A Bengal Was Such Also..

Excerpts from the book "The Militant Nationalism in India" by Bimal Bihari Majumdar

Bipin Chandra Pal

Surendra Nath Banarji

Inspiration from the Gita, the Chandi and the Vedanta As most of the members of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti and the Barisal Party were conservative Hindus and were also influenced by Hindu revivalism, it was quite natural for them to look to Hindu sacred texts such as the Gita, the Chandi, and the Vedanta for inspiration and guidance in their life and death struggle against the colonial rtule in the country. According to the Vedanta, the jivatma (individual soul) forms part or is the expression of the paramatma (supreme soul or God). The Vedantist seeks the godhead within himself in order that he may attain moksha or spiritual salvation. C.R.Das, who was Aurobindo‘s counsel in the Maniktala case, argued that according to Aurobindo and in terms of the Vedanta, India was not a mere geographical expression but a manifestation of the divinity; India could only grow by getting hold of what was best and divine within himself; freedom was to India what spiritual salvation was to the individual. (36) ―Our attitude is a political Vedantism. India, free, one and indivisible is the divine realization to which we move—emancipation our aim‖, wrote Aurobindo applying the Vedanta in politics. The militant nationalists of Bengal, it must be remembered, primarily came from the bhadralok class, who were generally a peaceable and law-abiding people, and who had only a few years before the commencement of the Swadeshi Movement entirely declined to respond to revolutionary appeals, which becomes evident from the confession of Barindra Ghosh. To infuse the ideas of violence among such a people must have required extraordinary methods on the part of the leaders of the secret societies. Perhaps the most important Hindu philosophical treatise which came to justify violent actions including the undertaking of political murders was the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita or Lord‘s Song of the Mahabharat epic recited by Sri Krishna, the incarnation of the Preserver of the World, before the great battle of Kurukshetra.

Maharshi Aurobindo 


The Gita provided a new orientation to the militant nationalists in the field of action. It came to be regarded as a scripture of Karmayoga, a gospel of work. Because of its constant exhortation for karma or action, it was deemed suitable for breaking the stupor that had overtaken India. The Gita exhorted the fighter to get into action for the protection of the weak and the oppressed and the maintenance of right and justice in the world. To shrink from such a duty was a sign of sheer weakness. The militant nationalists preached the ideal of nishkama karma i.e. everyone must do his duty without caring for the result, as taught in the Gita. The recurrent exhortations of Sri Krishna to Arjuna was ―Fight and overthrow thy opponents…Give up the result of all thy work to me and with a heart full of spirituality and free from craving, free from all selfish desires, Fight‖. Nothing could be more reassuring to the Bengal revolutionaries than the teaching of the Gita: ―Whosoever has his temperament purged from egotism, whosoever suffers not his soul to receive the impress of the deed, though he slays the whole world, yet he slays not and is not bound by his action‖. The leaders of the revolutionary movement in Bengal tried to instill this lesson into the hearts of their followers. Another teaching of the Gita which greatly inspired the militant nationalists and which they sought to preach among their followers was, ―killed you will obtain heaven; victorious, you will enjoy the earth‖. Through the above quoted passage of the Gita, the militant nationalists propagated the idea of self-sacrifice which was the surest way to spiritual enlightenment or attainment of heaven. (39) The militant nationalists also preached the ideal of „nimitta matra‟, as taught in the Gita, meaning that men were only instruments in the hands of God, who really pre-ordained the things that would take place. Sri Krishna‘s exhortation to Arjuna to be a mere instrument in killing the enemies as they had been killed in reality already by himself seemed to absolve the revolutionaries of the responsibility of murder. As Aurobindo explained in a clearly contrived speech on the Gita: ̳Those men whom you shrink from slaying are already slain….The teaching of the Gita….delivers you from all possibility of sin‘. The leaders of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti used the tenets of the Gita to influence the young initiates and to strengthen their minds for the purpose of organizing violent actions. The teachings of the Gita provided the ideological basis for the commitment of violent action by the members of Samiti. The ―Set of Rules of Membership‖ of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti which was produced as an exhibit during the trial of the Barisal Conspiracy Case, specially ordered the daily reading of the Gita. The British Prime Minister, Mr.Ramsay Macdonald, who studied the subject of Indian nationalism in his book ―The Awakening of India‖, has made an incisive analysis as regards the message of the Gita, and the way it was used to further the cause of the revolutionary organizations. Therefore it would not be inappropriate to quote him extensively. Mr.Macdonald observed, ―Before one tries to understand the extremist movement of whatever degree, one cannot do better than assimilate the spirit of the Bhagwat Gita, the most moving and haunting of all the sacred books of India. In its slokas, glowing with a divine light, the Indian discovers the way of self-sacrifice. It is the gospel of action, of action stern and terrible, done by the body and the passions, while the possessing soul is at peace in the presence of the Eternal. It is the divine manual of how duty is to be done with no thought of consequences, except that it is the will and thought of the Eternal. Bathed in this ocean of self-surrender, and ever filled with the music of the Divine voice, The Indians heart beats with ecstasy, and he goes forth to do his work. There is no limit of the vernacular press, no uncontrollable Amrita Bazar Patrika or Bande Mataram so dangerous, so seditious as the ̳Song of the Blessed One‘.‖ Mr.Macdonald further goes on to observe, ―The Indian Assassin quotes his Bhagwat Gita just as the Scottish Covenanter quoted his Old Testament, but the Bhagwat Gita is more cruel in the devotion and self-sacrifice it requires than the most awful of the Old Testament passages which have been brooded over by the austere fanatics of our own history. It is this inspiration, dazzling human reason into blindness, that leads astray the youths who have cast constitutionalism to the four winds, and have entered upon the dark ways of assassination, hoping thereby to reach emancipation. The analysis of Mr.Macdonald, regarding the message of the Gita which was used to justify violent revolutionary action seems to be correct. The influence of the teachings of the Gita was quite profound on the youthful minds of the members of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti. The particular case of Girindra Mohan Das illustrates this. In the evidence given by Girindra‘s mother in the court which was accepted to be true by the Sessions Judge, she mentioned that Girindra made her listen to the Gita and asked her to bid him goodbye as she had other sons, that he would not marry and that one day she would suddenly hear that he was dead. The mental make-up of Girindra Das as a member of a revolutionary society gets revealed from the following observation of the Sessions Judge who was trying the case:- ―Girindra was thoroughly in earnest in his belief in the cause of the Samiti, of that there can be no doubt. His mind had fed for some months on the literature and dogmas of the revolutionary party, and it is clear from what he told his mother that he had pictured himself as a hero dying for the salvation of his country.‖ The teachings of the Gita provided a powerful source of inspiration to the members of the Barisal Party as well. Thus Arun Chandra Guha informs us that the philosophy of nishkama karma and nimitta matra as taught in the Gita, became a guiding principle of the militant nationalists of the group. (43) The use of Hindu religion and the teachings of the Gita were also used by the leaders of the Barisal Party to recruit new members to the group. The conversion of Manoranjan Gupta (who went on to become one of the foremost leaders of the Barisal Party and then assumed the leadership of the combined Jugantar revolutionary group as well) as a member of the Barisal Party highlights the importance of religion to serve political ends. In his autobiography Manoranjan Gupta mentioned that inspite of the efforts made by his bosom friend Hiralal Dasgupta to enlist him as a member to the revolutionary cause, he did not agree because he felt that the violent acts committed by the revolutionaries were against the teachings of the Hindu religion. But after he was introduced to Satish Chandra Mukherjee by one of his friends, the conversations which he had with the latter changed his conception of the revolutionary movement. Satish Mukherjee mentioned to him that actions which were committed without the desire of its results which was taught by the Gita, always had the sanction of religion; and since the actions committed by a person for the liberation of his country were done in the same spirit, it similarly had the sanction of religion. Thus it was only when the authority of the Gita was invoked to justify revolutionary action, then Gupta mentioned, that he accepted the membership of the Barisal Party. (44) It must be mentioned here that at the time of his initiation into the Barisal Party, he was a youth of 19 years and was a student of the First Arts Class in a local college. Thus in this instance of conversion also appeals were made to the religious fervour and idealism of the youth. The teachings of the Gita, taken literally, were an excellent training for those who were embarking on a desperate enterprise in which their lives might, at any moment, be forfeited. The teachings of the Gita, which the militant nationalists imbibed, enhanced their power of tolerance to police oppression as well. The militant nationalists sought to make a practical application of the teachings of the Gita. It became a more formidable weapon than the bomb in their hands. It prepared them psychologically, for political murders which were interpreted as designed by God‘s will and this assured them of salvation through death in God‘s service. Another religious book which found a prominent place in the revolutionary literature was the Markandeya Chandi. The latter is a sacred religious text of the Hindus, Chandi being another name of Goddess Durga who protects her devotees from all sorts of evil by destroying their enemies. The work relates how the gods, driven from heaven by the asuras (demons), created with all their powers Goddess Kali or Chandika or Adya Shakti (primordial energy), to destroy the asuras. In the light of the Vedanta, freedom meant national self-realisation. In the light of the Chandi, the national struggle was interpreted as signifying the latent energy of the nation and its struggle against the forces of evil. Just as all the millions of gods had energized Kali, so would the millions of Indians make a mighty shakti (power) of India. The importance and the necessity of shakti worship to arouse the dormant masses of the nation and make them participate in the struggle to end the colonial rule, was explained by Bepin Chandra Pal quite elaborately. On 6th June 1907, in an article in the New India, B.C.Pal wrote, ―Sakti worship had been a part of our religion from time immemorial…the masses must be initiated in the mysteries of Sakti worship…I cannot conceive of a better symbol of Sakti in our present condition than the symbol of Kali, not conceived of a supernatural deity, but simply as the symbol of cosmic evolution on the one side and of race consciousness on the other…I do not feel any hesitation to recommend the Kali symbol to those of my countrymen to whom it may really appeal as an inspiration for the cultivation of Sakti (power)…Kali is thus an excellent symbol of Shakti both in its natural and national aspects. Sakti is never manifested except in and through conflict…And we need this worship today more than we did in the past. All strength seems to have gone out of the nation…our people must realize that the highest good can only reach out itself in the world through bitter struggles; and the symbol of Kali may well be utilized now to arouse the dormant energies of the nation and to lead it on to realize its highest destiny through conflicts and struggles…I would therefore recommend the organization of Kali Puja in every important village every moon-day. It cannot be the ordinary Kali Puja…Rakshakali is the Kali which protects from evil. It would not be a bad thing if we could organize public Rakshakali Puja at the present juncture where large crowds could be collected. It would put courage into drooping hearts. It would impart a religious meaning and significance to our national movement…And thus these ceremonials would strengthen the determination of our people on the one hand and simultaneously demoralize those who are trying to repress them on the other‖. There is no doubt that shakti worship in the form of Goddess Kali became an important part of the religious rituals of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti. The worship of Kali inspired and galvanized the members of the Samiti into action. Thus we are informed by Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee, a member of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti, that before the members of the Samiti went to commit a dacoity, they used to make offerings to the Goddess Kali and carried the offered prasad and flowers with them as a sign of the Mother‘s blessings in their performance of the sacred duty to free the motherland from alien bondage. In fact, Goddess Kali became the most favourite deity of the Bengal revolutionaries. They used to take the most solemn vows before her image. The instance of Girindra Mohan Das‘ enlistment as a member of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti has already been referred to. The militant nationalists also used to refer to their violent acts as ̳Mayer Lila‟ viz. the playful wish of the Mother.

Another aspect of the Chandi provided powerful inspiration to the militant nationalists. This was the belief in the victory of good over evil. In the book called Kabya Kusum (Poetical Blossoms) 1908 (1315 B.E.),, the author Dinesh Chandra Sengupta, who appears to have been the recognized poet of the movement, makes an invocation to Kali, and wrote, ―Devils are committing oppression on us…Come O Mother Bhairabi…the earth oppressed by demons, is calling you in a pathetic tone…India is one vast crematorium and demons are responsible…Come you merciful one, taking up the sword to destroy the wicked devils‖. Here the British Government was compared with the demons or devils. That the teachings of the Chandi and the Gita provided inspiration to the Yugantar group of revolutionaries as well becomes apparent when one goes through the book Bartaman Rananiti (The Science of Modern Warfare; published in October 1907) written and published by Abinash Chandra Bhattacharya, a member of the group. In this book the author, not only reduces the teachings of the Chandi and the Gita to one great command ̳destroy‘ but also discussed the practical steps to be taken for accomplishing the work of destruction. The author described destruction as a form of creation which was natural. Therefore, war was also natural and imperative when every means of preventing oppression was of no avail. It was for this reason that Sri Krishna acted as charioteer of Arjuna at the battle of Kurukshetra and for this reason the incarnation of Kali as ―Kali holding two swords to destroy the Mlechhas‖ had passed into a saying of the Shastras. ̳Karma‘ or action was the means of salvation and the wealth of man. In India, the representative of ̳Karma‘ was Durga, having ten arms holding ten kinds of weapons, possessing infinite power, and She was the mother of creation. Strength of arms was needed to establish a virtuous kingdom or dharmarajya after demolishing the vicious one. Thus this article upheld the philosophy of the Gita and the stories of the Chandi in order to appeal to the religious sentiments of the militant nationalists, so that the latter would be fired with religious enthusiasm in undertaking violent actions. The Chandi and the Bartaman Rananiti profoundly influenced the members of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti as well. This is illustrated when one considers the deposition of the approver Rajani Das during the trial of the Barisal Conspiracy Case. Rajani was a youth of 18 when he was converted to the cause of the revolutionary movement and was employed as an apprentice mohurrir. He was a simple village boy who had studied at a village school up to the upper primary standard. In his deposition before the court, Rajani mentions that he was introduced to Fega Roy (Fega Roy was a member of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti, and was a resident of a village called Kusangal in the Bakarganj district, and in his youth at that point of time, he was considered to be the most active revolutionary by the district authorities). Fega asked Rajani what was his object in life. Rajani said that he wished to get on in life. Fega asked him if he did not wish to uphold the Hindu religion, and Rajani said he did. Fega then said that for the purpose of upholding the Hindu religion it was necessary to establish a Hindu kingdom. This sort of conversation passed between Fega and Rajani on two or three occasions, and one day Fega asked Rajani if he would join a Samiti that had for its purpose the establishment of Hindu rule and the expulsion of the British from India. Rajani then agreed to join the society. The deposition of Rajani Das goes on to show that by the establishment of Hindu kingdom or rastra, what appealed to him was the establishment of a dharmarajya or a kingdom based on righteousness. It has already been illustrated earlier (in the case of the approver Girindra Mohan Das) that the members of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti in order to recruit the educated youth first of all provided them with literature of national liberation movements which inflamed their desire of independence and also gave them the Hindu sacred texts, most importantly the Gita, the Chandi, and the Vedanta to study. The stories of the Chandi inspired the youth that just as the Goddess Kali destroyed the demons who had driven away the Gods from heaven, and re-instated the Gods in heaven, and thus established the righteous rule of the Gods in place of the unrighteous rule of the demons; it was now up to the youth of the country to seek the blessings of the Mother and destroy the unrighteous British rule and supplant it by establishing a dharmarajya. The deposition of Rajani Das thus goes on to illustrate that he was quite seriously influenced by the Chandi. Das, it must be remembered, agreed to join the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti, only when the possibility of the establishment of a Hindu rastra based on dharma (righteousness) was placed before him. It seems that Rajani was also influenced by the teachings of the Gita as well. A verse from the latter assures India that whenever there is decline of dharma, God will incarnate Himself to protect the righteous and chastise the unrighteous. That the militant nationalists of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti drew inspiration from the Chandi and the Gita also becomes clear after a perusal of the ̳District Organization Scheme‘ of the Samiti, referred earlier. The latter was related with the methods of recruitment of school boys by masters imbued with the ―idea‖ (the idea was that all members of the Samiti were to keep in their minds that they were bringing about a revolution with the object of establishing righteousness) into schools all over the country and by the institution of selected students in all schools. The Samiti‘s object of establishing righteousness, which was made a major basis of the recruitment of new members to the Samiti, of course meant the establishment of a dharmarajya, after the unrighteous rule of the British was brought to an end, and the rastra based on dharma which checked all arbitrary power. It was the selected students who after being imbued with the ―idea‖ were to influence and preach the same among other fellow-students, and in this way it was ensured by the leaders of the Samiti, that the membership of the latter would also increase. Hence it can be seen that the rank and file of the Samiti were influenced by the Chandi and the Gita, as all of them believed in the establishment of a dharmarajya after the expulsion of the unrighteous rule of the British. Like the members of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti, as we come to know from Arun Chandra Guha, the Chandi provided an important source of inspiration to the members of the Barisal Party as well. Inspiration from the writings of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay and Swami Vivekananda. The writings of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (1838-94), Bengal‘s most influential writer in the nineteenth century, had a great impact upon the militant nationalists of Bengal. Unable to make up his mind about British rule, Bankimchandra looked at it with mixed feelings. In an essay ̳Bangadeser Krisak‟ he not only rejected the ̳drain‘ theory but believed that due to colonial rule, trade between Britain and India had increased which in turn had led to an expansion of agricultural activity in India. (52) But later in his life he admitted the drain theory. (53) In another essay ̳Amar Man‟ in Kamalakanter Daftar we find him reviling the Western craze for material wealth which was invading India.

However, the western idea of nationalism received his praise. On the whole he regarded the English as „unnata shatru‟ (advanced or resourceful enemies). The concluding lines of his novel Anandamath (1882) shows that Bankim, alive as he was to the regenerating influence of British rule, was not preaching permanent loyalty to it: the sannyasi (monk) rebels against the Muslim Nawab, accepted the Raj only as a stop-gap for Hindu rule; the rebel leader Satyananda agreed to be under the British till the Hindus were rich again in strength and knowledge. No wonder therefore the book was a source of inspiration to the militant nationalists in Bengal. Bankim was a cultural nationalist and one of the creators of modern Bengali prose: ̳he gave us a means‘ wrote Aurobindo, ̳by which the soul of Bengal could express itself to itself‘. (58) To Bankim a nation existed in its history. Thus he regretted the absence of a history of Bengal: ̳The Bengalis aspire after greatness—alas, they have no historical memory. Bengal must have its own history or the Bengalis will never be great‘. So he set about to lend nationalism not only its own language but also a heroic past to look back on with pride. His historical romances conjured up an age of Hindu chivalry. The Bande Mataram song of Anandamath gave the militant nationalists of Bengal, a vision of the motherland as a Goddess and a song to sing her praise. It hugely inspired Aurobindo. In his essay on Bankim, he says, ―It is not till the motherland reveals herself to the eye of the mind as something more than a sketch 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‖. The concept of the divinity of the Motherland provided by Bankim in the Anandadamath inspired the militant nationalists so much so that they in turn preached the concept. It is quite clear from the speeches and writings of Aurobindo that he looked upon India as a living and pulsating spiritual entity, and revered her as the Goddess incarnate who, for centuries, had cradled and nourished her children and who was suffering utterly from the oppression of the British Government. Anandamath also made Aurobindo and the Bengal Extremists and militant nationalists reckon that Bankim‘s nationalism was essentially religious, Hindu in orientation. This inspired the former and consequently they also came to regard their nationalism to be a ̳religious‘ movement. This was so because the Bengal Extremists and militant nationalists considered the nationalist movement a ̳religion‘ that is, an endeavour whose paramount importance demanded dedication and sacrifice. From Bankim the militant nationalists in Bengal came to know that the subjection of India could be explained in terms of culture. The crucial cultural attribute which, according to Bankim, stands out as the major reason for India‘s subjection was the Hindu attitude towards power. Bankim explained that the Europeans were devotees of power. That was the key to their advancement. The Hindus were negligent towards power, and that was the key to their downfall. Power, or a lack of it, is a social phenomenon; power results from the application on physical strength of four elements: enterprise, solidarity, courage and perseverance. Bankim believed that the Bengali Hindus as a people had always lacked these elements, which was the reason that they were a subject and powerless people. However, he explained that power was a cultural attribute, it can be acquired by the cultivation of appropriate national-cultural values. The colonial state was founded on a superiority of force; this original superiority of force was the product of a superior culture which shaped and directed the British national project in the world. To match and overcome that superiority, Bankim believed, Indian society would have to undergo a similar transformation. And the key to that transformation must lie in a regeneration of national culture embodying, in fact, an unrivalled combination of material and spiritual values. To Bankim, therefore, the remedy for cultural backwardness lay in a total regeneration of national culture, or as he preferred to call it, the national religion. He believed that what was needed above all for a national regeneration in India was the re-establishment of a harmonious unity of religion and politics, harmony between a comprehensive ethical ideal and the practice of power. For the purpose of regeneration of the national culture, Bankim devised the concept of anushilan or practice. Anushilan, he said, was a ̳system of culture‘, more complete and more perfect than the Western concept of culture as propounded by Auguste Comte and Matthew Arnold. The Western concept was fundamentally agnostic, and hence incomplete. Anusilan was based on the concept of bhakti which, in turn, implied the unity of knowledge and duty. There were three kinds of knowledge: knowledge of the world, of the self and of God. Knowledge of the world consisted of mathematics, astronomy, physics, and chemistry, and these one would have to learn from the West. Knowledge of the self meant biology and sociology, and these too one would have to learn from the West. Finally, knowledge of God, and in this field the Hindu sastra contained the greatest human achievements—the Upanisad, the darsana, the Purana, the itihasa, but principally the Gita. But mere knowledge would not create bhakti; for that, knowledge would have to be united with a sense of duty. Duty meant the performance of acts without the expectation of reward. To eat is duty; so is the defence of one‘s country. These acts had to be performed because they should be performed, not because they might produce beneficial results. This non-possessive, non-utilitarian concept of duty was to be the core of the national-cultural ideal which Bankim called the jatiya dharma or national religion. The national-cultural ideal which Bankim placed before his countrymen thus retained what was thought to be distinctively Indian, while subsuming what was valuable in the culture of the West. The aim was to produce the complete and perfect man—learned, wise, agile, religious and refined—a better man than the merely efficient and prosperous Westerner. In the character of Sri Krishna, Bankim found this ideal man. In Krsihnacharitra, Bankim discusses the rival claims of the Buddha, Christ and Krishna as ideal characters. It is true, he says, that Krishna‘s life does not show the same concern for redeeming the fallen as do the lives of Jesus or Gautama. But the latter were men whose sole occupation was the preaching of religion—a most noble occupation, and Gautama and Jesus both revealed themselves in that occupation as great human beings. But their lives could hardy serve as complete ideals for all men, because the truly ideal character must retain its ideal quality for all men of all occupations. Krishna himself was householder, diplomat, warrior, law-giver, saint and preacher; as such, he represents a complete human ideal for all people. (65) The national-cultural ideal thus must resemble the character of the ideal man—Krishna. In the field of politics, Bankim believed, the cultural ideal must be based on a judicious combination of force and mercy. The two are opposed in their consequences. A show of mercy to all offenders would ultimately lead to the destruction of social life. On the other hand, a society based entirely on force would reduce human life to a state on unmitigated bestiality. Modern Europe, Bankim believed, had hardly succeeded in finding the right balance between the two. The politics of modern Europe had overwhelmed its religion, which is why it has turned into a battlefield of violent forces wholly dedicated to the amoral pursuit of worldy goods. In the Udyogaparva of the Mahabharata, however, Krishna raises precisely this question: the right combination of force and mercy. Faced with the dilemma, the strong prefer a solution based on force and the weak appeal for mercy. But what is the answer for one who is both powerful and compassionate? That would be the ideal answer, and Krishna provides it in the Udyogaparva. Bankim‘s interpretation of these passages in the Mahabharata strongly emphasizes a concept of duty which embodies what Bankim regards as a rational as well as an ethical philosophy of power and constitutive of the national-cultural ideal. One element here is the notion of moral right. Krishna says, ̳I will not desire a paradise given to the pursuit of immoral pleasures. But at the same time, I will not relinquish to the swindler a single grain of wheat of what is morally due to me. If I do so, I may not harm myself too much, but I will be guilty of the sin of adopting a path that will bring ruin upon society‘. Another element consists of the notions of rightful self-defence and just war. Bankim says, ̳It is moral to wage war in defence of myself and of others. To shy away from doing so is grave immorality. We, the people of Bengal, are bearing the consequences of our immorality for seven hundred years‘.

The third element is the concept of ahimsa or non-violence, but it is a concept entirely consistent with the ideas of moral right, self-defence and just war. Ahimsa does not enjoin one to abhor violence at all times and under all circumstances. Many instances can be given when conscious violence is the only protection to life. Thus Bankim says, ̳When a tiger prepares to spring upon me, I must pull the trigger as quickly as possible because if I do not destroy it, it will destroy me. There are situations where violence is moral. The main consideration here is the following: the supreme moral duty is to refrain from violence except when it is demanded by dharma (in this context this means patriotism). To use violence to prevent one who does violence is not immoral; on the contrary, it is the highest moral duty‘. The fourth important element in the concept of duty is the principle of control over senses. Bankim is very careful here to distinguish this principle from both asceticism and puritanism. The philosophy of dharma (national-cultural ideal) is not an ascetic philosophy. It does not advocate the renunciation of sensual pleasure. It is a worldly philosophy which makes it a duty to achieve control over the senses. On the other hand unlike puritanism, it does not set up a moral ideal as a result of which human life is constantly torn by an unnatural, and irreconcilable, opposition between sensual pleasure and spiritual salvation. Puritanism is opposed to sensual pleasure; the dharma (religious philosophy) of the Gita advocates neither desire nor abhorrence. Thus Bankim‘s concept of the national-cultural ideal combined a rational theory of power with a non-possessive spirituality. It was the virtues of the cultural ideal, which Bankim wanted his countrymen to imbibe through anusilan. By imbibing these qualities, he believed that a national culture would be created which would be able to match and overcome the superior culture of the British rulers. Bankim‘s exhortations did not fall on deaf ears. The militant nationalists of Bengal were profoundly influenced by the national- cultural project as propounded by Bankim. They made it a supreme task to imbibe the qualities which lay inherent in the cultural ideal as preached by Bankim. Thus the notion of moral right was invoked by the militant nationalists in the context of colonial rule in the country. Their nationalism was not of an European type, they did not aspire political liberty for the sake of political self-assertion or aggrandizement, but they aspired for it because it was their moral right to live as free men, which the British rule denied to them. As the latter had established their rule over India by force, the notion of rightful self-defence and just war was invoked by the militant nationalists as well to wage a war against the former which was moral and imperative to end the perennial subservience of the Indian people to foreign rule. The militant nationalists believed that if they shrank from this just war it would be grave immorality. Invoking the notion of ahimsa in the colonial context, the militant nationalists believed that to use violence against the organized oppression of the colonial state would not be immoral, on the contrary it was their highest moral duty. Bankim‘s injunctions regarding physical and moral discipline in patriotic work were also followed by the leaders of the revolutionary societies in Bengal. In an essay entitled Dharmatattva: Anushilan, Bankim explained that man has certain faculties, the proper anusilan or practice of which is a religious duty. The physical faculty comes first, for, among other things, a weak man can neither protect himself nor defend his country. Everyone should therefore practice wrestling, riding, swimming, and even learn the use of firearms in disregard of the Arms Act. One must not eat more than he needs and must also conquer sensual desires. The members of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti, meticulously tried to live up to the anusilan ideal; the Samiti at Dhaka acquired a half-military, half-monastic character. All members of the Samiti (including the Samiti in Bakarganj) were required to make strenuous physical and mental efforts to prepare themselves for patriotic work. They had to be able to bear fatigue, exposure, and privations in food and sleep and to develop strength through celdiaries in which they were to note their daily progress in the conquest of various vices. (73) Similarly the members of the Barisal Party were also required to cultivate moral and physical virtues. Arun Chandra Guha informs us, that physical culture including wrestling, lathi, sword play and boxing formed the preliminary training for physical fitness for the young recruits of the society. The latter were asked to go alone to the cremation or burial ground at midnight, particularly on amabashya (new moon) night, so that they might conquer fear. They were also asked to nurse patients suffering from cholera which was a highly contagious disease. During epidemics when the entire population remained terror-stricken due the outbreak of cholera, the young members of the Barisal Party nursed and took care of the patients which involved great personal risk as well. Such acts also helped to develop courage among the members of the group. A vow of austerity and celibacy was also compulsory for the members. Bare feet, bare body, no combing of hair, washing their own clothes, austere but strength-giving food like gram soaked in water and nuts were recommended for the members. To control one‘s sensual desires some stringent practices were also undertaken. The members were made to take sweets like rasagolla and rabri in the mouth for a few minutes and then spit them out. The married young men were enjoined to live apart from their wives. The whole idea behind such practices was that the members of the group would be above fear, above sensual desires, above any desire for luxury and comfort; at the same time they had to be physically strong and persevering in the discharge of their duties undertaken on behalf of the group. The militant nationalists of Bakarganj like the members of other secret societies in Bengal practiced the qualities which were prescribed by Bankim in the creation of the national-cultural ideal. By anushilan or cultivation of the moral and physical virtues, as propounded by Bankim, they tried to reach near the national-cultural ideal of the complete and perfect man as much as possible (of course, it must be admitted that perhaps only a few could imbibe the virtues in character as Krishna possessed). They did so, as they believed that it would re-equip them culturally to overcome the superior culture of the British rulers, which would eventually enable the people of the nation toibacThey had to follow a rigorous daily routine and keep achieve liberation from foreign rule. So impressed were the leaders of the Calcutta and Dhaka Anushilan Samiti by the national-cultural project of Anushilan, that they named their organizations Anushilan Samiti. The militant nationalist movement in Bengal thus came to be characterized by the development of moral as well as physical prowess. The moral tone of the oaths of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti was also influenced by the Anandamath vow: in particular, the Pratham Bishesh Pratijna (First Special Vow), which bound the oath taker in the name of God to avoid sexual indulgence and imprecated a solemn curse on him if he failed to keep the vow. After Bankim came Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). There were two basic referrents in Vivekananda‘s thought and action. Spirituality and its cultural expression, religion, were the primary concerns of his personal life and his mission abroad. Patriotic fervour rooted in strong nationalist sentiments was the second source of his inspiration. His love for his country contained a unique feature—a genuine sense of identity with the poverty-stricken and oppressed masses, and indignation at the injustice heaped down the centuries on the real builders of human civilization. Neglect of the masses he condemned as a national sin. The awakening of the masses was therefore, considered by him as the essential ingredient for the regeneration of India. The programme for national regeneration with which Vivekananda charged his disciples focussed almost entirely on the poor and the illiterate. In feeding the poor, healing the sick and educating the ignorant ( ̳ignorant‘ in the metaphysical sense as well) work would shed its element of self-interest and become a sacrifice to God. More important than feeding or healing, however, was awakening in man the awareness of his true stature— dharma dana. The plan was to open their eyes through education. He went to the USA in the hope of raising funds for this purpose. A band of dedicated monks, would use these funds to serve his ̳God, the poor‘ of all races. With maps, globes and magic lanterns they were to go out among the lowliest, the pariahs and the chandalas, and remove their ignorance. The monks of his mission would go from village to village, bringing religion to the door of the masses, impressing upon the minds of even the chandalas that they, too, had the same right to religion as the Brahmins and the same freedom of judgement, for in all dwell the One Absolute. Evidently he expected the masses to stand on their own feet and claim their own once their eyes were opened. Vivekananda believed that a few political concessions (put forward by the political organzations) granted by the Government would not bring political salvation to India. It was when the masses were well-educated, well-fed and well-cared for, and their support enlisted for the national cause, only then the efforts of the political organizations would come to fruition. Vivekananda tried to propagate the love for one‘s own countrymen in his singular way: He spoke of love as the gate to all the secrets of the Universe. The love of the people, that is the starving millions of India must be so intense as to make the patriot sleepless. He asks. ―Has it gone into your blood, coursing through your veins, becoming consonant with your heart beats? Has it made you almost mad? Are you seized with that one idea of the misery, of ruin, and have you forgotten all about your name, fame, your wives, your children, your property, even your own bodies? Have you done that? That is the first step to become a patriot, the very first step‖. The militant nationalists in Bengal were greatly inspired by Vivekananda‘s call for renunciation in the cause of the motherland. Indian society, Vivekananda affirmed, was the cradle of his child-hood, the pleasure garden of his youth and the refuge of his old age. The clod of Indian earth was his very heaven. ―That is the only God that is awake, our own race—everywhere his hands, everywhere his feet, everywhere his years, he covers everything‖. The service of man, he preached was the highest form of religion. To the patriot, he raised the most pertinent question: ―If you cannot worship your brother man, the manifested God, how can you worship a God who is unmanifested?‖ The Extremists and militant nationalists drank deeply of this love and resolved on self-sacrifice. Vivekananda was not a political revolutionary himself but he was a maker of many revolutionaries. Many of his exhortations especially that of imparting strength to the Indians, particularly to the young men of Bengal, seems to indicate that he was bent upon politically galvanizing the country. The message of the Upanishad was interpreted by him in an entirely new way. While explaining the Vedanta in its application to Indian life, he wrote: ―Everything that can weaken us as a race we have had for the last thousand years. It seems as if during that period national life had this one end in view–how to make us weaker and weaker till we have become real earth-worms, crawling at the feet of every one who dares to put his foot on us. Therefore, my friends, as one of your blood, as one that lives and dies with you, let me tell that you that we want strength, strength and every time strength. And the Upanishads are the great mine of strength. Therein lies strength enough to invigorate the whole world; the whole world can be vivified, made strong, energised through them. They will call with trumpet voice upon the weak, the miserable, and the downtrodden of all races, all creeds, and all sects to stand on their own feet and be free. Freedom, physical freedom, mental freedom and spiritual freedom are the watchwords of the Upanishads‖.

Swami Sri Vivekananda

Bhagini Nivedida 

Though Vivekananda does not explicitly mention political freedom, any discerning reader is sure to find it included in the comprehensive term, ̳physical freedom‘. Vivekananda drew upon the Vedantic doctrine of maya or illusion to instill courage and strength into the hearts of Indians. He initiated them into the secret of conquering fear by repeating the words, ―I have no fear of death: I never hunger nor thirst. I am it! I am it‖. He assured his countrymen that ―mountain high though the difficulties appear, terrible and gloomy though all things seem, they are but Maya, Fear not, it is banished. Crush it, and it vanishes. Stamp upon it, and it dies. Be not afraid‖. To a disciple he wrote: ―My child, what I want is muscles of iron and nerves of steel, inside which dwells a mind of the same material as that of which the thunder-bolt is made‖. (81) Swamiji‘s advice to become fearless had immense effect on the militant nationalists in Bengal. He said: ―The earth is enjoyed by heroes—this is the unfailing truth. Be a hero. Always say I have no fear. Tell this to everybody. Have no fear. Fear is death, fear is sin, fear is hell, fear is unrighteousness, fear is wrong life‖. The Upanishadic description of God as abhih or fearless were repeatedly used by Vivekananda in his lectures to enthuse the young men of the country. Thus in Calcutta in 1897, he said, ―Young men arise, for the time is propitious. We have to become abhih…for your country needs this tremendous sacrifice‘. Therefore, he quoted the Upanishads, ―Arise, awake, and stop not till the desired end is reached‖. The ̳desired end‘, according to the Upanishads, was spiritual salvation. However, it is doubtful whether Vivekananda meant spiritual salvation. The militant nationalists of Bengal responded enthusiastically to this clarion call of Vivekananda. A Jugantar leaflet of 1910 repeated the latter thus: ̳Be not afraid. The most sublime word of the Vedanta is Abhih, i.e., Be fearless. Fear is death‘: The way Hindu messianism became a major basis in the radicalization of politics in Bengal during the first decade of the twentieth century has been mentioned earlier. The chief exponent of Hindu messianism in the 1890‘s, was Swami Vivekananda. His concern for the poor in India made him travel to the West in the hope of raising funds. During his first visit to the USA in the autumn of 1893, while delivering lectures on Hindu philosophy, he became aware of the spiritual inferiority of the American people. Gradually he became convinced that the West was in need of India‘s religious inheritance. His preachings from this period onwards came to centre exclusively on Vedanta. He believed that Vedanta was India‘s gift to the world and he purveyed it to the vigorous western nations to help them reach out towards a new fulfillment, for they alone had the strength and vitality needed for a spiritual quest. He stayed on for years to preach the gospel of Vedanta as the basis of a universal religion. The spiritual liberation of the West, he hoped, would lead to a new dawn for mankind. But the liberation was also to be a spiritual conquest—of the West by India. It would earn for his country the status of a revered teacher and material assistance of western nations, the latter leading to an escape from poverty. The plan was not only to raise funds, but also to restructure the relationship of dominance and subjection. It almost appears as if Vivekananda projected his personal experience in the USA—the enthusiastic reception, the gathering of disciples, the many friendships and eager hospitality—into a global possibility. By a singular act of transference he conceived for India—his country, his people as he described her—the role of a spiritual guide to the West. He had acquired for himself a large following of western men and women. If a citizen of a conquered nation could come to be treated like a God, the cultural inheritance which had produced this transformation could lead to similar results for the country as a whole. Independence, it was implied, could follow from the redefined relationship. That the mission of spiritual conquest of the West by India, influenced the Extremists and militant nationalists of Bengal quite profoundly has been mentioned earlier. It was the Swadeshi Movement in Bengal which saw the Bengali bhadralok take the first plunge in an anti-colonial agitation. This Movement indicated a radical change in the consciousness of the colonized intelligentsia in general. The myths that had so long upheld the supremacy of the British in their minds, including that of the mantra of civilization, were now seriously challenged. English racial arrogance and discrimination were now clearly diagnosed as a bane of foreign rule. Thus many bhadralok now became mentally ready to contend for political sovereignty with the British. The intelligentsia, at least a substantial section of them, were now inspired by a vision of independence, something which had been scarcely present before with any such intensity. This strong desire for freedom was accentuated by the phenomenon of Extremism which has been described in Chapter 1. The anti-Partition agitation gave Extremist leaders Bepin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghosh the opportunity to turn the ideal of political independence into reality. In the process of political radicalization however, Hindu messianism played a significant role The Extremists, by applying the spirit of advaita to politics made it radical. They invoked the message of the Vedanta and applied it to their politics. As the message of the Vedanta is this: that every man has within himself, in his own soul, as the very root and realization of his own being, the spirit of God; and as God is eternally free, self-realized, so Extremist leaders like Bipin Chandra Pal felt convinced that every man is eternally free, self-realized. Freedom is man‘s birth right. Similarly, Aurobindo Ghose observed in the Bande Mataram, ―According to Hindu philosophy, self-knowledge and self- realisation are the end of all religion. It is difficult to see how the greatest aim of human existence can be fulfilled, if influences from outside disorganize us and stifle our growth‖. Indians were deprived of an essential means of assimilating themselves to the universal. India could play her messianic role, so important for the spiritual health of the world, only if she first freed herself from political bondage. ―India must have Swaraj in order to live for the world, not as a slave for the material and political benefit of a single purse-proud selfish nation, but as a free people for the spiritual and intellectual benefit of the human race… She has always existed for the humanity and not for herself that she must be great‖. Such sentiments became commonplace with the militant nationalist in Bengal; and the way they influenced the young members of the Anushilan Samiti has been mentioned earlier. The influence of the speeches and writings of Swami Vivekananda on the militant nationalists of Bengal was quite profound. Thus Bhupendranath Dutta, observed, ―it is a truism to say that there is a correlation between Swamiji‘s appeals to his young countrymen and the intensity of revolutionary urge in the mind of the young men of later generation. Since the foundation of the Revolutionary Party in Bengal, in which Swamiji‘s British disciple Sister Nivedita took at first an active part and was a member of the Executive Committee, his works, along with the writings and life of Mazzini as well as the life of Garibaldi, in Bengalee, were the mainspring of inspiration to the youthful mind of India. In every gymnasium, i.e., exercise-club of the Revolutionary Party of Bengal, his work entitled ̳From Colombo to Almorah‘ was read. From 1902 to 1930 there was no better seller in the market than Swamiji‘s books‘‘. Dutta, an important revolutionary leader, also preached a sort of neo-Vedantism, like that preached by Swami Vivekananda. In an editorial article in the Sandhya he wrote, ―First free the mother from her bondage, then seek your own deliverance‖. He also talked about the God-appointed mission of Swaraj. Addressing the British rulers, he wrote, ―Our power is more than human. It is divine. We have heard the voice telling us that the period of India‘s suffering is about to close‖. What he implied by this idea was that the work of achieving Swaraj was duly ordained by God. The Sedition Committee also noted the influence of the writings of Vivekananda on the militant nationalists of Bengal, and observed thus, ―for their own initiates the conspirators devised a remarkable series of text-books. The Bhagavad Gita, the writings of Vivekananda, the lives of Mazzini and Garibaldi were part of the course‖. A particular poem written by Vivekananda known as Kali the Mother, also came to influence Aurobindo and other militant nationalists of Bengal. In this poem Vivekananda exhorts his countrymen to accept Goddess Kali as Divine Mother and embrace death as her caress in the cause of the country. He wrote: Who dares misery love, And hug the form of Death, Dance in destruction‘s dance, To him the Mother comes. The same message was expressed in prose first by Nivedita and then by Aurobindo. Nivedita‘s book on Kali the Mother (1900) quoted the poem by Vivekananda. Nivedita repeats the voice of the Mother thus: ̳Arise, My child‘, Kali says, ̳and go forth a man!… fear not. Forget not that I,… the holder of victory, am thy mother…Ask nothing. Seek nothing. Plan nothing. Let my will flow through thee… Ask not plans. Need the arrow any plan when it is loosed from the bow? …Pass from a palace to plunge into the ocean of terror…Meet fate with a smile‘. (91) That Vivekananda influenced Aurobindo via Nivedita is apparent from what Aurobindo wrote in 1908: ̳The Mother asks us for no schemes, no plans, no methods…She asks for our hearts, our lives, nothing less, nothing more‘.