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LEGEND OF THE LOST – Bengal National College

Benga Nnational College at 191/1 Bowbazar Street

University of Calcutta was set up by the British with the aim to spread western philosophical thought among the elite in India and to create a class of Indians, who would be Indian in blood and complexion, but western in their thought and ideas. They intended to create an enlightened class of people from the mass and rule the Country with their help. Therefore, to ensure sufficient governmental control over the education system, they passed the Universities Act of 1904, which resulted in the reorganization of the Calcutta University’s Senate and Syndicate by the nomination of more white members into them. The government also decided to disaffiliate certain new private colleges, which in their estimation, were the breeding grounds of the nationalist movement.

These offensive measures of the Government ignited the national feelings of educated middle class and sparked a move for alternative systems of education. As a result, a protest meeting was held on November 5, 1905 under the auspices of the Dawn Society of Satish Chandra Mukherjee. The meeting was addressed by famous persons like Rabindranath, Satish Chandra Mukherjee and Hirendranath Datta, who urged the students to cut off all connections with the Government controlled university. Again on November 9, a mass meeting was held at the Field and Academy Club and it was proposed to establish a National University. Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick pledged a donation of one lakh Rupees for the foundation of the proposed University. His attitude was highly praised by the great leaders like Chitta Ranjan Das, Bipin Pal, Ramendrasundar Trivedi and was bestowed the honor of addressing Subodh Chandra as the ‘Raja’.

Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick
Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick

In fact, Subodh Chandra’s contribution to the nationalist education movement was far greater than the sum he donated. He was pledged to establish a nationalist university even before its idea mooted, played a critical role in designing the institution anonymously, and remained a part of its history ever since.

Another huge meeting was organized by the Landholders’ Society at Park Street on November 16, 1905, attended by around 1500 delegates, which included, among others, Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobindo Ghosh, Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick and Brajendra Kishore Roychowdhury. Finally, the National Council of Education, Bengal, or Jatiyo Siksha Parishad was founded on the 11th day of March 1905, with Dr. Rashbehari Ghosh as the president, to provide a platform for a system of education on national lines & under national control.

Sri Aurobindo Ghosh - 1st principal of Bengal National College
Sri Aurobindo Ghosh – 1st principal of Bengal National College

At last, the Bengal National College & School was inaugurated in a public meeting on the 14th day of August, 1906 at the Town Hall, and from 15th August, 1906, the Institution started to work in a rented house, situated at 191/1, Bowbazar Street with Sri Aurobindo Ghosh as the first Principal of the college and Sri Satish Chandra Mukherjee as the Honorary Superintendent. Scholars like Sakhram Ganesh Deuskar, Radhakumud Mukhopadhyay, Binay Sarkar, Khirode Prasad Vidyabinode agreed voluntarily to serve this new university. Rabindranath, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Sir Gurudas Bandyopadhyay, and Hirendranath Dutta also agreed to deliver lectures on literature, Oriental Art, Mathematics and Upanishads respectively.

Plaque at 191/1 Bowbazar Street
Plaque at 191/1 Bowbazar Street

Almost at the same time, another organization, the Society for Promotion of Technical Education in Bengal, was set up by Taraknath Palit, with the support and patronage of Bhupendra Nath Bose, Dr. Nilratan Sircar and Maharaja Manindra Chandra Nandy. The Bengal Technical Institute came into being on 25 July 1906 under the umbrella of the said Society, on a strictly vocational basis, with the objective of spreading technical education among the students of undivided Bengal. The two organizations fought it out for a few years and finally they merged in 1910. The Bengal National College and the Bengal Technical Institution were virtually the two wings of the National Council of Education – one for the humanities and science and the other for the technology. During this period several national schools also were established at different places in undivided Bengal.

With the passage of time it became evident that, the mere inclusion of the national feeling of thought and culture in the field of knowledge does not make an ideal and practical system of education. It was also felt that, the instruction given in the Bengal National College was only an improved European system, which was neither Indian nor National. With the reduction of mass patriotic emotions due to the rising inhuman torture by the ruling British and the temptation for a secured future among the middle class society, the enrollment in the National Schools declined gradually. By the end of the second decade of the last century those schools and colleges, including the Bengal National College, were all lost forever. The sole exception was the Technical Institution, which thrived with time and finally became the Jadavpur University.

Bengal National College at 164 and 166 Bowbazar Street
Bengal National College at 164 and 166 Bowbazar Street
`Plaque at 166 Bowbazar Street
Plaque at 166 Bowbazar Street
Dibyendu Banerjee
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

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