By Aniruddha Rakshit
Rajnarayan Basu was born on 7th September, 1826, in Boral, a village in 24 parganas of the Bengal presidency. His father Nanda Kishore Basu, who hailed from his ancestral village of Garh Gobindpur, Kolikata, was a disciple of Raja Rammohan Roy and also acted as one of the secretaries of the great reformer. He came to Calcutta in the year 1833 to be admitted to the school of one Sambhu Master. This was the year when Raja Rammohan Roy passed away on 27th September, in Bristol, UK. Rajnarayan was only seven years old then. Next year (1834) he was admitted to the school run by David Hare Esquire. He was marked for the brilliance of his intellect at an early age.
Calcutta was then in the throes of social churning. Maharshi Devendranath Tagore had started the Tatwabodhini Sabha in 1839. Rajnarayan was influenced by the progressive thoughts of the day. He took admission in Hindu College (later to be named Presidency College) in 1940 and passed the junior and senior scholarship examinations in flying colours in the years 1841 and 1842 respectively. He was drawn to the intellectual movements of his time. Among his class mates were the Young Bengals like Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay, Madhusudan Dutta, Gaurdas Basak, Pyari Churn Sircar, Ramgopal Ghosh, Jnanendra Mohan Tagore and others. Rajnarayan and Michael Madhusudan Dutt, introduced Western elements in Bengali literature. He helped Kishori Chand Mitra in writing the biography of Raja Rammohan Roy. He secured the highest scholarship of the Hindu College in the annual examinations of the year 1843. It was also the year when Devendranath Tagore was initiated in to the Brahmo Dharma along with eighteen others on 7th Poush.
Rajnarayan completed his college in 1844 and travelled to Gaur and Rajmahal. His father passed away in 1845. It was in that year he met Maharshi Devendranath Tagore and was deeply influenced by his philosophy. He was initiated into Brahmoism formally in the year 1846. He also became a member of the Tatwabodhini Sabha. Rajnarayan undertook a boat ride with Devendranath from Uluberia to Barddhaman and was much inspired by the latter.
Rajnarayan was initially married to Prasannamoyee Mitra in 1843. After her untimely death, he married Nistarini Devi of Hatkhola, Calcutta in 1947, in which year he again accompanied Maharshi to Nabadwip by boat. Rajnarayan was getting closely associated with Maharshi.
In 1949 Rajnarayan joined Sanskrit College as a second teacher under Pundit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, acting as the Principal. As a member of the Young Bengal he was dedicated to nation building and believed in starting at the grass roots to shape the India of the future. Rajnarayan was appointed the Head Master of Midnapur Zilla School on 21st February, 1851, where he served till 1866. He was an educationist par excellence. His innovative approaches in teaching proved to be landmark. He abolished corporal punishment in order to build a bond between the teacher and the taught. He shifted from the rote learning to interactive teaching and used eloquence and humour in his teaching to draw even the most indifferent pupil to his studies. In order to promote physical fitness of the students he introduced lawn tennis and gymnasium in his school. He preferred his students to sit on benches without back support so that they could hold their spine erect. He emphasised moral education and building of character of his students were equally important as other instructions. After the inspiration of his late teacher Henry Vivian Derozio he introduced debating among his students. When the Bailley Hall Public Library was opened he became its first honorary Secretary. He promoted female education in Midnapur where he started schools and adult education for adult and illiterate women. He founded a school in Boral in 1856 that later became a high school.
His close association with Maharshi continued as he often accompanied Devendra Nath Tagore in many of his sojourns to spread the ideals of Brahmo Dharma. He even sailed to Assam with him. He was nominated to be the President of Adi Brahmo Samaj more than once. Rajnarayan undertook the renovation of Midnapur Brahmo Samaj in 1952. This Samaj was founded in 1841 by Shri Shibchandra Deb. Rajnarayan started writing extensively from 1853, starting with ‘Drarmatatwa Dipika, Brahomosadhan’ and ‘Defence of Brahmoism’. He translated the Upanishads in English. Rajnarayan took part in the widow remarriage movement of Pundit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. Alongside his social reform movements, Rajnarayan continued his close association with Maharshi as he accompanied him to Rajmahal in 1860.
Rajnarayan founded the Society for National Feeling in 1861 which gradually gave birth to the Hindu Mela and consequent national movement. He started a Society for the ‘Prohibition of Drinking’ or ‘Surapan Nibarini Sabha’, first of its kind in India. In the same year and published the ‘Prospectus of a ‘Society for the Promotion of National Feeling among the Educated Natives of Bengal.” Before Michael Madhusudan Dutt left for England on 6th June 1862 he sent his immortal poem ‘Banga Bhumir Proti’ to Rajnarayan with his parting letter.
Rajnarayan’s eldest daughter Swarnalata Devi was married to Dr. Kriashnadhan Ghosh, a civil surgeon, in 1864, in a befitting ceremony. Swarnalata and Krishnadhan were the parents of Aurobindo Ghosh, the great revolutionary turned sage.
Rajnarayan was however, afflicted by cerebral ailment in 1966 for which he had to leave for Calcutta on a two year-long medical leave. He was actively involved in the Brahmo Samaj movement till 1879. He also supported national movements and took part in the Hindu Mela that was started by Nabagopal Mitra in 1867. The ‘Jatiya Gaurav Sampadani Sabha’ in Medinipur started by Rajnarayan inspired Navagopal Mitra later inspired to start the ‘Jatiya Mela’, which later became known as the Hindu Mela and played a very important role in instilling patriotism in the people of in late nineteenth century. This was the for-runner of the national movement and ultimate formation of the Indian National Congress.
After his medical leave expired, Rajnarayan was unable to join back to his school due to ill health. He continued to stay on in Calcutta but visited Allahabad, Agra, Lucknow, Kanpur, Bhagalpur and Kanauj on missionary work for the Brahmo Samaj whenever his health permitted such undertakings. He was an active proponent of Female emancipation and female education.
During this time Rajnarayan was active in promoting the spirit of nationalism as the Chairman of the Sanjivani Sabha, delivering inspiring orations on both religious and national themes, writing on Bengali language and literature. He was the President of the ninth session of the Hindu Mela in 1875. In the same year he wrote a short history of his alma mater Hindu College on the occasion of its reunion.
Rajnarayan spent the last part of his life at Deoghar where he moved in 1879. In 1881 his fourth daughter Lilabati was married to Krishna Kumar Mitra, who was also a devoted Brahmo and a zealous leader of the independence movement. Rabindranath Tagore composed songs for the occasion and Narendranath Datta, who later became Swami Vivekananda, sang at the wedding ceremony.
In 1883 when Surendranath Banerjee was imprisoned, Rajnarayan decried the imprisonment. At Deoghar he founded the Deoghar Samity and Deoghar Book Club in 1884, inaugurated the ‘Conversation Circle, and opened a nursing home to treat leprosy. He proposed for a Hindu National Congress. During 1885-88 he was indirectly associated with Indian National Congress and wrote speeches for Congress. He started his autobiography in 1889, which was a great portrayal of his contemporary time. However, he did not complete it. He became a member of Bangiya Sahitya Parishad in 1893-94, whose name was changed from Bengali Academy of Literature at his suggestion. Rajnarayan made a far-reaching contribution to the religious-spiritual literature of Bengal.
His son-in-law Krishnadhan passed away in 1893 whereby his grand-son Aurobindo returned to India from England. Rajnarayan settled in Deoghar where he was visited by Rabindranath Tagore, Vivekananda, Sibnath Shastri, Bijoy Krishna Goswami and other illustrious sons of India to whom he was a source of inspiration. Rajnarayan Basu was a product of the Bengal Renaissance. He was an intellectual who believed in monotheism. In spite of his saintly presence he had a wonderful sense of humour. He was a nationalist, a prolific writer of prose and devoted his life to the service of his countrymen. He was given the honorary title of Rishi or Sage because of his wisdom and the spiritual life he led. He was unwavering in his beliefs, ideals and devotion to duty. He was inspired by a genuine love for his country. He lived in strict austerity and financial constraints throughout his life. But he had left behind a wonderful legacy of nationalistic spirit among his descendents which include his son-in-law Krishna Kumar Mitra, his grandsons revolutionaries Aurobindo Ghosh, Barindranath Ghosh, his son Yogindranath Bose, who was also a calligrapher, his daughter Mrs. Lilabati Mitra.
Rajnarayan suffered from paralysis and breathed his last on 18th September 1899.
Sri Aurobindo paid his tribute to his maternal grand-father Rajnarayan in a beautiful sonnet:
My Grandfather—Rajnarayan Bose [1826–1899]
Not in annihilation lost, nor given.
To darkness art thou fled from us and light,
O strong and sentient spirit; no more heaven
of ancient joys, no silence eremite
received thee; but the omnipresent thought
of which thou was a part and earthly hour,
took back its gift. Into that splendour caught
thou hast no lost thy special brightness. Power
remains with thee and old genial force
unseen for blinding light; not darkly larks;
as when a sacred river in its course
dives into ocean, there its strength abides
Not less because with because with vastness wed and works
unnoticed in the grandeur of the tides.
- Legacy of Midnapur – Rishi Rajnarayan Basu by Shri Haripada Mandal; www.midnapur.in
- Rajnarayan Basu, Wikipedia
- Atmacharit by Rajnarayan Basu
- Rajnarayan Basu: Between Religious Intuition and Ecstatic Vaisnavism by Ankur Barua; BRILL, Pp 61-84