Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya's Concept of Dharma

Contemporary India: Journal of the Nehru Memorial Museum Vol 2, No. 1, p. 139, 2003

12 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2007

See all articles by Malabika Majumdar

Malabika Majumdar

Kamala Nehru College, University of Delhi


English educated Bengali bhadralok reformers universalized and Eurocentralised the idea of dharma that not too long ago had formed part of shastra and darshan in the Great Tradition. The broad reason for this paradigm shift is attributed to the colonial mind-set to justify the popular anxiety towards European Enlightenment thinkers- criticism of Indian philosophy as being oriented to soteriology.

I have placed in this category Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's ( 1838-1894) work on dharma. A district magistrate by profession, he had the opportunity to interact with utilitarian stalwarts like Bentham and Mill. He was also attracted towards the secular morality of the Western variety. Bankim stood at the crossroad of feeling. A growing disenchantment with British politics of exploitation did not deter him from loving the culture that fostered scientific and analytic philosophy. But he wanted to emulate that culture on his terms.

Bankim was essentially a religious philosopher who synthesized a portion of Hindu great traditions with the metaphysical concerns that some rationalists in the West had expressed post Descartes. In the spirit of a Westerner he proved that saguna Isvara (theistic God) can be established rationally. He also applies Mill's inductively designed scientific method to prove two points. One, Isvara the creator is also the designer and keeper of dharma law But more important, He has emerged as an avatara (God in human form) to conserve this morally sanctioned law. Krishna avatara receives disproportionate significance in Bankim's religious philosophy

The great tradition lacked a social theory.To overcome this lacuna he formulated his samanjasya dharma (harmonized behavior). It forms the third layer of his religious philosophy. Samanjasya was an entirely Western concept that he adjusted to his religious philosophy after paraphrasing different varieties of utilitarianism like perfectionism, humanism and positivism Hence, reform was an effort to approximate the East to the West. Bankim was thus set to construct a yugadharma that created as new semantic situation. For it was part Western and part Hindu. At the same time he wanted to bring the West within the Hindu fold. The matrix of this reformed dharma can be traced in the national consciousness of a Hindu variety that Bankim in the same period campaigned for.

Keywords: Bankim, dharma, india, philosophy

Suggested Citation

Majumdar, Malabika, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya's Concept of Dharma. Contemporary India: Journal of the Nehru Memorial Museum Vol 2, No. 1, p. 139, 2003. Available at SSRN:

Malabika Majumdar (Contact Author)

Kamala Nehru College, University of Delhi ( email )

Khel Gaon Marg
New Delhi, 110017

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