Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Puthi - A form of Bangla Epic

              Puthi is a special genre of literature containing poetic fairy tales and religious stories of rural ancient Bengal mostly written by Muslim writers. It is a particular type of writing dating from the 18th-19th centuries. Writers used to write Puthi in Sankskrit, as well as dobhasi Bangla a mixed vocabulary drawn from Bangla, Arabic, Urdu, Persian and Hindi. Although read from left to right like other Bangla books, puthi text was printed from right to left as in Arabic and Persian In Bengal, these books were different and were read by all strata of the society.

Puthi were not read individually. There were professional Puthi reader who used to read Puthi loudly with a special tone sitting in the middle of a group of spectators surrounding him. Though it was popular to general people, it was not affordable by everybody, only noble people of the society can afford and promote a Puthi Ashor. Usually a Puthi Ashor is promoted in the front of house of noble people or any special place where people of all classes can join as spectators.
The first found Puthis of Bangla literature were written in Sanskrit language by some Hindu writers. Some of these remarkable Puthis are Manasavijay (1495) by Bipradas Pipilai, in Chandimangal (1598) by Mukundaram Chakravarti, in Raimangal (1686) by Krishnaram Das and Annadamangal (1752) by Bharatchandra mostly dealing with Muslim issues.

After the Turkish conquest of Bengal in the 13th century, Persian became the official language and both Hindu and Muslim communities. In addition to Persian, Muslims also learnt Arabic. This led to the influx of a large stock of Arabic-Persian words into Bangla. Following the establishment of administrative, commercial and cultural links of Bengal with the Mughal capital, Delhi, during the 16th century, a large number of Urdu-speaking Muslims started settling in Murshidabad, Hughli, Howrah etc. Urdu-Hindi words now began to have a significant influence on Bangla. It also affected the Bangla literature. With some exceptions, most Puthi literature was derivative with poets using Persian, Urdu and Hindi works as their sources.

This dobashi genre of Puthi was initiated by Fakir Garibullah (c 1680-1770) with Amir Hamza, an epic on warfare combining both Arabian history and legends.Garibullah's first book in verse, Yusuf-Zulekha, was written in chaste Bangla. He wrote Sonabhan, Satyapirer Puthi, Janganama and Amir Hamza in the mixed language or dobhasi Bangla. Garibullah left Amir Hamza unfinished and the poem was later completed by Syed Hamza in 1795.

Like Garibullah, Hamza's first work, Madhumalati, was written in chaste Bangla. His two later works - Jaiguner puthi(1798) and Hatem Tai (1804) - were written in dobhasi.The poet presumably based his language on the spoken dialect of the ordinary Muslims of Hughli, Howrah, Kolkata, and 24-Parganas that was quite alienated from the traditional Bangla of the period.

In terms of subjects and themes, puthi literature can be divided into six categories: (1) romantic love stories, (2) poems on warfare, (3) biographies of prophets and other holy men, (4) folktales about pirs, (5) poems about Islamic history and religious rites, and (6) contemporary events. 

To the first category belongs Yusuf-Zulekha, Laily-Majnu, Shiri-Farhad, Saifulmuluk Badiuzzamal, Gule Bakawali and Benazir-Badre Munir. These are love stories of men and women based on legends and folktales of Arabia, Iran and India. Amir Hamza, Sonabhan, Jaiguner Puthi and Hatem Tai belong to the second category. These poems give colourful descriptions of the wars fought and the kingdoms conquered by heroes of the pre-Islamic days and describe how Islam was propagated.

The third category of poems speaks of the life, character and religious work of well-known prophets, pirs and holy men of Islam. To this category belong Kasasul Ambia, Tajkiratul Awlia, and Hazar Masla. The fourth category contains stories about conflicts, wars and finally the friendship of imaginary Muslim pirs and fakirs with Hindu gods and goddesses. 
Among these are Satyapirer Panchali, Gazi Kalu-Champavati, Banabibir Zahurnama and Lalmoner Kechchha. The fifth category contains poems like Nasihatnama and Fazilate Darood which elucidate Islamic rites and religious rituals.

The sixth category of poems, though fewer in number, were written about Islamic personalities such as Haji Shariatullah and historic events like the Wahabi-Faraezi movement. Jalalatul Fokre has a description of the hostility of the orhtodox Muslims towards the baul community. But puthis that describe such contemporary events are rare.

Most contain imaginary stories based on a mixture of ancient history, anecdotes and traditions. Poems depicting the lives of such heroes as Hanifa, Hamza, Hatem Tai, Sohrab-Rustam and Joigun Bibi were very popular, as were poems based on supernatural actions performed by historical or imaginary Pir-Awlias and other holy men.
The Puthi became so popular to Muslim community that it created a world of fantasy and heroism for the Muslims, away from the world of realities and the revolutionary changes brought about in Bangla language and literature by Raja Rammohun Roy, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay. It became an unparalleled posh medium of entertainment for the orthodox Muslim community. 

Where introducing chaste Bangla and modern prose the Hindu writers discarded dobhasi Bangla earlier, it was nurtured by a section of Muslims up to the 19th century. In defiance of the changes of the age Puthis are no longer popular today, but they continue to hold some value for the literary and social historian.


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