Purba Midnapur, Paschim Midnapur
Religions - Tribes
Drought - Disaster


Rishi Rajnarayan Basu

Sri Haripada Mondal

.:: As An Educator and Reformer at Midnapur ::.

From the Sanskrit College , Calcutta , Rajnarayan was transferred to the Zilla School , Midnapore, on the 2lth February, 1851, being appointed Headmaster. He was on active service at Midnapore up to the 6th March, 1866. It was the prime of of his life. With no exaggeration we may humbly say that he dedicated his life first as an educator and then as a leader of social reforms. At the b beginning his attempt was to improve the position of the school by securing intellectual, moral and physical developments of the pupils side by side. Re could not think himself to be a producer of clerks in the Company's office. Nor did he want to make the pupils parrots of note books and then possessors of passports to some paid posts. His was an ideal of “mail-making education”, so to say, in the favorite terms of Swami Vivekananda.

Novel was his teaching method and strong his organizing capacity. With love & and affection he imparted lessons to the boys and punishment, particularly in any form of physical torture, was a rare affair from the very beginning. Afterwards he completely abolished corporal punishment from the school and created an atmosphere of joy and sunshine. Story-telling was one of his favorite techniques. In suitable cases he applied this technique with results beyond expectation. Of course, his stories were all the while instructive as well as attractive. The students were sometimes spellbound by his expositions. But they were not allowed to be passive listeners. They were guided to express their appreciation and comprehension in response to the short questions put by him. He hated and discarded lecture method as is practiced in most of the schools and colleges of our country. He did never expound the meanings of the difficult portions at a time for the students to note down, but elicited answers from the boys and helped them to understand by their own efforts. A debating society was established by him to provide the boys with a field for mental exercise and training of eloquence. From the very beginning of his services many a scholar obtained scholarships from Govt. in recognition of his merit in the Final examinations. But, this was not all. Rajnarayan did not overlook, nor neglect the physical development of the young learners. Though time was not ripe enough for his novel plans, yet he did not desist from his co-curricular activities. There was the question of men and money—competent men and sufficient money. At the instruction of Capt. Beedel, the then Irrigation Officer of Midnapore, he was able to build a Racket Court in the school compound by raising funds from the public. One remarkable point is worth mentioning that he created an example of self-help when all were looking for the alms from the higher authority. We are habituated to begging and praying to the Government. We forget that self-confidence is the first step to carry out any mission in life and, that self-help is the best help, and that other things automatically come in course of time. Rajnarayan also collected subscriptions for supplying requisite furniture and equipments to the school.

At this instance Capt. Beedel wrote in a letter to the Editor of an English Daily in praise of Rajnarayan Basu,—

“It is a common saying that the natives of this country will do nothing to help themselves and that they must be assisted by the Government or by the European Community. An example has just occurred at Midnapore to show that this is not always the case and when kindly advised and shown how they can benefit their race, they are not slow even in that slowest of all operations the subscribing funds to attain the object when they feel certain it is for a particular good.

“These observations arise naturally when one sees as at Midnapore a large building erected iii the school compound for the manly games of Fives and Rackets and learn that it has been raised by subscriptions amongst the parents, guardians and friends of the boys, but it is so, and when asked whether they required the aid of Government to complete the building, it is refreshing to learn that the ieply was a respectful negative.

“Great credit is due to the Head Master, Babu Rajnarayan Bose, and it is a certain proof of the esteem in which his character is held that he has been able to raise the necessary subscriptions. ‘Ce nest que la premier par qui conte.' Another subscription has been set on foot among the friends of the boys, to supply backs to the forms and stools for the the feet of the pupils, who will no longer be placed like notes of interrogation on the forms with legs dangling, a position that weakens and deforms the frame of a growing stripling who has thus to combat with physical weakness in pursuing his mentally wearing studies. This is good progress and, as I maintain, shows that the natives are not unwilling to help themselves when put on the way of doing so.”

Men like Capt. Beedel. Who were interested in the activities of an educational institution, were few in number. Most of the members of the Local Committee of Public Instruction, Midnapore were amazingly indifferent to the spread of education at that period, and Rajnarayan had to struggle hard with those discouraging forces. To European Headmasters also had served before him in this School, which was established in 1834. But he was the first who could buy a good name for the school, and remodeled it according to his own plans and programs. He realized that education is the panacea of all social evils and backbone of a nation,—that education by which one gathers power to assimilate ideals and to stand on one's own legs being equally strong in body and mind. Thus he became a friend and guide to the students.

Another phase of Rajnarayan's life began along with his educational activities as is already indicated before. In the first half of the 19th century most of the educated young men of Bengal were dissatisfied with the prevalent culture and customs of Hindu society and dazzled by the apparently pleasant culture and customs of the English immigrants, particularly by their female education and freedom of the women folk. The Hindu society was going to rot with thousand and one sectarian views and superstitious customs like untouchability, sati rite, polygamy, child-marriage and purdah system. At that time the Christian missionaries preached the superiority of their religion and tried to convert the people, sometimes even alluring them to better opportunities of life. The Hindu society thus confronted an ordeal. At this critical juncture of a transition, Raja Rammohan Roy appeared as a herald of Holy Light to the Hindus. He had the heart of a wide sky and head like a high hill. His were the clear vision of a pious prophet and the courage of a crusader. Quite modern and scientific in his outlook, boldly he tried to give a new shape to the decaying Hindu society. He preached that God is one and omnipotent and formless as is expounded in the Upanishads. He denounced caste-system and declared freedom of men and women, and established Bramha Sabha for ill to worship God as the formless Supreme Power. Maharshi Devendranath Tagore was his first great follower, who established Tattwabodhini Sabha and formally accepted Brahmoism in 1843, and dedicated his life to the spread of Brahmoism. He found a great friend and helpmate in Rajnarayan who also made it a sacred vow to reform the Hindu society in the paths of Rammohan and Debendranath.

At his initiative the Brabmo Movement at Midnapore was rejuvenated and the Brahmo Samaj reconstituted. In the year 1853 he began writing his great treatises on Brahmoism, “Dharmatattwa Dipika” and “Brahma Sadan.” In the next year he published his “Defence of Brahmoism.” These made him aptly celebrated as a great writer and thinker among the enlightened circle. Pandit Jswarchandra Vidyasagar launched the “Widow Marriage” Movement by publishing his booklet “Bidhaba Bibaha” in 1856 and made it enacted by the British Government. Rajnarayan was a stuanch supporter of the movement and defied all sorts of adverse criticism by ax ranging two ceremonies of widow marriages with his brothers Durganarayan and Madanmohan. This set an example.

In 1857 the Sepoy Mutiny broke out like a flaming fire. Rajnarayan became an eye-witness to this agitation and noted his observations afterwards in his Autobiography. The University of Calcutta was established with the Baconian ideal of the advancement of learning. This was a period of great upheaval and great expectation, and Rajnaryan proved himself worthy of the time and of the future. It was during this period when he founded the Jatiya Gourab Sampadani Sabha at Mldnapur and published a Prospectus of a Society for the Promotion of National Feeling among the Natives of Bengal , which created a startling with far-reaching effect. This pamphlet was at the root of the Nation of the Hindu Mela by Nabagopal Mitra in 1867. It was this Hindu Mela which really ‘promoted national feeling' among the people and created unity among the discorded subjects. On its 9th Session at Calcutta Rajnarayan was elected President of the Mela and at that session Rabindranath Tagore, then a boy of ten, recited his first national songs, ‘Hindu Mela Upahar' and ‘Dellir Durbar'. At the instance of this Hindu Mela or the National Fair, which aimed at growing and developing national feeling, the Indian National Congress was born in 1885 to uphold the cause of the Nation.

Though primarily a thoughtful writer on religious and theological subjects, the literary talent of Rajnarayan cannot he overlooked. On one side he was very sharp and critical in his outlook, and on the other was endowed with a great poetic vision and creative faculty. He composed fine poems in English and became famous as a BengaIi author too. His Autobiography is a treasure in Bengali literature. Michael Madhusudan, was one of his fast friends. Rajnarayan appreciated and criticised Michael's works. Sometimes Michael sought his wise opinion about his writings and was highly pleased with his critical views and guiding suggestions. As a mark of sincere friendship Michael sent a loving letter along with his immortal poem ‘Bangabhumir Prati' to Rajnarayan in 1862 at Midnapur. In 1864 a remarkble event took place at Midapore. It was the marriage of 5wrna1at Devi (Rajnarayan's eldest daughter and mother of Sri Aurobindo ) with Dr. Krishnadhan Ghosh. Shivanath Sastri, Maharshi Debendranath, Bijoykrishha Goswami, Keshabehandra Sen and some other eminent persons came to Midnapore to join this memorable wedding ceremony which was performed according to Brahmo Samaj rites.

Suddenly Rajnarayan was attacked with cerebral ailment on the 5th March, 1866 and had to leave his beloved Midnapore on the next day for proper treatment in Calcutta . He had no wish to cut off the link with Midnapore and remained on leave up to the end of 1868.

From January, 1869 he was granted pension on retirement from Government service, and in March, 1869, the people e5 Midnapore gave him a salutatory farewell address with an offering of an amount of Rs. 700/-in cash and a new pucca building specially built for his family residence with considerable assistance from Maharshi Debendranath. Unfortunately lie found no opportunity to reside in it. A nobler call was waiting for him.


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