Bande Mataram is a title of a combined Volume 6-7 of the Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (CWSA). The writings and speeches contained in this volume range from 1890 to 1908. The title of the volume is derived from the nationalist newspaper that was brought out by Sri Aurobindo and a few colleagues between August 1906 and May 1908 when he was convicted on false charges and kept in the Alipore Jail for a year. That year of near seclusion in the British prison was a great transformative period in Sri Aurobindo’s life. It is in the jail that he had the tremendous realization of the One Lord inhabiting everywhere, Vasudevam Sarvam Iti, of the Gita. The impact of this powerful experience led to a revolutionary change within him as a greater and vaster consciousness opened its doors. These writings, especially the last ones, represent a watershed moment after which we see the texture and substance of Sri Aurobindo’s writings undergo a great shift. If in the Bande Mataram we see the human having the glimpses of divinity in the nationalist movement for India’s independence, in the later writings we see the breath of divinity blowing through the pages as if luminous words are flowing with ease from some pure summits of thought. And yet a closer reading through the pages reveals to us that the prophet and the seer were already being born awaiting the hour for their full birth.
The first thing we see is the seed ideas that are sown in the atmosphere which will eventually lead to India’s independence. It is as if a master artist was throwing seeds of light in the ground that will eventually take roots and blossom into a much larger freedom movement. Few people know that the idea of Poorna Swaraj, Swadeshi, Boycott was first sown in the mind of the revolutionary movement by Sri Aurobindo. It is another matter that many hands came up later to take the credit. These pages stand a witness and a mute testimony to the fact that is often ignored by historians that it is Sri Aurobindo who presaged and wrote out the larger script of the freedom movement laying all the different lines through which the movement would move and India would gain independence.
Thus he spoke at Nasik in a speech delivered on the 24th January 1908 defining Swaraj:
Swaraj is life, it is nectar and salvation. Swaraj in a nation is the breath of life. Without breath of life a man is dead. So also without Swaraj a nation is dead. Swaraj being the life of a nation it is essential for it. …
It is for this reason that Swaraj is essentially needed, and is to be gained by our own exertions. If it is gained otherwise, which is impossible, it cannot last long for want of strength in us. One way of gaining it is to implore the sovereign, who holds our realm, but he won’t give it. [CWSA 6-7: 834]
How deftly does Sri Aurobindo weave history, human psychology, a deep political understanding of the movement, of the English and Indian people and knits it all with the luminous thread of spirituality.
Let us see just another sample on Swadeshi and Boycott, the lines along which India was to later gain independence:
There are four subjects which usually form the subject matter of a Nationalist’s speech. They are, first, Swadeshi; second, boycott; third, Swaraj; and fourth, national education. Swadeshi is the method, the way, the road by which the nation advances. Boycott is only the other side of Swadeshi, and both the Swadeshi and the boycott movements are actually encouraged in principle in the greater part of this country. National education is the training of themind and heart of the younger generation. Swaraj is the goal of our national life. Our political efforts are directed to Swadeshi, boycott, Swaraj and national education…. [CWSA 6-7: 837]
This explains why he left the Freedom movement for India. In a short time of few years, less than a decade, he had awakened a sleeping nation from the state of subjection to a lion roar crying for freedom. Once this was done, the rest was to follow inevitably. Having secured India’s freedom along the lines it was to be worked out he turned towards the greater and more challenging field that awaited his coming.
Secondly, through the Bande Mataram, Sri Aurobindo lifted journalism to an entirely new level. He knew the power of the press and the role it is going to play in the future, especially in terms of moulding public opinion. It was a powerful tool and depending upon the forces and ideas that used it, it could drive things in one direction or another. As early as June 1893, soon after landing in India Sri Aurobindo wrote a preliminary article for a proposed series of articles ‘New lamps for the Old’. The very first paragraph set the gold standard of Journalism in India as follows.
A great critic has pronounced that the aim of all truly helpful criticism is to see the object as it really is. The Press is the sole contemporary critic of politics, and according as its judgments are sound or unsound, the people whose political ideas it forms, will be likely to prosper or fail. It is therefore somewhat unfortunate that the tendency of journalists should be to see the object not as it really is, but as they would like it to be. In a country like England this may not greatly matter; but in India, whose destinies are in the balance, and at a time when a straw might turn the scale, it is of the gravest importance that no delusion, however specious or agreeable, should be allowed to exist. Yet in the face of this necessity, the Indian Press seems eager to accept even the flimsiest excuse for deluding itself. [CWSA 6-7: 7]
Thirdly he laid the foundations of Indian Nationalism and through it he not only defined but also delineated the nation called Indian. Very few again know that though the cry of Bande Mataram was first revealed to the nation through the pen of Bankim Chandra in his famous novel Anandmath, it was Sri Aurobindo who recognized its mantric potential and saw in the persona of Bankim Chandra, the Rishi of yore who had given to India the mantra of awakening. In Bhawani Mandir, originally a pamphlet written at the request of his brother Barin, a powerful piece of writing included in this volume, Sri Aurobindo analyses the cause of India’s decline. The roots lay in the ideal of the Mayavadin who discarded Shakti and hence Shakti discarded us. The nation fell for want of Shakti whose deeper cause was the ideal of Illusionism with Nirvana or Mukti as the ultimate goal. The pamphlet closes with the powerful message of the Mother:
Come then, hearken to the call of the Mother. She is already in our hearts waiting to manifest Herself, waiting to be worshipped,— inactive because the God in us is concealed by tamas, troubled by Her inactivity, sorrowful because Her children will not call on Her to help them. You who feel Her stirring within you, fling off the black veil of self, break down the imprisoning walls of indolence, help Her each as you feel impelled, with your bodies or with your intellect or with your speech or with your wealth or with your prayers and worship, each man according to his capacity. Draw not back, for against those who were called and heard Her not, She may well be wroth in the day of Her coming; but to those who help Her advent even a little, how radiant with beauty and kindness will be the face of their Mother! [CWSA 6-7: 89]
The fire for the freedom movement had been lit, the mantra of Bande Mataram was given, the ray of hope had been inexorably lit through the pages of Bande Mataram, initially edited by Bipin Pal and later by Sri Aurobindo, the paper came to a close with Sri Aurobindo’s arrest in May 1908. But by now the word had gone forth, the dying hope was revived and the destiny of a once-mighty race secured. He assured much before his withdrawal:
India cannot perish, our race cannot become extinct, because among all the divisions of mankind it is to India that is reserved the highest and the most splendid destiny, the most essential to the future of the human race. It is she who must send forth from herself the future religion of the entire world, the Eternal religion which is to harmonise all religion, science and philosophies and make mankind one soul. In the sphere of morality, likewise, it is her mission to purge barbarism (mlecchahood) out of humanity and to aryanise the world. In order to do this, she must first re-aryanise herself. [CWSA 6-7: 84]
Though the bulk of the writings in this volume are from the paper he edited by the same name, we find some very interesting and powerful essays such as ‘The Bourgeois and the Samurai’ wherein Sri Aurobindo reveals to us the two Ideals placed before humanity. The very first piece is in fact written before his arrival to India and shows that Sri Aurobindo was clear about the role he had to play in India’s freedom movement. He himself confirmed it later. Soon after his arrival, he started writing for the Indu Prakash under the title ‘New Lamps for the Old’. Eventually the series was dropped off as they were found to be too bold and courageous, carrying a scathing criticism of the Congress itself and its moderate policies. The debacle of the Indu Prakash made him step back a little so that he could study the field and the humanity through which he had to work. The Baroda period was dedicated to that inner preparation. We find in these writings early views of Sri Aurobindo on what politics should be. We also find a pamphlet written by Sri Aurobindo titled Bhawani Mandir at the insistence of his brother Barin. Nevertheless, it is his writing and carries a tremendous power of invocation. The pamphlet reveals to us the real causes of India’s decline which had to be found within the psyche of India herself and the path she must take for her regeneration.
Finally we have in this volume a number of speeches delivered by Sri Aurobindo from the 22nd December 1907 onwards. Let me close with these revealing words from a speech given by Sri Aurobindo in Bombay on the 15th January 1908 soon after his powerful nirvana experience. He reveals to us what a nation really is and shows us through his subtle vision how the truth of the Upanishad about the various sheaths could be applied to the nation as well.
Our personality, our constitution is made up of three parts. We have three types of body, gross, subtle and causal. In the same way the nation has three bodies. According to our philosophy it is not only the outward appearance, the gross body, that makes a complete man. All three bodies have to be taken into account; only then can we get some understanding of him. As with a man, so with a nation. To think about our nation is first to think about our physical motherland. Stretching from the Himalayas in the north to Kanyakumari in the south, its boundaries are formed by the seas on the east and west. Ganga, Jamuna, Narmada, Krishna, Godavari flow here unceasingly; here are ancient cities, tall and imposing temples, artistically designed palatial homes. Such is the part of this earth we call India. It is this picture, this figure that comes to us when we speak of our nation. This is the gross body of our nation. Bankim Chandra’s song Bande Mataram describes this aspect very beautifully. Thirty-three crores of people live on this land with their joys and sorrows, their good and bad desires: they are all part of its subtle body. Then there are aspects of the country which may undergo changes in the course of time, yet always remain in the body, in seed-state, as permanent as the atom; they are always present there and, being the origin, it is out of them that the future takes shape. This is the causal body of the nation. [CWSA 6-7: 812-813]