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THE TRANSFIGURATION OF DUTY IN AUROBINDO'S ESSAYS ON THE GITA

  • ANDREW SARTORI (a1)
Abstract

Aurobindo Ghose was a major nationalist intellectual of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who rose to prominence as one of the most radical leaders of the Swadeshi movement before retreating to the French colony of Pondicherry to dedicate his life to spiritual exercises and experiments. Aurobindo, like so many others of the nationalist period, produced a major commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. I will argue that his appeal to the Gita in the late 1910s represented, however, not a continuation of his nationalist project, but rather a radical reformulation of it in the wake of the defeat of the Swadeshi mobilization of 1905–8.

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1 For a discussion of this phase of Aurobindo's career see Heehs Peter, The Bomb in Bengal: The Rise of Revolutionary Terrorism in India, 1900–1910 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993); and Sartori Andrew, Bengal in Global Concept History: Culturalism in the Age of Capital (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), chap. 5.

2 “Documents in the Life of Sri Aurobindo: Sri Aurobindo, The Mother and Paul Richard, 1911–1915,” available at http://www.sriaurobindoashram.org/research/show.php?set=doclife&id=29. See also Nandy Ashis, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983), 94–6; and Gandhi Leela, Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-de-Siecle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 118–26.

3 Sarkar Sumit, The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal, 1903–1908 (Delhi: People's Publishing House, 1973), 107–8, 313–16.

4 Haridas and Mukherjee Uma, India's Fight for Freedom: Or the Swadeshi Movement, 1905–1906 (Calcutta: K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1958); Southard Barbara, “The Political Strategy of Aurobindo Ghosh: The Utilization of Hindu Religious Symbolism and the Problem of Political Mobilization in Bengal,” Modern Asian Studies 14/3 (1980), 353–76; Chatterjee Partha, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? (London: Zed Books, 1986).

5 Gordon Leonard, Bengal: The Nationalist Movement, 1876–1940 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974); Nandy, The Intimate Enemy, 85–100; and Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World, chap. 2.

6 Heehs Peter, “Shades of Orientalism: Paradoxes and Problems in Indian Historiography,” History and Theory 42 (May 2003), 169–95; Bose Sugata, “The Spirit and Form of an Ethical Polity: A Meditation on Aurobindo's Thought,” Modern Intellectual History 4/1 (2007), 129–44.

7 Nandy, Intimate Enemy, xvii.

8 The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, vol. 1, Early Cultural Writings (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 2003), 3–85.

9 I discuss his early essays, New Lamps for Old, in more detail in Sartori, Bengal in Global Concept History, 139–42.

10 See Sartori, Bengal in Global Concept History, chap. 5; and Sartori Andrew, “Beyond Culture-Contact and Colonial Discourse: ‘Germanism’ in Colonial Bengal,” Modern Intellectual History 4/1 (April 2007), 7793.

11 Harder Hans, ed., Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay's Srimadbhagabadgita: Translation and Analysis (New Delhi: Manohar, 2001), 60.

12 Ibid., 42.

13 Ibid., 105.

14 Ibid., 37–8.

15 Chattopadhyay Bankimchandra, Dharmatattva: Anushilan, in Bankim Racanabali: Sahitya Samagra, ed. Basu Bishnu (Calcutta: Tuli-Kalam, b.s. 1393), 658.

16 Bankim Racanabali, 661.

17 Cf. Sartori, Bengal in Global Concept History, chap. 4.

18 Ibid., chap. 5.

19 Aurobindo Sri, Essays on the Gita: First Series (Calcutta: Arya Publishing House, 1944), 58, 19–20; and cf. Harder, Srimadbhagabadgita, 41–2.

20 Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: First Series, 10.

21 Ibid., 13–14.

22 Manu Goswami in currently working on an account of a major shift in temporal horizon in early twentieth-century India, in which the disjuncture between Bankim and Aurobindo could be readily subsumed.

23 Aurobindo Sri, Essays on the Gita: Second Series (Calcutta: Arya Publishing House, 1942), 197.

24 Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: First Series, 52–3.

25 Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: Second Series, 197.

26 Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: First Series, 52–3.

27 Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: Second Series, 197–8.

28 Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: First Series, 52–3.

29 Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: Second Series, 198.

30 Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: First Series, 58. For a discussion of the theme of ethical struggle in Aurobindo's post-Swadeshi writings, comparing Aurobindo's concept of arya to jihad, see Bose, “The Spirit and Form of an Ethical Polity.”

31 Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: First Series, 39.

32 Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, 91–119, 639–40.

33 Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: First Series, 49–50.

34 Ibid., 41.

35 Harder, Srimadbhagabadgita, 76–7.

36 Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: First Series, 31.

37 Ibid., 34–5.

38 Ibid., 36.

39 Ibid., 47–49.

40 Ibid., 48.

41 Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library, vol. 26, On Himself, Compiled from Notes and Letters (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1972), 34–8.

42 See Sartori, Bengal in Global Concept History, chap. 6.

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Modern Intellectual History
  • ISSN: 1479-2443
  • EISSN: 1479-2451
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