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Architecture, both secular and religious, was patronized by the courts. The Muslim's urge to build mosques and tombs posed a problem for the local mason, who found an ingenious solution before conforming to the traditional forms.5 Similar was the case with calligraphy. An attempt to solve the problem of carving unfamiliar Arabic and Persian letters on stones gave rise to the "intrical Bow and Arrow and the Organ Pipe" types of the Tughra in Bengal.6

The temple architecture of the period is said to have been influenced by mosque architecture,7 but more important was the appearance of the Cala style. That the model of the Cala should be the thatched cottages of rural Bengal is significant in itself, and the fact that the style was applied both to temples and mosques makes it more so. Simultaneously the period witnessed the reintroduction of terracotta and the popularity of clay images. Thus it appears that while the ruling class fostered massive buildings and ornamental designs, another trend in architecture and sculpture had its firm roots in the life-style of the masses; this is further supported by "a marked naturalism and spontaneity" and a shift towards folk art8 noticed in Bengal painting of the period, represented by illustrations of manuscripts and their wooden covers and those on separate sheets known as pata.

Add to these the development of ivory, filigree, and repousse work, and the magnificence of Bengal textile on the one hand, and the continuous tradition of conch-shell and brass works of various forms, the embroidered quilts, the decorated mats and the alpana, on the other, and the picture may become clearer.

The impact of British rule led to consequences too numerous to recount here. The self-sufficient rural economy was destroyed, and a new class of private and absentee landlords was created, under whom the peasantry found themselves in ever-increasing indebtedness to money-lenders. A new middle class, English-educated, urban-based, and dependent on the British administration for employment and professions, was fostered. Due to the exploitation of the East India Company and unequal competition with products of the industrial revolution in Europe,, the endogenous industrial sector was gradually destroyed. New industries such as tea, indigo, and cotton were founded, thereby giving rise to an industrial working class recruited from the impoverished peasantry. All these called for a mobility that was facilitated by an improved communication system for which the steam-engine was pressed into service. A loosening of the caste system was effected by economic changes that brought in new occupations. Correspondingly, the introduction of the printing press in 1778, and the making of Bengali type fonts by local blacksmiths, virtually put an end to oral literary tradition. The founding of the Fort William College in 1800 to impart training to the civilians of the Company led to the development of the Bengali prose. Due to local initiative, the Hindu College was established in 1817 to provide western education for the young, and with the introduction of Bengali journals in 1818, and the replacement of Persian by English as the court language in 1835, together these had far-reaching consequences.

The introduction of "westernized" education virtually brought the collapse of the endogenous education systems. With the cessation of contact with a changing world, the products of the old systems could hardly make themselves useful, and were reduced to the position of decadent hangers-on. The endogenous schools of medicine, denied the scope of development and modernization, gradually atrophied; endogenous creativity in architecture and sculpture was similarly stunted. Although European styles were adopted for churches, administration buildings, and town houses, no breakthroughs in any of these fields mentioned were made by the "modernizers".

However, endogenous intellectual creativity was not entirely lost. A process of self-questioning started with Rammohun Roy (1772-1833), who is generally regarded as the forerunner of modernism in India. It will not be correct to suggest that this was a result of western influence.9 We know that Roy's first work, Tuhfat-ul-Muwahhidin (A Gift to Deists, 1804), was composed in Persian, before he made any serious study of English. The work showed his knowledge of Hinduism and Islam, and his acquaintance with Arabic and Persian works of secular, rationalist, and deistic trends. Similarly, Iswarchandra Vidyasagar (1820-91), the great social reformer, was a product of Sanskrit learning. The quest of these men, and of the many others who followed them, took the form of new religious ideas and social reform movements where the validity of many Hindu practices was questioned and concern for the condition of women was expressed.

In Tuhfat, Roy advocated the cause of reason and utility, made a scathing attack on Hindu practices, and added that "falsehood is common to all religions without distinction". However, in his attempt to find solutions for some of the problems of his times, Roy resorted to theology. He adhered to his rejection of polytheism and image-worship, but subsequently accepted the authority of the Upanisadas, and found common grounds with Unitarian Christianity. At the same time, Roy stressed the need of studying mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy, and other "useful sciences", identified his emotional involvement with liberal and national movements in Europe, and successfully carried out a movement for the abolition of the suttee. That, in addition to producing pamphlets in which he copiously quoted from the scriptures, and argued his case forcefully before the Hindu reading public, he should also have successfully urged the British government to adopt legislation preventing the practice of widow-burning, a dequately shows his attitude to the problems and his perception of the situation. Vidyasagar followed the same procedure: he made it plain that he was quoting from the scriptures only because his countrymen would not judge an issue on merit but would always look for religious sanction. His movement leading to the legal sanction of the remarriage of Hindu widows was a logical sequel to Roy's movement against the suttee. Vidyasagar also wanted to obtain a similar act of law prohibiting polygamy, but was unsuccessful.

The opposition to social reform movements of Roy and Vidyasagar came from the Dharma Sabha, established to defend traditional Hindu values, under the leadership of Radhakanta Dev (1784-1867) and Bhabanicharan Banerji (1787-1848). It is of interest to note that Dev, a low-caste but wealthy Hindu, was nevertheless accepted as the leader by a considerable number of upper-caste Hindus of Calcutta, who were also aware of the fact that he favored western education and approved of female education within the purdah. This was indeed adequate proof, if any were needed, of the eclipse of the old world.

A third group that emerged on the scene comprised the Hindu college radicals who described themselves as "Hindu by birth, yet European by education and its concomitants." Inspired by H. L. V. Derozio (1809-31), a Eurasian teacher of the college, they were the champions of free thinking, glowing in the ideas of the French revolution and English radicalism; they decried almost everything that was associated with Hinduism, and considered Rammohun Roy's efforts inadequate, but failed to develop any movement outside their own circle. Orthodox society, however, was sufficiently stirred to cause Derozio's dismissal from the college and to persecute his disciples. Derozio died soon after, and the Young Bengal - so they were called - began to disintegrate; some of them were converted to Christianity, while many joined the Brahma Samaj.

The Brahma Samaj grew up from the religious ideas of Rammohun Roy as a theistic reform movement of Hinduism. Founded in 1843 by Devendranath Tagore (1817-1905), who was brought up in wealth and leisure, the Brahma Samaj exercised a considerable influence in Bengal for a long time, particularly among the urban educated middle class, and made positive contribution to the emancipation of Bengali women belonging to that segment of society. Soon after its foundation, the Samaj abandoned its faith in the infallibility of the Vedas, but nevertheless emphasized its bonds with Indian culture having roots in the remote past. By this mixed attitude of acceptance and rejection, the Brahma Samaj took up a middle position between the reforming zeal of the Young Bengal and the conservatism of the Dharma Sabha. It is not surprising, therefore, that many of the Young Bengal in their later years, when their radicalism had been somehow tempered, should have joined the Brahma Samaj. On the other hand, the aggressive evangelical activities of the Christian missionaries prompted the Samaj to make a common cause with the leaders of the orthodox community.

 
 

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