What is exactly the role of Sri Aurobindo in the Indian Freedom Movement?
Many in India knew Sri Aurobindo as a great patriot and a freedom fighter but very few know the real magnitude and the crucial importance of his role in the freedom movement. Sri Aurobindo’s action and direct participation in the freedom movement lasted for a very brief period from 1906 to 1910. But these few years changed the entire outlook of the country and the goal of complete independence, “Swaraj” was planted firmly for the first time in the national consciousness. We give here below the views of some eminent and discerning historians who have made a fairly accurate assessment of Sri Aurobino’s role in the freedom movement.
Prof. Haridas Mukherjee and Uma Mukherjee write in their book ‘India’s fight for Freedom’:
“Sri Aurobindo was in the strictest sense of the term a true patriot, path finder and pioneer of India’s Freedom Movement. Of all the statesmen India has produced, he had the clearest vision of Indian swaraj in its fullness as well as the practical means to attain it by strenuous and consistent struggle. In the political arena he exhibited two distinct but inwardly allied personalities – as a passive resister and as a revolutionary – and in both capacities he cast a powerful influence on the whole course of India’s Freedom Movement which had its culmination in the transfer of Power in 1947”1
And the noted historian Dr. R.C. Majumdar in his well-known study of the Indian freedom movement writes:
“While Tilak popularized politics and gave it a force and vitality it had hitherto lacked, Aurobindo spiritualised it and became the high-priest of nationalism as a religious creed …… Tilak had raised his voice against the policy of mendicancy followed by the congress but it was reserved for Aurobindo to hit upon a positive approach to the problem …. The (Freedom) Movement was specially or more directly inspired by the teachings of Bankim Chandra, Vivekananda and Aurobindo who placed the country on the altar of God and asked for suffering and self-immolation as the best offering for His worship ….. These teachings ….. inspired the lives of many a martyr who climbed the scaffold with a smile on their lips or suffered torments worse than death without the least flinching.
…. Aurobindo’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 discourse 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 the courage and strength into every one that came into 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 distant goal”.2
Sri Aurobindo as a freedom fighter combined in himself the roles of the prophet, visionary, statesman and the practical politician with a perfect and masterly ease. His crystal clear long-term vision of the future of the Nation did not blind him to the immediate necessities of the present situation. His idealistic political philosophy did not prevent him from adapting a practically feasible strategy to achieve the aim of Swaraj. As a prophet and visionary he had the clearest vision not only of the ideal of complete freedom, “Purna Swaraj” but also the future destiny of the Nation. While most of the other leaders of his times had their eyes fixed on the political freedom of the country, Sri Aurobindo’s vision extended far beyond this immediate aim to the spiritual destiny of India as the Guru of the World, her God-ordained mission for the “intellectual, moral and spiritual perfection of Mankind”.3 But Sri Aurobindo’s keen political insight perceived that political freedom is the first indispensable condition for fulfilling this higher destiny of the Nation. As he points out in one of his articles in Bande Mataram:
“A politically subservient people have very little scope for exercising their moral and spiritual energies …. subjection makes a people wholly tamasic, a sort of physical, intellectual and moral palsy seizes them and keeps them to a low level of being; they are like an insect grovelling in the dust and before they can be lifted up to the higher plane of sattwa, they must pass through Rajas”4
When Sri Aurobindo entered the Indian political scene, most of the Indian leaders were following what later came to be known as the “moderate” stance of petition and prayer, begging for small and petty concessions from the British Government. Sri Aurobindo was the first to proclaim boldly the ideal of “Purna Swaraj”, complete Independence, and hammered the idea with fire-breathing words into the consciousness of the people until it got fixed there as the immediate aim of the national endeavour.
As one of the pioneering source of inspiration of the freedom movement, Sri Aurobindo made use of two strategic motivators which eventually awakened the Nation from its tamasic torpor to rajastic dynamism but inspired by sattwic idealism. First was the mounting resentment and hatred of the people, especially among educated youth, against the oppressive measures of the colonial government. Sri Aurobindo through his fiery writings in Bande Mataram transformed this negative impulse into revolutionary nationalistic fervour, full of positive rajasic energy. But Rajasic energy without an inspiring sattwic ideal can at any moment turn destructive. Sri Aurobindo’s Yogic insight very clearly perceived that the innate and natural temperament and genius of the Indian Psyche is in Religion and the religious ideals and values have the highest motivational force for Indian people. So he gave a spiritual orientation to the freedom movement with the religious ideas of Nation as the divine Mother, call for self-sacrifice to Mother India and the political freedom of India as a pre-condition for fulfilling the spiritual destiny of India. Thus, Sri Aurobindo by his alchemic touch elevated patriotic nationalism into a religion and worship of God in the Nation. He planted the right seed-ideas and poured a stream of fresh inspiration into the national consciousness which later erupted into a volcano and eventually swept-off the colonial power. The other illustrious leaders who followed him and were inspired by him, organized and channelised this flood of popular awakening to freedom towards its destined fulfilment.
In short, Sri Aurobindo, through the medium of his writing in Bande Mataram, created and released a mighty wave of moral and spiritual force which awakened the Nation and eventually led it towards Freedom.
1. Quoted by Rishabchand in “Sri Aurobindo, his life Unique”
3. SBCL Vol. 1 p.539
4. Sri Aurobindo on “Nationalism” compilation, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication