Nagendranath Basu

Nagendranath Basu (Bengali: নগেন্দ্রনাথ বসু; 6 July 1866 – 11 October 1938) was an archaeologist, encyclopaedist and a nationalist social historian of Bengal.[1][2][3]: 68, 71 

An undated low resolution photograph of Nagendranath Basu
Nagendranath Basu (date unknown).

Early lifeEdit

Nagendranath was born in the village of Mahesh located in Hooghly district, West Bengal.[4] He was the great-grandson of Tarini, sister of Ashutosh Deb.[5]


Archaeology and collectorEdit

Nagendranath was an official surveyor of Orissa government in Mayurbhanj district,[6]: 227  and traveled widely to examine archaeological remnants, compiling numerous sculptures, coins and inscriptions.[1][4][7] Most of these expeditions were self-funded and the collections were donated to Bangiya Sahitya Parishad.[7]

He had also obtained a huge collection of ancient manuscripts (puthi) in Bengali, Sanskrit and Oriya, mostly from street-vendors and facilitated University of Calcutta to initiate its library in the Bengali Department.[1][4][8][9][10]


Basu started his literary career with poems and novels, but soon became extensively involved in editing.[1]



Basu edited multiple journals—the vernacular monthlies of Tapasvini and Bharat, Sahitya Parisad Patrika, the mouthpiece of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad and Kayastha, the publication of the Kayastha Sabha (which he had founded).[1]

Books and TextsEdit

He also served as the editor of multiple contemporary Bengali authors and published numerous Middle Bengali classics—Chaitanya Mangala by Jayananda, Krishna Prema Tarangini by Raghunath Bhagavat Acharya, Kashi-Parikrama et al.—via Bangiya Sahitya Parishad.[4][1] Nagendranath was also nominated to the Textbook Committee.[6]


In 1884, he published Shabdendu Mahakosh, an English-Bangla dictionary and in the process came in close contacts with Anandakrishna Basu (a grandson of Raja Radhakanta Deb) and Hara Prasad Shastri, who persuaded him to join The Asiatic Society.[1] Nagendranath went on to write multiple scholarly books and essays on Bengali social history and allied historical affairs, in his roles at the society.[1]

Bangla BishwakoshEdit

In the late 19th century, Basu gained widespread recognition[1] as the compiler of the Bangla Bishwakosh, one of the most complete encyclopedias in Bangla (at that time).[11] The first volume of Bangla Bishwakosh was compiled by Troilokyanath Mukhopadhyay (and his brother, Rangalal) in 1887; however all the subsequent volumes were compiled and published by Nagendranath, who held the reins from 1888 till the publication of the 22nd (and last) volume in 1911.[11] A 24 volume translation in Hindi was compiled and published by Nagendranath from 1916 to 1931.[11] A second Hindi edition entered compilation from 1933 onward; however, only four volumes were published before his death and the project remains incomplete.[11]

Banger Jatiya ItihasaEdit

A multi-volume work, this was based on kulapanjikas—genealogical histories of prominent families, and has been since considered as a magnum opus.[12][2][13] It was sequentially published from 1911 to 1933.[12] Basu gathered these kulapanjikas from ghataks (matchmakers) across the country, who used to hold high acclaim in the Bengali society as professional genealogists (to the extent of arbitrating disputes of societal status) and effectively served as tools of social memory.[2][6]: 274 

The historicity of the source material for his work were rejected in near-entirety by a majority of the contemporary professional historians including Akshay Kumar Maitreya, Ramaprasad Chanda, R. C. Majumdar, R. D. Banerji et al., belonging to the logical-positivist school of thought.[12][14] Not only the tales were emotionally charged verses with distinct impressions of caste-chauvinism but also they oft-contradicted each other, suffered from dating inaccuracies and failed to be corroborated by archaeological evidence.[12][15] However Basu and others followed a romantic nativist school and considered them as a treasure trove of indigenous social history, wherein history did not merely mean a linear chronology of dynastic rulers and the state but rather the entirety of local caste-societies (samaja) with its own mythologies, traditions and material achievements, as experienced by the masses and reflected in kulapanjikas.[12]

Material from different kulapanjikas were assimilated to form a history of the broader Bengali society.[6]

Other samaja historiesEdit

Basu also wrote Uttarrarhiya Kayastha Kanda (1910), a sub-regional history of Uttar Rarh (a geographical region in North Bengal) by integrating the genealogical histories of various local caste-samajs—Kandi, Jemo, Rashra, Joyjan et al.[6]: 273, 274  A volume on the regional history of Burdwan and Kamarupa was also produced in similar manner.[6]: 274, 275 [3]: 71, 72  Patronage in various forms were provided by local aristocrats, rajahs and zamindars.[6]: 153, 274 


Basu had authored and edited volumes on the musical heritage of Bengal.[16][17]


Basu's historical methods have been challenged. His interpretations are now deemed to be of questionable reliability, courtesy his strong antipathy towards the Muslim rule in India and a rigid acceptance of the-then prevalent caste hierarchy as a social order.[6][18]

His usage of kulapanjika as authentic source(s) has not only introduced aspects of un-reliability[15] but also espoused a Savarna view of the world;[6]: 282  outright myths, legends and popular imaginations (esp. about the greatness of the Aryans and a pan-Bengali identity which aligned with Aryan traits) frequently pervade his works.[6]: 58, 233, 272, 280, 332, 333 

Legacy and HonorsEdit

He was awarded the title of "Raysaheb"[6] and "Prachyavidyamaharnav".[15] On 17 March 1915, Kolkata Municipal Corporation renamed Basu's residential street of 8, Kantapukur Lane to Bishvakosh Lane, in commemoration of his pioneer efforts behind Bangla Bishwakosh.[19]

Nagendranath Basu Plate


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bhowmik, Dulal. "Basu, Nagendranath". Banglapedia.
  2. ^ a b c Majumdar, Rochona (November 2004). "Looking for Brides and Grooms: Ghataks, Matrimnials, and the Marriage Market in Colonial Calcutts, circa 1875–1940". The Journal of Asian Studies. 63 (4): 911–935. doi:10.1017/S0021911804002360. ISSN 1752-0401. JSTOR 4133195. S2CID 162654406.
  3. ^ a b Gupta, Swarupa (1 January 2018). Cultural Constellations, Place-Making and Ethnicity in Eastern India, c. 1850-1927. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-34976-6.
  4. ^ a b c d Historical Dictionary of the Bengalis, Kunal Chakrabarti, Shubhra Chakrabarti, Scarecrow Press, 2013, p. 83
  5. ^ Chakravarty, Ishita (1 October 2019). "Owners, creditors and traders: Women in late colonial Calcutta". The Indian Economic & Social History Review. 56 (4): 427–456. doi:10.1177/0019464619873800. ISSN 0019-4646. S2CID 210540783.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Gupta, Swarupa (24 June 2009). Notions of Nationhood in Bengal: Perspectives on Samaj, c. 1867-1905. Brill. ISBN 978-90-474-2958-6.
  7. ^ a b Guha-Thakurta, Tapati (2004). "Between the nation and the region: The locations of a bengali archaeologist". Monuments, Objects, Histories, Institutions of Art in Colonial and Post-Colonial India. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 124–25. doi:10.7312/guha12998-006. ISBN 978-0-231-50351-8. JSTOR 10.7312/guha12998.9.
  8. ^ Roy, Tapti (13 November 2018). Print and Publishing in Colonial Bengal: The Journey of Bidyasundar. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-429-67351-1.
  9. ^ Bose, Neilesh (3 April 2014). "Remapping Muslim literary culture: folklore, Bulbul, and world-making in late colonial Bengal". South Asian History and Culture. 5 (2): 214. doi:10.1080/19472498.2014.883759. ISSN 1947-2498. S2CID 144553041.
  10. ^ Ghosh, Anindita (1 August 2016). "Cheap Books, 'Bad' Books: Contesting Print-Cultures in Colonial Bengal". South Asia Research. 18 (2): 181. doi:10.1177/026272809801800204. S2CID 144629291.
  11. ^ a b c d Datta, Amaresh (1988). Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature: Devraj to Jyoti. Sahitya Akademi. p. 1162. ISBN 978-81-260-1194-0.
  12. ^ a b c d e Chatterjee, Kumkum (1 December 2005). "The King of Controversy: History and Nation-Making in Late Colonial India". The American Historical Review. 110 (5): 1454–1475. doi:10.1086/ahr.110.5.1454. ISSN 0002-8762. JSTOR 10.1086/ahr.110.5.1454.
  13. ^ Ghosh, Semanti (17 November 2016). Promises and Politics of a New Nation: 1912–25. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468232.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-908738-9.
  14. ^ Chakrabarty, Dipesh (1 April 2004). "Reviews". Postcolonial Studies. 7 (1): 127. doi:10.1080/1368879042000210630. ISSN 1368-8790. S2CID 219728597.
  15. ^ a b c Chakravarti, Bisweswar (1955). "Raja Ganesa—A Myth". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 18: 159. ISSN 2249-1937. JSTOR 44137373.
  16. ^ Chaudhuri, Narayan (1973). "Musical Literature of Bengal". Indian Literature. 16 (1/2): 14–27. ISSN 0019-5804. JSTOR 24157426.
  17. ^ Williams, Richard David (28 December 2016). "Music, Lyrics, and the Bengali Book: Hindustani Musicology in Calcutta, 1818–1905". Music and Letters. 97 (3): 465–495. doi:10.1093/ml/gcw071. ISSN 1477-4631. S2CID 102338324.
  18. ^ "Kayasthas of Bengal". Economic and Political Weekly. 52 (47): 7–8. 5 June 2015.
  19. ^ Dutta, Krishna (2003). Calcutta: A Cultural and Literary History. Signal Books. p. 44. ISBN 978-1-902669-59-5.