Indic Nationalism, and the Role of Vedanta in India’s Freedom Struggle

The Flag of India as Adopted in 1906 Congress Session

Being the proponent of the theory that gave direction to the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, it is often forgotten that nationalism remains a key pillar to the theory of integral humanism. However, the problem with the usage of the term nationalism emanates in modern academia from the manner in which the word itself gets defined. Having its roots in the European nation-state creative processes, the concept of a religion, a language or an ethnicity is the key driver for the understanding of nationalism in the Euro-centric theorization.

This is a rather parochial understanding from the Eastern perspectives of the conceptualization of a nation state. Unlike the Western model of nationalism, there is a rootedness in the approaches of the eastern civilizations in general that make the idea distinct. Cultural identity is the actual marker of this civilizational approach, and the individual as part of society rather than an individual or a society dichotomy is the way of the East, and that is very much the foundation of Indic nationalism as well. However, another important aspect of the national thought as it emerged post 1895 in India was driven by the rise of the Vedanta-Advaitic thoughts that were ‘discovered’ through the scholarly works of bodies like the Asiatic Society. However, the widespread adoption of the theory as the sutra that defined and united Indian civilization and the reason why freedom should be pursued took place primarily driven by the propagation of Swami Vivekananda and the rediscovery of the divine with the national. Such was the impact of the Vedanta school of thought that between 1895-1920, nearly every major political activist had been touched by the philosophy, either through their own anubhava and knowledge or through the influence of in particular the Ramakrishna order’s original batch of saints, egged on by Swami Vivekananda to travel across India and the world and shine the light of Dharma everywhere.

Evidence for Indic Nationalism As Presented Over the Years

उत्तरं यत्समुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणम्

वर्षं तद् भारतं नाम भारती यत्र संततिः ।।

"The country (varṣam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bhāratam; there dwell the descendants of Bharata."
—Vishnu Purana

A lot of energy has been expended to understand what nationalism means to various people. The problem however has been addressed in a narrow, restricted manner. The definitions employed in the whole debate thus far are of a western construct. As Rabindranath Tagore wonderfully explained it in his pamphlet Nationalism, the construct used rests entirely on a concept of nation that is dominated by economy and polity only. It is a social contract amongst people based on these two pillars, and is validated by the principle of symbols representing this contract. Much of these contracts are a result of reactionary movements that seek to react to the actions of the Church that has long interfered in the process of nation building and nation breaking, particularly applied to Europe. Such nation states often seek to validate their presence subsequently in the name of God; however, the nation immediately deracinates itself from the presence of God in its political control except for a few ceremonial actions. The deracination is particularly a reaction to the Church games, whereby Divine powers were ordained unto select human being to be emperors.

What this interprets into is that the idea of a nation in the western construct, based entirely on politics of the Church and the reactions to it. This often means that the process is arbitrary in nature and convenient at best. Several examples of both kinds can thus be seen - the church supported Holy Monarchies, the rebellion of Protestantism and the subsequent formation and political consolidation of Europe around political centers of power. Such fractured nationalism is exemplified perfectly in the repeated disappearance and appearance of the state of Hungary, or the birth of Poland, Spain or even the United Kingdom. Neither geography, nor culture, nor even a sense of belonging would necessarily play a role thus in such a national identity, however hard one may try to argue otherwise. The search for identity in such states is in a perpetual crisis mode, trying to grasp at thin straws when none exist really. At any moment, such national identities are fragile, at best tenuous, and tend to be undermined by the actions of the polity, perpetually weakening the state from within. The concept of rights and duties can never be ingrained in a state for they are perpetually under question and criticism, going as far to the point of outright rejection.

However, a direct contest to this idea has been the idea of nationalism deeply rooted in Dharma, or civilization. Dharma does not ever refer to religion; rather it refers to overall identification and relative conduct necessitated by the presence in a certain geography, or rashtra, that is not just homeland of you and your ancestors, but is also the land of spiritual gratification (Matrubhumi, Pitrubhumi, Punyabhumi). This triple helix of identification with your homeland strengthens the bond of people with each other and with the rashtra as it gives not just a sense of identity of the self but also a sense of a place in the world.

As the Vishnu Purana identifies and mentioned in the beginning of the article, this concept of India has been defined within geographies. More evidence of this geographic identity comes from the Vedas themselves, where the identification of samudra or large bodies of water has been undertaken along what is identified now as the coastline of south and west India. The Nadistuti Sukta of the Rig Veda identifies the various rivers of India, surprisingly in a East to West directional movement. As the hymn goes

पर सु आपो महिमानमुत्तमं कारुर्वोचाति सदनेविवस्वतः |

पर सप्त-सप्त तरेधा हि चक्रमुः परस्र्त्वरीणामति सिन्धुरोजसा ||

पर ते.अरदद वरुणो यातवे पथः सिन्धो यद वाजानभ्यद्रवस्त्वम |

भूम्या अधि परवता यासि सानुना यदेषामग्रं जगतामिरज्यसि ||

दिवि सवनो यतते भूम्योपर्यनन्तं शुष्ममुदियर्तिभानुना |

अभ्रादिव पर सतनयन्ति वर्ष्टयः सिन्धुर्यदेति वर्षभो रोरुवत ||

अभि तवा सिन्धो शिशुमिन मातरो वाश्रा अर्षन्तिपयसेव धेनवः |

राजेव युध्वा नयसि तवमित सिचौ यदासामग्रं परवतामिनक्षसि ||

इमं मे गङगे यमुने सरस्वति शुतुद्रि सतेमं सचता परुष्ण्या |

असिक्न्या मरुद्व्र्धे वितस्तयार्जीकीये शर्णुह्यासुषोमया ||

तर्ष्टामया परथमं यातवे सजूः ससर्त्वा रसयाश्वेत्या तया |

तवं सिन्धो कुभया गोमतीं करुमुम्मेहत्न्वा सरथं याभिरीयसे ||

रजीत्येनी रुशती महित्वा परि जरयांसि भरते रजांसि |

अदब्धा सिन्धुरपसामपस्तमाश्वा चित्रावपुषीव दर्शता ||

सवश्वा सिन्धुः सुरथा सुवासा हिरण्ययी सुक्र्तावाजिनीवती |

ऊर्णावती युवतिः सीलमावत्युताधि वस्तेसुभगा मधुव्र्धम ||

सुखं रथं युयुजे सिधुरश्विनं तेन वाजं सनिषदस्मिन्नाजौ |

महान हयस्य महिमा पनस्यते.अदब्धस्यस्वयशसो विरप्शिनः ||

Which roughly translates into:

1. THE singer, O ye Waters in Vivasvan's place, shall tell your grandeur forth that is beyond compare. The Rivers have come forward triply, seven and seven. Sindhu in might surpasses all the streams that flow. 2. Varuna cut the channels for thy forward course, O Sindhu, when thou rannest on to win the race. Thou speedest o'er precipitous ridges of the earth, when thou art Lord and Leader of these moving floods. 3. His roar is lifted up to heaven above the earth: he puts forth endless vigour with a flash of light. Like floods of rain that fall- in thunder from the cloud, so Sindhu rushes on bellowing like a bull. 4. Like mothers to their calves, like milch kine with their milk, so, Sindhu, unto thee the roaring rivers run. Thou leadest as a warrior king thine army's wings what time thou comest in the van of these swift streams. 5. Favour ye this my laud, O Ganga, Yamuna, O Sutudri, Parusni and Sarasvati: With Asikni, Vitasta, O Marudvrdha, O Arjikiya with Susoma hear my call. 6. First with Trstama thou art eager to flow forth, with Rasa, and Susartu, and with Svetya here, With Kubha; and with these, Sindhu and Mehatnu, thou seekest in thy course Krumu and Gomati. 7. Flashing and whitely-gleaming in her mightiness, she moves along her ample volumes through the realms, Most active of the active, Sindhu unrestrained, like to a dappled mare, beautiful, fair to see. 8. Rich in good steeds is Sindhu, rich in cars and robes, rich in gold, nobly-fashioned, rich in ample wealth. Blest Silamavati and young Urnavati invest themselves with raiment rich in store of sweets. 9. Sindhu hath yoked her car, light-rolling, drawn by steeds, and with that car shall she win booty in this fight. So have I praised its power, mighty and unrestrained, of independent glory, roaring as it runs.

Thus we can see the evidence of the first twist in the deification of the geography of the land, i.e. the matrubhumi, through the veneration of the rivers. The Vedas are replete with the deification of the geography, and so are the Puranas, that hold mountains, rivers, lakes and even forests as sacred. identifying them with the identity of the people. Similar ideas can be seen across the East and other Dharmic religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Shinto faith as well. Thus, this deification did not happen for the first time with Bankimchandra Chatterjee and his graceful poem Bande Mataram, which is a continuation of the ancient traditions. Even the National Anthem is a part of the Prayer for the Nation of the Brahmo Samaj, to which Rabindranath Tagore belonged.

Similarly, we can see that the identification of ancestry within the Vishnu Purana also takes place. In the same set of shlokas preceding the one that defines the geography of the land, we see the following being written

ऋषभो मरुदेव्याश्च ऋषभात भरतो भवेत्।

भरताद भारतं वर्षं, भरतात सुमतिस्त्वभूत्  ||

Rishabha was born to Marudevi, Bharata was born to Rishabh, Bharatvarsha (India) arose from Bharata, and Sumati arose from Bharata

ततश्च भारतं वर्षमेतल्लोकेषुगीयते

भरताय यत: पित्रा दत्तं प्रतिष्ठिता वनम  ||

This country is known as Bharatavarsha since the times the father entrusted the kingdom to the son Bharata and he himself went to the forest for ascetic practices

Thus, the second twist within the triple helix can be seen to be evident. The importance of the pitru, or the ancestor, is marked by the various rituals and festivals that commemorate them. These are evident within not just India, but also amongst the Chinese, Japanese and the Koreans as well as the Dharmics of native origin of South East Asia. The Chinese Night of the Dead or the Japanese festival of Bon evidence this acknowledgment of the ancestors and their direct relation to the present and the identity of the people.

The third twist of the helix can be seen in the punyabhumi concept, or the sacred land. Much like the geography as mentioned in the Vedas, we have the Pauranic concept of the tirtha kshetra, or the holy pilgrim spots, being described in great detail. Most of the pilgrim spots fall within the Indian sub-continent, and are very well aligned with its geography. Great examples of the same can be seen in the 4 Dhams of Vishnu, the 12 jyotirlingas of Shiva or even the 52 pithas of Shakti/Devi. This concept is not just unique to Dharmics of the sub-continent and particularly India; we can see the sanctity of geography in other countries which has a native population that practices Sanatana Dharma, like Bali or Vietnam, where the local Dharmics have sanctity within geographies. Barring the holy sites of Buddhism within India, even the Buddhist populations of South-east Asia and East Asia identify holy spots within their own territories. Much of what has been described for Dharma can also be seen on a smaller scale within the Shinto faith in Japan. Even Sikhism has its own defined geography within the Indian subcontinent that spreads far and wide.

Thus, we can see how the Indic definition of Nationalism is distinct from the socio-political definitions of nationalism that the west has given us. Using European constructs for India is not just shoddy and sloppy effort of lazy pseudo intellectuals, it is also fraught with shortcomings. The identification of a people within the triple helix of Indic nationalism, also called cultural nationalism, needs to be acknowledged for it helps understand people. It is this that gives India that is Bharata its identity, which the Constitution also acknowledges by adopting that name for the nation. However, failure subsequently of the intellectuals trained in western paradigms of nationalism to identify the roots of nationalism in India results in various laughable episodes of the nature that happened very recently, over which much ink - physical and digital - has been spilled. Suffice to say, there is enough evidence of an Indic Nationalism, but only if one is receptive to it.

Swami Vivekananda and Vedanta’s Impact on the Independence Movement

A large aspect of the civilizational aspect was of course highlighted for the first time by Adi Shankaracharya, when in his Digvijaya Bharata yatra he had managed to establish the Vedanta philosophy and unite India by creating the common thread of civilizational, philosophical and spiritual unity to tie what would seem to many as contradictory schools of thought, while giving strength to the cultural revival that had just started in the land that is Bharata. That the cultural unity was so important for him was evident in the choice of the Shankaracharyas of the four main pithas – Sringeri, Dwarka, Badrinath and Puri – putting people from literally the opposite part of the country to be the choice. This was recognized much later by Swami Vivekananda, who after ordaining sannyasa also moved across the country on foot as part of his mandate.  Traveling from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Dwarka to Kamakhya, Swami Vivekananda had literally perhaps retraced the footsteps of Adi Shankaracharya, armed with his own experiential and scriptural knowledge of the Vedanta and the various texts of it.

One particular instance that should be pointed out on his continued pursuit of the Advaita and Vedanta knowledge is his meeting with Chattambi Swamigal, the teacher of Sree Narayana Guru and himself an accomplished Vedanti. The meeting’s experiences, as would often be reminisced upon on multiple occasions by the great Swamigal, and the detailed Sanskrit language discussion that the two would engage in on the Vedanta subject are a matter of popular lore. In particular, the instance of the Chinmudra explanation that Vivekananda sought from Swamigal is also indicative of the hope that he saw in the philosophy’s ability to transcend all boundaries, and Swamigal himself at his level did much the same when he proclaimed and proved by the Vedas should be studied by all, even taking in Sree Narayana Guru as his student who otherwise belonged to a lower caste. This was something that Vivekananda himself took up with the Ramakrishna Mission that took everyone into its fold and did not discriminate in terms of giving knowledge and spiritual training.

At the time, as the philosophy of nationalism arose, the Vedantins of Swami Vivekananda also created significant contributions to explain how the complexity of Indian society made nationalism not as straightforward a concept as was put out by Europeans. To that end, Sister Nivedita, one of the most illustrious of disciples of Swami Vivekananda, made major contributions to the idea by explaining that a nation is a “complex unity” and rightly asked, “How shall there be a Nation without differences of social degree?” (Mitra, 2019). As pointed out by Nivedita, unity and diversity are really two sides of the same coin, interrelated in their coexistence (Mitra, 2019). Also, Sister Nivedita pointed out unity did not mean homogeneity. The question of unity arises precisely where there is heterogeneity or diversity(Mitra, 2019).

This was nowhere in isolation in any sense. As Hindol Sengupta has also pointed out, the influence of Swami Vivekananda on the idea of freeing India was a strong impression on those who knew him from close quarters. Vivekananda’s youngest brother, Bhupendranath Dutta, had turned to militant nationalism, and was one of the key arrested figures of the Alipore Bomb case. As Sengupta notes, Bhupendranath “regarded Vivekananda as one of the direct sponsors of militant nationalism” against the British Raj (Sengupta, 2017). Sengupta (2017) also points out that Vivekananda himself is known to have said that Bengal was “in need of bomb and bomb alone”, and some evidence of Vivekananda wanting to gather and rouse the princely states against the British is present. He even met ‘Sir Hiram Maxim, the bomb-maker’ to that end but realised that the country was not ready for such an armed revolt against the colonial rule at that time. He told the revolutionary Jyotindranath Mukherjee, aka Bagha Jatin, another key figure of the Alipore Bomb case that “India’s political freedom was essential for the spiritual fulfillment of mankind” (Sengupta, 2017).

Aurobindo Ghosh – The First Strand of Vedanta’s Impact on Indian Nationalism

When Bankimchandra was touched upon, it is important to note two distinct threads that arose from it. One must point out that Bankimchandra was deeply influenced by a key element of the Prasthana Trayi, the Bhagavad Gita, which is believed by all Vedantic-Advaitic schools as a fundamental key text. Evidence to the same can be found in the fact that Bankim had written a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, published subsequent to his death.

However, soon emerged on the scene Swami Vivekananda, a staunch Vedantin, who also on many occasions in private and in public, had openly identified India as a civilizational state. In his lifetime, he did call for the freedom of India. In particular, it is essential to point out that Swami ji was the foundation stone, the flame being ignited in a revolutionary and politician in particular who went by the name of Aurobindo Ghosh and had a huge influence on him. In his editorial piece titled The Main Feeder of Patriotism published 19th June 1907, Aurobindo had concluded with a telling statement:

India can once more be made conscious of her greatness by an overmastering sense of the greatness of her spirituality. This sense of greatness is the main feeder of all patriotism. This only can put an end to all self-depreciation and generate a burning desire to recover the lost ground.

It is interesting that Bande Mataram also alluded to the Calcutta Police’s alarm on the activities of the Ramakrishna Mission in an editorial of 30th July 1907 regarding their work with respect to the plague management across Bengal presidency. In the words of that editorial:

We have more than once pointed out that an alien rule without roots in the soil cannot possibly tolerate the growth of any strength or manliness or nobility in the subject people, and must inevitably try to crush, curb or render ineffective any actual or possible centre of strength around which it is remotely possible for the national self-consciousness to crystallize. Hence the alarm and suspicion which a movement like the Ramakrishna Mission, utterly divorced from politics as it is, awakes in the rulers.

 It is imperative to point out that at the time, Swami Vivekananda was directly involved in the activity. At that time, Sri Aurobindo himself had started to be deeply influenced by Swami ji and the rise of the Vedanta philosophy, to the extent that he referred again and again to it, even calling Indians the ‘children of Vedanta’ in his 18 November 1907 writing.  Again, in 1908, an editorial from Bande Mataram was categorical about the essentiality of Vedanta for the rise of the Indian civilization when it was written:

When India remembers the teaching she received from Shankaracharya, Ramanuja and Madhva, when she realises what Sri Ramakrishna came to reveal, then she will rise. Her very life is Vedanta.

The deification of India as a deity was very much there for Aurobindo is evident, given his deep spiritual relation with his spiritual leanings. It is important to point out that the man who translated Anandamath from Bengali was none other than Aurobindo Ghosh. That the influence of the iconography was evident in his writings about India and comparing it with Shakti, something brilliantly summed up in the slogan Bande Mataram, which also became the title of his newspaper. In fact, in the pamphlet Bhawani Mandir, presented as evidence in the Alipore Bomb Case by the Calcutta Police, the following was written:

For what is a nation? What is our mother-country? It is not a piece of earth, nor a figure of speech, nor a fiction of the mind. It is a mighty Shakti, composed of the Shaktis of all the millions of units that make up the nation, just as Bhawani Mahisha-Mardini sprang into being from the Shaktis of all the millions of gods assembled in one mass of force and welded into unity. The Shakti we call India, Bhawani Bharati, is the living unity of the Shaktis of three hundred millions of people; but she is inactive, imprisoned in the magic circle of tamas, the self-indulgent inertia and ignorance of her sons. To get rid of tamas we have but to wake the Brahma within.

In the Bhawani Mandir pamphlet, Aurobindo made amply clear the influence of Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, when he credited the two for literally reviving the Indian spirit, finding it essential for the revival of the nation and the need to undertake the necessary initiative and engage in karma yoga. In the words of Aurobindo:

It was to initiate this great work, the greatest and most wonderful work ever given to a race, that Bhagawan Ramkrishna came and Vivekananda preached. If the work does not progress as it once promised to do, it is because we have once again allowed the terrible cloud of tamas to settle down on our souls—fear, doubt, hesitation, sluggishness. We have taken, some of us, the Bhakti which poured forth from the one and the Jnana given us by the other, but from the lack of Shakti, from the lack of Karma, we have not been able to make our Bhakti a living thing. May we yet remember that it was Kali, who is Bhawani mother of strength, whom Ramkrishna worshipped and with whom he became one.

It is thus very important to point out that the influence that Aurobindo had across, and the support he showed to Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the man who was called the most dangerous in India by the British at one stage. Tilak and Aurobindo shared much of the extremist ideology, and their thoughts converged significantly. Aurobindo wrote in support of his chairmanship of the Congress, strongly calling for the need to stop promoting fealty and loyalty to the British crown who was significantly popular in Maharashtra and across India. To that end, several op-eds splashed across Bande Mataram that openly batted for the extremist section of the Congress and its swadeshi-boycott tactic.

This Swadeshi tactic incidentally was also endorsed tacitly by the Ramakrishna Mission, as can be pointed out by quoting the well-known influence of Swami Ramakrishnananda on V O Chidambaram Pillai. In a 2018, Aravindan Neelakandan had documented the famous discussion, wherein Pillai questioned if Swadesi was not maya, to which Swami ji’s contemporary and carrier of the work of Ramakrishna Mission had answered that anything “that serves the people with innate goodness is not maya but the manifestation of Brahman itself,” and that VOC should “make swadesi your swadharma. Make it your life mission.”

In his political lifetime, the Anushilan Samiti, which got caught in the cross-hairs of the Alipore Bomb Case, was pivotal in pushing for the cause of complete freedom from British control. As Shwetank Bhushan had pointed out in his piece on the society’s history, the Samiti was deeply inspired by thoughts, speeches and writings of Swami Vivekananda and influenced by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s ‘Anandmath’, with the aim of pushing Hindus to become vigorous spiritually, physically and intellectually. Involving such noted revolutionaries as Suren Tagore (Rabindranath Tagore's nephew), Jatindra Nath Mukherjee (Bagha Jatin) and Bhupendra Nath Datta (Swami Vivekananda's brother), the body around 1905 had undertaken several unsuccessful attempts to foment revolutionary tactics, which included the Alipore Bomb Conspiracy, several dacoity dares and the activities of Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose, who were its members.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak – The Other Strand of Vedanta’s Influence on Indian Nationalism

That Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s politics has been portrayed as peaceful is ironic, because he for his period was building a parallel strand that literally served as the other pillar of mobilizing popular opinion towards freedom and getting India out of the clutches of British imperialist rule that Aurobindo had propagated. In fact, in an appreciation written on a compilation of speeches and writings of Tilak, Aurobindo Ghosh had mentioned that Tilak’s life and work life, his character, were “a stronger argument than all the reasonings in his speeches, powerful as these are, for Swaraj….by whatever name we may call the sole possible present aim of our effort, the freedom of the life of India, its self-determination by the people of India,” which can only be construed as a positive affirmation of Tilak’s politics by him.

Even Tilak’s zeal for Swarajya was driven strongly by his understanding and exposure to the Prasthana Trayi. In his piece Karma Yoga and Swaraj, Tilak had categorically called the demand for Swaraj a highly cherished ideal. In Tilak’s words,

Compliance with this universal Law (of Karma Yoga) leads to the realization of the most cherished ideals of Man. Swaraj is the natural consequence of diligent performance of duty. The Karma Yogin strives for Swaraj, and the Gnyanin or spiritualist yearns for it. What is then this Swaraj? It is a life centred in Self and dependent upon Self. There is Swaraj in this world as well as in the world hereafter.

 More of this influence was seen in the fact that Tilak had studied the Vedas, Upanishads and Gita himself, and had written the masterpiece commentary Karma Yoga Siddhanta, which was literally endorsed by Aurobindo himself.

The impact of Swami Vivekananda’s life and teachings on Tilak of course is not to be missed. In his submission on Reminisces of Swami Vivekananda, Bal Gangadhar Tilak had recollected his personal encounter much before he became famous and was wandering across India as a sanyasi. He recalled how Vivekananda would often talk about Advaita philosophy and Vedanta, and like Tilak believed that the “Shrimad Bhagavad Gita did not preach renunciation but urged everyone to work unattached and without the desire for fruits of the work.” Meeting him later in Calcutta at the Belur Math, Vivekananda had in fact in a lighter vein suggested that it would be better if Tilak renounced the world and took up the Mission’s work in Bengal, while Swamiji would go and continue Tilak’s work in Maharashtra. Even if in a lighter vein, this is a clear give away of what Vivekananda thought of the extremist position and its popularity with the masses at large.

The similarity in belief about the importance of Karma and the Gita teaching this message was much later summed by Tilak in a speech in Amaravati in 1917, wherein he said while explaining his commentary’s message:

The conclusion I have come to is that the Gita advocates the performance of action in this world even after the actor has achieved the highest union with the Supreme Deity by Gnana (knowledge) or Bhakti (Devotion). This action must be done to keep the world going by the right path of evolution which the Creator has destined the world to follow. In order that the action may not bind the actor it must be done with the aim of helping his purpose, and without any attachment to the coming result. This I hold is the lesson of the Gita. Gnanayoga there is, yes. Bhaktiyoga there is, yes. Who says not? But they are both subservient to the Karmayoga preached in the Gita. If the Gita was preached to desponding Arjuna to make him ready for the fight — for the action — how can it be said that the ultimate lesson of the great book is Bhakti or Gnana alone?

This is important, for a critical tenet of the Vedanta-Advaita philosophies is the importance of karma in freeing oneself and achieving mukti or liberation in the absolute sense. To that end, people like Tilak too saw the duty of the freedom struggle not just as a matter of rights; rather, freedom from British rule was seen as a spiritual duty that emanated from the consequences of accepting the welfare of the people as the ultimate goal. This emanated from his deep understanding of Vedanta thought, an idea wonderfully elucidated by Vishwanath Prasad Varma in 1958 as well. In a speech at Athani, as pointed out by Varma, Tilak noted that

Freedom was the soul of the Home Rule movement.. The divine instinct of Freedom never aged. Circumstances might affect its manifestation on the physical plane; the movements for freedom (the bodies) might be weakened and maimed for a time; but ultimately the soul - Freedom -must triumph. Freedom is the very life of the individual soul, which Vedanta declares to be not separate from God but identical with Him. Thus Freedom was a principle that could never perish. It might get darkened up by accumulations of moral and intellectual rust. Wherever and whenever Freedom was found thus darkened up, it was the duty of the leaders to set about removing the rust and making the people realise the glory of it.


It is more than evident that the thread of Indic nationalism was redefined and re-identified with the rise of the Vedanta-Advaitic schools of thought. Freedom was necessary because spiritual freedom was deemed to be incomplete without the freedom of the land and its people, a message that had been derived over time from the spiritual re-awakening of the school of philosophy that directly descended from Adi Shankaracharya, which also defined nationalism in a manner far different from what the European ethno-linguistic models would propel. It is a pity though that the passions that it inflamed between 1895 and 1920 eventually passed away, for the two people who were direct inheritors of this thought – Aurobindo Ghosh and Bal Gangadhar Tilak – either retired from public life or passed away. The flame however that they lit in this period was so strong that had they persisted, things would perhaps have been very different.


1.     Tagore, Rabindranath, Nationalism, Penguin Random House India June 2017

2.     Chatterjee, Bankimchandra, Anandamatha

3.     Ghosh, Aurobindo, Bande Mataram

4.     Ghosh, Aurobindo, Bhawani Mandir, 1908

5.     Neelakandan, Aravindan, VOC – The Tamil Patriot Who ‘Steered The Ship, Swarajya Magazine, 5 September 2018 published at

6.     Bhushan, Shwetank, Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar : Forgotten Liberators, 14 May 2016, published at

7.     Bal Gangadhar Tilak, His Speeches and Writings, viewed at

8.     Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda, 1983, viewed at

9.     Varma, V.P., POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY OF LOKAMANYA TILAK, The Indian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 19, No. 1 (JANUARY-MARCH 1958),pp. 15-24

10.                        The Life of Swami Vivekananda by His Eastern and Western Disciples, Vols 1&2, Advaita Ashrama, 2011

11.                         Mitra, A., Sister Nivedita’s Ideas on Indian Nationhood and their Contemporary Relevance, Vivekananda international Foundation paper January 2019, viewed at

12.                        Sengupta, H., Three Men, Their Idea of ‘Mother’ and the Indian Freedom Movement, 18 March 2017, viewed at


Note: A shorter version of this was published as Is There Evidence of an Indic Nationalism? On  I and My Words on 21 March 2016




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