Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Slaying of Meghanada by Michael Madhusudan Datta

Written in 1861, the verse narrative 'Meghanadavadha Kavya' ('The Slaying of Meghanada') is a true meeting of East and West. The author, Michael Madhusudan Datta, was a successful poet in both Bengali and English and well-versed in Western and Indian literary styles. Those familiar with the Western classics will recognise respectful nods to Homer, Milton and Virgil throughout. Like Homer's 'Iliad', 'Meghanada' begins in the middle of a prolonged war and ends with funeral rites for the hero of a defeated city (here Meghanada acts as Hector, his father Ravana as Priam, Lanka as Troy). Datta's poetic description of a visit to the underworld owes much to Virgil's Aeneid. The opening lines of the epic are clearly a nod to the opening lines of Milton's 'Paradise Lost'. And just as Milton chose Satan to be his protagonist, Datta presents the demon king Ravana in a sympathetic light.

Readers familiar with the Ramayana will appreciate this unique take on the Indian epic. Most will recognise the story of Ravana's kidnapping of Sita, retold by Sita in canto 4 of 'Meghanada'. The poem has been beautifully translated by Clinton B. Seely, who includes an interesting introduction and an extensive glossary, essential to the majority of readers who would otherwise be overwhelmed by the many demons, gods, goddesses and humans that populate Datta's wonderful epic. An excellent addition to the many Ramayanas available to us.

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