The Partition of Bengal
“…It is a strange idea, a foolish idea… to think that a nation which has once risen, once has been called up by the voice of God to rise, will be stopped by mere physical repression. It has never so happened in the history of a nation, nor will it so happen in the history of India. A storm has swept over us today. I saw it come, I saw the striding of the storm-blast and the rush of the rain, and as I saw it an idea came to me. What is this storm that is so mighty and sweeps with such fury upon us? And I said in my heart, ‘It is God who rides abroad on the wings of the hurricane, it is the might and force of the Lord that manifested itself and his almighty hands that seized and shook the roof so violently over our heads today.’ A storm like this has swept also our national life… Repression is nothing but the hammer of God that is beating us into shape so that we may be moulded into a mighty nation and an instrument for his work in the world. We are iron upon his anvil and the blows are showering upon us not to destroy but to re-create. Without suffering there can be no growth…”
— From Sri Aurobindo’s Speeches, pp. 99-100
Since the Battle of Plassey in 1757, which put its seal upon the fate of India and gave her over to the possession of the British for about two hundred years, nothing had happened in the country, not even the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, of comparable political significance till the Partition of Bengal on the 16th of October, 1905. The Partition of Bengal was the reawakening and self-affirmation of a very ancient nation. The political tide turned. A long night of serfdom, oppression, cultural emasculation and economic strangulation, seemed to end for ever, and the first roseate glow of a new dawn of national liberation flushed the eastern horizon.
As many Indians, let alone foreigners, are not fully aware of the causes of the Partition of Bengal and the national forces that sprang up in reaction to it, we propose to pause upon it for a while before proceeding to take up the narrative of Sri Aurobindo’s political activities in the post-Partition period of the history of Bengal and India. Besides, the full significance of the manifold political life of Sri Aurobindo cannot be properly grasped until we put it in its true context, and study it against the tossing background of the national resurgence, which the Partition quickened and intensified on a wider scale. Sri Aurobindo hailed the Partition as a blessing in disguise, for he saw in it the hammering blows of benign Providence beating the torpid nation into a new life, a new aspiration, and a new shape. As Henry W. Nevinson puts it in his book, The New Spirit in India: “He (Sri Aurobindo) regarded the Partition of Bengal as the greatest blessing that had ever happened to India. No other measure could have stirred national feeling so deeply or roused it so suddenly from the lethargy of previous years.”
“We in India fell under the influence of the foreigner’s Maya which completely possessed our souls. It was the Maya of the alien rule, the alien civilisation, the powers and capacities of the alien people who happen to rule over us. These were as if so many shackles that put our physical, intellectual and moral life into bondage. We went to school with the aliens, we allowed the aliens to teach us and draw our minds away from all that was great and good in us. We considered ourselves unfit for self-government and political life, 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. We were under the protection of their police and we know now what protection they have given us. Nay, we ourselves became the instruments of our bondage. We Bengalis entered the services of foreigners. We brought in the foreigners and established their rule. Fallen as we were, we needed others to protect us, to teach us and even to feed us…
“It is only through repression and suffering that this Maya can be dispelled and the bitter fruit of the Partition of Bengal administered by Lord Curzon dispelled the illusion…”
What was the Partition of Bengal?
In the nineteenth century, Bengal was the most populous province in India. In area also it was the largest, comprising, as it did, the whole of Bengal, Bihar, Chhota Nagpur, Orissa, and Assam. Later, it was found that such a huge territory was proving too much of a burden for a Governor to administer. So, in the interest of a more effective and efficient administration, Assam, constituting Sylhet, Cachar, and Goalpara — all the three Bengali-speaking areas — was separated from Bengal. But even after the separation of Assam, Bengal remained the largest, most populous, and important province with Calcutta as the capital of India. Its population was 78 millions. The Bengalis as a race, having received a better and more widely-spread education on Western lines than the people of any other province, occupied most of the high posts under the British Government, and naturally dominated the political as well as the educational and cultural scenes in the country.
After the severance of Assam, a few more attempts were made by the Government to further reduce the size of Bengal, but nothing was definitely decided upon and done till 1905. In 1903, H.H. Risley, Secretary to the Government of India, wrote to the Chief Secretary to the Government of Bengal a letter, known as the Risley Letter, detailing the proposed further reduction of the area and population of Bengal by sundering the Chittagong Division and the districts of Dacca and Mymensingh from the mother province, and annexing them to Assam. Among the reasons advanced by the Government for the proposal, apart from the vastness of the original province, was the backwardness of the Muslims in education and the general standard of their life. It was thought that by separating East Bengal from the West and tacking it on to Assam, a greater attention could be devoted to the interests of the Muslims who formed the majority community there, and their condition bettered. But the very people of East Bengal for whom the change was proposed would have none of it. Sir Henry Cotton wrote in the Manchester Guardian of England on the 5th of April, 1904: “The idea of the severance of the oldest and most populous and wealthy portion of Bengal and the division of its people into two arbitrary sections has given such a shock to the Bengali race, and has roused such a feeling amongst them as was never known before. The idea of being severed from their own brethren, friends and relations and thrown in with a backward province like Assam, which in administrative, linguistic, social and ethnological features widely differs from Bengal, is so intolerable to the people of the affected tracts that public meetings have been held in almost every town and market-place in East Bengal, and the separation scheme has been universally and unanimously condemned.”
The real reasons for the Partition were, however, quite different. They were, first, that the British Government had been for some time feeling more and more uneasy and alarmed at the steady growth of the nationalist spirit in Bengal, and the conversion of the National Congress from a close preserve of the Moderates, who excelled in the innocuous art of petition and prayer and protest, to a resounding forum and platform for the demand of the nation’s birthright of full and unqualified independence. It was, as Lord Ronaldsay says in his Life of Curzon, “a subtle attack upon the growing solidarity of Bengali Nationalism”. John Morley, speaking as Secretary of State for India in the House of Commons in 1906, said: “I am bound to say, nothing was ever worse done in disregard to the feeling and opinion of the majority of the people concerned.” Henry W. Nevinson writes in his The New Spirit in India: “Such was the Partition of Bengal, prompted, as nearly all educated Indians believe, by Lord Curzon’s personal dislike of the Bengali race, as shown also by his Convocation speech of the previous February, in which he brought against the whole people an indictment for mendacity.” Sir Henry Cotton, who had already denounced the proposal of partition when it was in embryo, says in his New India that the partition was “…part and parcel of Lord Curzon’s policy to enfeeble the growing power and destroy the political tendencies of a patriotic spirit.”
Another reason why the Partition was hustled through in despotic defiance of the swelling chorus of protests from the people and the political leaders of India, and even her well-wishers and sympathisers in England, was the sinister motive of dividing the Bengali race by driving a wedge between the Hindus and the Muslims. Sir Bampfylde Fuller, who was appointed the first Lt. Governor of East Bengal and Assam, declared, according to Surendra Nath Banerji, “half in jest and half in seriousness, to the amazement of all sober-minded men that he had two wives, Hindu and Mohammedan, but that the Mohammedan was the favourite wife.” Nevinson confirms Curzon’s flirtations with the Muslims when he says: “Always impatient of criticism, Lord Curzon hastened through East Bengal, lecturing the Hindu leaders and trying to win over the Moslems.” Lord Curzon himself remarked, when he was on a tour of East Bengal, “that his object in partitioning was not only to relieve the Bengali administration, but to create a Mohammedan province, where Islam could be predominant and its followers in ascendency.” We know now how the poisonous seed of Hindu-Moslem disunity was sown in Bengal, and under what benign auspices! History perhaps records no more brazen confession, which is a virtual self-indictment, of one who was sent by Great Britain to preside over the destinies of over three hundred million people of a very ancient and cultured nation.
Soon after the publication of the Risley Letter, to which we have already referred, there arose a mounting volume of indignant protest all over Bengal, and East Bengal which, according to Curzon, was going to be particularly benefited by the scheme of Partition, was perhaps the loudest in its denunciation. “The people of Dacca, Mymensingh and Chittagong organised in course of the following two months (December 1903-January 1904) about 500 protest meetings to voice forth their strong disapproval of the proposed change.” The tempo of the agitation went on rising by leaps and bounds, and the Swadeshi idea filtered even to the most interior and remote parts of Bengal, and through Bengal to Gujarat and other parts of India. In the meantime, the proposal of the partition was undergoing various amendments and alterations, in strict secrecy, at the hands of the august arbiters of India’s destiny, and the public was kept studiously in the dark. The air was tense with forebodings. The thundering protests of the people were falling on stone-deaf ears. It was confidently assumed by the bureaucracy that the protests were motivated by the vested interests of a handful of educated Bengalis and landlords, and would naturally die down if only met with cold indifference. But the autocrats had reckoned without their host. The studied indifference, which was nothing short of callousness, added fuel to the fire — the agitation began to take on dangerous proportions. At last, on September 1, 1905, the India Government Gazette came out with the portentous proclamation, couched in positive terms, and it triggered off a tremendous explosion of national fury. For, the people had been hoping against hope that their impassioned protests would at last touch a chord even in the cynical heart of the Government. But though a despotic monarch may be moved to relent, a despotic bureaucracy is impregnable to human appeal. According to the Proclamation, “the districts of Dacca, Mymensingh, Faridpur, Backergunge, Tippera, Noakhali, Chittagong, the Hill tracts, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Rangpur, Bogra, Pabna, and Malda which now form the Bengal division of the Presidency of Fort William will, along with the territories at present under the administration of the Chief Commissioner of Assam, form a separate province of Eastern Bengal and Assam.” The new province, it was also declared, would be under a Lt. Governor, and function as a separate unit from the 16th October, 1905.
Thus, at one fell blow, the British Government wanted to kill the “seditious” patriotism of the Bengali race, and disrupt Hindu-Moslem unity. The partition of Bengal became “a settled fact”. It threw down the glove to the nationalist spirit of Bengal. It was not, evidently, a solicitude for efficiency of administration that had prompted the Partition — that could have been as well compassed by the substitution of the Presidency Governorship like that of Bombay and Madras — but, as we have seen, it was the tyrant desire to cow down and crush the agitation for national freedom. And how did Bengal meet the Challenge? The whole province rose in indignant revolt to oppose the Partition, and continued to oppose it so long as it was not abrogated. And abrogated it was, though after a long and bitter struggle. The rebel spirit of freedom compelled the British bureaucracy to yield to its insistent demand and unsettle “the settled fact”!
On the 16th October, 1905, the fated partition came into force. “On that day”, says Nevinson in his book, “…thousands and thousands of Indians rub dust or ashes on their foreheads; at dawn they bathe in silence as at a sacred fast; no meals are eaten; the shops in cities and the village bazaars are shut; women refuse to cook; they lay aside their ornaments; men bind each other’s wrists with a yellow string as a sign that they will never forget the shame; and the whole day is passed in resentment, mourning, and the hunger of humiliation. In Calcutta vast meetings are held, and the errors of the Indian Government are exposed with eloquent patriotism. With each year the indignation of the protest has increased; the crowds have grown bigger, the ceremonial more widely spread, and the fast more rigorous.” Valentine Chirol writes in his The Indian Unrest: “…The Partition was the signal for an agitation such as India had not witnessed… monster demonstrations were organised in Calcutta and in the principal towns of the mofussils.” Abanindra Nath Tagore, the great artist, in his Bengali book, Gharoya, describes, in his picturesque way, the unprecedented upheaval of national feeling in which they all participated under the leadership of his uncle, Rabindranath Tagore. Rabindranath sang out in rousing strains the agony of outraged nationalism. He took an active part in collecting funds for the Swadeshi work, and went about the city, and even entered into the mosques of the Muslims, binding the wrists of his compatriots with the sacred thread, rakhi, in token of brotherly love and unity. Extremists and Moderates, Hindus and Muslims, young men and old, the rich and the poor, married women and young girls, all rose, as if from a long sleep, to greet the dawn of national awakening. A new life flowed, full and fast, through the province, like a torrent of fire. The skies were rent with the cries of Bande Mataram, the inspired and inspiring national hymn. It was, indeed, a glorious awakening, a virile self-assertion of a people branded by Macaulay with the stigma of effeminacy and cowardice. “In a few months’ time,” writes Lala Lajpat Rai in his Young India, “the face and the spirit of Bengal was changed. The press, the pulpit, the platform, the writers of prose and poetry, composers of music and playwrights — all were filled with the spirit of nationalism…. Volunteer corps were organised, and Sabhas and Samities and Akharas leaped into existence by hundreds where Bengali young men began to take lessons in fencing and other games.”
The first casualty in this vigorous onslaught of anti-Partition agitation was the British textile goods. Swadeshi, which Sri Aurobindo had been inculcating from even much before the partition, received a sudden creative impetus. “The movement achieved a great success, and became widely popular with the masses. Foreign cloth shops were picketed, foreign textiles were burnt in huge bonfires in market places and on crossings and roads. The family priests refused to perform marriage ceremonies if either of the couple was clad in cloth other than Swadeshi. Swadeshi pledges were taken at meetings,” writes Dr. S.C. Bartarya in his book, The Indian Nationalist Movement. He says further: “Swadeshi was an economic weapon to achieve India’s industrial advance and economic regeneration. The Boycott with a programme of boycott of British goods, renunciation of titles, resignation from Government services, and withdrawal from Government educational institutions, was a weapon forged to force the Government to stop repression and undo the Partition.” Frightened and flustered, the Englishman, an influential Anglo-Indian paper in Calcutta, wrote: “It is absolutely true that Calcutta ware-houses are full of fabrics that cannot be sold…. Boycott must not be acquiesced in or it will more surely ruin British connection with India than an armed revolution. Lord Ronaldsay writes in his The Heart of Arya-varta: “The Swadeshi movement rushed headlong impetuously like some mighty flood, submerging them, sweeping them off their feet, but revitalising their lives.”
Along with the British goods, foreign salt and sugar were also boycotted. The growth of national industries received an unforeseen stimulus. The Bengalis, who had been for long rather apathetic to commercial and industrial enterprises, suddenly seemed to develop a phenomenal aptitude for them, and achieved signal success in the course of a few years. Mill-made textiles, hand-loom products, medicines, chemicals for various purposes, toilet goods, woollen fabrics, hosiery, shoes etc. began to be manufactured and marketed on an ever-widening scale. The textile mills of Gujarat came forward with remarkable promptness and generosity to help Bengal in respect of textile goods, and it contributed to a substantial increase and expansion of their own business into the bargain. All this was the laudable fruit of Lord Curzon’s malicious policy. Swadeshi, which had really had its birth in the days, and principally by the initiative, of Sri Aurobindo’s maternal grand-father, Rishi Rajnarayan Bose, received an unprecedented fillip by the anti-Partition agitation, and became an abiding feature of the all-round national regeneration.
The second casualty in the anti-Partition campaign was the education imparted on Western lines and calculated to turn out subservient clerks and scribes of the alien Government. The existing system of education was, according to Sri Aurobindo, intrinsically demoralising on account of its “calculated poverty and insufficiency, its antinational character, its subordination to Government and the use made of that subordination for the discouragement of patriotism and the inculcation of loyalty.” Government schools and colleges were boycotted, and new ones started to impart national education free from Government control. The humanities and sciences were intended to be taught in them, keeping in view the building up of the character of the students and instilling in them love of Mother India, a knowledge and appreciation of her immemorial culture, and a devoted consecration to her service. The leading part taken by the students all over Bengal in the boycott and the picketing, and the stirring of patriotic feeling in the hearts of the people fluttered the Government, and the Pedlar and Carlyle Letters, which sought to repress the students’ national activities and gag the singing of the national hymn, Bande Mataram, served, instead, to acerbate the already frayed temper of young Bengal and set ablaze the patriotic fire they strove to quench. The more the repression the greater the upsurge of the spirit of patriotism and dedication. It is blind authoritarianism that seeks to dragoon the rising spirit of a nation into perpetual submission.
The National College of Calcutta, of which Sri Aurobindo became the first Principal in June, 1905, owed its origin to this movement of the boycott of the Government schools and colleges. It was started by the initiative of Satish Chandra Mukherji, the reputed educationist of the time, who had also founded the Dawn Society, and was running the English organ, Dawn, in Calcutta. Almost all the men of light and leading in the city, including Rabindranath Tagore, Hiren Datta, Sir Gooroodas Banerji, Bepin Chandra Pal etc., were among the patrons and supporters of the college, and Benoy Kumar Sarkar and Radha Kumud Mookherji among its young professors. But the new movement for education lacked the basis of an inspired vision, a knowledge of the essential spirit of Indian culture, and the true ideal of national education, and was, besides, still wedded to the current system of Western education in its thought and action. It could not, therefore, produce the high results it promised, and languished and waned in course of time. Though many schools and colleges were established all over Bengal, and, in some of them, a fair measure of success was, indeed, achieved, the education imparted could not be called national — it remained essentially the same Western education with certain important modifications.
The Bengal Partition, as we have tried to show, roused the national spirit as nothing had roused it before, and gave a revolutionary turn to the resurgence of the whole country. What happened in Bengal had its mighty repercussions all over India, notably in Maharashtra, the Punjab, and Madras. The reign of terror, inaugurated in Bengal by the Government, and later extended to the three provinces just mentioned, galvanised the whole nation. The spark of an intense, inextinguishable patriotism, flying from Bengal, kindled a country-wide conflagration. The official report of the Banaras Indian National Congress, which was held in December, 1905, records as follows: “Never since the dark days of Lord Lytton’s Viceroyalty had India been so distracted, discontented, despondent; the victim of so many misfortunes, political and other; the target for so much scorn and calumny emanating from the highest quarters — its most moderate demands ridiculed and scouted, its most reasonable prayers greeted with a stiff negative, its noblest aspirations spurned and denounced as pure mischief or solemn nonsense, its most cherished ideals hurled down from their pedestal and trodden underfoot — never had the condition of India been more critical than it was during the second ill-starred administration of Lord Curzon. The Official Secrets Act was passed in the teeth of universal opposition… and the Gagging Act was passed. Education was crippled and mutilated; it was made expensive and it was officialised; and, so, that most effective instrument for the enslavement of our national interest, the Universities Act, was passed.” Gokhale, the very paradigm of moderation, who was by no means unfriendly to the Government, had at last to vent his feelings rather boldly for the sake of truth: “To him (Lord Curzon) India was a country where the Englishman was to monopolise for all time all power, and talk all the while of duty. The Indian’s only business was to be governed, and it was a sacrilege on his part to have any other aspiration…. A cruel wrong has been inflicted on our Bengali brethren, and the whole country has been stirred to its depths in sorrow and resentment, as had never been the case before…. The tremendous upheaval of popular feeling which has taken place in Bengal in consequence of the Partition, will constitute a landmark in the history of our national progress…. Bengal’s heroic stand against the oppression of a harsh and uncontrolled bureaucracy has astonished and gratified all India…. The most astounding fact of the situation is that the public life of the country has received an accession of strength of great importance, and for this all India owes a deep debt of gratitude to Bengal.” Lala Lajpat Rai expressed the same view when he said: “I think the people of Bengal ought to be congratulated on being leaders of that march (for freedom) in the van of progress…. And if the people of India will just learn that lesson from the people of Bengal, I think the struggle is not hopeless.”
All progressive political leaders of India supported the fourfold programme of Boycott and stood solidly by Bengal on her hour of the gravest trial, for, they knew, the trial of Bengal was the travail of India’s political salvation. Perhaps it was something more, which time alone will reveal. Mahatma Gandhi paid a perceptive tribute to the heroic struggle of Bengal in the following words: “The real awakening (of India) took place after the Partition of Bengal…. That day may be considered to be the day of the partition of the British Empire…. The demand for the abrogation of the partition is tantamount to a demand for Home Rule…. As time passes, the nation is being forged…. After the partition the people saw that they must be capable of suffering. This new spirit must be considered to be the chief result of the partition.”
The Partition was, in fact, the focal point and accelerating force of the renaissance in India, which had begun with Ram Mohan Roy as its foremost herald and pioneer. It gave a vision and a direction of the path, and a glimpse of the glorious destiny towards which the nation was marching. An outburst of the creative urge, clearly visible in many spheres of the national life, intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual, found now a unifying focus of self-expression. And when Sri Aurobindo identified nationalism with Sanatana Dharma — “I say that it is the Sanatana Dharma which for us is nationalism” — he recovered at one bound the highest values and widest ideals of the nation, leavened patriotism with spiritual realism, and swept it out of its narrow orbit into the vastness of a universal consummation. Nationalism became in his hands a liberating universalism, and the freedom of India a promise and precondition of the eventual freedom of the soul and body of the commonwealth of humanity. But, as a prophet and precursor, Sri Aurobindo was much in advance of his time. The spirituality which he infused into politics was, for a time, overlaid by inferior or extraneous elements, the dawn-blush covered up by the pall of an invading mist. Ethics then stepped in to do the necessary work of salvaging and sublimation, to give Indian politics a higher push, a purer content. But ethics is half-blind. However firm in faith and strong in self-sacrifice, it is arbitrary in its inhibitions and impositions, crude and cavalier in its repressions, rigid and exclusive in its insistences, and incapable of dealing with a wise and victorious flexibility with the complex forces of life. But the hour of its political domination has almost passed, and its cleansing but cramping spell is dissolving under the shocks of harsh realities, leaving the field clear for the influx of a dynamic, militant, conquering spirituality, the twin-force of Brahminhood and Kshatriyahood, to lead India and the world towards the integral self-fulfilment of Nara-Narayana, the Divine Being in man.
We shall now follow the subsequent political movement in the country, and study what constituted Sri Aurobindo’s contribution to it.
“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. 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 sepulchre. 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. 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 readomed. 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.
“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.”
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 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, 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
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. 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. 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; and his absolute surrender to the Divine Light that directed his steps, 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.
“…There are times when a single personality gathers up the temperament of an epoch or a movement and by simply existing ensures its fulfilment…. Without the man the moment is a lost opportunity; without the moment the man is a force inoperative. The meeting of the two changes the destinies of nations and the poise of the world is altered by what seems to the superficial an accident. Every great flood of action needs a human soul for its centre, an embodied point of the Universal Personality from which to surge out upon others…. History lays much stress on events, a little on speech, but has never realised the importance of souls…. Only the eye of the seer can pick them out from the mass and trace to their source these immense vibrations….”
— “Historical Impressions” by Sri Aurobindo
The four outstanding spiritual experiences which had come to Sri Aurobindo as prophetic gifts of God, his subsequent practice of Yoga and its guidance by the Divine Light, which gradually took charge of his whole being and moved it, as we learn from his confidential letters to his wife, brought to light by the police during his trial in the famous Alipore Case, and the spontaneous, perceptive homage of some of his greatest contemporaries, whom we have already quoted, — all these go to prove that here was one who was born to a historic mission, and who knew, more or less clearly, what he had been sent to attempt and accomplish. Our first point that Sri Aurobindo’s politics was the politics of a Yogi, divinely directed and multiply oriented, preluding and preparing the rebirth of the soul of India for the regeneration of mankind, has thus been substantially confirmed.
This leads us to another point, a collateral issue, which we have to tackle here, if we would understand the whole meaning and significance of the renaissance in India, of which Ram Mohan Roy was the first herald and initiating genius. Every great revolution, spiritual, social, political, or scientific, is a release of the mighty ideative and dynamic forces of the Time-Spirit, which seeks to inaugurate a new order or a new era in a nation, society, or humanity. And the Time-Spirit incarnates itself in one or two individuals who are born to be its precursors or prophets, priests and realises. Both the forces, ideative and dynamic, of a revolution work at once in a sort of polar interaction between concentration and diffusion. There is a concentration of them in the pioneers and realisers, who are used as epitomes and vessels, sending forth the electric currents of creative inspiration, and a dilution and diffusion in the commonalty for the preparation of the field of their action in the appointed hour. This is the double aspect of every revolution, viewed from the stand-point of its birth, growth, and expansion; and history amply illustrates this truth. What is conscious and articulate in the prophets and torch-bearers, remains, in the beginning, subconscious in the people, and throws out stray sparks of its urge and intention in the minds of the elite. Mostly it is felt as an inchoate but persistent aspiration, a vague and indefinite yearning, an instinctive reaching out towards a delivering change. Some of the elite receive its thought-waves, and express them as best they can, each in his own way. But there is, more often than not, a distortion or diminution of them in the minds of the elite who cannot help mixing them with their own prejudices and preconceptions. It is only the prophets who embody and express the inspirations of the Time-Spirit in their purity, so long as they remain loyal to it in the depths of their being. Pythagoras and Plato, Zoroaster and Christ and Mohammed, Leonardo, Galileo and Newton, Mirabeau, Danton, Robespierre and Napoleon, Mazzini and Garibaldi, Marx and Lenin etc., in the West, and Rama, Sri Krishna, Mahavira and Buddha, Shankaracharya and Chaitanya, Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda etc., in India, all have been, in their different spheres of work, such prophets and pioneers, or executors and realisers of the invincible Will of the Time-Spirit.
The working of the Will of the Time-Spirit progresses through a constant tug and tension between the forces of new creation and the forces of conservation, and both are indispensable for the shaping of the future. The forces of conservation make for continuity with the past and the transmission of all that was essential, live, and productive in it into the mould of the present, and it is out of the pregnant present, however desolate and chaotic it may appear on the surface, that the new forces surge out to construct the future. But the whole movement is a very complex process, baffling to the rational mind of man. The prophet or pioneer is one who incarnates both the forces of conservation and the forces of new creation. He is the child of the past and the parent of the future. It is not always that he brings something brand-new to the nation or the country he represents. Nor is it at all necessary that he should be original in the idea or ideal he holds up for realisation. Buddha was fundamentally indebted to the Upanishads, Christ to Moses and the Old Testament, and Luther to Wycliff and Erasmus. There can be no creation in a void. No genius is a mushroom, or a freak of Nature. No culture that is rootless can revive after it has had its natural decay and death. What is distinctive in the mission of a prophet or a forerunner is a summing up in himself of both the fertile forces of conservation and those of new creation in a harmonious blend, and marshalled in a dynamic, revolutionary drive, powerful enough to cleave through the barrage of opposing forces, towards the building of the future. He has a vision which none else in the epoch possesses in equal measure, an intuitive perception of the course he has to follow, or at least gleams and flashes which lead him through it, and an uncanny suppleness, which often appears as an incomprehensible, unpredictable eccentricity, in his dealings with the interlocked complex of forces, contending for mastery.
So long as he remains loyal to the vision and intuition guiding him from within, he is invincible. He radiates a power which acts with the victorious might of the elemental forces of Nature. “A messenger he”, says Carlyle, “sent from the Infinite Unknown with tidings to us. Direct from the Inner Fact of things; — he lives, and has to live, in daily communion with that…. Really his utterances, are they not a kind of revelation?… It is from the heart of the world that he comes; he is a portion of the primal reality of things…. The ‘inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding’: we must listen before all to him.” He, “with his free force, direct out of God’s own hand, is the lightning…. All blazes round him now, when he has once struck on it, into fire like his own. In all epochs of the world’s history, we shall find the Great Man to have been the indispensable saviour of his epoch; — the lightning, without which the fuel never would have burnt.” He may be hooted or persecuted, crucified or poisoned, but his mission can never fail to prosper, for it bears within it the breath and fiat of the Time-Spirit. There may be resistance, more or less vehement and persistent, of blind orthodoxy or entrenched convention; but nothing can stand for long in the way of his work. His creative ideas permeate the people, and evoke a response in them. His touch revives and kindles. He fashions heroes out of common clay. What was at first subconscious in the masses emerges, little by little, into the light of consciousness; what seemed fantastic or chimerical assumes the solidity and definiteness of reality; what was repellent begins to attract. The prophet is then hailed as a deliverer, and canonised.
But if, in a crucial moment of his work, when the tenacity of his faith and the stubbornness of his faithfulness to his vision and intuition would have sustained him, and sped him on, the pioneer falls back on his reasoning mind and suffers its inveterate doubts to cloud his consciousness, or allows himself to be led, not by the inner urge but by the amorphous opinions of the people he is leading, and lets his egoistic ambition get the better of his loyalty to the inner Light, he falls, as Luther fell, or is flung aside, as Napoleon was flung aside. The secret of his success lies in his absolute fidelity to the Light within him, even when it seems obscured for a moment by the swirling dust of Time’s passage. In short, the central psychological factor in a revolution worth the name is the complex and comprehensive personality of the pioneer geared to the Time-Spirit, and receptive and plastic to its inspirations. He is not so much an individual man, experimenting with Truth in the dim light of his faith and reason, and groping his way forward, but a focal point of universal forces, releasing into expression the elements that go to construct the future.
For an objective study of the origin and development of a revolution, it is, therefore, essential to discover the prophetic vision and pioneering inspiration which initiate it. It is in them that we can discern the entire seed and potentiality of it. Otherwise, we see only the ripples and waves it casts up on the surface, and ignore the deeper springs from which they emerge. The protagonist of a revolution is a living focus of its possibilities and a prism of its diverse colours. Not to know him in the inner truth of his being is to miss the real import of his mission and the purpose and significance of the revolution. What historian can hope to study fruitfully the Renaissance in the West without arriving at a proper assessment of the role Leonardo da Vinci played in it? or, the scientific revolution of the modern times without a correct estimate of the part played in it by Newton and Einstein?
We have, therefore, set out to study the history of the renaissance (not the freedom movement only) in India by ascertaining, on the solid basis of historical data and contemporary evidence, as to who was the personality that can be called the prophet and pioneer of it.
The renaissance can, of course, be traced back to Raja Ram Mohan Roy, as we have already said above. Ram Mohan’s contribution to religious, social and political reconstruction of India was immense and magnificent. Dayananda Saraswati sought to give a new orientation to the religious and social life of the nation by linking it to its ancient roots. But not until Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda brought down a tidal wave of creative spirituality and touched every aspect of Indian life into an unwonted glow of galvanised consciousness, did the lineaments of the renaissance shine out on the horizon with a radiant distinctness. We cannot measure the debt we owe to the lightning personality of Vivekananda. Sri Aurobindo says about him: “We perceive his influence still working gigantically, we know not well how, we know not well where, in something that is not yet formed, something leonine, grand, intuitive, upheaving that has entered the soul of India, and we say: ‘Behold, Vivekananda still lives in the soul of his Mother and in the souls of her children.’” The first incipient outline of an unprecedented synthesis was thus traced, and the perennial founts of India’s mighty spirituality were unsealed. Bankim, Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Jagadish Chandra Bose, and a few others evoked various powers of the soul of India and considerably helped the expansion and enrichment of her culture. In the field of politics and social reform, there came a glorious band of dynamic personalities, all impelled by the overmastering urge to serve the motherland and raise the nation to the manifold greatness of its destiny. And yet, when we scrutinise the aims and achievements of all these illustrious personalities, we are driven to conclude that there was not one among them who had a global vision of all the potentialities, spiritual, moral, intellectual, aesthetic, cultural, political and economic, of the renaissance that was taking place in India. Each of them had his gaze fixed upon one or a few aspects and potentialities, and considered their realisation as the sole object of their endeavour, and perhaps the whole purpose of the national resurgence. That the resurgence meant the re-emergence of the immortal soul of India and its mission for the regeneration and reconstruction of humanity, escaped even the most perceptive of them. India waited for her chosen son, the “voice incarnate” of her soul, to touch her into the spring-tide splendour of her renewed life, and the world waited for India’s Light to lead her out of the gloom of its moral and cultural collapse. God beckoned man to rise beyond his animal humanity.
As the individual has his soul, his deathless being, which seeks self-fulfilment in life, so the nation has a soul, its inmost being, which seeks to realise its destiny, “…the primal law and purpose of a society, community or nation is to seek its own self-fulfilment; it strives rightly to find itself, to become aware within itself of the law and power of its own being and to fulfil it as perfectly as possible, to realise all its potentialities, to live its own self-revealing life…. The nation or society, like the individual, has a body, an organic life, a moral and aesthetic temperament, a developing mind, and a soul behind all these signs and powers for the sake of which they exist. One may see even that, like the individual, it essentially is a soul rather than has one; it is a group-soul that, once having attained to a separate distinctness, must become more and more self-conscious and find itself more and more fully as it develops its corporate action and mentality and its organic self-expressive life.”
The leader who identifies himself with this nation-soul and feels in himself, not only all its many-branching powers and potentialities, but its urge and inspiration to realise them, is the true pioneer, commissioned to lead the nation to its ultimate destiny. “Nationalism is itself no creation of individuals and can have no respect for persons. It is a force which God has created, and from Him it has received only one command, to advance and advance and ever advance until He bids it stop, because its appointed mission is done. It advances, inexorably, blindly, unknowing how it advances, in obedience to a Power which it cannot gainsay, and everything which stands in its way, man or institution, will be swept away or ground into powder beneath its weight. Ancient sanctity, supreme authority, bygone popularity, nothing, nothing will serve as a plea.
“It is not the fault of the avalanche if it sweeps away human life by its irresistible and unwilled advance; nor can it be imputed as moral obliquity to the thunderbolt that the oak of a thousand years stood precisely where its burning hand was laid. Not only the old leaders but any of the new men whom the tide has tossed up for a moment on the crest of its surges, must pay the penalty of imagining that he can control the ocean and impose on it his personal likes and desires. These are times of revolution when tomorrow casts aside the fame, popularity and pomp of today. The man whose carriage is today dragged through great cities by shouting thousands amid cries of ‘Bande Mataram’ and showers of garlands, will tomorrow be disregarded, perhaps hissed and forbidden to speak. So it has always been and none can prevent it…. Men who are now acclaimed as Extremists, leaders of the forward movement, preachers of Nationalism and embodiments of the popular feeling will tomorrow find themselves left behind, cast aside, a living monument of the vanity of personal ambition…. Only the self-abnegation that effaces the idea of self altogether and follows the course of the revolution with a child-like belief that God is the leader and what He does is for the best, will be able to continue working for the country. Such men are not led by personal ambition and cannot, therefore, be deterred from following the Will of God by personal loss of any kind.
“Revolutions are incalculable in their goings and absolutely uncontrollable. The sea flows and who shall tell it how it is to flow? The wind blows and what human wisdom can regulate its motions? The Will of Divine Wisdom is the sole law of revolutions and we have no right to consider ourselves as anything but mere agents chosen by that Wisdom. When our work is done, we should realise it and feel glad that we have been permitted to do so much. Is it not enough reward for the greatest services that we can do, if our names are recorded in history among those who helped by their work or their speech, or better, by the mute service of their sufferings to prepare the great and free India that will be? Nay, is it not enough if unnamed and unrecorded except in the Books of God, we go down to the grave with the consciousness that our finger too was laid on the great Car and may have helped, however imperceptibly, to push it forward? This talk of services is a poor thing after all. Do we serve the Mother for a reward or do God’s work for hire? The patriot lives for his country because he must; he dies for her because she demands it. That is all.”
“The Will of the Divine Wisdom is the sole law of revolutions and we have no right to consider ourselves as anything but mere agents chosen by the Wisdom.” — This is exactly the truth which Swami Vivekananda knew and preached, and Sri Aurobindo taught and practised all his long life. It was essentially a Yogic Knowledge and a Yogic way of life.
If we would have a total view, in the true perspective, of all the potentialities of the rebirth of India’s soul and the ultimate fulfilment of the destiny of this ancient nation, the dawns of whose culture were luminous with the glory of God in man, we have to discover who among the greatest leaders of India, embodying in himself the powers and purpose of the renaissance, served the Will of God as enshrined and revealed in the nation-soul from the beginning of his life to the very end of it, without being cast aside by the Time-Spirit before his mission was accomplished? We have to discover, not which of the leaders was the true mouth-piece of the will of the nation-soul only to political and economic freedom, or which of them worked for its moral, religious and spiritual greatness, but which of them was the prophet and realiser of its integral fulfilment. Who had the unified vision of all the facets of the national renovation, and the creative will to carve out the many-splendoured future of India? Who among them saw and knew, like Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda before him, and proclaimed by the power of his words and the complex pattern of his ceaseless activities, that India was rising, not for herself but for the world, that the world would sink into a perpetual night of cultural darkness unless the light of the soul of India shone out once again to deliver it, and that the political freedom of India, which was the sole aim of the earnest endeavours of most of the leaders, was only an indispensable prelude to the integral freedom, perfection and fulfilment of humanity? Who, among them, remaining absolutely faithful to the directing Light of God, followed the ascending curve of the unfoldment of the nation-soul, phase by phase, stage by stage, flexibly adapting his steps to the rhythms of its progress, in order to lead it to its supreme end?
“God has set apart India as the eternal fountainhead of holy spirituality, and He will never suffer that fountain to run dry. Therefore Swaraj has been revealed to us. By our political freedom we shall once more recover our spiritual freedom. Once more in the land of the saints and sages will burn up the fire of the ancient Yoga and the hearts of her people will be lifted up into the neighbourhood of the Eternal.”
“Once more in the land of the saints and sages will burn up the fire of the ancient Yoga….” Here we have at once a prescience and a prophecy of the colossal work that was to rear its edifice on the secure foundation of political freedom. The integral Yoga was to transform human nature into Divine Nature and human life into Divine Life.
“There are some men who are self-evidently super-human, great spirits who are only using the human body. Europe calls them supermen, we call them vibhutis. They are manifestations of Nature, of divine power presided over by a spirit commissioned for the purpose, and that spirit is an emanation from the Almighty, who accepts human strength and weakness but is not bound by them. They are above morality and ordinarily without a conscience, acting according to their own nature. For they are not men developing upwards from the animal to the divine and struggling against their lower natures, but beings already fulfilled and satisfied with themselves. Even the holiest of them have a contempt for the ordinary law and custom and break them easily and without remorse, as Christ did on more than one occasion, drinking wine, breaking the sabbath, consorting with publicans and harlots; as Buddha did when he abandoned his self-accepted duties as a husband, a citizen and a father; as Shankar a did when he broke the holy law and trampled upon custom and ācāra to satisfy his dead mother….”
— “Historical Impressions” by Sri Aurobindo
Let us now pause for a moment upon an important point which crops up at this stage of our inquiry in regard to the prophet and high priest of the renaissance in India: Who can command a total vision of the evolutionary march of a nation and its destiny?
The nation, like the individual, has a triple body — the sthūla or gross, the sūkṣma or subtle, and the kāraṇa or causal. As the gross body of the individual is only the outer crust or coating of the inner being, so the physical body of the nation is only its mutable material covering. To see only its material covering or shell, its social and political configuration, and regard that alone as one’s nation is to miss the truth of its inner and inmost existence. The acorn gives no hint of the oak, or the caterpillar of the butterfly. Saul keeps St. Paul cocooned in himself. We have to see — and how can we, unless we develop the inner sight and the intuitive vision? — also its sūkṣma or subtle body, and the kāraṇa or causal. It goes without saying that all of us do not possess this vision. It is only the intuitive vision, by inner identity, of the causal body that can reveal the truth of the soul of a nation and its mission and destiny. A mere ardently patriotic or economic, political or moral approach to its characteristic mores and behaviour patterns can yield nothing but a partial knowledge of its changing material form. Even history, as it is written, is a crippled explorer of its past, and a blind guide to its future.
Who, then, can see the causal body of a nation, and know its mission and destiny? The question can be answered by a counter-question: Who can see the causal body of an individual and know his destiny? It will be readily conceded by those who have even a rudimentary knowledge of the human soul and its spiritual and psychological constitution that it is only a Yogi who can do it, and none other. The Yogi’s power of self-identification with every being and everything in the world enables him to know its essential reality and its evolving forms. Nothing can be hidden from that vision, as Yogis and mystics have testified in all ages and countries. What is visualised in the causal body is the truth of the soul, whether of the individual or of the nation, and is irresistible in its self-expressive dynamic. But it may — and often does — take long to manifest on the physical plane, the length of the time depending on various spiritual and psycho-logical factors beyond the range of human vision, and also on the degree of the resistance of the physical nature itself. And it is this length of time taken for manifestation or materialisation that gives an apparent plausibility to the facile verdict of the sceptic and the materialist that the words of the prophet are but the rosy dreams of a romantic visionary or the airy castles of an exuberant Utopian. A deeper vision, to which the materialist is usually averse, would reveal the truth that what is in the causal or seminal state passes into the subtle or subliminal through a complex play of forces and, in the same way and in its own time, manifests in the material. The material self-projection of the causal Idea is what is known as the physical universe, to which materialism keeps its vision and action stubbornly confined. The inevitability of the materialisation of the causal truth remains beyond doubt, but its prediction in terms of the time of our reckoning is often a precarious affair.
It is an historical fact to which we can no longer turn a blind eye that among the most passionate lovers and devoted servants of Mother India in the modern times, there have been only two who were Yogis, possessing the Yogic vision and intuition — Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo. Some of the others were disciples of Yogis — Tilak, Bepin Pal, P.C. Mitter of the Anusilan Samity, and Aswini Kumar Datta of Barisal, to name only a few. But, though they were spiritually inclined, they never claimed to possess any intuitive vision or to have attained any such close contact with the Divine as to be able to receive His direct guidance in their active lives. There were many other Yogis, but they do not concern us here, because they were not avowed nationalists.
Love of India was an intense passion of Vivekananda’s being — it was interwoven with his consuming love of God. Nivedita, who lived closer to him and knew him more intimately than anybody else, says that India was the queen of the adoration of the Swami’s heart. But the source of this profound love was more in his spiritual vision than in his blood and upbringing. His spiritual vision penetrated into the prehistoric past of India and made him see her unparalleled glory, her perennial role as the giver of Light to the world, and her massive and varied contribution to the culture of humanity. It made him see, and with equal clarity, and without any biassed slurring over of unpalatable facts, the later decline of her spirituality, its defensive recoil from the commerce of life, which it branded as an illusion and a snare, and its degeneration into a soulless formalism, and the rigidity of a sterile, dogmatic orthodoxy. He was unsparing in his denunciation of the dry-rot from which the culture of the land was suffering, and the inert, unthinking conformism of the mass mind. It made him also see with marvellous lucidity the destiny of India, the final fulfilment of her past promise, and the meridian blaze of the future Light of which the first dawn was witnessed in the age of the Veda. “This is the land from whence, like the tidal waves, spirituality and philosophy have again and again rushed out and deluged the world. And this is the land from whence once more such tides must proceed in order to bring life and vigour into the decaying races of mankind,” declared the Swami. “Before the effulgence of this new awakening in India the glory of all past revivals will pale like stars before the rising sun, and compared with the mighty manifestation of renewed strength, all the many past epochs of renaissance will be mere child’s play.” He was convinced that the mission of India was the regeneration of man and the spiritualisation of the human race.
In almost identical terms, because by an almost identical spiritual vision, has Sri Aurobindo spoken of the glory of India’s past, and the still greater glory of her future. “India of the ages is not dead nor has she spoken her last creative word; she lives and has still something to do for herself and the human peoples… the ancient immemorable Shakti recovering her deepest self, lifting her head higher towards the supreme source of light and strength and turning to discover the complete meaning and a vaster form of her Dharma.” “We do not belong to the past dawns, but to the noons of the future.” “The sun of India’s destiny would rise and fill all India with its light and overflow India and overflow Asia and overflow the world.”
It was this indispensable work, the work of helping the birth of “the noons of the future”; of creating the conditions for the Light of the Spirit to fill all India and “overflow India and overflow Asia and overflow the world”; the work of realising the destiny of India, so that she might fulfil the destiny of mankind; the inevitable evolutionary work of raising man to the sunlit peaks of his being from the dim valleys of his mental consciousness, and unveiling the divine glory in his nature and life, so dear to Vivekananda’s heart, and so glowingly prophesied by him, for which God summoned Sri Aurobindo away from the field of politics to the infinitely vaster fields of supramental conquest. Sri Aurobindo was assured from within of the freedom of India. He knew that the fire he had breathed into the torpid veins of his countrymen, the love and the devotion for Mother India with which he had imbued them, the ardent spirit of service and sacrifice with which he had inspired them, and the programme of non-cooperation and passive resistance which he had chalked out so clearly and forcefully for them to follow, would lead them, in spite of all detours and setbacks, to the cherished goal of independence. As the leading Indian historian, Dr. R.C. Majumdar, says: “While Tilak popularised politics and gave it a force and vitality it had hitherto lacked, Aravinda spiritualised it and became the high-priest of nationalism as a religious creed. He revived the theoretical teachings of Bankim Chandra and Vivekananda, and introduced them in the field of practical politics. Tilak had raised his voice against the policy of mendicancy followed by the Congress, but it was reserved for Aravinda to hit upon a positive approach to the problem. He anticipated Mahatma Gandhi by preaching the cult of passive resistance and non-cooperation as far back as 1906.” “But however much opinions might differ on these points, one must recognise that apart from the general forces working for nationalism, the movement was especially or more directly inspired by the teachings of Bankim Chandra, Vivekananda and Aravinda, who placed the country on the altar of God and asked for suffering and self-immolation as the best offerings for His worship… these teachings… inspired the lives of many a martyr who hailed the scaffold with a smile on their lips or suffered torments worse than death without the least flinching….”
Sister Nivedita, who had read Sri Aurobindo’s fiery articles in the Indu Prakash and heard about him from various sources, saw him for the first time at Baroda, and was immensely impressed by his Yogic bearing, his rock-like calm, his serene poise, vibrating with superhuman power, and the steady gaze of his far-seeing eyes — eyes of “one who gazes at futurity”, as Nevinson has expressed his observation. She promised him unreserved support in his political work, which was then being carried on in secret through Jatin Banerji, Barin, and others in Bengal; for, being in the State service, he was not publicly taking part in the politics. And when Sri Aurobindo left the State service and threw himself into politics, none was so intimate with him, none rendered him so devoted and persistent a help, none appreciated so well the significance of his work as Sister Nivedita, of whom Prof. Atindra Nath Bose says: “His (Vivekananda’s) disciple, Nivedita, took the (revolutionary) fire (from her Master) and blew it among the young nationalists who were seeking a new path.”
A few extracts from Nivedita’s biography, The Dedicated, by Lizelle Reymond, will show the inner affinity and understanding which existed between Sri Aurobindo and the spirited Irish lady, Nivedita, whom Vivekananda had moulded with his own hands and charged with something of his own creative fire:
“…India, ‘Mother India’, had become her Ishta, the supreme object of her devotion, in which she perceived the aim of her life and the peace of her acceptance.
“And in Baroda she made the acquaintance of Aurobindo Ghosh…. He and Nivedita were already known to one another through their writing, as well as through their bond in their love of India and of freedom. To Aurobindo Ghosh, Nivedita was the author of Kali, the Mother. To her, he was the leader of the future, whose fiery articles in the Indu Prakash… had sounded opening guns in the coming struggle, four years before.
“What he (Sri Aurobindo) was doing was to impart an esoteric significance to the nationalist movement, and make it a confession of faith. In appearance a passive type, a quiet — even silent — figure, he was a man of iron will whose work, personality, possessions, earnings, belonged to God and to that India which he considered not as a geographical entity but as the Mother of every Hindu; and he seized hold on the people and created between them and the nation a profoundly mystic bond…. The nationalism he taught was thus a religion in itself, and it was so that he had become the teacher of the nation. He wanted every participant in the movement to feel himself an instrument in the hand of God, renouncing his own will and even his body and accepting this law as an act of obedience and inner submission…. This injunction to act, endure, and suffer without question — to let oneself be guided by the assurance that God gives strength to him who struggles — required sacrifices which became in turn a reservoir of power from which new fighters drew inspiration to go forward. The individual and the community were no longer separated…. Aurobindo Ghosh with his clear insight into the swadharma (law of action) of his own people was suffusing it with a spiritual strength and making it live.
“Aurobindo Ghosh was now out of prison, and Nivedita had her school decorated… to celebrate his release. She found him completely transformed. His piercing eyes seemed to devour the tight-drawn skin-and-bones of his face. He possessed an irresistible power, derived from a spiritual revelation that had come to him in prison…
“With a mere handful of supporters — Nivedita among them — he launched an appeal and tried to rekindle the patriotic spark in the weakening society. His mission was now that of a Yogin sociologist.
“…He was already known as the ‘seer’ Sri Aurobindo, although still involved in political life, and as yet not manifested to his future disciples on the spiritual path. For Nivedita he was the expression of life itself, the life of a new seed grown on the ancient soil of India, the logical and passionate development of all her Guru’s teaching.
“Aurobindo’s open and logical method of presenting his own spiritual experience, and revealing the divine message he had received in his solitary meditation, created the necessary unity between his past life of action and his future spiritual discipline. He said: “When I first approached God, I hardly had a living faith in Him…. Then in the seclusion of the jail I prayed, ‘I do not know what work to do or how to do it. Give me a message.’ Then words came: ‘I have given you a work, and it is to help to uplift this nation…. I am raising up this nation to send forth My word…. It is Shakti that has gone forth and entered into the people. Long since, I have been preparing this uprising and now the time has come, and it is I who will lead it to its fulfilment!’
“Nivedita thought she could still hear the voice of Swami Vivekananda stirring up the masses: ‘Arise, sons of India! Awake!’ That had been the first phase of the struggle. Now this life-giving cry was repeated differently, because the effort required in the changing circumstances was no longer identical; but the source of it was still the same! Now the new order was that every individual should become a sadhaka of the nation — a seeker — so that ‘the One could find Himself and manifest Himself in every human being, in all humanity.’ Aurobindo Ghosh was throwing out the first ideas of the integral yoga he was to teach, depicting man in his cosmic reality. At the same time in the Transvaal there was another young leader, named Gandhi, practising with thousands of Hindus the doctrine of passive resistance. Was Aurobindo Ghose to become the leader of another movement of collective consciousness? No, his mission was of a different nature. He was, as Nivedita understood him, the successor to the spiritual Masters of the past, offering the source of his inspiration for all to drink from in Yogic solitude. Since his imprisonment at Alipore, Aurobindo Ghose was no longer a fighter, but a Yogi.”
The above long quotation, besides being vivid and authentic, focuses our attention on some important points: that Nivedita had the keen insight to discern the Yogic will and drive behind Sri Aurobindo’s dedicated life and activities; that she clearly perceived the spiritual and national significance of the unparalleled sacrifices joyfully made by the youth of Bengal under the direct inspiration of Sri Aurobindo — “sacrifices which became in turn a reservoir of power from which new fighters drew inspiration to go forward” — in Bengal and elsewhere; that Sri Aurobindo “was the expression of life itself, the life of a new seed grown on the ancient soil of India”, and not a world-shunning ascetic, spurning life’s salutary activities and seeking personal salvation; that he was “the logical and passionate development of all her Guru’s teaching”; and that “he was the successor to the spiritual Masters of the past, offering the source of his inspiration for all to drink from.” The only thing which needs a little clarification is that the “Yogic solitude” Nivedita speaks of was an inner solitude, and not at all a severance of all relations with the outer world; for Sri Aurobindo, since the very beginning of his adult life, has regarded life as the only field for the integral realisation of the integral Divine, and His manifestation in Matter. His union with the Divine included his union with the whole universe — with all humanity, and all beings, here and otherwhere.
Nivedita’s close collaboration with Sri Aurobindo from 1902-3 to the beginning of 1910, when he retired from politics, is a matter of history. Realising the presence of her Guru in Sri Aurobindo, she had accepted him as the destined Guru and champion of the national movement, and spared no pains in giving him every help in her power, from contributing to his papers to enlisting support for and organising the revolutionary party. Being on intimate terms with most of the luminaries of contemporary India, Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Jagadish Chandra Bose, P.C. Roy, Bepin Chandra Pal, Brahmabandhava Upadhyaya, Ramananda Chatterji, R.C. Dutt, Okakura, the Japanese art connoisseur, Gokhale, Tilak etc., she exerted a great influence in various fields of the resurgent life of the nation. Jagadish Chandra Bose and P.C. Roy gave her a run of their laboratories, where, in the evening, she taught some young revolutionaries how to make bombs. Her transparent sincerity, her intense love of India and her rare insight into the core of her culture, her flaming personality, and her brilliant mind and versatile genius endeared her to all. She had become, as Rabindranath puts it, “the mother of people”. What she did for Jagadish Chandra Bose and Abanindranath Tagore has been warmly acknowledged by them.
Next to Nivedita, it was Rabindranath who had the insight to perceive, earlier than many others, the spiritual greatness of Sri Aurobindo, and the mission of his life. In a moved Bengali poem, written on Sri Aurobindo in 1907, he made his obeisance to him, as we have already seen, and called him “the voice incarnate of India’s soul”. It was a phrase, which captured with a singular precision and felicity the real purpose and significance of Sri Aurobindo’s life. This insight of Rabindranath was a gift of his poetical genius. Prafulla Kumar Sarkar, in his Bengali book, Jatiya Andolane Rabindranath (Rabindranath in the National Movement), says “…This extraordinarily powerful man (Sri Aurobindo) created, as if by a magical spell a revolution in the political field of Bengal…. Sri Aurobindo, the leader of the New Party, was his (Rabindranath’s) friend and fellow worker. In his poem, Salutation to Sri Aurobindo, he has left an imperishable testimony to the deep respect he had for him.” Rabindranath had read some of Sri Aurobindo’s writings, heard much about him from Dinendra Kumar Roy, a man of letters, who had lived with Sri Aurobindo for some time at Baroda, and followed his brilliant career with growing admiration. He was also acquainted with Sri Aurobindo’s thoughts and ideas through his political deputies in Bengal, particularly Barin and Jatin. And when Sri Aurobindo left Baroda and went to Bengal as the first Principal of the newly-founded National College, of which Rabindranath was one of the chief organisers, they came into close touch with each other. Rabindranath saw Sri Aurobindo several times at his residence or his office, and exchanged views with him. Sri Aurobindo’s editorials in the Bande Mataram fired his patriotic feelings, and thrilled his poetical sensibilities. These intimate contacts and communion of two great souls contributed much to the development of the national spirit and enriched the cultural heritage of Bengal. Rabindranath’s admiration, affection and respect deepened into wondering reverence, which he expressed again, later, in his generous tribute to Sri Aurobindo, whom he interviewed at Pondicherry in 1928. “At the very first sight I could realise that he had been seeking for the soul and had gained it, and through his long process of realisation had accumulated within him a silent power of inspiration. His face was radiant with an inner light…. 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: ‘hearken to me.’” This homage, perhaps, the highest Rabindranath ever paid to any of his contemporaries, was, in essence, the same as rendered by Nivedita in her heart to Sri Aurobindo, and expressed in her unstinted collaboration with him during his political life. Both of them hailed him as the prophet and high priest of the renaissance of India, and seemed to divine the secret purpose of his retirement from active political life.
There were three more leaders of all-India fame — Lal-Bal-Pal — whose contribution to the Indian renaissance we shall now try to estimate, and incidentally refer to the appreciation of the creative spirituality of Sri Aurobindo’s life and nature by Tilak, Tilak’s Guru, Annasaheb Patvardhan, C. R. Das and Subhas Chandra Bose.
“…Then a thing happened suddenly and in a moment I was hurried away to the seclusion of a solitary cell. What happened to me during that period I am not impelled to say, but only this that day after day, He showed me His wonders and made me realise the utter truth of the Hindu religion… day after day I realised in the mind, I realised in the heart, I realised in the body the truths of Hindu religion. They became living experiences to me, and things were opened to me which no material science could explain…. In the communion of Yoga two messages came. The first message said, “I have given you a work and it is to help to uplift this nation. Before long the time will come when you will have to go out of jail; for it is not my will that this time either you should be convicted or that you should pass the time, as others have to do, in suffering for their country. I have called you to work, and that is the Adesh for which you have asked. I give you the Adesh to go forth and do my work…. Something has been shown to you in this year of seclusion, something about which you had your doubts and it is the truth of the Hindu religion. It is this religion that I am raising up before the world, and it is this that I have perfected and developed through the Rishis, saints and Avatars, and now it is going forth to do my work among the nations. I am raising up this nation to send forth my word. This is the Sanatana Dharma, this is the eternal religion which you did not really know before, but which I have now revealed to you. The agnostic and the sceptic in you have been answered, for I have given you proofs within and without you, physical and subjective, which have satisfied you. When you go forth, speak to your nation always this word, that it is for the Sanatana Dharma that they arise, it is for the world and not for themselves that they arise. I am giving them freedom for the service of the world…”
— Uttarpara Speech
No contemporary evidence, not even the most ardent and discerning homage of Sri Aurobindo’s friends and fellow-workers, discloses, so forcibly and lucidly, as does the above extract, the true nature of the work assigned to him by God as the mission of his life. His work for India was a means to his wider work for the world. Politics was but a prerequisite and preliminary to his real mission. The heightening of consciousness and the flood of illumination he had received as a Divine Gift in the Alipore jail pointed to a “religious and spiritual awakening as the next necessity and the next inevitable development” of the national being. The policy and programme of work, formulated and given to the nation, — a programme, which finally led the nation to independence despite its rejection, part rejection and final acceptance at the hands of the political leaders at various stages of the freedom fight — a change of the field of work became imperative. The foundation laid, firm and secure, the architect was called upon to concern himself with the raising of the building. God’s Will must be fulfilled, even if the world knows it not, nor understands.
There are five things in the above extract from the Uttarpara Speech, which deserve careful consideration:
(1) God says to Sri Aurobindo that the work given to him was “to help to uplift this nation”. It was not merely to free the nation from foreign control, but “to uplift it”.
(2) It was not God’s Will that “this time” Sri Aurobindo “should pass the time, as others have to do, in suffering for their country”. No freedom of choice was given to him to share in the suffering of his fellow-workers, no latitude to his personal human sympathies and sense of fellow-feeling. He was led away from suffering to serve His design.
(3) God was raising up Hindu religion — it is the Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion without any racial or national definition and denomination, that is meant — and He declared that it was now “going forth to do my work among the nations”. Its ultimate objective was not national but international regeneration or, as Vivekananda had prophesied, the regeneration and spiritualisation of mankind.
(4) The exceptional spiritual experiences which had been flooding Sri Aurobindo’s being did not grow in the soft soil of religious faith and certitude, but they took the agnostic and the sceptic in him by storm and unsealing their inner vision, revealed to them the infinite glories of the Spirit.
(5) God commissioned him to go forth and speak to the nation “this word” that it was “for the Sanatana Dharma that they arise”, it was “for the world and not for themselves that they arise”. Here we have, in clear outline, the meaning and mission of the life of Sri Aurobindo, who happened to be for the moment the storm-centre of the political movement of the country.
We have proposed to ourselves a brief and rapid estimate of the aims, ideals and achievements of the three of the greatest political leaders of contemporary India, who worked with Sri Aurobindo — Lal-Bal-Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bepin Chandra Pal.
That Bal Gangadhar Tilak or Lokamanya Tilak, as he was later called, was the most towering of the three leaders admits of no denying “…He is the very type and incarnation of the Maratha character, the Maratha qualities, the Maratha spirit, but with the unified solidity in the character, the touch of genius in the qualities, the vital force in the spirit which make a great personality readily the representative man of his people…. He has that closeness of spirit to the mass of men, that unpretentious openness of intercourse with them, that faculty of plain and direct speech which interprets their feelings and shows them how to think out what they feel, which are pre-eminently the democratic qualities. For this reason he has always been able to unite all classes of men behind him…. It is… a mistake to think of Mr. Tilak as by nature a revolutionary leader; that is not his character or his political temperament… with a large mind open to progressive ideas he unites a conservative temperament strongly in touch with the sense of his people….”
“…Though he has ideals, he is not an idealist by character. Once the ideal fixed, all the rest is for him practical work, the facing of hard facts, though also the overcoming of them when they stand in the way of the goal, the use of strong and effective means with the utmost care and prudence…. Though he can be obstinate and iron-willed when his mind is made up as to the necessity of a course of action or the indispensable recognition of a principle, he is always ready for a compromise which will allow of getting real work done…. Not revolutionary methods or revolutionary idealism, but the clean sight and the direct propaganda and action of the patriotic political leader insisting on the one thing needful and the straight way to drive at it, have been the sense of Mr. Tilak’s political career… the inflexible will of the patriot and man of sincere heart and thorough action which has been the very grain of his character,… the readiness to sacrifice and face suffering… with a firm courage when it comes….”
In the short obituary tribute to Lokamanya Tilak, which Sri Aurobindo wired from Pondicherry to Bepin Chandra Pal, the editor of the Independent, in response to his request for it, he said: “A great mind, a great will, a great preeminent leader of men has passed away from the field of his achievement and labour. To the mind of his country Lokamanya Tilak was much more, for he had become to it a considerable part of itself, the embodiment of its past efforts and the head of its present struggle for a free and greater life. His achievement and personality have put him amidst the first rank of historic and significant figures. He was one who built much rapidly out of little beginnings, a creator of great things out of an unworked material. The creations he left behind him were a new and strong and self-reliant national spirit, the reawakened political mind and life of a people, a will to freedom and action, a great national purpose. He brought to his work extraordinary qualities, a calm, silent, unflinching courage, an unwavering purpose, a flexible mind, a forward-casting vision of possibilities, an eye for the occasion, a sense of actuality, a fine capacity of democratic leadership, a diplomacy that never lost sight of its aim and pressed towards it even in the most pliant turns of its movement, and guiding all, a single-minded patriotism that cared for power and influence only as a means of service to the Motherland and a lever for the work of her liberation. He sacrificed much for her and suffered for her repeatedly and made no ostentation of his suffering and sacrifices. His life was a constant offering at her altar and his death has come in the midst of an unceasing service and labour…
“Two things India demands, a farther future, the freedom of soul, life and action needed for the work she has to do for mankind; and the understanding by her children of that work and of her own true spirit that the future of India may be indeed India. The first seems still the main sense and need of the present moment, but the second is also involved in them — a yet greater issue. On the spirit of our decisions now and in the next few years depends the truth, vitality and greatness of our future national existence. It is the beginning of a great Self-Determination not only in the external but in the spiritual. These two things should govern our action. Only so can the work done by Lokamanya Tilak find its true continuation and issue.”
Here again, as usual, Sri Aurobindo speaks of the great Self-Determination in the spiritual, and not only of the continuation of the work begun and achieved by Tilak but of its “issue”, “a greater issue”, the work which India “has to do for mankind”. The crown of his life’s mission was always in the forefront of his thought and vision.
Sri Aurobindo’s slashing criticism of the mendicant policy of the Congress must have impressed Tilak, as it had done many others, by its originality and brilliance. When Sri Aurobindo went to Western India to study the revolutionary work carried on there, “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.” Tilak had seen Sri Aurobindo at Baroda in 1901, as we have already stated. From about this time on, a sort of mutual regard began to grow in these two outstanding leaders. Tilak consulted Sri Aurobindo on almost every important political question. At Varanasi, during the Congress session, there was constant consultation between the two, and they stood together as the bulwark and guide of the Nationalist Party at Surat which saw the splitting up of the Congress. The National Conference that held its sittings there to discuss the split and the subsequent line of action, was presided over by Sri Aurobindo. According to Tilak’s biographers, G.P. Pradhan and A.K. Bhagawat, in their book Lokamanya Tilak, “Tilak and Aurobindo were master minds and when they came together each had his impact on the other. Though Tilak did not approve of Aurobindo’s attitude of welcoming repression, he realised the greatness of the ‘prophet of nationalism’ and for the time at least came under the spell of his magnetic personality. Tilak knew that Aurobindo symbolised a new force in Indian politics and he was aware that Aurobindo could and did rouse in hundreds of young men a desire to sacrifice everything for the sake of the motherland.” “To him (Sri Aurobindo) India’s fight for freedom was really an effort for the realisation of her soul. Under Aurobindo’s leadership the New movement transcended the limitations of politics and embraced life…. The association of Tilak and Aurobindo was a happy coincidence… Aurobindo was a visionary and had a mystic touch about him. Tilak was a realist and relied on intellect rather than on intuition. Tilak always advocated the need for manifold means — sādhanānāmanekatā — for getting Swaraj. To him the constitutional methods of the moderates, the direct action particularly the boycott and Swadeshi by the nationalists and the insurrectionary methods of revolutionaries — all these appeared to be necessary in fighting the British.” Tilak gave Sri Aurobindo full and active support in his effort
to pass the boycott and Swadeshi resolutions in the Calcutta Congress of 1906. Though a realist and constitutionalist by nature, patient and prudent enough to accept half a loaf rather than no bread at all, he never pitched his ideal one inch lower than complete Swaraj, and never ceased fighting for the full loaf. He had come under the spell of Sri Aurobindo’s magnetic personality, as his biographers rightly observe, and imbibed something of his spiritual force and drive, and, though there were differences of vision and views between them, his sturdy realism, directed by his sharp and prodigious intellect, seldom failed to yield precedence to Sri Aurobindo’s intuitive perception and inspired action. The mystic vein of Sri Aurobindo’s nature was so patently and powerfully impressive that no sensitive nationalist could escape its influence. Tilak was fully aware of it, as the following incident recorded by Bapat in his Marathi book, Reminiscences of Tilak, clearly shows:
“In 1917 Ranade (one of the eminent philosophers of his time) saw Tilak who had been released from the Mandalay jail. Tilak had expressed his wish to some of Ranade’s friends about Ranade’s entry into politics, and when the latter saw him, Tilak expressed the same wish to him. But Ranade felt that he had no call for politics. He said: ‘I have already become an active member of the Deccan Education Society and there seems to be no need for my giving it up in favour of politics. Temperamentally I am more inclined towards spirituality (than towards anything else). Besides, according to your view, in order to be an able politician, one should first attain to the state of a sthitaprajña (one who is firmly poised in spiritual wisdom). Before entering the arena of politics, one should be sure of this state in oneslf.’ Tilak remarked with a smile: ‘Aravinda Babu is (also?) a mystic.’” Writing on Tilak’s confidence in Sri Aurobindo’s state of a sthitaprajña, his biographers, Pradhan and Bhagwat, observe: “Tilak knew very well that strategically it was desirable to keep the two planks of civil revolt and revolutionary activity away from each other…. As a leader, however, it was his responsibility to see that all efforts for achieving freedom were carried on in the correct manner, and he therefore gave advice to the leaders of the revolutionary wing. He did not want the decision of the opportune moment to be entrusted to a less mature person who would be swayed by sentiments and affected by some passing phases in politics. He thought that only Aurobindo and himself could take such a momentous decision. He knew that a revolutionary action was too serious a matter to be decided by anyone except those who had attained a philosophic calm of the mind….” This is, indeed, a clear recognition on the part of Tilak of the spiritual realism of Sri Aurobindo’s nature, and a striking tribute to his imperturbable philosophic calm or the radiant placidity of a sthitaprajña.
In spite of the one being led by his reason and intellect, and the other by his intuition and inspiration, Tilak and Sri Aurobindo were the twin most creative forces in contemporary Indian politics — Tilak’s perspicacious realism, his lynx-eyed, resourceful diplomacy, his readiness to drive a compromise to its utmost verge and strike a hard bargain, his pliant, discriminating conservatism, and his unequalled hold on the hearts and minds of his people, paved the way for the achievement of political freedom, and rendered immense help to Sri Aurobindo’s radical endeavours to inculcate the true spirit of Swadeshi, inspire an imperious urge for absolute independence, and rouse the dynamic spirituality of the nation. Tilak’s aim was, not only the conquest of political Swaraj, but the revival of the ancient Dharma of the land-Lajpat Rai’s characterisation of Tilak as “an orthodox revivalist” was not quite just — and the building up of a great nation, rooted in the past and drawing its sap from the ancient heritage, but marching in the vanguard of modern civilisation. He never laid any claim to an illumined foreknowledge of the divine destiny of India and her mission of the spiritual regeneration of the human race. Sri Aurobindo’s aim was, not only preservative, but creative, spiritually creative, the building up of an India greater than she had ever been before, for the fulfilment of the evolutionary destiny of mankind. In this respect, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo stand out as the two seers and sculptors of the India that is to be. What Vivekananda intuited and initiated, Sri Aurobindo developed, expanded, and carried to its crowning accomplishment. India of the ageless Light, freed in the body and freed in the soul, shall fulfil the Will of God in the world, and lead humanity to the harmony and perfection of a new, a divine order of existence: this was the message and mission of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo.
Lala Lajpat Rai
Lala Lajpat Rai, the lion of the Punjab as he was aptly called, was a fearless fighter in the cause of freedom. It was he, more than anybody else, who kindled the patriotic fire in the hearts of the valiant Punjabis, and moulded by his example and influence some of the most intrepid soldiers of militant nationalism. He was in sympathy with the revolutionaries. In one of his speeches, he said: “Young men, your blood is hot. The tree of the nation calls for the blood. It is watered with blood.” As an Arya Samajist, he had an ethico-religious nostalgia which he incorporated into his revolutionary, extremist politics. Like Tilak, he too, came under the spell of Sri Aurobindo’s “magnetic personality” and imported something of his spiritual fervour into his own creed of nationalism, as Dr. R.C. Mazumdar shows: “He (Sri Aurobindo) regarded patriotism as a form of devotion and expressly said that ‘to the new generations, the redemption of their motherland should be regarded as the true religion, the only means of salvation.’ How this idea permeated the leaders of the new school may be judged from the following extract from an article of Lajpat Rai: ‘In my opinion, the problem before us is in the main a religious problem — religious not in the sense of doctrines and dogmas but religious in so far as to evoke the highest devotion and the greatest sacrifice from us.’” But he too had no pretensions to spiritual vision of the mission and destiny of India and her historic role of bringing the divine Light to the benighted world. He was, however, great as a political leader and commanded the respect of the whole nation by his sincerity and self-sacrifice.
Bepin Chandra Pal
Bepin Chandra Pal was a versatile scholar, an eloquent speaker, a deep and subtle thinker, and a consummate theoretician and propagandist. But as an organiser and leader of a national movement, which went on enlarging in magnitude and sweep since 1905, he failed to come up to the mark on account of some intrinsic defects of his nature and temperament. His political life furnishes an interesting study of a sudden rise on to the crest of a tidal wave of national movement, and an equally sudden and tragic fall into the weedy stagnancy of its backwater. In 1901-2, he was a Moderate, avowing his loyalty to the British Imperialism. “Even on his return from the Western world in 1901, he still continued to cherish the old-time belief in the justice and generosity of the British and regard the English rule in India as a sort of a Divine Dispensation…. This deep-rooted conviction of the old guards of the Congress in the moral basis and foundation of British rule in India was still shared by Bepin Chandra during 1901-2….” In 1902, on the occasion of the Shivaji Festival celebrated in Calcutta, he said among other things: “…And we are loyal, because we believe in the workings of the Divine Providence in our national history, both ancient and modern; because we believe that God himself has led the British to this country, to help it in the working out its salvation.” “The radical attitude that Aurobindo Ghose had adopted to the Congress movement even as early as 1893-94 in his writings in the Indu Prakash was still conspicuous by its absence in Bepin Chandra. Even in 1903 the latter could not shake off the spell of traditional Congress politics.”
But a sudden change took place in him, which we can, on the basis of the historical data available, ascribe to three things: (1) his close contact and association with Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya, (2) his closer association with Sri Aurobindo whose “magnetic personality” exerted a powerful influence upon him, and made him overnight a flaming “prophet of nationalism”, and (3) the mighty political agitation which the Partition of Bengal had unleashed. His speeches became full of the fire of militant nationalism, and were buttressed by an impressive display of philosophical knowledge. He soon became, not only a foremost political preacher in Bengal, but thrilled and captured the heart of Madras, and sent sparks of his impassioned nationalism flying all over the country. He was, according to Dr. R.C. Majumdar, a popular preacher of the spiritual nationalism of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo. He was a disciple of Yogi Bijoykrishna Goswami, and the spiritual experience, which he had in jail, effected a great change in him, and gave a fiery accent of inspiration to his utterances.
But he was aware of an innate inconstancy in his nature, a lack of firmness and tenacity in the face of difficulties, and it is this that proved his undoing. As soon as Sri Aurobindo was put into prison as an undertrial seditionist and revolutionary, and his contact was broken, Bepin Pal lapsed into his old moderatism and reiterated his avowal of loyalty to the British crown in his paper, Svaraj, which he published in England, and grew as much eloquent in praise of the blessings of the British rule as he had been in its denunciation. “During 1906-08 he had been a most powerful exponent of Indian Swaraj outside the British Empire, but the major trend of his speeches in England during 1908-11 was his attempted reconciliation of the highest National aspirations of Indians with the Imperial system of Great Britain.” It was a rather regrettable climb-down in a leader of his stature and calibre, and it ended in a total collapse, when he opposed the non-cooperation movement of Mahatma Gandhi at Barisal in 1921. The most eloquent exponent of Sri Aurobindo’s programme of Non-cooperation and Passive Resistance became now a bitter critic of Gandhiji’s Non-Cooperation, and “…eleven years later, in 1932, he passed away, amidst grinding poverty, almost unwept, unhonoured and unsung.”
It would be interesting to recall in this context that the goal Sri Aurobindo had put before the country even in 1906 was complete independence outside the British Empire, and the means he had advocated for its attainment was Non-Cooperation and Passive Resistance. The armed insurrection organised on a country-wide scale, which he had preached and attempted at first, fell into the background, as the country did not seem to him to be quite ready for it, and he advocated the former programme of Non-Cooperation and Passive Resistance as being effective enough for the realisation of the goal.
Since the beginning of 1910, when Sri Aurobindo retired from the field of politics to Pondicherry for the working out and realisation of the next higher objective of the national renaissance, the country passed through various phases of the political movement, adopting various programmes from Cooperation and Responsive Cooperation back again to Non-Cooperation, and the goal was pitched higher and higher from Colonial Self-Government and the Irish type of Home Rule to complete Independence free from British control. It is interesting to remember in this connection that Mahatma Gandhi, as a disciple of Gokhale, was at first a whole-hearted cooperator. But little by little events and circumstances opened his eyes to the grim reality of the political situation, and forced him to turn an uncompromising non-cooperator. He showed the same flexibility as Tilak had done on his return from the Mandalay prison. The great political issue of 1920 was whether the Congress leaders should seek election to the Legislative Councils according to the provisions of the 1919 reforms. Gandhiji was willing to advise the Congress to contest the elections, but in the meantime the Jallianwala Bag massacre and the Khilafat wrong gave him a rude shock and disillusioned him. He lost all his faith in British justice, and decided to non-cooperate with the Government. He succeeded in enlisting the support of many Congressmen for his non-cooperation movement, and presented a resolution, embodying his programme, in the special Calcutta session of the Congress in 1920. “He intended the movement to be based on the moral issues arising out of the British injustice concerning the Khilafat question and the Punjab issue. It must be remembered that Gandhiji’s experience as a popular leader had not until this time been primarily political. Rather his efforts in South Africa and his early work in India were basically humanitarian. This may account for the rather amazing fact that he did not originally include Swaraj as a reason, let alone the reason, for the initiation of national non-cooperation. Gandhiji advocated his programme because he believed that the Khilafat and Punjab issues were moral issues upon which the nation should take action. He did not initially accept the idea that British colonial rule in India was itself the greatest moral issue of the day. It was left for one of Tilak’s colleagues, Vijayaraghavachari, to remind the young leader that for over twenty years the Nationalists had worked for one great all-encompassing goal — Swaraj. He reminded Gandhiji that Swaraj was the great moral issue before India, and urged that Swaraj be incorporated as both the goal of and the motivating reason for the non-cooperation movement. Gandhiji readily agreed to this.” Referring to this incident, Gandhiji writes in his autobiography, The Story of my Experiments with Truth, “In my resolution non-cooperation was postulated only with a view to obtaining redress of the Punjab and the Khilafat wrongs. That, however, did not appeal to Sj. Vijayaraghavachari. ‘If non-cooperation was to be declared, why should it be with reference to particular wrongs? The absence of Swaraj was the biggest wrong that the country was labouring under; it should be directed,’ he argued. Pandit Motilalji also wanted the demand for Swaraj to be included in the resolution. I readily accepted the suggestion, and incorporated the demand for Swaraj in my resolution.”
Thus Non-cooperation and Passive Resistance came to be finally accepted as the policy and programme par excellence, and the “Quit India” movement of a later date (1942) clinched the goal as absolute independence free from British control.
A question naturally arises here: How did Sri Aurobindo give such a full-fledged plan, and fix what appeared even to the greatest of contemporary political leaders as rather an impracticable goal, so early as 1906, when the freedom fight had but just begun? There should be nothing astounding in it, if we remember that the Yogi can command a prevision of the future happenings, which even to the developed rational intelligence remain only a matter of vague surmise or imaginative dream. The poet or artist sometimes receives this kind of intuitive vision or immediate inner apprehension. It flashes across his consciousness in a moment of inspiration. But in an advanced Yogi these sporadic flashes resolve themselves into a steady current of lustre.
Such an inspired moment the poet-patriot C.R. Das had, when in 1909 he prophesied before the judge who was trying Sri Aurobindo in the Alipore Case on the trumped-up charge of sedition and revolutionary action: “The able and prophetic advocacy of Chittaranjan (C.R. Das) raised the trial almost to an epic level. His famous appeal to the court still rings in the ears because it has proved to be true to the letter. He said to Mr. Beachcroft, who was the judge in the case, ‘My appeal to you is this, that long after the controversy will be hushed in silence, long after this turmoil and the agitation will have ceased, long after he is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism and the lover of humanity. Long after he is dead and gone, his words will be echoed and re-echoed, not only in India but across distant seas and lands… ”
The above quotation is not only a string of words, issuing like flakes of fire from a burning moment of inspiration, it suggests the deep impression Sri Aurobindo’s personality had made upon the sensitive mind of C.R. Das. What was there in Sri Aurobindo in 1908-9 on the basis of which one could predict that “his words would be echoed and re-echoed not only in India but across distant seas and lands”?
Subhash Chandra Bose, the chief lieutenant of C.R. Das, — C.R. Das became later in 1918 the foremost pilot of Bengal politics and one of the greatest leaders of the Indian National Congress — writes in his book, An Indian Pilgrim: “In my undergraduate days Arabindo Ghosh was easily the most popular leader in Bengal, despite his voluntary exile and absence from 1909. His was a name to conjure with…. 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 tongues in their cheeks, would talk only of colonial self-government. A mixture of spirituality and politics had given him a halo of mysticism…. When I came to Calcutta, Arabindo was already a legendary figure. Rarely have I seen people speak of a leader with such rapturous enthusiasm…. All that was needed in my eyes to make Arabindo an ideal guru for mankind was his return to active life.”
“…the supreme service of Bankim to his nation was that he gave us the vision of our Mother. The bare intellectual idea of the Motherland is not in itself a great driving force; the mere recognition of the desirability of freedom is not an inspiring motive…. It is not till the Motherland reveals herself to the eye of the mind as something more than a stretch of earth or a mass of individuals, it is not till she takes shape as a great Divine and Maternal Power in a form of beauty that can dominate the mind and seize the heart that these petty fears and hopes vanish in the all-absorbing passion for the Mother and her service, and the patriotism that works miracles and saves a doomed nation is born. To some men it is given to have that vision and reveal it to others. It was thirty-two years ago that Bankim wrote his great song and few listened; but in a sudden moment of awakening from long delusions the people of Bengal looked round for the truth and in a fated moment somebody sang Bande Mataram. The mantra had been given and in a single day a whole people had been converted to the religion of patriotism. The Mother had revealed herself. Once that vision has come to a people, there can be no rest, no peace, no further slumber till the temple has been made ready, the image installed and the sacrifice offered. A great nation which has had that vision can never again bend its neck in subjection to the yoke of a conqueror.”
It was July, 1906. Sri Aurobindo had taken indefinite leave without pay, and left Baroda. He was now in Bengal. The peaceful life of self-preparation at Baroda had dosed, and a new chapter of action, of storm and stress, had begun. The Partition of Bengal had roused the whole nation. Nationalism was no longer a pious sentiment or an intellectual aspiration, but had become an irrepressible urge of the soul of the people, as if it prayed to Heaven: “O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.” Sri Aurobindo cast a spell on the whole of Bengal. He was as fascinated and encouraged by the human raw material that flocked to him in response to his call as the latter was magnetised and galvanised by his spiritual influence. This was the material out of which he had to shape the destiny of the nation.
According to one biographer, Sri Aurobindo at first put up at the Yugantar Office at Kanaidhar Lane in Calcutta, but Subodh Mullick, “one of Sri Aurobindo’s collaborators in his secret action and afterwards also in Congress politics”, and about whose munificent gift for the foundation of the Bengal National College we have already spoken, sent his brother-in-law, the Civilian C.C. Dutt, to Sri Aurobindo, inviting him to stay at his house so that he could be properly looked after. Sri Aurobindo accepted the invitation and moved to the palatial building of Subodh Mullick at 12, Wellington Street.
The Bengal National College was started in August, 1906. It was probably on his birthday, the 15th August, that Sri Aurobindo joined the College as its first Principal. Satish Chandra Mukherjee, the well-known educationist, became its Superintendent. Most of the local men of light and leading were among its organisers and active supporters. All felt the urgent need for an overhauling of the whole educational system, and liberating it from the cramping and perverting control of the British bureaucracy.
Lala Lajpat Rai says in his book, Young India: “Never before in the history of the human race was it so well realised as now that the school is the nursery of the man and the citizen. Lord Curzon realised it in full and it was his aim to curtail, or, if possible, crush the nationalist influences in the schools and colleges managed and conducted by Indian agencies. It was his desire to introduce the English element in all these institutions and put them under British control. He had invited European missionaries to the Secret Educational Conference at Simla, but not a single Indian, Hindu or Mohammedan. He could not trust them (i.e. the Indians) with his ideas. Hence the need of secrecy. The National Council of Education was supposed to be working against the spirit of his policy. He was gone, but the bureaucracy, who were identified with his wishes, views and schemes, were there. It was impossible that they would let the Bengalees, whoever they might be, build up a system of education and a net-work of educational institutions, that not only would owe nothing to the Government but were also to be quite free of official or English control and of English influence.”
But the authorities of the National Council of Education had neither a very clear conception of what constitued national education, nor the courage of their conviction. They tried their best to steer the College and the Schools clear of politics. Many of them were conservative and timid. Though financially independent, the College and the Schools followed, more or less, the current English system of education with certain minor modifications.
The Declaration of the paper, Bande Mataram, was filed by Bepin Chandra Pal on 6th August, 1906. He was to be the editor. As Sri Aurobindo says: “Bepin Pal started the Bande Mataram with Rs. 500/- in his pocket donated by Haridas Haldar. He called in my help as assistant editor and I gave it; I called a private meeting of the Nationalist leaders in Calcutta and they agreed to take up the Bande Mataram as their party paper.” Later on 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 Chandra and Sri Aurobindo but some other very able writers, Shyam Sundar Chakravarty, Hemendra Prasad Ghose and Bejoy Chatterjee. Shyam Sundar caught up something like Sri Aurobindo’s way of writing and later on many took his articles for Sri Aurobindo’s.”
Soon after the launching of the daily Bande Mataram, Bepin Chandra Pal left for Sylhet and the other districts, and the whole charge of the paper was taken up by Sri Aurobindo. But he did not allow his name to be announced as the editor, because he had not yet given up the Baroda Service. At first, for about two months, it was published from the office of the Sandhya, the vernacular paper edited by Brahmabandhava Upadhyaya, and afterwards on the 8th October its office was shifted to No.200, Cornwallis Street. Its office was again shifted on November l to 2/1 Creek Row, from where it was published in an enlarged form.
Bande Mataram generated a sense of urgency in the political consciousness of the country, an irrepressible hunger for the blessings of freedom, and an intense yearning for self-discovery and self-fulfilment in every sphere of national life. Never before had nationalism been preached in such prophetic, spiritual accents. Never before had Indians been told that they were destined to be the architects of a culture and civilisation which would lead humanity to a new dawn of creative glory. Never before, in the history of the world, had nationalism been lifted to the sublime heights of such a spiritual passion, and invested with such mystic significance! As an all-India paper, Bande Mataram stood head and shoulders above all its rivals, and inculcated a message of the most vital importance to the nation. Bepin Chandra Pal writes in his Character Sketches: “The hand of the Master was in it from the beginning…. Morning after morning, not only Calcutta but the educated community in every part of the country eagerly awaited its vigorous pronouncements on the stirring questions of the day. It even forced itself upon the callous and self-centred British Press. Extracts from it commenced to be reproduced week after week even in the columns of the Times in London…. And Aravinda was the leading spirit, the central figure, in the new journal.” Dr. R.C. Majumdar writes in his History of the Freedom Movement in India, Vol. II: “With the growth of the Extremist Party, initiative of the new spirit generated by the Swadeshi movement and neo-nationalism gradually passed from the hands of the old leaders like Surendranath into those of Aravinda and Bepin Chandra who were always in touch with Tilak and Lajpat Rai. These four were the great leaders of the new movement, but Aravinda soon gained the position of supremacy….” Again he says: “…the Extremist Party had an accession of immense strength when it was joined by Aravinda Ghose, who proved to be a host in himself. Indeed the entry of this new personality in the Congress arena may be regarded as a major event in Indian politics. Aravinda’s articles in the Bande Mataram put the Extremist Party on a high pedestal all over India. He expounded the high philosophy and national spirit which animated the Party, and also laid down its programme of action. But far more valuable to the Extremist Party than even his discourses, was his striking personality. Fired with religious fervour he preached nationalism as a religion,… and he, the prophet of this new religion, infused by his precept and example, courage and strength into everyone that came in touch with him. His emergence in Indian politics was as sudden as it was unexpected. Of him it may be truly said that he awoke one morning and found himself famous, or that he came, he saw, and he conquered. He rose like a meteor and vanished like it, — from the political atmosphere. But unlike the meteor the dazzling light he shed on Indian politics did not vanish with him. The torch which he lighted continued to illumine Indian politics till it passed into the hands of worthy successors who led it to its destined goal”. It is a particularly remarkable estimate of Sri Aurobindo’s political career — remarkable in its compact precision and unimpeachable in the truth of its perspective. Prof. J.L.Banerji says: “Whoever the actual contributor to the Bande Mataram might be — the soul, the genius of the paper was Aravinda. The pen might be that of Shyam Sundar or who not — the world did not care about it; but the voice was the voice of Aravinda Ghose: his clear clarion notes calling men to heroic and strenuous self-sacrifice; his unswerving, unfaltering faith in the high destinies of the race; his passionate resolve to devote life, fame, fortune all to the service of the Mother.” Profs. Haridas Mukherjee and Uma Mukherjee write in their book, India’s Fight for Freedom: “With his appearance on the scene, Aurobindo was at once recognised as a God-ordained leader of the New Party…. The Bande Mataram, under Aurobindo’s leadership, opened a new chapter in the history of Indian Nationalism.” “Bengal was the main scene of operation of a mighty revolution more than fifty years ago. The hero of that revolution was Sri Aurobindo with his group of revolutionary youths whom he had been training up in the extreme forms of self-sacrifice in the service of the country and in achieving for it Purna Swaraj or complete freedom. The revolution aimed at was more vital and fundamental than what is generally conceived. Its primary objective was to accomplish a moral and intellectual revolution in the mind of the country, to kindle in the people a burning desire for national freedom. Indeed, he introduced into Indian politics at the very dawn of Freedom’s battle what would be called the New Thought or the New Spirit. …In him was incarnated the very soul of awakened India in its innate individuality and inherent spirit of integration.…” The same authors write in the Modern Review of August, 1963, — and their words carry the weight of scrupulous research scholarship — “During the brief period of its (Bande Mataram’s) existence it effected a profound revolution in Indian politics, in the thoughts and feelings of his countrymen…. Sri Aurobindo was, in the strictest sense of the term, a true prophet, path-finder and pioneer of India’s Freedom Movement. Of all the statesmen modern India has produced, he had the clearest vision of Indian Swaraj in its fulness as well as of the practical means to attain it by strenuous and sustained struggle. In the political arena he exhibited two distinct but inwardly allied personalities — as a Passive Resister and as a Revolutionary, — and in both the capacities he cast a powerful influence over the whole course of India’s Freedom Movement which had its culmination in the transfer of power in 1947. His spirit of passive resistance found a veritable incarnation in Mahatma Gandhi while that of revolution a living embodiment in Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.”
These few discerning estimates of Sri Aurobindo’s role in inspiring his countrymen with an urgent spirit of nationalism and a new sense of the spiritual destiny of India indicate, to a certain extent, how profound, how radical and abiding was the political work he did in the short span of only three or four years. The prophet or pioneer preaches his gospel, prepares the ground, scatters broadcast the seeds of his new idea or new thought in the world. The world takes little account of this ploughing and sowing, but the seeds germinate and grow and produce a harvest which other men come forward to reap. The world acclaims the reapers, but knows little about the silent sowing of the prophet. The greatest revolutions are hatched in silence by an inscrutable working of the Time-Spirit. The work of the prophet is more powerful, more creative than his words. Sometimes the world cherishes his words and proclaims and propagates them, but the spirit and force of his work eludes its grasp. And it is this intangible spirit with its irresistible force that moulds the destinies of mankind.
THE NEW SPIRIT
“…This new spirit showed itself in the unprecedented agitation against the proposed Partition of Bengal. It expressed itself in the spontaneous outburst of indignation at the partition of the Province being perpetrated against the wishes of the people, and it seized that weapon of the weak, the boycott, which has now and then been so successfully wielded both in the West and the East. It manifested itself in the Swadeshi movement which is but another name for self-help, inasmuch as it wants the people to substitute preference on their part for protection on the part of the Government, and suffer, if necessary, for a time for the good that is sure to follow.
“It was this pew spirit which demonstrated at the Congress meeting held at the British Indian Association rooms that an influential section of the educated community would no longer tolerate autocracy in any shape, in any form.
“The working of this new spirit is apparent in the strikes, which prove a wonderful capacity for combination in people, who have never taken part in political agitations.
“This filtering down of the new spirit to the people is a significant sign of the times; and makes us exult, for the “Promised Land” is within sight now. Whatever the old leaders may do with their exploded notions of politics, they will be powerless against the rush of the new spirit, when it permeates the people, the source of energy in a nation. The new spirit demands new methods of agitation — the old order must change yielding place to new. And it behoves all well-wishers of the nation to foster the new spirit of nationalism, for in it alone there is salvation.”
Bande Mataram, 25th August 1906
The Bande Mataram, as we have already seen, achieved unprecedented success as the supreme voice of the awakened soul of the country. It unveiled boundless horizons, instilled an urgent spirit of courage and self-sacrifice, created an inextinguishable thirst for freedom, and roused the youth of the nation to the imperative cult of Mother-worship. “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 view 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…. 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; and he was immediately successful.” Bande Mataram at once leapt into country-wide popularity and set the tone of progressive political thought in the country. Bepin Pal’s departure from its editorial board made little difference to its growing power and influence.
Sri Aurobindo was now saddled with a double responsibility — the editorship and general control of the Bande Mataram, and his work as the Principal of the National College. Both of these works entailed hard labour and drew heavily upon the reserve of his energies. But in both he achieved unexampled success. He endeared himself to his students at the National College, who loved and adored him with the same intensity of devotion as he had received from his students at the Baroda College. When he would lecture in the class, they would hang upon his lips — it is said even many professors came in to listen — and they found in his informal, unacademic way of teaching something which gripped their hearts, illumined their intelligence, and fired their imagination. He taught most by appearing to teach the least. His presence was an irresistible inspiration, and his soft, warm words, shot with flashes of intuition and insight, were evocative and quickening. Balai Dev Sharma, a noted Bengali writer, who was then one of his students at the National College, records his impressions in the following manner. It is his first experience in the class that he describes. “When I reached there, I saw in the middle hall a young man of placid appearance. He was clad in a shirt and a chaddar (upper cloth). If I remember right my impression of about forty years ago, I seem to recall his eyes, which were withdrawn from the outer world and concentrated on the inner spaces of his consciousness. On that day Sri Aurobindo addressed both the teachers and the students together. But the subject of his talk was not an educational one. He spoke of a sad accident that had happened. A student of the Calcutta University had fallen from the verandah of the first floor of a University Building and lost his consciousness. A crowd immediately collected there, but all it could do was to look on helplessly and wring their hands. None thought of rendering any active help. Just at that time, an Englishman was driving by. He noticed the boy, lying unconscious, picked him up in his car, and took him straight to the Campbell Medical College for first aid. Relating the accident, Sri Aurobindo compared the character of the Indians with that of the Europeans and observed that it was their devotion to duty which had made the Europeans masters of the world. When that titanic power of practical work would be united with the spirituality of India, our national character would evolve such a type as would be incomparable in the world.”
Referring to the Bande Mataram, Sri Aurobindo writes: “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…. The Bande Mataram was almost unique in journalistic history in the influence it exerted in converting the mind of a people and preparing it for revolution…. 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….” S.K. Ratcliffe, editor of the Statesman of Calcutta, wrote the following letter to the Manchester Guardian: “We know Aurobindo Ghose only as a revolutionary nationalist and editor of a flaming newspaper which struck a ringing note in Indian daily nationalism…. (It) was full of leading and special articles written in English with brilliance and pungency not hitherto attained in the Indian press. It was the most effective voice of what we then called nationalist extremism.”
Sri Aurobindo suffered from a dangerous attack of fever from October to the beginning of December, 1906. He stayed with his father-in-law, Bhupal Chandra Bose, at Serpentine Lane, during his illness. He recovered partially at the end of November, but had a relapse in December. In about the middle of December (11th December) he went to Deoghar, where his maternal grand-father, Rajnarayan Bose, was living, for a change of air, but could not stay there long. He had to hurry down to Calcutta to attend the Calcutta Session of the Indian National Congress, which promised to be a crucial one for his Nationalist Party. He had to go to Deoghar again a few times till March, 1907, for recruiting his health.
The Calcutta National Congress
The Calcutta Congress (26th to 29th December, 1906) marked a definite step in advance towards the ideal of the Nationalist Party. Fearing that the choice of the President would fall upon Tilak, who was the acknowledged leader of the Nationalist Party, the Moderates wired an urgent invitation to Dadabhai Naoroji, who was then in England, to preside over the twenty-second Session of the Congress. There was every possibility of a decisive tug-of-war between the two wings of the Congress, for the Moderates were as much bent on maintaining their authority as the Nationalists on squashing it. The latter were in no mood to put up any longer with the spineless political dalliance of the Moderates, which was damming the free flow of the new spirit of nationalism. Impassioned patriotism and self-sacrificing zeal threatened to engulf cautious and calculating political prudence. Sri Aurobindo, as the champion of the new spirit, wanted the Nationalist resolutions on Boycott, Swadeshi, National Education and Independence to be passed in the Congress, and his Party stood in solid support behind him. But the resolutions could not be passed in their original forms. Both the Parties had respect for Dadabhai Naoroji, and, besides, they did not want to take the extreme step of an open cleavage. After some tussle, all the resolutions proposed by the Nationalists were accepted with some minor clippings. Madan Mohan Malaviya, opposing Bepin Pal’s eloquent advocacy of the Boycott of all British goods to be adopted on an all-India basis, exhorted the Congress to keep it confined to Bengal only. The spirit of Swadeshi, which was growing more and more urgent and constructive in Bengal, and spreading to other parts of the country, was given a definite encouragement and stimulus. But the main importance of the Calcutta Congress lay in its declaration of Swaraj as the goal of the political movement in the country. Dadabhai Naoroji, the Grand Old Man of Indian politics, saved the face of the Moderates as well as appeased the Nationalist Party by declaring for the first time in the history of the Congress “Swaraj” as the goal. It is true that he meant by the word nothing more than Colonial Self-Government, but the word rang out with a compelling charm and seemed to satisfy both the Parties. It had been used in Bengal by Sakharam Ganesh Deuskar in his stirring book, Desher Katha (in Bengali) and also by Tilak. To the Nationalist it meant nothing short of complete autonomy, free from foreign control. But the compromise arrived at in the Calcutta Congress could only put off and not obviate the menace of an open rupture between the two wings.
It is interesting to note here that not only was the programme of Passive Resistance and Non-Cooperation preached in Bengal for attaining the goal of Swaraj or Independence, but even the use of the Charkha was advocated as a subsidiary cottage industry to supplement the supply of mill-made cloth and give an added impetus to the Boycott of British cloth. The Bande Mataram of the 30th December 1906, published the following: “The Charkha: Hironmoyee Devi advocated Charkha in the industrial Conference. She said: ‘If we could not utilise the leisure of our women, which is now uselessly frittered away, in some small industries, assuming that Charkha cannot compete with machinery, it will yet give food to millions of starving women and find some useful work for those who have, for want thereof, to fritter away their leisure hours’ ‘…then again bear in mind that Manchester is trying to kill our mill industry, and of this we are daily getting more and more tangible proof.’” Charkha was thus advocated as a double remedy, at once economic and political, — as providing work for the unemployed, and aiding the Boycott of foreign cloth — which was perhaps envisaging it in the right perspective, and not crediting it with illimitable potentialities. The machine has come to stay, and Charkha cannot presume to oust it.
A question crops up here, which seems to be quite pertinent to the context. How did the idea of Boycott, which later on came to be expanded and elaborated into the policy of Non-cooperation and Passive Resistance by Sri Aurobindo, originate? It is a complicated question, and no answer is likely to be authentic and conclusive. Basing their observations on the I.B. Records, Government of West Bengal, Profs. Haridas Mukherjee and Uma Mukherjee write in their book, India’s Fight for Freedom, pp. 189-190: “Even as early as 1874 Boycott was advocated as a step to revive Indian industries which had been ruined by British commercial policy in this country. The idea of Boycott of Manchester cloth was preached during 1875-76 and again in 1878 on account of Manchester hostility to the newly started Indian mills in Bombay. Again, during 1883-84 when popular feelings ran very high as a sequel to the Anti-Ilbert Bill agitation by the Anglo-Indians and the imprisonment of Surendra Nath Banerjea, the Boycott of British goods was strongly advocated by a section of the Indian community. Again, in 1891 as a sequel to popular indignation against the Consent Bill, the Boycott of British goods was not only preached, but also practised to some extent.
“From the same official source we learn that the real originator of the idea of boycotting foreign goods, particularly British,… was Tahal Ram Ganga Ram (an inhabitant of North Western India and belonging to the Arya Samaj) who visited Calcutta during February-March, 1905, delivering inflammatory speeches every evening before the students in the College Square, and asking them to go in for Boycott of British goods in favour of indigenous products… in the days of heated Anti-Partition agitation, it acquired a new force and vitality on account of its close political associations. In this mental climate Krishna Kumar Mitra’s call for Boycott through his weekly organ, the Sanjivani (July 13, 1905) found a ready response in the country. The Sanjivani’s call for Boycott was soon followed by a similar call given out by the Amrita Bazar Patrika which published on July 17, 1905, a letter over the initial ‘G’, in which the Boycott of English goods was strongly advocated. ‘G’ was first believed to be the name of Lai Mohan Ghose, but afterwards it was known that the writer was either Aurobindo Ghose or Barindra Kumar Ghose, as revealed in the I.B. Records, L. No. 47, West Bengal. All Government reports and records of that time attached very great importance to this letter of July 17, and even called it the ‘first’ manifesto of Boycott….” We may leave it to history to trace the origination of the idea of the Boycott, but we can quite legitimately ask: “Who revived, expanded and developed the idea into a stable base for a vigorous policy and programme of political action for the attainment of national independence? Who reduced the theory to a consistent and persistent practice? Who forged it into the most deadly weapon in the armoury of militant nationalism? Who breathed the fire into it, which blazed up in subsequent years into a country-wide conflagration?”
“…The Bengal boycott is not the outcome of mere economic necessity but it is rightly read by the politically awakened peoples as the first act of those who have come under the inspiring ideal of freedom. It marks a new epoch in our history. In fact, it inaugurates our history once more. The Indian history during the last few centuries was something like a blank and important events have just begun to fill in that emptiness. The history of free America began with the boycott. The spirit of freedom had everywhere its earliest manifestation in this act of passive resistance, and if events are divine, if the purpose of a higher power is distinctly written on their face, then the Bengal boycott should also be understood to herald the bright future of our country. Individual acts of self-sacrifice for faith and for conscience are also being reported from various places. The moral renascence has begun with the desire for self-rule. The tendency to dare and suffer is everywhere manifest. Patriotism is gaining strength the more it is sought to be cowed down. The juvenile community are facing the bureaucratic wrath with an indifference to consequence which is simply surprising. They are availing themselves of every opportunity to foster and spread the spirit of nationalism in the land. Their enthusiasm, their daring is ever on the increase, their noble contagion is extending to other quarters. In short, the spirit that gives rise to epoch-making events is once more in our midst, and let nobody despair of the future.”
Bande Mataram, September 15, 1907
The two papers, Yugantara in Bengali and Bande Mataram in English, continued with a mounting intensity of patriotic passion their call upon the nation to shake off the chains of slavery and regain freedom. Freedom is the life-breath of a nation. If freedom is lost, the nation decays and dies in spite of the utmost care and solicitude of its masters to keep it alive. Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya’s paper, Sandhya, also lent its virile voice to the rousing of the nation to an urgent sense of freedom. But Yugantara soon fell a victim to the wrath of the Government. Its manager, Abinash Chandra Bhattacharya, and its printer, Bhupendra Nath Datta, youngest brother of Swami Vivekananda, were arrested. On Sri Aurobindo’s advice, Bhupendra Nath refused to defend himself in an alien court, and courted rigorous imprisonment for one year. Abinash Chandra Bhattacharya was acquitted, as no definite evidence could be found against him.
At about this time Upendra Nath Bandopadhyaya came down to Calcutta and joined the staff of the Yugantara. He had written a letter to Sri Aurobindo from Chandernagore, where he was a teacher, offering his services in the cause of national freedom. Sri Aurobindo discerned in the writer of the letter the fiery stuff he was made of, and advised Shyam Sundar Chakravarty to communicate his permission to him. Upendra Nath did not take long to make his mark. He proved to be a talented writer and a dauntless, resourceful political fighter. Nolini Kanta Gupta writes about him in his Reminiscences: “Upenda was like a leader and teacher to us. It was he who taught us the Gita in the Maniktala Gardens. Living in his company in the jail I learnt many things and received considerable enthusiasm, stimulus and wholesome advice from him. I am grateful to him for it…. Upenda also showed me certain methods of doing meditation, and this too helped me pass my time in the jail.” Upendra Nath was imprisoned in the Alipore jail along with Sri Aurobindo, Nolini Kanta and others, and his intimate pen-picture of Sri Aurobindo, which we shall partly quote from his Bengali book, Nirvasiter Atmakatha (Autobiography of an Exile), is a vivid and authentic record of Sri Aurobindo’s life as a prisoner. Sri Aurobindo’s Uttarpara Speech gives us a glimpse of his inner life, the sudden flood of spiritual experiences he had in the jail; but Upendra Nath’s book admits us to the physical presence of the Master and a close view of his outer life and nature. Sri Aurobindo’s Kara Kahini in Bengali (now out of print), in which he deals with his jail life is another authentic source of our knowledge of the way he reacted to the great hardships and indignities to which he was subjected there, and which, instead of creating any bitterness or acute sense of discomfort in him, became a matter of amused observation and welcome experience. He seems not to have suffered from them at all. On the contrary, the book bubbles over with such kindly humour, and the narrative trips along with such sparkling buoyancy that the reader is left with the impression that the writer had distilled a positive enjoyment out of those sickening experiences.
Rabindranath Tagore once invited Sri Aurobindo to dinner at his Calcutta residence, where Sri Aurobindo met Okakura, the famous artist and art-connoisseur of Japan and the great scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose of international repute. Tagore used to see Sri Aurobindo from time to time at the Sanjivani Office.
Sri Aurobindo wrote a series of articles on passive resistance in the Bande Mataram from 9th to 23rd April, 1907. A few lines from these articles will suffice to prove how clear was his perception of the potentialities of the movement of passive resistance, and how cogent and exhaustive his treatment of it. They bear out our contention that his politics was at once idealistic and practical — a rare blend of high spiritual flight and a quiet, vigilant, flexible dealing with the tangled forces of life. Those who think that spiritual or Yogic life is a life of visionary idealism, too unpractical, withdrawn, and passive or resigned to be able to grapple with brute material facts and the cross-currents of politico-economic factors, will be cured of their delusion if they read his articles on boycott and passive resistance. Dynamic Yoga is a Yoga of perfection in works, Yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam.
“The primary requisite for national progress, national reform, is the free habit of free and healthy national thought and action which is impossible in a state of servitude. The second is the organisation of the national will in a strong central authority… we have to establish a popular authority which will exist side by side and in rivalry with a despotic foreign bureaucracy — no ordinary rough-riding despotism, but quiet, pervasive and subtle, — one that has fastened its grip on every detail of our national life and will not easily be persuaded to let go, even in the least degree, its octopus-like hold. This popular authority will have to dispute every part of our national life and activity, one by one, step by step, with the intruding force to the extreme point of entire emancipation from alien control. This and no less than this is the task before us…. It is only by organised national resistance, passive or aggressive, that we can make our self-development effectual…. The present circumstances in India seem to point to passive resistance as our most natural and suitable weapon….
“Under certain circumstances a civil struggle becomes in reality a battle and the morality of the war is different from the morality of peace…. To shrink from bloodshed and violence under such circumstances is a weakness deserving as severe a rebuke as Sri Krishna addressed to Arjuna when he shrank from the colossal slaughter on the field of Kurukshetra…. Where the need for immediate liberty is urgent and it is a present question of national life or death on the instant, revolt is the only course. But where the oppression is legal and subtle in its methods and respects life, liberty and property and there is still breathing time, the circumstances demand that we should make the experiment of a method of a resolute but peaceful resistance which, while less bold and aggressive than other methods, calls for perhaps more heroism of a kind and certainly more universal endurance and suffering…. The peaceful character of passive resistance is one reason why it has found favour with the thinkers of the New Party.
“The passive method is especially suitable to countries where the Government depends mainly for the continuance of its administration on the voluntary help and acquiescence of the subject. The first principle of passive resistance… which the new school have placed in the forefront of their programme, is to make administration under present conditions impossible by the organised refusal to do anything which shall help either British commerce in the exploitation of the country or British officialdom in the administration of it, — unless and until the conditions are changed in the manner and in the extent demanded by the people…. This attitude is summed up in the one word, Boycott….
“It is at once clear that self-development and such a scheme of passive resistance are supplementary and necessary to each other. If we refuse to supply our needs from foreign sources, we must obviously supply them ourselves; we cannot have the industrial boycott without Swadeshi and the expansion of indigenous industries. If we decline to enter the alien courts of justice, we must have arbitration courts of our own to settle our disputes and differences. If we do not send our boys to schools owned or controlled by the Government, we must have schools of our own in which they may receive a thorough and national education. If we do not go for protection to the executive, we must have a system of self-protection of our own….
“The refusal to pay taxes is a natural and logical result of the attitude of passive resistance…. The refusal to pay taxes would… inevitably bring about the last desperate struggle between the forces of national aspiration and alien repression. It will be in the nature of an ultimatum from the people to the Government…. An ultimatum should never be presented unless one is prepared to follow it up to its last consequences…. In a vast country like India, any such general conflict with the dominant authority as is involved in a no-tax policy needs for its success a close organisation linking province to province and district to district and a powerful central authority representing the single will of the whole nation which could alone fight on equal terms the final struggle of defensive resistance with bureaucratic repression. Such an organisation and authority have not yet been developed. The new politics, therefore, confines itself for the time to the policy of lawful abstention from any kind of cooperation with the Government — the policy of boycott which is capable of gradual extension, leaving to the bureaucracy the onus of forcing on a more direct, sudden and dangerous struggle. Its principle at present is not ‘no representation, no taxation’, but ‘no control, no assistance’.”
The above extracts forcibly recall the manifestos of Mahatma Gandhi in 1920-21 and 1930-32 — so lucid, so convincing, so objective and practical they are! “No control, no assistance” is nothing but a firm and definite policy of noncooperation, preached almost in the very beginning of the national agitation. One of the manifestos of Mahatma Gandhi issued in 1930 reads as follows: “…We recognise that the most effective way of gaining our freedom is not through violence. We will therefore prepare ourselves by withdrawing, so far as we can, all voluntary association from the British Government, and will prepare for civil disobedience, including non-payment of taxes. We are convinced that if we can but withdraw our voluntary help and stop payment of taxes without doing violence even under provocation, the end of this inhuman rule is assured. We therefore hereby solemnly resolve to carry out the Congress instructions issued from time to time for the purpose of establishing Purna Swaraj.” The utterances of the two leaders, one preaching in 1906-7 and the other in 1920-21 and 1930-32, have the same firm and confident ring. The only difference, but a very important one, is that Sri Aurobindo did not believe in absolute non-violence imposed as a rigid principle in politics. He knew that politics being the business of the Kshatriya and concerned not with saints but with erring, mortal men, subject to the natural reactions of their common human nature, could not and should not bind itself to any inflexible ethical rule of conduct when faced with the destructive forces of an autocratic Government. As Dr. Radhakrishnan says:
“The Hindu view does not sternly uphold a distant ideal, while condemning all compromises with it…. While ascetics and hermits who have retired from the world, and so are not directly concerned with the welfare of organised societies, may not use arms in defence of individuals or groups, citizens are under an obligation to resist aggression by arms, if necessary and possible…. Non-violence belongs to the last two stages of life, Vanaprastha and Sannyasa. Arjuna, as a Kshatriya householder, cannot pursue the ideal of a sannyasin…. Love is not mere sentimentality. It can use force to restrain the evil and protect the good. Non-violence as a mental state is different from non-resistance…. Sometimes the spirit of love actually demands resistance to evil…. We cannot say that violence is evil in itself…. In the present conditions, the use of force is necessary to check the turbulent, protect the helpless, and keep order between man and man and group and group. But such a use of force is not by intention destructive. It works for the ultimate good of those to whom it is applied. This legitimate police action is necessary if we are to be saved from anarchy.” Sri Aurobindo accepted non-violent passive resistance as a policy, and not as a cramping and crippling principle. Violence can be employed in self-defence or for the protection of the oppressed; and if it is to be employed by a nation against its oppressors, it must be organised on a sound martial basis and fully equipped to meet their armed might. But the political developments in the country led him to pin his faith on boycott and passive resistance as the most effective means of regaining freedom.
On 9th May, 1907, the news of Lala Lajpat Rai’s deportation was flashed to Bengal almost at the dead of night. Sri Aurobindo was then asleep. One of the co-editors of the Bande Mataram woke him up and gave the news. He sat up on his bed and dashed the following lines, which created a country-wide stir next morning: “Lala Lajpat Rai has been deported out of British India. The fact is its own comment. The telegram goes on to say that indignation meetings have been forbidden for four days. Indignation meetings? The hour of speeches and fine writings is past. The bureaucracy has thrown down the gauntlet. We take it up. Men of the Punjab! Race of the Lion! Show these men who would stamp you into the dust that for one Lajpat they have taken away, a hundred Lajpats will arise in his place. Let them hear a hundred times louder your war-cry: ‘Jai Hindusthan’!” — Bande Mataram, 10th May, 1907.
“… The force of a great stream of aspiration must be poured over the country, which will sweep away as in a flood the hesitations, the selfishnesses, the fears, the self-distrust, the want of fervour and the want of faith which stand in the way of the spread of the great national awakening of 1905. A mighty fountain of the spirit must be prepared from which this stream of aspiration can be poured to fertilise the heart of the nation. When this is done, the aspiration towards liberty will become universal and India be ready for the great effort.”
The Need of the Moment
— Bande Mataram, March 22, 1908
On June 2, 1907, the weekly edition of the Bande Mataram was started. In its second issue, dated 9th June, Sri Aurobindo’s patriotic poem, Vidula, began to be published in a serial form. We shall deal with this poem when, in due course, we take up the study of Sri Aurobindo’s poetry. Here we quote only a few lines from the introductory paragraph. Both the poem and its introduction breathe the patriotic fervour, spirit of freedom and impatience of servitude, which were inspiring Sri Aurobindo’s thoughts, writings and activities in Bengal at that time.
“There are few more interesting passages in the Mahabharata than the conversation of Vidula with her son. It comes into the main poem as an exhortation from Kunti to Yudhisthir to give up the weak spirit of submission, moderation, prudence, and fight like a true warrior and Kshatriya for right and justice and his own. But the poem bears internal evidence of having been written by a patriotic poet to stir his countrymen to revolt against the yoke of the foreigner…. The poet seeks to fire the spirit of the conquered and subject people and impel them to throw off the hated subjection. He personifies in Vidula the spirit of the motherland speaking to her degenerate son and striving to wake in him the inherited Aryan manhood and the Kshatriya’s preference of death to servitude.”
We may note here that in the 30th June issue of the weekly Bande Mataram appeared the first instalment of Sri Aurobindo’s drama, Perseus the Deliverer. In it, not the spirit of patriotism and revolt against political subjection and slavery, but the gigantic clash between the forces of Light and the forces of darkness, is portrayed in the guise of a romantic Greek myth. We shall study it also in our section on Sri Aurobindo’s poetry.
Both the popular papers, Yugantar and Bande Mataram were gall and wormwood to the British bureaucracy, which were watching for an opportunity to swoop down upon them and smother them to death. And an opportunity always comes handy to an autocrat. On the 7th June, 1907, the Bengal Government issued a warning to the Yugantar that police action would be taken against it if it persisted in publishing inflammatory, seditious articles. On the 8th June, 1907, a similar warning was given to the Bande Mataram. On the 3rd July, Yugantar office was searched. Bhupendra Nath Datta, youngest brother of Swami Vivekananda, declared that he was the editor of the paper and courted arrest. He was sentenced to one year’s rigorous imprisonment, as we have already stated. His statement to the Court was a model of fearless defiance of the British Law and stark refusal to defend his case. On the 30th July, 1907, the Bande Mataram office was searched. On the 16th August a warrant was issued against Sri Aurobindo, who was charged with sedition for having published in the Bande Mataram, of which he was alleged to be the editor, English translations of some articles originally published in the Yugantar. On receiving the warrant, Sri Aurobindo went to the police court and offered himself for arrest. But, as there was no proof available of his being the editor of the Bande Mataram, he was soon acquitted. Bepin Chandra Pal, who was called as a witness, refused point-blank to give evidence or take any part in the prosecution, and was sentenced to six months’ simple imprisonment on a charge of contempt of court. Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya, editor of the Sandhya, was arrested on the 31st August, but, as he had predicted, he escaped the penalty of the British Law by departing from this life after a short illness. Thus the British Government strove to gag all public expression of nationalist feeling and yearning for freedom.
But the suppression of the human spirit is a vain endeavour — it serves only to feed the spirit’s flame and stimulate its will to achieve its end. It was during Sri Aurobindo’s arrest that Rabindranath composed his famous poem as his tribute to Sri Aurobindo’s greatness. Later, he saw Sri Aurobindo at 12, Wellington Street and congratulated him on his acquittal.
The Bande Mataram case brought Sri Aurobindo at once into the full blaze of publicity, which he had studiously avoided so long. He became overnight, not only the undisputed leader of the Nationalist Party in Bengal, but one of the foremost leaders of the Nationalists in India. Writing on this subject, he says: “Sri Aurobindo had confined himself to writing and leadership behind the scenes, not caring to advertise himself or put forward his personality, but the imprisonment and exile of other leaders and the publicity given to his name by the case compelled him to come forward and take the lead on the public platform.”
On the 2nd August, 1907, Sri Aurobindo resigned his post at the National College. About his resignation he writes: “At an early period he left the organisation of the College to the educationist Satish Mukherjee and plunged fully into politics. When the Bande Mataram case was brought against him he resigned his post in order not to embarrass the College authorities but resumed it again on his acquittal. During the Alipore case he resigned finally at the request of the College authorities.” On the 22nd August Sri Aurobindo spoke to the students of the National College who had called a meeting to express their profound regret at his resignation of the post of the principalship of the College. We quote below only a few sentences from that speech:
“In the meeting you held yesterday I see that you expressed sympathy with me in what you call my present troubles. I don’t know whether I should call them troubles at all, for the experience that I am going to undergo was long foreseen as inevitable in the discharge of the mission that I have taken up from my childhood, and I am approaching it without regret. What I want to be assured of is not so much that you feel sympathy for me in my troubles but that you have sympathy for the cause, in serving which I have to undergo what you call my troubles. If I know that the rising generation has taken up this cause, that wherever I go, I go leaving behind others to carry on my work, I shall go without the least regret. I take it that whatever respect you have shown to me today was shown not to me, not merely even to the Principal, but to the country, to the Mother in me, because what little I have done has been done for her, and the slight suffering that I am going to endure will be endured for her sake…. When we established this college and left other occupations, other chances of life, to devote our lives to this institution, we did so because we hoped to see in it the foundation, the nucleus of a nation, of the new India which is to begin its career after this night of sorrow and trouble, on that day of glory and greatness when India will work for the world. What we want here is not merely to give you a little information, not merely to open to you careers for earning a livelihood, but to build up sons for the Motherland to work and to suffer for her…. There are times in a nation’s history when Providence places before it one work, one aim, to which everything else, however high and noble in itself, has to be sacrificed. Such a time has now arrived for our Motherland when nothing is dearer than her service, when everything else has to be directed to that end. If you will study, study for her sake; train yourselves body and mind and soul for her service. You will earn your living that you may live for her sake. You will go abroad to foreign lands that you may bring back knowledge with which you may do service to her. Work that she may prosper. Suffer that she may rejoice…”
This lofty, ardent, inspiring tone characterised all that Sri Aurobindo spoke and wrote in his political days in Bengal. But there are three things in the above extract which attract our special attention: First, “the experience that I am going to undergo was long foreseen as inevitable in the discharge of the mission that I have taken up from my childhood…” Second, “whatever respect you have shown to me today was shown not to me, not merely even to the Principal, but to your country, to the Mother in me…” Third, “that day of glory and greatness when India will work for the world.”
The first point brings home to us again the fact that Sri Aurobindo had a more or less definite conception — it was, indeed, a foreknowledge — even in his childhood, of the mission of his life. This foreknowledge is not something very rare; it has been a usual, if rather extraordinary, phenomenon in the lives of the supreme prophets, poets and pioneers. Goethe had it, Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda had it. The second point indicates his Yogic identification with Mother India in whom he had realised the Divine Mother. He was well advanced in Yoga at the time when he spoke these words, as his letters to his wife attest. No other leader, even in his most inspired flights, would have presumed to speak of “the Mother in me”! The utter effacement of his personal self in the Divine Mother had resulted in this identification. The third point is a reiteration of what he always knew and preached, whenever he spoke of the future greatness of India, that “India will work for the world.” His nationalism, as we have already said before, was supernational, it was universal. India is rising, not for herself, but for the world, for all humanity.
The Midnapore Provincial Conference took place from 7th to 9th November, 1907. Dr. R.C. Majumdar says in his monumental (three-volume) History of the Freedom Movement in India that it was as the leader of the Nationalists that Sri Aurobindo took part in this Conference, “a conference made memorable by the first open rupture between the Moderates and the Extremists of our province.” About the same conference Sri Aurobindo writes: “He (Sri Aurobindo) led the party at the session of the Bengal Provincial Conference at Midnapore where there was a vehement clash between the two parties (the Nationalists or Extremists and the Moderates). He now for the first time became a speaker on the public platform…” Surendra Nath Banerjee, Shyam Sundar Chakravarty and many other leaders of both the parties had gone to Midnapore. The Moderates were led by Surendra Nath and the President-elect was K.B. Datta. But after the rift, the Nationalists held a separate Conference under the leadership of Sri Aurobindo, and also elected him their President. The Midnapore clash and rupture were only a prelude to what was going to take place at the Surat Congress.
Writing on the Midnapore Conference, Dr. R.C. Majumdar says: “…Towards the end of the year (1907), the same fear (that the Moderates would make an attempt to omit the resolutions already passed on Self-government, Swadeshi, Boycott, and National Education at the Calcutta session of the Congress in 1906) was further enhanced by the incidents at the District Congress Conference, held at Midnapore (Bengal). Surendra Nath tried his best to convince Aravinda that the Moderate policy would not only bring about the re-union of Bengal but even a great measure of self-government within a short period. Aravinda, however, did not yield. Rowdyism broke out on account of differences between the two parties, particularly on the refusal of the Chairman to discuss Swaraj, and the police had to be called in to restore order.”
The twenty-third Indian National Congress commenced its proceedings at Surat on 26th December, 1907. We have from Sri Aurobindo himself a pretty long description of what happened at this Congress: “…The session of the Congress had first been arranged at Nagpur, but Nagpur was a predominantly Mahratta city and violently extremist. Gujerat was at that time predominantly Moderate, there were very few Nationalists and Surat was a stronghold of Moderatism though afterwards Gujerat became, especially after Gandhi took the lead, one of the most revolutionary of the provinces. So the Moderate leaders decided to hold the Congress at Surat. The Nationalists however came there in strength from all parts, they held public conference with Sri Aurobindo as President and for some time it was doubtful which side would have the majority…. It was known that the Moderate leaders had prepared a new constitution for the Congress which would make it practically impossible for the extreme party to command a majority at any annual session for many years to come. The younger Nationalists, especially those from Maharashtra, were determined to prevent this by any means and it was decided by them to break the Congress if they could not swamp it; this decision was unknown to Tilak and the older leaders. But it was known to Sri Aurobindo. At the session Tilak went on to the platform to propose a resolution regarding the presidentship of the Congress; the President appointed by the Moderates refused to him the permission to speak, but Tilak insisted on his right and began to read his resolution and speak. There was a tremendous uproar, the young Gujerati volunteers lifted up chairs over the head of Tilak to beat him. At that the Mahrattas became furious, a Mahratta shoe came hurtling across the pavilion aimed at the President, Dr. Rash Behari Ghose, and hit Surendra Nath Banerjee on the shoulder. The young Mahrattas in a body charged up to the platform, the Moderate leaders fled; after a short fight on the platform with chairs, the session broke up not to be resumed.”
Nevinson in his book, The New Spirit in India, has given a graphic description of this tumult and uproar at the Surat Congress where he was present. K.M. Munshi, an ex-Governor of the U.P. has also given a detailed description of the same fray in the Bhavan’s Journal of November 27, 1960.
“Grave and silent — I think without saying a single word — Mr. Aravinda 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 some one kindled a lantern at his side…”
— Mr. Nevinson (The New Spirit in India)
The above remark from a perceptive foreigner gives a vivid description of Sri Aurobindo in his characteristic pose and poise at the nationalist Conference at Surat, “…sat unmoved, with far-off eyes, as one who gazes at futurity” — a description which whosoever saw Sri Aurobindo anywhere at close quarters would readily bear out. Surat Congress was broken, the Nationalists and the Moderates had drifted apart, and the dim hopes of a united. Congress were extinguished for many a long year to come. But the fracas and turmoil, and the momentous sequel to the disruption of the Congress failed to shake the Yogic poise, the Yogic equality, samattwa, of Sri Aurobindo. He did not live from moment to moment, and attached not himself to the passing events, but looked unmoved through them to the great future he was commissioned to shape. Beyond the dust and din of the present, and undeterred by them, he pursued the inner light to which he had surrendered himself. There is no fear or failure for the eye that sees, and no disappointment for the heart that knows and reposes in the Divine Will. Dwelling in the Eternal, the Yogi shares the Eternal’s delight in Its unfolding play in the flux of time.
Describing the Yogic samattwa in his book, The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo writes: “We shall have the… equality of mind and soul towards all happenings, painful or pleasurable, defeat and success, honour and disgrace, good repute and ill-repute, good fortune and evil fortune. For in all happenings we shall see the will of the Master of all works and results and a step in the evolving expression of the Divine.”
A mighty step had been taken, “…a new spirit, a different and difficult spirit, had arisen in the country,” says Nevinson. History was being made. The National Congress, after the Surat session, became the close preserve of the Moderates, who served the country as best they could, consistently with their avowed loyalty to the British crown and their implicit faith in British justice. But they did not represent the intense yearning for freedom and the burning love for the motherland, which had been generated since 1905. They could not — they did not much bother to — carry the people with them. Their ranks began to thin, and their annual sessions were attended only by a dwindling number of men. The Nationalists, on the other hand, were dispersed in several groups, indignant and disorganised, and most of them, at least those who were ardent and daring, took to secret revolutionary activities, and some to terrorism as the only means of winning freedom. The blind fury of vindictive repression made its desperate bid to stamp out the spirit of freedom, stone-blind to the historic fact that the spirit of freedom, once kindled, can never be stamped out. Lajpat Rai and Bepin Pal were away from India; Sri Aurobindo was soon clapped into Alipore jail as an under-trial prisoner, and Tilak was in deportation in Mandalay. Absence of the topmost leaders and an intensification of the repressive measures by the Government forced the nationalist fire to sink. But the fire did not die out; it smouldered on, and the secret revolutionary activities grew apace, sporadic but violent, till 1914, when Tilak returned from Mandalay and joined hands with Annie Beasant, and gave a fresh impetus and a new direction to the national urge for freedom.
Sri Aurobindo had been feeling at this time the need of a guidance and a new direction in his Yoga. Though, as we learn from his confidential letters to his wife, he was being led by the Divine within, he had arrived at a stage when a crucial experience alone could clear the way for further advance. It was almost like Sri Ramakrishna’s acceptance of the spiritual help of the Naga Yogi, Totapuri, or of the Tantric Yogini, Bhairavi. Sri Aurobindo expressed his wish to consult a Yogi to Barin, his younger
brother. Barin procured the address of Yogi Vishnu Bhaskar Lele and wired to him at Gwalior to come to Baroda and see Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo came to Baroda from Surat. Barin says in his autobiography that the Principal of the Baroda College had asked the students not to meet Sri Aurobindo or go to listen to his lectures, as he was then a nationalist politician. But the students, who were devoted to Sri Aurobindo and had been so much inspired by his noble character and intense patriotism, could not obey the ban and ran out of their classes to meet him on his arrival. They unyoked the horses of his carriage and drew the carriage themselves. Sri Aurobindo delivered three lectures there on the political situation. Sardar Majumdar presented him with a Pashmina shawl as it was severe winter and he was only in cotton dhoti and shirt and had no wrapper to cover his body. He kept no bedding with him, and, while travelling by train, he slept on the bare, wooden bunk of a third class compartment and used his arm for a pillow.
Sri Aurobindo met Lele on one of the closing days of December, 1907 at the residence of Khasirao Jadav, where he and Barin were put up. Lele advised him to give up politics, but as it was not possible, he asked him to suspend it for a few days and stay with him. Accordingly, they closeted themselves in a room in Sardar Majumdar’s house for three days. Let us now hear from Sri Aurobindo himself about his experiences during those three days: “‘Sit down’, I was told, ‘look and you will see that your thoughts come into you from outside. Before they enter, fling them back.’ I sat down and looked and saw to my astonishment that it was so; I saw and felt concretely the thought approaching as if to enter through or above the head and was able to push it back concretely before it came inside. In three days — really in one — my mind became full of an eternal silence — it is still there”. About Lele he said once that he was “a Bhakta with a limited mind but with some experience and evocative power”. Referring to the same experience, he says in Yoga II, Tome II: “From that moment, in principle, the mental being in me became a free intelligence, a universal Mind, not limited to the narrow circle of personal thought as a labourer in a thought factory, but a receiver of knowledge from all the hundred realms of being and free to choose what it willed in this vast sight-empire.” Again in Tome I, On Yoga II, he says: “…A calm and silence that is what I had. The proof is that out of an absolute silence of the mind I edited the Bande Mataram for 4 months and wrote 6 volumes of the Arya, not to speak of all the letters and messages etc., etc. I have written since.” Dwelling on the implications of the realisation, he says, “…we sat together and I followed with absolute fidelity what he instructed me to do, not myself in the least understanding where he was leading me or where I was myself going. The first result was a series of tremendously powerful experiences and radical changes of consciousness which he had never intended — for they were Adwaitic and Vedantic and he was against Adwaita Vedanta — and which were quite contrary to my own ideas, for they made me see with a stupendous intensity the world as a cinematographic play of vacant forms in the impersonal universality of the Absolute Brahman.”
Evidently, it was an experience of what the Gita calls Brahma-Nirvana. The Akshara Brahman alone existed, all-pervasive, silent, passive and immutable, and the world appeared as “a cinematographic play of vacant forms in the impersonal universality of the Absolute Brahman.” It was this authentic, indubitable experience upon which the great Shankaracharya stood in his appraisement of the world, and in his interpretation of the scriptures. The world did appear to him as a cinematographic play, viśvaṁ darpaṇadṛśyamānanagarītulyam, а Мауа, real and yet unreal. He could not deny his own concrete spiritual experience of the impersonal universal immutability of the Brahman, and against it of the world as a procession of phantom forms, appearing and disappearing in the silent stillness of the sole reality of the Brahman. He could deny neither. He, therefore, conceded only a phenomenal, practical reality, vyāvahārika satya, to the world, but not eternal or pāramārthika (spiritual). Renunciation of the world and the speedy adoption of the ascetic life of the recluse for a total self-extinction in the Brahman were the inevitable corollary of this dual experience — māyāmayam idaṁ nikhilaṁ hitvā. But if he had gone beyond this experience of the immutable impersonality of the Akshara Brahman, he could have seen and realised the spiritual reality of the world too. He could have said in the unambiguous words of the Upanishads: ātmata eva idaṁ sarvam, from the self and from nothing but the Self (ewa) is this (world); ātmā abhūt sarvabhūtāni, the Self has become all these creatures and things. He could have realised in the Purushottama, as the Gita makes abundantly clear and conclusive, or in the Purusha of the Veda and the Upanishads, the eternal oneness of Matter and Spirit, annaṁ Brahma, of the Self and the universe, of unity and multiplicity, vidyā and avidyā. That would have been, indeed, the true, the perfect Adwaita without the bewildering, inexplicable shadow of Maya hanging about it. But that was not to be. That was not the Will of the Divine and the Decree of the Time-Spirit. He had been commissioned to salvage the absolute reality of the Brahman out of the nebulous uncertainty and studied imprecision in which Buddhism had sunk it. He did a great service to Hinduism, and the greatness must not be impugned even if we find, as we certainly do in the light of the later developments of Hinduism, that his exclusive affirmation had to be supplemented and made all-embracing in order to reach the integral concept of the Purusha or the Purushottama. Each great soul comes to give to the world just what is needed at the moment, and nothing more. We shall treat of Shankara’s philosophy of Brahman and Maya elaborately in a subsequent chapter.
However, that was the experience Sri Aurobindo had when he sat with Lele for three days. He himself tells us that it was contrary to his own ideas, and, we can say, contrary to his natural inclinations too. For he was always, from the beginning, against life-negating or world-shunning Yoga. Later, as it is known to all, he travelled far beyond this initial, trenchant experience to the all-reconciling truth of the Supreme Person, Vāsudevaḥ sarvam, puruṣāt na paraṁ kiñcit. Writing again on the same experience, he says: “There was an entire silence of thought and feeling and all the ordinary movements of consciousness except the perception and recognition of things around without any accompanying concept or other reaction. The sense of ego disappeared and the movements of the ordinary life as well as speech and action were carried on by some habitual activity of Prakriti alone which was not felt as belonging to oneself. But the perception which remained saw all things as utterly unreal; this sense of unreality was overwhelming and universal. Only some undefinable Reality was perceived as true which was beyond space and time and unconnected with any cosmic activity, but yet was met wherever one turned. The condition remained unimpaired for several months and even when the sense of unreality disappeared and there was a return to participation in the world-consciousness, the inner peace and freedom which resulted from this realisation remained permanently behind all surface movements and the essence of the realisation was not lost. At the same time,” here Sri Aurobindo comments on his later and fuller experiences, “an experience intervened: something else other than himself (Sri Aurobindo) took up this dynamic activity and spoke and acted through him but without any personal thought or initiation. What this was remained unknown until Sri Aurobindo came to realise the dynamic side of the Brahman, the Ishwara, and felt himself moved by that in all his sadhana and action. These realisations and others which followed upon them, such as that of the Self in all and all in the Self and all as the Self, the Divine in all and all in the Divine, are the heights… to which we can always rise; for they presented to him no long or obstinate difficulty.” But even this was not the end. There were other heights to scale, other victories to win. But we shall study these things when we come to study his spiritual life as a whole. We shall only quote here a short poem which he wrote much later on this initial experience of Nirvanic calm and silence:
All is abolished but the mute Alone.
The mind from thought released, the heart from grief
Grow inexistent now beyond belief;
There is no I, no Nature, known-unknown.
The city, a shadow picture without tone,
Floats, quivers unreal; forms without relief
Flow, a cinema’s vacant shapes; like a reef
Foundering in shoreless gulfs the world is done.
Only the illimitable Permanent
Is here. A Peace stupendous, featureless, still,
Replaces all, — what once was I, in It
A silent unnamed emptiness content
Either to fade in the Unknowable
Or thrill with the luminous seas of the Infinite.
We have allowed ourselves this digression and this long excursion into spiritual matters in order to understand the precise nature of the first decisive experience which Sri Aurobindo had with Lele — an initial but very powerful experience which became the granite base of his subsequent much wider and integrative realisations.
“I have spoken to you about many things, about Swadeshi, Boycott, National Education, Arbitration and other subjects. But there was one truth that I have always tried, and those who have worked with me have also tried, to lay down as the foundation-stone of all that we preached. It is not by any political programme, not by National Education alone, not by Boycott alone, that this country can be saved. Swadeshi by itself may merely lead to a little more material prosperity, and when it does, you might lose sight of the real thing you sought to do in the glamour of wealth, in the attraction of wealth and in the desire to keep it safe…. Under the Roman Empire there was material development, there was industrial progress, but industrial progress and material development did not bring life to the Nation. When the hour of trial came, it was found that these nations which had been developing industrially, which had been developing materially, were not alive. No, they were dead, and at a touch from outside they crumbled to pieces…. What is the one thing needful? … the idea that there is a great Power at work to help India, and that we are doing what it bids us…. 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…. You have been called upon to do God’s work.”
— Sri Aurobindo’s speech in Bombay
From Baroda Sri Aurobindo went to Poona. Lele accompanied him at his request. When invited to deliver a speech, he asked Lele what he should do, since he was ‘in that silent condition — without any thought in the mind’. “Lele told him to make Namaskar to the audience and wait and speech would come to him from some other source than the mind. So, in fact, the speech came, and ever since all speech, writing, thought and outward activity have so come to him from the same source above the brain-mind.”
At Poona Sri Aurobindo delivered two lectures — the first on the 12th January on Ramamurty, then known as the Sandow of India, and in that connection, he spoke on the development of the will-power for national work, and the second on the 13th on National Movement in Bengal, which he characterised as God-inspired. Even the leaders, he said, could not believe that the movement would assume such huge proportions and be so mighty in its action and effect. Weak Bengalis had been filled with strength. The students showed such heroic courage and readiness for sacrificing themselves on the altar of the Motherland that they became the real leaders and the old leaders their followers. At the end of the meeting, Tilak summed up the speech and thanked the speaker.
From Poona Sri Aurobindo went to Bombay. There, at Girgaum, he spoke on National Education on the 15th January, 1908. We reproduce below a few words from a report of the speech, published in Tilak’s Marathy paper, Kesari: “The meaning of national education is now well understood in Bengal, but the case seems to be quite otherwise in this part of the country. Even the Hon. Mr. Gokhale showed his ignorance of the matter by tampering at Surat with the wording of the resolution on national education passed at the Calcutta Congress. Some of these people appear to think that there can be no ‘national’ education for India, where, according to them, the existence of various conflicting creeds and races makes the growth of a feeling of nationality an impossibility. This view is utterly wrong. The very geographical position of the country, isolating it from other parts of the world, argues its separate national existence. Italy, which is isolated like India, achieved national independence within a space of thirty years. Shivaji, Akbar, Ashoka as well as the Rishis of old are amongst the component parts of the Indian nation. Let us learn from Japan how to awaken the national spirit among the people by a contemplation of the heroic deeds of our ancestors. Let us bear in mind that we have a debt to discharge not only towards our ancestors, but also to our posterity. If such a noble ideal is steadily kept before our mental vision, we shall see that our nation gives birth to great philosophers, statesmen, generals. This ideal has been kept in view in guiding the movement for national education in Bengal. In teaching geography, we impress upon the minds of our students that India is their motherland, and that Maharashtra produced Shivaji, that the Punjab was once ruled by Ranjit Singh, and that the Himalayas gave shelter to our ancient Rishis. History and philosophy, too, are taught in a similar manner with a view to awaken the spirit of nationality amongst the pupils. Nothing that is useful or important is neglected in the scheme, and instruction is, as far as possible, imparted in the vernacular…. In profiting by our contact with Western civilisation, we should be careful not to cut ourselves adrift from our original moorings, but should at the same time imitate the Japanese in taking the fullest advantage of modern scientific discoveries. In political matters we have much to learn from the Western nations, and we shall also turn to them for lessons in popular Government. In our scheme of national education we teach students how to take an active part in politics, as we believe that without such training their education will not be complete. As we teach them some handicrafts, they find it easy to obtain moderately remunerative employment on leaving our schools, which is not the case with pupils attending Government institutions. Our seventh standard equals the intermediate course of the Indian Universities. Self-reliance forms the guiding principle of our scheme of education. We do not look to Government for help, as we think that State assistance will destroy our national stamina….” He made it perfectly clear that national education should be through the mother tongue, but that English should be retained as a secondary language. On the 19th January, Sri Aurobindo was asked to address a meeting held under the auspices of the Bombay National Union at Mahajanwadi. The subject of the speech was ‘The Present Situation’. We have already quoted a few words from this speech at the head of this article, and we shall quote a few of the concluding words of it again. “…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 under foot 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 lives 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.”
Tilak’s paper, Kesari, published a report of the above speech from which we reproduce a few sentences: “Though the hand-bills announcing the lecture were published only four hours before the time fixed for the lecture, over three thousand people gathered to hear Babu Arvind Ghose. He… remarked that the secret of the new awakening in Bengal lay in a firm belief in the justice of the national cause and an abiding faith in God… the national movement in Bengal was based on the fact that what seemed impossible to ordinary minds was easy to those who had unshakable faith in God. It is feelings like these that enabled the Bengalis to disregard harassments, floggings and incarceration….”
In the last instalment of the Life of Sri Aurobindo, we promised our readers some explanation of the ‘City’, referred to in the poem, Nirvana, reproduced there. Let us now hear about it from Sri Aurobindo himself: “When I was in Bombay, from the balcony of the friend’s house I saw the whole busy movement of Bombay as a picture in a cinema show, all unreal and shadowy. Ever since I have maintained that poise of mind — never lost it even in the midst of difficulties. All the speeches I delivered on my way to Calcutta were of the same nature — with some mixture of mental work in some parts.”
Sri Aurobindo left Bombay for Nasik. Before parting from Lele, he says, “I asked for his instructions. In the meantime I told him of a Mantra that had arisen in my heart. Suddenly, while giving instructions, he stopped and asked me if I could rely absolutely on Him who gave me the Mantra. I replied that I could always do that. Then Lele said that there was no need of further instructions.”
Regarding this state of the silent mind, Sri Aurobindo said later in one of his evening talks: “All that I wrote in the Bande Mataram and the Karmayogin was from this Yogic state. It used to run down to my pen while I sat down to write. I always trusted the inner Guide even when it seemed to be leading me astray….”
At Nasik he delivered a lecture on 24th January on Swaraj. He said that Swaraj is life, Swaraj is amrita, Swaraj is mukti. Swaraj cannot be granted by any outside agency. Man is born free. If he has lost his freedom, he must regain it. Fitness for Swaraj can be acquired only in Swaraj. Among the means of winning Swaraj, he said, the first and greatest was faith in God. For, God commands and inspires us to conquer our freedom. Tukaram and Ramdas spread the gospel of freedom, and Shivaji conquered it. God’s will was working through the youth of the country. He delivered another lecture there, but we have not been able to get any authentic record of it.
From Nasik Sri Aurobindo went to Dhulia and addressed there a meeting on the 25th on the subject of Swadeshi and Boycott. From Dhulia he went to Amraoti (Berar), where he spoke at the Grand Square of the National School on 29th. The meeting commenced with the singing of the Bande Mataram. He said that Bande Mataram was not only a national anthem to be looked on as the European nations look upon their own, but one charged with mighty power, being a sacred mantra, and revealed to us by the author of Anandamath (Bankim Chandra), who might be called an inspired Rishi. He criticised the so-called patriots of the time who might be well-wishers of India, but not men who loved her. He who loved his mother never looked to her defects, never disregarded her as an ignorant, superstitious, degraded and decrepit woman. He then touched upon the subject of the three koshas or sheaths of the nation. It was a subject of incalculable significance, one which revealed in a flash of light the esoteric knowledge which made him often speak of the soul of the nation and its age-old world-mission, and of God being the Guide of its destiny. As every man or creature has three sheaths or bodies, according to the Yogic knowledge of the ancients — sthūla or the gross body, sūkṣma or the subtle, and kāraṇa or the causal, so has a nation. He who sees only the outer shell or body of the Indian nation, knows nothing of the essential and evolutionary truth of its soul. His patriotism may be intense, and his martyrdom noble-hearted and sincere, but it is a narrow and half-blind patriotism, a martyrdom, inspiring but ignorant, not instinct with knowledge. As it takes a Yogi — a Buddha, a Christ, or a Ramakrishna — to see the soul of a man lodged within his body, so it takes a Yogi to see the soul of a nation behind its geographical and cultural configurations. The very introduction of this truth must have gone home to his audience with a blaze of revelation.
A summary of the above speech is included in the Speeches of Sri Aurobindo. A brief report of it concludes with the following words: “The manner 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….”
From Amraoti Sri Aurobindo went to Nagpur, and delivered three lectures there. The subject of the first lecture, delivered on the 30th January, was Policy of the Nationalist Party. The subject of the second on the 31st was ‘The Work’ before us.
In the second lecture he impressed upon his audience the truth of his constant experience that behind the political movement there was the divine Power, and that it was not the leaders but God Himself who was leading it. It was, indeed, a spiritual revolution preluded and prepared by a political revolution. If they wanted to re-create or reconstruct the nation, they must prepare themselves for the utmost sacrifice. On the 1st February he delivered his third lecture — ‘Commercial Swaraj’ and ‘EducationalSwaraj’. It pained him to see, he said, that some of the mill-owners in Bombay and Calcutta were opposing the growth of the Swadeshi industry. He appealed to the rich to come forward to help Swadeshi even at a sacrifice. He asserted that if the nation had commercial and educational Swaraj, political Swaraj would follow as a natural consequence.
In these lectures, most of which are not available in the original English form, Sri Aurobindo spoke, or, to be more exact, was made to speak, of God being the leader of the manifold renaissance in India and her mission of giving the spiritual light to humanity. His politics had become one with his Yoga. He was a unique phenomenon in Indian politics — a Yogi-politician, who was at once a God-directed prophet and preacher of spiritual nationalism and an inscrutable but consummate political strategist.
Concluding his political tour of Maharashtra, which is said to have been undertaken at the instance of Tilak, Sri Aurobindo returned from Nagpur to Calcutta.
“The long ages of discipline which India underwent are now drawing to an end. A great light is dawning on the East, a light whose first heralding glimpses are already seen on the horizon; a new day is about to break, so glorious that even the last of the Avatars cannot be sufficient to explain it, although without him it would not have come. The perfect expression of Hindu spirituality was the signal for the resurgence of the East. Mankind has long been experimenting with various kinds of thought, different principles of ethics, strange dreams of a perfection to be gained by material means, impossible millenniums and humanitarian hopes. Nowhere has it succeeded in realising the ultimate secret of life. Nowhere has it found satisfaction. No scheme of society or politics has helped it to escape from the necessity of sorrow, poverty, strife, dissatisfaction, from which it strives for an outlet; for whoever is trying to find one by material means must inevitably fail. The East alone has some knowledge of the truth, the East alone can teach the West, the East alone can save mankind. Through all these ages Asia has been seeking for a light within, and whenever she has been blessed with a glimpse of what she seeks, a great religion has been born, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Mahomedanism, with all their countless sects. But the grand workshop of spiritual experiment, the laboratory of the soul has been India, where thousands of great spirits have been born in every generation, who were content to work quietly in their own souls, perfect their knowledge, hand down the results of the experiments to a few disciples and leave the rest to others to complete. They did not hasten to proselytise, were in no way eager to proclaim themselves, but merely added their quota of experiencee and returned to the source from which they had come. The immense reservoir of spiritual energy stored up by their self-repression was the condition of the birth of Avatars, of men so full of God that they could not be satisfied with their silent bliss, but poured it out on the world,… because they wished to communicate their own ecstasy of realisation to others who were fit to receive it either by previous tapasya or by the purity of their desires. What Christianity failed to do, what Mahomedanism strove to accomplish for a brief period and among a limited number of men, Hinduism as summed up in the life of Sri Ramakrishna has to attempt for all the world. This is the reason of India’s resurgence, this is why God has breathed life into her once more, why great souls are at work to bring about her salvation, why a sudden change is coming over the hearts of her sons. The movement of which the first outbreak was political will end in a spiritual consummation.”
Spirituality and Nationalism — Bande Mataram,
If we read the speeches and writings of the post-Surat period of Sri Aurobindo’s life between the lines, we cannot fail to notice in them a more emphatic, a more insistent and prophetic expression of the spiritual destiny of India and the real work to be done not only for her political emancipation, but for the fulfilment of that destiny. Not that this note was absent from his previous utterances, but it now acquired a greater volume, a greater momentum, and a more piquant urgency. The seed he wanted to sow had been sown, the spirit he wanted to kindle in the nation had been kindled, and though brutal repression strove to snuff it out, it succeeded only in driving it under the ashes for a while. The Moderates, as we have already said, remained in apparent possession of the National Congress, but their lily-white loyalty to the Government was constantly under severe strain, for the gilt had gone off the ginger-bread of British justice.
After Sri Aurobindo’s return to Bengal, Barin wrote to Lele, inviting him to come to Calcutta. Lele came, probably in the first week of February, and was put up for some time at Seal’s Lodge. Barin’s idea in inviting Lele was that he might prove the right person to give some spiritual instructions and spiritual force to the youth of the revolutionary party. For, it was thought that spiritual instruction and force imparted by a Yogi would create in them a spirit of self-sacrifice for a noble cause and defiance of suffering and death. It had, indeed, been an almost invariable practice with the ardent nationalists of Bengal to derive inspiration for their work from the scriptures. The Gita, as we have already seen, was the most favourite of their books. Its popularity was to a great extent due to the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. It played a great part in firing the soul of modern India and rousing the nation to a renewed sense of the greatness of active life. Its gospel of selfless, disinterested work, done as an offering to the Divine without any desire for its fruit, can be said to be the most powerful factor in the renaissance of the nation and in the shaping of the progressive mind in modern India. And it is the one gospel that has linked India to the West, and inaugurated a new age of dynamic spirituality, pregnant with incalculable possibilities.
When Lele saw the nature of the work the young men of the revolutionary party were engaged in — making of bombs and preparing for terroristic activity and armed revolt, — he tried his best to dissuade them from it. He said that those dangerous activities would land them in great danger, and not lead to the liberation of the country. Liberation, he prophesied, would come in a different way, in a way not conceived by them. But they were in no mood to listen to his sage advice. High ran their enthusiasm, and their thirst for freedom was driving them to desperate action.
Lele met Sri Aurobindo at his residence at 23, Scott’s Lane by appointment. He asked Sri Aurobindo whether he was doing meditation regularly every morning and evening, but when he was told that it was not done in that routine way, “he was alarmed, tried to undo what he had done and told me that it was not the Divine but the devil that had got hold of me.” Sri Aurobindo had, indeed, gone beyond Lele’s depth. It was the direct and constant guidance of the Divine to which he was fully surrendered, and his meditation or concentration continued automatically night and day. “I had received the command from within that a human Guru was not necessary for me.” However, Sri Aurobindo always cherished a respectful sense of gratitude for Lele, but their spiritual relation was now broken. Lele went back.
On the 23rd February, 1908, Sri Aurobindo wrote in the Bande Mataram: “Swaraj is the direct revelation of God to this people — not mere political freedom but a freedom vast and entire, freedom of the individual, freedom of the community, freedom of the nation, spiritual freedom, social freedom, political freedom. Spiritual freedom the ancient Rishis had already declared to us; social freedom was part of the message of Buddha, Chaitanya, Nanak and Kabir and the saints of Maharashtra; political freedom is the last word of the triune gospel. Without political freedom the soul of man is crippled. Only a few mighty spirits can rise above their surroundings, but the ordinary man is a slave of his surroundings, and if these be mean, servile and degraded, he himself will be mean, servile and degraded. Social freedom can only be born where the soul of man is large, free and generous, not enslaved to petty aims and thoughts. Social freedom is not the result of social machinery but of the freedom of the human intellect and the nobility of the human soul…. So too spiritual freedom can never be the lot of many in a land of slaves. A few may follow the path of the Yogin and rise above their surroundings, but the mass of men cannot even take the first step towards spiritual salvation. We do not believe that the path of salvation lies in selfishness. If the mass of men around us is miserable, fallen, degraded, how can the seeker after God be indifferent to the condition of his brothers? Compassion to all creatures is the condition of sainthood, and the perfect Yogin is he who is sarvabhūtahite rataḥ, whose mind is full of the will to do good to all creatures…. God is not only in Himself but in all these millions…. God has set apart India as the eternal fountain-head of holy spirituality, and He will never suffer that fountain to run dry. Therefore Swaraj has been revealed to us. By our political freedom we shall once more recover our spiritual freedom. Once more in the land of the saints and sages will burn up the fire of the ancient Yoga and the hearts of her people will be lifted up into the neighbourhood of the Eternal.”
Nothing reflects so well the inmost thoughts of Sri Aurobindo as the words like these quoted above. They were written just after his return from Surat. They presage the great change that was coming upon him, necessitating a corresponding change in his life and work. The horizons were already flushing with the dawning glory of a greater fight and a vaster, mightier conquest. We learn from these words that Sri Aurobindo disparaged the goal of personal salvation, just as Sri Ramakrishna had done before him. He held to the ancient ideal of realising God in His immanence as well as in His transcendence, in the Many as well as in the One. To experience God and be united with Him in all beings and becomings in the universe as well as in His inconceivable Absoluteness has always been the great goal he pursued in his whole life. We learn also from the above words that by freedom Sri Aurobindo meant not only political and economic freedom, not only social freedom, but the integral freedom — spiritual, social, political and economic — and, not only the freedom of the nation, but of each community comprising the nation, and each individual in each community. It was to this ideal of integral freedom — and freedom not only of one nation but of all nations, integral freedom of all humanity — that he had dedicated his life. That was God’s intention in him and his soul’s mission. But how could this integral freedom of all humanity be won if he stuck on to the political field and refused God’s call upon him? He had now to work on other planes of existence and channel their light and power into the earth atmosphere. He had to prepare a rainbow bridge between earth and Heaven.
A question is likely to occur in the reader’s mind at this stage, and we had better dispose of it before we proceed farther. If Lele’s prediction of India’s regaining independence by peaceful means and not by revolutionary methods was true, as subsequent history has demonstrated, why did Sri Aurobindo work on for some time more in the same political sphere, pursuing the same militant policies? As a Yogi, did he not foresee that the revolutionary methods would avail nothing and that much of what he was doing would not only lead him into unmerited suffering, but itself be broken up and almost wiped out by the repressive measures of the Government and the unorganised, sporadic activities of the valiant but reckless youth? Why did he not retire to the spiritual field of his work earlier than he did? And, above all, how to account for his continuing in politics even after his release from a year’s detention in the Alipore jail where he had undergone a great transformation of consciousness in consequence of the flooding spiritual experiences he had there?
Sri Aurobindo was a Yogi-politician, as we have already said, and not a retired Yogi like Lele. He not only foresaw the future, but had to work in the present in order to prepare the future. He could not sit back and hold his hand, lapsing into the attitude of an indifferent onlooker. He could not let the present slither and reel into a shipwreck of its possibilities of progress. Nor could he retire to his spiritual work before he received God’s direction towards it. The Yogi knows that in a divinely directed course failures carry the seed of success, and even a huge destruction, if it is inevitable in the inscrutable dispensation of Providence, prepares the world for a great new creation. Sri Krishna had to play on his central but veiled part in the battle of Kurukshetra, though its disastrous end was not hidden from his knowledge and vision. The greatest leaders of mankind combine in themselves the knowledge of the Brahmin and the Power of the Kshatriya in order that chaos may be converted into order and harmony and darkness be laundered into light. The evolutionary march of man cannot stop short of its destined goal. Humanity has to be led forward, though often it may stumble and fall. Sri Aurobindo left the political field only when he was called, being assured from within that the freedom’s struggle, which he had worked for with so much devotion and sacrifice, would continue, with whatever ups and downs, till India became free. And we know that his retirement was not into the cell of a recluse, but into the boundless domains of spiritual new-creation.
“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.
“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. 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. 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. 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.” 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.” We shall hear from Sri Aurobindo himself a very interesting account of the search of his house and his arrest.
LIFE IN ALIPORE JAIL
“The Indians, as the discerning Mahratta leader (Tilak) rightly observes, possess many good and amiable traits of character but the manly side of it has of late been not much in evidence. It is no doubt a little curious how contrary to all our traditions we have been carrying into practice the doctrine of turning the left cheek while smitten on the right, while those who are to accept it as the only one rule of their conduct have become most pushing, aggressive and militant. It is an irony of fate that we have been violating the teachings of our own sacred books and going contrary to the dictates of our sages while other races seem to have fully realised their importance and made them their guiding principle in life. The most practical teaching of the Gita and one for which it is of abiding interest and value to the men of the world with whom life is a series of struggles is not to give way to any morbid sentimentality when duty demands sternness and boldness to face terrible things. …In asking our people to cultivate national virtues, Tilak only wants them to be animated by a strong and overmastering feeling for their own flesh and blood, kith and kin who are fast deteriorating and will soon be extinct as a nation if the present selfish and peace-at-any-price tendencies are not at once stopped.”
Bande Mataram — 29-9-1907
“On the 1st May, 1908, while I was sitting in the office of the Bande Mataram, Sj. Shyamsundar Chakravarty handed me a wire from Muzaffarpore. I read in it that a bomb had exploded at Muzaffarpore and two European ladies had been killed. On that very day, I read further in the Empire that the Police Commissioner had said that we knew who were in this murder plot and that they would soon be arrested. I did not know then that I was the main target of their suspicion, I the arch-murderer, according to the police, and the guide and secret leader of the young revolutionary nationalists. I did not know that that day was the last page of a chapter of my life, that there lay before me the prospect of a year’s imprisonment, that for that period all my connection with the world would be cut off, and that I had to live like a caged beast for one whole year outside the pale of human society. When I should return to my field of work, it would not be the same old, familiar Aurobindo Ghose, but a new man, coming out of the Alipore Ashram, with a new character, a new intellect, a new heart, and a new mind, and with the burden of a new work upon him. I have said, it was a year-long imprisonment, I should have said, it was a year-long life in a forest, a year-long life in an Ashram. I had endeavoured hard and long for a direct vision and realisation of Narayana, who dwells in my heart, and cherished an intense hope of winning Purushottama, the Creator of the universe, as my Friend and Master. But I could not succeed on account of the pull of a thousand worldly desires, attachments to various activities, and the dense obscurity of ignorance. At last Sri Hari, who is infinitely kind and gracious, slew those enemies at a stroke and cleared my path, pointed to an abode of Yoga, and Himself stayed there with me as my Guru (spiritual Guide) and intimate Comrade. That Ashram or hermitage was a British prison…. The only fruit of the scowl of the British Government was that I realised God…
“On Friday night I was sleeping a reposeful sleep when at about five in the morning, my sister rushed into my room in a terror and called me up by my name. I awoke. In a moment the small room was filled with armed policemen. It was a motley crowd including Superintendent Craegan, Mr. Clark of the Twenty-four Parganas, the graceful and delightful figure of the well-known Sri Binode Kumar Gupta, some Inspectors, and a number of policemen, detectives and witnesses to the search. Pistols in hand, they dashed forward in a gesture of heroic challenge, as if they had come to storm a well-guarded fortress. I sat up, still half asleep, when Mr. Craegan asked me: ‘Where is Aravinda Ghose, is it you?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I am Aravinda Ghose.’ At once he ordered a policeman to arrest me. Then a very uncivil expression used by Mr. Craegan led to a short passage-at-arms between us. I asked him to produce the search warrant, which I read and signed. I understood from the mention of bombs in the warrant that the appearance of the police army was in connection with the Muzaffarpore murder…. Immediately, at Craegan’s order I was handcuffed and a cord of rope was tied round my waist, and a Hindu constable stood behind me holding the rope…. Craegan asked me: ‘You are a graduate, aren’t you? Isn’t it shameful for an educated man like you to sleep on the floor of such a bare room in such a poky house?’ ‘I am poor, and I live like a poor man’, I answered. Sharp banged the riposte of the Englishman: ‘Was it then for becoming rich that you have staged this ghastly tragedy?’ Thinking that it was hardly possible to make this thick-headed Englishman understand the greatness of patriotism, self-sacrifice, or the discipline of self-inflicted poverty, I desisted from the effort.
“It (the search) began at five in the morning and ended at about eleven-thirty…. At about eleven-thirty we set out from home…. Benode Babu was commissioned to take us to the police station…. Taking our bath and meal, we started for Lalbazar. After making us wait there for several hours, they took us to Royd Street, and we passed the time at that auspicious place till the evening. At Royd Street I first came to know and strike up a friendship with the reputed detective, Moulvi Shams-Ul-Alam. The reverend Moulvi treated me to a very delicious lecture on religion. ‘Hinduism and Islam have the same cardinal doctrines, the three letters, A U M of the Hindus (Aum), and the first three letters of the Koran, A La Am are the same, for, according to philological rules, U is used instead of La. So, Hinduism and Islam have the same basic creed…. To be truthful in speech is also a principal part of religion. It is a matter of great sorrow and shame for India that English officials allege that Aravinda Ghose is the leader of a gang of murderers. But if one can stick to truth, the situation can yet be saved.’ The Moulvi confessed to his conviction that high-minded men like Bepin Pal and Aravinda Ghose were sure to make a clean breast of whatever they have done…. I was amazed and pleased at his erudition, intelligence and keen religious sense. Thinking that it would be sheer presumption on my part to talk much, I docilely listened to his invaluable precept and stamped it carefully upon my heart…. But drunk with such a strong religious fervour as he was, he never gave up his post of a detective….
“We (Sailen and I) were kept together in a first floor big room at Lalbazar police station. A slight refection did duty for a meal. Presently two Englishmen entered the room, one of whom, as I learnt later, was the Police Commissioner, Mr. Haliday himself. On seeing us both together, Mr. Haliday flew out at the Sergeant and, referring to me, warned him that nobody should be allowed to stay or speak with me. Instantly, Sailen was whisked away into another room and shut in. And when all had left, Mr. Haliday asked me: ‘Don’t you feel ashamed to have been involved in this dastardly misdeed?’ ‘What right have you to assume that I was involved?’ Haliday replied: ‘I did not assume, I know everything.’ ‘You know best what you know or don’t know. I totally deny having had anything to do with this murder’, I said. Haliday held his peace.
“From Mr. Thornhill’s Court, we were driven to Alipore…. We had to wait there in the Magistrate’s Court, but we were not produced before the Magistrate, only his written order was brought from inside the Court…. We were then removed from the Court and handed over to the officers of the jail. We were given a bath before we entered the jail and dressed in jail uniforms, and our underwears, shirts and dhutis were taken away for a wash. To have a bath after four days was, indeed, a heavenly delight. The bath over, they escorted everybody to the room assigned to him, and I, too, entered my lonely cell. The grating of the cell closed. My prison-life began on 5th May. I was released the next year on 6th May….
“My solitary cell was nine feet by five. It had no windows, only there was a big iron grating in front. This was the cage assigned to me.
“Having favoured us with such lodgings, our kind-hearted authorities, in their solicitude for the entertainment of their guests, left nothing to be desired in the matter of its furniture. The courtyard was adorned with a dish and a bowl. If polished well, this dish and this bowl, my sole possession, would put on such a silvery sheen that my heart felt gladdened and refreshed. But the only trouble was that the very sight of my joy would send the dish into such transports of rapture that at a slight pressure of my finger, it would start pirouetting like the whirling Dervish of Arabia. I had, then, no go but to hold the dish with one hand and eat with the other. Otherwise, in its giddy whirligig, it would scuttle with the handful of incomparable food supplied in the jail. The bowl was even dearer and more useful than the dish. It was, as it were, a Civilian among the material objects. As the Civilian has a natural aptitude and skill for all jobs — he has only to be asked and he can at once become a judge, an administrator, a policeman, the head of the Revenue department, the mayor of a municipality, a teacher, a religious preceptor, and what not — and as it is very easy for him to combine in himself in a friendly alliance in a single body and at the same time the roles of an investigator, complainant, police judge, and even sometimes a barrister for the plaintiff, so was it for my bowl. It had no caste, no scruples. I performed my ablutions, washed my mouth and took my bath from it, and afterwards, at meal-time, soup of pulses and curry were served in it. I drank water and rinsed my mouth and washed my hands from it. It was possible only in a British jail to have such a precious factotum of an article. Besides ministering to my worldly needs, the bowl came to be a means of my Yoga or spiritual discipline. Where could I have found such a helper and instructor in my efforts to get rid of hatred?… I know that in some parts of Europe it is considered a component of civilised custom to have the water-closet adjacent to one’s bedroom, but to have in a small cell, bedroom, dining room and water-closet all together — well, this is called too much of a good thing. We, superstitious Indians, find it very difficult to attain to such a high level of civilisation.
“…As a result of my long and desperate struggles with thirst, I succeeded in achieving freedom from it. In this furnace of a cell, I had two jail-made coarse rugs as an apology for a bedding…. When heat would be unbearable, I would roll on the ground to cool my body, and felt relieved. I realised, then, how very pleasant is the touch of the mother earth. But in a jail even this touch was not very soft…. Whenever there was a thunderstorm, my cage would be flooded after the bacchanal of high winds laden with swirling dirt, dry leaves and straw. I could not, then, help escaping into a corner with my damp rugs and take shelter there for the night….
“…It is true that the causes of hardship, which I have pointed out, were there, but thanks to the kindly grace of the Divine, it was not for long that I suffered from them…. For, after a short while, I got beyond the sense of hardship and discomfort and became immune to suffering. That is why when the memory of my jail-life recurs to my mind, it occasions a smile rather than anger or grief….
“…I learnt the remarkable lesson of love in my solitary imprisonment at Alipore. Before I had gone there, my personal love even for men was confined within a very narrow circle, and the dammed up tide of my love for birds and beasts had hardly ever had a chance to flow out freely. I remember that in a poem written by Rabindranath the profound love of a village boy for buffalo is very beautifully depicted. At the first reading, I could not at all appreciate it; I found in it faults of exaggeration and unnaturalness in the portrayal of the feeling. If I read it again now, I should regard it with different eyes. At Alipore I realised what a deep love for all creatures might dwell in a human heart and how, at the sight of cows, birds, and even ants, it might thrill with a sudden burst of keen delight!…
“…For some days in this solitary imprisonment I had to go without books or such other things which are the usual means of beguiling one’s time. Afterwards, Mr. Emerson came and gave me permission to obtain my clothes and books from home…. I requested my respected maternal uncle, the famous editor of the Sanjivani, to send my clothes and some books including the Gita and’ the Upanishad. I received the two books (the Gita and the Upanishad) in three or four days. Meanwhile I had ample opportunity to realise the crucial significance of solitary confinement. I realised why even a sound and well-poised intelligence soon goes to pieces and tumbles into lunacy in such an imprisonment, and I realised, too, how, in this very condition one finds a rare opportunity for experiencing God’s infinite grace and attaining union with Him…. God, who is All-Good, turns even evil into supreme good. The third purpose (for which he took me to Alipore jail) was to teach me that my personal efforts would avail nothing in my Yoga, that faith and total self-surrender alone were the means of attaining spiritual perfection, and that the only object of my aspiration for union (Yoga) was to use for His work whatever power, perfection or divine bliss (Ananda) He would vouchsafe to me in His grace. From that day onward the thick darkness of ignorance began to thin, and from that day on I have been realising the infinite goodness of the All-Good God in all my observation of the happenings of the world. Nothing happens — whether it is something momentous or the most insignificant — but contributes to some good. Often He serves several purposes through a single act. Many a time we see the play of a blind force in the world and, denying God’s omniscience, find fault with His divine Intelligence on the assumption that waste is the rule of Nature. But that is a groundless complaint. The Divine Force never works blindly, and there cannot be one jot or tittle of waste in Her dispensation; rather, it passes human understanding with what supreme control and little expenditure She produces plentiful results….”
“Her (India’s) mission is to point back humanity to the true source of human liberty, human equality, human brotherhood. When man is free in spirit, all other freedom is at his command; for the Free is the Lord who cannot be bound. When he is liberated from delusion, he perceives the divine equality of the world which fulfils itself through love and justice, and this perception transfuses itself into the law of government and society. When he has perceived this divine equality, he is brother to the whole world, and in whatever position he is placed he serves all men as his brothers by the law of love, by the law of justice. When this perception becomes the basis of religion, of philosophy, of social speculation and political aspiration, then will liberty, equality and fraternity take their place in the structure of society and the Satya Yuga return. This is the Asiatic reading of democracy which India must rediscover for herself before she can give it to the world…. It has been said that Democracy is based on the rights of man; it has been replied that it should rather take its stand on the duties of man; but both rights and duties are European ideas. Dharma is the Indian conception in which rights and duties lose the artificial antagonism created by a view of the world which makes selfishness the root of action, and regain their deep and eternal unity. Dharma is the basis of Democracy which Asia must recognise, for in this lies the distinction between the soul of Asia and the soul of Europe. Through Dharma the Asiatic evolution fulfils itself; this is her secret.
Bande Mataram — 22-3-1908.
“…During my solitary imprisonment, Dr. Dally and the Deputy Superintendent, who was also an Englishman, used to visit me almost daily and spend sometime in a friendly chat. I do not know why, from the very beginning, I was able to get their favour and sympathy. I hardly ever spoke much with them, I only replied to their questions. Either I listened silently to the topic raised by them or stopped after saying a word or two. Yet they never ceased visiting me. One day Dr. Dally told me: ‘I have succeeded in securing the consent of the Superintendent through the Deputy Superintendent, so that you can walk every morning and afternoon in front of the Degree. I don’t like that you should remain cooped up in a small room throughout the day; it is unhealthy both for the mind and the body.’ From that day I used to walk morning and evening in the open space in front of the Degree…. I had a good time then. On one side there was the jail factory, and, on the other, the cowshed — these were the two boundaries of my free territory. While strolling from the factory to the cowshed and from the cowshed to the factory, I would either recite the profoundly evocative mantras of the Upanishads, which fill one with inexhaustible strength, or, observing the movements and the goings and comings of the prisoners, try to realise the fundamental truth that Narayana is in the heart of every creature and thing. Mentally repeating the mantra that all this (universal existence) — trees, houses, walls, men, animals, birds, metals, earth etc. — is verily the Brahman, I would project that realisation upon every thing and creature. This would induce such a state that the prison ceased to be a prison. The high enclosure, the iron grating, the white walls, the sunlit tree decked in green leaves, the common material things no more appeared as inanimate; I felt as if they had become alive with an all-pervading consciousness, as if they loved me and were eager to enfold me in their embrace. Men, cows, ants, birds were moving about, flying, singing, talking, but they all appeared to be a play of Nature, and within me a great, pure, detached Self was felt as immersed in a peaceful bliss. Sometimes I felt that God Himself stood at the foot of that tree for playing a mellifluous tune on His flute and drawing my heart out by that sweet music. Always I felt as if someone was embracing me, someone was cradling me on his lap. I cannot describe what transcendent peace possessed my mind and heart at the development of this inner state. The hard crust of my heart burst open and a love for all creatures flowed forth in a steady stream. Along with love, sattwic feelings like kindness, compassion, non-injury (ahimsa) etc. overpowered my rajas-ridden (active and impassioned) nature and began to grow apace. And the more they developed, the more increased my inner joy and deeper became the sense of a pure tranquillity. Worries about the police case had already disappeared, and a contrary feeling came to settle in my mind. I became firmly convinced that God being All-Good, he had brought me to the prison for nothing but my good, and that my release and acquittal were certain. After this for many a long day I did not feel the hardships of the prison-life — I had become immune to them…
“…Let me say something about the adolescent accused who were my companions in that adversity. By observing their conduct in the Court, I came to realise that a new age had dawned on Bengal and a new generation of children had begun to live on the Mother’s (motherland’s) lap…. The Bengalees had intelligence and talent, but lacked in strength and manlinesss. But at the very sight of these boys I felt that the large-hearted, powerful, spirited men of some other ages, educated in other ways, had come back to India. That fearless, candid look, that virile manner of speech, that carefree, joyous laughter, and, even in that dire misfortune, that undimmed spiritedness, that serenity of the mind, that absence of depression, anxiety or grief were foreign to the nature of the spiritless, spineless Indians of that generation — they signalised the advent of a new race and a new current of energetic action. If they were murderers, it must be said that the bloody shadow of murder had not fallen upon their nature; they did not know what were cruelty, rabid wildness or bestiality. Without feeling the least anxiety for the future or the result of the case, they spent their time in the jail in boyish merrymaking and laughter and play, or in reading and discussions. They had very soon made friends with the officers of the jail, sepoys, prisoners, the European sergeant, the detectives, and the officers of the Court, and indulged in amusements, chitchat and pleasantry
with all of them without making any distinction between friends and foes, high and low. The session-time of the Court was very unpleasant to them, for; in the farce of the case they had very little interest…. What struck one as rather strange and astonishing was that, even during the trial in which the fate and future of thirty or forty persons hung in the balance, and the outcome of which might be the scaffold or transportation for life, the accused were perfectly unconcerned, some of them absorbed in reading Bankim Chandra’s novels, some Raja Yoga, or the Science of Religion by Vivekananda, and some the Gita, the Puranas and Western Philosophy….”
“Prison and Freedom”
“Man is a slave to outer circumstances, bound to his experiences of the physical world. All his mental operations proceed on the basis of those outer experiences, and even his intelligence cannot get beyond the narrow limits of the gross. His feelings of pleasure and pain are but the echoes of outer happenings. This slavery is due to the overmastering sway of the body…. However much we may accuse the West of materialism, in point of fact, all men are materialists. The body is only a means of fulfilling the inherent, spiritual law of our nature, our chariot drawn by many horses, the chariot we ride in order to drive through the world. But we submit to the illegitimate dominance of the body and give so much indulgence to our sense of the body being our soul that we become prisoners of the outer act and its apparent good and evil. The fruit of this ignorance is lifelong slavery…. The body is the prison….
“This captivity is the perpetual state of the human race. On the other hand, we see on every page of literature and history evidences of the irrepressible ardour and endeavour of humanity to regain its freedom. As in the sphere of politics or society, so in individual life, this effort continues from age to age. Self-control, self-repression, renunciation of pleasure and pain, Stoicism, Epicureanism, asceticism, Vedanta, Buddhism, Monism, Mayavada, Rajayoga, Hatha-yoga, the Gita, the paths of knowledge, devotion and work — these are different ways to the same goal. The aim is the conquest of the body, the shaking off of the dominance of the gross, the freedom of the inner life…. The real difference between an animal and a man is this, that the animal state is a complete submission to the slavery of the body, and the evolution of manhood consists in the endeavour to conquer the body and regain freedom. This freedom is the principal object of religion, it is this that is called mukti or liberation….
“In the modern age we stand at the crossing of the old and the new. Man is ever advancing towards his goal. Sometimes he has to leave the plains and climb to the heights, and during these times of ascent, revolutions in politics, society, religion, and knowledge take place. In the present time, there is a great effort to climb from the gross to the subtle. Thanks to the minute investigation of the material world and the determination of its laws by the Western scientists, the plains surrounding the path of the ascent have been cleared. The savants of the West are taking the first step into the immense kingdom of the subtle world, and many of them are allured by the hope of the conquest of that kingdom. Besides, there are other signs discernible like the spread of theosophy within a short space of time, the appreciation of the Vedanta in America, the indirect and incipient dominance of India on the philosophy and thought of the West etc. But the supreme sign is the sudden resurgence of India, which has surpassed all expectation. Indians are rising to conquer their place of the Guru of the world and inaugurate a new age….
“How true is all this I realised first in the Alipore jail…. I, too, (like Bepin Chandra Pal) understood in the Alipore jail this essential truth of Hinduism, and for the first time realised Narayana, the Supreme Divine, in the human bodies of thieves, robbers and murderers….”
Upendranath Bandyopadhyaya, a co-accused in the Alipore Bomb Case, has given a graphic pen-picture in his Bengali book, Nirvasiter Atmakatha of how Sri Aurobindo lived in the Alipore Jail. We give below a free English rendering of some lines from it.
“…In the midst of this noise and wrangles, Aurobindo Babu sat absolutely silent and immobile…. We were not supplied with hair oil, but we noticed that Aurobindo Babu’s hair looked glossy. One day I made bold to ask him: ‘Do you use hair oil in your bath?’ It took my breath away when he told me that he did not take his bath. ‘Then how does your hair shine so much?’, I enquired. ‘Along with my progress in sadhana (yogic practice), certain changes are taking place in my body. My hair draws fat from my body.’… Sitting in the dock, I observed that Aurobindo Babu’s eyes had a fixed stare, as if they were eyes of glass. They were unwinking, unmoving. I had read somewhere that this was a sign of a stilled mind. I pointed it out to one or two persons, but none dared ask Aurobindo Babu about it. At last, Sachin went slowly up to him and asked: ‘What have you obtained by sadhana?’ Aurobindo Babu laid his hand on the boy’s head and said with a smile: ‘I have found what I have been seeking for.’
“This made us bolder, and we surrounded him. I cannot say that we understood all that he said about the wonderful happenings in the inner world, but we were quite convinced of one thing, that a new chapter had opened in the life of this extraordinary man. We heard something of the Tantric Yoga he practised in the jail after the Vedantic Yoga. We had never heard him discuss the Tantric Yoga either outside the jail or in it before. On our enquiring as to where he had learnt these secret Yogic practices, he said that a Maha-purusha (a great spiritual personality) had visited him in his subtle body and taught him those things. When we asked him about the result of the police case against him, he said: ‘I shall be acquitted.’”
Sri Aurobindo himself has given us a brief but illuminating description of his spiritual experiences in the jail. “When I was arrested and hurried to the Lai Bazar hajat (prison), I was shaken in my faith for a while, for I could not look into the heart of His intention. Therefore, I faltered for a moment and cried out in my heart to him: ‘What is this that has happened to me? I believed that I had a mission to work for the people of my country and until that work was done, I should have Thy protection. Why then am I here and on such a charge?’ A day passed and a second day and a third, when a voice came to me from within, ‘Wait and see.’ Then I grew calm and waited. I was taken from Lai Bazar to Alipore and was placed for one month in a solitary cell apart from men. There I waited day and night for the voice of God within me, to know what He had to say to me, to learn what I had to do. In this seclusion the earliest realisation, the first lesson, came to me. I remembered then that a month or more before my arrest, a call had come to me to put aside all activity, to go into seclusion and to look into myself, so that I might enter into a closer union with Him. I was weak and could not accept the call. My work was very dear to me and in the pride of my heart I thought that unless I was there, it would suffer or even fail and cease; therefore I would not leave it…. He spoke to me again and said, ‘the bonds you had not the strength to break, I have broken for you, because it is not my will nor was it ever my intention that that should continue. I have had another thing for you to do and it is for that I have brought you here, to teach you what you could not learn for you self and to train you for my work.’… His strength entered again into me…. I looked at the jail that secluded me from men and it was no longer by its high walls that I was imprisoned; no, it was Vasudeva who surrounded me. I walked under the branches of the tree in front of my cell but it was not the tree, I knew it was Vasudeva, it was Krishna whom I saw standing there and holding over me His shade. I looked at the bars of my cell, the very grating that did duty for a door and again I saw Vasudeva. It was Narayana who was guarding and standing sentry over me. Or I lay on the coarse blankets that were given me for a couch and felt the arms of Sri Krishna around me, the arms of my Friend and Lover. This was the first use of the deeper vision He gave me. I looked at the prisoners in the jail, the thieves, the murderers, the swindlers, and as I looked at them I saw Vasudeva, it was Narayana whom I found in these darkened souls and misused bodies….”
It was in this mysterious way that Sri Aurobindo was led by God to His Kingdom of Truth and eternal Beatitude. He had gripped his heart and soul at first at Baroda long before the Swadeshi movement began, and led him from experience to experience in order to prepare him for the great mission he had to accomplish. But it was in the Alipore jail that He initiated him into the secrets of a long-lost Yoga and lighted the virgin way for his advance towards the supreme realisation of the dynamic, integral Union with Him, which is the eventual destiny of earthly evolution, and of which He had destined Sri Aurobindo to be the prophet and pioneer.
Let us have a passing glimpse of the famous Alipore Bomb trial. We quote from an authentic book. The Alipore Bomb Trial, by Bejoy Krishna Bose, who was one of the pleaders for the accused, and also from the Foreword to this book by Eardley Norton, one of the counsels for the Crown.
“All the accused were produced before the Commissioner of Police and on the next day Mr. L. Birley, the District Magistrate of Alipore (24 Parganas District) by a written order took up the case himself…
“Several of the accused persons made detailed confessions and statements which were recorded by Mr. Birley. Mr. Birley inquired into the case and examined 222 witnesses and committed the accused to the Court of Sessions at Alipore on 19th August 1908.
“In the meantime a second batch was being formed by the subsequent arrests that took place and they were committed to the Court of Sessions on 14th September, to take their trial along with those previously committed….
“Sanction has been given to me by the Government of Bengal… to prosecute certain persons under Sections 121A, 122, 123, 124 I.P.C.
“I now complain against
1. Barendra Kumar Ghosh [Barindra Kumar Ghose]
2. Indu Bhusan Rai
3. Ullaskar Dutt
4. Upendra Nath Banerji
5. Sishir Kumar Ghose
6. Nolini Kumar Gupta [Nolini Kanta Gupta]
7. Sachindra Kumar Sen
8. Poresh Chandra Maullik
9. Kunja Lai Saha
10. Bijoy Kumar Nag
11. Narendra Nath Buxi
12. Purna Chandra Sen
13. Hemendra Nath Ghose
14. Bibhuti Bhushan Sarkar
15. Nirapad Rai
16. Kanai Lal Dutt
17. Hem Chandra Das
18. Arabinda Ghose
19. Abinash Chandra Bhattacharji
20. Sailendra Nath Bose
21. Dindayal Bose
22. Narendra Nath Gossain
23. Sudhir Kumar Sarkar
24. Krista Jiban Sanyal
25. Hrishikesh Kanjilal
26. Birendra Nath Ghose
27. Dharani Nath Gupta
28. Nogendra Nath Gupta
29. Ashoke Chandra Nandi
30. Moti Lai Ghose
31. Bijoy Ratan Sen Gupta
32. Sushil Kumar Sen
33. Khudiram Bose.
“These people are all accused of organising a gang for the purpose of waging war against the Government by means of criminal force.
(Sd.) L. Birley,.
“The trial of both the batches commenced before Mr. C.P. Beachcroft, I.C.S., Additional Sessions Judge, Alipur, on 19th October, 1908. Various objections were taken to the form of the charges, the joint trial, admissibility of evidence and other matters. Charu Chandra Roy, who was a French subject brought from Chandernagore on an extradition warrant, was ordered to be discharged on 5th November as the Government withdrew from his prosecution. Kanai Lal Dutt was in the meantime sentenced to be hanged before this trial began for murdering the approver Narendra Nath Gossain in the Alipur Jail compound on 31st August 1908.
“Altogether 206 witnesses were examined and cross-examined at length and then both sides argued the case at great length. The court was thus engaged till the 13th April 1909. On the 14th April the opinions of the Assessors were taken and judgment was delivered on the 6th May 1909.
“Accused Barindra Kumar Ghose and Ullaskar Dutt were sentenced to be hanged under sections 121, 121 A, and 122 I.P.C… The properties of all these accused were also forfeited to Government…. The rest of the accused, viz., Nalini K. Gupta, Sachindra K. Sen, Kunjo Lal Shah, Bejoy Kumar Nag, Narendra Nath Bukshi, Purna Chandra Sen, Hemendra Nath Ghose, Aravinda Ghose, Dindayal Bose, Birendra Nath Ghose, Dharani Nath Gupta, Nagendra Nath Gupta, Hem Chandra Sen, Debabrata Bose, Nikhileswar Roy Moulik, Bijoy Chandra Bhattacharya and Pravas Chandra Dev were acquitted.
“Thus the enquiry before Mr. Birley occupied 76 days and the trial in the Court of Sessions took 131 days. It will be seen hereafter that the appeal in the High Court was heard during 47 days and the reference by a Third Judge for 20 days. The mass of documents filed, if counted individually, were over four thousand and the material articles exhibited, i.e, bombs, tools, revolvers etc. were between three to four hundred.”
We give below short extracts from the Foreword to the above book by Mr. Eardley Norton Bar-at-Law, who was the principal Counsel for the Crown and whose forensic skill and sharp, perplexing cross-examination were a veritable terror to the witnesses. This Foreword was written long after the Trial.
“…I chanced to lead for the Crown in the trial related in this volume in all three Courts — Magistrate’s, the Session Judge’s and the High Court — …
“The ringleader was a young man of unusual qualities. No lawyer can defend his action; no statesman applaud it. None the less Barendra Kumar Ghose was sincere and in a great measure chivalrous. Obsessed by conceptions of the injustice of the policy which severed his motherland, he believed that the only influence which could force recognition of views which appeared to him patriotic was recourse to violence. Himself imbued with the passionate fervour of the genuine military reformer, Barendra infected a large following of youthful adherents with his own unhappy enthusiasm. The gospel of the revolver and the bomb spread with alarming, if secret, success: a huge organisation developed throughout the country: inflammatory articles were openly disseminated by an able if disaffected press and the peace of the country was assuredly in peril. The Government had for long permitted revolutionary literature to pass unnoticed: the ferment grew under a misplaced sense of security till overt measures forced the authorities into action. Their intervention was swift and certain. Simultaneous raids on the 2nd May 1908 secured a large number who were the flower of the movement… among them were the two brothers Aravindo and Barendra Kumar Ghose….
“In the Sessions Court the accused were placed behind a net work of wire, police with fixed bayonets stood on guard throughout the room, and I had a five-chambered loaded revolver lying on my brief throughout the trial….
“Aravindo Ghose had been a brilliant scholar in England. He had been head of St. Paul’s and won a scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge. There he was a contemporary of Mr. Beachcroft I.C.S. who tried him at Alipore and who had been head of Rugby and had also won a scholarship at Cambridge. Both won honours at the University, and at the final examination for The Indian Civil Service Arabindo, the prisoner, beat Beachcroft the Judge in Greek!…
“…to me it appeared a matter for regret that a man of Aravindo’s calibre should have been ejected from the Civil Service on the ground he could not, or would not, ride a horse. Capacity such as his would have been a valuable asset to the State. Had room been found for him in the Educational Service of India I believe he would have gone far not merely in personal advancement but in welding more firmly the links which bind his countrymen to ours….”
This is a tribute from one who had employed all his forensic powers, intellectual ingenuity and professional tricks to prove that Sri Aurobindo was the source of inspiration and the directing brain and resourceful organiser of the whole movement of the armed revolution in Bengal.
Besides God’s infallible Will and, in fact, as an instrument of it, stood C.R. Das, Bar-at-Law, stirred by patriotic fervour and armed with an iron resolution to defend the accused. He was a rising barrister, who laid aside all other practice in order to devote all his time and energies to this case which had made a sensation in the whole country. And fortune favoured his devoted services to the national cause. He proved up to the hilt the utter hollowness of the evidence so laboriously piled and craftily cooked up by the Prosecution. The fiery shafts of Mr. Norton were shattered by his incisive logic, and the imposing array of the prosecution arguments relentlessly torn to shreds. Norton had at last met more than a match in C.R. Das.
In the beginning of the case, Sri Aurobindo gave certain instructions to his Counsel, but he was asked by his unfailing guide, the Divine, to leave the entire charge and responsibility to C.R. Das, who conducted the case with an inspired zeal and ability. C.R. Das’s peroration was and has since remained a classic of intuitive prophecy, couched in a garb of glittering eloquence. We have already quoted some of the last lines of it, and need not repeat them here. In his Uttarpara Speech, Sri Aurobindo says in this connection: “Afterwards when the trial opened in the Sessions Court, I began to write many instructions for my Counsel as to what was false in the evidence against me and on what points the witnesses might be cross-examined. Then something happened which I had not expected. The arrangements which had been made for my defence were suddenly changed and another Counsel stood there to defend me. He came unexpectedly — a friend of mine, but I did not know that he was coming. You have all heard the name of the man who put away from him all other thoughts and abandoned all his practice, who sat up half the night day after day for months and broke his health to save me — Srijut Chittaranjan Das. When I saw him I was satisfied; but I still thought it necessary to write instructions. Then all that was put from me and I had the message from within: ‘This is the man who will save you from the snares put around your feet. Put aside those papers. It is not you who will instruct him. I will instruct him…. From that time I did not of myself speak a word to my Counsel about the case or give a single instruction, and if ever I was asked a question, I always found that my answer did not help the case. I had left it to him and he took it entirely into his hands with what results you know.”
The results which Sri Aurobindo speaks of were his acquittal along with that of a few others, and the sudden shooting up into the judicial firmament of Chittaranjan Das as the brightest luminary in the Calcutta Bar. Everywhere he was now in demand, and his practice increased by leaps and bounds. But his munificence was as great as his income — his unstinted generosity became a legend. His heart overflowed with kindness and sympathy for the needy and the distressed. Later, he became the undisputed leader of Bengal nationalism and one of the foremost leaders in the Indian National Congress. He worked as a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, and afterwards of Motilal Nehru in the Council Entry movement, and fought for his country till the last breath of his life. He once came to Pondicherry and saw Sri Aurobindo by a special appointment. But of this we shall speak in its proper context.
Some of the co-accused of Sri Aurobindo in the Alipore Bomb Case appealed to the High Court and, in consequence, a few sentences were reduced and few rescinded. Barindra, Ullaskar, Upendra etc., were sentenced to transportation for life instead of being hanged.
It is interesting to note that all the young accused, whose ages varied from sixteen to twenty, divided themselves into several groups in the iron cage in which they were locked, and engaged in animated discussions on political, literary, philosophical and religious subjects. They took no notice of the fateful trial — indeed, they treated it as a prodigious farce — which was going on before them in the Court, and on which depended their life and death. Sri Aurobindo sat, silent and serene, rapt in meditation.
A few remarks made by Sri Aurobindo much later in answer to questions and in correction of certain mis-statements about his life in the Alipore jail are given below:
“Ferrar who had been my class-mate could not come and meet me in the Court when the trial (Alipur) was going on and we were put in a cage lest we should jump out and murder the judge. He was a barrister practising at Sumatra or Singapore. He just saw me in the cage and was much concerned and did not know how to get me out. It was he who had given me the clue to the Hexameter in English. He read out a line from Clough which he thought was the best line and that gave me the swing of the metre.”
“This reminds me of a compliment given to my eyes by Sir Edward Baker, Governor of Bengal. He visited us in Alipur Jail and told Charu Chandra Dutt, ‘Have you seen Aurobindo Ghose’s eyes? He has the eyes of a mad man!’ Charu Chandra Dutt I.C.S. took great pains to convince him that I was not at all mad but a Karma-Yogi.”
“I knew something about sculpture, but I was blind to painting. Suddenly one day in the Alipore Jail while meditating I saw some pictures on the walls of the cell and lo and behold! the artistic eye in me opened and I knew all about painting except of course the more material side of the technique. I don’t always know how to express though, because I lack the knowledge of the proper technique but that does not stand in the way of a keen and understanding appreciation….”
About levitation, he says, “That was once in jail. I was then having a very intense sadhana on the vital plane and I was concentrated. And I had a questioning mind: ‘Are such Siddhis as Utthānapāda (levitation) possible?’ I then suddenly found myself raised up in such a way that I could not have done it myself with muscular exertion. Only one part of the body was slightly in contact with the ground and the rest was raised up against the wall. I could not have held my body like that normally even if I had wanted to and I found that the body remained suspended like that without any exertion on my part…. In the jail there were many such extraordinary, and one may say, abnormal experiences. As I was doing sadhana intensely on the vital plane I think these might have come from there. All these experiences passed away and did not repeat themselves.”
It was during his jail life that Sri Aurobindo resorted to fasting to see how far spiritual results could be attained by it. In Alipore jail though he fasted for eleven days and lost ten pounds in weight during that period, he felt none the worse for it.
Acknowledging Swami Vivekananda’s help in his spiritual life, he says in Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, “…It is a fact that I was hearing constantly the voice of Vivekananda speaking to me for a fortnight in the jail in my solitary meditation and felt his presence…. The voice spoke only on a special and limited very important field of spiritual experience and it ceased as soon as it had finished saying all that it had to say on that subject.”
In a casual reference to the power of prediction, Sri Aurobindo once remarked in his evening talks, “When I was arrested, my maternal grand aunt asked Vishuddhananda ‘what will happen to our Aurobindo’? He replied, ‘The Divine Mother has taken him in Her arms. Nothing will happen to him. But he is not your Aurobindo, He is world’s Aurobindo, and the world will be filled with his perfume.’”
“…day after day, He showed me His wonders and made me realise the utter truth of the Hindu religion….
“…In the communion of Yoga two messages came. The first message said, ‘I have given you a work and it is to help to uplift this nation. Before long the time will come when you will have to go out of jail, for it is not my will that this time either you should be convicted or that you should pass the time, as others have to do, in suffering for their country. I have called you to work, and that is the Adesha for which you have asked. I give you the Adesha to go forth and do my work.’ The second message came and it said, ‘Something has been shown to you in this year of seclusion, something about which you had your doubts, and it is the truth of the Hindu religion. It is this religion that I am raising up before the world, it is this that I have perfected and developed through the Rishis, saints and Avatars, and now it is going forth to do my work among the nations. I am raising up this nation to send forth my word. This is the Sanatana Dharma, this is the eternal religion which you did not really know before, but which I have now revealed to you…. When therefore it is said that India shall rise, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall rise. When it is said that India shall be great, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall be great. When it is said that India shall expand and extend herself, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall expand and extend itself over the world. It is for the Dharma and by the Dharma that India exists. To magnify the religion means to magnify the country. I have shown you that I am everywhere and in all men and in all things, that I am in this movement, and I am not only working in those who are striving for the country but I am working also in those who oppose them and stand in their path. I am working in everybody and whatever men may think or do they can do nothing but help in my purpose. They are also doing my work, they are not my enemies but my instruments. In all your actions you are moving forward without knowing which way you move. You mean to do one thing and you do another. You aim at a result and your efforts subserve one that is different or contrary. It is Shakti that has gone forth and entered into the people. Since long ago I have been preparing this uprising and now the time has come and it is I who will lead it to its fulfilment.’”
“…But what is the Hindu religion? What is this religion which we call Sanatana, eternal? It is the Hindu religion only because the Hindu nation has kept it, because in this Peninsula it grew up in the seclusion of the sea and the Himalayas, because in this sacred and ancient land it was given as a charge to the Aryan race to preserve through the ages. But it is not circumscribed by the confines of a single country, it does not belong peculiarly and for ever to a bounded part of the world. That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion, because it is the universal religion which embraces all others. If a religion is not universal, it cannot be eternal. A narrow religion, a sectarian religion, an exclusive religion can live only for a limited time and a limited purpose. This is the one religion that can triumph over materialism by including and anticipating the discoveries of science and the speculations of philosophy. It is the one religion which impresses on mankind the closeness of God to us and embraces in its compass all the possible means by which man can approach God. It is the one religion which insists every moment on the truth which all religions acknowledge that He is in all men and all things and that in Him we move and have our being. It is the one religion which enables us not only to understand and believe this truth but to realise it with every part of our being. It is the one religion which shows the world what the world is, that it is the Lila of Vasudeva. It is the one religion which shows us how we can best play our part in that Lila, its subtlest laws and its noblest rules. It is the one religion which does not separate life in any smallest detail from religion, which knows what immortality is and has utterly removed from us the reality of death.”
Uttarpara Speech by Sri Aurobindo
On 6th May, 1909, the Alipore Sessions judge, Mr. Beachcroft, who was Sri Aurobindo’s classfellow at Cambridge, acquitted Sri Aurobindo of all charges and released him. The release was foreknown to Sri Aurobindo, because it had been promised and predicted by God to him. God had destined a much vaster role for him than that of a mere political leader. Outwardly, his release was a signal triumph of the devoted, self-sacrificing services of C.R. Das. Along with Sri Aurobindo, Devavrata Bose, Narendra Bakshi, Nolini Gupta, Bejoy Nag, Purna Sen etc. were also released. C.R. Das appealed to the High Court on behalf of the other accused, some of whom had been sentenced to death. Barin and Ullaskar had their death sentences commuted into transportation for life.
After his release, Sri Aurobindo put up at the office of Sanjivani, the organ edited by his uncle, Krishna Kumar Mitra, who was at that time in Agra jail. The political atmosphere of the country was bleak and forlorn. Most of the leaders were either in jail or away from India. There was discontent seething underground, but the surface was deceptively calm. Bureaucratic repression had only intensified national indignation which bided its time for an explosion. And Sri Aurobindo stood alone to revive the patriotic fire and direct it through effective channels.
He was invited to Uttarpara, a small town some miles from Calcutta, to speak at the annual meeting of the Dharma Rakshini Sabha. He delivered there his famous Uttarpara Speech, from which we have quoted some lines above, which was a revelation of some of the spiritual experiences he had in the jail and of his changed outlook on life and its divine potentials and destiny. Amarendra Chatterji, who had gone from Uttarpara to fetch Sri Aurobindo for speaking to the Sanatana Dharma Rakshini Sabha, writes, “I went to the Sanjivani office to fetch Sri Aurobindo. I saw him there absolutely quiet, as if he was in meditation. So I did not talk long with him. We went by train to Uttarpara. Many of the audience also came there by the same train. The train arrived at 3 o’clock. The time for the meeting was 5.30 p.m. The jamindar of Uttarpara, Raja Pyari Mohan, and his son Michhri Babu had come to the station to receive Sri Aurobindo. After taking a little rest and tea at the house of Surendranath Chattopadhyaya a regular procession was organised. The meeting was fixed at the open courtyard of the Library on the eastern side, on the west bank of the Ganges. Sri Aurobindo was the only speaker. There were about ten thousand men in the audience. His voice was not voluminous and so the audience kept pin-drop silence in order to be able to hear him.
“He was heard in pin-drop silence. The reception he got was extraordinary….”
On the 19th June Sri Aurobindo launched a weekly paper — Karmayogin in English, devoted to nationalism, religion, literature, science, philosophy etc. It was to be the mouthpiece of his new visions and aspirations, and his global envisaging of the future of India and the world. It was widely acclaimed, and had not therefore, to struggle against financial difficulties, as its predecessor, Bande Mataram, had to do. In the very first editorial of the first issue, under the caption, Ourselves, Sri Aurobindo wrote: “The Karmayogin comes into the field to fulfil a function which an increasing tendency in the country demands. The life of the nation which once flowed in a broad and single stream has long been severed into a number of separate meagre and shallow channels. The two main floods have followed the paths of religion and politics, but they have flowed separately. Our political activity has crept in a channel cut for European or Europeanised minds; it tended always to a separate wideness, but was deficient in depth and volume. The national genius, originality, individuality poured itself into religion, while our politics were imitative and unreal. Yet without a living political activity national life cannot, under modern circumstances, survive. So also there has been a stream of social life, more and more muddied and disturbed, seeking to get clearness, depth, largeness, freedom, and always failing and increasing in weakness or distraction. There was a stream too of industrial life, faint and thin, the poor survival of the old vigorous Indian artistic and industrial capacity murdered by unjust laws and an unscrupulous trade policy. All these ran in disconnected channels, sluggish, scattered and ineffectual. The tendency is now for these streams to unite again into one mighty, invincible and grandiose flood. To assist that tendency, to give voice and definiteness to the deeper aspirations now forming obscurely within the national consciousness is the chosen work of the Karmayogin.
“There is no national life perfect or sound without the caturvarṇya. The life of the nation must contain within itself the life of the Brahmin, — spirituality, knowledge, learning, high and pure ethical aspiration and endeavour; the life of the Kshatriya, — manhood and strength, moral and physical, the love of battle, the thirst for glory, the sense of honour, chivalry, self-devotion, generosity, grandeur of soul; the life of the Vaishya, — trade, industry, thrift, prosperity, benevolence, philanthropy; the life of the Shudra, — honesty, simplicity, labour, religious and quiet service to the nation even in the humblest position and the most insignificant kind of work. The cause of India’s decline was the practical disappearance of the Kshatriya and the dwindling of the Vaishya. The whole political history of India since the tyranny of the Nandas has been an attempt to resuscitate or replace the Kshatriya. But the attempt was only partially successful. The Vaishya held his own for a long time, indeed, until the British advent by which he has almost been extinguished. When the caturvarṇya disappears, there comes vamasaṅkara, utter confusion of the great types which keep a nation vigorous and sound. The Kshatriya dwindled, the Vaishya dwindled, the Brahmin and Shudra were left. The inevitable tendency was for the Brahmin type to disappear and the first sign of his disappearance was utter degeneracy, the tendency to lose himself and while keeping some outward signs of the Brahmin to gravitate towards Shudrahood. In the Kaliyuga the Shudra is powerful and attracts into himself the less vigorous Brahmin, as the earth attracts purer but smaller bodies, and the brahmatej, the spiritual force of the latter, already diminished, dwindles to nothingness. For the Satyayuga to return, we must get back the brahmatej and make it general. For the brahmatej is the basis of all the rest and in the Satyayuga all men have it more or less and by it the nation lives and is great.
“All this is, let us say, a parable. It is more than a parable, it is a great truth. But our educated class have become so unfamiliar with the deeper knowledge of their forefathers that it has to be translated into modern European terms before they can understand it. For it is the European ideas alone that are real to them and the great truths of Indian thought seem to them mere metaphors, allegories and mystic parables. So well has British education done its fatal denationalising work in India.
“…And the two highest castes are the least easy to be spared. If they survive in full strength, they can provide themselves with the two others, but if either the Kshatriya or the Brahmin goes, if either the political force or the spiritual force of a nation is lost, that nation is doomed unless it can revive or replace the missing strength. And of the two the Brahmin is the most important. He can always create the Kshatriya; spiritual force can always raise up material force to defend it. But if the Brahmin becomes the Shudra, then the lower instinct of the serf and the labourer becomes all in all, the instinct to serve and seek a living as one supreme object of life, the instinct to accept safety as a compensation for lost greatness and inglorious ease and dependence in place of the ardours of high aspiration for the nation and the individual. When spirituality is lost all is lost. This is the fate from which we have narrowly escaped by the resurgence of the soul of India in Nationalism.
“But that resurgence is not yet complete. There is the sentiment of Indianism, there is not yet the knowledge. There is a vague idea, there is no definite conception or deep insight. We have yet to know ourselves, what we were, are and may be; what we did in the past and what we are capable of doing in the future; our history and our mission. This is the first and most important work which the Karmayogin sets for itself, to popularise this knowledge. And the second thing is how to use these assets so as to swell the sum of national life and produce the future. It is easy to appraise their relations to the past; it is more difficult to give them their place in the future. The third thing is to know the outside world and its relation to us and how to deal with it. That is the problem which we find at present the most difficult and insistent, but its solution depends on the solution of the others.
“We have said that brahmatej is the thing we need most of all and first of all… what the Europeans mean by religion is not brahmatej; which is rather spirituality, the force and energy of thought and action arising from communion with or self-surrender to that within us which rules the world…. This force and energy can be directed to any purpose God desires for us; it is sufficient to knowledge, love or service; it is good for the liberation of an individual soul, the building of a nation or the turning of a tool. It works from within, it works in the power of God, it works with superhuman energy. The reawakening of that force in three hundred millions of men by the means which our past has placed in our hands, that is our object.”
“The knowledge of the Yogin is not the knowledge of the average desire-driven mind. Neither is it the knowledge of the scientific or of the worldly-wise reason which anchors itself on surface facts and leans upon experience and probability. The Yogin knows God’s way of working and is aware that the improbable often happens, that facts mislead. He rises above reason to that direct and illuminated Knowledge which we call Vijnanam…”
The Karmayogin dated 19th February, 1910
After his release from the Alipore jail, Sri Aurobindo addressed a few meetings in Calcutta. At a meeting at the Beadon Square held on the 13th June, 1909, under the presidency of Ramananda Chatterji, Sri Aurobindo said among other things, “…and what after all was the repression? Some people sent to prison, some deported, a number of house-searches, a few repressive enactments, limiting the liberty of the press and the platform. This was nothing compared with the price other nations have paid for their liberty. They also would have to suffer much more than this before they could make an appreciable advance towards their goal. This was God’s law; it was not the rulers who demanded the price, it was God who demanded it. It was His law that a fallen nation should not be allowed to rise without infinite suffering and mighty effort…. The sun of India’s destiny would rise and fill all India with its light and overflow India and overflow Asia and overflow the world. Every hour, every moment could only bring them nearer to the brightness of the day that God has decreed.”
On the 23rd June he went to Barisal and delivered a speech at the Jhalakati Conference, “…it is a strange idea, a foolish idea which men have, indeed, always cherished under such circumstances, but which has been disproved over and over again in history, — to think that a nation which has once risen, once has been called up by the voice of God to rise, will be stopped by mere physical repression. It has never so happened in the history of a nation nor will it so happen in the history of India…. Repression is nothing but the hammer of God that is beating us into shape so that we may be moulded into a mighty nation and an instrument for His work in the world. We are iron upon His anvil and the blows are showering upon us not to destroy but to re-create. Without suffering there can be no growth…
“…we are no ordinary race. We are a people ancient as our hills and rivers and we have behind us a history of manifold greatness not surpassed by any other race, we are the descendants of those who performed Tapasya and underwent unheard-of austerities for the sake of spiritual gain and of their own will submitted to all the sufferings of which humanity is capable. We are the children of those mothers who ascended with a smile the funeral pyre that they might follow their husbands to another world. We are a people to whom suffering is welcome and who have a spiritual strength within them, greater than any physical force, we are a people in whom God has chosen to manifest Himself more than any other at many great moments of our history. It is because God has chosen to manifest Himself and has entered into the hearts of His people that we are rising again as a nation…”
The reader will have observed in the passages quoted above — as, indeed, one observes in all Sri Aurobindo’s political speeches and writings — that if there is one thing which recurs oftener than anything else, one thing upon which he insists with his usual force and eloquence, one thing with which he wants to inspire his readers and audiences, one thing which is the burden of his political as well as spiritual songs, it is God, surrender to God’s will, and God’s service. Nobody before him or after ever came to the political field so much drunk with God, so much irradiated by His light, and led so unmistakably by God’s will. His political life was foreshadowed in his life in England and at Baroda, and his spiritual life was foreshadowed in his political life. The student life in England, the scholarly life in Baroda, the political life in Bengal, these superficial divisions are made by those only who cannot view his life as a whole. In fact, as we have already remarked, there was no break in his life at all. It was a natural, continuous evolution, a natural out-flowering. The morning showed the day. The germinating acorn suggested the giant oak.
By the middle of July, 1909, Sister Nivedita returned from Europe with Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose and lady Bose under the assumed name of Mrs. Margaret. We reproduce below some passages from an authentic biography of Sister Nivedita by Lizelle Reymond.
“Aurobindo Ghose was now out of prison, and Nivedita had her school decorated as for the most auspicious festival days to celebrate his release. She found him completely transformed. His piercing eyes seemed to devour the tight-drawn skin-and-bones of his face. He possessed an irresistible power, derived from a spiritual revelation that had come to him in prison. During the entire ordeal he had seen before him nothing but the Lord Krishna: Krishna the adored and the adorable, the essence of Brahman, the Absolute in the sphere of relativity: Lord Krishna had become at the same time prisoner, jailor and judge…
“Now, released from prison Aurobindo Ghose found his party discouraged and downcast. With a mere handful of supporters — Nivedita among them — he launched an appeal and tried to rekindle the patriotic spark in a weakening society. His mission was now that of a Yogin sociologist. The two newspapers which he founded — the Karmayogin in English and the Dharma in Bengali, both violent in tone — preached his lofty aim…
“…he was already known as the ‘seer’ Sri Aurobindo, although still involved in political life, and as yet not manifested to his future disciples on the spiritual path. For Nivedita he was the expression of life itself, the life of a new seed grown on the ancient soil of India, the logical and passionate development of all her Guru’s teachings…
“Aurobindo’s open and logical method of presenting his own spiritual experience, and revealing the divine message he had received in his solitary meditation, created the necessary unity between his past life of action and his future spiritual discipline…
“Nivedita thought she could still hear the voice of Swami Vivekananda stirring up the masses: ‘Arise, Sons of India! Awake!’ That had been the first phase of the struggle. Now this life-giving cry was repeated differently, because the effort required in the changing circumstances was no longer identical; but the source of it was still the same! Now the new order was that every individual should become a sadhak of the nation — a seeker — so that ‘the One could find Himself and manifest Himself in every human being, in all humanity.’ Aurobindo Ghose was throwing out the first ideas of the integral yoga he was to teach, depicting man in his cosmic reality…. He was, as Nivedita understood him, the successor to the spiritual Masters of the past, offering the source of his inspiration for all to drink from in yogic solitude. Since his imprisonment at Alipore, Aurobindo Ghose was no longer a fighter but a Yogi.”
Nivedita was undoubtedly the most influential, resourceful, and fearlessly loyal helper of Sri Aurobindo in his militant nationalism. This brave lady never spared herself in her Guru-given work for the freedom of India. She was the one disciple of Swami Vivekananda’s whom he moulded to perfection according to the truth of her own nature. She had an equal access to many of the offices of the British bureaucracy, the homes of the leading aristocratic personalities of Calcutta, and the hearts of the young nationalists. She was loved and esteemed by almost all who knew her. Since her contact with Sri Aurobindo at Baroda she never ceased helping him in his political work. A remarkable lady with a remarkable record of service for the cause of Indian freedom! But much of this service remains shrouded in a fog, and is not, therefore, adequately recognised. A more detailed and better documented biography of Sister Nivedita, dealing with all aspects — spiritual, political, artistic, and literary — of her life in India, will meet a keenly-felt want.
Asked about Sister Nivedita, Sri Aurobindo said the following in one of his evening talks:
“What do you mean by ‘some sort’? She was one of the revolutionary leaders. She went about visiting various places to come into contact with the people. She was open, frank and talked freely over revolutionary plans to everybody. There was no concealment about her. Whenever she could speak on revolution, it was her very soul, her true personality that came out. Her whole mind and life expressed itself thus. Yoga was Yoga but revolutionary work it was that seemed intended for her. That is fire! Her book, Kali, the Mother, is very inspiring but revolutionary and not at all non-violent.
“She went about the Thakurs of Rajputana, trying to preach to them revolution. At that time everybody wanted some kind of revolution. I myself met several Rajput Thakurs who, unsuspected by the Government, had revolutionary ideas and tendencies…”
Referring to Gandhi’s remark that Nivedita was volatile and mercurial and the subsequent violent protest made by the Modern Review, Sri Aurobindo said, “Nivedita volatile? What nonsense! She was a solid worker.
“Once she came to the Gaekwar and told him to join the revolution, and said, ‘If you have anything more to ask, you can ask Mr. Ghose’ but the Gaekwar never talked politics with me.
“The first time she came to me she said, ‘I hear, Mr. Ghose, you are a worshipper of Shakti, Force’. There was no non-violence about her. She had an artistic side too. Khashirao Jadav and I went to receive her at the station. Seeing the Dharmasala near the station she exclaimed, ‘How beautiful!’ While looking at the college building she cried, ‘How horrible!’ Khashirao said later, ‘She must be a little mad’…. The Ramakrishna Mission was a little afraid of Nivedita’s political activities and asked her to keep them separate from its work.”
Asked about Nivedita’s Yogic achievements Sri Aurobindo said, “I don’t know. Whenever we met we spoke about politics and revolution. But her eyes showed a power of concentration and revealed a capacity for going into trance.” When it was pointed out to Sri Aurobindo that Nivedita had come to India with the idea of doing Yoga, Sri Aurobindo said, “Yes, but she took up politics as a part of Vivekananda’s work. Her book is one of the best on Vivekananda. Vivekananda himself had ideas about political work and had spells of revolutionary fervour. Once he had a vision which corresponded to something like the Manicktola gardens.”
At the Howrah People’s Association Sri Aurobindo delivered a speech on the Right of Association which was published in the Karmayogin on the 17th July, 1909. We reproduce below a few lines from this speech:
“…according to our philosophy it is the idea which is building up the world. It is the idea which expresses itself in matter and takes to itself bodies. This is true also in the life of humanity, it is true in politics, in the progress and life of a nation. It is the idea which shapes material institutions. It is the idea which builds up and destroys administrations and Governments. Therefore the idea is a mighty force, even when it has no physical power behind it, even when it is not equipped with means, even when it has not organised itself in institutions and associations. Even then the idea moves freely abroad through the minds of thousands of men and becomes a mighty force. It is a power which by the very fact of being impalpable assumes all the greater potency and produces all the more stupendous results. Therefore the right of free speech is cherished because it gives the idea free movement, it gives the nation that power which ensures its future development, which ensures success in any struggle for national life, however stripped it may be of means and instruments. It is enough that the idea is there and that the idea lives and circulates. Then the idea materialises itself, finds means and instruments, conquers all obstacles and goes on developing until it is expressed and established in permanent and victorious forms…
“…Association is the mightiest thing in humanity; it is the instrument by which humanity moves, it is the means by which it grows, it is the power by which it progresses towards its final development. There are three ideas which are of supreme moment to human life and have become the watchwords of humanity. Three words have the power of remoulding nations and Governments, liberty, equality and fraternity. These words cast forth into being from the great stir and movement of the eighteenth century continue to act on men because they point to the ultimate goal towards which human evolution ever moves. This liberty to which we progress is liberation out of a state of bondage. We move from a state of bondage to an original liberty. This is what our own religion teaches. This is what our own philosophy suggests as the goal towards which we move, mukti or moksha. We are bound in the beginning by a lapse from pre-existent freedom, we strive to shake off the bonds, we move forward and forward until we have achieved the ultimate emancipation, that utter freedom of the soul, of the body or the whole man, that utter freedom from all bondage towards which humanity is always aspiring. We in India have found a mighty freedom within ourselves, our brother-men in Europe have worked towards freedom without. We have been moving on parallel lines towards the same end. They have found out the way to external freedom. We have found out the way to internal freedom. We meet and give to each other what we have gained. We have learnt from them to aspire after external as they will learn from us to aspire after internal freedom.
“Equality is the second term in the triple gospel. It is a thing which mankind has never accomplished. From inequality and through inequality we move, but it is to equality. Our religion, our philosophy set equality forward as the essential condition of emancipation. All religions send us this message in a different form but it is one message. Christianity says we are all brothers, children of one God. Mohammedanism says we are the subjects and servants of one Allah, we are all equal in the sight of God. Hinduism says there is One without a second. In the high and the low, in the Brahmin and the Shudra, in the saint and the sinner, there is one Narayana, one God and He is the soul of all men. Not until you have realised Him, known Narayana in all, and the Brahmin and the Shudra, the high and the low, the saint and the sinner are equal in your eyes, then and not until then you have knowledge, you have freedom, until then you are bound and ignorant. The equality which Europe has got is external political equality. She is now trying to achieve social equality. Now-a-days their hard-earned political liberty is beginning to pall a little upon the people of Europe, because they have found it does not give perfect well-being or happiness and it is barren of the sweetness of brotherhood. There is no fraternity in this liberty. It is merely a political liberty. They have not either the liberty within or the full equality or the fraternity. So they are turning a little from what they have and they say increasingly, ‘Let us have equality, let us have the second term of the gospel towards which we strive’. Therefore socialism is growing in Europe. Europe is now trying to achieve external equality as the second term of the gospel of mankind, the universal ideal. I have said that equality is an ideal even with us but we have not tried to achieve it without. Still we have learnt from them to strive after political equality and in return for what they have given us we shall lead them to the secret of the equality within.
“Again there is fraternity. It is the last term of the gospel. It is the most difficult to achieve, still it is a thing towards which all religions call and human aspirations rise. There is discord in life, but mankind yearns for peace and love. This is the reason why the gospels which preach brotherhood spread quickly and excite passionate attachment. This was the reason of the rapid spread of Christianity. This was the reason of Buddhism’s rapid spread in this country and throughout Asia. This is the essence of humanitarianism, the modern gospel of love for mankind. None of us have achieved our ideals, but human society has always attempted an imperfect and limited fulfilment of it. It is the nature, the dharma of humanity that it should be unwilling to stand alone. Every man seeks the brotherhood of his fellows and we can only live by fraternity with others. Through all its differences and discords humanity is striving to become one.
“‘…There is one place in which we all meet and that is your common Mother. That is not merely the soil. That is not merely a division of land but it is a living thing. It is the Mother in whom you move and have your being. Realise God in the nation, realise God in your brother, realise God in a wide human association.’ This is the ideal by which humanity is moved all over the world, the ideal which is the dharma of the Kali Yuga…. For the fiat of God has gone out to the Indian nation, ‘Unite, be free, be one, be great’.”
We make no apology for having quoted rather long extracts from Sri Aurobindo’s speech at the Howrah People’s Association. What with the light he throws upon the concept of the word idea, the clarification he gives of the meaning of “association”, the exalted spiritual sense he attaches to the Motherland worshipped as the Mother, the interpretation he gives of the triple gospel of the French Revolution — Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity — and explains how it is being progressively realised in mankind, and the distinction he draws between the parallel lines of advance of the East and the West towards liberty, the whole speech is, indeed, revealing, and will repay repeated readings.
On the 18th July, 1909 Sri Aurobindo delivered a speech at a meeting at College Square over which he presided. At this meeting Sri Aurobindo pointed to the dangerous consequences that the British policy of repression would inevitably entail. He warned the Government that if it tried to smother the peaceful movement of passive resistance, it would drive the young ardent nationalists into sporadic or organised violence. He criticised Mr. Gokhale for saying that Swaraj or autonomy or Colonial Self-Government could not be achieved by peaceful means. He preached again the necessity and potential power of suffering. “We have not said to our young men, ‘When you are repressed, retaliate,’ we have said, ‘suffer’.”
As we have already seen, the Nationalist party had split into small groups which worked without any proper organisation or plan. Their patriotism was as intense as ever, but bereft of any capable leadership, they acted sporadically and with imprudent recklessness. Some of them which had taken to acts of terrorism and struck terror into the heart of the mighty British Raj compromised, without being aware of it, the very cause they were sacrificing themselves to serve.
Terrorism and such other means adopted by some ardent young Nationalists were the inevitable result of the policy of repression relentlessly pursued by the Government. Arrests and deportations became the order of the day, providing a great impetus to the nationalist spirit. The air was thick with rumours of Sri Aurobindo’s deportation. “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 it so turned out.”
The “Open Letter” is a very important document, as it contains almost all the essentials of Sri Aurobindo’s political thought and action, and we give below long extracts from it.
“The position of a public man who does his duty in India today is too precarious to permit of his being sure of the morrow. I have recently come out of a year’s seclusion from work for my country on a charge which there was not a scrap of reliable evidence to support, but my acquittal is no security either against the trumping up of a fresh accusation or the arbitrary law of deportation which dispenses with the inconvenient formality of a charge and the still more inconvenient necessity of producing evidence…
“Rumour is strong that a case for my deportation has been submitted to the Government by the Calcutta Police and neither the tranquillity of the country nor the scrupulous legality of our procedure is a guarantee against the contingency of the all-powerful fiat of the Government watch-dogs silencing scruples on the part of those who advise at Simla. Under such circumstances I have thought it well to address this letter to my countrymen, and especially to those who profess the principles of the Nationalist Party, on the needs of the present and the policy of the future. In case of my deportation it may help to guide some who would be uncertain of their course of action, and, if I do not return from it, it may stand as my last political will and testament to my countrymen.
“The situation of the Nationalist party is difficult but not impossible. The idea of some that the party is extinct because its leaders are sentenced or deported, is an error which comes of looking only at the surface. The Party is there not less powerful and pervading than before, but in want of a policy and a leader. The first it may find, the second only God can give it. All great movements wait for their Godsent leader, the willing channel of His force, and only when he comes, move forward triumphantly to their fulfilment. The men who have led hitherto have been strong men of high gifts and commanding genius, great enough to be the protagonists of any other movement, but even they were not sufficient to fulfil one which is the chief current of a worldwide revolution. Therefore the Nationalist party, custodians of the future, must wait for the man who is to come, calm in the midst of calamity, hopeful under defeat, sure of eventual emergence and triumph and always mindful of the responsibility which they owe not only to their Indian posterity but to the world.
“Meanwhile the difficulties of our situation ask for bold yet wary walking. The strength of our position is moral, not material…. The whole of the moral strength of the country is with us, justice is with us, Nature is with us. The law of God which is higher than any human, justifies our action, youth is for us, the future is ours. On that moral strength we must rely for our survival and eventual success. We must not be tempted by any rash impatience into abandoning the ground on which we are strong and venturing on the ground on which we are weak. Our ideal is an ideal which no law can condemn: our chosen methods are such that no modern Government can expressly declare them illegal without forfeiting its claim to be considered a civilised administration. To that ideal and to those methods we must firmly adhere and rely on them alone for our eventual success. A respect for the law is a necessary quality for endurance as a nation and it has always been a marked characteristic of the Indian people. We must therefore scrupulously observe the law while taking every advantage both of the protection it gives and the latitude it still leaves for pushing forward our cause and our propaganda. With the stray assassinations which have troubled the country we have no concern, and, having once clearly and firmly dissociated ourselves from them, we need notice them no farther. They are the rank and noxious fruit of a rank and noxious policy and until the authors of that policy turn from their errors, no human power can prevent the poison-tree from bearing according to its kind. We who have no voice either in determining the laws or their administration are helpless in the matter. To deportation and proclamation, the favourite instruments of men incapable of a wise and strong rule, we can only oppose a steady and fearless adherence to the propagandism and practice of a lawful policy and a noble ideal.
“Our ideal is that of Swaraj or absolute autonomy free from foreign control. We claim the right of every nation to live its own life by its own energies according to its own nature and ideals. We reject the claim of aliens to force upon us a civilisation inferior to our own or to keep us out of our inheritance on the untenable ground of a superior fitness. While admitting the stains and defects which long subjection has induced upon our native capacity and energy, we are conscious of that capacity and energy reviving in us. We point to the unexampled national vigour which has preserved the people of this country through centuries of calamity and defeat, to the great actions of our forefathers continued even to the other day, to the many men of intellect and character such as no other nation in a subject condition has been able to produce, and we say that a people capable of such unheard-of vitality is not one which can be put down as a nation of children and incapables. We are in no way inferior to our forefathers. We have brains, we have courage, we have an infinite and various national capacity. All we need is a field and an opportunity. That held and opportunity can only be provided by a national government, a free society and a great Indian culture. So long as these are not conceded to us, we can have no other use for our brains, courage and capacity than to struggle unceasingly to achieve them.
“Our ideal of Swaraj involves no hatred of any other nation nor of the administration which is now established by law in this country. We find a bureaucratic administration, we wish to make it democratic; we find an alien government, we wish to make it indigenous; we find a foreign control, we wish to render it Indian. They lie who say that this aspiration necessitates hatred and violence. Our ideal of patriotism proceeds on the basis of love and brotherhood and it looks beyond the unity of the nation and envisages the ultimate unity of mankind. But it is a unity of brothers, equals and freemen that we seek, not the unity of master and serf, of devourer and devoured. We demand the realisation of our corporate existence as a distinct race and nation because that is the only way in which the ultimate brotherhood of humanity can be achieved, not by blotting out individual peoples and effacing outward distinctions, but by removing the internal obstacles to unity, the causes of hatred, malice and misunderstanding. A struggle for our rights does not involve hatred of those who mistakenly deny them. It only involves a determination to suffer and strive, to speak the truth boldly and without respect of persons, to use every lawful means of pressure and every source of moral strength in order to establish ourselves and dis-establish that which denies the law of progress.
“Our methods are those of self-help and passive resistance. To unite and organise ourselves in order to show our efficiency by the way in which we can develop our industries, settle our individual disputes, keep order and peace on public occasions, attend to questions of sanitation, help the sick and suffering, relieve the famine-stricken, work out our intellectual, technical and physical education, evolve a Government of our own for our own internal affairs so far as that could be done without disobeying the law or questioning the legal authority of the bureaucratic administration, this was the policy publicly and frankly adopted by the Nationalist party…. Courage and sane statesmanship in our leaders is all that is wanted to restore the courage and the confidence of the people and evolve new methods of organisation which will not come into conflict even with the repressive laws.
“The policy of passive resistance was evolved partly as the necessary complement of self-help, partly as a means of putting pressure on the Government. The essence of this policy is the refusal of co-operation so long as we are not admitted to a substantial share and an effective control in legislation, finance and administration. Just as “No representation, no taxation” was the watchword of American constitutional agitation in the eighteenth century, so “No control, no co-operation” should be the watchword of our lawful agitation — for constitution we have none, — in the twentieth. We sum up this refusal of co-operation in the convenient word “Boycott”, refusal of co-operation in the industrial exploitation of our country, in education, in government, in judicial administration, in the details of official intercourse. Necessarily, we have not made that refusal of co-operation complete and uncompromising, but we hold it as a method to be enlarged and pushed farther according as the necessity for moral pressure becomes greater and more urgent. This is one aspect of the policy. Another is the necessity of boycott to help our own nascent energies in the field of self-help. Boycott of foreign goods is a necessary condition for the encouragement of Swadeshi industries, boycott of Government schools is a necessary condition for the growth of national education, boycott of British courts is a necessary condition for the spread of arbitration. The only question is the extent and conditions of the boycott and that must be determined by the circumstances of the particular problem in each case. The general spirit of passive resistance has first to be raised, afterwards it can be organised, regulated and, where necessary, limited….”
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. 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.”
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.”
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.
Under the caption, The Past and the Future, Sri Aurobindo wrote in the Karmayogin of 25th September, 1909: “The debasement of our mind, character and tastes by a grossly commercial, materialistic and insufficient European education is a fact on which young Nationalism has always insisted. The practical destruction of our artistic perception and the plastic skill and fineness of eyes and hand which once gave our productions pre-eminence, distinction and mastery of the European markets, is also a thing accomplished. Most vital of all, the spiritual and intellectual divorce from the past which the present schools and universities has effected, has beggared the nation of the originality, high aspiration and forceful energy which can alone make a nation free and great. To reverse the process and recover what we have lost, is undoubtedly the first object to which we ought to devote ourselves. And as the loss of originality, aspiration and energy was the most vital of all these losses, so their recovery should be our first and most important objective. The primary aim of the prophets of Nationalism was to rid the nation of the idea that because temporary causes had brought us low and made us weak, low therefore must be our aims and weak our methods. They pointed the mind of the people to a great and splendid destiny, not in some distant millennium but in the comparatively near future, and fired the hearts of the young men with a burning desire to realise the apocalyptic vision…. To raise the mind, character and tastes of the people, to recover the ancient nobility of temper, the strong Aryan character and the high Aryan outlook, the perceptions which made earthly life beautiful and wonderful, and the magnificent spiritual experiences, realisations and aspirations which made us the deepest-hearted, deepest-thoughted and most delicately profound in life of all the peoples of the earth, is the task next in importance and urgency.
“…We have to recover the Aryan spirit and ideal and keep it intact but enshrined in new forms and more expansive institutions. We have to treasure jealously everything in our social structure, manners, institutions, which is of permanent value, essential to our spirit or helpful to the future; but we must not cabin the expanding and aggressive spirit of India in temporary forms which are the creation of the last few hundred years. That would be a vain and disastrous endeavour. The mould is broken; we must remould in larger outlines and with a richer content…. Our half-aristocratic, half-theocratic feudalism had to be broken in order that the democratic spirit of the Vedanta might be released and by absorbing all that is needed of the aristocratic and theocratic culture, create for the Indian race a new and powerful political and social organisation. We have to learn and use the democratic principle and methods of Europe in order that hereafter we may build up something more suited to our past and to the future of humanity. We have to throw away the individualism and materialism and keep the democracy. We have to solve for the human race the problem of harmonising and spiritualising its imlpulses towards liberty, equality and fraternity…. Aesthetic arts and crafts cannot live against the onrush of cheap and vulgar manufactures under the conditions of the modern social structure. Industry can only become again beautiful if poverty and the struggle for life are eliminated from society and the co-operative State and commune organised as the fruit of a great moral and spiritual uplifting of humanity. We hold such an uplifting and reorganisation as part of India’s mission…. The men who would lead India must be catholic and many-sided. When the Avatar comes, we like to believe that he will be not only the religious guide, but the political leader, the great educationist, the regenerator of society, the captain of co-operative industry, with the soul of the poet, scholar and artist. He will be in short the summary and grand type of the future Indian nation which is rising to reshape and lead the world.”
India has won political independence, but she has yet to regain her soul. She has yet to realise that she has a great destiny, a marvellous future, more glorious than her past, and an unprecedented mission to accomplish for the world. Only dimly has she descried this mission, and in her ignorance she has given it an ethical and moral pigmentation. She has not yet recovered the spiritual treasures of her ageless past and learned to draw her sap from it for the creation of her future. Many of her children do not even believe that she has a soul and a world-mission. They do not even care to know whether they have their roots in the past.
Sri Aurobindo speaks of these ever-green roots. He exhorts us to steep ourselves in the aroma of the past and march forward to the greater glories of the future. As he says elsewhere, “We do not belong to the dawns of the past, but to the noons of the future.” A blind attachment to the past spells sterility and stagnation. But a stark disowning of it spells spiritual and cultural death. A rootless, denationalised India can create no great future for herself. An infatuated aping of the West can only lead her to the abyss on the brink of which the West itself is tottering today. India has to create her future and forge her culture, her literature, her arts and sciences, her educational system, her politics, and her commerce and industry in the fire of her specific spiritual genius. Her dynamic, realistic spirituality will renovate the world.
Sri Aurobindo serialised his “Brain of India” in the Karmayogin of October 9, 1909. His poem, “Invitation”, was published in the same paper on the 6th November, and another poem “Who” on the 13th. Another sequence on “The National Value of Art” was started on the 20th November. His poem, “Image”, was also published on the same date. His drama, “The Birth of Sin” was begun on the 11th December and a poem, “Epiphany”, was published on the 18th December. Sri Aurobindo’s yoga, politics, poetry, drama, philosophical essays and dissertations on art, all went together. Or, it was rather out of his yoga that flowed a ceaseless stream of energy expressing itself in these forms of activity. His yoga was, indeed, a multi-expressive integration of dynamic spiritual potentials. We quote below a few lines from each of his three poems, “Invitation”, “Who”, and “Epiphany”, for they reveal something of his creative yoga.
I sport with solitude here in my regions,
Of misadventure have made me a friend.
Who would live largely? Who would live freely?
Here to the wind-swept uplands ascend.
The Master of man and his infinite Lover,
He is close to our hearts, had we vision to see;
We are blind with our pride and the pomp of our passions,
We are bound in our thoughts where we hold ourselves free.
The God of Wrath, the God of Love are one,
Nor least He loves when most He smites. Alone
Who rises above fear and plays with grief,
Defeat and death, inherits full relief
From blindness and beholds the single Form,
Love masking Terror, Peace supporting storm.
At this time rumour spread again of arrests and deportations. Sri Aurobindo’s writings were causing a great deal of alarm to the mighty British Raj, but it found itself at its wits’ end as to how to take action against one who gave it no plausible grounds for framing a charge. We know that Sri Aurobindo had scotched the first rumour in July by publishing his “An Open Letter to my Countrymen”. This time, too, he published an article entitled “To my Countrymen” in the Karmayogin of December 25, and it produced the same result. In this article he wrote among other things:
“The period of waiting is over. We have two things made clear to us, first, that the future of the nation is in our hands, and, secondly, that from the Moderate party we can expect no cordial co-operation in building it. Whatever we do, we must do ourselves, in our own strength and courage. Let us then take up the work God has given us, like courageous, steadfast and patriotic men willing to sacrifice greatly and venture greatly because the mission also is great. If there are any unnerved by the fear of repression, let them stand aside. If there are any who think that by flattering Anglo-India or coquetting with English Liberalism they can dispense with the need of effort and the inevitability of peril, let them stand aside. If there are any who are ready to be satisfied with mean gains or unsubstantial concessions, let them stand aside. But all who deserve the name of Nationalists, must now come forward and take up their burden.
“The fear of the law is for those who break the law. Our aims are great and honourable, free from stain or reproach, our methods are peaceful, though resolute and strenuous. We shall not break the law and, therefore, we need not fear the law. But if a corrupt police, unscrupulous officials or a partial judiciary make use of the honourable publicity of our political methods to harass the men who stand in front by illegal ukases, suborned and perjured evidence or unjust decisions, shall we shrink from the toll that we have to pay on our march to freedom? Shall we cower behind a petty secrecy or a dishonourable inactivity? We must have our associations, our organisations, our means of propaganda, and if these are suppressed by arbitrary proclamations, we shall have done our duty by our motherland and not on us will rest any responsibility for the madness which crushes down open and lawful political activity in order to give a desperate and sullen nation into the hands of those fiercely enthusiastic and unscrupulous forces that have arisen among us inside and outside India. So long as any loophole is left for peaceful effort, we will not renounce the struggle. If the conditions are made difficult and almost impossible, can they be worse than those our countrymen have to contend against in the Transvaal? Or shall we, the flower of Indian culture and education, show less capacity and self-devotion than the coolies and shopkeepers who are there rejoicing to suffer for the honour of their nation and the welfare of their community?
“What is it for which we strive? The perfect self-fulfilment of India and the independence which is the condition of self-fulfilment are our ultimate goal. In the meanwhile such imperfect self-development and such incomplete self-government as are possible in less favourable circumstances, must be attained as a preliminary to the more distant realisation. What we seek is to evolve self-government either through our own institutions or through those provided for us by the law of the land. No such evolution is possible by the latter means without some measure of administrative control. We demand, therefore, not the monstrous and misbegotten scheme which has just been brought into being, but a measure of reform based upon those democratic principles which are ignored in Lord Morley’s Reforms, — a literate electorate without distinction of creed, nationality or caste, freedom of election unhampered by exclusory clauses, an effective voice in legislation and finance and some check upon an arbitrary executive. We demand also the gradual devolution of executive government out of the hands of the bureaucracy into those of the people. Until these demands are granted, we shall use the pressure of that refusal of co-operation which is termed passive resistance…”
In the last paragraph of the article Sri Aurobindo calls upon his countrymen to organise the national strength. National education must be made truly national, the movement of arbitration must be taken up again and the Swadeshi movement must be galvanised and fired with a forceful purpose. He strongly counsels the organisation of the Nationalist party, and the establishment of a Nationalist Council and Nationalist Associations throughout the country.
The rumour of deportation ceased for the moment. To deport or not to deport Sri Aurobindo was the problem that plagued the bureaucracy. They did not know that the Light which led him was not of his sharp political intelligence, and the shield that protected him was not of his own making. Had not the Divine told him in Alipore jail, “…it is not my will that this time either you should be convicted or that you should pass the time, as others have to do, in suffering for their country… I give you the Adesh to go forth and do my work.” Arrest or deportation was thus barred out by the Supreme Tribunal of Universal Justice.
“All life is a field for the practice of religion, and worldly life, too, is a part of it. Religion does not consist only in the cultivation of spiritual knowledge or the development of the heart’s devotion. Doing of work, too, is religion. It is this great teaching that is a permanent leaven of all our literature — eṣa dharma sanātanaḥ (this is the eternal religion).
There is a general notion that action forms, indeed, part of religion, but not action of all kinds. It is only those actions that are imbued with sattwic feeling or stem from the ethical consciousness of the doer and conduce to renunciation deserve to be called religious action. This… is a mistaken notion. If sattwic action is religious, so is rajasic action. If being kind to all creatures is religious, so is the slaying of one’s country’s enemies in a righteous battle. If to sacrifice one’s happiness, wealth and even life for the good of others is an act of religion, so is it to take proper care of one’s body, which is a means of religious progress. Politics, too, is religion, and poetry, and painting, and the regaling of others with sweet music. Any action, be it great or small, which has no taint of selfishness in it, is a religious action…. The highest and best religion is that which makes us perform all our actions as an offering, a sacrifice to Him, and regard them equally as done by His Nature.”
Free rendering of some lines from
Sri Aurobindo’s articles in his Bengali paper Dharma
The Karmayogin prospered. Its philosophical articles were a distillation of ancient Hindu wisdom presented through the prism of a synthetising vision. What had appeared disparate, anomalous and ambiguous was discovered as integral parts of an organic whole. Each strand of Indian spirituality, each phase of Indian culture, even each thread of the epic tapestry of ancient India was viewed and interpreted in a new light. Philosophy and history, allegory and legend, logic and satire, all came handy in a masterly dealing with the problems of national politics. The freshness, force, and piquancy of its reviews endeared the Karmayogin to its readers, and its popularity increased to such an extent that a cheaper edition was urgently called for. On the 1st January, 1910, the Karmayogin came out with the following notice:
“The difficulty felt by many students and educated men of small means in buying the Karmayogin at its ordinary price of two annas, has been so much pressed on our attention that we have found it necessary to bring out a cheaper edition at one anna a copy…. The Karmayogin… is now sufficiently successful to allow of a concession of this kind being made without financial injury…”
The publication of Sri Aurobindo’s “An Open Letter to my Country” was followed by a lull. For a few days rumours of his arrest ceased. But they revived again, for the British Government felt unsafe so long as Sri Aurobindo was at large. On the 8th January the Karmayogin wrote under the heading, “The Menace of Deportation”:
“Once more rumours of deportation are rife, proceeding this time from those pillars of authority, the police. It seems that these gentlemen have bruited it abroad that twenty-four men prominent and unprominent are within the next six or seven days to be deported from Bengal, and so successfully has the noise of the coming Coup d’État been circulated that the rumour of it comes to us from a distant corner of Behar. It appears that the name of Sj. Aurobindo Ghose crowns the police list of those who are to be spirited away to the bureaucratic Bastilles. The offence for which this inclusion is made is, apparently, that he criticises the Government, by which we presume it is meant that he publicly opposes the Reforms. It is difficult to judge how much value is to be attached to the rumour, but we presume that at least a proposal has been made. If we are not mistaken, this will make the third time that the deportation of the Nationalist leader has been proposed by the persistence of the police. The third is supposed to be lucky, and let us hope it will be the last. The Government ought to make up its mind one way or the other, and the country should know whether they will or will not tolerate opposition within the law; and this will decide it. Meanwhile, why does the thunderbolt linger? Or is there again a hitch in London?”
Sri Aurobindo’s A System of National Education began in the 12th January issue of the Karmayogin. Sri Aurobindo’s translation of the Mundaka Upanishad was begun on the 5th Feb, 1910. In the 19th February issue Sri Aurobindo started his poem, Baji Prabhou. It was prefaced by the following note: “This poem is founded on the historical incident of the heroic self-sacrifice of Baji Prabhou Deshpande who, to cover Shivaji’s retreat, held the pass of Rangana for two hours with a small company of men against twelve thousand Moguls. Beyond the single fact of this great exploit there has been no attempt to preserve historical accuracy”.
We quote a few lines from the poem which reminds us in its concentrated force and graphic intensity of Matthew Arnold’s Sohrub and Rustum, though the episode here is pitched in a higher key and the tone is nobler.
“A noon of Deccan with its tyrant glare
Oppressed the earth; the hills stood deep in haze,
And sweltering athirst the fields glared up
Longing for water in the courses parched
Of streams long dead. Nature and man alike,
Imprisoned by a bronze and brilliant sky,
Sought an escape from that wide trance of heat….
“Tanaji Malsure, not in this living net
Of flesh and nerve, nor in the flickering mind
Is a man’s manhood seated. God within
Rules us, who in the Brahmin and the dog
Can, if He will, show equal godhead. Not
By men is mightiness achieved; Baji
Or Malsure is but a name, a robe,
And covers One alone. We but employ
Bhavani’s strength, who in an arm of flesh
Is mighty as in the thunder and the storm…”
On the 24th January Shamsul Alam, Deputy Superintendent of the Intelligence Dept., was shot dead in the High Court by a youth of about twenty. Shamsul was the right hand man of Mr. Norton in the Alipore Bomb Case.
Under “Facts and Opinions”, we have the following in the Karmayogin of the 29th January, 1910:
“The startling assassination of Deputy Superintendent Shamsul Alam on Monday in the precincts of the High Court, publicly, in day-light, under the eyes of many and in a crowded building, breaks the silence which had settled on the country, in a fashion which all will deplore…. All we can do is to sit with folded hands and listen to the senseless objurgations of the Anglo-Indian Press, waiting for a time when the peaceful expression and organisation of our national aspirations will no longer be penalised. It is then that Terrorism will vanish from the country and the nightmare be as if it never had been.”
This daring assassination of the arch detective drove the Government crazy, and in its distraction it clutched at deportation as the only means to shore up its power and prestige. Sri Aurobindo decided to leave Bengal.
Romantic yarns have been spun by some of the enthusiastic biographers and fellow-workers of Sri Aurobindo round his departure from Calcutta. We have no space here for a consideration of those fantasies and fabrications. We quote from Sri Aurobindo himself what he has said about his departure.
“Here are the facts of that departure. I was in the Karmayogin Office when I received the word, on information given by a high-placed police official, that the Office would be searched the next day and myself arrested. (The Office was in fact searched but no warrant was produced against me; I heard nothing more of it till the case was started against the paper later on, but by then I had already left Chandernagore for Pondicherry.) While I was listening to animated comments from those around on the approaching event, I suddenly received a command from above, in a Voice well-known to me, in three words: ‘Go to Chandernagore.’ In ten minutes or so I was in the boat for Chandernagore. Ramachandra Majumdar guided me to the Ghat and hailed a boat and I entered into it at once along with my relative Biren Ghosh and Moni (Suresh Chandra Chakravarti) who accompanied me to Chandernagore, not turning aside to Bagbazar or anywhere else. We reached our destination while it was still dark; they returned in the morning to Calcutta. I remained in secret entirely engaged in sadhana and my active connection with the two newspapers ceased from that time. Afterwards, under the same ‘sailing orders’ I left Chandernagore and reached Pondicherry on April 4, 1910.
“I may add in explanation that from the time I left Lele at Bombay after the Surat Sessions and my stay with him in Baroda, Poona and Bombay, I had accepted the rule of following the inner guidance implicitly and moving only as I was moved by the Divine. The spiritual development during the year in jail had turned this into an absolute law of the being. This accounts for my immediate action in obedience to the Adesh (Command) received by me…”
Referring to the same subject in a refutation of some of the misstatements which had appeared in the Press, Sri Aurobindo said again, “Sri Aurobindo’s departure to Chandernagore was the result of a sudden decision taken on the strength of an ādeśa from above and was carried out rapidly and secretly without consultation with anybody or advice from any quarter. He went straight from the Dharma office to the Ghat — he did not visit the Math, nobody saw him off; a boat was hailed, he entered into it with two young men and proceeded straight to his destination. His residence at Chandernagore was kept quite secret; it was known only to Sj. Motilal Roy who arranged for his stay and to a few others. Sister Nivedita was confidentially informed the day after his departure and asked to conduct the Karmayogin in place of Sri Aurobindo to which she consented…”
When Sri Aurobindo’s boat touched Chandernagore, Biren went to Charu Chandra Roy, a distinguished citizen of the town who was a fellow-prisoner of Sri Aurobindo in the Alipore jail to request him to make some arrangement for Sri Aurobindo’s stay. “Charu Chandra was afraid and did not know what to do. In the meantime, when Biren and Suresh were thinking of going back to the boat with a disappointing reply, one Sishir Ghose took them to Motilal Roy. Motilal, on coming to know about it, readily accepted to accommodate Sri Aurobindo. He went to the boat and brought it near to the place where he stayed. Sri Aurobindo disembarked and was taken to his house. His request to keep his arrival secret was complied with and Motilal Roy made arrangements to keep him underground.”
In Sri Aurobindo’s Uttarpara Speech we have had passing glimpses of his spiritual life as it was shaping in the Alipore jail, and we can very well see how he was being directed by the Divine in all the movements of his life and to what new avenues of work he was being led. We find another instance of the divine guidance in the sudden, unpremeditated way he left Calcutta under the divine Adesh (Command). He did not pause to reflect on the pros and cons of the course dictated. He did not make any arrangements about his stay at Chandernagore. He did not care to consider what would be the consequences of his departure. He left because he was asked to leave. Why should he bother about himself and what would happen to him when he knew in every fibre of his being that the Infinite Love had taken charge of him? He belonged neither to himself nor to the world, but to God alone and he was happy to be thus possessed and moved by Him for the fulfilment of His work.
“My soul unhorizoned widens to measureless sight,
My body is God’s happy living tool,
My spirit a vast sun of deathless light.”
 It was this unfailing foresight and inner light that always guided Sri Aurobindo’s steps throughout his political life and on which he wholly depended with the trusting confidence of a child.
 Speeches by Sri Aurobindo, pp. 44-45.
 “… Bengal, where the agitation was most alive, was then rent in twain. The. Partition was not merely a blunder: it was an indictable offence. Lord Curzon’s personal feelings entered into it in a most reprehensible way. He devised it, as the evidence shows most conclusively, to pay off scores —” Ramsay Macdonald.
Macdonald again characterised the Partition as “the hugest blunder committed since the battle of Plassey.”
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 India’s Fight for Freedom by Profs. Haridas Mukherji & Uma Mukherji, p. 17.
We are indebted to this admirable, pioneering, research work by the Mukherjis for some historical data of great importance.
 Both Swadeshi and Boycott were accepted with certain reservations by the National Congress at its Banaras session in 1905 as legitimate means of redressing political wrongs.
 Sri Aurobindo went to Banaras to help the Extremist Party of Bengal to formulate its policy and press upon the Congress the adoption of its fourfold programme of Boycott. He guided, and actually influenced, the shaping of the new, important decisions, though perhaps he did not attend the open session. That was his usual way — getting things done by others, himself remaining in the background, averse to the limelight.
 Political freedom cannot be maintained without kṣātra-vīrya, the fire-force of the Kshatriya.
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 From Bande Mataram of 8.3.1908.
 Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda had prophesied it.
 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.
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 “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.
 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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 But he heralded and initiated, not the whole of the renaissance, but only an important part of it — the religious, socio-political and educational reform.
 “Inspiration is real work. Let the truly inspiring word be uttered and it will breathe life into dry bones.” — Bande Mataram, 23.2.1908
 “Every profound truth waits for the life that shall be all its voice, and when that is found, it comes within the reach of mutitudes to whom it would have remained inaccessible.” — Sister Nivedita
 “…Pioneers always depend on the help of those who have gone before them; the present stands on the past, as a house on its foundations.” — Montessori
“If we have to be true to the genius of the race, if we have to appeal to the soul of the nation, we have to drink deep of the fountain of the past, and then proceed to build the future.” — Vivekananda
 Hero and Hero Worship by Carlyle.
 Aldous Huxley calls the Prophet a “National Person”.
 “The world waits for the rising of India to receive the divine flood in its fullness.” The Ideal of the Karmayogin by Sri Aurobindo.
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 The Human Cycle by Sri Aurobindo, Chapter IV.
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 “Revolution and Leadership” — Bande Mataram, 9.2.1908.
 “The movement of 1905 in Bengal pursued a quite new conception of the nation, not merely as a country, but a soul, a psychological, almost a spiritual being and even when acting from economical and political motives, it sought to dynamise them by this subjective conception and to make them instruments of self-expression rather than objects in themselves.” — The Human Cycle, Chapter IV
 “She (India) is rising to shed the eternal light entrusted to her over the world. India has always existed for humanity and not for herself and it is for humanity and not for herself that she must be great.” — Uttarpara Speech by Sri Aurobindo.
 From the Bande Mataram, 23.2.1908.
 “The true aim of the nationalist movement is to restore the spiritual greatness of the nation by the essential preliminary of its political regeneration.” From Bande Mataram. “Politics and Spirituality”, 10.11.1907.
 “We believe that it is to make Yoga the ideal of human life that India rises today; by the Yoga she will get the strength to realise her freedom, unity and greatness, by the yoga she will keep the strength to preserve it. It is a spiritual revolution we foresee and the material is only its shadow and reflex.” — Sri Aurobindo The Ideal of the Karmayogin
 “Great men are above the principles of common morality.” — Tilak
 Social usage and observances.
 At a mere glance, Sri Ramakrishna could see the soul of a man and predict his destiny.
 Tilak’s Guru was a Yogi, Annasaheb Patvardhan by name.
 “Vivekananda himself had ideas about political work and had spells of revolutionary fervour.” Talks with Sri Aurobindo by Nirodbaran (Published in Mother India, February 21, 1963).
 The Foundations of Indian Culture by Sri Aurobindo.
 Essays on the Gita by Sri Aurobindo.
 Speeches of Sri Aurobindo.
 This statement brings out the practical side of Sri Aurobindo’s nature, and proves him to be a realist no less than an idealist. He always deprecated and discouraged emotional impulses in his followers, and advised them to base their action on their intelligent will, quickened and impelled by a spirit of service and sacrifice for Mother India.
 Studies in the Bengal Renaissance.
 Studies in the Bengal Renaissance.
 Studies in the Bengal Renaissance.
 According to Nevinson she was “drunk with India”.
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 Sri Aurobindo once said about Nivedita: “She was one of the revolutionary leaders…. She was open, frank and talked freely of her revolutionary plans to everybody…. Whenever she used to speak on revolution, it was her very soul, her true personality that came out…. She took up politics as a part of Vivekananda’s work.” — Talks with Sri Aurobindo by Nirodbaran.
 We are reliably informed that Rabindranath’s saintly elder brother, Dwijendranath, was a great admirer of Sri Aurobindo. He was a regular reader of the Arya, a monthly journal, which Sri Aurobindo edited at Pondicherry from August 1914 to January 1921, and expressed his view that never, since the days of the Vedic Rishis, had such a spiritual message been delivered to mankind.
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 Bankim-Tilak-Dayananda by Sri Aurobindo.
 Bankim-Tilak-Dayananda by Sri Aurobindo.
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 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, p. 45.
 Nevinson speaks of Tilak’s shrewd political judgment and Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual elevation.
 Lokamanya Tilak, by G.P. Pradhan and A.K. Bhagwat.
 Tilak’s Guru, Anna Saheb Patwardhan, who was a Yogi, presided over the meeting held at Gaekwarwada (Tilak’s residence) at Poona in which Sri Aurobindo was the principal speaker. It is said that Patwardhan predicted the yogic greatness of Sri Aurobindo and considered him to be the greatest of all contemporary leaders. He had a private interview with Sri Aurobindo just after the said meeting, but what they talked about in that interview remained a secret.
 “I know full well that in politics it is no fault to compromise at times without leaving one’s principles. I shall not stretch till the breaking point. The moment I think the breaking point is reached, I shall loosen my hold and effect a compromise. In politics I am all for compromise.” — Lokamanya Tilak by Praddhan & Bhagwat, p. 255 (Jaico).
 “Sri Aurobindo was the first to use its (of the word Swaraj) English equivalent ‘independence’ and reiterate it constantly in the Bande Mataram as the one and immediate aim of national politics.” — Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, p. 30.
 Quoted by R.C. Majumdar in his History of the Freedom Movement in India, Vol. I, p. 475.
 The Genesis of Extremism by Dr. R.C. Majumdar in Studies in the Bengal Renaissance. Even Tilak once wrote: “God and our country are not different. In short, our country is one form of God.”
 “…the most powerful brain at work in Bengal.” — Sri Aurobindo
 Bepin Chandra Pal and India’s struggle for Swaraj by Prof. Haridas Mukherjee and Prof. Uma Mukherjee.
 “…The issues of this struggle involve the emancipation of India and the salvation of Humanity.” — Bepin Chandra Pal
 Bepin Chandra Pal and India’s Struggle for Swaraj by Prof. Haridas Mukherjee and Uma Mukherjee.
 Bepin Chandra Pal and India’s Struggle for Swaraj by Prof. Haridas Mukherjee and Uma Mukherjee.
 Tilak started the All-India Home Rule League, joined forces with Annie Besant, and preached Responsive Cooperation. In view of the changed circumstances and the accommodating attitude of both the people and the Government, Sri Aurobindo approved of Tilak’s new tactical move.
 The Legacy of the Lokamanya by Theodore L. Shay.
 Quoted by T.L. Shay in his book, The Legacy of Lokamanya.
 “…patriotism is good, excellent, divine, only when it furthers the end of universal humanity. Nationality divorced from humanity is a source of weakness and evil, and not of strength and good.” — Bande Mataram
1. “Your first duties, first not in point of time but of importance — because without understanding these you can only imperfectly fulfil the rest — are to Humanity.”
“Love Humanity. Ask yourselves whenever you do an action in the sphere of your Country, or your family, If what I am doing were done by all and for all, would it advantage or injure Humanity? and if your conscience answers, it would injure Humanity, desist; desist, even if it seems to you that an immediate advantage for your Country or your family would ensue from your action. Be apostles of this faith, apostles of the brotherhood of nations, and of the unity of the human race…” — Mazzini (Duties of Man)
 Mahayogi R.R. Diwakar, 2nd Edition (Bhavan’s Book University).
 Italics are ours.
 Bankim-Tilak-Dayananda by Sri Aurobindo.
 Gerard Hopkins.
 Upendra Chandra Bhattacharya, author of the Bengali book Bharat Purush Sri Aurobindo.
 The Life of Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 According to another version, the shifting was done on 18th October.
 Italics are ours.
 Gokhale characterised the demand for independence as stark madness.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Freely rendered into English from the author’s Bengali article in the Galpa Bharati, a journal, of Paus 1357.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Life of Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani.
 “…We have repeatedly said that boycott is not a gospel of hatred, it is simply our assertion of independence, our national separateness.” — Bande Mataram, 7th August, 1907.
 “Swaraj is my birth-right”. — Tilak
 Held in Calcutta in December, 1906, during the Calcutta Session of the Indian National Congress.
 Krishna Kumar Mitra, Sri Aurobindo’s maternal uncle, was in close touch with Sri Aurobindo, even when the latter was in Baroda, and it is quite possible that he shared many of Sri Aurobindo’s political views.
 Italics are ours.
 Rabindranath Tagore advocated Boycott in his essay on “Swadeshi Samaj”, which he read in a meeting on 22nd July, 1904.
 Put together and published in book form in 1948 under the title, The Doctrine of Passive Resistance.
 Religion and Society by Dr. Radhakrishnan.
 Hinduism admits relative standards, a wisdom too hard for the European intelligence. Non-injury is the highest of its laws, ahiṁsā paramo dharmaḥ; still it does not lay it down as a physical rule for the warrior… and so escapes the unpracticality of a too absolutist rule for all life.” — Sri Aurobindo, The Foundations of Indian Culture.
 He refused to defend himself under Sri Aurobindo’s instructions, “…the Yugantar under Sri Aurobindo’s orders adopted the policy of refusing to defend itself in a British Court…” — Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Italics are ours.
 Italics are ours.
 Speeches of Sri Aurobindo.
 He uses the word “foreseen”.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 History of the Freedom Movement in India, Vol. II.
 “Very few people knew that it was I (without consulting Tilak) who gave the order that led to the breaking of the Congress and was responsible for the refusal to join the new-fangled Moderate Convention…” Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Vishnu Bhaskar Lele was a fire-brand nationalist in his youth, but his contacts with a few spiritual persons converted him to the life of a Yogi.
 Life of Sri Aurobindo, A.B. Purani.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother
 Italics are ours.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Akṣarāt saṁbhavati viśvaṁ — The universe is born of the Akshara, the Immutable Absolute.
 On Yoga II, Tome II.
 He has the picture of the city of Bombay before him. We shall write about it in our next article.
 Collected Poems of Sri Aurobindo.
 “when under the Emperors, the old Romans asked for nothing but bread and amusements, they became the most abject race conceivable, and… basely fell into slavery to the invading Barbarians.” — Mazzini, The Duties of Man.
 During his stay at Poona, he visited the Parvati hills where he had an experience in the form of a contact with the Infinite, similar to what he had before in Kashmir when he visited the Sankaracharya hills there. He had also a private interview with Tilak’s Guru, Anna Saheb Patwardhan and with some of the young revolutionaries at Poona.
 Obeisance or salutation.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Taken from authentic Marathi sources.
 Sri Aurobindo welcomed what was quickening and healthy in Western civilisation, and was in favour of harnessing modern scientific inventions to the welfare of man.
 Source-Material of a History of the Freedom Movement in India (Collected from Bombay Government Records, Vol. II, pp. 952-53).
 Speeches of Sri Aurobindo.
 “Faith in God burns with an immortal light through all the lies and corruption with which men have darkened His name.” — Mazzini, The Duties of Man.
 Source Material for a History of the Freedom Movement in India (Collected from Bombay Government Records, Vol. II, pp. 952-53)
 Life of Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani.
 “Do not abandon the banner which God has given you.” — Mazzini (The Duties of Man) “Your Country is the token of the mission which God has given you to fulfil in Humanity.” — Ibid.
 He deals with this subject in his book, The Human Cycle and we have already referred to it before.
 Speeches of Sri Aurobindo.
 According to the report published in the Bande Mataram of the 9th February, 1908, the subject of this lecture was Swadeshi and Boycott. But an authentic Marathy source differs.
 That is why we have devoted so much of our limited space to a reproduction of some parts of them here. If nothing else, they have a considerable historical and biographical value.
 It was not a regular tour with a pre-arranged plan and programme. As Sri Aurobindo says: “There was no tour. Sri Aurobindo went to Poona with Lele and after his return to Bombay went to Calcutta. All the speeches he made were at this time (except those at Bombay and at Baroda) at places on his way wherever he stopped for a day or two.” — Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 The Life of Sri Aurobindo by A. В. Purani.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Evening Talks Part II — by A.B. Purani.
 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.
 Life of Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani.
 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.
 “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.
 The Alipore Bomb Trial by Bejoy Krishna Bose (1922).
 The Alipore Bomb Trial by Bejoy Krishna Bose (1922).
 “This non-violence, therefore, seems to me to be due mainly to our helplessness. It almost appears as if we are nursing in our bosoms the desire to take revenge the first time we get the opportunity. Can true, voluntary non-violence come out of this seeming, forced non-violence of the weak? Is it not a futile experiment I am conducting? What if, when the fury burst, not a man, woman or child is safe and every man’s hand is raised against his neighbour?” — Mahatma Gandhi (quoted in “A Bend in the Ganges” by Manohar Malgonkar)
 A long piece of cloth worn round the loins by males.
 He has also written about the first two purposes; but we omit them for want of space.
 A free English rendering of some sentences culled almost at random from Sri Aurobindo’s Bengali book, Kara Kahini (The Story of My Prison-Life), which has long been out of print.
 A free rendering from Sri Aurobindo’s Bengali book, Kara Kahini — The Story of My Prison-Life.
 Autobiography of an Exile.
 Uttarpara Speech by Sri Aurobindo.
 In the second batch there were nine persons. The total number was, then, forty-two.
 Nolini Kanta Gupta has given a vivid account of the jail life of the accused in his Bengali book, Smṛtir Pātā.
 His mother, to whom he was passionately devoted, had urged him to take up Sri Aurobindo’s defence even at the cost of all his practice.
 Life of Sri Aurobindo — A.B. Purani.
 A well-known Yogi at Varanasi who died only a few years ago.
 Life of Sri Aurobindo — A.B. Purani.
 The Dedicated by Lizelle Reymond.
 Talks with Sri Aurobindo by Nirodbaran.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Speeches of Sri Aurobindo — Appendix.
 7th August was the birth anniversary of the Boycott and 16th October that of the Partition.
 Free rendering from the original Bengali.
 Smritir Pātā (in Bengali) by Nolini Kanta Gupta.
 Uttarpara Speech by Sri Aurobindo.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Life of Sri Aurobindo — A.B. Purani (Suresh was in the boat. It was only Biren who went to Charu Chandra Roy)
 From “Transformation”, a poem by Sri Aurobindo.