by Bankim Chandra Chatterji

Book Report Submitted by

Vivek Sharma (97365; Gr 1)


Vande Matram, the mantra, that was destined to inspire millions during India's struggle for freedom was born in Anand Math. Bankim Chandra Chatterji, through this revolutionary masterpiece, created the fuel and fire for Indian National Movement. Anand Math, an extraordinary political fiction, is a transcript of Bankim's genius. His creative flux energised the renaissance in Bengali and Indian literature and cultured the multitudes into a devotional patriotism towards his image of Mother India.


Bankim Chatterjee gave us what Sri Aurobindo has described as the religion of patriotism. Vande Mataram was banned, as was Anandmath. Yet the worship of Mother India or Bharat Mata once instituted was here to stay. Across the Indian political spectrum, regardless of ideological differences, the idea of the sacredness of the Motherland was widely accepted.


Bankim's work is a political drama, a discourse through dialogue, a proposal through paradigm. An epic, a legend, a saga, a history. The romance of Anand Math lies in its emphatic, passionate nature. While the novel was written, a whole nation waited to be born. We read Anand Math knowing the aftermath, hundred years back the novel would have inspired entirely different moods and reactions. (See addendum).


This English translation of Anand Math (the Abbey of Bliss), done by Basanta Koomar Roy, was first published in 1941, during a critical period when the independence movement had to take a decisive stand rejecting foreign rule. Hence, a mysterious physican's suggestion in last chapter of the original that spoke of the English presence as the necessary phase of reform was deleted. Since the original in Bengali is inaccessible to me yet, I am relying on the translation to provide me a picture of  Bankim's work. Anand Math has also been an important celluloid success (Released in 1952, starring Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Geeta Bali, Bharat Bhusan, Pradip and Ajit, it was debut movie for Hemant Kumar as Music Director. The inspirational fast paced renderings of Vande Matram by Lata and Hemant and the song Om Jai Jagdish Sahare appeared in this movie).


Anandmath begins at an apocalyptic moment. There is a famine in BengalMahendra Singh, his beautiful wife, Kalyani, and their little daughter Sukumari, are leaving their ancestral home in Padachina to tread the broad road to Calcutta. Though Mahendra is a rich landlord, he and his family are starving. Everywhere men, women, children and cattle are dying of hunger. Famished and angry, the impoverished villagers have taken to dacoity. Yet the tax collectors of the Government are unrelenting. Clearly, the British rule has reduced India to beggary.

Mohendra is separated from his wife and daughter. Mahatma Satya, the master of Anand Math rescues Kalyani and Sukumari from a group of robbers. Anand Math is located in deep forest. Bhavan, on Mahatma's behest, brings Mahendra to the forest. Here Bhavan bursts into the famous song 'Vande Mataram':

"Mother, hail!
Thou with sweet springs flowing,

Thou fair springs bestowing,

Cool with zephyrs blowing,

Green with corn-crops growing,

Mother, hail!"
(Translation by anonmous)

              Mahendra, astonished to hear such a song, and wondering what mother stands for remarks, "This refers to a country, and not to a mortal mother." Bhavan then says that Mother India is their Mother, and all other relationships for them are non-existant. Hearing these words, Mahendra too joins the song. He learns that the "Children" (sanyasis of Anand Math) are organising a revolt against the British to free the "Mother India". Later, Mahatma of Anandmath Satya, first shows Mahendra a gigantic, imposing, resplendent image of ancient
India. Then he takes him to a second image, where map of India is in tags and tears, and says, 'This is the what our Mother India is today.' A sword hangs over this image, which the Mahatma says represnts that British rule with a sword, and hence India can be freed only by a sword. Lastly he shows him 'a golden India-bright, beautiful, full of glory and dignity.' Satya explains that "this is the Mother as she is destined to be". 

Mahendra refuses to take the vow of utter devotion to Mother India, which meant renouncing his wife and child. His wife refusing to be a weakening factor in her husband's discharge of duties poisons herself. Before Mahendra could cremate his wife, he and Mahatma are arrested by the British. Jiban, Mahatma's right hand man, finds Sukumari and entrusts her to the loving care of his sister. In the process, he meets his wife Shanti, who he had vowed not to see before his duty is done and to the atonement of both sins. Bhavan saves the life of Kalyani and becomes entranced by her beauty. Mahendra thinks that is wife is dead, and eventually gets initiated into the order of sanyasis. Children rescue Mahatma and Mahendra from the jail, but are defeated by British forces in a pitched battle, where appears and swords of sanyasis lose to cannons and guns of British.


Shanti, Jiban's wife, was a woman with a difference. She dressed like boys throughout her childhood, and had travelled far and wide with a group of sanyasis. She was both mentally and physically strong and possessed charming features. She too enters the order, dressed as man  to be christened Navin. But soon after Mahatma finds out her real identity. She convinces him with her physical strength and demeanour that she would not hamper her husband on his discharge of duties. Mahendra is sent to Padachina, entrusted with the task of building a fort there. Mahatma planned that the fort to act as treasury and factory for manufacturing arms. Shanti is allowed to stay in Anand Math. Her new role both surprises and pleases Jiban, and she keeps him away and alert of his duties.


The famine ends, but in absence of living population, dense forests replace the erstwhile villages. Children are able to entice many hundred followers into their order. The Children slowly start to gain strength, and defeat British forces in many minor clashes, looting their arms and treasuries. Bhavan falls in love with Kalyani, and is willing to break all his vows to make her his wife. Kalyani shoes him away and he realises that death was his only his atonement.

The British, under the command of Captain Thomas, attack the children. After a hard-pitched battle, the Children humble the British. The British were about to win, when seventeen cannons from Padachina arrive well in time at the battlefield turning the tide in favor of the Children. Bhavan dies in this battle. Kalyani, Sukumari and Mahendra, and Jiban and Shanti all happily reunite at the fort of Padachina. The British, once humbled, now relaunched a strategic offensive against the Children under the command of Major Edwards. The British are again defeated, Jiban fights like a superhero, fighting alone, when his compatriots desert him, succumbs to multiple injuries and is lost in heaps of dead in battlefield. Shanti finds him, a mysterious Mahatma heals him and disappears. Jiban role in Service of Mother ends with this sacrifice. A revived Jiban and Shanti walk away hand in hand. Singing Vande Mataram, they soon disappear out of sight.


Vande Mataram had hence become the national anthem during the struggle for freedom. The fact that Rabindranath Tagore's Jana Gana Mana replaced it after independence, as a concession to Muslim susceptibilities, highlights the nature of the freedom movement. Anadmath has inspired both the nationalists and the fundamentalists.  Bankim synthesized the Western secular concept of nationalism with the tradition and needs of Hindus even if he was thinking in terms of Bengal and not India when he wrote. He enunciated a specific relationship between culture and power, that certain cultural values are more advantageous than others in the pursuance of power. Since these attributes are not congenital characteristics, but the product of cultural conditioning, they can be developed through the cultivation of appropriate national-cultural values. To this merit he aroused the cultural and idealogical identity of Indians, majority of them being Hindus. In this respect, I believe that whatever comparisons are there between the Hindu goddesses (Durga, Kali, Lakhshmi or Saraswati) with mother India, they are meant to enspirit the Indian soul with a devotion towards the diefied country.


Such a deification of the country as we know was to inspire many millions of Indians throughout the freedom struggle.  Aurobindo himself considered to be a prophet of Indian nationalism, during his revolutionary phase wanted a Bharat Mata Mandir to be established in every province of India. These temples were to be the nucleus of revolutionaries who like Bankim's sanyasis would dedicate their lives to the freedom of the country. Thus the Indian revolutionaries, who were an important part of the struggle for freedom, also derived their inspiration from spirituality and religious sources. Of course such patriotism, taken to its extreme, may breed chauvinistic nationalism.


Analysing the causes of India's prolonged subjugation as a nation, Bankim rejected the orientalist construct that this subjugation stemmed from Indian's lack of physical strength and courage and that the gentleness of the Hindu sprang from his emasculation. Bankim rather attributed this long history of subjugation to their lack of natural desire for liberty. Indians have never felt a compelling desire for their own liberty nor have they ever fought for it. Bankim held that Hindu society's subjection was owing to the lack of solidarity in their midst. The Hindu attitude towards power is undermined and weakened by its religio-cultural emphasis on vairagya (renunciation and other-worldliness) and niyati (fatalism). Thus Bankim's explanation of the causes of India's subjection is not in terms of material and physical strength but is rather in terms of culture. More specifically it is an explanation which owe's its genesis to cultural differences -- that while some cultural attributes make some civilisations particularly equipped for power, other opposite and specific attributes make the Indians notoriously negligent towards the same. This, in brief, is contemporary Hindu nationalism's basic premise concerning culture and power and this premise is repeatedly evident in its mobilizational literature, verbal ideological discourse, and through their ephemera  which loosely translated would read as follows:

Your Hindu blood has gone cold, it is no less cold than ice
Sons of brave Shivaji are your hands bereft of power
Awake! Arise! you are born of lionesses; You have to wear the Saffron Headband,
Swear by the son of Kaushaliya and resolve to build the temple there,
He who comes as Ravana will die an untimely death,
The temple will now be built there where Shri Ram was born !


According to Bhavan's book, Vande Mataram by Moni Bagchee, (pg . 66), ``Bankin Chandra composed the song in an inspired moment, Rabindranath sang it by setting a tune to it and it was left to the genius of Aurobindo to interpret the deeper meaning of the song out of which India received the philosophy of new Nationalism.'' Shri Aurobindo's birthday was also on 15th of August.



Translation by Shri Aurobindo Ghose


 Mother, I bow to thee!

Rich with thy hurrying streams,

 bright with orchard gleams,

Cool with thy winds of delight,

Dark fields waving

Mother of might,

Mother free.

Glory of moonlight dreams,

Over thy branches and lordly streams,

Clad in thy blossoming trees,

 Mother, giver of ease

Laughing low and sweet!

Mother I kiss thy feet,

Speaker sweet and low!

Mother, to thee I bow.

Who hath said thou art weak in thy lands,

When the sword flesh out in the seventy million hands

And seventy million voices roar

Thy dreadful name from shore to shore?

With many strengths who art mighty and stored,

To thee I call Mother and Lord!

Though who savest, arise and save!

To her I cry who ever her foeman drove

Back from plain and Sea

 And shook herself free.

Thou art wisdom, thou art law,

Thou art heart, our soul, our breath

Though art love divine, the awe

In our hearts that conquers death.

Thine the strength that nervs the arm,

Thine the beauty, thine the charm.

Every image made divine

In our temples is but thine.

Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen,

With her hands that strike and her swords of sheen,

Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned,

And the Muse a hundred-toned,

Pure and perfect without peer,

Mother lend thine ear,

Rich with thy hurrying streams,

Bright with thy orchard gleems,

Dark of hue O candid-fair

In thy soul, with jewelled hair

And thy glorious smile divine,

Lovilest of all earthly lands,

Showering wealth from well-stored hands!

Mother, mother mine!

Mother sweet, I bow to thee,

Mother great and free!