Monday, February 05, 2007

Remembering Brahmabandhab Upadhyay

2007 is the year of death centenary of Brahmabandhab (Brahmabandhav) Upadhyay. This 11th February is his birth anniversary. Some of us are trying to organize a discussion around the life and ideas of the man. I just wrote a small introduction which we intend to send along with the invitation, since we don't expect many people to know about him. Here is what I wrote

Brahmabandhab Upadhyay: A Very Short Introduction

Upadhyay’s short life of 46 years or so spanned one of the most creative periods of Indian history, when India as a nation was in the making. A number of the key-figures of the nation-building process – Debendranath and Rabindranath Tagore, Keshabchandra Sen and Pratapchandra Majumdar, Annie Besant, Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda, Bipinchandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghose – to name but a few, encountered his forceful personality. Upadhyay was in the thick of the struggle to form the soul of modern India - Julius Lipner

Upadhyay is one of the enigmas of modern India and … a potential embarrassment to those who invoke him – Julius Lipner
Brahmbandhab Upadhyay was born on 11 February 1861 in Bengal. A fiery intellectual – Vivekananda-like in scope of his vision of spiritual revival of India, like Aurobindo a nationalist to the core, and a comrade of Tagore as the latter materialized his idea of Shantiniketan – Upadhayay was a trailblazer in many ways. An editor of religious as well as political journals; an itinerant preacher challenging most cherished ideals of his day; a nationalist who sought self-respect for his motherland; an educationist; a sannyasi. He treaded on a terrain with no guidance from the past, and made possible creative synthesis of knowledges arising from East as well as West. But sadly the hero of cultural awakening lies forgotten by a large majority of Indians. A genius like him is not necessarily popular, as the comment above suggests. However, those who wish to give the hero his due, those who seek integration of experience and faith, those who wish to understand the soul of twenty-first century India must get into conversation with the ideas, the ideals and the life of Brahmabandhab Upadhayay.

1861 - Born as Bhabanicharan Bandhopadhyay in a Brahmin home. Comes under the influence of Keshabchandra Sen in his boyhood.
1887 - Initiated into the Church of New the Dispensation of Keshab
1888 - At the age of twenty-seven goes as a Brahmo teacher to Hyderabad in Sindh, and there chiefly through his friendship with two missionaries, Redman and Heaton gradually became convicted of the truth of the resurrection of Christ and his co-eternal Sonship. Reads Faa di Bruno’s Catholic Belief
1891 - Baptised in February by an Anglican, affirming at the same time that he did not thereby join the Church of England. In September becomes a Roman Catholic.
1894 - In January starts Sophia from Karachi. Dons the ochre robe of a sannyasi. Takes the name Brahmabandhab, the friend of Brahaman (Theophilus in Greek).
1897 - Emphasizes the potential of ‘Vedantic Theism’ and formulations of Shankara
1898 - Writes in Sophia, “We are Hindu so far as our physical and mental constitution is concerned, but in regard to out immortal souls we are Catholic. We are Hindu Catholics.”
1899 - In March, monthly Sophia is discontinued. Followed consecutively by two short-lived journals – the weekly Sophia and The Twentieth Century. Both publications include political discussion on topics of the day. Adopts a nationalist stance and becomes unsparing in his criticism of the behaviour of foreign Christian missionaries and of various actions of the British Government.
1900 - Works closely with the poet Rabindranath Tagore in developing the famous ashram at Shantiniketan
1902-03 - Pays a visit to Europe. Disappointed with the west.
1904 - Starts a daily Bengali newspaper Sandhya, culturally and politically anti-British.
1907 - Undergoes prayashcitta, the penitential rite by which the excommunicate formally returns to the Hindu fold. On September 10 arrested by the British Government on a charge of sedition. On October 27 dies while recovering from a hernia operation. Cries “Thakur, Thakur”