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Bengal Renaissance

Bengal Renaissance
Image:Raja Ram Mohan Roy.jpg|Raja Ram Mohan Roy is regarded as the "Father of the Bengal Renaissance." Image:Tagore3.jpg|Rabindranath Tagore is Asia's first Nobel laureate and composer of the national anthems of India and Bangladesh.
Image:Vidyasagar.jpg|Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was a philosopher, academic, educator, writer, translator, printer, publisher, entrepreneur, reformer, and philanthropist. Image:Sri aurobindo.jpg|Sri Aurobindo was one of the most respected Bengali independence activists, as well as a poet, philosopher, and yogi.[1]

The Bengal Renaissance refers to a social reform movement during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the region of Bengal in Undivided India during the period of British rule. The Bengal renaissance can be said to have started with Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1775 1833) and ended with Rabindranath Tagore (1861 1941), although there have been many stalwarts thereafter embodying particular aspects of the unique intellectual and creative output.[2] Nineteenth century Bengal was a unique blend of religious and social reformers, scholars, literary giants, journalists, patriotic orators and scientists, all merging to form the image of a renaissance, and marked the transition from the 'medieval' to the 'modern'.[3]



During this period, Bengal witnessed an intellectual awakening that is in some way similar to the European Renaissance during the 16th century, although Europeans of that age were not confronted with the challenge and influence of alien colonialism. This movement questioned existing orthodoxies, particularly with respect to women, marriage, the dowry system, the caste system and religion. One of the earliest social movements that emerged during this time was the Young Bengal movement, that espoused rationalism and atheism as the common denominators of civil conduct among upper caste educated Hindus.

The parallel socio-religious movement, the Brahmo Samaj, developed during this time period and counted many of the leaders of the Bengal Renaissance among its followers.[4] In the earlier years the Brahmo Samaj, like the rest of society, could not however, conceptualize, in that feudal-colonial era, a free India as it was influenced by the European Enlightenment (and its bearers in India, the British Raj) although it traced its intellectual roots to the Upanishads. Their version of Hinduism, or rather Universal Religion, although devoid of practices like sati and polygamy that had crept into the social aspects of Hindu life, was ultimately a rigid impersonal monotheistic faith, which actually was quite distinct from the pluralistic and multifaceted nature of the way the Hindu religion was practiced. Future leaders like Keshub Chunder Sen were as much devotees of Christ, as they were of Brahma, Krishna or the Buddha. It has been argued by some scholars that the Brahmo Samaj movement never gained the support of the masses and remained restricted to the elite, although Hindu society has accepted most of the social reform programmes of the Brahmo Samaj. It must also be acknowledged that many of the later Brahmos were also leaders of the freedom movement.

The renaissance period after the Indian Rebellion of 1857 saw a magnificent outburst of Bengali literature. While Ram Mohan Roy and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar were the pioneers, others like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee widened it and built upon it.[5] The first significant nationalist detour to the Bengal Renaissance was given by the brilliant writings of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. Later writers of the period who introduced broad discussion of social problems and more colloquial forms of Bengali into mainstream literature included the great Saratchandra Chatterjee.

The Tagore family, including Rabindranath Tagore, were leaders of this period and had a particular interest in educational reform.[6] Their contribution to the Bengal Renaissance was multi-faceted. Indeed, Tagore's 1901 Bengali novella, Nastanirh was written as a critique of men who professed to follow the ideals of the Renaissance, but failed to do so within their own families. In many ways Rabindranath Tagore's writings (especially poems and songs) can be seen as imbued with the spirit of the Upanishads. His works repeatedly allude to Upanishadic ideas regarding soul, liberation, transmigration and perhaps most essentially about a spirit that imbues all creation not unlike the Upanishadic Brahman. Tagore's English translation of a set of poems titled the Gitanjali won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. He was the first Asian to win this award. That was the only example at the time but the contribution of the Tagore family is enormous.[7]

Comparison with European renaissance

The word "renaissance" in European history meant "rebirth" and was used in the context of the revival of the Graeco-Roman learning in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries after the long winter of the dark medieval period. A serious comparison was started by the dramatis personae of the Bengal renaissance like Keshub Chunder Sen, Bipin Chandra Pal and M. N. Roy. For about a century, Bengal s conscious awareness and the changing modern world was more developed and ahead of the rest of India. The role played by Bengal in the modern awakening of India is thus comparable to the position occupied by Italy in the European renaissance. Very much like the Italian Renaissance, it was not a mass movement; but instead restricted to the upper classes. Though the Bengal Renaissance was the culmination of the process of emergence of the cultural characteristics of the Bengali people that had started in the age of Hussein Shah, it remained predominantly Hindu and only partially Muslim.


Bengal Renaissance
Image:J.C.Bose.JPG|Jagadish Chandra Bose, Crescograph, did extensive research in plant stimulus and radio waves. Image:AatyenBose1925.jpg|Satyendra Nath Bose worked on Bose-Einstein statistics and the theory of the Bose-Einstein condensate. He is honoured as the namesake of boson particles.
Image:Unbrahma.gif|Upendranath Brahmachari was a noted scientist and a leading medical practitioner. Image:SahaInBerlin.jpg|Meghnad Saha was a astrophysicist best known for his development of the Saha equation.

The Bengal Renaissance saw the emergence of pioneering Bengali scientists such as Jagadish Chandra Bose, Satyendra Nath Bose, Upendranath Brahmachari and Meghnad Saha.

Jagadish Chandra Bose was a polymath: a physicist, biologist, botanist, archaeologist, and writer of science fiction.[8] He pioneered the investigation of radio and microwave optics, made very significant contributions to plant science, and laid the foundations of experimental science in the Indian subcontinent.[9] He is considered one of the fathers of radio science,[10] and is also considered the father of Bengali science fiction. He was the first from the Indian subcontinent to get a US patent, in 1904.

Satyendra Nath Bose was a physicist, specializing in mathematical physics. He is best known for his work on quantum mechanics in the early 1920s, providing the foundation for Bose-Einstein statistics and the theory of the Bose-Einstein condensate. He is honoured as the namesake of the boson. Although more than one Nobel Prize was awarded for research related to the concepts of the boson, Bose-Einstein statistics and Bose-Einstein condensate the latest being the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics, which was given for advancing the theory of Bose-Einstein condensates Bose himself was never awarded the Nobel Prize.

Upendranath Brahmachari was a noted Indian scientist and a leading medical practitioner of his time. He synthesized Urea Stibamine (carbostibamide) in 1922 and determined that it was an effective substitute for the other antimony-containing compounds in the treatment of Kala-azar (Visceral leishmaniasis) which is caused by a protozoon, Leishmania donovani. Brahmachari was a nominee for the Nobel Prize in 1929 in the category of physiology and medicine. He was president of the 23rd session of the Indian Science Congress in Indore (1936) as well as the president of the Indian Chemical Society, Calcutta (1936).

Meghnad Saha was an astrophysicist best known for his development of the Saha equation, used to describe chemical and physical conditions in stars. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physics four times: 1930, 1937, 1939 and 1940.[11]


Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay one of the greatest literary figure and reformer. He penned the national song Vande Mataram.

According to historian Romesh Chunder Dutt:[12]

Contributing institutions

  • Asiatic Society (est.1784)
  • Fort William College (1800)
  • Serampore College (1817)
  • Calcutta School-book Society (1817)
  • Hindu College (1817)
  • Sanskrit College (1824)
  • General Assembly's Institution (1830) (now known as Scottish Church College)
  • Calcutta Medical College (1835)
  • Dhaka College (est.1841)
  • Mutty Lall Seal's Free School & College (1842)
  • Presidency College (1855)
  • University of Calcutta (1857)
  • Chittagong College (est.1869)
  • Vidyasagar College (1872)
  • Rajshahi College (est.1873)
  • Hindu Mahila Vidyalaya (1873)
  • Banga Mahila Vidyalaya (1876)
  • Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (1876)
  • Bethune College (1879)
  • Ripon College (1884) (now known as Surendranath College)
  • Brojomohun College, Barisal (est.1889)
  • Murari Chand College, Sylhet (est.1892)
  • Comilla Victoria College (est.1899)
  • Ananda Mohan College, Mymensingh (est.1901)
  • Brajalal College, Khulna (est.1902)
  • National Council of Education, Bengal (1906) (now known as Jadavpur University)
  • Visva-Bharati University (1921)
  • University of Dhaka (1921)
  • Calcutta Civil Engineering College (established 1856) (now known as Bengal Engineering and Science University, Shibpur)

See also

  • History of Bengal
  • History of Kolkata
  • Bengali people
  • Ramtanu Lahiri
  • Ramtanu Lahiri O Tatkalin Bangasamaj
  • Adi Dharm
  • Brahmo Samaj
  • Young Bengal
  • Prarthana Samaj
  • Arya Samaj
  • Ayyavazhi
  • Calcutta Youth Choir
  • Parineeta
  • Structure of Ayyavazhi
  • Tattwabodhini Patrika
  • Scottish Renaissance
  • Harlem Renaissance



  • Sivanath Sastri, A History of the Renaissance in Bengal: Ramtanu Lahiri, Brahman and Reformer, London: Swan, Sonnenschein (1903); Kolkata: Renaissance (2002)

External links

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