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Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay

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Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (Chatterjee)
Birth:    26 June 1838;  Death:   8 April 1894

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee ('Chattopadhyay' in the original Bengali, 'Chatterjee' as spelt in English) was a Bengali poet, novelist, essayist and journalist, most famous as the author of Vande Mataram or (Bande Mataram), that inspired the freedom fighters of India, and was later declared the National Song of India.

Bankim Chattopadhyay was born in the village Kanthalpura in Naihati, West Bengal on 26 June, 1838, the youngest of three brothers, to Jadab Chandra Chattopadhyaya and Durgadebi. His family was orthodox, and his father, a government official who went on to become Deputy Collector of Midnapur. One of his older brothers, Sanjeeb Chandra Chatterjee, was also a novelist and his known for his famous book "Palamau". He was educated at the Mohsin College in Hooghly and later at the Presidency College, graduating with the B.A. degree in Arts in 1857. He was one of the first two graduates of India, both from the University of Calcutta and he later obtained a degree in Law as well, in 1869.

Appointed Deputy Collector, like his father, of Jessore, Chatterjee went on to become the first Indian Magistrate, retiring from government service in 1891. His years at work were peppered with incidents that brought him into conflict with the ruling British of the time. However, he was made ‘O.B.E’ in 1894, again a first for any Indian. However, that did not dampen his love for his language, country and its culture as is evident from his novels and the song ‘Vande Mataram’ a salute to the mother land, the whole of India!

His first wife died in 1859 and he later married Rajalakshmi Devi and they had three daughters. Chatterjee, following the footsteps of Ishwar Chandra Gupta, began his literary career as a writer of verse. He soon realized, however, that his talents lay in other directions, and turned to fiction. His first attempt was a novel in Bengali submitted for a declared prize. He did not win the prize, and the novelette was never published. His first fiction to appear in print was Rajmohan's Wife. It was written in English and was probably a translation of the novelette submitted for the prize.

Durgeshnondini, his first Bengali romance and the first ever novel in Bengali, was published in 1865. His other novels were Kapalkundala (1866), Mrinalini (1869), Vishabriksha (1873), Chandrasekhar (1877) , Rajani (1877), Krishnakanter Uil (1878), Rajsimha (1881, rewritten and enlarged 1893), Anandamath (1882), which has the song ‘Vande Mataram' meaning I worship the Mother Land. This song was embraced in those days by Hindu Sannyasis and Muslim Fakirs (‘Sufis’) who both rebelled against the rule of British East India Company. The novel first appeared in serial form in Bangadarshan, which went out of circulation after 4 years, to be revived by Sanjeeb Chandra Chatterjee.

Bankim's next novel, Devi Chaudhurani, was published in 1884. His final novel, Sitaram (1886), tells the story of a Hindu King from Bengal who rebelled against Muslim rulers’ atrocities on Hindus. Bankim's humorous sketches are his best known works other than his novels. Kamalakanter Daptar (From the Desk of Kamalakanta, 1875; enlarged as Kamalakanta, 1885) contains half humorous and half serious sketches.

Some later day critics of Bengali literature, like Pramatha Nath Bishi, consider Chatterjee as the best novelist in Bangali literature. They believe that few writers in world literature have excelled in both philosophy and art as Bankim has done. They argue that under a colonized rule Bankim could not overlook politics. He was one of the first intellectuals who wrote in a British colony, accepting and rejecting the status at the same time. Bishi also rejects the division of Bankim in 'Bankim the artist' and 'Bankim the moralist' - for Bankim must be read as a whole. The artist in Bankim cannot be understood unless you understand him as a moralist and vice versa.

Some highlights below:
--Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Chatterjee were very good friends, and both enjoyed humor. Once, the former, playing on the meaning of Bankim (Either Bright Side of the Moon or A Little Bent), asked him what it was that had bent him. Chatterjee replied that it was the kick from the Englishman's shoe. He was such an immensely patriotic person that he never forgot that the crown rule India.

--The Times of London observed in 1973: Here is a true harbinger of Indian renaissance, a truly learned man of letters, who is also a great humanist.

--When Bipin Chandra Pal decided to start a patriotic journal in August 1906, he named it Bande Mataram, after Chatterjee's song. Lala Lajpat Rai also published a journal under the same name.

Bankim’s Bibliography:

Novels -
Durgeshnondini (1865)
Kapalkundala (1866)
Mrinalini (1869)
Vishabriksha (1873)
Indira (1873, revised 1893)
Jugalanguriya (1874)
Radharani (1876, expanded 1893)
Chandrasekhar (1877)
Kamalakanter Daptar (1875)
Rajni (1877)
Krishnakanter Uil (1878)
Rajsimha (1882)
Anandamath (1882)
Devi Chaudhurani (1884)
Kamalakanta (1885)
Sitaram (1887)
Muchiram Gurer Jivancharita (The Life of Muchiram Gur).

Religious Commentaries -
Krishna Charitra (History of Krishna, 1886)
Dharmatattva (Principles of Religion, 1888)
Devatattva (Principles of Divinity, Published Posthumously)
Srimadvagavat Gita, a Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita (1902 - Published Posthumously)/font>

Poetry Collections -
Lalita O Manas (1858)
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)



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Sushma Gupta on March 15, 2009
Modified on 05/05/13