Chandimangal is a 16th CE Bengali Poem or Kavya that I now discovered is a genre in Bengali literature. I found this book in my library while looking for another book. I have no recollection when and where I bought this book or if anyone gifted me this book. It just appeared magically in my hands, just when I was totally prepared to read it. What a discovery and a blessing this book is!
Chandimangal was written by Kavikankan Mukundaram Chakravarti in 16th CE. Apparently, many such poems were written for the different aspects of Devi, who is the presiding deity in Bengal. The more famous one is Anand Mangal by Bharatchandra Ray. I hope to read it sometime as it has been translated by Murty Classics Library. This translation by Edward M. Yazijian is beautiful. Despite not being a native Indian, he has managed to capture the cultural nuances very well.
Buy Chandimangal by Kavikankan Mukundaram Chakravarti at Amazon
The book is divided into three segments – Book of Gods, Book of Hunter, and Book of Merchant. The first book kind of sets the tone for the book. It talks about the author’s own journey to writing this book. It talks about the story of Sati and Parvati, and their domestic lives that involve fights, annoyances and Parvati ends up visiting the earth to establish her own worship.
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The second book talks about the descend of Nilamabar – son of Indra to earth as the son of a hunter. In this story, the hunter is visited by the Chandi and given wealth. He sets up a new kingdom after clearing a jungle. There is a lovely description of all the people who make up a self-sustained kingdom. He fights with the neighboring kings and establishes his might in the region that is interestingly called Gujarat but it is not to be confused with the present-day western state of Gujarat.
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Story of a merchant and his young wife
The third book talks about the long story of a merchant and his young wife who was a dancer in the Indralok. She faces hardships at the hand of her co-wife when their husband is away for King’s work. She learns to do Chandi Puja and husband returns to her, but being a Shiva devotee, he does not approve of her Chandi Puja. Chandi punishes him by sending him to Simhala but not before blessing her devotee with a son. The son grows up and brings his father back to his mother. Both the king of Simhala and the king of Gauda give him their daughters in marriage. The story is long and beautiful, full of wisdom and practical knowledge.
While describing the food, pages are devoted to collecting ingredients, cooking, and serving. When occult rituals are defined, you get a long list of herbs used to perform them. When the Puja is defined – a fairly long description is there although the key mantras have been skipped. I can’t say if the original author skipped or the translator. There route from Gauda to Simhala is described in detail, including a stop at Jagannath Puri to eat the famous Prasad there. There is a description of each waterway and its environment. Of course, there are mystical elements like Chandi coming down to create the illusions that provide the twists in the story.
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Beautifully Written & Translated
Chandimangal is a beautifully written and beautifully translated book. Some knowledge of Shakta traditions may be required to understand some parts of the book. Ultimately the book brings out a realization that Shiva and Shakti are one. Anyone who thinks that one is better than the other is making a mistake. Throughout the story, it brings out the relationship between the Bhakta and the Devta or the deity and the devotee. While the deity always protects her devotee, there are times when they put them through difficult testing times, just to see if they keep their faith in them or not. This is probably the best part of these stories – how deities take care of your destiny and your problems, how they give you what you deserve if you keep your faith in them.
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Stories are so full of ‘rasa’ that you keep turning the pages to know what happens next. The plot is so unpredictable that it keeps you on the edge. The inherent knowledge of the common people in India tells you about how much have you lost it with our education solely outsourced to schools.
Overall, a highly recommended read, especially if you like the Indian way of storytelling where it is never a single story but a network of stories woven together. For writers, it is a lesson in storytelling.
Go, read Chandimangal.