In This Article Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya (Chatterji)

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biographical Sources
  • Bankimchandra and the Modern Sciences

Hinduism Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya (Chatterji)
by
Amiya P. Sen
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0170

Introduction

In 1894, in an obituary message that he wrote on the passing away of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyaya (1838–1894), Sri Aurobindo (1872–1950) quite aptly remarked that Bankim had given his countrymen a language, a literature, and a nation. Bankimchandra contributed significantly toward the creation of a modern Bengali prose, freed from its earlier dependence on Sanskrit literary styles. In his opinion, it was only a modern prose that could effectively propagate modern ideas and values. He successfully developed the literary form of the novel, soon emerging as the first major novelist in the Bengali language. By 1872, Bankim had entered the world of Bengali journalism, editing popular journals like the Bangadarshan widely read in Bengali homes and to which the most gifted Bengali literary figures of his day contributed. His writings were also instrumental in articulating a healthy provincialism and thoughts about the nascent Indian nation. The song “Bande Mataram,” first appearing in his novel Anandamath (1882), was an evocative expression of this nationalism and is today acknowledged as the “national song” of independent India. However, even such deservedly high praise conceals some other distinctive features of his life that were not unimportant. Bankimchandra was one of the two graduates to first come out of a modern Indian university; he formulated new conceptions of God and religion thereby contributing to what modern scholarship calls “neo-Hinduism,” and yet he kept an abiding interest in rational interrogation and science. By the close of the 19th century, his life and work were often identified with much that characterized middle-class Bengalis: their private emotions, intellectual interests, political ambitions, and aesthetic preferences. In his time, Bankimchandra was probably the man most familiar with the social and political discourse of contemporary Europe but also deeply rooted in the indigenous tradition. Evidently, he read deeply into the intellectual resources of both India and the West to obtain a better understanding of these cultures. In so doing, Bankim also creatively negotiated modernity and tradition, seeking meaning and relevance in both. As an officer of the subordinate civil services he ably served the Bengal government for as many as thirty-three years. The government conferred on him the titles of “Raibahadur” in 1892 and the C.I.E. shortly before his death in 1894. Prima facie, such titles were meant to acknowledge a life of dedicated service rendered to the state and society. But that apart, they also represented deserving honor conferred upon an extraordinarily gifted individual.

General Overviews

The life and work of Bankimchandra is best situated in the social and historical contexts of early colonial Bengal, marked by new ways of life and perceptibly different trajectories of thought significantly influenced by the moral and material values associated with the contemporary West. Bankim himself fully imbibed the view, popularized by men of his generation, that British rule had produced an unprecedented intellectual and cultural awakening in India. Works by authors and commentators after him as, for instance, Pal 1972 and Bhattacharya 1964, also share this view, characterizing the period as a noboyuga: the dawning of a new age. Of the two, Pal was a near contemporary of Bankimchandra and his account more self-consciously reflects the deeply internalized notion of a “renascent Bengal” among Western-educated, middle class Bengalis. Datta 1961 is a critical study of the thought-processes in Bankimchandra, focusing on his humanism and his rational bent of mind, strengthened by the creative exposure to the modern West. Raychaudhuri 1988 combines a concise biographical account with an insightful reading of Bankim’s perceptions about Western politics and culture. Kaviraj 1995 is a collection of very perceptive essays on some of his representative writings, also urging us to adopt a more sophisticated framework for understanding such a complex life as that of Bankim. Chatterjee 1994 is an impressive collection of analysis and information on the life and work of Bankimchandra, some of it gathered from rare sources and offered in English translation.

  • Bhattacharya, Asit Kumar. Banglar Nobojug O Bankimchandrer Chintadhara. Calcutta: Grantha Jagat, 1964.

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    An excellent overview of the intellectual world of 19th-century Bengal and of Bankimchandra’s negotiations with the critical social and political issues emerging in his day.

  • Chatterjee, Partha. Nationalist Thought in a Colonial World. A Derivative Discourse? 2d ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

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    Justly regarded as a classic and analyzes the growth of nationalist thought in India over a series of essays. Chatterjee’s study also carries important theoretical implications suggesting that colonialist views of India and Indians were dominant without also being hegemonic.

  • Chatterjee, Bhabatosh, ed. Bankimchandra Chatterjee. Essays in Perspective. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1994.

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    A comprehensive reference work containing an impressive amount of information on the life and work of Bankimchandra combined with commentaries by contemporary scholars. Especially useful are the several appendices. Some of the matter included comprises translations from the rare Bengali source-material. Oddly though, the original sources for these are not cited.

  • Datta, Bhabatosh. Chintanayak Bankimchandra. Calcutta: Jignasa, 1961.

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    A valuable work by a well-known scholar of Bengali literature. Especially useful for understanding the intellectual environment of 19th-century Bengal and Bankim’s location within it.

  • Kaviraj, Sudipto. The Unhappy Consciousness. Bankimchandra and the Formation of Nationalist Discourse in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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    Offers useful insights on certain representative works by Bankimchandra, the best of which perhaps is the analysis of the quasi-autobiographical work, Kamalakanta (1885). The treatment is somewhat dense in places and may not be very intelligible to all students.

  • Pal, Bipinchandra. Nobojuger Bangla. 3d ed. Calcutta: B. C. Pal Institute, 1972.

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    Originally serialized in the Bengali journal Bangabani in the 1920s, this is a fascinating chronicle of intellectual history related to Hindu Bengal. Pal’s study carries both acuity of observation and close analysis.

  • Raychaudhuri, Tapan. Europe Reconsidered: Perceptions of the West in Nineteenth-Century Bengal. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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    A fairly popular work comprising detailed studies of three key figures from 19th-century Bengal: Bankimchandra, Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay, and Swami Vivekananda, each of whom reacted in distinctive ways to the moral and intellectual challenges presented by the West.

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