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Monday, November 23, 2009

Swami Vivekananda and the Ramakrishna Movement

The Ramakrishna movement was established by Swami Vivekananda, who was a disciple of a Hindu saint Ramakrishna. The success of Swami Vivekananda began when he represented Hinduism at an international religion congress, which was held in 1893 in Chicago, USA. Vivekananda demonstrated India as a tolerant society, which allows different sects to live together under one roof of Hinduism and as a society, which also accepted in it people of other religions. He claimed that all religions eventually prayed to the same one God and the goal of all religions is the same, to reach God. He began his speech by referring to other delegates as ‘brothers and sisters’ and so proving his point that all the human race was one big family. His messages about humanity attracted many people of European culture and many claim that he started the European phenomenon of cults with Indian gurus. 

After his success in America he returned to India and established the Ramakrishna movement with an aim to preserve the Indian culture. This movement considered the Indian culture as the most humanistic and spiritual culture in the world. This movement succeeded in establishing pride in Indian people about their culture which, they didn’t had before. His philosophy affected many nationalist leaders and they interpreted his philosophy so that it could be adjusted to Indian nationalism. For example the Ramakrishna movement believed in the existence of Supreme Being but Swami Vivekananda did not reject idolatry and claimed that the different idols were different ways to reach the same Supreme Being. This was interpreted to connect Goddess Earth (Mother India) and Goddess Kali whom many worshipped in Bengal. The message was sacrificing oneself for Mother India was like sacrificing for Kali. Some of Swami Vivekananda’s preachings were interpreted also by the British as hints to act against the British. For example Vivekananda preached that the path to realize God was not only worshipping idols in spiritual way but also through intellectual and physical action. The British thought that by saying physical action, Vivekananda meant terrorist actions against them.

Subhas Chandra Bose

Subhas Chandra Bose (1897 - 1945) had a very important impact on Indian nationalism. He saw himself as a student of Swami Vivekananda. Subhas Chandra Bose was Mahatma Gandhi's rival within the Congress. He was anti-British and very militant in his ideas. He opposed Gandhi's non-violence struggle and supported an aggressive revolt against the British. He also opposed the liberal democratic ideas of Europe but rather supported the communist and fascist ideas of Europe. He believed that Indians needed a strong totalitarian leader. 

Bose began his political career by resigning from the British civil service and so from his point of view carving out the first step towards throwing the British out of India. After his resignation in 1921 he joined the Indian National Congress. He won the Congress leadership in 1939. His election for Presidency of Congress was the cause for the other leaders of Congress to resign and boycott him. Mahatma Gandhi then did not hold any official post in the Congress, but was a influential figure among the Congress leaders. Bose did not get Gandhi's support for his ideas and therefore he resigned from the Congress leadership and established within the Congress the Forward Bloc, a political movement which was a mixture of communism, socialism and Indian fascism. A year later Bose was arrested by the British but he managed to escape and arrived somehow in Nazi Germany. From Germany he broadcast Anti-British propaganda. In 1943 he arrived in Japan and with Japanese help established in Singapore 'Free India' government and the Indian National Army whose soldiers were Indians who lived in East Asia and also Indian defectors from the British army. During the Second World War this army penetrated east India and attacked British posts. But this army did not have major successes because of logistic reasons. 

Many in India respected Bose and they called him 'Netaji' meaning honored leader. They especially admired his capability to form an army of Indians and so gave the Indians a feeling that they to are capable of creating their own army by themselves. One of the slogans used even today in every nationalist occasion, 'Jai Hind' (victory to India) was coined by Netaji. Even his rivals admired his nationalistic zealotry. Mahatma Gandhi saw in him a misguided patriot. But Bose was also a very controversial figure in India. Many disliked his fascist and anti-democratic ideas and the fact that he wanted to make India a totalitarian state under his leadership. He was seen by many as a traitor and as a Japanese and German puppet. Bose died in 1945 in a plane crash on his way to Tokyo.

Raja Ram Mohan Ray

In 1828, a man named Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) founded an organization called 'Brahmo Samaj'. Indian historians consider this organization forerunner which paved the way for reformation in India and its establisher as the 'father of modern India'. Raja Ram was a Brahman from Bengal. He was a British civil servant in India. He saw in British rule of India the best things that were benefical to India. He adored the west European philosophy of democracy, liberalism and humanism. He had a great interest in non- Indian cultures and religions. He was especially impressed by Christianity and other religions which preached the existence of one Almighty God. 

Raja Ram tried to create a new Hindu religion philosophy and enfolded in it the existence of one God and other beliefs, which were then not the predominant features in Hinduism. He attacked some Hindu traditions and features among them caste system, child marriages, Sati - burning of the live wife over her dead husband's pyre, idolatry and other beliefs. He tried to change the popular Hindu traditions and claimed that the popular Hindu traditions were different from the real Hindu beliefs. 

Raja Ram and his organization 'Brahmo Samaj' tried to change the social order of India. He established newspapers and schools all around India. He convinced the British in 1829 to outlaw Sati. But during that period there wasn't yet an Indian ethos among the Indians. Indians were never one nation but always a collection of different entities. They were used to different rulers including non- Indians. From their point of view the British were just another ruler over them . But the main contribution of the Brahmo Samaj to the society of India was that it evoked issues that were common to people all around the Indian sub-continent. The notions of this organization were the inspiration for other organizations and various secular political parties, like the Indian National Congress, which were later on created in India .

Lokmanya Tilak

Bal Gandadhar Tilak (1856 - 1920) was born in Maharashtra. Tilak had many admirers and they named him Lokmanya (admired by the people) Tilak. He joined the Indian National Congress and was among its first militant leaders who attacked the British rule and demanded self-rule for India. He blamed the British that they were exploiting India for their economical gain while they completely neglected the basic needs of the Indians. He was the first Indian leader who moved the Indian independence cause from the closed rooms of the intellectuals to the ordinary people of India. Some of the main nationalist slogans used by Indians during their struggle for independence were slogans coined by him. One of his famous sentences was "Swaraj (self rule) is my birthright and I shall have it". Other of his important concepts utilized later on by Mahatma Gandhi were boycott of foreign goods and use of the term 'Swadeshi', meaning 'of our country' or 'self reliance'. 

Tilak supported and introduced social and religious reforms in Indian society, but at the same time he was also a Hindu nationalist and proud about India's past. He tried different ways to gather the different Indian communities together and start unifying them. He started two festivals, which even today exist in India. In these festival patriotic songs were sung and a platform was establish for exhibition of Indian arts and cultures. One festival is of Lord Ganesh – the God with the elephant head - in which the idol of Ganesh is immersed in the sea. The other festival is Shivaji festival - Shiv Jayanti. Shivaji was a Hindu king who rebelled against Moghuls- Muslims who arrived to India from outside India  Tilak also established newspapers and schools. He succeeded in arousing major uprisings against the British and was titled by the western press in 1907 as the ‘father of Indian uprising’. 

Tilak and his associates were considered by the British as dangerous and as the main cause for the violence against them and therefore they arrested and deported them. Tilak was deported to Burma in 1907. In Burma he wrote a new commentary on the holy Bhagwad Gita. He claimed that the main message of the Gita was action. With this commentary he tried to convince Indians to rise and fight for their rights. Tilak returned from his deportation in 1915 and became the leader of the Indian nationalism. He managed to bridge between the extremes and liberals in the Congress and also succeeded in signing a cooperation agreement with another nationalist organization in British India, Muslim League. 

Lokmanya Tilak died in 1920 and was replaced by Mahatma Gandhi as the leader of India's freedom struggle.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 - 1948) most reverently known as Mahatma Gandhi was born in Gujarat. He was called by the people ‘Mahatma’ which means great soul. The people also called him ‘Bapu’ the father. Gandhi belonged to the business community of Gujarat. He studied law in England. Towards the end of the 19th century he arrived in South Africa to represent an Indian client. In South Africa, Gandhi, once traveling in the first class compartment reserved for whites only was thrown out of a train because he was not white. He started a movement for civil rights in South Africa and succeeded in changing some rules there. He left South Africa in 1915 and returned to India. His actions in South Africa already made him famous in India and on his arrival in India he was welcomed by the Indians as a hero. After his arrival in India, he was introduced to the leader of Indian National Congress, Gopal Gokhale, whom Gandhi considered as his political guru.

Gandhi had developed while in South Africa, a philosophy of struggle for political and human rights through non-violence. He started to convince Indians to use his philosophy to achieve political rights for Indians. At that period the leader of Indian National Congress was Lokmanya Tilak who was militant and was supportive of violent actions against the British. Gandhi opposed to these ideas of Tilak but he admired the other ideas of Tilak. He agreed with Tilak that Indian political struggle was a matter of the people of India and not only of the intellectuals. Gandhi like Tilak supported a cultural and social change in Indian society. In 1920 Tilak died and Gandhi became the leader of Indian National Congress.
Like other Indians whom the British fostered to 'think like the British',  Gandhi's family also belonged to this group. Gandhi studied law in England. He dressed like an Englishman. After returning from South Africa (where he was discriminated because of his Indian origin) Gandhi changed his dressing style and began to dress like a simple Indian farmer. He remained in these simple Indian clothes even when he arrived again in England later on as a representative of the Indian National Congress, causing a complete surprise to his British counterparts. His philosophy was that all are equal and everyone should do all kinds of jobs. He built an ashram in which everyone did all different jobs. He even cleaned the toilet, which according to strict Indian customs was the job of the low castes and untouchables. Because of his revolutionary ideas many in the then elitist Indian society mocked at his philosophy. Later on, many of these mockers became his admirers and followers.

Gandhi's philosophy of struggle against the British was non-violent non-cooperation. He demanded from the Indians to restrain even if the British forces physically attacked them. He advised Indians to boycott anything British including British made garments, British universities, British courts and to refuse to follow respect and abide by British laws. He sometimes resorted to hunger strikes. Gandhi succeeded in sweeping the Indian people after him like no other Indian leader ever did before him. One of the famous Gandhi campaigns was the salt march. According to British law Indians could not produce salt, a basic food ingredient, but could only buy it from licensed salt factories, all of them were British owned. Gandhi organized in 1930 a 24 - day march to the sea and produced salt from the sea. In this march he gathered behind him the strength of hundred of thousands of people.

Mahatma Gandhi who became the leader of the Indian National Congress in 1920 did not always lead the Indian nationalist movement. There were periods when he was arrested and was completely isolated from the movement. Sometimes he severed from the nationalist movement for other causes. Even when he was the leader of Indian National Congress there were members in the Congress who did not accept his ideas. His opponents, who had other ideas about India even established movements within the Indian National Congress. In the early 1930s Gandhi even resigned from the leadership of the Congress because of growing criticism against his leadership. But from then on Gandhi became the father figure of the Congress. In 1942 Gandhi led the 'Quit India' movement.

Outside the Congress, Mahatma Gandhi also had many rivals who defied his political philosophy. His main rivals outside the Congress were Hindu nationalists. They saw in Mahatma Gandhi pro-Muslim trend. During India's independence there were many riots between Hindus and Muslims. Hundreds of thousands of people died in these riots. During these riots Gandhi, who was a Hindu, tried to be a middleman between Hindus and Muslims. Many Hindus did not like his stand and saw him as a traitor. After India's partition into India and Pakistan, Hindu nationalist blamed the Congress and specially Mahatma Gandhi for the partition. Mahatma Gandhi sometimes even attacked the Indian government as not being fair towards Muslims and towards Pakistan. He even intended to leave India and end his life in Pakistan. On 30 January 1948 a Hindu nationalist, Nathuram Godse shot him to death. 


The untouchablity feature in the caste system is one of the cruelest features of the caste system. It is seen by many as one of the strongest racist phenomenon in the world.
In the Indian society people who worked in ignominious, polluting and unclean occupations were seen as polluting peoples and were therefore considered as untouchables. The untouchables had almost no rights in the society. In different parts of India they were treated in different ways. In some regions the attitude towards the untouchables was harsh and strict. In other regions it was less strict. 

In regions where the attitude was less strict the untouchables were seen as polluting people and their dwellings were at a distance from the settlements of the four Varna communities. The untouchables were not allowed to touch people from the four Varnas. They were not allowed to enter houses of the higher Varnas. They were not allowed to enter the temples. They were not allowed to use the same wells used by the Varnas. In public occasions they were compelled to sit at a distance from the four Varnas. In regions where the attitude towards the untouchables were more severe, not only touching them was seen polluting, but also even a contact with their shadow was seen as polluting.
If, because of any reason, there was a contact between an untouchable and a member of the Varnas, the Varna member became defiled and had to immerse or wash himself with water to be purified. In strict societies, especially among the 'Twice Born' (the three top Varnas) the touched 'Twice Born' also had to pass through some religious ceremonies to purify himself from the pollution. If the untouchable entered a house and touched things of a Varna member, the Varna members used to wash or clean the places where the untouchable touched and stepped. 

In some incidences the untouchables who associated with the Varna members were beaten and even murdered for that reason. Some higher hierarchy Jats also had servants whose job was to go or walk before the high Jats members and announce their coming to the streets and to see to it that the streets would be clear of untouchable people.
The orthodox Hindus treated anyone who worked in any kind of polluting job as untouchable and did not have any contact with them. According to orthodox rules any one who does not belong to the four Varnas, meaning foreigners, are untouchables.