Kautukabilāsa (Biography of Maharaja Krishnachandra Ray of Nabadwip)
Kautukabilāsa by Shyamacharan Mukhopadhyay was published in 1864 from the Hindu Press in Calcutta. There were two previous editions of the same text published respectively in 1843 and 1847 from Kamalalay Press and Sambad Bhringadut Press. As the initial subtitle of the text revealed, Kautukabilāsa was primarily published as a collection of humorous stories from the life of Maharaja Krishnachandra Ray of Nabadwip in Bengal. However, the third edition of 1864 changed the subtitle to- “the amusing deeds of Gopal Bhand, the court jester to Maharaja Krishnachandra Ray.”
Kautukabilāsa marks an important entry into the trends of biography-writing in Bengal and in South Asian vernacular history in general. A number of biographies on Mahraja Krishnachandra Ray were being written and published in print from the beginning of the nineteenth century. What sets Kautukabilāsa apart from the existing biographies is the fact that it marks a transition from biography-writing as a commemorative practice to that of a critical one. In this sense Kautukabilāsa combines history, myth, oral lore and literary tropes to stand out as a new literary-historical genre within the oeuvre of print history in colonial Bengal.
The text is also perhaps the first to bring the deeds of Gopal Bhand, the much popular court jester from Krishnachandra’s court alive in print. Stories about Gopal, the mythical court jester still remain in circulation both in popular print and folklore. Written in the characteristic verse format which resembles the medieval literary style (or mangalkavya tradition) in Bengal, Kautukabilāsa is representative of the tradition of humorous literature that were being published in the nineteenth century. Importantly, it also highlights the vital relationship between biography and fiction, print and performance, and reading and leisure within the larger history of the book in South Asia.