Remembering William Carey : Father of Bengali renaissance and Bengali prose



HnExpress Mayank Chakravarty, Historical Memory : Carey made lasting and seminal contributions to the 19th century Bengal Renaissance.All through his 41 years in Bengal he worked relentlessly for the spread of modern education; translation of not only the Bible into many languages, but also Indian classics into Bangla; and development of Bangla prose. He wrote usable Bangla grammar, worked to reform many social ills and transformed the lives of millions. No wonder Rabindranath Tagore called Carey “the father of modern Bengal.”

Today, many Churches all over the world pay great tribute to the great English Reformer-Missionary to the then Bengal, William Carey, for the great works that he did in social, cultural and economic reforms alongside his missionary works. Carey was born on 17 August, 1761 in England. He arrived at Kolkata on 10th November, 1793. Ever since then his love for Bengal and the Bangla language, till his death on June 9, 1834, was unparallel among the expatriate people in Bengal.

Carey’s ‘Kothopokothon’ was the first printed book in common Bangla prose. With great reverence we remember Carey today as we realise the immense love for our vernacular, Bangla, a language for which people gave blood, gave all they had. William Carey’s 41 years of dedicated work for the improvement Bangla prose inspired many Bengali scholars to take Bangla language to a scientific and literary form. His labour in translating the Bible into many local languages, especially Bangla,

and developing Bangla prose form, got a big boost at the Serampore College, which he founded, and by the establishment of Fort William College in Kolkata in 1800 where he worked as professor of Bangla and Sanskrit languages.This appointment provided Carey a very strong foothold in his pursuit of working with and in Bangla language. A great testimony to this fact is to be found in what written by Ram Kamal Sen in his well-known work,

A Dictionary in English and Bengali (1834) : “The College Pundits, produced many excellent works “I must acknowledge that whatever had been done towards the revival of the Bengalee language, its improvement,” and in fact the establishing it as a language must be attributed to the excellent man Dr. Carey and his colleagues, by whose liberality and great exertions many works have been carried through the press and the general tone of the language of this province so greatly raised.”

Many people remember him even today for his reforming activities that led to the abolition of, among many others, the horrible practice of burning of widows.
Carey’s greatest contributions include the development of Bengali prose. In his voluminous research work, History of Bengali Literature in the Nineteenth Century (1800-1825), Dr. Sushil Kumar De remarked : “To Carey belongs the credit of having raised the language from its debased condition of an unsettled dialect to the characters of a regular and permanent form of speech, capable as in the past, of becoming the refined and comprehensive vehicle of a great literature in the future.”



It was Carey and his colleagues who made effective use of the printing press in India, with seminal impact on the people of that time. Carey’s printing of the Gospel according to Matthew was the first prose literature in Bangla language. He authored popular Bangla grammar books and dictionaries, translated Indian classical books from Sanskrit into Bangla so that the man on the street could read them. As a professor of Bangla and Sanskrit of Fort William College in Calcutta, Carey was able to work for the evolution of Bangla prose in a far more authoritative manner than before.

In these ways he paved the way for Bengal Renaissance. Carey worked as the professor of Bangla in Fort William College till 1831. He devoted time, treasure and talent for the promotion of our mother tongue, Bangla, compiled dictionaries and wrote grammar books as he did his works as a Christian missionary in the-then Bengal. We join many others in paying this humble tribute to him and what he did for our mother tongue, Bangla Bhasha.

Carey and his colleagues established primary schools for women and the dalits, and opened asylums for people affected by leprosy. Carey came to India at a time when the ordinary people’s life was so much ridden with the curse of many oppressive and bizarre practices in the name of religion, like Satidaha and burning of people affected by leprosy, infanticide, etc. Only in Bengal, on average 700 to 8oo hundred widows were burnt on their husbands’ funeral pyres annually.

Governor General Lord Wellesley took the first step on February 5, 1805 to stop the practice of burning widows. Carey was the first to move the authorities. While the governors-general and their colleagues passed away, Carey and his associates did not cease to agitate in India and also to stir up, in England, people like William Wilberforce to abolish slavery till victory was gained. It was a Sunday, December 5, 1829. Carey was preparing for the Sunday prayer. Unexpectedly the doorbell rang.

The message that the caller brought him was of utmost importance and was from no less a person than Governor General Lord William Bentinck, who asked Carey to translate the Edict abolishing sati throughout the British Dominions. Carey was so overwhelmed with joy that, “like a schoolboy who has just been told he has won a coveted prize, Carey sprang from his chair, threw off the black jacket he wore when studying, and sent a request to one of his colleagues to take his place at the services (worship) that day.”

Instantly, he started translating the historic document into Bangla. Carey reasoned that any delay in circulating the same in the local language might cause the unwanted death of some women. One of the greatest works of Carey was the foundation of Serampore College in the Danish colony of Serampore on river Hooghly in the year 1818. This college was founded with the aim of imparting modern higher education in India and served as a great source of enlightenment to the people.

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