1. A brief survey of Bengali Anthology.
Anthology in our old
literature. When examining a collection of old Bengali MSS., we often come across volumes, more or less of an anthological character, containing choice passages from standard authors on a particular subject. In the days when printing was unknown, it was a saving of time and labour to the copyists to compile selections instead of transcribing the poems of individual writers in their entirety. For, mediocre poets had passages of occasional brilliancy, while the most favoured ones grew dull at times; and the copyists naturally preferred to select good passages and reject the dull and uninteresting ones, when preparing fair copies of a Rāmāyaṇa—a Mahābhārata—a Bhāgavata or a Manasār-Bhāsana—subjects upon which so many Bengali poets have written at various epochs of our literature. Anthology has therefore been a recognised branch of study and culture in Bengali Literature from very early times. The book “Twenty-two poets on Manasā Devi” published by Pandit Chandrakānta Chakravartī from Chittagong about twenty years ago, is a typical work of its kind. Among heaps of old Bengali MSS., written between the 15th and 18th centuries, we find numerous works of an anthological nature compiled by unassuming scholars who did not claim the distiction of compilers but subscribed their names at the end of the poems as mere copyists.
Its development in
the hands of the
Vaiṣṇavas. In the hands of Vaiṣṇava writers, however, anthology became a conscious and studied art. In the collection of old poems they showed a discernment and power of classification, which, based as they were on the works of the masters of Rhetoric, evinced wonderful subtlety in the analysis of poetical beauty and the finer emotions of the human heart. In the Bhaktiratnākara, a Bengali work written by Narahari Chakravartī between 1614-1625 A.D., we find 360 different kinds of love-emotions classified and defined in all their delicate shades. This clasification was of course based on the earlier Sanskrit works of Rupa and Sanātana, written during the first half of the 16th century. The songs of the Pada-Kartās were arranged in the works of the Vaiṣṇava compilers according to this minute classification. The first great selection of Vaiṣṇava-songs, now no longer extant, is said to have been compiled by the venerable Bābā Āul Manohara Dās towards the end of the 16th century.