Girish Chandra Ghosh

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Girish Chandra Ghosh was an actor, director, playwright of great repute. Girish Chandra Ghosh, a versatile genius and great scholar is also considered to be the father of the modern Bengali stage theater. He apparently led a bohemian lifestyle. An atheist and a rebel, Girish Chandra Ghosh was the greatest dramatist of his time. He owned a theater company in Calcutta, the ‘National Theater’. He was the profounder of the Great National Theatre, the first Bengali professional theatre company in 1872.Girish Chandra Ghosh was well acquainted with Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. Despite being an atheist, he was known to be one of the close disciples of Ramakrishna.

Early Life:

Girish Chandra Ghosh, was born on the 28th February, 1844, as the eighth child of the family in Bagbazar, north Kolkata. He inherited from his father a sharp intellect and a pragmatic approach to life, and from his mother a love for literature and devotion for God. He lost both of his parents in his boyhood for which he grew up as a bohemian, a rebel against God, a skeptic, a drunkard. But his acquaintance with the spiritual guru, Ramakrishna changed his view towards life.

He received his schooling at Hare School, and later studied at Oriental Seminary. He lost his interest in studies after his parents, in 1862, he left school. Girish Chandra’s father-in-law supported him to get his apprenticeship in a British company, and Girish Chandra soon became an expert book keeper. He became an avid reader of both Indian and western literature, the Puranas and philosophy. At about this time he became acquainted with Ishwar Chandra Gupta and started writing songs, poems and plays.

Girish Chandra was married to Ramodini, the daughter of Navin Chandra Sarkar. She died leaving a daughter and a son. In 1876 Girish married Suratkumari for the second time. His life was not at all a happy one. He had to see the death of his two wives, one daughter and a son. It can be said that the grief had turned the free spirited man; an atheist into a strong devotee. He became an ardent follower of Ramakrishna until his death.

Works and contribution:

At the age of 36, Girish started his writing career, which continued for the next 30years. He wrote 79 plays which include dramas, satires and musicals. In addition, he wrote stories, articles, songs, fictions and poems. His dramas were mainly religious, mythological, social, historical and patriotic in character. He could make the characters in his dramas so living that the audience used to forget that they were seeing a drama.

Girish Chandra being a versatile actor acted in a variety of roles. His performance in the dual roles of Rama Chandra and Meghnad in Meghnadbadh in 1877 was applauded by the editor of Sadharani, Akshoy Chandra Sarkar, who referred to him as the ‘Garrick of Bengal’. As director, Girish Chandra helped develop many actors and actresses. He also founded a dance school to train prostitutes for the stage. For the convenience of actors, he modified the blank verse of Madhusudan into a form known after him as Gairish Chhanda (Girish metre). With Binodini Dasi, he staged his play, Chaitanyalila, at the Star Theatre on 20 September 1884, with, Sri Ramakrishna in the audience.

The notable plays of Girish Ghosh are – Bhimanyuvadh (1881), Sitar Vanavas (1881), Sitaharan (1882), Pandaver Ajnatavas (1882), Prafulla (1889), Maukulamanjari (1892), Jana (1894), Abu Hussain (1896), Validan (1904), Sirajaddaula (1905), Meer Kasem (1906), Chhatrapati Shivaji (1907), Shankaracharya (1910) Kalapahad, Haranidhi and Vilvamangal Thakur. He also translated Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ (1893) into Bangla and dramatized Bankimchandra’s novels Mrnalini, Visvrksa and Durgeshnandini, Madhusudan’s epic Meghnadbadh and Nabinchandra’s poem Palashir Yuddha.

Interesting Facts:

Once when Girish Chandra was affected by cholera and was nearly dying, he had a vision a woman dressed in a red-bordered sari came to him and said, ‘Please eat this prasad and you will be cured.’ Indeed, from that moment Girish began to recover and was ultimately cured. Later in1891, when he went to Jayrambati, he saw Holy Mother Sarada Devi and exclaimed “you are that woman”.

While acting in a play Macbeth, where he played the main role, after the killing of the old King Duncan, when he appeared on the stage with a gory facial expression and bloodstained hands, two people sitting in the first row immediately fainted. So close was his identification with the character he played. That was his ingenuity.

As Girish Chandra was a brilliant play writer, he wrote a six action drama entitled Vilwamangal the Saint, in twenty-eight hours of uninterrupted labor. Absorbed in his own ideas he dictated the dialogues of the drama to his secretary Debendra Nath Majumdarwho could not keep up with the speed of the dictation and asked Girish to repeat what he had just said. Girish would become agitated. He also wrote twenty-six songs for Sadhavar Ekadashi in just one night. There are various stories of his writing talent.

In spite of the age difference with Vivekananda, he was well acquainted with him. he called him as ‘gc’ During Sri Ramakrishna’s Tithipuja in the rented Math premises in Belur, Swami Vivekananda dressed Girish Chandra Ghosh with his own hands as a Bhairava or a divine companion of Lord Shiva.

Last Life:

He took his last breath on 8th February, 1912.

Impact on Bengal:

Girish Chandra’s lifelong association with the theatre at its nascent stage greatly helped the development of Bengali theatre, transforming what had been an amateur theatre into a professional one. Author of the largest number of Bengali Plays and perhaps the greatest actor of his time, Girish Chandra as contributed a lot to the development of cultural sphere of Bengal.

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