Historical Perspective

ChaitanyaChaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1533): Chaitanya was born as Visvambhar Mishra in 1486 as the second son of Jagannath Mishra and Sachi Devi in the town of Nabadwip in Nadia,West Bengal, India. In his youth, Chaitanya was an erudite scholar, whose learning and skills in argumentation were next to none. Though religious at heart, Chaitanya did not display an active interest in the Vaishnava religion in his younger years.

A number of stories also exist telling of Chaitanya’s apparent attraction to the chanting and singing of Krishna’s names from a very young age, but largely this was perceived as being secondary to his interest in acquiring knowledge and studying Sanskrit. When travelling to Gaya to perform the Sraddha ceremony for his departed father, Chaitanya met his guru, the ascetic Ishvara Puri, from whom he received initiation with the Gopala Krishna mantra. This meeting was to mark a significant change in Chaitanya’s outlook and upon his return to Bengal the local Vaishnavas, headed by Advaita Acharya, were stunned at his external sudden ‘change of heart’ (from ‘scholar’ to ‘devotee’) and soon Chaitanya became the eminent leader of their Vaishnava group within Nadia.

Krittibas OjhaKrittibas Ojha (1381-1461): Krittibas Ojha was a medieval Bengali poet.He was the eldest among his father Banamali Ojha’s six sons and one daughter. The word ‘Krittibas’ is an epithet of Hindu god Shiva. It is known that when Krittibas was born, his grandfather Murari Ojha was preparing for a pilgrimage in Orissa, hence the child was named after Shiva, the predominant deity of the nearest Orissa pilgrimage to Bengal. His major contribution to Bangla literature and culture was the translation of the great Indian epic Ramayana to Bangla. Krittibas Ojha was a Brahmin by caste. His work, the Sri Ram Panchali, is popularly known as the Krittivasi Ramayan. In 1803, his work, edited by Jaygopal Tarkalamkar, was published by the Serampore Mission Press. At the age of 11, Krittibas was sent to North Bengal (in other opinion, to Nabadwip) for higher studies. After finishing studies he was traditionally honoured by the King of Gauda himself by the offerings of a garland, some sandal water and a silk scarf. Upon returning to his home at Phulia, he translated the Valmiki Ramayana into Bengali.

Many other writers composed the Ramayana in Bangla, but failed to reach Krttivas’s fame and popularity. The religious, social and cultural traditions of the Hindu community are specially based on the story of Ramachandra. Bengali Hindus are therefore indebted to Krttivas for making this knowledge available to them through his Bangla translation of the Ramayana.

KartikeoKartikeo Chandra Roy (1820-1885): Kartikeo Chandra Roy was a lyricist, writer, classical singer, served the Nadia Raj family as a private tutor and music instructor and finally as the diwan or principal revenue officer. As a performer of KHEYAL, Kartikeya Chandra introduced this branch of music to the court of NADIA and was also instrumental in popularising this genre in Bengal. He composed many popular songs which he published under the title of Gitamanjari(1875). Dewan Kartikeya Chandra Roy, father of the great dramatist D.L.Roy, was a man of much respect of his times. In his autobiography a brilliant picture of his time and contemporaries have been depicted. Though a Dewan of the Krishnagar Raj estate he was ever accustomed to say the right in right manner. As he was not sycophant both of the Raj estate and the British Official he failed to have been benefitted in his materiallife. It is a well-knit social document of his times of Krishnagar in particular and Bengal in general.

Kartikeya Chandra Roy played a crucial role in the making of his son, Dwijendra Lal Roy, the great lyricist and composer. However, perhaps his greatest contribution to Bengal history is his Atmajiban Charita (An Account of My Life) in which he candidly described the social scenario of early nineteenth-century Bengal. This book serves as a unique source of information for the social and cultural historians of nineteenth-century Bengal.

DwijendralalDwijendra Lal Roy ( 1863-1913): Dwijendra Lal Roy was a poet, playwright and lyricist, was born on 19 July 1863 at Krishnanagar in Nadia district, where his father, Kartikeo Chandra Roy, was the dewan. His mother, Prasannamayee Devi, was a descendant of Adwaita Prabhu. Dwijendralal graduated in arts from Hughli College in 1883 and obtained his MA degree in English from Presidency College a year later.

He then travelled to London where he obtained the FRAS in agriculture and the MRAC and MRAS from the Royal Agriculture College and Agricultural Society. Returning to India he received training in survey and revenue assessment in Madhya Pradesh and was appointed a deputy in the government. He was later appointed a deputy magistrate in Dinajpur. In 1890, while serving as a settlement officer at Sujamuta pargana in Burdwan estate, he came into conflict with the governor on the issue of peasants’ rights.

In 1905 Dwijendralal established a literary society, Purnima Milon, in Kolkata. He became the editor of the monthly BHARATVARSA in 1913. Dwijendralal had a literary bent of mind and started writing poems while still in his teens. While still a student he wrote Aryagatha (part 1, 1882). During his stay in England he wrote The Lyrics of Ind in 1886. Among his other books are collections of poems and songs: Aryagatha (part 2, 1894), Hasir Gan (1900), Mandra (1902), Alekhya (1907), and Triveni (1912). His sketches and satires include Ekghare (1889), Samaj Bibhrat O Kalki Avatar (1895), Tryahasparsha (1900), Prayashchitta (1902), and Punarjanma (1911). He also wrote plays, many of which are included in university syllabi. Among his mythical plays are Pasani (1900), Sita (1908) and Visma (1914). His social plays include Parapare (1912) and Banganari (1916). He also wrote a number of historical plays: Tarabai (1903), Rana Pratapsingh (1905), Mebar Patan (1908), Nurjahan (1908), Sajahan (1909) and Chandragupta (1911). Most of his plays were successfully staged in Kolkata and elsewhere. He is specially remembered for his historical plays. He was also a well-known composer of modern songs; Dwijendragiti still form a regular feature of radio and television programmes. He died on17 May 1913 in Kolkata.

IswarchandraIswarchandra Gupta (1812– 1859): Ishwar Chandra Gupta was a Bengali poet and writer. Gupta was born in the village Kanchanpolli or Kanchrapara Chabbis Pargana (currently in the state of West Bengal, India) in a Baidya family. He was brought up in his uncle’s house after the death of his mother. Gupta spent most of his childhood in Kolkata. At that time, poets were named Kobiwala and the kobiwalas were not so civilized in language. Sexual words and clashes were common. But Ishwar Chandra Gupta created a different style of poetry.

He started the newspaper Sambad Prabhakar with Jogendra Mohan Tagore on January 28, 1831, which finally became a daily on June 4, 1839. Many Bengali writers of the 19th century started their careers with that magazine. He reintroduced into Bengali poetry the mediaeval style with double meaning.

In the early days he was a conservative, opposing the Young Bengal movement as well as frowning on widow remarriage. His views on widow remarriage put him at odds with Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. He was one of the earliest advocates of a Hindu view of Indian society. Later in his life, his views began to change and he championed the cause for the remarriage of virgin widows and women’s education.

RamtanuRamtanu Lahiri (1813-1898): Born in a high kulin Brahmin family of Krishnanagar, Nadia, and educated at Hindu College, Ramtanu Lahiri was one of those educators and intellectuals who paved the way for various reform movements in Bengal in the 19th century. In many ways the 19th century may be called the age of school teachers. It was the school teachers, from henry derozio and david hare through Pundit iswar chandra vidyasagar, Peari Charan Sarkar and Pundit shibnath shastri who, in fact, created the awakening that Bengal witnessed in the 19th century. Ramtanu, as a teacher, was a typical representative of the era.

Lahiri Ramtanu’s father, Ramkrishna Lahiri, was a diwan of the Nadia Raj. Up to the age of eleven, Ramtanu attended the village pathshala. Then he came to Kolkata with his elder brother, Keshab Chandra Lahiri, and, through the patronage of David Hare, got a chance to study as a free student at Hare School. In 1828 he entered Hindu College on a scholarship. Here he came under the influence of Derozio, one of the most remarkable educators of the time. In 1833 Ramtanu became a teacher in Hindu College. In 1846 he moved to Krishnanagar College, a government institution founded that year.

Ramtanu Lahiri was a Young Bengal leader, a renowned teacher and a social reformer. Peary Chand Mitra wrote about him, “There are few persons in whom the milk of kindness flows so abundantly. He was never wanting in appreciation of what was right, and in his sympathy with the advanced principles.” Sivanath Sastri’s Ramtanu Lahiri O Tatkalin Bangasamj, published in 1903, was not only his biography but also an overview of Bengali society of the era, “a remarkable social document on the period of the Bengal Renaissance.” It is still widely read and used as reference material for the period. 

BibhutibhushanBibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay (1894-1950): Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay was a Bengali novelist and writer. His most well known book is the autobiographical novel, Panchali (The Song of the Road), incorporated (along with Aparajito , the sequel) into the memorable Apu Trilogy films by Satyajit Ray.

The Bandyopadhyay family originated in the Panitar village near Basirhat, located in the North 24 Parganas district of modern-day West Bengal. Bandyopadhyay’s great-grandfather, who was an Ayurvedic physician, eventually settled in Barackpore village, near Gopalnagar, Banagram (now Bangaon), North 24 Parganas. However, Bandyopadhyay was born in Muratipur village, near Kalyani in Nadia, at his maternal uncle’s house. His father, Mahananda Bandyopadhyay, was a Sanskrit scholar and story-teller by profession. Bandyopadhyay was the eldest of the five children of Mahananda and his wife Mrinalini. His childhood home was at Barrackpore in West Bengal.

Bandyopadhyay worked in a variety of jobs to support both himself and his family before becoming a writer. His first job was as a teacher, but he also served as a travelling publicist for Goraksini Sabha, and later as a secretary for Khelatchandra Ghosh, a role that included the management of his Bhagalpur estate. He became involved with Khelatchandra, a prominent name in music and charity, while tutoring his family. He also taught at the Khelatchandra Memorial School.[5] Eventually, Bandyopadhyay returned to his native place. He started working as a teacher in the Gopalnagar Haripada Institution, which he continued alongside his literary work, until his death. He wrote and published Pather Panchali while staying at Ghatshila, a town in Jharkhand.

JatindranathJatindranath Sengupta (1887-1954): Jatindranath Sengupta was a pessimist poet, was born at Shantipur in the district of Nadia of West Bengal. After receiving the BE degree (1911) from Shibpur Engineering College, he joined Nadia District Board and then Kasimbazar Raj-Estate as an overseer. He entered into the literary world by writing poems and soon came to be recognised as a major poet. Although he wrote verse in the age of Rabindranath, he was able to break face of his influence and earn fame for his distinctive style.

For a few years he worked as the acting District Engineer of Nadia. He then had a bout of illness that left him jobless for nearly three years. An ardent believer in Gandhism he tried to make both ends meet by spinning yarns in Charkha and by producing home made match boxes with the help of unemployed village boys .Jatindranath was a creative writer who made society and contemporary life his theme. He treated these subjects satirically. All his poetical works reflect a deep pessimism that life is full of sorrow and happiness ephemeral-seem to be his viewpoint. But the conclusion that life was full of sorrow was not for him the result of an outburst of emotion; on the contrary, he judged life in the light of his experience and observation. He published the following collections of poems: Marichika (Mirage, 1923), Marushikha (Flame of the desert, 1927), Marumaya (Illusion of the desert, 1930), Sayam (Evening, 1940), Triyama (Night, 1948), Nishantika (End of the night, 1957).

KarunanidhanKarunanidhan Bandopadhyay (1877 -1955): Karunanidhan Bandopadhyay was a poet and patriot, was born on 19 November 1877 in Shantipur of the Nadia district. His father, Nrisingha Bandyopadhyay, was a school teacher.

Karunanidhan passed the Entrance examination in 1896 from Shantipur Municipal School and FA from Calcutta Metropolitan Institution in 1899. He studied for the BA at General Assembly’s School, Kolkata, but failed to pass the examination. He then began teaching. He taught at a number of schools: the Shantipur Municipal School, Gaibandha High School, Calcutta Sri Krishna Pathshala, Hughli Government Branch School and Uttarpara Government High School. Karunanidhan began writing while still a student. He wrote mainly patriotic poems, some of which were published in Bangamangal (1901). They were published anonymously to avoid political repercussions. His other works include Prasadi (1904), Jharaphul (1911), Shantijal (1913), Dhandurva (1921), Shatanari (1930), Rabindra Arati (1947), Gitaranjan (1951), Gitayan (1959), etc.

Karunanidhan was influenced by Rabindranath Tagore. The themes of his poems include romantic love, the pleasures of conjugal life, love for nature and spiritualism. In recognition of his literary contributions, he was awarded the Jagattarini Medal by the University of Calcutta in 1951. He died on 5 February 1955.

DinabandhuDinabandhu Mitra (1831-1873): Dinabandhu Mitra was a dramatist, was born in 1830 at Chouberia in Nadia, and was the son of Kalachand Mitra. His family name was Gandharva Narayan, but he changed it to Dinabandhu Mitra.

Dinabandhu Mitra’s education started at a village pathshala. His father arranged a job for him at a zamindar’s seresta (1840). But he was too young to manage a job at zamindari seresta, but aged to run away from home. He fled to Kolkata, where he started working in the house of his uncle, Nilmani Mitra. Around 1846, he was admitted to the free school run by james long. Dinabandhu proved to be a bright student and won a scholarship. In 1850, he enrolled at hindu college and was awarded scholarship for academic excellence. However, he did not appear in his last examination, and, instead, started working as a postmaster at Patna (1855). He served in various posts in the Postal Department in Nadia, Dhaka and Orissa.

In 1870, he was made supernumerary post- master in Calcutta. In 1872, he joined the Indian Railway as an inspector. Dinabandhu started writing while at college. Inspired by ishwar chandra gupta, he began writing poems which were published in different journals. His poems attracted the attention of intellectuals, but his favourite genre was drama. His work in the postal department had taken him to various parts of the country where he had come in contact with the people of different professions. These experiences were used in his plays. Among his books of poems are Suradhuni Kavya (first part in 1871, second part in 1876), Dvadash Kavita (1872). His plays include Nildurpun (1860), Nabin Tapasvini (1863), Biye Pagla Budo (1866), Sadhabar Ekadashi (1866), Lilavati (1867), Jamai Barik (1872), Kamale Kamini (1873), and Jamalaye Jibanta Manus. He also wrote a novel titled Poda Mahehshvar.

Madan Mohan TarkalankarMadan Mohan Tarkalankar (1817 – 1858): Madan Mohan Tarkalankar was a Bengali poet and Sanskrit scholar. He was born on 3 January 1817 in Bilwagram, Nadia. Ishwar Chandra Vidysagar was his classmate. Their friendship grew close and they worked together in the field of journalism and social work. He also developed Bengali text-books for children. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Akshay Kumar Datta and Tarkalankar were the first “to envisage texts that would build the character of the new generation without sacrificing literary sensitivity. Virtually, the entire mental make-up of the late nineteenth century Bengali society was structured through these text books.” He, along with his friend Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, set up the Sanskrit Press and Depository, a print shop and a bookstore.

Madan Mohan is one among those intellectuals who formulated Bengali text-books for children. He supported girls’ education and his two daughters were among those girls who were initiated to school education. He wrote the first modern Bengali primer, Sishu Siksha- in three volumes, for the school. Madanmohan edited several important Sanskrit books, among them Sangbadtattvakaumudi, Chintamanididhiti, Vedantaparibhasa, Kadambari, Kumarsambhab and Meghdut. He was awarded the tiles Kavyaratnakar for his poetical talent and Tarkalankar for his erudition by the Sanskrit College. Tarkalankar died of cholera on 9 March 1858.

JagadanandaJagadananda Roy (1869-1933): Jagadananda Roy was an scientific article writer as well as Bengali science fiction writer. He taught in a local missionary school for some time. His flair for writing on scientific matters in a simple and lucid style brought him into contact with Rabindranath who was then the editor of Sadhana. Rabindranath found these writings very interesting and when he found that Jagadananda was in dire straits, he offered him a job at his zamindari estate. His works were primarily written for teens. Born in an aristocratic family from Krishnanagar, Nadia, but all his life he spent in penury. He went to teach in a missionary school and wrote popular articles on science. He met Rabindranath Tagore who edited a journal called Sadhana and Roy later joined to become a teacher at Rabindranath Tagore’s Visva Bharati. A dedicated teacher, he taught at a stretch till his retirement in 1932, after which he continued to take mathematics classes voluntarily.

He also wrote numerous books on science including such as Prakrtiki Paricay, Vijnanacharya Jagadis Basur Abiskar, Vaijnaniki, Prakrtiki, Jnanasopan, Grahanaksatra, Pokamakad (on insects), Vijnaner Galpa, Gachpala, Mach-byang-sap, sabda, Pakhi (on birds), Naksatracena (on stars). Roy wrote one of the earliest science fiction stories in Bengali, Shukra Bhraman (Travels to Venus) in 1892, later published in his book Prakritiki (1914). This described travel to Venus and conjured up alien creatures on Uranus. His humanoid aliens are described as resembling apes, with dense black fur, large heads and long nails. This imaginative science-fiction preceded that of H. G. Wells’ somewhat similar The War of the Worlds (1898) by about a decade.

ParashuramRajsekhar Basu or Parashuram (1880-1960): Rajsekhar Basu, or Parashuram, was one of the most venerated figures of 20th century Bengal. A leading light of Bengali literature, Rajsekhar was a remarkable personality. He was a chemist by profession, but his expertise ranged over the fields of mechanical engineering, cottage industries, linguistics, lexicography and the scriptures. Above all, he was a humorist par exellence, and an astonishingly creative writer.

Rajsekhar was born on 16th March, 1880, at his maternal uncle’s home in Barddhaman district. He was the second son (and sixth child) of Chandrasekhar and Laxmimani Devi. Rajsekhar spent his infancy and childhood in Darbhanga. He was an inquisitive child and would often take his toys apart in order to experiment with them. In an essay on Rajsekhar, Shashisekhar, his elder brother, writes about how his interest in science manifested itself right from his boyhood.

Basu was a man of diverse achievements. He was an active member of the National Council of Education, founded in 1903. He served on the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad. He even provided covert assistance to the revolutionaries of the Indian Independence Movement in the form of money and chemicals, and also provided his expertise in making bombs. Basu also played a major role in the history of printing in Bengal. He was the principal assistant to Sureshchandra Majumdar, credited with creating the first linotype in the Bengali script. The second edition of Parashuram’s Hanumaaner Svapna Ityadi Galpa was the first book to be completely printed in Bengali linotype.

JatindranathJatindranath Mukhopadhyay or Bagha Jatin (1879-1915): Legend goes that he killed a tiger single-handed and without arms and thus came to be known as ‘Bagha Jatin’. He learnt short hand and typewriting after passing the Entrance Examination and was appointed a stenographer to the government of Bengal. Jatin, a strong and stout young man, proved his efficiency as a sincere, honest, obedient and diligent employee. Jatin, a man with a strong sense of self-respect and national pride, came in contact with aurobindo ghosh, and took part in climbing, swimming and shooting in the body building Akhda. While working for the Yugantar, he met Naren (Manabendra Nath Roy) and the two soon gained the confidence of one another. Jatindranath Mukhopadhyay or Bagha Jatin was an Indian Bengali revolutionary philosopher against British rule. He was the principal leader of the Yugantar party that was the central association of revolutionaries in Bengal. Having personally met the German Crown-Prince in Calcutta shortly before the World War I, he obtained the promise of arms and ammunition from Germany; as such, he was responsible for the planned German Plot during First World War. Another of his original contributions was the indoctrination of the Indian soldiers in various regiments in favour of an insurrection.

In 1925, Gandhi told Tegart that Jatin Mukherjee, generally referred to as “Bagha Jatin”, was “a divine personality”. Little did he know that Tegart had once told his colleagues that if Jatin were an Englishman, then the English people would have built his statue next to Nelson’s at Trafalgar Square. In his note to J.E. Francis of the India Office in 1926, he described Bengali revolutionaries as “the most selfless political workers in India”.

BasantaBasanta Biswas (1895-1915): Basanta Kumar Biswas was born on 6 February 1895 at Poragacha in Nadia district of West Bengal, to Matilal and Kunjabala Biswas. He belongs to the family of freedom fighter Digamabar Biswas, an active leader of the Indigo revolt(or Nil Bidroha) and freedom fighter Manmathnath Biswas was his cousin. He started his schooling at his village and then he moved to M. I. School in nearby village Madhavpur with his cousin Manmathnath Biswas. M. I. School was established by social reformer and freedom fighter Gagan Chadra Biswas. In 1906, Basanta was moved to Muragacha school. Khirodh Chandra Ganguly was principal in Muragacha school. Under his guidance Basanta started his journey of freedom fight. Later he was recruited by Rash Behari Bose and trained in arms and bombs. Rash Behari Bose often called him Bishe Das. Basanta Biswas was a pro-independence activist involved in the Jugantar group who, in December 1912, is believed to have bombed the Viceroy’s Parade in what came to be known as the Delhi-Lahore Conspiracy. He was initiated into revolutionary movement by Jugantar leaders Amarendranath Chattopadhyaya and Rash Behari Bos.

AnantahariAnantahari Mitra (1906-1926): Anantahari Mitra was a Bengali Indian independence movement activist. Anantahari, the son of Ramlal Mitra, was born in Begampur village, Chuadanga District in British India. He received a student scholarship and went to Chattagram. After passing the entrance exam, Mitra entered in Bangabasi College to study ISC. Mitra’ family was from Joshor. One of his younger brothers, K.D. Mitra, was also an independence fighter who fought against British forces. One of his uncles who was in police informed them that the British had passed a “shoot on sight” order for K.D. Mitra along with his some of associates. Therefore, he moved to Banaras with his family. He went on to join the post and telegram department currently, Mitra’s family lives in Allahabad. While studying in college in 1921 Mitra joined the non-cooperation movement. After that Mitra, met with nationalist revolutionary poet Bijaylal Chattopadhyay and came to Krishnanagar, Nadia where he met with leaders of the Indian National Congress. In 1924, Mitra actively took part in revolutionary freedom struggle and left for Daksineswar. Police raided his residence at Daksineswar on 10 November 1925 and arrested Mitra along with other activists. He was sent to prison in 1926 for his connection with the Daksineswar Conspiracy Case.

Mitra and his partners killed Bhupen Chatterjee, an infamous deputy superintendent of police of the Intelligence Branch because he spied on prisoners. For this, Mitra was sentenced to death. On 28 September 1926, Mitra and Pramod Ranjan Choudhury were hanged at Alipore Jail, Kolkata.