By: Kousik Adhikari
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (1838-1894) has been undoubtedly and truly the finest product of the 19th century literary renaissance and the pioneer of the novel form in Bengal as the then capital of British ruled India. His first novel was ‘Rajmohan’s Wife’ (1864). ‘Kapalkundala’, ‘Krishnakanter Uil’ (Krishnakanter will), ‘Kamalakanter Daptar’ (The Scribbling of Kamalakanta), ‘Rajsinha’, ‘Anandamath’, ‘Durgeshnandini’, ‘Devi Chaudhurani’, are some of the greatest manifestations of his supreme power and skill of narrative art and well constructed plot that really bring the newly cultivated art of novel and its narrative techniques almost to its perfection and that too with the touch and smell of native soil which remains an important factor in Bankim’s narrative world. Bankim’s role is also very significant and noteworthy in the sense that like George Bernard Shaw, Galsworthy and other later dramatist in 20th century England, he wisely used the story and its associated characters for the founding of his ideas, not only story for story’s sake.
His historical or semi historical fictions namely ‘Durgeshnandini’, ‘Rajsinha’, ‘Kapalkundala’, ‘Sitaram’, ‘Devichaudhurani’ ‘Anandamath’ etc. though chiefly inspired by the Scottish novelist Walter Scott’s re-portrayal of English and Scottish history but it also incorporated the very note of rewriting history for his native country. Among these the novels- namely ‘Anandamath’, ‘Rajsinha’ ‘Devichaudhurani’ and ‘Sitaram’ have a definite aim and purpose of their own that make them almost a group to write or discuss. In these four novels, he proposed to state in definite manner the underpinnings of nationalism for which he dared to rewrite and refashion history. Benedict Anderson writes about nations as communities that are ‘imagined’ into existence. In Bankim’s historical novels especially the above mentioned four novels, we see this process of imagining unfold with its various connotations into a complete and distinct structure.
Nirad C. Choudhuri, known for his caustic criticism and his refusal to flatten anyone for the sake of mere convention, wrote,
“Bankim Chandra Chatterjee…besides being a genius in imaginative literature was certainly the most powerful intellect produced by India in 19th century.” Sri Aurobindo’s comment on Bankim Chandra is equally important for the present context. He remarks unhesitatingly, “Bankim never clamored for place or power, but did his work in silence for love of his work even as nature does, and just because he had no aim but to give out the best that was in him, was able to create a language, a literature, and a nation.” Thus Aurobindo ranks Bankim not only the creator of literature but also a nation! The praise of one of the leading nationalist in pre-independent India who later turned ascetic is equally demanding attention.
Mary Anne Fergusson observes very pertinently, “On peculiarity of the images of women throughout history is that social stereotypes have been reinforced by archetypes. Another way of putting this would be to say that in every age women have been seen primarily as mothers, wife, mistress, sex-object, their role in relationship to men.” The basic view is that western civilization is pervasively patriarchal that is ruled by father. From the Hebrew bible and Greek philosophic writings to the present, the female tends to be identified and defined by negative references to the male as the human norm hence as other or kind of non-man by her lack of the identifying male organ of male powers and of the male character traits that were presumed in the particular view to have achieved the most scientific, technical inventions and works of culture. Women themselves were taught in the process of being socialized, to internalize the reigning patriarchal ideology and so are conditioned to derogate their own sex and to cooperate in their own subordination and India was no exception either. As a result no clear women denomination was possible and women were thought and understood in the terms solely created by the male and thus the portrayal and understanding needs to be revalued and re-portrayed.
While Bankim still adheres this legacy of tradition-tied women in ‘Anandamath’ but he also creates a sufficient niche for them which goes beyond subjugation. He takes the very spirit of idealization of women in ‘Anandamath’, a different and yet traditional image of women. Thus in negating the tradition- tied women of Indian civilization and society he had taken recourse of the tradition again that becomes the strength and also it remains a very curious context that needs definite attention and revaluation because it was also a tradition of India to worship female as goddess and there were no dearth of wise females who had a certain influence in the sacred texts of Vedas or the Puranas. As a successful novelist and nationalist Bankimchandra (1838-1894) had to break several myths and at the same time create, refashion and invent many others. The chanting of ‘Hail the Mother’ or ‘Bande Matram’ itself created the image of nation mother who is the supreme goddess and mother of all irrespective of caste and religion.
Thou with sweet spring flowing,
Thou fair fruits bestowing,
Cool with zephyrs ablowing,
Green with corn crops growing,
Thou of the shivering joyous moon-blanched night,
Thou with fair groups of flowering tree-clumps bright,
Pouring bliss and blessing
Though now million voices through thy
Mouth sonorous shout,
Though million hands hold thy
Trenchant sword blades out
Yet with all this power now,
Mother wherefore powerless thou?
Holder thou of myriad might,
I salute thee, savior bright,
Thou who dost all foes afright,
Thou sole creed and wisdom art,
Thou our very mind and heart,
And the life breath in our bodies,
Thou as strength in arms of men,
Thou as faith in hearts dost reign,
Himalaya crested only rivalless,
Radiant in thy spotlessness,
Thou whose fruits and waters bless,
Hail thou verdant unbeguiling,
Hail, o decked one sweetly smiling
But that projected nation is not certainly only of Hindus. Bankim is very much careful and cautious about this that though the use of goddess imagery, chanting of hymns, mantras and Bande Matram, he cautiously marks the nation as of all inhabitants of India. In ‘Anandamath’ the temple of goddess India is described in such way-
“In this jungle there stood an old structure surrounded by broken walls. Archeologists could easily detect that it had first been a Buddhist vihara then Hindu temple and then a Mohamedan masque”. The mahatma who rescued Kalayani, Mahendra’s wife, said, “This is the temple, the masque, the vihara, and the Gurdwara of mother India.” These lines are very significant because by this line Bankim not only recognized all the inhabitants of India as the true children but also points out the crucial dimension of Indian history that in different ages the powerful always made their base at the cost of the vindicated and what is most noteworthy is that he did not even absolved Hindus from that charge. This same vein is repeated when Bhavananda replies to Mahendra’s enquiry, “The motherland is our only mother. Our motherland is higher than heaven. Mother India is our only mother we have no mother. We have no father, no brother, no sister, no wife, no children, no home, no….all we have is the mother.” This projection of the nation as mother is unique in itself and this subsequently creates a specific identity for India that worked as a focal motif in the freedom struggle with the British. In the present age of recurring and ever-deepening violence against women, Bankim’s portrayal of nation as mother is to be revalued and should be given proper attention.
Satyananda finds in Durga the emblem of the almighty god-mother. Chittaranjan Bandopadhya explains that the ten hands of the goddess embody strength and is strongly equipped the rider on the lion’s back; where the lion is the symbol of sovereignty over the creation; the destruction of the demon is the destruction of sin, the goddess is accompanied by Lakshmi, the emblem of good luck, wealth and by Saraswati –wisdom, the goddess of the harp, the fountain of knowledge, by Kartik, the embodiment of power and Ganesha, the symbol of success.
Like Bankim many later Indo-Anglian novelist like M.R. Anand and R. K. Narayan denying the impact of west turned to the image of the mother. Idealized character of the mother looms across the pages of many Indian novels. She is universalized and glorified as the mother principle and she tends to be symbolic. The 19th century colonization prompted Bankim to attribute the powers of goddess Durga, to the mother that is motherland which was later acquired by Sri Aurobindo also.
Roy. Basanta Kumar, Trans. Anandamath, New Delhi. Orient Paperback, 1992.