The body of writings in Bengali is termed as Bengali literature. The earliest known work in Bengali literature is known as Charyapada which is actually a collection of mystic songs dedicated to Lord Buddha. The Charyapada was written in between early 10th and 11th century.
Much later, the Bengali literature was classified into two parts, the medieval and the modern. The medieval period of Bengali literature was in the period between 1360 and 1800. The modern literature in Bengali is the period that started after 1800.
Medieval Bengali literature
The medieval Bengali literature is marked with various genres that are essentially poetic in style and narrative. These works include the Hindu religious scriptures as well as the Islamic epics, translations from various Persian, Sanskrit and also Arabic and Vaisnava text. Some prominent texts of this period include the Malgalkavya, the works of Abdul Hakim and Syed Sultan, the biographies and the preachings of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and also the Muslim secular texts like the works of Alaol.
The modern literature
The novels in Bengali were introduced in the middle of the 19th century. The face of Bengali literature is Rabindranath Tagore, who was a poet, novelist, playwright, essayist, painter, musician and also a social reformer. He was a Nobel Laureate and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.
After Bengal went through the partition, the Bengali literature was again classified into the literature of Bangladesh and West Bengal. The Bengali language also went through a lot of modifications during this period.
The early Bengali literature
The works that were written in the new Bengali language dates back to the period of 10th and 12th centuries. This is the Charyapada which has mystic songs that are composed by the such buddhish seer poets like Kanhapada, Luipada, Chatilpada, Kukkuripada, Kamlipada, Bhusukupada, Shantipada, Dhendhanpada, Shabarapada etc. The Charyapada was discovered on a palm leaf in the Library of Nepal Royal Court in 1907 by the famous Bengali linguist Haraprasad Shastri.
The medieval Bengali literature
The medieval Bengali literature on the other hand can be divided into the pre Chaitanya Vaishnava, and the post Chaintanya Vaishnava literature. In the pre Chaitanya literature, there are texts like Shrikrishna Kirtana, Vaishnava text by Chandidas and Vidyapati, Maladhar Basu and Krittibas Ojha.
The post Chaitanya Vaishava Literature has the texts about Malgalkavya, Vaishnava Padavali etc by poets and authors like Krishnadasa Kaviraja, Jayananda, Vrindavana Dasa Thakura, Govindadasa etc.
Authors of modern Bengali literature
The Bengali literature gained its momentum from the middle of 19th century and it was pioneered by Pandit Iswar Chandra Bandopadhyay who was popularly known as Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar.
Michael Madhusudan Dutta
The eminent poet Michael Madhusudan Dutta introduced Blank Verses in Bengali poems. The first poem written in blank verse by the poet was Tilottama Sambhab Kabya and it was published in 1860. However Dutta’s greatest work is the Meghnad Badh Kavya that was published in 1861 in two parts.
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay was a leading novelist of Bengal during the middle 19th century. His first novel Durgeshnandini is still considered as one of the benchmarks of modern Bengali literature. Some of his other works include the Vande Mataram which is the national song of India, novels like Anandamath, Bishabriksha, Kapalkundala, Krishnakanter Will etc.
Bankim Chandra belonged to the pre Tagore era and the style of prose and the overall narrative was much different then what it was during the Tagore era and culture.
Rabindranath Tagore and his influence in Bengali literature and culture
Rabindranath Tagore was the most prolific writer of Bengal and of India. He was also the first Nobel Laureate of Asia and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Tagore not only made his mark on the Bengali literature but ruled the literary and the philosophical scenes of Bengal and the country for several decades. He wrote 2000 Rabindrasangeets in his life time which plays a major role in mirroring the Bengali culture to the rest of the world. He is the author of Gitanjali which bought the Nobel Prize in Literature and made the country proud. He is also the writer of the national anthems for both India and also Bangladesh.
Kazi Nazrul Islam
Apart from Rabindranath Tagore, another notable and celebrated writer poet of Bengal is Kazi Nazrul Islam. He is the national poet of Bangladesh and was invited to Bangladesh for residential purpose after the partition. He is admired and honored in both India and Bangladesh and has works that are known as Nazrulgeeti. There are around 3000 Nazrul geetis of which most support the revolutionary activities against the British rule. He is also popularly known as the Bidrohi Kobi or the Rebel Poet.
Other prominent writers
When there is a discussion about the Bengali literature, some more names are also worthy of mention, like Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan Bandapadhyay, Tarashankar Bandapadhay, Sunil Gangapadhyay, Samaresh Majumdar, Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay, and poets like Joy Goswami, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Mandakranta Sen and many more.