The Gita and the Freedom of India

Posted January 25, 2014 by admin in Analysis

The struggle against British colonialism marked a period when a huge number of Hindus became free from a very exploitative regime (and although the new regimes in India have eventually turned out just as worse as the British working against  the interest of Hindus) – it cannot be denied that the freedom fighters against the British Raj deserve the respect of all.

The post-World War 2 era of world history saw the dramatic end of colonialism all around the world. The first and most devastating blow to colonialism was the freedom of India, in which over night 1/5th of humanity were freed. Despite the sad events that accompanied Independence (i.e. the partition of India and the accompanying massacres), Independence Day is a happy event, celebrated by over a billion people every year. India was the first country to free herself, and her freedom gave impetus and hope to the freedom movements of so many other countries spread out over. Asia and Africa. This section is dedicated to the sacrifice of all of the freedom fighters who struggled against European colonialism.

Many of the most prominent freedom fighters were inspired by the Bhagavad Gita. Many even went to the gallows and were executed with the Gita in their hands. The Swadeshi movement of Bengal in 1905 began with a gathering of 50,000 people on the streets on the streets of Calcutta, each with the Gita in their hands. The crowds proceeded to the Kali Temple where they vowed to boycott British goods and drive the British from their lands. The following are very brief biographies about some of the many great leaders and freedom fighters that drew inspiration from the Gita:


Lokmanya Tilak (1856-1920) was known as the “Father of Indian Unrest”. He was the very first person to demand full independence from Britain in the Congress sessions. He explained: “The most practical teaching of the Gita, and one for which it is of abiding interest and value to the men of the world with whom life is a series of struggles, is not to give way to any morbid sentimentality when duty demands sternness and the boldness to face terrible things.” And “It is my firm conviction that it is of utmost importance that every man, woman and child of India understands the message of the Gita.” He write a commentary on the Gita called “Gita Rahasya”, which even today is one of the best books written on the Gita



Bankim Chandra Chatterji (1858-1930) Bankim Chandra was not a freedom fighter, but through his writings he sparked of an intense freedom struggle and breathed a new passion and life into the nation, particularly his native region of Bengal, which became kindled with religious, nationalistic and artistic fervour after being infused with the powerful visions contained in his writings. Virtually all of you will have heard the famous slogan “Vande Mataram” (I bow to the Mother). The poem and song by this name was first written by him in his famous novel “Anandamath”. The Anandamath story is set in 18th century India, when a group of warrior sannyasis mounted a guerilla war against Muslim rule (based on a true historical attempt by sannyasis to do precisely this). It was a riveting story line with amazing characters and meaningful dialogues. Yet more importantly, hundreds of thousands of Indians took the story as a metaphor for their own present day situation, understanding it as a call to arms to drive the new tyrants (the British) away from the sacred soil. “Vande Mararam” became the slogan of the freedom struggle. Bankim Chandra drew deep inspiration from the Gita. He wrote a commentary on the Gita, which was only three quarters complete when he died, and an inspiring life sketch of Krishna based on historical and literary research, titled Sri Krishna Charitra.



Mahatma Gandhi’s (1869-1948)  role in the freedom movement of India needs no explanation. His very name invokes images of India’s Independence. He was a kshatriya who fought his battle with unique weapons. He drew great inspiration and courage from the Gita, “I find a solace in the Bhagavad-Gita that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount [Gandhi felt that the Sermon was the most deep and meaningful dialogue in the Christian teachings]. When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavad-Gita. I find a verse here and a verse there , and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies — and my life has been full of external tragedies — and if they have left no visible or indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teaching of Bhagavad-Gita.”


Sri Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950) was one of the greatest revolutionaries in the early phase of the Indian freedom struggle, and is recognised throughout the world as a great mystic, intellectual and visionary. He felt that India’s weakness had been due to a weak-minded and cowardly group of leaders, who did not have the nerves to face hardship and take risks for the better of the nation. He emphasised the necessity of the Gita in uplifting India as well as liberating humanity from the bondage of our lower nature into the bliss of divinity. He wrote a beautiful selection of essays on the Gita and its secrets. A certain class of minds shrink from aggressiveness as if it were a sin.          It is an error, we repeat, to think that spirituality is a thing divorced from life…. It is an error to think that the heights of religion are above the struggles of this world. The recurrent cry of Sri Krishna to Arjuna insists on the struggle; “Fight and overthrow thy opponents!”, “Remember me and fight!”, “Give up all thy works to me with a heart full of spirituality, and free from craving, free from selfish claims, fight! Let the fever of thy soul pass from thee.”


 चित्र:Hutatma Damodar Hari Chapekar.JPG

Damodarpanth Chapekar (executed 1898) – In the late 1890’s, in the Maharashtra province of India, there was a devastating plague, which killed many people. The British colonial government was very unhelpful about relief for the suffering people. Indeed, the British agricultural policies (enforcing production of cotton rather than traditional food crops) seriously compounded the problem. The celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee (50 year’s of rule) were held in the Poona city of Maharashtra. The celebration was carried out with such immense pomp and splendour, in a region where innumerable people were suffering. This sent a wave of resentment amongst the Indian populace, against the colonial government. It was at this time that the erstwhile limited freedom struggle against the British gained support and momentum. As a mark of the people’s resentment against the British administration, an important incident occurred which was to breath a hitherto unknown fire into the revolutionary freedom movement. Outraged by the countless miseries of the famine and plague stricken masses and the excesses committed by the British soldiers, Damodarpant Chapekar shot dead the British plague commissioner, Mr Rand, and the British officer Mr Ayerst on June 22, 1897, in Poona (the city which has been a cradle of heroes throughout history). He was later betrayed by two friends, and was sentenced to death. He embraced the gallows with the Bhagavad Gita in his hands on April 18th 1898.



Madanlal Dhingra (1887-1909) was the assassin of Sir Cyrzon Wyllie, in London in 1909. He was executed in London on 17 August 1909. Bhagat Singh acknowledged Dhingra as his predecessor. A colourful and brave personality throughout his short life, he died with the Gita in his hands.



Khudiram Bose (1889-1906) was a young revolutionary from Bengal. He was brought up with a deep knowledge of the Hindu heritage, and he was constantly pained that a country which had once achieved so much was now bankrupt and under foreign yoke. He was arrested and hung at the young age of 17 for his part in an attack on British targets. He had the words “Vande Mataram” on his lips and the Bhagavad Gita in his hands when he died.


Hemu Kalani (1923-1943) was a freedom fighter from Sindh, who participated in all aspects of the freedom struggle, from the boycott of British goods, to Gandhi’s campaigns and revolutionary activities. He was caught in a plot to steal British munitions and supply it to Indians. While marching to the gallows, he consoled his distressed mother by quoting verses from the Gita regarding the indestructibility of soul. This shows the bravery and coolness that the Gita can inspire, even in the face of calamity. He said as he was about to be executed that he would like to be born again to finish the job of liberating India. He embraced the gallows with the Bhagavad Gita in his hands on April 18th 1898.



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