Devi Chaudhurani

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Devi Chaudhurani
Cover of the book
Author Bankim Chandra Chatterji
Original title দেবী চৌধুরানী
Country India
Language Bengali
Genre Novel (Nationalist)
Publication date
18o0
Media type Print (Paperback)

Devi Chaudhurani (Bengali: দেবী চৌধুরানী) is a Bengali novel written by Bankim Chandra Chatterji and published in 1884. It was later translated to English by Subodh Chunder Mitter.[1] Following closely after Anandamath, Bankim Chandra renewed call for a resurgent India that fights against oppression of the British Empire with strength from within the common people, based on traditional Indian values of austerity, dedication and selflessness. It is another important novel in the history of Bengali and Indian literature. Since it fuelled the patriotic struggle for Indian independence from the British Empire, the novel was banned by the British. The ban was lifted later by the government of India after independence. In this novel, Bankim Chandra reinforced his belief that armed face-to-face conflict with the Royal Army is the only way to win independence.

Very importantly, Bankim Chandra saw the struggle being led by a woman, the protagonist, in a time when most women remained behind purdah and did not even show her face to men outside her immediate family. This was a tremendous inspiration to scores of women who gradually came out of their homes and actively joined the independence struggle in the decades to come. Some feminists sees the ending as a disappointment, however, because the protagonist prefers to build her home instead of continuing with the independence movement.

Plot summary[edit]

Prafulla is married but is shunned by her wealthy father-in-law, Haraballabh, because of a spat between him and her father on the day of her wedding. By custom prevalent at that time, a girl, once married, could not be divorced or remarried. Heartbroken at the fate of his only child, her father died after a few years, leaving the family in penury.

Prafulla takes the drastic step to flee in the middle of the night to find the house of her in-laws whom she has never known, without any money, with knowledge of only the name of the village and name of her father-in-law. Benevolent people, surprised to see her traveling alone, help her on the way. This is consistent with the custom in Bengal that all unknown women were to be treated as one's own mother. Royal Army surrounds the yacht, and the Major boards it with a few soldiers. A few rowers sit on the decks quietly, offering no resistance. Only three women and two men are found in the yacht — they all are quietly waiting for him in the royal room.

When the men and women in the room recover, they are surrounded by a group of Queen's Guards who were quietly waiting disguised as sailors. In a single brilliant move, Devi has won the battle, captured the enemy leader, secured both her husband and father-in-law, and managed to do it with minimum loss of lives. The Major and other soldiers captured along with him are kept locked in. Devi now reveals her true identity to Braja and Haraballabh. Haraballabh asks Devi, "Why did you become a dacoit?" Devi, true to her education in Indian values, does not confront her father-in-law. Instead, she asks for forgiveness and pleads him to take her back as his daughter-in-law. Haraballabh is too scared to spurn her.

The Royal Army soldiers are released unharmed near a village, and Braja and Haraballabh are released in another location. Devi also gives them money for their travel. Devi meets Bhabani Pathak and hands over the responsibility of carrying the freedom movement forward.

Commentary[edit]

In this novel, Bankim Chandra emerged as a writer who is increasingly comfortable with weaving a complex story, and looked at all aspects of a novel. He wove together fun, family drama, a deep knowledge of local customs, with his message for independence from British. Unlike Anandamath, he put together an alternate government in place, led by an ideal leader, steeped in Indian values, directly supported by the people.

Very importantly, Bankim Chandra boldly portrayed the struggle being led by a woman, the protagonist, in a time when most women remained behind purdah and did not even show her face to men apart from her husband and siblings. He used the allegory of actual historical figures of valiant queens across India who had ably led their kingdoms and fought on battlefields. This was a tremendous inspiration to scores of women who gradually came out of their homes and actively joined the independence struggle in the decades to come. Some feminists see the ending as a disappointment however, because the protagonist preferred to build her home instead of continuing with the independence movement, and even asserted that to be the only fulfilment of a woman.[2]

Still Bankim Chandra's achievement was great and he knew that for his story to be accepted by the conservative society around him, he has to make compromises. That compromise may well had been his own view, being a neo-conservative advocating changes to the society but none too drastic.[3] In a complimentary way, he thought a woman's job of keeping a home together is more difficult than the challenges of the outside world. Women all across India in the next decades successfully handled their homes and still actively participated in the freedom struggle.

Interestingly, Bankim Chandra saw the need to defeat the Royal Army, but did not call for total destruction. He saw the conflict being waged with honor and compassion. Also, many of the Royal Army foot soldiers were Indians, and he possibly understood that such militant approach will be self-destructive. In the actual history of Indian independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi confronted the British with the weapon of nonviolence, and he condemned armed militancy and terrorist tactics adopted by some freedom fighters like Khudiram Bose and Surya Sen.[4]

Film adaptation[edit]

The novel was later adapted into a film, Debi Chowdhurani in 1974, directed by Dinen Gupta, starring Suchitra Sen in the lead role, with Ranjit Mallick as Brajeswar, Kali Banerjee as Haraballabh, Basanta Chowdhury as Bhabani Pathak.

In Satyajit Ray's 1966 movie Nayak, the plot involves a storyline where the protagonist gets snubbed by a senior actor while enacting Devi Chaudhurani. The protagonist was playing the role of Braja and the senior actor was playing the role of Haraballabh.

A voice play [1] based on the novel was held at 34/1 Elgin Road, Kolkata on April 4, 2014.

Further reading[edit]

The figures of Bhabani Pathak and Debi Chaudhurani were historical figures as found from British records, but very little else was known about them. Bankim Chandra used this lack of information to full advantage to his imagination as an author.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Devi Chaudhurani translated to English by Subodh Chunder Mitter
  2. ^ Ray, Sangeeta (2000). En-gendering India: woman and nation in colonial and postcolonial narratives. India: Duke University Press, USA. ISBN 978-0-8223-2453-9. , Chapter 1: Gender and Nation: Woman Warriors in Chatterjee's Devi Chaudhurani and Anandamath
  3. ^ Chattopadhyay, Bankim Chandra (2009). Lipner, Julius J., ed. Debi Chaudhurani, Or The Wife Who Came Home. India: Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 978-0-19-538836-7. 
  4. ^ Charkha, gun, a common link, by Manini Chatterjee