Swaraj Theory: as evaluated by Sri Aurobindo


In Sri Aurobindo’s social-political thought Swaraj is thought to be the starting-point of his inward journey towards the union with the Divine. His actual purpose is to make the Life Divine so that we can realize the inherent divinity within us. Yoga is just a way to fulfill such dream. Social-political thought is another path to achieve that dream. However, it is not so well-known and well-discussed like his principles of Yoga. His social-political doctrine remains almost hidden from the eyes of his critics. Most of the critics interpret Sri Aurobindo as a great Yogi, profound Mystic as well as an exceptional philosopher. However in this endeavor we find the enormous help from his books respectively named as The Bande Mataram; The Synthesis of Yoga; The Human Cycle, the Ideal of Human Unity, War and Self-Determination; Speeches; On Himself and The Ideal of Karmayogin. Sri Aurobindo’s main goal is somewhat spiritual in nature and politics remains definitely as one of its significant corollaries. ‘Our aim will therefore be to help in building up India for the sake of humanity – this is the spirit of the Nationalism which we profess and follow. We say to humanity “The time has come when you must take the great step and rise out of a material existence into the higher, deeper and wider life towards which humanity moves. The problems which have troubled mankind can only be solved by conquering the kingdom within….For that work the freedom and greatness of India is essential, therefore she claims her destined freedom and greatness, and it is to the interest of all humanity, not excluding England, that she should wholly establish her claim”.’

Swaraj is the actual cry of India and its country-men at the time of British rule over it. The true meaning of Swaraj may not be considered the same even by the two different contemporary philosophers. To Mahatma Gandhi Swaraj appears as Self-Rule; to Bal Gangadhar Tilak Swaraj as the Birth Right of Indian citizens; to Sri Aurobindo it is the Sanātana Dharma; to Rabindranath Tagore it appears as the sign of humanity and to Swami Vivekananda it is nothing else than the showering of love towards our beloved motherland. From K.C. Bhattacharya’s renowned article named Swaraj in Ideas we can quote his unique idea about swaraj ‘Man’s domination over men is felt in the most tangible form in the political sphere. There is however a subtler domination exercised in the sphere of ideas by one culture on another, a domination all the more serious in the consequence, because it is not ordinarily felt. Political subjection primarily means restraint, it is possible to resist it or to bear it as a necessary evil and to keep free in spirit. Slavery begins when one ceases to feel the evil and it deepens when the evil is accepted as good. Cultural subjection is ordinarily of an unconscious character and it implies slavery from the very start. When I speak of cultural subjection, I do not mean the assimilation of an alien culture. That assimilation need not be an evil; it may be positively necessary for healthy progress and in any case it doe3s not mean a lapse of freedom. There is cultural subjection only when one’s traditional cast of ideas and sentiments is superseded without comparison or competition by a new cast representing an alien culture which possesses one like a ghost. This subjection is slavery of the spirit: when a person can shake himself free from it, he feels as though the scales fell from his eyes. He experiences a rebirth and that is what I call Swaraj in Ideas.’ Thus, to K.C. Bhattacharya, swaraj seems to be the union of Indian educational system with that of Western one by which cultural transaction between both halves of the world help a lot to make India socio-culturally powerful. But here the notion of ‘rebirth’ is not taken in its actual sense. Rebirth does not mean the birth of the soul enjoying a new body, just for the sake of completing its own karma of the previous birth. This ‘rebirth’ means the birth of India or gaining freedom from the bondage of political slavery for our countrymen from the grasps of the foreign i.e. the British masters after two long decades of their rule over India. 

In its etymological sense swaraj may stand for independence, perhaps this is the best explanation of calling it as self-governance or complete independence by the nationalist leaders as well as by Sri Aurobindo. In another sense, the word ‘swa’ stands for ‘self’ and the word ‘raj’ stands for ‘rule’. In this way swaraj can be considered as self-rule. Perhaps this is the inner reason of Gandhi’s describing swaraj as nothing else than self-rule. 

However before entering into Sri Aurobindo’s notion of swaraj let us discuss the contemporary political criteria for preaching it so strongly.

In the history of Indian politics Swaraj played extremely important role in achieving Indian independence. The cry for Swaraj was aroused after the crude incident of Bengal Partition took place in 1905 by the order of Lord Curzon. The Nationalist leaders, among whom Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghose were more well-known, who first raised their voices in the favor of Swaraj.

Actually the main defect of the British rule was that after colonize india, they destroyed Indian educational structure by thinking it absurd theories as it did not focus on the glory of Europe. They wanted to focus on the past and present achievements of West so that ‘native’ Indians could be ashamed of their educational background. Their main intention was to create some English-minded ‘Babus’ [i.e. clerks], local ‘Zamindars’ and enlightened ‘Maharajas’ of several provinces of india, so that being obsessed of foreign education, they became  fully obedient to the British government. But the result was proved not so satisfactory. Being educated of modern educational system, common Indians, specially enlightened Bengalis, soon started to realize their own downfall i.e. the lack of political liberty. Soon under the head of Bengal and its enlightened political leaders India collected enough power to urge to get back its freedom; and in this way India accepted Bengal as its guide. Being aware of their drawback, the British rulers planned to play a trick. In 1905, Lord Curzon, ordered to split Bengal in two halves; one was known as the East Bengal [today known as Bangladesh; where the muslim community was major in number] and the West Bengal [our own state; where the hindu community was joined with Bihar and Orissa]. It’s actually a shameful trick to separate the enlightened Bengalis into the hindu-muslim races. But the effect of this Bengal Partition in 1905 was devastated. Not only Bengal, but the entire India, burst into anger. Entire India became united in such a sudden blow. Anti-Partition movement [Banga Vanga Birodhi Andolon, 1905] had been started in its protest all over India. Bengali political leaders started raksha bandhan utsab, to unite the hindu and muslim races. Tagore and other Bengali political leaders came down to roads in the protest against this dirty plan of Bengal Partition of 1905. To see its devastating popularity all over India, the British government had to draw their foot back. They became bound to reject their own Bengal Partition Bill, 1905 and after some time Lord Curzon himself was also transferred from India to his home, England. In this way the famous Bengal Partition Bill was shelved. But the rage and hatred of Indians over British government was not at all decreased. In such a political background, several violent revolutionary activities increasd in Bengal, Mharastra and Punjab. Among the leaders of Indian National Congess, some leaders directly or indirectly was in favor of this revolutionary acts, which made INC divided into two parts – moderates and extremists in 1906. To handle this furious political atmosphere, the British government unwillingly agreed to give India Dominion Status, so that before attaining freedom or swaraj Indians would be given proper training to achieve it. Thus in this respect swaraj became synonymous with freedom.  

However Sri Aurobindo found it completely a silly thinking that the British government would help to prepare Indians to gain freedom and left India just like gentlemen. This was actually another trick came out as a result of the tricky brains of the foreign rulers. They actually encertian their rule in this disguise and to dismiss India’s chance to attain political liberty by calling India and its masses not prepared for attaining it whenever we ask for independence to them. His doubt was not at all a mere scary dream and it was proved as true after his disappearance from Indian politics and Gandhi’s taking his baton. 

Eventually the Nationalist party (established in 1906) became immensely popular as they always gave importance to the mass-opinion. In their sincere effort, the Indian Struggle movement began to take concrete shape. Then, as an immediate consequence, not only the British government but also the Moderate Congress leaders became very anxious by this unwanted growth in popularity of the Nationalists. 

At that time a feeling of inherent hatred and distrust ruled over both parties within the Indian National Congress. The Moderates tried hard to keep complete control over the whole Congress, while the Nationalists demanded for Self-government or Swaraj by the means of Swadeshi and Boycott; and feared that the Moderates would dismiss this proposal without further consideration. In this complicated atmosphere, the Calcutta session of Congress was held in 1906. The Nationalists nominated Tilak as the president; whereas the Moderates stopped their voices by declaring the name of Dadabhai Naoroji, the Grand Old Man of India. In spite of that the New Party managed to pass their resolution concerning Swaraj. Being unable to stop them, the Moderates played a clever trick in which Mr. Naoroji, a well-known Moderate leader, in his presidential address identified Swaraj with Self-government within the British Empire i.e. Colonial Self-government, the most debated political notion of that age.  

The political situation started to worsen in the Nagpur session of Congress in 1907. Here the differences between the moderates and the extremists became much more prominent. Extremists also gained enough power to give tough fight to moderates. But moderates never were in favor to give the baton of INC [Indian national Congress] in the hands of extremists. They never accepted swaraj in the sense of independence, rather as colonial self-government. They were in the mood to patch up with the British administration and to work as a colony under this foreign government. Due, to the enormous faith over their foreign masters, they never even dare to think about raising their voices in the protest against their masters and in the favor of attaining political liberty. But the nationalists were in the favor of achieving independence, so they wanted to pass out their bill to call swaraj as independence. Thus nationalists again tried to dominate Mr. Tilak as the President of INC, but moderates again refuted their legitimate demand by nominating Pherozshah Mehta, a renowned moderate leader and well-known British admirer. Eventually Mehta’s selection was the indication to refute the demand of nationalists. Swaraj was taken in the sense of colonial self-government again, rather as independence. Nationalists became furious of this step, but could not stop to take this resolution as moderates were indeed so huge in number. In its consequence the famous split between the Loyalists and Extremists became mandatory which took actual shape in the Surat Congress at December, 1907.

As a result the most important Congress Partition took place at the Surat session on 27th December, 1907. Here in the order of Mr. Tilak and Sri Aurobindo this famous split was done in reality. Actually Mr. Tilak was always blamed for this split, but Sri Aurobindo himself admitted his own trick to order nationalist leaders to split Congress into two halves.

Now, apart from stating the mere political background, let us try to focus on how Sri Aurobindo deduced the meaning of swaraj as independence.

Now what is meant by the Colonial Self-government? Sri Aurobindo explored that under the head of Colonial Self-government; India like all other colonies would get the chance of Imperial Conference of the Colonial Prime Ministers and put all demands before the Secretary of States in a five-minute interview. Is this enough for India? No, not at all sufficient for a huge country like India. Actually under the disguise of Self-government within the British Empire, our foreign rulers tried to keep India under its control so that in the name of any Governor or Lieutenant General it would rule over India throughout coming few centuries. Under this Colonial rule, India would pretend to enjoy its power of representation similar with representation in the Local Board, Local Legislative Councils or Municipal Board. Common masses would remain as enslaved as they were under the British [dominating] Government. Tortures of every kind, political or non-political murders and slaughters of Indian as cows would take place as usual, but perhaps under a sophisticated disguise. Whenever asking for taking their own share in these hazardous circumstances, the British rulers would give a suitable excuse that they are not in the governmental power, as it was controlled by the Elected Representatives of Major Indian Political Parties. The prominent example would be The United states of America as a colony under England and its struggle movement before the achievement of its freedom from the British Rulers. Americans had to show their anger in the occasions of Boston Tea Party and had to fight for liberty under the guidance of George Washington who later also became the first President of America.

The demand for Self-government is actually another touchstone essential for making a free national India. For making India completely liberated from the dominative British rule, the establishment of self-government seemed completely mandatory. India in its process of formation needed some time to become self-sufficient and the practice of self-government would be helpful enough in this endeavor. Here Indians had been given the opportunity to develop its own government where the members of the Governmental body, Secretary of the States etc Administrative Powers had to be totally nested upon the strong shoulders of the Indians. Common Indian masses had to elect their own Representative Bodies enjoying the overall administrative, judicial, social, political as well as cultural liberty. In a self-governed country, not the proposed Colony as suggested by the moderate Congress leaders, foreign rulers should not get enough opportunity to enjoy the administrative, judicial, Social, political workings of the Indian nominated Representatives. Then, they will not at all get the scope to dominate, enslave, torture our Indian counterparts; and India will be liberated from the shackles of the British Bureaucracy from its appropriate sense. Truly comprehending this situation, as a good political thinker and leader, Sri Aurobindo was in the favour of getting self-governance i.e. independence, instead of colonial self-governance, from the hands of British masters.

However the idea of colonial self-government never struck appealing to Sri Aurobindo’s thought. In his intelligence this Prayer and Petition thesis was reveled just as an advanced form of ‘begging’ [which actually means pleading] advocated by the Moderates in front of the British bureaucracy. For that reason he even criticized the Moderate Congress Leaders as ‘the Bunch of Beggars’. He criticized this theory as it could not be applicable in practice because of the lack of its method. On the contrary, self-government could be attained very easily by the help of Swaraj as its method. Because Swaraj was the open demand of the Indians for attaining self-government, so he gave so much emphasis on it. While we look at the history of politics, we see that Swaraj in the sense of independence was basically indispensable at that time in India, but unfortunately this thesis by the Congress leaders only after the appearance of Mahatma Gandhi in the political field.

In this above way, Sri Aurobindo derived the political meaning of swaraj as independence.

Now let us concentrate on the spiritual sense of swaraj. Sri Aurobindo described it as a “parash pathar” or alchemic stone of Indian politics’ without whose help the revival of ancient Indian glory never become possible. If we analyze the inherent meaning of his concept of swaraj, then we will surely discover that swaraj, in his opinion, is far from the reach of politics alone. Swaraj is a somewhat spiritual concept without being just a political one. From the Vedas he quoted the word Sva-Mahimni i.e. the union of the individual with the Divine. For achieving this kind of swaraj we have to prepare ourselves fully to concentrate on the evocation of our Inner Being so that we can call for the Divine and make him bound to come down upon the earth.

What is the meaning of swaraj? From the Vedas, Sri Aurobindo quoted the word Sva-Mahimni i.e. union of individual with the Divine. However it is quite difficult to co-relate Sri Aurobindo’s political notion of swaraj with this spiritual meaning of the Vedas. It may stand in two ways – (a) spiritual swaraj stands as the means of achieving the divine life and for this reason we also need the help of Yoga in this pure endeavor; and (b) political swaraj advocated by Sri Aurobindo is just a means for gaining this spiritual unity with the Divine. Both of the senses are equally important in his view. In his many articles he preached that the political independence must stand as the starting-point of the spiritual divinity i.e. the Vedic meaning of swaraj. However this swaraj is not quite different in sense than the well-known definition of political swaraj as the second one is just an important corollary of the first one. Without political freedom the actual gain of spiritual freedom is not at all achievable. Political dependence makes men used to slavery and slavery brings gradual destruction of an entire nation. In Sri Aurobindo, the spiritual sense of swaraj, thus, stands as the union with the divine in one sense, and moksa in another sense [however we can reconcile both of them as mukti is the ultimate pathway to be united with God]; and in the political sense of swaraj, stands as independence.

His doctrine of swaraj is co-related with that of nationalism. In his keen observance India seems to urge for nationalistic demands. This demand of nationalism is not a mere political propaganda as it appears to other philosopher’s eyes. It is a religion that directly comes from God. The revival of India’s past glory seems as the Sanatana Dharma to Sri Aurobindo. India has to guide all other nations towards the attainment of spirituality. The spiritual guidance of India becomes mandatory for other spiritually backward countries. And for achieving excellence in spiritual mastery India has to attain its political liberty first. Swaraj is just the means of attaining such political freedom. So swaraj in Sri Aurobindo’s doctrine seems to be nothing else than Sanatana Dharma.  

Now what is the actual meaning of sanatana dharma? According to Sri Aurobindo, swaraj could stand for sanatana dharma. In the etymological sense, we can translate it as Eternal religion, as the word ‘sanatana’ stands for ‘eternal’ and the word ‘dharma’ stands for ‘religion’. But why Sanatana Dharma is believed to be the Eternal Religion proposed by God himself? And why Swaraj, as a mere mandatory political tool for liberating India from the bondage of foreign country, seems comparable with the metaphysical notion of Sanatana Dharma or Eternal Religion? Actually as an urdent believer of God, he demonstrated that political movement of India is nothing else but is a plan of the Divine. The Divine Plan is nothing else but to make Indians spiritually uplifted so that they can easily re-unite with the Supreme in the process of Involusion. [Evolution = Sachchidananda → Supermind → several Mental Stages, e.g. Overmind, Illumined Mind, Intuitive mind → Mind→ Life → Matter. Involusion = Matter → Life → Mind→ Mental stages → Supermind→ Sachchidananda.] In the process of Evolution, Sachchidananda or the Almighty, with the help of Maya or Avidya, wants to illustrate his Lila and for creating the world, separates himself into material, spiritual, earthern levels as well as in lively creatures like man, animals, insects, trees etc. And in the opposite process, namely the Involution, after some certain time-gap every lively or non-lively creature, especially men and animals, has to be destroyed and united with the Almighty as they actually emerge from it before. In this way, we can find out some inherent touch of his metaphysical doctrine into the social-political one. The main aim remains behind the spiritual divinization of human race by uniting them with the Supreme or Sachchidananda and in this way by making their life the ‘Divine Life’. If political freedom lacks in the country, then no countrymen can breathe openly and even dream to indulge themselves into the process of achieving spiritual upliftment. And if political liberty is under the Divine rule of God, then Swaraj, as its ultimate essential device, also has to be included within the master plan. It also has to be preached as a Divine Religion for this above reason. And as Swaraj is considered to be a part of the Divine Plan, so just like its Eternal creator it has the eternal character too. In my opinion, perhaps this is the easiest explanation of calling Swaraj as the Sanatana Dharma or Eternal Religion.    

Let us quote Sri Aurobindo’s notion of Sanatana Dharma to support my own presumption. In the book Bande mataram, he wrote that- ‘It is not a political Programme…not by National Education alone, Nationalism is a religion that has come from God; Nationalism is a creed which you shall have to live…It is not by any mere political Programme, not by Swadeshi alone, not by Boycott alone, that this country can be saved…These are merely ways of working; they are merely particular concrete lines upon which the spirit of God is working in a Nation…God is doing everything. We are not doing anything. When he bids us suffer, we suffer because the suffering is necessary to give others strength. When he throws us away, he does so because we are no longer required…He has a work for this great and ancient nation. Therefore he has been born again to do it, therefore he is revealing himself in you not that you may rise merely by human strength to trample underfoot the weaker peoples, but because something must come out from you which is to save the whole world. That something is what the ancient Rishis knew and revealed, and that is to be known and revealed again today, it has to be revealed to the whole world and in again today, it has to be revealed to the whole world and in order that he may reveal himself, you must first realise him in yourselves, you must shape your lives, you must shape the life of this great nation so that it may be fit to reveal him and then your task will be done, and you will realise that what you are driving today is no mere political uprising, no mere political change, but that you have been called upon to do God’s work.’ So Sanatana Dharma seems to be God’s divine religion by whose help the political freedom of India would be attained.

In the notion of Sri Aurobindo, thus, nationalism is not just a political agitation, rather it is a divine religion as per directed by God. The men are all tools in the hands of God so that He could arrange his divine plan – to make India the spiritual guide of all nations. This divine religion namely Nationalism is the means by whose help India would gain its spiritual liberty via the attainment of escape from the political bondage. For that reason, no bureaucracy has the power to demolish this religion of God. Nationalism is naturally immortal; and it is nothing else than the divine plan of the Supreme, thus nobody could get enough chance to refute this divine plan of Sachchidananda. Therefore a true nationalist, according to him, has to realize himself as a messenger of God who has been created to be used in God’s divine plan of attaining India’s political liberty, and when he can be able to belief it whole-heartedly, then only he truly understand the exact sense of Nationalism.  In this way, the spiritual sense of swaraj and political sense of swaraj can be reconciled in Sri Aurobindo’s social and political thought.  
On February, 1908 at Nasik Sri Aurobindo lectured that in our Vedanta philosophy the word swaraj means mukti or salvation. The soul when it is free from all worldly temptetations can have gained swaraj or mukti.

We become acquainted how superbly he reconciled between the spiritual and political senses of swaraj and makes it a corollary of spiritual sense of swaraj. Again in his Dhulia Speech, 1908 we become acquainted with the true sense of swaraj as depicted by Sri Aurobindo clearly. Here he explained ‘There has been much discussion about the definition of swaraj. Swaraj has been defined as self-government. It has been defined by Dadabhai Naoroji as self-government colony. In our view, self-government is merely one aspect of swaraj…..The meaning of Swaraj, in our ancient literature, is the spiritual condition of the soul which attains to Mukti. When the soul is independent of everything but itself, when it exists in the joy of its light and greatness, when it is Mukta that is Swaraj. According to our ancient philosophy, sarvam paravasham duhkham sarvam atmavasham sukham: All dependence upon others is misery; all dependence upon ourselves is bliss. This is the fundamental truth.’ Swaraj, in Sri Aurobindo’s view, stands for salvation or mukti. However this salvation is not only individual salvation, rather the collective salvation. Because, according to him, an individual without the support of others cannot be able to evoke the Supreme within so that he comes down to the earth for making the Life Divine. 

Now in analyzing Sri Aurobindo’s notion of Swaraj we have to start our discussion with the Divine as every earthen creature is nothing except God himself. Even the so-called human race is a kind of manifestation of this Divine. But due to their sheer ignorance or Avidya they never become able to assemble with the Brahman. Swaraj stands as a back-bone of such realization because it is a method for realizing the inner divinity of mankind i.e. the arousal of the Supreme inherent within. Being influenced by the Vedanta philosophy, Sri Aurobindo clarified the meaning of Swaraj as Mukti or Salvation. There are several forms of salvation according to Vedanta philosophy – Samipyo Mukti i.e. salvation making men nearer to the Divine, Sajujyo Mukti i.e. the salvation where men can be similar with the Divine, Sarupyo Mukti i.e. the salvation where men becomes Divine-like and can evoke a divine life within the region of the divine body. While going through Sri Aurobindo, we can demonstrate that the purpose of his appraisal of Swaraj is to make men’s life a divine life and if Swaraj = Mukti / Salvation then Swaraj can be called specifically as Sarupyo Mukti because it is always helpful to make human race Divine-like in Sri Aurobindo’s thesis as all earthen creatures including humans are nothing else than God or Sachchidananda himself.     
By the way, swaraj, in Sri Aurobindo’s opinion, does not mean only the political freedom, but the freedom of the individual, freedom of the community, freedom of the nation which are the different forms of social freedom along with his most preached notion of the spiritual freedom.

In this context, we have to discuss what he meant by these threefold freedom in a brief manner. Social freedom means the freedom of human mind, soul and intellect from the bondage of selfishness and material interests. This social freedom actually makes men nearer to the realization of universal brotherhood necessary for achieving world union. Without political freedom, no common man can grow beyond his boundary of material self. The community made up of the individuals lacking the political freedom will not discover any great ideal to follow; hence feel helpless when attacked by the strong on e and find no other way except helpless self-surrender. The lack of political freedom transforms a man into an identity-less slave. In the land of such slaves the attainment of the third freedom i.e. spiritual freedom remains totally impossible. When a man becomes completely indifferent of other’s pains, sufferings and sorrows; then he is actually forgetting that God resides not only within him, but also in others, so to help others is a way to serve God. That unfortunate man lacks his spiritual freedom.

In Sri Aurobindo’s opinion, India had immense spiritual freedom, but by blindly imitating the foreign culture it had lost the whole of it. And for the recovery of India’s spiritual freedom he proposed that we need to gain our political freedom and in this noble endeavor Swaraj would guide us. That is why he gave so much stress upon Swaraj as through it he actually tried to revive the lost glory of ancient India.

However it is quite difficult to reconcile Sri Aurobindo’s political notion of Swaraj and its inherent metaphysical senses. Swaraj, according to him, stands for the divine union between the human race and the Supreme Almighty; which is quite abstract in nature. From the metaphysical point of view it seems alright, but not from the social-political point of view. Actually whatever stands as the meaning of Swaraj to Sri Aurobindo, is not appropriate from the social-political side. In the Indian Political life from 1905 to until 1947 [approximately] Swaraj stood as a legitimate crave for the Self-Dependence of India and Indians in the form of the Complete Self-Governance by the help of Elected Representatives dealing with the administrative, judicial etc essential governmental works. The idea of “Sva-Mahimni” of Upanishad seems highly inappropriate in this respect. How could, through a mere political device used for achieving Liberty, we can be re-united with the Brahman? How this apparently impossible looking fact will become possible – is a big question to be dealt with. Its answer is hidden behind the metaphysical background of the doctrine concerning Sri Aurobindo. He is in the actual sense a yogi, a profound mystic who accidentally or may be incidentally became engaged into the political activities of the Pre-Independent India. His plan behind making India liberated is the spiritual plan to make it the ultimate spiritual guide of all materialistic nations, especially Europe. Hence it is quite clear that behind his all political notions, regarding Swaraj, Boycott etc, the inherent touch of metaphysics is predominant. Thus it is not at all inconceivable how metaphysical sense remains existent behind his political notion of Swaraj. All other politicians, like Gandhi, Gokhle etc thought Swaraj as a means of attaining independence from the British domination, whereas Sri Aurobindo took it as a tool of men’s achieving liberty from the grip of ignorance and discovering his own soul which is as divine as the Almighty. In this way, if Swaraj is considered to be Mukti or Salvation in its metaphysical sense, then it could be considered as the similar notion as Vedanta doctrine’s Svarupya Mukti, where human being has to become similar with God. 

Although Sri Aurobindo was not so fond, as it appears to me, of the Vedanta notion of the Indian Philosophy. In fact he perhaps cannot even admit this above-stated easy-derived conclusion from the metaphysical sense of his political notion named Swaraj. The metaphysical inherent sense behind Swaraj is quite difficult to understand. Swaraj stands for Complete Self-Governance or complete Independence. And in Vedas, as depicted by Sri Aurobindo, it stands nothing else but for Muktī or Mokşa or Nirvana or Salvation or Dissolution. 

However the philosophy behind Sri Aurobindo’s Swaraj thesis is that, he mainly wanted to focus on the Spiritual aspect of our country, India; and the political advancement is just the gateway of the desired spiritual advancement by Sri Aurobindo. India is always spiritually much advanced than other nations, but due to the lack of political advancement it never been credited to be spiritually developed. So political freedom is much more essential for proving India as a spiritually free and developed country. This is the actual spiritual aim behind his theory of Swaraj.

But Gandhi’s doctrine of Swaraj is quite prominently different from that of Sri Aurobindo in nature.

In this context we may compare Sri Aurobindo’s doctrine of Swaraj with that of Gandhi’s concept. Actually after the disappearance of Sri Aurobindo from the field of Indian politics, Mahatma Gandhi appeared. Gandhi understood the importance of Swaraj and in his hand its meaning expanded from Colonial Self-government to complete Self-government or Purna Swaraj. Hence in this way Gandhi could be called as a true successor of Sri Aurobindo because he practicalized the notion of Swaraj dreamt by his ancestor.

Gandhi’s swaraj is mostly known to be Hind Swaraj. Hind Swaraj is not merely a protest against violence; it is also a protest against the ongoing administrative system. To Gandhi swaraj is a delicate thing and the means to achieve it is also a much more delicate process. Actually over his thought of Hind Swaraj, the influence of Tolstoy and Ruskin is prominent. Basically Tolstoy’s Kingdom of God is Within is the basis of Gandhi’s swaraj or self-rule where he also, like Sri Aurobindo, advocated the arousal of the Kingdom of God within our own selves.

The practical meaning of Swaraj in Gandhi is quoted from the book named Young India – ‘By Swaraj I (Gandhi) mean the government of India by the consent of the people ascertained by the vote of the largest number of the adult population, male or female, native-born or domiciled who have contributed by manual labour to the service of the State and who have taken the trouble of having their names registered as voters [his own definition of self-rule]….Swaraj means even under dominion status a capacity to declare independence at will. So long we have not achieved that capacity, we have no swaraj…..The cryptic meaning of swaraj I (Gandhi) have often described to be within the Empire if possible, without if necessary.’ Hence Gandhi always wanted to provide self-rule for all common people, whether rich or poor it does not matter to him at all. He accepted even dominion status and also the sense of independence whenever thought to be mandatory.  We can discover that Gandhi’s self-rule = dominion status of nation + independence of masses. Actually he was not completely in the mood of rejecting the British raj from India. He was also in the favor of making a stable nation with political freedom, whether within the foreign rule or not it does not matter to him. But the political turmoil of India of Gandhi’s time actually forced him to preach for complete independence as self-rule or swaraj after satyagraha movement of 1917, varat charo movement of 1942. Hence Gandhi’s self-rule seems somewhat different in nature than that of Sri Aurobindo’s concept of independence.  

However we can notice enough similarity between their theories. From the Vedas Sri Aurobindo discovered the true meaning of Swaraj as Sva-mahimni i.e. arousal of the inner Divinity of the individual along with the nation.  So, in his view, Swaraj is concentrating on the realization of Divinity of man and nation by the ideals of independence, unity and liberty. And Gandhi also desired Swaraj or self-rule for all people, which is nothing less than the realization of Divinity within individual upon this earth. Gandhi’s theory of Swaraj was greatly influenced by Tolstoy and like him Gandhi also mentioned that every man has to follow his conscience seeking to know the kingdom of God lying within. Therefore, in both of their notions, Swaraj stands for not only complete independence, but also the discovery of the inner Divinity.

But while discussing about the means of achieving Swaraj, we may find out inherent differences in their thoughts concerning Swaraj. Even though both of them agreed to accept passive resistance as a means of Swaraj, but from commonsense viewpoint, Sri Aurobindo’s theory is much more acceptable than that of Gandhi. There arises a question – do we need to accept the path of active resistance or stop within the limited boundary of passive resistance? In its answer while Gandhi took passive resistance as the ultimate end, Sri Aurobindo advocated the use of active resistance whenever seems urgent. Actually in the time of Indian political movement from 1917 onwards, Gandhi’s Swaraj based on ahimsa or non-violence took the form of passive resistance, even though he did not accept this sense of Swaraj openly. He always emphasized on the non-violent form of movement, even somewhat unnecessarily. In his view, passive resistance must be the ultimate way to be strictly followed. Even for the sake of self-defence an individual does not get any chance to use violent means as it will assault the inherent Divinity within the wrong-doer. This is originally an absurd thought. In British India, the upraising voices of Indians to protest against the British bureaucracy had been stopped abruptly. The foreign rulers tried every possible means to stop the development of Indian national movement demanding independence of India. Here we find Sri Aurobindo’s theory is justifiable as he mentioned rightly that when our political leaders are restricted to make peaceful and armless gatherings against the British government, then we should not reject the path of passive resistance; but when our voices has been stopped abruptly to protest against the British constituency, then the help of active resistance is mandatory. Under British India, the situation had been worsened in such a way that it became utterly impossible to follow the path of passive resistance strictly. When our own house has been caught in fire, then we cannot simply enjoy the sight. When someone tries to murder us, then our whole attention will be directed towards preventing him, whether violently or non-violently that does not matter. In this respect Sri Aurobindo was absolutely right not to consider passive resistance as the ultimate means. In the book Bande Mataram he claimed that when the limits of coercions would be enlarged in a devastating way such that it can destroy our national life, then we have left no room other than to choose the path of active violence. Actually, even after this, if we choose passive resistance as the only method then it would be the sign of our cowardice. In that case, active resistance should be strictly followed by us as our most holy duty performed towards our mother-land. It has to be explored further how Sri Aurobindo’s doctrine of Swaraj is able to overcome the limitation arisen in the case of Gandhi’s concept of Swaraj. 

Both Sri Aurobindo and Tagore advocated for the revival of the inner divinity within human being. From Tagore Studies we become acquainted with this spiritualistic approach of Tagore ‘….the dharma (principle) of life which thinks and doubts, accepts and rejects, progresses, changes and evolves, cannot, according to orthodoxy, be a part of the Hindu Dharma…. The fact stands out clearly today that the Divinity dwelling within the heart of man cannot be kept immured any longer in the darkness of particular temples. The day of the Ratha-Yatra, the Car Festival, has arrived when He shall come out on the high way of the world, into the thick of the joys and sorrows, the mutual commerce, of the throng of men. Each of us must set to work to build such car as we can, to take its place in the grand procession. The material of some may be of value, of others last till the end. But the day has come at last when all the cars must set out.’  Thus, according to Tagore, even though the Almighty remain the same, the materials compare themselves to the Supreme. Hence the spiritualistic attitude of Sri Aurobindo and Tagore helped both of them to preach for the complete self-surrender towards the feet of the Almighty.   However there also arises dissimilarity between both of them. While Sri Aurobindo considered everything on the earth as the manifestation of the Divine, Tagore preached the superiority of God above all earthly creatures.   

Sri Aurobindo himself admitted his life-long admiration towards Swami Vivekananda. At time of his living in Alipore Jail, he heard the magnificent voice of Swamiji in meditation showing him the right path of life. In 1915, ten years after the Bengal Partition, Sri Aurobindo wrote – “Vivekananda was a soul of puissance if ever there was one, a very lion among men…we perceive his influence still working gigantically, we know not well how, we know not well where, in something that is not yet formed, something leonine, upheaving, that has entered the soul of India and we say ‘Behold, Vivekananda still lives in the soul of his Mother and in the souls of his children.”.

However Tagore and Vivekananda’s thesis was limited in the special arena of discussion. Tagore even though religious in nature, limited himself within the sphere of child-education. Viswa-Bharati is its prominent example. Vivekananda, on the contrary, being a humanitarian in nature, mainly limited himself in evoking the country-men so that the past glory of India could be survived. Sri Aurobindo also adopted these two qualities, but his arena is somewhat large in nature as he never let anything related to human life out of the reach of his discussion. Because Sri Aurobindo thought that the entire fulfillment of the human life would help him to make his life a Life Divine.  Thus we can consider in this way that Sri Aurobindo’s doctrine is somewhat superior to that of Tagore and Vivekananda.


7 thoughts on “Swaraj Theory: as evaluated by Sri Aurobindo

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