Perhaps today, Hem Chandra Bandyopadhyay is the name of a forgotten poet in Bengali literature. But, he is considered by many as the best poet during the time gap between Michael Madhusudan Dutta and Rabindranath Tagore.
Hem Chandra Bandyopadhyay was born on 17 April 1838 in the abode of his maternal grandparent in the village of Gulita in Hoogly. As his father, Kailash Chandra Bandyopadhyay was living in his father-in-law’s house, Hem Chandra’s maternal grandfather took the responsibility of his education and got him admitted to Khidirpur Bangla School in Calcutta. Hem Chandra was a good student at his school, but after the death of his grandfather, his education was suspended for a certain period of time. Subsequently, he was admitted to Hindu School in 1853, through the personal effort of Prasannakumar Sarbadhikari, the then Principal of Sanskrit College, Calcutta. In 1859 he was graduated from Presidency College and obtained the BL degree in 1866.
Before his graduation, Hem Chandra worked as a clerk in the office of the Military Auditor General, for a short stint. After completing the graduation, he started his life as a headmaster of Calcutta Training Academy. But, after a short time, he preferred to practice law in Calcutta High Court and was soon appointed as a ‘Munsif’ in 1862. But within a few months he resigned from his post and started to practice law independently again. In 1890 he was made a government pleader.
Since his early age, Hem Chandra had the inclination in literary works and his first book of poems, ‘Chintatarangini’ was published in 1861. But his masterpiece is the epic ‘Vritrasanghar’ (1875 -77, in two volumes), based on a part of the epic Mahabharata. At one time this great effort earned him a great deal of popularity. The poet's other works include Virbahu Kavya (1864), Kavitavali (1870-80, in two volumes), Chhayamayi (1880), Dashamahavidya (1882), Asha Kanan (1876) and Chittavikash (1898).
Perhaps Hem Chandra was the first patriotic poet, who visualised India as an undivided, independent and integrated Country. He earned the displeasure of the ruling British government when his poem, 'Bharatsangit', published in the Education Gazette in July 1872, in which strongly urged and encouraged his countrymen to throw off the shackles of the foreign rulers. In fact, his pen tinged with patriotic hues, always expressed his love for the country. Apart from Bharatsangit, his other writings such as 'Bharatvilap', 'Kalachakra', 'Ripon Utsav', and 'Bharater Nidrabhanga' also reflect his patriotism. He believed in communal harmony, and his writings depict Bengal as a land where the Hindus and the Muslims dwell together side by side.
Hem Chandra was also very much concerned about the injustice towards the Indian women, especially the windows, who were very badly treated in the Hindu society. His poem, 'Kulin Mahila Vilap' helped the cause of Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in his fiery campaign against polygamy of the Hindu Kulin Brahmins and the remarriage of the young widows. Apart from his original works, Hemchandra also translated several English books and poems into the Bengali language, notably Shakespeare's Tempest and Romeo and Juliet. He had the rare ability to compose long narrative poems as well as short lyrics, patriotic poems as well as light ones.
During his life time, Hem Chandra was reputed and respected as a wise and knowledgeable person. Unfortunately, the last part of his gleaming life were rather sad, as he lost his eyesight, suffered financial difficulties, and died almost insolvent on 24 May 1903 at his residence in Khidirpur, Calcutta.
Today, the neglected and derelict house of Hem Chandra Bandyopadhyay is in a very sad and pathetic condition with chunks of masonry falling off every other day. Despite repeated requests by the locals, no action has since been taken by the authority to save the structure for its sad end.