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Vol. X No. 3 Bulletin July-September 2007
News Update | Articles | Researchers
New Arrivals | Mails & Emails
The Unending Debate on Secularism
India is a multi-religious,
multi-cultural and multi-linguistic country where religion is central to the
life of people. The Upanishads propound it profoundly as Sarva Dharma
Samabhava which means equal respect for all religions.
India fortunately has not become a religious or a theocratic state like
Pakistan. The Constitution declares India to be a Sovereign Socialist Secular
Democratic Republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality and liberty. The
Fathers of the Constitution were visionaries and were hopeful that there would
be no discrimination based on religion. Though it was only later with 42nd
amendment that the words, 'socialist' and 'secular' were adopted in the
preamble, they had emphasised the secular foundation of the Indian state.
Secularism is an ideology that holds that religious issues should not be the
basis of politics, or in the extreme sense, that religion has no place in public
life. Secularism has been a widely debated subject in India particularly since
1963. Everyone claims to be a secularist. Even Hindutvavadis insist that they
are true secularists. Unlike the West, the secularism in India is more political
It was George Holyoake (1817-1906) who adopted the word secularism in the early
1850s in a doctrine proclaiming science as the true guide of persons, morality
as secular in origin, reason as the only authority, freedom of thought and
speech, and all efforts to be directed to this life only. Secular attitude arose
as a reaction to the religious domination during the medieval period.
Secular societies were founded in the 1850s based on this doctrine. Holyoake was
sentenced to six months imprisonment for making the statement that "God should
retire". His secularism was concerned with "this world without denying any other
world---". On the other hand, Charles Bradlaugh who founded the Central Secular
Society in 1866 held that "the logical consequence of secularism is the absolute
denial of Providence".
While for Holyoake, ignoring God was enough, Bradlaugh insisted that God should
be banished. Secularism for both meant a complete separation of the Church from
the State and the abolition of all privileges granted to religious organisations.
Secularism in India has different meanings and implications. The word is never
used like in the West - in the sense of atheism, or purely this worldly
approach, rejecting otherworldly beliefs. It is not anti-religious. It means
equal respect for all religions and cultures and that, therefore, there is no
official state religion, or religious interference in government affairs.
According to Article 25, all those who reside in India are free to preach,
practice and propagate religion of one's choice, subject of course to social
health, and law and order. Secularism is an integral part of the basic structure
of the Constitution and the Indian people.
In spite of this, there has been large scale religious intolerance and violence
in India. Secularism is endangered. Politicians and political parties are
playing the communal card and thus damaging the very basic nature of secular
polity and plurality. They deliberately provoke religious fanaticism for
political gains. It is now secularism versus communalism.
The demolition of the Babri Masjid was a blow to Indian secularism. The Gujarat
carnage of 2002 is still vivid in our minds. More than 2000 innocent people lost
their lives and hundreds of women were raped and murdered most barbarically
under the very nose of Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
The Spirit of secularism needs to be revived and strengthened. As Asghar Ali
Engineer observes, “In the eyes of people, religion, not politicians, come to be
blamed. Religion per se, cannot be responsible for communal malaise. It is like
a tool, which can be used either way.”
Religion is for spiritual guidance and growth of people. It is a major resource
for promoting peace, liberty and justice. We must use religions to maintain our
plurality, which is our asset. Our response must be based on respect, tolerance
and compassion. Persons are sacred, unique, irreplaceable, and irreducible.
We need to build and promote a spirituality that is acceptable to all. It is an
essential part of an individual’s holistic health and well-being. It plays a
major role in human and societal governance and development. After 9/11
terrorist attack, “God bless America” came easily to the lips of all Americans.
Spirituality came alive. It established the fact that human beings can not do
without it. The great scientist Albert Einstein once said that his every effort
was to “know God’s thoughts”. Spirituality is to be “God – intoxicated” as it
happened in the life of Spinoza, an ardent atheist.
Spirituality is often understood to do with escaping from life’s temptations and
challenges by going off to deserts and mountaintops to pray all day. It is often
identified with matters other worldly, something to do with spirits, something
associated with pious and religious observances and activities.
Spirituality is, according to Ursula King, “Anthropologically an exploration
into what is involved in becoming fully human” and fully alive (spirit-filled).
It points to something central to human life. It is the experience of being
unique, being human, being something – a power, energy, presence, drive – that
shapes one’s actions and cultivates his or her life. It is what St. Augustine
called as “restlessness.” It is a path to God and to become gradually God-like.
It is that which pertains to self or soul (atman).
God is Spirit. He cannot be conditioned by space, form, time, sex, caste, color,
religion, and so on. He is beyond all these. The word spirit is to do with wind,
the air we breathe in, and therefore life. Spirit is life and so God is life.
Spirituality unfolds life that calls for transcendence - experience, awareness
and appreciation of life beyond self. It helps a person to experience God as
truth, love and peace. It takes him or her to something greater and higher. It
takes a person beyond his or her egocentric nature and fills with other-centric
Spirituality is not opposed to religion. It is regarded sometime not as religion
per se, but as the active and vital energy that transforms life. It is also not
identical with religion. As William Irwin Thompson put it, "Religion is the form
spirituality takes in civilization". It is also regarded as a two-stroke
process: the "upward stroke" of inner growth, changing oneself as one changes
one's relationship with the external universe; and the "downward stroke" of
manifesting improvement in the physical reality around oneself as a result of
the inward change. We all have spirituality whether we are religious or not. It
is that which unites all as human family from disintegrating and puts people in
harmony with the universe.
The earth is one, but the world is divided. Religious leaders therefore should
come together and take a bold stand against communal violence and promote
harmony and peace. In a climate of acute crisis, they must show the way to the
future. They must promote spirituality at the political level to liberate and
empower politicians and leaders through a sense of shared purpose. Such a sense
of purpose is a pre-requisite for good governance and national unity.
Religion and Secular State
Dr. D. John Romus
Secularism, like religion, is much discussed, but understood differently in
different cultural zones of the world. In our post-modern world, known for
multiculturalism, the debate on secularism is focused on the "mode of
separation" between state and religion, whereby the state is expected to
guarantee fair treatment to all religions in the political community. This was
also the original goal of secularism when it was invented as a political
instrument for the governance of the state.
The historical narrative of political secularism goes back to the age of
denominational wars of religion that shattered Western Christendom. Hence, the
need arose for a new kind of political order where the people of competing
confessional persuasions might live in amity, free from religious wrangling and
violence. This meant, in practice, to separate the state from religion in some
form so that the public domain might be governed by some political norms which
might be either independent of all confessional allegiance, or based on a
certain common ethic of peaceful coexistence agreed by all sects. These norms
must be beyond revocation by any rival confessional claim and must ensure public
Out of these basics, two primary models of secular state developed as we have
them in the liberal democracy. The first model equates separation as "complete
exclusion" of religion from the public sphere by relegating it to the private
sphere. Thus, religiously defined-goods have no place in the catalogue of ends
the state promotes. When this position is extreme, the state becomes
anti-religious. Moreover, its approach to religion is problematic, because in
real life it is different to find instances in which there is a total separation
between pubic and private spheres of belief.
The second model interprets separation as "principled distance" that the state
keeps from religion in the public domain. Here the goal is not to make religion
less relevant to public life and social policy, but to prevent the state from
being unfair to any religion. This model holds that state and religion
constitute two distinct spheres co-existing in the society with their respective
areas of jurisdiction to care for people's temporal and spiritual needs. Both
respect each other's values as well as their limits.
In the governance of the state, the principled distance model itself operates in
two ways, namely, by being neutral to religions or equidistant from them.
Positively speaking, both maintain a reasonable approach towards religion. The
purpose of neutrality is to avoid state's interference in the religious affairs,
and that of equidistance is to avert state's partiality to any particular
The Constitution of the United States of America is considered to be the
classical example of state's neutrality towards religion. The First Amendment to
the U. S. Constitution prohibits the state to interfere in religious matters,
either in establishing a religion or its free exercise.
Secularism is central to the Constitution of India. The Indian version of
secularism is a synthesis of two streams of thought, the Western and the Indian.
The Western model of principled distance variety has been taken and
contextualised in harmony with India's composite culture and in defense of
essential human values enhancing human dignity. Consequently, the Indian
secularism stands for the separation of the state from religion, equal
protection of all religions and active opposition to communalism. It is rightly
known in popular parlance as equal regard for all religions (Sarva-dharma-sambhava).
Precisely, this sort of secularism calls for the separation of the state from
religion to make this sort of polity to function so that the political goods of
all communities are protected by the state. This happens only when the state in
India is non-sectarian, which requires, in the logic of its operation,
distancing the state from religion. However, Indian secularism neither
subscribes to a policy of neutrality nor it is at parity with a policy of mere
equidistance from religion, but keeps a strong sense of principled distance from
This means that, as the Constitution has it, freedom of religion is guaranteed
to all, but the state is not prohibited from providing religious assistance
–(including financial) provided it is on reasonable grounds and on non-sectarian
basis. Moreover, the state in India is empowered with extensive powers to
intervene in matters related to religious practices. In the scheme of separation
understood as principled distance from religion, the state's intervention or
non-intervention depends on which of the two better promotes a set of humanistic
values for a life of equal dignity for all in the society.
It is exactly, this motive that impelled the state to undertake socio-cultural
and religious reforms in the country and to introduce affirmative action for the
marginalised. All this is done to protect the ordinary but dignified life of its
citizens in the civil society. I believe that this delicate but humanizing
secular fabric of our country can be maintained only by strengthening the forces
of participatory democracy in the country. I wish that all who respect the
dignity of every human person - believers and non-believers alike - shoulder
their due responsibility in this national task.
Source: D. John Romus, Human Dignity in Indian Secularism and in Christianity
(Bangalore, Claretian Publications, 2007), pp. 1- 497.
|Abstracts of Brahmabandhab Upadhyay
Brahmabandhao Upadhyay and Questions of Multiple Identities.
Brahmabandhao Upadhyay (Kalicharan Banerjee) is interesting and intriguing
figure. Let us attempt an overview of his life from the point of view of
Reconciling Multiple Identities. First phase is when he is in a sense
accepts ‘multiple identities of being a Hindu, a Christian and an Indian’.
Apparently he is comfortable with all three and is making a conscious effort
to reconcile these multiple identities. This was a period when he is excited
at the Bengal renaissance, in its Vedantic re-rooting; in its embrace of
Western rationalism and in its uprising for Indian liberation.
The Dominance of a
Catholic Identity. Second phase is when the Catholic identity seems to
dominate when his faith in Christ apparently over-rides the rest. At this
phase he is an eminent Christian thinker and was eager to root Christianity in
Indian philosophy and customs. He found Vedanta (advaita) as the
suitable vehicle for this. Sophia is the mouth-piece of this; he adopts Indian
sannyasi dress and wanders as a Hindu-Christian sannyasi.
Conflict (Irreconcilable) of Identities. Third phase is when these multiple
identities bring conflicts in him and with other identities. First his
enthusiasm to root Christianity in Indian ethos is met with opposition from Zaleski the nuncio; the latter finds that Hindu philosophy and custom are
incompatible with Christianity. His initial enthusiasm to defend himself and get
approval from the West did not find much support. At this juncture, his national
identities come into the fore. He becomes a vocal critic of the West and the
British and is disillusioned with Catholicism of the time.
Multiple Identities and
Attempts to reconcile. This conflict brings forth the questions of
multiple identities: His national aspirations conflict with his Catholic
identity where Catholicism was identified with the west; his religious
identity as a Christian is coming in conflict with his cultural identity where
culture and religion is identified in Hinduism; his cultural identity as a
Hindu and Indian brings him in conflict with the political identity of the
western powers. In principle BU accepted his multiple identity; but he
discovers that each of these identities have multiple identities and layers.
Question of Identity.
Identity is a multiple and open-ended construction and not a watertight,
compartmentalized, single, closed entity. In the S.Asian
context identities refer to a variety of social phenomena, such as caste system,
strong cultural values, ethnicity, nation, religion, descent group, class,
occupation, lifestyle, gender, sexual orientation, and so on. They are often
interconnected. One dimension influences the other. Despite the multiplicity of
identities each one of us has a dominant identity enabling us to read the world
from a particular perspective. Globalization sharpens the question of identity
and interrogates the status of religions in forming identities.
Why Identities Bring
Conflicts. Identities refer to the way one defines oneself in relation to
the other, and in the process one constructs ‘boundaries’. Consequently we get
constructed and dichotomized notions of "insider-outsider", "same-different",
"me and the other", etc. While a sense of belonging to one’s community can be
seen as a resource, it can also firmly exclude other people. This is
particularly true when a singular identity is taken to override the rest. ‘The
Clash of Civilization’ projects a singular identity on people and presumes
that humanity can be easily classified into civilizations based on a singular
identity of religion or culture. This ignores the fact that there are multiple
diverse identities that a people possesses.
The Question of a Dominant
Identity. A person’s religion needs not be his or her all encompassing and
exclusive identity (Sen, p.14). The notion of a
singular dominant identity is very divisive. Plural affiliations are more
realistic. “Civilizational partitioning is a pervasively intrusive phenomenon in
social analysis, stifling other – rich - ways of seeing people. It lays
foundation for misunderstanding nearly everyone in the world, even before going
on to the drumbeats of civilizational clash’. (Sen, p.42).
The advocates of singular identity skillfully cultivate it in order to foment
hostilities. In making a Hindu a Hindu, a Hutu a Hutu, a Tamil Tiger a Tamil
Tiger, a Serbian a Serbian, ‘a Born again Christian a Born again Christian’ a
specific identity is separated in one’s self-understanding and the relevance of
other affiliations are ignored. The ‘sole’ identity is instrumentalized; human
being is miniaturized. (Sen, p.185).
Asian can be seen only as Asian, not in any of her other affiliations; hence at
best, is capable of talking about Asia and nothing more and beyond. The
surprising phenomenon in a globalizing world is that there are many who would
define themselves primarily in terms of their religious identity. The religious
identity becomes the dominant identity among the multiple identities. Imposing a
singular identity on a gullible people is the best guarantee of championing
terrorism. Whereas “the recognition of multiple identities and of the world
beyond religious affiliations, even for very religious people, can possibly make
some difference in the troubled world in which we live”. (Sen Amartya, p.79).
Challenge of Identities:
enable people to see differently, in their
diverse affiliations, rather than in singular identity;
another world is possible and that one can have global identity without losing
other loyalties and identities;
Challenge for religious Identity is relate
to and contain other identities without compromising its religiosity.
Will it be too much of reductionism to claim that Sp. Exercises begin on a
universal identity of ‘Creator and creature’ and ends with another universal
identity of ‘finding all in Him and in Him all’. Other loyalties and identities
are preserved and fostered within the universal one. An important challenge for
us will be to define our identity in a globalizing world of economies, cultures
Questions. i) Was BU phenomenon a result of the oriental
fascination for the West and its rationality? ii) was BU part of the
‘Orientalism’ that found the Orient valuable and significant only in relation to
the Occident? Creating a body of knowledge and studying it and naming it was
part of this orientalism; is BU victim of that? iii) was he following the
Christian missionary apologetics and a as a result trying to formulate a
The history of the freedom movement in Bengal points out that, revolutionary
terrorism (1908 – 20), was a very significant chapter. The terrorists were often
put behind the bars or deported to the Andamans after 1908. In the first place,
Alipore bomb conspiracy case led to much excitement throughout India. 
Journals like Bepin Pal’s `New India’, Aurobindo Ghosh’s `Bande Mataram’
(published in English), Brahmabandhab Upadhyay’s `Sandhya’ and the `Yugantar’
(brought out by a group associated with Barindrakumar Ghosh) from 1906 onwards
called for a struggle for Swaraj. 
In practice, as later events showed, many
of the extremist leaders would agree to settle for less – Tilak in January 1907,
for instance, exposed his willingness to take `half a loaf rather than no
bread’, though with the intention `of getting the whole loaf in good time’.
`Sandhya’ was a daily newspaper, published in the evening.
Its editor Brahmabandhab Upadhyay was a liberal-minded writer, and the chief characteristic
feature of this paper was to explore significant ideas by sarcastic commentary.
According to Dr. Amales Tripathi, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in his novels
referred to the `Geeta’, to progress towards a new `Kurukshetra’ by making the
dream of Mahabharata successful .
His bold imaginations influenced the later
ages. Hindu extremists like Tilak, Aurobindo, Lala Lajpat Rai, Brahmo Bepin Pal
and converted Catholic Brahmobandhab were no exception.
Abanti Adhikari, Lecturer in History, Narasinha Dutt College
A Prophet to Reclaim
K. P. Aleaz
In 1907, Bipin Chandra Pal wrote in his paper, New India: “It was this sturdy
patriot, whose almost unaided exertion, has brought the people of Bengal to a
practically resistful attitude today. Of all men, it was he who imparted a
militant character to our Swadeshi Movement.” Brahmabandhav Upadhyaya, the man
thus eulogized, contributed significantly to the nationalist movement. The
nature of this needs reexamination today as we proceed towards commemorating his
100th death anniversary.
Upadhyaya made his Bengali daily Sandhya into a popular newspaper, which drew
the masses into the mainstream of the political movement. He lent the Bengal
partition agitation of 1905 so much strength that its ultimate success may, with
fairness, be traced back to him. He gave Indian nationalism a mass appeal that
anticipated Gandhiji’s own move by decades. His fearlessness and selflessness
were a tremendous inspiration to the nation.
On September 20, 1906, Upadhyaya through Sandhya called for complete
independence-“impossible at present. But nonetheless, that is the goal we should
always keep before our eyes.” He was the first national leader to suggest this.
Aurobindo Ghose had not yet entered politics, having arrived in Bengal only a
month earlier. Upadhyaya became a symbol of the desire for Swaraj.
The gulf between extremists and moderates widened since the Congress session at
Benares in 1905. Upadhyaya took the initiative to invite Tilak, Lajpat Rai and
Kharpade to Bengal and organize the Shivaji Festival. In 1906, he opposed
Surendranath Banerjea’s scheme for a dominion status and was instrumental in
engineering the disengagement of the extremists from the moderates. The final
split came at Surat in 1907.
The extremists, with Tilak as their leader, now demanded full administrative
control of the government. But Upadhyaya was not happy with this demand. Tilak’s
Swaraj envisaged only administrative autonomy. In contrast, Sandhya declared in
1907: “We want complete independence. The country cannot prosper so long as the
veriest shred of the Feringhi’s supremacy over it is left.” There came into
existence in Bengal many secret societies such as the Anusilan Samiti which
preferred the cult of the bomb and the revolver. They needed a philosophy and
Sandhya met this requirement. The extremists avidly read the stirring articles
The agitation against the partition gathered strength from August 7 and reached
its peak on October 16, 1905. It had by then merged with the boycott and
swadeshi movements. Gradually, it outgrew provincial limitations and broadened
into Gandhiji’s national campaign for freedom. But its roots lay in the movement
of Bengal and in such patriots as Upadhyaya, who first conceived its aims and
In August 1907, the premises of the Sandhya were searched. In September and
October of the same year two sedition cases were filed against the editor,
manager and printer of the paper. One of the articles forming the subject matter
of the prosecution was entitled ‘Ekan theke gechhi premer dai” (now I am stuck on
account of love) and this appeared in Sandhya on 13th August 1907.
Upadhyaya wrote: “We have said over and over again that we are not Swadeshi only
so far as salt and sugar are concerned…. What we want is the emancipation of
India. Our aim is that India may be free, that the stranger may be driven from
our homes, that the continuity of the learning, the civilization and the system
of the Rishis may be preserved…”
“O Mother! Let us be born again and again in India till your chains fall off.
First, let the Mother be free, and then shall come our own release from the
worldly bonds…. O Feringhi, … Our power is more than human. It is divine…. We
have all the advantages of the ancient greatness of India on our side. We are
immortal…. We hereby summon you to battle.”
Bail was granted to the accused, but daily they had to attend the court from
morning till evening and this weary waiting made Upadhyaya’s hernia worse and
worse. The case was put off till after the Puja holidays, and so he could get
himself admitted to what was then called Campbell Hospital. Upadhyaya was
operated on October 22. But post-operational complications set in, and on
Sunday, October 27, 1907, at 8.30 a.m., he died with the word by which he
usually referred to Christ – ‘Thakur” – on his lips. Amid the pomp befitting a
national hero, Upadhyaya’s body was cremated according to Hindu custom.
Why was Upadhyaya so soon forgotten? Why was no attempt made to perpetuate his
memory? Why are India’s own historians so unaware of his contribution? Tarachand,
R.C. Majumdar and A.R. Desai talk about Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghose,
Surendranath Banerjea and Rabindranath Tagore. But the name of Upadhyaya is
missing in their accounts.
Pal himself had declared before independence: “The ideals of our present
nationalism have been obtained from Upadhyaya Brahmabandhav to a very great
extent. But it seems that people are forgetting about it. We are trying to keep
alive the memory of so many people, but as regards Upadhyaya Brahmabandhv we did
not have even a condolence meeting.”
Shyam Sunder Chakravarty wrote in The Bengalee on October 26, 1924: “Upadhyaya
Brahmabandhav is now an almost forgotten man. In his case we find a complete
justification of the adage that the world knows very little of its greatest
men”. Mohitlal Majumdar wrote in the Bangadarshan in Magh 1355
(January-February, 1928): “That lion-man, the heart dedicated to the country,
that sannyasi … Bengal has forgotten. They do not commemorate or remember him.”
What was the source of Upadhyaya’s courage and strength? None other than his
religio-cultural convictions. Since they represent a dynamic process of growth,
it is a difficult task to pin point them. To begin Upadhyaya originally Bhabani
Charan Banerji, had been a disciple of Keshub Cunder Sen for some time. He was a
friend of Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore. It was with him that Tagore
founded Santiniketan.Upadhyaya came to know Jesus Christ through Sen and through
his own uncle, Reverend Kalicharan Banerji. In 1891, he received baptism from an
Anglican priest but, in the same year, he became a Roman Catholic. In 1894, he
became a Sannyasi and adopted the new name, which meant “friend of God”.
From 1891 to 1901 God was his focus, God as experienced in Jesus and interpreted
in terms of Hindu thought. His literary activities of this period included the
editing of Sophia (January 1894 - March1899), a Catholic monthly journal; Sophia
(June 16, 1900 – December 8, 1900), a weekly; and The Twentieth Century (January
1901 – December 1901), a monthly. Because of total discouragement from church
authorities he almost stopped his theological writing in 1901. Upadhyaya then
became fully engaged in the nationalist movement. In November 1904 he brought
out Sandhya (1904 – 1907) and in March 1907 Swaraj, a Bengali weekly.
From 1891 to 1901 Upadhyaya had been making a distinction between Samaj dharma
and Sadhana dharma. He was a Hindu-Christian or rather a Vedantin-Christian.
Samaj dharma, which implies living manners, customs, eating and dressing, all of
them based on the observance of the caste system, pronounced him a Hindu. In
terms of spiritual practice (sadhana) and the quest for salvation (mukti), he
was a Christian.
Till about 1898, Upadhyaya had the idea that the Vedas should be the basis for
Christian theology in India. He also thought that, as opposed to theism, Advaita
Vedanta propagates pantheism. But, as he came to study Advaita Vedanta more
closely, it become his firm belief that pantheism would be crushed out of
existence by Advaita Vedanta, and true theism could be made to flourish in
According to pantheism, the universe is the necessary and intrinsic life of God;
God is nothing more than the universe and the universe is nothing less than God.
True theism, for which Advaita stands, holds that God transcends the universe.
Creation is not necessary for God to live. Being of the finite is derived,
dependent and contingent, while that of the Infinite is self-existent,
independent and necessary.
Upadhyaya felt that Advaita Vedanta would make the natural truths of theism and
the supernatural dogmas of Christianity more explicit and consonant with reason
than was done by scholastic philosophy. Advaita Vedanta is to supply a new garb
to the religion of Christ.
The main contribution of Upadhyaya to Indian Christian theology lies in his
explanation of the doctrine of Trinity as Saccidananda and the doctrine of
creation as Maya. True, he is following here the basic method of putting an
already formulated Christian theology in Vedantic terms. But, in effect, his
effort has accomplished much more than this.
Upadhyaya never tried to reinterpret the Advaita Vedantic concepts. What he
establishes is, that Trinity is Saccidananda and that Creation is Maya. From
such a conclusion the way ahead is clear. It is possible to shed new light on
the mysteries of Trinity and Creation from the Vedantic doctrines. Vedanta, to
some extent, receives authority to formulate an understanding of Trinity in
terms of Saccidananda, of Christ in terms of Chit and of Creation in terms of
Of course, Upadhyaya has not explicitly proclaimed so. But he has indicated the
way forward. Inasmuch as he was the first to indicate such a way he is truly the
Father of Indian Christian theology as well as Indian dialogical theology.
In Advaita Vedanta, Sat-Chit-Ananda (Being-Intelligence-Bliss) indicates the
Supreme Being, Brahman. According to Upadhyaya, to speak of Brahman as Sat-Chit-Ananda
means that Brahman knows Himself/Herself and from that self-knowledge proceeds
His/Her eternal beatitude. Brahman is related of necessity only to the infinite
image of His/Her own being, mirrored in the ocean of His/Her knowledge. This
relation of Being (Sat) to itself in self-knowledge (Chit) is one of perfect
harmony, bliss (Ananda).
In Upadhyaya’s opinion, the Christian doctrine of God as Trinity is “exactly the
same” as the Vedantic conception of Brahman as Sat-Chit-Ananda because in the
Trinity (Father, Son and the Spirit) the knowing self is the Father; the known
self or the self-begotten by His knowledge is the Son; and the Holy Spirit is
the spirit of reciprocal love proceeding from the Father and the Son. Upadhyaya
wrote a Sanskrit hymn, “Vande Saccidanandam” in adoration of Parabrahman who, in
Christian faith, is referred as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This hymn is now
very popular among Indian Christians.
According to Brahmabandhav Upadhyaya, Maya signifies the will-power (sankalpa)
of God. It means that creation is by the power (sakti) of the will of God. Maya
involves three truths: God is not necessarily a creator; creatures are
non-beings, transformed as it were into being; and this transformation is caused
by the mysterious power of the will of God.
It is Upadhyaya’s contention that Maya, which explains creation and the
Christian doctrine of Creation, are identical because, according to the
Christian doctrine also, God does not create out of necessity but through the
overflow of his/her perfections. Creations has no being in itself, what it has
is derived being and is the effect of the divine thought. Upadhyaya even said
that Maya could express Creation in a far better way than the Latin root, “creare”.
Upadhyaya’s religion was not sectarian but universal. He encouraged a dialogue
for relational convergence of religions. Today, when India strives for communal
harmony, Upadhyaya’s life can give at least useful pointers. If Hinduism and
Christianity can be unified, as he demonstrated, there is no reason why the same
cannot happen between Hinduism and Islam.
His political commitment to his motherland again was total, for her complete
liberation. He wanted us to be born again and again till Mother India’s chains
fall off completely. Independence we got, but still is not our country, our
Mother, in chains even today? Mother, give us some more Upadhyayas to fight for
the total independence of our people today.
(For further reading with elaboration and all references, Cf. K.P.Aleaz, “The
Theological Writings of Brahmabandav Upadhyaya Re-examined”, The Indian Journal
of Theology, Vol. 28, No. 2, April-June 1979, pp. 55-77; The Gospel of Indian
Culture, Calcutta: Punthi Puatak, 1994, pp. 214-56; Christian Thought Through
Advaita Vedanta, Delhi: ISPCK, 1996, pp. 9-44.)
(The Rev. Dr. K. P. Aleaz is Professor of Religions at Bishop’s College, as well
as Professor and Dean of Doctoral Programme of North India Institute of
Post-Graduate Theological Studies, Kolkata)
Brahmabandhab Upadhyay: The Light of the East (1861-1907)
Dr. Biswanath Ghosh
Rabindranath Tagore said Brahma Bandhab was a Roman Catholic sanyasi on the one
hand and a Vedantist on the other. Brahma Bandhab was worshipper of Christ and
remained a Roman Catholic to the end. What he did was to synthesise Catholic
religion and Vedanta.
Hinduism is a very broad religion. While enforcing perfect conformity in
external matters, it allows every one to follow his Guru in matters of belief
and conscience. Upadhyay made a very generous use of Hindu Tolerance. He chooses
Christ as his Guru and became a Roman Catholic for the salvation of his soul,
but in civic matters he remained a Hindu for the Salvation of Hindu society.
Brahmananda was ahead of his time – miles ahead. He was powerful, he was
fearless, he was detached, he was unselfish. It was his strength – the strength
of his entire ramification. He was a bold pioneer of Indian independence but our
focus of attention is his spiritualism and unique synthesis of Hinduism and
According to Upadhyay, Hinduism, Theosophy and Christianity were all three names
covering the same reality; three forms of religion, three ways to God; three
rivers leading their waters to the same ocean.
Brahmanbandab: The Contextal Martyr
The influence of Brahmabhandab Upadhyaya extends from the time of his generation
until today. As a Hindu of Brahmin origin growing up in the simmering cauldron
of philosophical and political unrest of late 19th century West Bengal he grew
up with a variety of influences around him, such as luminaries like the well
known Christian leader Kali Charan Bannurji, the Brahmo Samaj and Naba Bidhan
leader Keshub Chandra Sen, the mystic Kali devotee Ramakrishna Paramhans, his
fervent Vedantic disciple Vivekananda and dynamic educator Rabindranath Tagore.
Upadhayaya, or rather Bhabanicaran Bandyopadhyay, as he was known before his
conversion to Christianity, was an tireless educator and social worker with a
genuine spiritual dimension as a Brahmo missionary. In spite of his later being
a convert to the Christian community he never abandoned his Hindu cultural
identity. This cultural identity is something that blurred the lines of Hindu
and Christian culturally and it seems his blurred vision wrought an incredible
tension within him.
The extreme pressure and suppression of his writings by the very Roman Catholic
church he had come to love made his writing become even more caustic. The
growing unrest in the country and specifically West Bengal certainly influenced
his even more confusing step of undergoing a prayaschit sanskar and entrance
back into the Hindu community.
How much both Christians and Hindus in his geographical area would understand
this step in light of his desire to be involved in the country's freedom
movements from within Hindu community is unknown to us. It is known that this
martyr of the freedom movement, who penned the great sanskrit hymn to the
Trinity Vande Saccitananda, was also a contextual martyr for all of us to learn
from today as well.
Result of the Essay Competition
INDIAN MEDIA IS MANIACALLY OBSESSED WITH CRICKET
1st prize (Rs. 3000) : Saurav Bajaj, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata
2nd prize (Rs. 2000) : Debleena Banerjee, National Institute of Technology,
3rd prize (Rs. 1000) : Abhishek Mukherjee, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata
Fr. Felix Raj, Director, Goethals Indian Library & Research Society, met the
winners on August 4, 2007. Saturday at 3.30 pm at St. Xavier’s College Parlour
and handed over the prizes personally to them in a function.
Congratulations to all participants especially to the winners.
The Library thanks Fr. Anil Mitra, SJ for donating the book “A Handbook for
Correctional Officers” by S. Ramakrishnan, Kolkata, 2007.
Christianity in India, by Fernando Leonard and Sauch G. Gispert. 2004.
Hindu Wisdom for All God’s Children by Clooney Francis X. S.J.
India Remembered by Mountbatten Pamela, London, 2007
Passenger Transport Subsidy in West Bengal, by Gupta Sudakashina, 2007.
A hand book for Correctional Officers by Ramakrishnan, S., Prisons Directorate,
West Bengal, 2007
Researchers at the Goethals
Agniv Ghosh, B. B. Sarani, on Modern View.
Br. Rory Higgins FSC. Philippines, on connection between Catholic Church in
Bengal and Australia during 1840-1870.
Cregan Peter, Australia, on Colonial India
Dr. Ananda Lal, Kolkata on Michael Madhusudan Dutt.
Moutusi Deb Ghosh, Kolkata, on General topic.
Mr. Adity Syam Dua, Chandigarh, on Influence of Bengal Missionaries on Punjab.
Niraj Anurag Lakra, Jharkhand, on Schedule Tribes.
Prof. Rajib Choudhury, St Xavier’s College Kolkata, on Novels of Rabindra Nath
Rahman Kazi Mizanur, Bangladesh, on Life and works of Sarat Chandra Das.
Shane Skaria, Kolkata, on general topics.
Shri Kumar Chattopadhyay, Kolkata, on general topics.
Sr. Roseline Jose CHF, Farakka on Trade and Commerce in Bengal.
Stefano Vecchia, Italy, on Asian Studies.
Vineet Bruno Ekka, Assam, on general topics.
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Stefano Vecchia, University of
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Sr. Roseline Jose CHF, Farrakka
The Goethals Library is unique in Eastern India because of its varied collection
of books ranging from Sanskrit texts to books on Numismatics, Epigraphy,
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simply fascinating. Shri Kumar Chattopadhyay, Kolkata
Your library is really very good especially the antique collection and
paintings. They must be really helpful for research. Vineet Bruno Ekka, Assam.
The Goethals is the biggest library I have ever been to. A good collection of
rare and antique materials.
Shane Skaria, Kolkata.
The Library is Excellent, very helpful and welcoming staff.
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KOLKATA neatly sketches the vibrancy of life lived in that God-man city.
Thank you very much for sending me the "Goethals Newsletter" on Kolkata. The
facts and figures about the city is very informative. Attributes given to the
city by various people from across the centuries as brought out in your article
is also interesting to read.
Thanks for your newsletter, which you just sent me. I discovered Goethals
Library only recently, since I am reviewing Sean Doyle's book on Fr Johanns, and
he mentions you and the Library. (I have printed off your article on Fr.
Antoine.) In any case, since there seem to be so few Jesuits in India interested
in history, I am glad to know more of you and your work at the Library. I am
primarily a comparative theologian with expertise in some aspects of Sanskrit
and Tamil Hinduism, but I also have some interest in Jesuit missionaries in
Francis X. Clooney, S.J., Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge
Many thanks for sending me regularly your interesting Newsletter. I generally
forward it to my many Indian friends living in Paris.
Dr Shashi Dharmadhikari,
Indian Professional Association, Paris.
Goethals Indian Library & Research Society, St. Xavier’s, 30 Mother Teresa
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