Anand Math is an 1882 classic Bengali Novel that has a cult status for multiple reasons. It was written during the time when the Indian Freedom movement was gaining momentum. It was based on a period about a century before that when Bengal was hit by a major famine leading to millions of people dying. There was no food, people were willing to sell their children for one meal, some even reached the level of eating other humans.
During this time a Sanyasi rebellion took place where a group Sanyasis tried to fight the Mughals by building a force of their own. The group of Shakti worshippers visualizes the land of India or Bharatvarsha as a Mother, with all the ascetics fighting for freedom as her sons. They train to fight; they induct rich kings into the sect to access finance and they lead an extremely disciplined life.
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They are creative and innovative, using bhajans as a way to convey their messages. Something that I assume must have been used by the Sanyasis and something that must have inspired the public festivals like Ganesh Utsav.
Vande Matram – India’s national song now is from this book Anand Math. A song that is also a war cry for the sanyasis fighting for Mother India. It is a greeting that they used when they meet or depart. Singing Vande Mataram, which essentially means I bow to the mother, is a devotion as well as a dream where mother rules supreme.
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A section of the book takes you for a walk around the chambers of Math, where you see different forms of Goddess. The protagonist talks about them and how she was as mother or Jagadamba, how she has become Kali and how she has to become a Durga – a futuristic vision of the
Satyanand – the head of Math, has two main disciples. Jivanand who is married and whose wife Shanti also joins the mission as a fellow ascetic taking the name Navinananda. Another is Bhavanand, who is single but fascinates after the wife of the king of Padchinh whom he saves in the forest. There is a complex interplay of human as well as man-woman relationships. These tracks almost make it like a romance thriller. Shanti’s character is fascinating as she follows her husband without ever coming in the way of his commitment. She plays the ascetic and enchantress as the need may be, to work for the goals of Anand Math.
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Padchinh, meaning footprints, is a well-chosen name for the kingdom whose king chooses to become the ascetic to serve the country. His wife, Kalyani, tries to sacrifice herself so that she does not come in the way of her husband’s goal for the motherland, not even worrying about the young daughter they have. Saved by the ascetic, she manages to keep him in check till she reunites with her husband and daughter towards the end.
It was adapted into a feature film by the same name in 1952. Thankfully, the film is available on YouTube. I patiently watched the film as it moves far more slowly than the text in the book. The film also has the first picturized version of the song Vande Mataram. However, all the other songs kind of feel unnecessary if you watch it after you have read the book.
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The reason I watched the film was to understand the end of the Novel. In a strange ending, it kind of says British are our friends. Was it meant to be a temporary stop between the Mughal and English rule? I almost wonder if my version of the book, that I read in Hindi is correctly translated. The film, however, ends at the win of Sanyasis over the British Army. I am still confused. If you have read the book, please do share your thoughts on the ending of this Novel.
Language is intriguing. If you understand Hindi & Sanskrit, you will enjoy it far more. I wonder in a Bengali story were the songs written in Sanskrit? If yes, that potentially tells us a lot about the usage of Sanskrit in 19th CE. It probably flowed from sages to common people in the form of devotional songs.
The narrative moves swiftly from scene to scene, from character to character taking long strides. It is a patriotic thriller soaked in faith with familiar emotions at play.