Wednesday, March 18, 2009


A letter I sent to Mr DMR Sekhar of

Dear DMRS saab,

When you suggested a few days ago to write about ‘Meghnad Badh Kavya’, by coincidence, I took out an anthology of writings of Michael Madhusudan Dutt with the intention of reading this ballad once more.I wanted to write a blog on anti-hero of our mythology and who can be better than Ravan to be the person to write about!

Michael has broken many grounds with this ballad. He has introduced a new style …’amitrakshar chhanda’ ( the lines of his ballad do not rhyme : blank verse). More importantly, he has portrayed the characters of Ram, Lakshman, Ravan and Meghnad in a very unconventional way. The story has been told in several layers and he followed western grammar of epics , specially Virgil.Though reading ‘Slaying by Meghnad’ by Cinton Seely in the internet , through the window I suggested , is not easy to manage, it is the 2nd best way for you to savour the ballad….since you cannot read the original. The following two links will give you a good idea about the ballad and there are couple of points I would like to add .

While Michael has shown Ravan and Meghnad are victims of Destiny (the poet has repeatedly used the word ‘Bidhi’ which means ‘the god above’), his narration brings out a picture of conspiracy by the gods and deception by Ram’s camp being at the root of defeat and fall of Meghnad, not the valour of Lakshman. He has portrayed Meghnad as invincible in face-to-face battle with both Indra, king of gods (that is why he used to be called ‘Indrajit’,he who vanquishes Indra) and Ram. Please read this quote : ‘….duibaar aami haranu Raghave, aar ekbaar pitah deha aajnaa more;dekhiba ebaar beer baanche ki oushadhe! – twice I defeated Raghav; father, you give me permission once more, let’s see which medicine brings him back to life this time ) !
Night of the long knives : Indra convinces Parbati to influence Shiva in accepting that Ravan and Indrajit do not deserve any more support of Shiva. Kamadev aids the process. With Shiva’s acceptance of the proposal in principle , Mahamaya hands over the weapons Kartikeya used to kill Tarakasur and Indra arranges to deliver the same to Lakshman before the day-break.
Deception : Bibheesan shows the path to the place where Meghnad has lighted the fire for his Yagna at dawn before he will proceed for the battle and obstructs Meghnad’s exit for acquiring weapons to fight Lakshman . Please view the panel Bengal’s artist portrayed decades prior to Michael’s penning this ballad.

William Radice is another person who has done a lot of serious study and work on 'Meghnad Badh Kabya'. His article is available in :,M1



I have received an interesting mail in connection with 'Meghnad Badh Kavya' , an extract from which is here :

'......Currently, I am writing a book on Bangla Proverbs and Sayings with their meanings, also matching them with English or other culture proverbs and sayings.

In our family in Kolkata, we often quoted, “etokshone Arindom kohila bishade”. So, this is in my book. As the target group is young Bengalees living abroad, I have included an Appendix where the source and the background story is given in short to appreciate the proverb / quote/ saying fully. There are over 50 such explanations. This is where you come in with your expertise and knowledge of the book ‘Meghnadbadh Kabya’. The information I need is, who said it in what context and any other detail that would be appropriate. Can you help me?

I look forward to hearing from you at your convenience.'

Nice to receive such a mail !

I shall later copy/paste my reply here in the 'Comments' section


I replied to the question , quoted above,in the following paras :

'Your questions are :
'...The information I need is, who said it in what context and any other detail that would be appropriate. '

I shall write in my own way and the inputs needed by you are here. This line is an uttering of Indrajit. The para is like this :
'Eto kshane' - Arindam kahila bishade-
'Janinu kemane aasi Lakshman pashilo
rakshapure! Hai, tato, uchit ki tabo
e kaaj, Nikasha sati tomaar jananee,
sahodar Rakshashreshtha? Shuleeshambhuniva
Kumbhakarna? Bhrtushputra Baasabaabijayee?
Nijagrihapatha,tato,dekhaao tashkare?'

It is from 'Shashtho Sarga' or 6th Canto of Meghnath Badh Kabya'. Lakshman and Bibheeshan entered the fortified area of Ravana surreptitiously.They were invisible with the blessing of Maya. Lakshman did not know where the 'Nikumbhila Yagnagar' was.... Bibheeshan guided him there.When Lakshman entered the sacred area on that fateful morning, Indrajit was engrossed in Yagna and he initially thought a god (Bibhabasu) has appeared to bless him. Lakshman told him about his own identity and the purpose of his coming their at the early hours.Indrajit was wondering how Lakshman reached his sanctum sacrotum . Then he saw Bibheeshan at a distance, guarding the door. He was surprised at the treachery of Bibheeshan and made the above exclamation.

Mark the word 'taskare'....this is what Michael thought of Lakshman's conduct.If you see the terra cotta panel , a photo of which I have pasted onto my blog 'Slaying of Meghnad'.'

Note : 'Taskar' means a thief.


I received another interesting mail from Prachand Praveer, Editor of a e-magazine on poetry:
'Dear Sir,

I read your blog on Michael Madhusudan Dutt.

I circulate a weekly email- The Poem of The Week" to some of my friends interested in poems and poets. In this series, I am trying to cover all the major poets of the world (Languages: Translated in either English or Hindi).

For this week episode, I am trying to read poems of Michael Madhusudan Das in english. However, I could not find much on web. I stumbled on your blog, and I got to know your deep interest and authority over his works.

I was curious if you could send me some of the translated verse of "Meghanad Badh Kavya" for my series.

I would be thankful to you.




Here is an extract from my reply:
'Dear Prachand Babu,

I read your e-mail with interest.Well, I am no authority of 'Meghnaad Badh Kavya' , it is a very beautiful piece of poetry that has evoked many serious discussions. I just shared my experience with my fellow bloggers.

The English translation which is available in the market is by Clinton Seely.I do not own the book.......what I have is the original book, written in Bengali.

I suggest, you may please visit the following links :

1. For preamble :

Book: The Slaying Of Meghanada: A Ramayana From Colonial Bengal
"The poem is rising into splendid popularity. Some say it is better than Milton-but that is all bosh-nothing can be better than Milton; many say it licks Kalidasa; I have no objection to that. I don't think it impossible to equal Virgil, Kalidasa, and Tasso." Michael Madhusudan Datta wrote this in a letter to a friend about his verse narrative, The Slaying of Meghanada (1861). The epic, a Bengali version of the Ramayana story in which Ravana, not Rama, is the hero, has become a classic of Indian literature. Datta lived in Bengal at the height of what is frequently called the Bengal Renaissance, a time so labeled for its reinvigoration and reconfiguration of the Hindu past and for the florescence of the literary arts. It was also a period when the Bengali city of Kolkata was a center of world trade-the second city of the British empire-and thus a site of cultural exchange between India and the West. Datta was the perfect embodiment of this time and place. The Slaying of Meghanada is deeply influenced by western epic tradition, and is sprinkled with nods to Homer, Milton, and Dante. Datta's deft intermingling of western and eastern literary traditions brought about a sea change in South Asian literature, and is generally considered to mark the dividing line between pre-modern and modern Bengali literature. Datta's masterpiece is now accessible to readers of English in Clinton Seely's elegant translation, which captures both the sense and the spirit of the original. The poem is supplemented by an extensive introduction, notes, and a glossary.
2. For Preamble and comparison with John Milton's work ( MMD was greatly influenced by JM) :,M1

This link will take you to p178 of a book titled 'Literature : East and West' . From there, through patient 'leafing' through the .pdf file , you will find useful passages and English translations of a few stanzas of this book by Indian writers . Quite nice.

3. An excellent writing by William Radice on 'The Slaying of Meghnad' , in which , Radice has several quotes from this book.

May be , you can pick up quite a few stanzas from this piece.

If you are still interested in the whole book, pl do let me know.I shall try to find out if Asiatic Society, where I know some people, has this book in their library. Pl mark a copy of your e-magazine on Michael Madhusudan Dutta ( not Das) to me.

Best wishes.

VAMANAN said...

At a time when Hinduism itself was being looked down upon, it's not a great thing to have played around with Rama and Lakshmana and made a hero of Indrajit, as Michael Madhusudhan Dutt did. But it is indeed extraordinary for Valmiki to have created a Ravana whose was almost an equal to Rama in might and charisma. That's why Valmiki is a titan.


Dear Sri 'Vamanan',

We all know that there are numerous 'Ramayanas', some written by great writers, yet others who are not so great, in India and abroad.The controversy with Sri Ramanujam's 'Three Hundred Ramayanas' is recent -

I wonder if writing of 'MeghnaadBadh Kavya' can be identified with a particular time of our country's history.

Everyone, who has read Valmiki's Ramayana, would agree that his creation stands tallest among these writings on Rama's life. My submission is that it is called an 'epic' for reasons bigger than his portrayal of characters of Rama & Ravana.

I shall hasten to add that I have full respect for those who worship 'Rama' while others who have the imagination to interpret Ramayana's story from other angles, not being overshadowed by the viewpoint of Valmiki, the tallest chronicler of Rama's life.