Sri Aurobindo: Prophet of Indian Nationalism

Today as we celebrate the 75 years of Independence of India, it’s also the 150th birth anniversary of Sri Aurobindo. Aurobindo Ghosh was born 150 years ago on 15th August 1872 at Calcutta (now known as Kolkata). Sri Aurobindo was one of the most creative and significant figures in the history of the Indian renaissance and Indian nationalism. Aurobindo was indeed a versatile genius — a great poet, a profound thinker, a notable metaphysician, a great seer, and an ardent patriot. His writings represented the crystallization of the new rising soul of India and had a spiritual message for humanity.

Sri Aurobindo was the first Indian political leader to use the word “Independence” instead of “Swaraj’. He strongly believed that without political freedom, no real development is possible in India. Political freedom must precede socio-economic and administrative reforms. As he observed, “Political freedom is the life-breath of a nation; to attempt social reform, educational reform, industrial expansion and moral improvement of the race without aiming first and foremost at political freedom is the very height of ignorance and futility”.

The contribution of Sri Aurobindo to modern Indian political thought may conveniently be summarised as:

  • his concept of spiritual nationalism and divinity of motherland;
  • his exposition of the ideal of complete freedom from foreign rule;
  • his contribution to the theory of boycott and passive resistance; and
  • his vision of the high role that India was destined to play in world affairs and his ideal of human unity.

The bedrock of the political philosophy of Sri Aurobindo was his concept of spiritual nationalism and the divinity of the motherland. His theory of Spiritual Nationalism is a great synthesis of philosophies of both east and west integrated into one philosophy. For him, the emergence of India as a nation had a divine mission. Aurobindo’s Philosophy of Spiritual Nationalism is for the benefit of humanity and not just Indians.

There has been very substantial work done on the concept of a nation, nationality and nationalism. Despite the world coming together on many fronts — particularly, economy and multicultural habitat formations, especially in Europe and North America — these ideas remain politically volatile. In modern times, the idea of a nation has become powerfully associated with the idea of the state and the two notions are frequently used almost interchangeably.

Sri Aurobindo believed that there is a divining line between ‘national ego’ and ‘nation-soul’. The national ego stands for a kind of correlative attribute of subjectivity while the nation-soul remains at the heart and core of belongingness to one another. Therefore, the national ego makes a kind of hindrance towards broader unification; the nation-soul integrates the world of humanity into one. The national ego sometimes may become quite aggressive like German imperialism and at a time self-protective too.

A nation is not a piece of earth, not a figure of spirit, 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

Sri Aurobindo

Sri Aurobindo maintained that the belief that unity in race, religion and language will not bear scrutiny. In his opinion, the above elements are helpful in the growth of nationalism but do not pass the test of indispensability. Referring to the Roman Empire he pointed out that even though it created a common language, a common religion and life and it did its best to obliterate racial diversities under the weight of its uniform system, failed to make one great nation.

We answer that there are certain essential conditions, geographical unity, a common past, a powerful common interest impelling towards unity and certain favourable political conditions which enable the impulse to realise itself in an organised government expressing the nationality and perpetuating its single and united existence. A common enthusiasm coalescing with a common interest is the most powerful fosterer of nationality.

Sri Aurobindo

Sri Aurobindo’s concept of nationalism was not merely a political activity but also a great and holy ‘yajna’ or a holy ritual, as he puts it for national emancipation. Everything that was done during that time was done as an offering to the divine. That is what made a powerful impact upon the younger generations, particularly of that period. This brought the struggle for independence from the drawing rooms to streets.

We can see similar thoughts of Swami Vivekananda on nationalism. His nationalism is also associated with spiritualism. He saw spirituality as a point of convergence for all religious forces of diverse India capable of unifying into a national strength.

We are so many sanyasis wandering about, and teaching the people metaphysics — it is all madness. Did not our Gurudev use to say, ‘An empty stomach is no good for religion?’ We as a nation have lost our individuality and that is the cause of all mischief in India. We have to raise the masses.

Swami Vivekananda

Though the growth of Nationalism is attributed to Western influence, Sri Aurobindo is deeply rooted in Indian spirituality and morality. Aurobindo had the breadth of vision to foresee India as a free nation and her contribution to the world community.

He felt that India had a spiritual message which was urgently needed by the people of the world. He was convinced that a free India was to fulfil her true destiny in the international community. He advocated the concept of human unity. He pleaded for independence for India in the wider interest of humanity.

Sri Aurobindo was the greatest intellectual of our age and a major force for the life of the spirit. India will not forget his services to politics and philosophy and the world will remember with gratitude, his invaluable work in the realm of philosophy and religion.

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan

Amid the darkness and distress of today’s world, Sri Aurobindo provides a ray of hope to mankind. He envisaged a new society and a new civilization, based on spirituality. Today it holds even greater significance because now humanity has moved ahead from the goal of uniting merely as a nation-state.

6 thoughts on “Sri Aurobindo: Prophet of Indian Nationalism

  1. Nilanjana Moitra

    Sri Aurobindo was a fascinating figure-a revolutionary patriot, a philosopher and a yogi who devoted himself to transforming the human condition. From Sri Aurobindo, one can find insights that throw light on many fundamental issues that pre-occupy our times. Sri Aurobindo dismantles conflicts and harmonizes binaries such as that of the West and East, English and the Indian languages, Religion and Secularism, pacifism and militancy, Nationalism and Internationalism.

    Liked by 1 person

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