Some Selected Works of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee

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Some Selected Works of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee

Some Selected Works

What right has an English King to the wealth of our land?

In 19th century India – when the country was still under the British reign after having been ruled by the Mughals for a few centuries – a strong voice had emerged championing the cause of Hindu nationalism – the voice that believed answers to many of the inconvenient questions the country was asking then lay in India’s Hindu heritage.

His epic Anandamath—set in the background of the Sanyasi Rebellion (late 18th century), when Bengal was facing a famine too – made Bankim Chandra Chatterjee an influential figure on the Bengali renaissance who kept the people of Bengal intellectually stimulated through his literary campaign. The novel became synonymous with India’s struggle for freedom from the British – who banned it. India got its national song, Vande Mataram, from Anandamath.

Though Bankim remained in government service for long, he found his calling in writing – much like his elder brother Sanjeebchandra. He had studied Sanskrit and was very interested in the subject, but later took on the responsibility to make Bengali the language of the masses. Interestingly, however, his first published work – a novel – was in English.

Bankim Chandra also founded a monthly literary magazine, Banga Darshan, in 1872, through which Bankim is credited with influencing the emergence of a Bengali identity and nationalism. Many of his novels were published in this magazine in the form of serials. Besides, it had works by scholars, literary critics and other intellectuals. There were articles on the Puranas and the Vedas – exhorting the intellectual community to stay rooted while embracing the ideas of modernity.

Bankim Chandra wanted the magazine to work as the medium of communication between the educated and the uneducated classes at a time English had become the language of communication between the educated class, widening the gulf between the higher and lower ranks of society.

The magazine carried fiction too, and his serialized novels were a hit with the readers – especially the literate women. Almost all of Bankim’s novels were published in it.

The legendary Rabindranath Tagore was an 11-year-old bright boy when Banga Darshan was launched. He would read the magazine with great enthusiasm, as he later wrote in his recollections of childhood, “It was bad enough to have to wait till the next monthly number was out, but to be kept waiting further till my elders had done with it was simply intolerable.”

The magazine stopped publication in the late 1880s, but was resurrected in 1901 with Tagore himself as its editor. While it carried Tagore’s writings – including his first full- length novel ChokherBali – the ‘new’ Banga Darshan retained its original philosophy, nurturing the nationalistic spirit. During the Partition of Bengal (1905), the magazine played a vital role in giving an outlet to the voices of protest and dissent. Tagore’s Amar Sonar Bangla – the national anthem of Bangladesh now – was first published in Banga Darshan.

Nationalistic writings apart, Bankim Chandra was gifted as a storyteller too. While he wrote several novels, here is a look at five of his most popular works of fiction.

Rajmohan’s Wife: Bankim Chandra’s debut work, Rajmohan’s Wife, is said to be the first published novel in English by an Indian. Serialised in Bangadarshan, the book has plots and characters symbolically mapping the birth of modern India and the emergence of the modern Indian woman in the 19th century. The novel has protagonist Matangini – a beautiful woman married to a brutal man – in love with her sister’s husband.

It depicts the strength of her character who remains strong discharging her duties and living up to the expectations of middle-class society. The story shows Matangini as a woman who is not scared to break rules and face consequences, as she sets out in the middle of the night to foil her husband’s plot to harm her sister and her husband. The book portrays a realistic picture of a 19th- century Bengal village, its people and landscape.

Debi Choudhurani: After Anandamath, Bankim Chandra continued his call for a resurgent India that fights against oppression with strength from within, steeped in traditional Indian values. The story fuelled the patriotic struggle for Independence and the British government banned it. The ban was lifted post-1947. In this novel, Bankim Chandra showed the armed face-to-face conflict with the British Army being led by a woman. The character, Prafulla, is married but is shunned by her wealthy in-laws right after the wedding rituals get over. As the heartbroken father dies soon after and the family is left in penury, Prafulla flees in the middle of the night one day, only to end up as a dacoit fighting the British. The ending, where she asks for forgiveness from her father-in-law and requests to be taken back as her daughter-in-law, though disappoints many, is seen as a compromise Bankim Chandra might have had to make for his story to be accepted by the then conservative society. The novel was later adapted into a film in 1974, starring Suchitra Sen in the lead role.

Kapalkundala : Published in 1866, Kapalkundala is the story of another woman with grit. Forest-dwelling girl Kapalkundala falls in love and marries an urban Nabakumar, but finds it difficult to fit into a city life, which she abandons. One of his finest works of fiction, Kapalkundala has been translated into several Indian and foreign languages.

Vishvriksha : This book (1873) too has a young and beautiful widow and the married male protagonist falling for her. The tragic tale of love also deals with the social issue of widow remarriage. Bankim Chandra was well ahead of his times when dealing with women’s issues. Vishavriksha shows women-even the caring wife being cheated by her husband-as liberal enough to live life on their own terms.

Krishnakanter Will : The popular novel – first published in 1878 – is the story of a love triangle involving a couple and a young widow. The very contemporary plot has made it a subject for several TV serials and movies till date.

Bankim’s Last Days

When Bankim Chandra retired he was eager to write many books. But he was not able to devote many years to writing on a large scale.

The study of the Bhagavad Gita gradually changed his very temperament itself. He gave up writing novels. Philosophy and thoughts of God filled his writing. He wrote ‘Krishna Charitra’, and books on religion. He began the translation of the Gita and the Vedas. But he died before he could complete the translation of the Vedas.

Towards his end, he grew very philosophical. He lost all interest in worldly pleasure. Though he was ailing for quite sometime he refused medicine. His health soon declined and he died when he was only fifty-six.

Bankim Chandra died on April 8, 1894. In his lifetime, he wrote numerous novels, stories and essays and his works were translated into several languages. Anandamath was later published in English as The Abbey of Bliss.

Major Works

Poetry Collection

  • Lauta O Manas (1858)

Fiction

  • Durgeshnandini (March 1865)
  • Kapalkundala (1866)
  • Mrinalini (1869)
  • Vishavriksha (The Poison Tree, 1873)
  • Indira (1873, revised 1893)
  • Jugalanguriya (1874)
  • Radharani (1876, enlarged 1893)
  • Chandrasekhar (1877)
  • Kamalakanter Daptar (From the Desk of Kamlakanta, 1875)
  • Rajni (1877)
  • Krishnakanter Wil (Krishnakanta’s Will, 1878)
  • Rajsimha (1882)
  • Anandamath (1882)
  • Devi Chaudhuranj (1884)
  • Kamalakanta (1885)
  • Sitaram (March 1887)
  • Muchiram Gurer Jivancharita (The Life of Muchiram Gur)

Essays

  • Lok Rahasya (Essays on Society, 1874, enlarged 1888)
  • Bijnan Rahasya (Essays on Science, 1875)
  • Bichitra Prabandha (Assorted Essays), Vol 1 (1876) and Vol 2 (1892)
  • Samya (Equality, 1879)

Religious Commentaries

  • Krishna Charitra (History of Krishna, 1886)
  • Dharmatattva (Principles of Religion, 1888)
  • Devatattva (Principles of Divinity, Published Posthumously)
  • Srimadvagavat Gita, a Comm¬entary on the Bhagavad Gita (1902-Published Posthumously)

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s first novel was an English one and he also started writing his religious and philosophical essays in English.

Timeline

1838: Born on 26 June in Kanthalpara village of West Bengal
1858 : Graduated with a Degree in Arts
1859: Became Deputy Collector in Indian Civil Service, by British Government
1859 : First wife died, second marriage after sometime
1860-61 : Wrote his first English novel ‘Rajmohan’s Wife
1865 : First Bengali Novel ‘Durgeshnandini’ published
1869: Obtained a Degree in Law
1872 : Brought out monthly magazine ‘Banga Darshan
1882 : Famous Novel ‘Anandamath’ published
1891 : Retired from Government Service
1892 : Honoured with title of ‘Roy Bahadur’
1894 : Became Companion, Order of the Indian Empire (C3E) 4
1894 : Passed away on 8th April