Modern Bengali Literature

The Bengali literature gained momentum in the 19th century. The Bengali Pandits of Fort William College did the tedious work of translating the text books in Bengali to help teach the British some Indian languages including Bengali. This work played a role in the background in the evolution of Bengali prose. This era also saw a rise in new literary publications, magazines and newspapers. A number of educational institutes also appeared all over the region. All these developments helped to nurture and advance the modern Bengali literary movement.

Contribution of Raja Rammohun Roy

In 1814, Raja Ram Mohan Roy arrived in Calcutta and engaged in literary pursuits. Translating from Sanskrit to Bengali, writing essays on religious topics and publishing magazines were some the areas he focussed on. He established a cultural group in the name of ‘Atmiya Sabha’ (Club of Kins) in 1815.

Raja Rammohun Roy started national press in India. He published “Sambad Kaumudi” in 1821. This was one of the pre-reformist publications that had actively campaigned for “Abolition of Sati”.

Dinabandhu Mitra – Nil Darpan

Immediately after the revolt of 1857, the Indigo Revolt scattered all over then Bengal region. This revolt lasted for more than a year (In 1859-1860). In the light of this revolt, a great drama was published from Dhaka in the name of ‘Nil Darpan’ (The Indigo Mirror). Dinabandhu Mitra was the writer of this play.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820 – 1891) was a great Sanskrit and Bengali scholar who provided significant contribution to simplify and modernize Bengali prose . He also reconstructed the Bengali alphabet and reformed Bengali typography into an alphabet of twelve vowels and forty consonants. Vidyasagar contributed significantly to Bengali and Sanskrit literature. His “Barna Porichoy” is considered a classic in Bengali Literature.

Michael Madhusudan Dutt

Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-1873) emerged as the first epic-poet of modern Bengali literature. Dutt, a Christian by conversion, is best known for his Ramayana-based masterpiece, “Meghnadh Bodh Kabyo” (Slaying of Meghnath). He is credited to be a pioneer of the blank verse in Bengali literature. His style was deemed as “Amitrakshar Chhanda” or Blank Verse.

Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay

Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (1838–1894) was one of the greatest scholars of Bengal Movement in 19th century. His first novel was Durgeshnandini, published in 1865. He is best known as the writer of “Vande Mātāram”, the national song of India, which appears in his novel Anandamath (1882). Kapalkundala and Devi Cahudhrani are his other works.

Ishwar Chandra Gupta

Ishwar Chandra Gupta (1812-1859) was a Bengali Poet and writer who is best known to have brought modern era of poetry in Bengali. He did not describe the life of Gods and Goddesses, but the daily life of human beings. He also wrote biographies of many Bengali poets and musicians.

Mir Mosharraf Hossain

Mir Mosharraf Hossain (1847–1912) was considered as the first novelist to emerge from the Muslim society of Bengal. He is principally known for his famous novel Bishad Sindhu.

Rabindranath Tagore

The most prolific writer in Bengali is Rabindranath Tagore, who dominated both the Bengali and Indian philosophical and literary scene for decades. His 2,000 Rabindrasangeets play a pivotal part in defining Bengali culture, both in West Bengal and Bangladesh.

He is the author of the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh, both composed in Bengali. Other notable Bengali works of his are Gitanjali, a book of poems for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, and many short stories and a few novels. His contribution is significant in Music, Paintings, Theatre, Novels, Stories as well as poetry.

Works of Rabindranath Tagore

At age sixteen, Rabindranath released his first substantial poems under the pseudonym Bhānusiṃha. It is known as Bhanusimha Thakurer Padabali, comprising 22 songs. It was first written in 1884. In 1874 his firstpoem ‘Abhilash’ was published in ‘Tattvabodhini Patrika’. Manasi, the first collection of Tagore’s poems was published in 1890.

Poems & Books

Manasi (1890), Sonar Tari (1893), Chitra (1896), The Evening Songs, The Morning Songs, Kadi O Komal (1896), Gitanjali (1910), Balaka (1916), The Cresent Moon, The Gardener, Stray Birds, Fruit-Gathering, Lover’s Gift, Crossing, Karna and Kunti, Sacrifice, Chaitali (1896) Kalpana (1900), Ksanika (1900), Naivedya (1901), Puravi (1925), Mahuya (1929), Prantika (1938), Navajataka (1940) and Janmadine (1941). The poems Sisu (1903) and Sisu Bholanatha (1922) were meant for children.


Punasca (1932), Sesa Saptaka (1935), Patraputa (1936) and Shyamali (1936).


Bauthakuranir Hat (1885), Choker Bali (1902), Gora (1910), Chaturanga (1916), Raja Aur Rani, Muktdhara, Raj Rishi, Ghare Baire(1916), Seser Kavita (1929), Yogayoga (1930), Car Adhyaya (1934) and Nauka Dubi Bindoni.

Famous Short-Stories

Kabuli Wallah and Kshidit Pashan.

Lyrical Plays (Dance-Dramas)

Malini (1895), Chaitrangada (1936), Shyama (1938) and Chandalika (1938).


Raja O Rani (1889), Visarjana (1890), Goday Galad (1892), Malini (1895), Vaikunther Khata (1897), Chirakumara Sabha (1901), Raja (1910), Achalayatana (1911), Dakghar (1912), Tapati (1920), Muktadhara (1922), Raktakaravi (1924), Taser Desa (1933) and Bansari (1933).

Kazi Nazrul Islam

Kazi Nazrul Islam was the national poet of Bangladesh, called the ‘rebel poet’ for his fierce resistance to all forms of repression.

His poetry forms a striking contrast to Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry. He was an active revolutionary during the Indian Independence Movement. His major works are based on revolutionary notions as well as more spiritual, philosophical and romantic themes.

Through his written Rajbandir Jabanbandi (a political prisoner’s deposition) and his 40-day hunger strike, he protested against the harassment of British.

In support of him, Tagore dedicated one of his books to him. Other famous books of his include, Bidrohi” (“The Rebel”),”Bhangar Gaan” (“The Song of Destruction”), Barangan(prostitute) as well as a biweekly magazine by name “Dhumketu” (“The Comet”). Some of his novels include Bandhan Hara (Free from Bonds), Mrityukshuda (Hunger for Death), Kuhelika (Mystery).

Nurul Momen

Nurul Momen (1908 – 1990) also known as Natyaguru is recognized as the pioneer of modern Bengali dram “acting as a bridge between earlier and later playwrights in terms of content and style”, and even referred to as the “Father of Bangladeshi theatre”.

He was deeply influenced by Rabindranath Tagore.

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938) was one of the most popular novelists of early 20th century. His work explored the life and sufferings of women in contemporary rural Bengal. His sympathy towards the common rural folks in “pallisamaj” and a trademark simplified Bengali as a writing style made him one of the most popular writers in his time.

His first story was Mandir. His first long story (Bordidi) was published in two installments in Bharati (1907). His earliest writings show striking influence of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. In Devdas (written in 1901, published 1917), Parinita (1914), Biraj Bau (1914) and Palli Samaj (1916), the themes and their treatment are similar to those of Bankim but they are presented in a modernistic setting and in an easier and more simpler language. He was also influenced by Tagore.

Many of the movies in Bollywood were based upon his works.

Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay

Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay (1894-1950) is best known for his autobiographical novel, Pather Panchali (The Song of the Road), which was later adapted (along with Aparajito, the sequel) into the Apu Trilogy films, directed by Satyajit Ray.

Pather Panchali is considered Bibhutibhushan’s masterpiece and is included in the CBSE syllabus for students choosing to study Bengali.

Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay

Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay (1898 -1971) was a towering novelist, who was awarded by Rabindra Puraskar, Sahitya Akademi award, Jnanpith Award, and Padma Bhushan in various phases of his literary journey. He wrote 65 novels, 53 story-books, 12 plays, 4 essay-books, 4 autobiographies and 2 travel stories. His “Arogya Niketan” bagged him Sahiyta Akademi award in 1956 while “Ganadevta” won him the Jnanpith award in 1966. He was honoured with the Padma Shri in 1962 and the Padma Bhushan in 1969.

Ashapoorna Devi

Ashapoorna Devi (1909-1995) was a Bengali Novelist best known for her “Pratham Pratisruti”, which led her to get the Jnanpith award in 1976. She was awarded Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1976 and for her contribution to Bengal Literature, Sahitya Akademi conferred its highest honour, the Fellowship, in 1994.

Subhash Mukhopadhyay

Subhash Mukhopadhyay (1919 – 2003) was one of the foremost Bengali poets of the 20th century. He won Jnanpith award for his poems collection titled “Padatik” (The Foot Soldier).

Mahasweta Devi

Mahasweta Devi (Born 1956) has recently been spearheading the movement against the industrial policy of the government of West Bengal. Apart from being a social activist, she has been a prolific writer who won Jnanpith award in 1996 for Hajar Churashir Maa.

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