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Pioneer folklorist Muhammad Mansuruddin

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22nd-Sep-2017       
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Literature Desk :
Muhammad Mansuruddin (31 January 1904 - 19 September 1987) was an author, literary critic, essayist, lexicographer and biographer. He was an authority on folklore and was famous for a huge collection of age-old folk songs, mostly anthologised in thirteen volumes under the title Haramoni. In recognition of his lifelong contribution to folklore collection and research, the Rabindra Bharati University awarded him D.Litt. degree in 1987.
On 31 January 1904 Mansuruddin was born to Muhammad Jaider Ali (father) and Jiarun Nisa (mother) in the Muraripur village under Sujanagar thana of Pabna district, East Bengal of the British India, now in Bangladesh. His education started in a rural school called Madhabchandra Nandi Pathshala. He Matriculated from the Khalilpur High School 1921. He did ISc from the Pabna Edward College in 1923 and then IA from the Rajshahi College in 1924, both IA and ISc being equivalent to HSC. He obtained his Bachelor's degree (BA) from the Rajshahi College in 1926. He studied in the department of Indian Vernacular of the Calcutta University from where he secured M A (Master of Arts) with a First Class in 1928. While a student of the Rajshahi College, he was married to Sharifun Nisa in 1925. They had six sons and six daughters.
In 1929 he joined government service as a school Sub-Inspector. While posted in Naogaon, he came to meet with Annadashankar Roy who was then the SDO. His career as a teacher commenced in 1932 when he joined the Dhaka Islamic Intermediate College to teach English language and literature. From 1935 to 1938 he taught at the Howrah Intermediate College, Calcutta. From 1938 to 1941, he taught Bengali language and literature in the Chittagong College. Then he joined the Rajshahi College and taught from 1941 to 1943. He was a Professor of Bengali language and literature at the Muraraichand College in Sylhet from 1948 to 1952. Professor Monsuruddin taught at the Dhaka College since 1952 from where he retired in 1959. During the same time, he taught in the Bengali Department of the Dhaka University as a part-time Faculty-member. Also, he served for some time as an instructor at the Police Academy, Sardah. As a teacher he was very interesting and attractive to his pupils.
Mansuruddin started to write at a very early stage. Although collection of folklore remains his greatest work, he wrote literary essays and fiction all through his life. His most notable literary contribution is however collection of over six thousand folk songs from different rural areas of Bengal. In 1952 he worked as editor of monthly literary Mah-e-Naw for about six months (on deputation from government service).
He spent fifty to sixty years in collecting Baul songs and other rural songs. He transcribed without caring for lexical accuracy. He took down as he heard from the mouth of the singers. He collected a huge number of folklore poems and songs many of which were collected in thirteen volumes during his lifetime. He also collected songs of Lalon Fakir and wrote on him. Also, in 1974, he translated some songs of Lalon Fakir for the international audience. He often encouraged younger folklorists to research following internationally recognised scientific conventions. At the same time he advised folklore researchers to travel to the rural sources of the folklore items to discover the life behind it.
He was an humble person with firm personality. He pursued a simple life. Long shirt and pyjama constituted his principal attire. He worked with conviction and confidence. As a teacher he was very devoted. It has been said that Professor Monsuruddin was a maverick and had his own style of teaching. In teaching Bengali language and literature, he chose English as the medium of instruction. He was very warm and friendly but when it came to literary criticism he was always very objective and outspoken. He was reputed for his unabashed comments on literary scenario. He was not a family man. Also, his focus on earthly gains was little. After settling down in Dhaka in 1932, he resided in an ordinary house in Shanti Nagar area of Dhaka city. This is known as 'Monsur Bhaban.' Personally a devout Muslim, he took deep interest in Sufism, Yoga and Tantric cults. He was an unassuming person and never boasted of his achievements. He collected folklore materials in original and unedited form and dreamt that a Folklore Institute will be established for institutional research. He emphasised the need for translation for sensitising the international readers of the richness of Bengali folk music.
Apart from Haramoni his notable collection was Lalon Fakir-er Gaan (Songs of Lalan Fakir), published in 1948. Lalan Geetika was published subsequently. Folksongs of Lalan Shah in English rendering was published in 1974. Introduction of different volumes of Haramoni are revealing and educative. In the Introduction of Volume V of Haramoni, he wrote, "No contemporary poet is to be compared with Lalon. The song of Lalon Shah bears the quaking of life and delightful reason why the rural indigent people preserve it. This song quenches the spiritual musical thirst, in fact, though Lalon is unlettered but his songs are full of refulgent. The language of Shah is more glorious than Dasharoti Ray, Modhu Kanan even than the language of Ram Prasad-No other contemporary Muslim poet can be compared with him, even the poem of great litterateur Meer Mosharraf Hossain is not as lofty as that of Lalon. A collection of Baishnab Kabita was published in 1942. He wrote two novels which were First July (1932) and Satashey March (1958). He produced three volumes of folktales, namely, Shirni (1932), Agar baati (1935) and Shiropa (1938). He published translation of Aurangzeb in 1940. His essays were published in several volumes. These included Dhaner Manjari (1933) and Kabya Samput (1948). His notable work is Muslim Contribution in Bengali Literature was published in 3 volumes between 1960 and 1981. Other prose works are Conflict between the Hindus and the Mussalmans (1981) and Vaishnab Kabita by Muslim composers (1942). Muhammad Mansuruddin, prominent folklorist of Bangladesh, took up the task of collecting Baul songs, which had been started by Tagore. After the publication of the first volume (1939) with perface form Tagore, in 1942, Calcutta University published his second volume of Hara-Mani (Lost Gems), which included a few hundred songs. Since then 12 additional volumes of his collections have been published in Dhaka. Jasim Uddin, who started his career as a collector of folksongs and folktales was, however, most famous for his use of folklore themes in dramas and in poetry. His published folksong collections include Rangila Nayer Majhi (The Boatman of the Green Boat) in 1938. His collection of humorous folktales, published in Bengali as Bangalir Hashir Galpa (1960) appeared along with English translation. He also published Jarigan (1968) and many other publications. Special mention should be made of Late Abbas Uddin, a scholar, accomplished singer, and collector of folksongs. His influence in the contemporary folklore movement of our country is immense. Hundreds of his genuine folksong records pressed by commercial recording companies sold like hot cakes. Popularly known as the father of Bengali Folk-songs Abbas Uddin has made folksongs popular and has created a school of folksingers in Bangladesh. These three scholars, Muhammad Mansuruddin, Jasim Uddin and Abbas Uddin, represented the country at Folklore Conferences held in London, at Indiana University in Bloomington and Germany, in past years.
Muhammad Mansuruddin wrote several biography books including Iraner Kobi (1968), biography of Prophet Muhammad titled Hazrat Muhammader Jiboni O Sadhona, Hazrat Shah Waliullah and Harun Rashid. His books for children included Bokami (1952), Thokami (1958) and Mushkil Asan (1958). He compiled a dictionary of Bengali idioms under the title Hashir Ovidhan in 1957.
He is one of the pioneers of Bengali folklore collection and research. Owing to rural origin, he was aware of folklore ballads and songs of oral tradition. He was impressed by the richness of Bengali folk music and decided to collect them before they are fully lost into oblivion. Starting from 1920s, he travelled from place to place and met people to collect folk songs that spread through oral medium.

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