Hindu Mela

Hindu Mela a socio-cultural association established in Calcutta in the late 1860s with the objective of awakening nationalist feelings among the Bengalis. The spirit behind it was Nabagopal Mitra, the editor of the National Paper. He conceived the idea of rallying the people, particularly the educated youth, behind the concept of reviving the glories of the Hindu past and interpreting western education and culture in terms of the indigenous civilisation. The aim of the Hindu Mela was to make the people aware of the glories of Hindu civilisation, influence them to cultivate national language and ideas, and honour national symbols. Nabagopal Mitra's idea of fighting the cultural colonialism of the British by reviving the best of ancient Hindu civilisation was firmly supported by several members of the Tagore family who were the main financiers of the new movement.

In April 1867, on the day of the Chaitra Sangkranti (last day of the Bengali year) the Hindu Mela was established. On the occasion an exhibition was organised. Everything national-artwork, handicrafts, cottage industries, etc'was on display. A formal committee was set up on the first day of the Mela. ganendranath tagore became the first secretary and Nabagopal Mitra, the real organiser of the Mela, the assistant secretary. Among others who took active interest in the Mela were Raja Kamal Krishna Bahadur, girish chandra ghosh, Ramanath Tagore, Peary Charan Sarkar, rajnarayan basu, dwijendranath tagore and kristodas pal.

The first three annual gatherings, variously called Chaitra Mela, National Fair by the organisers, were held on Chaitra Sangkranti. The annual mela was inaugurated by Dwijendranath's patriotic song, Malina Mukhachandra ma Bharat Tomari (O mother India, your moon-face is so gloomy...). At the second annual mela (1868), held at Belgachhia and presided over by Jnanendranath Tagore, was presented the patriotic song 'Gao Bharater Jaya (sing the hymn of India's victory)' composed by satyendranath tagore. Henceforth all the subsequent sessions of the Mela were inaugurated with this song and it gained so much popularity that henceforth it became virtually the national song of the nascent nationalists till Bankimchandra's Bande Mataram replaced it. At the same gathering a new patriotic song composed by Dwijendranath Tagore was presented by another Tagore, Hemendranath.

For about six more years the annual gathering of the Mela was held with great pomp and pageantry. The annual gathering, accompanied by exhibitions, succeeded in generating a wave of patriotism in poetry, music, drama and all other branches of Bangla literature and folklore. Its proceedings were published in detail in all newspapers and magazines. The Mela reached the zenith of its success in its annual gathering of 1875, which was presided over by the most revered man of the time, Rajnarayan Bose. It was at this session that 14-year old rabindranath tagore recited his own poem - Hindu Melar Upahar (Hindu Mela's Gift), which was published in the Amrita Bazar Patrika of 25 February 1875.

From then on the Hindu Mela drew smaller and smaller number of people to its exhibitions and sessions. Its main reason was the Mela's failure to keep abreast with the contemporary development of secular nationalism. Nabagopal's dream of reviving Hindu India failed to gather support from the new generation of middle class, to whom religion-based nationalism did not appear politically and culturally sound. They were drawn to a new secular organisation, indian association, initiated by surendranth banerjea and ananda mohan bose. Besides sectarianism, Hindu Mela suffered from another great weakness, the determination of its organisers not to indulge in political activities. Arousing patriotism without politics sounded unworkable to most of its educated members, who were then keen to organise themselves politically. Furthermore, the Tagores, who used to lead the Mela intellectually and also fund it substantially, had lost interest in the Mela. Thus the Hindu Mela being unable to cope with the new and complex demands of the 1880s and '90s eclipsed and died in the 1890s. But the spirit of 'swadeshi' that it could arouse in the minds of the Bengalis survived. Rather it got a more organised platform in the swadeshi movement of the early 20th century. [Sirajul Islam]