I know I have the strength to deliver this fallen race... This feeling is not new in me, it is not of today. I was born with it, it is in my very marrow. God sent me to earth to accomplish this great mission.
I am sure that the movement Sri Aurobindo initiated in order to free India made such people spring forth, people for whom to live for the Motherland was the only life worth living. What self-abnegation and self-effacement! It is quite obvious that their love for the Motherland was the outcome of His patriotic speeches. His words inspired them to sacrifice their lives for the glory of India. It is the regeneration of India for which He worked. He shook the very foundation of tamas in which the nation had buried itself, resigning itself to its fate. Those speeches delivered by Sri Aurobindo would move any man to rise and fight for the country. How powerful and stimulating they are! He taught them how to worship the Motherland. And you see how these patriots repeat His words... I am happy you showed me these photographs. Now I know those who were around Sri Aurobindo.
After a self-preparatory period of thirteen years at Baroda, Sri Aurobindo shifted to Bengal in 1906 to actively participate in the freedom movement of India. To “create a free and united India” through a revolutionary movement was his first dream, nay it was his mission. He once wrote:
“I know I have the strength to deliver this fallen race. This feeling is not new in me, it is not of today. I was born with it, it is in my very marrow. God sent me to earth to accomplish this great mission.”
The method of his revolt was to use the power of his word, especially through the Bande Mataram, which shook up the very slumbering soul of India! As the Mother said later: “His words inspired them [the revolutionaries] to sacrifice their lives for the glory of India.” Whatever he had to do for the Indian politics he did in five brief years from 1906 to 1910. He laid out the programmes for the future leaders of the country to take up and provided the momentum necessary for the work of the freedom struggle to continue. Once he was assured of India’s freedom (which he declared in his prediction of January 1910), he withdrew to Pondicherry to continue with his greater mission of liberating the human race itself and not just India, though India’s liberation was the first and most needed step in his plan of liberating humanity!
A hundred years have passed since Sri Aurobindo played his role as the leader of Indian Nationalism, and almost fifty nine years since India’s independence. The seer-politician has given his vision of a resurrected India and has lent us his ‘strength’, but we, the blind people and leaders, have not been able to carry forward the work and have landed in the very situation that Sri Aurobindo had been apprehensive about:
“ But the old communal division into Hindus and Muslims seems now to have hardened into a permanent political division of the country. It is to be hoped that this settled fact will not be accepted as settled for ever or as anything more than a temporary expedient. For if it lasts, India may be seriously weakened, even crippled: civil strife may remain always possible, possible even a new invasion and foreign conquest. India’s internal development and prosperity may be impeded, her position among the nations weakened, her destiny impaired or even frustrated.”
The present day reality of the country’s security and the terrorism that is spreading unabated has certainly weakened us and impeded our prosperity—all because of the first division into two nations!
THE LEADER OF INDIAN NATIONALISM: 1906-1910
A GENERAL NOTE ON SRI AUROBINDO’S POLITICAL LIFE
There were three sides to Sri Aurobindo’s political ideas and activities. First, there was the action with which he started, a secret revolutionary propaganda and organisation of which the central object was the preparation of an armed insurrection. Secondly, there was a public propaganda intended to convert the whole nation to the ideal of independence which was regarded, when he entered into politics, by the vast majority of Indians as unpractical and impossible, an almost insane chimera. It was thought that the British Empire was too powerful and India too weak, effectively disarmed and impotent even to dream of the success of such an endeavour. Thirdly, there was the organisation of the people to carry on a public and united opposition and undermining of the foreign rule through an increasing non-cooperation and passive resistance.
At that time the military organisation of the great empires and their means of military action were not so overwhelming and apparently irresistible as they now are: the rifle was still the decisive weapon, air power had not yet been developed and the force of artillery was not so devastating as it afterwards became. India was disarmed, but Sri Aurobindo thought that with proper organisation and help from outside this difficulty might be overcome and in so vast a country as India and with the smallness of the regular British armies, even a guerrilla warfare accompanied by general resistance and revolt might be effective. There was also the possibility of a general revolt in the Indian army. At the same time he had studied the temperament and characteristics of the British people and the turn of their political instincts, and he believed that although they would resist any attempt at self-liberation by the Indian people and would at the most only concede very slowly such reforms as would not weaken their imperial control, still they were not of the kind which would be ruthlessly adamantine to the end: if they found resistance and revolt becoming general and persistent they would in the end try to arrive at an accommodation to save what they could of their empire or in an extremity prefer to grant independence rather than have it forcefully wrested from their hands.
In some quarters there is the idea that Sri Aurobindo’s political standpoint was entirely pacifist, that he was opposed in principle and in practice to all violence and that he denounced terrorism, insurrection, etc., as entirely forbidden by the spirit and letter of the Hindu religion. It is even suggested that he was a forerunner of the gospel of Ahimsa. This is quite incorrect.
Sri Aurobindo is neither an impotent moralist nor a weak pacifist.
The rule of confining political action to passive resistance was adopted as the best policy for the National Movement at that stage and not as a part of a gospel of Non-violence or pacific idealism. Peace is a part of the highest ideal, but it must be spiritual or at the very least psychological in its basis; without a change in human nature it cannot come with any finality. If it is attempted on any other basis (moral principle or gospel of Ahimsa or any other), it will fail and even may leave things worse than before. He is in favour of an attempt to put down war by international agreement and international force, what is now contemplated in the “New Order”, if that proves possible, but that would not be Ahimsa, it would be a putting down of anarchic force by legal force and even then one cannot be sure that it would be permanent. Within nations this sort of peace has been secured, but it does not prevent occasional civil wars and revolutions and political outbreaks and repressions, sometimes of a sanguinary character. The same might happen to a similar world-peace. Sri Aurobindo has never concealed his opinion that a nation is entitled to attain its freedom by violence, if it can do so or if there is no other way; whether it should do so or not, depends on what is the best policy, not on ethical considerations. Sri Aurobindo’s position and practice in this matter was the same as Tilak’s and that of other Nationalist leaders who were by no means Pacifists or worshippers of Ahimsa.
For the first few years in India, Sri Aurobindo abstained from any political activity (except the writing of the articles in the Indu Prakash) and studied the conditions in the country so that he might be able to judge more maturely what could be done. Then he made his first move when he sent a young Bengali soldier of the Baroda army, Jatin Banerji, as his lieutenant to Bengal with a programme of preparation and action which he thought might occupy a period of 30 years before fruition could become possible. As a matter of fact it has taken 50 years for the movement of liberation to arrive at fruition and the beginning of complete success. The idea was to establish secretly or, as far as visible action could be taken, under various pretexts and covers, revolutionary propaganda and recruiting throughout Bengal. This was to be done among the youth of the country while sympathy and support and financial and other assistance were to be obtained from the older men who had advanced views or could be won over to them. Centres were to be established in every town and eventually in every village. Societies of young men were to be established with various ostensible objects, cultural, intellectual or moral and those already existing were to be won over for revolutionary use. Young men were to be trained in activities which might be helpful for ultimate military action, such as riding, physical training, athletics of various kinds, drill and organised movement. As soon as the idea was sown it attained a rapid prosperity; already existing small groups and associations of young men who had not yet the clear idea or any settled programme of revolution began to turn in this direction and a few who had already the revolutionary aim were contacted and soon developed activity on organised lines; the few rapidly became many. Meanwhile Sri Aurobindo had met a member of the Secret Society in Western India, and taken the oath of the Society and had been introduced to the Council in Bombay. His future action was not pursued under any directions by this Council, but he took up on his own responsibility the task of generalising support for its objects in Bengal where as yet it had no membership or following. He spoke of the Society and its aim to P. Mitter and other leading men of the revolutionary group in Bengal and they took the oath of the Society and agreed to carry out its objects on the lines suggested by Sri Aurobindo. The special cover used by Mitter’s group was association for lathi play which had already been popularised to some extent by Sarala Ghosal in Bengal among the young men; but other groups used other ostensible covers. Sri Aurobindo’s attempt at a close organisation of the whole movement did not succeed, but the movement itself did not suffer by that, for the general idea was taken up and activity of many separate groups led to a greater and more widespread diffusion of the revolutionary drive and its action. Afterwards there came the partition of Bengal and a general outburst of revolt which favoured the rise of the extremist party and the great Nationalist movement. Sri Aurobindo’s activities were then turned more and more in this direction and the secret action became a secondary and subordinate element. He took advantage, however, of the Swadeshi movement to popularise the idea of violent revolt in the future. At Barin’s suggestion he agreed to the starting of a paper, Yugantar, which was to preach open revolt and the absolute denial of the British rule and include such items as a series of articles containing instructions for guerrilla warfare. Sri Aurobindo himself wrote some of the opening articles in the early numbers and he always exercised a general control; when a member of the sub-editorial staff, Swami Vivekananda’s brother, presented himself on his own motion to the police in a search as the editor of the paper and was prosecuted, the Yugantar under Sri Aurobindo’s orders adopted the policy of refusing to defend itself in a British Court on the ground that it did not recognise the foreign Government and this immensely increased the prestige and influence of the paper. It had as its chief writers and directors three of the ablest younger writers in Bengal, and it at once acquired an immense influence throughout Bengal. It may be noted that the Secret Society did not include terrorism in its programme, but this element grew up in Bengal as a result of the strong repression and the reaction to it in that Province.
The public activity of Sri Aurobindo began with the writing of articles in the Indu Prakash. These nine articles written at the instance of K. G. Deshpande, editor of the paper and Sri Aurobindo’s Cambridge friend, under the caption ‘New Lamps for Old’ vehemently denounced the then Congress policy of pray, petition and protest and called for a dynamic leadership based upon self-help and fearlessness. But this outspoken and irrefutable criticism was checked by the action of a Moderate leader who frightened the editor and thus prevented any full development of his ideas in the paper; he had to turn aside to generalities such as the necessity of extending the activities of the Congress beyond the circle of the bourgeois or middle class and calling into it the masses. Finally, Sri Aurobindo suspended all public activity of this kind and worked only in secret till 1905, but he contacted Tilak whom he regarded as the one possible leader for a revolutionary party and met him at the Ahmedabad Congress; there Tilak took him out of the pandal and talked to him for an hour in the grounds expressing his contempt for the Reformist movement and explaining his own line of action in Maharashtra.
Sri Aurobindo included in the scope of his revolutionary work one kind of activity which afterwards became an important item in the public programme of the Nationalist party. He encouraged the young men in the centres of work to propagate the Swadeshi idea which at that time was only in its infancy and hardly more than a fad of the few. One of the ablest men in these revolutionary groups was a Mahratta named Sakharam Ganesh Deuskar who was an able writer in Bengali (his family had been long domiciled in Bengal) and who had written a popular life of Shivaji in Bengali in which he first brought in the name of Swaraj, afterwards adopted by the Nationalists as their word for independence, — Swaraj became one item of the fourfold Nationalist programme. He published a book entitled Desher Katha describing in exhaustive detail the British commercial and industrial exploitation of India. This book had an immense repercussion in Bengal, captured the mind of young Bengal and assisted more than anything else in the preparation of the Swadeshi movement. Sri Aurobindo himself had always considered the shaking off of this economic yoke and the development of Indian trade and industry as a necessary concomitant of the revolutionary endeavour.
As long as he was in the Baroda Service, Sri Aurobindo could not take part publicly in politics. Apart from that, he preferred to remain and act and even to lead from behind the scenes without his name being known in public; it was the Government’s action in prosecuting him as editor of the Bande Mataram that forced him into public view. And from that time forward he became openly, what he had been for sometime already, a prominent leader of the Nationalist party, its principal leader in action in Bengal and the organiser there of its policy and strategy. He had decided in his mind the lines on which he wanted the country’s action to run: what he planned was very much the same as was developed afterwards in Ireland as the Sinn Fein movement; but Sri Aurobindo did not derive his ideas, as some have represented, from Ireland, for the Irish movement became prominent later and he knew nothing of it till after he had withdrawn to Pondicherry. There was, moreover, a capital difference between India and Ireland which made his work much more difficult; for all its past history had accustomed the Irish people to rebellion against British rule and this history might be even described as a constant struggle for independence intermittent in its action but permanently there in principle; there was nothing of this kind in India. Sri Aurobindo had to establish and generalise the idea of independence in the mind of the Indian people and at the same time to push first a party and then the whole nation into an intense and organised political activity which would lead to the accomplishment of that ideal. His idea was to capture the Congress and to make it an instrument for revolutionary action instead of a centre of a timid constitutional agitation which would only talk and pass resolutions and recommendations to the foreign Government; if the Congress could not be captured, then a central revolutionary body would have to be created which could do this work. It was to be a sort of State within the State giving its directions to the people and creating organised bodies and institutions which would be its means of action; there must be an increasing non-cooperation and passive resistance which would render the administration of the country by a foreign Government difficult or finally impossible, a universal unrest which would wear down repression and finally, if need be, an open revolt all over the country. This plan included a boycott of British trade, the substitution of national schools for the Government institutions, the creation of arbitration courts to which the people could resort instead of depending on the ordinary courts of law, the creation of volunteer forces which would be the nucleus of an army of open revolt, and all other action that could make the programme complete. The part Sri Aurobindo took publicly in Indian politics was of brief duration, for he turned aside from it in 1910 and withdrew to Pondicherry; much of his programme lapsed in his absence, but enough had been done to change the whole face of Indian politics and the whole spirit of the Indian people to make independence its aim and non-cooperation and resistance its method, and even an imperfect application of this policy heightening into sporadic periods of revolt has been sufficient to bring about the victory. The course of subsequent events followed largely the line of Sri Aurobindo’s idea. The Congress was finally captured by the Nationalist party, declared independence its aim, organised itself for action, took almost the whole nation minus a majority of the Mohammedans and a minority of the depressed classes into acceptance of its leadership and eventually formed the first national, though not as yet an independent, Government in India and secured from Britain acceptance of independence for India. At first Sri Aurobindo took part in Congress politics only from behind the scenes, as he had not yet decided to leave the Baroda Service; but he took long leave without pay in which, besides carrying on personally the secret revolutionary work, he attended the Barisal Conference broken up by the police and toured East Bengal along with Bepin Pal and associated himself closely with the forward group in the Congress. It was during this period that he joined Bepin Pal in the editing of the Bande Mataram, founded the new political party in Bengal and attended the Congress session at Calcutta at which the Extremists, though still a minority, succeeded under the leadership of Tilak in imposing part of their political programme on the Congress. The founding of the Bengal National College gave him the opportunity he needed and enabled him to resign his position in the Baroda Service and join the College as its Principal. Subodh Mullick, one of Sri Aurobindo’s collaborators in his secret action and afterwards also in Congress politics, in whose house he usually lived when he was in Calcutta, had given a lakh of rupees for this foundation and had stipulated that Sri Aurobindo should be given a post of professor in the College with a salary of Rs. 150; so he was now free to give his whole time to the service of the country. Bepin Pal, who had been long expounding a policy of self-help and non-cooperation in his weekly journal, now started a daily with the name of Bande Mataram, but it was likely to be a brief adventure since he began with only Rs. 500 in his pocket and no firm assurance of financial assistance in the future. He asked Sri Aurobindo to join him in this venture to which a ready consent was given, for now Sri Aurobindo saw his opportunity for starting the public propaganda necessary for his revolutionary purpose. He called a meeting of the forward group of young men in the Congress and they decided then to organise themselves openly as a new political party joining hands with the corresponding group in Maharashtra under the proclaimed leadership of Tilak and to join battle with the Moderate party which was done at the Calcutta session. He also persuaded them to take up the Bande Mataram daily as their party organ and a Bande Mataram Company was started to finance the paper, whose direction Sri Aurobindo undertook during the absence of Bepin Pal who was sent on a tour in the districts to proclaim the purpose and programme of the new party. The new party was at once successful and the Bande Mataram paper began to circulate throughout India. On its staff were not only Bepin Pal and Sri Aurobindo but some other very able writers, Shyam Sundar Chakravarty, Hemendra Prasad Ghose and Bejoy Chatterjee. Shyam Sundar and Bejoy were masters of the English language, each with a style of his own; Shyam Sundar caught up something like Sri Aurobindo’s way of writing and later on many took his articles for Sri Aurobindo’s. But after a time dissensions arose between Bepin Pal on one side and the other contributors and the directors of the Company because of temperamental incompatibility and differences of political views especially with regard to the secret revolutionary action with which others sympathised but to which Bepin Pal was opposed. This ended soon in Bepin Pal’s separation from the journal. Sri Aurobindo would not have consented to this departure, for he regarded the qualities of Pal as a great asset to the Bande Mataram, since Pal, though not a man of action or capable of political leadership, was perhaps the best and most original political thinker in the country, an excellent writer and a magnificent orator: but the separation was effected behind Sri Aurobindo’s back when he was convalescing from a dangerous attack of fever. His name was even announced without his consent in the Bande Mataram as editor but for one day only, as he immediately put a stop to it since he was still formally in the Baroda Service and in no way eager to have his name brought forward in public. Henceforward, however, he controlled the policy of the Bande Mataram along with that of the party in Bengal. Bepin Pal had stated the aim of the new party as complete self-government free from British control; but this could have meant or at least included the Moderate aim of colonial self-government and Dadabhai Naoroji as President of the Calcutta session of the Congress had actually tried to capture the name of Swaraj, the Extremists’ term for independence, for this colonial self-government. Sri Aurobindo’s first preoccupation was to declare openly for complete and absolute independence as the aim of political action in India and to insist on this persistently in the pages of the journal; he was the first politician in India who had the courage to do this in public and he was immediately successful. The party took up the word Swaraj to express its own ideal of independence and it soon spread everywhere; but it was taken up as the ideal of the Congress much later on at the Karachi session of that body when it had been reconstituted and renovated under Nationalist leadership. The journal declared and developed a new political programme for the country as the programme of the Nationalist party, non-cooperation, passive resistance, Swadeshi, Boycott, national education, settlement of disputes in law by popular arbitration and other items of Sri Aurobindo’s plan. Sri Aurobindo published in the paper a series of articles on passive resistance, another developing a political philosophy of revolution and wrote many leaders aimed at destroying the shibboleths and superstitions of the Moderate party, such as the belief in British justice and benefits bestowed by foreign government in India, faith in British law courts and in the adequacy of the education given in schools and universities in India and stressed more strongly and persistently than had been done the emasculation, stagnation or slow progress, poverty, economic dependence, absence of a rich industrial activity and all other evil results of a foreign government; he insisted especially that even if an alien rule were benevolent and beneficent, that could not be a substitute for a free and healthy national life. Assisted by this publicity the ideas of the Nationalists gained ground everywhere, especially in the Punjab which had before been predominantly Moderate. The Bande Mataram was almost unique in journalistic history in the influence it exercised in converting the mind of a people and preparing it for revolution. But its weakness was on the financial side; for the Extremists were still a poor man’s party. So long as Sri Aurobindo was there in active control, he managed with great difficulty to secure sufficient public support for running the paper, but not for expanding it as he wanted, and when he was arrested and held in jail for a year, the economic situation of the Bande Mataram became desperate: finally, it was decided that the journal should die a glorious death rather than perish by starvation and Bejoy Chatterji was commissioned to write an article for which the Government would certainly stop the publication of the paper. Sri Aurobindo had always taken care to give no handle in the editorial articles of the Bande Mataram either for a prosecution for sedition or any other drastic action fatal to its existence; an editor of The Statesman complained that the paper reeked with sedition patently visible between every line, but it was so skilfully written that no legal action could be taken. The manoeuvre succeeded and the life of the Bande Mataram came to an end in Sri Aurobindo’s absence.
The Nationalist programme could only achieve a partial beginning before it was temporarily broken by severe government repression. Its most important practical item was Swadeshi plus Boycott; for Swadeshi much was done to make the idea general and a few beginnings were made, but the greater results showed themselves only afterwards in the course of time. Sri Aurobindo was anxious that this part of the movement should be not only propagated in idea but given a practical organisation and an effective force. He wrote from Baroda asking whether it would not be possible to bring in the industrialists and manufacturers and gain the financial support of landed magnates and create an organisation in which men of industrial and commercial ability and experience and not politicians alone could direct operations and devise means of carrying out the policy; but he was told that it was impossible, the industrialists and the landed magnates were too timid to join in the movement, and the big commercial men were all interested in the import of British goods and therefore on the side of the status quo: so he had to abandon his idea of the organisation of Swadeshi and Boycott. Both Tilak and Sri Aurobindo were in favour of an effective boycott of British goods — but of British goods only; for there was little in the country to replace foreign articles: so they recommended the substitution for the British of foreign goods from Germany and Austria and America so that the fullest pressure might be brought upon England. They wanted the Boycott to be a political weapon and not merely an aid to Swadeshi; the total boycott of all foreign goods was an impracticable idea and the very limited application of it recommended in Congress resolutions was too small to be politically effective. They were for national self-sufficiency in key industries, the production of necessities and of all manufactures of which India had the natural means, but complete self-sufficiency or autarchy did not seem practicable or even desirable since a free India would need to export goods as well as supply them for internal consumption and for that she must import as well and maintain an international exchange. But the sudden enthusiasm for the boycott of all foreign goods was wide and sweeping and the leaders had to conform to this popular cry and be content with the impulse it gave to the Swadeshi idea. National education was another item to which Sri Aurobindo attached much importance. He had been disgusted with the education given by the British system in the schools and colleges and universities, a system of which as a professor in the Baroda College he had full experience. He felt that it tended to dull and impoverish and tie up the naturally quick and brilliant and supple Indian intelligence, to teach it bad intellectual habits and spoil by narrow information and mechanical instruction its originality and productivity. The movement began well and many national schools were established in Bengal and many able men became teachers, but still the development was insufficient and the economical position of the schools precarious. Sri Aurobindo had decided to take up the movement personally and see whether it could not be given a greater expansion and a stronger foundation, but his departure from Bengal cut short this plan. In the repression and the general depression caused by it, most of the schools failed to survive. The idea lived on and it may be hoped that it will one day find an adequate form and body. The idea of people’s courts was taken up and worked in some districts, not without success, but this too perished in the storm. The idea of volunteer groupings had a stronger vitality; it lived on, took shape, multiplied its formations and its workers were the spearhead of the movement of direct action which broke out from time to time in the struggle for freedom. The purely political elements of the Nationalist programme and activities were those which lasted and after each wave of repression and depression renewed the thread of the life of the movement for liberation and kept it recognisably one throughout nearly fifty years of its struggle. But the greatest thing done in those years was the creation of a new spirit in the country. In the enthusiasm that swept surging everywhere with the cry of Bande Mataram ringing on all sides men felt it glorious to be alive and dare and act together and hope; the old apathy and timidity was broken and a force created which nothing could destroy and which rose again
and again in wave after wave till it carried India to the beginning of a complete victory.
After the Bande Mataram case, Sri Aurobindo became the recognised leader of Nationalism in Bengal. He led the party at the session of the Bengal Provincial Conference at Midnapore where there was a vehement clash between the two parties. He now for the first time became a speaker on the public platform, addressed large meetings at Surat and presided over the Nationalist conference there. He stopped at several places on his way back to Calcutta and was the speaker at large meetings called to hear him. He led the party again at the session of the Provincial Conference at Hooghly. There it became evident for the first time that Nationalism was gaining the ascendant, for it commanded a majority among the delegates and in the Subjects Committee Sri Aurobindo was able to defeat the Moderates’ resolution welcoming the Reforms and pass his own resolution stigmatising them as utterly inadequate and unreal and rejecting them. But the Moderate leaders threatened to secede if this was maintained and to avoid a scission he consented to allow the Moderate resolution to pass, but spoke at the public session explaining his decision and asking the Nationalists to acquiesce in it in spite of their victory so as to keep some unity in the political forces of Bengal. The Nationalist delegates, at first triumphant and clamorous, accepted the decision and left the hall quietly at Sri Aurobindo’s order so that they might not have to vote either for or against the Moderate resolution. This caused much amazement and discomfiture in the minds of the Moderate leaders who complained that the people had refused to listen to their old and tried leaders and clamoured against them, but at the bidding of a young man new to politics they had obeyed in disciplined silence as if a single body.
About this period Sri Aurobindo had decided to take up charge of a Bengali daily, Nava Shakti, and had moved from his rented house in Scotts Lane, where he had been living with his wife and sister, to rooms in the office of this newspaper, and there, before he could begin this new venture, early one morning while be was still sleeping, the police charged up the stairs, revolver in hand, and arrested him. He was taken to the police station and thence to Alipore Jail where he remained for a year during the magistrate’s investigation and the trial in the Sessions Court at Alipore. At first he was lodged for some time in a solitary cell, but afterwards transferred to a large section of the jail where he lived in one huge room with the other prisoners in the case; subsequently, after the assassination of the approver in the jail, all the prisoners were confined in contiguous but separate cells and met only in the court or in the daily exercise where they could not speak to each other. It was in the second period that Sri Aurobindo made the acquaintance of most of his fellow accused. In the jail he spent almost all his time in reading the Gita and the Upanishads and in intensive meditation and the practice of Yoga. This he pursued even in the second interval when he had no opportunity of being alone and had to accustom himself to meditation amid general talk and laughter, the playing of games and much noise and disturbance; in the first and third periods he had full opportunity and used it to the full. In the Sessions Court the accused were confined in a large prisoner’s cage and here during the whole day he remained absorbed in his meditation, attending little to the trial and hardly listening to the evidence. C. R. Das, one of his Nationalist collaborators and a famous lawyer, had put aside his large practice and devoted himself for months to the defence of Sri Aurobindo, who left the case entirely to him and troubled no more about it; for he had been assured from within and knew that he would be acquitted. During this period his view of life was radically changed; he had taken up Yoga with the original idea of acquiring spiritual force and energy and divine guidance for his work in life. But now the inner spiritual life and realisation which had continually been increasing in magnitude and universality and assuming a larger place took him up entirely and his work became a part and result of it and besides far exceeded the service and liberation of the country and fixed itself in an aim, previously only glimpsed, which was world-wide in its bearing and concerned with the whole future of humanity.
When he came out from jail Sri Aurobindo found the whole political aspect of the country altered; most of the Nationalist leaders were in jail or in self-imposed exile and there was a general discouragement and depression, though the feeling in the country had not ceased but was only suppressed and was growing by its suppression. He determined to continue the struggle; he held weekly meetings in Calcutta, but the attendance which had numbered formerly thousands full of enthusiasm, was now only of hundreds and had no longer the same force and life. He also went to places in the districts to speak and at one of these delivered his speech at Uttarpara in which for the first time he spoke publicly of his Yoga and his spiritual experiences. He started also two weeklies, one in English and one in Bengali, the Karmayogin and Dharma which had a fairly large circulation and were, unlike the Bande Mataram, easily self-supporting. He attended and spoke at the Provincial Conference at Barisal in 1909: for in Bengal owing to the compromise at Hooghly the two parties had not split altogether apart and both joined in the Conference though there could be no representative of the Nationalist Party at the meeting of the Central Moderate Body which had taken the place of the Congress. Surendra Nath Banerji had indeed called a private conference attended by Sri Aurobindo and one or two other leaders of the Nationalists to discuss a project of uniting the two parties at the session in Benares and giving a joint fight to the dominant right wing of the Moderates; for he had always dreamt of becoming again the leader of a united Bengal with the Extremist Party as his strong right arm: but that would have necessitated the Nationalists being appointed as delegates by the Bengal Moderates and accepting the constitution imposed at Surat. This Sri Aurobindo refused to do; he demanded a change in that constitution enabling newly formed associations to elect delegates so that the Nationalists might independently send their representatives to the All-India session and on this point the negotiations broke down. Sri Aurobindo began, however, to consider how to revive the national movement under the changed circumstances. He glanced at the possibility of falling back on a Home Rule movement which the Government could not repress, but this, which was actually realised by Mrs. Besant later on, would have meant a postponement and a falling back from the ideal of independence. He looked also at the possibility of an intense and organised passive resistance movement in the manner afterwards adopted by Gandhi. He saw, however, that he himself could not be the leader of such a movement.
At no time did he consent to have anything to do with the sham Reforms which were all the Government at that period cared to offer. He held up always the slogan of ‘no compromise’ or, as he now put it in his Open Letter to his countrymen published in the Karmayogin, ‘no co-operation without control’. It was only if real political, administrative and financial control were given to popular ministers in an elected Assembly that he would have anything to do with offers from the British Government. Of this he saw no sign until the proposal of the Montagu Reforms in which first something of the kind seemed to appear. He foresaw that the British Government would have to begin trying to meet the national aspiration half-way, but he would not anticipate that moment before it actually came. The Montagu Reforms came nine years after Sri Aurobindo had retired to Pondicherry and by that time he had abandoned all outward and public political activity in order to devote himself to his spiritual work, acting only by his spiritual force on the movement in India, until his prevision of real negotiations between the British Government and the Indian leaders was fulfilled by the Cripps’ proposal and the events that came after.
Meanwhile the Government were determined to get rid of Sri Aurobindo as the only considerable obstacle left to the success of their repressive policy. As they could not send him to the Andamans they decided to deport him. This came to the knowledge of Sister Nivedita and she informed Sri Aurobindo and asked him to leave British India and work from outside so that his work would not be stopped or totally interrupted. Sri Aurobindo contented himself with publishing in the Karmayogin a signed article in which he spoke of the project of deportation and left the country what he called his last will and testament; he felt sure that this would kill the idea of deportation and in fact it so turned out. Deportation left aside, the Government could only wait for some opportunity for prosecution for sedition and this chance came to them when Sri Aurobindo published in the same paper another signed article reviewing the political situation. The article was sufficiently moderate in its tone and later on the High Court refused to regard it as seditious and acquitted the printer. Sri Aurobindo one night at the Karmayogin office received information of the Government’s intention to search the office and arrest him. While considering what should be his attitude, he received a sudden command from above to go to Chandernagore in French India. He obeyed the command at once, for it was now his rule to move only as he was moved by the divine guidance and never to resist and depart from it; he did not stay to consult with anyone, but in ten minutes was at the river ghat and in a boat plying on the Ganges; in a few hours he was at Chandernagore where he went into secret residence. He sent a message to Sister Nivedita asking her to take up the editing of the Karmayogin in his absence. This was the end of his active connection with his two journals. At Chandernagore he plunged entirely into solitary meditation and ceased all other activity. Then there came to him a call to proceed to Pondicherry. A boat manned by some young revolutionaries of Uttarpara took him to Calcutta; there he boarded the Dupleix and reached Pondicherry on April 4, 1910.
At Pondicherry, from this time onwards Sri Aurobindo’s practice of Yoga became more and more absorbing. He dropped all participation in any public political activity, refused more than one request to preside at sessions of the restored Indian National Congress and made a rule of abstention from any public utterance of any kind not connected with his spiritual activities or any contribution of writings or articles except what he wrote afterwards in the Arya. For some years he kept up some private communication with the revolutionary forces he had led, through one or two individuals, but this also he dropped after a time and his abstention from any kind of participation in politics became complete. As his vision of the future grew clearer, he saw that the eventual independence of India was assured by the march of forces of which he became aware, that Britain would be compelled by the pressure of Indian resistance and by the pressure of international events to concede independence and that she was already moving towards that eventuality with whatever opposition and reluctance. He felt that there would be no need of armed insurrection and that the secret preparation for it could be dropped without injury to the Nationalist cause, although the revolutionary spirit had to be maintained and would be maintained intact. His own personal intervention in politics would therefore be no
longer indispensable. Apart from all this, the magnitude of the spiritual work set before him became more and more clear to him, and he saw that the concentration of all his energies on it was necessary. Accordingly, when the Ashram came into existence, he kept it free from all political connections or action; even when he intervened in politics twice afterwards on special occasions, this intervention was purely personal and the Ashram was not concerned in it. The British Government and numbers of people besides could not believe that Sri Aurobindo had ceased from all political action and it was supposed by them that he was secretly participating in revolutionary activities and even creating a secret organisation in the security of French India. But all this was pure imagination and rumour and there was nothing of the kind. His retirement
from political activity was complete, just as was his personal retirement into solitude in 1910.
But this did not mean, as most people supposed, that he had retired into some height of spiritual experience devoid of any further interest in the world or in the fate of India.
It could not mean that, for the very principle of his Yoga was not only to realise the Divine and attain to a complete spiritual consciousness, but also to take all life and all world activity into the scope of this spiritual consciousness and action and to base life on the Spirit and give it a spiritual meaning. In his retirement Sri Aurobindo kept a close watch on all that was happening in the world and in India and actively intervened whenever necessary, but solely with a spiritual
force and silent spiritual action; for it is part of the experience of those who have advanced far in Yoga that besides the ordinary forces and activities of the mind and life
and body in Matter, there are other forces and powers that can act and do act from behind and from above; there is also a spiritual dynamic power which can be possessed by those who are advanced in the spiritual consciousness, though all do not care to possess or, possessing, to use it, and this power is greater than any other and more effective. It was this force which, as soon as he had attained to it, he used, at first only in a limited field of personal work, but afterwards in a constant action upon the world forces. He had no reason to be dissatisfied with the results or to feel the necessity of any other kind of action. Twice, however, he found it advisable to take in addition other action of a public kind. The first was in relation to the Second World War. At the beginning he did not actively concern himself with it, but when it appeared as if Hitler would crush all the forces opposed to him and Nazism dominate the world, he began to intervene. He declared himself publicly on the side of the Allies, made some financial contributions in answer to the appeal for funds and encouraged those who sought his advice to enter the army or share in the war effort. Inwardly, he put his spiritual force behind the Allies from the moment of Dunkirk when everybody was expecting the immediate fall of England and the definite triumph of Hitler, and he had the satisfaction of seeing the rush of German victory almost immediately arrested and the tide of war begin to turn in the opposite direction. This he did, because
he saw that behind Hitler and Nazism were dark Asuric forces and that their success would mean the enslavement of mankind to the tyranny of evil, and a set-back to the course of evolution and especially to the spiritual evolution of mankind: it would lead also to the
enslavement not only of Europe but of Asia, and in it of India, an enslavement far more terrible
than any this country had ever endured, and the undoing of all the work that had been done for her liberation. It was this reason also that induced him to support publicly the Cripps’ offer and to press the Congress leaders to accept it. He had not, for various reasons, intervened with his spiritual force against the Japanese aggression until it became evident that Japan intended to attack and even invade and conquer India. He allowed certain letters he had written in support of the war affirming his views of the Asuric nature and inevitable outcome of Hitlerism to become public. He supported the Cripps’ offer because by its acceptance India and Britain
could stand united against the Asuric forces and the solution of Cripps could be used as a step towards independence. When negotiations failed, Sri Aurobindo returned to his reliance on the use of spiritual force alone against the aggressor and had the satisfaction of seeing the
tide of Japanese victory, which had till then swept everything before it, change immediately into a tide of rapid, crushing and finally immense and overwhelming defeat. He had also after a time the satisfaction of seeing his previsions about the future of India justify themselves so that she stands independent with whatever internal difficulties.
SRI AUROBINDO’S POLITICAL STANDPOINT AND PACIFISM
There seems to be put forth here and in several places the idea that Sri Aurobindo’s political standpoint was entirely pacifist, that he was opposed in principle and in practice to all violence and that he denounced terrorism, insurrection etc. as entirely forbidden by the spirit and letter of the Hindu religion. It is even suggested that he was a forerunner of Mahatma Gandhi and gospel of Ahimsa. This is quite incorrect and, if left, would give a wrong idea about Sri Aurobindo. He has given his ideas on the subject, generally, in the Essays on the Gita, First Series (Chapter VI) where he supports the Gita’s idea of Dharma Yuddha and criticises, though not expressly, the Gandhian ideas of soul-force. If he had held the pacifist ideal, he would never have supported the Allies (or anybody else) in this War, still less sanctioned some of his disciples joining the Army as airmen, soldiers, doctors, electricians, etc. The declarations and professions quoted in the book are not his, at the most they may have been put forward by his lawyers or written (more prudentially than sincerely) by colleagues in the Bande Mataram. The rule of confining political action to passive resistance was adopted as the best policy for the National Movement at that stage and not as part of a gospel of Non-violence or Peace. Peace is part of the highest ideal, but it must be spiritual or at the very least psychological in its basis; without a change in human nature it cannot come with any finality. If it is attempted on any other basis (mental principle, or gospel of Ahimsa or any other) it will fail, and even may leave things worse than before. He is in favour of an attempt to put down war by international agreement and international force, what is now contemplated in the “New Order”, if that proves possible, but that would not be Ahimsa, it would be a putting down of anarchic force by legal force, and one cannot be sure that it would be permanent. Within nations this sort of peace has been secured, but it does not prevent occasional civil wars and revolutions and political outbreaks and repressions, sometimes of a sanguinary character. The same might happen to a similar world-peace. Sri Aurobindo has never concealed his opinion that a nation is entitled to attain its freedom by violence, if it can do so or if there is no other way; whether it should do so or not, depends on what is the best policy, not on ethical considerations of the Gandhian kind. Sri Aurobindo’s position and practice in this matter was the same as Tilak’s and that of other Nationalist leaders who were by no means Pacifists or worshippers of Ahimsa. Those of them who took a share in revolutionary activities, kept a veil over them for reasons which need not be discussed now. Sri Aurobindo knew of all these things and took his own path, but he has always remained determined not to lift the veil till the proper time comes.
It follows that the passages which convey the opposite idea must be omitted in the interests of Truth or rewritten. Nothing need be said about the side of the Nationalist activities of that time in connection with Sri Aurobindo.
SRI AUROBINDO’S POLITICAL POLICY IN
THE “BANDE MATARAM” ARTICLES
As a politician it was part of Sri Aurobindo’s principles never to appeal to the British people; that he would have considered as part of the mendicant policy….
There is also the fact that Sri Aurobindo never based his case for freedom on racial hatred or charges of tyranny or misgovernment, but always on the inalienable right of the nation to independence. His stand was that even good government could not take the place of national government — independence.
Muslims, the descendants of foreigners, favoured the partition of Bengal.
This would seem to indicate that all the Mohammedans in India are descendants of foreigners, but the idea of two nationalities in India is only a new-fangled notion invented by Jinnah for his purposes and contrary to the facts. More than 90% of the Indian Mussalmans are descendants of converted Hindus and belong as much to the Indian nation as the Hindus themselves. This process of conversion has continued all along; Jinnah is himself a descendant of a Hindu, converted in fairly recent times, named Jinahbhai and many of the most famous Mohammedan leaders have a similar origin.
EARLY SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES BEFORE
MEETING LELE IN 1908
What Lele asked him was whether he could surrender himself entirely to the Inner Guide within him and move as it moved him; if so he needed no instructions from Lele or anybody else. This Sri Aurobindo accepted and made that his rule of Sadhana and of life. Before he met Lele, Sri Aurobindo had some spiritual experiences, but that was before he knew anything about Yoga or even what Yoga was, — e.g., a vast calm which descended upon him at the moment when he stepped first on Indian soil after his long absence, in fact with his first step on the Apollo Bunder in Bombay: (this calm surrounded him and remained for long months afterwards); the realisation of the vacant Infinite while walking on the ridge of the Takhti-Suleman in Kashmir; the living presence of Kali in a shrine on the banks of the Narmada; the vision of the Godhead surging up from within when in danger of a carriage accident in Baroda in the first year of his stay, etc. But these were inner experiences coming of themselves and with a sudden unexpectedness, not part of a Sadhana. He started Yoga by himself without a Guru, getting the rule from a friend, a disciple of Brahmananda of Ganga Math; it was confined at first to assiduous practice of pranayama (at one time for 6 hours or more a day) There was no conflict or wavering between Yoga and politics; when he started Yoga, he carried on both without any idea of opposition between them.
Hymn to Durga
Mother Durga! Rider on the lion, giver of all strength, Mother, beloved of Siva! We, born from thy parts of Power, we the youth of India, are seated here in thy temple. Listen, O Mother, descend upon earth, make thyself manifest in this land of India.
Mother Durga! From age to age, in life after life, we come down into the human body, do thy work and return to the Home of Delight. Now too we are born, dedicated to thy work. Listen, O Mother, descend upon earth, come to our help.
Mother Durga! Rider on the lion, trident in hand, thy body of beauty armour-clad, Mother, giver of victory, India awaits thee, eager to see the gracious form of thine. Listen, O Mother, descend upon earth, make thyself manifest in this land of India.
Mother Durga! Giver of force and love and knowledge, terrible art thou in thy own self of might, Mother beautiful and fierce. In the battle of life, in India’s battle, we are warriors commissioned by thee; Mother, give to our heart and mind, a titan’s strength, a titan’s energy, to our soul and intelligence a god’s character and knowledge.
Mother Durga! India, world’s noblest race, lay whelmed in darkness. Mother, thou risest on the eastern horizon, the dawn comes with the glow of thy divine limbs scattering the darkness. Spread thy light, Mother, destroy the darkness.
Mother Durga! We are thy children, through thy grace, by thy influence may we become fit for the great work, for the great Ideal. Mother, destroy our smallness, our selfishness, our fear.
Mother Durga! Thou art Kali, naked, garlanded with human heads, sword in hand, thou slayest the Asura. Goddess, do thou slay with thy pitiless cry the enemies who dwell within us, may none remain alive there, not one. May we become pure and spotless, this is our prayer, O Mother, make thyself manifest.
Mother Durga! India lies low in selfishness and fearfulness and littleness. Make us great, make our efforts great, our hearts vast, make us true to our resolve. May we no longer desire the small, void of energy, given to laziness, stricken with fear.
Mother Durga! Extend wide the power of Yoga. We are thy Aryan children, develop in us again the lost teaching, character, strength of intelligence, faith and devotion, force of austerity, power of chastity and true knowledge, bestow all that upon the world. To help mankind, appear, O Mother of the world, dispel all ills.
Mother Durga! Slay the enemy within, then root out all obstacles outside. May the noble heroic mighty Indian race, supreme in love and unity, truth and strength, arts and letters, force and knowledge ever dwell in its holy woodlands, its fertile fields, under its sky-scraping hills, along the banks of its pure-streaming rivers. This is our prayer at the feet of the Mother. Make thyself manifest.
Mother Durga! Enter our bodies in thy Yogic strength. We shall become thy instruments, thy sword slaying all evil, thy lamp dispelling all ignorance. Fulfil this yearning of thy young children, O Mother. Be the master and drive thy instrument, wield thy sword and slay the evil, hold up the lamp and spread the light of knowledge. Make thyself manifest.
Mother Durga! When we possess thee, we shall no longer cast thee away; we shall bind thee to us with the tie of love and devotion. Come, Mother, manifest thyself in our mind and life and body.
Come, Revealer of the hero-path. We shall no longer cast thee away. May our entire life become a ceaseless worship of the Mother, all our acts a continuous service to the Mother, full of love, full of energy. This is our prayer, O Mother, descend upon earth, make thyself manifest in this land of India.
NOTE: Translated by Sri Aurobindo from his own original in Bengali.
.... the function of India is to supply the world with a perennial source of light and renovation. Whenever the first play of energy is exhausted and earth grows old and weary, full of materialism, racked with problems she cannot solve, the function of India is to restore the youth of mankind and assure it of immortality. She sends forth a light from her bosom which floods the earth and the heavens, and mankind bathes in it like St. George in the well of life and recovers strength, hope and vitality for its long pilgrimage. Such a time is now at hand. The world needs India and needs her free.
Sri Aurobindo on India’s Mission and Destiny
A SELECTION OF ARTICLES FROM ‘BANDE MATARAM’
Sj. Aurobindo said that he was exceedingly pleased to know that the song had become so popular in all parts of India and that it was being so repeatedly sung. He said that he would make this national anthem the subject of his speech. The song, he said, was not only a national anthem to be looked on as the European nations look upon their own, but one replete with mighty power, being a sacred mantra, revealed to us by the author of Ananda Math, who might be called an inspired Rishi. He described the manner in which the mantra had been revealed to Bankim Chandra, probably by a Sannyasi under whose teaching he was. He said that the mantra was not an invention, but a revivification of the old mantra which had become extinct, so to speak, by the treachery of one Navakishan. The mantra of Bankim Chandra was not appreciated in his own day, and he predicted that there would come a time when the whole of India would resound with the singing of the song, and the word of the prophet was miraculously fulfilled. The meaning of the song was not understood then because there was no patriotism except such as consisted in making India the shadow of England and other countries which dazzled the sight of the sons of this our Motherland with their glory and opulence. The so-called patriots of that time might have been the well-wishers of India but not men who loved her. One who loved his mother never looked to her defects, never disregarded her as an ignorant, superstitious, degraded and decrepit woman. The speaker then unfolded the meaning of the song. As with the individual, so with the nation, there were three bodies or kosas, the sthula, suksma and karana sariras. In this way the speaker went on clearing up the hidden meaning of the song. The manner in which he treated of love and devotion was exceedingly touching and the audience sat before him like dumb statues, not knowing where they were or whether they were listening to a prophet revealing to them the higher mysteries of life. He then concluded with a most pathetic appeal to true patriotism and exhorted the audience to love the Motherland and sacrifice everything to bring about her salvation.
* This is the summary of a lecture delivered by Sri Aurobindo in the Grand Square of the National School, Amraoti, Berar, on Wednesday the 29th January, 1908. The meeting commenced with the singing of Bande Mataram.
The Awakening of Gujerat
When the word of the Eternal has gone abroad, when the spirit moves over the waters and the waters stir and life begins to form, then it is a law that all energies are forced to direct themselves, consciously or unconsciously, willingly or against their will, to the one supreme work of the time, the formation of the new manifest and organised life which is in process of creation. So now when the waters of a people’s life are stirred and the formation of a great organic Indian state and nation has begun, the same law holds. All that the adversaries of the movement have done whether they have tried to repress or tried to conciliate, has helped what they sought to destroy and swelled the volume and strength or purified as by fire the forces of Nationalism. So also the efforts of those among ourselves who are afraid of the new movement or distrustful of it to check the pace and bring back the nation’s energies into the old grooves, have only helped to increase the vehemence of the National desire to move forward. When Sir Pherozshah Mehta juggled the Congress into Surat, he thought he was preparing a death-blow for Nationalism: he was only preparing the way for a Nationalist awakening in Gujerat. Nationalism depends for its success on the awakening and organising of the whole strength of the nation; it is therefore vitally important for Nationalism that the politically backward classes should be awakened and brought into the current of political life; the great mass of orthodox Hinduism which was hardly even touched by the old Congress movement, the great slumbering mass of Islam which has remained politically inert throughout the last century, the shopkeepers, the artisan class, the immense body of illiterate and ignorant peasantry, the submerged classes, even the wild tribes and races still outside the pale of Hindu civilisation, Nationalism can afford to neglect and omit none. It rejoices to see any sign of life where there was no life before, even if the first manifestations should seem to be ill-regulated or misguided. It is not afraid of Pan-Islamism or any signs of the growth of a separate Mahomedan self-consciousness but rather welcomes them. It is not startled by the spectacle of a submerged class like the Namasudras demanding things which are, under existing circumstances, impracticable from Hindu society. When a community sues for separate rights from the bureaucracy, that is a sign not of life but of stagnant dependence which is death, but when it seeks a larger place in the national existence and it tries to feel its own existence and its own strength, it is a true sign of life, and what Nationalism asks is for life first and above all things; life, and still more life, is its cry. Let us by every means get rid of the pall of death which stifled us, let us dispel first the passivity, quiescence, the unspeakable oppression of inertia which has so long been our curse; that is the first and imperative need. As with backward communities, so with backward provinces. It is vitally important to Nationalism that these should awake. Behar, Orissa, the Central Provinces, Gujerat, Sindh must take their place in the advancing surge of Indian political life, must prepare themselves for a high rank in the future federated strength of India. We welcome any signs that the awakening has begun. It is for instance a cause of gratification that Orissa is beginning to feel its separate consciousness, and to attempt to grow into an organised life under a capable and high-spirited leader, although we consider his political attitude mistaken and believe that he is laying up for himself bitter disappointment and disillusionment in the future. But when the inevitable disappointment and disillusionment come, then will the new political consciousness, the new organised life of Orissa become an immense addition of strength to the forces of Nationalism. Yet it remains true that the only way these provinces can make up for lost time and bring themselves up swiftly to the level of the more advanced races, is by throwing themselves whole-heartedly into the full tide of Nationalism, and we do not know that we ought not to thank Sir Pherozshah for giving us a unique chance to light the fire in Gujerat.
The Gujeratis have only recently been touched by the tide of political life. Largely split up into Native States, large and small, and only partially under the direct rule of the bureaucracy, immersed in commerce and fairly prosperous until the last great famine swept over the once smiling and fertile province destroying life, human and animal, by the million they had slumbered politically while the rest of India was accustoming itself to some kind of political activity. It was at the Ahmedabad Congress that Gujerat was for the first time moved to a political enthusiasm, an awakening perhaps helped on by the association of a thoroughly Swadeshi Exhibition with the session of the Congress and the inclusion, however timid and half-hearted, of industrial revival in our political programme. Then came the outburst of the Swadeshi by which Gujerat, unlike some of the other politically backward provinces, was profoundly affected. The ground has been prepared and Nationalist sentiment has already spread among the educated Gujeratis. The Surat Congress provides an opportunity to give a fresh and victorious impulse which will make Gujerat Nationalism a powerful working and organised force. The importance of winning Gujerat to the Nationalist cause is great. The Gujeratis labour as the Bengalis did, until the present awakening, under a reproach of timidity and excessive love of peace and safety. The truth probably is that so far as the reproach has any foundation either in Bengal or Gujerat the defect was due not so much to any constitutional cowardice as to indolence born of climate and a too fertile soil and to the prevalence of the peaceful and emotional religion of Chaitanya and Vallabhacharya. Be that as it may, Bengal under the awakening touch of Nationalism has wiped out that reproach for ever and there is no reason why Gujerat, stirred by the same influences, awakened to the same energy, should not emulate her example and take like her a foremost place in the battle of Swaraj. We must not forget that she also has great traditions of old, traditions of learning, traditions of religion, traditions of courage and heroism. Gujerat was once part of the Rajput circle and her princes fought on equal terms with Mahmud of Ghazni. Her people form valuable and indispensable material for the building of the Indian nation. The savoir-faire, the keen-witted ability and political instinct of her Brahmins, the thrift and industry of her merchants, the robust vigour and common sense of her Patidars, the physique and soldierly qualities of her Kathis and Rajputs, the strong raw human material of her northern and southern hills, are so many elements of strength which Nationalism must seize and weld into a great national force. Even if Sir Pherozshah Mehta overwhelms us with numbers at Surat, even if we cannot carry a single proposition in the Congress Pandal, yet if we can give this great impulse to Gujerat and organise our scattered forces for a great march forward, all the energy, all the expenditure we can devote to this session at Surat will be amply rewarded. It is not merely or chiefly by victories in the Congress but by victories in the country that we must record the progress of Nationalism.
Bande Mataram, December 17, 1907
The Demand of the Mother
We have lost the faculty of religious fervour in Bengal and are now trying to recover it through the passion for the country, by self-sacrifice, by labour for our fellow-countrymen, by absorption in the idea of the country. When a nation is on the verge of losing the source of its vitality, it tries to recover it by the first means which the environment offers, whether that environment be favourable or not. Bengal has always lived by its emotions; the brain of India, as it has been called, is also the heart of India. The loss of emotional power, of belief, of enthusiasm would dry up the sources from which she derives her strength. The country of Nyaya is also the country of Chaitanya who himself was born in the height of the intellectual development of Bengal as its finest flower and most perfect expression. If now she tries to recover her enthusiasm and perfect power of self-abandonment, it must be through a means which her new environment provides.
This new environment has been responsible for the loss of her springs of vitality; it had turned the Bengalis into a sceptical people prone to swear at and disbelieve in everything great, noble and inspiring. The recovery of her old spirit of enthusiastic faith and aspiration has come about through the sense of political unity which had been slowly developing in the heart of the people as the result of the new environment. That which had supplied the poison, supplied also the cure. If she is to complete the restoration to her true self, the first requisite is that the enthusiasm, the idealism of the new movement should be kept alive. The perfect sense of self-abandonment which Chaitanya felt for Hari, must be felt by Bengal for the Mother. Then only will Bengal be herself and able to fulfil the destiny to which after so many centuries of preparation she has been called.
The great religions of the world have all laid stress on self-abandonment as the source of salvation and the law applies not only to spiritual salvation but to the destinies of a people. Self-abandonment will alone give salvation. He who loses his life shall keep it, and the life of the individual must be the sacrifice for the life of the nation. When the people of Bengal are able to rise to the full height and depth of this idea, they will find the secret of success which till now has escaped them. It is not by patriotic desires that the nation can be liberated, it is not by patriotic work that a nation can be built. For every stone that is added to the National edifice, a life must be given. It is not talk of Swaraj that can bring Swaraj, but it is the living of Swaraj by each man among us that will compel Swaraj to come.
The Kingdom of Heaven is within you; free India is no piece of wood or stone that can be carved into the likeness of a nation but lives in the hearts of those who desire her, and out of these she must be created. We must first ourselves be free in heart before our country can be free. “There is no British jail which can hold me,” said the great Upadhyaya before his death, and he died to prove the truth of his words; but his words are true for all of us that aspire to liberate our Mother, whether we prove it by our lives or by our death. When her sons have learned to be free in themselves, free in prison, free under the yoke which they seek to remove, free in life, free in death, when the text of Upadhyaya’s words will receive their illuminating commentary in the actions of a people, then the chains will fall off of themselves and outward circumstances be forced to obey the law of our inward life.
How then can we live Swaraj? By abandonment of the idea of self and its replacement by the idea of the nation. As Chaitanya ceased to be Nimai Pandit and became Krishna, became Radha, became Balaram, so every one of us must cease to cherish his separate life and live in the nation. The hope of national regeneration must absorb our minds as the idea of salvation absorbs the minds of the mumuksu. Our tyaga must be as complete as the tyaga of the nameless ascetic. Our passion to see the face of our free and glorified Mother must be as devouring a madness as the passion of Chaitanya to see the face of Sri Krishna. Our sacrifice for the country must be as enthusiastic and complete as that of Jagai and Madhai who left the rule of a kingdom to follow the Sankirtan of Gauranga. Our offerings on the altar must be as wildly liberal, as remorselessly complete as that of Carthagenian parents who passed their children through the fire to Moloch. If any reservation mars the completeness of our self-abandonment, if any bargaining abridges the fullness of our sacrifice, if any doubt mars the strength of our faith and enthusiasm, if any thought of self pollutes the sanctity of our love, then the Mother will not be satisfied and will continue to withhold her presence. We call her to come, but the call has not yet gone out of the bottom of our hearts. The Mother’s feet are on the threshold, but she waits to hear the true cry, the cry that rushes out from the heart, before she will enter. We are still hesitating between ourselves and the country; we would give one anna to the service of the Mother and keep fifteen for ourselves, our wives, our children, our property, our fame and reputation, our safety, our ease. The Mother asks all before she will give herself. Not until Surath Raja offered the blood of his veins did the Mother appear to him and ask him to choose his boon. Not until Shivaji was ready to offer his head at the feet of the Mother, did Bhavani in visible form stay his hand and give him the command to free his people. Those who have freed nations have first passed through the agony of utter renunciation before their efforts were crowned with success, and those who aspire to free India will first have to pay the price which the Mother demands. The schemes by which we seek to prepare the nation, the scheme of industrial regeneration, the scheme of educational regeneration, the scheme of political regeneration through self-help are subordinate features of the deeper regeneration which the country must go through before it can be free. The Mother asks us for no schemes, no plans, no methods. She herself will provide the schemes, the plans, the methods better than any we can devise. She asks us for our hearts, our lives, nothing less, nothing more. Swadeshi, National Education, the attempt to organise Swaraj are only so many opportunities for self-surrender to her. She will look to see not how much we have tried for Swadeshi, how wisely we have planned for Swaraj, how successfully we have organised education, but how much of ourselves we have given, how much of our substance, how much of our labour, how much of our ease, how much of our safety, how much of our lives.
Regeneration is literally re-birth, and re-birth comes not by the intellect, not by the fullness of the purse, not by policy, not by change of machinery, but by the getting of a new heart, by throwing away all that we were into the fire of sacrifice and being reborn in the Mother. Self-abandonment is the demand made upon us. She asks of us, “How many will live for me? How many will die for me?” and awaits our answer.
Bande Mataram, April 11, 1908
The Asiatic Role
The genius of the Hindu is not for pure action, but for thought and aspiration realised in action, the spirit premeditating before the body obeys the inward command. The life of the Hindu is inward and his outward life aims only at reproducing the motions of his spirit. This intimate relation of his thought and his actions is the secret of his perpetual vitality. His outward life, like that of other nations, is subject to growth and decay, to periods of greatness and periods of decline, but while other nations have a limit and a term, he has none. Whenever death claims his portion, the Hindu race takes refuge in the source of all immortality, plunges itself into the fountain of spirit and comes out renewed for a fresh term of existence. The elixir of national life has been discovered by India alone. This immortality, this great secret of life, she has treasured up for thousands of years, until the world was fit to receive it. The time has now come for her to impart it to the other nations who are now on the verge of decadence and death. The peoples of Europe have carried material life to its farthest expression, the science of bodily existence has been perfected, but they are suffering from diseases which their science is powerless to cure. England with her practical intelligence, France with her clear logical brain, Germany with her speculative genius, Russia with her emotional force, America with her commercial energy have done what they could for human development, but each has reached the limit of her peculiar capacity. Something is wanting which Europe cannot supply. It is at this juncture that Asia has awakened, because the world needed her. Asia is the custodian of the world’s peace of mind, the physician of the maladies which Europe generates. She is commissioned to rise from time to time from her ages of self-communion, self-sufficiency, self-absorption and rule the world for a season so that the world may come and sit at her feet to learn the secrets she alone has to give. When the restless spirit of Europe has added a new phase of discovery to the evolution of the science of material life, has regulated politics, rebased society, remodelled law, rediscovered science, the spirit of Asia, calm, contemplative, self-possessed, takes possession of Europe’s discovery and corrects its exaggerations, its aberrations by the intuition, the spiritual light she alone can turn upon the world. When Greek and Roman had exhausted themselves, the Arab went out from his desert to take up their unfinished task, revivify the civilisation of the old world and impart the profounder impulses of Asia to the pursuit of knowledge. Asia has always initiated, Europe completed. The strength of Europe is in details, the strength of Asia in synthesis. When Europe has perfected the details of life or thought, she is unable to harmonise them into a perfect symphony and she falls into intellectual heresies, practical extravagances which contradict the facts of life, the limits of human nature and the ultimate truths of existence. It is therefore the office of Asia to take up the work of human evolution when Europe comes to a standstill and loses itself in a clash of vain speculations, barren experiments and helpless struggles to escape from the consequences of her own mistakes. Such a time has now come in the world’s history.
In former ages India was a sort of hermitage of thought and peace apart from the world. Separated from the rest of humanity by her peculiar geographical conformation, she worked out her own problems and thought out the secrets of existence as in a quiet Ashram from which the noise of the world was shut out. Her thoughts flashed out over Asia and created civilisations, her sons were the bearers of light to the peoples; philosophies based themselves on stray fragments of her infinite wisdom; sciences arose from the waste of her intellectual production. When the barrier was broken and nations began to surge through the Himalayan gates, the peace of India departed. She passed through centuries of struggle, of ferment in which the civilisations born of her random thoughts returned to her developed and insistent, seeking to impose themselves on the mighty mother of them all. To her they were the reminiscences of her old intellectual experiments laid aside and forgotten. She took them up, re-thought them in a new light and once more made them part of herself. So she dealt with the Greek, so with the Scythian, so with Islam, so now she will deal with the great brood of her returning children, with Christianity, with Buddhism, with European science and materialism, with the fresh speculations born of the world’s renewed contact with the source of thought in this ancient cradle of religion, science and philosophy. The vast amount of new matter which she has to absorb, is unprecedented in her history, but to her it is child’s play. Her all-embracing intellect, her penetrating intuition, her invincible originality are equal to greater tasks. The period of passivity when she listened to the voices of the outside world is over. No longer will she be content merely to receive and reproduce, even to receive and improve. The genius of Japan lies in imitation and improvement, that of India in origination. The contributions of outside peoples she can only accept as rough material for her immense creative faculty. It was the mission of England to bring this rough material to India, but in the arrogance of her material success she presumed to take upon herself the role of a teacher and treated the Indian people partly as an infant to be instructed, partly as a serf to be schooled to labour for its lords. The farce is played out. England’s mission in India is over and it is time for her to recognise the limit of the lease given to her. When it was God’s will that she should possess India, the world was amazed at the miraculous ease of the conquest and gave all the credit to the unparalleled genius and virtues of the Engligh people, a fiction which England was not slow to encourage and on which she has traded for over a century. The real truth is suggested in the famous saying that England conquered India in a fit of absence of mind, which is only another way of saying that she did not conquer it at all. It was placed in her hands without her realising what was being done or how it was being done. The necessary conditions were created for her, her path made easy, the instruments given into her hands. The men who worked for her were of comparatively small intellectual stature and with few exceptions did not make and could not have made any mark in European history where no special Providence was at work to supplement the deficiencies of the instruments. The subjugation of India is explicable neither in the ability of the men whose names figure as the protagonists nor in the superior genius of the conquering nation nor in the weakness of the conquered people. It is one of the standing miracles of history. In other words, it was one of those cases in which a particular mission was assigned to a people not otherwise superior to the rest of the world and a special faustitas or decreed good fortune set to watch over the fulfilment of the mission. Her mission once over, the angel of the Lord who stood by England in her task and removed opponents and difficulties with the waving of his hand, will no longer shield her. She will stay so long as the destinies of India need her and not a day longer, for it is not by her own strength that she came or is still here, and it is not by her own strength that she can remain. The resurgence of India is begun, it will accomplish itself with her help, if she will, without it if she does not, against it if she opposes.
SRI AUROBINDO IN THE EYES OF THE NATION*
Bande Mataram, the official newspaper of the Nationalist Party, was started in August 1906. On the eve of its appearance, Brahmabandhav Upadhyay, editor of the fiery Bengali newspaper Sandhya, paid the following tribute to Sri Aurobindo.
Have you seen Aurobindo, the immaculate white lotus? - the full-bloomed, hundred-petalled flower on India’s lake of inward mental splendour. There is no one like Aurobindo in the whole world. Divine beauty emanates through him like snow-white purity. Boundless like the ocean are his heart and mind. The inner incandescent world conquered by great Hindus expresses itself in its glory through him. While on the one hand he radiates the light and heat of a thunder-puissant fire, his lotus-leaf-like soft endearing nature vibrates with founts of Knowledge. A true and complete man like him, deeply engrossed in meditation, is rare on heaven and earth. Aurobindo has forsaken the allurements of heathen culture and undertaken to edit the paper Bande Mataram in accordance with his vow to liberate the Motherland. He has also put aside the comforts of daily life. Rishi Bankim’s Bhavananda, Jeevananda and Dheerananda find expression in him as one.
Aurobindo’s power of writing will fill you with patriotism, awakening an eagerness to worship the Mother. Your fear will vanish on reading the Bande Mataram’s message and your arm shall strike like thunder. A fiery warmth will course through your veins. Your fear of death will be replaced by a feeling of joyous participation in a spring-time festival....
The bewitching tentacles of foreign education could not strangle Aurobindo despite his long stay abroad. Like a just-bloomed autumnal lotus offered at the feet of the country he worships as his Mother, Aurobindo is radiating in beauty through his own Indian culture and religion. Have you ever seen such a beautiful sight? A worthy son of his Motherland, he has succeeded in erecting the Bhawani Mandir for her. Chant then the “Bande Mataram” mantra and offer your obeisance at this temple. The country’s independence is imminent.
* Courtesy: Sri Aurobindo and the Freedom of India, 1995
Bande Mataram Trial
As editor of Bande Mataram, Sri Aurobindo was arrested for sedition on 16 August 1907. Eight days after his arrest, poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote his “Salutation” to Sri Aurobindo. Extracts from a translation of this poem are given below.
Rabindranath, O Aurobindo, bows to thee!
O friend, my country’s friend, O voice incarnate, free,
Of India’s soul!..........
Where is the coward who will shed tears today, or wail
Or quake in fear? And who’ll belittle truth to seek
His own small safety? Where’s the spineless creature weak
Who will not in thy pain his strength and courage find?
O wipe away those tears, O thou of craven mind!
The fiery messenger that with the lamp of God
Hath come - where is the king who can with chain or rod
Chastise him? Chains that were to bind salute his feet,
And prisons greet him as their guest with welcome sweet..........
When I behold thy face, ‘mid bondage, pain and wrong
And black indignities, I hear the soul’s great song
Of rapture unconfined, and chant the pilgrim sings
In which exultant hope’s immortal splendour rings,
Solemn voice and calm, and heart-consoling, grand
Of imperturbable death, the spirit of Bharat-land,
O poet, hath placed upon thy face her eyes afire
With love, and struck vast chords upon her vibrant lyre, -
Wherein there is no note of sorrow, shame or fear,
Or penury or want. And so today I hear
The ocean’s restless roar borne by the stormy wind,
Th’ impetuous fountain’s dance riotous, swift and blind
Bursting its rocky cage, - the voice of thunder deep
Awakening, like a clarion call, the clouds asleep
Amid this song triumphant, vast, that encircles me,
Rabindranath, O Aurobindo, bows to thee!
24 August 1907 Rabindranath Tagore
Sri Aurobindo’s arrest for sedition drew the following editorial comment from the Bengali newspaper Dacca Prakash:
The patriotism of this great man and his uncommon self-sacrifice attracted the heart of every son of Bengal. It rends the heart to say that the man who, in response to the call of duty, thus threw away all luxuries of life and was, though a human being, exhibiting divine traits, is now like a thief being sent to jail by the rulers of this land! Alas! the unfortunate land! Our reckless rulers are yet unable to understand that as a result of their misdeeds a fire of disgust is burning in the country which it will be beyond their power to extinguish.
25 August 1907 Dacca Prakash
Sri Aurobindo was acquitted of the charge on September 23. The following day, Lokmanya Tilak’s Poona newspaper Kesari remarked:
The result of the Bande Mataram trial has been made known to the public by a telegraphic communication. Babu Arabinda Ghose, who was arraigned as editor, has been acquitted.... We are glad that the calamity, which threatened Mr. Arabinda Ghose, has been luckily averted. His learning and patriotism are so profound that in his acquittal we discern the hand of Providence. We pray to God to enable Babu Arabinda to do what lies in his power to bring about the regeneration of India.
The Bande Mataram sedition case thrust Sri Aurobindo into nation-wide prominence. Soon after his acquittal, he travelled by train from Calcutta to Surat, to attend the 1907 session of the Indian National Congress. The journey, and the public response to “the new idol of the nation”, was later described by Sri Aurobindo’s brother Barindra.
With a canvas bag in my hand and a blanket over my shoulder I came to the Howrah Station and was shown by volunteers into a third class compartment in the Congress Special packed full of Congress delegates. Sri Aurobindo and Syam Sundar Chakravarty were sitting smiling in that compartment while J. Ghosal, the Congress Secretary of the moderate party, was travelling in a first class compartment in perfect European clothes and style. The train started in the midst of deafening cries of “Bande Mataram” and the whole thousand-miles route from Kharagpur to Surat was a triumphant journey of lights, crowds, and continued cheering. The way-side stations even which the Special did not touch were lined with admiring crowds and lights flashed and cheer after cheer rose and fell as the train leaping for a time into the lighted yard again rushed into the darkness of the night. We alighted at Amraoti and Nagpur. In both places a sea of heads covered the station and the adjoining grounds, and short halts were made in order to deliver appropriate speeches.
Aurobindo the new idol of the nation was hardly known then by his face, and at every small and big station a frantic crowd rushed about in the station platform looking for him in the first and second class carriages, while all the time Aurobindo sat unobserved in a third class compartment. By the time this fact became known and he was found out, the train was about to start. In these days of style, luxury and easy leadership, no one could imagine that Aurobindo - nurtured and educated in England and a high official of His Highness the Gaekwad’s service, who could leap into an all-India fame in such a short time, - would dream of travelling third class. J. Ghosal felt small in contrast and tried again and again to invite Aurobindo into his first class carriage and keep him there to save his face.
This simplicity of Aurobindo was natural and quite unostentatious. All his life he wore nothing but his country-made dhoti, piran (Indian shirt) and a urani (shawl) with gold threads in its border. Small in stature and slender in build, this quiet unobtrusive man was very often lost in the crowd of his own admirers. When he rose to speak his voice was hardly audible except to those nearest to him, - that thin and almost girlish voice which in measured cadence gave vent to truths ringing with strength and beauty. Crowds of thousands materialised as if by magic and were kept spell-bound as it were in a dream by his wonderful personal magnetism.
We detrained in Bombay; there a meeting was arranged on the sea beach. We could hardly walk to the place through the living streams converging through the streets and lanes towards the chosen spot, automatically stopping all vehicular traffic for a time. It was a sight for the Gods to see: the awakening of a whole nation from its age-long sleep and inertia into conscious life of flaming aspiration.
Barindra Kumar Ghose
At the Surat Congress, Nationalist Party delegates openly clashed with the delegates of the Moderate Party, resulting in the suspension of the Congress. The next day the Nationalists held a separate conference, which was witnessed by Henry Nevinson, a correspondent for the Daily News of London. Nevinson recorded the following impression of Sri Aurobindo.
Grave and silent, I think without saying a single word Mr. Arabindo Ghose took the Chair, and sat unmoved, with far-off eyes, as one who gazes at futurity. In clear, short sentences, without eloquence or passion, Mr. Tilak spoke till the stars shone out and someone kindled a lantern at his side.
Towards the end of 1907, Nevinson interviewed Sri Aurobindo, whom he considered “the wisest and most attractive of the Extremist leaders”. Nevinson wrote two accounts of this interview; extracts from both are given below.
He was a youngish man, I should think still under thirty. Intent dark eyes looked from his thin, clear-cut face with a gravity that seemed immovable, but the figure and bearing were those of an English graduate....
But behind these simple means a deeper spirit was at work. Arabindo Ghose had already, I think, formed the project of developing out of the Congress, or in place of the Congress, a nationalist and democratic body that would prepare the country for self-government and, indeed, act within limits as a true Indian Parliament quite apart from the Anglo-Indian system....
There is a religious tone, a spiritual elevation, in such words very characteristic of Arabindo Ghose himself, and of all Bengali Nationalists, contrasted with the shrewd political judgment of Poona Extremists. In an age of supernatural religion Arabindo would have become what the irreligious mean by a fanatic. He was possessed by that concentrated vision, that limited and absorbing devotion. Like a horse in blinkers, he ran straight, regardless of everything except the narrow bit of road in front. But at the end of that road he saw a vision more inspiring and spiritual than any fanatic saw who rushed on death with Paradise in sight. Nationalism to him was far more than a political object or a means of material improvement. To him it was surrounded by a mist of glory, the halo that mediaeval saints beheld gleaming around the head of martyrs. Grave with intensity, careless of fate or opinion, and one of the most silent men I have known, he was of the stuff that dreamers are made of, but dreamers who will act their dream, indifferent to the means. “Nationalism”, he said, in a brief address delivered in Bombay, early in 1908 - “Nationalism is a religion that comes from God.”
Sri Aurobindo was undoubtedly the real editor of the Extremist paper, the Bande Mataram, but still remained at large, partly owing to the number of “prison editors” on his staff. He seemed under thirty. Intent eyes looked from his thin and clear-cut face, with a gravity that seemed immovable. Silence and gravity were his characteristics, and his deepest interest lay in religion or philosophy rather than in politics, as he afterwards showed by retiring to meditation in French Pondicherry, where he was visited by young Indians who listened to his words as to apostolic utterances almost divine. Even when I knew him I could describe him as possessed by that concentrated vision, the limited and absorbing devotion that mark the religious soul.
To him Nationalism was indeed a religion, surrounded by a mist of glory, like the halo that mediaeval saints beheld gleaming around the Holy Grail. He cared nothing whatever for political reforms or attempts to unite British and Indian in common prosperity. The worse the Government was, the better for the Nationalist cause. The Partition of Bengal was the greatest blessing that had ever happened for India. No other measure could have stirred Indian feeling so deeply, or helped so well to rouse the people from the lethargy of previous years, when, as he told me, “each generation had reduced Indians more and more to the condition of sheep and fatted calves.” Such was the man to whom I was naturally most attracted - the man who inspired official circles with the greatest alarm, because his influence, though least spoken of, was most profound.
After the Surat Congress, Sri Aurobindo went on a tour of Western India. On January 25 he stopped in Dhulia and spoke the next morning to the people of the town. The public enthusiasm created by his visit is indicated in the following report, prepared by the District Magistrate for the Bombay Presidency Police.
Mr Arvind Ghosh of Bande Mataram fame arrived in Dhulia yesterday by the 5p.m. train. Two pleaders, Messrs. Dev and Chhandorkar, had gone to Chalisgaon to meet him and bring him here. A great demonstration was made on his arrival to welcome him. He was garlanded by many. Songs were sung in his honour and the carriage was dragged by the school-boys. Pan supari and garlands were given every few paces. The procession lasted for two hours, the distance being only 1.5 miles. Shouts of Bande Mataram and Shri Shivaji ki jai were frequent. A few houses in the city were illuminated. The procession finished by torchlight.
This morning he gave a lecture at the Vijayanand Theatre. The theatre and compound was crowded - about two to three thousand men and boys being present. All the school-boys of Dhulia and all the pleaders were present. ‘Nationalist’ volunteers with their flags were present. Mr. Gadre, an ex-vakil, took the chair. The subject-matter of the lecture was swadeshi, boycott, swarajya and national education. I hear he was very moderate and reasonable in his speech, but I have not got the full reports yet.
He leaves, I hear, for Calcutta by the 6-10 p.m. train this evening.
District Magistrate, Dhulia
Two months after Sri Aurobindo’s arrest, his sister Sarojini issued a public appeal for contributions to a fund for his defence. At this time the editor of the Bengali
newspaper Basumati ran a long editorial in support of this effort.
The beloved son of the Mother, the unflinching devotee of the Mother’s creed, Srijut Arabinda Ghose is today in trouble, charged with a serious accusation before the King’s court.
Countrymen, will you remain indifferent? Have you no duty to do at this hour of Arabinda’s trial? ...
Arabinda has made the sacred land resound with the thunder of the new creed; Arabinda has renounced all desires for earthly pleasures and prosperity for your welfare; Arabinda has taken up a desireless way of life to preach the mantra of the Mother and has turned a sannyasi renouncing everything. That Arabinda is in trouble today. Shall you prove heartless, remain indifferent, and show to the world that you possess only the instinct of beasts?
Arabinda, the pioneer of the new idea, having renounced everything and made up his mind to sacrifice his life, has sounded the thunderous trumpet of the Mother’s mantra in India. The vivifying mantra which Arabinda has proclaimed is novel in India in her present chaotic, distracted and self-forgetful condition.
The patriotism which appeared to be merely an idle dream, has been transformed into a stern reality by the magic influence of Arabinda. He has made the desert fields of India moist and pleasant by making the mighty stream of patriotism flow through them. Arabinda has caused to be engraved on every Indian heart the fiery bija-mantra of the Mother. Arabinda is the giver of your mantra. O devoted worshipper of the Mother’s mantra, shall you actually remain idle at this fiery ordeal of your spiritual teacher?
Arabinda has taught us that the power of the will can conquer the world. The power of the country has not disappeared; it was only reposing and it is awaking now.... Arabinda has proclaimed in India, which appears a cremation ground, that the soul of the country was ever-awake, that the deathless, everlasting soul was indestructible, that the shava-sadhana, even on this cremation ground, was neither impossible nor impracticable. Slumbering India, through the vivifying mantra of the Mother, may again be converted into an awakened India.... Arabinda has said that in India, the land of dharma, dharma is indestructible. Arabinda has said: Awake, O Indians, take to dharma, place the image of the Mother on the throne of your heart; take to the supreme path of deliverance....
Arabinda has said: Let dharma be your very soul; let the Ganges of sympathy issue forth from the sacred Gomukhi of devotion to dharma; that sacred stream will deliver the thirty-three crores of men and women. Let the service of the country be enthroned in the inmost hearts of this spiritually-inclined people, let the fountain of the nectar of self-help be approached and then, O Indians, you will attain realisation!
Arabinda has taught us that in this world enthusiasm after langour, awakening after sleep and rise after fall are quite natural in the life of a nation. The devotee Arabinda has sounded the conch-shell of awakening in India, and the pulsation of an awakened India has been felt, the restlessness of a new awakening has been felt and the uprising of new hopes which rose so high as to overtop the normal limit of things. From the snow-capped white peaks of the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, the whole of India has been powerfully moved by the mighty flow of feelings and the pulsation of life….
Arabinda loves the Mother, loves his own country. The Motherland is his goddess, greater than heaven itself. Bande Mataram is the essence of his life, the bridge of nectar, the mantra of deliverance. Arabinda’s culture is unparalleled, his sacrifice is unequalled. There is no other devoted son of the Mother, no other disinterested Karma-yogin like him in India....
On the day when the renowned poet Rabindranath said with his heart full of admiration, “Accept, Arabinda, the obeisance of Rabindra”, the whole of Bengal resounded, “Accept, Arabinda, the obeisance of Bengal.” Countrymen, can the stream of that admiration be dried up at the touch of alarm? Is it impossible in India, inhabited by thirty-three crores of men and women, to make an attempt to save Arabinda, to free him from the disgrace of accusation?
We are destitute of bread, the goddess Lakshmi has deserted us; we are therefore miserly. But are we miserly in our soul, poor in our sympathy? No. It can never be so. In this new India, where patriotism holds sway and where the vow of desireless works has been taken, there will be no lack of money for Arabinda. A cowrie from each one of the crores of this starving population will, when collected together, make a heap of gold. May we not entertain that hope for Arabinda?
27 June 1908 Basumati
On 6 May 1909, Sri Aurobindo was acquitted of the charge of conspiracy. Below are extracts from four newspaper editorials written shortly after his release from Alipore Jail.
What Arabindo really did was to proclaim to the world the spiritual mission of Vedantism and he therefore gave a new turn to our political activities. It was his firm faith in religious principles and the ultimate triumph of his cause that enabled him to bear with patience and fortitude all the miseries to which he was subjected during his protracted trial. We hope our Indian brethren will try to follow his example as well as his precepts.
7 May 1909 Vande Mataram
The police thought that they had secured a big game by implicating a man of such unimpeachable character and sterling qualities as Babu Arabindo Ghose, but truth triumphed in the long run.
14 May 1909 Kal
Come then, O silent ascetic, in this auspicious welcome to you. Let us, sounding crores of conch-shells and singing songs of your glory from crores of throats, make the quarters reverberate! Come then, O Aurobindo, inaugurator of the new patriotic creed. Come, O saintly Aurobindo, who has seen the truth! Come, O Aurobindo, who is like a God. Come, O Aurobindo, who belong to India. Come, come, let crores of brothers and sisters in union welcome you home today!
15 May 1909 Basumati
When the sound of the foot-fall of that great man was heard at the solitary prison entrance, the prayers of the entire population of the country were, as it were, present there in an incorporeal shape to welcome him. The iron chains of prison could bring no disgrace on him: those iron chains have been converted into gold by having paid worship at the feet of this god-like guest, the people of the country, if they got even so little a part of it, will treasure it as a jewel for the head!
18 May 1909 Bangabandhu
After Sri Aurobindo’s acquittal, the Government again considered deporting him. Learning of this, Sri Aurobindo published in his weekly newspaper Karmayogin “An Open Letter to My Countrymen”. This letter is mentioned in the editorial comment below.
It is now seen how few are the noble souls who are prepared to sacrifice their all for the sake of national deliverance. One of these who has stood the test is Mr. Arabindo Ghose, whose letter to the Indian people shows that he stands undeterred by the threats of deportation hurled at him. Surely the regeneration of a nation that produces such noble minds must be near at hand.
9 August 1909 Arunodaya
In 1920 Dr Balkrishna Shivram Munje, a Nationalist leader of Nagpur, asked
Sri Aurobindo to preside over the annual session of the Indian National Congress, held in Nagpur that year. Sri Aurobindo replied:
Dear Dr. Munje,
As I have already wired to you, I find myself unable to accept your offer of the Presidentship of the Nagpur Congress. There are reasons even within the political field itself which in any case would have stood in my way.....
The central reason however is this that I am no longer first and foremost a politician, but have definitely commenced another kind of work with a spiritual basis, a work of spiritual, social, cultural and economic reconstruction of an almost revolutionary kind, and am even making or at least supervising a sort of practical or laboratory experiment in that sense which needs all the attention and energy that I can have to spare. It is impossible for me to combine political work of the current kind and this at the beginning. I should practically have to leave it aside, and this I cannot do, as I have taken it up as my mission for the rest of my life. This is the true reason of my inability to respond to your call.....
I may say that in any case I think you would be making a wrong choice in asking me to take Tilak’s place at your head. No one now alive in India, or at least no one yet known, is capable of taking that place, but myself least of all. I am an idealist to the marrow, and could only be useful when there is something drastic to be done, a radical or revolutionary line to be taken, (I do not mean revolutionary by violence) a movement with an ideal aim and direct method to be inspired and organized.....
... I am sorry to disappoint, but I have given the reasons that compel me and I cannot see how it is avoidable.
30 August 1920
Four eminent Indians have left eloquent tributes to Sri Aurobindo. Bipin Chandra Pal was Sri Aurobindo’s collaborator in Nationalist politics in Bengal between 1906 and 1910. Subhas Chandra Bose and Rash Behari Bose, two militant Nationalists, entered the political field after Sri Aurobindo had withdrawn from it. Rabindranath Tagore, the renowned poet-laureate and educationist, visited Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry in 1928 and described his impression of their meeting in a moving reflection.
BIPIN CHANDRA PAL
The youngest in age among those who stand in the forefront of the Nationalist propaganda in India, but in endowment, education, and character, perhaps, superior to them all - Aravinda seems distinctly marked out by Providence to play in the future of this movement a part not given to any of his colleagues and contemporaries.... His only care is for his country - the Mother, as he always calls her. His only recognised obligations are to her. Nationalism, at the best a concern of the intellect with some; at the lowest a political cry and aspiration with others, is with Aravinda a supreme passion of his soul. Few, indeed, have grasped the full force and meaning of the Nationalist ideal as Aravinda has done....
The call [of India] went to the heart of Aravinda. His own native Province called for him. It laid on him the vow of poverty. It offered him the yoke of the saviours of their people and the uplifters of humanity - the yoke of calumny, persecution, imprisonment and exile. Aravinda obeyed the Mother’s call, accepted her stern conditions, and cheerfully took up her chastening yoke. He gave up his place in Baroda, worth £560 a year, to take up the duties of Principal in the College started at Calcutta under the new National Council of Education at a bare subsistence allowance of £10 a month….
He went to Calcutta as an educationist. He knew that the foundations of national independence and national greatness must be laid in a strong and advanced system of national education.... Aravinda is an apostle of modern education....
... Wider fields of public usefulness were soon opened up for Aravinda. The National School was without a daily English Organ. A new paper was started. Aravinda was invited to join its staff. A joint-stock company was shortly floated to run it, and Aravinda became one of the directors. This paper - “Bande Mataram” - at once secured for itself a recognised position in Indian journalism. The hand of the master was in it, from the very beginning. Its bold attitude, its vigorous thinking, its clear ideas, its chaste and powerful diction, its scorching sarcasm and refined witticism, were unsurpassed by any journal in the country, either Indian or Anglo-Indian. It at once raised the tone of every Bengali paper, and compelled the admiration of even hostile Anglo-Indian editors. Morning after morning, not only Calcutta but the educated community almost in every part of the country, eagerly awaited its vigorous pronouncements on the stirring questions of the day…. It was a force in the country which none dared to ignore, however much they might fear or hate it, and Aravinda was the leading spirit, the central figure, in the new journal. The opportunities that were denied him in the National College he found in the pages of the “Bande Mataram,” and from a tutor of a few youths he thus became the teacher of a whole nation.
SUBHAS CHANDRA BOSE
In my undergraduate days Arabindo Ghose was easily the most popular leader in Bengal, despite his voluntary exile and absence since 1909. His was a name to conjure with. He had sacrificed a lucrative career in order to devote himself to politics. On the Congress platform he had stood up as a champion of left-wing thought and a fearless advocate of independence at a time when most of the leaders, with their tongue in their cheeks, would talk only of colonial self-government. He had undergone incarceration with perfect equanimity. His close association with Lokmanya B. G. Tilak had given him an all-India popularity, while rumour and official allegation had given him an added prestige in the eyes of the generation by connecting him with his younger brother Barindra Kumar Ghose, admittedly the pioneer of the terrorist movement. Last but not least, a mixture of spirituality and politics had given him a halo of mysticism and made his personality more fascinating to those who were religiously inclined. When I came to Calcutta in 1913, Arabindo was already a legendary figure. Rarely have I seen people speak of a leader with such rapturous enthusiasm and many were the ancedotes of this great man....
As a College student it was not the mysticism surrounding Arabindo’s name which attracted me, but his writings and also his letters. Arabindo was then editing a monthly journal called Arya in which he expounded his philosophy. He used also to write to certain select people in Bengal. Such letters would pass rapidly from hand to hand, especially in circles interested in spirituality-cum-politics. In our circle somebody would read the letter aloud and the rest of us would enthuse over it. In one such letter Arabindo wrote, “We must be dynamos of the divine electricity so that when each of us stands up, thousands around may be full of the light, full of bliss and Ananda.” We felt convinced that spiritual enlightenment was necessary for effective nation service.
But what made a lasting appeal to me was no such flashy utterances. I was impressed by his deeper philosophy. ... Vivekananda had no doubt spoken of the need of Jnana (knowledge), Bhakti (devotion and love) and Karma (selfless action) in developing all-round character, but there was something original and unique in Arabindo’s conception of a synthesis of Yoga. He tried to show how by a proper use of the different Yogas one could rise step by step to the highest truth. It was so refreshing, so inspiring, to read Arabindo’s writings as a contrast to the denunciation of knowledge and action by the later-day Bengal Vaishnavas….
Swami Vivekananda died in 1902 and the religio-philosophical movement was continued through the personality of Arabindo Ghose. Arabindo did not keep aloof from politics. On the contrary, he plunged into the thick of it, and by 1908 became one of the foremost political leaders. In him, spirituality was wedded to politics. Arabindo retired from politics in 1909 to devote himself exclusively to religion....
A life of sacrifice to start with, plain living and high thinking, whole-hearted devotion to the country’s cause - all these are highly enchanting to my imagination and inclination. Further, the very principle of serving under an alien bureaucracy is intensely repugnant to me. The path of Arabindo Ghose is to me more noble, more inspiring, more lofty, more unselfish, though more thorny than the path of Ramesh Dutt.
Besides, the first step towards equipping oneself for public service is to sacrifice all worldly interests - to burn one’s boats as it were - and devote oneself wholeheartedly to the national cause…. The illustrious example of Arabindo Ghose looms large before my vision. I feel that I am ready to make the sacrifice which that example demands of me.
Arabindo Ghose is to me my spiritual guru. To him and to his mission I have dedicated my life and soul. My decision is final and unchangeable.
For a long time I had a strong desire to meet Aurobindo Ghosh. It has just been fulfilled. I feel that I must write down the thoughts that have come to my mind….
Time after time, man must discover new proofs to support the faith in his own greatness, the faith that gives him freedom in the Infinite. It is realised anew every time that we find a man whose soul is luminously seen through the translucent atmosphere of a perfect life. Not the one who has the strength of an intellect that reasons, a will that plans, the energy that works, but he whose life has become one with the Word, from whose being is breathed Om, the response of the everlasting yes….
We badly need today for the realisation of our human dignity a person who will preach respect for man in his completeness….We should never be allowed to forget that spiritual perfection comprehends all the riches of life and gives them a great unity of meaning.
While my mind was occupied with such thoughts, the French steamer on which I was travelling touched Pondicherry and I came to meet Aurobindo. At the very first sight I could realise that he had been seeking for the soul and had gained it, and through this long process of realisation had accumulated within him a silent power of inspiration. His face was radiant with an inner light and his serene presence made it evident to me that his soul was not crippled and cramped to the measure of some tyrannical doctrine, which takes delight in inflicting wounds upon life. He, I am sure, never had his lessons from the Christian monks of the ascetic Europe, revelling in the pride of that self-immolation which is a twin sister of self-aggrandisement joined back to back facing opposite directions.
I felt that the utterance of the ancient Hindu Rishi spoke from him of that equanimity which gives the human soul its freedom of entrance into the All. I said to him, “You have the Word and we are waiting to accept it from you. India will speak through your voice to the world, ‘Hearken to me.’”
In her earlier forest home Sakuntala had her awakenment of life in the restlessness of her youth. In the later hermitage she attained the fulfilment of her life. Years ago I saw Aurobindo in the atmosphere of his earlier heroic youth and I sang to him,
“Aurobindo, accept the salutation from Rabindranath.”
Today I saw him in a deeper atmosphere of a reticent richness of wisdom and again sang to him in silence,
“Aurobindo, accept the salutation from Rabindranath.”
29 May 1928
RASH BEHARI BOSE
Salute to Sri Aurobindo
This is a salute to him to whose inspiring call we owe the birth of positive Indian nationalism. Sri Aurobindo is the foremost of those seers of Indian nationalism, who are still hale and hearty and due to whose burning speech and thundering pen, patriotism came to have a fresh and profound meaning for modern Indians. To him this salute is offered.
If spiritual culture is granted to be the soul of the Indian nation, then Sri Aurobindo is a living embodiment of it. He has succeeded in measuring the depths of its mysteries, which are as old as the Indian nation itself. Today he is seen leading a life of silence in communion with God, having fully realised that silence is the precursor of mighty creation. This salute is offered to him.
Sri Aurobindo’s faith and ways of searching after the ultimate truth accord well with the faith and ways of the noblest of Sufis, the mystics of Islam. And in the eyes of hundreds of millions of Hindus he is a Yogi of a very high order. Thus, in him is seen harmonized the essence of those two noble faiths, Hinduism and Islam, on the balanced fusion of whose spirits depends the rejuvenation of future Indian culture and the re-establishment of the future Indian State. This salute is offered to him.
Sri Aurobindo has long realised the true mission of India. According to him a free India would serve the world by preaching to it the great heritage of her spiritual culture. Today Mother India stands to be free from foreign bondage. The time seems to be ripe for Sri Aurobindo to come forward, as he did decades ago, and give us lead in the fulfilment of Mother India’s national mission. This salute is offered to him with a prayer that he may respond to the call of the Mother.
This salute is offered to him in the time-honoured Indian custom of asking for the blessings of the elders and pioneers before undertaking a great and noble task. May he be pleased with my fresh determination to do my bit in the cause of making India of the Indians and Asia of the Asiatics.
I salute you, Sri Aurobindo. Bande Mataram!
Tokyo, 11 March 1942
* Courtesy: Sri Aurobindo and the Freedom of India, 1995
REASONS FOR LEAVING POLITICS*
I may... say that I did not leave politics because I felt I could do nothing more there; such an idea was very far from me. I came away because I did not want anything to interfere with my Yoga and because I got a very distinct adesa in the matter. I have cut connection entirely with politics, but before I did so I knew from within that the work I had begun there was destined to be carried forward, on lines I had foreseen, by others, and that the ultimate triumph of the movement I had initiated was sure without my personal action or presence. There was not the least motive of despair or sense of futility behind my withdrawal.
At Pondicherry, from  onwards Sri Aurobindo’s practice of Yoga became more and more absorbing. He dropped all participation in any public political activity, refused more than one request to preside at sessions of the restored Indian National Congress and made a rule of abstention from any public utterance of any kind not connected with his spiritual activities or any contribution of writings or articles except what he wrote afterwards in the Arya.** For some years he kept up some private communication with the revolutionary forces he had led, through one or two individuals, but this also he dropped after a time and his abstention from any kind of participation in politics became complete. As his vision of the future grew clearer, he saw that the eventual independence of India was assured by the march of forces of which he became aware, that Britain would be compelled by the pressure of Indian resistance and by the pressure of international events to concede independence and that she was already moving towards that eventuality with whatever opposition and reluctance. He felt that there would be no need of armed insurrection and that the secret preparation for it could be dropped without injury to the Nationalist cause, although the revolutionary spirit had to be maintained and would be maintained intact. His own personal intervention in politics would therefore be no longer indispensable.
** Arya, the monthly philosophical review in which all of Sri Aurobindo’s major prose works were first published between 1914 and 1921.
* Courtesy: Sri Aurobindo and the Freedom of India, 1995
My aim is to create a centre of spiritual life which shall serve as a means of bringing down the higher consciousness and making it a power not merely for ‘salvation’ but for a divine life upon earth.