Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay: Revolutionary Genius
On the 184th birthday of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, a celebration of the exemplary novelist who gave us our national song Vande Mataram.
Born on June 27, 1838 into a Brahmin family, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay was the face of the Bengal Renaissance, an exemplary novelist, and the man who gave India its national song, Vande Mataram. Bankim, born in the middle of the 19th century in a nation that was still under Great Britain, the hegemon at the time, was a genius in his own right. He steered Bengali literature, social satire and journalism in a direction that has a deep legacy even today.
Bankim may not be as common a household name as Rabindranath Tagore, but he was, in fact, the pioneer of Bengali literature that later flourished through laureates like Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, and more. Again. Tagore, very influenced by the legend, was 23 years younger than him. When Bankim founded Bangadarshan, a monthly literary magazine that he wanted to be a ‘means of communication between the educated and uneducated classes ‘, Tagore was an 11-year-old boy who couldn’t wait to read the magazine. Bangadarshan ceased publication in the 1880s but was revived in 1901 with Tagore as publisher. Hence, he considered Bankim as his mentor and wrote that “Bankim Chandra had equal strength in both his hands, he was a real sabyasachi (ambidextrous). With one hand, he created literary works of excellence; and with the other, he guided budding young authors. With one hand he lit the light of literary enlightenment; and with the other he blew out the smoke and ashes of ignorance and ill-conceived notions.
It must be realized that few writers have benefited from Bankim’s universal and immediate acceptance in the sub-continent and the reason for this is simply that it was Bankim who sparked a wave of nationalism in a nation that was dormant under an oppressive colonialist regime. He began writing around the time when the wounds of the failure of the First War of Independence in 1857 were still fresh and the masses were dejectedly submitting to English subjugation.
One of his best texts and Indian literature, Anandamath (which was later adapted into a film starring Geeta Bali and Bharat Bhushan in the lead roles), is an anti-establishment work that has nationalistic undertones and demonstrates how paramount resurgence and rebellion are. The song we now know as the national song, Vande Mataram, was a poem from the novel. The novel as well as the film remain an example of excellence in the attempt to use art to navigate the socio-political landscape of a country, which remains relevant even today. In fact, especially today.
The novel remains monumental in recording India’s freedom struggle, which is why it is no surprise that the British banned it. The story follows the Sanyasi Rebellion in the 18th century, when several fakirs, hermits and monks in northeastern India opposed British rule. Bengal at that time was suffering from one of the worst famines and droughts that mankind had ever known. Anandamath asks questions that make you feel uncomfortable, but is also a guide to stimulating a dissenting voice that has the courage and heart to stand up for what is right. It’s a shame Anandamath, much like Bankim himself, finds no place in today’s popular consciousness, which once again reminds us of the discouraged reality of the prevailing mindset as well as the fun charm of the times.
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay was one of the first two people to graduate from the University of Calcutta, after which he obtained a law degree in 1869 and was appointed Deputy Magistrate of Jessore, a post which had previously been held by his father . He worked in government service for 32 years before retiring in 1891. Bankim was thus a prototype of what it meant to challenge the system while being within the system. It was probably because of his position that he could see even more clearly than an ordinary man that the British were essentially harming an entire civilization for their betterment under the guise of development.
Bankim believed that Western and Eastern cultures did not have to be mutually exclusive and were, in truth, complementary to each other, if the two cultures were to imbibe each other’s each other and cultivate a more sincere and kind civilization together. . However, he was fiercely opposed to the idea of coming below Western influence. He was a strong believer in Hinduism and claimed that it contained vast knowledge that could be passed on to the people of India, who at that time were striving to understand Western customs.
That said, Bankim was not a blind follower of myths and stories. Instead, he wished to look at religious texts with a keen sense of rationality and logic. Interestingly, in his novel Krishna Charitra, a classic, Bankim seeks to interrogate Krishna, not the almighty lord and certainly not the manufactured product of some fantasy story, but an actual human being who might share a glimpse of that vast knowledge that Bankim believed the Hindu scriptures encompassed . He wanted to interpret ancient and archaic Indian and Hindu knowledge, without the myths and folklores that water it down and make it implausible to a cynical youth marveling at Western consistency.
On his 184th birthday, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, aka Chatterjee, is certainly remembered and celebrated for the revolutionary genius he was and remains today. His voice is still very much alive in the hearts and minds of those who wish to dissent, struggle and fight for the right thing. He is a stark reminder of how we must stay true to our hearts and ourselves, and in doing so, embark on a journey where we are mindful and mindful of the direction our country and our people are heading. Although a deep, ignorant sleep may seem sweet, it inevitably requires waking up. Will it be too late then or will it be just in time?