Article abstract: Aurobindo was one of the leading politicians and great religious thinkers in twentieth century India. He was a leader of the first national political party with a platform demanding the independence of India from British rule. His writings and actions helped to revitalize India politically and spiritually.
Sri Aurobindo Ghose was born in Calcutta, India, on August 15, 1872. His father, Krishna Dhan Ghose, was a respected physician who, after his preliminary degree, went to England for further study. Ghose returned the year before Aurobindo was born with not only a secondary degree but also a love of England and an atheistic bent. In 1879, Aurobindo was taken with his two elder brothers to be educated in England. Ghose arranged for them to board with the Drewetts, cousins of an English friend. He asked that the boys be given an English education without any contact with Indian or Eastern culture. Mrs. Drewett, a devout Christian, went a step further and did her best to convert them. Aurobindo remained in England for fourteen years, supported at first by Ghose, then through scholarships.
Aurobindo was first taught by the Drewetts. In 1884, he was able to be enrolled in St. Paul’s School in London. A prize student, Aurobindo in 1890 went to King’s College at the University of Cambridge with a senior classical scholarship. In the same year, he passed the open competition for preparation for the Indian Civil Service. He scored record marks in Greek and Latin. Praised for his scholarship in those languages, Aurobindo was also fluent in French. In addition, he taught himself enough German and Italian that he could study Goethe and Dante in their native tongues. He also wrote poetry, an avocation that would lead to some published work. Other than poetry, Aurobindo’s only extracurricular activities were general reading and membership in the Indian Majlis, an association of Indian students at Cambridge. It was in this association that Aurobindo first expressed his desire for Indian independence.
In 1892, Aurobindo passed the classical tripos examination in the first division. He did not, though, apply for his B.A. degree. He also completed the required studies for the Indian Civil Service but failed to pass the riding exam. It was suggested that his failure was the result of his inability to stay on the horse, but Aurobindo claimed to have failed expressly by not presenting himself at the test. His reason for doing so was his distaste for an administrative career. It happened that a representative of the Maharaja of Baroda was visiting London. He was petitioned by friends of Aurobindo, and Aurobindo was offered an appointment in the Baroda service. He left for India in 1893.
Aurobindo began with secretariat work for the maharaja, moved on to a professorship in English, and culminated his career in the service as vice principal of the Baroda College. By the time he had left Baroda, Aurobindo had learned Sanskrit and several modern Indian languages, and he had begun to practice yoga.
At the time of Aurobindo’s return to India, the Indian Congress, presided over by moderates, was satisfied with the current state of affairs. At best they would petition the colonial government with suggestions. Dissatisfied with the effect they were having on conditions in India, Aurobindo began political activities in 1902. Prevented from public activity while in the Baroda service, he established contacts during his leaves. His original intent was to establish an armed revolutionary movement that would, if necessary, oust the English. Toward this end he helped organize groups of young men who would acquire military training.
In 1905, with the unrest caused by the Bengal Partition, Aurobindo participated openly in the political scene. He took a year’s leave without pay and then, at the end of the year, resigned from the Baroda service. In his political work he met other Indians desiring Indian independence. Most notable among these was Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Eventually, with Tilak and others, Aurobindo formed the Nationalist Party. With Tilak as their leader, they overtook the congress with their demand for swadeshi, or India’s liberty. Content to remain behind the scenes, Aurobindo concentrated on propaganda. He helped edit the revolutionary paper Bande Matarum, which called for a general boycott of English products, an educational system by and...
(The entire section is 1841 words.)