Indian Philosophy and Society

What is Aurobindo’s Theory of Spiritual Nationalism?

Aurobindo’s Theory of Spiritual Nationalism

Aurobindo Ghosh is called as the prophet of Indian nationalism. Aurobindo’s theory of Spiritual Nationalism, also referred to as Aurobindo’s 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.

He believed in a universal spirit that he said was with India and hence India was bound to emerge as a free nation. He had no faith in constitutional methods because British government in India was not constitutional, it was despotic. As he said: ‘They are not answerable to Indians. Hence constitutional methods will not work. Direct action is required through armed and passive resistance.

Aurobindo’s Theory of Political Action

During the period of 1905-1910, Sri Aurobindo articulated a coherent and powerful theory of political action. The first part of Aurobindo’s message could be called ‘Spiritual Nationalism’ or ‘Cultural Nationalism’ that is based on two or three key concepts.

The first is the concept of the ‘nation.’ For Aurobindo, the nation was only a political construct, it was in fact a divinity. It was “Bhavani Bharati” or Mother India and a divinity into which one had to be prepared to offer everything as a sacrifice so that one could be free from the bondage imposed the colonials. Therefore, his concept of fiery and flaming nationalism was based on the concept of nation as a living goddess. In his writings, he refers to ‘Bhavani Mahishamardini’ (The Great Goddess) and how the power of the people of India is expressed in terms of the almighty goddess.

In the Puranas (Spiritual texts), it is said that when the ‘Asuras’ or the demons revived strength and started overpowering the ‘Devas’ or demigods leading to a wide scale annihilation of ‘Swargiya’ or Paradise.

The demigods failing to defeat the demons individually and independently, induced them to pool their respective weapons or energy and out of that pool of energy, ‘The Great Goddess’ arose sitting on her lion with ‘ashtadash bhuja’ (eighteen arm), and each arm holding different one weapon belonging to the different demigods. In other words, she became a symbol of the collective aspiration and power of the Indian nation and its children.

Read The Life and Times of Sri Aurobindo Ghosh by Kaushal Kishore

Aurobindo and the Workers Movement

Aurobindo’s concept of nationalism was not merely a political activity but also a great and holy ‘yajnya’ 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. He was the first thinker in India, who had a clear appreciation of the role of the masses and the role of the proletariat.

This was in 1893, decades before the Marxist-Leninist revolution in the erstwhile Soviet Union. According to him, the proletariat may appear to be docile and immobile, but whoever succeeds in understanding the proletariat and arousing them will be the master of India’s destiny. This was a very crucial statement, because sometimes the Indian freedom struggle had been labeled as a ‘bhadralok movement’ or an elitist movement.

Among the radical nationalists, Aurobindo was the first person to take the movement out of the drawing room and onto the streets, minds and hearts of the Indian people. As a radical, Aurobindo was the exponent of the ideological concept of ‘poorna swaraj’ or complete independence theme, as rightly said by Lokmanya Tilak, “Swaraj is my birth right and I shall have it.”

Aurobindo’s Theory of Spiritual Nationalism and the Theory of Boycott

The other aspect of his strategy was an elaborate theory of boycott. The theory of boycott was first put forward by Aurobindo in his luminous writings at the turn of the century between 1905 and 1910. He advocated economic boycott and correlated it with swadeshi. He also talked about judicial boycott and the setting up of national arbitration courts. At the same time he also propagated executive boycott and setting up of a national organisation for self government.

His theory of overthrowing the British rule revolved around the whole concept of boycott and setting up of an alternative form of government, different to that in the constitutional European format. Consequently, his vision of a combination of remarkable idealism and a practical programme of action was in itself a very rare combination. Usually, people who are idealistic have very little time for the nitty gritty of organization, while those involved with the organization do not have enough time to dream. Aurobindo was one of those extraordinary minds able to comprehend both elements of the movement .

India’s Freedom

Lastly, a very important point to remember is that Aurobindo always placed India’s freedom in the larger context of the destiny of the human race. This fact is most remarkable because revolutionaries talk only about their own country. However, Sri Aurobindo always had a deeper vision of what India should do for humanity. In fact, he said that India has to be free in order to play its role in the emancipation of the human race.

Sri Aurobindo was not a chauvinist; he did not look upon Indian freedom as an end in itself. The remarkable coincidence is that India achieved independence on Sri Aurobindo’s seventy-first birthday, that is August 15, 1947.

Contemplating Aurobindo’s Theory of Spiritual Nationalism

Aurobindo’s concept of nationalism and human unity were based on his understanding of the ‘Sanatan Dharma’ which to him meant an open and universal philosophy of life. His concept of nationalism clearly indicates his spiritual approach to politics. Not merely his theory of nationalism but his political philosophy in its totality has spiritual overtones.

Politics for him was an aspect of the broader process of personal, national and international spiritual development. He looked upon Indian independence as an essential turn in the life of this ancient land for playing the role of a spiritual guide of humanity at large. He believed this was India’s predetermined role and that she could rise to that level only through the teachings of the ‘Santan’ religion of India. Nationalism cannot afford to neglect anyone.

It is therefore imperative for one to bring all the sections of the society into the mainstream of political life. In in the Indian context, he believed that all the sections including tribals and communities outside of the mainstream civilizations must form part of the process of national independence as nationalism excludes none.

In this way we can understand and contemplate Aurobindo’s ‘Spiritual Nationalism.’

Resources on Aurobindo’s Theory of Spiritual Nationalism

Sri Aurobindo’s message to India on the eve of its independence on August 15,1947- https://aurosociety.org/society/index/1947%2C-August-15th-Message.

More Indian Philosophy and Society from Applied Worldwide

Applied Worldwide is happy to publish a blog series applying Indian philosophical ideas to the current context. Our Indian Philosophy and Society series is written by Adhrish Chakraborty and includes articles using the philosophies of Raja Ram Mohan RoyRabindranath Tagore, and Mahatma Gandhi.

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Adhrish Chakraborty

Adhrish Chakraborty is a student of Political Economy and International Relations at Scottish Church College. His writing is primarily focused on various socio-economic developments and its multi-dimensional impact upon the most vulnerable societal clusters of the Indian Economy.