Concepts of nation, race, religion, caste and political ideals have always divided people, all of whom are children of Mother Earth. Our true Homeland is Mother Earth. We are all one family. But we all speak over 6,000 languages. The day when we will all be able to speak, read and write, in a universal language using a universal script, or have access to simultaneous translations remains a distant dream.
Meanwhile, on February 21, we celebrate International Mother Language Day. I have always maintained that only Bangladesh can truly celebrate a Mother Language Day, as the entire country united in the struggle to gain independence from its motherland, sacrificing many lives in the process. Their efforts have not been in vain as today around 98% of the people of Bangladesh speak their native language, Bengali. This year, to celebrate Mother Language Day and in honor of the Bengali language, I want to highlight why we in Sri Lanka need to learn Bengali which is so close to the Sinhalese language.
The Bengali language, Bengali or Bangla, is part of the Indo-Aryan group of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is the official language of Bangladesh and one of the officially recognized languages in the constitution of India. According to Cornell University’s Asian Study page, “In multilingual South Asia, Bengali is the language of two nations, India and Bangladesh. With approximately 220 million natives and approximately 250 million speakers, the Bengali is one of the most widely spoken languages, ranked seventh in the world….” Therefore, anyone considering a global career in healthcare, government service, law, business or a discipline where communication with people other people is important will find Bengali to be an excellent resource.
That is why learning the Bangla language would be helpful for those interested in higher education, business, and industry. Among the many students seeking higher education abroad to join medical colleges in Bangladesh, it would be helpful as they can study in English but also be able to converse with patients during their clinical practice unlike in other countries such as Russia and China, where students must first learn the language of the specific country before embarking on their studies in the chosen field.
Additionally, in the recent past, Bangladesh has been a very popular destination for Sri Lankans seeking employment in garment factories and other export industries. For those seeking employment, especially in supervisory and management positions, knowledge of the language used by over 90% of employees would be of immense advantage and beneficial to all involved.
Moreover, one of the most important reasons for us to learn Bengali is that even after 122 years after publication, we could not read Gitanjali. It is sad that we have no choice but to read a translation of a Gitanjali translation in the form of a Sinhalese translation of the English prose translation by Gurudev Rabindranath. As a result, today we have seven Sinhalese translations of Gitanjali. It is only now that Professor Upul Ranjith Hevavithanagamage has undertaken a translation of the original. The first verse of the original Gitanjali (which was not included by Rabindranath in his translation), is published in the CCIS publication, “One Hundred Years of Gitanjali”, which should convince us of the need to translate all of Rabindragita directly from Bengali like English translations have not always been faithful to the original.
An example is Partha Pratim Ray’s study of the various editions of Gitanjali. Ray, who is a librarian at the Institute of Education, observes Visva-Bharati, while the first publication of The Gitanjali in Bengali in September 1910 contained 157 songs and poems, the English translation had only 103 poems. Of these 103, only 53 were from the original Bengali Gitanjali.
Professor Martin Kampchen, in his keynote address at the 2016 conference in Colombo, “Revisiting the Legacy of Rabindranath Tagore”, said that Tagore had finally arrived in Germany, thanks to translations from the original Bengali into German. But, Mahakavi Rabindranath has not yet arrived in Sri Lanka, even though he has been to Sri Lanka three times and we have so much in common between our two cultures and our languages.
Likewise, we did not have the opportunity to read Jibanananda Das, whose “lyricism is unparalleled in Bengali literature…While he is best known for his poetry which reveals a deep love of nature and rural landscapes, tradition and history,… He was a master of word-pictures, and his unique poetic idiom drew on tradition but was startlingly new,” wrote Chidananda Dasgupta in his introduction to the translation of Jibananda’s poems. There are many other great Bengali writers and poets that we could translate into Sinhalese, while Bengali translators could translate the works of our great Sinhalese writers into Bengali, to bring Rabindranath’s dream of Vishva Sahitya closer to reality.
Another interesting fact about Bengali is that it is a language that owes its origin to the works of bhikkhus who wrote lyric verse poetry in a language spoken by common people. As a result, Bangladesh is rooted in a centuries-old Buddhist culture and civilization. And Buddhist culture is now an integral part of Bangladesh’s national heritage, says Professor Bulbul Ahmed. Buddhism in Bangladesh is represented in Charyapada or Charyagiti (Buddhist mystical songs) (Charya poems), known as Bauddha Gan O Doha, universally acclaimed and established as the earliest work of Bengali literature dated between the 7th and 11th centuries A.D. If we could read them in Sinhalese, they might add to our knowledge of the Buddhist heritage in Bangladesh, for more than a millennium ago Buddhism emerged in Bangladesh as the dominant religion of the masses and exerted a profound influence on social, cultural and intellectual life. people’s lives.
With my limited knowledge of Bengal, I still believe that it was the pioneering efforts to revive the Bengali language that led to the struggle for independence and the establishment of Bangladesh as a nation. It is the new, simpler Bangla language that is said to have made it so popular.
Popular enough that 98% of people in Bangladesh call Bengali their mother tongue. Perhaps the only country in the world that fought as one nation to protect its country and its language. If Bengali had been what it was before Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyay, many people would have drifted into Hindi or Urdu, and Bangladesh would never have become a reality.
Learning Bengali would be very easy for us because as our linguists could confirm, there are so many similarities in our languages. This is also confirmed by the many bhikkhus from Bangladesh who study here, who have become very fluent in Sinhalese in a very short time.
If they could learn Sinhalese, we too could learn Bengali just as easily. Learning a language today is not difficult, with access to language teaching facilities freely available on the internet, which would open the doors to the vast Bangla Sahitya.