Source: The Indian Nation Builders: Part III, 4th ed. (Madras: Ganesh & Co.)
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (or Chatterjee), author of India’s national song “Vande Mataram”, was born in 1838 to a distinguished Brahmin family of Kantalpara town. Upon graduating from Calcutta University as one of its first two graduates, Bankim joined Government service as a Deputy Magistrate.
He had initially nursed an ambition of becoming an English writer. However, the publication of his maiden work Rajmohan’s Wife in the English magazine, the Indian Field, led him to think otherwise. It is not clear if this stemmed from the appreciation for his work being lower than he had expected or if he had found himself hampered by the foreign medium. Nevertheless, he found that his attention ought to be turned to his mother-tongue and dedicated himself to doing so.
His first Bengali novel Durgeshenandini was published in 1864 to hearty reception by the public. In 1872, he started the Bengali magazine Banga Darsan, the first Bengali literary periodical of its kind in India. Here, Bankim Chandra published more of his own novels, such as Vishavrisksha and Chandrashekhar, an epic romance. Banga Darshan has been credited with reviving intellectual interest in Bengali as a literary language, during a time when many Indian intellectuals were neglecting their native tongues in favour of English.
Besides his novels, Bankim Chandra also wrote two religious works: Dharmatattwa and Krishna Charitra. The latter, written to show that Krishna was depicted as an ideal man in the works of old – and was therefore not deserving of the later, more modern, circulations of Krishna’s story that tended to portray him as immoral – is considered to be Bankim’s best work.
Bankim Chandra has also been credited with creating a brand of literature that departed from the tendencies inherent in classical Bengali works, which often made them exclusively accessible to the educated few. By turning to the vernacular, he was able to make his work more accessible to the masses.
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s call to fame, however, lies largely with his penmanship of India’s national song. Written as a mix of Bengali and Sanskrit, the song first appeared in Bankim’s novel Anandamath in 1880. In 1905, the Partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India, galvanized nationalist feeling across Bengal, and led the nationalists to unearth Bankim Chandra’s lyrics published 25 years before. Its popularity spread like wildfire throughout the state, and eventually, throughout the country. Thus, Vande Mataram become the nation’s national song, and remains as such to this day.
He died in 1894, before he could finish an edition of the Bhagavad Gita that he had been working on.
Sources: The Indian Nation Builders: Part III, 4th ed (Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1921), 179-204; Nagendranath Gupta, Seven Noble Lives (Bombay: Hind Kitabs Limited), 80-98
The Poison Tree: A Tale of Hindu Life in Bengal, trans. Miriam S. Knight (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1884)