First Published in Bengali in 1861, The Poem of the Killing of Meghnad (Meghnadhadh Kabya) by Michael Madhusudan Dutt is an epic in blank verse that has Meghnad (Indrajit), Ravan’s warrior son who is slain by Lakshman in the Ramayana, as the tragic hero. The most subversive and original feature of Madhusudan’s epic is that, in a startling departure from the Kshatriya warrior-code, Meghnad is killed by Lakshman in a temple where he has no means of defending himself. Daringly new and inventive for its time, the poem is an expression of Madhusudan’s mind, of the Bengal Renaissance, and even of the wider Indian modernity that has emerged from that era.
This lyrical and vigorous translation by William Radice is accompanied by an extensive introduction, detailed footnoted and a comprehensive survey of Madhusudan’s use of Indian and Western sources.
Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-1873) was born in the Jessore district of Bengal. His Persian-educated father, a pleader in Calcutta's law-courts, brought his family to the city, and Madhusudan was sent to Hindu College to acquire an English education. In 1843 he converted to Christianity, and moved to Bishop's College, where he studied Latin and Greek. In 1848 he moved to Madras, where he worked as a teacher and journalist, and married an Anglo-Indian woman. He left her and their four children for Amelia Henrietta White, the daughter of an English colleague at the school where he taught. She joined him in Calcutta in 1858, and lived with him thereafter, bringing up three children by him.
Madhusudan initially had ambitions as a poet in English, but on returning in 1856 to Calcutta embarked on his career as a dramatist and poet in Bengali, earning his living as an Interpreter and Clerk in the Police Court. After a legal battle to secure his inheritance, he sailed to England in 1862, to read for the Bar at Gray's Inn. The financial arrangements he had made to pay for this went wrong, and he moved his family to Versailles. He was saved from destitution by Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar.
On returning to Calcutta again in 1867, Madhusudan found it difficult to practise as a barrister. Extravagance and alcoholism overcame him, and he died three days after Henrietta. They were buried in Lower Circular Road Cemetery. A bust of Madhusudan was installed there in the 1950s.
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