Famine and Dearth

Translation Manasamangal

About this text

Introductory notes

Mangalkabya is a popular genre in Bengali, influenced by regional cults such as that of Chandi, Manasa, Dharma, or Vaishnav songs, flourished from the thirteenth century to the eighteenth. However, mangal kavya poems appear to have been written until the start of the nineteenth century. The poems are typically written in the form of songs (panchalika) meant for performance by professional singers (mangal gayak) backed by a male chorus (dohar) during ritual worship of the particular deity who was the subject of the poem. Visnu Pala's Manasamangala is printed from a manuscript from the collection of the Asiatic Society in Calcutta. This is the only available manuscript of the text. The manuscript was composed sometimes between 1775 to 1825. Dr. Sukumar Sen, the noted Bengali linguist edited and published Visnu Pala's Manasamangal in 1968 from the Asiatic Society.

Dr. Sen suggests the text though true to the nature of the Mangalkavyas is not an exact reproduction of the Mansamangal that was commonly known. Instead Visnu Pala presents a version that was used by the village singers to the common people. Sen pointed out from the language of the text, that the poem was composed somewhere on the basin of the Ajay river, on the western part of Bengal.

Selection details

Dr. Sen suggests the text though true to the nature of the Mangalkavyas is not an exact reproduction of the Mansamangal that was commonly known. Instead Visnu Pala presents a version that was used by the village singers to the common people. Sen pointed out from the language of the text, that the poem was composed somewhere on the basin of the Ajay river, on the western part of Bengal.

1.

For four years, Varuna worshipped Lord Shiva and ate only boiled rice. For four more years he worshipped Lord Shiva and ate only fruits. The next twelve years he worshipped Lord Shiva and ate nothing. His head touched the earth, his feet touched the sky, and he burnt candles on his feet. Then the Lord relented and appeared to his devotee. Visnupala sings by the grace of the goddess Bisahari.

Madhai roamed here and there. It was difficult to know who was a Hindu and who was a Musalman, so everyone carried a knife in his hand. Dogs barked loudly, drums sounded, and fireworks were being let off. Madhai went to several markets and saw cow-meat and pig-meat being sold and eaten, and his heart quaked and he left the place.

Sanaka, the queen, took oil and turmeric to rub on herself before taking a bath. She went to bathe with her six daughters-in-law at the Rameshwar Ghat. After her bath she put on dry clothes and entered the kitchen to cook a meal for her husband. She cooked rice and several other dishes. She served half the rice, and put away the rest of it for the next day. Her husband the king took his meal together with his six sons. The six young men retired to their bedchambers. At midnight, Madhai called the snake Kali and requested her to poison the rest of the rice. Kali went to the king’s room and issued a warning to him, that the next day e would lose his sons as a punishment for breaing the pitcher that held the goddess Manasa’s holy water. Then she went to the kitchen and let the poison drop from her fangs into the rice. Visnupala sings by the grace of the goddess Bisahari.

The next day, the six brothers went to their mother for their meals. The queen called one daughter-in-law and asked her to serve them the rice. She saw one ill omen or another, remembered that the water-pitcher of the goddess had been broken the day before, and refused to serve the rice. Then the queen asked another daughter-in-law to serve the rice, and she complied. The house parrot, who knew about the poison, asked to be served first. He ate the poisoned rice and died, but the brothers did not understand and thought the parrot had fallen asleep. The cat and the crow ate the poisoned rice and died before their eyes, yet the brothers understood nothing. They ate the rice, and the poison burned them inside. Surprised and suspicious, they got up to walk away, and died at the door of the kitchen. Visnupala sings by the grace of the goddess Bisahari.

Sanaka went to take a bath at the Rameshwar Ghat. A Vidyadhara or a demigod was born in human form to Sanaka, and was called Lakhai. Sanaka cooked a meal for the king. She cooked many dishes, including several fish, and her cooking took an entire day. The king came in very late and took his meal. Sanaka showed him her shankha bangles. Visnupala sings by the grace of the goddess Bisahari.

Sayer the merchant asked each of his daughters-in-law to cook for sixteen hundred guests. Each gave a description of her cooking. Sayer did not like any of them, and lamented that his guests must go hungry.

The bridal chamber of Lakhindar and Behula was made of iron. The snake Kali perched near the ceiling and induced a hunger in Lakhindar and woke him from his sleep. Lakhindar woke up and begged Behula to cook him some rice. Behula protested that she had neither rice nor water nor fire within the bridal chamber. Lakhindar retorted that she could use the rice and water used for wedding rituals and take three coconuts to create a makeshift stove. He went to sleep again. Behula made a stove of three coconuts, and used the rice and water used in the wedding to cook rice. As she could not find wood to burn, Kali the snake advised her to burn part of the clothes she was wearing. As she cooked, Behula had a premonition of her husband’s death. Visnupala sings by the grace of the goddess Bisahari.

The goddess Manasa took Lakhai’s bones and asked Bishai to join them. Bishai joined the bones and the sinews and made him whole. He joined the ribcage, and all the nerves. A coconut became his head, and the buds of the champa flower became his fingers. His little finger was lost, and could not be found. Visnupala sings by the grace of the goddess Bisahari.

Behula and Lakhindar leave the town of Champa by chariot. Madhai picked up the chariot and started towards the town of Madhuri, because Behula wanted to see her parents. Manasa advised Behula and Lakhindar to go in the guise of mendicants. They went so, and begged at the door of Behula’s father. The queen came forward and Behula dropped her disguise. Worried that Behula and Lakhindar might not want to go back, Manasa took them by hand and led them to the chariot. Madhai carried them as before. They came to the land of Yama, the god of death. Neta the attendant of Manasa, described the land of Yama and its workings to Behula.

This text is an English-language translation of the original version:
Original

This is a selection from the original text

Keywords

fasting, fruit, poison, religion, rice

Source text

Title: Manasamangal

Author: Visnu Pala

Editor(s): Sukumar Sen

Publisher: The Asiatic Society

Publication date: 2016

Original compiled c.1775-1825

Edition: 2nd Edition

Place of publication: Kolkata

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at the Digital Library of India: http://www.dli.ernet.in/. Original compiled c.1775-1825

Digital edition

Original author(s): Visnu Pala

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) page 14
  • 2 ) pages 36 to 37
  • 3 ) pages 60 to 61
  • 4 ) pages 61 to 62
  • 5 ) pages 66 to 67
  • 6 ) page 77
  • 7 ) pages 91 to 92
  • 8 ) pages 121 to 122
  • 9 ) pages 134 to 136

Responsibility:

Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

Texts encoded by: Bonisha Bhattacharya, Shreya Bose, Lucy Corley, Kinshuk Das, Bedbyas Datta, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Sarbajit Mitra, Josh Monk, Reesoom Pal

Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: India > poetry

For more information about the project, contact Dr Ayesha Mukherjee at the University of Exeter.

Acknowledgements