Mangalkavya – Tales of the Gods

Poetry has been widely appreciated for centuries by people from around the world. Various styles and topics have arisen over time. Between the thirteenth and eighteenth century the people of Bangladesh wrote a genre of poetry called Mangalkavya. Mangalkavya poetry, pays tribute to the Bengali deities and gods, and tells the stories of battles and victories, praising the powers of the deities.

When Mangalkavya first appeared in Bangladeshi culture, the poems were portrayed as musical plays, however, very little attention was brought to the music, as audience members would gather to listen to the story that was told in the poems. Most of the poems feature a Bengali, or indigenous, deity, and their victories over the alien deities that foreigners worshiped. Some of the main deities that are depicted in the Mangalkavya include Chandi, Dharma Thakur, Shiva and Manasa. Shiva is also known and spoken of in these poems by the name of Shivamangal or Shivavan.

Every genre of poetry generally has a certain form that it follows. In this ancient form of Bengali poetry, each Mangalkavyas is written in four sections. The start of the poem, or Vandana, is where the author will praise the deity and glorify his or her powers and strength. This is then followed by a division where readers will be introduced to the author. His reasoning and inspiration for the poem is explained. The Devakhanda part, or third division in the poem, sets the scene of battle, by describing the relationship that is found between the indigenous deity and that of the foreign deity. In most of these poems Shiva is mentioned during this part. And finally, the reincarnation of the deity and its achievements as a human being are depicted in the Narakhanda. Their lives on earth are described, the reason for their greatness and motivation for worshipping them, is all explained in the last part of the Mangalkavya.

Many deities have been depicted over the years in works such as Shitalamangal, Rarasvatimangal, Laksmimangal, Raymangal, Saradamanagal and Suryamangal. The first author of Manasamangal is believed to be Kana Haridatta, who was said to have written his work during the thirteenth century. Unfortunately none of his work survived the ages, and the Bengali people only have the work of authors such as Vijay Gupta, Purusottam and Naravandev to look back on. The first Shivavan poem was written in the seventeenth century, by Ramkrishna Ray, and his work consisted of poems of devotion for the god Shiva.

Many poets have left their mark on the historical poetry genre, each depicting a deity that they felt connected to. It is just fortunate that many of these rare works are still in circulation, to be studied, read and remembered as a vital part of traditional culture, in the history of Bangladesh.