Rishi Bankim

Bankim is one among Bengal's men of supreme genius. Time will never be able to diminish or bring to a standstill his authority on Bengali language and literature. Needless to say, creators like him can never be counted as the monopoly of any province. Bankim is entitled, by his wonder-genius and masterworks, to rank among those who have easily transcended all limitations of language, race and continent.

Bankim's childhood demands our candid admiration. At a single reading he mastered the alphabet of his mother tongue. Two months' study the child would unbelievably finish in a day. In school, to jump up two rungs of the ladder at a time was to him as easy as to breathe in and out. A succession of amazements was he. Even his College life would not reduce our admiration for his genius. His name is among the first two graduates of Bengal, the other being Jadu Nath Bose.

Bankim's Ananda Math is deeply inspired by patriotism. He felt the country as a Deity, a Mother who is at once incredibly sweet and augustly powerful. In the adoration of the Mother, Bankim's heart pined to see his brothers and sisters discover the secret Strength for a glorious future.

Somehow he seems to be the first modern man who could regard India as the collective Mother personified. He had lamented that he was the only person to call and look upon India as the all-supporting Mother. His call to others to share his view was a mere cry in the wilderness.

Now let us focus our attention on Bankim's profusely inspired song, Bande Mataram. Over a decade ago the song was a subject of bitter controversy. On the one hand, some left no stone unturned to label it as idolatrous, while, on the other, some of the patriots found nothing offensive, nothing absurd in it. Who will dare to forget the great role it played in the Indian life-atmosphere during the last few decades? We can be sure that Bankim was not prompted by any narrow motive to offend or belittle any community while offering his immortal song to the world. His pen simply carried out the command of his heart surcharged with the vision of the true Mother, the Mother who dwells within and without India. It is the deplorable blindness of some of our political leaders that can award Bande Mataram a position of secondary importance. As a protest against this judgement I must cite here K.D. Sethna's irrefutable reasoning and intuition:

"The revelatory vision and the mantric vibration distinguishing Bande Mataram throw Jana Gana Mana entirely into the shade. And it is no wonder that not Tagore's but Bankim's song has been the motive-force of the whole struggle for India's freedom. Until it burned and quivered in the hearts of our patriots and rose like a prayer and incantation on their lips, the country was striving with an obscure sense of its own greatness: there was a vagueness, a lukewarmness, a fear: we were overawed by the material prowess and pomp of our foreign rulers and our efforts to find our true selves were spoiled by either an unthinking imitation of the West or else a defensive anti-Western conservatism. We had not struck upon the master-key to the problem of national existence. Then, out of a book that had been neglected when it had first appeared, the music of Bande Mataram rang into the ambiguously agitated air of the nation's reawakening consciousness… Bande Mataram stimulated and supported the people of India, instilling into them a hope and a strength beyond the human. It is the one cry that has made modern Indian history; not political speeches, but the magical strain breaking through Bankim Chandra from the inmost recesses of resurgent India's heart and fused by Sri Aurobindo with India's mind and life as the true national anthem, brought us, in 1947, on the fifteenth of August (which was also the seventy-fifth birthday of Sri Aurobindo) our political liberation. To put such a saviour-song on any other footing than that of national anthem is to be disloyal to the Power that has given us a new birth."

I believe it will not be out of place if, for comparison, I deal with some other national songs. Revolution, revenge, sacrifice, pangs, tears — these are the fiery and throbbing words that compel the world to pin its attention on France and the French. In 1792 during the French Revolution La Marseillaise was composed by Rouget de Lisle, a French soldier. Nobody will forget Carlyle's wonderful appreciation of the anthem:

"The luckiest composition ever promulgated, the sound of which will make the blood tingle in men's veins, and whole armies and assemblies will sing it with eyes weeping and burning, with hearts defiant of Death, Despot and Devil."

The English national song, God Save the King, is somewhat soft and lucid. At the very commencement the words invoke God, just as the Indians sing Bande Mataram (Mother, I Bow to Thee). But these words long for the welfare and victory of the king as the living emblem of the inner harmony of the nation. The sense of loyalty reigns supreme in this song with its appealing tune.

The German national song, too, rightly deserves its place in the vanguard of the world's choicest anthems. It begins with "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit für das deutsche Vaterland" (Unity and Right and Freedom for the German Fatherland). In fact, there is no shadow of a doubt that the entire world longs for these pleasant-sounding and oft inspiring words — Unity, Right and Freedom.

Back to Bankim. Bengali prose owes it origin to Raja Rammohan Roy. The advent of Vidyasagar carried the movement dauntlessly yet successfully to an appreciably further distance. Bankim's arrival on the scene is marked by the memorable fact that he made the Bengali language a great literary vehicle.

Destiny works in strange ways. Curiously enough, one of his earliest attempts at literature was in English. Fortunately, his Rajmohan's Wife had no successor. Like Michael Madhusudan Dutt, he too turned to the infinitely vast treasure-house of the mother tongue, throwing off the ruthless shackles of an alien speech. Later he wrote to one of his friends:

"I have myself projected a Bengali magazine with the object of making it the medium of communication and sympathy between the educated and the uneducated classes. You rightly say that the English language for good or evil has become our vernacular; and this tends daily to widen the gulf between the higher and lower ranks of Bengali society. Thus I think that we ought to disanglicise ourselves so as to speak to the masses in the language which they may understand."

Bankim's was a frail constitution. But in that frail constitution Bengal saw a reservoir of stupendous possibility materialised.

"Bankim, the greatest of novelists, had… versatility developed to its highest expression. Scholar, poet, essayist, novelist, philosopher, lawyer, critic, official, philologist and religious innovator — the whole world seemed to be shut up in his single brain." (Sri Aurobindo)

Sri Aurobindo's appreciation of Bankim may partly be attributed to the fact that Bankim had theoretically chalked out the path of ideas in the cause of India's independence which Sri Aurobindo was to work out and extend in his inimitable way.

Sri Aurobindo's India had no material equipment to wage a war against the British. But his strength lay in his touch with God. Does he not say in Savitri: "All can be done if God-touch is there"?

It is interesting to observe that Vidyasagar, Bankim, Bhudev Mukherji, Dinabandhu Mitra, Nabin Chandra Sen and Dwijendra Lal Roy, who were outstanding writers and poets, were produced from the Government service in Bengal. It goes without saying that these literary celebrities were headed by Bankim Chandra. Bankim had done unique pioneer work in the field of Bengali literature. Through translations of his enthralling novels, almost all the major Indian languages have considerably added glory to their literatures. Several languages of Europe, too, do not lag behind in spreading Bankim's genius into the wide world.

It was Bankim who discovered the supremely poetic possibilities in the adolescent Rabindranath, placed the garland of honour round his neck in a literary conference, and hailed him as the fast-rising sun in the firmament of literary creation.

Who will hesitate to say that the budding novelist in Rabindranath was considerably influenced by Bankim Chandra? Young Tagore was a voracious reader of Bankim's novels which were then appearing in the pages of the latter's journal Bangadarshan. What effect Bankim's Bangadarshan made upon the contemporary Bengali public can easily be understood from the following words of Tagore:

"It was bad enough to have to wait till the next monthly number was out, but to be kept waiting further till my elders had done with it was simply intolerable."

He further said that Bankim Chandra had "invited both East and West to a veritable festival of union in the pages of his Bangadarshan."

As Bankim was at home in Sanskrit literature and Vaishnava poetry, he drew abundantly upon their riches. He peacefully housed in his creations colloquial style and Sanskrit literary style. They say that Sir Walter Scott is almost buried in oblivion in England. But we dare say that the fate of Bankim Chandra, often called The Scott of Bengal, is otherwise in India. His patriotic fervour, his seer-vision and his inspiration-flood that aroused the nation will retain his fame perpetually not only in his native province, but also far outside its frontiers.

A most winning sympathy, a most exquisite tenderness were not less inherent in him than remarkable courage and manliness.

Now let us learn in a flash from Sri Aurobindo the difference between the earlier Bankim and the later Bankim: "The earlier Bankim was only a poet and stylist — the later Bankim was a seer and nation-builder."

This humble effort of mine ends with the firm conviction that Bande Mataram will keep Bankim's memory green for all time in this great sub-continent and will stand out in the future as the national Mantra that it is.