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Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

Calcutta, October 7th, 1907

Part Four. Bande Mataram under the Editorship of of Sri Aurobindo (28 May 22 December 1907)

The Vanity of Reaction

The devices of reactionary absolutism have a curious family resemblance all the world over. Reaction is never intelligent and never imaginative. Limited to the narrow horizon of its own selfish interests, committed to the preservation of the impossible and the resuscitation of corrupt systems and dead forms it has neither the vision to understand and measure the forces that have been new born to replace it, nor the wisdom to treat and compromise with the strength of Demogorgon while yet unripe so as to prolong its hour of rule for a little,– the only grace that Heaven allows to doomed institutions and forfeited powers. Like Kansa1 of old, it seeks to confirm its failing grip on the world by murderous guile and violence or like the Jupiter of Prometheus Unbound gropes for safety through vain diplomacies and the martyrdom of the champions of suffering humanity. Poor in invention except in the cunning variation of savage tortures or petty brutalities, it reiterates the old worn-out spells, the once-potent lies which had been powerful to prolong the death-sleep of the peoples and sees not that the mumbling of its incantations only awakes the scorn and rage of strong men indignant that such deceptive bonds should so long have availed to bind their strength. Barren of resources it blindly persists in the old stupid violences that can hurt and enrage but cannot kill, the old menaces and outbursts of barbarous rage that have lost their power to intimidate an incensed and stubborn people, and will not realize2 that every blow evokes a mightier reaction, that every missile of death it hurls is returning with fearful rapidity upon the thrower, that the chains with which it binds the limbs of the nation’s martyrs are so much iron which the nation will forge into weapons against its oppressors, that the blood it sheds is so much water of life to foster the young plant of liberty, that, when sentence has been passed upon men or class or institution, every device invented for safety becomes an instrument for destruction and the fiercer the attempts to escape, the swifter the motion straight towards doom. Through the clanking of the chains of its prisoners, through the cries of its victims, through the red mist of blood and torture and suffering which it seeks to set between itself and God and blind His vengeance and baffle His decrees, still there rings the ancient sentence of Fate. “In Gokul He groweth still from day to day, Who thee shall slay.” The genius, the wisdom, the strength of the servants of Reaction turns naturally to their opposites, and posterity wonders that such wise men should have been so blind, that such giants should have been slain by the throwing of a pebble, that so much energy of strong action and cunning speech should have been of no more avail than the staggerings and babblings of a drunkard in his cups. For they have set their strength and wit against God’s will, and it is His ironic decree that their wisdom shall be baffled by children and the weak hand of a woman shall be enough to shatter their might.

Men had once deemed of England that she was not as other peoples and that the lessons of history would be reversed by the unselfish glories of her rule, and the weakness of human nature would be belied by the splendour of her generosity and the candour of her enthusiasm. For the English are a great and wonderful people. It is true that her statesmen and soldiers slew and murdered and ravished in Ireland so that the Celt might remain quiet under her iron heel,– but they planned and fought for the freedom of nations subject to other domination than her own. It is true that they have taken the bread out of the Indian’s mouth that her own children might be filled and seek to turn her dark-skinned subjects everywhere into helots of her commerce and trade,– but they paid down hard cash that her West Indian Negro might be free. It is true that her politicians deny the institutions of liberty to her own subjects, but she has been the examplar of a bourgeois liberty and a limited democracy to the whole world. Other nations turned, it was thought, but one side of themselves to the gaze, the side of national self-seeking and grasping land-hunger. England had two sides, and the one which dazzled men was very bright. And now all the world is watching what England will do now that the same problem is once more set for her which every nation has failed to solve, whether she will tread the same path of futile bloodshed, violence and defiance of irresistible decrees which other nations have trod before her or be wise in her generation as she was wise when her own children rose against her in Canada, as she has once more been wise after her hour of blood-thirst and madness in the Transvaal. The selfish fury of Anglo-India is answering for her, the greed of her merchants and capitalists is pushing her on into the abyss. Still her rulers have qualms, hesitations, fears, still they dare not utterly set their own law and the law of God at defiance. At the last moment a palsy overtakes their hands, a relenting works in their souls. After their long torture the Rawalpindi prisoners are free; Nibaran has hardly escaped from the gallows by a strange mercy of Fate; here and there the monotonous roll of repression is brightened by occasional acquittals, by stray glimpses of justice if not of forbearance. But the Anglo-Indian bureaucrats have set out on the slippery path where futile ferocity and vain blood guiltiness hurry down the car of empire to sink in the sea of shame and blood below. Seldom and by a miracle can the wheels that have once gone some way down by that slope be retarded and stopped.

What is it that you seek, rulers who are eager to confuse the interests of a handful of white administrators with the welfare of humanity, or what is it that you dream, traders who think that God made this India of ours only as a market for your merchandise? This great and ancient nation was once the fountain of human light, the apex of human civilisation, the examplar of courage and humanity, the perfection of good government and settled society, the mother of all religions, the teacher of all wisdom and philosophy. It has suffered much at the hands of inferior civilisations and more savage peoples; it has gone down into the shadow of night and tasted often of the bitterness of death. Its pride has been trampled into the dust and its glory has departed. Hunger and misery and despair have become the masters of this fair soil, these noble hills, these ancient rivers, these cities whose life-story goes back into prehistoric night. But do you think that therefore God has utterly abandoned us and given us up for ever to be a mere convenience for the West, the helots of its commerce, and the feeders of its luxury and pride? We are still God’s chosen people and all our calamities have been but a discipline of suffering, because for the great mission before us prosperity was not sufficient, adversity had also its training; to taste the glory of power and beneficence and joy was not sufficient, the knowledge of weakness and torture and humiliation was also needed; it was not enough that we should be able to fill the role of the merciful sage and the beneficent king, we had also to experience in our own persons the feelings of the outcaste and the slave. But now that lesson is learned, and the time for our resurgence is come. And no power shall stay that uprising and no opposing interest shall deny us the right to live, to be ourselves, to set our seal once more upon the world. Every race and people that oppressed us even in our evening and our midnight has been broken into pieces and their glory turned into a legend of the past. Yet you venture to hope that in the hour of our morning you will be able to draw back the veil of night once more over our land as if to read you a lesson. God has lighted the fire in a quarter where you least feared it and it is beginning to eat up your commerce and threaten your ease. He has raised up the people you despised as weaklings and cowards, a people of clerks and babblers and slaves and set you to break their insurgent spirit and trample them into the dust if you can. And you cannot. You have tried every means except absolute massacre and you have failed. And now what will you do? Will you learn the lesson before it is too late or will you sink your Empire in the mire of shame where other nations have gone who had not the excuse of the knowledge of liberty and the teachings of the past? For us, for you, today everything is trembling in the balance, and it is not for us who have but reacted passively to your action, it is for you to decide.


Earlier edition of this work: Sri Aurobindo Birth Century Library: Set in  30  volumes.- Volume 1.- Bande Mataram: Early Political Writings. 1890 - May 1908.- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1973.- 920 p.

1 1973 ed. SABCL, vol.1: {{2}}Kamsa


2 1973 ed. SABCL, vol.1:{{2}} realise