Sri Aurobindo in Bengal, Part 20

In the first week of August, 1909, Sri Aurobindo delivered a speech at Kumartuli, a district of Calcutta. He said that he was not very enthusiastic about saying the same things again and again like the stump orators. What he spoke was only in the hope that some of the things he said might go to the hearts of his countrymen and that he might see some effect of his speeches in their action….

“…On their fidelity to Swadeshi, to Boycott, to passive resistance rested the hope of a peaceful and spiritual salvation. On that it depended whether India would give the example, unprecedented in history, of a revolution worked out by moral force and peaceful pressure.”

On the 7th August, there was a festival celebrated in Calcutta, and presided over by Sj. Bhupendranath Bose. Writing on this celebration in the Karmayogin of the 14th August, Sri Aurobindo said, “…Even in these few years the Ganapati and Shivaji festivals, instituted by the far-seeing human sympathy and democratic instinct of Mr. Tilak have done much to reawaken and solidify the national feeling of Maharashtra and we can all feel what a stimulus to the growth and permanence of the movement we have found in the celebrations of the 7th August and the 16th October[1]. They are to us what sacred days are to the ordinary religions. The individual religious man can do without them, collective religion cannot. These are the sacred days in the religion of Nationalism, the worship of God the Mother.”

Sri Aurobindo started a new weekly paper in Bengali, Dharma, on the 23rd August, 1909. Its editorials were headed by the famous verse of the Gita: “Whensoever there is the fading of the Dharma and the uprising of unrighteousness, then I loose myself forth into birth.” The naming of the English paper as Karmayogin and the Bengali paper as Dharma, the picture of Sri Krishna, the charioteer of Arjuna, driving him to the battle of Kurukshetra, printed on the cover of the Karmayogin, and the quotation from the Gita in the Dharma promising the descent of the Divine for the uplifting of the world from unrighteousness — all these are clear pointers to the direction in which Sri Aurobindo’s thought and life were then vigorously turning. Not that he was thinking of eschewing politics, or withdrawing from the welter of political forces in Bengal, but he was feeling more and more the imperative need of rising to the planes of the Truth and infinite Knowledge and bringing down their dynamism to the earth, not only for the transformation of the political life of India, or the revival and resurgence of the culture of India, but the transmutation of the very stuff of human consciousness and the texture of earthly existence. His vision had opened to wider horizons and unbounded vistas of collective perfection and divine fulfilment. After the decisive experiences he had had in Alipore jail, it would have been futile for any person or any circumstances to seek to pen him up within the framework of his past thoughts. He had already given himself fully to the Divine, and now that the Divine directed him to other spheres of work and experience, it was not for him to say No. God’s will comes first to a man of God, and family, country, even humanity come after. The soul of man comes from God to do His Will in the world, and once that Will is known, nothing in the world can prevent it from fulfilling it.

In the first issue of the Dharma, Sri Aurobindo wrote in the editorial “…The object of this paper, Dharma, is to preach and propagate the Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion, the practice of the duties attached to each race, and the pursuit of the spirit of the times, the Zeitgeist. We are Indians, descendants of the Aryans, inheritors of the Aryan teachings and Aryan codes of conduct. This Aryan spirit is the religion of our race and society. Wisdom, devotion, love, courage, strength, and humility are the hall-mark of the Aryan character. To impart knowledge to humanity, to place before the world flawless examples of exalted, high-souled character, to protect the weak, to punish the powerful oppressor, these are the objects of the life of the Aryan race, and in the realisation of these objects lies its religious fulfilment. Today, we have fallen from our faith, fallen from our aim, fallen into a confusion of values and the sombre spell of delusive tamas, and lost the Aryan teaching and Aryan morality. The first object of this journal, Dharma, is to provide the whole nation, and the youth in particular, with the right education, the lofty ideals and the way of work conducive to the growth of the Aryan spirit, so that the future generations of our beloved motherland may become wise, devoted to truth, full of love for all men, inspired with brotherly feeling, courageous, strong and humble.”[2]

These words also show which way the wind was blowing.

The Hoogly Conference took place on the 6th and 7th September under the presidentship of Sri Baikunthanath Sen, a moderate leader. Sri Aurobindo himself writes on this Conference in his book, Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother as follows: “He (Sri Aurobindo) led the party again at the session of the Provincial Conference at Hoogly. 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.”

In the Karmayogin of the 14th September, there appeared an assessment of the Hoogly Conference in which, in course of a review, it was stated: “…If the Nationalists pressed their points the Conference would be broken up by the secession of the Moderate leaders. In all… disputed matters,… the Nationalists gave way and adhered only to their main point of securing some definite step in relation to the holding of an united Congress…. In his speech on the Boycott resolution, Srijut Aurobindo Ghose purposely refrained from stating more than the bare fact in order that nothing he might say should lead to excitement or anything which could be an excuse for friction. It is not that the Nationalist party is not willing or able to stand by itself if that proves inevitable and seems the best course in the interests of Nationalism and the future of the country. But it has always been the ideal of the nationalists to make of the Congress a great and living body deliberative in the manner of free assemblies which consider from various points of view what is best for the country and decide by majority or, whenever possible, unanimously, the parties holding together not by identity of views but by one common aim and interest and the combined freedom and restraint of a constitution which provides for the free expression of opinion under fair and impartial rules. They seek also a centre for the country’s strength which can give authority to a network of organisation systematising the work of the nation…”

The president of the Hoogly Conference dubbed Sri Aurobindo an “impatient idealist”, because, as the Karmayogin commented, “The reproach of idealism has always been brought against those who work with their eye on the future by the politicians who look only to the present. The reproach of impatience is levelled with equal ease and readiness against those who in great and critical times have the strength and skill to build with rapidity the foundations or the structure of the future.” No great man who has ever achieved something for his nation, country or humanity has been known to be without idealism. His intuition or imagination has pictured the future before his vision, and his creative or constructive genius has carved and moulded it out of the heterogeneous elements and amorphous potentials of the present. All greatness is avowedly idealistic. But impatience? Had Sri Aurobindo been impatient, he would not have ordered his followers to concede the demands of the Moderates for the sake of the unity of the Congress. A large majority of the political workers in Bengal were nationalists, and they would have easily carried the day at the Conference had they only insisted on the acceptance of their resolutions, but as a practical politician Sri Aurobindo sacrificed the victory of his party to the unity of the Congress. Times and circumstances having been different, he had broken the Congress at Surat rather than submit to the demands of the Moderates, but now, after his release from the Alipore jail, when he saw that “the political aspect of the country had altered, most of the Nationalist leaders were in jail or in self-imposed exile and that 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 decided that the unity of the Congress was the one thing important to be preserved, and, so, he did not hesitate to make substantial concessions to the Moderates. Sri Aurobindo, as we have seen so often, made no fetish of consistency. He said and did what the Light within him prompted him to say or do. His dealings with men and circumstances were, therefore, always marked by a percipient, if baffling, flexibility. In fact, he dealt not so much with men or circumstances as with the subtle forces driving them. He was concerned with what had to be done from moment to moment, and not with what ought to have been done according to human reason. Divine direction or the direction of the inner Light has always been a paradox and a puzzle to men who cannot act except on the basis of their sense data, or who run only in the harness of fixed mental ideas.

A few days after the Hoogly Conference, Sri Aurobindo went to attend the Provincial Conference in Sylhet.

“Out on tour, Sri Aurobindo used to address meetings, meet people when he was free and give them instructions and advice. Most of those who came to his meetings did not understand English, they were common village folk. But they came in crowds all the same, men, women and children, just to hear him speak and have his darshan. When he stood up to address a gathering, pin-drop silence prevailed. His audience must surely have felt a vibration of something behind the spoken word. It is not that he confined himself to political matters alone. There were many who knew that he was a Yogi and spiritual guide and they sought his help in these matters too. I have myself seen as I spent whole nights with him in the same room, at Jalsuko, how he would sit up practically the whole night and go to bed only for a short while in the early hours of the morning….”

“We toured the country for about ten or twelve days and then we came back.”[3]

In his Bengali weekly, Dharma, Sri Aurobindo wrote:

“We had seen in Hoogly how the spirit of Nationalism had expanded and grown beyond expectation, but it was in Sylhet that we witnessed its highest development. In this distant part of East Bengal, the very name of the Moderates had faded away; it is Nationalism alone that remains, unimpaired and vigorous. The people of Sylhet… have held a Conference in the very birth-place of the policy of repression and have not been afraid to proclaim Swaraj as the goal of their struggle. They have rejected the policy of prayer and petition of the Moderates and have framed their resolutions on the basis of moral force and passive resistance. It has been declared in the Sylhet district Conference that Swaraj is morally the birth-right of every nation, and the people of the country have been called upon to adopt all lawful means for achieving it….”

Sri Aurobindo wrote a number of articles in the Dharma on religion, philosophy, art and politics. Some of his essays on political subjects were couched in telling allegories, edged with sharp irony. His essays like “Our religion”, “Maya”, “Sannyas and Tyaga”, “National Resurgence and National Hatred”, “Egoism”, “The Problems of the Past and a glimpse of the Future”, “Motherland and Nationalism”, “The Upanishads”, “The Puranas”, “The Eight Siddhis” etc., and a long sequence of essays on the Gita reveal an original approach to the ancient spiritual wisdom and philosophical thought. Some of these essays have been published in book form, but an English translation of them will enable non-Bengali readers to see what glittering nuggets of gold they are. An unerring insight into the eternal core of Hinduism, the part it played in the evolution of Indian culture, and its mission in the creation of the future in which the East and the West shall meet to build a new world of unity and harmony, shines out in all his utterances of this period. And his spiritual experiences in the jail invest his words with an accent of radiant authority which convinces and conquers even the heart of a sceptic. His post-Alipore writings stand in a class apart. Though he never addressed a single meeting in his mother tongue, Bengali, he wielded a facile and powerful pen in it, and his diction perfectly reflected the depth and splendour of his thought.


[1] 7th August was the birth anniversary of the Boycott and 16th October that of the Partition.

[2] Free rendering from the original Bengali.

[3] Smritir Pātā (in Bengali) by Nolini Kanta Gupta.

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