Rishi Rajnarayan Bose

The father of Sri Aurobindo's mother, Swarnalata, the "grandfather of Indian Nationalism," the militant defender of his country, the Olympian champion of truth, the ruthless antagonist of sham, and, above all, a holy personage of hallowed memory who arouses a profound esteem and veneration in the hearts of the Bengalis, is Rishi Rajnarayan Bose.

He was a fond child of the Goddess of learning. Not once but twice he successfully proved himself matchless: as a student and as a teacher. "It was my principle," the Rishi said, "as a teacher to guide the boys by means of love." He was thoroughly at home in English literature. He had an easy access to the mines of Sanskrit and Arabic literatures.

Some of his countrymen took him amiss. They took him for an old man who cherished a clinging to the education and culture of ancient India, be it supremely good or abysmally bad. In fact, what he wanted was to draw the attention of his countrymen to the silliness of holding the notions that "the Indian way of eating, the Indian way of dressing, the Indian way of learning" — in a word, whatever India could offer to the world in any sphere of life — is insignificant, while whatever the English offer is worth having for a man in a civilised society. According to him, no other country in the hoary past dared belittle India for anything. And now why should it be otherwise? The Indians must be Indians heart and soul. To ape the English is to ask the presiding Deity of India to quit her own throne. And what, after all, would they get by this mad pursuit? Nothing short of self-perdition. He was a pioneer in the field of giving concrete shape to Indian Nationalism.

His heart would be uncontrollably swayed while he was singing Bande Mataram, careless of the fact that his voice was sadly wanting in the art of singing. In this connection let us remember what he wrote to the author of Anandamath in which shines our national Anthem. He was simply enamoured of the book, and wrote to Bankim, "May your pen be immortal!" The Rishi's prayer was fulfilled.

A character with diverse virtues was he. This moment his face shows a thunderbolt determination. The next moment he becomes the personification of irresistible laughter. This moment he tries to identify himself with the innermost Spirit. The next moment he discharges the duties of a wise householder. This moment he gives advice to alumni and the adorers of Bengali literature on how to serve the country better through their powerful contributions. The next moment he loses himself in the company of impossible fools.

The superiority complex was altogether foreign to his nature. Children had free access to him who was four times as old as they. Tagore was one among those little ones. One will be frankly bewildered as to how such a thing could take place in Bengal, where age is treated with far more reverential awe than in any other part of the world. It was impossible for any one to resist the good humour of the Rishi. Once Sri Aurobindo said to one of his disciples:

"Your question reminds me of the story of my grandmother. She said: 'God has made such a bad world! If I could meet Him I would tell Him what I think of Him.' My grandfather said: 'Yes, it is true; but God has so arranged that you can't get near Him so long as you have such a desire in you!' "

"A prophet is not honoured in his own country." This frequently mouthed proverb proved quite true in the case of Rishi Rajnarayan. His own son-in-law K.D. Ghosh decided to send his children to England to become thoroughly anglicised. As preparation for the fulfilment of his wishes, perhaps, he appointed a European nurse to attend his child, Auro, and later sent him to an English convent at Darjeeling for his primary education. But as a contrast, it is equally strange that the very same father should send to his son Auro in England press-cuttings from India describing the injustices and atrocities of British rule here. Thus unconsciously he supplied fuel to the fire of patriotism with which the son appears to have been born. The father did all this, for he intuitively felt that his son Auro was destined to do something very great. His expectations were more than fulfilled in Sri Aurobindo's becoming a spiritual Leader of mankind, while his immediate expectations were only partly fulfilled. Aurobindo learned what the West could teach him, yet he remained thoroughly Indian in the core of his heart, and was not anglicised, as his father desired. The grandfather's joy and pride knew no bounds to find in his grandson a unique love for his Motherland, for his culture and education, notwithstanding his Western education of the highest order.

One is taken aback to learn that Michael Madhusudan Dutt and Rajnarayan Bose were hand in glove with each other in spite of their having principles poles asunder. Rajnarayan went to the length of tabooing English words in Bengali conversation. For every English word used, he and his friends had to pay the penalty of one pice.

An interesting anecdote: It happened that Vivekananda, during his itinerancy, once paid his homage to the Rishi Rajnarayan at Baidyanath. He was accompanied by his brother disciple Akhandananda. Vivekananda had already advised his gurubhai not to disclose to Rajnarayan that he, Vivekananda, knew English, and he now pretended to have no knowledge of that language. As it seemed to Rajnarayan that Vivekananda knew no English, they spoke in Bengali. Rajnarayan was highly pleased with the Bengali youth who did not use a single word in English during their conversation. But alas, luck went against the old man. By a slip of the tongue he used the word "plus" during their pure Bengali conversation. Thinking that it would be still worse to explain the word in English to the guest, he simply placed one finger across another and thus explained it. At this the present generation may burst into laughter. But to the Rishi, who was dead against the British, it was a matter of supreme importance.

Madhusudan on the other hand could not help saying: "I can speak in English, write in English, think in English, and shall be supremely happy if I can dream in English!”

Yet on the eve of his departure to England he presented his famous poem "Adieu to Bengal!" to Rajnarayan. This can be explained by the fact that no cloud of painful misunderstanding ever cast its sombre shadow upon the light of lucid tenderness and sympathy with which the two mighty souls greeted each other. Needless to say, both had an intense love for the Motherland. In that unique Bengali poem, Madhusudan prayed that even if he breathed his last abroad his Motherland might not forget to retain him in her memory.

Among the mighty minds caught by the spirit of India's renaissance and among the pioneers in the field of national creativity, the Seer of the age, Sri Aurobindo, has seen in only two personalities the true Rishi-vision: Bankim Chandra and Rajnarayan. In his Bankim-Tilak-Dayananda and Bankim Chandra Chatterji he has immortalised Bankim; to Rajnarayan he has given perpetuity in a sonnet: Transiit Non Periit.

Transiit Non Periit

(My grandfather, Rajnarayan Bose, died in September 1899)

Not in annihilation lost, nor given
To darkness art thou fled from us and light,
O strong and sentient spirit; no mere heaven
Of ancient joys, no silence eremite
Received thee; but the omnipresent Thought
Of which thou wast a part and earthly hour,
Took back its gift. Into that splendour caught
Thou hast not lost thy special brightness. Power
Remains with thee and the old genial force
Unseen for blinding light, not darkly lurks:
As when a sacred river in its course
Dives into ocean, there its strength abides
Not less because with vastness wed and works
Unnoticed in the grandeur of the tides.

Rabindranath, who had great admiration and veneration for Rishi Rajnarayan, has noted two significant aspects of his character:

"On the one hand he had committed himself and his household affairs entirely to the care of the Divine; on the other hand he would busy himself making innumerable plans feasible or otherwise for the advancement of the country's progress."

It is interesting as well to note the remark made by Devendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath, about Rajnarayan Bose when the latter's famous lectures The Superiority of Hinduism and Past and Present were brought to light: "Whatever falls from the lips of Rajnarayan Babu creates a great sensation in the country."

Rajnarayan's multifarious activities bestowed upon his residence at Baidyanath the most prized title, "Mecca" of the social reformers and the lovers of Bengali literature.

Truly Rajnarayan was a patriot of the deepest order — an uncommon personality who combined to an astonishing degree energy in action with boldness in thought.