Intro : Sri Aurobindo, as a brilliant student, a young vibrant revolutionary intellectual and activist, a saint who symbolises the spiritual tradition of India in its totality, was a peerless ‘superhuman’ all his life. August 15 marks the 143rd birth anniversary of this nationalist turned sage.
It is a wonderful coincidence that the Independence Day of India and the birthday of Sri Aurobindo, who was one of the first revolutionary politicians to raise the demand of complete independence, falls on the same day, of August 15. Sri Aurobindo himself mentioned this in his Independence Day message and said, “August 15, 1947 is the birthday of free India… August 15, is my own birthday and it is naturally gratifying to me that it should have assumed this vast significance. I take this coincidence, not as a fortuitous accident, but as the sanction and seal of the Divine Force that guides my steps on the work with which I began life, the beginning of its full fruition.”
Sri Aurobindo, along with Lokmanya Tilak, was one of those few revolutionary politicians at the time who demanded nothing less than complete independence of India from the British. Politicians before him were petitioning to the British for participation and some jobs for Indians in the British administration. A few leaders used to demand at the most an autonomous status under the British rule. Many of the leaders felt that ‘We do not have the sufficient strength and capability to liberate ourselves from the powerful British Empire whose sun never sets on the globe.’ Some leaders felt also that Indians were not ready politically and administratively for self governance. Some leaders believed even that ‘The British rule is good for India and we should remain under that.’ Sri Aurobindo categorically rejected these sentiments. He did not have any doubt regarding the strength of India and the capabilities of Indians. He held that this strength, power and capability are dormant and all it needs is a spark to awaken. He also held that the freedom of India is necessary not only for India but for the whole world, for the whole of humanity. A free India, which will be free to realise and manifest Her swadharma, the law of Her own self-development and self-expression, can give a spiritual direction to the world which, in this chaturyuga, only She is capable of.
Sri Aurobindo provided intellectual clarity and moral legitimacy to the ideal of the complete Independence of India through his articles in Bengali news paper “Bande Mataram” which was established by Bipin Chandra Pal. He provided the ideal with a dynamic political force through his revolutionary works in the land of Bengal. The minds and hearts of the people of Bengal started getting stirred and deeply influenced by his works. This brought him in direct confrontation with the British Empire. Fearing his influence would grow, British Government sent notices to “Bande Mataram” and arrested Sri Aurobindo on August 16, 1907. This arrest and his direct and fearless confrontation with the British Empire created a nationwide stir in India. Gurudev Rabindranath Thakur wrote, “Rabindranath, O Aurobindo, bows to thee! O friend, my country’s friend, O voice incarnate, free, of India’s soul! The fiery messenger that with the lamp of God hath come. Rabindranath, O Aurobindo, bows to thee!” Government solicitors could not present evidence against Sri Aurobindo and the court acquitted him. But the British Government started keeping an eye on him and started looking for excuses to arrest him again. On April 30, 1908 Alipore Bomb incident happened and Sri Aurobindo was arrested with 32 others. He was put in solitary confinement and charged with sedition against the British Empire. The Alipore bomb trial ran for a year and he remained in jail for the complete period.
This one year of solitary confinement of Sri Aurobindo became a cause for the reorganisation of the concept of Indian nationalism on the basis of Indian cultural values and infusing it with Indian spirituality. In the jail Sri Aurobindo spent almost all his time in reading the Gita and the Upanishads and in intensive meditation and the practice of Yoga. It was here that the realisation which had continually been increasing in magnitude and universality and assuming a large place, took him up entirely. The major realisation that he had here was that of the Universal Presence of the Divine. He narrated in his famous Uttarpara speech, “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 Sri 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 to 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.”
In this speech he spoke the following lines also which got permanently imprinted as a sacred mark on the forehead of Indian nationalism, “I say that it is the Sanatana Dharma which for us is nationalism. This Hindu nation was born with the Sanatana Dharma, with it it moves and with it it grows. When the Sanatana Dharma declines, then the nation declines, and if the Sanatana Dharma were capable of perishing, with the Sanatana Dharma it would perish. The Sanatana Dharma, that is nationalism.” This speech by Sri Aurobindo represented a new exposition of Indian nationalism and was a first step towards his more comprehensive and universal theory of Spiritual Nationalism which he developed later on.The British authorities were getting frustrated because of the acquittal of Sri Aurobindo yet again. The British Viceroy said to his administration that, “This man needs to be put behind bars again because, against the British Empire, he is the most dangerous man in India.” Sister Nivedita informed Sri Aurobindo regarding this and following a Divine Command he went first to Chandernagore and then to Pondicherry which became a cave of his tapasya for the world. In Pondicherry he worked not only for India but for the illumination of the whole world through spirituality and for leading humanity to the next step in its evolution. It was here that he developed his theory of Spiritual Evolution and worked for the descent of the supramental consciousness in world-consciousness which was required to effectuate this evolution. The revolutionary of Indian freedom engaged himself in a revolution to bring Divine Freedom to the world.
Sri Aurobindo’s active political life, the way in which we understand politics today, was only of four years between 1906 and 1910. But the political landscape of Indian freedom movement got transformed in just this short time. Where previously there were petitions and prayer letters that were put before the British Empire, now the ideal of complete independence started to surge in Indian political consciousness. Just thirty-seven years after 1910 on August 15, 1947, the birthday of Sri Aurobindo, the sun set in that British Empire and the resplendent and glorious sun of Indian freedom rose on the horizon.
Sri Aurobindo gave three tasks for modern India. Today in the changing political panorama of India when a foundation is being built to raise India of the dreams of the yugapurushas of India, it would be apt for nationalist politicians and policy makers to make these three tasks a part of their executive consciousness. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, “The recovery of the old spiritual knowledge and experience in all its splendour, depth and fullness is its first, most essential work; the flowing of this spirituality into new forms of philosophy, literature, art, science and critical knowledge is the second; an original dealing with modern problems in the light of the Indian spirit and the endeavour to formulate a greater synthesis of a spiritualised society is the third and most difficult. Its success on these three lines will be the measure of its help to the future of humanity.”
Akhilesh Tiwari (The writer is a political activist and disciple of Sri Aurobindo)