The Swadharma of Bharats Nationhood: Some Thoughts on Self-Education

S. K. Chakraborty


The author is a retired professor and the founder-convenor of the Management Centre for Human Values, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. He has authored several books on India’s perspectives on management. This paper was presented at the national seminar on Indian Nationalism organized by IFIH in Kolkata in February 2003.


One early morning in November, 2002, a PhD scholar in philosophy rang me up and narrated this incident. Her quivering voice vibrated into my ears:


Persisted by a senior professor, I had attended yesterday a guest lecture by him on the Gita. At one stage during his exposition an interpretation of verse II.47 on nishkam karmawas given. He argued that this was a rule prescribed to allow the strong and powerful to exploit the weak and the poor. It is the latter who are to be brainwashed into forgetting their share of rewards from work by invoking nishkam karma. And then he went on with several more twisted renderings of other key concepts. I was stunned and felt like crying. After the lecture was over I met the Principal of the institution and communicated to him my deep anguish in no uncertain terms. “I consider the Gita and my country as my mother. It is impossible to put up with such insult hurled at my mother,” I said. Fortunately for me the Principal shared my agony.


This episode reveals the nature of deep tension which is now ripping India’s nationhood. The learned professor is deliberately blind and impervious to the principle of karmayoga, which is one of the processes for practising will-to-yoga (WTY). His intellectual hubris revels in seeing the mouse under the chair, instead of the Queen sitting on it. It is this WTY which could be considered as the keynote, the swadharma, of India’s nationhood. The young scholar, on the other hand, is emotionally aligned with the perennial, essential import of the verse. She has both shraddha and prem for it. It is this swadharma of Bharat’s nationhood which needs to be rescued with honour from the clutches of some intellectual asuras of today. They cannot build anything; they can only destroy.

As a layman in the field I may be allowed to begin with a few simple propositions:


(a) ‘Will-to-Yoga’ (WTY) = Mental purity + Physical Purity.

(b) WTY = Loving Union with the Infinite or Eternal or Divine or Spirit or Atman.

(c) Mental Purity = Noble Values (Emotions) in the Heart.

(d) Physical Purity = Body as a Cosmic Vessel.


Proposition (a) is means or process-oriented. Proposition (b) is ends or goal-oriented. The last two propositions indicate the two values dimensions required of the means to reach the end.

It was January 1, 2003. The crimson sun was just rising up on the misty eastern horizon. I heard a Bengali Tagore song on the radio:


Vishwa sathey yogey jethai biharo,

Saikhanete yoga tomar sathey amaro.

Where Thou art the Transcendent uniteth with the Universe;

There I-the-Individual too meeteth with Thee


My sudden feel for such yoga, which the rishi-poet Rabindranath Tagore had attained, had triggered the above chain of propositions. The more one knows and reflects about Tagore, the more vividly he shines forth as a perfect synthesis of all the four propositions cited above. And WTY seems to be the most apt English rendering of this synthesis.

Why does this essay propose that the swadharma of Bharatvarsha is WTY? What is swadharma in the first place? Why should values-education be founded upon WTY? By swadharma we mean the essential or natural law of being of an entity. The Gita counsels us: swadharme nidhanam shreya, parodharma bhayavaha. Abiding by one’s own swadharma, even if it means apparent loss or defeat, is to be preferred to adopting the swadharma of another. The latter course brings real and inevitable disaster. This theory implies a wide range of swadharmas in practical affairs for individuals occupying different stations in life. The swadharma of a warrior is different from that of an anchorite, of a man from that of a woman and so on. Yet, WTY is the one common and convergent aim for all of them. Sri Aurobindo, like Tagore, had intuited the same WTY imagery when he said that the whole of life is yoga, the whole of Nature is in unbroken yoga with the One Divine. The swadharma of Bharat’s nationhood is to nurture this WTY and offer it to human kind.

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Here are some examples of how the above peak-level WTY has been woven into the texture of Bharat’s nationhood enshrined in her abiding mass consciousness:


a. Annual pilgrimages are organized in every corner of the land coinciding with cosmically-related auspicious dates and times. Hundreds of thousands of people from all parts of the country undertake untold hardships to intensify their WTY by participating in these events.

b. During eclipses all daily chores are stopped e.g. cooking. Such customs help us to hold our breath and lift our mundane awareness to a rare and high cosmic phenomenon. This is a means for cosmic yoga in concrete terms.

c. In course of sradh ceremonies, mantras and oblations are offered for the peace and well-being of not only one’s own deceased parents and ancestors, but also for other disembodied human and subhuman beings who have not been fortunate in having their progeny do so for them. This is holistic yoga which includes all.

d. The great rivers and the earth are addressed as Mother e.g. Ma Ganga, Ma Narmada, Dharitri Mata etc. They are the tangible manifestations of the Divine or Universal Motherhood. The mother-child yoga is the best of all yogas.

e. To weave daily life around a central organizing principle the following mental discipline is suggested: cook to God, eat to God, walk to God, sleep to God, build to God, gift to God, work to God ¾ the Divine within oneself, in others, and in everything.

f. Blowing the conch shell in homes every morning and evening invoking the benediction of the Jaganmata.

g. Fasting, silence and japa on cosmically auspicious days like ekadashi, amavasya, poornima etc.

h. Uttering of a Divine name when someone departs from home e.g. ‘Durga, Durga’ or, greeting someone with a holy name e.g. ‘Ram, Ram’.

i. Christening of newborns with a god’s or goddess’s name.

j. Loud chanting of Divine names like ‘Hari bol, Hari bol’, or ‘Ram naam satya hai’ while carrying a dead body for cremation.


Endless are the instances of such practical spiritual creativity to integrate WTY into our common life. They give meaning and purpose. It will not do to dismiss them as superstitions. They constitute the concrete stuff of Bharat’s nationhood. A politically strong nationality is however essential, like the shell of an egg, to protect and preserve the WTY core within.

The pure and luminous summits of the Himalayas presuppose a solid, wide base. The Himalayas is a whole, base and summits together. If the base sinks, the summits are sure to follow. What might then be some top priority values that must be learnt, internalized and manifested by every genuine Bharatiya? I share my convictions in the following order:


a. Patriotism
b. Reverence
c. Sincerity
d. Dutifulness
e. Honourableness
f. Discipline
g. Renunciation

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Post-independent Indian elite have succeeded in making ‘patriotism’ (desha-prem) a dirty word. It is often equated with chauvinism, parochialism, exclusivism and so forth. Yet, it is this honourable elite which is today the greatest beneficiary of the boundless sacrifices made by the patriots during the freedom movement. ‘Ingratitude, thou art marble-hearted fiend’! During my visits to Malaysia, Singapore, China, Japan etc. during the 1990s I have seen or sensed live and strong patriotic feelings at all levels in these societies. Ceaseless waves of self-deprecation do not ravage these nations. It must be realized that the self-transcending energy and power of the peoples have always been and shall always be unleashed by harnessing the value of patriotism. Duty number 2 in the Indian Constitution exhorts all citizens to ‘cherish and follow the noble ideals of the freedom movement.’ Parents, teachers etc. ¾ are you listening? ‘Bande Mataram’ was the galvanizing mantra for those patriotic children of Bharat Mata who went to the gallows, or welcomed bullets on their chest, or suffered incarceration in the Andamans. I have not come across any names from the minority communities who have undergone such sacrifices for Bharat Mata. Instead, they conspired to chop the two arms of Mother India. Yet our universally-minded intellectuals and opportunistic politicians have no shortage of tears for the minorities. Even this supreme treachery by the latter is blamed on the majority community. The inflexible rule they follow is: “Justify the minorities at any cost, vilify the majority at all costs.” Not having the faintest idea about or interest in WTY, the indispensable role of patriotism in strengthening the social base of our nation escapes them entirely.

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‘Reverence’ or shraddha is the second priority value which has to reinforce the psychological mass base for holding up the summit of WTY. If any national heritage deserves the highest relative admiration from its possessors, it might very well be Yoga-Vedanta Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma of Bharat. It is clearly a calculated campaign of mental poisoning to sum up India’s heritage in terms of a few stereotypes like idolatry, caste, dowry, suttee; or in terms of a whole bundle of crude superstitions only. This mischievous yet strident campaign to alienate, to create viyoga in the young Indian minds from their anchor, must be checkmated by educating them about these facts:


a. Every pond has its share of muck. Why not dare to point out all sorts of muck in other heritages or societies? No - that is not done because of fear of death. But in India today it is progressiveness to denigrate everything as muck.

b. What about the blooming lotuses in the pond? Why be deliberately blind to them? Why be a pussycat?

c. Tagores and Tilaks, Gandhis and Gokhales, Aurobindos and Lajpats, Ramanas and Vivekanandas, Netajis and Nehrus — they are some of the recent brilliant lotuses in the waters of sanatan dharma heritage. If this heritage comprised only some shameful social customs or primitive superstitions, how then could such lotuses bloom? Has the liberated, scientific, post-1950 India been able to foster a single personality of their stature? Is there a proverb: “the test of the pudding lies in its eating”?

d. How can a culture demonstrate unbroken continuity for something between 5000 to 9000 years if it is founded on mere falsehood?

e. All the visible surface corruptions in a sustainable culture like Bharat’s did not pass without the severest strictures from the likes of Tagore and others. Yet they had lived the essence of WTY, Bharat’s swadharma, in their bone of bones. They had gone to and lived in other cultures too, but refused to be bowled over by their external glitter and to loathe their own culture. They inspired the whole of Bharat for decades and still hold the key to her regeneration. In contrast, what inspirations have the iconoclasts of today to offer us and our children? Decrying sanatan dharma and imitating other cultures will be of no avail.

f. How rational and honest are we to curse the heritage (e.g. which says satyameva jayate), when it is you and I who have become unworthy of the same (e.g. lying and cheating)? Let us understand that we are living off the fat of the very heritage we are out to destroy.

g. What kind of cross-border relationships with other nations has the history of Bharat demonstrated — constantly motivated as it was by the WTY? Wherever the Hindus and Buddhists went, especially to the Eastern countries, it was an adventure of quiet peace and refined culture. There was no destruction, only construction. No forced conversions, no plunders, no massacres. Almost every country to the West of India, on the other hand, has been a colonizer and exploiter of different countries in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia. Whether these latter nations were poor or primitive is beside the point. In the name of civilizing missions, they were cunningly and brutally treated by the two major Semitic cultures from the West. Without their advent Bharat could and would have very well managed her life on the basis of Yoga-Vedanta-Buddhism.

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‘Sincerity’ was a potent human value that had nourished the birth and maturity of Bharat’s nationhood for almost a century during 1850 to 1950. These were the decades when shraddha and prem for the motherland were fertilized with sincerity. The winning of political freedom from foreign rule was only one preliminary aspect of this national upsurge. It was a broad progressive movement to earn freedom and equality of status with other nations on the basis of ‘swaraj of ideas’ - to borrow a phrase from K. C. Bhattacharya. Since the 1950s however, India has been steadily losing her nerve and mistaking abject surrender to all sorts of fads for progressiveness, liberalism etc. While some aggressive and dominant nations are expanding their own right to swaraj of ideas, India’s mental paradheenta (slavery) is meekly allowing herself to be stripped of her right to play a distinct and essential note in the world symphony. Doing so in the name of openness and progress is the height of insincerity. This amounts to phoney internationalism. It will die like a seasonal plant. Hypocrisy among the opportunistic elite today is liquidating the priceless capital of sincerity which had seen Bharat through 1850-1950.

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The onrush of the politically engineered slogan of ‘rights’ is swiftly eliminating the dharmic ideal of duties as a pillar of Bharat’s national ethos. Rights, rights everywhere; not a drop of duties. Women’s rights, children’s rights, students’ rights, shareholders’ rights, employees’ rights ¾ the list is endless. Rights-orientation is inevitably divisive and conflict-producing. Consider a typical Indian home when we were children. The idea of rights did not set the father against the mother or the children; nor did this happen the other way round. True, all was not milk and honey. Yet, overall cohesion and trust within the family was never in jeopardy. But today the picture is becoming quite different. Families are losing out on the need for adjustment, patience and sacrifice. The family as a centre of stability and sanity is fading out. Duty-orientation for all, on the other hand, makes us less egocentric and more self-sacrificing. These attributes furnish a better ground for more harmony. Rights imply inflows from others unto me; duties imply outflows to others from me. Duties are the cause, rights the effects. Hence all the dharmashastras of Bharat speak only of duties for every member of society, never of rights. This has been a strong pillar supporting the WTY of Bharat’s true nationhood. The present-day rights movements are intrinsically anti-national. We must make up our many shortcomings by re‑education about duties.

Emphasis on duties for all will foster union or yoga among all strata and segments of society. Pressing the lever of rights will increase disharmony or viyoga in the social network. Aspiration for higher order WTY will thus tend to disappear.

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History informs us that hundreds of Rajput women had recourse to self-immolation (Jauharvrat) when Muslim conquerors invaded the royal palaces. This was their method of saving their ‘honour’. Again, from the Ramayana we learn how the unflinching King Harishchandra had dared to mortgage even himself and his family to honour his promise of gifting the whole empire to Vishwamitra. Similarly, simple living-high thinking for the Brahmin, unselfish chivalry for the Kshatriya, scrupulously honest business deals for the Vaishya, and dedicated service by the Shudra — they are the ideal roads to ‘honourableness’ for the members of various professions. This value of maryada or honourableness was given a prominent position in the evolution of Bharat’s social character as a whole, although it has had a chequered course in our history, marked by several betrayals, treacheries etc.

But the dishonourableness and treachery of both opinion leaders and mass media in today’s India are not a stray or sporadic phenomenon as in the past. The cultural and ideological invasions of today are mounted more craftily than the brutal assaults of the past. This has led to a pervasive mood of cynicism and ridicule towards the pure and high ideals that have contributed to Bharat’s resilient, apolitical nationhood. The supreme dishonourableness of discarding one’s own old mother or wife, and chasing another alluring but slippery siren, passes the comprehension of most well-placed educated Indians.

For a few years after 1947 we used to greet one another by saying, ‘Jai Hind’ or ‘sat sri akal’, we used to stand up for Jana Gana Mana at the end of cinema shows. All this is now gone. From the sweeper to the Minister everybody now wallows in the ‘good morning, ta-ta – bye-bye culture.’ As long as we continue to call our country and ourselves as India and Indians, this disvalue of dishonourableness will not be combated. It is facile to argue: “After all, what’s in a name?” India has to become Bharat, Indians Bharatiyas. This will reaffirm our swadharma of WTY on the practical plane.

Only brain-washed people will see regressiveness in such an attempt to reclaim our true identity.

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‘Discipline’ is demanded by both God and mammon. It goes without saying that no indigenous culture and civilization could have stayed alive for as long as Bharat’s without comprehensive discipline as a pervasive core value. However, such discipline here had been worked out with cosmic ritam as the guiding impulse. The rishis had perceived this multi-dimensional ritam through tapasya, and translated it into varied categories of social customs. Birth to death, waking to sleeping, learning to working, cooking to farming, marrying to parenting — all aspects were embraced in a network of operating disciplines which were in yoga or union, somehow or other, with the cosmic canvas. Of course they sometimes tended to become oppressive and stifling over time. With the advent of the age of commerce the hold of such discipline began to wane. The resulting vacuum in India, especially since 1950, has not been filled. The entire social process is plunging into greater confusion, even chaos. Indiscipline is becoming the hallmark of our academic, civic, political, economic, marital lives.

The swadharma of Bharat has been to regulate all these aspects of existence in tune with the cosmic rhythm. It is our responsibility to restore discipline by returning creatively to Bharat’s own swadharma. Proliferating parliamentary laws, surveillance agencies etc. have been attempting to restore discipline. But they are obviously failing to achieve the desired end. Such unproductive efforts should awaken us to a careful revival of culturally congruent and integral methods of discipline in our lives. In the long run a certain degree of purposeful conservatism is preferable to corroding libertarianism. Social and secular discipline in Bharat has traditionally flown from the sacred and spiritual fountainhead. Therefore sham, dam and sanyam (self-control, self-restraint) have formed the keynote of all the details of daily life eg. vak sanyam, shruti sanyam, drishti sanyam. Sanyam conserves energy for appropriate and constructive application. Self-restraint / control helps to reduce mental agitation inflicted by external forces. From roadside urination to infraction of traffic rules, from mean street-side altercations to littering of parks — elimination of every such visible instance of indiscipline requires the practice of the basic sanyams just mentioned. And the home has to be the starting point for this lifelong journey for the value of discipline.

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“Renunciation” (along with ‘service’) was Swami Vivekananda’s own vision of Bharat’s swadharma. Renunciation or tyaga does not mean becoming a hermit. Its essence is the control of the lower self or unripe ego. This is the cause of all mental pollutions which dissipate WTY. The common vyavaharika ego is deficit driven. This characteristic compels us towards selfishness, vanity, envy and similar disvalues. They all undermine the WTY. This wisdom or sacred theory of human personality educates us that our true being is inherently whole or poorna (called paramarthika vyaktitwa). This is our higher Self or ripe ego. It is surplus-inspired. Values like dignity, generosity, nobility flourish in this aspect of our being. The deficit-driven lower self has to be gradually renounced for attaining the higher Self. It is like letting go of a lower branch of the tree in order to grasp a higher one. The graceful acceptance by Rama of long exile precisely at the time of being enthroned as the king is an example of renouncing the unripe ego in favour of the ripe ego. Yudhisthira had acted from the higher Self on numerous occasions in the face of lower self actions by the Kauravas. The Shvetashvatara Upanishad gives the brilliant imagery of two golden birds on a tree. One of them sits on the higher branch, and is composed and watchful. The other one restlessly hops from one branch to the other lower down the tree. It is only when the lower bird sees and learns about the higher bird that it wings upwards to identify with the latter. This renunciation leads to consummation, not annihilation. Values education based on such a plank is essential for teachers and politicians, doctors and managers, especially for people in higher positions in all walks of life. For instance, they have to renounce the mounting greed for money or votes which produces short term honey and long term poison - both for themselves and the nation. WTY always subordinates the short term to the long term. This is the dynamics of values education according to Bharat’s swadharma.

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This essay had earlier mentioned about Tagore’s WTY through a song of his. His WTY is sweetly rapturous. I may end by going to Sri Aurobindo again. His WTY is strong and virile. He had uttered the following words in 1909:


Our aim …will be to help in building up India for the sake of humanity - this is the spirit of the Nationalism which we profess and follow.


This statement about the character of India’s nationhood was amplified by him as follows:


We believe that it is to make the yoga the ideal of human life that India rises today; by the yoga she will get the strength to realize her freedom, unity and greatness; by the yoga she will get the strength to preserve it.


Beyond doubt, therefore, Sri Aurobindo put all his faith and hope for Bharat in the culture of what I have called the Will-to-Yoga in this essay. The world as a whole and Bharat Mata herself expect this trust to be honoured by each of us. Tagore and others like him lived Bharat’s heritage. They did not waste their lives, foolishly proud of colonized minds, producing destructive noise and shedding false tears only. Understanding the heritage of Bharat’s nationhood by the Vivekanandas and Gandhis was not confined to taking stock only of some visible garbage in society. This was of course condemned by them. But Bharat’s nationhood was for them immensely richer and deeper than some such superficial disabilities, always overblown by critics with dishonourable agendas. They should know that Vivekananda celebrated Christmas-eve as an occasion for spiritual sadhana, along with all his gurubhais, in a remote village of Bengal. And this solemn celebration continues to this day at the Headquarters of the Order of monks founded by him more than a century ago. They may also be informed that Sri Aurobindo too had the magnanimity to say that Bharat’s heritage of wider Hinduism would not reject the Bible and the Koran. It will be nice of know which other spiritual masters of the world have shown such openness, such WTY with other religious tenets. Can anything else be more progressive than this intrinsic swadharma of Bharat’s nationhood?

At the end, for the present, it may be noted that duty no. 8 in the Indian Constitution exhorts the citizens to develop a ‘scientific temper’. This proves both lack of understanding and courage of conviction about Bharat’s swadharma. The correct version should be: ‘to develop a spiritually anchored scientific temper’. This will give Bharat its own distinctive stamp of nationhood.


© S. K. Chakraborty, 2003

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