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Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908

Bande Mataram. February 18, 1908

Swaraj

Nationalism was filled at the Pabna conference with a new spirit unlike anything yet known to us. Whatever resolutions were passed or steps taken, were taken in a spirit of practical utility, which has been hitherto absent from our Congresses and Conferences. We have hitherto been engaged in dispute about ideals and methods. We are confident that the country, at least Bengal, has now reached a stage when this dispute is no longer necessary. Whatever we may say out of policy or fear, the whole nation is now at one. Swaraj is the only goal which the heart of Bengal recognises, Swaraj without any limitation or reservation. Even the President in his second and closing speech was so much moved by the spirit in the air that he forgot the feeling of caution which obliged him in his opening address to deprecate ambitious ideals, and out of the gladness of his heart there burst from him a flood of inspiring eloquence which made the whole audience astir with feelings of impassioned aspiration. Swaraj was the theme of his eloquence and to anyone listening carefully it was evident that ‘Swaraj’, unlimited and without reservation, was the ideal enthroned in the heart of the poet. Even Surendranath or those who voted for colonial Swaraj knew well in their heart of hearts that their ideal was not the ideal of the nation. Long habit and apprehension were the only obstacles in their way which prevented them from throwing themselves into the current. But the rest of the audience were visibly moved by the passionate eloquence which flowed from the lips of Rabindranath. What matters it what resolutions may be passed or rejected? Swaraj is no longer a mere word, no longer an ideal, distant and impossible, for the heart of Bengal has seized upon it, and the intellect of Bengal has acknowledged it. We hold no brief for anyone, but we believe that Srijut Manoranjan Guha was an inspired speaker when he told the Conference never to lose sight of God in the movement. Mighty aspirations are in the heart of the people and he is false to the inspiration within him who tries to dwarf them. Let us work practically at the smallest details, but let us never forget that the work is not for its own sake but for the sake of Swaraj. We shall be false to our inspiration if we forget the goal in the details; we shall condemn ourselves to the fate of the man who in the eagerness of picking up pebbles on the seashore threw away the alchemic stone, which God had for a moment given into his hands. Swaraj is the alchemic stone, the Parash-Pathar, and we have it in our hands. It will turn to gold everything we touch. Village Samitis are good, not for the sake of village Samitis but for the sake of Swaraj. Boycott is good, not for the sake of Boycott but for the sake of Swaraj. Swadeshi is good, not for the sake of Swadeshi but for the sake of Swaraj. Arbitration is good, not for the sake of arbitration but for the sake of Swaraj. If we forget Swaraj and win anything else we shall be like the seeker whose belt was turned indeed to gold but the stone of alchemy was lost to him for ever.

Never should we forget that but for the hope of Swaraj we should never have done what we have done during the last three years. No lesser hope, no ideal of inferior grandeur could have nerved us to the tremendous efforts, the great sacrifices, the indomitable persistence in the face of persecution which has made these three years ever memorable as the birth-time of a nation. Who could have borne what we have borne for the sake of some petty object? No good can result from denying what God has revealed to us. When Peter denied his master, half of his virtue went out of him. Let not our people have to repent as Peter had to repent, and shed tears of bitter sorrow because the divinity has been expelled by their own folly from their bosom. When a light has been revealed, folly alone will try to shut it out behind a screen. When a mighty power has entered into the heart, madness alone can wish to forfeit it. Swaraj is the direct revelation of God to this people, not mere political freedom but a freedom vast and entire, freedom of the individual, freedom of the community, freedom of the nation, spiritual freedom, social freedom, political freedom. Spiritual freedom the ancient Rishis had already declared to us; social freedom was part of the message of Buddha, Chaitanya, Nanak and Kabir and the saints of Maharashtra; political freedom is the last word of the triune gospel. Without political freedom the soul of man is crippled. Only a few mighty spirits can rise above their surroundings, but the ordinary man is a slave of his surroundings and if those be mean, servile and degraded, he himself will be mean, servile and degraded. Social freedom can only be born where the soul of man is large, free and generous, not enslaved to petty aims and thoughts. Social freedom is not a result of social machinery but of the freedom of the human intellect and the nobility of the human soul. A man who follows petty ends cannot feel his brotherhood with his fellows, for he is always striving to raise himself above them and assert petty superiorities. If caste makes him superior or money makes him superior, he will hug to his bosom the distinctions of caste or the distinctions of wealth. If political freedom is absent, the community has no great ends to follow and the individual is confined within a narrow circuit in which the superiority of caste, wealth or class is the only ambition which he can cherish. If political freedom opens to him a wider horizon, he forgets the lesser ambitions. Moreover a slave can never be noble and broad-minded. He cannot forget himself in the service of his fellows; for he is already a slave and service is the badge of his degradation, not a willing self-devotion. When man is thus degraded, it is idle to think that society can be free.

So too spiritual freedom can never be the lot of many in a land of slaves. A few may follow the path of the Yogin and rise above their surroundings, but the mass of men cannot ever take the first step towards spiritual salvation. We do not believe that the path of salvation lies in selfishness. If the mass of men around us is miserable, fallen, degraded how can the seeker after God be indifferent to the condition of his brothers? Compassion to all creatures is the condition of sainthood, and the perfect Yogin is he who is sarvabhūtahite rataḥ, whose mind is full of the will to do good to all creatures. When a man shuts his heart to the cries of sufferings around him, when he is content that his fellow-men should be sorrowful, oppressed, sacrificed to the greed of others, he is making his own way to salvation full of difficulties and stumbling-blocks. He is forgetting that God is not only in himself but in all these millions. And for those who have not the strength, spiritual freedom in political servitude is a sheer impossibility. When India was free, thousands of men set their feet in the stairs of heaven, but as the night deepened and the sun of liberty withdrew its rays, the spiritual force inborn in every Indian heart became weaker and weaker until now it burns so faintly that aliens have taken upon themselves the role of spiritual teachers, and the people chosen by God have to sit at the feet of the men from whose ancestry the light was hidden. God has set apart India as the eternal fountain-head of holy spirituality, and He will never suffer that fountain to run dry. Therefore Swaraj has been revealed to us. By our political freedom we shall once more recover our spiritual freedom. Once more in the land of the saints and sages will burn up the fire of the ancient Yoga and the hearts of her people will be lifted up into the neighbourhood of the Eternal.

 

Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volumes 6-7.- Bande Mataram: Political Writings and Speeches. 18901908 .- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2002.- 1182 p.