The 1951 Rabindra Puraskar, the most prestigious literary award in West Bengal, was posthumously awarded to Bibhutibhushan for his novel, Ichhamati.
The Bandyopadhyay family originated in the Panitar village near Basirhat, located in the North 24 Parganas district of modern-day West Bengal. Bibhutibhushan's great-grandfather, who was an Ayurvedic physician, eventually settled at Barakpur village, near Gopalnagar, Banagram(now-Bongaon), North 24 Parganas. However, Bibhutibhushan was born in Muratipur village near Kalyani Ghoshparai, Nadia, at his maternal uncle's house. His father, Mahananda Bandyopadhyay, was a Sanskrit scholar and story-teller (Kathak) by profession. Mahananda and his wife Mrinalini had five children, of whom Bibhutibhushan was the eldest.
Bibhutibhushan's childhood home was at Barakpur village, near Gopalna
The writer studied at Bongaon High School, one of the oldest institutions in British India and was considered a consistently talented student. Following a first division placement in the Entrance and Intermediate Arts examinations, Bibhutibhushan completed his undergraduate degree with Economics, History and Sanskrit at the Surendranath College (then Ripon College), Kolkata. He was admitted to the master's degree (MA) and Law classes, but could not afford to enroll for the postgraduate course at the University of Calcutta and joined teaching profession in a school at Jangipara, Hooghly.
Prior to becoming a writer, Bibhutibhushan worked in a variety of jobs to support both himself and his family.
His first job was as a teacher, but Bibhutibhushan also served as a travelling publicist for Goraksini Sabha, and later as a secretary for Khelatchandra Ghosh, a role that included the management of his Bhagalpur estate. Bibhutibhushan became involved with Khelatchandra, a prominent name in music and charity, tutoring his family, and also taught at the Khelatchandra Memorial School. Bibhutibhushan eventually returned to the geographic area where he spent his childhood, accepting a job as teacher at the Gopalnagar School which he continued alongside his until his death. While staying at Bhagalpur he wrote Pather Panchali and also published.
Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay's works are largely set in rural Bengal, with characters from that area. Many of his novels are set in the city of Bongaon, including Pather Panchali, Adarsha Hindu Hotel, Ichamati and Bipiner Sansar.
In 1921, Bibhutibhushan's first published short story, "Upekshita," appeared in Probashi, at the time one of Bengal's leading literary magazines. However, it was not until 1928, when his first novel Pather Panchali (also known in English as Song of the Little Road) was published (initially as a serial, then as a book in 1929), that Bibhutibhushan received critical attention. Pather Panchali brought Bibhutibhushan to prominence in Bengali literature and the novel and its sequel Aparajito, were subsequently translated into numerous languages. Additionally, these two were made into films by Satyajit Ray and, together with Apur Sansar, formed the highly successful Apu Trilogy.
Ray referred scriptwriting students to the author with the following line of praise for the author's skill with written dialogue: "His lines fit the characters so well, they are so revealing that even when the author provides no physical description, every character seems to present itself before us simply through the words it speaks."
Ichamati reflects and documents a period of caste stratified culture, the life of rural society along the banks of the Ichamati River in undivided Bengal. The novel captures indigo planters, plantation life, and caste society in Bengal during the early part of the previous century in vivid detail. Relationships are sensitively portrayed in the narrative, with the author exploring the subtle nuances contained therein. Readers have praised the detailed descriptions of nature and the unselfconscious, but poetic, portrayal of the flora and fauna on the banks of the Ichamati River. Ichamati has also been described as a deeply spiritual piece of writing, with Advaita Vedanta holding particular relevance to the contained dialogue.
Bibhutibhushan wrote 16 novels, and over two hundred short stories; his style as a Bengali novelist has been compared to Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay.
Pather Panchali is considered Bibhutibhushan's masterpiece and is included in the ICSE syllabus for students choosing to study Bengali. Author Humayun Azad opined that the novel form of Pather Panchali is superior to its cinematic rendition. Azad's view is not necessarily a commonly held one in the West, though, as the Apu Trilogy is considered among the finest films in the history of cinema – the unavailability of a complete English translation of the novel means that English-speaking audiences have difficulty engaging with the debate (the available translation by T. W. Clark and Tarapada Mukherji is a truncated version). However, in the Bengali-speaking world, the stature of the novel is not contested.
Amit Chaudhuri has translated a few excerpts from the novel for inclusion in the anthology, The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature. In his introduction to these excerpts, Chaudhuri writes: "Unique for its tenderness and poetry ... Pather Panchali rejects both nineteenth-century realism and social realism (the social milieu described in it would have logically lent itself to the latter) for an inquiry into perception and memory." The complete text of Aparajito has been translated into English by Gopa Majumdar.
The novel Aranyak has been translated into English in January 2017 by Lucknow-based Suchismita Banerjee Rai. The English version has been published by Kolkata-based Mitra and Ghosh Publishers.
Martin Seymour-Smith, in his Guide to Modern World Literature (1973), describes Bibhutibhushan (he uses the form Banerji) as "perhaps the best of all modern Indian novelists", going on to write that "probably nothing in twentieth-century Indian literature, in prose or poetry, comes to the level of Pather Panchali".
Bibhutibhushan's early days were spent in abject poverty and he subsequently supported his family financially, though the extent of his support is unknown.
Bibhutibhushan had a stout constitution and walked miles in the woods every day, usually taking his notebook for the purpose of writing whilst surrounded by the wilderness.
Gouri Devi was the writer's first wife, but she died of cholera a year after their marriage. Gouri's death and Bibhutibhushan's consequent loneliness led to a theme of tragedy that became a recurrent motif in his early writings. At the age of 46, Bibhutibhushan married Rama Chattopadhyay and the couple raised a son, Taradas, who was born in 1947.
Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay died on 1 November 1950, with the cause of death identified as a heart attack. Death occurred whilst the author was staying in Ghatshila, presently in Jharkhand state.Pather Panchali (1955)
Apur Sansar (1959)
Baksa Badal (1970)
Nishi Padma (1970), Amar Prem (1971) based on short story Hinger Kochuri.
Ashani Sanket (1973)
Chander Pahar (2013)
Sahaj Pather Gappo (Colours of Innocence) (2017) based on the story Taal nabami.
Amazon Obhijaan (2017) based on the characters created by him in Chander Pahar.