Banerjee, Hemchandra

Banerjee, Hemchandra (1838-1903) poet and lawyer, was born on 17 April 1838 in the home of his maternal grandparents in the village of Gulita in Hughli, where his father, Kailaschandra Bandyopadhyay, was a ghar jamai, that is son-in-law living with the father-in-law's establishments. It was through the efforts of his maternal grandfather that he was admitted to Khidirpur Bangala School in Kolkata. After the death of his grandfather, his education was suspended for some time. Subsequently, through the personal efforts of Prosannakumar Sarbadhikari, Principal of sanskrit college, Hemchandra learnt English and was admitted to Hindu School in Calcutta in 1853. In 1859 he passed BA from Presidency College and obtained the BL degree in 1866.

Before graduating, Hemchandra worked for some time as a clerk in the office of the Military Auditor General. After serving briefly as headmaster of Calcutta Training Academy, he began practising law at Calcutta High Court. In 1862 be was appointed munsif. After some months he returned to his law practice. In 1890 he was made a government pleader.

Hemchandra was a patriotic poet whose writings were inspired by Hindu nationalism. He fell into disfavour of the British government when his poem, 'Bharatsangit', which exhorted his fellow Indians to throw off their foreign shackles, was published in the Education Gazette in July 1872. For some time the poem was considered the national song of Bengal. His other writings such as 'Bharatvilap', 'Kalachakra', 'Ripon Utsav', and 'Bharater Nidrabhanga' also reflect his patriotism.

Hemchandra's writings also concern women's issues, especially the injustices towards women and widows. His poem, 'Kulin Mahila Vilap' (The Lament of the Kulin Wife), greatly helped the cause of iswar chandra vidyasagar's campaign against polygamy. He believed in communal harmony, and his writings depict Bengal as a land where Hindus and Muslims dwell together. Hemchandra was perhaps the first national poet who visualised India as an undivided, independent and integrated land.

Hemchandra's first book of poems, Chintatarangini, was published in 1861. But his masterpiece is the epic Vrtrasanghar (1875-77, 2 vols), inspired by the mahabharata. Its theme is the victory of justice over the unjust contemporary regime. At one time this epic earned a great deal of popularity. The poet's other writings include Virvahu Kavya (1864), Chhayamayi (1880), Dashamahavidya (1882), Ashakanan (1876) and Chittavikash (1898).

Kavitavali (1870-80, 2 vols) is a collection of Hemchandra's poems which include 'Jivansangit', 'Gangar Utpatti', 'Padmer Mrnal', 'Bharatkahini' and 'Ashoktaru'. Although these poems show obvious influences of English poetry, they are beautiful and charming additions to Bangla poetry. Hemchandra also translated several English books into Bangla, notably Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (1895) and Tempest. He also translated some English poems.

A special feature of Hemchandra's writings was that he could compose long narrative poems as well as short lyrics, patriotic poems as well as light ones. He was also reputed a very wise and learned man. His declining years were sad. He not only suffered from the loss of eyesight, but also suffered financial difficulties He dying a pauper on 24 May 1903 at Khidirpur. [Aminur Rahman]