Muslim Poets in the Court of Medieval Arakan (2)

Muslim Poets in the Court of Medieval Arakan (2)
By Aman Ullah

The poet Alaol was the most prominent of all the poets of Roshang, in fact he was one of the greatest Bengali poets of the 17th century, and some scholars say that he was Rabindranath Thakur of the 17th century. From his own testimony, it is known that he was the son of a minister of Majlis Qutb of Fathabad in Bengal. He along with his father was going by boat, on the way they were met by Firingi pirates. The parties fought for some time, the father died a martyr, but the son, i.e. Alaol was made a captive and was taken to Roshang. Probably he was sold to the king of Arakan. First he was appointed a horseman in the army. While he was passing his days like this, he chanced to come across the Muslim ministers and high officials of the kingdom. Alaol was a learned man, he knew various languages, Bengali, Arabic, Persian, Hindi and Sanskrit and he was acquainted with famous literary works of those languages. He was also well-versed in vocal and instrumental music. When the ministers and other high officers came to know of his various qualities, they appointed him to teach their children and in this way he became well known to the learned and court circle. He was invited to attend the assemblies in the houses of ministers including the Prime Ministers. Magan Thakur, a leading Muslim of Roshang, who was minister and later Prime Minister under several kings took interest in him and patronised him in various ways. After Magan’s death, other ministers and Prime Ministers also patronised him. In this way, Alaol was in the limelight of Arakan social and literary circle for thirty years as a leading figure in the kingdom of Arakan.

With the patronage received from the ministers, Alaol wrote six books
(1) Padmavati
(2) Saiful Mulk Badiujjamal
(3) Haft Paikar (or Sapta Paikar)
(4) Thufa
(5) Sikandarnama and
(6) Last part of Satimaina Lor Chandrani.

It may be mentioned that all these were poetical Bengali translations of books of the same name in other languages and written by great and renowned poets. But the translation was not literal but free, and Alaol maintained his poetical talents in all these books throughout. At times he became free from the text and his knowledge in various subjects has been very appropriately exposed. Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah writes in his praise as follows:

“Alaol’s name stands very high among Bengali poets in the medieval period. He was a good scholar in Sanskrit, Bengali, Arabic, Persian and Hindi languages. In fact it may be said in great confidence that there was no poet in those days who was equal to this Muslim poet.”[1]

Dr. Dinesh Chandra Sen also praises him in the following words:
“In the Padmavati, there is mark of profound scholarship of Alaol. The poet examined the nature of ‘magan’ragan’ etc. eight ‘mahaganas’. He discussed in details the quarrels and separation of ten conditions of eight heroines like Khandita, Bashakshajja and Kalhantarita; he discussed the truths about Ayurvedic medical science; he discussed the good and evil of timing of journeys like ‘Lagnacharya’ of astronomical science; he explained ‘Yoginitantra’; he explained the abstruse rites followed in the Hindu marriages like an old Hindu married woman (whose husband is alive); he has supplied a correct list of praises and hymns uttered by Purohits. Besides he inserted Sanskrit and verses at the head of chapters like the Pandits of tools (Sanskrit and vernacular schools).”[2]

Abdul Karim Sahitya Visharad discovered his manuscripts, brought the poet and his books from oblivion into the limelight of history by writing more than fifty articles in various Bengali journals. Before him some of Alaol’s books were published from Battala in Calcutta but these were not scientifically edited and so are not dependable for scholarly discussion. Abdul Karim Sahitya Visharad also edited the famous Padmavati of Alaol and Alaol was his most favourite poet. So his evaluation of Alaol is worth quoting:

“The great poet Alaol was genius in the Muslim society of Bengal. Apart from Daulat Qazi, the author of Satimaina, no second man like him in scholarship was born in this society. The statement is not an exaggeration. He is shining as the mid-day sun in Medieval Bengali literature. The whole Bengali literature has been illuminated by the light of his genius. On the one hand, he is seated on the golden throne of the great poets among the Muslims; on the other hand, among the contemporary Hindu poets also his position is very high. As he was well versed in Bengali and Sanskrit languages, so he was well-versed in Arabic and Persian languages. As he was a versatile genius in Hindu religion and literature so he was a great scholar in Muslim religion and Persian literature. Such erudition is not found in other Muslim poets. He was born with poetic genius of very high standard.”[3]


The first book written by Alaol was the Padmavati. It was originally written by Malik Muhammad Jaisi in Hindi, he started writing the book in 923 A.H./ 1520 A.D and he completed it in 1540 A.D in the reign of Sher Shah. Jaisi probably died in 1542 A.D. i.e. two years after completing the book. The story centred round Raja Ratna Sen of Chitore, the famous beautiful lady Padmini, the princess of Ceylon and King Alauddin Khalji of Delhi. Raja Ratna Sen was leading a happy life with his queen Nagmati, but one day he heard about the beauty of Padmini. The king went to Ceylon with his retinue in the guise of a Yogi, on the way he underwent inhuman sufferings, but at the end he was able to marry Padmini and lived there happily. Nagmati, on the other hand, was passing her days in grief at Chitore in the absence of the king Ratna Sen. Ratna Sen later came back to his capital and lived with the two queens, Nagmati and Padmini. Ratna Sen once turned out one of his courtiers Raghav Cehtan from his Court, the later went to Dehli, met Sultan Alauddin Khalji, and related to him the story of the beauty of Padmini. The Sultan attacked Chitore to Padmini, but in the meantime king Ratna Sen had died and the two queens, Nagmati and Padmini gave their life in the pyre of their husband. Alauddin came back without achieving anything. This is in short the story of Padmavati. We have said above that Alaol composed the poem Padmavati by order of Magan Thakur in 1651 A.D.


After completing the composition of Padmavati, Magan Thakur ordered Alaol to write Saiful Mulk Badiujjamal. Alaol began writing this book, before completing it Magan Thakur died and so the composition of the book was left incomplete. After about a decade Sayyid Musa, another Prime Minister of Roshang requested Alaol to complete the book and the poet did so. This is a legendary tale in which there is love story of man and fairy. The story is found in the Arabic Nights, Alaol probably got the story from a Persian book.

Saiful Mulk was the son of king Sifuan of Egypt and Badiujjamal was the princess of Shapal, king of the fairy land Iran-Bostan. The prince along with his friend Sayyid, the son of Wazir, went to the fairyland and after great hardship met the lady of his love and ultimately married. His friend Sayyid also married the princess of Sarandeep. Alaol completed composing Saiful Mulk Badiujjamal during 1669 – 70 A.D.


This is the third book written by Alaol. The book was originally written in Persian by the great Persian poet Nizami Ganjabi. There are seven stories, which have found place in this book. King Numan of Ajam had a son named Bahram, according to the advice of the astrologers, the king sent his son to live in Yemen. An artist named Samna built for the prince seven towers in the palace; each tower was of different type and colour. In his absence the king died and the Wazir occupied the throne. The prince however returned and defeating the Wazir got back his throne. Thereafter he conquered seven neighbouring kingdoms and married seven princesses of those kingdoms. He allowed each of the princesses to live in each of the seven towers he had built earlier. When Bahram went to live with the princesses in the tower, he asked each of them to tell a story to please him. In this way seven princesses related seven stories which pleased the king, the seven stories from the subject matter of the book Haft Paikar. The story began on Saturday and ended on Friday, the first story that of Saturday is the longest. The stories are all interesting and pleasing. Needless to say, the stories were all educative and full of moral principles. The chief aim of the stories was to please the people. The book was written in 1660 A.D.


The book was originally written in Persian by Shaikh Yusuf Gada in 795 A.H. / 1392-93 A.D. It is a book on religious principles, and contains also advice and admonition that are helpful to lead a religious life of the Muslims. In those days books were not easily available, printing was not known; learners and teachers had to copy books for them. Shaikh Yusuf Gada had a son named Abul Fath. Shaikh Yusuf wrote this book to serve as a guide to his son. So the book is not properly a Fiqh. It contains religious principles on the basic of Fiqh and general moral principles that help regulating an honest and religious life. Alaol, in the preface, gives the subject matter of the book in the following words:

“(Yusuf Gada) had a son named Abul Fath, the book Thufa was written for him, whoever reads the book will be benefited. There is forty-five Bab (chapters) written on Shariat, Tariqat, Haqiqat, Tauhid, and Iman according to Islamic religion. In Arabic door is called Bab, and without door one cannot enter the house. The book Thufa is the house of Shariat, which has forty-five doors. The book deals with religious and worldly matters like eating, drinking, cohabiting, and washing, auspicious matters on houses, works by which to go to heaven or hell etc. It also deals with Namaz, Roza, Zakat, Faraz (obligaory), Nafal (optional), Wazu (ablution), Tayammum (purification by dust), and all kinds of bath. It also deals with questions to be asked in the grave, acts for removing the Sin, and moral principles. These are not told out of imagination, they are found in the Furqan (Quran) and traditions of the Prophet, in books on Fiqh like Hidaya, Kafiya etc. Yusuf Gada composed the book in Persian verse on the basis of Arabic books.”[4]

The life of Muslim from birth to grave is regulated by Shariah or Islamic law and the sources of Islamic law are the Quran, the Hadis and Sunnat of the Prophet, Irma and Quays. Muslims jurists have explained these sources from time to time for the benefit of the Muslims. Apart from obligatory baths etc. matters like passing urine and going to the privy, purification thereof, greetings among Muslim brethren, going to one’s house and taking proper permission from the owners before entering, all these are guided by Shariah or Islamic law. The subjects have been discussed in forty-five Bab or chapters and these chapters are as follows:

(1) Tawhid (oneness of Allah), (2) Iman (belief in Allah and his Prophet, Angels, divine Book, life in the next world, Taqdir, and day of Judgement), (3) Question-Answer in the grave, (4) Knowledge, (5) Injunctions of Shariat about Wazu, Ghusal, going to the privy and purification thereof, (6) Ibadat, performing namaz, (7) Payment of Zakat, (8) Fasting in the month of Ramazan, Shab-I-Qadr, (9) Musafir or way farers, and how to go, when to go, the auspicious days for travelling. In this chapter Hajj and Ziarat of Madina have also been discussed. (10) Recitation of the Quran and dowa, (11) Qasr, i.e. to offer Qasr prayer, this is applied to Musafir, (12) Marriage, (13) Cohabitation of husband and wife, (14) Eating, (15) Drinking, (16) Wearing dresses, (17) Sleeping, (18) Trading, (19) Darveshi, (20) Good behaviour, (21) Debt, (22) How to sit in majlis or assembly, (23) Scandal mongering, (24) Namaz, (25) Qaza Namaz, (26) Patience, (27) Tauba or repentance, (28) Miserliness, (29) Doing good deeds, (30) Charity, (31) Order, ordering to do good and prohibiting from doing bad things, (32) Good voice, (33) Games, (34) Hunting, (35) What to do when first moon is sighted, (36) Old age, to remain engaged in prayers in old age (after forty years), (37) Morning, (38) Shahid, i.e. martyrdom, (39) Forty type of good works, (40) Acquisition of wealth, (41) Heaven, (42) Hell, (43) Sunnat, (words and deeds of the Prophet), (44) Murder, (45) Various prescriptions.

The subject matters discussed above give an idea of the book. It is not a literary work. It does not discuss love affairs, nor does the book deal with legendary tales. Such books were rarely written in Bengali in the medieval period, in fact, this is the first book of its type. Alaol wrote this book Tuhfa in 1663-64 A.D.


Sikandarnama was originally written by Nizami Ganjabi in Persian that the book was very popular to the scholarly world. Alaol composed it in Bengali by order of Nabaraj Majlis, the Prime Minister of Sri Chandra Sudharma, the Arakanese king. The book was very difficult to comprehend; it is presumed that the great Persian poet Nizami used words of five languages; Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Pahlavi (Old Persian) and Nasrani (Armenian). Alaol himself says:
“It is difficult to understand the difficult sentences of Nizami, but if they are explained they give pleasure. Writing book is like swimming in the sea, especially if it requires explaining Persian poems. Nizami uses similes; particularly he uses Arabic, Persian, Nasrani, Hebrew, and Pahlavi etc. five languages.”

Sikandarnamacontains the heroic exploits of Sikandar or Alexander. He was the son of King Philip of Macedonia; after the father’s death Sikandar ascended the throne, his tutor or friend Aristotle was made his minister. Alexander became famous by conquering various countries; he even came to India, and defeated Porus of the Panjab. But his chief opponent was Darius of the Persia, by defeating him Alexander conquered the kingdom.

He is said to be the same as Sikandar Zulqarnain of the Holy Quran. It is a big volume and among Alaol’s books Sikandarnama was next to Padmavati in terms of popularity. Alaol completed the writing of this book in 1672 A.D. This was probably the last book written by him. The famous Alexanderia port in Egypt was founded by Sikandar and he is also said to be the inventor of looking glass. He tried to get the water of life but failed and again to be immortal he went to Amaranagar, from there also he came back disappointed. A man gave him a handful of dust and he will be merged with dust after death.

(Concluding part)

It may be remembered that Qazi Daulat started writing this book, but before concluding it he died. Alaol completed this book by order of Sulaiman in 1658 A.D. Satimaina is a big book, consisting of three parts. Qazi Daulat wrote first two parts, Alaol added the third part. In his part Alaol wrote “Rattan Kalika O Madan Manjari Prasanga” and “Ananda Barmar Galpa”. In writing about Qazi Daulat’s part we have said that while Lor was passing his days with Chandrani, leaving Maina alone, the later was passing her days in grief due to separation. She bore her grief with extreme patience, and at last patience bore fruit. Lor could realise his mistake, he returned home with Chandrani, and all three began to live a happy life. Alaol in his part of the book showed that God rewards those who have patience, and he completed the book saying that Lor was united with Maina.
Footnotes: –
1. Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah: Bangla Sahityer Katha, 2nd part, Dhaka 1371 B.S., p. 133.
2. D.C.Sen : Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya, 8th edition, p. 321.
3. Arakan Rajsabhaya Bangla Sahitya, p. 44.
4. Sahitya Patrika, winter, 1364, B.S., pp. 139-40.

To be continued: –