Ramakrishna Vivekananda Movement and its contribution to India's Freedom Movement
Traditional historians have completely ignored the role of Ramakrishna Vivekananda movement in shaping the independence movement of India. The Marxist historians have even gone to the extent of denigrating the role and equating it to a sectarian movement. But time has come for a reevaluation of the role of the great teacher and his close disciples in shaping India's as well as the world's destiny.
The story of the revolution began with a village lad taking up the role of a temple priest in a newly founded temple in the Northern outskirts of Calcutta, in a village called Dakshineswar. That temple priest, Ramakrishna, who on account of being an enlightened sage, got the title of Paramhamsa, soon became known among most of then influential people of Calcutta during that time. The list included Debendranath Tagore, Michael Madhusudan Dutta, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Krishnadas Pal, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Keshab Chandra Sen, Shibnath Shastri, Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar, Girish Chandra Ghosh, Ashwini Kumar Dutta, among others. Many noted scholars and pandits of that age were directly or indirectly influenced and inspired by Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna passed away on 16 August, 1886. But before he died he had already paved the way for the regeneration of India through a spiritual movement that has no other parallel. His disciples, the chief among them being Swami Vivekananda, helped to carry forward a mission in Ramakrishna's name, of spreading his message across India and world and also establish the nerve centre of spirituality in many places across the world, with Belur Math as the Head Quarter.
After the death of Ramakrishna, the young monks gathered in a dilapidated house in a locality called Baranagar, that became the first monastery. There they lived in extreme deprivation, embracing gladly a life of poverty and chastity. They often went without food and earned their livelihood begging, but were attached to each other with the bond of love. This saga of sacrifice resulted in securing a strong foundation for the spiritual movement that would transform India and the world. In just ten years Ramakrishna Mission was established on May 1st, 1897, in the house of Balaram Bose, a householder disciple, in the presence of Swami Vivekananda.
Between 1887 and 1893, Swami Vivekananda was just an itinerant monk, but he had traveled almost the entire breadth of British India and had astounded many great minds, including that of Balgangadhar Tilak, through his innate spiritual power and his astonishing scholarship and intellect. Several Rajas were his disciples and gigantic intellectuals of British India like Haridas Viharidas of Junagarh and Diwan of Limbdi, became his admirers. Under their guidance Vivekananda travelled to participate in the Parliament of Religions and created history. It was as if a gigantic spiritual power took up the whole of India by collar and shook it thoroughly to clean off all the dirt and dusts accumulated over centuries. The youth of India were particularly enraptured by the success of the monk. For the first time Indians felt that they were not inferior to anyone in the world, in fact, they were superior on account of the spiritual legacy to which the world was waking up. This revelation was primarily responsible for waking the people up from the self hypnotism and transformed the entire Nation to adopt a new found belief, that the Nation had to rise, it could not remain passive in the face of a satanic and diabolic foreign rule that was sapping its vital ingredients - its culture and its economy. Vivekananda's roar echoed from Colombo to Almora - "Arise, Awake and Stop Not, Till the Goal is Reached." He gave a new mantra, of active work - as worship - Seva without selfish desire. He formed magazines like Prabuddha Bharat or Awakened India and Brahma Vadin to propagate his ideals and message. He established the Belur Math by purchasing land on the banks of Ganga. Soon its branches were established in Mayavati, in Benaras, in Kankhal, in Ceylone, in Madras and other places. Mahendra Nath Gupta or Sri M, the householder disciple of Ramakrishna, published his Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, which made Ramakrishna's teachings available across the world. Brother disciples like Swamis Saradananda, Turiyananda, Abhedananda, Trigunatitananda, Nirmalananda, and several other monks who were disciples of Swami Vivekananda, were sent to preach Vedanta in America and England. India's spiritual thoughts were now disseminated across the world and sincere devotees flocked from many places. Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi slowly but surely became the Mother of the Monastic organization through her spiritual power of unbounded and unconditional love. Vivekananda passed away in 1902, but by then the work of his order had assumed a massive proportion and was ably carried out by his brother disciples led by Swami Brahmananda, the President. It inspired and influenced almost all the great political leaders of India like Subhas Chandra Bose and Gandhi, and the thinkers of the world like Tolstoy, Romain Rolland, William James, Maxmueller, Arnold Toyenbee, Aldus Huxley, among others.
Vivekananda's ideals of man making and character building, his call to serve the Motherland and save her from the bondage inspired many young men and women to serve the Nation by taking up armed struggle. Vivekananda told the youth that for the next fifty years Mother India would be the only living God. The only dharma of a bonded race is to secure emancipation from bondage, by getting rid of the tyrannies and oppressions, he thundered. Within three years of his death Bengal erupted in protest against the Partition proposal of Curzon. Vivekananda's Irish disciple Sister Nivedita carried the battle from the front by inspiring, planning and coordinating political movements. Nivedita inspired several political leaders and took up a direct fight with Curzon. Aurobindo Ghosh was clearly inspired by Vivekananda's ideals and so was Bagha Jatin - a great revolutionary. Many revolutionaries kept a close relationship with Ramakrishna Mission despite the Mission's ideals to stay politically neutral. For this reason the Mission came under the British police's radar and at one point ran the risk of being banned when Lord Carmichael, the Governor spoke openly against it. Swami Saradananda, the General Secretary of Ramakrishna Math, under advice of Holy Mother Sarada Devi, met the Governor and influenced him to change his mind and retract his statement. Meanwhile Ramakrishna Mission's great work in providing relief during flood and famines, the work of sheltering the orphans, of providing free treatment to the poor by opening sevashramas in Benaras, Kankhal, and Vrindavan, providing education, inspired the youth in taking up constructive work. A young Subhas Chandra Bose nursed Cholera patients in remote villages and derived great satisfaction from it. Girls too were not left behind as the Nivedita School of Baghbazar under the guidance of Sister Nivedita and Sister Christine made great progress in educating them without impacting their culture, belief and values, unlike the Missionary or the Brahmo schools. Despite all Hinduphobia, opposition and persecution, the Vedanta Societies in America made great progress in developing a band of sincere devotees who would lead the movement there. For this purpose Swami Trigunatita sacrificed his body in 1915 in an unfortunate attack. He had already established the first Hindu Temple in the West, in San Francisco, that survived the terrible fire and earthquake in 1906. In Madras, Swami Ramakrishnanda, wholely devoted to the service of Ramakrishna, firmly established the foothold of the movement in the South India. Kalyanananda and Nishchayananda, the worthy disciples of Vivekananda, established the Sevashrama in Haridwar for treatment of the poor Sadhus, despite earning the epithet of "bhangi sadhu" or cleaner monk from the orthodox community. Another Advaita Ashrama beside Mayavati, was established in Varanasi, which also had a Sevashrama for the treatment of the poor. Under Brahmananda and Shivananda as Presidents, rapid expansion followed. Householder disciples of Ramakrishna were not left behind. The dramatist Girish Chandra Ghosh inspired a large section of the educated masses through his Nationalist plays in the early part of the first decade. Dr. Bashiswar Sen became an eminent scientist. Dr. Jagadish Chandra Bose was greatly respectful of the ideals. Many other householders joined the monks in actively contributing for the betterment of the society through the service to the poor and the needy.
The movement gradually earned the centerstage when a large number of intellectuals, leaders and great men and women actively promoted the ideology of Ramakrishna Vivekananda. It was reflected in art, literature, and every other form of creative expressions. Ramakrishna Movement had paved the way for the rejuvenation of the society and the country in every sphere. The fact that every freedom fighter worth his salt was inspired not only by the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, but also some of the revolutionary freedom fighters in Bengal were greatly inspired by the Guru Ramakrishna and read the Kathamrita or the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, speaks volume of the influence that Ramakrishna Vivekananda had on the early Nationalistic Movement, esp. during the period of regeneration. In fact the British Police had to look at anybody who possessed Complete Works as a potential revolutionary. Kanailal Datta, a revolutionary of the early period of movement, used to read Jnana Yoga loudly in his condemned cell. The biggest contribution of Swami Vivekananda and the Ramakrishna Vivekananda movement was not only the rejuvenation and renaissance of Hinduism as some of the Marxist historians would want us to believe, but the rejuvenation of India as a whole on the principle of Vedanta - "I am That" . Vivekananda loudly proclaimed that each man is in essence not a body-mind but the Divinity Itself. There is nothing called death for Atman, that ever lives - death and miseries are the biggest lie. Vivekananda asked the youth to perform Nishkama Karma - work without desire - the teachings of Gita that were forgotten. He only added, that selflessness is the only form of being desireless - selfishness is death. This inspired many young men and women to court extreme physical torture and even death in selflessly trying to ensure emancipation for the Mother Nation. The call for freedom by Vivekananda - that soul is ever free - made the bondage all the more intolerable for the youth. They realized the vanity behind the oppressive foreign rule that could be easily dismantled provided enough people could sacrifice their lives for Even Rabindranath Tagore, who during the initial period was no Ramakrishna Vivekananda lover acknowledged that the biggest contribution of Mahatman Vivekananda was to show the men and women of India their true Nature - that they are Brahman - they have infinite power behind them and they can achieve anything. That went into the very psyche of the youth who rose, atfirst dazed from a long slumber of self hypnotism, but then soon they realized the truth and jumped into the fire of action. The days of the British Empire were numbered since then. The mighty gigantic spiritual force unleashed by a small time God intoxicated temple priest in a temple garden, altered the course of history of the world forever. Contemporary historians have failed to appreciate this force, but a time will come when this fact will be universally recognized - in the way it is recognized by a small number of scholars like Sankari Prasad Basu.
Swami Purnatmananda in his assessment - Swami Vivekananda and Indian Freedom Struggle, opines that Swami Vivekananda first exposed the dark side of the British rule in India in front of his American audience. In an informal gathering where Harvard Professor John Henry Wright and his wife Mary Tappan Wright were present, Swamiji described the British as horrible and loathsome and predicted that there would be a terrible revenge of history on Europe in general and Britain in particular. In fiery language he said to the British, "in one hand you have carried bible and in another hand sword, to our country....you have trodden us beneath your feet, treated us like dirt, you are nothing but flesh eating animals. You have degraded us with wine, you have debased our women, you have insulted our religion." What has British Government given to India, with stern ridicule Swami says, "Three B's - Bible, Brandy and Bayonet." Swamiji wanted that Indians should become human enough to develop courage to destroy the British Empire. Swamiji also wanted to lead such a movement. Perhaps it was his dream that gave birth to Subhas Chandra Bose, Bagha Jatin, Bhagat Singh, Surjya Sen and countless other youth who cared nothing for their lives and gave themselves as oblation in the great sacrifice to decimate British Empire from the world. As per information from Sister Christine, Bhupendranath Datta writes in his book Patriot Prophet, "few chapters of Swamiji's life are unknown to Indians. Very few know that he had developed plans of freeing India from the British rule. But he was not successful. To Sister Christine Swamiji said that he wanted to unite the rulers of the Indian princely states to get rid of the British rule. That was why he roamed from Himalaya to Kanya Kumari on foot. He developed friendship with the discoverer of Machine Gun Hiram Maxim, who was not unsympathetic to the cause of India and China. But, Swamiji said ruefully, he did not get any response from the country, the country was dead. It appears from Shankari Prasad Basu's correspondence with Lizelle Reymond, biographer of Sister Nivedita, that Miss Josephine Macleod provided money for buying arms and ammunition. Swamij wrote some fiery letters to Miss Macleod about his plans to evict the British from India. For practical reasons Miss Macleod burnt them. Swamiji tried to do a lot many things. A boat carrying arms was captured by the Government, but they could catch nobody.
Old Baranagar Math of Ramakrishna Order and its inhabitants - Swami Vivekananda and other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna - Dec 1887, courtesy: Wikipedia
Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna in Alambazar Math, courtesy: Wikipedia
Swamiji also said in England to Mahendranath Datta, his brother that "Congress was of no use. It can only shout at the top of its voice and do nothing worthwhile. What instead its people should do is to declare themselves as Independent and send the declaration to all the Governments of the world. Then there will be an uproar. We must work without any consideration for consequences. Let the first bullet from the Government fall on my chest; America and Europe will be stirred." He said , "It (British Empire) will crumble to pieces." When Swamiji heard that the Chapekar brothers had killed Rand and Ayerst, he said that we should establish a golden statue of the brothers. He said that wherever there is struggle there is consciousness. And India was hypnotized. Centuries of slavery had made the Indians inert. For the next fifty years mother India should be worshipped by us. Incidentally Swamiji made this statement in 1897. Exactly after fifty years India became independent, atleast on paper. To Mary Hale he wrote about British rule, "No good can be done when the main idea is blood sucking." The first period of National in the early twentieth century under the stewardship of Aurobindo and Tilak is called by noted historian Amalesh Tripathi as "Messianic Nationalism". It was based on the Religious ideals but were not very fruitful. It led to the disengagement and alienation of Muslims from mainstream Nationalism and they veered towards Communalism by forming the Muslim League. Aurobindo realized his folly and stepped aside. This period is marked by the self sacrifice of the youth who dared the Government. The fear of death disappeared, the Nation showed signs of waking up. In the second phase revolutionary spirit was much more prominent and this phase was led by Bagha Jatin and Rashbehari Bose along with their associates in Ghadar party and Berlin Committee outside India. It is to be remembered that several revolutionaries later joined Ramakrishna Mission - Debabrata Basu - a close associate of Aurobindo and one of the convicts of Alipore Bomb case, became Swami Prajnyananda and Sachindranth Sen, his colleague, became Swami Chinmayananda. They were given shelter by none other than the holy mother Sri Sarada Devi who had secretly given initiation to several other revolutionaries. After 1920 Gandhism gained prominence as "ahimsa" had an appeal to the masses as an alternative to revolutionary movement. But ahimsa or Non Violence failed to dislodge the ruthless British Government. Chittaranjan Das found a middle path and under him many ex revolutionaries made council entry to fight the British politically. Chittaranjan was inspired by Swami Vivekananda and his ideals. He left his everything to inspire the movement. His untimely death created a void which could never be fulfilled. Subhas Chandra Bose created a bridge with the revolutionaries. To Subhas, means were not mere experiments, they were supposed to achieve "end" and thus Gandhi's experiments with Satyagraha and his complete rejection of the violence, did not appear to be a prudent choice. Gandhiji deviated from Swami Vivekananda's path. As rightly surmised by Swami Ashokananda, Gandhiji had his pet ideal, Ahimsa and he gave more importance to his pet ideal than the interest of the Nation. After 1932 it was apparent to the British that Gandhi was no longer a threat. The result was that after the daring attempts of Bengal Volunteers of Hemchandra Ghosh which resulted in terrorizing the Government, Hindustan Republican Army of Bhagat Singh and Sachin Sanyal, and Master da's long battle in Chattogram, the revolutionary movement virtually petered out. The last nail in its coffin was driven by Marxism and Leninism - the Communist Party, and of course Gandhiji's deal with the revolutionaries. The higher ideals of Vivekananda were lost and the revolutionaries caught in the vortex of Communism (deliberately and actively promoted by British as they realized that its anti Nationalistic view points would help counter the revolutionary activities) and the guilt of violence promoted by Gandhism, helped in reducing the Nationalist movement to small flames instead of a giant conflagration, until it was restored to a gigantic size by another person inspired and influenced by Swamiji's ideals, outside India - Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. It is to be noted that other Swamis of Ramakrishna Mission like Swami Abhedananda and Swami Turiyananda also actively encouraged youth to love the Nation along Swamiji's ideals and take up path of action.
Old Belur Math - old temple on the left and Swamiji's room on the right
Swamiji met Balgangadhar Tilak in December 1901. He told him that without the strength of arms British could not be driven out of India and we must do so. This was revealed in the autobiography of Tilak's companion Vishnu Ranade. He said that the means should be warlike and destructive so that the rulers would be acknowledging defeat. In Belur Math Swamiji told Kamakhya Mitra that "what India needs today is bomb." As per the officials records, " In the early nineties and before he went abroad Vivekananda's intimacy with some of the petty princes of Western India attracted the attention of the Supreme police boss, the Director General of Criminal Intelligence of India." (source: Sw. Purnatmananda). Swamji was inspired by the ideals of Shivaji, the armour of a fighter underneath the ochre robs. He therefore wanted selfless sacrifice from a band of intripid men and women who would come forward with the strength of their own character and would love the Nation and its people. That was why man making and character building became his ideal and that of Ramakrishna Mission. First there should be men and women of strong characters who would be able to snatch and preserve independence. The only way to achieve that is to believe in oneself - the power of Atman. That power lies in the belief in the Nation's own legacy, its glorious past, its dharma. The foreign power knew that the only way to enslave a Nation was to make it forget that it was great and instead inculcate the spirit of subservience, that the people of that Nation were inferior in all respects, they had no future without adapting to the foreign ideals. Their own ideals were trash, superstitions. Nothing good could ever happen with that baggage. They were incapable of ruling themselves. This notion was firmly implanted in the minds of the Indians. Even educated and cultured Indians began to believe it firmly, that the British were superior in all aspects and they were bound to rule India forever. None, not even Gandhi, could come out of that false notion and that was why Congress contented itself with prayers and petitions. Even Gandhiji, who inspired mass movements through his experiments with Satygraha, failed to realize that what India needed was complete independence and not a vague assurance of Swaraj in the guise of Dominion Status. Therefore the power transfer that happened in the name of independence was far from ideal. Only Tilak to some extent, Chittaranjan Das, and Subhas Chandra Bose realized the merits of what Swami Vivekananda said. Subhas tried his best to put them in action when he formed an army and attacked at the core of the British Empire, resulting in its eventual collapse. British did not give India out of goodwill on a platter, nor did they give it being afraid of Gandhiji and Congress's policies of Ahimsa. By 1945 most of the Congress leaders out of jail were afraid to go back to jail again, in the words of Nehru himself, they were tired and worn out to continue to fight and therefore settled for a compromise, albeit at the cost of millions of lives. The British offered them such a settlement being mortally afraid of the possibility of a rebellion in the army ranks, which they had no means to prevent. The Naval revolt of 1946 shattered the myth that the British Indian Army was loyal. Despite shabby treatment, 95% of the Indian National Army men did not desert Netaji, they held on to the lofty ideals of freedom at tremendous personal cost and their experiences and courage motivated their brothers in British Indian Army to such an extent that first signs of trouble were seen in Army signals in Jabbalpur, in Airforce, in the disobedience of the Indian military and the police to fire on the rebel Navy ratings. British Government had no recourse than to withdraw from India with dignity and honour, after playing a last wicked game of partition and unleashing a horror story on the subcontinent.
According to the reminiscences of great revolutionary Hemchandra Ghosh to Swami Purnatmananda, Nivedita told them that India was Swamiji's greatest passion. The thought of India was virtually an obsession with him. India throbbed in his breast, India beat in his pulses, India was his daydream, India was his nightmare. Not only that, he himself became India. He was the embodiment of India in flesh and blood - they very symbol of her spirituality, her purity, her wisdom, her power, her vision and her destiny. Dr. R.C Majumdar saw reports of the British police that identified Ramakrishna Mission and its ideals as the greatest danger to the British India as many youth were inspired by the ideals of Vivekananda and wanted to gave up their lives for the Nation. Many revolutionaries were inspired by Vivekananda. So the later revolutionaries were indoctrinated with Marxism so that they eventually became free of that love of Nation and ideals of self sacrifice. Swami Vivekananda told young Hemchandra in Dhaka, "Arouse the latent powers of man within you and with the help of that drive the usurpers, the intruders and the plunderers away from the country . That is your only religion now....." "By any means..whatsoever", he added, with raging fire emanating from eyes. Hemchandra and his associates went to become one of the key architects of Indian Independence and created terror in the heart of the British Empire. Hemchandra Ghosh concludes that it was Sri Ramakrishna who through his intense sadhana had lit up the spiritual light of India that led to her emancipation from the foreign shackles. His diverse practices of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity to realize the Truth through all means, his tireless attempts to bring inner reformation rather than outer reformation, yearning for God realization and Truth and shunning of all forms of hypocrisy, his mentoring of young Narendranath and other disciples, his reaching out to the great intellectual minds of the contemporary times to arouse their latent power of reformation, all were directed to awaken the Kundalani shakti or the latent spiritual power of the country, that got manifested in the form of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda movement, but in reality its scope was vast, gigantic, beyond the limitations of time and space and causation, one of whose outcome was the independence of India, which was necessary to set the next stage, to make her the spiritual power of the world, to shine the light of true spirituality on the mankind and show them the path to bliss.
Swami Abhedananda and Swami Turiyananda