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Sometimes when everything in the present is a bit confusing and chaotic, it helps to take refuge in the past…no, I don’t mean personal past, but the larger history, or to be more precise, historical fiction. At least that’s what I did recently with the help of some of the works of the great Bankim Chandra Chatterji, the seer who gave India the mantra of Bande Mataram.
Referring to his body of work as “pure gold” Sri Aurobindo writes this about Bankim Chandra: “Bankim, the greatest of novelists, had the versatility developed to its highest expression. Scholar, poet, essayist, novelist, philosopher, lawyer, critic, official, philologian and religious innovator,—the whole world seemed to be shut up in his single brain.” (Early Cultural Writings, pp. 103-104)
The masterpieces of this pioneering writer, set in a historical backdrop created by a vibrant mix of real events and some wonderful imagination inspired by those real events, are not only a delight to read, but also inspire one to rise beyond one’s narrow concerns and outlook and reach for those noblest heights of character that make life deeply meaningful and fulfilling.
He, whom Sri Aurobindo refers to as Rishi Bankim, “was a great poet, a master of beautiful language and a creator of fair and gracious dream-figures in the world of imagination… It is probable that the literary critic of the future will reckon Kapalkundala, Bishabriksha and Krishnakanter’s Will as his artistic masterpieces, and speak with qualified praise of Devi Chaudhurani, Ananda Math, Krishnacharit or Dharmatattwa. Yet it is the Bankim of these latter works and not the Bankim of the great creative masterpieces who will rank among the Makers of Modern India. The earlier Bankim was only a poet and stylist—the later Bankim was a seer and nation-builder.” (ibid., 637-638)
Some of Bankim’s timeless works have also been adapted into films. Who can forget the film based on the classic novel Ananda Math that demonstrates the most unique contribution of Bankim to the cultural and political renaissance of India? It portrays the true spirit of patriotism and love for the motherland guided by a deeper, inner moral strength and spiritual fervour.
And even if one forgets the film, this beautiful song is truly unforgettable.
What a deep calling for the Divine…what divine voices of Geeta Dutt and Hemant Kumar…truly timeless. Selected stanzas of the Dasavatara Strotam from Jayadev’s Geet Govind when set to this remarkable composition by Hemant Kumar make possible for the listener a deep experiential sense of continuity and eternity. Divine Help is there in all times, in all ages…we must know how to Call.
Lovers of old, I mean really old, Hindi film songs will also certainly remember the next song. The never-forgettable voice of Pankaj Mullick, the song was featured in the film Kopal Kundala made in 1939, based on a novel by Bankim Chandra Chatterji.
What is unmistaken here is the sheer exuberance and eagerness of a lover going to meet the beloved, the anticipation of a devotee walking the path to unite with his or her Lord.
Bankim Chandra was a class apart in portraying the deeper sentiment of love, love that would be victorious after all kinds of tests and trials, love that would never weaken or chain or enslave but would serve as a deep source of strength for the lovers and set them free to pursue their life’s mission which would be beyond their narrow interests and petty ends. It is fitting to end this post with a beautiful and dreamy romantic song from a 1956 film Durgesh Nandini, based on the first novel written by Bankim Chandra. This again is a melodious composition by Hemant Kumar.
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