Michael Madhusudan Dutt

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Michael Madhusudan Dutt
Michael Madhusudan Datta.jpg
Painting of Michael Madhusudan Dutt by Atul Bose, hangs in the Victoria Memorial
Native name মাইকেল মধুসূদন দত্ত
Born (1824-01-25)25 January 1824
Jessore, Bengal Presidency, (Now Bangladesh)
Died 29 June 1873(1873-06-29) (aged 49)
Calcutta(now Kolkata), Bengal Presidency, British India
Resting place Lower Circular Road Cemetery
Occupation Writer
Nationality Indian
Ethnicity Bengali
Genre Poet, playwright
Subject Literature
Literary movement Bengal Renaissance
Spouse Rebecca Mactavys (m. 1848–1856)
Henrietta Sophia White (Partner 1856–1873)
Children Napoleon

Michael Madhusudan Dutt, or Michael Madhusudan Dutta (Bengali: মাইকেল মধুসূদন দত্ত (About this sound Maikel Modhushudôn Dôtto ); 25 January 1824 – 29 June 1873) was a popular 19th-century Bengali poet and dramatist.[1] He was born in Sagordari (Bengali: সাগরদাঁড়ি), on the bank of Kopotaksho (Bengali: কপোতাক্ষ) River, a village in Keshabpur Upazila, Jessore District, Bengal Presidency, East Bengal (now in Bangladesh). His father was Rajnarayan Dutt, an eminent lawyer, and his mother was Jahnabi Devi. He was a pioneer of Bengali drama.[2] His famous work Meghnad Bodh Kavya (Bengali: মেঘনাদবধ কাব্য), is a tragic epic. It consists of nine cantos and is exceptional in Bengali literature both in terms of style and content. He also wrote poems about the sorrows and afflictions of love as spoken by àwomen.

As a young student, Dutt was influenced by the thoughts and actions of the Young Bengal-a movement by a group of illustrious former students of The Hindu College (now Presidency College) in Calcutta (now Kolkata) against the atrocities, blind beliefs and customs they held as illogical, prevalent in the Hindu society of 19th century Bengal. Dutt, a student of Hindu College himself, aspired to be an English poet and longed to travel to England to gain fame. When his father, concerned by these trends, arranged his marriage, he rebelled. One aspect of his rebellion involved conversion to Christianity.

Dutt is widely considered to be one of the greatest poets in Bengali literature and the father of the Bengali sonnet. He pioneered what came to be called amitrakshar chhanda (blank verse). Dutt died in Calcutta, Bengal Presidency on 29 June 1873. Although his first love remained poetry, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, or Madhu- as he was called affectionately,showed prodogious skill as a playwright. He was the first to write Bengali plays in the English style, segregating the play into acts and scenes. He was also the pioneer of the first satirical plays in Bengali – "Buro Salik er Ghare Row"(Bengali-বুড়ো শালিকের ঘাড়ে রো) and "Ekei Ki Bole Sovyota(Bengali-একেই কি বলে সভ্যতা?) (Is this what we call Civilisation?)". When Deenabandhu Mitra wrote a Bengali play portraying the plight of the workers in indigo plantations at the hands of their British masters, Dutt was the person who translated the play into English. Rumour has it that he translated the entire play in a single night. There is no proof that Dutt had translated the play, however,as- on account of fear of prosecution by the British Government of India- neither the writer's nor the translator's name was printed when the play was published in English. After this episode Dutt went back to writing mainly poetry-occasionally writing short pieces of prose. He had also translated the episode of Prince Hector's death from Homer's Illiad into Bengali. Although Dutt was a littérateur par excellence, he was an alcoholic from his youth and his addiction grew as he aged. It was the source and cause of many of his hardships and miseries-both financial and mental. He was supported in his times of financial crisis by his friends and Sri Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar; the latter sent him monthly allowances regularly on the condition that Dutt should concentrate all his efforts in creating great specimens of Bengali poetry. Dutt was, however, never able to master his addiction and it led to his untimely death. Michael Madhusudan Dutt was an important figure of the Bengali Renaissance who helped place Bengali literature on the throne it holds at present. He was hailed as the greatest poet of the Bengali language until the advent of Rabindranath Tagore. Even now, he is one of the great poets of the Bengali language.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

His childhood education started in a village named Shekpura, at an old mosque, where he went to learn Persian. He was an exceptionally talented student. Since his childhood, Dutt was recognised by his teachers and professors as being a precocious child with a gift of literary expression. He was very imaginative. Early exposure to English education and European literature at home and in Kolkata inspired him to emulate the English in taste, manners and intellect. An early influence was his teacher, Capt. D.L.Richardson at Hindu College. Richardson was a poet and inspired in Dutt a love of English poetry, particularly Byron.

Dutt's early works – poetry and drama – were mostly in English. They include translations, plays including Sermistha and Ratnavali; and poems, including Captive Ladie, which was written about the mother of his close friend Sri Bhudev Mukhopadhyay, indicate a high level of intellectual sophistication.[4][5]

In his own words[edit]

Where man in all his truest glory lives,

And nature's face is exquisitely sweet;
For those fair climes I heave impatient sigh,
There let me live and there let me die.[6]

Madhusudan embraced Christianity[7] at the Old Mission Church in spite of the objections of his parents and relatives on 9 February 1843. He had to leave Hindu College so continued his education at Bishop's College. He later moved to Madras due to severe family tensions and economic hardship. He describes the day as:

Long sunk in superstition's night,

By Sin and Satan driven,
I saw not, cared not for the light
That leads the blind to Heaven.
But now, at length thy grace, O Lord!
Birds all around me shine;
I drink thy sweet, thy precious word,
I kneel before thy shrine![8]

On the eve of his departure to England:

Forget me not, O Mother,

Should I fail to return
To thy hallowed bosom.
Make not the lotus of thy memory
Void of its nectar Madhu.[9]
(Translated from the original Bengali by the poet.)

Literary life[edit]


Dutt was particularly inspired by both the life and work of the English Romantic poet Lord Byron. Dutt was a spirited bohemian and Romantic. Dutt's heroic epic was Meghnadh Badh Kabya, although his journey to publication and recognition was far from smooth. However, with its publication, he distinguished himself as a serious composer of an entirely new genre of heroic poetry, that was Homeric and Dantesque in technique and style, and yet so fundamentally native in theme. To cite the poet himself: "I awoke one morning and found myself famous." Nevertheless, it took a few years for this epic to win recognition all over the country.

Linguistic abilities[edit]

Madhusudan was a gifted linguist[10] and polyglot.[11]

Work with the sonnet[edit]

He dedicated his first sonnet to his friend Rajnarayan Basu, which he accompanied with a letter: "What say you to this, my good friend? In my humble opinion, if cultivated by men of genius, our sonnet in time would rival the Italian."[12]

When Dutt later stayed in Versailles, the sixth centenary of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri was being celebrated all over Europe. He composed a poem in honour of the poet, translated it into French and Italian, and sent it to the king of Italy. Victor Emmanuel II, then monarch, liked the poem and wrote to Dutt, saying, "It will be a ring which will connect the Orient with the Occident."[13]

Work in blank verse[edit]

Sharmistha (spelt as Sermista in English) was Dutt's first attempt at blank verse in Bengali literature. Kaliprasanna Singha organised a felicitation ceremony to Madhusudan to mark the introduction of blank verse in Bengali poetry.

Praising Dutt's blank verse, Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, observed: "As long as the Bengali race and Bengali literature would exist, the sweet lyre of Madhusudan would never cease playing."[14] He added: "Ordinarily, reading of poetry causes a soporific effect, but the intoxicating vigour of Madhusudan's poems makes even a sick man sit up on his bed." [14]

In his The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, Nirad C. Chaudhuri has remarked that during his childhood days in Kishoreganj, a common standard for testing guests' erudition in the Bengali language during family gatherings was to require them to recite the poetry of Dutt, without an accent.

In France[edit]

The street where M Dutt used to live in Versailles, France
12 Rue Des Chantiers, 78000 Versailles, France – the apartment building where M. Dutt dwelled (photo taken on July 2011)

Dutt went to England to study law to escape his poverty, but English weather and racism made it unbearable. By the time he shifted to Versailles during the 1860s, Dutt was desperately poor. Funds were not arriving from India according to his plans. He was only able to complete his law course and return home due to the munificent generosity of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. For this, Dutt was to regard Vidyasagar as Dayar Sagar (meaning the ocean of kindness) for as long as he lived. But he never got established in legal practice in Calcutta and died impoverished.

He wrote to his friend Gour Bysack from France:

If there be any one among us anxious to leave a name behind him, and not pass away into oblivion like a brute, let him devote himself to his mother-tongue. That is his legitimate sphere his proper element.[15]

Marriage and family[edit]

Dutt had refused to enter into an arranged marriage which his father had decided for him. He had no respect for that tradition and wanted to break free from the confines of caste-based endogamous marriage. His knowledge of the European tradition convinced him of the superiority of marriages made by mutual consent (or love marriages). While in Madras he married Rebecca McTavish, of English descent. They had four children together. He wrote to Gour in December 1855:

Yes, dearest Gour, I have a fine English Wife and four children.[16]

Dutt returned from Madras to Calcutta in February 1856, after his father's death, abandoning his wife and children in Madras. He had two children by Henrietta Sophia White, who was also ethnic English. This relationship lasted until the end of his life, Henrietta pre-deceasing him by three days. They had a son Napoleon and daughter Sharmistha.

The tennis player Leander Paes is a direct descendant of his.[citation needed]


Madhusudan died in Calcutta General Hospital on 27 June 1873 three days after death of Henrietta. Just three days prior to his death, Madhusudan recited a passage from Shakespeare's Macbeth to his dear friend Gour, to express his deepest conviction of life:

"...out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more; it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."

Tomb of Michael Madhusudan Dutt

দাঁড়াও পথিক-বর, জন্ম যদি তব
বঙ্গে! তিষ্ঠ ক্ষণকাল! এ সমাধিস্তলে
(জননীর কোলে শিশু লভয়ে যেমতি
বিরাম) মহীর পদে মহানিদ্রাবৃত
দত্তোকুলোদ্ভব কবি শ্রীমধুসূদন!
যশোরে সাগরদাঁড়ি কবতক্ষ-তীরে
জন্মভূমি, জন্মদাতা দত্ত মহামতি
রাজনারায়ণ নামে, জননী জাহ্নবী

A 33-second sample recitation of poetry Samadhi

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Legacy and honours[edit]

Dutt was largely ignored for 15 years after his death.[18] The belated tribute was a tomb erected at his gravesite.

His epitaph, a verse of his own, reads:

Stop a while, traveller!

Should Mother Bengal claim thee for her son.
As a child takes repose on his mother's elysian lap,
Even so here in the Long Home,
On the bosom of the earth,
Enjoys the sweet eternal sleep
Poet Madhusudan of the Duttas.[19]

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar said:

Meghnad Badh is a supreme poem.[20]

In the words of Sri Aurobindo:

All the stormiest passions of man's soul he [Madhusudan] expressed in gigantic language.[21]

Major works[edit]

  • Tilottama, 1860
  • Meghnad Bodh Kavya (Ballad of Meghnadh's demise), 1861
  • Birangana
  • Choturdoshpodi kobitaboli
  • Brajangngana
  • Sharmishtha
  • Ekei Ki Bole Sovyota (Is this is called a civilisation)
  • Buro Shaliker Ghare Rown
  • Ratnavali
  • Rizia, the sultana of Inde.
  • The Captive Lady
  • Visions of the Past
  • Rosalo Sornolatika
  • Bongobani
  • Sonnets and other poems

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michael Madhusudan Dutta : Profile of an Epic Poet Compiled by Aparna Chatterjee
  2. ^ Buckland C E; Charles E. Buckland (1 January 1999). Dictionary of Indian Biography. Cosmo Publication. pp. 128–. ISBN 978-81-7020-897-6. Retrieved 23 July 2012. 
  3. ^ "Michael Madhusudan Dutta". Calcuttaweb. [self-published source]
  4. ^ "M. Madhusuda Dutt". Poets Seers. [self-published source]
  5. ^ Dasa, Shukavak N. (2002). "Michael Madhusudan Datta". Sanskrit Religions Institute. 
  6. ^ Dipesh Chakrabarty (15 February 2001). Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (New Edition). Princeton University Press. pp. 33–. ISBN 978-0-691-13001-9. Retrieved 9 October 2012. 
  7. ^ Bhowmik, Dulal (2012). "Dutt, Michael Madhusudan". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. 
  8. ^ Mitra, ed. (3 April 2012). Indian Poetry in English: Critical Essays. PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd. p. 32. ISBN 8120345711. Retrieved 10 April 2015. 
  9. ^ Sri Aurobindo Ashram (February 1961). Mother India. p. 55. Retrieved 9 October 2012. 
  10. ^ K. Ray, Mohit (1 September 2007). The Atlantic Companion to Literature in English. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. ISBN 8126908327. Retrieved 10 April 2015. 
  11. ^ Subhas Chandra Ghose (1 January 1996). Socio-Political Dynamics. Northern Book Centre. p. 178. ISBN 9788172110703. 
  12. ^ Sri Aurobindo Ashram (February 1961). Mother India. p. 56. Retrieved 9 October 2012. 
  13. ^ Ramanial Kanaiyaial Yajnik (1933). The Indian Theatre: Its Origins and Its Later Developments Under European Influence, with Special Reference to Western India. Ardent Media. pp. 219–. GGKEY:WYN7QH8HYJB. Retrieved 9 October 2012. 
  14. ^ a b Mother India: Monthly Review of Culture 13. 1961. p. 57. 
  15. ^ Arabinda Poddāra (1970). Renaissance in Bengal: quests and confrontations, 1800–1860. Indian Institute of Advanced Study. p. 216. Retrieved 23 July 2012. 
  16. ^ Ghulam Murshid; Gopa Majumdar (30 October 2003). Lured by hope: a biography of Michael Madhusudan Dutt. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-565362-5. Retrieved 9 October 2012. 
  17. ^ "Madhusudan Dutta's Samadhi Lipi". 
  18. ^ "A Review": Ghulam Murshid, Lured by Hope: A Biography of Michael Madhusudan Dutt, translated from Bengali by Gopa Majumdar, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003. ISBN 0-19-565362-9. Pp 238 + xvi, at Parabaas
  19. ^ "A poet of epic proportions". The Daily Star. Retrieved 23 July 2012. 
  20. ^ "Meghnad, the Protagonist, the Heart of a Rebel Poet and My CHHOTO KAKA". indiatimes.com. Archived from the original on 12 August 2014. Retrieved 22 February 2012. [self-published source]
  21. ^ "Michael Madhusudan Dutt". http://www.srichinmoylibrary.com. Retrieved 22 February 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ghulam, Murshid. Lured by Hope. Trans. Majumdar, Gopa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0195653629 – Gopa Majumdar's translation of Ashar Chalane Bhuli
  • Roy, Pinaki. "Extravagant Genius: Michael Madhusudan Dutt and his Oeuvre". Indian Poetry in English: Critical Essays. Ed. Mitra, Z. New Delhi: Prentice Hall, 2012 (ISBN 978-81-203-4571-3). Pp. 15–30.
  • Modhusudoner Engreji Kabita by Sayeed Abubakar, Bhumika Prakashani, Bangla Bazar, Dhaka-1100, (2009)

External links[edit]