The Social Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo

Doctoral Thesis / Dissertation, 2017

326 Pages, Grade: A



1. Preface

2. Introduction

3. First Chapter: The Swaraj
A. Etymological Meaning of Swaraj
B. Swaraj: in Kautilya’s Arthasashtra
C. Swaraj as interpreted by B.G. Tilak
D. Narrow & Broad Senses of Swaraj: in political context
E. Gandhi on Swaraj
F. Comparison of Gandhi and Aurobindo
G. Sri Aurobindo’s view of Swaraj : (a) political sense of Swaraj; (b) spiritual sense of Swaraj
H. Reconciliation between Political and Spiritual senses of Swaraj: reasons given by Aurobindo
I. Sri Aurobindo Swaraj and Nation
J. Inadequacy of State idea: Aurobindo
K. Nation with Soul Factor
L. Nation-Soul and Nationalism
M. Swaraj and Sanatana Dharma
N. Is Sanatana Dharma possibly in reality?
O. Swaraj: Road towards Life Divine
P. Conclusion

4. Second Chapter: The Boycott
A. Etymological sense of Boycott
B. Two trends of Boycott movement in India
C. Sri Aurobindo’s notion of Boycott: Its Constructive & Destructive aspects: Economic Boycott & Swadeshi, Educational Boycott & National Education, Judicial Boycott & National Arbitration Court, Administrative Boycott & National Organization, Social Boycott
D. Comparison of Boycott: Aurobindo & Gandhi
E. Is Boycott a blow over spiritual sense of Swaraj?
F. Boycott & Violence: Turn towards Just War
G. Spiritual Outlook of Boycott
H. Conclusion

5. Third Chapter: Resistance: Passive & Active
A. Founder of Resistance theory
B. Is Revolution synonymous with Resistance?
C. Passive resistance vs. Satyagraha: Gandhi
D. Sri Aurobindo on Passive Resistance
E. Necessity of Passive Resistance
F. Criteria of Passive Resister: Gandhi vs. Aurobindo
G. Defensive vs. Aggressive Resistance
H. Gandhi on Active Resistance
I. Sri Aurobindo on Active Resistance
J. Armed Revolt vs. Active Resistance: reasons given by Aurobindo
K. Is Violence necessary for Active Resistance?
L. Difference of Active & Passive Resistances
M. Spiritual Outlook of Resistance
N. Inherent Philosophy behind Resistance
O. Conclusion

6. Fourth Chapter: The Theory of National Education
A. Sri Aurobindo’s Definition of Education
B. Sri Aurobindo’s thesis on National Education
C. Integral Education of Sri Aurobindo: Physical Education, Vital Education, Mental Education, Psychic Education, Spiritual Education
D. Three Principles of Education
E. Relevance of Integral Education: Road towards Life Divine
F. Conclusion

7. Fifth Chapter: Village Reconstruction & Palli Samiti
A. Sri Aurobindo on Village Reconstruction: Gram Swaraj
B. Necessity of Village Reconstruction
C. Village and Nation
D. Village Reconstruction procedure: relation with Swaraj
E. Ways towards Gram Swaraj: Spirituality Inherent
F. Conclusion

8. Sixth Chapter: Life Divine : Way through Historical Stages
A. Dual approaches of History: Positivism and Anti-positivism
B. Several Historical Stages: Sri Aurobindo: Symbolic Stage, Typal Stage, Conventional Stage, Individualistic Stage & Subjective Stage
C. Is Individualistic stage worthy to welcome?
D. Drawbacks of Individualism
E. Dangers of Subjectivism: True and False Subjectivism: First Psychic Truth and Second Psychic Truth
F. Subjective Stage and Life Divine: Road Ahead
G. Conclusion

9. Conclusion

10. Reference


When I got admission in my Post-graduate class at Jadavpur University in 2004 then Life Divine of Sri Aurobindo was mandatory to read in our course study. While going through that book I felt quite attracted to the beauty of Sri Aurobindo’s writings and decided to go on further reading on him. The spiritual bent of his mind even being one of the famous political leaders of Indian National Congress made me amazed. In 1905 Aurobindo Ghose was very popular nationalist leader of Indian national Congress just like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal. But he left his promising political career at the peak time of 1910 and went on living in first Chandennagore and then at Pondicherry. He actually took break from his political career even though he was quite aware about the ongoing situation of India till death. He believed that his engagement in Indian political movement is also due to the divine plan. In his book Life Divine the spiritual outlook was revealed. However when I went through his other books like The Foundations of Indian Culture, The Ideal of Human Unity, The Human Cycle then there is no room left for me to understand the profound knowledge of Sri Aurobindo on every arena of Indian as well as World politics.

I tried to make my Ph.D. thesis on his social-political thought. It will be easy if I just go on discussing the relevance of Sri Aurobindo’s social-political thought by citing his contribution while finding out the similarity and dissimilarity with other contemporary Indian thinkers e.g. Rabindranath Tagore, M.K. Gandhi, Bankim, Swami Vivekananda and also with the Western thinkers, like Marx, Darwin etc. But I chose the complicated path of discovering relevance of Sri Aurobindo’s social-political thought.

In this dissertation I have gone through Sri Aurobindo’s several social-political topics like swaraj, boycott, resistance, national education, village reconstruction which ended with my search for Life Divine. When we go through Sri Aurobindo’s social-political thought we cannot leave these topics aside. As a political leader and social reformer he in his social-political thought praised all of them and therefore I tried hard to discover their relevance. The result is mesmerizing which has been discussed elaborately in my conclusion. In this endeavor whether I am successful or an utmost failure I do not know. I only know that in fact I am performing my duty as following the Gita

karmmaņebādhikāraste mā phaleşu kadācana.

mā karmmaphalahetubhūr mā te sango `stvakarmaņi ||2/47||



[Debashri Banerjee]

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One of the frequently raised objections against Indian culture has been relating to its political immaturity. Most of the Western critics discovered the absence of political awareness among Indians and they presumed that accounted for all the failures of India in the domain of economics and politics. To them India can be rich in socio-religious field, but not in politics. These objections of the critics are based on the popular misconceptions regarding Indian history, culture and politics. In the present dissertation I would like to elaborate the views of Sri Aurobindo to combat against all such objections. While going through this discussion we would also like to make his views relating to the nature of the Indian society and politics crystal-clear.

The problem of discovering the true nature of a multi-communal country like India is vast. It is a problem that whenever we are dealing with the questions of national unity of India it always takes the form of religious unity due to India’s deep faith on religion. Sri Aurobindo himself conceived that all great awakenings of India actually depend upon the religious awakening of it.1 This religious awakening preached by Sri Aurobindo is considered by some interpreters as religious nationalism or Hindu revivalism like Peter Heehs and Romila Thapar. Romila Thapar considered the nationalism preached by Sri Aurobindo has taken the form of Hindu revivalism while Peter Heehs called it as religious nationalism. If we go through the writings of Sri Aurobindo then we will find out that he never considered one religion is supreme than other, be it Hinduism or Islam. Like Svadbadins he actually accepted in the goodness of all religions and wanted to incorporate them under the head of sanatana dharma or eternal religion.2 Hence it is a certain misconception that his theory of nationalism is that of religious nationalism. Neither his nationalism could be considered as Hindu revivalism for the same reason. From here he later derived the idea of nation-soul which is completely free from any artificial external groupings like religion or politics.

Sri Aurobindo’s social-political thought is mainly centered on the idea of national unity which did not seem acceptable in poststructuralist doctrine. According to post-structuralism there is a certain structure of nation-building process which centers on the hunger of power of the national authority. Here the freedom of individuals and communities are snatched away by the authority to quench its thirst of power. However Aurobindian thesis regarding nationalism never approved this post-structuralism as if we accept it then there will remain no chance of revolt of individuals. Here men have to reside as the slaves of authority and due to repression there is no chance of spiritual evolution of mankind at all. Sri Aurobindo’s religion is the religion of humanity where human society has to get every chance to evolve in the Supermind.

Sri Aurobindo’s reflections of human communities has corresponding thesis regarding human mental potentialities. A nation cannot grow if it does not get fair opportunity to grow from outward and also from inward. For this inward growth we need to develop the individual mind as the basis of any nation. Hence for the attainment of national unity we need to identify the role of individuals within a nation. The individual development is dependent on its cooperation with other individuals in the similar way a community of the nation can grow only when we seek for its cooperation with other nations. Man seeks both freedom and unity for the ultimate development of him. The whole human history centers on these two significant ideas of human life. The process of perfecting the imperfect human society advocated by Sri Aurobindo in this way depends on seeking of these two ideas namely unity and freedom for the psychological development of mankind.

The concept of unity in the context of Aurobindian social-political thought has very crucial role to play. The subjective secret of an individual life lies on its identification of his own being as Brahman. With reason we cannot grasp this idea. Man’s intelligence or reasoning faculty has some certain limits and with limitation we cannot understand the unlimited Brahman. Self-consciousness, popularly known as bodhi, is the way to achieve this union.3 On the basis of this proper subjective development of individual a national unity can emerge. Uniformity of nations will be external and loose in nature assembled to have economical and political advantages; while unity among nations depends on the proper subjective development of its individuals. A nation can be united both outwardly and inwardly but for the proper development of a nation we need to approach the inward urge of unification. Sri Aurobindo in this context accepted the notion of centripetal unity or deeper psychological unity among nations based on the proper subjective development of its individuals.4 And for achieving this unity among individuals we undoubtedly need to preach for the value of freedom as for having psychological unity with others the individual should enjoy some amount of freedom.

Sri Aurobindo’s social-political thought seems to be value-oriented. He has a value implicitly inherent behind his theory of politics and that value is none but freedom. Freedom is actually the essential component of politics. Freedom is desired to all. If we are unable to work freely, talk freely or live freely then we are living the lives of prisoners. Nobody wants to live his entire life as a prisoner. Everybody wants some amount of freedom to enjoy. But the uniqueness of Sri Aurobindo’s thought is that he wanted freedom not only for the individual, but also for the nation and the universe. Hence his theory of freedom is not only limited within the discussion of individual freedom, but aims at collective freedom for all.

Swaraj seems to be freedom to Sri Aurobindo. The word ‘ swaraj’, if taken from the political perspective, stands for complete independence or freedom to him. Boycott is the way of achieving swaraj or freedom. To be free we sometimes have to boycott the enemies who want to make us captive. Resistance, be it passive or active, is also another way of achieving freedom. Passive resistance is the way with whose help we can passively resist our enemies who try to snatch away our political freedom. Actually boycott stands as the extreme form (the first principle5 ) of passive resistance in the view of Sri Aurobindo where for gaining our own political freedom we have to boycott the wrong-doers. When even boycott program fails then we need to take the help of active resistance for actively resist the enemies for snatching away our political freedom. But what is the reason of advocating for national education theory of Sri Aurobindo in my dissertation? It is true that we need political freedom as an indispensable part of human living, but for understanding the necessity of political freedom in our life we need to be educated enough. Education is the means of realizing the importance of political freedom in individual mind. Illiterate persons are unable to understand the need of freedom in life. So, it is completely true that, for making an individual suitable to attain political freedom we first of all need to educate him. In this way my first to fourth chapter is related with the problem of how we should acquire freedom in the life of an individual. The concept of village reconstruction deals with how we could gain freedom for a community. Man is a social being. He could not live without community; be it family, or clan, or nation. A person with individual freedom cannot enjoy it fully unless all others living in the same social group become also free like him. So we have to preach for the freedom of all living within a village as following Sri Aurobindo. And because village is the backbone of a nation, hence the freedom of all living within the same nation is also seems desirable. Thus I incorporate Sri Aurobindo’s theory of village reconstruction where we can discover the path of gaining national freedom. But the uniqueness of Sri Aurobindo’s social-political thought is that he never stops within the realm of nationalism, but aims at internationalism. His aim is to attain the freedom for all, devoid of his color, class, race, or sect difference. Just like his theory of mukti or salvation does not remain limited within the boundary of individual salvation but goes toward collective salvation; in the similar way his theory of freedom talks about universal freedom, collectively for all, instead of focusing only on individual freedom. Individual freedom helps us to gain national freedom; in the same way national freedom helps us to reach Sri Aurobindo’s dream of freedom of all residing in the same universe. In this way his theory of social-political thought breaks the boundary of nationalism and emerges as the advocator of internationalism by preaching the theory of universal brotherhood for all. Life divine is not a mere spiritual concept to me, but actually his way of reaching internationalism.

In the first chapter I want to discuss the importance of swaraj theory in Sri Aurobindo’s social-political thought. Swaraj, according to Arthashastra written by Kautilya in ancient India, stands for bureaucracy or swarajya rather than democracy or ganarajya. But in Sri Aurobindo’s thought, swaraj stands for two senses – complete independence in the political sense and mukti or liberation in spiritual sense. However in another interpretation he drew the similarity of the concept of swaraj, as sanatana dharma, with the universal religion thesis advocated by Swami Vivekenanda. I want to elaborate all these notions in my first chapter and try to make it the first step towards our advancement to internationalism.

In the second chapter I want to focus on the role of boycott as the essential corollary of Indian politics. Boycott is a political concept which has five different aspects according to Sri Aurobindo, i.e. administrative or executive boycott, economic boycott, judicial or legislative boycott, educational boycott and social boycott. There is a controversy between Gandhi and Aurobindo in the context of accepting boycott. However I want to show in my chapter that boycott, a political concept, is actually serves as the gateway of attaining swaraj.

In the third chapter I want to focus on the role played by resistance, be it passive or active in nature. Active resistance is falsely thought to be similar with armed revolt while Sri Aurobindo clearly differentiated between them. Gandhi’s passive resistance theory is compared with satyagraha and for understanding Sri Aurobindo’s passive resistance I compare both of their theories. In this third chapter of my dissertation, I want to show resistance, another political concept of Sri Aurobindo, is also serving as the way of attaining swaraj in the sense of freedom.

In the fourth chapter I would like to discuss the role played by national education on individual. It is not a political concept completely as it has a social impact on individual. Education serves as a means of educating the society and in the similar way the five types of integral education theory of Sri Aurobindo also helps us to be educated in such a way so that we can understand the importance of gaining freedom. Sri Aurobindo’s integral education also helps us to go towards Life Divine for all living in the universe.

In the fifth chapter I would like to indulge in developing Sri Aurobindo’s ideas of village reconstruction. It is a social concept which not very elaborately discussed by him. Man, as a social being, is a member of his village and also of his nation. So an individual cannot enjoy his individual freedom if others living in the same village and nation could not obtain the least chance to enjoy it. Villages are the core of a nation hence gaining freedom for all living in the same village helps us to attain the same for all people of the nation.

In the sixth chapter I will try to find out the ways towards Life Divine, the road towards gaining universal freedom for all. Here I must clarify that this Life Divine which, according to Sri Aurobindo, can be attained via the five historical stages, i.e. the symbolic stage, the typal stage, the conventional stage, the individualistic stage and the subjective stage, is not at all a metaphysical concept. It is actually dealt by me as a social concept as through these five social stages Sri Aurobindo showed us the path of attaining universal freedom for all.

At last in my conclusion portion of this dissertation I will try to focus on my findings regarding the nature of his social-political thesis. Sri Aurobindo while discussing his theory regarding political freedom, in his social-political thought, could not stop the spiritual touch hidden behind. Here I am specially mentioning about the spiritual overtone hidden behind Sri Aurobindo’s social-political thought following all of my chapters but only to that extent which seems compatible. In this conclusion chapter I try to discover the relevance of his social-political thought and how Sri Aurobindo actually shows us the way towards internationalism through these five social stages.

At last it is a fact that in modern age Aurobindian idea of human cycle may seem as idealistic in nature but it should be admitted by us that reality depends upon ideas. We can very easily call any idea as illusory but with practice that can turn into the best gift bestowed by the nature to us. The application of every idea is dependent upon us. Hence we have to go through Aurobindian social-political thought without any preconceived bias regarding its utopian outlook.

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First chapter

The Swaraj

In Sri Aurobindo’s social-political thought Swaraj6 is an important topic to begin with. Apparently the plain and simple word ‘ swaraj’ has deeper significance and in the context of Indian social-political and cultural history it has far-reaching implications. In the context of Sri Aurobindo’s social and political thought the word ‘ swaraj’ has also received various interpretations. Some of the critics often have interpreted Sri Aurobindo as a great yogi, profound mystic as well as an exceptional philosopher. Naturally from their perspective when the idea of swaraj has been interpreted; it has been loaded with metaphysical, spiritual as well as mystical overtones. It is thought by some interpreters that swaraj signifies the starting-point of an individual’s inward journey towards the aspiring union with the Divine. The actual purpose of Sri Aurobindo, to them, is to make our life the Life Divine so that we can realize the inherent divinity within us. No doubt, in their opinion, Sri Aurobindo’s main goal is somewhat spiritual in nature and politics remains definitely as one of its significant corollaries. However, in order to arrive at a true description of Sri Aurobindo’s idea about politics we need to examine his ideas and their implications more meticulously without any preconceived bias.

If we think from the political aspect then we will discover that Sri Aurobindo’s aim is to help in building up India for the sake of humanity – this he viewed as the spirit of nationalism which would show us the path of universal humanity. The idea of universal humanity as preached by Sri Aurobindo also requires to be clearly deciphered. In the present century to speak about politics and spiritualism in the same breath would undoubtedly sound most ridiculous and absurd. It is hard to believe that politics and spirituality can ever have any sort of inter-relatedness. We could deduce that in Sri Aurobindo’s social-political philosophy swaraj seems to be the symbol of political freedom. In his view, politics remains instrumental for bringing the destined spiritual freedom of India. He declared that India should gain its spiritual mastery lacked by several materialistic nations like Europe.7 This ‘destined freedom and greatness’8 of India is nothing but spiritual in nature. Indian spirituality is the touch-stone by whose help the materialistic attitude of the Western nations can be transformed into the spiritualistic one. But for achieving spiritual freedom, India must at first of all gain its political liberty. Because no nation existing in the realm of political servitude, can be able to attain the spiritual salvation as dreamt by Sri Aurobindo. Hence for the fulfillment of Sri Aurobindo’s aim of gaining spiritual liberty of India, our urge for attaining its political freedom is indispensable. His theory of swaraj, in this context, can become inseparable with the notion of political freedom.

A.Etymological Meaning of Swaraj:

In the etymological sense, ‘ swa’ stands for ‘self’ and ‘ raj’ stands for ‘rule’. Hence Swaraj literally may be taken to signify self-rule. But this type of over-simplification is really harmful in consequence. We have to understand first the inherent meaning of ‘ swa’ or ‘self’. The word ‘ swa’ or ‘self’ seems to have two senses accordingly as it is taken to stand for individual or group. Hence ‘ swa’ means –

1. One man
2. One group

Hence ‘self-rule’ or ‘ swaraj’ seems to stand for two meanings or connotations:

1. The rule by a man i.e. autocracy
2. The rule by a group i.e. democracy

Then what is swaraj ? Is it autocracy or democracy? Now, for understanding it, let us try to comprehend the meaning of swaraj as found in Kautliya’s Arthashastra and in the writings of Tilak and Gandhi.

B.Swaraj: in Kautilya’s Arthashastra:

In Kautilaya’s Arthashastra we get the descriptions of several types of state concepts, namely swarajya, dwairajya (dvairajya), vairajaya and ganarajya. The leader of Swarajya is called as swarat or the sovereign king. The Nichya and Apachya states of Western India are cited as the proper instances of swarajya. Nichya is the place near Indus River while Apachya is somewhere above Nichya. The swarats are considered as sovereign and self-sufficient rulers of these swarajyas. Swarajya is compared with a kind of aristocracy as the ruler is nominated from other aristocrat members of the nation.9 And dwairajya, of the Sixth and Seventh centuries, is the rule of two similarly powerful rulers over one state. Lichchabi and Thakuri are two significant dwairajyas of ancient India. The two separate rulers could even make two different injunctions in the same project regarding the welfare of the nation. In the Inscription of Kathmandu we get its true proofs. In Nepal this dwairajya rule lasted for long times than other Indian territories. This state is neither similar with democracy nor with aristocracy. Form the Mahabharata we get to know that in the popular province named Avanti, two rulers or dwirats, namely Binda and Anubinda ruled for sometimes.10 Both swarajya and dwairajya are the proper examples of the monarchies. Vairajya can be called as a kind of bureaucracy, as sometimes here bureaucrats or amatyas ruled on behalf of the monarch over the state. There remains immense possibility of tyrannical rule as the supreme administrative power is nested upon the shoulder of the bureaucrats on the behalf of the monarch. However vairajya is said to be the ancestor nation to that of the ganarajya. Vairajya is the states situated at the Northern side of India, e.g. Uttarkuru, Uttarmadra etc. The ruler of such country is known as virats. However such king is well-popular among his people than swarats or dwirats, as he is known as the sovereign king. Such king has to follow the opinions of his subordinate people. Hence the common masses living under the territory of vairajya and ruled by the virat kings lived very happily. The historian Jayswal called vairajya as the first proper instance of the ‘Kingless constitution’.11 These states are the true examples of republics or republican states. However the ganarajya is best among all other states. When the common masses, being fade up with the rule of the virats or his faithful bureaucrats, withdraw the administrative power in their own hands, then ganarajya is formed. The word ganarajya is made up of two different parts – ‘ gana’ i.e. democracy lead by common people and ‘ rajya’ i.e. state. In this above way etymologically ganarajya stands for nothing else but ‘democratic state’. Ganarajya is seldom called as ganasangha which is, according to the historian R.C. Majumdar, a definite organization bound by laws and regulations.12 D. R. Bhandarkar said that ganasangha has to be a combination of individuals formed for attaining a definite object which object can be political in nature.13 However Jayswal indicated ganasangha as another example of the republican state, but it is more akin to ‘democracy’ or democratic state than the republican one.14 Sangha is described as ‘martial clans’ by R.P. Kangle as – ‘It may be assumed that the constitution of the Samgha was able to install a feeling of solidarity among the confederating units. The presence of a number of chiefs on the ruling council also prevented any sudden shift of policy, such as is likely to be the case with a single ruler, whose actions may be swayed by his personal whims.’15 But ordinarily sangha or samgha is known to be a guild; hence ganasangha stands for democratic guild-system. In this way it can be concluded that ganarajya and ganasangha are not completely synonymous in nature.

In Kautilya’s Arthashastra swaraj stands for the symbol of autocratic state or swarajya ruled by one autocratic ruler or monarch; and ganarajya stands for the democratic government governed by an independent group. But in modern times swaraj stands for ganarajya i.e. the democratic government governed by an independent group. Now the word ‘ swa’ could stand for one man and also for one group. Hence swaraj can turn out to be the rule of one ruler (autocracy) or one group (democracy). Among these two senses the first sense of the word swaraj is applied by Kautilya where the entire nation is ruled by an autocratic ruler. However we cannot take the word swaraj in the same sense as employed by Kautilya. We have to take it in the second sense. In this sense swaraj becomes closer to democracy rather than autocracy as interpreted by Kautilya.

From the modern point of view we may at least try to co-relate the two separate notions as of ‘ swaraj’ and ‘ ganarajya’. To make our position clear we may undertake swaraj in the sense of political liberty instead of autocracy as depicted by Kautilya. Ganarajya mainly aims at maintaining the kingdom as per the command of common people or ‘ gana’. It is quite similar in nature with democracy. In a democratic state the administration has no ruling power over its statesmen; instead it has to follow their commands. A democratic state needs to have s waraj or political independence for the sake of its own existence. It has to be self-sufficient, self-independent, self-governed and self-satisfied in its social and political arena. Thus understood, it has to fulfill its political cry for s waraj and for this reason ganarajya is known to be that state which can easily fulfill the need of swaraj. But one thing we should remember is that here swaraj connotes the sense of political freedom.

C.Swaraj as interpreted by B.G. Tilak:

Swaraj is thought to be the first call of Shivaji Maharaja at the time of Maratha (also called as Marhatta by Sri Aurobindo) upheaval against the Muslim invasion at the time of Aurangzeb. It was called then as ‘ swarajya’ (own land) by him. To Shivaji swaraj stands for acquiring our own land or swarajya. After that this cry was taken by Bal Gangadhar Tilak at the time of Bengal Partition movement or Swadeshi movement in 1905. In this etymological sense ‘ swaraj’ comes from the word ‘ swarajya’ i.e. own land (‘ swa’ stands for own and ‘ rajya’ stands for land). Tilak accepted this sense of the word swaraj, when he introduced Ganapati Utsav and Sivaji Utsav in Maharashtra at the time of Bengal Partition movement after 1905, in the sense of ‘own land’ as following Shivaji. So swaraj movement seems to Tilak having our right over our own lands. But there remains much scope of controversy regarding Tilak’s interpretation of the swaraj thesis. As a Nationalist leader of Indian National Congress Tilak also accepted swaraj in the sense of complete independence or purna swaraj. Sri Aurobindo also used the term ‘ swarajya’ in the sense of purna swaraj or absolute independence like Tilak.16 How Tilak arrived at the theory of complete independence or swaraj from his theory of ‘own land’ or ‘ swarajya’ is a much debatable issue. The probable interpretation of Tilak’s theory can be that the complete political independence will help a man to acquire his hold over his own land. Swaraj, in the sense of political independence, can help us to fulfill our dream of swarajya. In this way we can correlate Tilak’s theory of swarajya with the political sense of swaraj. However there remains a vast possibility of debate regarding this issue; but I am, in my present chapter, is unable to concentrate on the debate.

D.Narrow and Broad Senses of Swaraj: in political context:

In the context of India’s struggle for freedom, swaraj seems to have acquired at least two senses – one is, complete independence as envisioned by Sri Aurobindo and other Nationalist leaders; while the other is, self-rule as envisioned by Gandhi and other Moderate Congress leaders. We can distinguish between these two connotations as the broad sense of swaraj and the narrow sense of swaraj. Whether these two ideas of swaraj, both as complete independence and self-rule, are if not antagonistic to one another, then surely opposite or supplementary to one another as a matter of discussion which we have to deal with.

In its broad sense, the word swaraj stands for ‘self-government’17 or complete independence or purna swadhinata to the Nationalist Congress leaders like Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Aurobindo Ghose. To explain this we can say that in etymological sense the word ‘ swaraj’, according to Sri Aurobindo, may stand for ‘ swadhinata’ or independence; not only of a nation, but also of an individual.18 He in his article “The Meaning of Swaraj” written in the book Speeches clearly explained that ‘Swaraj means administration of affairs in a country by her own people on their own strength in accordance with the welfare of the people without even nominal suzerainty, which is the object which we wish to attain”.19 This is the best explanation of calling swaraj as complete independence by the nationalist leaders as well as by Sri Aurobindo. Nationalist leaders for this above reason considered swaraj as an essential sign of political liberty or complete independence.

Whereas in the narrow sense of swaraj the word stands for self-rule or ‘Colonial Self-Government’20 to Madam Kama, Anne Besant, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Dadabhai Naoroji etc Moderate Congress leaders. It was Dadabhai Naoroji who first introduced the thesis of swaraj in the sense of colonial self-government in the Calcutta session of Indian national congress in 1906.21 This narrow sense of swaraj was clearly accepted by their successor M.K. Gandhi but later he reformulated it in his own way. Colonial self-government stands for establishing a government of representatives of people under the supervision of the foreign rule and working as its colony. We can get the clear reason behind calling swaraj as self-rule if we go through the doctrine of Gandhian swaraj. Swaraj, according to Gandhi, can be considered as self-rule. In the word swaraj, ‘ swa’ stands for an independent group to Gandhi. To explain elaborately, the meaning of ‘ swa’ is, to him, an independently working group and ‘ raj’ means rule. Hence the word ‘ swaraj’ stands for an independent group that rule over people. In this way, Gandhian notion of swaraj stands for democracy or democratic rule of an independent group on people. This is reason behind Gandhi’s describing swaraj as nothing else than self-rule.22

E.Gandhi on Swaraj:

It has often been held that Gandhi’s doctrine of swaraj is quite prominently different from that of Sri Aurobindo in nature. Through a comparative analysis of Sri Aurobindo’s doctrine of swaraj with that of Gandhi’s concept we may try to throw some light on the matter. Actually after the disappearance of Sri Aurobindo from the field of active Indian politics Mahatma Gandhi appeared. Gandhi understood the importance of swaraj and in his hand its meaning expanded from colonial self-government to purna swaraj at the time of Indian political movement started from 1917.23 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 predecessor.

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 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.24

Gandhi was mainly thought to take swaraj in the sense of self-rule. But how he tried to convert his theory is as follows: ‘The word Swaraj is a sacred word, a Vedic word, meaning self-rule and self-restraint, and not freedom from all restraint which ‘independence’ often means… I (Gandhi) have, therefore, endeavoured to show both in word and deed, that political self-government, that is, self-government for a large number of men and women, is no better than individual self-government, and therefore, it is to be attained by precisely the same means that are required for individual self-government or self-rule. 25

From this large quotation we can actually gather the true picture of Gandhian swaraj. It will be unjust, according to me, if we consider Gandhian theory of swaraj as complete independence like that of Sri Aurobindo. His purna swaraj is purna in the sense that there remains no discrimination of castes, sects, religions or sections among Indians that can prevent them from practicing satya (truth) and ahimsa (non-violence) as two important corollaries of swaraj.26 His political sense of swaraj is not political independence, rather the state of dominion status. He was okay with the idea of freedom of will of Indians if the British government mercifully bestows that on us. He was in the state of practical day-dreaming that British government will allow enough political freedom in the hands of the Indians. He thought that if dominion status could ensure our freedom of will then it is worthy to be welcomed. His main aim was to attain self-rule but whether it comes in the disguise of dominion status in India under the British administration or in the form of colonial self-government where India has to exist as subordinate colony of England, he simply was not very interested to think for. His main intention behind the preaching of swaraj was to seek the kingdom of God from within.27

Actually Gandhi, in the context of Indian politics in pre-independent India, was not completely in the mood of rejecting the British rule. He was in the favor of making a stable nation with political freedom of its people; whether within the foreign rule or without, did not matter to him. But the political turmoil of India of Gandhi’s time actually forced him to preach for complete independence in the sense of swaraj after Satyagraha movement of and Bharat Charo or Quit India movement of . Hence Gandhi’s idea of swaraj as self-rule subsequently will be shown to be somewhat different in nature than that of Sri Aurobindo’s concept of swaraj as complete political independence. However Gandhi gradually transformed his idea of colonial self-government to complete independence unlike Sri Aurobindo following the necessity of politics in India. It will be not be wrong to mention that Gandhian theory regarding swaraj even though remains in the sense of self-rule in its theoretical level but it transformed into the sense of complete political independence while using it in practice in the arena of Indian independence movement.

It is true that Gandhi’s idealism of establishing the ‘kingdom of God’28 perhaps seems quite similar with the metaphysical approach of Sri Aurobindo but the way he had chosen to reach there is very ideological and full of day-dream I must say. By the help of truth (satya) and non-violence (ahimsa) how to reach this kingdom of God Gandhi failed to show.

F.Comparison of Gandhi and Aurobindo:

Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo both have unique contribution over the notion of swaraj. Let us start with comparing their theories with each other.

- Similarity of Gandhi and Aurobindo:

However we can notice enough similarity between their notions. From the Vedas Sri Aurobindo derived the true meaning of swaraj as Sva-mahimni29 i.e. arousal of the inner divinity of the individual. In his view, swaraj is in a sense, concentrating on the realization of divinity of man 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 view of swaraj is supposed to be greatly influenced by Tolstoy’s idea of kingdom of God for like him Gandhi also mentioned that every man has to follow his conscience seeking to know the kingdom of God lying within.30 Hence for advancing towards the kingdom of God, it is assumed by us that, even in Gandhian thought some amount of inner divinity hidden within humans is strongly advocated; his rejection of using violence against our foes is another proof of such belief. Form here we can say that both of these two thinkers shared the unusual fundamental similarity regarding their view of swaraj when taken from the spiritual sense. Swaraj stands for the discovery of the inner divinity in both Gandhi and Aurobindo.

- Dissimilarity between Gandhi and Aurobindo:

But while discussing about the means of achieving swaraj, we may come across inherent differences in their thoughts. 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 – for gaining swaraj, whether we need to accept the path of active resistance if necessary, or to remain limited only within the boundary of passive resistance? Generally it is said that while Gandhi took passive resistance as the ultimate end, Sri Aurobindo advocated the use of active resistance whenever seems urgent. To bring out the true perspective of Gandhi and Aurobindo, we need further deliberations. Actually at the time of Indian political movement from 1917 onwards Gandhi’s swaraj theory, based on satya (truth) and ahimsa (non-violence), took the form of passive resistance.31 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-defense an individual does not get any chance to use violent means as it will assault the inherent divinity residing 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 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 no room is left other than choosing the path of active violence.32 During that sort of situation the choice for passive resistance as the only method would seem to be the sign of cowardice. In that case, active resistance should be strictly followed by us as our most holy duty performed towards our mother-land. Sri Aurobindo gave emphasis on gaining swaraj; the means of achievement is not to be given so much importance by him. 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.

However it should be made clear that the difference of Sri Aurobindo and M.K. Gandhi lays between the applications of their theories regarding swaraj but the inner senses of swaraj i.e. ‘the kingdom of God’ of Gandhi33 and ‘the kingdom of Heaven’ of Sri Aurobindo34 is astonishingly quite similar.

G.Sri Aurobindo’s view of Swaraj:

Sri Aurobindo had his unique thesis on swaraj where we can discover his inherent political sense along with the spiritual sense. In the political sense, it is the essential weapon in the hands of Indians so that the achievement of political freedom becomes possible. In the spiritual sense, it stands as mukti or the way to reconcile the human race with the Divine.

Now let us develop these ideas broadly.

- Political sense of Swaraj:

Now, while discussing Sri Aurobindo’s political sense of swaraj, let us try to focus on how he deduced the meaning of swaraj as political independence. For this we have to go through the political background of the then India in brief.

Moderate leaders of Congress never accepted the broad sense of swaraj, i.e. complete independence, rather took it in the limited sense of colonial self-government as mentioned by Dadabhai Naoroji in the Calcutta session of Congress in 1906.35

Now what is meant by the ‘Colonial Self-government’36 ? Sri Aurobindo explored that under the head of colonial self-government, India, like all other colonies, would get the chance of making imperial conference with the colonial Prime Ministers and put all demands before the Secretary of States in a five-minute interview.37 The Secretary of States is undoubtedly an Englishman who can never truly realize the needs of subordinate colonies. Is this enough for India? Sri Aurobindo never considered it sufficient for a huge country like India. Actually under the disguise of self-government within the British Empire, in the view of Sri Aurobindo, 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.38 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 Government. Whenever asked about their share in the politics, in the opinion of Sri Aurobindo, 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.39 The prominent example would be The United states of America as a colony under England. 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, to achieve complete independence from the grasp of the British rule.

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.40 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 of that time 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 was accepted by the Congress leaders only after the appearance of Mahatma Gandhi in the political field.

The demand for complete self-government, in the view of Sri Aurobindo, is actually essential for making India free from political bondage.41 For making India completely liberated from the dominance of British rule, the preaching for self-government or complete independence seemed completely mandatory to him. India 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 their own government where the administrative powers, enjoyed by the members of the Governmental body, Secretary of the States etc administrative organizations, had to be nested completely upon them.42 At this period Indian masses had been given the power to elect their own representative bodies enjoying the overall administrative, judicial, social, political as well as cultural responsibilities. In a self-governed country the foreign rulers should not get enough opportunity to supervise the administrative, judicial, social as well as the political workings of the Indian nominated representatives. Then they will not at all get the scope to dominate, enslave or torture over Indian citizens; and India will be liberated from the shackles of the British Bureaucracy in its appropriate sense. Truly comprehending this situation, as a good political thinker, Sri Aurobindo was in the favor of getting self-governance i.e. complete independence, instead of colonial self-governance, from the hands of British masters.43

- Spiritual sense of Swaraj:

On February, 1908 at Nasik Sri Aurobindo lectured that in our Vedanta philosophy the word swaraj means mukti or salvation.44 The soul when it is free from all worldly temptations can have gained swaraj or mukti. The term swaraj, in his view, has a spiritual overtone. Sri Aurobindo described it as a “parash pathar” or alchemic stone of Indian politics45 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.

What is the spiritual meaning of swaraj ? From the Vedas, Sri Aurobindo quoted the word sva-mahimni46 i.e. union of individual with the Divine. This concept of sva - mahimni, derived from the Vedas, shows that individual being is nothing else but divinity hidden within. We have to evoke this divinity for our own betterment. Due to the sheer existence of avidya or ignorance we can mistakenly think of us as different from the Divine. But when this avidya ceases to exist then we will truly realize that we are nothing else but the representation of the same Brahman. This avidya has to cease to exist when atma - jnana or tattva - jnana (self-knowledge) comes in the mind of jivatman. Then jivatman becomes the same with Paramatman. This is in short Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual sense of swaraj where the word swaraj stands for mukti or liberation, in the sense of sva - mahimni. However this theory of unification between jivatman and Paramatman can also be seen in the Gita.

But let me explain that Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual sense of swaraj is not completely devoid of political touch. For attaining this spiritual goal, according to him, we need to fulfill the dream of attaining the political liberty of a nation. The arousal of the inner divinity within an individual can make him nearer to Brahman by following the path of mukti; but it is not at all a sufficient position, even though be considered as the necessary position in individual life. The nation also has to identify the inner divinity of all men residing within. Here the discovery of collective mukti or freedom of all individuals residing in the same nation, instead of individual mukti or freedom, seems desirable to Sri Aurobindo. In this way, by realizing the spiritual sense of swaraj, we can identify us as the manifestation of Brahman. But for this we need to achieve the political liberty of India as a nation; because a nation, if politically imprisoned, fails to realize such spiritual sense behind the existence of its residents (i.e. they all are none but Brahman).47 Here beautifully Sri Aurobindo correlated the spiritual sense of swaraj with its political meaning.

H.Reconciliation between Political and Spiritual senses of Swaraj: Reasons given by Aurobindo:

It is quite difficult to co-relate Sri Aurobindo’s political notion of swaraj with the spiritual meaning as cited from 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 politics in this pure endeavor; and (b) political swaraj advocated by Sri Aurobindo is just a means for gaining the spiritual unity with the Divine.

Firstly, Sri Aurobindo gave reasoning behind his advocacy of swaraj theory from the political and spiritual senses of swaraj. Metaphysically he compared our fight against the tyrannical British rule as the fight against demons or asuras using swaraj as the tool in our hands and as planned by the Divine. In an letter to his disciple, written in March 13, 1944, Sri Aurobindo explained the main reasons for his advocating swaraj as a political agitation and not as a sign of hatred against foreign rule while incorporating the spiritual sense beautifully with it by saying that – ‘You should not think of it (swaraj agitation) as a fight of certain nations against others or even for India; it is a struggle for an ideal that has to establish itself on earth in the life of humanity….Those who fight for this cause are fighting for the Divine and against the threatened reign of the asura.’48 The fighting for swaraj is compared by him with the fight with the demons. It is our responsibility to fight against the demons for the Divine and swaraj is the way to establish humanity over the universe by killing the demons according to the divine plan as conceived by Sri Aurobindo. In this way the political sense of swaraj agitation gets beautifully reconciled with its spiritual interpretation in the view of Sri Aurobindo.


1 Sri Aurobindo, On Nationalism, p. 72

2 Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of the Karmayogin, “The Ideal of the Karmayogin”, p. 5

3 Sri Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother On Education, “The Powers of the Mind”, p. 25

4 Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, ‘Nation and Empire: Real and Political Unities’, p. 36

5 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “The Doctrine of Passive Resistance: Its Methods”, p. 101

6 According to the standard interpretation the term ‘ swaraj’ is uttered as svaraj by most. But as I am following Sri Aurobindo so I am using the term with the same spelling made by him i.e. swaraj.

7 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “Swaraj and the Coming Anarchy”, p. 731

8 Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of the Karmayogin, “The Ideal of the Karmayogin”, p.

9 Bhaduri, N.P., Dandaniti: Pracin Bharatiya Rajasashtra, p. 82

10 Ibid, p. 82

11 Jayswal, K.P., Hindu Polity: A Constitutional History of India in Hindu Times, Part. I, p. 50

12 Majumdar, R.C., Corporate Life in Ancient India, p.

13 Bahandarkar, D.R., Some Aspects of Ancient Indian Polity, p. 80

14 Jayswal, K.P., Hindu Polity: A Constitutional History of India in Hindu Times, Part. I, p. 53

15 Kangle, R.P., Kautiliya Arthashastra, Vol. III, p.

16 Sri Aurobindo, Speeches, “Our Work in the Future”, p.

17 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “The President of the Berhampur Conference”, p. 228

18 Sri Aurobindo, Speeches, ‘The Meaning of Swaraj’, p. 36

19 Sri Aurobindo, Speeches, ‘The Meaning of Swaraj’, p. 34

20 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “The Results of the Congress”, p. 202

21 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “The Results of the Congress”, p.

22 M.K. Gandhi, Young India, -1931, p. 38 [Shriman Narayan (eds.), The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi: (Volume – Six) The Voice of Truth, p. 440]

23 Gandhi, M.K., Young India, -1931, p. 42 [Shriman Narayan (eds), The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi: ( Volume Six )The Voice of Truth, p. 440]

24 Shriman Narayan (eds), The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi: ( Volume Six )The Voice of Truth, p. 440

25 Shriman Narayan (eds.), The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi: (Volume – Six) The Voice of Truth, p.

26 Shriman Narayan (eds.), The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi: (Volume – Six) The Voice of Truth, p. 443

27 M.K. Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. X, p. 249 [extracted from Shriman Narayan (eds.), The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi: (Volume – Six) The Voice of Truth, p. 438]

28 M.K. Gandhi, Hindustan Standards, -1940 [extracted from Shriman Narayan (eds.), The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi: (Volume – Six) The Voice of Truth, p. 446]

29 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “Justice Mitter and Swaraj”, p. 513

30 M.K. Gandhi, Hindustan Standards, -1940 [extracted from Shriman Narayan (eds.), The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi: (Volume – Six) The Voice of Truth, p. 446]

31 Shriman Narayan (eds.), The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, [Volume sixe: The Voice of Truth], Section IX: Political Ideas, p. 441

32 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “The Doctrine of Passive Resistance: Its Limits”, p. 115

33 M.K. Gandhi, Hindustan Standards, -1940 [extracted from Shriman Narayan (eds.), The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi: (Volume – Six) The Voice of Truth, p. 446]

34 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “The Demand of the Mother”, p. 853

35 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “The Results of the Congress”, p. 202

36 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “The Results of the Congress”, p. 202

37 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “Yet There is Method in It”, p.

38 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “The President of the Berhampur Conference”, p. 228

39 Ibid, p.205

40 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “Yet There is Method in It”, p. 206

41 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “Yet There is Method in It”, p. 206

42 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “Yet There is Method in It”, p. 206

43 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “The President of the Berhampur Conference”, p. 226

44 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, ‘Justice Mitter and Swaraj’, p. 513

45 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, ‘Swaraj’, p. 699

46 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, ‘Justice Mitter and Swaraj’, p. 513

47 Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, “Justice Mitter and Swaraj”, p. 514

48 Navajata, Sri Aurobindo, p.

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The Social Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo
Jadavpur University
Doctor of philosophy
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Ex-doctorate fellow at Jadavpur University, India: Life member of GERA: Editor at Palgo and IJES
social, political, thought, aurobindo
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Debashri Banerjee (Author), 2017, The Social Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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