The Bengali Renaissance or simply Bengal Renaissance was a cultural, social, intellectual and artistic movement in Bengal region ( in the Eastern part of the Indian subcontinent ), during the period of the British rule, from the 19th century to the early 20th century. It basically refers to all the social, cultural and intellectual changes in Bengal during the nineteenth century, owing to the evolving interaction between certain sympathetic British officials and missionaries on the one hand and the Hindu intelligentsia on the other. In its early years, the movement adopted the virtues of Western education and and liberalism and it was largely confined to the Hindu community. The representatives of the British in India who were mainly responsible for those positive aspects of modernisation consisted of a group of ” acculturated” civil, military, judicial officials and missionaries, who were identified as Orientalists. They were neither nationalists nor imperialists, rather they were sensitive and sensible humans who were shaped by the eighteenth century world of rationalism, classicism and enlightenment.
THE ORIENTALIST WHO CONTRIBUTED HUGELY TO BENGAL RENAISSANCE :
One of the biggest contributors to Bengal Renaissance was William Carey who made lasting and seminal contributions to what Bengalis refer to as ” Nabo Jagoron”. He came to British India as a missionary in 1793 and lived here. He knew the people of India, their religions, social and economic conditions, as no other Englishman prior to him, had done. He loved, lived and worked with people in Bengal till his death. During his long stay of 41years in Bengal, he worked relentlessly for the spread of modern education. He not only translated Bible into many languages but also translated Indian classics into Bengali and contributed substantially to the development of Bengali prose. He wrote usable Bengali grammar, too. That apart, he worked tirelessly to reform many social ills and thus transformed the lives of millions. He was indeed a reformer par excellence. No wonder, Tagore called Carey, ” The father of modern Bengal “.
THE INDIANS WHO PLAYED PIVOTAL ROLES IN THE BENGAL RENAISSANCE :
As quoted by the eminent historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar ” The greatest gift of English to India is….the Renaissance, which marked our 19th century “. Modern India owes everything to it. Calcutta being the capital of imperial India, many of the prominent intellectual figures associated with Bengal Renaissance come from this city. Foremost is Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772 – 1833), who is rightfully regarded as the ” Father of Modern India”. He was an outstanding progenitor who imbibed oriental contribution as effectively as he did literary and linguistic modernisation. As an advocate of Renaissance and modernity, it was not merely religious reforms which he advocated but social reform as well.
The Tagore family, including Rabindranath Tagore, were the leaders of this period and had a particular interest in educational reform. Their contribution to Bengal Renaissance was multi-faceted. Several members of this family including Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindra Nath Tagore, Gaganendra Nath, Jyotirindra Nath, Jnanada Nandini Devi had been associated with the movement.
Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar was another was another towering cultural icon and one of the greatest proponents of Bengal Renaissance. He constructed the modern bengali alphabet and initiated path breaking social reforms in the society. Some other prominent names include Michael Madhusudan Dutta, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Akshay Kumar Dutta, Dinabandhu Mitra and others. Not only sicial, cultural and literary aspect, but during this phase science was also advanced by several Bengali scientists like Satyendra Nath Bose, Prafulla Chandra Roy, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, Meghnad Saha, Jagadish Chandra Bose and others.
Another major personality of 19th century Bengal, who was a pioneer reformer, was Swami Vivekananda. His contribution covers almost all aspects of life.