Brahmabandhab Upadhyay - Biography


Upadhyay was an Indian freedom fighter, journalist, theologian, and a mystic. He received his education in institutions such as Scottish Mission School, Hoogly College, and Metropolitan College, in Calcutta. 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 give 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” (Lipner, Julius. Brahmabandhab Upadhyay: The Life and Thought of a Revolutionary. Delhi: OUP, 1999, p. xv). 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” (Lipner, xv).

Upadhyay joined the Brahmo Samaj and was a disciple of Keshab Chandra Sen and was closely associated with Sen and his successor Pratap Chandra Mozoomdar. Early on life, Upadhyay had been drawn to the person of Jesus Christ, and his association with Sen and Mozoomadr further deepened that devotion. Upadhyay who initially opposed his uncle, Kalicharan 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.

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