This article examines the novels of the nineteenth-century Bengali author Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay in light of classical Sanskrit literature and the rasa theory and argues that practices of Sanskrit kāvya literature are as dominant in the structural and aesthetic elements of the Bengali novel as are Western forms of novel production. The arguments are located in the reader to suggest that Bankim’s novels train readers to read the Sanskrit past as encoded in the text and as coexisting with the westernized colonial present, albeit in a difficult relationship. The article pays particular attention to the novelist’s adaptation of two forms of Sanskrit prose, the kathā and the ākhyāyikā, and his exploration of the śṛngāra (erotic) rasa. While the Bengali novel emerges after the introduction of its Victorian counterpart, the former is a product of engagement with tensions foreign to the British novel. Exploring this alternative reading practice provides an opportunity to understand how Bengali and Sanskrit—in terms of literature and culture—are part of the lived experience of both Bankim and his nineteenth-century readers, and part of the aesthetic and ethical foundation of the early Bengali novel.

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