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Part 4: Sister Nivedita and Ramananda Chatterjee: An Association of Enduring Impact

Nivedita selected the Modern Review to carry forth her thoughts and dreams. Besides, for their almost matching ambitions, Ramananda Chatterjee also had a dearest associate in Sister Nivedita. His reminiscences approve this claim. Once, he even said in a speech: “It would hardly be any exaggeration to say that through her [Sister Nivedita] writings this magazine could be so famous in India and abroad.” Jadunath Sarkar once wrote about how the Modern Review could earn attention in the West: “… Ramananda Chatterjee became the voice of India to the world outside, and he was heard with attention in every country where reason and humanity were honoured by its thinkers. … A list of the contributors to The Modern Review from its foundation to 1943 will be an almost complete biographical dictionary of the leaders of the intelligentsia of India during these 37 years, with some notable European and American sympathisers added. Hence the influence of The Modern Review in Vienna and New York was no less than in Madras and Lahore.”

Much later, during the birth centenary of Ramananda Chatterjee, Gopal Haldar wrote these words of historical significance: “It will be seen that no one except Tagore and Gandhi could win so respectful and so responsible a hearing for India at the bar of humanity as this magazine’s editor. Through his magazines Ramananda also fostered and promoted the cause of Indian Art. Havell, and Coomaraswamy and Nivedita found in him a kindred spirit … Much of that is today history; and it is difficult to imagine what would the Indian Renaissance have been without the revival of Indian art in the wake of the national movement, without the Prabasi and Modern Review to create the public interest in arts.”

In his tribute to late Ramananda Chatterjee, Amal Home remembers something which shows how the common agendas of Ramananda Chatterjee and Sister Nivedita could work in unison in the pages of the Modern Review.: “I have a vivid recollection of Aurobindo Ghosh scanning the notes of the Modern Review from page to page … I still remember the remarkable tribute he paid to Ramananda Babu’s journals in the columns of his English weekly Karmayogin on their translating Indian Nationalism into religion, into music, and poetry, into painting and literature.”

Ramananda started Prabasi, an illustrated Bengali magazine, in Allahabad in the Bengali month of Baisakh in 1308 (April 1901). Six years later, in January 1907, he started the Modern Review from Allahabad. In 1908, during the Swadeshi Movement in Bengal, the local authorities in UP found issues with the content Ramananda published in the Modern Review. They gave him two options: either leave the province, or stop publishing the Modern Review. Ramananda chose the former and moved to Calcutta with his two journals.

Nivedita’s close acquaintance with Ramananda Chatterjee began much before the Review appeared, and it is here in what she wrote him on 16 October 1905: “Today being the 30th Aswin, 16 October, 1905, Partition of the Bengali people is to be made by law. This day then, designed to be the date of our division, is henceforth to be set aside by us, for the deeper realisation of our national unity. Having been made by this threat of division, overwhelmingly conscious of the essential oneness of the whole Indian nation the heart of Bengal goes out to all parts of our common Motherland.” The concluding part of the letter shows that when she wrote it, Ramananda had been in Allahabad: “Thus to you from us of Bengal, is sent today this thread of Rakhi-Bandhan, in token not merely of the union of Provinces and parts of Provinces but of bond that knits us all as children of one Motherland together. Bande Mataram.”

Thus, it is evident that even before Ramananda Chatterjee came to Calcutta, he and Nivedita had developed a mutual trust and commonness of purposes. Even since the beginning, Prabasi published illustrations of various paintings etc., which first drew Nivedita to the magazine. After her passing away, Ramananda’s words justify the association: “Since 1313, she [Nivedita] used to narrate the facts and specifics of many famous Indian and Western paintings in the pages of the Prabasi in English, which were then translated. Some time back she breathed her last.”

(Figure 1: Credit: Wikipedia – Kshitimohan Sen)

About Nivedita’s long association with Prabasi, Kshitimohan Sen later remembered some interesting facts: “For his strong love for the motherland, a deep relationship grew between him [Ramananda Chatterjee] and Sister Nivedita. I failed to remember the exact year, perhaps it had been in 1906 [December-January 1905-06], when the Sister lived for a while at a house at Tilbhandeshwar in Benares. One day she abundantly praised the Prabasi of Ramananda Babu. How Nivedita could appreciate the Prabasi, that was what came to my mind—for it had been a Bengali paper. Nonetheless, I found that she had all the information and opinions about the Prabasi, and quite aware of Ramananda Babu’s nobility. One day she said in passing: ‘This man (Ramananda Chatterjee) who is now engaged with the weal and woe of Bengal, a day would come when he will take the burden of telling the woes of the entire nation. God has given him that ability, which can never go awry.”

It took not even a decade to prove the accuracy of this foresight.

(Read more in Part 5 – Sister Nivedita and Indian Art: A Relentless Campaign)

References and Notes

  1. The Modern Review, January 2007 and February 2007 (see The Function of Art in Shaping Nationality, by Sister Nivedita, p.49 (January), and p.128 (February).
  2. According to Pravrajika Atmaprana, editor of the 5-volume Complete Works of Sister Nivedita, Nivedita wrote almost seventy articles etc., in the Modern Review besides those which do not carry her name (see Lokmata Nivedita by Sankarai Prasad Basu, vol. 2.302).
  3. The Complete Works of Sister Nivedita, in 5 volumes (Calcutta, Advaita Ashrama, 2000), 3.5., and 5.vii.
  4. Nivedita Lokmata, vol. 2 (Beng. 1394), p. 298.
  5. The Modern Review, November 1943, pp. 337-38. (see Ramananda Chatterjee: India’s Ambassador To The Nations, Sir Jadunath Sarkar
  6. Gopal Haldar, Ramananda Chatterjee: A Great Editor (Indian Literature, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1965), 8-9 (> accessed December 6, 2023).
  7. The Modern Review, November 1943, pp. 343-44 (See Ramananda Chatterjee: Personal Reminiscences and Tribute, Amal Home)
  8. Ramananda Chatterjee: A Great Editor, pp. 5–11., accessed 27 Aug., 2023.
  9. Letters of Sister Nivedita, ed. Sankari Prasad Basu: in 2 volumes (Kolkata, Advaita Ashrama, 2017), 2.47.
  10. Prabasi Itihaser Dhara: Miscellaneous Topics and A Compilation,323 (Editorial comment in Boisakh, 1333. Translated from Bengali).
  11. Kshitimohan Sen, according to Viswa-Bharati Central University portal: ‘Born in Benares, Kshitimohan Sen … [invited by Rabindranath Tagore] joined the Brahmacharyasrama in 1908 and completed his career as the Principal of Vidya Bhavana, Visva-Bharati. He was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati for some time. [His researches] on the mystic saints of Medieval India opened a new chapter… in Hindi literature. … His book, Dadu came out in 1935 with a foreword by Rabindranath. He accompanied Rabindranath during the Poet’s visit to China in 1924. (> accessed August 29, 2023).
  12. According to Nivedita’s first Bengali biography: ‘On 25 December 1905, Nivedita came to Kashi [Benares] to participate in the Congress Session. From this time till early January 1906, she had stayed at the Tilbhandeswar area. [see footnote: Pravrajika Muktiprana, Bhagini Nivedita (Kolkata, Sister Nivedita Girls’ School, 1959), 352]
  13. Bharat-Muktisadhak Ramananda Chattopadyay O Ardhashatabdir Bangla (Kolkata, Firma KLM, 2000), 33 (see Punyacharitkatha, by Kshitimohan Sen, translated from Bengali).

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