Author: Beloo Mehra (2020). Published under the title ‘When Young India Awakes’ in Sri Aurobindo’s Action, Vol. 51 (6), June 2020, pp. 8-10
When Young India Awakes
Yuvaan was fascinated to learn of some historical details about the temple reconstruction in free India. It was only after the accession of Junagarh to India in October 1947 a decision was made to reconstruct the Somnāth temple. Sardar Patel had made a public announcement about it during his visit to Prabhas Patan. But there was some resistance in the union cabinet back in Delhi. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the education minister at that time and a good friend of Jawahar Lal Nehru, opposed the idea. He argued that the temple ruins should be handed over to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), to be preserved as a historical monument. Interestingly, Maulana Azad had never suggested something similar for Islamic shrines and mosques which were being repaired by the ASI during that time.
Sardar Patel was very firm in his resolve to see the temple restored to its glory; he responded with a note:
“The Hindu sentiment in regard to this temple is both strong and widespread. In the present conditions, it is unlikely that this sentiment will be satisfied by mere restoration of the temple or by prolonging its life. The restoration of idol would be a point of honour and sentiments with the Hindu public.”[i]
The temple was not going to be preserved as a historical monument; it was going to be rebirthed as a living temple, restored to its old glory as the first among the twelve jyotirlinga-s of India. The temple complex was going to be developed as an important pilgrimage centers and a place of great cultural and spiritual significance.
Nehru presided over the cabinet meeting in which this decision was taken. But after Sardar Patel’s passing in December 1950, it seems Nehru became very hostile, not only to the temple project, but also to his cabinet colleagues, particularly K. M. Munshi and V.N. Gadgil, who were associated with the temple reconstruction project.
The President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad was requested to inaugurate the ceremony of the prāna-pratishthā (installation of deity). But while the preparations of the big event were going on, Nehru called Munshi and said: “I don’t like your trying to restore Somnath. It is Hindu revivalism.” Munshi felt humiliated, more so because Nehru made it seem as if things were being done without his knowledge.
On 24th April 1951, K. M. Munshi wrote a long letter to Jawahar Lal Nehru clarifying many things and giving a detailed account of the government’s decisions taken during the entire reconstruction process. As Yuvaan read parts of the letter included in one of the online articles, he not only admired the thoroughness of this important historical document, but also realised that many things related to the rebuilding of the Somnāth temple would have remained completely unknown, if Munshi had not written this letter.
“As you will see, the Government of India not only took the initial decision to reconstruct the temple, but formulated and set the scheme going; alongside creating the agency for its further implementation. This will clearly indicate to you the extent of association the Government of India has with the scheme…
“Yesterday you referred to ‘Hindu revivalism.’ I know your views on the subject; I have always done justice to them; I hope you will equally do justice to mine. Many have been the customs which I have defied in personal life from my boyhood. I have laboured in my humble way through literary and social work to shape or reintegrate some aspects of Hinduism, in the conviction that that alone will make India an advanced and vigorous nation under modern conditions…
“One word more. It is my faith in our past which has given me the strength to work in the present and look forward to our future. I cannot value freedom if it deprives us of the Bhagavad Gita or uproots our millions from the faith with which they look upon our temples and thereby destroys the texture of our lives. I have been given the privilege of seeing my incessant dream of Somnath reconstruction come true. That makes me feel —makes me almost sure — that this shrine once restored to a place of importance in our life, will give our people a purer conception of religion and a more vivid consciousness of our strength, so vital in these days of freedom and its trials…”[ii]
What a marvellous letter! No wonder, it was called a ‘masterpiece’ by V. P. Menon, one of the key advisors in Nehru’s cabinet. Yuvaan was so thrilled at reading this, he immediately re-read the excerpts to savour the force and sincerity of Munshi’s words. He was also happy to learn that despite Nehru’s strong disapproval and opposition, the President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad did inaugurate the prana–pratishtha ceremony. Without the courage and conviction of Munshi, the Somnath temple would have not been built, Yuvaan was now convinced!
Doing some more research, Yuvaan made another important discovery. He learned that a few months before writing his ‘masterpiece’ letter to Nehru, on July 30th, 1950, Munshi had written to Sri Aurobindo:
“I would like to have your guidance as regards the future of Sanātana Dharma. Starting from your Uttarpara Speech, which has been a sort of beacon to me for years, I have been working for the reintegration of Hindu culture . . . But I am neither learned nor a profound thinker. I can contribute only my faith and the little energy which has been vouchsafed to me. I only pray that strength may be given to me to carry forward the message of the Seers of whom, in my opinion, you are the only surviving Apostle. What shall I do now?”[iii]
Following reply from Sri Aurobindo was sent to him on August 3, 1950, dictated to A.B. Purani:
“My dear Kanubhai,
“In reply to your letter to him of July 30th, 1950 Sri Aurobindo has asked me to write to you the following:
“Your feeling that there should be reintegration of Indian Culture under modern conditions is quite right. It is the work that has to be done. And as far as Sri Aurobindo can see at present Indian Spiritual Culture has a great and bright future before it. It is the future power that might dominate the world. So, your efforts in carrying out that work are quite in the right direction and in carrying out that work you would have his full support and blessings.”[iv]
Indeed, Munshi’s efforts toward reconstruction of the Somnāth temple were blessed by Sri Aurobindo! This is what Yuvaan felt in his heart as he read this letter of August 3, 1950.
He was still musing on the amazing convergence of the truths he was uncovering from his readings and the histories he was learning of the places he was visiting, when the car turned in to the massive complex of Somnāth Temple Trust. From the distance his eyes caught a glimpse of the magnificent shikhara of the temple, and he felt an intense joy and a deep feeling of Love. Love for his country, love for his culture, love for Lord Somnāth, love for Sri Aurobindo. His eyes teared up with emotion, and as the car slowly approached toward the guest house in the same complex, he recalled what he had read a couple of hours back in Essays on the Gita – the mahāvākya of Bhagavad Gita.
“With the Lord in thy heart take refuge with all thy being; by His grace thou shalt attain to the supreme peace and the eternal status. So have I expounded to thee a knowledge more secret than that which is hidden. Further hear the most secret, the supreme word that I shall speak to thee. Become my-minded, devoted to Me, to Me do sacrifice and adoration; infallibly, thou shalt come to Me, for dear to me art thou. Abandoning all laws of conduct seek refuge in Me alone. I will release thee from all sin; do not grieve.”[v]
TO BE CONTINUED….
[i] K.M. Munshi, Pilgrimage to Freedom, 1967, p. 560.
[ii] K.M. Munshi, Somnāth – The Shrine Eternal, 1951 (3rd edition 1965), pp. 176-178.
[iii] CWSA, 36: 512-513
[iv] CWSA, 36: 513
[v] CWSA, 19: 37