Amit Chatterjee

Communication & Civilization
National Business Development : Array Networks

The journey of Bengal from Great Bengal to West Bengal has been both inspiring and tumultuous. This was a province which encompassed parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Assam, Tripura and nations like Bangladesh & Myanmar. Greater Bengal truly was an empire at par with great civilizations of the past, it gave the world innovators, artists, military heroes, religion, cuisines and also a gradual but violent collapse. Despite its collapse Bengali language is still one of the top ten languages with 250 million plus speakers around the world. The early peak of Greater Bengal can be traced to the 18th century when Bengal housed Calcutta, the capital of India. The upcoming events in the state were to be monumental in shaping the destiny of the country. The British based themselves in the port city of Calcutta which gave them and other Europeans their first formal tryst with the cultural depth of Indian civilization.


The Bengali people quickly learned English and the ways of the colonists, thus leading to the emergence of “Bhadralok”, a gentleman culture which emphasized a well-read and respectably behaved persona. The same people later took the lead in implementing modern, rational values over the dominant superstitions and stagnant beliefs of sati (widow burning), casteism, priesthoodship and landownership that plagued the society. The Bengal Renaissance, as it is termed, was a period of awakening in undivided Bengal which enlightened the fields of literature, science, politics and philosophy. Though the awakening began amongst the upper strata of the educated Bengali society, it later spread to all socio- cultural sections. The emergence of societies and organizations and, similar to Europe, the arrival of numerous newspapers and magazines were two prominent features of this era.


Like other Indian states, Bengal had reached a period of social stagnation due to the long rule of a fragmented Islamic empire which pushed local culture into the abyss. This led to social evils like casteism of the worst form, segregation of old and young widows from mainstream society and unfair landownership. Hence, the Bengal Renaissance movement was the culmination of reform movements in both religious and social spheres. It was directly inspired by the western ideals of independent governance and nationalism. Leaders like Raja Rammohan Roy were the pioneers of Bengal’s Renaissance. The movement was also assisted by other reform organisations like the Brahmo Samaj which, like Protestantism, was a new reformed religious branch of the prevalent system of beliefs. They vehemently preached against the caste and dowry systems and spoke in favour of the emancipation of women. The positive convergence of new Western ideals with Indian reformists was wonderfully unique in the world’s colonial history. In 1829, Raja Ram Mohan Roy took the help of British Governor-General William Bentinck and put an end to sati.

 

 


The first six decades of the 19th century saw an upheaval in Bengal’s social and cultural fabric while the next four decades witnessed the formation of political societies which ultimately led to the Indian freedom struggle. However, this movement cannot be compared to the European Renaissance unless it boasted of scientific advancements of an equal scale which it did. The Bengal Renaissance wasn’t just limited to politics but gradually moved towards science and culture. Eminent intellectuals like physicist JC Bose, mathematician SN Bose (who collaborated with Einstein and of Higgs Boson fame) and astrophysicist Meghnad Saha (nominated for the Nobel Prize four times) became the Galileo, Copernicus and Newton of their era.


The Bengal Renaissance had a profound effect on the Indian independence movement. A large number of freedom fighters and free thinkers later emerged from the state of Bengal. The might of Bengal became so pervasively threatening to the British that they divided the state into West Bengal and East Bengal; the latter became the present day nation of Bangladesh. Many African and Asian colonies later took cue from the Indian independence movement and pressed for their own liberation. The glory days of Greater Bengal may never return and we must now protect the Indic Bengalis spread across the subcontinent which is facing both religious and provincial threat. To achieve this the Bengali society has to reassert its lost strength and arise as it did in the previous centuries during strife and again provide civilizational support & inspiration to the world.

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