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  • Writer's pictureSaeed Anwar Anuj

Echoes of the East (2): Whence Cometh Thou, O Bangla? - Tracing the Sinews of Time

In the cosmic ballet of civilizations, as the Earth waltzes through the eons, languages, too, are pirouettes on the stage of history. Bangla, a venerable performer in this cosmic ballet, continues to dance with grace. Through the kaleidoscope of time, the nebulous origins of the Bangla language can be likened to the formation of stars – born from ancient elements, fusing and evolving into a blazing orb of cultural luminescence. Dear seeker of knowledge, fasten the clasps of your time machine as we traverse the meandering rivers of history.

Old Bengali: A Sacred Progeny

As we cast our gaze upon the antiquated annals of the Indian subcontinent, we find ourselves in the hallowed halls where echoes of Sanskrit verses once filled the air with sacral chants. The lofty Sanskrit, often referred to as the 'language of the Gods,' was a cryptic mosaic of phonological and grammatical precision. Old Bengali, or 'Gaudi,' was conceived from the womb of this celestial tongue. Like a seed sown in the fertile crescent of linguistic amalgamation, it began to absorb nourishment from the Sanskrit syntax and phonology. The Bengal region was a garden of sorts, where Gaudi, the tender sapling, spread its roots through the loamy bed of the Brahmi script.

The Pala Empire: Guardians of Language

As the pages of history flutter like the wings of a zephyr, the mighty Pala Empire takes center stage. Like the ancient tale of Dhruva, who stood unyielding in his resolve, the Palas anchored the tillers of the growing Bangla language. Their patronage was akin to a golden sun under which the sapling thrived. The Palas, staunch bearers of Buddhist principles, paved the way for the proliferation of Buddhist literature in Gaudi. Under their sagacious gaze, the sapling sprouted into a young tree, its branches beginning to bear the first fruits of a rich literary heritage.

The Alchemy of Religion: Divine Catalyst

Amidst the whispers of leaves and rustling of scrolls, religion, in its myriad forms, played the role of an alchemist in shaping the Bangla language. It is as if the fervent prayers of countless generations were the primeval elements, combining and transforming in an alchemical crucible. From the gentle lullabies of Buddhist chants to the invocations of Hindu scriptures, the spiritual fabric of the region was irrevocably interwoven with the evolving language. Imagine the monks, clad in saffron robes, meditating over the soft murmurs of sacred Pali texts; now shift your gaze to the temples, where the echoes of Sanskrit hymns resound, as devotees seek communion with the divine. Religious texts were not merely scriptures; they were the crucibles within which the soul of the language was tempered, just as gold is purified by fire. The language bloomed like the sacred lotus – a divine entity emerging from the cosmic waters of the multiverse.

The evolution of the Bangla language cannot be disentangled from the tales of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the revered saint, whose enchanting hymns in praise of Lord Krishna swayed the hearts of many. Through him, Bangla was not only a medium for divine communication but also an elixir that touched and sanctified the soul.

The Tides of Persian and Arabic: A Confluence of Cultures

As we set sail into the tumultuous waters of the Sultanate period, our ship catches the trade winds of Persian and Arabic influences, carried forth by the mariners of yore and the caravans that meandered through the land, whispering tales from distant deserts. The arrival of these winds can be likened to the confluence of mighty rivers – an amalgamation of torrents that churned the depths of Bangla. The confluence was not merely of rivers but of galaxies, where each star was a poem, a story, or a song. Persian, with its flowing cadences and ethereal script, and Arabic, with its geometric beauty and depth of meaning, swathed the Bangla language in new robes. It was as if the fabled ‘Simurgh’ of Persian lore met with ‘Garuda’ from Hindu mythology, soaring together in the endless skies.

Persian couplets danced with Bangla folk songs, and Arabic verses found harmony in the native rhythm. The Bangla tongue, always open to embrace, absorbed Persianate grandeur and the wisdom of the Arabs. One cannot but recount the story of Lalon Shah, the mystic bard, whose verses resonated with Sufi influences and spoke of an inner awakening.

As the crescent moon of Islam ascended the horizon, it illuminated the night sky of Bengal. Islamic scholars, poets, and preachers brought with them the sacred Quran, and through its verses, Bangla absorbed a new depth, adding more layers to its already rich and illustrious history.

As we sail away from the shores of the Sultanate era, let us remember that the Bangla language, with its entwined roots and far-reaching branches, is an ancient tree that thrives at the confluence of sacred rivers, a bearer of stories that traverse the boundless cosmos.

As we descend from our time vessel, we are but humble voyagers who have briefly caressed the ancient tapestry woven with the golden threads of Sanskrit, the green boughs nurtured by the Pala Empire, and the intricate motifs of Persian and Arabic. Like the Banyan tree, Bangla spreads its aerial roots through time, reaching out for nourishment from the diverse soil of history and culture.

In our next sojourn, we shall ascend the branches of Middle Bengali as we continue our odyssey through the enchanting groves of this ancient language. Until we meet again on the shores of knowledge, may the ancient echoes guide your quest.

16 June 2023

Saeed Anwar

Edmonton, Canada

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