|Born on 7 November 1858,
in village Poil in the District of Sylhet, now
in Bangladesh, Bipin Chandra belonged to a well-to-do
Hindu Kayastha family, his father Ram Chandra
Pal being a village zaminder, an eminent member
of the Sylhet Bar and a man of status in the locality.
Ram Chandra himself had no formal English education,
but was a good Persian scholar and a strong-willed
man. He was a Vaishnava by faith, but there was
a blending of Hindu ritualism and Islamic thought
in his religious views.
Bipin Chandra was temporarily alienated from his
father when he openly embraced Brahmoism and renounced
caste (1880), but was again reconciled to the
old man before the latters death (January
1886). Bipin Chandras mother Narayani Devi
(d. 1875) had no formal education at all, but
was remarkably reserved and self-reliant and also
a strict disciplinarian.
Bipin Chandra was the only son of his parents,
but he had a sister, Kripa by name. In December
1881, he married his first wife, Nrityakali
Devi, a Brahmin widow, in Bombay, and after
her death nine years later he married again
(1891), this time also a Brahmin widow, Birajmohini
Devi, who happened to be a distant cousin of
Surendranath Banerjea. He had by his two wives
three sons and five daughters.
Bipin Chandra did not attend any Bengali pathsala
as was the practice in those days, but learnt
the three Rs from his father and Persian
from a Maulavi before he was sent
to an English school in the town of Sylhet.
(1866). He attended two missionary schools one
after another, and finally passed the Entrance
examination of the Calcutta University from
the Sylhet Government High School in 1874.In
1875 Bipin Chandra went to Calcutta for higher
studies and joined the Presidency College, but
unfortunately he failed twice in the First Arts
examination (1877-78) and there ended his formal
During his students days in Calcutta Bipin
Chandra came in contact with some eminent people,
some of whom became his close friends and associates,
and others his inspirers or gurus.
Among the former mention may be made of Dr.
Sundarimohan Das, Anandamohan Bose, Dwarkanath
Ganguli, Dr. P. K. Ray and Aghorenath Chatterjee.
Among the latter Keshab Chandra Sen, the great
Brahmo leader, attracted him to the Brahmo movement,
Sivanath Sastri imbued him with the spirit of
social revolt and patriotism, and Bijay Krishna
Goswami later moulded his spiritual life to
a great extent.
Though never a brilliant student, Bipin Chandra
read extensively in his school and college days
and acquired a great literary competence. He
was fond of Bengali poets and novelists like
Hem Chandra and Bankim Chandra and the medieval
Vaishnava poets. Among English writers, Emerson
and Theodore Parker were his favourites. He
also studied deeply the Geeta and the Upanishads
in his later life. In politics he at first accepted
Surendranath Banerjea as his guru,
but in later years moved far away from him and
worked in collaboration with extremists like
Tilak, Lajpat Rai and Aurobindo. Ranade of Maharashtra
also influenced him to some extent.
Bipin Chandra started his career as the Headmaster
of a high school in Cuttack, the Cuttack Academy,
in the beginning of 1879,but he did not stick
to any job for a long time. He worked as Headmaster
in several schools in succession, in Sylhet
(1880), in Bangalore (1881) and at Habiganj
(1886). He also seriously took up journalism,
started the Bengali weekly paridarsak in Sylhet
(1880), served as Assistant Editor of the Bengal
Public Opinion (1882) and joined the Lahore
Tribute in the same capacity for a short time
For a year and a half he acted as the Librarian
and Secretary of the Calcutta Public Library
(1890-91). His literary activities which had
really started in his school days continued
throughout this period and he published a biography
of Queen Victoria in Bengali (1887) and a work
on Keshab Chandra Sen in English (1893), besides
one or two small tracts. In January 1892 he
took up the mission work of the Sadharan Brahmo
Samaj, of which he had been a regular member
since its inception in May 1878, but preached
not so much its creed as its idealism.
In 1895 he received his spiritual initiation
from Bijay Krishna Goswami, but did not sever
his relations with the Brahmo Samaj.
Bipin Chandra's political career also started
during this period. In the autumn of 1877 he
was ceremonially initiated by Sivanath Sastri
as a member of a group which combined the social
and religious idealism of the Brahmo Samaj with
the political idealism of Surendranath Banerjea
and the Indian Association. He attended the
Congress session of 1886 as a delegate from
In 1887, in the third annual session of the
Congress, Bipin Chandra along with his friend
Dwarkanath Ganguli forced the institution of
an elected Subjects Committee for discussing
and drafting resolutions to be placed before
the open session. The two friends also took
up the cause of the Assam tea-garden labourers
who were extremely ill-treated by the planters
and sometimes even flogged to death. The Congress
was compelled to take up the matter in 1896;
Sir Henry Cotton, the Chief Commissioner of
Assam, was moved to action and the worst evils
In 1898 Bipin Chandra went to England for theological
studies on a scholarship granted by the British
and Foreign Unitarian Association. But he gave
up his scholarship after a year and utilised
his carry on political propaganda for his country.
At the invitation of the National Temperance
Association of New York he visited the U. S.
A. on a four months lecturing tour. In
1900 he returned to India imbued with a great
patriotic fervour and at once plunged into the
freedom movement of his country.
Through his weekly journal, the New India (1992),
he preached the ideal of Swaraj or complete
political freedom to be achieved through courage,
self-help and self-sacrifice. He did not agree
with Tilaks concept of Hindu nationalism,
but preached a composite patriotism.
which was better suited for a country of so
many diversities like India. The partition of
Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905 caused an unprecedented
political upheaval in the country. In 1996 Bipin
Chandra started a daily paper, the Bande Mataram,
as the Editor of which Aurobindo Ghose appeared
like a stormy petrel in Bengal politics.
The doctrines of passive resistance, boycott
of English goods, severance of all association
with the foreign Government in the country and
national education were fervently preached
by Bipin Chandra during his memorable propaganda
tour of Bengal, Assam, U. P. and Madras in 1907.
Though he was opposed to secret terroristic
activities, advocated by Aurobindo and others,
the British Government regarded him as their
great enemy and imprisoned him for six months
on the ground of his refusal to give evidence
against Aurobindo in the so-called Bande Mataram
Sedition Case. On coming out of prison, he at
once left for England to lead the life of an
enforced exile (August 1908).
During his three years sojourn in England
(1908-11) Bipin Chandra developed a new political
thought which he called the empire-idea. He
pleaded for reconstitution of the British empire
as a federal union in which India, Great Britain
and all the British self-governing colonies
would co-operate as equal and free partners.
On coming back to India he started a monthly
journal, the Hindu Review (1973), and tried
to popularise the idea, though without much
success. He then joined the Home Rule Movement
of Besant and Tilak and rejoined the Congress
in 1916. He tried to make the people conscious
of the great dangers which political pan-Islamism
presented to the future of India. The empire-idea
alone, in his opinion, could provide an effective
remedy for this evil.
After the First World War he visited England
for a third time as a member of a Congress and
Home Rule League deputation led by Tilak. The
economic exploitation of India by Britain and
her self-governing colonies now appeared to
him as the greatest menace which India would
have to face in the coming years. The Bolshevik
Revolution in Russia also powerfully appealed
to his mind and he described it as marking the
birth of a new world.
He came back to India in 1919 and presided over
the Bengal Provincial Conference held at Barisal
in 1921. But, unfortunately, he kept himself
completely aloof from the non-violent non-cooperation
movement of Mahatma Gandhi which was now sweeping
the country, and this made him extremely unpopular.
He also criticised G. R. Das, the idol of the
Bengalee nationalists, and entered into a bitter
controversy with Maulana Muhammad Ali over the
nature of the communal problem in India (1920-25).
He opposed the non-cooperation movement mainly
because it was associated with the Khilafat
cause and pervaded by a blind reverence for
Gandhijis leadership. His importance as
a public figure declined from active politics
though he continued to express his views on
national questions through books and articles
till his death on 20 May 1932.
Aurobindo rightly described Bipin Chandra as
one of the mightiest prophets of nationalism.
His fiery orations moved thousands of men and
women during the early days of the Swadeshi
Movement (1905-07). He boldly preached the ideal
of complete independence long before the Congress
accepted it as its goal. But, as he clearly
stated in his Barisal address of 1921, he did
not want India to grow up as another centralised
class-ruled State like England, France of Japan.
He stood for a federal Indian republic in which
each Province (linguistically reorganzied),
each district and even each village would enjoy
a large degree of local autonomy. He was once
regarded as an extremist in politics, but he
was never really a narrow nationalist. His ideal
of patriotism was a part of his ideal of universal
humanity. That explains the empire-idea of his
later years. Moreover, Bipin Chandra valued
personal freedom of conscience as much as he
valued national freedom.
His independent spirit led him to revolt quite
early in his life against social evils and abuses
under the banner of the Brahmo Samaj and, in
this process, court poverty and separation from
his own kith and kin. He ceased to believe in
caste when he was only fourteen and demonstrated
the sincerity of his belief later by marrying
a widow of a higher caste twice in his life.
By lending his powerful support to the Age of
Consent Bill (1891) he completely alienated
the social conservatives and even ran the risk
In politics also he refused to compromise when
it was a question of his conscience or conviction,
and was ready to court unpopularity and estrangement
from his friends. His concern for the poor and
the downtrodden led him to champion the cause
of the Assam tea-garden labourers in the last
quarter of the 19th century. In his book, The
New Economic Menace of India, he demanded
increased wages and shorter hours of work for
the Indian labourers. He not only gave the Bengali
labour journal Samhati its name, but also helped
it with contributions from his pen.
Bipin Chandras religious views underwent
a process of evolution. He became a Brahmo in
his youth, but in his later life he was greatly
influenced by the Vedantic philosophy of Sankaracharya,
and finally, under the influence of Bijay Krishna
Goswami he was drawn to the Vaishnava philosophy
of Sri Chaitanya. His universalism was, according
to one of his biographers, enriched by
his own experiences of higher Vaishnavic realisations,
whose meaning was revealed to him by the inspired
teachings of his guru Bijay Krishna.
Bipin Chandra wanted the Swadeshi Movement to
bring about not merely political freedom, but
also a real spiritual revival among his people.
That is why he put so much emphasis upon reorganizing
our educational system on completely national
lines. He joined the movement for national education
in Bengal and was associated with the National
Council of Education from its very inception.
Bipin Chandra was not only a great preacher
but also a prolific writer. Besides regularly
contributing to the journals of his day, he
wrote on the philosophy of Bengal Vaishnavism,
contributed a series of studies on the lives
of some of the makers of modern India like Rammohan
Roy, Keshab Chandra Sen, Aurobindo Ghose, Rabindranath
Tagore, Asutosh Mukherjee and Annie Besant,
gave expositions of some of the fundamental
aspects of Indian culture, attempted an interpretative
history of the modern renaissance in Bengal
and left for us memoirs of his own life and
As a leader of thought, Bipin Chandra has undoubtedly
an honourable place among the men of his time.
He never had much power and money, but he possessed
an undaunted spirit which knew no defeat.