Revolutionary, philosopher, litterateur, and seer, Sri Aurobindo remains oneof the brightest minds India has ever had. This book captures the evolution of his thought through excerpts from his political articles and speeches, essays, talks with and letters to disciples, and public messages- presented chronologically. It includes his views on Iawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose; his doubts about Gandhi's method to attain freedom and insistence on Ahimsa; and his very distinctive contribution to the nascent Nationalist movement. Both prophetic of the challenges to come India's way post-Independence, and persuaded of her potential to overcome them, Sri Aurobindo's vision of a new India melds the spiritual with the political.
More than sixty years after his passing, Sri Aurobindo's penetrating insights on issues such as building on India's cultural and spiritual foundations, a national agenda for education, Hindu-Muslim coexistence and the need to distinguish reason from a blind imitation of the West, continue to resonate.
Sri Aurobindo has been variously hailed as a Philosopher, yogi, saint or maharishi seer) His role in India’s national awakening that followed the 1905 Partition of Bengal by the colonial powers is often cursorily mentioned in history books , but rarely given the place it deserves. Perhaps Sri Aurobindo himself is partly to blame for this eclipse: as he admitted later in letters to his disciples, he preferred to ‘remain behind the curtain, push people without their knowing it and get things done.’ Nevertheless, the bulk of his articles in Bande Mataram and Karmayog in has long been made available, but rarely mined. An exception was by the noted twentieth-century historian R.C. Majumdar, who saw in him the ‘high-priest of the new cult of [Indian] nationalism.’
Sri Aurobindo’s concern for India, her liberation from colonial shackles but, even more, for her place in the world, did not cease after he turned to a “spiritual life’ –a phrase he used with caution, if not reluctance, since his vision of spirituality was by no means a renunciation of ‘worldly life’ or world-negating asceticism. For some years after his withdrawal to Pondicherry (now, Puducherry) in 1910, he remained closely in touch with some of his former fellow revolutionaries. However, his vision of India outgrew the then-prevailing political context: he was now concerned with much more than a ‘nation’ in the current sense of the term. Capturing this evolution of Sri Aurobindo’s vision, right from his student days in England, is the reason behind the chronological order in which excerpts have been presented in this book.
Inevitably, Sri Aurobindo deals with a number of contentious issues, and always in his own forthright style (‘we have strong things to say; let us say them strongly.’) His comments on personalities such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose, and many others would not be expected from a conventional ‘spiritual figure.’ And although he himself had spelt out in Bande Mataram the ideals of Swaraj and Swadeshi and the ‘doctrine of passive resistance’ more than a decade before Gandhi, he disagreed with the letter’s method to attain freedom and, in particular, his insistence on Ahimsa (non-violence) as the national creed. He was also highly critical of Gandhi’s support to the Khilafat movement which, he predicted, could only end in hardening the division between Hindus and Muslims. A number of excerpts highlight these differing standpoints, which reach a climax on the issues of India’s participation in World War II and the acceptance of Cripps’s proposal of 1942 –both of which Sri Aurobindo whole-heartedly supported, privately as well as through public messages, while Mahatma Gandhi opposed them. At bottom was sharp contrast in interpreting the ancient concept of ‘Kshatriya Dharma’ as spelt out in the Bhagavad-Gita: in Sri Aurobindo’s view (which he shared with his fellow freedom fighters, such as bal Gangadhar Tilak or Bipin Chandra Pal), the use of force was perfectly justified if the cause was in accordance with Dharma; cases in point included the struggle for Independence, or World War II, during which Mahatma Gandhi appealed to the british, in the name of Ahismsa, to lay down their arms before the advancing German army. Sri Aurobindo in his own words was ‘neither an impotent moralist nor a weak pacifist;
Crucial though it was, the attainment of freedom was only a circumstance in India’s long journey. In 1935, certain of the inevitability of India’s liberation, he confided to a disciple, ‘The question is what India is going to do with her Independence……….. Things look ominous.’ His concern with the foundations of a new India finds expression in his insistence on spiritual and cultural foundations rooted in the past but open to new forms, rather than the disembodied and ill-defined ‘secularism’ that our public slogans are full of . Sri Aurobindo also offers deep insights on ‘mundane’ matters such as the inappropriateness of the party-based parliamentary system of democracy in the India context, the goal of India’s reunification, or the direction which national education should take. He had, after all, not only been a brilliant student at Cambridge University, but also a teacher at the Baroda College (now Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda) and principal of the newly created Bengal National College in Calcutta.
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