Anandamath (Dawn over India)/Translator's Introduction
Chakravath parivartante dukhanichaiv sukhanichaiv is a Sanskrit proverb of which the English version is: Both good fortune and bad fortune ever turn like the wheels of a cart. The man who sits on top of the world today may plunge into the deep tomorrow. But not for long. With the turn of the wheel he is on the top again.
India herself is today giving eloquent testimony to the truth enshrined in the old proverb. After centuries of political slavery, of social tyranny and of economic exploitation, the wheel of life in India is beginning to revolve again. And in the new awakening of a great nation, this prophetic novel from the pen of Bankim Chandra Chatterji has played a dynamic part. A century has gone by since it was first published. In India its influence has been steadily progressive with each passing year.
The theme song of this great novel is Bande Mataram — Hail Mother. Today Bande Mataram is India's national song. It rang through the length and breadth of the land as a call to duty. It inspired equally the Mahatma Gandhi pacifists and the Aurobindo Ghose revolutionaries. Suffering the most barbarous atrocities in the British jails in India, thousands of Mahatma Gandhi’s followers chanted this great song of freedom. And when Aurobindo Ghose’s men stood on the gallows to be hanged for the 'crime' of loving their own country, they joyously breathed their last with the sacred mantra of Bande Mataram on their lips.
True, Mahatma Gandhi's political philosophy, which owes much to the teachings of Thoreau, Tolstoy and Jesus Christ is not the philosophy of the great novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterji. Mahatma Gandhi preached a gospel of pacifism. Chatterji, on the other hand, set forth the principle of unselfish militancy as taught by Krishna in the Bhagavat Gita, the Bible of the Hindus. And Aurobindo Ghose (later a master Yogi in Pondicherry) acknowledged Chatterji as his political guru. Here are his words: 'Of the new spirit which is leading the nation to resurgence and independence, Bankim Chandra Chatterji is the inspirer and the political guru... His was the sweetest voice that ever spoke in prose.'
Both in India's renaissance and in her revolutionary movement Bankim Chandra Chatterji occupies a unique position. He was born on June 27, 1838, five years after the death of Raja Rammohun Roy. The latter, known as the father of modern India, founded the Brahmo Samaj, an organisation to which Rabindranath Tagore and numerous other progressive men of Bengal belonged.
Chatterji was nineteen years of age when India's first War of Independence (English historians called it the Sepoy Mutiny) began. The following year (1858) India lost that war. Chatterji was finishing his studies at the time and in that same year (1858) graduated from the University of Calcutta as its first Bachelor of Arts. The British authorities immediately appointed him to the post of Deputy Magistrate.
But the young Chatterji had suffered a shock in the failure of the so-called Sepoy Mutiny. He could not understand how or why the great movement for independence had so ignominiously failed, and in his effort to discover the causes of that failure he set himself to the task of analysing the great problem of India's political life. Influenced and inspired by the lives and works of three great patriots — Raja Rammohun Roy, Iswarchandra Vidyasagar and Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi (the Hindu queen who had led her soldiers against the British during the Mutiny) — he soon recognised the existence of a number of startling facts.
The people of India, he saw, were fast being denationalised by English manners, and customs, English fashions and English whiskies and brandies. The British government had made the English language the first language in India's schools and colleges, and Bengali and the other languages of India were officially relegated to a secondary place. Chatterji's soul winced when he perceived that the Indian who spoke and wrote English was more honoured by his own people than the man who spoke and wrote exquisite Bengali, Marathi or Hindusthani. Wherever he looked he saw educated Indians frantically jumping on the bandwagon of British culture. And he reached the conclusion that English, an alien tongue, was being used as a powerful solvent in the destruction of the culture of India.
From the moment when he had first learned to think for himself, he had believed that Bengal had been entrusted with a divine destiny — the destiny of ultimately leading India into a rebirth of freedom. In Chatterji's view this reborn freedom was to include not merely freedom from British rule but also freedom from the iniquities of the caste system, freedom from the prevailing restraints on style in literature, freedom of women from the tyranny of men, freedom of the farmers from the oppressions laid upon them by the wealthy landholders and freedom of thought and action from the manifold thraldom that crippled India as a result of man's own ignorance. But if Bengal were ever to realise this noble destiny, she must have a language strong enough for such a titanic mission and she must evolve a literature dynamic enough to enlighten and to inspire the imagination of the entire people of India.
When the young official of the British government reached this point in his analysis of the deeper sorrows of his country, both the language and the literature of Bengal were in their infancy. India's ancient classical language is Sanskrit, the mother of all Aryan tongues, including Greek, Latin, and their European derivatives. So Chatterji, confronted with the need to give voice to his beloved Bengal's aspirations as a corrective to the pernicious influence of Britain's cultural imperialism, turned his thoughts to the fabulous wealth of classical Sanskrit. There, if anywhere, he would find justification for the hopes that surged within him in the year 1871. In that year, when Rabindranath Tagore was only ten years of age, Chatterji faced his problem when he wrote: 'Bengali literature is feeble and base and utterly worthless, yet has within it what may encourage no small degree of hope for the future.'
So at thirty-three years of age he set his skilful hand to the great task of creating a language for Bengal. Driven by the inspiration of his matchless scholarship, he mined the rich depository of classical Sanskrit. Creating new words, casting old phrases into new moulds, using to the full his uncanny genius for the permutation and combination of syllables, he gradually revealed a world of literary beauty never known in India before.
With Chatterji's novels and essays to boast of with their compelling beauty and their subtle humour to refer to, Bengal became proud of her honourable place in the world of letters. Men nurtured on Shakespeare, Milton and Shelley began to read the works of Kalidas, Bhavabhuti, Chandidas and Vidyapati. Thinkers who had fed on the works of Darwin, Mill and Spencer turned eagerly to the Upanishads, the Puranas and the Bhagavat Gita. Historical students of the Magna Carta struggle, of the times of Oliver Cromwell, of the tragedy of King Charles the First, began to relish the ballads of Rajasthan. And the devotees of Sir Walter Scott and Bulwer Lytton opened the pages of Bankim Chandra Chatterji's novels. Within India herself a new feeling had been born; millions began to hold their heads high once again, and men began to talk in terms of ‘our language,' 'our literature,' and 'our country'.
Today in India the novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterji is known as the emperor of Bengali literature — Sahitya Samrat. He is recognised to be unquestionably India's greatest writer of prose, as Rabindranath Tagore is acknowledged to be her greatest lyrical poet. In fact, Tagore was Chatterji's literary disciple, owing much to the sympathy and kindness of the great master. When Tagore, at the most critical period of his literary life, was being cruelly judged by his compatriots for the voluptuousness of his youthful love-lyrics, it was Chatterji's sympathy that fortified his spirit and strengthened his soul. Tagore is today honoured in all quarters of the globe as India's Nobel Prize winner in literature. It is good to recall how much the full flower of his genius owes to the sympathy of the older writer.
One incident is well worth recalling. There was a wedding party at the Calcutta home of Romesh Chandra Dutt, a literary disciple of Chatterji. The young Tagore was a guest and Chatterji was the guest of honour. When the party had settled down, Tagore introduced himself to Chatterji and sat at the great man's feet. Dutt, himself a big name in the world of literature, made a speech in praise of Chatterji and placed a garland of flowers around the great novelist's neck. To the surprise of the other guests, Chatterji removed the garland and placed it around the neck of young Tagore. 'This garland really belongs to him,' he said. 'I am the setting sun. He is the sun now rising. Romesh, have you read his Sandhya Sangit?’
No one was more surprised than Tagore at this act of kindness. Instantly the young poet forgot the pain of adverse criticism that had been inflicted upon him. With the blessing of his literary guru he persisted in his work. It is not too much to say that Chatterji's kindly approval of his work meant at least as much, if not more, to Tagore than the Nobel Prize which came to him some years later.
Like all really great men Chatterji was utterly devoid of jealousy. Writers and poets flocked around him, sure of his sympathy and encouragement. Quite often he picked up unknown writers and helped them to give their best to his own great mission of making Bengali a medium for great thoughts and ideals. The purpose of literature,' he once wrote, 'is to help toward ultimate perfection in the culture of beauty, and to instill purity into the mind of man by creative thoughts.'
In the realisation of this ideal, as well as in the general development of literature in Bengal, Chatterji's Bengali magazine, Bangadarshan, played an important role. This magazine, by the way, was later edited by Rabindranath Tagore. In its pages Chatterji published his own writings, together with the writings of many other authors, some of them utterly unknown till then, under his editorial auspices. Here, too, may be found his vibrant essays on literary criticism. Young Bengal was fortunate indeed to have a great literary craftsman functioning as a creative literary critic. In this connection Tagore's words are eloquent:
Bankim Chandra Chatterji had equal strength in both his literary hands, he kept his one hand engaged in creative work, and the other in guiding others in what not to do. With one hand he lit the fires of literary enlightenment, and with the other he took upon himself to clear the smoke and ashes of ignorance. Bengali literature was able so quickly to attain such a wholesome maturity in so short a time because Chatterji alone took charge both of ideal creative writing and perfect constructive criticism.
But, with his dream of nation-building to guide him, Chatterji could not confine his interests to literature alone. As the dream began to take form and substance he became vitally interested in history, archaeology, sociology, philosophy, politics and science. The high esteem which modern science enjoys in India, the land of transcendent philosophy, owes much to the memory of Bankim Chandra Chatterji.
It was in the year 1876 that he made his first outstanding contribution to the cause of modern science in India. In that year the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science was founded by Dr. Mahendralal Sircar, an eminent pioneer in India's scientific work. With the purpose of fostering research and of training teachers Dr. Sircar made a public appeal for funds to support his newly-formed association. The appeal proved unsuccessful. Chatterji, however, came to the rescue of Dr. Sircar. Writing in his Bangadarshan he championed the cause of western science in general, taking occasion at the same time to drive home to India the importance of Dr. Sircar's work. The public response was immediate. In less than two months' time the funds for Dr. Sircar's new research body were available. It is to be noted that Dr. C.V. Raman, India's Nobel Prize winner in Physics, is partly a product of this Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science.
But while Chatterji's zeal did much for the fostering of the scientific spirit in academic circles in India, it achieved at least as much in the fields of history , sociology, philosophy and politics. The aura of profound scholarship enlightens his writings on Hindu philosophy. No wonder Tagore pays tribute to this great man's amazing versatility: In poetry, in science, in history, and in philosophy, whenever and in whatever field he was needed, he was ever ready to give the very best from the fullness of his genius. The great mission of his life was to establish, and to leave behind him for posterity to emulate, the model of an ideal in every department of our newly born Bengali literature. Always he ably and gladly responded to the diverse needs of the helpless literature of Bengal.'
Chatterji's dream of a new nationalism for India did not die with him. Its translation into terms of national achievement has now become the definite mission of millions of India's Hindus, Mohammedans, Sikhs, Parsees, Jains, and Christians. The man’s great achievement for India was that he made patriotism a religion, and his writings have become the gospel of India's struggle for political independence.
Most popular among those writings, most widely read by the masses, and most deeply impregnated by the spirit of his own great love of India is the novel Anandamath. In the original Bengali and in translations in many Indian languages it was widely read for twenty-four years after its first publication. But its full significance was not universally recognised in India till the year 1905. In that year the then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, in an effort to destroy the solidarity of the Bengali people, partitioned the province of Bengal. This act of arbitrary rule proved to be a blessing in disguise. It united India, and the great nationalist movement was born in Bengal in that same year. Chatterji's novel became the inspiration of this revolutionary movement. Not only in Bengal but all over India men dedicated themselves to the task of making Chatterji's dream come true.
One of the first signs of the new movement was the foundation of the National College in Calcutta. Its Principal was Aurobindo Ghose, a Cambridge graduate, who gave up his lucrative position as Principal of Baroda College to head the new institution at a token salary. He had hardly settled in Calcutta when he launched a newspaper, Bande Mataram, with its slogan printed boldly at the top of the front page: OUR POLICY — INDIA FOR INDIANS. Instantly achieving an all-India circulation, this militant newspaper gave a definite direction to India's thought, focusing men's minds on Chatterji's dream of national independence. In the year 1907 the fighting editor issued his Manifesto on Indian Nationalism, declaring: 'Truth is with us. Justice is with us. Nature is with us. The law of God, which is higher than human law, justifies our action.' In the following year (1908) Aurobindo Ghose was arrested for revolutionary activities.
Ghose's lawyer, at the time of his arrest, was C.R. Das, who soon became a national figure and was subsequently elected President of the Indian National Congress. In the passage of the years the mantle of Das fell upon the shoulders of Subhas Chandra Bose, a Cambridge graduate who was also a graduate of the University of Calcutta. Bose ably carried aloft the torch handed down by Chatterji. Twice he was elected President of the Indian National Congress. On the occasion of his second election, in 1939, he even defeated Mahatma Gandhi's own candidate for the position. In and out of jail, in and out of India, Bose carried on Aurobindo Ghose s political work. Like every other revolutionary in India, he acknowledged Chatterji as his guide.
Chatterji was unalterably opposed to British cultural imposition on India. Yet, at the same time, he was a profound student of the great heritage of western culture and a devoted admirer of the best in western civilisation. He regarded the culture of the west and the culture of the east as mutually complementary, and he did his utmost to use the essence of western culture to fertilise the cultural life of the new India.
This reverence for the best in western civilisation has been inherited by Tagore, among others. Tagore, writing of Chatterji s international spirit, says: 'There was the day when Bankim invited both East and West to a veritable festival of union in the pages of his Bangadarshan. From that day the literature of Bengal felt the call of time, responded to it, and having thus justified itself, took its place on the road to immortality. Bengali literature has made such wonderful progress because it cut through all the artificial barriers which would have shut it off from communion with world literature, and because it has regulated its growth in such a way as to be able to make its own, naturally and with ease, the science and ideals of the West... Bankim is immortal not only by virtue of the excellence of the great books he wrote, immortal as they are. He is immortal also by reason of the fact that, with the vision of his paramount genius, he has shown how the ideals of East and West can be harmonised for the universal welfare of mankind.'
In these words Tagore pays tribute to what Chatterji actually achieved. But Chatterji himself has told us something of the dream on which he focussed his every activity. Here are his words: ‘The day European science and mechanical skill unite their forces with India's philosophical idealism, then truly will man become a god.’
Basanta Koomar Roy, New York