(Last Updated on : 22/12/2012)
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (1838-1894), was a Bengali Indian poet, novelist, essayist and journalist, who earned his fame mostly for being the author of Vande Mataram
or Bande Mataram, in Anandamath which inspired the freedom fighters of India, and was later declared the National Song of India. He was born in Naihati, West Bengal
. Chatterjee, following the model of Ishwarchandra 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. However as ill fate would have it, it hardly won 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.
Kapalkundala (1866) is Chatterjee's first major publication. The heroine of this novel, named after the mendicant woman in Bhavabhuti's Malatimadhava, is modelled partly after Kalidasa
's Shakuntala and partly after Shakespeare's Miranda. He had chosen Dariapur in Contai Subdivision as the background of this famous novel.
His next romance, Mrinalini (1869), marks his first attempt to set his story against a larger historical context. This book marks the shift from Chatterjee's early career, in which he was strictly a writer of romances, to a later period in which he aimed to simulate the intellect of the Bengali speaking people and bring about a cultural revival of the ongoing spirit of Renaissance through a campaign to improve Bengali literature. He began publishing a monthly literary magazine Bangodarshan in April 1872, the first edition of which was filled almost entirely with his own work. The magazine carried serialized novels, stories, humorous sketches, historical and miscellaneous essays, informative articles, religious discourses, literary criticisms and reviews. Vishabriksha (The Poison Tree, 1873) the first novel of Chatterjee's to appear serially in Bangodarshan.
Bangodarshan went out of circulation after 4 years. It was later revived by his brother, Sanjeeb Chandra Chatterjee. Chatterjee's next major novel was Chandrasekhar (1877), which contains two largely unrelated parallel plots. Although the scene is once shifted back to eighteenth century, the novel is not historical. His next novel, Rajani(1877), followed the autobiographical technique of Wilkie Collins "A Woman in White". The title role, a blind girl, was modelled after Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Nydia in "The Last Days of Pompeii". In Krishnakanter Uil (Krishnakanta's Will, 1878) Chatterjee produced the work of his that comes closest to resembling a western novel. The plot is somewhat akin to that of Poison Tree and contained bold characterisation of woman character and the book was considered as a taboo.
The only novel of Chatterjee's that can truly be considered historical fiction is Rajsimha (1881, rewritten and enlarged 1893). Anandamath (The mission house of Felicity, 1882) is a political novel, which depicts a Sannyasi (Brahmin
ascetic) army fighting Indian Muslims who are in the employ of the British East India Company
. The book calls for the rise of Brahmin/Hindu nationalism but, ironically, concludes with a character accepting British Empire as a necessity. However he was bombarded with criticism and anti British propagandist attitude from the contemporary colonial quarters who witnessed the same as a measure to lead to violent uprisings throughout Bengal. The novel was also the source of the song "Vande Mataram" (I worship the Mother) which, set to music by Rabindranath Tagore, was taken up by many secular nationalists. The novel first appeared in serial form in Bangadarshan. Chatterjee's next novel, Devi Chaudhurani, was published in 1884. His final novel, Sitaram (1886), tells the story of a Hindu chief rebelling against Muslim rule.
Chatterjee'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, somewhat on the model of De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. The artist in Bankim cannot be understood unless one understands him as a moralist and vice versa. Some critics consider Chatterjee as the best novelist in Bangla literature. They believe that few writers in world literature have excelled in both philosophy and art as Bankim has done. They argue that in a colonized nation 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. In several ways he was a transgressor, who moving away from the archetypal socio-political, cultural networks created characters who wrote their own fate, as for example Kapalkundala's Nabakumar whose life went hay ward in his tempestuous love tangle with Kapalkundala, or in Krishnakanter Will (The Last Testament Of Krishnakanta,) where Rohini and Gobindalal starts staying in a live in relationship. Bankim's style had been unique with a concoction of perfect grammar, rich vocabulary high standards, and no pointless rating about the unnecessary, unavoidable at one sway.