Rajnarayan Basu (Bengali: রাজনারায়ণ বসু) (1826–1899) was an Indian writer and intellectual of the Bengal Renaissance. He was born in Boral in 24 Parganas and studied at the Hare School and Hindu College, both premier institutions in Kolkata, Bengal at the time. A monotheist at heart, Rajnarayan Basu converted to Brahmoism at the age of twenty. After retiring, he was given the honorary title of Rishi or sage. As a writer, he was one of the best known prose writers in Bengali in the nineteenth century, writing often for the Tattwabodhini Patrika, a premier Brahmo journal.Due to his defence of Brahmoism, he was given the title "Grandfather of Indian Nationalism.
Birth and early life
Rajnarayan Basu was born on 7 September 1826 in the Borhal village of South 24 Parganas of West Bengal. His father Nanda Kishore Basu was a disciple of a Raja Ram Mohan Roy and later one of his secretaries. A bright student since childhood, Rajnarayan was brought to Calcutta (modern Kolkata) and was admitted to Hare School Society's School (later known as Hare School). He studied there till the age of 14, and was notified by the teachers for his brilliance and intellect.
He married Prasannamoyee Mitra in 1843. After the death of his first wife, he married Nistarini Dutta daughter of Shri Abhayacharan Dutta of the Hatkhola Dutta family in 1847.
Rajnarayan Basu was an enemy of Michael Madhusudan Dutt, a prominent poet of the time, and the introducer of free verse in Bengali. Both were responsible for introducing classical Western elements into Bengali literature. He briefly tutored Asia's first Nobel Prizewinner, Rabindranath Tagore and spent three years translating the Upanishads into English on the earnest request and co-operation of Devendranath Tagore. As a member of Young Bengal, Rajnarayan Basu believed in "nation-building" at the grassroots level. To do his part, after teaching at Vidyasagar's Sanskrit College as the second master of the English Department, he moved to Midnapore to teach in the mofussil district town. He served as the headmaster of Midnapore Zilla School (later known as Midnapore Collegiate School) which was also the forerunner of Midnapore College.
Work life in Midnapore
He had joined the school on 21 February 1851 preceded by Mr. Sinclare, during whose time the school lost its glory and was in a deplorable condition. Rajnarayan's first goal was to reestablish the school in the firmament of education. The great teacher and educationist took some wonderful steps:
He had abolished corporal punishment and introduced a friendly and cooperative atmosphere among the teachers and students to make education more interesting to them.
He had immense hatred against the well-practiced procedure of " committing to memory and vomiting to paper". He always followed the rule of teaching through interaction of both students and teachers. His eloquent speeches with humorous jokes gradually attracted even the heart of the most dull student in the class. He put stress on interrogative teaching, so that the fundamentals of the student becomes strong.
He understood that the students also need place for physical exercise and sports so that there mental and physical power can be properly manifested, so he made a Lawn Tennis Court and a Gymnasium in the school premises.
He wanted students to be educated in " Character Making Education", so he advised teachers to look after the moral development of the students, so that they can be " Man in a true sense."
He observed that students sitting in benches without back-support, cannot keep there back straight, so their attention span becomes shorter while studying. So he introduced sits with back-supports for the first time.
Being an active leader of Young Bengal, he was moved by the 'Academic Association' of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio. So he also introduced Debate Associations and Mutual Improvement Association in school level.
He also established the first arch of women education in Midnapore, the first girls school and a night school for educating the illiterates. He established a public library that is still in use, although now it is known as the Rishi Rajnarayan Basu Smriti Pathagar (Rishi Rajnaraya Basu Memorial Library) which is the oldest public library in West Bengal. He was the first person to suggest using Bengali at meetings of the Vangiya Sahitya Parishad (Bengali literature society). The Parishad was established to promote Bengali language literature yet ironically conducted meetings in English until Basu's request.
As an intellectual, he founded the Brahmo Samaj house and inaugurated Nabagopal Mitra's Hindu Mela, an organisation created to spread nationalist feelings among Indians. He was a member of the Indian Association and a member of a political group called the Sanjibani Sabha. He also lamented that there were no schools promoting the learning of Indian music among the middle-class and he himself started one in Midnapore. In 1868, he retired and moved to Deoghar where he spent the last years of his life. His grandson, eminent philosopher and freedom-fighter, Sri Aurobindo has inscribed his tribute to Rajnarayan in a beautiful sonnet.