Swami Brahmabandhav Upadhyay
February 1, 1861|
Khanyan, Bengal, British India
|Died||October 27, 1907
Calcutta, Bengal, British India
|Occupation||Theologian (and Mystic)|
Brahmabandhav Upadhyay [real name: Bhavani Charan Banerjee] (February 1, 1861 - October 27, 1907 (aged 46)) was an Indian freedom fighter, journalist, theologian, and a mystic.
Early life and education
He was born in Khanyan, a small village in the district of Hooghly in southern Bengal on February 11, 1861. He received his education in institutions such as Scottish Mission School, Hooghly Collegiate School, Metropolitan Institution (now Vidyasagar College), and the General Assembly's Institution (now Scottish Church College in Calcutta. In the General Assembly's Institution, his classmate was Narendranath Dutta, the future Swami Vivekananda.
A quest for freedom and truth
When he was in the high school, Upadhyay became inclined towards the Indian nationalist movement for freedom, and during his college education, he plunged into the freedom movement. It is regrettable that despite his active participation in the freedom struggle Upadhyay has not been given the due recognition that he deserves. In the words of his biographer, Professor Julius Lipner, (Brahmabandhab Upadhyay (1861-1907) made a significant contribution to the shaping of the new India whose identity began to emerge from the first half of the nineteenth century. He was contemporary to and friend of the Poet Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda. It is said that “Vivekananda lit the sacrificial flame or revolution, Brahmabandhab in fuelling it, safeguarded and fanned the sacrifice.”
Upadhyay joined the Brahmo Samaj and was a disciple of Keshub Chunder Sen and was closely associated with Sen and his successor Protap Chunder Mozoomdar. Early on life, Upadhyay had been drawn to the person of Jesus Christ, and his association with Sen and Mozoomdar further deepened that devotion. Upadhyay who initially opposed his uncle, Kali Charan Banerjee's conversion, began to study the Christian faith more seriously under a Catholic priest and sought conversion. However, being denied, he sought and received baptism at the hands of an Anglican priest, R. Heaton. Later on, Upadhyaya was conditionally re-baptized and admitted into the Catholic Church. After his conversion, he assumed the new name Brahmabandhab Upadhyay.
Upadhyay believed in the possibility of indigenizing Christianity in India through the use of Hindu categories, which he found to be an important task if Christianity were to take root in India. In this search for reconciliation, Upadhyay explored the feasibility of employing Hindu philosophy in interpreting the Christian faith for the Indian context in the same way Greek philosophy was used for articulating the Christian faith in the west. Upadhyay believed Christianity to be the true revelation of God and as a complete religion, which did not require any deletion from or any addition to it. However, he felt it necessary, in the Indian context, to seek the help of Indian philosophy, in order to strengthen revelation by preserving its unity through the process of reason. He found the Advaita Vedanta philosophy expounded by Śankara, the great Vedanta philosopher, to be an appropriate aid in supplying new clothing to Christianity “without affecting in the least the essential Christian tenets.”
But Upadhyay's vision was far in advance of the Roman Catholic Church of his time. His desire to begin a training school was not approved. His writings were declared forbidden reading. As he grew increasingly estranged from the Catholic Church his experiments with Hindu expressions of faith in Jesus became more radical. He finally was identified as a trouble maker by the British government as well, and died while imprisoned for sedition. Hindu friends saw to his cremation, but Christian friends always maintained that he had never renounced his faith in Christ even despite once having performed a cleansing ceremony from his associations with Christians. Animananda's writings especially began his reclamation by Christians, and today he has almost iconic status among Roman Catholic Christians who desire to express their faith consistently with classical Hindu traditions.
Upadhyaya wrote in the Sophia, July 1897:
- Are we Hindus?
- By birth we are Hindus and we shall remain Hindu till death. But as dvija (twice-born), by virtue of our sacramental rebirth we are Catholics, we are members of the indefectible communion embracing all ages and times. In customs and manners, in observing caste and social distinctions, in eating and drinking, in our life and living we are genuine Hindus, but in our faith we are neither Hindu nor European, nor American nor Chinese, but all-inclusive....
- The test of being a Hindu cannot therefore be in religious opinions. Yet, we have drunk of the spirit of Hinduism... We agree in spirit with Hindu law-givers in regard to their teaching that sacramental rites (samskaras) are vehicles of sanctification.
- With wondering reverence do we look upon their idea of establishing a sacred hierarchy vested with the highest authority in religious and social matters....
Upadhyay was the composer of the famous hymn Vande Saccidananda ("Saluting the Holy Trinity") which is today widely sung during vernacular services in Christian Churches all over India. This CANTICLE TO THE TRINITY was published in October 1898, and is widely regarded as a magnificent gem of Christian hymnology. This hymn is considered one of the most original contributions of Upadhyay to Indian Christian Theology. Upadhyay here has combined ideas from the Christian Scriptures with Greek and Hindu sources and adapted the Christian faith to the cultural patterns of Indian religious thought.
CANTICLE TO THE TRINITY
- I bow to Him who is
- Being, Consciousness and Bliss.
- I bow to Him whom worldly minds loathe,
- Whom pure minds yearn for,
- The Supreme Abode.
- He is the Supreme,
- The Ancient of days,
- The Transcendent,
- Indivisible Plenitude,
- Immanent yet above all things.
- Three-fold relation,
- Pure, unrelated knowledge beyond knowledge.
- The Father, Sun Supreme Lord, unborn,
- The seedless seed of the tree of becoming,
- The cause of all,
- Creator, Providence, Lord of the Universe.
- The infinite and perfect Word,
- The Supreme person begotten,
- Sharing in the Father's nature,
- Conscious by essence,
- Giver of true Salvation.
- He who proceeds from Being and Consciousness
- Replete with the breath of perfect bliss
- The purifier, the Swift,
- The Revealer of the Word the Life-giver.
- Hundreds of articles in Bengali and English in short-lived journals and magazines of Bengal such as Sophia, Jote, Sandhya, The Twentieth Century, Svaraj, etc.
- The Writings of Brahmabandhab Upadhyay (ed. by J.Lipner and G.Gispert-Sauch), 2 vols., Bangalore, 1991 and 2001.
- Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. Brahmabandhav Upadhyay: The Unvanquished Publicist in 175th Year Commemoration Volume, Scottish Church College, April 2008.
- Bhattacharya, pp. 89-90.
- Lipner, Julius. Brahmabandhab Upadhyay: The Life and Thought of a Revolutionary. Delhi: OUP, 1999, p. xv.
- Lipner, p. xv.
- Animananda, B. R. Swami Upadhyay Brahmabandhav: A Sketch in Two Parts. Calcutta: by the author, 1908.
- Animananda, B. R. The Blade: Life and Work of Brahmabandhab Upadhyay. Calcutta: Roy & Sons, n.d. .
- Bagal, Jogescandra. Brahmabandhab Upadhyay. Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parisat, 1964.
- Debsarma, Bolai. Brahmabandhab Upadhyay. Calcutta: Prabartak Publishers, 1961.
- Guha, Manoranjan. Brahmabandhav Upadhyay. Siksa Niketan, Bardhaman, 1976.
- Lavaranne, C. “Swami Brahmabandhab Upadhyay (1861-1907): Theologie chretienne et pensee du Vedanta.” Ph.D. diss. Universite de Provence, 1992.
- Lipner, Julius. Brahmabandhab Upadhyay: The Life and Thought of a Revolutionary. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Mukhopadhyay, Uma. India's Fight for Freedom or the Swadeshi Movement (1905–06). Calcutta, 1958.
- Painadath, Sebastian and Jacob Parappally, eds. A Hindu-Catholic: Brahmabandhab Upadhyay's Significance for Indian Christian Theology. Bangalore: Asia Trading Corporation, 2008.
- Spendlove, Gregory Blake. A Critical Study of the Life and Thought of Brahmabandhab Upadhyay. Deerfield: Trinity International University, 2005.
- Tennent, Timothy C. Building Christianity on Indian Foundations: The Legacy of Brahmabāndhav Upādhyāy. Delhi: ISPCK, 2000.