- Why was Upadhyaya so soon forgotten?
- Why was no attempt made to perpetuate his memory?
- Why are India’s own historians so unaware of his contribution?
Tarachand, RC Majumdar and AR Desai talk about Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghose, Surendranath Banerjea and Rabindranath Tagore. But the name of Upadhyaya is missing in their accounts. Pal himself had declared before independence: “The ideals of our present nationalism have been obtained from Upadhyaya Brahmabandhav to a very great extent. But it seems that people are forgetting about it. We are trying to keep alive the memory of so many people, but as regards Upadhyaya Brahmabandhav we did not have even a condolence meeting.”
Shyam Sunder Chakravarty wrote in The Bengalee on 26 October, 1924: “Upadhyaya Brahmabandhav is now an almost forgotten man. In his case we find a complete justification of the adage that the world knows very little of its greatest men”. Mohitlal Majumdar wrote in Bangadarshan in Magh 1355 (January-February, 1928): “That lion-man, the heart dedicated to the country, that sanyasi… Bengal has forgotten. They do not commemorate or remember him.”
What was the source of Upadhyaya’s courage and strength?
None other than his religio-cultural convictions. Since they represent a dynamic process of growth, it is a difficult task to pinpoint them. To begin Upadhyaya, originally Bhabani Charan Banerji, had been a disciple of Keshub Chunder Sen for some time. He was a friend of Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore. It was with him that Tagore founded Santiniketan. Upadhyaya came to know Jesus Christ through Sen and through his own uncle, Reverend Kalicharan Banerji. In 1891, he received baptism from an Anglican priest but, in the same year, he became a Roman Catholic. In 1894, he became a sanyasi and adopted the new name, which meant “friend of God”. From 1891 to 1901 God was his focus, God as experienced in Jesus and interpreted in terms of Hindu thought. His literary activities of this period included the editing of Sophia (January 1894 -March 1899), a Catholic monthly journal; Sophia (June 16, 1900 - December 8, 1900), a weekly; and The Twentieth Century (January 1901 - December 1901), a monthly. Because of total discouragement from the church authorities he almost stopped his theological writings in 1901. Upadhyaya then became fully engaged in the nationalist movement.
In November 1904 he brought out Sandhya (1904 - 1907) and in March 1907 Swaraj, a Bengali weekly. Upadhyaya’s religion was not sectarian but universal. He encouraged a dialogue for relational convergence of religions. Today, when India strives for communal harmony, Upadhyaya’s life can give at least useful pointers. If Hinduism and Christianity can be unified, as he demonstrated, there is no reason why the same cannot happen between Hinduism and Islam. His political commitment to his motherland again was total, for her complete liberation. He wanted us to be born again and again till Mother India’s chains fall off completely. Independence we got, but still is not our country, our Mother, in chains even today? Mother, give us some more Upadhyayas to fight for the total independence of our people today! (The writer is Professor of Religions at Bishop’s College, as well as Professor and Dean of Doctoral Programme of North India Institute of Post-Graduate Theological Studies, Kolkata. E.Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )