Monday 1 July 2024

Mahatma Gandhi and the World VIII



The Gandhiji’s third imprisonment at Pretoria, as we have described in the previous notes in this series, was extremely oppressive and painful. In that passage through hell, Gandhiji comes out with his faith deepened. He discovers the joy of seeing the creator all around him. He ends his narration of this third prison experience (in the Indian Opinion) with a joyful hymn that speaks of the devotee who hears the ‘name of the Invisible’ echoing through the skies and sits rapt in this ‘world-temple’ with his heart filled with gladness. His mind engrossed in such joy, he overcomes all despondency. Smiling and playing his way through life, he sees His presence revealed to him at every step: 


अलख नाम धुनि लगी गगनमेंमगन भया मंदिरमें राजी

आसन मारी सुरत दृढ धारीदिया अगमघर डेरा जी।

करना फकीरी क्या दिलगीरीसदा मगन मन रहेना छे।

हसतां रमतां प्रगट हरि देखुं रेमारुं जीवयुं सफल तब लेखुंरे

एनुं स्वपने जो दर्शन पामे रेएनुं मन न चडे बीजे भामे रे।


The sky rings with the name of the Invisible,

I sit rapt in the temple, my heart filled with gladness;

Taking up an asana, they face immovable,

I have pitched my tent in the abode of the Inscrutable.


Take to the life of a fakir and yield not to despondency,

Let the mind be always rapt with joy.


When, smiling and playing my way through life,

I see [Him] revealed to me, a visible presence,

Then shall I consider my life to have attained its true end;

He who has seen Him even in a dream,

Will cease chasing the shadows in vain.



This revelation, achieved through high Tapas and deep and extensive study of religious texts before and during this Tapas, is what made him the Mahatma. Those who came in contact with him and even those, like Tolstoy, who corresponded with him immediately following that period could sense a certain asceticism and wisdom in him. 


But there was something special about his religious asceticism, because for him religion and patriotism had become the same. At the end of this narration of his third imprisonment in the Indian Opinion, he recalls the hymn above, but just before that he says:


“I wish that everyone who reads this account of experience should cultivate patriotism, if he does not have it, and learn satyagraha therefrom, and if he has it already, be more firm in it. I am growing more convinced every day that no one who does not know his religion can have true patriotism in him.”


This realization that patriotism and religion must always go together, that the two must not be separated from each other, make both his patriotism and his religiosity special. Soon the world begins to notice this. As we have seen in an earlier note, Tolstoy comments on this coming together of religion and patriotism in him. His seminal text, Hind Swaraj, which he writes within six months after his release from his third imprisonment, is largely based on this understanding of religion and patriotism. That text put him among the strongest critics of the then nascent modern civilization and made him a world-figure to be reckoned with.

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