From the Jacket
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya’s writings, in many ways, determined the intellectual and cultural content of modern Hinduism and Hindu nationalism. They also contributed significantly to the critical self-consciousness of the English-educated Indian middle classes. Most importantly, Bankim Chandra Chandra was one of the earliest writers to have critically dealt with the Indian response to the moral and intellectual challenges posed by the West.
This critical biography presents an insightful analysis of Bankim Chandra’s life, thought, and works. Amiya P. Sen discusses how Bankim Chandra’s writings influenced the nascent Indian nationalism of the late nineteenth century, but with paradoxical results. On the one hands, Bankim Chandra asserted a distinctively Hindu identity, which produced a bounding based on shared religious sentiments. On the other, his evocative use of Hindu religious idioms and symbols diluted the very substance of the unity he envisaged for the nation by antagonizing non-Hindus.
This book analyses the predominant themes in Bankim’s writings and also details his impact on the development of Bengali language press and literature. Including two appendices on his life and major writings, and a readings list, this volume will be informative reading for students and teachers of modern Indian history and politics, as well as general readers.
Amiya P. Sen is currently Tagore Professor at Rabindra Bhavan, Visa-Bharati. He has taught history at Jamia Millia Islamia and Deshbandhu College, University of Delhi, and has also been Agatha Harrison Fellow at Oxford and Visiting Fellow at the Indian Institute for Advanced Study, Shimla.
This biography was written through the scorching summer of 2007, at a time when friends and colleagues had wisely taken to other pursuits. It is a work that I have wanted to write for a long time but could not, for lack of either time or courage. Over the years, it has increasingly occurred to me that writing on Bankim was no easy matter, more so for a historian with only a superficial understanding of literary refinements and abstract philosophical questions. Lucidly summarizing works like Bankim’s Dharmatattwa or Krishna charitra proved exasperatingly difficult at times. On the other hand, I have all along been driven by the belief that this is a biography that I owe as much to Bankim as to myself for the way his writings have sustained my interest in modern Hinduism and the self-reflexivity of modern Hindu. This is an obligation I am happy at having fulfilled.
This is the second time that Oxford University Press has graciously invited me to contribute and keep alive the ‘Modern Indian Greats’ series. My first contribution to the series, as some might recall, was a biography of Swami Vivekananda, which, I am happy to note, has gained more fame than notoriety. I would like to thank Oxford University Press, New Delhi, and Professor Narayani Gupta (Narayanidi to me), General Editor of the series, for encouraging me with this project. Thanks also go to Simi Malhotra, friend and colleague, for painstakingly going through the typescript. This would be an apt occasion to remind them all of how grateful I am for their constructive criticism and of the personal satisfaction I have had writing for them.
Unless otherwise stated, all translation from the Bengali originals used in this work are mine. I have also included two appendices in the hope that these would be of some interest to the general reader.
General Editor’s Note
This book is part of a series of short biographies of men and women from the late nineteenth century to the present day, who have contribute in discrete ways towards building modern India. With a non-specialist readership in mind, the biographies will provide concise, authoritative introductions to the lives and works of individuals who have had the courage to pursue their own visions and vocations-in the process, often touching the lives of many others in a positive and substantial way. These stories of outstanding lives seek to understand and appreciate achievements rather than provide a straightforward chronological retelling. We hope the biographies succeed in recapturing the topography of the past without hagiography and nostalgia.
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