During an age where the masses were physically and mentally colonized by the imperial British forces, rose an author whose writings inspired a multitude of Indians to shun the cloaks of westernization and adopt their own native culture and wear it with pride.
The author was none other than Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, most widely known for his book Anand Math.
This day, in 1838, witnessed the birth of this great writer in the heartland of Bengal. He sought neither fame nor power, but was content with being a voice which could inspire millions. He successfully created a language and literature which brought an evident change in the mindsets of the rapidly westernizing Indian society.
Even as a child, Chatterjee was a prodigy; he mastered the Bengali alphabets in one single sitting!
As he grew older, he was greatly influenced by the acts and movements which were stirring up the Indian society back then. He was 19 year-old when the Sepoy Mutiny (1857), which is also frequently dubbed as the “first war of Indian independence”, broke out. He was greatly disappointed by its failure.
What astonished him even more was how the Indians who spoke English, were better respected than those who were fluent in their mother tongues. It was not just the British government officials’ indifference towards the ones who were fluent in the native languages which shocked him, but, it was the bias towards them by the Indian community, that made his heart ache.
Though he began his career as an author with an English novel titled Rammohan’s wife, he soon realized that he should write in his mother tongue and implore people to reflect upon the blasphemy of what they were practicing, through his writings. And then, he went on to compose a wide variety of phenomenal books. Most well-known ones included the novel Durgesnandini, a story which revolves around a Rajput hero and a Bengali heroine, Kapalkundala a story which vividly describes a love story influenced by the gruesome tantric rites and Bisabraksa which talks of the problem of widow re-marriage, among several others.
It is said that the Indians who were nurtured on Shakespeare, Milton and Shelley by the British missionary education system, began to read the works of Kalidas, Bhavabhuti, Chandidas and Vidyapula, Puranas, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita because of his writings.
He believed that art, spirituality and nationalism were essential components of Indian culture. This is why one finds the threads of nationalism inextricably wound up with tenets of religion and art. Anand Math is probably one of the finest examples of this.
One of the most beloved patriotic songs, Vande Mataram, was his priceless contribution. Every Indian, no matter where he is on the planet earth, would witness his heart swelling up with pride and patriotism as soon as he hears the tune of this beautiful melody, which is also India’s national song. Such was the power in the expression of the evergreen Bankim Chandra Chatterjee.
The entire Indian subcontinent and all Indians across the globe remember him fondly today, which marks his 177th birthday.