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Bengal renaissance

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Title: Bengal renaissance  
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Subject: Debendranath Tagore, Hugli-Chuchura, Fort William College, Peary Chand Mitra, Bhudev Mukhopadhyay, Banerjee, Tarja (folk poetry contest), Asit Kumar Haldar
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Bengal renaissance

Bengal Renaissance

The Bengal Renaissance refers to a socio-cultural and religious reform movement during the nineteenth and early twentieth century in undivided India's Bengal province, though the impact of it spread in the whole of India. The Bengal Renaissance is said to have begun with Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1775–1833) and continued until the death of Rabindranath Tagore in 1941.The Renaissance was a revival of the positives of India's past and appreciation of the impact of the Modern West, as it had emerged since the Fifteenth-century European Renaissance. Thus, the Bengal Renaissance blended together the teachings of the Upanishad in order to create public opinion against Hindu superstitions including Sati, infanticide, polygamy, child marriage, caste-division, inter-caste hatred, Dowry, untouchability etc. and the efforts of the Christian Missionaries and the British Colonial Government who introduced Western education, politics and law to administer all those who indulged in superstitions and caste-based Hindu medievalism.


During this period, Bengal witnessed an intellectual awakening questioning the prevalent orthodoxies concerning the social status of women, marriage, the caste system, superstitious beliefs 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 and counted many of the leaders of the Bengal Renaissance among its followers.[2] 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. Leader Keshub Chunder Sen was devotee of Brahma, Krishna, Buddha and Christ. It has been argued by some scholars that the Brahmo Samaj movement, in spite of its universality, 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 among the 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.[3] 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.[4] 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 was enormous.

Comparison with Italian renaissance

The Italian Renaissance was a "rebirth" of the Graeco-Roman learning, sculpture and painting in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, though it was preceded by the Ninth Century and the Twelfth Century Renaissance.[5] The Italian Renaissance also marked the beginning of the new in the field of political thought and science; and thus it blended together the Pagan old and the new of emerging Europe. In the same way the Bengal Renaissance as well retained the positives of the past and welcomed the new in the domain of science and politics.[6] The role played by Bengal in the modern awakening of India is 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.


Bengal Renaissance

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.[7] 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.[8] He is considered one of the fathers of radio science,[9] 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.[10]


Main article: Bengali literature

According to historian Romesh Chunder Dutt:[11]

Contributing institutions

See also



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

External links

  • "The Tagores and Society", Rabindra Bharati Museum Kolkata
  • Banglapedia
  • Some relevant articles
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