The senior RSS/BJP ideologues lately have been hailing UP chief minister, Mahant Yogi Adityanath as sanyasi(Hindu ascetics) of novel Anandmath (Abbey of Bliss) penned by Bankim Chander Chatterjee (1838-94)[i]. Anandmath, novel written by Bankim in Bengali, was the first most important work outlining the concept of a Hindu Rashtra. Anandmath is the Bible even today for the believer in the concept of a Hindu nation. Before familiarizing with the contents of this novel, it will be appropriate to know few important facts about the novel and its author. This is the same novel in which Bankim presented the song Vande Mataram which equated nationalism to mother-worship. Anandmath is basically the story of the Hindu sanyasi rebellion of the late eighteenth century in North Bengal of India against rule of the Muslim nabobs. These rebels called themselves Santans (children). This novel appeared in 1882–5, about 25 years after the defeat of the Indians in the Great War of Independence of 1857, when even the ceremonial authority of the Muslim rulers was gone. It is to be noted that the British rulers held mainly Muslims responsible for the 1857 ‘Mutiny’ and consequently penalized them heavily. Anandmath appeared when British sovereignty had been formally established over a large part of India. It will be interesting to note that this novel touted as the greatest tome of the Hindu nationalism did not get much attention for almost 25 years after its publication in Bengali. It became popular after the Partition of Bengal (1905) with its translation into English. It prepared ground for the rise of Hindu and Muslims variants of nationalism.
Interestingly, Bankim, the author of Anandmath, was appointed directly to the post of Deputy Magistrate in the year 1858 by the British Lieutenant Governor of Bengal. He was the first Indian to be appointed to such a post immediately after1857 when ‘Mutiny’ was still on.After serving the British rulers for 33 years when Bankim retired as District Magistrate in the year 1891 he was conferred with the titles of Rai Bahadur and CIE (Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire) by the British Crown for his services to the British Raj, specially, restoring peace and order in the region of eastern canals.[ii]
When RSS/BJP equates Adityanath with sanyasis of Sanatan Sena of 18th century they do it consciously and well aware of the fact that these sanyasis led a violent campaign to cleanse Muslims from Bengal. Interestingly, Anandmathnot only preached cleansing of Muslims but also welcomed and hailed the subjugation of Indian by the British rulers. In order to understand the debased, inhuman and anti-national content of this novel, some of the relevant portions are being directly produced below.
How Muslims were looted and their villages burnt: Distribution of the loot secured more santan cadres
According to Anandmath, santans,
“started sending up the spies to the village after village. After going to the villages and finding out the Hindus there, the spies asked them, ‘brothers, would you worship the Lord Bishnu?’ They gathered 20/25 persons by this means, they came down to the Muslim villages and torched their houses. The Muslims were worried for safety of their lives and the Santans robbed them of everything and distributed the booty amongst the new devotees of the Lord Bishnu. Obtaining share of the booty, the rural people were satisfied, they were brought down to the Bishnu 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.[iii]
Rejoicing killing of Muslims & building of temple after demolishing a mosque
“Someone shouted, ‘kill, kill, kill Muslims, others shouted as victory, victory, victory to the Maharaj’…Some other said, ‘brothers, when the Sunday would come up while I would build up a temple of Radhamadhab, demolishing down the mosque’”.[iv]
Anandmath also contains the following graphic details of the post-victory cleansing of Muslims by the Santan Hindu Army
“The country was repleted [sic]with the shouting of name of Hare in the night. The Santans wandered here and there in group-by-group …Someone ran amuck towards the village, someone towards the town, caught the traveler or other house-hold people and asked them to recite as ‘I salute thee mother’ otherwise I would kill you, someone lives on looting of the sweet-maker’s shop, someone goes to the house of the cow-heard, sips the curd after bringing down the soil pots. Someones [sic]say, we are milkmen coming from Braja, where are the milkmaids? Great uproars prevailed in village after village, town after town within one night. Everybody said, the Muslims have been defeated; the country belonged to the Hindus again. All of you tell once again in open loud voice, ‘Hari, Hari’. The rural people ran out to kill the Muslims while coming across them. In the night, someones were organized in groups and going to the Muslim locality, they torched their houses and looted their everything. Many Muslims were killed, many of them shaved their beards, smeared their bodies with soil and started singing the name of Hari. When asked, they said, we were Hindus. The frightened Muslims rushed towards the town in group after group…The Muslims said, Allah, Allah! Is the Koran Sareef [sic] [holy Koran] proved entirely wrong after so many days? We pray namaz for five times but couldn’t finish the sandal-pasted Hindus. All the universe is false.[v]
It may be noted here that many of these gruesome acts of violence against Muslims are re-enacted as games in training sessions of Hindutva organizations. The methods of massacre of Muslims during pre and post Babri mosque demolition in 1992 and 2002 Gujarat carnage showed clear imprint of techniques of Anandmath.
Glorification of the British rulers
In Anandmath, a leader of the Hindu Army, Bhavanand, while explaining the difference between Muslims and the Britishers, told to a ‘new recruit’:
“One Englishman does not flee away even at the risk of his life, the Muslim flees while sweating his body —he searches for the sherbat [sweet drink]—supposing, the Englishmen have their tenacity— whatever they start, they accomplish it, while the Muslims have only foolhardiness…Then last word is courage…while finding one cannon-ball [falling] Muslims would flee away with their entire community—while coming across the barrage of cannon-balls, not a single Englishman would flee away.[vi]
There is no possibility of restoring the Sanatan virtue without the Englishman becoming King
When some of the Santancadres dissatisfied with the outcome demanded to fight against the British also, a mystic leader appeared and told them:
“There is no possibility of restoring the Sanatan virtue without the Englishman becoming King…The subjects [Hindus] would be happy in the English kingdom they would practice the virtue without any trouble. Therefore, oh prudent you refrain from waging the war with the Englishmen and follow me…Your mission has been successful–you have performed wellbeing of the Mother–the English reign has been established. You give up the war and enmity-mood. Let the people be engaged in cultivation–let the earth be full of corns, let the people be prosperous…There is no more enemy. The Englishman is our ally King. Moreover, none possesses such power who can win the war with the Englishmen ultimately.[vii]
The two fundamental traits of Anandmath; violent opposition to Islam/Muslims and kow-towing to the White masters remained the fundamental pillars of the Hindu nationalism. These were clearly visible in the writings and deeds of Hindutva stalwarts like VD Savarkar, KB Hedgewar, BS Moonje and MS Golwalkar. Adityanath’s depiction as sanyasi of Anandmath by the Hindutva brigade is reaffirmation of the fact that fundamental agenda of the RSS/BJP remains the same; cleansing of Muslims from India.
This aspect of Anandmath is not worrisome only in the present times. One of the greatest literary giants of the Bengali literature, Nares Chandra Sen-Gupta 1882-1964, who translated Anandmath for the first time in English in 1906, made it very clear in the preface that, “two outstanding features of our author’s conception of patriotism are its provincialism and its religious tone. As for the provincialism in his patriotism, it is difficult to believe that he was a stranger to the idea of greater nationality which is the goal of cultured Indians today…[viii]
Nares decrying the talk of Hindu nation based on superstition in this novel lamented the fact that, “Two very sinister consequences are seen to flow from this conception of a religious basis of nationality in the present work. The first is the attempt to rehabilitate the Hindu Pantheon with new-fangled patriotic gods and goddesses, and the second is the morbid dislike of Mussulmans [sic] that seems to be indicated in this work. Neither would seem to be the least profitable. As for the first, it sets a premium upon superstition and suggests a procedure which has been unhappily followed by some of our public men of today. If it is sought by this means to instil patriotism into the superstitious mind through superstition, it fails sadly; for patriotism thus distorted can never develop into genuine patriotism and must remain a superstition for ever…”[ix]
Nares also was of the opinion that any talk of Hindu nationalism would “hinder the growth of true Indian Nationality by preventing the participation of Hindus and Mussulmans and other religious communities in a common patriotic work. The experiment therefore of degrading patriotism by basing it on superstition is not only fruitless but positively harmful”.[x]
Regretting the anti-Islam/Muslim sentiments of the novel, Nares concluded:
“Now one thing that would-be patent to every reader of this novel is that its heroes are frankly hostile to Mussulmans. This has led me to think thrice before placing the work before a larger public by translation. Our Mussulman friends have no doubt a good right to get offended at the way in which the anti-Mussulman sentiment has been developed in this novel…”[xi]
It is unfortunate that a novel which played prominent role in fracturing the united freedom struggle against the British rulers, is being resurrected. The UP victory of RSS/BJP (securing only 39.7% of the polled votes) is being celebrated as the victory of Santan Sena over Muslims in Anandmath. India seems to be standing at a cross-road; to continue on the path of a democratic-secular polity or embark on the path of Anandmathis the greatest challenge after Independence.It is hoped that an all-inclusive India will not let RSS/BJP succeed in its nefarious goal of letting ghosts of sanyasis of Anandmathto undo present India.
Shamsul Islam is a retired Professor of University of Delhi.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For some of S. Islam’s writings in English, Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Telugu, Punjabi, Urdu & Gujarati see the following link:
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[i]We need to know few crucial details about the academic career of this prophet of Hindu nationalism. Bankim graduated in the first batch of Calcutta University. According to minutes of the Calcutta University Syndicate he with another student was awarded BA degree in 1858 despite not clearing all papers. The minutes read: “two candidates, viz., Bankim Chunder Chatterjee and Judoonath Bose who had passed creditably in five of the six subjects, and have failed by not more than seven marks in the sixth, might as a special act of grace, be allowed to have their degrees, being placed in the second division, it being clearly understood, that such favour should, in no case, be regarded as a precedent in future years.” (University of Calcutta, minutes for the year 1858. pp 18-19 cited in Bankim Granthavli Translated & Edited by Onkar Sharad (In Hindi-Total 3 Volumes), Sahitya Bhavan, Allahabad, 1974.)
[ii] Chatterjee, Bhabatosh (ed.), Bankim Chandra Chatterjee: Essays in Perspective, Sahitya Akademi, Delhi, 1994, p. 577.Bankim remained an anglophile and used to say that Indians have no enmity with the British and the British Race hasbeen great benefactor of Indians.
[iii] Arabinda Das, Abbey of Delight [English translation of Bankim Chander Chatterjee’s Anandmath in Bengali] (Kolkata: Bandna Das, 2000), 111–112.
[iv] Ibid., 140.
[v] Ibid., 161–162.
[vi] Ibid., 34-35.
[vii] Ibid., 191–194.
[viii] Sen-gupta, Nares Chandra (translator Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Anandmath), Abbey of Bliss, Padmini Mohan Neogi, Calcutta, nd, pp. vii-viii.
[ix] Ibid., p. vii-ix.
[x] Ibid., p. ix
[xi] Ibid., p. ix