The poet who combines emotion with intellect

Published:  12:00 AM, 24 December 2016

Syed Alaol

Syed Alaol Alaol Hall at the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh

Syed Alaol was one of the greatest poets of medieval Bengali literature. He translated many famous works in Bangla as well as wrote his own songs and poetry. Alaol Hall, a principal male student dormitory at the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh, is named after him.

The most well-known work of Alaol is Padmavati, which depicts the story of Padmavati, the Sinhala princess and the queen of Chittor. He is rightly considered to be one of the most prolific medieval Bengali poets.

He is called the 'Pondit Kobi' or 'Wise Poet' of medieval Bengali literature as most of his poems combine emotion with intellect.  An important Bangladeshi literary prize namely the 'Alaol Puroshkar' is named after him.

It is thought that Alaol was born around 1607 AD. There are disagreements over the birthplace of Alaol. Some scholars suggest that he was born in Fatehabad, Chittagong, what is now Bangladesh while others say Faridpur. Alaol's father was a minister of Jajlish Kutub, the ruler of Fatwabad (Fatehabad).

He got the proper chance to receive a good education in his early years as he was born into an aristocratic family. He learned Bangla, Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian languages as well as the art of war and music.

A tragic incident took place in Alaol's early life which changed his fate greatly. When Aloal was quite young, he was going to Chittagong with his father by boat on one occasion. They were attacked by Portuguese pirates on the way. The pirates killed his father and captured him. Then he was sent to Arakan in Myanmar.

In Arakan, less fortunate young Alaol found work as a bodyguard. Later he worked as a teacher of music and dance in a well-to-do family. Later his fame as a poet spread and Magan Thakur, the Prime Minister and the adopted son of the king's sister, secured him a place in the court of Arakan.

 At that time he was also patronized by a number of other important courtiers such as Syed Musa (Royal Minister), Solaiman (Chief Minister), Mohammad Khan (Minister of Army), and Majlis Nabaraj (Minister of Taxation).

Gradually he became a remarkable star in the galaxy of Bengali literature. Among his writings, some names can be mentioned such as Ragtalnama, Padmavati (1648), Satimayana-Lor-Chandrani (1659), Saptapaykar (1665), Saifulmuluk Badiuzzamal (1669), and Sikandarnama (1673).

No doubt, Alaol was a prolific writer. His most significant contributions to Bengali literature were made through translations of famous works in different languages into Bangla. His masterpiece, 'Padmavati', is a translation of a Hindi poem 'Padmavat' by Malik Mohammad Jayasi.

His most other translations were made from Persian. They are Saifulmuluk Badiuzzamal, satimayana-Lor-Chandrani, Saptapaykar, Sikandarnama and Tohifa etc. Though most of these works are in the nature of romances and tales, 'Tohfa' is a didactic book.

 He was also extraordinary in producing his own original works. Among his original work, there are a number of songs, mostly vaishav, and a book namely Ragtalnama, his earliest piece of writing. Ragtalnama is on music and is his only original writing apart from his songs.

Another thing about Alaol is that he is mostly hailed as one of the great poets who introduced romantic themes in Bangla poetry. A significant characteristic of his works is that though they were mostly translated from other languages, his creative touch and unique style made the works essentially the eternal property of Bangla language.
Alaol completed 'Shoti Moyona o Lor-Chondrani' in 1659.

The first part of the book was completed by another prominent medieval Bengali poet Daulat Qazi.  'Tohfa' was translated by Alaol at the request of Shrichondro Sudhormo or Sanda Thudhamma. He wrote 'Padmavati' under the patronage of Magan Thakur. Alaol also began writing the 'Saifulmuluk Badiuzzama which is an adaptation of a Persian work of the same name during that period. He translated the 'Haftapaykar' from Persian as 'Shaptopoykor' in Bengali at the request of Saiyad Muhammad Musa, the army chief of the King and one of the patrons of Alaol.

Mughal prince Shah Shuja, the second son of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and empress Mumtaz Maha, took refuge in the court at Arakan in 1659. Shah Shuja was killed in 1660.

And after the killing of Shah Shuja, Alaol was also thrown out of the Arakan court because he was somehow close to him. In the autobiographical passages in his 'Shikondernom', it is mentioned that he was initially imprisoned.

After that, Sayed Masud Shah, a minister or Qazi of the Arakan king, gave him shelter. Masud Shah was his spiritual master.  He also gave him the title of 'Quaderi Khilafat'. Alaol spent his last days in the court of Majlis Navaraj, another minister of Arakan.

There he wrote his last work Shikondernom (according to Ahmed Sharif) or Dara-Shekondar (according to Sukumar Sen), a translation of Eskander-nama by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. This great inspirational poet of Bengali literature died in 1673 in Hat Hazari of Chittagong probably at the age of 65 or 66.

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