Under Swami Vivekananda’s leadership, Udbodhan ushers in a revolution in Bengali language and literature. Vivekananda, in his letters, urges his brother monks to make use of Bengali language as it is spoken (‘chalita’ Bangla) rather than the ponderous form prevalent at the time. Writings from Vivekananda himself serve to set new examples before the Bengali intelligentsia. Udbodhan, at this stage, is a fortnightly periodical, and would continue thus for the first nine years. From its tenth year onwards, it would become a monthly.
The idea of a periodical magazine
The idea of a periodical magazine is conceived by Swami Vivekananda in the 1890s, while he is abroad working night and day to spread the message of Vedanta and infuse fresh life into his sleeping motherland. He realizes that a periodical is the best way to take Sri Ramakrishna’s word to the masses in an effective, enduring manner.
Vivekananda writes to his brother monks
Around 1894-1895, Vivekananda writes to his brother monks, Swami Brahmananda and Swami Ramakrishnananda, urging them to find a way to start a magazine – preferably bilingual – that would serve as a tool to educate and inspire the masses to rise up and build a new India. India, then being a British colony, was sorely lacking in any kind of social strength or mass moral character. This magazine had to fill up a gigantic vacuum.
Ramakrishna Mission is officially founded at the house of Balaram Basu
In 1897, Ramakrishna Mission is officially founded at the house of Balaram Basu. It becomes imperative to come up with a mouthpiece of the Order, to establish a clear line of communication with the masses whom the Mission means to serve. Swami Vivekananda writes to Josephine MacLeod, requesting her aid in starting a periodical.
Udbodhan starts its journey on 14 January 1899, with Issue 1 Volume 1. It features a ‘Prastabana’ or ‘proposal’ by Swami Vivekananda, where he delineates the mission of the magazine. Udbodhan is to be a means to combine and assimilate the best parts of the Orient and the Occident, a bridge between ancient wisdom and modern practicality, and a tool to reawaken the sleeping masses of India. Its contents would feature religion, society, politics, philosophy, science, agriculture, industry, art, literature, history, travel, and more.
The Mission’s finances are in dire straits
It is 1899; the Mission’s finances are in dire straits, but some funds are put together anyway; Vivekananda raises one thousand rupees, another thousand is lent by Harimohan Mitra. A press machine is purchased and installed at 14 Ramachandra Maitra Lane, at Kambuliatola in Shyambazar: this is the first Udbodhan Press.
Swami Shuddhananda begins to translate the English works of Swami Vivekananda into Bangla. Portions from Raja Yoga is published in Issue 1 Volume 2. Vivekananda’s original articles in Bangla, like his review of Max Muller’s biography of Sri Ramakrishna, also appear. The series ‘Bartaman Bharat’ starts from Issue 1 Volume 6.
Vivekananda’s travelogue, titled ‘Bilatjatrir Patro’ (‘Letters from a Westward Traveller’), begins to appear from Issue 1 Volume 15. The title would be changed to ‘Paribrajak’ (‘The Wanderer’) from Issue 3. ‘Prachya o Pashchatya’ (‘The East and the West’) is published as a series over a course of two years, in Issue 2 and Issue 3. These books describe a new path for Bangla prose and establish themselves as immortal classics of the Bengali language.
Udbodhan shifts its office to 30 Bosepara Lane in Baghbazar for a brief period, from Agrahayan 1313 to Agrahayan 1315 (Bengali year). From Poush 1315 it would be housed at 1 Udbodhan Lane, where it has been ever since.
Swami Vivekananda’s article ‘Hindudharma o Sri Ramakrishna’
Swami Vivekananda’s article ‘Hindudharma o Sri Ramakrishna’ (‘Hinduism and Sri Ramakrishna’) is published in 1902. This would be his last article in Udbodhan; he passes away on July 4.
Swami Trigunatita starts for San Francisco on 27th September 1902, keeping his promise to Swami Vivekananda about taking the mission of Sri Ramakrishna abroad. Udbodhan’s editorship passes to his successor.
Udbodhan becomes an ideological beacon for the youth of Bengal
Udbodhan becomes an ideological beacon for the youth of Bengal, who were deeply resentful of British misrule and eager for taking the reins of their motherland into their own hands in a constructive way. The mantra of unselfishness and social service permeates the youth, many of whom turn to a revolutionary path of dangerous self-sacrifice after the attempted partition of Bengal in 1905. Freedom fighters often carry with them the Gita, along with the writings of Swami Vivekananda.
Kedarnath Das donates a piece of land in Gopal Neogi Lane to Belur Math
On 18 July 1905, Kedarnath Das donates a piece of land in Gopal Neogi Lane to Belur Math; construction work begins in November 1907 and is completed towards the end of 1908. The Udbodhan office is housed on the ground floor, and the upper floors were reserved for Ma Sarada’s residence and her devotees. Udbodhan shifts its base to this address in November 1908. As it is a subsidiary of the head office at Belur, the branch is named ‘Sri Ramakrishna Math, Baghbazar.’
Ma Sarada arrives
Ma Sarada arrives on 23 May 1909. The building itself, now called Udbodhan, would be known to the people as ‘Mayer Bari’ (Mother’s Home) forever since. During her stay here, countless devotees of hers used to come and see her to offer their love and respects. Among them were many young men who were selfless freedom fighters dedicated to the service of their motherland. The firebrand revolutionary Aurobindo Ghosh (later the saint Sri Aurobindo) was rumoured to have come here to take Mother’s blessings immediately before his disappearance in 1910.
In 1917, a new office is built at 24 Nayankrishna Saha Lane.
Ma Sarada passes away on 21 July 1920.
Kartikchandra Ghatak makes a donation of some land adjacent to the office
In 1956, Kartikchandra Ghatak makes a donation of some land adjacent to the office, and later purchase of some more land is made. This helps in the building of extensions and annexes.
Publication of Vivekananda Rachanabali
1963 sees the publication of Vivekananda Rachanabali – the complete works of Swami Vivekananda in Bengali. The translations of the English originals were done by Swami Suddhananda. The publication remains a favourite among readers to this day.
Udbodhan turns 100 in 1999
Udbodhan turns 100 in 1999: a peerless feat among Bengali periodicals.
Over 2001 and 2002, the adjacent plots of land are purchased, and the building is extended as per requirements.