The late 19th century and early 20th century was a period of great political and social churning in India. The world's most ancient civilization was waking up from hundreds of years of slumber and recognising its true self before embarking on a journey of regenaration and regain its true place in the world.
New Delhi: The late 19th century and early 20th century was a period of great political and social churning in India. The world's most ancient civilization was waking up from hundreds of years of slumber and recognising its true self before embarking on a journey of regenaration and regain its true place in the world.
The revolt of 1857-58, also known as the First War of Indian Independence, came at the culmination of 100 years of rule by the British East India Company - a century which witnessed 40 revolts (both big and small) against the new foreign political force in various parts of India.
While that bloody event symbolised a new political awakening in India and became an inspiration for later armed movements against the British, the political and social grounds for those revolts was laid by several religious and social reformers since before 1857.
One of the most charismatic of these social reformers, who made deep impact towards shaping the concept of Indian nationalism was Swami Vivekananda.
Swami Vivekananda also played an important role in revealing the strength of Hindu civilization to the world and helping a nation overwhelmed by foreign invasions to recognise itself and strive for cultural revival and political independence.
Born in a rich family in Kolkata, Narendranath Datta embarked on his journey towards greatness and immortality when he met Hindu monk Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who was destined to eventually become his spiritual guru.
Inspired by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a young Narendranath embarked on a tour of India. it was a discovery of India many decades before Nehru wrote his famous book.
With the firm belief “unless I myself see the people of my country, how would I tell the world about them?” he wandered from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Bengal to Punjab.
He was deeply influenced by the poverty, caste divisions and civilizational decay he witnessed during his travels while also recognising the potential of India and its Hindu civilization to regain its true status of Vishwa Guru. His transformation from Narendranath to Swami Vivekananda had begun.
He recognized the need to revive the Hindu philosophy of karma yoga, i.e decisive action and self-confidence in Indian society.
His message of ''Arise, awake and stop not until the goal is reached" will continue to be relevant for ages to come.
He wanted the youth of India to have ‘muscles of iron’ and ‘nerves of steel’.
He himself was an exceptional exponent of wrestling and also became known as 'Pehlwan Baba'.
His teachings played a role in inspiring the youth of Bengal to resort of armed movements against British rule from the late 19th century onwards. The Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar Dal the biggest armed groups of Bengal which carried out terrorist attacks against British officials, were inspired by his message and had made it mandatory for their members to read the Bhagwad Gita as a part of their daily routine.
The ancient Hindu tradition of akhada or wrestling schools witnessed a revival in Bengal. Akhadas had sprung up in every village and mohalla of Bengal. Apart from wrestling and various physical exercises, these akhadas also trained the youth in desi martial arts such as 'lathi khela' or the art of fighting with sticks, sword fighting and even training in using firearms and making bombs.
Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar Dal eventually went of to form pan-India partnerships with like-minded organisations particuarly in Punjab and Maharashtra. Even the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) - which had Bhagat Singh as one its members - had intimate links with their brother groups in Bengal. There is also a theory that HRA members learned their bomb making skills from their brothers in Bengal.
It was the message of robust nationalism propagated by Swami Vivekananda which inspired generations of Indian youth - particularly from Bengal - of the late 19th century and early 20th century to take up arms for the freedom of the motherland and walk to the gallows with smiles on their lips and intense national pride in their hearts.
Swami Vivekananda was the spiritual guru of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, who formed the Azad Hind Fauj or the Indian National Army (INA) and gave the final push which destroyed the very foundations of British rule in India.
Swami Vivekananda thus sparked the modern revival of an ancient civilization. His contribution towards the revival of Hinduism, his role in inspiring India's freedom movement and his message of robust manhood to the Indian youth with always be relevant and will reverberate for ages to come.