Professor Diana L Eck in her book, ‘India-A Sacred Geography’ describes tirtha as the places that a pilgrim seeks. She further describes tirtha as a place of spiritual crossing. According to her, a pilgrim is an “ascetic of sorts, leaving the household behind and taking up the privations and hardships of the road. There is a very real sense in which it is the pilgrims themselves who make the tirthas.”
Subhas Chandra Bose was probably one among the list of such profound pilgrims who had become a pilgrimage in themselves. His is a life of continuous struggle, passion, love and adventure. The breadth of his philosophical moorings and the depth of his spiritual understanding made him rooted in the Indian culture. He was in a true sense a seeker.
A lot has been written and said, shows made about his alleged death in a plane crash, various commissions have been set up to inquire what actually transpired on the day of 18 August, 1945 where all else survived but Netaji died. But it would be rather unfair on our part if we restricted ourselves to the mystery surrounding Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s death. He was among the tallest leader of his times, a man who defeated Mahatma Gandhi’s candidate at the Congress Presidential elections, he crossed continents and undertook submarine journeys at the peak of World War II, he marched the Azad Hind Fauj right up till Imphal — all because he was too desperate to free Bharat Mata. His life is a message that millions of young women and men of India need to emulate.
Today, when it has become fashionable for certain ideologues to preach that India was never one nation and accuse Hinduism at the drop of a hat for everything wrong with India; when every mention from the Indian past is brushed aside as puritanical; when western ideals and education is glorified; when claims are made that our ancient sages knew whatever was to be known and when we close ourselves to any question and become dogmatic — It is then that we need to look closely at his life.
Bose in his book, The Indian Struggle, wrote on the Background of Indian Polity. He mentions that since British were the first to interpret political India to Modern Europe, it was but natural for them to describe India as a land where ruling chiefs were perpetually fighting among themselves. He wrote:
“History of India has to be reckoned not in decades or centuries, but in thousands of years.”
Bose wrote, “Though geographically, ethnologically and historically India represents an endless diversity to any observer-there is none the less a fundamental unity underlying this diversity.” “… The most important cementing factor has been the Hindu religion. North or South, East or West, wherever you may travel, you will find the same religious ideas, the same culture and the same tradition. All Hindus look upon India as the Holy Land.” He talks of the sacred rivers and ‘chaar dhams’, of the ideals of Shankaracharya, Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda. He says, “Everywhere the same scriptures are read and followed and the epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are equally popular where ever you travel.”
He debunks this myth that we were never a nation by writing, that there has been in India on the whole a remarkable continuity of culture and civilization.
Subhas Chandra Bose in his unfinished autobiography ‘An Indian Pilgrim’ gives a vivid insight into the incidents and individuals that influenced him. He was deeply influenced by the hymn ‘आत्मनो मोक्षार्थम् जगत् हिताय च’ of Rig Veda that Swami Vivekananda frequently taught. It meant working for one’s own salvation and for the service of the humanity. Netaji engaged in various activities of service apart from dedicating himself to Yoga and spirituality over his school and college days. As a young adult his group would visit various religious teachers and holy places. They also used to nurse patients suffering from diseases like cholera, which used to be very deadly then. He had deep empathy for the poor. In the book where he describes his time at the Presidency college, he refers to an old woman who begged right outside his house. He wrote, “I appeared to be so well off and comfortable that I used to feel like a criminal…..What was the value of Yoga if so much misery was to continue in the world?”
In 1912, when Bose was merely 15, in a letter to his he wrote: “Will the condition of our country continue to go from bad to worse — will not any son of Mother India in distress, in total disregard of his selfish interests, dedicate his whole life to the cause of the mother?…How many selfless sons of the Mother are prepared, in this selfish age to completely give up their personal interests and take the plunge for the mother? Mother, is this son of yours yet ready?”
In another experience where he visits various villages to nurse patients he shares, “A week’s experience opened a new world before my eyes and unfolded a picture of real India….where poverty stalks over the land, men die like flies and illiteracy is the prevailing order.” Subhas Chandra Bose experienced the ills of the caste system and the downfall in the Hindu society when he went for a two-month pilgrimage with his friend. Bose wrote he returned home as a wiser man after seeing these patent shortcomings of Hindu society first hand.
After these experiences, Bose had begun to critically re-examine his ideals and beliefs. His group firmly believed in principles of Vedanta. He started writing essays in defence of materialism purely as an intellectual exercise and to evaluate his stand. For this he was criticised by his fellow members. Bose realised that his friends had taken things for granted and for true emancipation one should not accept anything without evidence and argument.
Bose was also very critical of the education system that was prevalent at that time. He wrote that the curriculum was framed to build an English mental make-up of the students. They were taught more of Great Britain than of India. In his autobiography, Bose wrote that “a system of education which ignores Indian conditions, Indian requirements and Indian history and sociology is too unscientific to commend itself to any rational support.” (Times haven’t changed much since then)
Of all the messages that one can take from Bose’s life, one stands out distinctly and that is service to the motherland. For this he isn’t hesitant to lead a life of poverty and hardship. In a letter to his brother after rejecting the ICS position, Bose wrote, “Only on the soil of sacrifice and suffering can we raise our national edifice.” He further wrote, “I know what this sacrifice means. It means poverty, suffering, hard work and possibly other hardships to which I need not expressly refer… But the sacrifice has got to be made-consciously and deliberately.”
These lines sum up the life of this Indian pilgrim… he sacrificed himself consciously and deliberately.