Sri Aurobindo, the Revolutionary (by Arup Basu)

August 15 is Sri Aurobindo‘s birthday. In honour of this special day, we bring for our readers an article written by Mr. Arup Basu, editor of Sraddha, a quarterly journal published by Sri Aurobindo Centre for Research in Social Sciences, Kolkata. This article briefly lists a few key aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s momentous contribution to India’s freedom movement. It was first published as an editorial in Sraddha, Vol. 7 (1), August 2015 issue. We are sharing the article here with the editor’s kind permission.


Of all the leaders who played a defining role in the Indian National Movement and helped to give it a definite shape and direction, the one who remains the most misunderstood, the least talked about and the most ignored is Sri Aurobindo. Yet his influence on his contemporaries, many of them senior in age and experience, and most notably among the youth of the country, was the most considerable and most outstanding. This was acknowledged by luminaries like Bipin Chandra Pal, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Brahmabandhav Bandopadhyaya, Tagore, C R Das and many others, and nearer our times by stalwarts such as K M Munshi, Nani Palkhivala, Dr. Karan Singh.

More recently, no less a person than the former Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in his reflections in his Independence speech in 2004, explicitly and emphatically made the point that India’s greatness was destined for much higher goals her mere independence. He quoted an extract of Sri Aurobindo’s message for India’s Independence on August 15, 1947 which says:

“I have always held and said that India was arising, not to serve her own material interests only, to achieve expansion, greatness, power, and prosperity – though these too she must not neglect,- and certainly not like others to acquire domination of other peoples, but to live also for God and the world as a helper and leader of the whole human race.” (Autobiographical Notes, CWSA, Vol. 36, p. 475)

The Prime Minister went on to say that “This, I believe, is the quintessence of India’s work, now and in the future.” He dared to say that which no other world leader would dare say, that which no other leader could even conceive of. 

There is the common perception that Boycott was something that was invented by Gandhi. This is not true. It was Sri Aurobindo who first put forward a complete theory of Boycott and advocated an economic, national, educational, judicial and an administrative boycott. With each negative boycott, he had a positive plan as well. He laid down clear and specific guidelines for setting up Swadeshi, a national education system, national arbitration courts, national organisation for self-government; his vision was indeed a rare combination of remarkable idealism and practical programmme of action taking care of all the nitty-gritties of organisation. Again he was the pioneer to give the trumpet call for poorna swaraj or complete independence for India. 

There is still some idle speculation as to why Sri Aurobindo through whom “the disarmed and emasculated millions spoke with defiance and pride to the civilised world in the strength of their new found self-confidence and hip,” who was the “the Prophet of Renascent India, the Tribune of the people, the Quarter-Master General of the Nationalists” (K R Srinivasa Iyengar) should suddenly disengage himself from politics and depart for Pondicherry. Critics and detractors cavil at this departure terming it contemptuously as an “escape,” not caring to read what he has said unambiguously in one of his statements. 

“I did not leave politics because I felt that I could do nothing more there;…I came away because I did not want anything to interfere with my Yoga and because I got a very distinct ādeśa in the matter. I have cut connection entirely with politics, but before I did so I knew from within that the work I had begun there was destined to be carried forward, on lines I had foreseen, by others, and that the ultimate triumph of the movement I had initiated was sure without my personal action or presence.” (Letters on Himself and the Ashram, CWSA, Vol. 35, p. 26)

At a later period speaking of himself in third person, he had the greatness and humility to say that he “was compelled to recognise that the nation was not yet sufficiently trained to carry out his policy and programme… he saw that the hour of these movements had not come and that he himself was not their destined leader.” (CWSA, Vol. 36. p. 8)

It is important to note that politics was not the end of his political work. Even during his revolutionary period, his writings in the Bande Mataram anticipate the philosophy we have come to associate with the sage of Pondicherry. In July 7, 1907 edition of Bande Mataram, he writes: “…the next state in the human progress is not a material but spiritual, moral and psychical advance that has to be made…” There is thus no disjunction between Sri Aurobindo’s ideas as a political revolutionary in the early decades of the past century and the philosophy represented in The Human Cycle and The Ideal of Human Unity.

Another remarkable feature of Sri Aurobindo’s ideal is that unlike most revolutionaries who love to talk about their own country, Sri Aurobindo placed India’s freedom in the larger context of the destiny of the human race. He said,

“…India must have Swaraj in order to live for the world, nor as a slave for the material and political benefit of a single purse-proud and selfish nation, but a free people for the spiritual and intellectual benefit of the human race.” (Bande Mataram, CWSA, Vol 6, p. 573)

To devote himself with an undivided attention to this arduous task in the service of his Motherland, he left for Pondicherry to hew out the path for a divine humanity. 

“…No other philosopher of the age or perhaps at any time in human history has presented to the world such a comprehensive plan for the regeneration of human society and for the emergence of a contented and creative international order which would not only preserve the individuality of nations but also guarantee the freedom of individuals within the nations.” (R K Dasgupta)

To conclude, let us turn to this luminous utterance by Nolini Kanta Gupta, a yogi-poet-scholar and the most senior disciple of Sri Aurobindo:

“Sri Aurobindo in his stride was always transgressing and overflowing the borders; he was a revolutionary, an iconoclast, for nothing short of the supreme and complete integral truth satisfied the urge of consciousness in him… It was this secret ultimate truth that overshadowed, brooded over all the stages and steps and occupations he passed through…. this urge towards the supreme reality….lent a special character to all his karma… This…did not mean for him a rejection of the domains passed through: it is a subsuming…,uplifting the narrower, the lower status, integrating them into the higher.” (Collected Works of Nolini Kanta Gupta, Vol. 5, p. 5)



5 thoughts on “Sri Aurobindo, the Revolutionary (by Arup Basu)

Add yours

  1. That is a great article on Sri Aurobindo. I didn’t know it was him who introduced boycott… What I liked reading even more is the fact that he would have a positive plan too. In current times although many like to criticize the govt or boycott numerous things, they don’t have a proper plan. They don’t know how handle situation after boycotting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am happy you read and enjoyed this article, Raj. And yes you are right, so many Indians don’t know much or anything about Sri Aurobindo’s contribution to Indian freedom movement. Our history curriculum is to blame for that entirely. Sri Aurobindo’s political speeches are a delight to read! Fiery, and yet coming from a place of deep contemplation, a yogic approach to nationalism. Thanks for reading and for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

Please note that the owners and writers view matriwords as a sacred space, a feeling shared by many of our regular readers. So any abuse or profanity in any comment will not be tolerated, and such comments will be summarily deleted. Thanks for your co-operation.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: