Historians like Jadunath Sarkar, R.C. Majumdar and literary critics have generally held that Ananda Math was a product of Bankimchandra's imagination. The painstaking research of Kishanchand Bhakat, assistant teacher of mathematics in the M.N. Academy High School, Lalgola, in the district of Murshidabad, spanning over two decades seems to have proved otherwise. Having been District Magistrate of Murshidabad at one time and later the Divisional Commissioner, I was impelled to verify the claims. To do so I visited the ruins of the Lalgola Raj Palace, now West Bengal's sole open-air jail, and this is what I found.
The seeds of Bankimchandra's anti-British sentiments were sown in Berhampore, the district headquarters of Murshidabad district where he was posted as a Deputy Magistrate [he was the first Bengali to be offered a job in the civil service after he graduated with grace marks in Bengali, his examiner having been none other than Iswarchandra Vidyasagar who did not give him pass marks!]. It was the 15th of December 1873 when Bankimchandra was, as usual, crossing the Barrack Square field opposite the Collectorate in his palanquin while some Englishmen were playing cricket. Suddenly one Lt. Colonel Duffin stopped the palanquin with some abusive remarks and insisted that it should be taken out of the field. When Bankim refused to abandon his customary route, Duffin apparently forced him to alight from the palanquin and pushed him violently (as reported in the Amrita Bazar Patrika of 8.1.1974). Witnesses to the incident included the Raja of Lalgola Jogindranarain Roy, Durgashankar Bhattacharji of Berhampur, Judge Bacebridge, Reverend Barlow, Principal Robert Hand and some others. Furious at the insult, Bankimchandra filed a criminal case against the Colonel, with the Lalgola Raja, Durgashankar Bhattacharji and Hand cited as witnesses. Duffin had to get a lawyer from Krishnagar in Nadia district, as no one in Berhampore was willing to appear for him, while all the local lawyers had signed vakalatnamas for Bankimchandra.
On 12th January 1874 the Magistrate, Mr. Winter, summoned Duffin and had just begun to question him when Judge Bacebridge entered and requested a few words in his chamber. After a little while they called in Bankimchandra and Duffin. Apparently they told Bankimchandra that Duffin had not recognized that Bankim was a Deputy Magistrate and regretted the incident. They requested Bankimchandra to withdraw the case. This he was not prepared to do and after much persuasion agreed, provided Duffin offered a formal apology in open court. Reluctantly, Duffin agreed. Winter took his chair in the court thereafter and in his presence, before a packed court, Lt. Col. Duffin offered an unconditional apology to Bankimchandra. The Amrita Bazar Patrika of 15.1.1874 reports: 'It appears that the colonel and the Babu were perfect strangers to each other and he did not know who he was when he affronted him. On being informed afterwards of the position of the Babu, Col. Duffin expressed deep contrition and a desire to apologise. The apology was made in due form in open court where about a thousand spectators, native and Europeans, were assembled.'
Almost immediately thereafter we find Bankimchandra taking three months leave. After this incident there must have been considerable resentment in the Berhampore Cantonment among the British militia and, apprehending bodily harm, Rao Jogindranarain Roy took Bankimchandra away to stay with him in Lalgola.
In Lalgola the Guru of the raja's family was Pandit Kali Brahma Bhattacharya who practised tantrik sadhana. Kishanchand Bhakat has obtained an excerpt of seven slokas from a book in the family of Kali Brahma Bhattacharya whose rhythm, sense and even some words bear an uncanny resemblance to Bankim's song. It is most probable that Bankimchandra took the first few lines of his immortal 'Bande Mataram' (up to ripudalabarining) from here because in the first edition of the novel in Banga Darshan (Chaitra 1287, pp. 555-556), these lines are given within quotation marks and the spelling is most ungrammatically retained as 'matarang'. Bankim faced considerable criticism on this account from Haraprasad Shastri, Rajkrishna Muhopadhyay, and others. In the later editions he removed the quotation marks and changed the spelling to the proper Sanskrit 'mataram', wiping out all trace of the borrowing.
There is an image of Kali in the Lalgola palace temple that is unique. Its four hands are bereft of any weapon. The two lower hands are folded in front (karabadhha), the palm of one covered by that of the other, just as a prisoner's hands are shackled. From behind, the image is shackled to the wall with numerous iron chains. Kali is black, of terrifying mien, naked, a serpent between her feet, and Shiva a supine corpse before her. This represented to Bankim what Bhaarat, the Mother, had become:
'The Brahmacharin said,
'Look on the Mother as she now is.'
Mohendra said in fear, 'It is Kali.'
'Yes, Kali enveloped in darkness, full of blackness and gloom. She is stripped of all, therefore naked. Today the whole country is a burial ground, therefore is the Mother garlanded with skulls. Her own God she tramples under her feet. Alas my Mother!' (Sri Aurobindo's translation, 1909).
It is extremely significant that on either side of this unusual Kali we find Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Kartik and Ganesh, who are never represented with this goddess. It is in this Kali that Bankim envisioned Mother as she will be and that is why he wrote, 'tvam hi durga dashapraharana dharini, Thou, indeed, art Durga, ten-armed, weapon-wielding'. It is this temple that is the source of Bankimchandra's 'Monastery of Bliss'.
To reach this temple a tunnel existed, whose vestiges are still visible, from another temple that is now in ruins and covered up with jungle. This ruined edifice was the Jagaddhatri temple that Bankim would have seen and described in his novel thus:
'Jagaddhatri, Protrectress of the world, wonderful, perfect, rich with every ornament'the Mother as she was'She trampled under foot the elephant of the forest and all wild beasts, and in the haunt of the wild beasts she erected her lotus throne. She was covered with every ornament, full of laughter and beauty. She was in hue like the young sun, splendid with all opulence and empire'The Brahmacharin then showed him a dark underground passage'In a dark room in the bowels of the earth an insufficient light entered from some unperceived outlet. By that faint light he saw an image of Kali.' (ibid.)
A little to the east is another temple in which the image of goddess Durga was worshipped by Kali Brahma Bhattacharya - 'Mother as she will be':
'The ascetic' began to ascend another underground passage'. In a wide temple built in stone of marble they saw a beautifully fashioned image of the ten-armed Goddess made in gold, laughing and radiant in the light of the early sun'Her ten arms are extended towards the ten regions and they bear many a force imaged in her manifold weapons; her enemies are trampled under her feet and the lion on which her foot rests is busy destroying the foe'on her right Lakshmi as Prosperity, on her left Speech, giver of learning and science, Kartikeya with her as Strength, Ganesh as Success.'
In the tenth chapter of Ananda Math there is an elaborate description of an extremely opulent building housing a dazzling image of four-armed Vishnu with two huge demons, beheaded, lying in front, Lakshmi garlanded with lotuses on the left with flowing hair, as though terrified, and on the right Sarasvati with book and musical instrument, surrounded with incarnate raga-raginis and on his lap one lovelier than either goddess, more opulent and more majestic: the Mother. The dynastic deity of the Lalgola Raja family was Vishnu and the image was worshipped inside the huge palace. Underground chambers can still be seen here and it is possible that the Kali icon was originally housed in one of these, reached through the tunnels.
A little further on is the ruin of an ancient Buddhist Vihara where the Buddhist goddess Kalkali was worshipped. The stream that flows by is named after her, and is mentioned in the novel. In chapter 5 of the novel he describes this 'great monastery engirt with ruined masses of stones. Archaeologists would tell us that this was formerly a monastic retreat of the Buddhists and afterwards became a Hindu monastery.' This is where Kalyani first sees the noble, white-bodied, white-haired, white-bearded, white-robed ascetic. Is Kali Brahma Bhattacharya the inspiration for this figure?
To the north of the palace, through what was then a dense forest, one reaches the confluence of Kalkali, Padma and Bhairav rivers known as 'Sati-maar thaan (sthaan, place)'. Here, under a massive banyan tree, groups of Bir and Shri sects of violent Tantriks used to meet. Kali Brahma used to tutor them in opposing British rule to free the shackled Mother. One tunnel from the Kali temple goes straight to the Kalkali river, whose banks were dotted with a number of small temples in which these tantriks used to take shelter. It is said that in this Kali temple Bankim witnessed a very old tantrik offering a red hibiscus to the goddess, shouting 'Jaya ma danujdalani, bande bandini matarang'. Is it mere coincidence that if 'bandini' is dropped from this tantrik's exclamation we get exactly Bankim's 'bande matarang'?
Bhakat hazards a guess that this may have occurred on the full moon night of Maagh, 1280 B.S. (Jan-Feb 1874) when the death anniversary of Rao Ramshankar Roy used to be observed in the Lalgola family. This occasion occurred very soon after the court case in Berhampur and Bankimchandra's taking leave. On this anniversary, sadhus from Benares used to arrive at this Kali temple. Repeatedly Bankim refers to 'Maghi purnima' in the novel.
The inspiration Bankim received from all this is reflected first in his essay 'Aamaar Durgotsab' (1874).
In the same area we find the Raghunath temple with icons of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman, Radha and Krishna, with 51 Shiva lingas and 34 Saalgraams. It is said that these were kept here from the time of the Sanyasi Revolt of 1772-73. Bhakat points out that near the Lalgola zamindari was the estate of Rani Bhawani of Natore who used to distribute food freely to the ascetics and was therefore renowned as goddess Annapurna herself. Her patronage extended right up to Benares. In 1772-3 Warren Hastings, the Governor General, forfeited a large portion of the Rani's estate. This lead to stoppage of the supplies to the Sanyasis. The famine that followed in Bengal fanned the flames and the Sanyasis attacked the British. Led by the tantrik Mahant Ramdas of Dinajpur's Kanchan Mashida monastery, they deposited the icons of their deities with Rao Atmaram Roy, the Lalgola zamindar, and left on their mission.
Bhakat has identified Bankimchandra's 'Padachinnha' village with Dewan Sarai village which tallies with all the data in the novel: north to south beside Padachinnha the earthern embankment built by the Nawab runs through 'to Murshidabad, Cossimbazar or Calcutta' where Kalyani urges Mohendra to go and also mentions 'town' which could be a reference to 'nagar/Rajnagar' in Birbhum which can also be reached by this embankment. (chapter 1 of Ananda Math). On either side of the embankment there used to be dense forest, and at the confluence, at Basumati (located in Nashipur, now washed into the river was a burning ghat frequented by Bhojpuri Tantriks. All the temples mentioned in the novel are also here, as also the tunnels, the Vishnu temple, Kalkali river. Bhojpuri speaking looters and sepoys feature in the novel who tally with the fact of such people having been brought into Lalgola by the zamindar to act as sepoys and servants. Bhakat himself is a scion of such a family of staff-wielding guards and servants. They used to live in the 'Deshwali' area in the jungle adjacent the palace on the banks of the Kalkali and Padma with surnames like Mishra, Pande, Rai and used to receive initiation in tantric worship from Kali Brahma. The guru was addressed as 'maharaj'.
Bhakat proposes that Satyananda of the novel is none other than Kali Brahma Bhattacharya; that Dhirananda is based on the court-poet and priest of Lalgola, Trailokyanath Smritibhushan; that Bhabananda is based on the character of Raja Jogindranarain Roy (himself a tantric sadhak), who stood by Bankim and helped him get away from the wrath of the British militia; that Jibananda reflects much of Bankim himself. Bankim would have lived in the first floor room that still exists in the Kali temple courtyard. In the ground floor room lived Dr. Parry who had spent nearly Rs.10,000 in 1873 to make a medical library for the Lalgola palace. He is said to have worshipped Kali and could be the original for the physician in the novel who is loyal to the British.
On the basis of these findings, it can now be asserted that Ananda Math was not just a figment of the novelist's imagination, but was rooted in a personal insult suffered by Bankimchandra and in the experiences he had in Lalgola as a guest of Rao Jogindranarain Roy.
But a fascinating puzzle remains. Before the images of the Mother are shown, there is reference to worshipping the country itself as Mother, quoting the Sanskrit half-sloka, janani janmabhumisca svargadapi gariyasi. Where did Bankim get this from? Considerable research by me has failed to pinpoint where it occurs. Several Tamil and Malayali Sanskritists recite it with aplomb and attribute it to Rama who is supposed to have responded in these words to Lakshmana when requested to stay on in Lanka, the city-of-gold, instead of returning to Ayodhya. Robert Goldman, the translator of the critical text of the epic, informs that it occurs in some version in the Yuddhakanda as follows:
api svarnamayi lanka na me laksmana rocate /
janani janmabhumis casvargadapi gariyasi //
Unfortunately, neither the Valmiki Ramayana, nor the Adhyatma and Ananda Ramayanas, nor the version in the Mahabharata feature the sloka. So it remains a puzzle like the panchakanya sloka.