How was nationalism rooted from Bengal?

Gautam Guha, Agami Kalarab: Like most modern ideas in Bharat, “Hindutva,” also, was born in Bengal in the 19th century. But even he fails to mention its probable progenitor. A Bangla tract by that name was published in 1892 by a bhadralok man of letters we have forgotten today. His name is Chandranath Basu, a Bengali conservative litterateur. A staunch Hindu, Chandranath is credited for having coined the term Hindutva and has been regarded as the doyen of economic nationalism in Bengal. Like many other leading figures of that time, he too studied at the Presidency College, getting a BA in 1865. Hoping to make a lucrative career in law, he also picked up a BL degree a couple of years later. However, he never practised law. He worked for a while in the education department, before being appointed as Deputy Magistrate, like Bankim Chandra Chattopadyaya, the leading literary figure of the times. But that didn’t suit Chandranath either. He returned to education, becoming the Principal of Jaipur College, Calcutta. After a while, he worked for the Bengal (later National) Library, finally being appointed as a translator in the Bengal Government in 1887. Though this may not seem like such an illustrious career move today, in those days it was a Class I officer’s post and quite important to the colonial regime. Chandranath occupied it till his retirement from service in 1904. Chandranath’s forte, however, was literature. He started, as many young aspirants of his time, in English. He even founded a monthly called Calcutta University Magazine. It was Bankim who urged him to switch to Bangla as he himself had done after his own false start, Rajmohan’s Wife (1864), an incomplete, some say, first Indian novel in English. Chandranath began to publish in Bangadarshan, Bankim’s journal, the preeminent literary periodical of the day. He soon made a name for himself, publishing in other leading magazines including Girish Chandra Ghosh’s Bengalee, Akshaychandra’s Nabajiban, and so on. Chandranath wrote several books including Shakuntala Tattva (1881). Note his use of “tattva” (reality or essence), long before he used it to coin “Hindutva.” The rediscovery and translation of Kalidas’ Shakuntala in 1889 led to a lively discussion of its greatness among the Bangla intelligentsia. Kalidas’s play became central to the conceptualisation of a modern Indian aesthetic tradition. Not only Chandranath, but Tagore also wrote on this key text. Later, Acharya Hazari Prasad Dwivedi would also discuss Chandranath’s Shakuntala Tattva.

Chandranath went on to write a historical novel, Pashupati Sambad (1884), a critical survey of the newly emergent Bangla literature, a product of the Renaissance in which he himself was an important actor, Bartaman Bangala Sahityer Prokriti (1899), and several other books, some of which also tried to define Hindu traditions and practices. Of these, the most important of course,was Hindutva (1892). He was to resort to the same principle of going to the fundamentals (tattva) in his last major book, Savitri Tattva (1901) too. Chandra Nath’s is the first work which treats of the Hindu articles of faith. It aims at being an exposition of the deepest and abstruse doctrines of Hinduism, not in a spirit of apology, not in a spirit of bombast, but in a calm and dispassionate spirit. The work is a difficult one. Chandranath tried on to portrayed the Hindus as fundamentally superior to people of all other faiths, whose traditional social customs and practices in that they have survived centuries of thought-schools and hence were axiomatically superior to western culture and way of life. He was also rigidly against religious conversions and insisted that India shall not be a homeland, for foreign religions like Islam and Christianity. Then hindus were divided for the diversity of their transcendental doctrines, every individual school having a complete set of doctrines of its own. Babu Chandranath has selected the noblest doctrines of Hinduism, but he has not followed any one of the ancient schools. Yet he does not aim at establishing a school of doctrine himself. His sole object is to compare, so far as lies in his power, the leading doctrines of Hindu faith with those of other of other religions.

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