January 23, 2015

Today is the 118th birth anniversary of Subhash Chandra Bose, fondly known as Netaji or ‘Respected Leader’. He is well-known as a great freedom fighter, as the founder of the Indian National Army, which fought against the British for India’s freedom.

However, there is another lesser known side of him – his spiritual side. Subhas Chandra opted for philosophy as his subject when he was admitted to Scottish Church College. He had a quest deeply ingrained in him for the meaning of the universe and the life in it. While studying philosophy, Western philosophy, grounded on skepticism and rationalism, left a spell on him. He was for subjecting the precepts of Hindu philosophy, even the Upanishads and the Gita, against the new-found light of Occidental rationalism.

Brush with early spiritualism

Subhas Chandra remained puzzled for a long time regarding the efficacy of Mayavada. He could neither accommodate himself to it nor could he rid himself fully from its meshes. Swami Vivekananda swarmed into him when he was barely 15, preparing for the Matriculation examination in Cuttack. It marked the beginning of his transformation into the mould destiny cut out for him.

Subhash Chandra Bose and Swami Vivekananda

A searcher for the synthesis of diverse strands of religious thoughts, pulling humans in conflicting directions, he found in the Swami's works the alchemy that at the same time slaked his spiritual quest, steeled his zeal for service to humanity and strengthened his passion for the freedom of India. Ramakrishna got into him perhaps much earlier when his mother, Prabhabati Devi used to read out to him from the Gospels of the saint.

Given his state of mind at that point of time, the robust rationalist in Vivekananda seemed to suit his temperament more than the mystic in Ramakrishna. But that was a passing phase - signifying an impulsive outburst from a soul enamoured of activism, and focus trained exclusively on India and her freedom. Anything that stood contrary to the overpowering passion was frowned upon.

The Bose family

An Indian Pilgrim

In his autobiography An Indian Pilgrim, written in 1939 in Austria when he was convalescing, he wrote, 'Vivekananda had no doubt spoken of the need of knowledge, devotion and selfless action in developing an all-round character, but there was something original and unique in Aurobindo's conception of a synthesis. It was so refreshing, so inspiring to read Aurobindo's writings as a contrast to the denunciation of knowledge and action by the later-day Bengal Vaishnavas.'

When in seclusion, Subhash Chandra sounded deeper. But once caught again in the vortex of politics, he fell under the spell of activism. His view was that remaining withdrawn in secluded and silent contemplation from time to time, and on occasions, for a long spell, was a necessity, but that remaining cut-off for far too long from the tides of life and society would atrophy the active side of man.

A rare photo of Netaji

The supreme sacrifice

It seems he considered spiritualism just as an adjunct to active life but not as an end in itself. This was natural though, for he could not help playing the role destiny had for him - that of sacrificing everything on the altar of India's freedom.

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