BANKIMCHANDRA Chatterjee was one of the trail-blazers of modern Indian literature. He is the author of Vande Mataram and is widely regarded as a key figure in the literary renaissance of Bengal. Vande Mataram (Hail to thee, Mother) became a clarion call for the country to unite in a spirit of reverence and dedication to Mother India. The Indian National Congress adopted it, the British government banned it, and patriotic people sang it in defiance. People were sent to prison just because they sung this song! Bankimchandra is one of those who stimulated in Indians the desire for independence. His writings brought home to people the meaning of nationalism. Vande Mataram set to music by Rabindranath Tagore was later declared as the national song. The nation remembers him on his birth anniversary falling on June 27.
Bankimchandra began his literary career as a writer of verse following the footsteps of Ishwarchandra Gupta, another renowned literary personality of the time. His first attempt was a novel in Bengali submitted for a declared prize although he did not win the prize, and the novelette was never published. In due course, he emerged as a great writer of novels and poems in Bengali. Bankimchandra aimed to stimulate the intellect of the Bengali speaking people and bring about a cultural renaissance of Bengali literature. No Bengali writer before or since has enjoyed such spontaneous and universal popularity as Bankimchandra. His novels have been translated in almost all the major languages of India, and have helped to simulate literary impulses in those languages.
Durgeshanandhini (Chief’s Daughter), his first Bengali romance and the first ever novel in Bengali, was published in 1865. Besides, Durgeshanandhini, he wrote fifteen novels including Kapalkundala, Mrinalini, Chandrashekar and Rajsingha which are known for their interesting stories. Mrinalini marks his first attempt to set his story against a larger historical context. Anandamatha, Devi Chowdhurani and Sitaram are historical novels. Anandamath was reprinted five times in ten years during his life! Indira, Yugalanguriya, Radharani, Rajani and Krishnakanter Will reflects the good and the bad in society. Vishavriksha’ (The Tree of Poison) is his first social novel which represents the anger and the desire for comfort found in every man. Other than the novels, he also wrote Krishna Charitra’, Dharmatattva (Philosophy of Religion), Devatattva (Principle of Divinity) and a commentary on Srimad Bhagavad Geetha.
Bankimchandra felt that there was need for a journal offering variety of reading materials such as stories, novels as well as articles on modern science which should stimulate thinking. So he founded a monthly journal called Vangadarshan and the first issue was brought out in April 1872. Rabindranath Tagore stated that ‘Vangadarshan’ was like the first rains of the month of Ashadhr (July-August) which brings a new liveliness to nature. His novel Ananda Math (The Abbey of Bliss) was serialised in the journal. His aim was to create interest among people in science and in the problems of the society and the country. It was a time when educated Indians spoke only English instead of their own language. Bankimchandra wanted to foster the love of the Bengali language among the educated Bengalis and he declared that people could progress only through their own language.
Bankimchandra Chatterjee was born on June 27, 1838 in Kanthalpara of the 24 Paraganas district of Bengal in an orthodox Brahmin family as the youngest son of Yadavchandra Chattopadhyaya and Durgadebi. ‘Bankim Chandra’ in Bengali means ‘the moon on the second day of the bright fortnight’. His father was the Deputy Collector of Midnapur and his mother was a pious and affectionate lady. Even as a boy, Bankimchandra was exceptionally brilliant and is said to have learnt the entire alphabet in one day! He used to spend his academic years, reading books other than the texts and would pass the examinations in flying colours. After passing B.A. from the Presidency College in Calcutta, he was appointed as Deputy Collector of Jessore by the Lieutenant Governor of Calcutta at the age of 20! Later he passed the B.L. Degree as well.
Bankimchandra was in Government service for 32 years. While in service, he was a conscientious worker and most of his superiors were Englishmen. He never submitted to their unjust and stubborn behavior. His self-respecting behavior angered the British officers and as a result he was often transferred from place to place. Though he worked with integrity, he never got the high position that he deserved!
(The author is a freelance Journalist and Social Activist. He is the Director of Indo-Gulf Consulting and can be contacted on [email protected]).