Bankim Chandra Chatterjee-The Great Feminist

Abhiroop Sengupta Wednesday 21st February 2024 09:07 EST

Feminism is not a new movement. The usage of the concerned words which define this ideology may have changed from time to time but the true essence of the concept has probably not. In today's world, it is also a widely accepted notion that one need not be a woman to harbour such ideologies. This article is about one such man and partly or mostly about his fictional creations which oozed every essence of superwomen who supposedly lived in India in the bygone centuries. This article is about the great Bengali novelist Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and his everlasting creations, the strong females like Shanti, Bimala, Ayesha and Debi Chaudhurani who in a very subtle manner highlighted the capabilities of Indian women of various ages and their immense contribution despite their sacrifices in the male-dominated society of its times.

The Man Himself

Rai Bahadur Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, CIE was a nineteenth-century Indian writer, novelist, poet, civil servant, and visionary whose creative creations in Bengali earned him the epithet of 'Sahitya Samrat' which can be translated as 'Emperor of Literature'. He lived between 1838 and 1894 and was a social critic who directly and indirectly pointed towards the malice in British administrative practices at the same time his works highlighted a sense of patriotism and nationalism amongst his readers. It should not be forgotten that this was way before the Indian Independence Movement had found its real momentum. His poetic creation 'Vande Mataram' went hand in hand with the intended revolution and fight of the freedom fighters.

The Characters

Who was Shanti? She could be understood as in Bankim's creation a polymath. She could ride a horse, and sing variations of classical music which included 'Toppa' as well, alongside playing a classical instrument. She is also a philosopher, a spy, and a devout and religious person, and also one devoid of greed and temptation, an aspect we understand after the legendary novel. She is a true and respected advisor to her partner who respects and listens to her words and also pays heed to them. She is capable of war and can handle a bow and arrow better than many men of her age. In all Shanti or 'Peace' is none but partially the personification of the capability of a nation which is revered as 'Mother' in the book. The


Was Shanti the only one? Well, the creations of the legend prove to us she was not. We have Bimala, the self-sacrificing and hyper-intelligent woman from "Durgesh Nandini" who could also show her capability as an assassin when life wanted her to act in that capacity and also Ayesha, whose essence of sacrifice and respect is also well presented in Bankim's creation. At the end of the day, one can not forget the legends of Debi Choudhurani as well, who on a lighter note could be well realised as a female answer to the legendary Robin Hood.

The Inspiration?

To many of his millions of admirers, the question surely arises, what made Bankim Chandra develop such legendary female characters? Did the Rani of Jhansi leave an impression on the mind of one of the earliest graduates of the country who was already an adult scholar around the same time of the rebellion? Well on that aspect, I guess one can only speculate.

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