Communalism, Featured

Hindu Upheaval and 19th Century Intellectual Tradition in Bengal

Author: Nilesh Roy


Today India is witnessing a massive upsurge of Hindu communal forces in different parts of its territory. They are very fond of saying that Hindu is a nation since Rig Vedic period, Hindu is the oldest religion, Varna-caste system is justified, Aryans are not invaders, and Muslims, Christians are alien to this country etc. All this stupid stuff is being propagated by the Hindu nationalist forces. BJP, the official representative of Hindu nationalism, along with its many communal associates have partially gained some success in influencing the common people to think communally and to polarize them vertically on the basis of religion. Thus communal fascism is coming up. The present paper will try to understand the root of Hindu nationalism in the intellectual tradition of 19th century Bengal.


The term Hindu had never carried any religious flavour, neither in ancient nor in medieval period in India. It only referred to a territory (see Jha. 2017; Chaudhury.2018; Mukherjee, BN. 1976). The word Hindu appeared as a religion in the first half of 19th century. Both orientalism and reformism together created this Hindu religion. One may call it a gift of the colonial rule. So, it would not be incorrect to call it the newest one among the world religions. (Viswanathan. 2003: 36-37). If the first half of the 19th century is marked by the making of ‘Hindu’ as a religious term, the second half should be depicted as the period of Hindu upheaval.


Rammohun Roy used the term Hinduism in a religious sense in 1816, though it was a pejorative word to him. In Hinduism, one of his targets was to criticize “idol-worship- the source of prejudice and superstition and of the total destruction of moral principle” (Roy. 1906: 21). Before Roy, the word Hindu associated with religious flavor was used by the Christian missionaries to oppose the non-Muslim religious cults, sects, beliefs and practices as they were reflected in the rituals and rites of the indigenous people. The Orientalists and the Christian missionaries tried their best to understand the non-Muslim belief system of Indian people, but at primary stage they failed. Hence, they took help of the Brahmins who had monopoly over education and religious leadership. In fact, what Europeans learnt from the Brahmins was nothing but the brahmanical religion. They brought this hierarchical concept to their own country and afterwards converted it into a religion and returned it to the hands of the Indians. The word Hindu was appropriated in late 18th and early 19th century by western colonizers, particularly British scholars and civil servants, “whose writings helped the imperial administration to formulate and create the notion of Hinduism in the sense in which we understand it today. The British borrowed the word “Hindu” from India, gave it a new meaning and significance, reimported it into India as a reified phenomenon called Hinduism and used it in censuses and gazetteers as a category as their classification of the Indian people, paving the way for the global Hindu religious identity…” (Jha. 2017: 16-17).


Hindu upheaval took place in the second half of 19th century on the basis of the colonial construction of Hinduism. Rajnarayan Basu (1826- 99) was the pioneer of the Hindu upheaval. He was the maternal grand-father of Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950). In 1867 Rajnarayan Basu wrote a book Prospectus of a society for the national feeling among the educated natives of Bengal. The title of the book tells a lot about to whom and for which purpose it was written. Another point can be derived from here that though the term ‘national’ was used here, indeed, it was a Hindu propagation. Nationalism in modern sense was not formed with clarity till then.

In this book Basu mentioned some activities of “National Promotion Society” (henceforth NPS) which are given below:

  1. NPS would establish gymnasiums and will try to make physical exercise popular among the youths.
  2. NPS would try to establish model schools for cultivation of ancient Hindu music and medical science.
  3. The society would publish the research works of the European scholars on ancient Indian traditions. Besides, it would provide all kinds of help to the cultivation of Sanskrit language.
  4. It would give emphasis on education through mother language. Moreover it would be obligatory for the members of the society to educate their children in their mother tongue before English language.
  5. No reform could be accepted, if it had not emerged out of the nation. Society would help to develop the social reform movement through spreading national feelings, though would not take part directly in the reform movement.

Rajnarayan Basu and Nabagopal Mitra (1840?- ’94) contributed greatly to the Hindu upheaval movement. In order to spread their idea they started a fair in 1867, Hindu Mela or Chaitra Mela. Nabagopal Mitra was the key figure of the fair. Some prominent members of the famous Tagore family of Jorasanko,   viz., Jotindranath Tagore, Dijendranath Tagore, Ganendranath Tagore and others came forward to help Basu and Mitra. Apart from organizing the fair, Mitra also published a journal called ‘National Paper’ and established a ‘National Gymnasium’, a ‘National School’ and a ‘National Society’. In order to arouse national chauvinism and pride among the common people, the organizers of the Mitra Mela used to arrange a yearly conference in the month of Chaitra (March- April). Here is a point to note that though the name of the organization is Hindu Mela, its executive committee was called National Society. Organizers did not think that it was an expression of inconsistency. They said: “We do not understand why our correspondent takes exception to the Hindoos who certainly form a nation by themselves, and as much a society established by them can very properly be called a National Society.” (cited by Dutta, Amar. 2007: 12). Therefore according to them Hindu is a nation. And it was taken for granted by them that Muslims are not included here. In his journal, Mitra emphasized the making of Hindu as a nation. To him, “…the basis of national unity in India is the Hindu religion. Hindu nationality embraces all the Hindus of India irrespective of their locality and language.” Citing his statement RC Majumdar, a well known rightist Hindu historian, arrived at the truth that “Nabha Gopal forestalled Jinnah’s theory of two nations by more than half a century.” (Majumdar, R.C. 1961:18).

The organizers of Hindu Mela including Nabhagopal Mitra and his close associates, out rightly rejected foreign interference in social reform or social service because they believed that alien, particularly yavan (Muslim) or non-Hindu contact is responsible for the decline of Hindu nation. In the first half of the 19th century, Radha Kanta Deb, Bhawani Charan and other conservatives contributed a lot in shaping of Hindu religion. The same path was followed by the organizers of Hindu Mela and they converted this Hinduani (Hinduness) from a poisonous tree into an ugly demon. Brahma Marriage Act was enacted in 1872. According to the Act, marriage before 14 for the girls and 18 for the boys was prohibited. Nabha Gopal Mitra vehemently opposed the Marriage Act and organized a protest seminar on the superiority of Hinduism, in which Rajnarayan Basu was one of the important speakers. In his speech he opined that embryonic Brahma Society (Aadi Brahma Samaj) is identical with Hindu Religion. For him, Brahmajani consider idol worship as a lower stage of oblation of god and realization of brahma. This unique synthesis between monotheism and idol worship consecrates the greatness of Hindu religion – he asserted. Not only that, he also mentioned that the Brahma religion, a higher form of Hindu religion, has been transformed and developed since the time of Rigveda. (Dutta, Amar. 2007: 13).

In 1889 Rajnarayan Basu wrote “Old Hindu’s Hope”. In this book he noted that except Islam and Christianity the followers of all other religions belonged to Hindu Religion. Considering Sikhs, Jains, Bauddhs, Brahmas as Hindu he proposed to form an organization ‘Maha Hindu Samity’. (Basu, R. 2013). He also helped to found ‘Bharat Dharmamahamandal’. (Islam. 2015a: 155). This organization was the precursor of Hindu Mahasabha, a dangerous Hindu communal organization. He believed that through this organization Hindus would be able to establish an Aryan nation in India. He conceived a powerful Hindu nation that would dominate India and the whole world. (Islam. 2015b: 155).

Rajnarayan Basu speaks of the superiority of Hindu religion: There is no such good admonition regarding religion which is absent in our religious scriptures; there is no such positive ritual which was not being practiced in ancient India. At present it is our task to propagate these Hindu ideas and practice. (Basu,R. 2008: 60). He did not stop here. He proceeds much ahead. In his imagination Hindu religion can establish its hegemony, not only in India but also over the world. He writes: “… the noble and puissant Hindu nation rousing herself after sleep and rushing headlong towards progress with divine prowess. I see this rejuvenated nation again illumining the world by her knowledge, spirituality and culture, and the glory of Hindu nation again spreading over the whole world.” (cited by Islam.2015:155).

Here he spoke of the superiority of Hindu religion, but at another place he asserted the superiority of Bengali nation. (Basu, R. 2008: 71). Many a contradiction can be found in his thought process. Firstly, he used terms Hindu religion, Hindu nation and Bengali nation simultaneously, but said nothing about whether these terms are identical or different. Consequently it is very difficult to understand what he meant by those terms. Secondly, perhaps, there was no difference between nation and religion to him and that undoubtedly pushed him to the blind end of a Hindu upheaval. Though he spoke of the supremacy of Bengali nation and Hindu nation, but said nothing about their relationship and did not give any clear notion.

In “Old Hindu’s Hope” he categorically mentioned the importance of varna-caste system for the unity of the Hindus. Varna-caste system of Hinduism is a hierarchical system in which Brahmins occupy the highest status. They are at the apex of the system and considered as ‘gods on earth’. Essentially Hindu religion is brahmanical religion. So, in order to follow Hindu religion, it is obligatory for the people to follow Brahmanism. According to Brahmabaivarta Puran and the interpretation of Smarta Raghunandan, there are only two varnas in the age of Kali (Kaliyug) in Bengal, brahmana and shudra. Ironically, Rajnarayan Basu too fell in the shudra varna. Right away Basu received the result of supporting the varna-caste system in an incident. It was the sacred thread ceremony of Rabindranath Tagore. On that occasion Basu received a bitter result of varna-caste system. On that day when he arrived at the Tagore house at Jorasanko, he received highly humiliating and insulting treatment from the members of the Tagore family because shudras are forbidden from being present in the sacred thread ceremony. He was asked to leave the place. It is noteworthy that Rajnarayan Basu was the then president of the Aadi Brahma Samaj of Debendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath Tagore. (Murshid, Gulam.1981: 32). This is the painful and tragic consequence of supporting the varna-caste system.


After Basu and Mitra, the Hindu upheaval was expressed in Bengali literature, particularly in the works of Rangalal Bandapadhyaya (1827-87) and Nabinchandra Sen (1847-1909). In 1858 Rangalal wrote “Padmini Upakhyan” on the basis of the story written by Todd. At that time Todd’s work was considered as historical, though it was proved to be wrong. Rangalal, in his work, portrayed Alauddin Khilji as an evil doer, extremely communal, perverted and a Hindu hater. And in this way he propagated the anti-Muslim idea among the common people. At the same time he glorified the Hindu characters and praised their bravery, sacrifice and ‘jahar brato’ (a rite practised by Rajput women by burning themselves alive on funeral pyres to escape shame and insult). Keeping the idea of Hindu upheaval in mind, another poet Nabinchandra Sen championed the doctrine of nishkam karma (not actuated by any desire or gainful motive) through his three books of verse – “Raivatak (1886), “Kuruskhetra” and “Prabhas”.

Shashadhar Tarkachuramoni (1851-1928), a prominent leader of Hindu upheaval, was a contemporary of Nabinchandra Sen. He founded an organization called “Arya Dharma Pracaroni Shabha” (Association for the Propagation of Aryan Religion) in Munger of Bihar. He went to Calcutta and started giving the scientific explanation of the Hindu rituals, customs and even the superstitions. In order to propagate his conservative and reactionary ideas he published a journal called “Vedavayas”. Besides, he also took initiative to establishe Hari Sabhas ( an association centering around the cult of Vishnu, a brahmanical god) in several cities and villages for propagating the glory and superiority of Hindu religion. Many a person started calling him the second Sankaracharya due to his interpretation of Hindu religion. (Dutta, Amar.2007:37). Under his influence Chandranath Basu (1844-1910) became a staunch supporter of Hindu upheaval. In his book “Hindutva” he tried his utmost to establish Hindu hegemony.


Bankimchandra Chattopadhya (1838-’94) should be depicted as the most important figure in the Hindu upheaval movement. He brought high tide into the movement through his powerful novels. Aurobindo Ghosh wrote, “Of the new spirit which is leading the nation to resurgence and independence, he [Bankim] is the inspirer and political guru.” (cited by Islam:156). The new literary spirit of Bankim led to the upheaval of Hindutva in late 19th century. In his writings, religion and politics is one, and due to his writings, the slogan of Hindu India became the mantra of high caste Hindu gentry.

Let us take a look at the works of Bankimchandra. Out of his 14 novels “Durgeshnandini” (1863) is the first and the last one is “Sitaram”(1884). A brief survey of his works can help us to understand how he defined self and other, Hindu and Muslim. With some exceptions most of the Muslim characters he portrayed in his novels (drama as well) are cruel, perverted, torturers, power mongerers, heartless, unkind, dishonest, infant-killers and conservative. Some of his famous works are Mrinalini (1869), Chandrashekhar (1875), Rajsingha (1893), Sitaram (1894). It is hard to believe that any one would become a Muslim-lover after going through his works. Contrary to the Muslim characters he made his Hindu characters liberal, honest, brave, men of dignity and personality.

In ‘Mrinalini’ (1869) Bankim described Baktier Khilji as a dishonest, cruel, liar, cheater and having double standards. The activities of his army are narrated in the novel: “When they [Muslims] came across some unfortunate shelter-less persons in the streets [of the city], they pierced them with their pikes and attacked all the closed doors of houses. Breaking the doors or crossing the parapets they entered the house and killed the householders having nabbed them. After that they cut off the heads of men and women, old and boys. But they did not follow the same rule in case of young ladies [they spared their lives for sexual pleasure].” (Bankim. 1993: 172).

In the same novel, Bankim profusely praised two Hindu characters like Hemchandra (hero) and Mrinalini (heroine) for their honestly, bravery, conviction and commitment to love.

Here he glorified an evil ritual which was prohibited by law in 1829, the widow burning ritual or ‘Sati Pratha’. After the death of Pashupati, his wife Monorama prepared to burn herself with the corpse of her husband. In Bankim’s words: “During the rite, wearing a new dress and garlands around her (Monorama) neck, she circumambulated in a clockwise manner around the Chita [funeral pyre] and mounted it. And with a smiling face she sat on the pyre and died away like a flower bud.” (Bankim.1993: 183). Incidentally he was not only a supporter of Sati system but also dead against widow marriage. Consequently, regarding the question of widow marriage he reproached Iswarchandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891) without any hesitation. He expressed his rebuke through one of the characters of his novel ‘Visha Briksha’ (1873). That character was Suryamukhi. Educated Suryamukhi wrote in her letter: “[Let me tell you] an amusing thing. There is a scholar in Kolikata (Calcutta) called Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, who has published a book on widow marriage. The person who prescribes widow marriage, if he be a scholar, then whom do we call illiterate?” (Bankim.1993: 200).

In ‘Chandrashekhar’ (1875), one of his popular novels, Bankim depicted Mir Kasim as a spineless ruler. It was also portrayed that the Muslim army is nothing but a bunch of cowardly and worthless persons. Side by side, the ‘Hindu’ characters, like Pratap and Chandrashekhar have been glorified by Bankim. He attributed to them bravery, courage and intelligence. Simultaneously he tried his utmost to belittle the character of Mir Kasim. In the same way in ‘Rajsingha’ (1882/93) and ‘Sitaram’ (1884) Bankim asserted the generosity and sovereignty of Hindus, and on the other hand expressed his hatred of Muslims. In fact his depiction of Aurangzeb is identical to the British description. For Bankim, the Mughal head’s home is nothing but a hell like place. ‘Sitaram’ is a novel which evinces Bankim’s animosity to the Muslim community more clearly. Sitaram Roy’s wife Roma asks her maid servant, “Do Muslims kill boys?” The maid servant answers, “Whom do they not kill? They eat beef, perform namaj. What do they do other than killing the boys?” (ibid: 740).

Bankim’s famous (probably the most popular) work is ‘Anandamath’ (1882) which is best known among his works. The concept of Hindutvadi state first appeared in this novel, though in an indistinct manner. Hindutvadis of both centuries (19th and 20th) and of today consider ‘Anandamath’ as sacred as the Bible. This is the same novel in which Bankim presented the song ‘Vande Mataram’ that equated nationalism to mother-worship.

Let us take a look at the main story of ‘Anandamath’. It is basically the story of the Hindu Sanyasis’ (ascetics) rebellion who fought against the (so called) Muslim rule in the late eighteenth century Bengal (north). These rebels called themselves ‘Santans’ (children) – ‘Anandamath’ was written about 25 years after the suppression of the Great War of Independence of 1857 when even the ceremonial authority of Muslim rulers had gone. It should be noted here that the British colonial masters held that the Muslim community was mainly responsible for the uprising of 1857 and the British power mercilessly tortured the Muslims.

The first edition of ‘Anandamath’ is not identical with the later editions. Bankim made some significant changes in the novel. He changed the phrase ‘Kill British’ of the first edition. Instead of ‘Kill British’ he used ‘Kill nere’ (Muslims) in the later editions. In the same way he replaced ‘British’ with ‘nere’ (Muslims). The entire novel is full of the glory of Hindus and Muslim-hatred. Once he suggested to not take the novel as a historical novel, but to consider it simply as a novel. (Bankim.1993: 799). But this suggestion does not conceal his real intention.

The novel aims to prove that the conflict between Hindus and Muslims is not an abnormal phenomenon; it is quite natural and inevitable. Another aim of the novel is to inculcate in the mind of Hindus that the story is historical in a true sense. But history does not support it. As was mentioned earlier, the context of the story is late eighteenth century Bengal when (so called) Muslim rule was completely wiped away by the British East India Company. So there was no existence of ‘Muslim rule’ in Bengal. East India Company in 1765, by and large took over the economic and political control of Bengal. Common masses were not satisfied with British rule. A section of people particularly Fakirs (Muslim ascetics) and Sanyasis (Hindu ascetics) together started fighting against the British power during the period of 1763 to 1800. It was a great united struggle of ‘Hindus’ and ‘Muslims’. (See Roy, S. 1966; Dasgupta. 1992).

Bankim Chandra wanted to establish that Hindu is a nation. Hindu religion is the most important shelter for the mundane interest of the Hindus. In order to protect the religious interest of the Hindus, British rule is inevitable. In the last part of the novel, Bankim writes:

“English [power] should rule the country of the Sanatan religion [traditional religion]. Therefore we shall make English king. In the English education indigenous people after having the external theories, they will be able to understand the internal theories. In that time there will be no hindrance to propagate Sanatan religion. Then the true religion will be spontaneously revived. English rule will prevail until Hindus would again be knowledgeable, powerful and competent”. (Bankim. 1993: 641).

In fact Sanayasi and Fakirs carried on their fight for 38 years (1763-1800) against the East Indian Company’s misrule and exploitation. The glorious battle turned into a communal conflict in Bankim’s novel. In the book, a rebel leader Sayananda explains the objective of the ‘Santans’ : “We do not want a kingdom, we want only to destroy Mussalmans because they are hostile to the god.” One more desire of the Sanayasis is to erect the temple of Radhamadhav on the ruins of a Masjid. Bankim’s dream has been partly realized with the destruction of Babri Mosque on 6 December 1992 by the RSS-BJP-VHP.

In order to narrate the nature of the uprising, Bankim writes:

“Later they started sending the spies to village after village. After going to the villages and finding out the Hindus there, the spies asked them, ‘brothers, would you worship the Lord Vishnu?’ They gathered 20/25 persons by these means, they came down to the Muslim villages and torched their houses. The Muslims were worried for safety of their lives and the Santan robbed them of everything and distributed the booty amongst the new devotes of the Lord Vishnu. Obtaining a share of the booty, the rural people were satisfied, they were brought down to the Vishnu temple and converted to the virtues of Santans after touching the feet of the idol. The people found that Santanism paid instant dividends…. They organized themselves in groups and went out to subdue the Muslims. They brought home money by way of looting wherever they found it. Wherever they got the Muslim villages, they reduced them to ashes by arson.” In the last chapter of the first volume of ‘Anandamath’, Bhabananda told Mahendra “Religion, caste, status, class etc. have been lost [due to Muslim rule], now we are going to lose our right to life. So, in order to keep Hinduness, we have to throw out these drag addicted nere [Mussalmans].” (Bankim.1993: 589). To him to protect Hinduness the solution is to kill the Mussalmans. (ibid: 639).

‘Anandamath’ is the product of a combination of distorted history and the concept of newly emerged Hindu religion. It is absurd to think that sanayasis or fakirs of 18th century Bengal had modern nationalism, because by the mid-19th century, nationalism was widely recognized as a political doctrine or movement. (Heywood. 2014: 168). Sanyasis and fakirs fought against the torture and exploitation of the East India Company. They did not have any sectarian religious objective. They fought together and died together. Historian Jadunath Sarkar comments, “Sanyasis did not have anything like freeing the motherland or suppressing the evils or looking after the good in their mind. This movement (of Santans) was the product of the imagination of [Bankimchandra] Chattopadhyaya.” (cited in Mukhopadhyaya, S. 2003: 51).

Bankim theorized his Hindu nation building in an article ‘Bharat Kalanka’ (Indian-infamy). The language and way of expression of the article are sources of inspiration of present day Hindu communalists. Bankim wrote:

“I am a Hindu, you are a Hindu, Jadu is a Hindu, moreover there are millions of Hindus. The well-being of these millions of Hindus is my well-being. What is not welfare for them, that must not be welfare for me. So, it is my duty to do that which is good for them. My duty is not to do anything what is harmful for the Hindus. This is my duty as well as your duty and the duty of all Hindus. If it is so, then it is the duty of all Hindus to think and work and assemble together. This is the first part of the making of nation.”

“Apart from the Hindu nation there are other nations in the world. Well-being of them does not mark the well-being of us. Sometimes their well-being is harmful for us. Where there is a loss of us due to their benefit, we will try to hinder their well-being. If it is required to torture them, we would do that. We would damage others for the sake of our interest. This is the second part of nation making process.” (BRS. 1973: 1: 301).

If we read his novels and articles together, it would not be difficult to understand the orientation of his works. First he tried to build up a Hindu self-identity and then to mark the enemy of the Hindus, i.e. the concept of Other, more precisely the Muslim community. Moreover, his entire work rejects the tradition of Hindu-Muslim unity, syncretism and the Indian plurality. By and large he has excommunicated Rama Kaivartya and Hashem Sheikh in his novels. It creates a self-contradiction. When Bankim is a Bengali nationalist, he speaks of Hasem Sheikh and Rama Kaivartya. And when he is a Hindu nationalist he wants a breach between them. He was never able to escape from this self contradiction.


After Bankim, the person who provided the solid Hindu foundation to ‘Indian nation’, was Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). Vivekananda, by providing a sense of spiritual supremacy to Hinduism, called upon Hindus to be proud of the religion of their ancestors. Nivedita, one of his disciples wrote: “What Hinduism needed, amidst the general disintegration of the modern era, was a nook where she could lie at anchor, an authoritative utterance in which she might recognize herself. And this was given to her, in these words and writings of Swami Vivekananda.” (Vivekananda. 2012: 1: IX).

Vivekananda was immensely influenced by the words of Bankimchandra. Vivekananda developed, spread and strengthened the concept of Hindu nationalism. After returning from the West, he wanted to prove that his Hindu campaign was fully successful in the West and now the time had come to wake up India. (Basu, Paramathanath. 2012: 2: 108). In a facilitation letter of Ramnad, he was described as a crier of Hindu sovereignty. (ibid: III). Gamvirananda, a biographer of Swami Vivekananda, mentioned that except Islam, all the Indian religions have got space in the domain of Hindu religion and this religion is superior to the other religions because Hindus step up from the lower truth to higher truth. (ibid. 2012: 2: 39). His comment on Ramkrishna and Vivekananda is also interesting: “That was a glorious fortunate period (19th century) of Hindus. Hindus again learnt to awake normally and to deserve to be revived. During that period, Bengali youths appeared in Daksniswara as future propagators, due to their attraction.” (ibid. 2012: 1: 10). For Gambhirananda, in late 19th century Hindus reawaked as a result of the propitiation of Ramakrishna’s sayings and messages and later on Vivekananda spread it everywhere. So, the devotees and disciples of Vivekananda like to depict him as a Hindu revivalist.

In 1898 Vivekananda was asked a question in an interview: “…. What do you consider to be the function of your movement as regards India?” Vivekananda answered, “To find the common basis of Hinduism and awaken the national consciousness to them.” (Vivekananda. A.A. 2012: 5: 226). For him religion is the backbone of Indian national life. There is no doubt the term religion refers to Hindu religion. Since this religion is superior to all, its teaching should be taught to the world. (Vivekananda (Beng.). 2012: 5: 30 31). In order to make Hindus conscious Vivekananda repeatedly called on Hindus that “If religion is given up, the backbone of Hindu nation would be broken. The great national monument was built up on that foundation which would be broken down; consequently all would be destroyed.” (Vivekananda (Beng.). 2012: 5: 34).

In his discussion, ‘Hindu religion’ and ‘Hindu nation’ are identical. He added to this Indianness (Bharatiatva). So when he speaks of India that refers to only Hindu-India. Therefore, to him, awaking of India means awaking of Hindus. According to him Hindus are in crisis. So, the solution is badly needed. He said that Hindus were in deep crisis on account of their destiny. There is only one way to escape from the crisis and that is to go to the West for the propagation of Hindu religion (Vivekananda (Beng.). 2012: 6: 25).

History shows that the notion of national superiority gives birth to aggressive and perverted nationalism. “Pan-Germanism was an expansionist and aggressive form of nationalism that envisaged the creation of a German-dominated Europe. German Chauvinism found its highest expression in the racialist and anti-Semitic doctrines developed by the Nazis.” (Heywood. 2014: 189). Nazi leader Hitler claimed Germans are Aryans and Aryans are a superior race. So Germans are the greatest of all races. And it is the sacred duty of the Germans to spread German civilization all over the world and to bring the lower civilizations under its realm. The same voice can be heard from an Indian monk, 40 years before Hitler: “….Let me take this opportunity, my countrymen, of telling you that in comparing the different races and nations of the world I have been among, I have come to the conclusion that our people are on the whole the most normal and the most godly, and our institutions are, in their plan and purpose, best suited to make mankind happy. I do not, therefore, want any reformation. My ideal is growth, expansion, development on national lines. As I look back upon the history of my country, I do not find in the whole world another country which has done quite so much for the improvement of the human mind. (Vivekananda. A.A. 2012: 3: 195)

In the same lecture he focused on some important points—

  1. “The ideal man of our ancestors was the Brahmin. In all our books stands out prominently this ideal of the Brahmin.” (ibid: 196).
  2. “……. We read in the Satya Yuga there was only one caste, and that was the Brahmin. We read in the Mahabharata that the whole world was in the beginning peopled with Brahmins, and that as they began to degenerate, they became divided into different castes, and that when the cycle turns round, they will all go back to that Brahminical origin.” (ibid: 198).
  3. “Therefore our solution of the caste question is not degrading those who are already high up, is not running amuck through food and drink, is not jumping out of our own limits in order to have more enjoyment, but it comes by every one of us fulfilling the dictates of our Vedantic religion, by our attaining spirituality, and by our becoming the ideal Brahmin. There is a law laid on each one of you in this land by your ancestors, whether you are Aryans or non-Aryans, Rishis or Brahmins, or the very lowest outcasts. The command is the same to you all, that you must make progress without stopping, and that from the highest man to the lowest Pariah, everyone in this country has to try and become the ideal of Brahmin.” (ibid).

He wrote Parivrajak in 1899 in which he spoke of the upheaval of cobblers, sweepers and workers. But it was a whimsical statement. His other works do not evince the same thing. He went away far from this idea in ‘Prachya Prachatya’ (East and West.1900). Here he dreamt of worldwide Hindu domination:

“Here [India] is the selfsame old Shiva seated as before, the bloody Mother Kali worshipped with the selfsame paraphernalia, the pastoral Shepherd of Love, Shri Krishna, playing on his flute. Once this Old Shiva, riding on His bull and labouring on this Damaru travelled from India, on the one side, to Sumatra, Borneo, Celebes, Australia, as far as the shores of America, and on the other side, this Old Shiva battened His bull in Tibet, China, Japan, and as far up as Siberia, and is still doing the same. The Mother Kali is still exacting Her worship even in China and Japan. It is she whom the Christians metamorphosed into the Virgin Mary, and worship as the mother of Jesus the Christ.” (Vivekananda. 2012: 5: 445).

Moreover he wanted to see India as a country of Hindus exclusively. Precisely he uttered that if a person wants to live in India either he has to be a Hindu or has to accept Hindu domination. If he does not accept this suggestion he has to leave India. So, to him there is no option for taking a middle position. Till today the tradition of this notion flows in Indian territories.

He also said:

“Here in India will ever be the old Shiva labouring on his Damaru, the Mother Kali worshipped with animal sacrifice, and the lovable Shri Krishna playing on his flute.

….. If you cannot bear them – avaunt! For a handful of you shall a whole nation be wearied out of all patience and bored to death? Why don’t you make your way somewhere else where you may find field to graze upon freely – the wide world is open to you! (Vivekananda 2012: 5: 445).

In his words one may find some mild fun and venial style, but the central idea is dangerous. It negates the tradition of syncretic culture and plurality. To him there is only one tradition in India and that is the tradition of Hinduism. People who are not ready to accept the Hindu deities and culture; have no place in India. They should go away anywhere they like “the wide world is open to” them. The same voice can be heard in Golwalkar’s book:

“…. the foreign races [non-Hindus) in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen’s rights.” (Golwalkar. 2015: 183-184).

Vivekananda not only developed the idea of Hindu identity, Hindu tradition and the hegemony of Hindus, but also constructed the ‘other’ excellently. Like Bankim he kept himself aside from opposing British power and depicted Muslims as the enemy of Hindus. To him Muslims are always invaders and destroyers. He wrote:

“Waves after waves had flooded the land, breaking and crushing everything for hundreds of years. The sword had flashed, and “Victory unto Allah” had rent the skies of India; but these floods subsided, leaving the national ideals unchanged.” (Vivekananda. 2019: 4: 159).

Vivekananda uttered too “They [Muslims] brought the sword, slaughter and religious persecution, till then unknown in India.” (Basu & Ghosh. 1969: 295/ The Hindu Patriot. 28.12.1896).

The readers of Vivekananda would hardly miss that he was a strong supporters of Sati system (Vivekananda. 2012 (Beng): 5: 321) and caste system. According to him caste system is good, natural and omnipresent. In his words:

“Caste is a natural order…. Caste is good. That is the only national way of solving life. Men must form themselves into groups, and you cannot get rid of that. Wherever you go, there will be caste.” (Vivekananda 2012: 3: 245).

At another place he writes:

“The solution of the caste problem in India, therefore, assumes this form, not degrade the higher castes, not to crush out the Brahmin. The Brahminhood is the ideal of humanity in India, as wonderfully put forward by Sankaracharya at the beginning of his commentary on the Gita, where he speaks about the reason for Krishna’s coming as a preacher for the preservation of Brahminhood, of Brahminness. …..This Brahmin, the man of God, he who has known Brahman, the ideal man, the perfect man, must remain; he must not go.” (2012: 3: 293-94).

That’s not all. Besides, he opposed widow marriage and glorified widowhood. (Vivekananda. 2012. (Beng): 5: 314, 308).

Hindu upheaval turned into Hindu nationalism in the first decade of 20th century, particularly after 1905. This Hindu nationalism took a concrete shape when the concept of religious upheaval amalgamated with political interest. In the beginning of this new phase Aurobindo Ghose played a very significant role. He linked up properly between Hindu upheaval and Hindu nationalism.

Aurobindo wrote:

“Our movement for the national resurgence is not political, it is spiritual and religious. Our nationalism is not mere politics; it is an article of faith, it is worship. Sanatana Dharma is our nationalism. Hindu Rashtra was born along with Sanatana Dharma. The two are indivisible: their direction and development are identical. When Sanatana Dharma declines, the nation also declines. If there is any possibility of Sanatana Dharma ever dying, Hindu Rashtra will also die with it. Let me reiterate this openly: Sanatana Dharma is our nationhood. This is the mantra God has given me.” (cited by Islam 2015: 163).

In this way Aurobindo constructed Hindu nationalism by connecting the Sanatana Dharma or Hindu dharma with the concept of state. This is the synopsis of the story of transformation from Hindu upheaval to Hindu nationalism. Though a number of important aspects are untouched here, the present paper may help to understand that the main stream of thought appeared centering around the concept of nationalism expressed in Bengali intellectual tradition in 19th century.


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