Reading Anandamath, Understanding Hindutva: Postcolonial Literatures and the Politics of Canonization

By Chandrima Chakraborty
(McMaster University)

The publication of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981) and, more significantly, its winning the Booker Prize, was followed by an enormous increase in the publication of English language fiction by the Indian diaspora.[1] The resurgence in academic interest in India and in the British Raj validated the numerous gastronomic metaphors in Midnight's Children for people, places, and events as diasporic publications made "India" both available and edible for the metropolitan reader/consumer. However, the academic interest in Indian literatures was selective; it did not extend to Indian literatures written in languages other than English. G. J. V. Prasad notes that discussions of postcolonialism and Indian literature revolve around only English writings:

It is almost as if writers in other languages in India escaped this historical experience. It is also as if Indian English writers do not have access to other Indian traditions, as if they exist in a vacuum, or a space created solely by British colonialism untouched by earlier or even contemporary later continuums and concerns. (189)

Now, two decades after the publication of Midnight's Children and with postcolonial studies established as an interdisciplinary field of study, almost all Indian literature taught in postcolonial literature courses in North America is that originally written in English/"english." Although the unavailability of translations has plagued Indian literatures in regional languages for a long time, in the last decade quality translations of literature from one regional language to another as well as from various regional languages to English have become available. Publishing houses such as Seagull, Heinemann, Oxford, and Penguin have been doing translations since the early 1990s; Macmillan India has a "Translation" series and Katha Publication the "Classics" series. The Sahitya Akademi and UNESCO have also taken a keen interest in translations and are primarily involved in translating texts from one regional language into another.

Yet, in this age of global markets and online bookstores, very little of Indian literature in languages other than English is included in the syllabi of postcolonial courses in North America. Thus, this essay considers the role played by universities in marginalizing non-English language texts and legitimizing diasporic English publications within the postcolonial field of production. It establishes the inadequate attention paid to the histories of postcolonial literatures, that is, the contexts of their authorship, publication, and mode of incorporation in the "first" world academy.[2] It draws attention to the historical, linguistic, and locational factors that define postcolonial studies in academic institutions in North America, proposing a rethinking of its preferences and, through the teaching of non-English texts in translation, an inclusion of the diversity of postcolonial literatures.

Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay's (1838-94) Anandamath,[3] a foundational text for the understanding of Indian nationalism, is analyzed as a representative text that can help students of postcolonial literatures to understand the material conditions under which texts are produced, distributed, and consumed. Bankim[4] has been variously described as the father of the Indian novel and as one of the most important Indian political novelists of the anti-colonial era. Histories of the Indian novel and the anti-colonial movement in India often refer back to Bankim, and to Anandamath in particular, which was the first nationalist imagining of the "nation" as mother in Indian fiction.[5] The hymn Bande Mataram (Hail Mother) in Anandamath became the unofficial anthem during the partition of Bengal in 1905 and in the ensuing struggle for independence from British rule. This song and Bankim's construction of the nation as mother again gained prominence as Indian politics took a strong Rightward swing from the 1980s. Hindutva ideologues recurrently invoke and interpret Bankim's Anandamath in dangerous ways to self-represent themselves as bearing the mantle of true Indian (i.e., Hindu) nationalism.[6]

Evidently, Anandamath's imagining of a new anti-colonial subject in response to British imperialism continues to provide a foundation for contemporary self-identifications. Yet, Bankim is an unfamiliar or seldom heard name in North America. Thus, my choice of a canonical Indian author and a controversial text is an attempt to establish the politics of canonization, both within India and beyond. The aim is not simply to interrogate nationalist history but to show how it gets written and read in varying socio-historical contexts. The essay hopes to disturb the stability of canons with a focus on questions of literary history, the materiality of production, and the politics of postcolonial literary consumption in North America.


Translation functioned as one of the significant technologies of colonial domination in India. In Orientalism, Edward W. Said argues that translation serves "to domesticate the Orient and thereby turn it into a province of European learning" (78). James Mill's The History of British India illustrates Said's point that the Orient is a "representation" and what is represented is not a real place, but "a set of references, a congeries of characteristics, that seems to have its origin in a quotation, or a fragment of a text, or a citation from someone's work on the Orient, or some bit of a previous imagining, or an amalgam of all these" (177). Though Mill had never been to India, he had written three volumes about it by the end of 1817. His History, considered an "authoritative" work on Indian life and society, constructed a version of "Hindoo nature" as uncivilized, effeminate, and barbaric, culled from the translations of Orientalists such as Jones, Williams, Halhed, and Colebrook. Its "profound effect upon the thinking of civil servants" (Kopf 236) and on new generations of Orientalist and other scholars working on India shows how Orientalist translations of "classic" Indian texts facilitated Indians' status as what Said calls "representations" or objects without history.

Today in North American academic institutions, the phenomenon of postcoloniality involves a similar process of translation within universities, "translated writing" to use Rushdie's oft-quoted phrase. The field of postcolonial literatures is the locus of negotiations between different cultures. However, difference is often appreciated in the terms of the first world reader/critic. Not unlike Orientalist and colonialist studies, postcolonial studies established in the center as an academic discipline draws sustenance from the once colonial, now cultural, margins. It controls the movement of texts produced in the third world within an economy regulated largely by Western metropolitan demand. As David Damrosch notes, "works become world literature by being received into the space of a foreign culture, a space defined in many ways by the host culture's national tradition ..." (514). Thus, world literature is "always as much about the host culture's values and needs as it is about a work's source culture; hence, it is a double refraction" (514). Since metropolitan cultural norms and needs determine the selection of works for postcolonial or world literature courses, it influences what is translated, marketed, and read.

Postcolonial course lists in North American universities suggest that the third world is marketable only insofar as it can be translated for metropolitan consumers/readers. Texts by metropolitan writers from the third world are considered to be easily translatable and comprehensible marginal voices, and are included in postcolonial syllabi for their close affinity to Western modes of writing.[7] The first world thus continues to add value to texts from the third world in its own self-privileging terms. Elleke Boehmer (236) and Graham Huggan (xiii) note that the appeal of migrant literatures lies in their exoticism and in representing the "other," while speaking in an aesthetic language familiar to the Anglo-American academy. Timothy Brennan, in Salman Rushdie and the Third World, illustrates postcolonial studies' preferential treatment of "cosmopolitan" principles and writers — especially novelists — and the privilege given to texts amenable to theories, using Rushdie as an example.

Indeed, exile, hybridity, and diaspora are some of the key concepts that define postcolonial literatures today. While Said's use of the concept of "worldliness" privileges global metropolitan culture, Rushdie has become not only the representative of the postcolonial migrant writer, but also the staunchest defender of migrant/diasporic writing. In his Introduction to the Vintage anthology of Indian writing, Rushdie states that the aim of the collection is to show that the works of Indian writers in English is "a stronger and more important body of work than most of what has been produced in the ‘official languages' of India, the so-called ‘vernacular languages'..." (x). Rushdie's celebrity status in North America and his dismissal of Indian writing in languages other than English have perpetuated the amnesia of several thousand years of Indian literary history and of authors before and after Rushdie, although vernacular literatures continued to exist alongside new forms in India. The amnesia has included primarily literature in various regional languages, but also to some extent English-language writers who live and publish in India.[8] Thus Pankaj Mishra diagnoses Indian writing in English as suffering from "Rushdieitis," an effect of the reception of Rushdie's work as the representative writer (cited in Rushdie, Introduction xii).

The inability of most local publishers to compete in the global marketplace has also contributed to the notion that English language writing is a product only of diasporic and metropolitan authors, "written by elites, and defined and canonized by elites" (Boehmer 239-40). Arif Dirlik focuses on the glossing of complex issues of class privilege in uncritical celebration of diasporic writers. He holds some postcolonial academics in the United States to task for reaping the benefits of commodified postcoloniality, arguing that "postcoloniality is the condition of the intelligentsia of global capitalism" (356). On a similar note, Kwame Anthony Appiah writes, "[p]ostcoloniality is the condition of what we might ungenerously call a comprador intelligentsia: of a relatively small, Western-style, Western-trained group of writers and thinkers who mediate the trade in cultural commodities of world capitalism at the periphery" (149). The uncritical celebration of migrant habitations of interstitial spaces also erases those migrant experiences that are conservative and fundamentalist.[9] Recently, Shiv Visvanathan has drawn attention to the role of the diaspora in "enabling a new form of Orientalism," asserting that the Orientalist archive is being created in contemporary times on "the campuses of the American universities with the children of the diaspora as consumers" (72). He writes, "India is constructed and consumed in a new way by the children of the diaspora, many of whom are as wary of India as any Orientalist was, and as caught in the stereotypes of poverty, development, secularism and Bollywood. Not only is there a West in us, there is an ‘us' in the West" (71-72).

Therefore, in designing postcolonial literature courses one has to be sensitive to the innumerable specificities of texts and their contexts, as well as carefully situate texts so that they are capable of dialogues, alliances, contestations, and collaborations, thus preventing the "misperception of postcolonial teaching as an autoethnographic exercise in cultural translation" (Huggan 247). In the context of India, for example, Aijaz Ahmad recognizes that "direct knowledge of an ‘Indian' literature presumes the knowledge of so many languages that only rare specialists could command them all" (In Theory 250). Yet he urges for a better understanding of Indian literature as comprised of numerous regional authors to combat the current trend of English to become "the [dominant] language in which the knowledge of ‘Indian' literature is produced" (250).

The absence of less globally recognized texts and authors in postcolonial courses have also led to Ahmad's reductionism of the field to "a polite way of saying non-white, not-Europe, or perhaps not-Europe-but-inside-Europe" ("Politics" 8), and to Harish Trivedi's description of postcolonialism as "a little family quarrel between the white peoples of what is now an extended First World" (271). This resistance to postcolonial theory as yet another imposition of the Western academy by authors and academics in the so-called third world is not new. However, it is not enough to merely recognize such hyperbolic statements. They need to be problematized through attention to works by non-migrant scholars, such as Anwar Abdel Malek, Ashapurna Devi, Samir Amin, Rabindranath Tagore, Romila Thapar, K. M. Pannikar, and Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, among others. These scholars reveal the fallacy of describing postcolonial studies as an invention of first world academia. For example, Said, in "Orientalism Reconsidered," acknowledges that much of what he said in Orientalism had been said long before by some of these scholars and writers (4). However, most North American readers are not familiar with their works; attention to them in postcolonial literature courses can alert students in the metropolis to the scholarly work that has been and continues to be done outside metropolitan university campuses and research institutions.

It will also help to interrogate the familiar binary that W. J. T. Mitchell posits between postcolonial cultural spaces and "postimperial criticism," when he writes:

[T]he most important new literature is now emerging from the former colonies of the Western empires — from (for instance) Africa, South America, Australia, New Zealand; the most provocative new criticism is emanating from research universities in the advanced industrial democracies, that is, from the former centers of the ‘Western Empires − Europe and the United States. (14)

Literary texts of the postcolonial world themselves contribute to the theorization of issues of postcolonialism. Postcolonial texts from India, like those of Africa and the Caribbean, are the main sources for the development of postcolonial literary theory, as it is through literary imaginings that colonized natives attempted to self-represent and to understand their cultural and political situations. Raja Rao, Rabindranath Tagore, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, O Chandu Menon, Premchand, Toru Dutta, and other older Indian authors debated issues of creolization, cosmopolitanism, orality, and indigeneity in their fictional and non-fictional works. For instance, the Foreword of Raja Rao's Kanthapura (1938) shows that Rushdie's conceptualization of translated men is not original. Rao underscores the difficulty of Indian writers writing in English when he notes the challenges of writing in "a language that is not one's own to convey the spirit that is one's own" (vii). He advocates using Indian narrative strategies and Indianizing the English language. He does not claim to be writing in a foreign tongue; he suggests that he is creating a language as he infuses the "tempo of Indian life" into the English language (vii).

Bankim, on the other hand, constructs a new, manly Bengali vernacular in order to create a new masculine subject. His fictional and non-fictional works redefine the colonized subject and interrogate Western hegemonic myths of supremacy, facilitating the formulation of national identities. Although sharing a similar regional bias and writing during the same era as Bankim, Tagore disavows nationalism.[10] He suggests that nation building itself can be understood as a colonial activity. In Nationalism, a collection of essays, and in the novels Gora and Ghare Baire, Tagore expresses his dissatisfaction with the ideology of nationalism because it erases local cultures and promotes a homogeneous national culture. He demonstrates the violent consequences of Bankim's gendered, upper-caste, Hindu nationalist formulations. Thus, reading Bankim and Tagore together in a course can allow students to see that the historical moment that produced hegemonic nationalist imaginings and from which the contemporary Hindu Right draws sustenance was already divided and already self-critical.

Including texts such as Anandamath along with migrant writing in the syllabi of North American universities will help to delineate the changing historical configurations of the Indian nation and highlight the new conceptualization of the metropolis in contemporary times. Colonized Bengali subjects such as Bankim responded to the colonial encounter with Britain through literary representations and imaginings that established the colonial or anti-colonial subject as different. Their perception of cultural decline and of the security of "traditional" identities resulted in efforts to create a "national" culture.[11] In the process they constructed and modernized traditions and created new identities. On the contrary, migrant writers in North America are faced with the inevitability of fluid, hybrid configurations in the metropolis. Postcolonial scholars demonstrate interest in migrant writings that unequivocally link the first and the third world. However, older non-English Indian writings such as Bankim's reveal that the experience and identity of "India" have been for a long time bound up with the "West" and vice versa. Teaching indigenous-language texts in translation along with diasporic texts in English will foreground the necessity of dialogue in the sharing and reworking of cultural identities. It will enable students to see the links between colonial and anti-colonial discourse in the very inception of the Indian nation as well as recognize its continued relevance in the present. Thus, revised postcolonial courses will represent the heterogeneity of cultural margins without allowing the needs of the metropolis to construct the margins for its students.


Colonialism created a new English-educated middle class in nineteenth-century India that drew its sustenance from and collaborated with the British colonizers. This very same class also led the struggle against colonialism. Bankim is representative of this class: English-educated, employee of the East India Company, and a key ideologue of the anti-colonial movement in Bengal. Concerned about the absence or loss of history and historical consciousness, Bankim sought recourse in imagination. His novels and essays echo the disavowal of native Bengali/Indian history claimed in colonialist historiography. They point to the ideological imperatives and mythification involved in the writing of colonial history. His novel Anandamath skillfully appropriates the potential of "invented traditions" (Hobsbawm and Ranger) and "imagined communities" (Anderson), not to assert the truth but to choose a particular history. His invention of a usable past to suit the anti-colonial agenda of the time shows how the creation of "national" identification must essentially proceed through the imaginary rather than through essentialized "natural" affiliations.

Interestingly, the period from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century has become a key area of contestation and appropriation in recent times. Since the late 1980s, India has witnessed a resurgence of the Hindu Right in regional and national politics. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliates[12] invoke texts, leaders, and movements from this earlier era to establish their legitimacy in the nation's present and, more importantly, its future. The Left in India, in all its varieties, also draws upon the legacies of the anti-colonial movement to combat Hindutva. The Left tries to remind Indians of the united, anti-imperialist struggle of all Indians and the "values" of the past, such as secularism, democracy, and rationalism (Alam 84-85). In academia, such political contests have resulted in a surge of research on the history and politics of colonial India. The contemporary situation, however, requires a careful and thorough backward look beyond the historical and political archive to the fictional imaginings of the nation that contributed to and further determined the conventions of national identity.[13] Bankim's novel Anandamath is exemplary in this regard. It played a decisive role in the political history of the province of Bengal and continues to inflect nationalist imagination in contemporary India.

Bankim, the acclaimed originator of the Indian novel, was interpellated by the colonialist discourse on Indian effeminacy. In "A Popular Literature for Bengal," he discards traditional Bengali literature for its alleged femininity and turns instead to the manly vigor of "modern" European rationality. He draws a direct link between the "effeminate poetical" literature of Bengal and the existence of an "effeminate and sensual race" (Bankim 3: 99, 98). Consequently, he sets himself the task of infusing masculine rationality into this supposedly "effeminate" Bengali vernacular. This link between language and effeminacy is highly significant because Bankim's works mark a constitutive moment in the gendering of national identity. Through a modern and "manly" vernacular he constructs the trope of the ascetic nationalist, lays down new criteria of social responsibility as filial duty to the nation, and fashions new forms of political mobilization.

British denigration of the Indian middle class as weak and effeminate and the general British criticism of Hindu culture and customs provided the impetus for indigenous leaders and literati to define an alternative masculinity. In The Intimate Enemy Ashis Nandy argues that the nineteenth-century Indian elite saw the British as an agent of change and progress and accepted the ethos of aggressive imperial masculinity. It held itself responsible for its subject status and chose the kshatriya model of manliness, seen as equivalent to the imperial model of masculinity (7). Although Indian nationalists did prioritize kshatriyahood, they did not deny the ascetic model of brahmanical masculinity. They drew upon features from the ascetic model to enhance the kshatriya model, thus merging kshatriya virtues with brahmanical ascetic practices. This took place at different historical moments: variously combined indigenous models of masculinity and borrowed elements from imperial masculinity formulated different, historical versions of an ascetic nationalist male.

The nationalist elite renewed their claims to a separate and distinctive cultural identity through a complex interactive process of appropriation and contestation of Orientalist perceptions of "India." The pre-colonial ("classical") Indian past was constructed through Orientalist discoveries, excavations, and translations. Nineteenth and early twentieth-century nationalists drew upon Orientalist writings to provide a narrative of the nation. They retraced their steps back to the "classical" past and projected it into the future as the destiny of the people. The reconstruction of a heroic past transformed apparent deficiencies into definitions of the Bengali/Hindu self. Bankim, for example, can shame the contemporary Bengali male as effeminate and cowardly through a portrayal of his degeneration — his loss of status, strength, and martial valor. Unlike imperialist discourse, he also identifies Westernization as a cause of the emasculation of the indigenous Hindu male. In essays such as "Bharat Kalanka" (India's Shame), "Kamalakanta," and "Babu," his conceptualization of the degeneration of the body of the Hindu male becomes the symbol of the negative impact of colonial rule. He identifies the elite's obsession with studies as the cause of "brain fever" and "feeble development of muscles" (Rosselli 124, 125). He holds English education responsible for the widespread desire to mimic British manners and customs. He suggests that the material security that the British administration provided led to the elite's neglect of the physical culture of akharas (gymnasiums) and indigenous sports.

The masculinized discourse of Anandamath also identifies society's ailment as a lack of potent male power. The novel demonstrates the causes and consequences of the loss of masculinity and the possibilities of reparation — primarily through a drive for physical regeneration, militancy for the nation, celibacy, and devotion to a gendered nation. The plot of the novel revolves around the male protagonist Mahendra, a prosperous landowner who converts to the cause of Indian liberation after meeting ascetic nationalists or santans[14] and Satyananda, their leader. Through Mahendra, Bankim depicts the establishment of the new nationalist male subject.

Anandamath also depicts events that show Bengali valor in past confrontations with the alien invaders (Muslim and British). It attempts to remind the supposedly emasculated Bengalis that "in the long history of subjection there are great episodes of resistance" (Kaviraj 107). It counters allegations of the Bengali male as "helpless, timid, accustomed to crouch under oppression" (Macaulay 12) and proves "Western historiography as false" (Kaviraj 107). It engages in the power/knowledge nexus in the colonial domain by presenting the Bengalis, and by extension Hindus, with their supposedly forgotten military heritage. This presence of physical prowess in the past is then established as constitutive of Bengali/Hindu masculinity.

However, Bankim's imagining is metaphorical, strategic, and selective. His search for martial Bengalis/Hindus/Indians converges on the Hindu warrior ascetics of the past. He taps into the populist appeal of the monastic orders and the historical existence of warrior monks to create the trope of the Hindu ascetic nationalist in his novel. He merges two contradictory figures from colonialist narratives: the popular, wandering, alms-seeking ascetic described in colonialist narratives as "idlers" and "frauds," and the revenue-collecting, warrior ascetics portrayed as "bandits," "murderers," and "villains."[15] Further, he establishes ascetic martiality as normative Hindu masculinity.

Anandamath portrays ascetics who, rather than denying reality or attempting to transcend the everyday, are crafting it. The self-sacrificing British officer engaged in selfless work in the colonies in colonialist narratives is countered with the image of the male ascetic nationalist who sacrifices his family and home for the liberation of the "nation." The santans must renounce everything for the sake of Mother India and take a vow never to meet their wives or children until the goal of liberation is reached. As a santan tells Mahendra: "When we have mastered all techniques and attained our goal, we shall return to our homes for our duties as householders" (Anandamath 41). To become santans, the protagonists Jibananda, Bhavananda , and Mahendra pass through a process of initiation, of which the central vow is self-conquest or the conquest of desire. Liberating the "nation" from foreigners is further projected as a moral endeavor, similar to the British civilizing mission in the colonies. Thus, Bankim recasts the "white man's burden," to use Rudyard Kipling's popular phrase, as the brown male's burden.

Though Bankim's notion of ascetic nationalism is an ideology that promises citizenship and the nation-state to the colonized, the emphasis on brahmacharya — celibate dedication − facilitates a relational construction of masculinity. As Satyananda explains:

Children are of two classes — those that are initiated and those that are not. Those that are not initiated are either house-holders or beggars. They present themselves only at time of warfare. They receive a certain portion of the spoils or are otherwise rewarded; and they retire. But those who are initiated have renounced all they hold dear and near to their hearts. They are the leaders of the Order. (Anandamath 76)

Thus, brahmacharya becomes a crucial marker of difference within society, and by extension the nation. The ritual of initiation legitimizes a hierarchy within the indigenous males, and further defines the trajectory that they are to follow. In other words, only those with certain behavioral characteristics, who have made certain kinds of sacrifices for the nation, can claim legitimate authority to be its leaders. Jibananda is forced to choose between the valorized ideal of manly self-control and his desire for his wife, Shanti. He must deny himself any sexual gratification in order to establish his masculinity and his honor. On the other hand, Bhavananda, who falls in love with Mahendra's wife, Kalyani, chooses to die in the battlefield as atonement for breaking his vow. Thus, the novel acknowledges the fallibility of the indigenous Hindu male, but portrays male ascetic nationalists as holding their vow of chastity in the highest regard. As a santan remarks, "We do not pretend to be above all attachment. We simply observe the sanctity of our vows" (Anandamath 41). This successfully refutes the derogatory construction of the Bengalis/Hindus as morally bankrupt and lacking in self-control and Bankim's protagonists emerge as agents in the production of a new self, the ascetic nationalist subject.

The creation of a new male subject also results in the reinterpretation and reconstruction of Hinduism. The nineteenth-century focus on Hinduism has been variously described as neo-Hinduism or Hindu revivalism. However, I am arguing that the emerging Hindu nationalist discourse was not a revival of a glorious past but a construction to suit the needs of the time. Bankim himself seems to acknowledge this when he makes the disciple in "Dharmatattva" (Theory of Religion) remind his guru that "No Hindu would agree with this kind of Hinduism of yours" (Mukherjee and Maddern 180). The re-interpretation of Hinduism was an effort at self-legitimation, but also a way to consolidate the power and privileges of the Hindu elite.

Anandamath shows how "national" culture is often invented in relation to a number of internal colonialisms. For instance, Bankim's iconography of the mother-as-land is based on a search for origins that legitimizes certain class, gender, and religious groups. A santan asserts,

We recognize no other mother ... The Motherland is our only mother. Our Motherland is higher than heaven. Mother India is our mother. We have no other mother. We have no father, no brother, no sister, no wife, no children, no home, no hearth — all we have is the Mother ... (Anandamath 38)

Here, the linking of Mother and Nation rejects living women and the bonds of family life that they represent for a completely symbolic woman-as-nation. It signifies essentially a passionate appeal to filial duty. The notion of combat also plays a central role in the construction of nationalist masculinity in the novel. At the initiation ceremony Mahendra has to take the vow to fight using arms, followed by the vow to never flee away from the battlefield (Bankim 1:751) Bankim conflates masculinity with bravery and considers "militarization of spirit necessary for being a good Hindu and a patriot" (Alam 107). Thus women and non-combatants are successfully excluded from the imagined nation.

Further, Bankim's anthromorphization of the land through mother goddess images drawn from the Hindu pantheon leaves no scope for demographic changes in the Bengali/Indian population. The "discovery" of the Hindu elite's Aryan lineage and the supposed superior masculinity of their (Aryan) ancestors in a heroic age justify their claim to superiority in the present. The transition from a once-golden past to present misery is attributed to factors perceived to be extraneous to the original genius of the culture: the Mughal rule. Mill, Macaulay, and various Orientalist scholars compared the supposed backwardness of Indian society to barbaric medieval Europe and equated the Mughal era with Muslim depravity and religious aggression. Bankim's iconography of the nation similarly presents his readers with a glorious, "classical" Hindu India followed by a "medieval" India of the Muslim, and finally the "modern," civilizing and secularizing era initiated by the British. The exclusion of Muslims from the essence of the Indian (i.e., Hindu) nation in the schema makes such nationalist historiography readily available to contemporary Hindutva nationalist politics. Bankim's discourse on gender, religion, class, and sexuality defines the distinctions of the Hindu elite self and identifies marginal members of the body politic. Thus, it facilitates not only the reconstruction of the cultural past but also shapes the social taxonomies defining who will be excluded from the future of the desired nation.


Evidently, national traditions are invented as nations are imagined, but there can be several contested inventions and imaginations. The cultural material used for such strategic inventions and imaginations is also historically produced. Yet, Bankim's imagined constructions of national community in Anandamath have in contemporary times reified into structures of epistemological orthodoxy. The Hindu Right invokes Bankim's fictional imaginings to unify historical memory and to secure consent in the present, urging Indians to forget that they were inventions of a historical moment. They also construct a hegemonic Hindu nationalist identity, consciously erasing other narratives that undercut the constructed synchronic origins of the nation in the late nineteenth century (e.g. Tagore). Selective appeal to older literary imaginings makes the fusion of the land, the people, and national history with a particular political community possible. The Hindu Right urges Hindus to emulate the selfless devotion of (real or imagined) past "patriots" in an effort to consolidate its own hegemony through this evocation of a linear religious and nationalist tradition. Their selective appeal to past narrative imaginings is an effort to emphasize the homogeneity of the "national" community and the difference of the "other" (the Indian Muslim and the Indian Christian). Further, Bankim's narrative imaginings are valued primarily as a directional vector towards the future. Through the establishment of an imaginary lineage, which binds the past with the present and serves as a guide to the future, they posit a resurrection of ideas and ideological positions that can transcend temporal constraints.

The importance of Bankim's nationalist imaginings (particularly Anandamath) in providing the epistemological methodology for the present Hindu Right's construction of a nationalist imaginary cannot be overstated. Bankim's formulation of a certain kind of elite, masculinist, Hindu nationalist ideology, although a product of a particular historical moment, is now, subject to reconstitution, being recruited to many different agendas. In the RSS's exercise regimen, in militancy for the Hindu people, and in the endowing of leadership on saffron-clad males we see the resurgence of nationalist militancy as portrayed in Anandamath. The Sangh Parivar's intense anxiety about emasculation and the resultant emphasis on the development of physical strength through exercises and the practice of celibacy is reminiscent of Bankim's anxieties about diet, sexuality, and physical strength. Similar to Bankim, the Sangh considers the Gita as providing the basis for a morality of acting in the world. Bankim's emphasis on military valor as the path to national regeneration also continues in Hindutva discourse of the present. Like Bankim's santans, the members of the RSS are seen to voluntarily sacrifice their bodies for the nation. The hymn, Bande Mataram, which develops in the course of Bankim's Anandamath to become a chant, a battle cry that sacralizes war, is the anthem of the RSS. It provides ideological justification for the use of violence as a way to assert Hindu manhood vis-à-vis Muslim males.[16] Bankim's valorization of the warrior tradition now translates into actual violence, as Hindutva manliness is defined by aggression, physical strength, and violence against religious minorities.

What is glossed over in drawing a direct lineage between anti-colonialism, nationalism, and Hindutva are the selections and exclusions that are essential to the creation of this lineage. In "Dharmatattva," for instance, Bankim espouses the need to develop physical abilities and establishes the protection of oneself, one's family, and one's country as the duty (dharma) of every individual. He undoubtedly promotes ascetic masculine behavior and martial valor, but balances it with values of justice. The exemplar is his reconstructed Krishna, who embodies martial valor with compassion and forgiveness (Bankim 1:750). Thus he establishes disciplined martiality for the nation as an ethical category, which is distinct from public violence and aggression against religious minorities. Hindutva ideologues gloss over this significant distinction. Similarly, Bankim's notion of "just war" was formulated as self-defense, whereas Hindutva's conflation of masculinist metaphors of the warrior tradition and political violence has redefined "just war" to mean violence against Muslims and, to a lesser extent, Christians.

The Sangh's aim is to gloss over the ambivalences and contradictions in Bankim's works in order to make issues of history and politics seem to be part of the common sense of the "national" community, and thus bypass both discussion and debate. The Sangh does not do close readings of its favored texts and personalities of the anti-colonial or nationalist struggle(s), but attempts to make "Indians" (i.e., Hindus) accept them as revealed truth. Unfortunately, its selective reaffirmation and recuperation of certain kinds of nationalist texts and personalities have resulted in the creation of "a mystificatory discourse" (Kearney 166). The absence of persistent critiques of the strategic use of nationalist texts such as Anandamath have resulted in the essentializing of this novel, so much so that the Sangh can unhesitatingly require Indians to be counted as "the people" through a shared allegiance to the past imagining that this text (in the Sangh's view) presents.

As the Hindu Right in India continues to use older texts that provide nationalist myths and histories to build upon and strengthen its discourse of homogenous nationalism, endeavors must be made to bring to peoples' attention the nature of their construction. Notwithstanding the power of the Mother India and the ascetic nationalist tropes, one historically-engaged response to the Hindu Right's appropriations of Anandamath is to remind readers that it was a fiction, the invention of a cultural moment that continues to displace and obscure the material conditions under which the text emerged. It is necessary to highlight how subjects were constituted in earlier anti-colonial and nationalist literary texts and situate literary texts as representations of specific historical moments in which individual authors engaged in a discursive struggle over the interpretation of their identities. The reading of literary texts as plural, conflicted, and multivalent in which representations of class, caste, gender, and religion overlap and intersect in myriad ways can bring about a problematization of what is being offered as historical common sense. The theoretical challenge is to recognize the power of writing and the crucial role of representation in narratives of the past as well as in the narratives we produce as we read or write about them. Therefore, along with a conscious engagement with the politics in anti-colonial texts such as Anandamath, one has to also engage in the politics of whether we do or do not include them in University course lists, and in how we read and write about them.

Expanding postcolonial course lists in Indian literature to include translations of older non-English language texts can make visible the ideological processes by which meaning in culture is produced and naturalized. Anandamath is a good exemplar for showing how representation is constructed and authorized within specific socio-cultural contexts and patronages[17] and it leads us to question the contemporary privilege given to migrant writing. Postcolonial criticism cannot simply document the processes by which colonial narratives became dominant or replace those dominant narratives with diasporic postcolonial narratives published in the West. Postcolonial texts in the curriculum should reveal the difference that colonialism represents as well as engage with contemporary figurations of past forms of ideological hegemony.

I am urging for an inclusion of Anandamath in postcolonial syllabi of universities at this historical juncture because of its current status as a key text of the Hindu Right.[18] The text should figure on the postcolonial literature syllabuses both for its unparalleled impact on Indian nationalist movements and for its pertinence today as an important source for understanding and interrogating contemporary militant, masculine, Hindu nationalism in India. Contrary to Hindutva assertions, Bankim's representational strategies and use of a reinvigorated, elite, masculinist Hindu nationalism to fight ideologies of domination needs to be contextualized and evaluated as an individual act of assertion and resistance and not as exemplifying prescriptive practices. Situating this text within critical academic discussions can illustrate the politics of canonization (exclusion, selection, and appropriation) engaged in by scholars of the Hindu Right; and fresh critical insights can effectively resist similar attempts to appropriate other nationalist texts, tropes, and personalities. The recovery of frozen and silenced literary texts should be part of a conscious political strategy to engage contemporary relations of domination as these have affected Indian society. In other words, postcolonial criticism needs to move beyond efforts to free the colonized/postcolonized from "the discursive ‘capture' of the texts of Euro-imperialism" (Tiffin 162); it also needs to resist endeavors of contemporary containment.



Midnight's Children was also the unanimous recipient of the commemorative "Booker of Bookers" in 1993. See Graham Huggan's discussion of the Booker Prize's key role in the legitimation, dissemination, and canonization of postcolonial fiction. He points to the irony of the eligibility for the prize being organized around Commonwealth literary principles while most of the judges and the seat of judgement remain British, thus reinstating Britain as a legitimizing cultural force (105-123).


The first use of the term "third world" was to establish a meaningful position for economically small countries, which did not require being part of American or Soviet hegemony. It soon implied a systematic understanding of the world in terms of capitalism ("first world," i.e. North America and Europe), socialism ("second world," i.e. Soviet Union) and all the others ("third world" or the "rest of the world"). Many scholars hold that with the disappearance of the second world in the 1980s, it no longer makes sense to speak of a third world. The repudiation of the three worlds idea also stems from the rejection of developmental meta-narratives.


Anandamath was first serialized in the Bengali journal, Bangadarshan (1880-82), and published in book form in 1882. It has been translated into English and into almost all the regional Indian languages.


I refer to Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay as Bankim following Western scholarly convention.


Scholars point to the ambiguous use of the term "nation" by Indian indigenous literati and leaders in the nineteenth century (Rosselli 129; Kaviraj 112-13, 128-29). Bankim's Bande Mataram originally conceived as a song of salutation to Bangamata or Mother Bengal was later offered in the service of the Indian nation. Bankim's use of the term "jati" also variously refers to nation, race, nationality, religious community, and linguistic community. That is, the Bengalis do not as yet see themselves as part of a larger whole: they simply append India to themselves.


"Hindutva" loosely translated means Hinduness. In India, it has become synonymous with militant Hindu nationalism, which claims that the "authentic" and "original" India is Hindu and the national minorities (particularly Muslims) can live in India only if they accept Hindu cultural and political dominance.


The "West," Martin Bernal shows, was as much a construction and interested representation as was the "East" of Said's Orientalists.


Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things (1997) is an exception. For an analysis of the novel's success — its exoticism, manipulation of metropolitan codes, authorial charisma, etc. — see Huggan (76-82).


Diasporic fiction, seen as a site of critique and interrogation of the "nation" in conventional scholarship, often naturalizes the "nation," and reinstates the nation as hegemonic and homogenous, rather than staging it as precarious and unmoored. Studies are now emerging on the link between the Hindu Right's activities in India and financial support received from the Indian diaspora in North America.


I refer to Rabindranath Tagore as Tagore following Western scholarly convention.


If the locals were not passive recipients, but went along with, resisted, or appropriated concepts from colonialist discourse for their own agendas, that does not mean that they did so with a national consciousness, but in accordance with disparate, locally grounded interests and consciousness.


The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (referred to as the RSS or the Sangh) is the key organization of the Hindu Right in India, as indicated by the designation Sangh Parivar (family). The Sangh Parivar consists of approximately eighty organizations; prominent among them are the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and the Shiv Sena.


The significance of literary texts has not gone unnoticed by scholars working on South Asia. Historians and social scientists are increasingly turning to literary texts in search of alternative perspectives. However, the inclusion of literary sources in historical research is often used to fill in "gaps," and serves to reinscribe humanist notions of literary production as subjective, mimetic, and universal. Ian Talbot, for instance, recommends historians to include "autobiographical and literary accounts" of the Partition of India as representations of "personal experience," in order to understand the "human dimension" of Partition (37-38).


The Bengali term "santan" literally means children. In Anandamath, santans are specifically male children of the motherland who have taken a vow to free their country from foreign rule.


The wandering sannyasi/Hindu ascetic had long been a popular figure in Bengal; it was not a late nineteenth-century construction. Ascetic practices date back as far as the Indus Valley civilization in the third millennium B.C. Self-renunciation or sannyas was always associated with the fourth and last stage of the upper-caste Hindu man's life. Atis K. Dasgupta, J. N. Farquhar, and William R. Pinch have argued that a tradition of militancy has characterized Hindu asceticism from a fairly early period, at least from the seventh century A.D. Prior to 1800, monks of the Shaiva (gosains) and Vaishnava (bairagis) cults exercised political and economic influence as merchants, bankers, and, most importantly soldiers. With the East India Company consolidating its base in India with the same commercial and profit-making interests, a prolonged series of skirmishes resulted in Bengal and Bihar between 1760 and 1800, referred to as the "sannyasi and fakir rebellion." The rebellion was not ideologically motivated by the perils of the "nation." Bankim draws upon this historical event to legitimize his ascetic nationalist trope; however, the nationalist rhetoric is entirely his invention. Further, he is completely silent about the role of Muslim fakirs.


A popular slogan heard in Hindu Right rallies is "Hindustan mein rahna hai to Bande Mataram kahna hoga" (If you wish to live in Hindustan, you will have to say Bande Mataram).


See S. K. Das and B. B. Majumdar for the reasons behind the numerous changes that Bankim made in the five editions of Anandamath that appeared in his lifetime.


A new English translation of Anandamath by Julius J. Lipner translated as Anandamath, or The Sacred Brotherhood has been just published by Oxford University Press (September 2005). It's extensive introduction contextualizing the novel and its cultural and political history, notes for Bengali or Sanskrit terms, and explanatory notes for the specialized lay reader or scholar makes the text very accessible to Western readers.

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