Bengal Renaissance

Bengal Renaissance

The Bengal Renaissance refers to a social reform movement during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the region of Bengal in undivided India during the period of British rule. The Bengal renaissance can be said to have started with Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1775-1833) and ended with Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), although there have been many stalwarts thereafter embodying particular aspects of the unique intellectual and creative output ["History of the Bengali-speaking People" by Nitish Sengupta, p 211, UBS Publishers' Distributors Pvt. Ltd. ISBN 81-7476-355-4.] . Nineteenth century Bengal was a unique blend of religious and social reformers, scholars, literary giants, journalists, patriotic orators and scientists, all merging to form the image of a renaissance, and marked the transition from the 'medieval' to the 'modern' [Sumit Sarkar, "Calcutta and the Bengal Renaissance", in "Calcutta, the Living City" ed. Sukanta Chaudhuri, Vol I, p. 95.] .


During this period, Bengal witnessed an intellectual awakening that is in some way similar to the Renaissance in Europe during the 16th century, although Europeans of that age were not confronted with the challenge and influence of alien colonialism. This movement questioned existing orthodoxies, particularly with respect to women, marriage, the dowry system, the caste system, and religion. One of the earliest social movements that emerged during this time was the Young Bengal movement, that espoused rationalism and atheism as the common denominators of civil conduct among upper caste educated Hindus.

The parallel socio-religious movement, the Brahmo Samaj, developed during this time period and counted many of the leaders of the Bengal Renaissance among its followers [ [ "Reform and Education: Young Bengal & Derozio", ""] ] . In the earlier years the Brahmo Samaj, like the rest of society, could not however, conceptualize, in that feudal-colonial era, a free India as it was influenced by the European Enlightenment (and its bearers in India, the British Raj) although it traced its intellectual roots to the Upanishads. Their version of Hinduism, or rather Universal Religion (similar to that of Ramakrishna), although devoid of practices like sati and polygamyfact|date=April 2008 that had crept into the social aspects of Hindu life, was ultimately a rigid impersonal monotheistic faith, which actually was quite distinct from the pluralistic and multifaceted nature of the way the Hindu religion was practiced. Future leaders like Keshub Chunder Sen were as much devotees of Christ, as they were of Brahma, Krishna or the Buddha. It has been argued by some scholars that the Brahmo Samaj movement never gained the support of the masses and remained restricted to the elite, although Hindu society has accepted most of the social reform programmes of the Brahmo Samaj. It must also be acknowledged that many of the later Brahmos were also leaders of the freedom movement.

The renaissance period after the Indian Rebellion of 1857 saw a magnificent outburst of Bengali literature. While Ram Mohan Roy and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar were the pioneers, others like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee widened it and built upon it [ "History of Bengali-speaking People" by Nitish Sengupta, p 253.] . The first significant nationalist detour to the Bengal Renaissance was given by the brilliant writings of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. Later writers of the period who introduced broad discussion of social problems and more colloquial forms of Bengali into mainstream literature included the great Saratchandra Chatterjee.

Later, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, a great saint of Bengal, is thought to have realized the mystical truth of all religions, and to have reconciled the conflicting Hindu sects ranging from Shakta tantra, Advaita Vedanta and Vaishnavism, as well as other religions like Christianity and Islam. In fact Ramakrishna made famous the Bengali saying: Jato Mat, Tato Path. (All religions are different paths to the same God).

The Vedanta movement prospered principally through his disciple and sage, Swami Vivekananda who on his return from the highly successful Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in 1893 and subsequent lecture tour in America, became a revered national idol.

Swami Vivekananda urged Indians to break free from the shackles of colonialism, past and present and reaffirmed service to mankind as the highest truth of the Hindu Vedantic religion. "Service to mankind is service to god" was his motto. He was the first Indian to conceptualize an absolutely free, prosperous and strong India, which while appreciative of its rich cultural past would be vibrant enough to walk confidently into the future.Fact|date=February 2007 Ramakrishna Mission, the great organization founded by Swami Vivekananda, was totally non-political in nature. It must be stressed that the Ramakrishna Movement founded by Swami Vivekananda carried forward their Master's (Ramakrishna's) message of all religions being true. In essence they were reliving what the Rig Veda -- one of the holiest Hindu scriptures -- had said ages ago: Ekam Sat, Vipra Bahuda Vadanti (That which is, is. Wise Men speak of it in many ways).

The Ramakrishna Movement is also noted for their unstinting service to mankind -- they pioneered schools, colleges and hospitals and put in action the memorable clarion call of their founder Swami Vivekananda -- Shiboggnyane Jib Seba (Serve Mankind as you would serve God (Shiva).

The Tagore family, including Rabindranath Tagore, were leaders of this period and had a particular interest in educational reform [ [ Kathleen M. O'Connell, "Rabindranath Tagore on Education", ""] ] . Their contribution to the Bengal Renaissance was multi-faceted. Indeed, Tagore's 1901 Bengali novella, "Nastanirh" was written as a critique of men who professed to follow the ideals of the Renaissance, but failed to do so within their own families. In many ways Rabindranath Tagore's writings (especially poems and songs) can be seen as imbued with the spirit of the Upanishads. His works repeatedly allude to Upanishadic ideas regarding soul, liberation, transmigration and -- perhaps most essentially -- about a spirit that imbues all creation not unlike the Upanishadic Brahman.

Tagore's English translation of a set of poems titled the Gitanjali won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. He was the first Bengali, the first Indian as well as the first Asian to win the award. That is only one example but the contribution of the family is enormous.

Comparison with European renaissance

The word "renaissance" in European history meant "rebirth" and was used in the context of the revival of the Graeco-Roman learning in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries after the long winter of the dark medieval period. A serious comparison was started by the dramatis personae of the Bengal renaissance like Keshub Chunder Sen, Bipin Chandra Pal and M. N. Roy. For about a century, Bengal’s conscious awareness and the changing modern world was more developed and ahead of the rest of India.Fact|date=December 2007 The role played by Bengal in the modern awakening of India is thus comparable to the position occupied by Italy in the European renaissance. Very much like the Italian renaissance, it was not a mass movement; but instead restricted to the upper classes. Though the Bengal Renaissance was the "culmination of the process of emergence of the cultural characteristics of the Bengali people that had started in the age of Hussein Shah, it remained predominantly Hindu and only partially Muslim." There were some examples of Muslim intellectuals such as Saiyed Amir Ali and Mosharraf Hussain. ["History of Bengali-speaking People" by Nitish Sengupta, p 210, 212-213.]

Some scholars in Bangladesh, now hold Bengal Renaissance in a different light. As Professor Muin-ud-Din Ahmad Khan of the department of Islamic History and Culture of Chittagong University, observes: [Muin-ud-Din Ahmad Khan, "Islamic Reform Movements of the Nineteenth Century Bengal" in "Social History of the Muslims of Bangladesh Under British Rule," Islamic Foundation Bangladesh, Dhaka, 1992, pp71-72 and 79.]


According to historian Romesh Chunder Dutt: ["Cultural Heritage of Bengal" by R. C. Dutt, quoted by Nitish Sengupta, pp 211-212.]


*Rammohun Roy (1774-1833)
*David Hare (1775-1842)
*Alexander Duff (1806-1878)
*Henry Derozio (1809-31) and his radical disciples called Young Bengal
*Krishna Mohan Banerjee (1813-1885)
*John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune (1801-1851)
*Debendranath Tagore (1817-1905) and Tagore family
*Akshay Kumar Datta (1820-86)
*Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-91)
*Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-73)
*Lal Behari Dey (1824-1892)
*Dinabandhu Mitra (1830-1873)
*Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886)
*Keshub Chunder Sen (1838-1884)
*Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (1838-1894)
*Protap Chunder Mozoomdar (1840-1905)
*Romesh Dutt (1848-1909)
*Jagadananda Roy (fl. 1857-1879)
*Jagdish Chandra Bose (1858–1937)
*Kadambini Ganguly (1861-1923)
*Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Tagore family
*Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902)
*Brajendra Nath Seal (1864-1938)
*Pramatha Chaudhuri
*Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938)
*Roquia Sakhawat Hussain (1880-1932), early Muslim feminist
*Satyendra Nath Bose (1894-1974)
*Sri Anirvan - Narendrachandra Dhar (1896-1978)
*Nirad C. Chaudhuri (1897-1999)
*Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-?1945)
*Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976)
*Premendra Mitra (1904-1988)
*Satyajit Ray (1921-1991)
*Fazlur Khan (1929-1982)

Contributing institutions

*Asiatic Society (est.1784)
*Fort William College (1800)
*Serampore College (1817)
*Calcutta School-book Society (1817)
* Hindu College (1817)
*Sanskrit College (1824)
*General Assembly's Institution (1830)(now known as Scottish Church College)
*Calcutta Medical College (1835)
*Presidency College(1855)
*University of Calcutta (1857)
*Vidyasagar College (1872)
*Hindu Mahila Vidyalaya (1873)
*Banga Mahila Vidyalaya (1876)
*Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (1876)
*Bethune College (1879)
*Ripon College (1884) (now known as Surendranath College)
*National Council of Education, Bengal (1906) (now known as Jadavpur University)
*Visva-Bharati University (1921)
*University of Dhaka(1921)

ee also

* History of Bengal
* Ramtanu Lahiri
* Ramtanu Lahiri O Tatkalin Bangasamaj
* Adi Dharm
* Brahmo Samaj
* Young Bengal
* Prarthana Samaj
* Arya Samaj
* Ayyavazhi
* Calcutta Youth Choir
* Structure of Ayyavazhi
* Tattwabodhini Patrika
* Scottish Renaissance
* Harlem Renaissance



* Sivanath Sastri, "A History of the Renaissance in Bengal: Ramtanu Lahiri, Brahman and Reformer," London: Swan, Sonnenschein (1903); Kolkata: Renaissance (2002)

External links

* [ "The Tagores and Society", Rabindra Bharati Museum Kolkata]
* [ Banglapedia]
* [ Some relevant articles]

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