Hindu Revivalists of Bengal

ramakrishna paramahamsa

Bengal was the province where English rulers had initial impact. The Bengalis were influenced by the British rule more than any other area of the country. The East India Company established its capital at Calcutta in 1773. The upper caste, the Bhadra Bengali people were attracted towards English culture and they were thinking that English education, English culture were superior. Not only that, they had developed a sort of contempt towards their own old life style and culture. In the book “The Heart of Aryavarta” by Earl of Ron Aldashay (1927) quoting a Bengali gentleman who, said how the things had changed because of the English rule said, “Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic held in such supreme reverence but a few years before as the only source of wisdom, were in consequence of such teachings, looked upon with supreme contempt. They came to be regarded as barbarous, unwholesome, and unfashionable”. (p. 46)

Such was the inferiority complex among the upper castes of the Bengal. P. C. Muzumdar in his introduction to the “Life and Teachings of Keshub Chandra Sen” wrote, ‘The ancient scriptures of the country, the famous records of the spiritual experiences of the great men of numerous Hindu sects, had long since been discredited. The Vedas and Upanishads were sealed books. … The whole religious literature of ancient India presented an endless void. Our young reformers studied Pain’s ‘Age of Reason’ to get fresh ideas on the subject of religion.”

But, then the turn came for a change. Some influential people started looking to the traditional Indian values of their culture.

Among them, were Jogendrochandra Ghosh and Bankimchandra Chatterjee. These were the prominent revivalist leaders. Such prominent persons had started boasting in favour of Indian culture and went further to such an extent that they started saying, ‘Indian scriptures are the source of modern Western science.’ This message was being spread later on across India and we find upper castes, especially Brahmins from all provinces started chanting the mantra that the Western people made discoveries in science by studying the Indian scriptures like Vedas.

Rammohan Roy: (1772-1833) His original surname was Bandopadhyay and Brahmin by caste. He was inspired by the Western culture but he remained the staunch Brahmin. It is said, “He never took any food that was forbidden by the Shastras for a Brahmin. He never took food with anybody who belonged to any other religion or caste. Till his death the sacred thread for a Brahmin, he maintained on his body.” (Rammohan Rachanabali, Harap Prakashan, Introduction, p.21) He opposed ‘Sati’, the cruel practice of burning woman with husband’s dead body. He was moved because his family woman member was made a ‘Sati’. That means he was not against ‘Sati’ as a Hindu religious dogma. Some people criticised him as a family reformer.

He was loyal to the British rule but was against the Muslim rule and religion. S. K. Biswas in his book, “Hinduraj”-Today-Yesterday-Tomarrow” (Orion Books, Calcutta, 1996) says, “He simply played a dirty game of licking the feet of the new colonial, foreign despots and offered his services to the imperialist ruler to get rid of the so called tyrannical Indian Muslim rulers. He offered himself as an agent for the British Commercial company against the Indian rulers, on communal line, to be used by the advancing neo-colonial rule.” (p.27) for his this stand he was given ‘Rai Bahadur’ title. He was also made Diwan of British company.

Later on he turned to Vedic thoughts. He founded Brahmo Samaj in 1825. He had also written the books – Vedanta Grantha and Vedantasara. R. K. DasGupta in his book, ‘Vedanta in Bengal’ 2003, p. 47, (pub. The Ramkrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata) considers Rammohan as the creator of Vedantism in modern Bengal. How he was adherent of the Vedic philosophy and proud of his racial background is clear when in the function of his death centenary a speaker, B.N. Seal said, “He (Rammohan) declared that the light of individual reason had to be reconciled with the authority of the scripture, as repositories of the collective wisdom of the race.” (Op. cit p.46). That shows how he was for Hindu revivalism.

Ramakrishna Paramhans (Gadadhar Chattopadhyay): (1834-1886) He was considered as the godly personality by many intellectuals in Bengal. He was not much educated or learned in Vedic scriptures but his sermons were heard with utmost seriousness as they were full of common sense religiosity. Being a Brahmin by caste he had advantage of listening to the religious discourses. His cult was another source of revivalism. His utterances attracted the intellectuals of Bengal and became his staunch disciples. They played major role in Hindu revivalism. Ramakrishna’s admirers were not only in India but also in the Western countries. This has become possible because of Vivekananda’s speech at the Parliament of World Religions at Chicago, US, (1893) which made him world famous.

Some of the foreigners who praised Ramakrishna, include Roman Rolland, who in his book ‘Life of Ramakrishna’ said, “I am bringing to Europe the fruit of a new autumn, a new message of the soul, the symphony of India, bearing the name of Ramakrishna, and he also said, ‘he was the consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million people.’ (op cit p. 76-77), Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), said, ‘he was Vedanta’s greatest human exemplar, Max Muller, who said, “Vedanta philosophy is the very marrow running through all the bones of Ramakrishna’s doctrine” (op cit. p.76)

Swami Vivekananda: (1863-1902) He was the chief disciple of Ramakrishna and became world famous by his speech delivered in the Chicago Parliament of the World Religions in 1893. He was also initially influenced by Brahmo Samaj. Before going to America, Vivekananda travelled to many places in India and met many famous saints, religious people, princes and luminaries. He also met B.G.Tilak, a Marathi Hindu revivalist at Pune. He founded the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897. Satinath Datta, well known Bengali Vedantic writer looks upon ‘Swami Vivekananda as the architect of a Vedantic revival.’ (DasGupta,p.64). Sister Nivedita in her introduction to ‘The works of Swami Vivekananda’ said, “Ramakrishna and Vivekananda are a single spiritual personality as a creator of new Hinduism.” (R.K.DasGupta, Vedanta in Bengal, p.76). Because of him faith in Vedic religion increased. Thus, he is considered a major force in the revival of Hinduism in India.

Ramakrishna mission has founded Ashrams or maths all over India and abroad also. Main theme of the mission’s work is making Sanyasis out of common men and through them spread the message of Vedic religion. M.S. Golwalkar, the second RSS chief was also inspired by the mission and he wanted to join it but was dissuaded by mission’s Calcutta Swami.

Vivekananda’s overall mission was to uphold Hindu system, glorify it and to instil in Indian Upper castes the pride of the Hindutva. He, although at times, spoke of Shudra raj but he also praised the caste system. He defended the dreaded ‘Sati’ He described ‘Sati’ as an act of self immolation of the Hindu women out of their divine and endless love and celestial devotion to their husbands. ‘Sati’ was the device to maintain caste system and do away with surplus women. The women being considered Shudras in the Varna model they were the objects of perpetual contempt.

Against Reforms and caste annihilators:

While some times he hailed reforms but opposed them on later times. In a speech at Kumbhakonam in Madras state on the 4th February 1897, he declared –

“There are evils in our society even our babies know it. But is there any society which is bereft of evils? My countrymen! I take this opportunity to tell you that I have visited and seen many countries and nations. After a comparative study I have arrived at a conclusion that our nation on the whole is more religious and ethical than that of others. Our social system, in fulfilling their objects, is best in the world to make humanity happy. Therefore, I do not want any reform. My object is to see the rise and expansion of our nation. … I do not want to declare myself as one of those who are just caste annihilators, just the reformists. (Vivekananda O samakalin Bharatvarsha, Shankariprasad Basu,Vol-IIIfcc, p.289).

Secondly, when he established Ramakrishna Mission he framed rules which again speak of his dislike for social reforms. One of the rules is-
“Math/Mission will not pay much attention on social reforms, because those social ills and wrong customs are a type of disease of the social body. When that body will become O.K. and strong enough after getting nutrition of education etc. Those diseases will disappear automatically. Therefore, instead of wasting of time by disclosing those social evils the Mission will take care of feeding the society to strengthen it.” (Vivekananda O samakalin Bharatvarsha, Shankariprasad Basu,Vol.III, p.65).

This shows how Vivekananda kept mission aloof from social change. He is rightly adored and glorified by the Hindu Nationalist organisations, which also are known as fascist forces. Vivekananda thus, by his eloquence served the established social system. Same was the stand taken by B.G. Tilak about the social reform platform of the congress. Vivekananda, thus was close to the Hindu nationalist forces. These forces do not adopt, eulogise a luminary unless he/she is useful to them. RSS established the Vivekananda centre at Kanyakumari in Tamilnadu, by collecting huge amount of money from all over India. Even Congress ruled state governments supported monetarily the centre.

Vande Mataram and Bankimchandra Chatterji (1838-1894) After Rammohan Roy Bankimchandra Chatterjee was a famous literary figure who served as Deputy Collector under the British and got Roy Bahadur title from the rule. He had written the historical novel “Anand Math” (1882). He gave in it the anti-Muslim thoughts. While praised the English rule and people he at the same time spew venom against Muslims. “He advocated in his book ‘Anand Math’, both absolute servitude to the foreign masters and extreme communal hatred against their own countrymen who believed in a different faith called Islam. (‘Hindu raj’ by SK Biswas, 1996, p.31). In ‘Anand Math’, he wrote,
“English people are very wise in worldly knowledge, they are very equipped in controlling public. Therefore, we will make the British our king…Satyanand!

Don’t worry, having adopted the wrong means, dacoity, you had collected wealth and got success in this battle, Therefore, you won’t be eventually successful in liberating your motherland. However, the result will be good. Behold! There is no hope or chance for revival of Sanatan (Hindu) Dharma without the British rule. …we will eliminate Muslims, our greatest enemy.” (Anand Math-Bankimchandra Chatterji)

The hymn ‘Vande Mataram’ in it evoked quite a large influence. This hymn-song got country wide acceptance among the revivalist leaders. Bankimchandra blamed Bakhtiyar Khilji through his novel for loosing independence of Bengal.

The impact of this song was so much that the revivalist Congress leaders also fell in its love. Bipin Chandra Pal decided to start a patriotic journal in August 1906 by name ‘Vande Mataram’. Another Congress leader, Lala Lajpat Rai also published a journal of the same name. (www.hinduhistory.info/bankim-chandra…) The three top leaders of the independence movement were well known as Lal-Bal-Pal-i.e. Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipinchandra Pal.

Thus, ‘Vande Mataram’ became the rallying point for anti-Muslim fervour. The ‘Vande Mataram’ song is used by Hindu Nationalists to target the Muslims. The slogans like ‘Is Desh me Rahana hoga to Vande mataram kehna hoga’ (If you want to live in this country you will have to recite Vande mataram.) That means you will have to salute the motherland, which against the tenets of Islam. The RSS combine organisation’s volunteers shout this slogan against Muslim in their morchas whenever they get the chance to hoodwink the Muslims. Now, this song has become the national song which is sung in the Indian parliament at the start of every session. This shows how Indian parliament has become subservient to the Hindu Nationalist forces nay the Indian state has become the Hindu state. Many Muslim members of the parliament oppose singing of Vande Mataram in the parliament, but their complaints fall on deaf years. Some MPs walk out of the parliament house as a protest. This speaks how far the Indian state adhere to the principle of secularism.
Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950)

He joined independence movement. He established contacts with B.G.Tilak and followed his militant faction. He was jailed in a sedition case. In 1910 Aurobindo withdrew himself from all political activities and went into hidings to escape arrest by British government. His views on Hindu nationalism were akin to other Hindu nationalists.

After he was released from the Alipur bomb case, he was given grand felicitation. In his speech at that occasion speaks of his views. He said, “ …..It is the hindu religion only because the Himdu nation has kept it.” Further he said, …… this movement is not a political movement and that nationalism is not politics but religion, a creed, a faith. I say it again today, …. I say that it is the Sanatan Dharma which for us is nationalism.This Hindu nation was born with sanatan Dharma. With it, it moves and with it, it grows. When the Sanatan Dharma declines then nation declines. ….The Sanatan Dharma is nationalism. That is the message I have to give to you.” (Vaidic Rashtra Darshan, (Hindi), by- Bal Shastri Hardas, 2000, Suruchi Prakashan, New Delhi, p.12-13.

It is said that Bengali revivalists were emulated by the Marathi revivalist leaders like B.G.Tilak, V.D. Savarkar. Sisir Kumar Ghosh, founder and first editor of the ‘Amrit Bazar Patrika, Kolkata, about whom Prof. Muzumdar says, “It is significant that Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the first extremist leader saluted Sisir Kumar Ghosh as his political guru. (History of Political Thought, vol. II, p.322) quoted in J E Sanjana’s, ‘Caste and outcaste (1946), p. 120, Thacker & Co.ltd. Chandranath Bose in 19th century played prominent part in revival of Hinduism in Bengali work ‘Hindutva’. V.D.Savarkar might have been inspired by this Bengali work’ says J E Sanjana, in ‘Caste and outcaste (1946), p. 120, Thacker & Co.ltd.

It seems thus, that Hindu revivalism started first in Bengal and Marathi Brahmins were followers of the Bengali Bhadra leaders. It is obvious that the persons involved in the revivalist activities were belonging to Brahmins and Kayastha castes, the Bhadra castes of Bengal.

Nagesh Chaudhari is editor of Marathi fortnightly, Bahujan Sangharsh, Nagpur


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