The Biography of Famous Personalities of India will tell you about the controversies, the dark sides of a person that you may have never heard of.
Chatterjee’s Social Issues About Hinduism and Women
No study is likely to be Fruitful in results if carried on without a system.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee worked in the field of journalism too. Those were the days of few journals. He felt that there was need for a journal offering variety of reading material. The periodical should, of course, publish stories and novels, but it should publish articles on modern science; it should also include articles, which stimulate thinking. So in April 1872 he brought out the first issue of ‘Banga Darshan’.
In the very first issue of Banga Darshan Bankim wrote: ‘I have no ill feeling towards either English or Englishmen ………… It is very good to study English as much as possible…………. (but) pure silver is better than gilt brass…………. A true Bengali is better than one who poses as an Englishman…………
Bengal will not progress as long as educated people and scholars do not express themselves in Bengali.’
Thus one of the aims of Bankim was to interest people in science and in the problems of the progress of their society and their country. It was a time when educated Indians spoke only English instead of their own language. So Bankim Chandra wanted to foster the love of the Bengali language in the educated Bengalis, and to make them share their knowledge with others through their language. This was his second aim.
Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore has said that ‘Banga Darshari was like the first rains of the month of Ashadh. This month of the Indian calendar falls in June-July. Its first rains bring a new liveliness to nature. ‘Banga Darshan’ created such a liveliness in Bengal. People eagerly looked forward to its issues. Besides, Banga Darshan made possible the publication of numerous stories, poems, novels, plays and articles of criticism; it also paved the way for later journals.
In any list of good writers of India, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee is bound to find a high place. Most of his writings are in Bengali. But they upheld Indian culture. He wrote excellent books on Hinduism and critically examined its teachings. He offered his own views on necessary social reforms; he explained the mental attitudes necessary for the country’s progress. Several people opposed him and many laughed at him. His views on Lord Krishna were resented by orthodox people. But Bankim Chandra did not budge.
He courageously continued on his own independent path. Most of the educated people were attracted to the ways and fashions of the English and to the English language. To such people he declared that no man, however highly educated, need be ashamed to use his own language. He declared that people could progress only through their own language. We need not hate any language; we ought to use every language to add to our storehouse of knowledge. But if we are to progress there is only one royal road – and that is our own language and no other.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee is one of those who stimulated in Indians the desire for independence. His writings brought home to people the meaning of nationalism. ‘Anandamath’ is a magnificent novel of noble patriotism.
In his social novels Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was bold for his time in creating characters who broke with traditional codes of behaviour, but he was careful to see that in the end the conventional prevailed over the unconventional. In his two best social novels, Vishavriksha (1873) and Krishnakanter Will (1878), he explores the questions of extramarital love and remarriage of widows, but by means of suicide and murder he clears the way for convention to win out.
He was guilty of helping the right as he saw it to overcome the wrong by undisguised authorial intervention in the affairs of his characters. However, Bankim Chandra’s works possessed vitality. In the numerous, short chapters, dramatic events happened frequently, humour appeared everywhere, and there was movement, action, and feeling. Many of the names of his fictional characters have passed into the idiom of the language.
This country belongs to us. This is our Motherland. We are the children of this soil. You have no more moral or legal right to rule over this country than we have to rule over your England.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee became an adult at a time when the educated people of Bengal were beginning seriously to re-examine their ideals. The easy acceptance of everything Western and the derogation of everything Hindu had by this time given rise to a strong Hindu reaction.
Bankim Chandra became a spokesman for the orthodox point of view. He wrote a book on the Lord Krishna which showed a personal God with attributes more lofty than those of the Christian God.
Bankim Chandra defended the institution of caste, though he acknowledged some of its evils. In one of his last novels, Anandamath, he described a strongly disciplined order of sanyasis who revolted against the medieval Muslim rulers of Bengal. These sanyasis worshiped the mother-goddess Durga, who became to Bengali readers a powerful symbol of religion and patriotism. A long poem in this book, Vande Mataram (Hail to the Mother), became after Bankimchandra’s death the anthem of Hindu nationalists in the early 20th century.
Bankim Chandra’s impact on nationalist thought and action was based on his teaching of a renewed faith in Hinduism, and occasionally this was used to exacerbate communal antagonism between Hindus and Muslims. Though he proposed no specific plan for gaining independence or for governing the country after independence, his ideas blossomed in other men’s minds and were a force in the Indian nationalist movement.
Towards the end of his life, Bankim Chandra turned his attention to write about spirituality – the very essence of Hindu civilisation. A Life of Krishna and a book on the Essence of Religion, a rendering of the Bhagavad Gita and a commentary on the Vedas were his aims to give to his fellow countrymen. The first two he managed to complete, and the rendering of the Bhagavad Gita was three parts finished, but the commentary on the Vedas, which should have been a priceless possession, never got into the stage of execution.
Death, in whose shadow he had so long dwelt, with his ailing health, took the pen from his hand before he could accomplish this feat. Yet his contributions to literature are enough to immortalise his memory.
I worship my motherland For she truly is my mother.
Bengal was going through the first phase of modernity in the nineteenth century which brought many new tensions within gender relationships, love, marriage, illicit affairs, jealousy, break up of marriage and similar other issues. And all of these issues we find in Bankim’s novels. Bankim was endowed with a remarkable literary genius and is often regarded as a literary monarch of Bengal. He was first writer to portray women as individuals in his works within the framework of realistic society.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was the first to introduce the pre-marital romance in his novels in Bengali literature and which was completely in opposition of the male-dominated orthodox society of that time. He brought into picture a very different kind of image of women which was baffling for the existing social structure of that time. He deals with the emotional and sexual tangles among women within the conservative society. He also depicts the frustration of Bengali women within these patriarchal structures. He questions the values and the beliefs of male-orthodox society and resents women’s roles determined by conservative society merely as a respectable wife and mother with no individuality of their own.
Although his views and ideas were assisted by the socio-political milieu of that time because there was British rule at that time and western education was taught in schools and colleges which supported such kinds of ideas and concepts but at the same time the conservative society of that time was completely in the opposition of this new and different image of women portrayed by Bankim in his novels. They believed that these new kinds of attitudes would spoil women and then they would become rebellious and assertive and would question the existed male patriarchal order and they would threaten its security.
The women had no life of their own. Their function was to keep the family together, adoring their husbands, taking care of their children within the domestic atmosphere. They did not have an identity and individuality of their own. Women’s education was derived from two sources – knowledge of epics largely conveyed through the oral tradition and their own work within the household. They were born to serve others. Their personal feelings and desires were not taken into consideration.
Bankim’s main concern was the issues like his love of humanity and his anxiety to work to raise the voice of the oppressed women. His women characters assert his deep understanding of the human mind and his remarkable power of delineation. His novels also portray many defiant heroines like Ayesha in Durgeshnandini, Prafulla in Devi Chaudhrani and Shanti in Anandamath and many other characters.
Bankim Chandra as a novelist was chiefly concerned with suffering of these women. He has depicted the crisis of individual will and the problem of agency that his characters have to face. Women have really powerful roles in almost all of his novels. One of the important point is that Bankim has situated his women in the past and not in present social milieu because he had a kind of fear in his mind that these women, so inflamed with passion and desires, could not be accepted by the conservative orthodox society. He has shown the courage to reveal the attraction between men and women even outside the conjugal life which was not acceptable in orthodox society and which that society did everything to suppress.
It is said that Bankim derived this courage and strength by reading European literature. On the one hand he has made his women characters to question the social injustice done to them without any serious fault committed by them and on the other hand there was a conflict within his mind which forced him to cling to autocratic males who dominated social life.
He brought into play the conservatism of the society even when acknowledging the power of socially transgressive romantic love. He reveals the secret passions and desires of Hindu wives and widows and men drawn into clandestine relationship with others outside their marital life. The very striking point about him is that although he represents the conflicts between personal aspirations and cultural practices and emotional and sexual needs of his characters but he has made all these clandestine and transgressive thoughts and feelings invariably ending in death and disaster. The women characters once deviating from social code and following their own desires meet disaster and death and are left with no other alternative.
Although a taste for transgression could be detected in all his novels and it is central theme in Vishavriksha, Krishanakanter’s Will, Indira. In his novel Vishavriksha he has tried to morally caution men and women of illicit passion. Here he has adopted a very conservative approach. This illicit passion is not justified in his eyes even when it leads to the marriage of Nagendra and Kundanandini, two characters in this novel. It seems that here he is giving a message that once drawn to the life of immoral acts, men and women are unable to redeem themselves.
He is making a point that lack of judgment is responsible for the growth of this illicit love and passion. Here, the widow Kundanandini as forced to end her life once Nagendra and his wife are reunited after having both realized their folly. Nagendra feels that he has fallen a prey to carnal temptation by loving and marrying Kundanandini and his wife Suryamukhi realizes her fault for not having thwarted her husband’s marriage with her.
At the same time he is upholding family values and also quick to condemn any injustice done to a wife as in the case of Bharmar in Krishnakanter’s Will. He is on the side of wronged wife Bharmar who has the courage to say to her husband that she will respect him as long as he is worthy of respect. This point also illustrates the idea that to what extent he justifies the conduct of his characters.
Another example from his novel Devi Chaudhrani in which Bankim has once again proven his idealization of domestic life by the way how Prafulla, the protagonist who is so defiant and courageous that she participates in the freedom struggle against British Government is finally made to return to her in-law’s home and accepting her role as a respectable wife leaving her previously powerful role as a great freedom fighter. Now here as well he has portrayed a very different image of a woman because at that time it was very unnatural for women to participate in independence movement and they always remained behind purdah and seclusion, Bankim here shows the freedom struggle led by a woman, Prafulla. This proved to be a powerful message for the women who gradually began to come outside of their homes to participate in the freedom struggle.
In his short story Indira, He has also described the issue of transgression but in a very different way by making a husband falling in the illicit love with his wife not knowing her true identity. Here he has represented a very triumphant figure of woman. Here the speaker-narrator is a woman who tells her own story, this technique of narration was very new in the Bengali novel. It clearly shows the importance of women in society. We can not imagine a woman who is so individualistic engineers in the medieval literature of Bengal. Here Indira shuns the hesitation, fear and the Sastric shackles of medieval woman and establishes her superiority in worldly affairs.
Here, Bankim has represented a new kind of woman apart from the role of woman as mother, wife or sister assigned by the orthodox Hindu society. Bankim is here asserting a woman’s identity which was missing in Bengali society of that time. Here individuality is the essence of Indira’s personality. Here Bankim is depicting the inner conflict in the Bengali woman ‘modern’ and yet conformist under social compulsions slowly discovering her individuality and identity. She is the champion of women’s place in society.
In his novels we mainly find a struggle between individual and social being shackled by conventions. In this process the individuality of women suffers most. They have been denied of their primary rights and at the time the opportunities of self-fulfillment. At that time women were deprived of the rights of education, inheritance, free choices in male dominated society. On the one hand they are seen clinging to the social roots and on the other hand fighting against the blind conformism and social tyranny.
In a sense Bankim exposes the false moral conventions of Bengali society without developing empathy for the victims he has portrayed in his novels. He did not show the compassion towards the victims and at the same time, he could not treat the sinner with love, and kindness.