A portrait of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay | Wikimedia Commons
A portrait of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay | Wikimedia Commons
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Nineteenth-century Bengal, the time and theatre of the Indian Renaissance from where many aspects of modern India originated, was also the birthplace of the idea of Hindutva, which the RSS describes as Hindu cultural nationalism. The very word Hindutva, the concept of Bharat Mata and the Bande Mataram slogan were all products of Bengal that spread across the country. The origin of the notion that Hindus are in danger – the principal reason that led to the creation of right-wing Hindutva organizations – can also be traced back to Bengal. 

Hindu revivalism emerged in Bengal in the second half of the nineteenth century as a reaction to the influence of Western education and culture on the Hindu society during the first half of that century. 

Brahmoism was a monotheistic socio-religious reformist movement born out of the Hindu society’s exposure to Western education. This movement sowed the seeds of the Bengal (or Indian) Renaissance. The movement denounced idolatry, faith in scriptures and avatars, and discrimination based on caste, creed and religion; it questioned superstitions and advocated women’s education. Its journey started with the foundation of the Brahmo Sabha in 1828 by ‘Rajah’ Rammohun Roy, the social, religious and educational reformer often regarded as the ‘father of Indian Renaissance’ and the ‘father of modern India’, and Debendranath Tagore, father of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. 

The visualization and depiction of India as a ‘mother’ started gaining popularity during the late 1860s. The first published reference to the coinage ‘Bharat Mata’ has been traced to a satirical Bengali book, Unabingsho Puran (the nineteenth purana), published in 1866 under the pseudonym of Krishnadwaipayana Vedavyasa. Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay, a scholar and writer, is generally regarded as its anonymous author. He was part of Bengal’s Hindu revivalism. Discussing Mukhopadhyay and his times, linguist Suniti Kumar Chatterjee wrote that the atmosphere in the colleges and high schools during 1840–1870 ‘was not healthy for the Bengali mind and culture’ and that an ‘inferiority complex’ gripped the Bengali psyche – by Bengali, he meant Bengali Hindus – after exposure to Western education, knowledge and culture.


Also read: There is no such thing as ‘soft Hindutva’


In 1867, Debendranath Tagore, along with poet-playwright-editor Nabagopal Mitra and essayist Rajnarayan Basu, took the leadership in organizing the Hindu Mela, which was alternatively called ‘jatiyo mela’ (national fair). The fair was inaugurated with a patriotic song composed by Rabindranath’s elder brother Dwijendranath –a polymath –addressing Bharat, the mother. ‘Malina Mukhochandra, Maa Bharat Tomari’ (You look pale, mother India). Towards the end of the 1870s, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay penned the hymn ‘Bande Mataram’. The hymn became part of his landmark and controversial literary work Ananda Math, published in 1882. It was a landmark for its literary value and social influence, and controversial for its anti-Muslim sentiment. Also, in 1882, in an article titled ‘Bangalar itihas sanmandhe koekti kotha’ (a few words about the history of Bengal) that appeared in Bangadarshan, which Bankim Chandra himself edited, Bankim refused to accept the history of Islamic rulers as the history of Bengal. 

In our consideration, not a single English book contains the true history of Bengal. These books contain merely a hotchpotch of the birth, death and family feud of the Muslims who used to relax lying down on their beds wearing useless titles such as the Badshah of Bangalah or Subah-dar of Bangalah. This is not the history of Bengal; this is not even an iota of the history of Bengal. This has no connection whatsoever with Bengal’s history. The Bengali who accepts all this as the history of Bengal is not a Bengali. The one who accepts without questioning the versions of the Muslims, who are blind with self-pride are liars and Hindu-haters, is not a Bengali.

He also called upon Bengalis, in the same article, to search for and chronicle Bengal’s authentic history. By Bengalis, he meant Bengali-speaking Hindus. 

Chadra Nath Basu’s book Hindutva was published in 1892 by Gurudas Chatterjee. The first recorded use of the word Hindutva, at least in print, is believed to have been made in this book. In the Calcutta Review’s July 1894 issue (Vol. 99), the ‘vernacular literature’ section carried a two-and-a-half- page review of Hindutva. The review describes the book as ‘evidently a work of Hindu revival’. 

Though Hindu revivalism started as a counter narrative to Western education and culture, it gradually developed into Hindu nationalism seeking to confront the ruling British power. The primary sentiment was that Hindus are not inferior; they will not remain dominated.


 Also read: For BJP and RSS, road to the Hindu Rashtra is not through Constitution


In The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal (1903-1908), historian Sumit Sarkar wrote: 

For a short while during its Derozian phase, the movement [the Renaissance] seemed to be heading for a really radical break with Hindu sectarian traditions and the achievement of a truly secular culture…. But as the century progressed, the awakening national pride of the Bengali bhadrolok sought sustenance more and more in images of ancient Hindu glory and medieval Hindu resistance to Muslim rule…. Patriotism tended to be identified with Hindu revivalism, ‘Hindu’ and ‘national’ came to be used as synonymous terms.

Ananda Math had emerged as an exemplar of the idea of Hindu nationalism. And in its aim of ousting the British, it did not consider taking the Muslims along. The first edition of the book merely excluded the Muslims in the Hindus’ fight against the British. In the second edition, though, the enemy changed from gora (white), British and sena (army) to ‘Nere’ and ‘Jobon’ – two derogatory terms by which the Hindus referred to the Muslims in Bengal. 

According to Ahmed Sofa, a legendary public intellectual in Bangladesh, none influenced Bengal’s society and politics as much as Bankim did, and the influence of Ananda Math in Bengal’s socio-political life is comparable only to that of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract in France. In Shotoborsher Ferari Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, while acknowledging Bankim’s literary genius, Sofa stressed that it was his thoughts on nation building that earned Bankim a distinct place. He was ‘more than merely a powerful writer,’ Sofa wrote, ‘He was the first to dream of establishing a Hindu Rashtra’, and added, ‘If a single person is to be blamed for the Partition of Bengal, it is Bankim Chandra.’ 

By the end of the century, secret revolutionary societies started taking shape in Maharashtra and Bengal. Members of these groups were mostly bhadrolok – wealthy, upper-caste and educated Hindu Bengalis – but there were members from the lower castes too.

Muslims were not part of these groups. It appeared from the accounts of Bhupendranath Dutta and Hem Chandra Kanungo that Muslims were not welcome either. An integral part of their programme was taking oath on the Gita, while ‘Bande Mataram’ was their war cry. The members included some of Bengal’s most revered revolutionaries – from Bagha Jatin and Khudiram Bose to Master-da Surya Sen – who literally terrorized the British administration.


Also read: Can India be a Hindu Rashtra—and Hindus a minority—at the same time?


Hindu revivalism took a different shape at the beginning of the twentieth century, with the numerical increase of the Muslims, and the Muslim elites’ efforts to secure rights and benefits for the community. 

Through June 1909, a string of letters, titled ‘Hindu: A Dying Race’, written by Lt Col. U.N. Mukerji, an Indian Medical Service officer, appeared in Bengalee, a Kolkata-based English-language newspaper owned and edited by veteran Congress leader Surendranath Banerjea. Historians identified these letters, later compiled into a pamphlet and also published as a book, as the founding basis of the notion that Hindus were in danger and they needed to wake up and act. 

‘There are various ways people have dwindled and finally disappeared from their own country,’ Mukerji wrote, ‘and we are in a fair way of sharing their fate.’ He then explained how the Maoris of New Zealand and the natives of the US and Hispaniola disappeared following foreign invasions: ‘We are also a decaying race. Every census reveals the same fact. We are getting proportionately fewer and fewer….Year after year they [the Hindus] are being pushed back, the land once occupied by them is being taken up by Mohammedans, and their relative proportion to the population of the country is getting smaller and smaller.’ 

This excerpt from Mission Bengal: A Saffron Experiment by Snigdhendu Bhattacharya has been published with HarperCollins India.

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18 Comments Share Your Views

18 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Girish Islam says do not fight between religion instead have conversation with let us talk with them and say come to the common terms which were us and you (means Muslims and other) differences can be discussed later

  2. So Have they removed the inferiority Complex yet?
    I guess not!
    Which Indian is not terrorised into amazement and awe when a 6 feet 7 inch blonde Anglo Saxon man walks into the room with a 6 ft blonde German woman. I am not lying! Has anyone of you ever seen Mukesh Ambani, the richest and most powerful man of India talk to Trump when he arrived. His back was bent 30 degrees forward and his head was 70 degrees sideways and one could see 34 teeths in his mouth.
    Even Trump was disgusted by that amount of flattery.
    Thats the reaction of a man who is 10 times richer then Donald Trump infront of Trump, a foreign president.
    These Hindu supremacist are supreme only behind closed door offices in Nagpur or open air RSS conventions where they do weird asymmetric exercises in underwears and fight Indian elections.
    When one of them is left alone on a street in London they forget directions and start shaking their heads horizontally and stuttering 7 times the English word “fantastic” to every English men they come across.

    They are only good at beating and showing their Bravado to poor Muslim rickshaw pullers of their own race. Tell them to show that bravado to a Pakhtun Pathan goat herder and you will not hear from them for an year.

  3. Another deracinated Bengali “intellectual” conveniently placing the blame for communalism on the doors of upper caste Hindus. Such “intellectuals” would have us believe that India was partitioned because the Hindus demanded it while the Muslim League all along stood for a united India.
    The fact that we have such Hindus amongst us who work against the interests of the community and are forever ready to team up with others to degrade and humiliate their own community is the reason why Islam ruled over India for more than 500 years.

  4. I think the author of this article still not able to distinguish between India and Hindu. Going back to our Indian roots praying to the country as mother are all rooted in Indian Traditions. This is an artificial wall create by Muslims clerics and missionaries which look down at Indian traditions. Tell me why a Bengali speaking person should use Arabic name and with that loose all the connection to the Bengali civilisation?

  5. It was the truth and the wipe out of Hindus in East Pakistan/Bangladesh , which was once Bengal, is proof of that.

    Not just Bengal, Hindus were in danger in every muslim majority area of soutrh asia as what subsequently happened in W Pakistan and Kashmir valley shows. Demographics statistics show the danger and horror Hindus faced and continue to face.

  6. Westernisation emancipated the Bengalis from the shackles of blind religious bondage and the Bengal renaissance liberating them from the inferiority complex gripped by the Bengali psyche after exposure to Western education, knowledge and culture. Now with help of some bootlicking Bengalis, Bengal is being subjected to the same inferiority complex by importing bigotry culture, language and religion from the “Cow Belt” to push Bengal and the Bengalis to the dark ages and subjugate the Bengalis as their slaves much as the British did. It is for Bengals to rise above this cultural and economic invention by these pseudo hindutava machine aided by these sycophants and traitors who are trying to had over Bengal with all its wealth and knowledge to these invaders!! The people of Bengal have to stand against that for their survival.

    • Communists had subjugated bengalis to russian and chinese ideologies and made the Hindus feel inferior.
      What happens to Bengali Hindus in East Pakistan does not matter because Vietnam is dearer than our fathers and boycotting Israel more important.

    • Sure. Go on and vote for Mamata Begum.
      But mark my words – given the disproportionate increase in the Muslim population, a day will come when Bengal will be divided again. The Hindus of West Bengal will become refugees in their country.
      Just like what happened in Kashmir valley with Kashmiri Pandits.

    • this shows the half brained , foolish commie thoughts…bengal has reduced to a poor state with no jobs, no development, corruption everywhere, after up and bihar most of the migrants are form bengal, and still some people have high praise for bengal…

  7. So its Hindus who created East and West Pakistan. All ills of India are because Hindus. Partition happened due to Hindus. These kind of “intelligentsia” are reason for Hindu Unity.
    The First Kalima in Islam is the biggest reason for the creation of Pakistan, nothing more nothing less. Muslim cannot share power and resource with Non Muslim.
    What are LEFTS take on ” There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the last messenger of Allah”. Is this inclusivism or exclusivism.
    Based on above Kalima, they cannot accept Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Guru Nanak etc.

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