of woman on top described by Bharat Chandra in Bidyasundar was a metaphor for the path to follow. Bandhyopadhyay asserted that the major problem with reading Bidyasundar had been attempts to derive a ‘socio-meaning’ to it when it should have been read as an allegory. He repeatedly used the tag ‘pornographic’ to the text, insisting that detractors used that label. Critics in the 19th and early 20th centuries faulted Bidyasundar on grounds of being indecent, indelicate and coarse but not pornographic.30 What is relevant to our discussion, however, is not the spiritual deconstruction that Basu and Bandhyopadhyay undertook but that Bidyasundar lent itself to multiple readings including as an appropriate text to unfold deep, spiritual ideas but could never rid itself of the stigma of ‘erotocism,’ which though somewhat overlaid was still traceable.

Reliability of text The wide dispersion of Bidyasundar in print, however, prompted another scholarly exploration into the larger issue of relationship between manuscripts and printed books. Following a century of book publication, authenticity of printed editions of older manuscripts was a matter to resolve for older manuscripts converted to print. Were the many printed editions reliable? How did print mutate the original script, if there was any? And how was that to be determined? Was there an original handwritten manuscript? The search for the oldest manuscript of the first printed book, Annadamangal and Bidyasundar, was persuasive. The manuscript that the Sanskrit Press had claimed to have used for printing was never traced back to the court of Krishnanagar. The oldest surviving manuscript is in Paris, dated 1785, a good 25 years after the passing of Bharat Chandra.31 A second manuscript, copied around the same time, 1784–85, preserved in the 175

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collection of Sahitya Parishat in Calcutta, comes a close second. Scholar Rameshchandra Bandhyopadhyay read this very carefully to discover differences in the use of words between a printed version and the handwritten manuscript and found several across the text of Annadamangal. The discrepancies included missing words from one or the other and differences in the arrangement of stanzas and slokas. In the manuscript, the two texts, Annadamangal and Bidyasundar, appeared one after the other in a total length of 137 pages, written back to back on both sides. Each page measured 14 × 5 inches and carried 9 stanzas. Annadamangal ended on page 78 and Bidyasundar began. The third text, Man Singh, was not included, thereby making it incomplete. The printed editions Bandhyopadhyay consulted were two published by Basumati Sahitya Mandir which had a few missing pages and the more complete Bangabasi version of 1889.32 The undertaking of this publishing house to print older, religious texts had acquired an emblematic status for producing ‘complete’ editions at the turn of the century, and for being a sponsor of a nationalist Hindu project. It was its insistence on generating ‘complete’ and voluminous editions of older text that impelled a modern-day scholar Kunal Chakraborty to choose the Bangabasi editions for his incisive discussions on the Puranas in Bengal. His reasoning was as follows: ‘For those Puranas which have several editions, the difference between the Vangabasi and the others is minor and, for my purpose, negligible. Besides, the tests of the Vangabasi editions are fuller in comparison with the others.’33 Can we trace back this lineage of producing a comprehensive volume to the modest Hindu Press, long extinct, and its initiative in 1860? After close to a century, printing and publishing became an agency to lend legitimacy and credibility to older religious and sacred texts. The practice of editing and rectifying handwritten manuscripts inaugurated with printing, went some way in establishing worth and value. The early publishing houses used this for their publicity, broadcasting names of erudite ‘pundits’ who had corrected the manuscripts. Editing was edged out as the decades rolled by, numbers of printed editions multiplied, and the need for engaging a ‘pundit’ for producing a perfect edition obviated by a certain confidence in their convention and fame. When the collected volume was produced with the inclusion of Chorpanchashat publishers and editors admitted to alterations made to the widely known text, the ‘originality’ or ‘genuineness’ of this accretion being less of a concern to the print world of the 19th century. What the better versions of the complete works did not compromise was the ‘completeness’ of Bharat Chandra’s three texts. 176

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Tracing the ‘original,’ and finding the faultless copy, remained an intellectual pursuit among modern scholars of the late 20th century, even if it was widely acknowledged that Bharat Chandra’s Annadamangal that he had dictated to the pundits of the court was never to be found. Nor was there any way to verify the claims of the early publishers including Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. This was posited by Sukhomoy Mukhopadhyay, the editor of the 2002 edition, in a long introduction. Based on thorough reading and research, he concluded that even though Annadamangal and Bidyasundar had been printed several times in the 19th century, it was difficult to trace the genuine language of Bharat Chandra in any single copy. Instead, the versions that had been doing their rounds belonged to the language of the presses in Battala, and was characteristic of popular printing in the 19th century. These presses altered the language of the text to harmonise with the contemporary mode and fashion. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s claim that he was publishing a corrected version based on the original text from Krishnanagar was, in Mukhopadhyay’s findings, erroneous too. It is unknown which manuscript he used and thus it is not unlikely that Vidyasagar too used the Battala version. The much-improved edition and much later published edition by Bangiya Sahitya Parishat and edited by Sajanikanta Das and Brajendranath Bandyopadhyay had reprinted the Sanskrit Press copy. Mukhopadhyay dismissed all the editions of complete works of Bharat Chandra (granthavali) and their claims to being genuine and as the Bangiya Sahitya Parishat version too was based on Vidyasagar’s edition, it too could be traced back to its Battala roots.34 When the first Sanskrit Press version of Annadamangal was published in 1847, how did ‘Battala’ feature – as a physical space where a large number of publishing houses and presses were located or as a descriptive category for ‘popular’ books? In terms of the physical location, there were not more than 20 publishing houses out of 49 in 1853–54 situated in the contiguous region that much later came to be designated as Battala; even when the number of publishing houses grew in large numbers in the 1860s and 1870s, only a few categorically mentioned Battala in their address. It was from the 1860s, however, that ‘Battala’ was referred to by the Bengali intelligentsia as the all-embracing label that quartered every book they regarded popular and unrefined. In modern scholarship, such as Mukhopadhyay’s, the lines blur and times collapse so that Battala turns into a monolithic bloc, not dissimilar to the late 19thcentury elite position to include everything that was regarded ‘corrupted.’ For to tinker around with the verse construction of the original was a 177

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form of corruption that could only be attributed to the much vilified Battala, even though in the 1840s, it was neither a definite space nor a defined category. And, to make a case for ‘corrupting’ the text in the case of Annadamangal and Bidyasundar, the ascription then must be made to Gangakishore Bhattacharya and his partner Harachandra Roy’s enterprise that preceded Sanskrit Press by 30 years. They were much ahead of times to the bustling and competitive world of Battala presses.

Bidyasundar in modern hands Although Bharat Chandra received differing treatment, Bidyasundar continued to be regarded as hovering on the margins of risqué, its contents more scatological than sacred, the few attempts at its redemption doing it little favour. The text continued to be aligned to a certain kind of literary taste and preference, a notion widely agreed upon by scholars and commentators of the 19th century. In a century when there was a conscious drive among the literati of Bengal to ‘reform’ and ‘improve’ standards in language, writings and content and produce refined literature of use, the popularity of an older text like Bidyasundar was a reminder of a taste they often found embarrassing. But being aligned to the ‘popular’ and ‘lowbrow’ made Bidyasundar eligible for a different kind of repossession. Sumanta Bannerji took notice of the text while describing the emergence of a new kind of performance, the jatras. ‘The arrival of Bharat chandra’s Vidya-Sundar on the cultural scene in the mid-eighteenth century,’ he observed, ‘encouraged the composition of jatras on this secular romance. A host of popular versions of Vidya-Sundar flooded the market, soon after the establishment of the printing press in the late eighteenth century.’35 He followed the career of the celebrated Jatra singer Gopal Ure through his many performances of Hira Malini. Bannerji’s ‘Parlour and the Streets,’ published in 1989, was a study of, as the sub title suggests, ‘Elite and Popular Culture in Nineteenth Century Calcutta.’ Bannerji concluded that by the end of the century, the ‘entertainments of the lower orders’ emerged in contrast to the ‘literature and art of the Bengali elite.’ Bidyasundar’s world came to be defined. Interesting to note is that the 18th-century poet was described by Bannerji as ‘Bharat Chandra Roy of Vidya-Sundar fame,’ who also wrote other poems.36 On a completely different tack, Bidyasundar’s position endured, though the slur was not totally erased. In a series of lessons on teaching 178

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Bengali, a short introduction on the literature mentioned texts of ‘outstanding quality,’ in the post Vaishnava period. The two that found mention were Chandimangal by Mukundaram and Bidyasundar of Bharat Chandra.37 It was therefore a likely choice to be featured among the Bengali tales from court and village which Edward Dimock translated. Bidyasundar was selected as an example of ‘court poetry,’ closest to its Sanskrit ‘progenitor,’ and different from village poetry and of those more deeply implicated in religious concerns.38 Dimock regarded court poetry to be ‘designed for the intellect, and for an audience attuned to the subtleties of poetry.’39 The Vidya-Sundara theme, being sophisticated and urbane, was a favorite one in the upper social strata of Bharat Chandra’s day. But even the popularity of the theme cannot wholly account for the amazing success of Bharat Chandra’s version. It was Bharat Chandra’s own touch, light, witty, elaborate and to the taste of the aesthetes, which dominated the literary and sophisticated circles of Calcutta until well into the nineteenth century, Dimock surmised. ‘For Bharat Chandra was a master of his art; and his art was by intention more decorative than profound, aimed more at the courtiers than the ascetics, at the men of culture rather than the philosophers.’40 Yet the poet’s penchant for amusement and a little titillation had prevented its translation into English earlier. Perhaps, as Dimock speculated, it would have given the wrong impression about Bengali morality to the world outside or even offended the sensibilities of the modern Indian reader.41 The modern reader did not take kindly to Bidyasundar either. While the ‘popular’ was being celebrated in presses, Battala publications highlighted in academic research, Bidyasundar again lost its worth and its way. It rarely featured in any discussion, its censure implicated in its many readings and analyses. Sometimes it was blatant. In an essay, ‘Battalar Basantak,’ which was part of a series in the journal Samakalin, Jibananda Chattopadhyay cited specifically Bidyasundar as an example of lowly literary writings that gratified the sensibilities of the lowest in society. That this text continued to be produced in the presses of Battala was testimony to the taste for the tawdry and vulgar.42 While Bannerji feted the modest world of the lower orders, Chattopadhyay slammed the taste for the ‘erotic,’ (adirasa) the ‘ugly,’ badly printed books produced for making quick money by catering to 179

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the crass and the vulgar. He was happy to note that popular preference had moved away, marking a distinct improvement.43 Whatever the ideological or intellectual position of the scholar, Bidyasundar featured among books for the commonplace.44 For us, the wide range of discussions and intertwined discourse around the ubiquitous presence of Bidyasundar in the world of printed books was indicative of the multi-layered initiatives that outlined and determined the space of printing and publishing in 19th-century Bengal. Bidyasundar was no ‘common’ book and branding it as an erotic composition by Bharat Chandra and an example of other pedestrian writings that supported presses of Battala is to gloss over the many creases that constituted this bustling world of local enterprises and businesses. That would be a mistaken labelling and an inaccurate portrayal of Bidyasundar and the ordinary presses of Battala. The significance of the journey of Bidyasundar and the path it follows has been that it not only introduced us through all its different appearances in print to an alternate narrative of book production and distribution in 19th-century Bengal, but also to the evolving and changing cultural and intellectual politics of urban Calcutta that came to bear on its fate. It was and still remains quite a singular tale.

Notes 1 See Sankari Prasad Basu, Kabi Bharat Chandra, 2nd ed., Calcutta: De’s Publishing, 2007, pp. 127–184. 2 See Dusan Zbavitel, A History of Indian Literature, Wiesbaden: Harassowitz, 1976, p. 199. 3 This edition published by Sanskrit Press Depository in 1895 was the only one to have deleted sections on Bidya and Sundar’s coition. Did that allow Chaudhuri to make a more favourable reappraisal of Bharat Chandra? Would it have been different otherwise? 4 Pramath Chaudhuri, Nana Chorcha, Calcutta: Kamla Book Depot, Ltd., 1932, pp. 159–160. 5 Ibid., p. 165. 6 Chaudhuri, Nana Chorcha, p. 168. 7 Haraprasad Shastri, Rachana Samagraha, vol. 2, Reprint, Calcutta: Paschimbanga Rajys Pustak Parshad, 1981, p. 579. 8 Rabindranath, Gramya Sahitya in Lok Sahitya, www.rabindra-rachanabali. nltr.org/node/7969. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid., p. 6. 11 In the process of making. 12 Quoted in Sankari PrasadBasu, Kabi Bharat Chandra, 2nd ed., Calcutta: De’s Publishing, 2007, p. 72.

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13 Rabindranath, Kabi Sangeet, in Lok Sahitya, www.rabindra-rachanabali. nltr.org/node/7969, p. 1. 14 Dinesh Chandra Sen, History of Bengali Language and Literature, A Series of Lectures delivered as Reader to the Calcutta University, Calcutta University, 1911. Preface. 15 Ibid., p. 617. 16 Ibid., pp. 621–622. 17 Sen, History of Bengali Language and Literature, pp. 651, 654, 667, 670–77, 665. 18 Reported in the journal of the Sabha. It was its 16th year, 5th monthly session, 25th Bhadra, 1322 (11 September 1916) Shyamacharan Kabiratna (ed.), Sahitya Samhita, vol. 4, 1322 (1916), October. 12th ed. 19 Sushil K. De, History of Bengali Literature in the Nineteenth Century, 1800–1825, Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1919, pp. 40, 42, 43. De was critical of Dinesh Sen’s work because it was based, ‘chiefly on the doubtful authority of Rev. J. Long’s catalogue’ (Preface). 20 Ashutosh Bhattacharya, Bangla-Mangala Kabyer Itihas, first published in 1939, Reprint Calcutta: A. Mukherjee & Co., 1998, p. 811. 21 Ibid., p. 812. 22 Mohit Lal Majumdar, Adhunik Bangla Sahitya, Calcutta: General Printers and Publishers Pvt. Ltd. Reprint, 1963, p. 246. 23 Sukumar Sen, Bamla Sahityer Itihas, vol. 2, 6th ed., Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1978, p. 309. Irreverence was a common adjective scholars attributed to Bharat Chandra’s poetry. 24 Sen, Bamla Sahityer Itihas, pp. 424–431. 25 Quoted in Zbavitel, A History of Indian Literature, p. 199. 26 Sunil Kumar Ojha, Raygunakar Bharatchandarar Annadamangal, Calcutta: Sahityalok, 2002. 27 Nibaran Chandra Basu, The Symbolism of Vidya-Sundara, Midnapore, 1935, pp. ii–iii. 28 The focal points on the body that are focused on during meditation in several methods. 29 I am grateful to Gautam Bhadra for this reference. Prasun Bandhyopadhyay, Payiachi Ter, Kabi Raygunakare, in Bishoyemukh, July–December, 2007, pp. 3–50. 30 The author also is mistaken about Chorpanchashat being composed by Bharat Chandra. 31 This is according to the scholar and linguist Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay. Quoted by Rameshchandra Bandhyopadhyay, Bharatchandrer Annadamangal, in Sahitya Parishat Patrika, 2nd issue, 1941, p. 87. The two undated manuscripts of Kalikamangal and Bidyasundar in the British Museum are incomplete and fragmentary. 32 Bandhyopadhyay, Bharatchandrer Annadamangal, pp. 87–88. 33 Kunal Chakraborty, Religious Process: The Puranas and the Making of a Regional Tradition, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 51. 34 Sunilkumar Ojha (ed.), Ray Gunakar Bharat Chandrer Annadamangal, Calcutta: Sahityalok, 2002. Essays- Sunil Kumar Ojha, Baichitrer Rupakar Bharatchandra, pp. 11–20, Sukhomoy Mukhopadhyay, Bharat Chandra O Taar Annadamangal, pp. 25–33.

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35 Sumanta Bannerjee, The Parlour and the Streets: Elite and Popular Culture in Nineteenth Century Calcutta, Calcutta: Seagull, 1989, p. 104. 36 Ibid., pp. 199, 117. 37 Edward Dimock, Somdev Bhattacharya and Suhas Chatterjee, Introduction to Bengali, Part I, Chicago: Published for the South Asia Language and Area Center, University of Chicago, 1964, Introduction. 38 Edward Dimock (translated), The Thief of Love: Bengali Tales from Court and Village, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1963, pp. 6–7. 39 Ibid., p. 13. 40 Dimock (translated), The Thief of Love, p. 22. 41 Ibid., p. 28. 42 Jibananda Chattopadhyay, Battalar Basantak, Samakalin, 16 (Jyastha, 1375), 1968, p. 39. 43 Ibid. 44 See, Anindita Ghosh, Power in Print: Popular Publishing and the Politics of Language and Culture in a Colonial Society, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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The account of Bidyasundar in the print world of Bengal and the process by which it was installed within it over the course of the 19th century records several episodes in the life of book creation in Bengal, involving a variety of initiatives. In following its track through these many events, we have been able to undertake an exploration of the dynamic field of book production, pulsating as it did, with frenetic activities of people who were responsible for a whole range of books and other publications appearing in the market. With local Bengalis capitalising on the scope and opportunity that printing and publishing offered, different kinds of literary creations showcasing myriad practices and programs, created an interconnected and reticulated field. We notice a number of these initiatives imprinted in the life of Bidyasundar. The way Bidyasundar survived through different permutations by means of recasting and reformatting and the notices it drew offers a kaleidoscopic view into the world of printing and publishing that engaged people as producers, consumers, critics and sponsors. The experience of Bidyasundar challenges conventional retelling of book history in Bengal. Along with the larger text, Annadamangal, it came to be associated with many entrepreneurs and literary practitioners. They included inventive Bengali entrepreneurs, British padres, Bengali reformers, editors, ‘unpolished,’ performers, sponsors of refined theatre, traditionalists, modernists, poets and novelists. As Bidyasundar worked its way in and out of these dissimilar spaces, it outlined the process by which the larger field of printing evolved over the century. It found mention in a variety of discussions and discourses that recorded opinions and debates on older cultural and literary conventions, current moments of transitions and future prospects. There were capitulations, collaborations and contestations within the Bengali community as well as with the British over literary practices and 183

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conventions. To reduce the entire experience into terms of classification and categorisation defined in binaries of high and low or modern and old fashioned, refined and crass is limiting.1 The story of the travel of Bidyasundar stands as a reminder that the schematic account of the book was largely determined by ‘investigative modalities,’ employed by the British to make sense of the books that appeared in the market.2 The categories and ‘tags’ that emerged from this statist endeavour went beyond the physical sorting of books. They became integral to the afterlife of the text, engaging Bengalis in a discussion on taste, tradition and reform. The focus on a single text and its history as a book, allowed us to uncover this vital aspect of print history. Like the book, it became, Bidyasundar was constituted by the technology of print, the incentive of publication, the initiative of local Bengalis and different readings. It was an example of its present and a testimony of the past. Gangakishore Bhattacharya’s choice of Annadamangal and Bidyasundar and the future success of the book were evidence of the textual custom and the circulation of a text that predated print. This book also compelled us to look at other books of the same genre and helped us build a narrative of the use of books when literacy was low and silent reading was not widespread. Printing and publishing were commercial operations sustainable only if the products did well in the market. Commerce was the significant mover and a great leveller. Annadamangal and Bidyasundar were, therefore, published as safe bets by different printing houses, the books registering a range of dissimilar standards. The printed versions of Bharat Chandra Roy’s texts thus confute the argument that their cheap productions from popular presses were always different to the improved publication of refined literature created by and for the more discerning. They also question the notion that all books from the modest presses were comparable. Different editions of this one text allow the space of ‘popular’ to be pulled open to divulge a range of differences in texts, quality of production, kinds of writings and their length, temporality and themes. They urge us to question the fault lines that are drawn to sort books, their producers and consumers. For some time Bidyasundar in verse did feature among the cheap prints till it was launched on stage. Its career turned out to be as dramatic as its tale of crisis and resolution when the text which had been segregated from the larger Annadamangal was put back into the opus with substantial emendations. A modernist project, printing and publishing of books always responded to and reacted to changing habits, needs and taste in society as a whole. 184

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Discussions on print and publications must encounter the inescapable ‘Battala,’ a region of closely situated printing presses that came to designate a ‘category’ of books, cheaply produced and modestly priced. This was where the business started and grew into an industry and for a good part of the century, remained the centre for book distribution. The tag ‘Battala,’ denoting lowbrow, cheap productions, was invented by contemporaries – scholars, writers and reviewers. It was assumed that Battala publications reflected ‘popular’ and by association ‘common’ and ‘lowly’ taste and sensibilities that stood in contrast to elite refinement represented by improved productions both in content and quality of the book, and later scholars have by and large endorsed this template. The recent work by Gautam Bhadra has questioned this premise by demonstrating how relationships here were splayed and connections intersected horizontally as much as vertically between and among highbrow and lowly printed books, their publishers, patrons and readers.3 It is worthwhile to follow Bhadra’s argument to reflect upon the context within which Bidyasundar thrived and its predicament that followed. Presses and publishing houses proliferated in the Battala neighbourhood that in the course of the century stepped out of its geographical borders to signify in broader terms the production and trade of books. But if the signification referred to it as a ‘category,’ it was one that shifted ground and moved with time. By reengaging with historical evidence, Bhadra has reconstructed the matrix for the study of printed books, their producers, including authors and publishers, readers and reviewers. He chronicled how different sets of people in the 19th and early 20th centuries looked upon ‘Battala,’ and what it suggested to them. The perceptions were neither similar and uniform nor consistent, thus contradicting all arguments that spoke for an inflexible severance between refined and lowly production of books. It is undoubted that Battala produced books which were cheap and popular, and they included a whole range of texts like epics, puranas, religious handbooks, mythologies and simple readers for children and textbooks for basic learning. For some it denoted hurriedly composed, badly researched and poorly constructed narratives; for others they suggested slightly risqué books that escaped the constraints of refinement. Books that Battala produced spread at different levels, among varied sections of readers under divergent circumstances. If scholars do not register the diverse nature of Battala, Bhadra warns us, they would be missing more nuanced connections that intersected the different initiatives that coexisted.4 185

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What Bhadra’s account underscores is the significance of Battala as a location where the indigenous enterprise in book production started and grew by creating a market and responding to its demands and pressures. Both the site and the initiatives were crucial to the development of the culture of producing and consuming printed texts in which people at all levels of social, cultural and intellectual positions participated. A young bride of an aristocratic family looked to these publishing houses for copies of religious texts, while editors and publishers worked hard to offer authentic and improved versions of manuscripts that they ferreted out. Printed texts offered endless possibilities of creating new needs and catering to them; they could range from spiritual salvation, advice on health and home, education and learning, performance and entertainment. Products of Battala were never regarded as a single cluster nor were their assessment and review static over time and circumstances.5 By focusing on the careers of authors and publishers and on the journeys that different books undertook in the course of the 19th century, Bhadra reasons that in terms of content, language and taste, different strands did not exclude one another, nor is it possible to separate them simply in terms of highbrow or lowly. Nor was the debate on vulgarity and refinement over books produced only in Battala. Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, the leading author and editor, faced trenchant criticism for courting British conventions of novels and for his graphic descriptions of women’s beauty. In fact, critical reviews targeted taste, not social class or intellectual habits. The interesting point that Bhadra makes is that Battala publications were the only reading materials that 19th-century men and women grew up on. That did not come in the way of understanding and appreciating the new erudite language Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay used in his novels.6 Therefore, in the 19th century, all that Battala produced were never gathered together in any single cast. Taste, preference, appraisals, dependence and rejection moved in and out of the meandering lanes that constituted Battala. When ‘Battala’ is used as a synonym for all popular publications, there is a certain collapsing and freezing of events within a time span. Since it always features as a ‘category’ in juxtaposition or contrast to others, the discourse around it assumes a simultaneity in the coming of age of different kinds and standards of book production and consumption. This, however, appears inadequate as a narrative of printing and the manner it unfolded over the century. Tracking the journey of Bidyasundar deflects the preoccupation with Battala and focuses on the course that printed books took over the 19th century to create 186

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circumstances in which differences appeared in very many ways. It was not only about content and the quality of books produced. A religious text written in verse belonging to the 18th century was different from contemporary prose writings. Yet we see Bidyasundar crossing the margins of classification to feature in existing plays in prose performed before a discerning crowd of refined sensibilities. Blamed for poor taste and lacking in aesthetic value, Bidyasundar assumed centrality in debates over taste and aesthetics as well as past literary tradition under threat from modern literary practices. It was remodelled in a ‘gentrified’ form and assumed the status of a revered volume. The text was certainly exceptional in being ubiquitous, but it was precisely its persistent presence that prompted us to explore its mystery. Once more it does not fail us – in unravelling aspects so far overlooked in the history of the book in 19th-century Bengal.

Notes 1 Sumanta Banerjee, The Parlour and the Streets: Elite and Popular Culture in Nineteenth Century Calcutta, Calcutta: Seagull, 1989 and Anindita Ghosh, Power in Print: Popular Publishing and the Politics of Language and Culture in a Colonial Society, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006. 2 Bernard S. Cohn, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge, The British in India, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996, Introduction, p. 5. 3 Gautam Bhadra, Nera Bottolai Jai Kaw’baar, Calcutta: Chhatim Books, 2011, pp. 203–250. 4 Bhadra, Nera Bottolai Jai Kaw’baar, p. 207. 5 Ibid., p. 210. 6 Ibid., p. 231.

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Nandi, Biharilal. 1857. Bidhoba Parinaya Utsob Natak with the help of Nimai Chand Sil. Calcutta: Saudamini Press. Nyayaratna, Ramgati. 1991. Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya, New ed. Calcutta: Supreme Book Distributors. Ojha, Sunil Kumar (ed.). 1977. Manik Datta Chandimangal. Siliguri: North Bengal University. Ojha, Sunil Kumar. 2002. Raygunakar Bharatchandarar Annadamangal. Calcutta: Sahityalok. Pal, Prafullachandra (ed.). n.d. Bidyasundar Granthavali. Calcutta: BasumatiSahitya-Mandir. The Poetical Works of Bharut Chunder Roy. 1902. Calcutta: De Brothers. The Poetical Works of Bharut Chunder Roy with His Life and Notes, 2nd ed. 1868. Hindu Press. Rakshit, Gopal Chandra. 1859. Mohan Monohora. Calcutta: Sucharu Press. Ray, Bharat Chandra. 1823. Annadamangal and Bidyadunadar. Calcutta: Bengali Press. Ray, Bharat Chandra. 1845. Annadamangal. Front page missing. Ray, Bharat Chandra. 1847, 1853. Annadamangal. Calcutta: Sanskrit Press. Ray, Bharat Chandra. 1860. Grantha Sankalan. Calcutta: New Press. Ray, Bharat Chandra. 1868a. Bidyasundar. Calcutta: Sudhanidhi Press. Ray, Bharat Chandra. 1868b. Bidyasundar. Calcutta: Sudhasindhu Press. Ray, Bharat Chandra. 1875a. Bidyasundar. Calcutta: Sudharnava Press. Ray, Bharat Chandra. 1875b. Annadamangal. Calcutta, Front page missing. Ray, Bharat Chandra. 1880a. Annadamangal. Calcutta: Published by Trailokyanath Basu. Name illegible. Ray, Bharat Chandra. 1880b. Bidyasundar. Calcutta: Kavyaprakash Press. Ray, Bharat Chandra. 1894. Annadamangal: Pauranik Geetikavya. Calcutta: Star Theatre. Ray, Bharat Chandra. 1963. Bidyasundar. Calcutta: Pelican Press. Ray Gunakar Bharat Chandrer Granthavali. 1895. Edited by Dwarakanath Bose. Calcutta: Sanskrit Press Depository. Roy, Banoarilal. 1858. Yojana-Gandha. Calcutta: New Press. Roy, Rajkrishna. 1884. Pranita Granthavali, 2nd ed. Calcutta: Bengal Medical Library. Roy, Rammohan. 1873. Pranito Granthavali, Vol. 1. Calcutta: Adi Brahmo Samaj Jantra. Roy, Srikanthanath. 1850. Manmatha Manjari. Calcutta: Kumartuli, Shastra Prakash Press. Sarkar, Akshay Chandra (ed.). 1878. Kabikankan Chandi. Chinsurah: Sadharani Press. Sarkar, Kamal. 1981. Bangla Boyer Chhobi. In Chittaranjan Bandyopadhyay (ed.), Bangla Mudran O Prokashan. Calcutta: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd. Sen, Dinesh Chandra. 1991. Banga Bhasha O Sahitya, Vol. 1 and 2. Calcutta: Pashchimbanga Bhasha Pustak Parshad.

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201

INDEX

Almanac 19, 52; see also panjika, panji Annadamangal 5–10, 13–16, 18–21, 25, 27, 30, 43, 44, 48, 59, 60, 61, 62, 64, 65, 77–80, 85, 88, 94, 110, 114, 116, 117, 134, 140, 141, 143, 148, 150, 154, 156, 158, 162, 165, 170–177, 183; the account 32–36; price 66–68

107–109, 154; Play 69, 70, 81, 82, 134; as a separate book 60–62, 65–71, 77–80, 83–85, 87, 88–95, 100, 102, 103, 106–108, 110–112, 114–117, 143, 148, 150, 151, 154, 165, 166, 183–187; the tale 36–42; Tappa (songs) 102–105 Bose, Ishwar Chandra: Stanhope Press 69, 104, 132–133

Baburam: Sanskrit Press 3, 50, 51 Bandhyopadhyay, Rangalal 87, 92, 93 Bangabasi (Vangabasi) Press 145–146, 176 Baptist Mission Press 2; see also Srirampur (Serampore) Mission Press Baramasya 8, 42, 110 Battala 11, 19, 60, 65, 66, 69, 85, 86; presses and production 102–105, 129–130, 132, 133, 144, 147–150, 166, 177–180, 185–187 Bengali Press 52, 54, 55 Bhattacharya, Ashutosh 171–172 Bhattacharya, Gangakishore 9, 10, 16, 25, 50–55, 59, 60, 117, 150, 162, 184; Bengal Gazetti Press 51 Bidyasundar 5, 6, 8, 9, 13–21, 25, 30, 32, 46–48, 64, 120, 126, 134, 137, 140, 141, 153, 155, 157–159, 162, 167–180; Jatra 70, 71, 88, 100, 101, 105, 178; Kalikamangal

Chandrakanto 120, 128–129, 134; the tale 121–125 Chattopadhyay, Bankim Chandra 86, 87, 106, 107, 132, 186; Bangadarshan 86–88, 145 Chaudhuri, Pramath 166–168 Chorpanchashat Choura/ Chourapanchashika 64, 65, 70, 106, 110, 112, 140, 150, 151, 153–158, 176 Deb, Bishwambhar 53, 54, 60, 63 Ferris, Paul 50; company 50 51 Gupta, Ishwar 25–27, 45, 47, 48, 58, 76, 87, 89, 101, 141, 143, 144, 148, 174; Sambad Prabhakar 25–27, 47 Kalikamangal 12, 58, 108 Kamini Kumar 116, 120, 121, 128, 130, 134; the tale 126–127 Kathokatha 101; Kathak 114, 115

202

INDEX

Lal, Lallu 51; Sanskrit Press 53 Long, James 20, 67, 71, 75–80, 83, 101, 102, 106, 114–115, 128, 129, 131

Roy, Krishna Chandra 6, 9, 16, 17, 30–35, 44–46, 48, 63, 91, 150, 169 Roy Harachandra 52, 54, 59; Bengal Gazette 52, 54

Mangalkabya 6–11, 15, 17, 30, 32, 34, 41, 42, 44, 59, 107, 109, 110, 113, 116, 126, 171, 172 Manmatha Manjari 116, 120–121, 128; the tale 127 Man Singh parba 6, 16, 30, 62, 64, 65, 66–68, 140, 148, 162; the story 42–44

Sen, Dinesh Chandra 46, 91, 106, 107, 169–170 Sen, Ramprasad 45–48, 58, 101, 140, 141, 145, 171; Bidyasundar 45–47, 55, 94, 95, 110, 144, 155, 167, 174; songs 58 Sen, Sukumar 10, 60, 68, 107, 109, 129, 173 Society for the Suppression of Public Obscenity in India 83, 85–88, 104, 159; Tappa 101 Srirampur (Serampore) Mission Press 3, 16, 51, 53, 59, 76, 80

Nyayratna Ramgati 45, 46, 48, 89, 90, 106 panjika, panji 63, 67, 79, 130 Roy, Bharat Chandra 6, 9, 12, 16, 17, 20, 26, 27, 32–35, 37, 38, 40–42, 44–48, 64, 66, 68, 70, 77, 82, 83, 85–95, 105–107, 110–112, 116, 117, 120, 141, 142, 156, 159, 162, 166–180; complete works/Grantha Sankalan/ Granthavali 25, 27, 140, 145–148, 150, 155, 158, 165, 172; his life 27–30; see also Kalikamangal

Tagore, Rabindranath 94, 168, 169 Ure, Gopal 100, 105, 106 Vidyasagar, Ishwar Chandra 10, 89, 114, 147, 177; Sanskrit Press 58, 61, 66, 85, 158 Wenger, J. 80, 84 Yojan-Gandha 120, 128; the tale 127

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