Thinking of Netaji Sri Subhas Chandra Bose naturally makes one think of a fearless leader, a true warrior by spirt and deeds, an emblem of unswerving patriotism, and a person of unquestionable integrity. Not all of us know, however, what brought these and many other astounding abilities to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and what kept him going despite myriad of life threatening and bone chilling challenges throughout his life.
With due respect to other national leaders of the past, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose is clearly a moon among stars. Attempts to conceal his towering successes and unparalleled contribution to shaping India’s independence in order to safeguard other leaders’ importance is unfortunate and futile in light of India’s factual history. We will not get into it here, however, as the focus of this article is highlighting the other side of his personality, most likely unknown to majority of his fans and followers.
If you ever thought that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was just a great freedom fighter, a die-heard lover of his motherland and had nothing to with religious or spiritual life then the following lines written by Netaji Sri Subhas Chandra Bose to his mother will surely surprise you. In simple words, what I found in Part-1 of the book “An Indian Pilgrim – An Unfinished Autobiography-Subhas Chandra Bose”, edited by Sisir Kumar Bose and Sugata Bose and published by Netaji Research Bureau, was the answer to what made Netaji what he was.
Read it yourself and you will know it was his deep-rooted faith in the Vedic scriptures and loyalty to God. His own writeups decisively crush the false theory that he was an atheist or communist. He was a staunch believer, a devotee. As a matter of fact, such a great character cannot be having less faith in God and His words. While Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose lived and died for his motherland, his mood was of surrender to the Supreme Lord.
Whenever Netaji wrote letters to his mother, Prabhabati Bose, he started it with “THE LORD BE WITH US”. He addressed her as “Revered mother” and signed as “Your devoted son”. In other words, he always strived to feel God’s presence in his life and respected his mother and elders. This shows the culture he was born and brought up in and what he valued the most in his life.
What follows are a few beautiful lines from Netaji’s letters to his mother, Prabhabati Bose, during 1912 to 1921. The content is self evident (Source).
“For nothing we hanker after riches, but we never care to think who is truly wealthy. In this world, one who is endowed with love of and devotion to God and such priceless attributes, is the wealthy person. Compared to him even the big kings are like beggars. That we are alive even after losing this priceless treasure is a wonder ! We become restless at the approach of ‘examinations’ but never stop to think that every moment of our lives we are being tested.”
“We are on trial before God, before our Dharma. Educational tests are quite unimportant— and they are of temporary value. But the other tests are for eternity. We have to suffer their results in this life and those that follow. He who goes through this life placing himself unreservedly at the hands of God is the blessed one—his life attains fulfilment and his coming into this world has meaning. But, alas, we refuse to accept this great truth. We are so blind, so unbelieving and so ignorant that we fail to realise this truth. We are not men, we are rakshasas of this sinful age.”
“Nevertheless, we have hope—God is merciful, He is always merciful. Even in the midst of the darkest sin, we can recognise His mercy. His compassion is immeasurable. When Vaishnava religion was facing extinction, the greatest of the Vaishnavas, Adwaitacharya, mortified by the humiliation of his religion, prayed thus : ‘0 Lord, save us, religion is in peril in this sinful age; please come and save us.’ Thereupon Lord Narayana appeared on this earth in the form of Shri Chaitanya. Such experience—that of emergence from time to time of the light of truth, knowledge, love and piety in the midst of darkness and sin gives us hope that we are not beyond redemption yet; else why should He return to this earth in human form again and again.”
This shows how Netaji Subhas Chandra was well versed in Vedic philosophy and he knew that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was none other than Lord Narayan Himself.
At another place, Netaji Subhas wrote to his mother expressing disappointment for having failed in becoming a vegetarian and how he had to reluctantly eat non-veg because someone insisted on it.
“Mother, I have something to tell you. You are probably aware that I am particularly anxious to become a vegetarian. But lest people say something adverse or take it otherwise, I have not been able to fulfil my wish. A month ago I gave up all non-vegetarian food except fish. But today Nadada forced some meat on me. What could I do! I could not help eating it, but with great reluctance.”
“I want to be a vegetarian because our sages have said that non-violence is a great virtue. Not only the sages—but God Himself has said so. What right have we to destroy God’s creations? Is it not a great sin to do so ? Those who say that visual power diminishes if fish is not eaten, are wrong. Our sages were not so ignorant as to forbid eating of fish if that would cause blindness in people. What is your opinion in this regard ? I do not feel like doing anything without your consent. We are all well. My pronams to you all, Your devoted son Subhas”.
Netaji was a poetic writer with a deep sense of affinity towards religious festivals like Durga puja. This is evident from his following letter to his mother when he had to miss a Durga puja festival.
“This year I have a pang in my heart. It is a great sorrow—not an ordinary one. This year I have been denied the fulfilment that comes through the Darshan of the Goddess Durga, the Queen of the three realms, our Saviour from all misfortune and Protector from all evil, the Mother of the Universe,—attired in elaborate and magnificent robes and revealed in all Her resplendent glory with myriad lights shining around her; this time I have missed the happiness that comes from listening to the melodious chanting of the sacred hymns by our revered priest to the sound of the conch-shell and the gong; the satisfaction of sensing the sacred aroma of flowers, sandalwood and incense and of sharing with others the holy food offered to the Goddess; on this occasion I have been deprived of the privilege of being blessed by the priest with the holy flowers and, above all, of the mental peace that comes from contact with the holy water of the Puja; I missed everything; all my five senses remain unsatisfied.
If I could perceive the omnipresent and universal image of the Goddess, I would not be so mortified and I would not hanker after the wooden image; but how many are so blessed and fortunate as to have this perception! So, I remain unconsoled. I shall be pining away at this place on the immersion day but at heart I shall be with you all. There will be no happiness for me on such a sacred day. There is no help for it now—tomorrow evening we shall send you our pronams from here. You and father will please accept the pronams and convey the same to all superiors. We are all well. I hope all of you are in good health. My pronams to you and father. Your devoted son, Subhas.”
While it can be seen from some of his writings that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was influenced by different religious preceptors and their teachings, and had somewhat mixed understanding of the absolute truth, the following words reflect his profound grasp of Vedic philosophy. He calls himself and people in general ignorant, non-believers and atheists, not because he himself was one but because he had realized how futile it was to live in the material world without taking shelter of God.
“But, then, we are ignorant, non-believers and confirmed atheists—that is why we fail to realise the profundity of His mercy. And, we pray to him when we are in trouble— maybe with some degree of sincerity; but, once we are out of trouble and things begin to look up we stop praying and forget Him.
That is why Kunti Devi had said, ‘0 Lord ! please keep me in adversity, all the time, so that I may be praying to you always with all my heart; happiness may lead me to forget you; so let me not be happy.’ The essence of human life—a continuous cycle of birth and death—is dedication to Lord Hari. Life is meaningless without it. The difference between me and an animal is that the latter cannot feel the presence of God or pray to Him, while we can, if we try. So my coming into this world will be of no avail if I fail to sing His Glory.“
Netaji Subhas was never a sentimentalist. His did not allow his devotion to Lord Hari to be misused by unscrupulous people going in the name of pundits. He said he worships the man whose heart overflows with the love of God. He had realized the value of devotional service and those who execute it.
“The aims of education are to sharpen the intellect and develop the power of discrimination. Education can be taken to have served its purpose if these two aims are fulfilled. If an educated person has no character, shall I call him a Pandit ? Never. And, if an uneducated person is conscientious in his ways, believes in and loves God, I am prepared to accept him as a Maha-Pandit. Learning a few platitudes does not make a man learned; true knowledge comes from realisation of God. The rest is not Knowledge. I do not wish to lionize the learned or the Pandit. I worship the man whose heart is overflowing with the love of God.”
It was not any coincidence that Netaji Subhas Chandra was studying in the same college in Kolkata that the world famous founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada also studied in, the Scottish Church college. Srila Prabhupada recalls that Netaji was senior to him by one year.
Meeting with great devotees cannot be accidental. Such meetings are ordained by God Himself. We often hear of the incident when Netaji Subhash Chandra had the great fortune of meeting Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupada, the spiritual master of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Sri Subhas Chandra Bose had come to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, this time not really for receiving Krishna bhakti but for requesting him to provide manpower to fight the evil British rule. During the meeting, Netaji said, “Having taken a vow to free our motherland from foreign rule, I have declared a slogan throughout the country: ‘Give me your blood and I promise you freedom.’ I have recently come to know that many young men have taken your shelter. Please entrust some of these men to me, so that they may fight for the freedom of this country.”
In reply, that great Vaishnava acharya, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Ṭhakur, asked him, “Have you read Srimad Bhagavad-Gita?” Subhas Chandra replied, “Yes, I have.”
“Do you remember the verse: yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya sadā tad-bhāva-bhāvitaḥ? (Meaning: O son of Kunti, without fail, a person attains the state of being he remembers at the time he gives up the body) asked Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur.
“Yes, certainly”, replied Subhash Chandra.
“Then you must definitely believe in reincarnation.” Asked Srila Sarasvati Thakur.
“Of course I do,” Netaji confidently answered and added “Which Hindu in this world does not believe in reincarnation?”
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Ṭhakur then asked him, “If incidentally you happen to die today and are born in England in your next life, will you continue to fight for India’s freedom, or will you fight to maintain dominance over India?”
To this, Netaji Subhas gravely replied, “I understand your point, but we must certainly think about the freedom of our motherland.”
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasati Thakur was no ordinary saint and knew Netaji’s burning desire and firm resolve to kick the British out of Bharat. Now he said something that Netaji had never heard. “You are concerned merely for the temporary, worldly freedom and liberation of a few persons who at the moment happen to possess the material designation of being Indian. I, however, am concerned about the liberation of not only the whole human race, but of every living entity in this world from the bondage of this material world.”
Netaji Sri Subhas Chandra candidly acknowledged, “I have never heard anything like this before. Before meeting you, nobody had ever described to me such meaningful explanations of the teachings of the Gita. But I fear I have come a bit too far in my struggle for freedom to look back.” Saying this, and after thus receiving the blessings in the form of a sublime message of Bhagavad Gita from the mouth of that pure devotee of Lord Krishna, Netaji became quiet and left the place as if internally appreciating what he had just heard but had no choice to look back. Hearing the transcendental words of spiritual wisdom, his human life had become successful.
Although his commitment to his motherland and resolve to free it from invaders did not allow him to look back, he nonetheless received the mercy of Lord Krishna that he always yearned for, this time directly from Lord’s confidential representative who had descended on earth to reclaim conditioned souls. Netaji’s responses showed how committed he was to the mission of setting Bharat free from the mlechha invaders. This is a distinct quality of a ksatriya who understands his dharma of being a warrior and protector, and at the same time performs his duties with full faith in Lord Hari.
From Netaji’s writings we can see that he was a devoted soul having inviolable faith in God and His unfailing will. He had a strong inclination towards spiritual life and although his sense of duty towards his country and countrymen apparently kept him from living the life of his heart’s choice, he nonetheless became the object of Lord Krishna’s grace. Such is the glorious life of Netaji Sri Subhas Chandra Bose. A leader without personal integrity is never a good leader. The life of Netaji Subhas proves he was not only a great leader but also a great human being with tons of piety to his credit. He was a devotee at heart. Salute to him, salute to his devotion to Bharat Mata, and salute to his devotion to God. We pray that he remains under the shelter of the Supreme Lord Hari. Hare Krishna