Meghnad Badh Kavya (Bengali: মেঘনাদবধ কাব্য- The Saga of Meghnad's Killing) is the most famous and most acclaimed poem by the poet Michael Madhusudan Dutta. It is based on the demise of Meghnad (a.k.a. Indrajit), son of Ravana, the villain of the classic Sanskrit epic Ramayana.
It was first published in 1861, incidentally the year of birth of the Bengali author, Rabindranath Tagore, who afterwards wrote a review on it.
The ballad is divided into 9 different sargas, i.e. parts. Each part exhibits different incidents. Starting from the death of Beerbahu, son of Ravana, it is continued till the sati-daha (the ancient Indian custom of burning the widows alive with the dead husband) of Prameela, Meghnad's beloved wife.
The poem starts with the lines:
Ravana, along with his sons, were the ones performing evil deeds in the Ramayana, which was originally written in Sanskrit by the sage Valmiki. But Dutta claims to have found a tragic hero in Ravana, as he was conversant Western literature. He feels a shadow of Hector of Troy in Meghnad. According to him, he realized why Ravana had perpetrated such crimes and Meghnad was slayed by Lakshmana brutally. He says that Meghnad was worshiping Lord Shiva which was known as Nikumvilla yaga in the royal temple of Lanka, while Lakshmana attacked him with some help from Bivishana, who is eventually an uncle of Meghnad. Meghnad prayed not to fight with an unarmed person, rebuking Lakshmana as a coward; but Lakshmana did not heed him. This unfortunate hero twice endangered Rama but could not survive himself in this unfair battle. This is the central theme of this epic. Here Meghnad is shown to be a patriot, a loving husband, a caring son and a friend to his countrymen. Unlike in the Ramayana, here Ravana is portrayed as a respectable man and a responsible king possessed of all royal qualities.
Here are some comments of a few pioneers of Bengali literature:
- "...to Homer and Milton, as well as to Valmiki, he is largely indebted, and his poem is on the whole the most valuable work in modern Bengali literature." -Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay
- "The Epic Meghnad-Badh is really a rare treasure in Bengali literature. Through his writings, the richness of Bengali literature has been proclaimed to the wide world." -Rabindranath Tagore
- "MeghnadBadh is a supreme poem." -Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
Quotations from the poet
Dutta had mentioned this ballad many times in his letters, of which a few are listed:
- "Perhaps the episode of Sita's abduction (Fourth Book) should not have been admitted since it is scarcely connected with the progress of the Fable. But would you willingly part with it? Many here look upon that Book as the best among the five ..." (1860)
- " ... I got a severe attack of fever and was laid up for six or seven days. It was a struggle whether Meghanad will finish me or I finish him. Thank Heaven. I have triumphed. He is dead, that is to say, I have finished the VI Books in about 750 lines. It cost me many a tear to kill him." (1860)