Ranada Prasad Shaha: Dreamer of a Glorious Bengal by Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee

Dear Friends,

Ranada Prasad Shaha, also known as R.P. Shaha (15 November 1896-May 1971), was an entrepreneur and philanthropist of Bangladesh who established educational institutes like Bharateswari Homes, Kumudini College (named after his mother) and Debendra College (named after his father Debendranath). As a mark of appreciation of his humanitarian activities, the British Government had conferred on him the title of ‘Rai Bahadur’. During the Bangladesh Liberation War, he and his son Bhavani Prasad were picked up from their home by the Pakistani troops on 7 May 1971. Nobody knows what had happened to them nor were their bodies found.

An article on Ranada Prasad Shaha, entitled Ranada Prasad Shaha: Dreamer of a Glorious Bengal, authored by Padma Shri Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee has been published in the website of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee


Overman Foundation.

Ranada Prasad Shaha: Dreamer of a Glorious Bengal


Ranada Prasad Shaha (1896-1971) represents in history of the Indian sub-continent a unique synthesis of several significant currents and principles that had been indispensable for the blossoming of the Bengali genius and that had served as an answer to a number of questions which had been preoccupying people all over the Indian sub-continent. In order to appraise the rich and varied wayfaring of this steadfast visionary — RPS for our present study — , well-known for his charity, the present paper intends to keep in view a few indispensable facts and figures that  may serve us constantly as high-water marks.     

Everybody remembers, first of all, how rapidly the 19th Century Bengal assimilated English education along with several pioneering trends of contemporary Western thought : it was both surprising as much as irritating to British observers.  This gusto for ideas, as had been expected and willed by Rammohun Roy (1772-1833), helped the fertile mind of the first generation of renascent Bengali thought-leaders like Bankimchandra Chatterjee (1838-94) to explore and rediscover the true message and aspiration of traditional India. This surprise as well as this irritation were to turn into lingering exasperation when Bankimchandra —  having to explain to his examiner, an Englishman, the difference between aapad (vexation) and bipad (danger) — is said to have supplied a witty remark : “The fact that I have to reply to your question is an aapad; if I refuse to reply, it will be a bipad !” Later in his career, having been himself a victim of the much redoubtable colonial machine called discrimination (an obvious curse for someone with an acute sense of self-respect) — pronounced publicly without hesitation : “One has to admit that the elite of an India in slavery can never rise to be appointed to a proportionally important job in conformity to its merits, its qualification, its social origin and its personal dignity. While possessing both culture and intelligence, one gets very soon familiar with torments caused by prejudices that deprive it of adequate  means to fructify and to apply its intelligence and its culture. All appointments of responsibility in the government had been earmarked for Englishmen, ourselves remaining at the mercy of their sweet will, making it impossible for us to act. Excluded from all exercise in the field of defence and protection of the State, our innate competence remains frustrated. It is necessary to admit therefore that our dependence prevents us from progressing.” [Les racines intellectuelles du mouvement d’indépendance de l’Inde (1893-1918), French Thesis for PhD by Prithwindra Mukherjee, 2010, pp.68-76.]

Bankimchandra’s revolt grew further acute by questioning the utility of hosting the Indian army on Indian soil : “If there is a war in Abyssinia for the glory of England, it will be up to India to finance it. Among such expenses as ‘Domestic charges’ that are imposed, mostly they condemn India to this kind of sacrifice in the interest of the English.”  The barrister Pringle Kennedy (1855-1925) of Muzaffarpore, a well-known specialist of the Mughal Indian history, appeared to become the mouthpiece of Bankimchandra’s like : holding a Premchand-Raichand Fellowship of the University of Calcutta, during his interventions from the National Congress Platform, till 1891, Kennedy had been advocating “A National Army for India”. In order to promote his liberal ideas more efficiently, he had been publishing the Trihoot Courier. This detail reminds us that young Jatindranath Mukherjee (1879-1915) — Bagha Jatin, the future revolutionary leader of the Yugantar, JNM for the present study — employed as Kennedy’s private secretary, was to indoctrinate Indian soldiers in regiments like the 10th Jats (which got dismantled for a wavering loyalty to the British Crown) on the background of a nation-wide insurrection, as far as we perceive according to archival documents available in the proceedings of the Howrah-Sibpur Case (1910-11). No adequate study of JNM’s influence  on the wayfaring of RPS will be superfluous in the name of History.

Anti-Bengali Bias

The very first person ever to have mentioned the National Congress, almost fifty years before the Howrah-Sibpur Case, was Surendranath Banerjee (1848-1925). He had written an article in The Bengalee, on 27 May 1882, defining the aims of the emergent Party : to “prepare the way for concerted action in reference to political matters among the different political bodies scattered throughout the country.” Allan Octavian Hume (1829-1912), however, in the traumatic obsession — associated with his terrible first-hand experience of the 1857 mutiny — , had the intuitive conviction that India was to know another mass revolt very soon : it was to be led by the educated middle class. Fearing that class to be openly against the interest of the colonial government, in 1883, Hume had incited the graduates of Calcutta university  to be prepared for sacrifices, and respond to the call of the Motherland. Hence, originally supposed to be an organisation to “quell revolution”, when   the National Congress party gave vent to such feelings as we have mentioned in speeches of a Bengali patriot of Surendranath Banerjee’s stature, the Government’s irritation had tried its best to humiliate Bengal once for all with a decisive lesson for all those who dared minimize the “benevolent mission” of the English in India.

Eliminated from all military training and activities, the Bengalis had been drawing their consolation from Bankimchandra’s advice : “True strength is not  physical strength. True strength lies in enthusiasm, in unity, in courage and in perseverance (…) Enthusiasm comes from an impetuous ambition in the heart: ambition made of an acute consciousness of imperfections, on the face of which all temporary happiness inspired by indolence and passivity appears insipid. Such an ambition, such enthusiasm must well from unity. Then alone courage is born; one has to know how to sharpen the edge of ambition to the point of sacrificing one’s own life in the name of achievements aimed at. Perpetuating this intense ambition will, at last, generate perseverance.” We are familiar with the passage where Sri Aurobindo wrote to his wife that he has in him “the necessary strength to raise this fallen nation”, specifying that it was no physical strength but the strength of  Knowledge (brahma tejas). Let it be clear that neither did Bankimchandra, nor Sri Aurobindo lose sight of an adequate utility of the warrior’s energy (kshatra tejas) — whenever required — to complete the moral assets of a nation. Employed by the princely State of Baroda, towards the end of the 19th century, Sri Aurobindo helped his revolutionary associate Jatin Banerjee to be admitted in the State army as Jatinder Upadhyay —  hailing from the upper country — for an adequate military training. Duly equipped, Banerjee was sent to Bengal for opening a very active gymnasium. What struck Sri Aurobindo on meeting JNM (the other Jatin, Mukherjee) for the first time, in 1903, was : “A wonderful man who would belong to the first rank of humanity; such beauty and strength combined together I have not seen, and his stature was like that of a warrior.”  Very soon, known as Niralamba Swami, Banerjee left for the North, spreading the fiery message received from Sri Aurobindo among the disciples of Swami Dayananda, founder of the Arya Samaj : a generation of militant leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai, Sardar Ajit Singh, Kishen Singh and Har Dayal grew up under his inspiration.


The concern of the British for the “negative” influence of the Bengalis on Indian politics expressed itself through legislative reforms which can be examined later. Camouflaged in derision, this concern had become obvious in the British press and in several official correspondences of the Imperialist civil servants of the time. For example, in a prejudicial article on “The role of the Bengalis in politics” Lepel Griffin — notorious as foppish and irreverent — caricatured the Bengalis as  an effeminate race, inferior to the “noble warrior races” of India such as the Sikhs, the Rajputs and the Marathas ! In an effort to confirm better the politics of divide and rule, this author observed that when a Bengali pretends that the acquisition of some superficial achievements gives him the right to represent, to preside over and to govern the martial races of India, the English, as conquerors can understandably mock at his cheekiness and order him to return to the humbler place that better befits a servile race. [Prithwindra Mukherjee, op. cit., p.377]

Considerably irritated by the clamour of the then Indian political leaders — a good number of them hailed from Bengal — before passing Bills at the Indian Council (busy settling the institution of rights and political privileges for Indians), the author compared Bengalis at times to monkeys, at times to these priests of Ireland who diverted the peasants of their country from  voting against the only Government that ever condescended “to treat them with justice and generosity.” [1]

Qualifying the Indian Council Bill as pernicious, Lepel Griffin characterised it to be a concession to the agitation that, under thundering pretension of loyalty, is seditious and hostile to the British Government, led by a class in no way representative of the people of India, but that, on the contrary, is considered by all virile and martial races of this population with disgust and astonishment.

The dizzy and accelerated revolutionary turn of events under JNM’s federated action mainly in Bengal and, to a certain degree, in Maharashtra, U.P. and  Punjab between 1909 and 1915 sent the exasperated Viceroy Lord Hardinge to proclaim publicly that there was no government in the two Bengals. Taken aback by a holy wrath, forgetting the literary, philosophical, scientific, artistic and administrative blossoming of the Bengali genius, Griffin formulated some bogus information such as during the past hundred and thirty five years since the battle of Plassey, the Baboo — the Bengali gentleman — produced no original work of  value, either in the field of  literature or in art. Grateful for the indispensable character of the Bengalis in Indian life, the author underlined that although necessary, the Baboo is nevertheless a curse. He arrives in a non sophisticated province, with his common places and his printing press, and he distils his slow venom in the ears of his simple interlocutors who ignored that they had any grievance whatsoever. He settles in the military barracks of a regional or neighbouring principality, in a British territory, to insult the English officers and the native princes with an unbiased joviality.  When for the first time he went to the Punjab, it was a land unknown to the Baboos, where the extravagant insurrection was never heard of. Now this country provides its honourable part of seditious literature, whereas the Government watches it with a grin that ill conceals its interior trepidation, and that it debates on the liberty of press and the necessary safety valves keeping in mind questions raised at the parliament and abuse of the Bengali press.

The arrogant English author was going as far as underlining that behind the obvious loyalty of the Congress, each of its sessions was animated by a hostility to the Queen’s Government and to the officers that she used to command in her own name. Its support is manifest in Madras and in Bengal where the population is the most impotent and very little virile, that hostility which repulses with disdain all warrior races of India. Naturally, there are a handful of nationalists even among these races that the roving Bengali agitators could convert and whose adherence is loudly proclaimed. Such a confession is in contradiction with the author’s earlier anxious observations desirous to make “a clean sweep of the Bengalis and their accomplices into the Gulf of Bengal”,  advising the Government to refuse all dialogue with these infamous citizens.

A Dauntless Guide

Since his return from a first tour in the West, Vivekananda had been protesting openly against this kind of accusation stained with an ulterior motive prompted by the Imperialists, and he was to persist before his compatriots: “We, the Bengalis, we have the reputation of having imagination, and I assure you that we have some. We have been ridiculed as an imaginative race [2], as men endowed with a good dose of feelings. I tell you, my friends, intellect is certainly important, but it has its own limitations. It is by the heart — and nothing but by the heart — that inspiration acts. It is through the feelings that one can reach the highest mysteries and, as such, the Bengali — the man of feelings — has to realise his task. / It is necessary for us to be abhih, audacious, so that this task is accomplished. Stand up, wake up, because your Motherland awaits from you a great sacrifice. You, the young, are going to accomplish it. This task is invites all those who are young, dynamic, strong, robust, intelligent. And we have in Calcutta hundreds and thousands of such youngsters. Stand up, wake up, the world is calling you. Elsewhere, in India, there is intelligence, there is money, but enthusiasm is only here, on the soil of my birth. / The youth of Bengal have the noblest of the tasks that has ever been confided to the shoulders of youth. During ten years I moved about all over India, and I am certain that among the youth of Bengal will emerge once again the power capable of raising India upto the spiritual status that is his own. Yes, it is from this immense concentration of feelings and enthusiasm in the blood of the youth of Bengal, that will rise the heroes: they will walk up and down the earth to preach and to teach the eternal spiritual truths of our forefathers.”[3]  Anticipating that his message could be transmitted to Young India with JNM as his mouthpiece, the Swami entrusted him with the mission of embodying his vision for the future of humanity.

Much like Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo also was to note that the Bengali always led and had been still leading the upper sphere of Indian thought, because he possessed eminently the gifts most necessary to a new emerging nation. He has emotion and imagination always open to great inspirations, powerful ideas that carry away the heart and that mobilise humanity every time that it is about to attain an important stage. He has the inestimable gift of thinking with the heart. He has, also, a subtle brain that is capable up to a certain extent of capturing nuances of the significances and the sharp edges of thoughts, accessible simultaneously to logic, and transcending the simple logical intellect. Especially, he possesses — to a degree superior than the others — the faculty of reaching a direct knowledge situated beyond reason and imagination, as yet latent in man, something that one must now develop: the faculty that Shri Ramakrishna possessed without any formal instruction, and could command — in a spontaneous and divine way — all knowledge that he wanted. It is a faculty that is abroad now in humanity, but in a confused, hardly recognised and sporadic way owing to the interference of imagination and of a reason limited to old associations (samskara) accumulated in the memory of the race and of the individual. It cannot become  accepted and usual as agent  without the help of the discipline that the old sages of India had formulated in the science of Yoga. But, in general, some races possess this function, more evolved or more open to the evolution than the rest and it will be up to them to lead the onward march towards the future evolution.

Moreover, this race is endowed with a powerful will, vestige of an old cult of the divine Energy (Shakti) and of a practice of the Tantra, forming an integral part of its culture down the centuries. No other people on earth could revolutionise its national character so completely as the Bengalis have achieved. The Bengali always worshipped the divine Energy in all her aspects, from the most dreadful up to the most sublime:   worshipping in her both  the Beautiful and the Terrifying Mother, he never retracted before her, nor by fear nor out of awe. Whereas the rest of India was afraid to invoke the Strength that descended, a handful of strong men in Bengal hurried forward, carrying away with them a part or the totality of their race, waiting the whole race to be infused of this spirit before it is ready to assume the task of the future.


Police records show how the internationally famous scientist Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray was eager to distribute the Yugantar, informing the editor that JNM knew him personally. It is now learnt that Acharya used to provide shelter and other help to revolutionaries, for days. Indeed, in the Government files, his name is recorded as a “revolutionary in the garb of a scientist”. It is also said that Acharya assisted revolutionaries with ideas regarding preparation of explosives; this has been reported after his death by people who were directly involved. Curiously enough, Barin started his bomb factory at Muraripukur almost next door to the Acharya’s garden for scientific experiments.

In his long study, P.C. Ray, the Patriot and Nationalist (Overman Foundation, 2011), Amartya Kumar Datta mentions that  “people who were close to P.C. Ray could see how he used to be touched by the bravery, determination and sacrifice of the revolutionaries.” Datta comes across a passage from  Hemendra Prasad Ghosh (1876-1962), Sri Aurobindo’s cousin and member of the editorial staff of the Bande Mataram : deeply saddened when the police discovered the bomb factory at Muraripukur in 1908 and arrested its workers, Acharya enquired : “Have the police been able to arrest all the members of the party?” But, as Hemendra Prasad Ghosh says, the true history of Acharya’s contribution to the Independence movement will never be told, for this history is in part the history of underground movements “which must remain necessarily a mystery hidden and lost.”

Bibhuti Chakrabarti of the Nadia branch, directly under JNM’s control,  had been learning from  Nibaran Bhattacharya, Acharya’s student, how to manufacture bombs; informed by Dr Bhupendra Nath Datta and Barin Ghose that funds were available for making bombs, with JNM’s approval, Nibaran had appointed Bibhuti to manufacture the very first bombs for the use of the revolutionaries. Later, in 1908, Hem Das went to Paris for training in more sophisticated explosives.  Balai Ray, Acharya’s  nephew, was known to have been  a close associate of JNM and, as mentioned by Nalinikanta Kar, was fond of collecting venom from dangerous vipers. Preceding the assassination of Shamsul Alam in January 1910, the publication of the Yugantar was managed directly by JNM. Thanks to Acharya’s admiration for JNM, several thought-leaders of the future collaborated with  him : Meghnad Saha, Sailen Ghose, Jatin Seth, Jnan Ghose, Rasiklal Datta, Jnan Mukherjee, Sisir Mitra, Bidhu Ray, Biresh Guha, Nilratan and Jibanratan Dhar, among others. They had regular meetings with JNM at the famous Eden Hindu Hostel. By the end of 1914, Meghnad Saha invented a system of coded messages for the use of JNM’s associates and the revolutionary emissaries abroad. While loitering through the streets of North Calcutta, young RPS met some of these eminent patriots and received the call for winning over independence of India. Soon the Police came to notice his zeal and arrested him on several occasions, thrashing him in the custody.

The Fort William Scheme

During the impressive Damodar flood relief organized by JNM and his associates, in 1913, Rash Behari Bose learnt about JNM’s plan of a revolution of 1857 style with the help of soldiers belonging to the British Indian Army. Approached by Bose, JNM urged him to follow the cue of the Fort William Havildars who had already been members of the Yugantar. Dr Jadu Gopal Mukherjee in his autobiography mentions how eager JNM had been to occupy the Fort. On 12 February 1915, for instance, he asked Jadu to be prepared to explore this project; on noticing Jadu’s hesitation of a  rationalist overwhelmed by the importance of the task, JNM — perfectly informed about the brick structure of the Fort (which was the nerve-centre of British India) —, insisted : “Can you not remove even a single brick off this edifice?” Jadu admits that in the magnetic presence of JNM, nothing seemed impossible. As a proof he describes how, only nine days later, assisted by Bose and the Indian officers of the indoctrinated regiments, the all-India armed rising under JNM aimed at seizing the Calcutta Fort and marching up to New Delhi,  consolidating on the way  the rebel barracks in various districts. We know that at this juncture — in April 1915 —, it was  with the 16th Rajput Regiment that RPS was to have his very first intensive military training.


To be exact, towards the end of March 1915, as a recruit for the Bengal Ambulance Corps, RPS had called on its founder, the leading surgeon of Calcutta, Suresh Prasad Sarbadhikari — SPS for our story —, at 79/1 Amherst Street where he lived. When RPS mentioned to SPS that the Police had discarded his application for having been in the custody several times as a political suspect owing to his association with Yugantar people, the veteran surgeon successfully contacted the Commissioner of Police in favour of admitting RPS. Illustrious for having looked after JNM after his bout with a Royal Bengal tiger, Dr SPS was perfectly familiar with the area of Shobhabazar : his colleague and friend Dr Hemantakumar Chatterjee lived at 275 Upper Chitpur Road with his nephew JNM and the latter  had several active revolutionary centres in the locality.

Out of sympathy for JNM’s patriotic and dashing character, Dr SPS had taken upon himself “the responsibility for curing the fatally wounded patient whose whole body had been poisoned by the tiger’s nails. He not merely operated upon the body of JNM, but also took the trouble of coming twice to his house daily to dress his wounds personally and not getting them done by his assistants which was the usual course,” as stated by Dr Kanak Prasad Sarbadhikari, son of SPS and Principal of the Calcutta Medical College, in Two Great Indian Revolutionaries by Uma Mukherjee, pp.167-168.  KPS was proud of further informing that on his recovery, JNM had offered to SPS — as a gift of gratitude — the padded skin mounted with the head in bold relief, along with the dagger. And KPS asserted that the exemplary heroism of JNM “acted as an inspiring force behind his father’s organisation of the Bengal Regiment sent to the Mesopotamian battle-field…”

RPS was informed that having solved the problem of locally manufacturing the required chemicals on a large scale, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray had commenced the production of pharmaceutical drugs in 1893. Ray had been minutely attentive to the quality of his drugs. People, used to imported medical products, were reluctant to buy their home-made  (deshi) equivalents.  At that juncture, Ray had been immensely supported by Dr Amulyacharan Bose, “full of patriotic impulses” and had realised that new scopes for jobs — as proposed by Ray  to the middle-class youth — could alone intervene and avoid an economic ruin leading a national calamity.  In addition to fetching some capital, Dr. Bose had launched a vigorous campaign among the medical fraternity in favour of Ray’s products.  SPS was among the Doctors with nationalist feeling like Dr. Radha Gobinda Kar, Dr. Nilratan Sircar and Dr. Hemanta Kumar Chatterjee (JNM’s maternal uncle) to prescribe the drugs manufactured by Ray’s enterprise.

SPS had encouraged his own brother Sisir Prasad, author of an autobiographic masterpiece, Abhi le Bagdad, to join that very batch of  the Bengal Ambulance Corps. Thanks to Sisir we come across some glimpses of the humanitarian spirit of RPS : while the soldiers were falling sick with scurvy and pyorrhoea owing to lack of green vegetables and fruits, suffering from insufficiency of medicine, heedless of the bombing from the enemy camp, RPS took the risk of going out of the trench to collect whatever leaves, grass and nettle he could get hold of, boil them and share them to the delight of the sick as well as healthy. His colleagues admired this courageous and selfless gesture. On one occasion, braving the blazing hospital — victim of a magazine explosion —, he sprang to the ward where about thirty seriously mutilated patients  were waiting for their tragic end, set out to rescue them; within no time Captain King, Sisir Prasad and Jagadish Mitra joined hands to save those lives.


Who could fancy that hardly three years later, on 23 January 1918, Lt D.J. Wilx and Havildar Major RPS — promoted Jamadar — were to lead a batch of about forty trained soldiers of the Bengali Battalion and bivouack at the Fort William. We may well imagine the sensation it created at the tail end of the War. Three days later, on 26 January, RPS stunned the citizens by leading a procession of his regiment, fully armed, accompanied by  military band and mounted police : he left the Fort by Plassey Gate, marching up Old Port House Street, Lalbazar Street, College Street, Cornwallis  Street (today’s Bidhan Sarani), Shyambazar Street till Beadon Square to attend a public meeting.  Addressing the audience, RPS eagerly invited more Bengali soldiers to join this regiment. On 8 February, a similar pageant was to cover the southern areas of Calcutta, leaving the Fort via Kidderpore Bridge, Alipore, up to Kalighat Square where another mass meeting was to greet RPS and his troupe. Celebrating 29 July 1919 as Victory March, when King George V invited to London all the representative war-time heroes, RPS was foremost among them. Received by Lord Edwin Montagu (1879-1924), the Secretary of State, in the presence of eminent guests like Lord S.P. Sinha and Mr Gurley, the delegation was shown around important military bases with advanced submarines, weapons and aircrafts.

Almost ten years after the spectacular military display at Calcutta, people were to remember once again that procession conducted by RPS : it was in December 1928 when, on the occasion of the annual session of the National Congress at the Park Circus ground, Dr Bidhan Roy as the General Secretary and Nalini Ranjan Sarkar as the Exhibition Secretary of the Committee presided over by J. M. Sengupta — supported by Gandhi —, condescended to invite the opposition leader Subhas Chandra Bose for organizing the volunteers’ corps. We may keep in view that, very soon, both Roy and Sarkar were to join RPS, in the early 1930s, as partners in his glorious Bengal River Service. Urged and assisted by Purna Chandra Das of Madaripur — JNM’s associate who had designated Chittapriya Raychaudhuri, Manoranjan Sengupta and Nirendra Dasgupta  to court death at Balasore by the side of the Leader, and who had to his credit the formation of a volunteer corps —, Subhas Chandra Bose thrilled the public with such an imposing martial efficiency by setting his Bengal Volunteers marching past the streets of Calcutta that, very soon, while inaugurating the Mahajati Sadan, Bose was to be congratulated by Rabindranath Tagore as the  “Leader of the People” (deshanayak), which he so well deserved in spite of Gandhi’s brutal campaign against Bose. This was but a faint preview of the glorious performance of Bose in the role of Netaji of the INA.

Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray

Appointed by the Indian Railways for a few years, at last in 1932, RPS responded to the call of Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray (1861-1944), probably the greatest source of inspiration in his life. The Acharya had founded the Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works Ltd., in the early years of the 20th century, when the dream of the Bengali middle class was to obtain good results in the university examinations ending up with miserable clerical jobs under the colonial rule. Enhancing the scopes of trade, commerce and industry, the Acharya created a generation of young adventurers fully aware of the dignity of work, accepting even industrial and manual labour so often disdained by the Bhadralok youth. The Bengal Chemical not only provided employment to brilliant science graduates, it inspired a spirit of self-sufficiency in the society. Amartya Kumar Dutta in his long essay, P.C. Ray, The Patriot and Nationalist, mentions that “it also triggered other industrial efforts. To anyone venturing in industry or business, P.C. Ray would advise:

• Do not give up, persevere.

• Have a sound apprenticeship before taking the plunge.

• One cannot succeed without zeal, ceaseless effort and dedication.”

The Acharya reminded his students that they were first and foremost Indians, before considering themselves as Bengalis. Following the example of the Acharya, relying on a meager economy that he had, in 1932, RPS decided to earn his livelihood by delivering coal from door to door, to begin with. Very soon, thanks to an increasing demand for supply, in four years’ time, RPS managed to count among the topmost coal-merchants of Calcutta. Simultaneously, on observing and analysing the causes of failure of his rivals, he set out to purchase their stock at a very low price and, dexterous with a hereditary flair for commerce, used them as stepping stones. Noticing the difficulties of one of his clients — owner of a steam launch — in getting rid of his debt for the coals he had been purchasing from RPS, the latter offered to buy the launch at a low price. Thus began his puissant navigation career, in collaboration with a few magnates and political personalities. As and when his partners grew diffident about his love for taking risk in order to expand the business status, he encouraged them to retire with their shares reimbursed, holding the responsibility of the Managing Director. By 1948, he created the Kumudini Welfare Trust — side by side with his roaring business — to promote charitable activities. It is learnt that for running the hospital at Mirzapur, he spent Rs.20.000, — per day, in spite of the decline in jute export, which was his main source of income. For the annual festivity to worship Durga, at Mirzapur he organised the most imposing of ceremonies in the district of Mymensingh, lasting for five days and nights : a band of fifty drummers enlivened the atmosphere while a thousand guests were fed every day and the poor received generous gifts of garments. In a dream the Goddess Durga appeared to ask RPS to keep on serving the others tirelessly with both his hands; She with her ten hands would continue replenishing his stores.

RPS was reminded of past nationalist ventures of the Tagore family in 1837 (known as “Steam Navigation Tagore Co.”) and, on a larger scale, in 1844 (known as “Kerr-Tagore Steam Navigation Co”); Taraknath Das (1884-1958), as a remarkable emissary of the Yugantar, while  lecturing  in Madras on the cult of Swadeshi, Swaraj and the utility of a secret society, advised his disciple V.C. Chidambaram Pillai to start the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company, in collaboration with several patriotic concerns in Tuticorin, aiming at “the development of Indian industries by Indians.” In addition to this information, Arun Chandra Guha points out that, simultaneously, a steamship company had been started in Barisal (now in Bangladesh). They had to face “severe competition with the well-established foreign steamer company.” [First Spark of Revolution,  Orient Longman Ltd, 1971, pp.316-317.]

Amartya Kumar Dutta mentions another anecdote to show “how the Acharya protected national interests with nationalist self-respect.” He was “the patron of a tiny steamer company

which owned one passenger steamer that plied on the river Kapatakhsi and served his native village. A rich European company tried various means to crush the tiny company but the Acharya’s resourcefulness overcame all difficulties. Unable to throttle the local company, the European concern made a proposal to buy the company. An interview was arranged at the Acharya’s room between the Acharya and a representative of the European company. The European representative arrived at the appointed time. The Acharya who was lying in bed, reading Macaulay’s History of England, asked him to take his seat. When the representative broached the proposal to purchase the Indian company’s vessel, the Acharya replied:

I have a counter-proposal to make. You are a big concern with hundreds of steamers serving many lines. Ours is an insignificant concern with only one vessel serving a short line. Why not let us alone by leaving the line to us? We shall be grateful to you.

“Unprepared for such a rebuff, the representative continued to argue and tried to explain that, having fought the Indian company for many years, they could not give up their line as their prestige would be at stake. The Acharya retorted:

You talk of prestige! You have come here only for exploiting the resources of the country. And what of our prestige? We are sons of the soil, the steamer serves my own village and the neighbouring villages. If we sell our concern to you the loss to our prestige will be irreparable. Do you see that?

“The European representative returned, crest-fallen.”

From Calcutta to Tuticorin

In one of the issues of his spitfire Bande Mataram, in March 1908, Sri Aurobindo had greeted the revolutionary flame that had been successfully spreading from Bengal to Madras : “The success of passive resistance at Tuticorin ought to be an encouragement to those who have begun to distrust the power of the new weapon which is so eminently suited to the Asiatic temperament. When the Boycott was declared in Bengal the whole of the energy of the people was thrown into the attempt to get the Partition repealed and if that concentration of effort had been continued the Partition would by this time have become an unsettled fact; but for two different reasons the attempt to unsettle the Partition was unstrung and the energy diverted to a different goal. In the first place a great thought entered into the heart of the people and displaced the petty indignation against an administrative measure which was the immediate cause of the Boycott. Swaraj displaced the idea of a mere administrative unity and Swaraj is too mighty an object to be effected by a single and limited means. (…) For passive resistance to succeed unity, perseverance and thoroughness are the first requisites. Because this unity, perseverance and thoroughness existed in Tuticorin, the great battle fought over the Coral Mills has ended in a great and indeed absolutely sweeping victory for the people. Every claim made by the strikers has been conceded and British capital has had to submit to the humiliation of an unconditional surrender. Nationalism may well take pride in the gallant leaders who have by their cool and unflinching courage brought about this splendid vindication of Nationalist teaching. When men like Chidambaram, Padmanabha and Shiva are ready to undergo exile or imprisonment so that a handful of mill coolies may get justice and easier conditions of livelihood, a bond has been created between the educated class and the masses which is the first great step towards Swaraj.”

Sri Aurobindo further observed how Gandhi in South Africa had been experimenting with the doctrine of the Yugantar : “There has been only one other instance of a victory as complete for passive resistance against the might of a great Government. We refer to the struggle in the Transvaal which was carried on with equal unity, perseverance and thoroughness to a success less absolutely unconditional but even more striking from the strength and stubbornness of the enemy it had to overcome. We publish in another column a letter from a brother in the Transvaal on the subject. The conditions of political struggle in the Transvaal are different, the objects less vast than those of the movement in India. The Transvaal Indians demand only the ordinary rights of human beings in modern civilized society, the right to live, the right to trade, to be treated like human beings and not like cattle. In India which is our own country, our aspirations have a larger sweep and our methods must be more varied and strenuous. Moreover, in the Transvaal the Asiatics form a small and distinct community in a foreign and hostile environment and can more easily rise above petty differences of creed and caste, opinion and interest; but in this vast continent with its huge population of thirty crores and its complex tangle of diversities the task is more difficult, even as the prize of success is more splendid. The unity will be longer in coming, the perseverance more difficult to maintain, the thoroughness less perfect; but the might of three hundred millions welded into a single force will be a potency so gigantic that the imagination fails to put a limit to the final results of the movement now in its infancy. Meanwhile, the lesson of Tuticorin, the lesson of the Transvaal is one which needs to be learnt and put frequently into practice. We should lose no opportunity of letting our strength grow by practice. There have been many labour struggles in Bengal, but with the exception of the Printers’ strike none has ended in a victory for Indian labour against British capital. Either the unity among the operatives was defective or the support of the public was absent or the perseverance and thoroughness of the strike was marred by hesitations, individual submissions, partial concessions. The Tuticorin strike is a perfect example of what an isolated labour revolt should be. The operatives must act with one will and speak with one voice, never letting the temptation of individual interest or individual relief get the better of the corporate aim in which lies the whole strength of a labour combination, and the educated community must give both moral and financial support with an ungrudging and untiring enthusiasm till the victory is won, realising that every victory for Indian labour is a victory for the nation and every defeat a defeat to the movement. The Tuticorin leaders must be given the whole credit for the unequalled skill and courage with which the fight was conducted and still more for the complete realization of the true inwardness of the Nationalist gospel which made them identify the interests of the whole Indian nation with the wrongs and grievances of the labourers in the Coral Mills.”

Anti-Swadeshi in Madras

In another issue of the Bande Mataram, Sri Aurobindostated : “The Madras Standard has undoubtedly hit the right nail on the head when it derives the Tinnevelly disturbances from the establishment of the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company and the attempt to throw difficulties in the way of its success. The struggle generated an acute feeling on both sides and when the commercial war extended itself and the people took sides with Indian labour against British capital in the affair of the Coral Mills, the patience of the English officials gave way and they rushed to the help of their mercantile caste-fellows, misusing the sacred seal of justice and the strong arm of power as instruments to maintain their trade supremacy. This unjust and unwarrantable action has been responsible for the riots and the corpses of dead men lying with their gaping wounds uncared for in Tinnevelly streets,— uncared for but not forgotten in the book of divine reckoning. Nations as well as individuals are subject to the law of Karma, and in the present political and industrial revolt British rule in India is paying for the commercial rapacity which impelled it to prefer trade returns to justice and kingly duty and use its political power to turn India from a land of fabulous wealth into a nation of starving millions. The payment has only just begun — for these karmic debts are usually repaid with compound interest.”

Well Done, Chidambaram!

Rare are the occasions when Sri Aurobindo allowed his feelings to gain the upper hand : in another article in the Bande Mataram (March 1908) he had congratulated Chidambaram : “A true feeling of comradeship is the salt of political life; it binds men together and is the cement of all associated action. When a political leader is prepared to suffer for the sake of his followers, when a man, famous and adored by the public, is ready to remain in jail rather than leave his friends and fellow-workers behind, it is a sign that political life in India is becoming a reality. Srijut Chidambaram Pillai has shown throughout the Tuticorin affair a loftiness of character, a practical energy united with high moral idealism which show that he is a true Nationalist. His refusal to accept release on bail if his fellow-workers were left behind, is one more count in the reckoning. Nationalism is or ought to be not merely a political creed but a religious aspiration and a moral attitude. Its business is to build up Indian character by educating it to heroic self-sacrifice and magnificent ambitions, to restore the tone of nobility which it has lost and bring back the ideals of the ancient Aryan gentleman. The qualities of courage, frankness, love and justice are the stuff of which a Nationalist should be made. All honour to Chidambaram Pillai for having shown us the first complete example of an Aryan reborn, and all honour to Madras which has produced such a man.”

The Anti-Swadeshi Campaign

Relentless in his attention, in another issue of the Bande Mataram (March 1908), Sri Aurobindo had added : “The official campaign against the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company is now drawing to a head. The enquiries made by Sub-Collector Ashe as to the list of shareholders are sufficiently ominous, while the case against the Tuticorin lawyers is an almost undisguised attempt to ruin the Company by making it practically illegal to farther its interests. All India is looking on with interest to see the end of this campaign. If it succeeds, we shall know that the peaceful development of Swadeshi is impossible under British rule. Whatever disguises the local bureaucracy may try to throw over the issue, there is no man in India who has not understood the issue.” [Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library edition, Volume I, Bande Mataram.]

A significant tool in freedom movement : A share certificate of Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company

Taraknath Das

At the age of twenty-one, in 1905, Taraknath Das — TND for our story — was seen accompanying Bipinchandra Pal and the Barrister P. Mitter to Dhaka for opening a local branch of the Anushilan (“Self-culture”) Samiti under the leadership of Pulin Das (PD in short). Drifting away from the progressive and secular principles of the Calcutta organisation (which ended up in the revolutionary Yugantar party), PD very soon turned it into a narrow, reactionary and communal centre of terrorism. TND was next seen accompanying JNM to Muhammadpur in Jessore, early in 1906, for a pageant celebrating Raja Sitaram Ray : in a closeted meeting JNM entrusted TND, Shrish Sen, Satyen Sen and Adhar Laskar with the mission of going abroad, acquiring — side by side with academic higher studies — military training and manufacture of explosives; above all, they were to win over the sympathy of free citizens of the West in favour of India’s impatience to get rid of the colonial government. All the four of them, one after the other, went abroad. In October 1906, we have seen TND preaching in Madras, before leaving for USA via Japan.

A restless patriot, exclusively devoted to his mission, TND joined the University of Berkeley, looking for an opportunity — with Panduranga Khankoje (Tilak’s emissary), Adhar Laskar and Jnan Chatterjee — to be enrolled in a competent military academy. In the October 1908 issue of his journal Free Hindustan, TND regretted that, in 1857, about forty thousand British soldiers could quell the rising of hundred and sixty thousand Sikh and Gurkha soldiers; he advocated JNM’s policy of indoctrinating the Indian soldiers in various regiments of British Army for a successful insurrection. Very soon, TND’s assistant Guran Ditt Kumar published in Gurumukhi the Swadesh Sewak to reach massively the Indian immigrants of the Californian coast. Thus, TND prepared the field for the Gadhar, to be edited by Har Dayal.  

Concerned by the news of TND’s admission to the coveted Norwich Military University in Vermont, in 1909 the Viceroy Minto requested Lord Morley, the Secretary of State for Indian affairs, to warn the British legation in Washington DC for this nefarious development. In reply to the enquiry of the legation, Captain Leslie Chapman, Professor at this University, not only confirm TND’s presence there but, also, praised the merits of this exceptionally brilliant and popular student. Under the pressure of the British Government, the University had to propose to TND a transfer to the University of Harvard. Supported by a bunch of eminent professors and elected as a Research Fellow by the University of Berkeley, in 1911, TND started his PhD thesis on “Politics and International Relationship”.

After forty-six years of exile, in 1952, TND returned to India on a short lecture tour. Presiding over the public meeting at Calcutta to celebrate the thirty-seventh anniversary of JNM’s glorious self-giving at Balasore,   on 9 September 1952, TND electrified the listeners with his stirring tribute to JNM, his Jatin-da, popularly known as Bagha Jatin :

People in the country are ready to sacrifice for the country, but the leaders have not given much thought to canalizing duly that will to sacrifice for the glory of the country. Today the youth of the country will have to assume that responsibility. They will have to keep in view Jatinda’s ideal and undertake the real task. Jatinda had expanded an organization from district to district. Similarly the youth of the country will have to consolidate an organization throughout the country. Without which Bengal and India cannot attain their glory… In Jatinda’s way of action there was a military discipline. In his methodology, nothing fell short of order. In his activism there was a totally unalloyed order and discipline. That is how we have to make the nation. Otherwise nobody can save  the nation from its gliding towards death out of starvation.  If the countrymen fail to follow the ideal of Jatinda by acting in an orderly and methodical manner,  India will not be able to protect  the independence that she has earned today. Are you prepared to organize like Jatinda the youth and the students of the country ? Jatinda had planned to establish in Bengal and all over India a secret government in the teeth of the British Power. That Bengal is only capable of  shouting today… Throughout the country, drawing inspiration from Jatinda, we have to create a well-disciplined organization of the military pattern. That alone will be the true tribute to Jatinda. [Anandabazar Patrika, Calcutta, 10 September 1952]

Bagha Jatin Military Academy

Most probably TND’s enthusiasm goaded RPS to crystallize his desire to sanction one lakh of rupees to commemorate JNM’s secret contribution in form of a military college at Koya, JNM’s native village opposite the Tagore estates in Silaidah. JNM’s great-grandfather Ramasundar Chatterjee (1794-1890) was a rare owner of landed property whose prosperity made his subjects proud under his protection. An esteemed friend of Devendranath Tagore (1817-1905), father of the Poet, Ramasundar had intervened and settled a rebellion in the latter’s estates of neighbouring Silaidah; in intimate complicity with Naimuddin, the powerful landlord at Kaloa, Ramasundar maintained a harmonious communal living in the area. JNM’s maternal uncle Basantakumar Chatterjee (1857-1908), a Government pleader and professor at Krishnagar College, counted among his clients the Tagores, mainly Rabindranath and his nephew Surendranath.

Very soon, RPS was to inaugurate his Bharateshwari Homes. Overjoyed by his announcement of the JNM memorial project in the written Press of Calcutta, Bhavabhushan Mitra (Swami Satyananda), JNM’s boyhood friend and revolutionary colleague — hailing from Jhenidah —, sent me to Pondicherry clippings of this exceptional bit of news. It added to the thrill that was to be created by the film Bagha Jatin by Hiranmay Sen and the unveiling of JNM’s bust at Azad Hind Bag (Hedua) by Baba Gurudit Singh of the Komagata Maru expedition. Nine years later, in 1963, I heard from late Justice Ramaprasad Mookerjee (son of Sir Ashutosh) about the initiative of Ranada Prasad Shaha (RPS). JNM’s maternal uncle and revolutionary colleague Lalitkumar Chatterjee of Koya was Ramaprasad’s father-in-law.


On 10 December 1971, I had published a full page on “Poèmes du Bangladesh” in the French daily Le Monde. Instead of discussing politics, I enhanced the tone of revolt of the oppressed Bengali people of the then East Pakistan. Three days after this, André Malraux wrote to congratulate me for setting the stone rolling, and promised his backing.

As I mention it in my mini anthology, since this publication, several eminent literary magazines — Nouvelles littéraires, Lettres nouvelles, Europe  — invited me to write more on the subject. Judging from the increasing number of poems, I was encouraged by my colleagues and by René Sieffert — the President of the Oriental School (University Paris III) where I had been teaching — to bring them out in a book form. When the book came out, one of the first titles of the university publications (P.O.F.), the literary critic of the Figaro wrote a warm article to welcome this endeavour of “the delicious Franco-Bengali poet Prithwindra Mukherjee.” With a view to promote this anthology, Jean-Louis Barrault and Madeleine Renaud proposed to read out extracts of the book for a gramophone record, with the famous company Adès from Paris.

Who were these artists ? Madeleine Renaud (1900-94) was the glamorous actress well known all over the world for her interpretation of classical and contemporary authors like Ionesco, Beckett, Duras for the stage, and a good number of prestigious films. Having been member of the national theatre (Comédie française 1921-46), she founded with her husband Jean-Louis Barrault their Renaud-Barrault Company (1946). Jean-Louis Barrault (1910-94) was both a stage-director and actor for classical and contemporary masterpieces. A personal friend of avant-garde authors like Artaud, Claudel, Genet, Beckett, he had considerably influenced these playwrights. With his wife, he was fully engaged in progressive art forms.

As far as the Solidarity Movement was concerned, I was requested by my friend, the then Indian Ambassador in Paris, Dwarkanath Chatterjee, to collaborate with his First Secretary K. Sibal  : we had to  keep the French intelligentsia and the press informed about events in the then East Pakistan. For instance, personally I met journalists on desk with copies of the book by Masquranhes, The Rape Of Bangladesh. In 2000, on returning to Paris as India’s Ambassador, K. Sibal openly recognized how intimately we had collaborated.

Fond of working from behind the curtain, I had, however, rushed to Orly Airport to support the adventurous French author Jean Kay’s action in seizing a Pakistani aircraft; about to be arrested by the security police, I was timely rescued by Mathieu Thuret, a friend of mine who had been working for the KLM company, insisting that I had an appointment with him for lunch.

People like the Bengali author Manoj Basu at times asked Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (“Bangabandhu”) whether he was aware of my active participation in the Bangladesh War. Bangabandhu always replied that he knew well my pedigree and had been awaiting my visit when he would welcome my homecoming. Indeed, in October 1973, when I went to see him, he hugged me warmly : “I greet in you the Fire that has led us till now.” Having always admired as a senior leader Bhupendrakumar Datta (one of Bagha Jatin’s closest disciples personifying the Flame that was Bagha Jatin), he asked me eagerly : “How is Bhupen-da ?”  In his Cabinet there were three Ministers who had been Bhupen-da’s  followers. All the three came and met me at the Indian journalists’ mess near Bangabandhu’s residence in Dhâkâ, managed by my friend Dipta Sen, a senior journalist of the Hindustan Times, New Delhi.

In course of our short conversation,  Bangabandhu informed me that he had requisitioned Bagha Jatin’s native home and property at Koya, near Silaidah, to establish there Bagha Jatin Military Academy, without, however, mentioning RPS at all, perhaps out of respect for the latter’s mysterious fate. Offering me a souvenir book, he wrote with his elegant signature : aabaar aasben. (“Come again”).   

Later in the day, after my meeting Bangabandhu,  Phani Majumdar, the Cabinet Minister, came to see me. I had heard from Panchanan Chakrabarti, a leader from Madaripur, that Majumdar had been one of his most efficient assistants, in the mid-20s, in electing Subhas Bose at the head of the Bengal Provincial Congress, defeating J.M. Sengupta, Gandhi’s candidate. Later, as a senior member of the Awami League like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — both hailing from the district Faridpur — Majumdar and Ramesh Datta as MLAs elected from Madaripur, were guided by the veteran revolutionary Bhupendrakumar Datta, MP, disciple of JNM, especially during the Ayyubshahi reign of Terror against Bengalis in the late 50s. The very first question Majumdar asked me was : “Did you know Lalitkumar Raychaudhuri ?” Surprised, I admitted that he was my pishemashay (aunt’s husband). The Minister smiled significantly before confessing : “I had been a school teacher in Kolkata. Your uncle was our Inspector. He was so severe that we all took sick leave whenever it was his turn to visit our school.”  Then he confirmed that Bangabandhu had full knowledge of the lakh of rupees that had been sanctioned by RPS in about 1952, with a view to found a Bagha Jatin Military Academy at Koya. Relieved to learn that I have a clipping of TND’s lecture in my archives, Majumdar added that the fiery words uttered by TND had brought back to the memory of RPS the plans he had always had to establish a memorial worth the departed leader to whom he had owed a good deal.

It was a few months before Bangabandhu’s tragic assassination. I have preserved the clipping of Dipta Sen’s soul-wringing despatch, “A Gory Morning”.

In 2015 efforts will be made in Bangladesh, in West Bengal, in Orissa, and probably elsewhere in India, to celebrate the centenary of JNM’s heroic self-giving. People will be grateful if we could be associated with such an initiative and find out a befitting permanent solution to keep JNM’s memory alive in his birthplace.

Informed by a well-documented and thought-provoking paper by Mr Mofidul Hoque [4], it is expected that an international tribunal like the Nuremberg Court will be very soon in a measure to judge the surviving authors — their list is available — of genocide, enforced disappearance of persons of significance like RPS, and crime against humanity perpetrated in former East Pakistan known today as Bangladesh. It is time we stand up to proclaim : “Ich bin ein Bangladais!” and welcome this humanitarian revision of History.

Dr Prithwindra Mukherjee
CNRS-Paris (retired)

[1] The Indian Councils Act 1861 made several changes to the Council’s composition. Three members were to be appointed by the Secretary of State for India, and two by the Sovereign. (The power to appoint all five members passed to the Crown in 1869.) The Governor-General was empowered to appoint an additional six to twelve members. This was changed to ten to sixteen members in 1892, and to sixty members in 1909. The five individuals appointed by the Indian Secretary or Sovereign headed the executive departments, while those http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_India appointed by the Governor-General debated and voted on legislation. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_India]

[2] The word race in this context as well as in Sri Aurobindo’s sayings has no racial implication, contrary to what it will stand for, later.

[3] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol.III, pp.318, 320

[4] “Disappeared  ba nikhonj manusher adhikar evam ananya shahid R. P. Shaha” in  Ranada Prasad Shaha Smarak Grantha, Shahitya Prakash, Dhaka, 2013, pp.164-171.


About the author: Dr Prithwindra Mukherjee (b. 20th October 1936) is the grandson of the famous revolutionary Jatindranath Mukherjee alias Bagha Jatin. He came to Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1948, studied and taught at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. He was mentioned by the Sahitya Akademi manuals and anthologies as a poet before he attained the age of twenty. He has translated the works of French authors like Albert Camus, Saint-John Perse and René Char for Bengali readers, and eminent Bengali authors into French. He shifted to Paris with a French Government Scholarship in 1966. After defending a first thesis Doctorat d’Université on Sri Aurobindo at Sorbonne, he served as a lecturer in two Paris faculties, a producer on Indian culture and music for Radio France and was also a freelance journalist for the Indian and French press. His next thesis for PhD (Doctorat d’Etat) studied the pre-Gandhian phase of India’s struggle for freedom; it was supervised by Raymond Aron in Paris University IV. In 1977 he was invited by the National Archives of India as a guest of the Historical Records Commission. He presented a paper on ‘Jatin Mukherjee and the Indo-German Conspiracy’ and his contribution on this area has been recognized by eminent educationists. A number of his papers on this subject have been translated into major Indian languages. He went to the United States of America as a Fullbright scholar and discovered scores of files covering the Indian revolutionaries in the Wilson Papers. In 1981 he joined the department of ethnomusicology attached to the CNRS-Paris (French National Centre of Scientific Research) with the project of a cognitive study of the scales of Indian music. He was also a founder-member of the French Literary Translators’ Association. In 2003 he retired as a researcher in Human and Social Sciences Department of the CNRS. A recipient of ‘Sri Aurobindo Puraskar’, in the same year he was invited by Sir Simon Rattle who was to conduct Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for the world premiere of Correspondances, opus for voice (with the divine participation of Dawn Upshaw) and orchestra, where the veteran composer Henri Dutilleux had set to music Prithwindra’s French poem “Danse cosmique” on Shiva Nataraja, followed by texts by Solzhenitsyn, Rilke and Van Gogh. In 2009 he was appointed to the rank of chevalier (Knight) of the Order of Arts and Letters by the Minister of Culture of France. Six years later the Minister of Culture appointed him Knight, too. In 2014, the French Academy recognized Prithwindra’s entire contribution by its Hirayama Award. He has penned more than seventy books in English, Bengali and French and some of his published works include Samasamayiker Chokhe Sri Aurobindo, Pondicherryer Dinguli, Bagha Jatin, Sadhak-Biplobi Jatindranath, Undying Courage, Vishwer Chokhe Rabindranath, Thât/Mélakartâ : The Fundamental Scales in Indian Music of the North and the South (foreword by Pandit Ravi Shankar), Poèmes du Bangladesh (welcomed by the literary critic of Le Figaro as the work of the “delicious Franco-Bengali poet”), Serpent de flammes, Le sâmkhya, Les écrits bengalis de Sri Aurobindo, Chants bâuls, les Fous de l’Absolu, Anthologie de la poésie bengalie. Invited by the famous French publishers Desclée de Brouwer, his biography Sri Aurobindo was launched with due tribute by Kanwal Sibal, India’s ambassador in France. His PhD thesis, Les racines intellectuelles du movement d’independence de l’Inde (1893-1918) was foreworded by Jacques Attali: it ended up with Sri Aurobindo, “the last of the Prophets”. While launching Prithwindra’s biography Bagha Jatin published by National Book Trust, H. E. Pranab Mukherjee admitted: “It is an epitome of the history of our armed struggle for freedom.” To celebrate the centenary of Tagore’s Nobel award, in 2013, Prithwindra brought out a trilingual (Bengali-French-English) anthology of 108 poems by Tagore, A Shade Sharp, a Shade flat, it was launched by the President of the illustrious Sociéte des Gens de Lettres founded by Balzac. In 2020 he was honoured with the prestigious ‘Padma Shri’ by the Government of India.

7 Replies to “Ranada Prasad Shaha: Dreamer of a Glorious Bengal by Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee

  1. Dear Anuragda,
    The article/tribute to Ranada Shaha was moving.
    By highlighting these unsung heroes Overman Foundation is doing a great service.
    Rahul Sridhar

  2. Dear Anurag … Extremely well written📝 eulogy of a great son of Bengal and Mother India – the present generation has a lot to learn from his work and life .
    Surendra singh chouhan – SAICE’69

  3. Cher Docteur Mukherjee, quelle joie sans cesse renouvelée de se désaltérer à la fontaine inépuisable de votre savoir. La simple lecture du résumé de vos réalisations donne le vertige! Mais elle donne également l’envie de plonger dans cette période captivante de l’Histoire de la Renaissance de l’Inde. En tant que Québécois de descendance française, je suis particulièrement sensibilisé à cette façon dont les impérialistes britanniques du 19e siècle imposaient leur soi-disant supériorité morale à leurs colonies. Cela me permet d’apprécier la grande efficacité avec laquelle votre illustre grand-père, sous la direction éclairée de Sri Aurobindo, a su, avec tant d’autres combattants de la liberté que vous évoquez si bien, organiser et préparer l’indépendance de l’Inde.

  4. Dear Anurag ji
    The letter by Dr Prithwindra Mukherjee ji is extremely touching and inspirational! Overman Foundation is doing a commendable job by bringing to light the contributions of such great people. It is a privilege to be able to read such heart touching accounts of the legends. Thanks a lot for publishing such a beautiful write up.

    Giti Tyagi
    Editor, Creative Artist, International Author, Poetess, Translator, Book Reviewer

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