Bengal National College, Calcutta, 1906

SubodhmullickHouse12WellingtonSq

PLACE OF ORIGIN

বঙ্গীয় জাতীয় মহাবিদ্বালয়, কলকাতা, ১৯০৬

The urge for setting up an institution that would impart education along nationalist lines was strongly felt by the early 20th century intelligentsia when Bengal was torn apart by the Curzon administration to reinforce British dominance politically and culturally. Backed by the Universities Act of 1904 the Calcutta University Senate and Syndicate were reshuffled co-opting more white members to ensure sufficient government control in policy making. The government also decided to disaffiliate certain new private colleges, which were looked upon by them as hotbeds of nationalist agitation. These offensive measures of the then Government frustrated the sentiment of educated middle class and incited a move for alternative systems of education.

A protest meeting was organized on November 5, 1905 under the auspices of the Dawn Society of Satish Chandra Mukherjee. The meeting was addressed by Rabindranath, Satish Chandra Mukherjee and Hirendranath Datta urging the students to severe all connections with the Government controlled university.
On November 9, a mass meeting was held at the Field and Academy Club. In that meeting it was decided that if it is the aim of the British government to destroy the freedom movement and if they exert such tyranny and oppression on young students, the people of the country would establish a national university. Subodh Chandra Mullick pledged a donation of one lakh Rupees.

Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick

Many others came forward to donate generously for the cause, including some native kings and princes and other like-minded dignitaries like Brojendra Kishore Roy Choudhury, Maharaja Suryya Kanto Acharya Choudhury. Leaders like Chitta Ranjan Das, Bipin Pal, Ramendrasundar Trivedi began to address Subodh Chandra as the ‘Raja’. Rabindranath congratulated the endeavour saying that after a long time, the Bengalis received a gift. Subodh Chandra’s contribution to the nationalist education movement seems however far greater than the sum he donated. He committed to establishing nationalist university even before its idea mooted, played a critical role in designing the institution incognito, and remained a part of its history ever since.

To challenge the British rule over education a huge meeting was sponsored by the Landholders’ Society at Park Street on November 16, 1905, attended by around 1500 delegates together with Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobindo Ghosh, Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick and Brajendra Kishore Roychowdhury.

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191/1 Bowbazar Street where BNC held its classes

Minutes. Exec Committee Meeting July 21, 1906

On 11th March, 1906, the National Council of Education, Bengal, or Jatiyo Siksha Parishad was founded to provide a platform for ‘a system of education – literary, scientific & technical – on national lines & under national control’ following a declaration made in a meeting held in Bengal Landholders’ Association. With Dr. Rashbehari Ghosh as the president, plans were afoot to establish a national college & school in Calcutta. In a public meeting, held on the 14th August, 1906 at the Town Hall, the Bengal National College & School was inaugurated.
The institution started to work from 15th August, 1906 in a rented house on 191/1, Bowbazar Street with Sri Aurobindo Ghosh as Principal and Sri Satish Chandra Mukherjee as an Hony. Superintendent. The institution had four departments – Literary, Scientific, Technical & Commercial. Scholars like Sakhram Ganesh Deuskar, Radhakumud Mukhopadhyay, Binay Sarkar, Khirode Prasad Vidyabinode voluntarily agreed to serve this new university. Rabindranath agreed to lecture on literature, Ananda Coomaraswamy on Oriental Art, Sir Gurudas Bandyopadhyay on Mathematics, Hirendranath Dutta on Upanishads.

The same time, another nationalist body, the Society for Promotion of Technical Education in Bengal, was set up with contending ideas by Taroknath Palit under patronage of Maharaja Manindra Chandra Nandy, Bhupendra Nath Bose, Nilratan Sircar and others who laid stress on the technical education alone. Under its management the Bengal Technical Institute was establish on July 25, 1906 with the objectives of spreading technical education among the masses.
In 1910 the two societies merged. The two colleges were virtually the faculties of “Humanities and Science” and of “Technology” of the National Council of Education. Several national schools also were founded in this period at different places in Bengal. Even after the merger, it was painfully observed that ‘not a student cared to come for a literary and scientific instructions along national lines’ See S. N. Sen

Sri Aurobindo Ghosh 1908

Sri Aurobindo clinically analyzed the conditions that failed the nationalist education movement originated in 1905. Some of the major causes of its collapse he pointed out were given here in a nutshell. To the majority of Council members, he thought, Nationalist Education was merely an interesting academic experiment, and regarded it merely as the ladder by which they climb and busy trying to kick it down. To others the only valuable part of it was the technical instruction given in its workshops. They really were shutting off the steam, yet expect the locomotive to go on. He also stressed on the unrealistic approach of its planning and designing. Curriculum of the Council is extraordinarily elaborate and expensive, as it was on the vicious Western system of driving many subjects at a time, serving as ‘a brain-killing and life-shortening machine’. See Sri Aurobindo –

The institution had many ups and downs in its struggling history before being reincarnated in the form of the present-day Jadavpur University.

The photograph featured at the top shows the house of Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick, at 12 Wellington Square. This was where the idea of national university in nationalist line was seeded and grown into Bengal National College with the initiative and care of Subodh Chandra and Aurobindo who stayed with him as his honourable guest. When he served as the Principal, Aurobindo would go from the Bengal National College to the evening gathering at this house to exchange views and plans in nationalist line.

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Bethune Society, Calcutta, 1851

Medical College Hospital Calcutta-1835x-inscribed-W.H.CA Vendis-CompanySchool

বেথুন সোসাইটি, কলকাতা, ১৮৫১

Bethune_John_Elliot_Drinkwater

Eliot Drinkwater Bethune

The Bethune Society, a literary association named after Eliot Drinkwater Bethune, was established in Calcutta jointly by some liberal Europeans and enlightened natives in December 1851. The Society was set up for the consideration and discussion of questions connected with literature and science ‘with the object of promoting the spirit of inquiry and knowledge among the Bengalis on the one hand, and establishing racial harmony between the Europeans and the natives on the other’ [See Sirajul Islam]. It was Dr FJ Mouat, the Secretary to the Medical College and of the Council of Education who actually initiated and brought about this noble institution of non-political and non-theocratic character to carry on the name of the Hon’ble Mr. Bethune, Legislative Member of the Supreme Council and President of the Government of Education, then lately deceased, and to commemorate his great services and boundless liberality in promoting the cause of the Native Female Education.

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Frederic John Mouat

In contemporary society, he was well known for his liberal views and acts. Bethune drafted a bill making the Europeans and Indians equal in the eye of law. In the first meeting held on 11 December 1851 in the Medical College Theatre, Mouat explained how a society ‘not so serious as the Asiatic Society and nor so light-hearted as many others around’ was necessary for serving the rising middle class of the country. He also proposed to bear personally the entire operational cost of the Society for one year.
The first Council of the Society was formed with the FJ Mouat (President), Ramgopal Ghosh and Rev. James Long (Vice-President), Peary Chand Mitra (General Secretary), and the Major GT Marshall, Rev Krishnamohan Banerjee and Debendranath Tagore as founder members. There had been quite a large number of learned dignitaries enrolled themselves as honorable members of the Society, namely, Dr Spunger, Dr Goodeve Chackerbutty, L Chat Esq, Baboo Ramgopal Ghose, Radhanath Sikdar, Ram Chandra Bose, Kylas Chandra Bose, Huro Mohan Chatterjea, Jagadisnath Roy, Nabin Chandra Mittra, Peary Mohun Sircar, Russick Lal Sein, Prassunna Kumar Mitra, Gopal Chandra Dutt, Hurry Chandra Dutt, Dukhina Ranjan Mookerjee. Begun with only 21 members, the Society’s membership rose to 250 in 1860.

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Peary Chand Mittra

The Bethune Society lasted for forty years. The Society, for the impressive contributions it made all these years toward the intellectual improvement of the society at large deserves a special place in the social as well as educational history of the country. The Hall of the Medical College in which the Society used to hold its meetings resounded time and again with the eloquence of learned men like Dr Mouat, Dr Duff, Collonel Goodwyn, Dr Rever, Gr Chevers, Rev. Dall, Goodeve Chackerbutty, Rev K M Banerjee, Rev Lal Behari Day, Koylas Chunder Bose,Grish Chunder Ghose, Kissory Chand Mittra, Peary Churn Sircar, Prossunno Coomar Surbadhicary, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Ramchandra Mitra, Haramohan Chattopadhyaya, Radhanath Sikdar, Raja Pratapchandra Singha, Nabin Kristo Bose, Rajendralala Mitra, Dr Mahendra Lal Sircar”.

RamgopalGhosh

Ramgopal Ghosh

On the invitation of the Bethune Society, young Rabindranath, made his first public reading on the subject of Music at the Medical College Hall, the evening before he started on the voyage to England in 1878. The event was presided by Reverend K. M. Banerji. [See Tagore. Reminiscence] The lectures delivered were subsequently published as articles in Society’s Transactions, or separately in book form [ see B.S. Selections]. Due to their inherent values the Society publications are referred to even today in studies on indigenous arts and sciences. ‘In those days H E the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal and the highest officials did not hesitate to attend the meeting of the Society without special invitation to listen to the lectures of the eminent speakers’ [see Manmathanath].
Though short lived, the Bethune Society was successful in achieving its objects: it could help develop scientific outlook among many Bengalis and promote understanding and toleration between the Indians and the Europeans. [Sirajul Islam]

The painting featured at the top depicts the front view of the Medical College Hospital, Calcutta where the meetings of the Bethune Society were held. This is a Company school of painting inscribed ‘W.H.CA Vendis’ at lower right, dated c1835. Courtesy: Christie’s

The Hon’ble Company’s Botanic Garden, Calcutta, 1787

বোটানিকাল গার্ডেনস, শিবপুর, কলকাতা, ১৭৮৭

The idea for a botanical garden was first tabled in the summer of 1786 by Robert Kyd, a Secretary to the Board in the Military Department of Fort William, as a potential safeguard against famine. But it soon became something much bigger and more ambitious.

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Colonel Robert Kyd

Ten years earlier he had visited the western borders of Assam, and from there he had brought young plants of a species of cinnamon growing wild there. Within the next few years other specimens had been obtained from Bhutan, and still other plants of the true cinnamon from Ceylon. All these plants were “deposited in the Governor-General’s garden,” the garden of Warren Hastings’ old house in Alipore. There the plants throve very well to prove their successful transplantation to Bengal. As Ceylon and the profitable cinnamon trade was at that time in the hands of the Dutch, the Board of Directors readily agreed to a proposal which seemed to promise a prospect of successful competition, the proposed garden was sanctioned, and Colonel Kyd was appointed honorary superintendent, a post which he held till his death. See

Botanic Garden House -1775

Shalimar, the house where Col. Kyd lived. A lithograph by Charled D’Oyly

In a letter dated 20 November 1787, Kyd sets out his vision for the garden to be part of the wider pursuit of scientific knowledge. Gradually the East India Company (EIC) did begin to actively support Kyd’s initiatives. The botanical garden in Bengal was one of the first instances of this support and it made the Gulf a part of an expanding European scientific enquiry that Kyd hoped might ‘add to the Fund of General Knowledge’. In response to an official request, the EIC Resident, Edward Galley, received in October 1787 from Persian Gulf a gift of six exotic plants. Besides the ‘Bussora Date Tree’ and the ‘famous Persian Tobacco’, there was also a tree that produces Varnish Gum.

Basra Date Palm, the Botanical Garden in Bengal--photo-430_8_0018_webcrop_2

Persian Flora

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Basra Date Palm

The garden was established in 1787 with its official name ‘The Hon’ble Company’s Botanic Garden, Calcutta’. Subsequently, it was renamed ‘The Royal Botanic Garden, Calcutta’ in the early 1860s. This amazing garden is laid out on a sprawling 272 acres of lush greenery on the west bank of river Hooghly. Over 12,000 trees and shrubs belonging to 1400 species together with thousands of herbaceous plants are in cultivation in the open in 25 Divisions, Glass houses, Green Houses and conservatories. The best-known landmark of the garden is The Great Banyan, an enormous banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) that is reckoned to be the largest tree in the world, at more than 330 metres in circumference. They are also famous for their enormous collections of orchids, bamboos, palms, and plants of the screw pine genus (Pandanus). See

The featured image above is of the Great Banyan Tree at botanical gardens, Calcutta – a black and white photograph (albumen print) by Bourne & Shepherd. Undated. Source: Smithsonian Institution

Bishop’s College, Shibpur, Calcutta, 1820

বিশপ কলেজ, শিবপুর, ১৮২০
The view shows Bishop’s College, established as part of a scheme for a theological college along the lines of that at Cambridge. It contained a chapel, houses, library and lecture rooms. The College was founded by the first Anglican Bishop of Calcutta, Bishop Thomas Middleton in December 1820 at Shibpur, on a site next to the Botanical Gardens by the side of river Hooghly. The original buildings still survive as part of the Bengal Engineering College. It was originally intended to serve as an Arts and Science College, as well as for the training of Indian Christians for the priesthood, and as catechists and teachers in Christian Colleges and Schools. Between 1832 and 1844 a number of Bengali Hindu converts joined the college, among whom were Mahesh Chandra Ghose, Krishna Mohan Banerjee and Madhusudan Dutta. With the introduction of the railway, it was felt that the college should be shifted to a suitable site in Calcutta and finally the site at Beckbagan, Lower Circular Road crossing was decided upon. See more
This coloured lithograph is taken from plate 18a of Sir Charles D’Oyly’s ‘Views of Calcutta and its environs’ painted in 1858.