By Prathit Singh
“Each nation is Shakti or power of the evolving spirit in humanity and lives by the principles which it embodies.
“India is the Bharat shakti, the living energy of a great spiritual conception, and fidelity to it is the very principle to her existence…even as the individual has a soul which is its true self, governing more or less openly its destiny, each nation too has its own soul which is its true self moulding its destiny from behind the veil: it is the soul of the country, the national genius, the spirit of the people.” – Sri Aurobindo.
15 August, 1947 was a milestone in the life of a nation that survived through endless exploitation, divisions, invasions and wars. The modernist status of a “nation-state” was attached to India following its independence from British colonialism, but the natal conception of the country had already begun centuries ago.
The spiritual soul of India took its conception from the varied religions that sprawled across this diverse land. Even though Bharat was a conjugation of different nationalistic sentiments manifested in diverse languages and cultures, its spiritual unity was ever prevalent. This unity showed itself in the unison of diverse cultures and landscapes.
Temples, rivers, hills and landscapes situated across regions of the subcontinent held varying relevance but were supposed to convey common values and symbols. This common essence is best conveyed through symbolic stories and is manifest in religious practices and rituals.
For instance, if one uptakes the Char Dham Yatra (the pious sojourn of the four Hindu temples), the Dwadasha Joyotirlinga Yatra (the pious sojourn to the 12 holy sites associated with Lord Shiva), one has to tour across the north and the south through Haridwar, Praygraj, etc. in the north to Dwarka in the west, Puri in the east to Rameswaram and Konkanam in the South.
These temples and their location scattered through the corners of the subcontinent served the purpose of cultural unison. Another symbolic manifestation was in the perception of rivers and mountains. Even today, the religious root of this form can be seen in the shloka:
“Gangecha Jamunechava, Godavari; Saraswatee Narmada Sindhu Kaveri Jalsemi Sannidhim Karu (May the water from the Ganges, Saraswatee, Narmada, Sindu and Kaveri enter into this vessel).”
While the spiritual soul of the nation was in unison, the political soul was always divided. Centripetal and centrifugal forces kept recurring and conflicting in various parts of the nation. In fact, the attempt to subside the united spiritual soul with a united political force was the precise weakness by virtue of which colonialism found its way in India.
The Dutch, Portuguese, French and, more intensely, the British, all the western forces used the division of the political landscape to overpower the Indian populace.
As Sri Aurobindo put it, “India’s history throughout has been marked by a tendency, a constant effort to unite all these diversity of elements into a single political whole under a central imperial rule so that India might be politically and culturally one.”
With time, however, as the Indian populace realised the importance of a diverse union, the sentiment of nationalism and patriotic fervour swept across the country with the necessity of becoming fraternal beings with the ability to take the trajectories of their destinies into their own hands.
Gradually, this nationalistic fervour was embedded in the spiritual values of the nation. The idol of Bharat Mata was recognised as an idol that attempted to break the shackles of imperialism to celebrate the nation’s soul. Vande Mataram became the slogan that invoked the spiritual values of the country and appealed to everyone to realise this spiritual value.
Like always, the political aspect of encapsulating this spiritual value of “nationhood” remained divided in distinct perceptions and thoughts. Mahatma Gandhi’s way of realising this spiritual value in the political sphere was Satyagraha (the path of the truth) and Ahimsa (non-violence), while Bhagat Singh’s way of this realisation was radical action.
Although divided these ways were, it is important to note that there wasn’t any “right” way to attain freedom. Some ways were widely accepted by some sections, while others were embraced by a different section, depending purely on their perception of freedom and the means to attain it.
If we are to attach a particularistic and absolute value to freedom, wouldn’t that be a constraint of thought and, thus, a constraint on the idea of freedom in itself? This is a fact that we yet need to inspect when we celebrate Aazadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.
The idea of “Aazadi” transcends the boundaries of perception. This transcendence was captured in the value attached to the idea of Bharat Mata and the slogan of “Vande Mataram”. However, freedom is never an absolute value and this couldn’t be more evident by the way in which it evolved in India.
The nationalist movement in India in its neonatal stage never aimed at absolute freedom. Leaders like Gopalkrishna Gokhale, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Pherozeshah Mehta, etc., who led the nationalist movement in its conception, advocated for self-rule under the British aegis and a responsive government that was ready to respond to their concern. The word “swaraj” for them meant self-rule unconcerned with the question of absolute freedom.
For the later nationalists, however, “swaraj” meant absolute freedom from British rule. It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that India’s “tryst with destiny” is perhaps the moderate development of this idea of “swaraj”. The united soul with divided ways of attaining freedom is something we need to celebrate on the 75th year of independence.