Early Life of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was born June 26, 1838, in the village of Kanthalpura in Naihati, the youngest of three brothers, to Yadav (or Jadab) Chandra Chattopadhyaya and Durgadebi. His family was orthodox, and his father was a government official who went on to become the Deputy Collector of Midnapur. One of his brothers, Sanjeeb Chandra Chatterjee, was a novelist and is known for his book, Palamau.
Career of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee
In 1856, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee joined the Presidency College in Calcutta. In 1857, there was a strong revolt against the rule of East India Company but Bankim Chandra Chatterjee continued his studies and passed his B.A. Examination in 1859. Apart from his textbooks, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, used to read other books in his leisure time. He was very much interested in the study of Sanskrit. His study of Sanskrit stood him in good stead. Later, when he wrote books in Bengali his knowledge of Sanskrit helped him immensely. The Lieutenant Governor of Calcutta appointed Bankim Chandra Chatterjee as Deputy Collector in the same year. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was in Government service for 32 years and retired in 1891. He was a very conscientious worker.
Works of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee
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 Bangadarshan 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 Bangadarshan.
Bangadarshan 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 18th 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 characterization 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 Bangali 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.
Personal Life of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was married when he was only 11 years old. At that time his wife was only 5 years old. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was only 22 when his wife died. After some time he married again. His second wife was Rajlakshmi Devi. They had three daughters. This great novelist and poet of Bengal had entire India in tears when he passed away on April 8, 1894.
Today Bankim Puraskar is the highest award given by the Government of West Bengal for contribution to Bengali fiction. The award was instituted in 1975 in memory of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. Nationalistic writings apart, Bankim Chandra was gifted as a storyteller too.