Bengali Literary Culture in Seventeenth Century Arakan: Language, Identity and Emotion


Tanima Dey

PhD defended at: 

Jawaharlal Nehru University



The present thesis is a study of the identity of Bengali in seventeenth century Arakan or modern day Rakhaing district of Myanmar based on a corpus of poetry composed by Bengali speaking Muslims in the regional courts of Muslim dignitaries under the Buddhist kings of the Mrauk U kingdom of Arakan. The corpus of poetry was written in middle Bengali language and the themes were borrowed from popular Persian or Awadhi literature from earlier periods. The thesis examines the formation of the identity of Bengali in medieval Arakan in relation to the language of Bengali or Bangla as expressed through the literature. Theoretical basis of the current study is history of emotions where Bengali or Bangla language is used as the category to comprehend the nature and needs of the Bengali speaking community in the cosmopolitan structure of medieval Arakanese society. The language of Bangla provided them with the instrument to forge local ties with the Bengali speaking Muslims and give the community a separate and distinct entity. The corpus not only became a representative factor for the community of Bengali Muslims in Arakan but it created an emotional world for the community where the act of translation became a significant factor and where the language itself became the object of emotional attachment. This emotional world existed beyond the religious realm and surpassed the Muslim identity of the community concerned. This phenomenon is unique in the history of the community of Bengali Muslims where emotional belonging to their mother tongue gave them a medium of expression which was an important episode in the making of the regional Bengali culture in Arakan.