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At the Feet of The Mother

Sri Aurobindo in Bengal, Part 6

“…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.”[1]

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.”[2] 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[3], 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.”[4] 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.”[5]

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[6] 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.…”[7] 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.

[1] Bankim-Tilak-Dayananda by Sri Aurobindo.
[2] Gerard Hopkins.
[3] Upendra Chandra Bhattacharya, author of the Bengali book Bharat Purush Sri Aurobindo.
[4] The Life of Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani.
[5] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
[6] According to another version, the shifting was done on 18th October.
[7] Italics are ours.

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