Renowned Bengali poet and novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay has died following a massive heart attack in his Kolkata home at the age of 78.
"One of Bengal's brightest literary stars has been extinguished. This loss will be extremely difficult to overcome. Sunil Gangopadhyay was one of the greatest Bengali intellectuals," India's President (and fellow Bengali) Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement.
A prolific author of more than 250 books, including novels, short stories, travelogues and children's fiction, Gangopadhyay was one of India’s most prominent writers and was honored with several prestigious literary awards, including the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Hindu Literary Prize.
While he wrote exclusively in Bengali, Gangopadhyay's popularity stretched across India.
Three of his best known works of fiction were "Arjun, Pratidwandi" ("The Adversary"), "Aranyer Din-Ratri" ("The Days and Nights of the Forest") and "Eka Ebong Koyekjon" ("Alone and Others"). The first two works were later turned into films by director Satyajit Ray.
However, he always insisted that poetry was his first love -- he was the founder of Krittibas, a poetry magazine that offered young poets the chance to experiment with new forms.
Fellow authors and fans poured out their tributes to Gangopadhyay.
"Deeply shocked by the death of the great Bengali writer Sunil Gangopadhyay. He was [a] warm, kind man and a dear friend. Will miss him terribly," Bengali author Amitav Ghosh wrote on his Twitter account.
"It will be extremely difficult to fill the vacuum in Bengali literature after his death, as Sunil had heralded a new style in Bengali literature,” another prominent Bengali writer, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, told the Press Trust of India.
"Bengali literature has lost its guardian," lamented writer Samaresh Majumdar.
However, the esteemed author was no stranger to controversy.
In 2006, he faced charges of defiling an image of Saraswati -- the Hindu goddess of knowledge and the arts -- by claiming that he kissed an idol of the goddess in order to “satisfy” his desires. (The High Court of Calcutta threw out the charges, which were brought by a police chief who claimed Gangopadhyay hurt his “religious sentiments”).
In 2004, some Hindus were outraged by Gangopadhyay after he wrote about the purported sex life of Indian spiritual leader Ramakrishna Paramhansa. (He had also previously written about the sex life of the Prophet Muhammad, an act that led to the government of Bangladeshi banning a magazine in which he made the comments).
Gangopadhyay leaves behind a wife and son.