Sri Aurobindo in Bengal, Part 2

“We do not affect to believe, therefore, that we can discover any solution of these great problems or any sure line of policy by which the tangled issues of so immense a movement can be kept free from the possibility of inextricable anarchy in the near future. Anarchy will come. This peaceful and inert nation is going to be rudely awakened from a century of passivity and flung into a world-shaking turmoil out of which it will come transformed, strengthened and purified.[1] There is a chaos which is the result of inertia and the prelude of death, and this was the state of India during the last century. The British peace of the last fifty years was like the quiet green grass and flowers covering the corruption of a sepulcher. There is another chaos which is the violent reassertion of life, and it is this chaos into which India is being hurried today. We cannot repine at the change, but are rather ready to welcome the pangs which help the storm which purifies, the destruction which renovates.

“One thing only we are sure of, and one thing we wear as a life-belt which will buoy us up on the waves of the chaos that is coming on the land. This is the fixed and unalterable faith in an over-ruling Purpose which is raising India once more from the dead, the fixed and unalterable intention to fight for the renovation of her ancient life and glory.[2] Swaraj is the life-belt. Swaraj the pilot, Swaraj the star of guidance. If a great social revolution is necessary, it is because the ideal of Swaraj cannot be accomplished by a nation bound to forms which are no longer expressive of the ancient immutable Self of India. She must change the rags of the past so that her beauty may be redeemed. She must alter her bodily appearance so that her soul may be newly expressed. We need not fear that any change will turn her into a secondhand Europe. Her individuality is too mighty for such a degradation, her soul too calm and self-sufficient for such a surrender… She will create her own conditions, find out the secret of order which Socialism in vain struggles to find, and teach the peoples of the earth once more how to harmonise the world and the spirit.[3]

“If we realise this truth, if we perceive in all that is happening a great and momentous transformation necessary not only for us but for the whole world, we shall fling ourselves without fear or misgivings into the times which are upon us. India is the Guru of the nations, the physician of the human soul in its profounder maladies; she is destined once more to new-mould the life of the world and restore the peace of the human spirit. But Swaraj is the necessary condition of her work, and before she can do the work, she must fulfil the condition.”[4]

The above extract mirrors the vision, the faith, the hope, and the courage with which Sri Aurobindo flung himself into the turmoil of the Indian political movement in 1906. He did not take the plunge, impelled only by an intense patriotic ardour. His spiritual vision had foreseen the drift and significance of the many-sided renaissance[5] that was taking place in India, and of which the revolution in Bengal was but a political prelude. That was why he did not fear the chaos that appeared to be imminent. For, he knew that it was not the chaos of inertia, which leads to disintegration, but the chaos of the resurgent forces of regeneration, the transitional chaos of the aggressive self-assertion of a rejuvenated national life. He welcomed, and helped with full knowledge, the revolution that was sweeping down upon the country, to chum a new dawn out of the heaving gloom of the moment. He saw with his Yogic vision God’s purpose writ large upon the foaming waves of the national revolution,[6] and collaborated with it in its realisation. Unswayed by the ignorant human notions of good and evil, undismayed by the hurtling forces of destruction and confusion, undeterred by the misunderstandings of his colleagues and followers, firm in his steps and careless of fate and consequence, he followed the inner Gleam wherever it led him, with the utter self-abandon of a child. It was the self-abandon whose mighty potentialities Sri Ramakrishna had realised and illustrated so marvellously in his epoch-making life. Sri Aurobindo visualised the destiny of India, of which he speaks in the above extract, and became an instrument in God’s hand for its moulding, at first, through politics, and later, through spirituality. He fought for the political freedom of India, but only as a step and means to the realisation of the spiritual mission of her soul — the regeneration of humanity, and its evolutionary ascent from the mind to the Supermind. His vision was never confined to the political and economic, the cultural and moral freedom and greatness of his motherland; it embraced the whole world. Seen in this perspective, his whole life appears to be of one piece, a gradual, though at times sudden, unfolding of a single aim and purpose — the steady pursuit and accomplishment of a single mission.

The official History of the Congress by Pattabhi Sitaramayya gives in figurative language a true estimate of Sri Aurobindo’s political life in Bengal from 1906 to 1909. But it does not — because it could not — give any idea of the wider and deeper implications even of his political work, which was fraught with incalculable possibilities for the world.

“Aurobindo shone for years as the brightest star on the Indian firmament. His association with the National Education movement at its inception lent dignity and charm to the cause…. Aurobindo’s genius shot up like a meteor. He was on the high skies only for a time. He flooded the land from Cape to Mount with the effulgence of his light.”

We have based our study of the political life of this “brightest star on the Indian firmament” on the fact, borne out by the unbroken tenor of his whole life and the essential unity of his vision, thought and action, that his politics was the politics of a Yogi, and not that of a mere politician. And we shall continue our study on the same line, in the confident hope, amply supported by the verdict of contemporary leaders, whom we shall presently quote, and sufficient circumstantial evidence, that it alone can lead us to a correct explanation of what has remained an unsolved riddle to the world, so far as Sri Aurobindo’s political life is concerned. A polychrome personality, preaching at once passive resistance and armed insurrection, giving different counsels to different colleagues and followers, and equally encouraging even contradictory aims and inclinations in them, but infallibly inspiring them all with a fervent love of Mother India, and a passionate zeal for self-sacrifice in the cause of her freedom — such a calm, complex and masterful personality can be only that of a Yogi. It cannot be assumed or feigned. If it is a mystery and a paradox, or even a farrago of glaring inconsistencies to our rational mind, it is an undeniable truth and fact of spiritual experience. Vivekananda, if he had been alive at the time, would have easily appreciated it. The intuitive insight of Rabindranath Tagore, Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya, and Sister Nivedita clearly perceived it.

Human nature is too complex and diverse, the path of its evolution too mazy and meandering, and the world-forces too tangled and conflicting to permit of a single rigid line of thought and action to lead to any enduring result. Our mind sees only one clear-cut way, and pursues it between its blinkers with a dogmatic faith. But the Yogi commands a total view of the flowing continuum, and has the plasticity to vary his thought and action with the varying trends of its complex operation. He moves in tune with the universal movement even when he concentrates on a limited objective, because he sees with the eye of the Infinite. Not mind-made laws, but the Will of the overruling Providence directs his steps. If he appears to act as an agent of destruction, like Parashurama, or Sri Krishna in Kurukshetra, it is only to clear the path to a renewal and reconstruction. If he appears to blink at bloodshed, it is only in the interest of the creation of a nobler strain of it, and for laying the foundations of a more free and fruitful peace. His apparent inconsistencies spring from his superhuman capacity for acting variously in varying circumstances, and meeting every contingency with the serenity of an inexhaustible resourcefulness. He acts not for transient success and flattering results, but for the fulfilment of the Divine Purpose, in which alone lies the ultimate harmony and happiness of the human race.

We have already quoted extensively from Bepin Chandra Pal who speaks of Sri Aurobindo as the “master”, and as “marked out by Providence to play in the future of this (national) movement a part not given to any of his colleagues and contemporaries”; and of his nationalism as “the supreme passion of his soul”. He further says, “Few, indeed, have grasped the full force and meaning of the Nationalist ideal as Aravinda has done…. By the verdict of his countrymen, Aravinda stands today among these favoured sons of God….” Tilak, as we have seen, paid a glowing tribute to him when he said that there was “none equal to Aravinda in self-sacrifice, knowledge and sincerity” and that “he writes from divine inspiration”. Lajpat Rai speaks of Sri Aurobindo as a nationalist leader in the following words: “…a quiet unostentatious, young Hindu, who was till then obscure, holding his soul in patience and waiting for opportunities to send currents of the greatest strength into the nation’s system. He was gathering energy….” All these are, indeed, remarkably perceptive appreciations of the nature of Sri Aurobindo’s political leadership. But the highest appreciation and warmest homage came from the immortal poet Rabindranath Tagore, who later achieved world renown as a Nobel-Laureate, and from Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya, the fiery champion of Hinduism and militant Nationalism in Bengal, who had made a profound impression on Rabindranath and Bepin Pal, and helped the former in organising his Shantiniketan as an eductional institution, modelled on the ideals of ancient India. Rabindranath, who was much older, and more experienced in literary and political matters — in fact, all those mentioned above were older than Sri Aurobindo — wrote a poem on Sri Aurobindo hailing him as the “voice incarnate of India’s soul”:

“Rabindranath, О Aurobindo, bows to thee!
О friend, my country’s friend, О voice incarnate, free,
Of India’s soul! No soft renown doth crown thy lot,
Nor pelf or careless comfort is for thee; thou’st sought
No petty bounty, petty dole;…
In watchfulness thy soul
Hast thou ever held for boundless full perfection’s birth
For which, all night and day, the god in man on earth
Doth strive and strain austerely…
The fiery messenger that with the lamp of God
Hath come — where is the king who can with chain or rod
Chastise him?…

Moved by the soul-stirring articles of Sri Aurobindo in the pages of the Bande Mataram and discerning in them the spiritual genius of the writer, Brahmabandhab wrote: “Have you ever seen Aurobindo, the lotus of immaculate whiteness — the hundred-petalled lotus in full bloom in India’s Manasarovar?… Our Aurobindo is unique in the world. In him shines the divine glory of Sattwa in snow-white purity. Vast and great is he — vast in the amplitude of his heart, and great in the magnanimity of his Swadharma as a Hindu. You will not find his peer in the three worlds — such a whole and genuine man, fire-charged like the thunder, and yet as graceful and soft as a lotus-leaf, rich in knowledge, and poised in meditation.[7] In order to free his motherland of the chains of slavery, he has ripped away the meshes of the Maya of Western civilisation, renounced the desires and pleasures of this world, and as a true son of Mother India, devoted himself to editing the paper, Bande Mataram.”

A strikingly sensitive evaluation of Sri Aurobindo’s political work comes from an ex-professor of philosophy at the Baroda College, M.A. Buch, M.A., Ph.D., who writes in one of his books, Rise and Growth of Indian Militant Nationalism:

“The most typical representative of Bengal Nationalism, in its most intense metaphysical and religious form, was Aravindo Ghosh. Nationalism with him is not a political or economic cry; it is the innermost hunger of his whole soul for the rebirth in him and through men like him, in the whole of India, of the ancient culture of Hindusthan in its pristine purity and nobility. He was an intellectual thinker of the highest type, and an accomplished and versatile scholar; but his profound scholarship and his keen and penetrating logic were subordinated to the master passion of his soul, the mystic yearning to realise himself in his God, in his country….

“The extraordinary fervour — the zeal of a new nationalism — came upon Aravindo Ghosh like a divine frenzy…. This nationalism is not a trick of the intellect; it is an attitude of the heart, of the soul; it springs from the deepest part of our nature which intellect can never fathom…. The nationalism of Aravinda Ghosh was a burning religious emotion, the voice of God in man, the invincible demand on the part of the great Indian spiritual culture for expression through the reawakened soul to the world. The full meaning and force of this cry can never be perfectly intelligible, translatable into the language of common sense…. It is the unutterable shriek of the political mystic, it is the call of the Beloved; it has simply to be obeyed.[8] The supreme regeneration which India demands can only come from this supreme call of the Motherland — so deep, so religious, so passionate that it carries all before it….”

Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual genius and the mystical character of his patriotism are thus admitted on all hands. Almost all the great leaders of the time perceived something of the glowing spiritual fire and dynamis of his personality, and hailed him with one voice as “the brightest star on the political firmament of India”, and the “voice incarnate, free, of India’s soul.” All felt in his presence, and recognised in his writings and utterances, the mystic spell of the born prophet of the spiritual rebirth of India. His soul’s love for all men, equally embracing the high and the low, the virtuous and the sinner; his magnetic attraction; his habitual silence pulsing with his accumulating Yogic power, and infusing it into the soul of the nation; his tranquil vision scanning the distant horizons[9]; and his absolute surrender to the Divine Light that directed his steps[10], marked him out, even in those days of hectic agitation and menacing anarchy, as one destined to leave an indelible stamp upon the history of mankind. Youngest in age among the leaders, he was honoured and respected even by the oldest in wisdom. Shy of publicity, he was thrust upon the presidential chair even where political giants like Tilak, Bepin Pal, and Lajpat Rai strode the rostrum. His humility and self-effacement served as a crystalline channel for the Light and Force of the Divine to stream upon his travailing country.


[1] Italics are ours.

[2] Italics are ours.

[3] Italics are ours.

[4] From Bande Mataram of 8.3.1908.

[5] Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda had prophesied it.

[6] Indian nationalism has been “much more than the agitation of political coteries. It is the revival of an historical tradition, the liberation of the soul of a people.” — Ramsay MacDonald.

[7] Italics are ours.

[8] Italics are ours.

[9] “She (India) is destined once more to new-mould the life of the world and restore the peace of the human spirit.” — This has been the constant burden of his message right from the days of his Baroda life to the last day of his earthly existence.

[10] We have already quoted from his confidential letters to his wife in which he speaks of his being moved and guided by the Divine. His four outstanding experiences, which came to him unexpectedly, in Bombay, Baroda and Kashmir, also confirm our standpoint.

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