BECK index

India's Freedom Struggle 1905-1918

by Sanderson Beck

India's Boycott 1905-07
British Repression of India 1907-10
India in an Imperial War 1911-18
Besant, Krishnamurti, and Bhagavan Das
Aurobindo's Spiritual Evolution
Tagore's Spiritual Expressions

This chapter has been published in the book SOUTH ASIA 1800-1950.
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India's Boycott 1905-07

India's Renaissance 1881-1905

Viceroy Curzon’s division of the large province of Bengal was announced in July 1905. Eastern Bengal and Assam would have 18 million Muslims and 12 million Hindus. Western Bengal would have 42 million Hindus to 9 million Muslims, but those speaking Bengali were outnumbered by the Biharis and Oriyas. The secret motivation of Lord Curzon seems to have been to divide the Bengali movement that he considered seditious. This technique of divide and rule increased the conflicts between Hindus and Muslims in Bengal. The plan was approved by the Secretary of State without consulting the Parliament. The Bengal Legislative Council strongly denounced the plan on July 8, and the Indian press in Bengal and other provinces condemned the proposal. Curzon won over Dacca nawab Salimullah with a low-interest loan and with the prospect of Dacca becoming the new capital. The weekly Sanjivani in Calcutta suggested a boycott of British goods on July 13, and a public meeting at Bagerhat adopted it three days later. The boycott idea spread as two thousand public meetings were organized in the cities and in hundreds of villages. In the town of Barisal students and even teachers went to school barefoot and were threatened with expulsion.

During the Durga Puja national festival in Bengal on September 28 about 50,000 people gathered in the Kali temple at Kalighat despite a heavy rain. They vowed not to purchase or use foreign articles or to employ foreigners. The two Chief Secretaries of Bengal and Eastern Bengal and Assam issued circulars ordering teachers to discipline protesting students. The partition of Bengal went into effect on October 16. On that day after bathing in the sacred Ganga River more than 50,000 people attended a meeting to lay a foundation for Federation Hall in Calcutta. At a meeting in the house of ailing Ananda-mohan Bose 70,000 rupees were collected for the Swadeshi movement. An Anti-Circular Society was formed on November 4.

The movement began with verbal protests in meetings, the newspapers, petitions, and conferences before most turned to the more coercive tactic of the boycott. Bengal was the richest market in India for Manchester cotton goods, and they also wanted to revive their indigenous (swadeshi) textile industry. Mill owners in Bombay and Ahmadabad quickly increased their production and their profits. Societies (Samitis) formed in Bengal to promote the boycott campaign. Brahmins and priests honored the boycott, and washer-men vowed not to wash foreign cloth. Shops selling foreign goods were picketed, and altercations led to police beating protesters with lathis (bamboo sticks). Those advocating the boycott were expelled from schools and colleges, imprisoned, fined, and flogged. The Government used its influence on local landlords (zamindars). Processions and meetings were banned, and newspapers were censored. Finally leaders were detained without trials. The boycott developed a four-fold program that included not using English cloth and other products, not using English speech, resigning Government offices, and socially boycotting persons who purchase foreign articles.

When Lord Curzon refused to receive a deputation from Congress in 1905, they sent Gokhale and Lajpat Rai to England. The Congress met at Benares in December 1905, and 758 delegates elected Gokhale president. The Moderates complained that the boycott methods of passive resistance were impractical or even injurious by denying themselves educational opportunities. Yet for the first time Gokhale mentioned “self-government within the empire” as their goal, and he denounced the partition of Bengal. He spoke of swadeshi as a profound and passionate movement that calls people to serve the Motherland. The Moderate Congress condemned the Government repression and justified the boycott as a “last protest.” They repeated their demands for reform of the legislative councils.

The Extremists held a conference and formed a new National Party. As soon as he heard of the Bengal National College, Aurobindo Ghose left his teaching position at Baroda and went to Calcutta to be its principal. The National Council of Education was founded in March 1906 with thirteen distinguished members, and only Aurobindo had been involved in the anti-partition agitation. The Bengali weekly Jugantar (New Age) began publishing that month, and within a few months its circulation was over 7,000. The English daily Bande Mataram started in August. They advocated fighting violence with violence because they believed that injustice must be opposed to win independence.

Viceroy Curzon had appointed Bamfylde Fuller to govern the province of East Bengal and Assam. He alienated Hindus by favoring the Muslim majority. He sent Gurkhas to Barisal, and they took supplies from shops without paying for them. During the provincial conference at Barisal on April 14-15, 1906 the cry of “Bande Mataram” was forbidden in the streets. Aurobindo and Surendranath Banerji led protesting marchers that were beaten with lathis. Magistrate Emerson fined Surendranath 400 rupees. A deputation of 36 Muslims led by Aga Khan met with Viceroy Minto on October 1 to ask for concessions. Minto decided to allow the Muslims special representation on government bodies according to their status and influence rather than by their numbers. His new policy accepted Hindus and Muslims as separate nations and gave Muslims special favor on legislative councils. The issue was settled at Simla by the Viceroy’s secretary Dunlop Smith and Archbold, the principal of the Aligarh College. Future prime minister Ramsey MacDonald noted that this agreement sowed discord between the Hindu and Muslim communities by favoring the latter, and historians have seen this as the beginning of a policy that would lead to the separate nation of Pakistan.

In 1906 the nationalist Extremists were encouraged by Japan’s victory over Russia, and Congress Moderates pointed to the Liberal Party’s win in the English election. Gokhale met with John Morley five times in 1906. During the Congress at Calcutta in December 1906 the 81-year-old Parsi Dadabhai Naoroji was accepted as a compromise president while 1,663 delegates and some 20,000 visitors attended. The most noted part of his speech was stating that swaraj (self-government) is the goal of India. The Extremists were able to get a series of resolutions passed in favor of the boycott, swadeshi, and national education.

After Nawab Salimullah of Dacca convened a meeting of the Central Muhammadan Association, the All-India Muslim League was founded on December 30, 1906. Their main purposes were to promote Muslim loyalty to the British Government and to protect and advance the rights of Muslims in India. They were concerned that a representative government would be unfair to them as a minority, and they believed that competitive examinations deprived Muslims of Government jobs. The way they saw of avoiding Hindu rule was by supporting the British. Muslims in East Bengal supported the partition, and Hindu-Muslim riots broke out. The Red Pamphlet (Lal Ishtahar) accused Hindus of taking money from Muslims and urged Muslims to boycott Hindus. When Salimullah of Dacca came to Comilla on March 4, 1907, Muslims began attacking Hindus and looted their shops for four days as the riots spread to Jamalpur and other places. An investigation by C. J. O’Donnell, a member of Parliament, later showed that public proclamations assured Muslims they would not be punished for oppressing Hindus. The Muslim League met at Karachi in December 1907, and a British branch of the Muslim League opened in London in 1908. That year the Muslim League announced its opposition to the Hindu movement to unsettle the partition of Bengal. At their annual meeting at Amritsar the Muslim League overwhelmingly supported the separate electorate for Muslims.

In April 1907 Aurobindo wrote seven articles on “Passive Resistance” in Bande Mataram. He argued that organized political strength was needed for national self-development.  Aurobindo wrote that “political freedom is the life-breath of a nation” and was needed to bring about moral, social, and educational reforms as well as industrial expansion. He argued their popular authority would rival the “despotic foreign bureaucracy.” The National Congress had recognized the boycott and the national programs for swadeshi and education, and arbitration could be passed at the next session. The New Party and Bengal had accepted passive resistance or what Aurobindo also called “defensive resistance.” This must be organized, and the only effective way to remove foreign tyranny is to establish a democracy under a free constitution to control the executive and judiciary as well as the legislative branch of government. Only when the people become responsible can a government be a protector, instead of an oppressor. Aurobindo advised that, as long as the oppressive government was still legal and respected life, liberty, and property, there was still time for using peaceful resistance. He believed that using defensive resistance for self-development was the last chance to avoid extremist methods. He noted that aggressive resistance tries to harm the Government while defensive or passive resistance exerts the same pressure by abstaining from helping the Government. The British could not rule and exploit India without the assistance of the Indians.

Aurobindo suggested they extend self-development to every aspect of national life, not only to Swadeshi and national education but also to national defense, arbitration courts, sanitation, insurance against famine, etc. To avoid indoctrination they refused to send their boys to Government schools. By extending their self-development they would universalize their defensive resistance, boycotting the courts and the bureaucracy. All these methods are legal. If the administration persistently refuses, then he recommended refusing to pay taxes as “the strongest and final form of passive resistance.” He noted that British justice has shown its contempt for life by giving European murderers leniency. He anticipated the British reaction of enacting coercive laws, and he said the passive resisters must be willing to suffer by disobeying unjust laws and orders. Aurobindo also recommended the social boycott against Indians who refused to honor the boycotts of salt, sugar, and cloth. He believed that passive resistance was a method by which they could meet disturbers of the peace with self-contained divine power. He concluded that the sooner they put this into practice, the sooner they would gain national liberation.

British Repression of India 1907-10

The Extremist militant nationalists led by Tilak, Lajpat Ral, B. G. Khaparde, B. C. Pal, and Aurobindo challenged the Moderates in the Indian National Congress who relied on petitions and verbal persuasion to seek colonial self-government. In April 1907 a provincial Congress at Surat excluded the propositions of boycott and national education from the program. Conflicts between the Moderates and Extremists during the Reception Committee meeting at Nagpur led to shifting the December Congress also to Surat, where the Moderate Pherozeshah Mehta was influential. Tilak tried to meet with the leaders to arrange a compromise that would affirm the status quo of the 1906 resolutions; but when he was ignored, the Extremists disrupted the proceedings. The Moderates held a separate convention, and in April 1908 at Allahabad their Convention Committee drafted a new Constitution for the Indian National Congress. The first article declared that their goal was to become self-governing within the British empire by using constitutional means, and the second article required every delegate to accept these goals in writing. Thus they excluded the Extremists. Attendance at the annual Congress meetings declined with only 243 delegates attending in 1909, only 202 in 1912, and 349 in 1913.

The 4th Earl of Minto, whose great-grandfather had been governor-general of India (1807-13), was a sportsman (jockey) who had been governor-general of Canada for six years. He was appointed viceroy by the Conservative Party, but the newly elected Liberals chose John Morley as secretary of state for India. When Lt. Governor Fuller advocated disaffiliating two high schools from the University of Calcutta and refused to back down, Viceroy Minto accepted his resignation. While Indian editors were being censored and arrested, Anglo-Indian newspapers such as the Civil and Military Gazette of Lahore were publishing virulent propaganda and false reports about revolutionary activities.

During a public meeting at Rawalpindi on April 24, 1907 the former schoolteacher Ajit Singh strongly criticized the increased land assessment and proposed that peasants stop cultivating until it was reduced. When a public inquiry was postponed, a crowd began attacking the houses of Europeans. Sixty people were arrested, and five were convicted of riot and arson and were sentenced to imprisonment for three to seven years. Three others, who were not at the riot, were kept in jail through the hot summer. The Civil and Military Gazette warned of trouble in May during the 50th anniversary of the Mutiny. People were urged to withhold payments to the Government. Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh were feared as the most eloquent speakers, and Viceroy Minto’s Executive Council had them deported to Mandalay, Burma on May 9.

Many people were arrested for seditious speeches, articles, or books. In July 1907 Jugantar editor Bhupendra Nath Dutta was tried by Chief Presidency Magistrate Kingsford for publishing the articles “Free from Fear” and “Big Stick Medicine.” He did not deny the charges and said he considered it his duty. He was sentenced to a year of hard time in prison, and in September the printer of Jugantar was sentenced to two years. Yet Jugantar continued publishing. Aurobindo and Satish Mukherjee of the Dawn Society believed that the surest way to arouse the people was to get the Government to repress the Indian nationalists. Aurobindo was also charged with sedition. Bipin Chandra Pal refused to testify that Aurobindo was the editor of Bande Mataram, and Aurobindo was acquitted for lack of evidence; but Pal was sentenced to six months in prison. Magistrate Kingsford ordered the boy Sushil Sen who shouted “Bande Mataram” silenced. When the boy hit Sergeant Huey, Kingsford had him flogged. After each of the 15 strokes Sushil Sen cried “Bande Mataram.” Kavyavisharad  composed the famous song “Make me forget my mother by flogging! Am I such an unworthy son of the Mother?” Bande Mataram continued to be published but as a weekly.

Aurobindo’s Bhawani Mandir (Temple of the Holy Mother) was also banned along with Vartaman Rananiti (The Technique of Modern Fighting) and Mukti Kon Pathe (Which Way Freedom?) which he and his brother Barindra Ghose published. The latter contained articles from Jugantar calling for an armed uprising. Also during the summer of 1907 the editor, printer, and publisher of Sandhya were prosecuted. Editor Brahmabandhab said he was carrying out his God-appointed mission for swaraj, and he accurately prophesied his own death during the trial. In February 1908 the printer of Sandhya was sentenced to two years. A Hindu holy man advised Aurobindo to empty his mind in order to receive inspiration. Speaking at Bombay in January 1908, Aurobindo suggested that Indians go beyond the nationalism that would replace one political oppression with another by realizing their great heritage of spiritual nationalism.

The first repressive law issued on May 11, 1907 severely restricted public meetings by requiring advance written notice so that police could attend. Rashbehari Ghosh predicted that the Seditious Meetings Act would lead to secret sedition and secret societies planning violent responses. The Newspapers Act of 1908 authorized the District Magistrate to stop publication and confiscate presses that printed any incitement to violence. Bande Mataram, Sandhya, and Jugantar were immediately shut down. Secret leaflets and booklets then advocated violent actions against the foreign tyrants.

The Jugantar group prepared bombs in the Manicktola garden house of the Ghose family, and in a secret trial they condemned Magistrate Kingsford. On April 30, 1908 the teenagers Khudiram Basu and Profulla Chaki threw a bomb at a coach they thought was his, but it killed instead the wife and daughter of a Kennedy. When Profulla was about to be arrested, he shot himself. Khudiram went to the gallows in the Muzaffarpur jail saying “Bande Mataram.” Lt. Governor Andrew Fraser survived more than one attempt on his life. These events led to passing the Explosive Substances Act on June 8, 1908. The latter mandated the penalty of transportation for fourteen years for just possessing bomb materials. The British called the revolutionaries “terrorists.”

On May 2, 1908 police raided the Manicktola garden and found rifles, revolvers, dynamite, and “objectionable” literature that included a bomb formula. Aurobindo had moved on April 28, but they arrested eighteen people. Barindra Ghose took responsibility and disclosed many names. Aurobindo was arrested on May 5. Some of the arrested were discharged, but eventually 34 were indicted in what was called the Aligarh Conspiracy.  During the trial a revolver was smuggled into jail that enabled Kanailal Dutt and Satyen Bose to kill Naren Gosain for being an informer. Kanai and Satyen refused to appeal and were hanged. On January 24, 1909 Biren Datta Gupta killed Samsul Alam, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, in the Calcutta High Court, and on February 10 Charu Basin murdered the prosecutor Ashutosh Biswas outside the Aligarh courthouse. Neither assassin defended himself, and both were hanged. Four men were sentenced to transportation for life, and ten received sentences from five to seven years. Again Aurobindo was acquitted. The defense lawyer Chitta Ranjan Das called him “the poet of patriotism, the prophet of nationalism, and the lover of humanity.” The Jugantar published an editorial calling for people to take up the revolutionary program, and it was banned again.

Also in 1908 Tilak was prosecuted for seditious writings in Kesari, and he spoke for 21 hours in his defense. The jury found him guilty by a 7-2 vote, and he was sentenced on July 22 to transportation for six years and a fine of 1,000 rupees. He handled the injustice philosophically, saying, “It may be the will of the Providence that the cause I represent may prosper more by my sufferings than by my remaining free.”1 Students and mill-workers in Bombay had already gone on strike after Tilak’s arrest. On July 23 workers at nine mills went on strike for six days to protest his six-year sentence. The next day seventy mills stopped work, and on July 25 another 76 mills went on strike. After some police were injured, the military fired on the demonstrators, killing and wounding many.

In December 1908 the Criminal Law Amendment Act allowed a special court of three judges without a jury to accept evidence not valid under ordinary law, and their decision was final. In what was called the Samitis Act the Government could declare unlawful any association it considered inimical to peace and order, and attending their meetings could be punished with imprisonment. The popular Anushilan Samiti, which had 116 branches and more than 8,400 members, was declared unlawful in January 1909. Aswini Kumar Dutt was influenced by Vivekananda and emphasized the virtues of truth, love, and purity. He and eight others were deported in December 1908 without even knowing the charges against them under an 1818 regulation aimed at plundering warlords. In May 1909 Morley reported to Minto that 150 members of Parliament had written to Prime Minister Asquith protesting the deportations; but they were not released until February 1910. Madan Lal Dhingra assassinated Secretary of State William Curzon Wyllie at the Imperial Institute in London on July 1, 1909 and was hanged.

The Morley-Minto reforms added more Indians to the legislative councils; but the Indian Councils Act of 1909 was designed to put mostly Muslims and those loyal to the Government on the legislative councils, and they had little power. In December the Indian National Congress passed resolutions criticizing the reforms for unjustly giving one religion excessive representation, for arbitrarily restricting candidates for election, for distrusting the educated class, and for keeping the Councils ineffective.

Mohandas Gandhi went to London on behalf of Indians in South Africa in 1909, but he felt that suffering in jail did more good than spending money in England seeing politicians and journalists. After meeting Extremists who insisted that India could never win its independence without violence, on his return voyage to South Africa he wrote the dialog Hind Swaraj (Indian Self-Rule). Based on the conversations he had in London, in this diatribe against the corruption of Western civilization Gandhi suggested that India could gain its independence by nonviolent means and self-reliance. He rejected brute force and its oppression and declared that soul force or love is what keeps people together in peace and harmony. History ignores the peaceful qualities but notices the interruptions and violations which disrupt civilization. He concluded the dialog by declaring that his life was henceforth dedicated to attaining Indian self-rule. Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj was published in Gujarati and English and was republished in 1921 and 1938.

Aurobindo practiced yoga and was transformed by his spiritual experience while he was in jail for a year. He said that in meditation he felt the presence of Vivekananda and heard his voice. When he was released in May 1909, most of the revolutionary leaders were either in prison or exile. He began the Karmayogin in English and the Dharma in Bengali. In “An Open Letter to my Countrymen” on July 31 he explained the boycott as refusing to cooperate with the Government in the economic exploitation of their country. He argued that other foreign nations should not be boycotted because India needed to export as well as import. Aurobindo combined patriotic nationalism with religious fervor by calling it a religion to realize God in the nation. He considered God the leader of the movement for the redemption of their Motherland. He advocated armed revolution, but some of the revolutionaries engaged in robberies to raise money for weapons. The robberies (dacoities) led to three big conspiracy cases of Howrah, Khulna, and Dacca in 1910, and many people received long prison sentences. Aurobindo went to Chandernagore, where the French helped them smuggle arms. He believed he was guided by God to go to the French colony at Pondicherry, where he became a spiritual recluse for the rest of his life.

The Indian Press Act of 1910 required owners of printing presses and newspapers to deposit security of up to 5,000 rupees, which could be forfeited for publishing any objectionable material that included criticizing the Government. If the security was forfeited, the next security was heavier, and a third offense meant that the printing press could be forfeited. The Post Office and Customs could detain packages with objectionable material. The Moderate leader Gokhale supported these measures to control political violence. Over the next decade the Press Act of 1910 penalized more than 350 presses, 300 newspapers, required £40,000 in securities, and proscribed more than 500 publications. The security requirement prevented 130 newspapers from starting. Yet the Anglo-Indian press and its provocative writings were immune from these restrictions. Morley complained that the sentences were outrageous, monstrous, and indefensible. He warned Minto that “excess of severity is not the path to order,” but to the bomb.

India in an Imperial War 1911-18

In November 1910 Charles Hardinge replaced Minto as viceroy; his grandfather had also been governor-general of India. Lord Crewe became secretary of state for India. Hardinge wanted a conciliatory policy to prepare for the visit of King George V to India the next year. He ordered that no political prosecutions were to be initiated without his  consent and that any pending prosecution that was not going to secure a conviction was to be withdrawn. On the first day of 1911 at Allahabad sixty Hindus met with forty Muslims, and Gokhale urged Hindus to understand Muslim fears. In June 1911 John Jenkins gave Hardinge the idea to restructure the partition of Bengal by 1) moving the capital from Calcutta to Delhi, 2) creating a United Bengal as a Presidency, 3) making Bihar and Orissa a Lieutenant-Governorship with a capital at Patna, and 4) restoring Assam as a Chief Commissionership. Crewe indicated his support in August, and the Cabinet and India Council approved the proposals in November. At his coronation on December 11, George V announced that ending the Bengal partition was his gift to India. The changes were put into effect by proclamations in March 1912, and the Act of Parliament was approved by the King in June. Assam got its legislative council in November, and the Central Provinces got one a year later.

Most Indians were glad that the partition of Bengal had been undone, but many Muslims considered it a betrayal. However, in March 1913 the Muslim League adopted the Congress goal of self-government under the British and sought to attain it by promoting national unity and cooperation. The Indian National Congress responded by electing the distinguished Muslim Syed Muhammad as president for their annual session at Karachi in December.

Soon after King George V visited the new capital, a bomb was thrown on December 23, 1912 at the elephant carrying Viceroy Hardinge, who was seriously wounded; but only the servant holding the umbrella was killed. Four men were executed, and two others were sentenced to seven years. The Moderate Gokhale gave the assurance that he and his party would not oppose the Viceroy on anything. The 1913 Indian Criminal Law Amendment Act made conspiracy a criminal offense. The Defence of India Act empowered special tribunals to ignore the  Code of Criminal Procedures to inflict sentences of death, transportation for life, and imprisonment for violating rules or orders in the Act without any appeal. Any civil or military authority could order a person to remain in an area, abstain from acts, search and seize possessions, and arrest anyone suspected of planning something. This Act negated the previous rule of law and was used to bring nine conspiracy cases involving 175 people, of which 18 were executed, 58 were transported for life, and 58 others were imprisoned. Because of torture by police, many people were convicted based on confessions they later recanted. In Bengal about eight hundred people were interned without any trial at all.

About 30,000 Indians, mostly peasants from the Punjab, had emigrated to America. Lala Hardayal fled India and went to France and then San Francisco. In November 1913 he founded the Yugantar Ashram and the weekly Ghadar (Rebellion), publishing it in Urdu, Marathi, Gurumukhi, Hindi, and English. They reported on the crimes perpetrated by the British in India and highlighted biographies of Indian patriots and fighters for freedom in other countries. Circulation increased quickly, and distribution became world-wide. After Hardayal criticized US immigration policy that excluded Orientals and spoke for the Syndicalist Party, he was arrested on March 24, 1914 to be deported; but probably because of the sympathetic Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan he was given bail. Hardayal fled to Geneva, Switzerland, where he edited a paper called Bande Mataram. In 1914 Gurdit Singh, a Sikh businessman in Singapore, chartered the Japanese steamer Kongamata Maru to take 376 Sikhs to Canada, but in July the Canadian immigration department sent them back to India.

Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, and Japan joined their alliance with France and Russia. When Turkey joined the Central Powers of Germany and Austria in October, most of the troops the British sent to Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt were Indian. The ruling chiefs of India declared their loyalty to Britain, and many Indians were sent to fight in France also. Recruiting for the Indian army jumped from 15,000 men a year to 300,000 by 1918. According to Edwin Montagu’s speech in November 1918, India sent 1,215,338 men overseas and suffered 101,439 casualties. The Government of India bore these enormous expenses and even contributed an extra £100 million for the British empire’s war, increasing India’s national debt by thirty percent. India supplied 1,874 miles of railway track, 6,000 vehicles, 237 locomotives, 883 steamers and barges, and ten million cubic feet of timber.

In India, a country larger than Europe, the British garrison was reduced to 15,000 men. Some Muslims in Afghanistan took the side of Turkey, but Amir Habibulla of Afghanistan remained loyal. Indian troops were sent to the mouth of the Euphrates River to protect the oil tanks and pipelines of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and they captured Basra in November 1914. They advanced toward Baghdad, but the Turks stopped General Townshend’s forces at Kut-el-Amara. After a five-month siege he and his 10,000 men surrendered. Another 12,000 Indian troops arrived at Basra, but they could not move up river because they lacked transportation. Bad leadership and disease caused 23,000 casualties. Later Lloyd George appointed the Mesopotamia Commission that reported negligent planning, especially by the Viceroy, the aged Commander-in-Chief Beaufort Duff in India, the Director of Medical Services, and General John Nixon, the commander in Mesopotamia. Secretary of State Austen Chamberlain resigned and was replaced by his critic Edwin Montagu.

Some revolutionaries and politicians considered England’s necessity India’s opportunity. About sixty Indian revolutionaries from the Ghadar party sailed from San Francisco to fight in India, and a hundred joined on the way; they were detained at Hong Kong, and a hundred were interned. Several thousand people came back to India; 400 were kept in jail, and 2,500 were restricted to their villages in the Punjab. Sikhs were especially suspected, and on September 29, 1914 police massacred eighteen Sikhs from the Kongamata Maru who wanted to go to Calcutta and refused to get on a train to the Punjab.

In February 1915 fifteen Muslims from Lahore, Peshawar, and Kohat joined the Mujahidins in Kabul. That same month the Muslim battalion of Fifth Light Infantry, believing they were being sent to fight Turks, mutinied at Singapore, killing eight officers, nine soldiers, and seventeen civilians. About three hundred mutineers dispersed into the jungle, and forty mutineers were executed in public. A few revolutionaries tried to work with the Germans to foment a rebellion against the British in India; but efforts to smuggle arms from the United States failed, and many were arrested or killed. The day after the US declared war in April 1917, seventeen Indians were arrested in San Francisco. Ram Chandra had given names, and on the last day of the trial he was murdered by another defendant, who was shot dead by a marshal. Eventually more than a hundred defendants were either convicted, became Government witnesses, or fled the country.

A few revolutionaries continued using violence, and the number of political murders since 1907 reached 64 by 1917. In that decade there were 112 robberies, twelve bombings, and three attempts to wreck trains. The secret Abhinava Bharata operated in Maharashtra, and many colleges had branches.

Annie Besant went to England in 1914 and raised support for the cause of India. She bought a daily newspaper in Madras and renamed it New India on July 14; her coverage of the war helped increased the circulation to ten thousand by November. Besant published a series of articles on the history of the Indian National Congress in Commonweal and as the book How India Wrought for Freedom. She invited 237 members of the All-India Congress Committee and the All-India Muslim League to a closed conference December 25 on strategy for attaining home rule. Three days later the Congress postponed action on a Home Rule League until a report could be made.

Tilak was released from prison after six years in June 1914, and at a provincial conference in Puna the following May he condemned violence and proposed supporting the British. Annie Besant consulted with him, and he said that prominent nationalists were serving in municipal and  legislative councils. They agreed to work for self-government under the British. Gokhale and Pherozeshah Mehta still objected to admitting the Extremists, but they both died in 1915. Tilak and the Conference of Nationalists met twice in 1915 and established the Indian Home Rule League. Besant proposed amending the Congress constitution, and Tilak came back in December 1915, receiving a great ovation by the 2,259 delegates at Bombay.

In July 1916 Tilak was ordered to furnish a personal bond of 20,000 rupees. The Bombay High Court set aside his order; but Besant lost her appeal on a second levy of 10,000 rupees for New India and the weekly Commonweal. So she sold her two presses and suspended publication, but three days later New India re-appeared under a new editor. After waiting for approval from the Congress, Besant decided to go ahead with another Home Rule League in September 1916. She decreed September 14 as Home Rule Day and at the first celebration said that she used the term Home Rule because she wanted self-government for India within the British empire. Branches were quickly formed in the major cities, and she made extensive speaking tours, as did Tilak. He covered Maharashtra and the Central Provinces while she went to the rest of India. In December 1916 at Lakhnau (Lucknow) the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League united to demand reforms for self-government within the empire. Congress adopted the following goals:

1. The Council of the Secretary of State shall be abolished.
2. Half of the Governor-General's Executive Council shall be Indians elected by the Imperial Legislative Council.
3. Four-fifths of the Imperial Legislative Council shall be elected, one-third of these by Muslims.
4. The Government of India shall not interfere in local affairs.
5. The Imperial Legislative Council shall control the Government of India except in military and foreign affairs.
6. Four-fifths of the Provincial Legislative Councils shall be elected by the people with specified numbers of Muslims in each province.
7. Provincial Legislative Councils shall control their governments.
8. Three-fourths of any community may block a bill.
9. Executive officers in India shall have no judicial powers.

This Congress was extraordinary for its religious quality and the participation of women. The Home Rule resolution was passed unanimously. Gandhi proposed that the Lakhnau Pact be translated into the Indian languages, and by the end of 1917 a million people had signed the petitions.

Besant also worked for the woman suffrage resolution passed by Congress, and in May 1917 she was elected the first president of the Women’s Indian Association. She protested Government Order 599 that prevented students and teachers from attending unapproved political lectures and conferences. The governments of Bombay, the Central Provinces, and Bihar banned Besant from entering while the governments of the Punjab and Delhi prohibited Tilak and B. C. Pal. On June 15 the Government of Madras ordered Besant interned with her secretary George Arundale and philanthropist B. P. Wadia, who joined her at Ootacamund. Newspapers publicized their informal detention that lasted 94 days. The retired judge Subrahmaniya Aiyar and two thousand people declared that they would stand by the Home Rule League if it was declared illegal. President Woodrow Wilson of the United States proclaimed that the war was “to make the world safe for democracy” and “to give the right of self-determination to the people in choosing their own government.” Aiyar wrote to Wilson that autonomy for India would result in ten million more volunteers for the war. American newspapers publicized this, and labor supported home rule for India as in Canada and Australia.

On August 14 a Madras committee approved of using passive resistance, and six days later Secretary of State Montagu announced that responsible government was the new goal of British policy in India. The British removed the racial bar from giving Indians royal commissions in the army, and Besant and her associates were released from detention. In response the Congress and the Muslim League set aside passive resistance and sent an All-India deputation to Viceroy Chelmsford and visiting Montagu. Tilak nominated Besant as president for the 1917 Congress, and by the end of the year his League had 14,000 members. Besant spoke eloquently to the 4,967 delegates about how the war could not end until England realized that autocracy must perish in India. They demanded home rule because freedom is the birthright of every nation and because her resources were not being used for her greatest needs. Money was being spent on the army instead of education. India was no longer begging for boons but was standing up for rights.

However, Montagu met with the Moderates who had seceded from the Congress, and they formed the National Liberal Federation. The report signed by Montagu and Viceroy Chelmsford in April 1918 was published in July and proved to be a disappointment even to the Moderates. The Montagu-Chelmsford Report recommended giving more popular control to local bodies, but the Government of India was to remain completely responsible to the Parliament. Congress held a special session at Bombay on August 29; but even though they were not very far apart, the Moderates declined to rejoin the Congress. In their annual meeting in December at Delhi the Congress resolved to send a deputation to England to ask the Parliament to let their representatives attend the Peace Conference, and they demanded responsible government in India. The Congress named Tilak, Gandhi, and Hasan Imam to attend the Peace Conference. The membership of Tilak’s Home Rule League had grown to more than 33,000, but the British War Cabinet would not even let Tilak go to England.

After the Bolsheviks took over Russia and withdrew from the war, the Turks invaded Central Asia, Azerbaijan, and Persia. In April 1918 the Viceroy called a conference at Delhi and asked India to redouble its war efforts. Khaparde said Indians would mobilize enthusiastically if the British Parliament would promise them responsible self-government within a reasonable period, but he was not allowed to present his resolution. Tilak was not invited as he had been declared out of order at the Bombay War Conference. Mohandas Gandhi told the Viceroy that he and others would help the British empire in their time of need if self-government would come more quickly. Meanwhile the Government was inflicting much pressure on Indian men in order to meet their recruiting goals. Most of the Indians fought for the money as mercenaries. In the second half of 1918 India suffered severely from the world-wide influenza epidemic. Official figures estimated that six million people died, but others said it was closer to sixteen million.

Mohandas Gandhi arrived in England during the first week of the Great War, and again he supported the British by raising and leading an ambulance corps; but he became ill and returned to India in January 1915. The great poet Rabindranath Tagore called Gandhi “Mahatma,” meaning “Great Soul,” and in May 1915 Gandhi founded the Satyagraha Ashram for his family and co-workers near the textile city of Ahmadabad in Gujarat. When a family of untouchables asked to live in the ashram, Gandhi admitted them. Orthodox Hindus believed this polluted them. Funds ran out, and Gandhi was ready to live in the untouchable slums if necessary; but an anonymous benefactor donated enough money to last a year. To help change people’s attitudes about these unfortunate pariahs, Gandhi renamed them “Harijans” or “Children of God,” and he later called his weekly magazine Harijan. In a speech at the opening of Benares Hindu University on February 6, 1916 Gandhi said he was ashamed to be speaking in English, and he commented on the jewelry worn by the dignitaries on the stage. The Theosophist Annie Besant was one of the most popular orators of her era, and she liked to speak last. However, Gandhi had been late and spoke after her. She interrupted his discussion of anarchism, and this dispute caused the princes to leave the stage. Yet Gandhi agreed that Indians must take power into their hands to gain self-government.

Gandhi began wearing home-spun khadi in order to encourage self-sufficient village industries and thus help alleviate poverty in India. In April 1917 Gandhi went to Bihar to learn how suffering indigo workers in Champaran were being exploited by exorbitant fees of landlords. He was arrested and ordered to leave; but as he insisted on staying, he was put in jail. However, the officials soon realized that the Mahatma was the only one who could control the crowds. Assistants helped by carefully documenting the grievances of 20,000 tenants, and a government commission unanimously accepted the tenants’ complaints as valid. Rents were reduced, and the planters had to compensate the tenants. The Government abolished the growing of indigo, and most planters sold their factories and left the district.

Gandhi had developed his methods of nonviolent action for social change in South Africa, where Indians suffered discrimination. He was especially aware of how the indenture system was used to recruit Indian laborers in British colonies. When the Government refused to introduce a bill to abolish this in the Central Legislative Council, he announced he would start a nonviolent campaign if the system were not abolished by July 31, 1917. The Government averted that by deciding to end the system.

Gandhi also used satyagraha (truth power) in Kaira in 1918. Peasants were suffering from a famine but still had to pay taxes. Petitions and prayers had failed. After Sirdar Vallabhbhai Patel and others helped educate them, the peasants pledged to forfeit their lands rather than pay the assessments; Bombay merchants supported the campaign. Gandhi advised the farmers to remove their crops from the attached fields, and they were arrested for doing so. Eventually the authorities suspended the taxes for the poor peasants.

The textile workers of Ahmadabad were also economically oppressed. Gandhi suggested arbitration; but it fell apart when some workers went on strike. After examining the issues, Gandhi believed they deserved a 35% increase in pay. The mill-owners would not go beyond 20% and declared a lock-out on February 22, 1918. When the workers became hungry and were weakening in their pledges, Gandhi went on a fast to strengthen their resolve to continue the strike. He explained that he did not fast to coerce the opponent but to strengthen or reform those who loved him. He did not believe in fasting for higher wages, but he fasted so that the workers would accept the system of arbitration to resolve the conflict.  After four days the mill-owners accepted the arbitrator’s award of a 35% increase.

In the spring of 1918 Gandhi was persuaded by the British to help raise soldiers for a final victory effort in the war. Charlie Andrews criticized Gandhi for recruiting Indians to fight for the British. Gandhi spoke to large audiences but gained hardly any recruits. He was experimenting with a limited raw-food diet and became sick.

Gandhi and India 1919-1933

Besant, Krishnamurti, and Bhagavan Das

Theosophy and Blavatsky 1875-88
Besant and Theosophy 1889-1905

After Henry Olcott died in 1907, Annie Besant was elected president of the Theosophical Society (TS). She was re-elected every seven years until her death in 1933. She and the clairvoyant Charles Leadbeater had founded the Central Hindu College (CHC) in Benares where boys lived like monks and received a spiritual education that included modern science. Leadbeater had been accused of teaching boys to masturbate as a sexual release; this created a scandal, but he was never formally charged. In 1909 he discovered Jiddu Krishnamurti and his brother Nityananda at a private beach in Adyar. Leadbeater said that Krishnamurti had an extraordinary aura, and he and Besant began educating him to be the vehicle for the coming Messiah (Maitreya) or World Teacher. Their father Narayaniah allowed the Theosophists to adopt the two boys, but later he brought a suit trying to reclaim them. Leadbeater and Besant wrote a book about the past lives of Krishnamurti, whose soul they called by the star name Alcyone.

In 1909 they published At the Feet of the Master, claiming that it was written down by 13-year-old Krishnamurti from the instructions of his master Kuthumi while preparing him for initiation. The master on the inner planes teaches the pupil using the Theosophical paradigm. The four qualifications for the spiritual path are discrimination, desirelessness, good conduct, and love. You should avoid the selfish aims of wealth and power by working for evolution to help others. Your religion or nationality do not matter because they are all one. Discrimination helps you choose right and avoid wrong. The soul is divine and master of the physical, astral, and mental bodies. Thus you must not let the body’s animal desires hinder you from doing good. The body is like your horse that you should care for and treat well. The astral body may lead you astray by emotions such as anger, jealousy, greed, envy, and depression. The mental body is susceptible to pride and ambition, but by meditating you may turn away from worldly things. You must always be gentle, kind, reasonable, and accommodating. Knowers are able to feed the souls of the poor. God is wisdom and love. You must distinguish truth from falsehood, think for yourself, be honest, and help others. Freedom comes from not being bound by selfish desires. Avoid gossip, cruelty to people or animals, and superstition. Six points of good conduct are self-control of thoughts and actions, tolerance, cheerfulness, concentration, and confidence in your inner master. Love is the most important qualification and means doing no harm and serving God by helping others.

Besant founded the Order of the Star and began publishing the monthly Herald of the Star in January 1912. The deification of Krishnamurti caused 25 people on the staff at CHC to resign in April 1913, including Bhagavan Das, George Arundale, and E. A. Wodehouse. That month Judge Bakewell decided the custody battle with the mixed verdict that the boys were to be turned over to their father, who was charged with the legal expenses for having brought unproved charges. However, the boys were in England, and by the time the appeals were decided they had passed the legal age of 18 in Indian law. They chose to remain with Besant. Arundale became Krishnamurti’s tutor, and the Order of the Star grew to 12,000 members.

Besant claimed that she was guided by Rishi Agastya, a legendary saint whom she called the Regent of India, to work for home rule in India. She began publishing the weekly Commonweal on January 2, 1914. The Irish Home Rule movement persuaded her that the world needed a federation of self-governing nations. She consulted with the Moderate Gokhale and soon became involved in Indian politics, as described above. Meanwhile Krishnamurti failed the entrance exams for Oxford and Cambridge despite preparation by several tutors. He and Nityananda attended a private school in Kent, where other students hazed them and called them “black monkeys.” During her internment in 1917 Besant was elected president of the Indian National Congress, but her long speech was not well received, especially her intention that she would break the tradition by continuing as the leader for a year until the next Congress.

After the Conservatives returned to power in England, she visited the ailing Gandhi and tried to persuade him to limit his civil disobedience tactics. In March 1919 she issued a statement that she could no longer support Gandhi’s movement. She became even more unpopular in India when she justified the use of British force against rioting demonstrators. In 1920 she published the pamphlet “Gandhian Non-Cooperation, or Shall India Commit Suicide?” Nityananda died in 1925, and this deeply affected his brother, who gradually began to awaken and think for himself. Krishnamurti never really felt comfortable in being heralded as the vehicle for the World Teacher, and on December 28, 1929 he renounced the claim and disbanded the Order of the Star, saying that truth cannot be approach by any path, religion, or sect. Although Krishnamurti was born on May 12, 1895, he later claimed that he had no memory of his life before 1929.

Bhagavan Das (1869-1959) was an expert in Sanskrit and a philosopher who became a Theosophist. He and Annie Besant founded the Central Hindu College that later became Benares Hindu University. He also founded a national university called Kashi Vidya Peeth and was headmaster. Das wrote about thirty books. He was expelled from Agrawal Samaj for letting his son violate caste rules by going to England to study law.

Bhagavan Das completed his third edition of The Science of the Emotions in 1924. This comprehensive analysis of human emotions draws on Indian philosophy and classics as well as recent work by western psychology and psychoanalysis. The positive emotions of love and joy expand the self while the negative hatred and sadness diminish one. Das differentiated the feelings expressed toward perceived superiors, equals, and inferiors. He philosophically suggested that the altruism of love and helping produce more happiness than egotism and harming. He discussed the virtues of wisdom, courage, self-control, justice, love, faith, and hope while warning against the seven deadly sins of lust, anger, greed, pride, jealousy, hate, and fear as well as other vices and negative emotions. He observed that by self-restraint emotions that are felt but not acted upon may be sublimated into higher expressions. Das discussed Tolstoy’s theory of art, and he noted that Beethoven’s anger at his cook was expressed in his music. From the spiritual perspective of Indian philosophy he emphasized the importance of detachment (vairagya) for transcendence.

Bhagavan Das also published The Science of Peace in 1904 and his commentary on the ancient Laws of Manu in The Science of Social Organization in 1910. His ecumenical compilation of The Essential Unity of All Religions was first published in 1932 and was enlarged in 1939. This comparative study of all the major religions organizes their teachings into the three ways of knowledge, devotion, and works.

Aurobindo's Spiritual Evolution

After his spiritual transformation while he was in jail for a year during the Aligarh conspiracy case, Sri Aurobindo went to the French colony at Pondicherry in southern India on April 4, 1910. During his years as a young revolutionary he believed that India needed strong action to liberate itself from the emasculation, stagnation, poverty, economic dependence, and alien rule of the British Government. He had advocated independence for India since 1907 and was an early leader of the Extremists. Now he answered a spiritual calling and believed that an evolutionary process was in motion that would lead to India’s liberation from British domination. He devoted himself to the spiritual disciplines of yoga and meditation and wrote extensively. For a few years he wrote letters to the revolutionaries. He had come to believe that armed insurrection was no longer needed and could be dropped without harming the nationalist cause.

On August 15, 1914 Aurobindo  began publishing the monthly Arya with the financial help of Paul and Mira Richard. The Richards left in 1915, but Mira came back in 1920 and eventually became known as the Divine Mother. They founded the Aurobindo Ashram in 1926, and Aurobindo recognized her as having the same spiritual consciousness as himself. They kept the Ashram free of political connections or action. Aurobindo gave talks in the evenings until November 24, 1926 when he experienced the descent of a higher consciousness. He did not resume his talks until 1938. From 1914 for seven years Aurobindo wrote many articles in Arya that were later collected and published as books. The Ideal of Human Unity was published in 1919, War and Self-determination in 1920, The Life Divine in 1939 and 1940, and The Human Cycle in 1949. That the independence of India was achieved on his birthday on August 15, 1947 he took to be a confirmation of his spiritual influence.

In The Ideal of Human Unity Aurobindo examined the political evolution toward the human unity he considered inevitable. He acknowledged that fundamental equality is necessary to make human differences inoffensive. The social aggregates of the family, clan, class, and nation developed, but the freedom of the human individual exceeds them and will not tolerate too much coercion. He noted that humanity seems to be moving toward the socialist ideal. The energy of individuals is what drives social progress, and he considered the state more mechanistic than organic because of its tendency to perpetuate the status quo. Although socialism may be beneficial, human freedom will not let it interfere unnecessarily with individual growth. The human spirit must subordinate the mechanical to its true development.

The natural evolution of nations, especially in Europe, has made them indestructible; but empires are more artificial and perish because they lack psychological unity. As the Roman empire was falling, European nations gradually evolved into durable entities by means of unifying languages, feudalism, monarchy, and the Church. Powerful nations, such as England and France, have become imperialistic, but he noted they are losing their desire to replace Islamic culture in Africa or Hinduism in India. Aurobindo concluded that an empire was unlikely to be able to conquer the entire world because people will naturally resist that. He wrote, “War can only be abolished if national armies are abolished.”2 He recognized that this is very difficult and that humanity has not yet learned how to do this. He noted that most governments have become or are becoming democratic; but they are not real democracies because they are dominated by the propertied class. An international council would also likely be governed by a few great empires.

In the second part of The Ideal of Human Unity Aurobindo explained how human unity could be attained. The three main factors in social evolution are individuals, communities, and all humanity. The aim of Nature is to develop all three to fulfill their capacities. Freedom is as necessary as law, and unity is not complete without diversity. Life demands diversity, but human reason often prefers uniformity. By liberty we can obey the law of our being and grow into self-fulfillment in harmony with our environment. Humans should be allowed to form their groups by locality, race, culture, and economics without violent interference from powerful nations. The drive toward economic and social centralization is causing democracy to develop into socialism. A world state could be formed based on centralized uniformity, or a world union could be founded as a free and intelligent federation. The Great War caused many European monarchies to fall, and Aurobindo predicted that Europe would become as universally republican as the two Americas. Yet the modern parliamentary democracies are instruments of the aristocrats and the middle class, and modern people want minorities protected from majorities.

Wars are caused by national egoism in the name of patriotism. Aurobindo warned that the new League of Nations would fail because the war had accentuated force, and the commercially driven nations would eventually come into conflict again over the control of markets and wealth. He noted that the bourgeois democracies were developing “stupendous military organization.” Even democracies would subordinate liberty to the efficient life of the community in socialism. The common consent of conflicting national egoisms is not likely to preserve peace. A great nation is likely to take risks to enhance its power. The world authority must have the psychological assent of all humanity that force can be used to restrain nations, and this can only be done by achieving total disarmament. The international authority must be in command of the remaining military force to police the nations; otherwise it will not be effective, and war will result. To do this the world state must have the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of government.

To transcend the commercial interests a stronger spiritual motive must subordinate the economic and political motives. Modern war has become “the bastard offspring of wealth-hunger and commercialism with political ambition as its putative father.”3 As long as commercial rivalries are not prevented, covert wars will continue. Capital and labor will be in chronic conflict, and strong nations will crush the weak. Thus the world state will tend to centralize all control including economic, social, and cultural under one international authority, especially as socialism comes into existence. Conditions that interfere with the common good of humanity will not be tolerated, but otherwise nations will be allowed to pursue their own ideals. Eventually the world may even adopt a common language, perhaps Esperanto.

Aurobindo believed that the world state would lead to uniformity and mechanical regulation in a socialist system, but he preferred “healthy freedom” with diversity in the oneness. Aurobindo suggested that a free union could be attained by confederation that could eliminate war and settle differences in peaceful ways. International relations and mutual aid could be regulated while protecting the internal freedom of each unit. He traced the idea of internationalism back to the 18th century. He noted that modern science is naturally international because scientific facts and truths are universal. A world federation of democratic people could be formed to give international courts and police the authority to resolve conflicts.

For Aurobindo the essential motivating factor that could make this work is what he called “the religion of humanity.” When people realize that all humans are sacred “regardless of all distinctions of race, creed, color, nationality, status, political or social advancement,” then all can be protected from violence. This faith in humanity is concerned about its earthly future and would abolish legalized torture, slavery, and oppression while encouraging philanthropy and charity. He believed that egoism of the individual, class, and nation is the enemy of real religion. The practice of oneness will result in the fulfillment of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The last has been lacking, but the religion of humanity may spiritualize by the inner law of human life which is love. Thus the psychological factor is the most important aspect of human unity. He warned that humans must choose to cooperate, or they face a lingering suicide. A world federation that protects liberty allows the healthy progress of the human race. A world federation is most likely to resolve conflicts while preserving the freedom of national life; but a centralized world state would eventually stagnate or suffer revolution or reform until it was transformed into a system that affirms freedom. The religion of humanity has no dogma or outward rite, but the oneness respects the freedom of all people.

Aurobindo published War and Self-Determination in 1920. War and violent revolution can be eliminated by removing the inner causes of war. He exposed the illusions that people thought would end wars. Some had argued that increasing commerce would eliminate war, but the Great War showed that militarism has increased with commercialism. Others thought that increasing democracy would stop the wars of greedy kings and martial nobles, but the history of ancient Greece and modern democracies demolished that illusion too. In the 19th century Europeans hoped that the concert of Europe, the balance of powers, and arbitration courts would prevent wars; but they only reduced them for a while. Some thought that modern science and technology would make war too deadly to consider, and a book on the “Great Illusion” hoping that the realization that wars do not bring commercial advantages was quickly refuted by the Great War. War became industrialized and a titanic struggle leading to military and economic exhaustion with the aid of famine. The final illusion was that war could end war.

Aurobindo argued that only when people realize their oneness will they stop killing each other. True self-determination comes from knowing the infinite God within. The democracy of ancient Greece was based on slavery, violence, and the subjection of women, and modern democracy is a plutocratic system in which the bourgeoisie dominate the workers. Aurobindo proclaimed that women must be regarded as free individuals. In oneness people will respect the self-expression of others. Aurobindo criticized the League of Nations as the tool of the five dominant powers to force their will on others.

In a post-script chapter to The Ideal of Human Unity, written in 1950, Aurobindo noted that the United Nations Organization was formed as a consequence of the Second World War, but like the League of Nations, it was also an oligarchy dominated by the five winning powers, especially with the veto device in the Security Council. The “so-called  Communism of Bolshevist Russia” had become autocratic and a police state. Its ideological conflict with the capitalist nations led by the United States has become a cold war because of the awesome new weapons both sides feared to use. He noted that America was so attached to individualism and capitalism that it was likely to resist the trend toward democratic socialism. He warned that a powerful nation with strong allies might try to dominate the world using their military superiority.

The Human Cycle by Aurobindo was based on a series of articles on “The Psychology of Social Development.” He analyzed social evolution from the ancient times to the age of individualism and reason. His spiritual experience helped him to see beauty and goodness that he called “suprarational.” He prophesied that the suprarational Spirit is the ultimate law of life and that only a spiritual transformation can lift people beyond the limits of materialism. He described the needed transformation from the mental to the spiritual order of life that would be accomplished in individuals. A large number of individuals must be influenced by those leading the spiritual awakening for it to take effect in the community. Aurobindo believed that the three main aspects of the spiritual age are God, freedom, and unity. Freedom comes from the Spirit within and enables one to consciously master the lower nature. The healthiest condition for humans is the largest possible freedom. The spiritual age will be manifest when the common people realize and are moved by the truths of the Spirit. Truth is what we create within us. This spiritual evolution is the goal of humanity, and Aurobindo based his ethics on what advances or hinders such evolution. By expressing their inner freedom human individuals grow in consciousness. The spiritual affects every aspect of life from the intellectual and ethical and aesthetic to the physical. The crude emotions, egoism, and desires of our vital nature need to be refined and transformed by the light of the soul in the heart.

Aurobindo described his philosophy of spiritual evolution in The Life Divine. He agreed with the ancient Upanishads that Spirit is also in matter and that it has been evolving life into its highest forms, the humans. Now God through freedom is evolving the human consciousness from the mental to the spiritual. Humans experience God or the spiritual as satchitananda, which means truth (sat), consciousness (chit), and bliss (ananda). Every soul is divine, and those humans who transcend the mental to the spiritual become superhuman. By practicing integral yoga that includes love, wisdom, and action as well as psychological liberation an individual learns how to integrate one’s life with the oneness of all. Aurobindo described ignorance as being unaware of this spiritual beingness and failing to integrate oneself internally and externally with life. As more individuals manifest this spiritual consciousness, society and culture will be transformed by their cooperation. Those who experience this superconsciousness he called gnostics or knowers, and by living divine love they will influence others to cooperate with the spiritual integration that does what is best for everyone.

Tagore's Spiritual Expressions

Rabindranath Tagore was born on May 7, 1861 into a wealthy family in Calcutta. His grandfather Dwarakanath became rich trading with the British East Indies Company, and he bought several estates. His son Debendranath Tagore managed those estates and was a scholar, a reformer, and co-founder of Brahmo Samaj. Rabindranath was the youngest of Debendranath’s fourteen children, and his mother died when he was a child. He was taught at home and was exposed to Sanskrit and English literature. He began writing poetry when he was eight. When Rabi was fourteen, he perpetrated a hoax by publishing in the Bengali journal Bharati some love poems about Krishna and Radha he wrote, claiming they were by Bhanusimha from the 17th century. He acted in a Moliere play at age sixteen and wrote his first play in 1881 about the legendary Valmiki, who turned from being a robber to compose the epic Ramayana. Rabindranath visited England 1878-80, but he quit studying law at University College in London after only a year.

Tagore was very close to his sister-in-law Kadambari, who committed suicide in 1884, the year after he married a ten-year-old girl. Rabindranath had five children, but his wife and most of his children died young. While the death rate was falling in England, it was climbing in Bengal. He began managing his father’s estates at Shelidah in 1890, and he allowed village headmen and a local court to settle disputes with himself as the final court of appeal. He disliked regimented schools and educated his own children at home. Even though he had criticized early marriages, he arranged for his two oldest daughters to marry men they had never met at the ages of 14 and 10. This made it easier for him to start a school at Shantiniketan in 1901 for his son Rathindranath and four other boys. Tagore wanted to combine the best aspects of East and West in education, and three of the five teachers were Christians.

Tagore wrote most of his short stories in the early 1890s. In his eighty years he would write volumes of poetry, short stories, a few novels, plays, essays, letters, and autobiographies. He made more than two thousand paintings and drawings and composed even more songs, including national anthems for India and Bengal. He once said that his art was for Europe, but his songs were for his own country. One of his songs began, “You think you are strong enough to break the bonds that destiny has tied?” Gandhi’s favorite included the line, “If no one answers to your call, walk alone, walk alone.”

On Partition Day in Calcutta on October 16, 1905 Rabindranath Tagore began the Rakhibandhan tradition of tying a thread around the wrist of another Bengali as a symbol of friendship. Thousands of people did this on the banks of the Ganges and then marched through the streets singing. During this Swadeshi movement Tagore founded a Benevolent Society for the 65,000 people in his 125 villages. His father could borrow money at 8% interest, and so he could charge them 12%, which was much lower than what loan-sharks charged. When he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, he donated the 110,000 rupees to the Shantiniketan School, which invested it in the Agricultural Bank, giving the tenants more capital.

Tagore criticized the Hindu-Muslim riots and the bombing of British officials. He warned that if India’s unity was based on animosity toward the British, this would find new targets after the British left. In July 1908 he lectured on East and West and suggested India needed an inner harmony between the two. Tagore’s most famous play, The Post Office, was written in 1911. A doctor tells a very sick boy that he must not go outside. So he talks to people through a window and sees a new post office. His receiving a letter from the King just before he goes to sleep implies the mystical symbolism of death. After Tagore translated his Gitanjali (Song Offerings) into English and met the poet William Butler Yeats in 1912, he became the first Asian to win a Nobel Prize.

In 1914 Tagore was depressed and wrote his most famous novel, The Home and the World (Ghare Baire). The autobiographical Nikhil is an idealistic zamindar who is disgusted by the terrorism and religious zealotry of the Swadeshi movement. The novel ends nihilistically with his being wounded in a communal riot between Hindus and Muslims. When Gandhi left South Africa, Charlie Andrews brought him and his followers to Tagore. Although Annie Besant may have been the first to call Gandhi a “Mahatma,” Tagore made the name popular. Tagore also hosted British officials at Shantiniketan, and in 1915 he was dubbed a knight, which he renounced four years later after the Amritsar massacre.

In 1916 Tagore traveled to Japan and the United States, warning about militaristic nationalism, commercialism, and technology. His lectures were published in the books Nationalism and Personality. In the latter he affirmed his belief in a spiritual world that is not separate from this world in which “we are living in God.” Human love, the greatness of the good, and heroic martyrdom personally express the ineffable beauty of nature. He fought against the education which teaches that “a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.” He visited Europe in 1919 and signed “La déclaration pour l’independence de l’esprit” with Romain Rolland, Albert Einstein, and others. At Shantiniketan he started three departments in fine arts, music, and Indology as the nucleus for an international university he called Visva-Bharati.

On March 2, 1921 Tagore wrote to Charlie Andrews from Chicago commending Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign.

We, in India, have to show the world what is that truth
which not only makes disarmament possible
but turns it into strength.
  The truth that moral force
is a higher power than brute force
will be proved by the people who are unarmed.
Life, in its higher development, has thrown off
its tremendous burden of armor
and a prodigious quantity of flesh,
till man has become the conqueror of the brute world.
The day is sure to come when the frail man of spirit,
completely unhampered by airfleets and dreadnoughts,
will prove that the meek are to inherit the earth.
  It is in the fitness of things that Mahatma Gandhi,
frail in body and devoid of all material resources,
should call up the immense power of the meek
that has been waiting in the heart of the destitute
and insulted humanity of India.
The destiny of India has chosen for its ally
the power of soul, and not that of muscle.
And she is to raise the history of man
from the muddy level of physical conflict
to the higher moral altitude.4

Tagore wrote to Andrews again in May from Stockholm that when people love their own countries, this causes hatred and suspicion of other nations. Only the country that loves God more than herself can claim to be loved by all people. With its deep spiritual traditions Tagore hoped that India could be that country.

In 1924 Tagore visited China and called for the great streams of idealism to show that moral power through heroic sacrifice can demonstrate their wealth and strength. He doubted that any nation could be great while being materialistic. Yet loving material things will not be harmful if they bring soul into them. To the teachers he said that he was building an institution based on the spiritual unity of all races. He prophesied that when the races become closer, new truths will be revealed. He referred to a preacher who seemed to be a failure during the height of the Roman empire; but despite his crucifixion he lives forever as a symbol. Tagore noted that in his own time martyrs were going to prison for a deathless future.

On February 3, 1922 Tagore published a warning in the Bengali press that violence was latent in the non-cooperation movement. Two days later a mob killed the police at Chauri Chaura, causing Gandhi to cancel the campaign. Although Tagore often criticized the specific tactics of Gandhi, such as burning foreign cloth, he agreed with his philosophy and strategy of nonviolence. In 1924 he wrote that Gandhi’s new political warfare has a spiritual character, and only those with the courage to accept suffering can wage this spiritual war. If an entire nation could be trained not to fear death, armaments would lose their power. Only when people accept this idea will freedom become permanent. Jesus Christ had faith in this vision, but people may not be ready yet to act on such a message. Tagore objected to Gandhi’s mandate that all patriotic Indians should spend several hours every day spinning, and in September 1925 he published his essay, “The Cult of the Charka.”

Tagore’s lectures at Oxford in May 1930 were published as The Religion of Man. His ideas on religion are very similar to those of Aurobindo. Humans may have a relationship with the divine principle of unity, and his religion was being true to that spiritual unity. Tagore emphasized the eternal divinity in humanity. Truth does not come from an individual mind but from the universal Spirit that comprehends the individuals. Humans are always struggling for freedom. Greed does not satisfy, and true joy comes from surrendering our individual self to the universal Self. Civilization progresses as individuals seek ideal perfection. Tagore said,

We must realize not only the reasoning mind,
but also the creative imagination,
the love and wisdom that belong to the Supreme Person,
whose Spirit is over us all,
love for whom comprehends love for all creatures
and exceeds in depth and strength all other loves,
leading to difficult endeavors and martyrdoms
that have no other gain
than the fulfillment of this love itself.5

Evolution is progressing toward the revelation of its own truth as the eternal realizes itself in history by overcoming obstructions. As an animal the human depends on Nature, but as a sovereign one builds one’s world and rules it. In detachment humans realize a deeper relationship with the universe. Being responsible to the community enhances the freedom of social relationship and collective power. In the freedom of consciousness one realizes unity with a greater being, and with active love one may dedicate one’s life to the eternal progress of truth. Joy comes from the love that realizes ourselves in others. Love testifies to the greater whole. True freedom leads to a broader path of self-realization. Each age reveals its personality as a dreamer. The mind is involved in the economy of the human organism, but union with the Spirit transcends the mind. Tagore recognized Zarathushtra as the first prophet to liberate religion from a tribal God to a universal Spirit and human ethics.

After Gandhi was arrested in May 1930, Tagore wrote that the English had lost their former moral prestige in Asia and were no longer the champions of fairness and high principles. Yet he still believed that the best minds of East and West could meet in honorable understanding. He and his friend Einstein understood Zionism, but in November 1930 Tagore wrote prophetically,

The success of Zionism depends
entirely upon Arab-Jewish cooperation.
This can be obtained in Palestine only by means of
a direct understanding between the Arabs and the Jews.
If the Zionist leadership will insist on separating
Jewish political and economic interests in Palestine
from those of the Arabs,
ugly eruptions will occur in the Holy Land.6

Tagore supported the ideals of the League of Nations, but in 1931 he criticized its practice, saying that it was like “organizing a band of robbers into a police department.”7

When Gandhi went on a fast to end untouchability in May 1933, Tagore wrote him a letter warning that his example could lead to noble souls leaving the world to the morally feeble. In 1936 Gandhi persuaded the businessman G. D. Birla to contribute 60,000 rupees to pay the debt for Tagore’s college. That year Tagore sent a message to the World Peace Congress at Brussels, emphasizing that peace must be built on the strength of the just, not on the weariness of the weak. To deserve peace they must pay its full price. “The strong must cease to be greedy, and the weak must learn to be bold.”8

Here are four inspiring songs from Gitanjali:

Life of my life, I shall ever try to keep my body pure,
knowing that thy living touch is upon all my limbs.
I shall ever try to keep all untruths out from my thoughts,
knowing that thou art that truth
which has kindled the light of reason in my mind.
I shall ever try to drive all evils away from my heart
and keep my love in flower,
knowing that thou hast thy seat
in the inmost shrine of my heart.
And it shall be my endeavour to reveal thee in my actions,
knowing it is thy power gives me strength to act.

If thou speakest not,
I will fill my heart with thy silence and endure it.
I will keep still and wait like the night with starry vigil
and its head bent low with patience.
The morning will surely come, the darkness will vanish,
and thy voice pour down in golden streams
breaking through the sky.
Then thy words will take wings in songs
from every one of my birds' nests,
and thy melodies will break forth in flowers
in all my forest groves.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where the knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee
into ever-widening thought and action-
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father,
let my country awake.

This is my prayer to thee, my lord-
strike, strike at the root of penury in my heart.
Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows.
Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.
Give me the strength never to disown the poor
or bend my knees before insolent might.
Give me the strength to raise my mind
high above daily trifles.
And give me the strength to surrender my strength
to thy will with love.9

In 1916 Tagore published 325 epigrams in Stray Birds. Here are a few:

That I exist is a perpetual surprise which is life. (22)

Life finds its wealth by the claims of the world,
and its worth by the claims of love. (33)

He has made his weapons his gods.
When his weapons win, he is defeated himself. (45)

God finds himself by creating. (46)

Wrong cannot afford defeat, but Right can. (68)

Chastity is a wealth that comes from abundance of love.

Every child comes with the message
that God is not yet discouraged of man. (77)

The artist is the lover of Nature;
therefore he is her slave and her master. (85)

Power said to the world, "You are mine."
The world kept it prisoner on her throne.
Love said to the world, "I am thine."
The world gave it the freedom of her house. (93)

I carry in my world that flourishes
the worlds that have failed. (121)

If you shut your door to all errors,
truth will be shut out. (130)

They hated and killed, and men praised them.
But God in shame hastens to hide its memory
under the green grass. (186)

Life has become richer by the love that has been lost. (223)

Man is worse than an animal when he is an animal. (248)

God kisses the finite in his love and man the infinite. (302)

Man's history is waiting in patience
for the triumph of the insulted man. (316)10

Fireflies had their origin in China and Japan, where Tagore wrote his thoughts on fans and pieces of silk. Here are three:

God seeks comrades and claims love,
the Devil seeks slaves and claims obedience.

Love remains a secret even when spoken,
for only a lover truly knows that he is loved.

I am able to love my God
because He gives me freedom to deny Him.11

Gandhi and India 1919-1933


1. Quoted in Struggle for Freedom, p. 116.
2. The Ideal of Human Unity by Aurobindo, p. 514.
3. Ibid., p. 652.
4. Quoted in Sources of Indian Tradition, Volume 2, p. 239.
5. The Religion of Man by Rabindranath Tagore, p. 24.
6. Jewish Standard Nov. 28, 1930, quoted in Rabindranath Tagore by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, p. 300.
7. Manchester Guardian, Jan 9, 1931, quoted in Rabindranath Tagore by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, p. 301.
8. Modern Review, Oct. 1936, p. 442, quoted in Rabindranath Tagore by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, p. 345.
9. Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore, p. 4-14.
10. Ibid., p. 231-262.
11. Fireflies by Rabindranath Tagore, p. 31, 147, and 157.

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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