Some of the most noted personalities of Bengal, who have made the people of the state and the country proud,are:
1.Swami Vivekananda: Ramakrishna Mission, the last greatest reforming movement of the nineteenth century, based on the teachings of the mystic Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, was led by his favourite disciple, Swami Vivekananda who turned to the living traditions of popular
Hinduism for inspiration. He became particularly well-known abroad where he acted as the spokesman of Hinduism in the West.
He preached the virtues of Hindu civilization and proclaimed the greatness of India’s history, calling on Indians to become great again by living up to the traditions of their past. After four years of lecturing in England and USA, he returned to India a national hero and founded the Ramakrishna Mission which he dedicated to the task of uplifting India’s past and downtrodden masses. Vivekananda’s teachings gave his countrymen a tremendous pride in their own culture; many of them followed his example and began to devote themselves to the needs of India’s poor.
2.Shri Rabindranath Tagore: He is the greatest inspiration and best-known among the contributors to India’s international reputation from the world of literature. A great champion of the nationalist struggle, Tagore is one of the towering Indian personalities of the early twentieth century. He pulled his native language, Bengali on to the international stage almost single-handedly.
By making the speech of the common people the medium for his vast outpouring of poetry, prose, drama and song, he revolutionized and revitalized Bengali literature; today it is probably India’s most vibrant literary tradition. His best-known work is probably Gitanjali(Song Offerings, 1912), a collection of poems written after the death of his wife and three of his five children, for which he was awarded the 1913 Nobel Prize(the first Asian to be so honoured). Tagore was deeply influenced by the fusion of East and West, which he drew on to weave a mixture of tolerance, rationalism and universalism.
In his sixties, he also took up painting.He was usually lost in the admiration of rural Bengal and wrote songs and poems to suit the different seasons. To give expression to his ideals, Tagore founded a university at Shantiniketan in Bengal dedicated to the creative and performing arts of India, where amidst the most idyllic surroundings, Tagore’s legacy still lives on and it still possesses that air of gentle calm which pervades so much of Tagore’s work.
It was at Shantiniketan that Tagore wrote Gitanjali, which is acknowledged as his masterpiece. He had written a great deal besides, essays, novels and plays, but it is his poetry that is sublime. Gitanjali(an offering of songs)compounded the peculiar Bengali outlook of life into verse. Tagore’s international recognition brought a renaissance in the culture of Bengal and Bengalis could proudly hold their heads up high.
3.Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose: No one epitomized the spirit of the Bengalis better than Subhash Chandra Bose, aborn rebel if ever there was one.He gave up a brilliant career in the ICS to join the freedom struggle and was elected as Congress President in 1937 on a platform of uncompromising opposition to the new constitution, to the communal awards and in particular to the federation. As Gandhi was deeply distrustful of Bose, he with the support of Nehru engineered Bose’s downfall in1939.
Bose, or Netaji(Leader) as he would soon be known, responded by setting up a radical party known as the Forward Bloc and espousing terrorist activities for which he was arrested in 1940.He escaped on the eve of his trial, fled to Afghanistan and thence to Moscow and Berlin. It was under Tokyo’s auspices that Bose next surfaced, literally, when he landed from a sub-marine in Japanese-held Singapore in 1943.
Bose admired Japan’s disciplined and defiant emergence as a world power and was encouraged by her championship of Asian emancipation and of regional co-prosperity. Forced to choose between two imperialisms, he plumped for what looked at the time to be the more amenable and dynamic. By late 1943 he was installed on Indian soil as the head of state in Azad Hind(Free India) and commander-in-chief of the Indian National Army(INA), a twenty-thousand-strong force recruited from Indian prisoners of war in Japanese hands to fight against the British and recapture their country from the imperialists.
Azad Hind comprised just the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, they being the only Indian territory under Japanese occupation. Ironically, after an odyssey of some twenty thousand kilometers, Bose had ended up exactly where he would have been sent had he never fled India. In 1945, he died when his plane crashed in Formosa and was unable to see his country freed from British rule.
4. Mother Teresa: Although she was not a Bengali, Mother Teresa’s profound spiritual commitment and her tireless devotion to the poor, the unwanted, and the dying, has touched the hearts and minds of people beyond all barriers of caste, creed and nation. She is the most widely revered religious woman in the world today who had won the Nobel Prize for Peace in Oslo, Norway in 1979 for her struggle and contribution for the upliftment of the poor, sick and needy and has thus, made a lasting impression on the conscience and consciousness of the world.
She was based in Calcutta where she had laid the foundation of the Missionaries of Charity which later became a worldwide network when her work went out from there to other countries to help the poorest of the poor, the suffering, the foresaken, the dying, and the disinherited of the earth. Mother Teresa was a shining light of hope, love and unwavering faith. Her solutions to injustices begin in the human heart and are expressed in buttressing the infinite value of human life.
5.Satyajit Ray: Satyajit Ray, a Bengali filmmaker and among the dozen or so great masters of world cinema, is known for his humanistic approach to cinema. He made his films in Bengali. And yet, his films are of universal interest. They are about things that make up the human race - relationships, emotions, struggle, conflicts, joys and sorrows. Satyajit Ray, the master story teller, has left a cinematic heritage that belongs as much to India as to the world.
His films demonstrate a remarkable humanism, elaborate observation and subtle handling of characters and situations. Best known for his The Apu Trilogy that includes Pather Panchali (Song of the little road, 1955), Aparajito (The Unvanquished, 1956) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959). India’s internationally celebrated Bengali film director, Satyajit Ray also won the Nobel Prize for his wonderful films. Ray’s passion, which is so evident in his famous trilogy Pather Panchali, Aparajito, and Apur Sansar, for depicting the truth, plus his gift for capturing the quintessence of the Bengali character, has brought promise of a second Bengali renaissance.