Kanchan Banerjee

Kanchan Banerjee lives in Boston, USA. He is a healthcare expert. He is the Founder and President of Global Indians for Bharat Bikas and Co-Founder and Managing Director of Boston Center of Excellence for Health and Human Development.
The story of Bhagirath bringing the river Bhagirathi or Ganga to this part of the land to rescue the family members of the Raja Sagar in itself was a revolution. Whether by spiritual power or technology, or both, this unimaginable achievement was presented to us by our ancestors in Bengal.

Out of 51 Shakti Peethas, 15 falls in West Bengal alone. From Hinglaj to Kashmir, Sharda Peeth to Devi Bargabheema in Medinipur is part of a well-connected Bharatiya adhyatmic parampara like a garland. Numerous great spiritual giants took birth in the undivided Bengal. Born in Bikrampur, Sri Gyan Atisa Dipankar revived Buddhism in entire Asia – from Tibet to Sumatra and is worshiped as an Avatar. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was born in Nadia who flooded the world with Bhakti and Krishna consciousness. Later came many more great saints, including Sri Ramakrishna, Ma Sarada, Sri Aurobindo, Bamakhepa, Swami Prananbananda, Anukul Thakur, and many others. Swami Vivekananda took Vedanta and Yoga to the world, while Paramhansa Yogananda and Srila Prabhupada preached Dharma in America and worldwide.

We hear the story of Chand Sadagar and many other famous river and sea merchants off yonder era. Tamralipta or Tamlugh was the main port where large ships sailed to the far east and west. It was said to be the last gateway from the Maurya Kingdom. When it comes to governance, Gaudia King Sashanka (590 and 637 CE) was a great ruler of Bengal, Bihar, Odissa, and Assam. The Bengali calendar Bangabda is attributed to Shashanka. The Pala kings were very famous and said to have built as many as 25 centers for learning, including Vikramsila. Bengal was the gateway to eastern parts of the Indian subcontinent, the shortest route between the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal. It has been a major commercial hub connected to the ancient Silk Route and the ocean in the south.

Bengal was a manufacturing hub and most famous for its finest textile product, Muslin, and even found in the Egyptian mummies. Bengal’s cotton was in high demand and had a great indigenous dying and handloom industry for the global market, which was later destroyed by the British.

For certain periods of Mughal rule, almost half of the revenue was collected from Bengal alone. According to American historian Brooke Adams, Bengal’s plundered wealth basically funded the Industrial Revolution in the West. The Pala dynasty ruled large parts of India between the 8th and 12th centuries. Emperor Gopala established the kingdom in Gauda in 750 CE. Gauda was one of the most famous capital cities of India, located in Bengal. The most famous emperors of the dynasty were Dharma Pala. He established many new cities along with numerous centers of excellence and learning (some say 50).

Along with Gauda, during this period, they established and turned a few existing cities such as Vikrampura, Pataliputra, Monghyr in Bihar, and Ramvati (Varendra), Tamralipta, and Jaggadala, in Bengal very prosperous. Pala kings also established Vikramshila and Odantapura universities in Bihar. Atisa Dipankar studied at the famous Vikramshila University in Magadha. Fast forward to the 18th century. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, India’s ‘renaissance man’ was born here, then came Vidyasagar for massive social reforms. Nearly 100 years after the British rule started, Rishi Bankim saw the future and gave the Vandematarm mantra to the nation for freedom. In 1897 Vivekananda gave a clarion call – ‘For next fifty years let Mother India be the only God to be worshipped by the Indians”. Aurbindo and numerous revolutionaries followed him. The youngest and first revolutionary to sacrifice his life was Khudiram and the oldest one Matangini Hazra – both from Medinipur and Bengal’s soil. Finally, we saw Netaji Subhas, whose Indian National Army hastened the freedom of India. Bengal seems to have had a great medicinal tradition. According to legend, during the Mahabharat period, when ta poisonous arrow injured Bhima, he came to the southern part of Bengal, Patratal, perhaps the Sunderbans for treatment. While the political and social revolution is in full swing in the early 1900s, another revolution was taking place at the University of Calcutta. Sri Ashutosh Mukherjee, the Vice-Chancellor of the university, gave leadership for fundamental research, and stellar scientists, including Meghndad Saha, Satyen Bose, and CV Raman, contributed to the world of Physics, which is used and appreciated by numerous scientists around the world. He founded several educational institutes, including the Bengal Technical Institute (later renamed to Jadavpur University), University College of Science (first Indian Science Congress was inaugurated by him here) in 1906, the College of Law, Calcutta Mathematical Society, and Ashutosh College. All these spread knowledge throughout India and beyond. While these institutes were built in the Western model, there were two universities built for nationalistic vision during the British era – the first one was The Benares Hindu University (1916) by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, the second one was Viswa Bharati (1921) by Rabindranath himself. The able son of Ashutosh Mukherjee was Syama Prasad Mukherjee. He was the youngest Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University and led the successful effort of West Bengal’s inclusion within India. He formed the Bharatiya Jana Sangha party, and Bharatiya Janata Party is the later incarnation. He sacrificed his life for India to have One Flag, One Constitution, and one Prime Minister.

The first Nobel Prize of India came to Bengal for Rabindranath. Bengali literature, music is loved by people across India – including Tagore and Sarat Chandra. Bengali film industry produced some of the greatest directors, including Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen.

In all these areas, Bengal has been a pioneer, nay, revolutionary. And yet Bengal today seems like passing through an era of hopelessness. But do not forget, Bengal has almost everything required to resurrect in a very short time; all it needs a long-term vision, planning, and execution with good governance and participation of all segments of people. The day is waiting when the modern Bhagirath will rescue ten core Bengalis from their dark existence, and perhaps the combined voice, will, and power of the people to welcome the great stream of change is the only hope today.
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