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Scholarly Article: Ritam Mukherjee

Post-Tagore Bengali Poetry: Image of ‘God’ and Secularism

‘I touch God in my song/ as the hill touches the far-away sea/ with its waterfall’
(‘Fireflies’ by Rabindranath Tagore)1

Concept of God in modern age is now with a restless dimension. Mundane world and
rational mind make the concept more personal an issue than socio-economical. In case of
Modern Bengali poetry, religions do not play any important role. Therefore, a ‘Secular Age’
prevails here.

The god of the bridge I built


Took the same away
And blessed me in an uncanny way

And now in my one-room ferry-boat


The refugees from all over the world
Huddle together.

Without telling them a thing


About the atrocious act of god
I stand at the guard-rail looking on

And ponder on building the next bridge


This time without any divine consent.
(Theme Poem / Mosaics of a Rainbow Bridge / Alokeranjan Dasgupta)2

This is a notable instance (in translation) from the mainstream of the 21st century Bengali
Poetry to portray an image of our secular spirit in modern literature. After Rabindranath
Tagore (1861-1941), Bengali poetry is gradually becoming skeptic about the existence of
God. Influences of Marx and Freud were leading Bengali literature to materialism and
humanism. Even Tagore who wrote at the middle of his life:

Thus it is that thy joy in me is so full.


Thus it is that thou hast come down to me.
O thou lord of all heavens, where would be thy love If I were not.
(Gitanjali: Song offerings / LVI / Rabindranath Tagore)3

Uttered at the end of his life: “Not to have faith in Man is a cardinal sin.” Therefore, his
spiritual poetic ideology turned to Humanism as he delivered the Hibbert Lecture at Oxford
University entitled ‘The Religion of Man’ (1930). Nevertheless, he could not abandon fully
his inherited belief in ‘Oupanishadik’ Brahmo religion. We can say that the death of
Rabindranath is the beginning of our Modern poetry. Jibananada Das, Sudhindranatha
Dutta, Amiya Chakravarty, Premendra Mitra, Buddhadev Basu, Bishnu Dey - some of our

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eminent Modern poets after Tagore depicted different faces of God. Five examples are here
(translations by the author):

1) Men opt for someone, in lieu of his dead sublime God,


Fruit of any other earnest endeavour.
(Jibanananda Das)4
2) Perchance the God is non-existent, the auto-creation is orphan since its birth.
(Sudhindranath dutta)5
3) Although the God holds a soiled broom
Walking to the path of virtue avoiding its dirty-touch
Confined with an armor of religion of society
Stormy wind and that decaying door
He is bent on getting things united.
(Amiya Chakravarty)6
4) Being trapped in a perverted hunger, my God wails out today in his thralldom.
(Premendra Mitra)7
5) Nowadays, devotion in God and Brahmin is not so much, life of an artist and
In this rich merchant world, all are shallow pool of water except the lucky one
Despite this the world is beautiful and men are great, the sea
Time eternal.
(Bishnu Dey)8

According to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (7th edition 2007), Secular means ‘not
connected with spiritual or religious matters’, and Spiritual denotes ‘connected with the
human spirit, rather than the body or physical things’. Modern age is an age of
interrogation, age of maladies, alienation, atheism and rootlessness. So when we try to
locate the secularism in modern as well as contemporary Bengali poetry, we have to think
twice, as in our ‘Secular’ state (as stated in our constitution) of India, society never
surpasses religion. Therefore, the poets, i.e. Bengali poets, who are the by-products of this
society, create a world of humanism and love for life. In addition, all these fail to go beyond
spiritualism in the end, in spite of the material and globalized environment around us. If
one does not believe in God or any Supreme power, he must keep his faith on the
awakening of sensation and everything auspicious. Jibanananda Das wrote9 (translation by
the author):

Drawn to Earth’s ground, to the house of human birth


I have come, and I feel, better not to have been born –
Yet having come all this I see as a deeper grain
When I touch a body of dew at an incandescent dawn.
I know what’s gone, what’s not to come, what before the race lies –
On the face of forever night all is an infinite sunrise.

The poem named ‘Suchetana’ means refined consciousness. Our poet is a positive thinker,
though he is an atheist. In his essay he said, ‘Acquiring pleasure in reading poetry does not
mean getting shelter there; poetry cannot give any divine shelter like religion’. Nowadays,
Bengali poetry is not engaged in search of the existence of God like theologians. Our

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renowned poet Alokeranjan Dasgupta (b.1933) tries to keep alive the image of sickly God
(translation by the author)10:

After a lapse of thirty-seven years


I happened to chance upon my god again.
His profile had worn away. Yet
The blue sky cast a spell
On the equinox of his face.

Now he is an epitome of failure,


But I have to bear the burnt
Of sustaining his image; since
Once I pampered him
In my earlier writings.

Another masterly Marxist-poet Tarun Sanyal (b.1933) believes: ‘By secularism, we mean,
the organized state should not have any religious influence on it, neither the state would
assume any religion or groupism against another.’ He tells us that God is the best artistic-
creation of human being and he wrote ‘Nastiker devi-bandana’ (worship of goddess by an
atheist). His noted poem ‘Iswar-stotra’ (Hymn for God) shows homage to the Natural as
well as cosmic power (translation by the author)11:

The God dwells in the sea of wind, sun, sand, million teeth of surge
I pay my homage to Him…
It is not a usual holy word, but the utterance comes from within
Fills the faithless heart.

We can recall the modern Irish poet WB Yeats, who brought before us the ‘spiritual
barrenness’ of the modern age. His most remembered poem, ‘The Second Coming’ (1921),
depicted a picture of terror-loomed civilizations: ‘Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold /
mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.’ Still we are not out of the fear of terrorism. In this
age of globalization, Bengali poetry is creating a unique sphere of spiritual belief. Despite
many religions and different languages in our West Bengal, the mainstream of our
contemporary poetry is undoubtedly secular but not free from spiritualism.

We can look into the latest book by Charles Taylor named ‘A Secular Age’ (2007) and his
beliefs expressed therein:

• ‘Human beings are powerfully drawn to fullness under some or other definition.’ (Page
622)
• ‘We should find the centre of our spiritual lives beyond the code (of moral and laws)
deeper than the code, in networks of living concern, which are not be sacrificed to the
code, which must even from time to time subvert it. The message comes out of a certain
theology, but it could be heard with profit by everybody.’ (Page 743)

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Poems of the deceased Bengali poet Ramendrakumar Acharyachaudhuri (1922-2009) are
also the instances of this ‘beyond the code’ spiritualism. In his notable poem ‘Purohit
Darpan’ he confessed (translation by the author)12:

I never followed the religious codes


O Sain (Saint), Pardon me.
Within my heart, my words, both of my hands and legs,
my appetite and my penis – what have recalled, uttered and done
All are dedicated to The Supreme Lord ‘Brahma’.

Our thoughts as well as existence are now fragmented in this Cyber Age. Like Taylor we are
now in search of our spirituality and fullness of life. Most of the Bengali poets keep their
belief in love and humanism. They protest against political terrorism, react to the national
and international incidents. Religions do not create much influence on Bengali poems, but
some traditional beliefs make an impact among Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Brahmos,
Vaishanavas and Bauls also. However, the central message within the post-Tagore Bengali
poems remains secular. Whether God exists or not, it is not a matter of concern to the poet;
the central points are Humanism, Truth, Beauty and Spiritualism. Last two Poems (‘At the
bank of the Rupnarayan’ and ‘The track of your creation’) of Rabindranath Tagore pointed
at the realization of Truth in human life. Successors of Tagore keep themselves engaged in
making the bridge between the humanism and the religion of Truth, i.e. ‘Man’s God’. I
quote from one of my favorite poems (translation by the author):

Friends ridicule me as I repose trust in you, God


If they are more trust-worthy than you,
Did I come to you for refuge through sheer mistake?
(Alokeranjan Dasgupta)13

Image of ‘God’ in Modern Bengali Poetry is more humane than religious.


***
Notes about the verses used in the text:
1. Rabindranath Tagore wrote a series of bilingual verses in 1926 when he visited Balatonfüred in Hungary for
treatment of a heart disease. The compilation, known as ‘Lekhan’ (1926), consists of 256 epigrams and short verses
written in a delightfully crisp, compact style – reminiscent of Japanese haikus – that conveys memorable poetic
expressions with great force and intensity combined with wit and wisdom. The Bengali version of some these
poems are also to be found in ‘Sphulinga’ (1946) apart from ‘Lekhan’. The title of the quoted poem, ‘fireflies’, comes
from the line, ‘My fancies are fireflies…’ For viewing a copy of the original poem (in Tagore’s own hand), visit the
Terebess Asia Online site (at http://www.terebess.hu/english/tagore5.html).
Original Bengali version of the line quoted
েমার গােন গােন, pভু আিম পাi পরশ েতামার / িনঝর্রধারায় ৈশল েযমন পরেশ পারাবার। (েলখন; রবীnd রচনাবলী, খন্ড ২, পৃ ৭৩৭)

2. Dasgupta, Alokeranjan / Mosaics of a Rainbow Bridge / Translated from Bengali by Elisabeth Guenther and
Rantidev Sarkar / Dasgupta & Company Private Limited / Kolkata 2009
Original Bengali version
েসতুর েদবতা
আশীবর্াদ কেরi
সাঁেকাটা সিরেয় িনল।
ভাuেল আমার েনৗেকায়
eকিটi ঘর:

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sেদশ েথেক sেদেশ যািtক
ভবঘুেররা েসখােন আপাতত
kশেল আেছ। েসতুর েদবতার
আচরণ িবষেয় তােদর eকিট কথাo না ব’েল েনৗেকার
বয্ালকিনেত দাঁিড়েয় েচেয় েদিখ
ভাuেল আমার ডুবেছ ভরdপুের... (kশলকলয্াণ;aেলাকরঞ্জন দাশgp, ১৯৩৩-)

3. Tagore, Rabindranath / Gitanjali: Song offerings /Macmillan India Pocket Edition / Reprint 1977
Original Bengali version:
তাi েতামার আনn আমার ’পর / তুিম তাi eেসছ িনেচ / আমায় নiেল িtভুবেনশব্র, েতামার েpম হেতা েয িমেছ (গীতিবতান / পূজা –
২৯৪; রবীndনাথ ঠাkর, ১৮৬১–১৯৪১)

4. Original Bengali version:


মাnষ কাuেক চায় – তার েসi িনহত ujjল
ঈশব্েরর পিরবেতর্ an েকােনা সাধনার ফল। (sরঞ্জনা; জীবনানn দাশ, ১৮৯৯–১৯৫৪)

5. Original Bengali version:


হয়েতা ঈশব্র েনiঃ ৈsরসৃি আজn aনাথ... (িবpলাপ; sধীndনাথ দt, ১৯০১–১৯৬০)

6. Original Bengali version:


েদবতা তবুo ধেরেছ মিলন ঝাঁটা,
sশর্ বাঁচােয় পুেণয্র পেথ হাঁটা,
সমাজধেমর্ আিছ বেমর্েত আঁটা,
েঝােড়া হাoয়া আর ঐ েপােড়া দরজাটা
েমলােবন, িতিন েমলােবন।। (সংগিত; aিময় চkবতর্ী, ১৯০১-১৯৮৬)
7. Original Bengali version:
আজ / িবকৃত kুধার ফাঁেদ বnী েমার ভগবান কাঁেদ... (েদবতার জn; েpেমnd িমt, ১৯০৪-১৯৮৮)
8. Original Bengali version:
েদবিdেজ ভিk
েসজni aধুনা িকিঞ্চৎ কম, িশlীর জীবনo
ধিনক বিণক িবেশব্ ভাগয্বান কেয়কিট ছাড়া pায়i পlল,
যিদচ পৃিথবী snরী eবং মাnষ মহান, জলিধ
িনরবিধ কাল। (িব ু েদ, ১৯০৯-১৯৮২)
9. Original Bengali version:
মািট-পৃিথবীর টােন মানবজেnর ঘের কখন eেসিছ,
না eেলi ভােলা হত anভব কের,
eেস েয গভীরতর লাভ হল েস সব বুেঝিছ
িশিশর শরীর ছুেঁ য় সমুjjল েভাের;
েদেখিছ যা হল হেব মাnেষর যা হবার নয় –
শাশব্ত রািtর বুেক সকিল aনn সূেযর্াদয়। (জীবনানn দাশ, ১৮৯৯–১৯৫৪)
10. Original Bengali version:
ঈশব্েরর সেঙ্গ েদখা হল
সাঁiিtশ বছর পের, তাঁর
েবশ ঝের েগেছ পাশব্র্ pিতকৃিত,
শুধু িকছু আকােশর নীল
ছুঁেয় আেছ মুেখর িবষুব।

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আজ িতিন aকৃতাথর্তার
pিতমূিতর্, তবু তাঁর iেমজ
আমারi বজায় রাখবার
দািয়t, েযেহতু eকিদন
তাঁেক িলেখ িনেয় েগিছ খুব। (iেমজ; aেলাকরঞ্জন দাশgp, ১৯৩৩-)
11. Original Bengali version
হাoয়ার সমুেd সূেযর্ বালুেত েঢuেয়র েকািট দাঁেত
েয েদবতা তােক নমsার...
eেতা িঠক মnt নয় uচ্চারণ তবু uেঠ আেস
ভের েদয় aিবশব্াসী বুক। (ঈশব্রেsাt; তrণ সাnাল, ১৯৩৩-)
12. Original Bengali version
শাst মািনিন,
সাঁi, kমs।
িচেt বােকয্ হsযুেগ পদযুেগ uদের িশে যাহা িকছু sৃত uk কৃত
সমs aপর্ণ bেh sাহা। (পুেরািহত দপর্ণ; রেমndkমার আচাযর্েচৗধুরী, ১৯২২–২০০৯)
13. Original Bengali version
বnুরা িবdrপ কের েতামােক িবশব্াস কির বেল;
েতামার েচেয়o তারা িবশব্ােসর uপেযাগী হেল
আিম িক েতামার কােছ আসতাম ভুেলo কখেনা? (বnুরা িবdrপ কের; aেলাকরঞ্জন দাশgp, ১৯৩৩-)

List of selected books and articles used here:


1) Chakravarty, Dipesh / Biswas, Abiswas o Adhunikata / A Bengali book review / ‘Desh’ – Quarterly magazine /ABP
Pvt Ltd. / Kolkata 2nd February 2009
2) Diggins, John Patrick / The Godless Delusion / The New York Times: Internet edition / December 16, 2007
3) Taylor, Charles / A Secular Age / Harvard University Press, USA, 2007.
4) Ford, David F. / Theology: A very Short Introduction /Oxford University Press / First Indian Edition 2006
5) Ayyub, Abu Sayeed / Poetry and Truth: a philosophical essay on modern poetry / Jadavpur University /Kolkata
1970
6) Tagore, Rabindranath / Selected Poems – II / Rupa & co / New Delhi 2002
7) Das, Jibanananda / Naked Lonely Hand / Translated From the Bengali and Introduced By Joe Winter / Meteor
Books, Kolkata by arrangement with Anvil Press Poetry Ltd. London/ First Indian Edition 2004
8) Gupta, Amitava edited / After and Before : Vol – I ( An anthology of excerpts from the continuum of Bengali Poetry)
/ Kathajatak / Kolkata 2004

Ritam Mukhopadhyay is a young UGC Junior Research Fellow


working towards a PhD in the Department of Bengali of the
University of Calcutta. Ritam writes poems and essays, and he has
published in various well-known little magazines in Kolkata
including Krittibás, Mahádiganta, Jijñásá, Parichay, Kabitírtha,
bhaṣánagar among others, as well as in a few e-magazines, such
as Charcha, Vinnobasar and Palki.

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