BECK index

India's Renaissance 1881-1905

by Sanderson Beck

Reforms in India 1881-99
Curzon's Viceroyalty 1899-1905
Ramakrishna and Vivekananda
Theosophy and Blavatsky 1875-88
Besant and Theosophy 1889-1905
Indian National Congress 1885-1905

This chapter has been published in the book SOUTH ASIA 1800-1950.
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Reforms in India 1881-99

British India's Wars 1848-1881

By 1881 India had 253,890,000 people. Viceroy Ripon's finance minister, Major Evelyn Baring, lowered the duty on salt and removed all import duties except on alcohol, salt, opium, arms and ammunition, thus allowing free trade. Because very few Indians had been able to pass civil service exams in England by the age of 19, Ripon raised the age limit back to 21. He added Oriental language as a subject, but the Secretary of State rejected these and other reforms. Ripon tried to ban employment of children under eight years, but Bengal's lieutenant governor Ashley Eden persuaded him to make it under seven; working hours were limited for children under twelve instead of fourteen.

In 1882 Prime Minister Gladstone told India to bear the £1.75 million cost of sending troops to Egypt, but Ripon got the Home Government to contribute £500,000. He appointed the Hunter Commission to look into educational reforms, but science was still preferred over literary and moral education. After consulting the provincial governments, in 1882 the Governor-General and his Council passed a resolution allowing much more self-government in local communities. Within three years all the provinces were allowing local elections. In 1882 the Sirhind Canal was completed with a length of 3,700 miles. During Ripon's four years railways were extended by 2,000 miles to more than 11,500 miles in India. In 1883 Law Minister Courtenay Ilbert introduced a controversial bill that allowed Indian judges to hear cases of Europeans. Planters were so upset that Ripon was insulted in the streets of Calcutta. Finally they agreed to let Europeans request a jury of which half were to be Europeans. Ripon retired at the end of 1884 so that the liberal Gladstone could choose his successor, the Earl of Dufferin (Frederick Temple Blackwood), who had served in Egypt.

In 1876 the British Resident had refused to remove his shoes and kneel before King Mindon in Upper Burma, and his visits ceased. Thibaw became king of Burma in 1878, and British merchants and residents sent complaints to India. After Resident R. B. Shaw died in Upper Burma in June 1879, his successor Col. H. A. Browne and his staff left Mandalay. Two British steamers complained they were mistreated by Burmese officials. In 1881 the British set boundary pillars between Burma and Manipur, which the Burmese Government did not accept. King Thibaw tried to mollify the British by abolishing his monopolies in February 1882, but the next year he sent a trade mission to Paris.

France made a treaty with Burma in January 1885, and later the British learned of secret arms importing from Tonkin. Thibaw demanded a loan of £220,000 from the Bombay-Burma Trading Company for a royal concession in teakwood. When the Company refused, the Government of Burma fined the Trading Company ten lakhs of rupees (£230,000) in August for having bribed the governor of Ningyan to harvest the timber. Burma prepared to grant the concessions to France. In October the British sent Burma an ultimatum demanding a permanent Resident at Mandalay, control over Burma's foreign policy, arbitration of the timber case, and Burma's help trading with Yunnan. King Thibaw rejected this on November 9, and General Prendergast with 10,000 men took over Mandalay on November 28. The Burmese army dispersed in the jungles and became robber bands. Thibaw had killed so many possible successors that on the first day of 1886 Viceroy Dufferin proclaimed the British annexation of Upper Burma into the Indian empire. As many as 30,000 troops and five years were needed to pacify the brigands. Six more years were spent trying to control the Shans and Chins on the borders.

The Russians occupied Merv in 1884, and General Komaroff drove the Afghans from Panjdeh with heavy losses in March 1885. The British mobilized for war, but Abdur Rahman was visiting Viceroy Dufferin and agreed to concede Panjdeh rather than precipitate an Anglo-Russian war in his country. Gladstone thus arranged to let the Russians keep Panjdeh in exchange for the Afghan Amir retaining the Zulfiqar Pass. In 1886 a commission agreed on an Afghan border running from the Oxus River to the Zulfiqar Pass. That year Dufferin replaced the license tax on trade with an income tax, and the age of admission to the Indian Civil Service was raised to 23.

Chandrakirtti ruled Manipur from 1850 until his death in 1886. He had ten sons by six queens. Sura-chandra became maharaja; Kula-chandra was named heir apparent; and after Jhala-kirtti died a few months later, Tikendrajit became Senapati (commander-in-chief). Tikendrajit was the only brother who knew Hindustani well and could converse with the British agent, F. S. C. Grimwood. At midnight on September 21, 1890 two other brothers, Angao Sena and Zilla Gumba, led several hundred men and took over the palace. The Maharaja gave no order for fighting, and the British political agent Grimwood had British sepoys disarm the Manipuri troops. The two brothers favored the popular Tikendrajit, but he waited for Kula-chandra to return and be crowned. Maharaja Sura-chandra went into exile but did not abdicate.

In February 1891 Viceroy Lansdowne and Chief Commissioner J. W. Quinton declared they would recognize Kula-chandra as maharaja of Manipur if he was advised by the British agent, deported Tikendrajit, and allowed 300 British soldiers in the Residency. Quinton went to Manipur with four hundred Gurkha soldiers under Col. Skene in March and planned to arrest Tikendrajit by inviting him to a durbar. Tikendrajit was kept waiting at the gate, learned of the extra soldiers, and returned home. A British attack on his house failed, but the British killed some people and burned down a dozen nearby houses. The Manipuris had four guns and began bombarding the Residency. During a truce Tikendrajit and his brother Angao Mingto met with Quinton, Grimwood, Col. Skene, and two others; but as the five were leaving, they were attacked by a mob, who killed Grimwood. While Tikendrajit was sleeping, Tongol General had the four Englishmen and their bugler beheaded. When he awoke, Tikendrajit was angry at Tongol General and freed the other British soldiers and subjects. In a trial before a special court Tikendrajit was convicted of abetting Tongol General. The Governor-General commuted the death sentences of Kula-chandra and his brother Angao Sena to transportation for life and confiscation of property, but both Tongol General and Tikendrajit were hanged on August 13. Accounts of Tikendrajit's trial indicate it was unfair, and his death had been called a judicial murder. The British recognized a five-year-old as maharaja and administered Manipur.

After being governor-general of Canada for five years, the Marquess of Lansdowne became viceroy of India in December 1888. He extended British control into the Zhob Valley in northern Baluchistan in 1889 and into the Kurram Valley in 1892. Irrigation increased cultivated area, but the population of India was growing even faster, thirty million in a decade. The value of silver decreased almost in half as Germany demonetized silver, and Lansdowne closed down the free coinage of silver in Indian mints. Gold was made legal tender in India. Lansdowne enacted a law to prevent cruelty to animals. He encouraged the election of local councils, and an act in 1892 allowed legislative councils to discuss the budget and public issues. However, by authorizing separate representation for Hindus and Muslims they practiced the imperial method of divide and rule.

Communal conflicts between Hindus and Muslims increased between 1885 and 1893, breaking out in 1885 in Lahore and Karnal, in 1886 in Delhi, in 1889 in Hosiarpur, Ludhiana, Ambala, and Dera Ghazi Khan, and in 1891 in Madras. During six days of riots in 1893 in Bombay 65 people were killed, and more than five hundred were injured. In the spring of 1893 riots erupted in Bihar over the killing of cattle. When the Chief Commissioners of Assam raised land assessments by more than seventy percent in 1893, people spontaneously revolted. They were suppressed by force, and leaders were arrested. On January 10, 1894 several thousand people gathered at Rangiya and refused to disperse until in the evening they were fired on by the military and police. A similar incident occurred in Darrang on January 28, but the police charged with fixed bayonets instead. The Deputy Commissioner was transferred, and the land revenue was reduced.

The Russians claimed the Pamirs in 1892, and the next year Mortimer Durand negotiated the Afghanistan boundary. Amir Abdur Rahman was allowed to import arms, and his annual subsidy was increased from 12 to 18 lakhs. The British tried to assert their authority over the Afridis, Mahsuds, Waziris, Swats, and the chiefs of Chitral and Gilgit. The tribal chiefs had not been consulted, and the boundary divided the Mohmand tribal area in two parts. Dr. Robertson was sent to help the new Mehtar of Chitral and decided to stay because of the hostility of Umra Khan of Jandol. In January 1895 the Mehtar was murdered, and Umra Khan proclaimed a jihad in Dir, Swat, and Bajaur. The Chitralis and Pathans besieged Dr. Robertson at Fort Chitral in March. Col. Kelly marched 350 miles in 35 days from Gilgit in Kashmir, and Robert Low went by way of Malakand. Chitral was garrisoned, but Salisbury's government vetoed it in August. The boundary dispute was settled the next month. In June 1897 Dawaris in the Tochi Valley requested British aid, but the political officer's escort was attacked at Maizar. Sadullah Khan led an uprising in Swat and attacked Malakand and Chakdarra. Then the Mohmands led by Najm-ud-din revolted. The Orakzais and Afridis captured the Khyber forts, but a force of 35,000 men under Bruce Lockhart was used to subdue them. The British forward policy once again had provoked violence.

Victor Alexander Bruce (1894-99) was the ninth earl of Elgin and the son of a viceroy. He was inexperienced and depended on advice by telegraph from Whitehall. A five percent import duty was put on cotton in 1894, and the Lancashire interests quickly got a countervailing excise of five percent imposed on cotton manufactured in India. These were both reduced to 3.5 percent two years later. A drought began to spread in 1896, and sixty million people were affected in western and central India. By 1897 about 4,500,000 people had died. A meteorologist called it the worst drought in two centuries. Bubonic plague spread from Bombay in August 1896 and took another 193,000 lives by 1898. This was followed by a second famine in 1899; despite extensive Government relief efforts spending more than £6,000,000, estimates of the number of people who died ranged from the Government's 1,250,000 to William Digby's 3,250,000.

Shri Birsa revived the Munda faith in Chotanagpur and urged his followers to worship the one God he called Sing Bonga. They tried to purify their lives by being chaste and abstaining from intoxicants and animal food. Some of his followers were Christian converts, and they considered Birsa a prophet and an incarnation of God. Thousands of Mundas made the pilgrimage to his village Chalkad. The British government believed their goal of self-government was dangerous, and they arrested Birsa and many followers at night on August 24, 1895. Birsa and fifteen followers were sentenced to a fine and two years imprisonment while others only had to pay a small fine. After Birsa was released in January 1898, he began training his followers to use swords and bows and arrows. They were urged to fight against their oppressors and planned an uprising for Christmas 1898. They attacked mission houses and fought police. On January 7, 1899 about three hundred Mundas attacked the Khunti Police Station, killed a constable, and set houses on fire. Troops were called in and killed about two hundred Mundas, including women and children. Complaints were later made that some wounded also had been buried in deep trenches. Birsa's general Gaya Munda was shot dead, but Birsa was not captured until February 2, 1900. He died of cholera in jail four months later. About 450 followers of Birsa were arrested, and 87 were tried; two received capital sentences, and the rest were transported or imprisoned.

From 1881 the number of students increased over the next twenty years by 49% in primary schools and 180% in secondary schools. By 1902 about four million students were being instructed in 105,000 schools, plus 600,000 pupils in 43,000 private schools. The 145 arts colleges had 17,500 undergraduates. Yet with India's huge population this still meant that only one boy in six was in a primary school and only one out of forty girls. Twelve female colleges had only 177 students. Secondary schools had 9,800 girls, and primary schools had 380,000 girls.

Dayananda Saraswati (1824-83) objected to idol worship at the age of fourteen. Five years later he ran away from home to avoid being married and became a sannyasi in the Saraswati Order. After fifteen years of ascetic wandering, he studied the ancient Vedas under a blind old teacher who beat them into him. He learned that the Vedas did not sanction idol worship nor child marriage nor the subjection of women. He founded Arya Samaj in Bombay in 1875 to spread Hinduism in northern India, and he went to the Punjab in 1877. He took a more fundamentalist attitude toward the Vedas than the liberal Brahmo Samaj. His strict view of karma made forgiveness impossible. His Satyartha Prakash argued that Hinduism is better than other religions, and he founded the Cow Protection Association in 1882 to try to stop Muslims from slaughtering cattle. Dayananda stated that the primary purpose of Arya Samaj is to improve the physical, spiritual, and social conditions of humanity by treating everyone with love, justice, and a due regard for their merits. He was attacked by the orthodox and was eventually poisoned by a woman after he had criticized the loose living of a prince.

Mahadev Govind Ranade (1842-1901) enrolled in the first class at Bombay University in 1859. Two years later he was the English editor of the Indu Prakash, and he began teaching history at Elphinstone College in 1866. Ranade was a judge for thirty years and served on the High Court of Bombay. He urged Hindus to embrace all humanity, and he criticized asceticism and contempt for the world. In his Theist's Confession of Faith he emphasized the unity of God, the reality of God's creation, and the spiritual nature of the human soul. Although he considered congregational worship and ceremonies helpful, he found asceticism, adoration of gurus, and belief in saviors and miracles unnecessary. Ranade led the Prarthana Samaj (Prayer Society), which began missionary work in 1882. He advised obeying conscience instead of expediency and urged social reforms because he believed that all humans are essentially equal. He justified reform as the work of liberation based on reason, and he emphasized the divine principle in everyone as more important than great and wise men.

Ranade founded the Indian National Social Conference in 1887. He advocated abolishing caste, recognizing inter-caste marriages, prohibiting child marriage, and legalizing widow's remarrying. He repudiated the seclusion of women, promoted female education, and opposed all irrational and cruel customs that degrade human beings. He argued that the law of karma could be controlled by making one's will serve the higher will and the law of duty (dharma). Ranade urged Hindus and Muslims to work together as they did in Akbar's time; he warned against the mistakes of Aurangzeb. In 1890 he inaugurated the Industrial Association of Western India. Two years later his essay on "Indian Political Economy" suggested that many economic functions such as education, postal service, telegraphs, railways, canals, and insurance could be discharged by the state. He noted that in India the state was the sole landlord and the largest capitalist in the country, being involved in iron and coal fields and experiments with cotton, tobacco, tea, coffee, and cinchona plantations. In 1900 his Rise of the Maratha Power was published.

Curzon's Viceroyalty 1899-1905

Viceroy George Nathaniel Curzon arrived at Calcutta on January 3, 1899, eight days before his 40th birthday. He was interested in every aspect of government and energetically worked for improvements. Sugar from imported European beets had increased tenfold in the previous decade, and so he imposed a duty on subsidized sugar-beet imports in order to protect Indian growers of sugar cane. The bill was passed in March, and Curzon, who believed in free trade, explained that the new duties made up for the sugar-beet bounties. He visited areas suffering from famine and pestilence. Three and a half million people were on Government relief, and he was severely criticized in the press for warning provincial governments against spending too much for famine relief. Curzon favored self-reliance and generally had a low opinion of Indians. Yet he felt he was the only official willing to punish soldiers for killing Indians. He asserted his authority by punishing officers and the regiment that obstructed justice after a Burmese woman was raped by British soldiers in Rangoon. The Indian press praised this justice. However, he antagonized the Indian nationalists when he curtailed the elected officials in the 1899 Calcutta Municipal bill in order to make administration more efficient. Curzon traveled the country and encouraged the rajas to do their duty. The silver rupee had stabilized at 1s 4d, and with less military spending the economy prospered during his years.

Curzon opposed forward defenses on the borders and saved six lakhs of rupees on fortifications. He reduced the 10,200 troops in the northwest to 5,000 by 1904. He limited the importation of arms and encouraged the tribes to maintain peace and stop crime by granting them allowances. His policy was to let tribal forces defend their own country, and he concentrated British troops in the rear as a safeguard and support. During the previous five years military operations on the northwest frontier had cost £4,584,000, but in his nearly seven years they would spend only £248,000. He organized this region and five districts from the Punjab into the new North-West Frontier Province under a chief commissioner. The old North-Western Provinces were renamed the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. In 1900 India sent over 8,000 British troops for the Boer War in South Africa along with 3,000 Indians for non-combatant service. In 1901 Abdur Rahman died. His oldest son Habibulla insisted that his agreements with the British be continued, though he did not draw the subsidy for a few years. After the Boer War ended in 1902, Curzon refused to permit Indians to be recruited as indentured laborers for the Transvaal gold mines. He confirmed the principle that when India loaned troops for a colonial war, the imperial Government must pay the expenses.

Curzon sent Col. Francis Younghusband to Tibet in July 1903, and they killed at least 600 Tibetans who tried to stop them before they reached Gyantse in April 1904. While Curzon was in England, Younghusband pushed on to Lhasa. The Dalai Lama fled, but Younghusband got Tibetan officials to agree to a British official residing at Gyantse with the right to visit Lhasa, and he imposed an indemnity of three lakhs of rupees per year for the next 25 years. This violated his own instructions, and the British Government changed it to 25 lakhs of rupees to be paid in three years. Then the British troops would be withdrawn. The British Government reprimanded Curzon for his aggressive policy that turned a trade mission into an armed invasion.

The Punjab Land Alienation Act of 1900 limited the sale of land to agriculturalists so that moneylenders could not take over farms. In 1904 Curzon enacted Cooperative Credit Societies to address the problem of farmer's debts, and the next year he persuaded Henry Phipps to contribute £30,000 to establish the Agricultural Research Institute at Pusa in Bengal. In 1905 a report recommended that they spend £30,000,000 in the next twenty years to irrigate 6,500,000 acres. In the previous twelve years the area of food crops increased by only three percent while the area of non-food crops grew by 29 percent. As the population increased by fifteen million, the increased food was only half enough. The Suspension and Remissions Resolution of 1905 allowed for flexibility in collecting land revenue in hard times, and Curzon established the principle that land taxes should not exceed ten percent of all revenues.

In 1904 Viceroy Curzon appointed a commission that improved police training and increased their pay. The number of police expanded from 150,000 to 175,000. He also enacted a law to preserve and protect ancient monuments. However, his Universities Bill of 1904 aroused protests because they believed fixed fees would block new universities from starting. Curzon wanted to improve the teaching at institutions that had become primarily examining boards. In 1905 he created a Department of Commerce and Industry. He encouraged mining by removing obstructive regulations. During his viceroyalty more than 6,000 miles of railway lines were added to the 27,000 miles already in India.

Bengal contained 190,000 square miles, and the population had increased to 78 million. So in 1905 Curzon divided it into two parts, leaving Muslims the majority in the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam. Hindu political leaders in Calcutta protested this because the Biharis and Oriyas now outnumbered those speaking Bengali in the province Western Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. They began boycotting British textiles and promoted the Swadeshi cloth made in India. The partition took effect on October 16, 1905, and 50,000 people gathered at the Kali temple near Calcutta. They sang "Bande Mataram" and bathed in the Ganges. Sisters tied woolen threads around their brothers' wrists as they vowed to undo the partition of Bengal. This rakhi-bandhan ceremony became an annual ritual. Gurkha troops were stationed in East Bengal. Surendranath Banerji said that the agitation would not stop until the partition was cancelled.

Two British titans clashed when H. H. Kitchener became commander-in-chief. He wanted to eliminate the military member on the Council who administered the military department and also offered the Viceroy a second opinion. Viceroy Curzon objected to the change because he thought the current system worked well by relieving the commander-in-chief of much administrative work. When the British Government chose a compromise that favored Kitchener, Curzon resigned in August 1905, staying on for three more months.

Ananda Mohan Bose had first suggested at the 1898 Indian National Congress that India should be represented in the British Parliament, and in 1905 the Congress passed a resolution that each province should have at least two members in the House of Commons. That year Gokhale founded the Servants of India Society to promote the national interests of the Indian people. He noted that the death rate in India had risen from 24 per thousand in 1883 to the current 34 per thousand. The 1905 partition of Bengal provoked Tilak into advocating a boycott of British goods that grew into a movement that swept the nation.

India's Freedom Struggle 1905-1918

Ramakrishna and Vivekananda

Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya (Chatterji) was born into a poor Brahmin family in a small village in western Bengal just before dawn on February 18, 1836. From the age of seven he had mystical experiences, often falling into trances. He attended school but preferred to spend his time with wandering sadhus. He went to Calcutta when he was seventeen, and three years later he began assisting his older brother Ramkumar at a temple devoted to the goddess Kali at Dakshineswar. There he had more mystical experiences and eventually took the name Ramakrishna Paramahansa. His life was devoted to God and searching continually for greater God realization. He spent long hours in prayer and meditation or singing and wailing to Kali. Because he had so many peculiar trances and visions, he was relieved of the usual priestly duties.

When Ramakrishna was 24, he was married to a girl who was only five years old. A Bhairavi yogi observed that Ramakrishna's odd behavior was similar to that of the famous Vaishnava Chaitanya, and she initiated him into Tantric sadhana (spiritual practice). He practiced this for two years, going through the stages. Then in 1863 he became a Vaishnava and had a vision of Krishna. For a while he dressed and acted like a woman, longing for Krishna. The nondualist guru Tota-puri taught him how to practice Vedanta. Bhairavi warned him that if he became a nondualist, he would lose his devotion; but Ramakrishna went ahead. He could easily experience Kali, and by destroying her image in his consciousness he could empty his mind and attained nirvikalpa samadhi in one day. Tota-puri was surprised because it took the guru forty years of ascetic practice. Ramakrishna believed that every religion is a path to God and proved it to himself by practicing the spiritual disciplines of various Hindu sects and other religions until he experienced God by their methods. When Ramakrishna was initiated as a Sufi, he ate and dressed like a Muslim and prayed to Allah. After three days he had a vision of God. Another three days of Christian practice resulted in his vision of Jesus Christ.

When Ramakrishna's wife Sarada Devi came to Dakshineswar, he worshipped her as his mother. They were celibate. She accepted this, served him, and asked him to teach her how to realize God. In 1867 Ramakrishna went on a pilgrimage for four months. He served as a sweeper and scavenger to clean up after outcastes and Muslims, and he became known as a saint.

Keshab Chandra Sen, the influential leader of the Brahmo Samaj, visited him. In 1875 Ramakrishna went to see him and his disciples, speaking in parables. Keshab was won over and published an influential sketch of Ramakrishna's life and teachings. Keshab agreed that his daughter could marry the wealthy Maharaja of Cooch-Behar before she was fourteen years old. A split emerged in the Brahmo Samaj because Vijay Krishna Goswami and others accused Keshab of hypocrisy. They adamantly opposed child marriage and formed General Samaj. Ramakrishna said he opposed hard and fast rules but remained friendly with both sides. Keshab liked Ramakrishna's universality and was impressed by his vision of Jesus. Keshab worked on integrating the teachings of Hinduism and Christianity as a way forward, and in 1879 he declared a "New Dispensation, the Religion of Harmony." He hoped that Europe would enter the heart of Asia, and Asia the mind of Europe in a universal synthesis. He suggested they include and absorb all humanity without hating or excluding anyone. He wanted to unite East and West in one undivided and universal church of God in order to reconcile faith and modern science, philosophy and inspiration, and asceticism and civilization. On October 27, 1883 Keshab invited Ramakrishna on a chartered steamer, and he brought Vijay with him. In this way the two leaders were reconciled, though, as Ramakrishna predicted, their followers still continued the feud.

Many spiritual seekers came to see Ramakrishna, and he conversed with them. He accepted neither money nor expensive gifts. He could not even bear the touch of silver or gold coins. When he was asked how to eliminate passion, Ramakrishna asked why it should be eliminated. He recommended directing one's passion toward God. He taught that God is both with form and formless. He warned against setting limits to God's nature, and he found by experience that various ways of worshipping God can be successful. He said that to gain a vision of God one must practice spiritual discipline because one "cannot see him just by wishing." Kristodas Pal, editor of the Hindu Patriot newspaper, said that Ramakrishna's renunciation was an escape, and he believed in working to improve social conditions. Ramakrishna detected a note of egotism in "helping the world" and suggested that "serving the world" with less sense of self came from doing what the Divine Mother gave one to do.

Ramakrishna practiced exceptional devotion; but he also emphasized that one must always speak the truth to find God because God is truth. He taught the golden rule of doing what you wish others to do to you. He warned that people are quick to blame or praise, and so you should not be concerned about what others say of you. He noticed that people tend to develop the propensities of those around them, and they seek the company of those with similar propensities. Ramakrishna often taught in parables. He compared religion to the rain from heaven that becomes dirty depending on the medium through which it manifests. He said that as long as one lives, one may learn every day of the mysteries of love and devotion. He advised that the best course is to renounce desire and work unattached. Ramakrishna recognized Narendranath Datta as the one who would spread his teachings, but Ramakrishna himself never started a new religion or sect. He got cancer and finally departed from his body on August 16, 1886.

Narendranath Datta was born into a wealthy Kshatriya family in Calcutta on January 12, 1863. His family tried to get him to marry, but Narendra resolved to remain celibate and refused. He attended English schools and graduated from Calcutta University in 1883. He studied the writings of John Stuart Mill, David Hume, and Herbert Spencer. Narendranath liked Spencer's ideas on evolution, corresponded with him, and translated his book Education into Bengali. He attended the Brahmo Samaj and made contact with Keshab Chandra Sen.

When Narendranath first visited Ramakrishna in 1881, the saintly mystic told him that he was an incarnation of Narayana (Vishnu). Ramakrishna said that one can communicate with God. He asked Narendra to promise to come back soon. At the second visit Ramakrishna put his foot on him, and Narendra had an unusual experience. His consciousness changed so much that he thought he was dying and asked the master to stop it. Ramakrishna put his hand on Narendra's chest, and he returned to his normal awareness. On another occasion the master touched him, and Narendra realized that everything is part of God, that there is nothing in the universe but God. He was impressed how Ramakrishna combined the devotion of bhakti with the knowledge of Vedanta. He once said that Ramakrishna was a bhakt outwardly and a jnani (knower) inwardly while he was a jnani outwardly and a bhakt inwardly. While Ramakrishna emphasized the devotion of bhakti, Narendra would practice the karma yoga of working. They both taught that human misery would continue until human character changed. Thus lasting social reform depends on spiritual and ethical culture.

Narendra's father liked to spend money, and at his death in early 1884 he left behind more debts than assets. Narendra had to give up his clerkship and was suddenly poor. He was studying law and asked Ramakrishna to pray so that he would get a job. Ramakrishna said he did not make such requests, but he urged the educated Hindu to pray to Kali. Despite his reluctance to worship an idol, Narendra did so and came to accept the Divine Mother. As he experienced her, he too only prayed for detachment, devotion, and knowledge. A few days before he died, Ramakrishna passed his energy to Narendra. Though other disciples went back to school or work, Narendra and a few others started a fraternity of monks in a dilapidated house in Baranagar near Kasipur. They barely survived on rice and salt, but eventually others joined.

In July 1890 Narendra began a pilgrimage and traveled around India for three years. The rajas of Ramnad and Khetri urged him to represent Hinduism at the Parliament of Religions meeting at the World Exposition at Chicago in 1893 in commemoration of Columbus, and they offered to pay his expenses. While meditating on the rock at Cape Comorin, the southern tip of India, Narendra realized that India needed food and the West needed spirituality. The Raja of Khetri suggested he call himself Swami Vivekananda, and he sailed from Bombay on May 31, 1893, stopping at Colombo, Hong Kong, and Japan before reaching Vancouver. Vivekananda arrived at Chicago in mid-July but learned the Parliament was delayed until September. So he went to Boston, where he gave talks and became a local celebrity. The Swami spoke five times to the Chicago conference and was very well received. His comments before reading his paper on Hinduism were widely reported in the American press. He criticized the English Christians for putting their foot on the neck of 250 million Asians, and he reminded them of the Spanish conquest of America. He warned that the Muslim sword could destroy India, and he said, "Blood and sword are not for the Hindu, whose religion is based on the laws of love."1

Swami Vivekananda suddenly became a world figure, and his intelligent interpretation of Hinduism lifted its philosophy to a new level of recognition in India and the world. A lecture tour was quickly organized for him, and in the next two years he spoke often in Chicago, Detroit, Boston, New York, and other cities. He preached self-reliance and individual effort. Scriptures can be a guide until one is strong enough to do without them. He believed that only the spiritually aware could be great teachers of humanity. In the summer and fall of 1895 he visited London and Paris, and he inspired Max Müller to publish Ramakrishna - His Life and Teachings. He went back to New York and then returned to England in April 1896 on his way home. He had gained some western disciples who worked for Indian education and freedom in various ways. Vivekananda believed that education is the key to the development of equality and democracy. When people develop their own inner powers, they will become free.

Vivekananda observed that the western world especially had become very materialistic and so needed the spiritual understanding that India could offer. He combined the need for spiritual awakening with patriotic Indian nationalism. Yet he went beyond nationalism, which he considered an incomplete stage of development, to international solidarity with international laws as a more lasting solution to human conflicts. He believed that India is immortal because she persists in searching for God; but he warned that if they went in for politics and caused social conflicts, she would die. Just as hatred cannot be conquered by hatred but by love, materialism cannot conquer materialism. When armies try to conquer others, armies multiply and make brutes of humanity. He suggested that spirituality will conquer the West. Western civilization since the Greeks has sought happiness, but the Hindus seek spiritual liberation. Vivekananda observed how human societies had first been dominated by priests (Brahmins) and then by the nobility (Kshatriyas). In modern times the merchants (Vaishyas) had taken control. In 1896 he prophesied that the fourth epoch would bring domination by the workers (Sudras), and he predicted that the first proletarian state in the world would be Russia or China. He criticized the social Darwinism of competition, saying,

The attempts to remove evil from the world
by killing a thousand evil-doers,
only adds to the evil in the world.
But if the people can be made to desist from evil-doing
by means of spiritual instruction,
there is no more evil in the world.
Now, see how horrible the Western struggle theory becomes!2

In Vivekananda's idea of spiritual evolution the highest level is attained through sacrifice. He found that fighting put back human progress fifty years rather than moving it forward. He urged the other monks to become Christs themselves in order to aid in redeeming the world. They could deny themselves to realize God as Jesus had done.

Vivekananda landed on Ceylon in January 1897 and then returned to Calcutta. They had founded the Ramakrishna Order, and Brahmananda (Rakhal Chandra Ghosh) welcomed him home to the Alambazar monastery. Vivekananda handed him all the money he had raised and had to borrow pennies to take the ferry back across the Ganges. On May 1 Vivekananda spoke to the monks and announced his plans for the Ramakrishna Mission to teach the masses what they need for material and spiritual welfare. Their goals would be spiritual and humanitarian rather than political. The Ramakrishna Mission was instituted four days later, and monasteries were established throughout India. They immediately began working on famine relief and plague relief, founding hospitals and schools.

Vivekananda urged that the nation, like an individual, must learn to help itself. He said, "Modern India admits spiritual equality of all souls-but strictly keeps the social difference."3 He denounced untouchability and worked on raising the status of women and the masses. He recommended beginning slowly and working from the ground up. He believed that India needed to go beyond recalling her past by improving upon it. Vivekananda lectured tirelessly and published a book on Ramakrishna as well as Jnanayoga, Rajayoga, Karmayoga, and Bhaktiyoga. He believed that removing poverty was more important than preaching. He found God in the poor, the miserable, and the weak. He suggested that everyone should be treated equally because God is in everyone. Every individual and nation must work out their own salvation. Having power in the world does not necessarily make one happy, but by conquering oneself one may find happiness. Vivekananda taught that God unifies the variety of the universe. In God all humans are one, though every person is different. In the summer of 1899 Vivekananda visited California. There his health improved, and he began Vedanta centers in Los Angeles and San Francisco. After touring Europe he returned to India in December 1900. His health declined, but he taught a class and walked two miles on the day (July 4, 1902) he died with an expression of ecstasy on his face.

Brahmananda had succeeded Vivekananda as president of the Mission in February 1901, and he continued to serve in that position for the next 21 years. He emphasized that more time should be spent on learning how to know God than on serving humanity.

Theosophy and Blavatsky 1875-88

Helena Petrovna von Hahn was born on August 12, 1831 in the Ukraine. Her mother was an excellent novelist, but she died at the age of 28. When her governess told Helena that because of her fiery temperament she could not even marry an old man she considered ugly, the 17-year-old got him to propose to her. Helena tried to get out of marrying the elderly Nikifor Blavatsky but could not and after two months of resisting his "conjugal rights" she escaped to her grandmother. Helena traveled to Turkey, Greece, Egypt, and France, and in London she met her Hindu master. In 1852 Madam Blavatsky went to America and India but could not get into Tibet. She got the idea of combining science and religion and continued to travel around the world, sometimes dressing as a man. She participated in spiritualist experiments and astounded people by willing or evoking tapping sounds across a room that answered questions. In 1860 she began answering questions verbally or by writing. She volunteered to help Garibaldi, and at the battle of Mentana on November 3, 1867 she suffered five wounds. Blavatsky claimed that she spent three years in Tibet studying with her masters, but this has been questioned. She lived in Cairo in 1871 and went to New York in 1873.

On September 7, 1875 the Theosophical Society (TS) was founded in New York with Col. Henry Steel Olcott as chairman and William Quan Judge as secretary. At the first meeting the next day HPB (Blavatsky) agreed to be corresponding secretary. The main purposes are 1) to promote universal brotherhood without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color; 2) to study ancient and modern religion, philosophy, and science; and 3) to investigate unexplained laws of nature and the divine powers latent in humanity. Blavatsky published Isis Unveiled in September 1877 in two long volumes entitled Science and Theology. The first volume explores the occult sciences as an important part of psychology, and the second volume takes on traditional Christian theology as an obstacle to free thought in a society of "increasing materialism, worldliness and hypocrisy." In the last chapter HPB outlined the fundamental propositions of Oriental philosophy in ten points that are summarized as follows:

1. A “miracle” occurs because of eternal and immutable laws.
2. Nature has visible objectivity and an inner vital principle and above them eternal and indestructible spirit.
3. Humans have a physical body and an astral body but are sovereign and immortal spirits.
4. Magic is a science and an art for applying knowledge to control nature’s forces.
5. Arcane knowledge may be misapplied as sorcery or be used beneficently as wisdom.
6. Mediums are passive, but adepts actively control inferior powers.
7. All things are recorded and can be known by an adept.
8. People differ in spiritual gifts.
9. Adepts can withdraw the inner person from the physical body consciously, but mediums do so unconsciously.
10. Magic is based on knowing how magnetism and electricity affect humans and animals.

Blavatsky concluded,

Magic is spiritual wisdom;
nature, the material ally, pupil and servant of the magician.
One common vital principle pervades all things,
and this is controllable by the perfected human will.4

Madam Blavatsky became a citizen of the United States in July 1878. She and Olcott went to Bombay in January 1879 and announced that they were being guided spiritually by the mahatmas who live in the Himalayas. They recommended abstinence from alcohol and pure living in order to develop psychic and spiritual abilities. They taught occult science and considered clairvoyant intuition more important than rational analysis. The British secret service put HPB under surveillance because they thought she might be a Russian spy. She was the first editor of the monthly Theosophist, which began in October. Alfred Percy Sinnett was the editor of The Pioneer, the most influential newspaper in India that was a mouthpiece for the Government. The Theosophists visited him and his wife Patience in Allahabad, and Allan Hume became interested in Theosophy.

Blavatsky and Olcott first visited Ceylon in May 1880. The Sinnetts visited England and published The Occult World in June. Correspondence from Master KH helped Sinnett write Esoteric Buddhism. HPB said she met Master M in Lahore, and he told her to tour northern India. After that tour the Theosophists moved their headquarters from Bombay to Adyar in Madras in December 1882. Theosophy has a special appeal in India because of its primary doctrines of karma and reincarnation that are universally accepted by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. Thousands of educated Indians joined the Theosophical Society. Olcott helped Ceylon increase the number of Buddhist schools there from two in 1880 to two hundred by 1900. He did so much to revive Buddhism in Burma that a national committee of Japanese priests sent a representative to escort him to Japan.

HPB and Olcott traveled in Europe for seven months in 1884. Alexis Coulomb and his wife Emma had been expelled from the Theosophical Society in May for extortion, slander, and misuse of TS funds. In October 1884 HPB replied to a scandalous article in the London Times based on their accusations of fraud saying that she never tried to gain money for herself or the Society by means of her psychic gifts. In December 1885 Richard Hodgson issued a report for the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) based on the Coulombs' charges and incriminating letters. This scandal was widely believed at the time. Olcott persuaded Blavatsky to accept the recommendation of the Theosophists committee not to sue her defamers because a trial might ridicule the sacred names of the Masters. Blavatsky nearly died from an illness, and in March 1885 she resigned as corresponding secretary of the TS. Ironically this scandal gave Theosophy so much publicity that many more people joined. In 1884 the Theosophical Society had 104 chartered branches in the world, but by 1890 this had increased to two hundred. A century later handwriting expert Dr. Vernon Harrison made a thorough investigation for the SPR of the letters and concluded that the Coulombs had forged letters, that Hodgson was biased, and that the SPR had not checked his report critically. He also found that the letters attributed to the mahatmas were not written by HPB.

From 1885 to 1888 Blavatsky worked on writing The Secret Doctrine while she was living in Germany and then in London. Letters were given to Dr. William Hübbe-Schleiden, president of the TS in Germany, from the masters M and KH saying that they wrote The Secret Doctrine with HPB. The two long volumes on Cosmogenesis and Anthropogenesis contain many long quotations from other books that HPB copied and cited by psychic perception. Dr. Bertram Keightley had a typed copy of the manuscript made, looked them up in the British Museum, and found that most were accurate word for word. The first volume was published in October 1888, and the second volume came out three months later. HPB based her work on three premises: 1) that an "omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle" is the basis "of all that was, is, or ever will be;" 2) that the eternal universe is a boundless plane in which the universal Spirit as souls (monads) experience a cycle of incarnations; and 3) that the souls are one with the universal over-soul.

The Secret Doctrine elucidates the mysteries and essential teachings of various religions in order to show their unity. Blavatsky also intended to reveal the occult side of Nature that modern science was not approaching. For HPB evolution is spiritual and mental as well as physical. She wrote of the one Universal Life, and she perceived that matter and force are two sides of the same substance. She explained karma as action and the universal law of cause and effect or ethical causation that governs the world of being. This law of retribution is unerring; but it does not predestine because humans plan and create the causes. Destiny is self-made. The doctrine of karma explains the origin of evil, but all actions are resolved into universal harmony by the law of justice. Science by being too materialistic has left out the inner, spiritual, psychic, and moral aspects of human nature. The aggregate of individual karma becomes national karma, and the world is the total of national karma. Because of the principle of Harmony we reward and punish ourselves for our own actions. HPB wrote,

With right knowledge,
or at any rate with a confident conviction
that our neighbors will no more work to hurt us
than we would think of harming them,
two-thirds of the World’s evil would vanish into thin air.
Were no man to hurt his brother,
Karma-Nemesis would have neither cause to work for,
nor weapons to act through.5

When one breaks the laws of harmony and life, one falls into the chaos that is produced. Avenging angels only represent the reaction. The doctrines of karma and reincarnation explain the apparent injustices in life. When humans learn to act from their inner spiritual intuitions with real altruism instead of by the impulses of the selfish body, then brotherhood will become actual. Humans are their own destroyers but their own saviors as well. HPB warned that Europe was on the eve of a cataclysm because of its racial karma. In other writings she warned of future wars and an instantly devastating new weapon.

Mohandas Gandhi discovered Theosophy and met HPB in 1889 while he was studying law in London. He first read the Bhagavad-Gita in Edwin Arnold’s English translation, and he joined the Blavatsky lodge in March 1891. In her last years HPB began a secret Esoteric Section for more than a thousand people. From The Book of Golden Precepts she wrote The Voice of the Silence and “The Seven Portals” with its seven keys of love (charity), harmony in word and action, patience, detachment, courage to find truth, meditation, and wisdom. She published The Key to Theosophy to answer basic questions. The motto of the Theosophical Society is “There is no religion higher than truth.” The Wisdom-Religion has been known since ancient times and is passed on by initiates, profound seekers of truth, in all cultures. HPB divided human nature into seven levels: 1) physical body (rupa), 2) vital principle (prana), 3) astral body (linga sharira), 4) animal desires (kama rupa), 5) mind (manas), 6) soul (buddhi), and 7) Spirit (atman). However, in Indian traditions buddhi usually means intuition; atma is soul, and Brahman is God or Spirit. Blavatsky rejected the dangerous doctrine of atonement, that the sacrifice of Jesus can wipe out the enormous crimes against human and divine laws. Yet she described God’s mercy as boundless. She opposed retaliating against evil and advised leaving people to their karma. Because others do evil is no reason for doing evil oneself.

Blavatsky died on May 8, 1891, and her body was cremated. The Theosophical Glossary she wrote was published after her death.

Besant and Theosophy 1889-1905

Annie Wood was born October 1, 1847 in London. She married the Anglican priest Frank Besant in 1867. They had two children, but he abused her. When he said that she must accept Church dogma to stay with him, she left him and Christianity in 1873. Annie Besant joined the National Secular Society the next year, wrote for the National Reformer, and worked for woman suffrage, penal reform, trade unions, birth control, and against vivisection. She lectured on the political status of women and called for "equality before the law for all in public and in private." She said,

The man shall bring his greater strength
and more sustained determination,
the woman her quicker judgment and purer heart,
till man shall grow tenderer, and woman stronger,
man more pure, and woman more brave and free.6

She was secretary of the Malthusian League and educated people about birth control. In 1877 she and her mentor Charles Bradlaugh were prosecuted for republishing The Fruits of Philosophy by Charles Knowlton, and their acquittal allowed information on contraception. Because of her work for birth control, she lost custody of her daughter. Besant wrote The Law of Population: Its Consequences and Its Bearing upon Human Conduct and Morals. She argued that celibacy is not natural to men or women, and bodily needs require legitimate satisfaction. She suggested that by limiting population they would deprive the capitalists of their crowded labor market. Workers would have more opportunities with limited families. She was threatened with prosecution but not indicted, and the book eventually sold 175,000 copies. In February 1878 she helped organize the International Labor Union.

Annie worked to stop the imminent war in Afghanistan by writing the pamphlets Rushing into War and England, India, and Afghanistan. During the elections of 1879 she published "The Story of Afghanistan: or, Why the Tory Government Gags the Indian Press: A Plea for the Weak Against the Strong." This excellent summary of British interventions in Afghanistan boldly criticized the crimes of the Tory Government that murdered men and froze women and children by burning villages. She accused Disraeli of bullying, boasting, and imperialism. She noted that Amir Sher Ali's delayed response in the summer of 1877 was because of the forty-day mourning period for his son Abdulla Jan. Public opinion in England was misled, and the Indian press was gagged. She concluded that the defeat of the Tory party would mean peace, liberty, and hope for South Africa, India, and Afghanistan.

Becoming a friend of George Bernard Shaw and Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Annie Besant joined the socialist Fabian Society in January 1885. She and Shaw were also on the executive committee of the Social Democratic Federation. She agreed with the Fabians' gradual approach to reform as evolution instead of revolution. Besant wrote pamphlets on why she was a socialist and on the socialist movement. During her atheistic phase she also wrote several pamphlets criticizing the Christian religion and in 1887 Why I Do Not Believe in God. She formed the short-lived Law and Liberty League in November 1887 with Jacob Bright and William Morris.

She was one of the leaders of the Social Democratic Federation that organized a march in Trafalgar Square with 10,000 people on November 13. Two thousand police and four hundred troops beat people, and one was killed on this “Bloody Sunday.” Two leaders and hundreds of others were arrested, but police refused to detain Besant.

In 1888 Besant and Willam T. Stead began editing The Link for humanitarian purposes. The Government issued an order against collecting money at public meetings; but Besant defied it in June 1888, and the rule was rescinded. She was in love with the socialist Herbert Burrows, and they helped organize a strike by women who worked at the Bryant and May match factory in East London and suffered terribly from starvation wages and phosphorus fumes that caused cancer. Shaw explained why Annie was different than himself and the Fabians when he wrote, "Injustice, waste, and the defeat of noble aspirations did not revolt her by way of irony and paradox; they stirred her to direct and powerful indignation and to active resistance."7 In 1889 Besant was elected to the London School Board, and her reforms included free meals and medical examinations for children in the elementary schools.

Annie Besant discovered Theosophy in 1889 when William Stead asked her to write a review of The Secret Doctrine. Like Shaw, she became a vegetarian. He asked her if she knew that Madam Blavatsky had been exposed by the Society for Psychical Research, and Blavatsky herself asked her to read the SPR report. Annie found that the allegations were not credible, and even if true they did not affect the teachings of Theosophy. She studied The Secret Doctrine and wrote a favorable review. In May 1889 she became a Fellow of the Theosophical Society and was blessed by Blavatsky and her master KH (Kuthumi). Besant became his disciple and soon was co-editing the magazine Lucifer (Light-bringer). She spoke on "Why I Became a Theosophist" and published it as a pamphlet, explaining that materialism had failed and that she was trying to follow the truth. In 1890 she published "The Trades Union Movement" pamphlet in which she wrote,

Now Trades Unionism is spreading among women,
and large and powerful unions
are springing up among unskilled workers;
so that there is hope that at last
all workers will be enrolled in disciplined hosts,
and there will be no stragglers from the army of labor.
When each Trade Union comprises
the majority of the workers in its Trade,
and when these unions are united
in a National Trade Federation,
then will come the time for the International Federation,
which will mean the triumph of labor
and the freedom of the workers everywhere.8

Besant gave her farewell speech to the secularists on August 30, 1891. She defended Blavatsky and said she had letters from the mahatmas in the same handwriting after her death. Besant, G. R. S. Mead, and Herbert Burrows emphasized that the principles of Theosophy were more important than occultism, but people still wanted to hear more about the mahatmas than brotherhood. Besant succeeded Blavatsky as head of the Esoteric Society in Europe, and she went on a speaking tour in the United States in 1892. She and her guru Gyanendra N. Chakravarti spoke at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago the next year.

After spending a week in Ceylon and visiting a Theosophical college there, Besant arrived with Olcott in India on November 16, 1893. Many Indians joined the Theosophical Society because they did not have to give up their religion. Some Hindu women came out of purdah to attend a convention, but Muslim women were more reluctant. Besant spoke to three thousand people in Madras on "India and Its Mission." Olcott gave her the Hindu name Annabai, and she followed most Hindu customs. Olcott had been reviving Buddhism and Zoroastrianism, and she hoped to do the same for Hinduism. She gave several lectures in Calcutta and stayed with Dr. Bhagavan Das. The London Times quoted her as telling Bengalis, "If the youths of India would act up to the traditions of their past, instead of fawning on a foreign power, they would not long remain under a foreign yoke."9 However, she explained in a letter that she came to India as a spiritual and educational worker rather than for political work. In four months she gave 121 lectures to audiences ranging from 600 to 6,000. Besant would spend the rest of her life as a resident of India, but she would travel to England annually for conferences and occasionally to America.

Besant learned from her own master that the mahatma letters she had found had been written by W. Q. Judge, who engaged in a struggle for power in the TS with Olcott and her. Judge was suspended and then reinstated as the head of the American TS. Besant widened her base of support by traveling to Australia and New Zealand in 1894. On October 29 the Westminster Gazette began a series of articles on "Isis Very Much Unveiled: The Truth about the Great Mahatma Hoax." The Theosophical Society in America declared itself the original and genuine TS. President Olcott in India expelled Judge and cancelled the American charters. Many branches in America formed independent associations. Besant learned Sanskrit and translated the Bhagavad-Gita in 1895. In The Ancient Wisdom she explained that on the higher planes whether a motive is good or bad can be even more important than whether the action is beneficial or not because one can learn from the results. She worked with the clairvoyant Charles W. Leadbeater and published books on thought forms and other spiritual studies. Judge died on March 21, 1896, and the spiritualist Katherine A. Tingley became Besant's rival by traveling to Europe and India. Leadbeater got into trouble by advising boys to use sexual self-gratification and for having close relations with them. Besant repudiated these, and they continued to work together.

In 1898 Besant founded the Central Hindu College, which became Benares Hindu University. She believed that the spiritual wisdom in India's philosophies could help the entire world. Theosophists started 250 schools that included women and the poor. They opposed caste restrictions and child marriage while helping outcasts and widows. To discourage child marriage she refused to admit married boys to the elementary departments and doubled the fees for boys who married in college. In 1903 Besant said that India must be governed by Indians and Indian ideas. However, in 1905 she refused to allow students to attend the college without shoes as part of the Swadeshi protest.

In her book A Study in Consciousness, which was first published in 1904, Besant observed that our knowledge of right and wrong comes from many experiences; but it can be guided by ideals. She suggested that studying divine teachers such as Krishna, Buddha, and Christ could be helpful. Evil desires will fall away if good desires are fostered. One way to avoid bad desires is to imagine the likely consequences that bring misery. The emotion of love directed to a living being is virtue, and vices springing from hate can be eradicated. What is right is in harmony with the great law and brings bliss, but what is wrong brings unhappiness. Love draws people together, whether it be a family, tribe, or nation. Right reason works actions of love into permanent obligations or duties. The will expressing as desire is not free but bound by those impulses. When the will is directed as love, the self-determined person is free. She served as the president of the Theosophical Society from 1907 until her death in 1933.

Besant, Krishnamurti, and Bhagavan Das

Indian National Congress 1885-1905

Surendranath Banerjea (1848-1926) was one of only a handful of Indians who qualified for the Indian Civil Service, but he was dismissed for failing to correct the false report of a subordinate. He went to London to appeal and was not even allowed to take the bar examinations. He decided to dedicate his life to redressing wrongs and protecting rights, both personal and collective. When he was arrested for criticizing a judge, he began the Indian tradition of welcoming imprisonment in order to expose the injustice of the Government's policies. In 1876 he founded the Indian Association of Calcutta to work for a united India. The next year he launched a national campaign against the reduction of the age limit for the Civil Service Examination, holding large meetings in Calcutta, Agra, Lahore, Amritsar, Mirat, Allahabad, Delhi, Kanpur, Lakhnau, Aligarh, and Benares. They petitioned for a higher age and exams in India as well as England, and they sent the Bengali barrister Lalmohan Ghosh to England as their representative.

In 1878 Banerjea urged college graduates to dedicate their lives to helping their country. He argued that violence was not necessary to redress grievances. He believed that under the British they could secure their rights by constitutional agitation. He noted that Nanak, who founded the Sikh empire, did much to unite Hindus and Muslims, and he preached good will between all religions. By living worthy, honorable, and patriotic lives they could live and die happily while making India great. Their next protest was against the oppressive Vernacular Press Act. During the debate over the controversial Ilbert Bill in 1883 they formed an All-India National Fund and the Indian National Conference.

Allan Octavian Hume had been secretary to the Government of India, but in 1879 Viceroy Lytton removed him for asserting his independent views. After he retired from the Indian Civil Service in 1882, Hume worked on forming a political organization that would unite the efforts of Indians. His idea was to have leading Indian politicians meet annually to discuss issues and plan strategies. He founded the Indian National Union in March 1885, and they planned a conference for the last week of December. Because of a cholera epidemic in Poona, the conference was moved to Bombay, and 72 volunteer delegates to the first Indian National Congress met on December 28. Bengali barrister W. C. Bonnerjea presided, and they passed nine resolutions that called for a royal commission to investigate the Indian administration, abolishing the Secretary of State's Indian Council, creating more legislative councils and allowing more elected members and discussion of budgets, reducing military spending, and simultaneous public service examinations in England and India with older candidates. They also protested the annexation of Upper Burma as part of India and sent the resolutions to political associations. Coincidentally in 1885 the second session of the Indian National Conference was meeting in Calcutta. This group merged with the Indian National Congress, which met annually the last week in December in various cities, followed by second and third sessions in Calcutta and Madras. Hume served as general secretary of the Congress for 21 years, and he often went to England to promote their causes.

The second annual Congress at Calcutta was attended by 434 delegates, 230 of them from Bengal. Dadabhai Naoroji presided and called for unity on the political program even though communities have social differences. They wanted India to have the same representative institutions as the British colonies of Canada and Australia. Madan Mohan Malaviya made his first speech and said there should be "no taxation without representation." Viceroy Dufferin invited members of Congress to a garden party as did the Governor of Madras the next year. In 1886 Dufferin appointed six Indians among the fifteen members of the Public Service Commission. The Civil Service was reorganized, and more Indians were recruited into the provincial and subordinate services. However, before leaving office in December 1888, Viceroy Dufferin objected to the methods of the Indian Congress and called them a "microscopic minority" of educated Indians.

In 1888 the Congress demanded that the minimum taxable income be raised to 1,000 rupees. The fifth annual Congress in 1889 was attended by 1,502 delegates, including 254 Muslims. Congress used constitutional agitation, and they published the journal India. Its editor William Digby established the Congress Agency in London, and William Wedderburn was elected chairman of the British Committee of the Indian National Congress and served in that position until his death in 1918. In 1890 Charles Bradlaugh introduced a bill in the House of Commons to expand the legislative councils. When an eleven-year-old bride died after intercourse in Calcutta, agitation increased to raise the age of marriage for girls from ten to twelve or fourteen. Behramji Merwanji Malabari was a Parsi and had published Notes on Infant Marriage and Enforced Widowhood in 1884. This reform campaign led in 1891 to the Age of Consent Act that prohibited marriage before the age of twelve. In 1892 Naoroji was elected as a Liberal to the British House of Commons, and he argued that Europeans were not natural leaders of India because they did not belong to the people.

Malaviya noted at the eighth Congress that it was unjust to compel Indians to travel 10,000 miles to take an examination for service in their own country. In 1893 the House of Commons favored simultaneous exams in India and England for the Civil Service, but all the governments of India except Mysore opposed this, believing it would exclude Muslims and Sikhs. In the Congress that year Malaviya spoke about the miserable poverty of fifty million Indians because of British exploitation. In 1894 a delegate from Natal persuaded the Congress to pass a resolution asking the British Government to veto a law disenfranchising the Indians in South Africa. In 1895 "Surrender-not" Banerjea suggested that they could transplant the spirit of free institutions that made England a great nation. Never before had an ancient civilization been so influenced by modern ideas. Civilization had moved, like the sun, from east to west, and the west owes a great debt to the east. He hoped that the debt would be repaid by the enfranchisement of their people. In 1896 the Congress sponsored an Industrial Exhibition and a Social Conference.

Although they encouraged Muslims to attend and chose Badruddin Tyabji as president for their third annual meeting, only a few Muslims joined the Congress. Tyabji urged all educated and public-spirited citizens to work together for reforms to benefit all. He tried to persuade Muslims that Congress would not interfere with their religion. Sayyid (Syed) Ahmad Khan emphasized education and had founded the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh in 1877. He advocated working with Hindus to support each other; but he generally opposed the Indian National Congress because he believed the Hindus and Muslims had conflicting interests. He trusted the British more than the Hindus. He formed the Annual Muslim Educational Congress in 1886, and they held their sessions at the same time of year as the Indian Congress.

Theodore Beck was the first principal of the Aligarh College, and he devoted his career to serving the Muslims in India. He was instrumental in forming the United Indian Patriotic Association in 1888 and the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental Defence Association of Upper India in 1893. These organizations were parallel to the Indian National Congress and were intended to protect the political rights of Muslims by strengthening British rule in India. Sayyid Ahmad was concerned that Muslims as only one-fourth of the population of India would be outvoted by Hindus in a democratic government. His writings in Urdu in a clear style were influential. Beck died in 1899, and Theodore Morison was the principal of Aligarh College until 1905. He continued the hostility toward the Indian Congress, emphasizing educational and economical development rather than political agitation. Sayyid Ahmad died in 1898, and his policies were also followed by his successor, Nawab Mohsin-ul-Mulk.

Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866-1915) was strongly influenced by his teacher Ranade and carried on his work. When he graduated from Elphinstone College in 1885 he joined the Deccan Education Society in Poona, taking a vow of poverty for twenty years and dedicating his life to public service. That year Fergusson College was founded, and he began teaching English and mathematics. Gokhale first spoke at the Indian National Congress in 1889 and his annual speeches at Calcutta on the budget began in 1902. They called for self-government in the central and provincial governments, abolishing the India Council, spreading education, reducing military expenditures and military training for Indians, separating the judicial and executive functions in criminal justice, employing more Indians in higher public offices, reducing taxes, and using surpluses to promote medical relief, scientific agriculture, and industrial education. He argued that the large annual surpluses of the Government did not indicate success but that taxes on the people were much too high.

In 1903 Gokhale spoke about how they must improve the conditions of the low-caste Hindus by helping them get education and employment to improve their social standing and self-respect. He said it was monstrous that a class of people should be condemned to utter wretchedness, servitude, and degradation by permanent barriers that were impossible for an individual to overcome. He recalled how Gandhi had reported on the discrimination Indians were suffering in South Africa and how Ranade became an advisor to Gandhi. Ranade pointed out that Indians should correct the disgraceful oppression and injustice in their own country. Modern civilization is making greater equality a priority over the privilege and exclusiveness of the old world. Gokhale asked how they could realize their national aspirations if so many of their countrymen remained in ignorance and degradation. He served on the Bombay Legislative Council from 1902 until his death, and Gandhi considered him his political guru. Gokhale declined a position on the Secretary of State's Council and a knighthood. He urged the Parliament to pass mandatory education for boys and educational provisions for girls.

In 1905 Gokhale founded the Servants of India Society for those willing to take vows of poverty to serve the poor and help India to achieve self-government. Their five goals were to create love of the motherland, organize political education and agitation, promote goodwill and cooperation among different communities, assist in educating women and the poor, and lift up the depressed classes. Each member joining the Society took a vow to think of one's country first, serve it without seeking personal advantage, regard all Indians as brothers, be content with provisions provided by the Society, lead a pure life, quarrel with no one, and always work for the aims of the Society.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was born on July 23, 1856 as a Maratha Brahmin. He earned a university degree and taught mathematics in Poona. He founded the Deccan Education Society and Fergusson College in 1884; but he resigned in 1890 after his associates gave up the ideal of selfless service by keeping their outside earnings. Tilak advocated action for political reforms and published two weekly newspapers - Kesari (which means "The Lion") in Marathi and The Mahratta in English. He argued that no alien government has the right to interfere in social customs no matter how worthy the cause. As a Hindu nationalist he opposed all British laws that restricted their religion, including banning the marriage of young girls. Yet he led by example and did not allow his own daughters to marry until they were at least sixteen. Tilak suggested self-help and national revival. He considered untouchability a cancer in the body of Hindu society and said it must be eradicated at all costs. He was so opposed to the Indian National Congress letting the Indian National Social Conference use their tent that he threatened to burn it down.

Tilak began organizing Ganapati festivals in 1893 to worship the popular Hindu god Ganesha. Tilak admired the Maratha warrior Shivaji and began the annual Shivaji festival in 1895. Rabindranath Tagore wrote a famous poem about the 17th-century hero of Maharashtra. Tilak urged civil disobedience for political change years before Gandhi began his experiments in South Africa; but he was a freedom fighter and considered nonviolence only a strategy, not a moral principle. Gandhi would later call Tilak the "maker of modern India." Tilak favored revolutionary action in politics but moderate evolution in social reforms. When the famine occurred in 1896, he demanded that victims receive the benefits mandated by the Famine Relief Code.

In May 1897 Tilak wrote in Kesari that Shivaji was justified in murdering the Mughal general Afzal Khan, and he suggested that it was not wrong to kill "for the good of others." He objected to the destruction of Hindu property as a means to prevent the bubonic plague from spreading. The Plague Commissioner W. C. Rand ordered stringent inspections and measures in Poona, and the next week on June 22 he and his assistant were shot after celebrating Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. Both died, and two Natu brothers were detained. Tilak was tried in September, and six Europeans on the jury found him guilty of sedition while the three Indian jurors voted not guilty; the judge sentenced him to eighteen months. The Indian newspapers censured the Government and praised Tilak. Eventually Balkrishna Chapekar and his brother Damodar Chapekar confessed and were hanged. Because of public pressure, Tilak was released early on September 6, 1898. The two Dravid brothers who informed on the Chapekar brothers were murdered on February 8, 1899 by a third brother, Vasudev Chapekar, and his friend, and they were also hanged. Going to prison made Tilak a hero, and he was given the name Lokamanya, which means "leader of the people." He demanded self-government (swaraj) and coined the slogan, "Swaraj is my birthright, and I will have it."

Using Government records, William Digby calculated that the capital drained out of India in the 19th century was £6,080,172,021. This figure represents how much the Europeans were exploiting the natural and human resources of India. India's public debt increased from 94 crores of rupees in 1860 to 312 crores by 1901.

Arabinda Ghose (later called Sri Aurobindo) was born on August 15, 1872 in Calcutta. His father was a barrister, and in 1879 he sent him to Manchester, where he was taught English, Latin, and French by Mr. and Mrs. Drewett. In 1884 Aurobindo went to St. Paul's in London and then to King's College at Cambridge in 1890 on a classics scholarship. He learned more languages and liked writing poetry. He passed his examination in only two years but did not apply for the degree he had earned. Not wanting to be in the Indian Civil Service nor disobey his father, he failed the examination by not showing up for the horse-back riding test.

Aurobindo returned to India at the beginning of 1893. When his father heard that the ship his son was sailing on had sunk, he died of heart failure; but Aurobindo had taken another ship. He taught college in Baroda and was described as speaking little, being desireless, self-controlled, and always given to study. In his series of articles "New Lamps for Old" in Induprakash he ridiculed those who talked about "the blessings of British rule." He criticized the Congress for being too middle-class and selfish without being a popular organization. Ranade warned the editor that he might be prosecuted for sedition, and young Aurobindo had to tone down his rhetoric. He and others began to form secret societies dedicated to Indian freedom such as the Lotus and Dagger Society. His poetry was published as Songs to Myrtilla in 1895. No press would publish his pamphlet "No Compromise" in 1903, but the Maratha revolutionary Kulkarni printed a few thousand copies at night and freely distributed them. Aurobindo became vice principal of the college in 1904 and began yoga. By practicing breath control (pranayama) five hours a day he found his mind worked much better, enabling him to write two hundred lines of poetry in a half hour.

Aurobindo tried to remain hidden behind the scenes. During the time of the Bengal partition, he wrote the revolutionary booklet Bhawani Mandir arguing that India needed to be reborn by developing the Shakti power of the Divine Mother. He wrote that we are all gods and creators with the energy of God within us. He noted that Ramakrishna came, and Vivekananda preached. Now it was up to them to work for progress. Influenced by Bankim Chandra's novel Anandamath and the "Bande Mataram" anthem, he devised rules for a new Order of Sannyasis that would practice strict discipline and work to instruct and help the poor, educate the middle class, and persuade the rich to benefit the public for the general welfare of the country.

India's Freedom Struggle 1905-1918


1. Quoted in British Paramountcy and Indian Renaissance, Part II, p. 127.
2. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume VII, p. 153 quoted in Indian Idea of Freedom by Dennis Gilmore Dalton, p. 52.
3. “Historical Evolution of India” in Speeches and Writings of Swami Vivekananda, p. 100.
4. Isis Unveiled: Volume 2 Theology by H. P. Blavatsky, p. 590.
5. The Secret Doctrine: Volume 1 Cosmogenesis by H. P. Blavatsky, p. 643.
6. “The Political Status of Women” by Annie Besant, p. 14 in Selection of Social and Political Pamphlets of Annie Besant.
7. Quoted in The First Five Lives of Annie Besant by Arthur H. Nethercot, p. 275.
8. The Trades Union Movement by Annie Besant, p. 28 in Selection of Social and Political Pamphlets of Annie Besant.
9. Quoted in The Last Four Lives of Annie Besant by Arthur H. Nethercot, p. 22.

Copyright © 2007 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book SOUTH ASIA 1800-1950.
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British India 1800-1848
British India's Wars 1848-1881
India's Renaissance 1881-1905
India's Freedom Struggle 1905-1918
Gandhi and India 1919-1933
Liberating India and Pakistan 1934-1950
Tibet, Nepal, and Ceylon 1800-1950
Burma, Malaya and the British 1800-1950
Siam, Cambodia, and Laos 1800-1950
Vietnam and the French 1800-1950
Indonesia and the Dutch 1800-1950
Australia to 1950
New Zealand to 1950
Summary and Evaluation


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Chronology of Asia & Africa to 1800
Chronology of Asia & Africa 1800-1950
Chronology of South Asia to 1950

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