A debate has started in the Indian mind about the definition of Nationalism. Though much of the debate seems to have been prompted by certain ideological positions that appear to be destructive of the very fabric of what a nation is generally meant to be. Yet like all things this ‘negative’ start has served one god and positive purpose. It has begun to stir the Indian mind, its thought and imaginations to search and grope for what constitutes an Indian identity? Of course this is not the first time this has happened. The soul of India was stirred into rebirth with the song of Rishi Bankim Chandra who adored in India the eternal goddess, the Shakti of a million people, an aspect of the Divine Mother as Durga. Sri Aurobindo fully awakened her from the remote and inaccessible caves where She had withdrawn into a restorative slumber during the dark passage through which India and the world passed before the tide of Time turned once again with the sun rising in the Eastern horizons and setting over the Kingdoms and Empires of the West. In a more general way the debate on Indian Nationalism started during the Indian Independence movement, precipitated by the partition of Bengal by the British. Sri Aurobindo, the champion of ‘Swaraj’ had at that time written and spoken extensively on the idea of Nationalism and what really constitutes the Indian Nation. But more importantly he had touched with his luminous problem, the number one problem and that is the problem of Unity. He gave a unique solution to it, a solution that perhaps has begun to stir the depths of humanity. It is the vision of the Mother, – Mother Earth, Mother India, Mother Divine. Today we share some of his early writings and speeches during this period on this subject.
Words of Sri Aurobindo
What is Nationalism? Nationalism is not a mere political programme; Nationalism is a religion that has come from God; Nationalism is a creed in which you shall have to live. Let no man dare to call himself a Nationalist if he does so merely with a sort of intellectual pride, thinking that he is more patriotic, thinking that he is something higher than those who do not call themselves by that name. If you are going to be a Nationalist, if you are going to assent to this religion of Nationalism, you must do it in the religious spirit. You must remember that you are the instrument of God for the salvation of your own country. You must live as the instruments of God….
What you want is not freedom for your countrymen, but you want to replace the rule of others by yours. If you go in that spirit, what will happen when a time of trial comes? Will you have courage? Will you face it? You will see that is merely an intellectual conviction that you have, that is merely a reason which your outer mind suggests to you. Well, when it comes to be put to the test, what will your mind say to you? What will your intellect say to you? It will tell you, “It is all very well to work for the country, but, in the meanwhile, I am going to die, or at least to be given a great deal of trouble, and when the fruit is reaped, I shall not be there to enjoy it. How can I bear all this suffering for a dream?” You have this house of yours, you have this property, you have so many things which will be attacked, and so you say, “That is not the way for me.” If you have not the divine strength of faith and unselfishness, you will not be able to escape from other attachments, you will not like to bear affliction simply for the sake of a change by which you will not profit. How can courage come from such a source? But when you have a higher idea, when you have realized that you have nothing, that you are nothing and that the three hundred millions of people of this country are God in the nation, something which cannot be measured by so much land, or by so much money, or by so many lives, you will then realise that it is something immortal, that the idea for which you are working is something immortal and that it is an immortal power which is working in you. All other attachments are nothing. Every other consideration disappears from your mind, and, as I said, there is no need to cultivate courage. You are led on by that power. You are protected through life and death by One who survives. In the very hour of death, you feel your immortality. In the hour of your worst sufferings, you feel you are invincible….
You have undertaken a work, you have committed yourselves to something which seems to be materially impossible. You have undertaken a work which will raise the mightiest enemies whom the earth can bring forward. As in the ancient time, when the Avatars came, there were also born the mightiest Daityas and Asuras to face the Avatars, so it always is. You may be sure that if you embrace this religion of Nationalism, you will have to meet such tremendous forces as no mere material power can resist. The hour of trial is not distant, the hour of trial is already upon you….
Have you realised what Nationalism is? Have you realised that it is a religion that you are embracing? If you have, then call yourselves Nationalists; and when you have called yourselves Nationalists, then try to live your Nationalism. Try to realise the strength within you, try to bring it forward so that everything you do may be not your own doing, but the doing of that Truth within you. Try so that every hour that you live shall be enlightened by that presence, that every thought of yours shall be inspired from that one fountain of inspiration, that every faculty and quality in you may be placed at the service of that immortal power within you. Then you will not say, as I have heard so many of you say, that people are so slow to take up this idea, that people are so slow to work, that you have no fit leaders, and that all your great men tell you a different thing and none of them is ready to come forward to guide you in the path that is pointed out. You will have no complaints to make against others, because then you will not need any leader. The leader is within yourselves. If you can only find Him and listen to His voice, then you will not find that people will not listen to you, because there will be a voice within the people which will make itself heard. That voice and that strength is within you….
You see a movement which no obstacle can stop, you see a great development which no power can resist, you see the birth of the Avatar in the nation, and if you have received God within you, if you have received that Power within you, you will see that God will change the rest of India in even a much shorter time, because the Power has already gone forth, and is declaring itself, and when once declared, it will continue its work with ever greater and greater rapidity. It will continue its work with the matured force of Divinity until the whole world sees and until the whole world understands Him, until Sri Krishna who has now hid Himself in Gokul, who is now among the poor and despised of the earth, who is now among the cow-herds of Brindaban, will reveal Himself, will declare the Godhead, and the whole nation will rise, the whole people of this great country will rise, filled with divine power, filled with the inspiration of the Almighty, and no power on earth shall resist it, and no danger or difficulty shall stop it in its onward course. (Loud and continued applause) Because God is there, and it is His Mission, and He has something for us to do. He has a work for His great and ancient nation. Therefore He has been born again to do it, therefore He is revealing Himself in you, not that you may be like other nations, not that you may rise merely by human strength to trample underfoot the weaker peoples, but because something must come out from you which is to save the whole world. That something is what the ancient Rishis knew and revealed, and that is to be known and revealed again today, it has to be revealed to the whole world, and in order that He may reveal Himself, you must first realise Him in yourselves, you must shape your lives, you must shape the life of this great nation so that it may be fit to reveal Him and then your task will be done, and you will realise that what you are doing today is no mere political uprising, no mere political change, but that you have been called upon to do God’s work.
What is a nation? We have studied in the schools of the West and learned to ape the thoughts and language of the West forgetting our own deeper ideas and truer speech, and to the West the nation is the country, so much land containing so many millions of men who speak one speech and live one political life owing allegiance to a single governing power of its own choosing. When the European wishes to feel a living emotion for his country, he personifies the land he lives in, tries to feel that a heart beats in the brute earth and worships a vague abstraction of his own intellect. The Indian idea of nationality ought to be truer and deeper. The philosophy of our forefathers looked through the gross body of things and discovered a subtle body within, looked through that and found yet another more deeply hidden, and within the third body discovered the Source of life and form, seated for ever, unchanging and imperishable. What is true of the individual object, is true also of the general and universal. What is true of the man, is true also of the nation. The country, the land is only the outward body of the nation, its annamaya kosh, or gross physical body; the mass of people, the life of millions who occupy and vivify the body of the nation with their presence, is the pranamaya kosh, the life-body of the nation. These two are the gross body, the physical manifestation of the Mother. Within the gross body is a subtler body, the thoughts, the literature, the philosophy, the mental and emotional activities, the sum of hopes, pleasures, aspirations, fulfilments, the civilisation and culture, which make up the sukshma sharir of the nation. This is as much a part of the Mother’s life as the outward existence which is visible to the physical eyes. This subtle life of the nation again springs from a deeper existence in the causal body of the nation, the peculiar temperament which it has developed out of its ages of experience and which makes it distinct from others. These three are the bodies of the Mother, but within them all is the Source of her life, immortal and unchanging, of which every nation is merely one manifestation, the universal Narayan, One in the Many of whom we are all the children. When, therefore,we speak of a nation, we mean the separate life of the millions who people the country, but we mean also a separate culture and civilisation, a peculiar national temperament which has become too deeply rooted to be altered and in all these we discover a manifestation of God in national life which is living, sacred and adorable. It is this which we speak of as the Mother. The millions are born and die; we who are here today, will not be here tomorrow, but the Mother has been living for thousands of years and will live for yet more thousands when we have passed away.
Writings from Manuscripts 1907-1908, p. 1116
When God roused India, in the first flush of her awakening the flaming power of the national consciousness began to flow swiftly in the veins of the nation. At the same time, a maddening emotion of patriotism enraptured the youth. We are not Europeans, we are Asiatics. We are Indians, we are Aryans. We have gained the national consciousness but unless it is steeped in patriotism our national consciousness cannot blossom. Adoration of the Mother must be the foundation of that patriotism. The day “Bande Mataram”, the song of Bankimchandra, crossed the barrier of the outer senses and knocked at the heart, on that day patriotism was born in our heart; on that day the Mother’s image was enshrined in our heart. The country is Mother, the country is Divine, — this sublime precept which forms a part of the Upanishadic teachings is the seed of the national rising. As the “Jiva” is a part of the Divine, as the power of the “Jiva” is also a part of the Divine power, so also the seventy million Bengalis, the collectivity of three hundred million Indians are part of all-pervading Vasudeva; in the same manner, Mother India, adorned with many hands and powers, shelter of these three hundred millions, embodiment of Shakti, is a force of the Divine Mother, the Goddess, the very body of the universal Mahakali. Excitement, passion, clamour, insult, oppression and torture endured during these five years in order to awaken the love for the Mother and establish Her image in the heart and mind of the nation were decreed by the Divine. That work is over. What next? Next, the ancient power of the Aryans has to be resurrected. First, the Aryan character and the Aryan education must reappear; secondly, the yogic power has to be developed again; lastly, that yearning for knowledge, that capacity for work worthy of an Aryan must be utilised in order to assemble necessary material for the new age; the mad passion worked up during these last five years has to be harnessed and directed towards the accomplishment of the Mother’s work. Young men all over the country, who are seeking a path and looking for work, let them get over the passion and find out a means for acquiring power. The sublime work that has to be accomplished cannot be achieved by passion alone; strength is necessary. The force that can be acquired from the teachings of your ancestors can do the impossible. That Force is preparing to descend into your body. That Force is the Mother Herself. Learn to surrender to Her. The Mother by making you Her instrument will accomplish the work so swiftly, so powerfully that the world will be astounded. All your efforts will come to nothing without that Force. The image of the Mother is enshrined in your heart, you have learnt to serve and adore the Mother; now surrender to the Mother within you. There is no other way to accomplish the work.
[Bengali Writings, p. 222]
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THE country and nothing but the country is the foundation of Nationalism, neither the nation, nor religion, nothing else matters. All other elements are secondary and contributory, it is the country alone that is primary and essential. Many mutually exclusive races live in the land, perhaps there never was enough goodwill, unity or friendliness. What is there in that to worry about? When it is one country, one Mother — there is bound to be unity one day, and out of the union of many races shall emerge a strong and invincible nation. Our religious views may differ, there might be endless conflict among the communities, neither concordance nor any hope of concordance, still one need not have any misgivings. By the powerful magnetic attraction of the Mother embodied in the country, by fair means or foul — whether by mutual understanding, or by force or by appeasement — harmony will be achieved; communalism, separation will be drowned in fraternal feelings, in a common love and worship of the Mother. In a land of many languages brother is unable to understand brother, we do not sympathise with each other’s feelings, between heart and heart there are immense barriers. These have to be overcome with much effort. Yet one need not fear. There is the same current of thought in every mind, of one country, one life, and under pressure of need a common language is bound to evolve, either one of the existing languages will come to be accepted, else a new language will be created. In the Mother’s temple all will use that language. There is nothing permanent about these obstacles. The Mother’s need, her attraction and deeper desire are not to be frustrated, these will surmount all obstacles and conflicts. Born of the same Mother, on her lap we live, in her five elements we merge and melt, in spite of a thousand real dissensions we shall unite at Her call. This is a law of Nature, the lesson of history everywhere:
[Bengali Writings: 225]
In our country there never was unity before, but there had always been a pull, a current tending towards unity, towards welding the different parts into some kind of unity. There were some major obstacles regarding this natural attempt: first, the provincial differences; secondly, the Hindu-Muslim conflict; thirdly, the lack of a vision of the country as Mother. Its vast area, the delays and difficulties of communication, and the differences in language are some of the primary factors responsible for provincial disunity. Thanks to modern science, except for the last factor, the rest have lost their separative vigour. In spite of Hindu-Muslim differences, Akbar did manage to unify India. And had Aurangzeb not been a victim of lowly impulses, the Hindus and Muslims of India, like the Catholics and Protestants of England, would have long been united thanks to the time factor, habit and the threat of foreign invasion. Due to Aurangzeb’s folly and the instigation of some of our English diplomats, the fire of conflict, fanned once more, refuses to go out. Our chief obstacle, however, is an absence of vision of the country as our Mother. For the most part our politicians have been incapable of a close and full vision of the Mother. Ranjit Singh or Guru Gobind Singh had seen only the Mother of the Land of the Five Rivers instead of Mother India; Shivaji or Baji Rao had seen a Mother of the Hindus instead of Mother India. The other Maharashtrian statesmen had seen only a Mother for the Maharashtrians. At the time of the Partition we ourselves had been blessed with a vision of Mother Bengal, that was a vision of unity, hence the future unity and progress of Bengal is assured. But the unified image of Mother India is yet to be realised. In the Congress, the Mother India that we hymned, adored and worshipped was a figure of fancy, a companion and obliging maid of the British Raj, an undivine illusion in occidental outfit. She was indeed not our Mother. All the same, hid in a deep or vague murkiness our true Mother drew our heart and soul. The day we see Her true indivisible image, struck by Her beauty and grace, we shall eagerly lay down our lives in Her service. Then this obstacle will be gone, and India’s unity, freedom and progress be easier to achieve. The barrier of language will no longer divide. Accepting Hindi as a link language but with due regard for one’s own regional language, we shall get rid of the disability. We shall succeed in finding a true solution of the Hindu-Muslim conflict. For want of a vision of the country as the Mother, the urge to do away with these obstacles has not been strongly felt. That is why the means has not been found and the conflict been growing worse. What is required is an image of the country, true and indivisible. But if, under the illusion of that true vision, we still cherish only the Mother of the Hindus or Hindu nationalism we shall fall for the old error and deprive ourselves of the full flowering of Nationalism itself.
The Socialist errs in trying to establish fraternity on equality, instead of establishing equality on fraternity. It is possible to have fraternity without having equality; but equality without fraternity cannot last and it will be destroyed by dissension, quarrels and inordinate greed for power. First we must have complete fraternity and then only complete equality.
The brotherly feeling is an outward condition: if we all remain full of brotherly feeling, have one common property, one common good and one common effort, that is fraternity. The external condition is based on the inner state. Love for the brother infuses life into fraternity and makes it real. There must be a basis even for that brotherly love. We are children of one Mother, compatriots; this feeling can provide the basis for a kind of brotherly love; though this feeling becomes a basis of political unity, social unity cannot be achieved in this way. We have to go still deeper: just as we all have to overpass our own mothers in order to worship the Mother of our compatriots, in the same way we have to transcend and realise the Universal Mother. We have to transcend the partial Shakti in order to reach the Shakti in her completeness. But, just as in our adoration of Mother India, though we overpass our physical mother yet we do not forget her, in the same way, in our adoration of the Universal Mother we shall transcend Mother India and not forget her. She too is Kali, she too is the Mother. Only religion provides a basis for fraternity. All the religions say, “We are one, division is born of ignorance and jealousy.” Love is the central teaching of all religions. Our religion also says, “We are all one, the dividing intellect is a sign of ignorance, the sage should look on all with an equal eye and perceive the one soul, one Narayan equally established in everyone.” Universal love comes from this equality full of devotion. But this knowledge which is the highest goal of humanity will spread everywhere only at the final stage of our journey; meanwhile we have to realise it partially within, and without, in the family, society, country, in every being. Man is always endeavouring to give an enduring form to fraternity by creating family, clan, society, country, and binding them firmly by laws and scriptures. Up till now that effort has failed. The basis exists and so does the form. But what is needed is some inexhaustible force which will preserve the life of fraternity, so that the basis remains unimpaired and the form becomes everlasting or is continually renewed. God has not yet manifested that Force. He has come down as Rama, Krishna, Chaitanya, Ramakrishna and is preparing to transform the selfish heart of man into a fit receptacle of love. How far is that day when He shall descend again and make this earth a paradise by spreading eternal love and bliss and implanting it in the heart of man!
[Bengali Writings, p. 236]