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.
Religious Commentaries, National Spirit and Essays of Chatterjee
In our work, we do not differentiate between Hindu or Muslim, Buddhist or Sikh, Parsee or Pariah. We are all brothers here—all Children of the same Mother India.”
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s novels made him famous. But he has also written excellent books which are not novels. ‘Krishna Charitra’, ‘Dharmatattva’ (Philosophy of Religion), ‘Devatattva’ (Principle of Divinity) and a commentary on ‘Srimad-Bhagavad Geetha are some of his other books. He wrote articles on Hinduism both in English and in Bengali. He had deeply studied choice books in English. Besides, he had himself grown up in an orthodox Hindu family.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was an original thinker, too. The ‘Krishna Charitra’ is a fine work. To most Hindus Krishna is the incarnation of God and so they worship him. But there are many legends and beliefs associated with Krishna which sometimes make one think. ‘Does Krishna deserve to be worshipped?’ One such belief, for example, is that Krishna had sixteen thousand wives.
Bankim Chandra had studied the ‘Mahabharatha’, the ’Harivamsha’ and the Puranas which narrate the story of Lord Krishna’s life. In his work he examines the accounts contained in each of these books, and what we may accept and what we should reject, and give reasons. According to him there is no higher religion or nobler way of life than that preached by Krishna; Krishna is holiness himself. He was full of compassion and lived only for the sake of justice. He desired nothing for himself. Bankim Chandra shows that Krishna is an ascetic even though he lived in the midst of people.
The Krishna Charitra and Dharma Tatwa by Bankim Chandra are two large volume of essays on religious topics. In his Krishna Charitra he has wholeheartedly believed Lord Krishna to be an Avatar, an incarnation of God. He has depicted Lord Krishna the man—as the foremost man and also as an ideal person. To establish Sri Krishna as an ideal person Bankim Chandra has quoted profusely from Mahabharat, Haribangsa, the Puranas etc. to support his contention.
So Bankim Chandra has written, “Krishna is a homely and family man, a politician a fighter, inflicts punishment, a meditator, and a missionary; an ideal person for the family man, the kings and soldiers, for the statesman, for the meditators, for man of religion and in general, and ideal person in his totality”.
Bankim Chandra has tried to establish the greatness and the historicity of Sri Krishna basing his arguments chiefly on the conversations of Krishna as told in Mahabharat and the strange stories of Krishna’s life.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote his distinctive book Dharmatatwa for the true and correct interpretation of the message of the Geeta and for its wide-spread circulation. In this book he has identified the cultivation of the ideal of truth in life with religion. To inspire all men to cultivate human virtues in their life, is the chief aim of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in this book. Such easy and lucid interpretation of an important religious topic is rare in Bengali literature.
The religious message expounded in the Geeta has been truly and systematically interpreted in Dharmatatwa and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee has established it in its own pristine glory. In this way he has sung the glory of human virtues in all his works. This was due to the influence of Bengal or that of the Indian Renaissance.
The Motherland is our only mother. Our Motherland is higher than heaven. Mother India is our mother. We have no other mother. We have no Father, no brother, no sister, no wife, no children, no home, no hearth—all we have is the Mother.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was 19 years of age when India’s First War of independence known in the West as the “Sepoy Mutiny”, was waged. The following year (1858) India had lost the war. Bankim was finishing his studies at the time, and in that same year graduated from the University of Calcutta. The British authorities immediately appointed him to the post of Deputy Magistrate.
Young Bankim Chandra had suffered a shock in seeing the failure of India’s First War of Independence. He could not rest until he knew why the great movement for liberation ended up being crushed in the manner in which it was, and that too with the help of many Indians themselves. In his effort to discover the causes of that failure he set his sharp intellect to the task of analysing the great problems that India was facing. Influenced and inspired by three great figures of that epoch, Raja Rammohan Roy, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar and Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi he soon recognised the existence of a number of startling facts.
Foremost among these was that the people of India were fast becoming denationalised by English manners and customs, English fashions, and English whiskies and wines- not to mention the Christian missionaries who had made Bengal their storm centre. The British government used their educational system to further this agenda after abolishing and outlawing the traditional Indian education systems. Chatterji’s soul winced when he perceived that the Indian who spoke good English was more honoured by his own people than the man who spoke and wrote their own tongue exquisitely. Wherever he looked, he saw educated Indians jumping frantically on the bandwagon of British culture.
From the moment he had first learned to think for himself, Bankim Chandra realised that there was a great struggle ahead to reverse the trend and bring physical and cultural freedom to the sacred motherland. He felt that he had his own divinely ordained effort to make in this veritable battle – which he played silently and humbly. If India was to be uplifted, her children must once again create literature and language dynamic and inspiring to enlighten and inspire the entire population of India.
Soon, the profound effect of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s novels and essays, with their compelling beauty, subtle humour and inspiring themes could be seen, firstly in Bengal and then spilling over into greater India. Indians who were nurtured on Shakespeare, Milton and Shelley began to read the works of Kalidas, Bhavabhuti, Chandidas and Vidyapula. They turned eagerly to the Puranas, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.
Whereas before, elite Indians took pride in their knowledge of the Magna Carta struggle, the times of Oliver Cromwell and the tragedy of Charles the First, they began to relish the ballads of Rajasthan and Maharashtra. A new feeling was born. Millions of Indians began to hold, their heads high once again and talk in terms of “our language”, “our literature”, “our history” and “our country”.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was a very refined person. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, the world famous Nobel Laureate poet of India, has related an incident about him.
There was a gathering. People were talking in-groups. One of them was reading Sanskrit verses composed by him. Bankim was standing nearby. The subject of the composition was patriotism. As the poet read, he made a remark making ! fun of Indians in poverty. When Bankim heard the remark he covered his face and left the place at once.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, one of the great sons of India, and Bankim Chandra were acquaintances. The word ‘Bankim’ also means ’that which is bent’. Paramhansa once jokingly asked Bankim Chandra, “What is it that has bent you?” “The kick of the Englishman’s shoe,” Bankim replied. Paramhansa was acquainted with Bankim Chandra’s historical novels, too. When Swami Vivekananda was still known as Narendranath, Paramhansa had sent him to Bankim Chandra.
When a man is in doubt what to do, he goes wherever he happens to be First called.
Though Bankim Chandra Chatterjee is regarded as a novelist who started a new era in Bengali literature, yet we cannot ignore him as a great essayist who holds a dignified position for his extra-ordinary merit in this branch of literature. For the all round development of Bengali language and literature, Bankim Chandra published a magazine, Banga Darshan in 1872. Banga Darshan was the principal medium for the publication of all his essays.
A revolutionary change came in his prose style through this magazine. A clear, simple and logical language is the life and soul of a literary composition. In the pages of Banga Darshan we find a sincere effort to make the language lively, easy and easily intelligible to the readers.
He picked up various topics and wrote essays on them. There is hardly any topic like, science, literature, sociology, philosophy, religion, history, etc., which he left untouched and had not written essays on them. The volume of essays authored by him are, (1) Bijnan Rahasya (1875), (2) Bibidha Samalochana (1876), (3) Roy Dinabandhu Mitra Bahadurer Jibani (1877), (4) Samya (1879), (5) Prabandha Pustak (1879), (6) Krishna Charitra 1st part (1886) and Krishna Charitra, the complete book, (1892), (7) Bibedha Prabandha 2nd part (1892). Apart from these books of essays Bangiya Sahitya Parishad has collected his other essays scattered here and there, and published them in a single volume with the title Bibidha”. Besides all these his Lok Rahasya (1874) and Kamala Kanter Daptar (1875) are essays with a different taste.
In the essays published in Lok Rahasya and Kamala Kanter Dapter Bankim Chandra has revealed his thoughts and opinions about national consciousness and social problems, through subtle irony and light hearted humour. These two books are allegorical by nature. With the help of allegory he has criticised the contemporary Bengali society and the Bengali people through irony, ridicule and subtle humour. His intention was to awaken the sleeping Bengali people and make them conscious about their own tradition and culture.
His Bijnan Rahasya is a collection of essays where he has chiefly dealt with animal life and astronomical matters. Of course, his essays on astronomical matters are easy and beautifully written and are extremely readable. The dry facts of science, added with the sauce of literary artistry, have made them very interesting and attractive. Though the essays of Bijnan Rahasya are based on the inventions and discoveries of Western scientists, yet for the handling skill of the author, no external influences are visible in them.
His original political thoughts have come out in his essays on political matters and sociology. The direct consequence and the fruit of his political consciousness in his Samya. This is a remarkable book of essays dealing with politics and state matters. We get a clear image of the evil consequences of casteism prevalent in the society and the economic injustice done to the people, in the essays included in this book. He was the first who initiated discussions about the problems of the peasantry and about communism, in Bengali language. Bankim Chandra proclaimed his message about Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, in the pages of Samya.
Bangadesher Krishak is a long and thoughtful essay. Here he not only exposed the misery and suffering of the peasantry of Bengal, the cruel and inhuman tortures inflicted upon them by the Zamindars, the evil laws of the country and the deplorable way of life of the people, but also suggested ways and means for their remedy.
He was the first who showed the way to study and discuss the history of Bengal and the Bengalis, in a scientific manner- He wanted to write the history of Bengal, for the self-assertion of the Bengalis. The literary essays of Bankim Chandra also can claim a distinctive place in Bengali literature.
Influenced by the literary tradition of the West, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was the first to initiate essay writing in Bengali literature with various literary ingredients. In his essay Geetikabya he has dealt briefly with the signs, its nature and the distinctive qualities of lyrical poetry. Within the very limited space of this essay he has shown the relative differences between epic, drama and lyrical poetry and thereby has shown his originality in literary thoughts. In his essay Sangeet also he has given enough evidence of his matured literary genious.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was also a first rate literary critic. He had deep knowledge in English language and literature. He has chiefly tried to assess Bengali literature setting it against the Sanskrit and English literature. His Uttar Charit; Vidyapati O Joydeb; Shakuntala; Miranda O Desdemona are critical essays on literature and they have enriched the treasure-house of literary criticism.
Pure philosophical essays of Bankim Chandra also carry the sure signs or his extraordinary talent and genius. In this type of essays, he has expounded the special features of Indian philosophy in an easily intelligible style and within a very limited space. Of the serious and light subject on which he wrote essays, some are definitely literary successes, e.g., Anukaran, Bhalehas Atyachar, Dharma Ebong Sahitya, Sangeet, Bahubal of BakyabaI, Ramdhan Pod, etc. Both their short length and their manner of presentation make them proper subject for writing essays on.