Remembering the Father of Vandemataram

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Anupama Nair

“But the heart, the eye, the yet deeper heart —
Still ablaze for the Beloved, their turmoil shines.
In the lantern by the road the flame is stalled for news:
Did the morning breeze ever come?  Where has it gone?
Night weighs us down, it still weighs us down.
Friends, come away from this false light. Come, we must
search for that promised Dawn”

However, the promised Dawn did finally come after nearly 200 years of colonial rule. We lost millions of Bharat Ma’s sons and daughters starting from Siraj-ud-Daula (Battle of Plassey, 1757), to Mangal Pandey, Rani Laxmi Bai (1857) and finally Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev, Veer Savarkar and lastly the man who said “Give me blood, I will give you freedom”— Netaji.

As Rousseau, during the French Revolution said “Man is born free yet he is in chains”, it was true for India. The desire to be free is the dream of every human, but during the Raj it was a rare commodity. For a century we were ruled by a Company called East India Company, which let loose a reign of terror. It was truly a black era.

Our great Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the Amrit Mahotsav or celebration of Bharat’s 75th year of Independence. We will be celebrating this event till 2022. I am going to write a feature on all those great men and women who fought against foreign invasion not just against the British. Today I am going to talk about the great Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and his book Anandmath and Vandemataram which was coined by him

It was in such an India, Bankim Chandra was born. He was born on 27th June 1838. He was born in the village of Kanthalpara in the town of North 24 Parganas, Naihati, in an orthodox Bengali Brahmin family, the youngest of three brothers, to Yadav Chandra Chattopadhayay and Durgadebi. He was an Indian author, whose novels firmly established prose as a literary vehicle for Independence and helped create in India a school of fiction on the European model. His first notable Bengali work was the novel “Durgesh Nandini”, which features a Rajput hero and a Bengali heroine. The great philosopher Debendranath Tagore (father of Rabindranath Tagore)’s words, it took “the Bengali heart by storm,” and with it the Bengali novel was fully born. 

He was lucky enough to meet Sri Ramakrishna. Bankim was highly educated and influenced by Oriental thoughts and ideas. Sri Ramakrishna, however, did not have any knowledge of English. Yet they had a nice relationship between them. Once Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, was joking about the meaning of Bankim which meant Bent A Little, and asked him what it was that had bent him. Bankim Chandra jokingly replied that it was the kick from the Englishman's shoe for he was famous for his criticism of the British government.

Bankim was particularly impressed by the historical Gaudiya Vaishnava a cultural blossom of the 14th and 15th centuries in Bengal. His commentary on the Bhagavad Gita was published eight years after his death and contained his comments up to the 19th  Verse of Chapter 4. 

His greatest book was Anandmath, a patriotic tale of the revolt of the sannyasis against the forces of the East India Company, which was published in 1882. To his generation his voice was that of a prophet, his valiant Hindu heroes aroused the patriotism and pride of their race. “In Bankim Chandra, Nationalism and Hinduism merged as one, and his love for his country was characterized in the epoch-making song “Vandemataram” (“Hail to thee, Mother”)—which later became the slogan of nationalists in their struggle for independence”. After Anandmath, “Devi Chaudrayin” was also very popular.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say Vandemataram is truly characteristic of its composer. The book is set in the years during the famine of Bengal. It started with an introduction to a loving couple, Mahendra and Kalyani, who are stuck in their village Padachinha without any food and water during the times of the famine. They decided to leave their village and move to the next closest city where there was a greater chance of survival. Sadly, the couple was separated and Kalyani had to run through the forest with her infant to avoid getting caught by robbers. After a long chase, she loses consciousness at the bank of a river. A Hindu “Santana”, Jiban took the daughter to his home handing her to his sister while he shifted Kalyani to his ashram.

The husband, Mahendra, at this point was inspired by patriotism and joins the brotherhood of the sanyasis serving the Mother Nation. Kalyani wants to help him in attaining his dreams by trying to kill herself, relieving him of worldly duties. At this point, Mahatma Satya joined her but before he could help her, he was arrested by the soldiers of the East India Company, because these sanyasis were fueling the revolt against the Company's rule. When he was being dragged away by the soldiers, he spotted another sanyasi who was not wearing his distinctive robes and sings,

"In mild breeze, by the bank of the river,
In the forest, resides a respectable lady."

The other sanyasi deciphers the song, rescues Kalyani and the baby, and takes them to a rebel sanyasi hideout. Kalyani's husband, Mahendra, is also given shelter by the sanyasis, and they are reunited. The leader of the rebels shows Mahendra the three faces of  Bharat Mata as three idols of goddesses, being worshipped in three consecutive rooms of the ashram — “What Mother Was – An idol of Goddess Jagadhatri”,  What Mother Has Become – An idol of Goddess Kali and finally “What Mother Will Be – An idol of Goddess Durga”.

Gradually, the rebel influence grew and their numbers increased by every passing day. Emboldened, they shifted their headquarters to a small brick fort. The East India Company attacked the fort with a large force. The rebels blocked the bridge over a nearby river, but they lacked any artillery or military training. In the fighting, the East India Company make a tactical retreat over the bridge. The Sannyasis' undisciplined army, chased the East India Company forces to trap them. Once the bridge was full of rebels, the East India Company artillery opened fire, inflicting severe casualties on the sannyasis.

However, some rebels manage to capture some of the cannons and turned the fire back on to the East India Company soldiers. The East India Company forces were forced to fall back, the rebels won their first battle. The story ends with Mahendra and Kalyani building a home again, with Mahendra continuing to support the rebels. You need to understand that Anandmath was banned by the British, as it was set against the Sannyasi-led rebellion against the British East India Company in the late 18th  century, but who can suppress the thirst for Independence for long?

The translation of Anandamath into English by Aurobindo inspired the nationalists of Bengal and India in the first decade of the 20th century. He even founded a journal called “Bande Mataram”, and he believed it was his duty to translate works that would instill patriotism in his compatriots. As per the BBC World survey, Vandemataram is the second most popular song in the world!

After this Bharat Mata was painted by the great painter, Abayindranath Tagore in 1905. “It represented an archaic spiritual essence, a transcendental idea of Universe as well as expressing Universal Hinduism and nationhood”. He portrayed Bharat Mata as a four-armed Hindu goddess wearing saffron-colored robes, holding the manuscripts, sheaves of rice, a mala, and a white cloth.

There was a super hit film “Anandmath” made by Hemen Gupta starring, Prithviraj Kapoor, Bharat Bushan, Geeta Bali, Pradeep Kumar, and Ajit.  What a debut film for Pradeep Kumar and its music director Hemant Kumar! The song Vandemataram sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Hemant Kumar is popular even today. This is my favorite movie even today.

This is the lyrics of Vandemataram, may it inspire nationalism in all true children of India.

“Vande mataram, Vande mataram

Sujalam suphalam malayajasitalam

Sasyashyamalam mataram

Vande mataram

Shubhra Jyotsna, pulakita yaminim

Phulla kusumita, Drumadalasobhinim

Suhasinim, Sumadhura bhasinim

Sukhadam varadam mataram

Vande mataram”

If you feel the song is in Devbasha, and you can’t understand I will translate it for you.

“Mother, I bow to thee!

Rich with thy hurrying streams,

bright with orchard gleams,

Cool with thy winds of delight,

Dark fields waving Mother of might,

Mother of freedom.

Glory of moonlight dreams,

Over thy branches and lordly streams,

Clad in thy blossoming trees,

Mother, giver of ease

Laughing low and sweet!

Mother, I kiss thy feet,

Speaker sweet and low!

Mother, to thee I bow.”

Singing this song, again and again, inspires patriotism and love for Bharat Ma. As it is said, “Janani Janmabhumishcha Swargadapi Gariyasi” which means “mother and motherland are superior even to heaven” in Dev Bhasha Sanskrit, from our great epic Ramayana. I believe in this motto and think my mother and Bharat maa are superior to heaven. Vandemataram and Bharat Mata ki Jai to all Indians. As today is the Jayanti of the father of Vandemataram, let us remember him.

PM Modi paid homage to Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay on his 183rd birth anniversary. He tweeted “Remember Rishi Bankim Chandra on his Jayanti. Vandemataram penned by him inspires us to serve India with humility”.


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