Overview of life
Lokmanya Tilak ( born as Keshav Gangadhar Tilak (23 July 1856 – 1 August 1920), was an Indian nationalist, journalist, teacher, social reformer, lawyer and independence activist who was the first popular leader of the Indian Independence Movement. The British colonial authorities derogatorily called him “Father of the Indian unrest” (Marathi: ). He was also conferred with the honorary title of “Lokmanya”, which literally means “Accepted by the people (as their leader)”.
Tilak was one of the first and strongest advocates of “Swaraj” (self-rule) and a strong radical in Indian consciousness. His famous quote, “Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it!” (Marathi: ) is well-remembered in India even today.
Tilak was born in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. His father, Shri Gangadhar Tilak was a school teacher and a Sanskrit scholar who died when Tilak was sixteen. Young Keshav graduated from Deccan College, Pune in 1877. Tilak was amongst one of the first generation of Indians to receive a college education .
Tilak was expected, as was the tradition then, to actively participate in public affairs. He stated:
“Religion and practical life are not different. To take Sanyasa (renunciation) is not to abandon life. The real spirit is to make the country your family work together instead of working only for your own. The step beyond is to serve humanity and the next step is to serve God.” This dedication to humanity would be a fundamental element in the Indian nationalist movement.
After graduating, Tilak began teaching mathematics at a private school in Pune. Later due to ideological differences with the colleagues in the New School, he decided to withdraw from that activity. About that time, he became a journalist.
He organized the Deccan Education Society with a few of his college friends, including Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, Mahadev Ballal Namjoshi and Vishnushastri Chiplunkar whose goal was to improve the quality of education for India’s youth. The Deccan Education Society was set up to create a new system that taught young Indians nationalist ideas through an emphasis on Indian culture.
The Society established the New English School for secondary education and Fergusson College for post-secondary studies. Tilak taught mathematics at Fergusson College. He began a mass movement towards independence that was camouflaged by an emphasis on a religious and cultural revival.
Indian National Congress
Tilak joined the Indian National Congress in 1890. He opposed its moderate attitude, especially towards the fight for self-government. He was one of the most-eminent radicals at the time.
Despite being personally opposed to early marriage, Tilak opposed the 1891 Age of Consent bill, seeing it as interference with Hinduism and a dangerous precedent. The act raised the age at which a girl could get married from 10 to 12 years.
A plague epidemic spread from Bombay to Pune in late 1896, and by January 1897, it reached epidemic proportions. In order to suppress the epidemic and prevent its spread, it was decided to take drastic action, accordingly a Special Plague Committee, with jurisdiction over Pune city, its suburbs and Pune cantonment was appointed under the Chairmanship of W. C. Rand, I.C.S., Assistant Collector of Pune by way of a government order dated 8 March 1897. Troops were brought in to deal with the emergency. The measures employed included forced entry into private houses, examination of occupants, evacuation to hospitals and segregation camps, removing and destroying personal possessions, and preventing plague cases from entering or leaving the city. By the end of May, the epidemic was under control.
Even if the British authorities’ measures were well-meant, they were widely regarded as acts of tyranny and oppression. Tilak took up this issue by publishing inflammatory articles in his paper Kesari (Kesari was written in Marathi, and Maratha was written in English), quoting the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, to say that no blame could be attached to anyone who killed an oppressor without any thought of reward. Following this, on 22 June 1897, Rand and another British officer, Lt. Ayerst were shot and killed by the Chapekar brothers and their other associates.
Tilak was charged with incitement to murder and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. When he emerged from prison, he was revered as a martyr and a national hero. He adopted a new slogan, “Swaraj (self-rule) is my birthright and I shall have it.” (Marathi: )
Following the 1905 Partition of Bengal, which was a strategy set out by Lord Curzon to weaken the nationalist movement, Tilak encouraged the Swadeshi movement and the Boycott movement. The Boycott movement consisted of the boycott of foreign goods and also the social boycott of any Indian who used foreign goods. The Swadeshi movement consisted of the usage of goods produced by oneself or in India. Once foreign goods were boycotted, there was a gap which had to be filled by the production of those goods in India itself. Tilak, therefore, rightly said that the Swadeshi and Boycott movements are two sides of the same coin.
Tilak opposed the moderate views of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and was supported by fellow Indian nationalists Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal and Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab. They were referred to as the Lal-Bal-Pal triumvirate. In 1907, the annual session of the Congress Party was held at Surat, Gujarat. Trouble broke out between the moderate and the radical factions of the party over the selection of the new president of the Congress. The party split into the “Jahal matavadi” (“Hot Faction” or radicals), led by Tilak, Pal and Lajpat Rai, and the “Maval matavadi” (“Soft Faction” or moderates). Nationalists like Aurobindo Ghose, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai were Tilak supporters.
During his lifetime among other political cases, Bal Gangadhar Tilak had been tried for Sedition Charges in three times by British India Government—in 1897, 1909, and 1916. In 1897, Tilak was sentenced to 18 months in prison for preaching disaffection against the Raj. In 1909, he was again charged with sedition and intensifying racial animosity between Indians and the British. The Bombay lawyer Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Tilak’s defence could not annul the evidence in Tilak’s polemical articles and was sentenced to six years in prison in Burma.
Imprisonment in Mandalay
On 30 April 1908, two Bengali youths, Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose, threw a bomb on a carriage at Muzzafarpur, in order to kill the Chief Presidency Magistrate Douglas Kingsford of Calcutta fame, but erroneously killed two women travelling in it. While Chaki committed suicide when caught, Bose was hanged. Tilak, in his paper Kesari, defended the revolutionaries and called for immediate Swaraj or self-rule. The Government swiftly arrested him for sedition. But a special jury convicted him, and the Parsi judge Dinshaw D. Davar gave him the controversial sentence of six years’ transportation and a fine of Rs 1,000. The jury by a majority of 7:2 convicted him. On being asked by the judge whether he had anything to say, Tilak uttered these memorable words “All that I wish to say is that, in spite of the verdict of the jury, I still maintain that I am innocent. There are higher powers that rule the destinies of men and nations; and I think, it may be the will of Providence that the cause I represent may be benefited more by my suffering than by my pen and tongue”. The judge sentenced Tilak to six years’ transportation and a fine of Rs. 1,000. In passing sentence, the judge indulged in some scathing strictures against Tilak’s conduct. He threw off the judicial restraint which, to some extent, was observable in his charge to the jury. He condemned the articles as “seething with sedition”, as preaching violence, speaking of murders with approval. “You hail the advent of the bomb in India as if something had come to India for its good. I say, such journalism is a curse to the country”. Tilak was sent to Mandalay, Burma from 1908 to 1914. While imprisoned, he continued to read and write, further developing his ideas on the Indian nationalist movement. While in the prison he wrote the most-famous Gita Rahasya. Many copies of which were sold, and the money was donated for the freedom fighting.
Life after Mandalay
Tilak had mellowed after his release in June 1914, more because of the diabetes and hardship in Mandalay prison. When World War I started in August, Tilak cabled the King-Emperor in Britain of his support and turned his oratory to find new recruits for war efforts. He welcomed The Indian Councils Act, popularly known as Minto-Morley Reforms, which had been passed by British Parliament in May 1909, terming it as “a marked increase of confidence between the Rulers and the Ruled”. Acts of violence actually retarded, than hastened, the pace of political reforms, he felt. He was eager for reconciliation with Congress and had abandoned his demand for direct action and settled for agitations “strictly by constitutional means” – a line advocated by his rival Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Tilak saw the spark in Mohandas Gandhi and tried his best to convince Gandhi to leave the idea of “Total Ahinsa” and try to get “Swarajya” by all means. Gandhi, though looked upon him as his guru, did not change his mind.
All India Home Rule League
Later, Tilak re-united with his fellow nationalists and re-joined the Indian National Congress in 1916. He also helped found the All India Home Rule League in 1916–18, with G. S. Khaparde and Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Annie Besant. After years of trying to reunite the moderate and radical factions, he gave up and focused on the Home Rule League, which sought self-rule. Tilak traveled from village to village trying to conjure up support from farmers and locals to join the movement towards self-rule. Tilak was impressed by the Russian Revolution, and expressed his admiration for Vladimir Lenin.
Tilak, who started his political life as a Maratha propagandist, progressed into a prominent nationalist after his close association with Indian nationalists following the partition of Bengal. When asked in Calcutta whether he envisioned a Maratha-type of government for Free India, Tilak replied that the Maratha-dominated governments of 17th and 18th centuries were outmoded in the 20th century, and he wanted a genuine federal system for Free India where every religion and race was an equal partner. He added that only such a form of government would be able to safeguard India’s freedom. He was the first Congress leader to suggest that Hindi written in the Devanagari script be accepted as the sole national language of India.
Tilak sought to unite the Indian population for mass political action throughout his life. For this to happen, he believed there needed to be a comprehensive justification for anti-British pro-Hindu activism. For this end, he sought justification in the supposed original principles of the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita. He named this call to activism karma-yoga or the yoga of action. In his interpretation, the Bhagavad Gita reveals this principle in the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna when Krishna exhorts Arjuna to fight his enemies (which in this case included many members of his family) because it is his duty. In Tilaks opinion, the Bhagavad Gita provided a strong justifcation of activism. However, this conflicted with the mainstream exegesis of the text at the time which was predominated by renunciate views and the idea of acts purely for God. This was represented by the two mainstream views at the time by Ramanuja and Adi Shankara. To find support for this philosophy, Tilak wrote his own interpretations of the relevant passages of the Gita and backed his views using Jnanadeva’s commentary on the Gita, Ramanuja’s critical commentary and his own translation of the Gita. His main battle was against the renunciate views of the time which conflicted with worldly activism. To fight this, he went to extents to reinterpret words such as karma, dharma, yoga as well as the concept of renunciation itself. Because he found his rationalization on Hindu religious symbols and lines, this alienated many non-Hindus such as the Muslims who began to ally with the British for support.
Although a fierce nationalist, Tilak was strongly opposed to liberal trends emerging in Pune. For example, he vehemently opposed the establishment of the first Native girls High school (now called Huzurpaga in Pune in 1885 and its curriculum using his newspapers, the Mahratta and Kesari. Tilak was also opposed to intercaste marriage, particularly the match where an upper caste woman married a lower caste man. Tilak officially opposed the age of consent bill which raised the age of marriage from ten to twelve for girls, however he was willing to sign a circular that increased age of marriage for girls to sixteen and twenty for boys. In his opinion, self-rule took precedence over any social reform.
Tilak did not have a progressive view when it came to gender relations. He did not believe that Hindu women should get a modern education. Rather, he had a more conservative view, believing that women were meant to be homemakers who had to subordinate themselves to the needs of their husbands and children.
Social contributions and legacy
Tilak started two weeklies, Kesari (“The Lion”) in Marathi and Mahratta in English (sometimes referred as ‘Maratha’ in Academic Study Books) in 1880–81 with Gopal Ganesh Agarkar as the first editor. By this he was recognized as ‘awakener of India’. As Kesari later became a daily and continues publication to this day.
In 1894, Tilak transformed the household worshipping of Ganesha into a grand public event (Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav). The celebrations consisted of several days of processions, music and food. They were organized by the means of subscriptions by neighbourhood, caste, or occupation. Students often would celebrate Hindu and national glory and address political issues; including patronage of Swadeshi goods.
In 1895, Tilak founded the Shri Shivaji Fund Committee for celebration of “Shiv Jayanti”, the birth anniversary of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the founder of the Maratha Empire. The project also had the objective of funding the reconstruction of the tomb (Samadhi) of Shivaji at Raigad Fort. For this second objective, Tilak established the Shri Shivaji Raigad Smarak Mandal along with Senapati Khanderao Dabhade II of Talegaon Dabhade, who became the founder President of the Mandal.
The events like the Ganapati festival and Shiv Jayanti were used by Tilak to build a national spirit beyond the circle of educated elite in opposition to colonial rule. But it also exacerbated Hindu-Muslim differences. The festival organizers would urge Hindus to protect cows and boycott the Muharram celebrations organized by Shi’a Muslims, in which Hindus had formerly often participated. Thus, although the celebrations were meant to be a way to oppose colonial rule, they also contributed to religious tensions. Contemporary Marathi Hindu nationalist parties like the Shivsena took up his reverence for Shivaji.
The Deccan Education Society that Tilak founded with others in the 1880s still runs Institutions in Pune like the Fergusson College.
The Swadeshi movement started by Tilak at the beginning of the 20th century became part of the Independence movement until that goal was achieved in 1947. One can even say Swadeshi remained part of Indian Government policy until the 1990s when the Congress Government liberalised the economy.
Tilak Smarak Ranga Mandir, a theatre auditorium in Pune is dedicated to him. In 2007, the Government of India released a coin to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Tilak.
Tilak said, “I regard India as my Motherland and my Goddess, the people in India are my kith and kin, and loyal and steadfast work for their political and social emancipation is my highest religion and duty”.
Swami Vivekananda reached Pune by train during September 1892. Tilak happened to be his fellow passenger. Vivekananda stayed in his house “Vinchurkar Wada” in Pune.
Lokmanya: Ek Yug Purush is a film released on January 2, 2015 based on his life. Directed by Om Raut, Tilak is played by actor Subodh Bhave.
In 1903, he wrote the book The Arctic Home in the Vedas. In it, he argued that the Vedas could only have been composed in the Arctics, and the Aryan bards brought them south after the onset of the last ice age. He proposed the radically new way to determine the exact time of the Vedas. He tried to calculate the time of Vedas by using the position of different Nakshatras. Positions of Nakshtras were described in different Vedas.
Tilak authored Shrimad Bhagvad Gita Rahasya in prison at Mandalay, Burma – the analysis of ‘Karma Yoga’ in the Bhagavad Gita, which is known to be gift of the Vedas and the Upanishads.
As noted in Shree Gajanan Vijay, he was devotee of Gajanan Maharaj of Shegaon. Many reference texts of his are available in the epic.
- Tilak Smarak Ranga Mandir, a theatre auditorium in Pune was dedicated to him.
- In 2007, the Government of India released a coin to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
- The Kesari is still published as a daily newspaper in Marathi.
- The Deccan Education Society that Tilak founded with others in the 1880s still runs much respected Institutions in Pune like the Fergusson College.
- The Public Ganesh festival (Ganeshotsav) has become an essential part of the culture of Marathi Hindu communities throughout the world. Increasingly, other
- Hindu communities are also adopting the practice.
- Because of Tilak’s efforts, Shivaji, the founder of Maratha Empire is the only figure from that era revered by contemporary Marathi masses and Hindu nationalist parties like the Shivsena.
- The Swadeshi movement started by Tilak at the beginning of the 20th century became part of the Independence movement until that goal was achieved in 1947.
- One can even say Swadeshi remained part of Indian Government policy until the 1990s when the Congress Government liberalized the economy.