Bankim Chandra Chatterjee

Bengali writer, poet and journalist (1838-1894)

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (also Chattopadhayay) (27 June 18388 April 1894) was an Indian novelist, poet and journalist. He was the author of the 1882 Bengali language novel Anandamath, which is one of the landmarks of modern Bengali and Indian literaure. He was the composer of Vande Mataram, originally in Sanskrit, personifying India as a mother goddess and inspiring activists during the Indian Independence Movement. Chattopadhayay wrote fourteen novels and many serious, serio-comic, satirical, scientific and critical treatises in Bengali. He is known as Sahitya Samrat (Emperor of Literature) in Bengali.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay


Bankim Chandra Chatterjee on a 1969 stamp of India.
  • Do not lose your reverence for the past; it is on the past that you must plant your foot firmly, if you wish to mount high in the future. You are not a race of savages who have no past to remember. You cannot dissever yourselves in a day from the associations and influences of a past which extends over at least five hundred centuries. You cannot annihilate in a day a past national existence which has survived the annihilation of hundreds of empires, of hundred systems of religion, and which has surveyed unconcerned the downfall and ruin of many kindred civilizations. I have to make my warning so emphatic because the general tendency of European scholars, who have so great an influence over you, is to decry your past history, to call for its virtual erasure from your memory, and to lead you in the opposite direction.
    • quoted in 'The Invasion That Never Was' by Michel Danino (1996)
  • When a man is in doubt what to do, he goes wherever he happens to be first called.
  • Prose must be written in language that is well understood by its readers. The world would hardly miss those literary works that are mastered by only half-a-dozen pundits.
  • [N]o study is likely to be fruitful of results if carried on without a system. The majority of those who pursue knowledge for its own sake pursue it after an aimless and desultory fashion.
  • Woman is the crowning excellence of God's creation, the shadow of the gods. Man the god's creation only. Woman is light, man is shadow.
    • Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay: From Bankim's novel Krishnakanta's Will. Quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2001). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p. 114-115
  • [In the original edition of the novel Sitaram, the Fakir says:]
    Son, I hear that you have come to found a Hindu dominion; but if you be a slave to popular prejudices you will fail to achieve your aim. If you don't consider Hindus and Muslims as equals, then in this land inhabited by both Hindus and Muslims you will fail to keep your kingdom intact. Your projected Dharmarajya will degenerate into a realm of sin.
  • ...this novel was written not to differentiate between Hindus and Muslims...In statesmanship Muslims undoubtedly were better than contemporary who possesses, among other virtues, dharma, no matter if he be a Hindu or a Muslim, is the best.

Quotes about Bande Mataram

  • The supreme service of Bankim [Chandra Chatterji] to his nation was that he gave us the vision of our Mother.... It is not till the Motherland reveals herself to the eye of the mind as something more than a stretch of earth or a mass of individuals, it is not till she takes shape as a great Divine and Maternal Power in a form of beauty that can dominate the mind and seize the heart that ... the patriotism that works miracles and saves a doomed nation is born... It was thirty-two years ago that Bankim wrote his great song and few listened; but in a sudden moment of awakening from long delusions the people of Bengal looked round for the truth and in a fated moment somebody sang Bande Mataram. The Mantra had been given and in a single day a whole people had been converted to the religion of patriotism. The Mother had revealed herself.
    • Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, April 16, 1907, quoted from Sri Aurobindo, ., Nahar, S., Aurobindo, ., & Institut de recherches évolutives (Paris). India's rebirth: A selection from Sri Aurobindo's writing, talks and speeches. Paris: Institut de Recherches Evolutives. 3rd Edition (2000). [1]
  • We used the Mantra Bande Mataram with all our heart and soul, and so long as we used and lived it, relied upon its strength to overbear all difficulties, we prospered. But suddenly the faith and the courage failed us, the cry of the Mantra began to sink and as it rang feebly, the strength began to fade out of the country. It was God, who made it fade out and falter, for it had done its work. A greater Mantra than Bande Mataram has to come. Bankim was not the ultimate seer of Indian awakening. He gave only the term of the initial and public worship, not the formula and the ritual of the inner secret upasana [worship]. For the greatest Mantras are those which are uttered within, and which the seer whispers or gives in dream or vision to his disciples. When the ultimate Mantra is practised even by two or three, then the closed Hand of God will begin to open; when the upasana is numerously followed the closed Hand will open absolutely.
    • Aurobindo, quoted from Sri Aurobindo, ., Nahar, S., Aurobindo, ., & Institut de recherches évolutives (Paris). India's rebirth: A selection from Sri Aurobindo's writing, talks and speeches. Paris: Institut de Recherches Evolutives. 3rd Edition (2000). [2]
  • Bande Mataram, apart from its wonderful associations, expresses the one national wish—the rise of India to her full height. And I should prefer Bande Mataram to Bharat Mata-ki-jai, as it would be a graceful recognition of the intellectual and emotional superiority of Bengal.
    • Mahatma Gandhi quoted in B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or The Partition of India (1946)
  • And Bose's tragedy came to serve this turncoat (Nehru) in yet another context. He hated India's hallowed national battle-cry, Vande Mataram. It was couched in Sanskrit which he had never understood and never honoured. But worst of all, it offended the Muslims whom he wanted to please and pit against "Hindu communalism". So, while the name of Netaji was still stirring the people, he pleaded that Vande Mataram should be replaced by Jai Hind, a cocktail phrase hurriedly coined by the Azad Hind leaders in the heat of an emergency. I myself heard him, in several crowded meetings, asking his audience to shout Jai Hind more loudly than they had done. He himself gave the lead by raising his voice to the highest pitch. I also heard him singing qadam qadam baDhâyê jâ, the marching song of the Azad Hind Fauj, and expressing dissatisfaction when people failed to repeat the refrain in the right tune. He suffered from no qualms in fattening himself on the fame of a "fascist".

Quotes about Bankim Chandra

  • The only resolute defender of Hinduism in this intellectually hostile atmosphere was Bankim Chandra Chatterji. He was well-versed in Western literature and philosophy and his knowledge of Hindu Shastras and history was deep as well as discerning.... “If the principles of Christianity,” he wrote, “are not responsible for the slaughter of the crusades, the butcheries of Alva, the massacre of St. Bartholomew or the flames of the Inquisition... If the principles of Christianity are not responsible for the civil disabilities of Roman Catholics and Jews which till recently disgraced the English Statute Book, I do not understand how the principles of Hinduism are to be held responsible for the civil disabilities of the sudras under the Brahmanic regime. The critics of Hinduism have one measure for their own religion and another for Hinduism.”
    • S.R. Goel, History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (1996), quoting from: Das, Sisir Kumar, The Shadow of the Cross, New Delhi, 1974. p. 117-118.
  • The impact of Vivekananda in his own country was far more momentous. He had taken over from where Bankim Chandra had left. Among the writers and thinkers of modern India, Bankim Chandra had fascinated him the most. During his lecture tour in East Bengal in 1901 he is reported to have advised Bengal's young men to 'read Bankim, and Bankim, and Bankim again.' Small wonder that Bankim's AnandamaTha inspired revolutionary organisations fighting for India's freedom and his Vande MAtaram became the national song par excellence when the awakening brought about by Vivekananda burst forth in a political movement soon after his death in 1902.
    • Sita Ram Goel, History of Hindu-Christian Encounters, 1996, Ch. 13.
  • A younger contemporary of Maharshi Dayananda had meanwhile dived deep into the ocean of Indian culture and come up with a vast and variegated treasure. That was Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (1838-1894)....It was also Bankim Chandra who restored the Mahabharata to its rightful place as a profound elaboration of what the Veda had said in the form of mystic mantras. The Gita which had been subjected to sectarian interpretations for several centuries past, was rescued by Bankim Chandra from the quagmire of casuistry. This great scripture had been interpreted by many ãchãryas either to support sannyãsa or to bolster bhakti. Its central core of karmayoga had been consigned to oblivion. Bankim Chandra was the first in modern times to restore the lost balance, so much so that in his ÃnandamaTha it was the sannyãsin who took up the sword in defence of Dharma. In days to come, the Gita was to become the greatest single inspiration for revolutionary action. Many a freedom fighter mounted the gallows with the Gita in his hands and Bankim Chandra’s Vande Mãtaram on his lips.
    But the greatest achievement of Bankim Chandra was the rehabilitation of Sri Krishna of the Mahabharata. This highest Hindu image of the seer, the statesman, and the hero had been made to sing and dance with the gopîs for far too long. Some devotees of Sri Krishna’s dalliance with the gopîs had gone to the extent of saying that Krishna had ceased to be Krishna as soon as he left Vrindavana. Bankim Chandra did not fall foul of this portrayal. Instead, he quietly brought back the Krishna who had sided with the just cause in a controversy involving Dharma, who had befriended Draupadi in moments of her great distress, who had guided the Pandavas through every twist and turn of fortune, who had given the Gita on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, who had rescued Yudhisthira from a fit of unmanly remorse, but who had nonetheless bowed before Bhishma as that paragon of valour, virtue, and wisdom lay on his deathbed.
  • Another great writer who led me on It this stage was Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. I had read all his novels but had never been able to understand why he had been honoured as a rishi. I myself was a novelist and had already written several humane stories. I thought that a novelist dealt with the dimensions of human character and mapped the heights it could scale and the depths to which it could sink. Why should we foist the title of a rishi on this poor fellow? That way rishis will be available a dime a dozen. My doubts about Bankim Chandra being a rishi were removed when I read the second volume of his Collected Works in Bengali. His insights into the innermost core of Hindu culture were a revelation. His Ramayaner Alochona made me see the monstrosities of modern Indology, more than ever before.
    • S.R. Goel. How I became a Hindu (1982)
  • In his later years Bankim was convinced that with rare exceptions the European scholars were deeply prejudiced against India and that racial arrogance was a mainspring of their academic judgements. They took great pains to prove that only the Buddhist texts, hostile to Hinduism, contained some truth. The rest of India's literary heritage was either false or borrowed from other cultures. The Ramayana to such men was but an imitation of the Iliad, the Gita an adaptation of the Bible, Hindu astronomy borrowed from the Chinese and the Greeks and their script was learnt from the Semitic race. Such conclusions derived from a method based on a clear principle: anything favourable to Indians found in Indian texts were either false or interpolated. The heroism of the Pandava brothers was but a poet's imagination, but the legend of Draupadi's five husbands was true for it proved that Indians were polyandrous and hence barbarous. (1988:180)
    • Raychaudhuri 1988, p 180 quoted in Trautmann, Thomas R. (2008). Aryans and British India.

Sri Aurobindo's Bankim, Tilak, Dayananda

Sri Aurobindo's Bankim, Tilak, Dayananda [3]
  • A great and vivifying message had to be given to a nation or to humanity, and God has chosen this mouth on which to shape the words of the message. A momentous vision had to be revealed; and it is his eyes which the Almighty first unseals. The message which he has received, the vision which has been vouchsafed to him, he declares to the world with all the strength that is in him, and in one supreme moment of inspiration ex- presses it in words which have merely to be uttered to stir men's inmost natures, clarify their minds, seize their hearts and impel them to things which would have been impossible to them in their ordinary moments. Those words are the mantra which he was bom to reveal and of that mantra he is the seer.
  • What is it for which we worship the name of Bankim today? what was his message to us or what the vision which he saw and has helped us to see? He was a great poet, a master of beautiful language and a creator of fair and gracious dream-figures in the world of imagination; but it is not as a poet, stylist or novelist that Bengal does honour to him today. It is probable that the literary critic of the future will reckon Kapalkundala, Bishabriksha and Krishnakanter Will as his artistic master- pieces, and speak with qualified praise of Devi Chaudhurani, Ananda Math, Krishnacharit or Dharmatattwa. Yet it is the Bankim of these latter works and not the Bankim of the great creative masterpieces who will rank among the Makers of Modern India. The earlier Bankim was only a poet and stylist the later Bankim was a seer and nation-builder.
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