India’s national song, ‘Vande Mataram’, is no less than an epic for our country. The song holds a special place in the heart of every Indian. The two words of title itself are sufficient to induce a great feeling of patriotism.
Adopted as the National Song of India on January 24, 1950, ‘Vande Mataram’ was written by the great Bengali poet and writer, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. The song was originally written in two languages, Sanskrit and Bengali, in the novel ‘Anandmath’. It served as a source of immense strength and inspiration for freedom fighters before India gained freedom.
While most of us have spentour childhood singing our national song written by this celebrated writer of India, we hardly know anything about him. April 8 marks the 123rd death anniversary of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. On this occasion, we wish to throw light on some surprising facts about the legendary writer.
1. Bankim was extraordinarily intelligent since childhood.
Born on June 27, 1838, in the Kantalpara district of Bengal, Bankim Chandra was a supremely intelligent child. It is held that he mastered alphabets in his childhood in a single sitting. He maintained this acumen for rest of his life. Later, he mastered three languages – Sanskrit, Bengali and English equally well.
2. He was married at the age of 11!
Bankim Chandra belonged to an orthodox family. He was married at the early age of 11 to a girl who was 5 years old, which was quite a normal practice at that time. His first wife gave birth to a boy and died after 11 years of marriage. Bankim later married Rajlakshmi Devi and had 3 daughters.
3. Bankim Chandra was among the first few graduates of University of Kolkata.
After receiving education from Hooghly Mohsin College, he went on to pursue higher studies at Presidency College from where he completed his Bachelors Degree in Law in the year 1857. He was one of the first few people who graduated from the University of Calcutta. This was the very time when India waged its First War of Independence.
4. He served British Government in the same position as his father.
Soon after India lost the war, Bankim was appointed as Deputy Collector in the British Government. He went on to become Deputy Magistrate. His service to the British continued for about 32 years. He retired in 1891.
5. His first published novel was a big flop.
‘Rajmohan’s Wife’, an English Novella written by Bankim Chandra was his first published work. It was the first ever Indian novel that was written in English. However, since it was not the common man’s language, it could not gain much popularity and appreciation in India. This made him realize that he must continue his writing career in Bengali and not English.
6. Despite being a servant in the British Government, he hated the British.
He was critical of British rule and the same was reflected clearly in his writings, too.
7. Bankim got his first ever popularity at the age of 27.
In the initial phase of his literary career, he was a writer of verse. However, his superior talent took him to other forms of writing such as ficton. ‘Durgeshnandini’ was his first popular novel that was published in 1865. It was a romantic Bengali story. It was followed by ‘Kapalkundala’ published in 1866. Both these works of Bankim were quite prominent and were also translated into other languages.
8. For the first few years, he was mainly a writer of romance.
After a few of his books got popular in the country, he went on to compose many more. ‘Mrinalini’, another romantic fiction was set against a historical context. This book, however, marked the shift of his writing from romantic fiction to intellectual and cultural Bengali literature. His other well-received works include ‘Vishabriksha’, ‘Rajani’, ‘Chandrasekhar’, ‘Kishna Kanta’s Will’, ‘Sitaram’, ‘Indira’, ‘Anandmath’ and ‘Debi Chaudhurani’.
9. His work was much appreciated by the critics, too.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was soon acclaimed as one of the best Bengali writers by critics. Pramathnath Bishi, a famed critic of those times held him as the best Bengali novel writer of that era. It was even believed that for someone to understand his novels, one must understand him first.
10. Bankim owned the art of creating outstanding humorous sketches, too.
Apart from writing literature, Bankim was also excellent at drawing humorous sketches. Kamalakanter Daptar (The Scribbling of Kamalakanta, 1875) was a half humorous and half serious sketch. It was later enlarged as Kamalakanta in 1885. The work showed the best skills of the writer cum artist.
11. His inspirations were as glorious as his work.
He and his literary works were inspired and influenced by three glorious figures of that era – Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Rani Lakshmibai and Raja Rammohan Roy.
12. Even with all that fame, he lived the life of a commoner.
Despite all the fame he and his works gained, his life was in no way luxurious or extraordinary. All through his life, he maintained an average lifestyle and never craved for power or position. Whatever he accomplished through his writings was for his passion for his work.
Let us listen to the beautiful orchestration of his song by Lata Mangeshkar: