Sri Aurobindo in Bengal, Part 13

“The aspiration towards freedom has for some time been working in some hearts, but they relied on their own strength for the creation of the necessary conditions and they failed, and of those who worked, some gave up the work, others persisted, a few resorted to tapasyā, the effort to awake in themselves a higher Power to which they might call for help. The tapasyā of those last had its effect unknown to themselves, for they were pouring out a selfless aspiration into the world and the necessary conditions began to be created. When these conditions were far advanced, the second class who worked on began to think that it was the result of their efforts, but the secret springs were hidden from them. They were merely the instruments through which the purer aspiration of their old friends fulfilled itself.

If the conditions of success are to be yet more rapidly brought about, it must be by yet more of the lovers of freedom withdrawing themselves from the effort to work through the lower self. The aspiration of these strong souls purified from self will create fresh workers in the field, infuse the great desire for freedom in the heart of the nation and hasten the growth of the necessary material strength.

What is needed now is a band of spiritual workers whose tapasyā will be devoted to the liberation of India for the service of humanity…. We need an institution in which under the guidance of highly spiritual men workers will be trained for every field, workers for self-defence, workers for arbitration, for sanitation, for famine relief, for every species of work which is needed to bring about the necessary conditions for the organisation of Swaraj. If the country is to be free, it must first organise itself so as to be able to maintain its freedom. The winning of freedom is an easy task, the keeping of it is less easy. The first needs only one tremendous effort in which all the energies of the country must be concentrated; the second requires a united, organised and settled strength. If these two conditions are satisfied, nothing more is needed, for all else is detail and will inevitably follow. For the first condition the requisite is a mighty selfless faith and aspiration filling the hearts of men as in the day of Mazzini. For the second, India, which has no Piedmont to work out her salvation, requires to organise her scattered strengths into a single and irresistible whole….”

— “The Need of the Moment”, Bande Mataram

The above extract from the Bande Mataram, like those we have already quoted before, spotlights the essential nature of the politics of which Sri Aurobindo was the pioneer in Bengal, “…lovers of freedom withdrawing themselves from the effort to work through the lower self.” He called upon the national workers to lay a spiritual foundation in their nature and make of their work for Mother India a consecrated service of the Divine and an obedient following of His Will when it revealed itself in them. “A band of spiritual workers whose tapasyā will be devoted to the liberation of India for the service of humanity.” It is again the same recurring burden of the song of Sri Aurobindo’s soul — India rising for humanity. As each individual worker must rise above his lower normal self in order to qualify for the service of Mother India, so the nation must rise from its lower collective self so as to be able to serve a supra-national entity, humanity. And, as in the case of the individual, so in the case of the nation, service of humanity is the only true service in the present age, not for the sake of humanity itself as such, but because spiritual liberation of humanity is the Will of God. God is raising India for the purpose of fulfilling this epochal aim.

Before we take up the thread of our narrative, let us give a gist of what Swami Pratyagatmananda (his pre-sannyasa name was Sri Pramathanath Mukhopadhyaya) has been kind enough to send in the form of his reminiscences of Sri Aurobindo during his contact with him in the National College where they were colleagues.[1]

“The beginning of the present century was a period of epochal transitions. Not only in Maharashtra and Bengal, which were the leaders of the revolutionary political thought in India, but in all provinces of India, there was the stirring of a new life and an awakening to the imperative need of an all-round development of man, not confined to one or a few, but spreading to all spheres of national existences. And it was not only in India. There was the same ferment, the same mighty awakening in the mass, whose natural rhythm was revolution all over the world. Man yearned for freedom, for an unhampered growth of his whole personality, for progress towards an integrated and harmonious life, individual and collective. Synthesis, integrality, harmony, and unity were the goal towards which humanity aspired and advanced. In the poet’s dream it figured as the emergence of the universal man, in the mind of the spiritual seeker it meant the attainment of Swarajya, and in the vision of the Rishi it was the Integral Yoga destined to transform half-animal man into a dynamic divinity.

“In Indian politics there were three men embodying in various degrees this urge and yearning — Tilak, Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya, and Sri Aurobindo. Of these, Tilak died before he could realise his dream, and the sun of fiery Brahmabandhab’s life set before he had completed his worship of the Mother. Only Sri Aurobindo lived to realise his vision of Purna Swaraj, of the integral freedom and perfection of man on earth. We get a view of his integral vision in his Essays on the Gita, The Synthesis of Yoga and The Life Divine.

“In the beginning I sought to recognise in Sri Aurobindo the Vedic Agni in its dual aspect — the blazing force of Rudra and the serene force of the Brahmic consciousness, radiant with supernal knowledge. When he started his work in the heaving politics of Bengal, it was the blazing, fiery aspect of Rudra that stood out in front. But those who associated with him in the National College saw his serene figure, glowing with a mellow lustre. These two aspects were fused into one in Sri Aurobindo as in the third eye of Shiva.

“From among the days when I came into close contact with Sri Aurobindo, I can single out two in my memory: One day there was a meeting of the teachers of the National College. Sri Aurobindo was in the chair, his body framed in august silence. We always knew him to be reticent and reserved in speech. The subject discussed in the meeting was: which should be the days of national festival? Somebody proposed that Bankim Day should be one of them, and all of us gave it an enthusiastic support. But the support which came from Sri Aurobindo had the benign vibrant blare of the trumpet of Shiva.

“Another day. It was the day of Saraswati Puja. We were all squatting in the courtyard. Sri Aurobindo sat next to me, his heavenly body almost touching mine. The Vaishnavic music of Kirtan was playing. It moved me so profoundly that I could not restrain my tears — they flowed in an incessant stream of ecstasy. But Sri Aurobindo sat, silent and immobile, like Shiva in trance. Even now when I shut my eyes, his gracious, tranquil, luminous face swims up into my vision. I, had known him as a Jnana Yogi and a Karma Yogi. But on that day, as if in a flash of intuition, I beheld him as a Purna Yogi, lapped in the Yogic sleep of deep meditation. And, all of a sudden, an appeal of vibrant poignancy swept out of the deepest chord of my soul: ‘Tell me, when wilt thou reveal thyself as the living, transcendent embodiment of the Purna (integral) Yoga and the integral liberation? Come, manifest thyself, India, bent and humbled, calls for thy advent.’ To the image of that resplendent divinity my heart chanted forth a hymn: ‘I bow to thee, Sri Aurobindo, I salute thee.’”

To resume our story. After his return from Surat via Nagpur, Sri Aurobindo delivered a few speeches in Calcutta and some of its suburbs. On the 8th April, 1908, he addressed a meeting at Chetla near Chandernagore.[2] On the 10th he spoke at Panti’s Math in Calcutta on the subject of the United Congress. He pleaded for restoring unity to the National Congress which had split at Surat. But the Calcutta Congress resolutions must be the basis of the unity. He was not prepared to sacrifice the Calcutta resolutions as a price for patching up the differences between the Moderates and the Nationalists. On the 12th he delivered a speech at Baruipur, a sub-division town near Calcutta, where he said among other things: “…We in India fell under the influence of the foreigners’ Maya which completely possessed our souls… we looked to England as our exemplar and took her as our saviour. And all this was Maya and bondage…. We helped them to destroy what life there was in India…. It is only through repression and suffering that this Maya can be dispelled. Do not be afraid of obstacles in your path, it does not matter how great the forces are that stand in your way, God commands you to be free and you must be free…. It is not our work but that of something mightier that compels us to go on until all bondage is swept away and India stands free before the world.” He then went to Kishoreganj in the district of Mymensingh and spoke at the Conference of Palli Samity (Village Worker’s Association). We can quote a few sentences from that speech which reads so topical, as if it were delivered only yesterday: “…foreign rule can never be for the good of a nation, never work for its true progress and life, but must always work towards its disintegration and death…. We in India had our own instruments of life and growth; we had the self-dependent village; we had the Zamindar as the link between the village units and the central governing body, and the central governing body itself was one in which the heart of the nation beat… If we are to survive as a nation we must restore the centres of strength which are natural and necessary to our growth, and the first of these, the basis of all the rest, the old foundation of Indian life and secret of Indian vitality was the self-dependent and self-sufficient village organism. If we are to organise Swaraj we must base it on the village. But we must at the same time take care to avoid the mistake which did much in the past to retard our national growth[3]. The village must not in our new national life be isolated as well as self-sufficient, but must feel itself bound-up with the life of its neighbouring units, living with them in a common group for common purposes; each group again must feel itself part of the life of the district, living in the district unity, so each district must not be engrossed in its own separate existence but feel itself a subordinate part of the single life of the province, and the province in its turn of the single life of the country. Such is the plan of reconstruction we have taken in hand, but to make it a healthy growth and not an artificial construction, we must begin at the bottom and work up to the apex. The village is the cell of the national body and the cell-life must be healthy and developed. Swaraj begins from the village…. There may have been a time in history when it was enough that a few classes… should be awake. But the organisation of the modern nation depends on the awakening of the political sense in the mass. This is the age of the people, the million, the democracy…. The work of the village Samity will be to make the masses feel Swaraj in the village, Swaraj in the group of villages, Swaraj in the district, Swaraj in the nation. They cannot immediately rise to the conception of Swaraj in the nation, they must be trained to it through the perception of Swaraj in the village. The political education of the masses is impossible unless you organise the village Samity.” He says that “Unless we organise the united life of the village we cannot bridge over the gulf between the educated and the masses.” How much enlightened and inspired we all felt when these very words written by Sri Aurobindo in 1908 echoed on the lips of Mahatma Gandhi in 1918 onwards!

Dark clouds began now to gather on the political horizon. Violent, remorseless repression of the freedom-workers was just biding its time for an organised sweep. Sri Aurobindo knew what was brewing in the atmosphere and heard the rumble of the approaching storm.[4] He decided to move from 23 Scott’s Lane to another house. All of a sudden an opportunity offered itself. Monoranjan Guha Thakurta, a leading journalist and nationalist worker, had been finding himself hard put to it to run his Bengali paper, Navashakti. When Sri Aurobindo came to know of it, he at once advised Monoranjan to entrust the charge of Navashakti to Abinash Chandra Battacharya, who had been the manager of the Yugantar, and Sri Aurobindo’s trusted follower and house keeper. Abinash transferred the charge of the Yugantara to another man, and Sri Aurobindo and himself lost no time in moving to the house where Navashakti had its office, i.e. 48 Grey Street. This was a providential move, for it turned the whole course of the Alipore Bomb Case and saved Sri Aurobindo from the trap so tactfully laid for him by the British bureaucracy.

On the 30th April, two young men of the revolutionary party, Khudiram and Prafulla Chaki, were detailed to Mazaffarpur to throw a bomb at Mr. Kingsford, the District Magistrate, against whom the whole country had a bitter resentment for his drastic persecution of the nationalist press and the brutal flogging of a very young boy in the previous year when he was the Chief Presidency Magistrate in Calcutta. “In attempting to kill Mr. Kingsford, Mrs. and Miss Kennedy were murdered by a bomb thrown at their carriage, while they were coming out of their club, by a boy named Khudiram Bose.”[5] The opportune moment, eagerly-awaited by the Government, had at last arrived. The storm of repression Sri Aurobindo had foreseen burst upon the national workers. And Sri Aurobindo had to bear the brunt of it. He was considered the arch-culprit, the one leader whose personal magnetism, fiery writings, and extraordinary intelligence and organisational genius were alone responsible for the reckless daring and spirit of sacrifice exhibited by the young revolutionaries. “Acting on more definite information the police obtained search warrants and on the early morning of 2nd May 1908, simultaneously searched several places in and about Calcutta.”[6] We shall hear from Sri Aurobindo himself a very interesting account of the search of his house and his arrest.


[1] The Swamiji is an acknowledged authority on Indian philosophies, and particularly on Tantra. He collaborated with Sir John Woodroffe in his masterly exposition of the basic principles and practices of Tantric sadhana. He is equally at home in philosophy and science, and shows a true insight into the fundamental truths of both the branches of knowledge.

[2] Life of Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani.

[3] Though Sri Aurobindo’s yogic vision embraced both the past and the future, it was as unerring in the detection of the defects and deficiencies of the past as in the perception of the potentialities of the future.

[4] “The times are thickening already with the shadow of a great darkness…. The fair hopes of an orderly and peaceful evolution of self-government, which the first energies of the new movement had fostered, are gone for ever. Revolution, bare and grim, is preparing her battlefield, mowing down the centres of order which were evolving a new cosmos and building up the materials of a gigantic downfall and a mighty new creation. We could have wished it otherwise, but God’s will be done.” — 29th April, 1908.

[5] The Alipore Bomb Trial by Bejoy Krishna Bose (1922).

[6] The Alipore Bomb Trial by Bejoy Krishna Bose (1922).

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