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Erotic Play, Devotion, and “Cords of Righteousness”: Plural Social Bonds in Tales of Love and Heroism from Eastern Bengal
AIBS Conference on Bengali Literature (2015)
  • David Curley, Western Washington University
This essay will treat ‘romances’ or tales of love and heroism in Bengali literature, and will focus on narratives written by Muslims in eastern Bengal. Bengali romances commonly treat themes of erotic attraction and sensual play, devotion, and mental discipline. I will be interested in their cultivation of aesthetic and moral sentiments as described in the lives of their characters. I will be concerned with how Bengali romances represented plural social bonds and relations, and multiple and conflicting social roles and identities.

For Bengali Muslim authors I will consider first an early rendition of Madhumālatī in Bamla, written by Muhammad
Kabir, apparently in 1588 and Alaol’s seventeenth century Padmāvatī. I also will briefly contrast do-bhāshi or more
properly ‘mixed-language’ romances (using Bengali, Farsi, and Urdu), of two authors who composed in the second half of the eighteenth century: Fakir Garibullah, and Amir Hamza (Anisuzzaman 1365a, 1365b). For Bengali Hindu authors of romances, we usefully can compare Vidyā-Sundar narratives. I will examine the versions of Bharatchandra and Ramprasad, and the ‘Chittagong’ version of Balarām Chakrabartī’, all probably eighteenth century texts.

Following the argument of Thomas de Bruijn about the genre of medieval Awadhi epics shared by Hindu and
Muslim authors (2010), I will argue that Bengali romances comprised a single genre created by Hindu and Muslim
authors using a shared idiom of moral and aesthetic sentiments. I suggest that through this common genre their
narratives articulated and consciously contrasted Bengali Muslim and Bengali Hindu ideas about individuals and
families, erotic desire and marriage, and proper political order.
  • Bengali literature,
  • Bengali romances
Publication Date
October, 2015

American Institute of Bangladesh Studies  with
funding from the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC)

Citation Information
David Curley. "Erotic Play, Devotion, and “Cords of Righteousness”: Plural Social Bonds in Tales of Love and Heroism from Eastern Bengal" AIBS Conference on Bengali Literature (2015)
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