Bal Gangadhar Tilak


The mathematics class was going on, and the teacher asked a rather difficult question to the class.  The other students were still working on it, but one voice gave out the answer in an instant.

“Who is it that answered the question without even working on the sum” asked the astonished teacher.

Couple of boys in the class pointed out to where the voice came from.

The teacher went to the boy,looked at his note book,  and was surprised, he had not even written down the problem.
“Where have you worked out the problem?”  he asked
“In my mind sir”  the boy replied with an impish smile,pointing to his head with his index finger.
“But you should work it out in your book”  insisted the teacher.
“Why sir,  when I can do it orally”.

The boy was Bal Gangadhar Tilak, for whom such math problems were pretty much a walk in the park.  Where his classmates often struggled with tough problems,  Bal just walked through them casually. This brilliant boy would one day shake the British with his struggle for freedom against them.

The boy was born to Gangadhar Ramachandra Tilak a Sanskrit scholar and teacher himself.  Apart from Maths,if there was another subject that Bal took to easily it was Sanskrit. Born in the coastal town of  Ratnagiri,  located in the Konkan, Tilak was a brilliant but equally mischievous student too. Independent in nature,  not awed by authority,  this was the reason why he was not  exactly the teacher’s favorite.  And he never accepted injustice meekly.

There was this anecdote about his class teacher once seeing groundnut shells scattered in the class. He demanded to know who did it, and when none answered, he decided to punish every one with two strokes of the cane.  However Bal refused to accept the punishment saying he did not litter the class,  and this made the teacher more angry to the extent of sending him out of the school.  Bal’s father had to come the next day and convince the teacher that his son indeed never ate anything outside.

Bal grew up listening to the stories on the 1857 revolution of people like Jhansi Lakshmi Bai, Nana Saheb and Tatya Tope from his grandfather who was in Kashi that time.  Their valor and courage impressed Bal.  He however soon had to go to Pune, when he was just 10,as his father was transferred there. It was a new phase in his life shifting from a small town to a large city.

Pune at that time was a major educational center, called the “Oxford of the East” for it’s colleges,schools and universities. Bal joined the Anglo Vernacular school, he was able to get good education.  Sadly his mother passed away soon and his father when he was just 16 years. Bal was still a Matriculation student then, and he took the full name Bal Gangadhar Tilak  after his father.  He joined the Deccan College soon.

Bal however felt that having a good physique was important,  and began to exercise regularly. Even his food intake was regulated, and he took active part in all games and sports. He became an expert swimmer, and equally good at wrestling. Soon he got his BA in 1877,  and later got his LLB too. Bal was good at academics as well as physical activity too.  With his academics, Tilak  could have easily got a job like many others and serve the British.

However Tilak decided to dedicate his life for the country,and he felt that first one must inculcate the concept of Swaraj. People should be made to feel the thirst for freedom and patriotism had to be nurtured. And that meant an education that would make people take pride in being an Indian.  Unlike the current Western oriented education system, that made “educated” Indians look down on their own country. He got support from his class mate Gopal Krishna Agarkar,  who decided to found such an educational institute.  They were joined in by the great Marathi writer Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar. Himself a teacher, Chiplunkar wished  that the younger generation should receive the kind of education Tilak dreamed of.

And soon the three great men, joined hands to create the educational institution of their dreams. The New English School was the result of their dream, and with it’s success, the Deccan Education Society  was founded in 1884 and a year later the Fergusson College was founded.  The seedlings planted by Tilak, Agarkar and Chiplunkar had now grown into a banyan tree, that was spreading out it’s branches. Both Tilak and Chiplunkar put in their efforts into the school,not even drawing salary for the first year.  With the school and college well established, Tilak  turned his attention to another task, awakening the people, especially the youth to the evils of British rule and inculcating the spirit of nationalism.

And that resulted in Tilak starting the Marathi weekly  Kesari and the English weekly, the Mahratta. Kesari  soon became popular, and Tilak used it to spread his ideas on nationalism,  as well as expose the evil British rule. Through Kesari,  Tilak exhorted every Indian to fight for their rights and stand up to the tyranny of the British rule.

You are not writing for the university students. Imagine you are talking to a villager….. Be sure of your facts. Let your words be clear as day light.

Basically Tilak managed to spread the message using very simple language that an ordinary person could understand. When Shivaji Rao became the Maharaja of Kolhapur, Tilak wrote a series of articles in Kesari,  exposing the shabby treatment given to him by the British. This aroused the indignation of ordinary people and unrest gripped Kolhapur, Pune.  The Government arrested Tilak and Agarkar on charges of inciting passions,  and were sentenced to 4 months rigorous imprisonment.

It was getting tougher for Tilak,  he had to quit Fergusson and Deccan Education Society,  over differences with management on salary raise.  An institution which he nurtured and raised,he had to leave, nothing more sad than that.  He was not getting much profit from the Kesari and Mahratta either.  Too proud to work under the British, he began to take up classes by himself to earn a living.

It was this period between 1890 when he resigned from Deccan Education Society to 1897 when he was arrested,  that would mould Tilak’s character and value system too. Tilak too the British head on now, he was now the leader of thousands.  He organized the Ganesh Puja on a large scale, as well as Shivai Maharaj  Jayanti. His intention was to foster a sense of community among ordinary Indians, above feelings of caste, class, religion. Soon he became a member of Pune’s  Muncipal Council, the Bombay Legislature and an elected “Fellow” of  Bombay University. He was actively into politics now, and in the midst of it all, published his maiden work “Orion”.

Tilak’s  idea of inculcating nationalism and community spirit through the Ganesh Puja and Shivaji Jayanti was working.  As people participated together overlooking differences of caste, community,class. When famine broke out in 1896, Tilak asked the Government to help the distressed farmers. He published in depth news of the famine in both Mahratta and Kesari. The British Government however was indifferent to the plight of those affected and revenue was collected forcibly.  Tilak began to expose the indifference of the British Govt in his magazines. He exhorted the people to question the Government on their failure,  and indifference to the whole famine crisis.

However instead of responding the British Government actually went ahead and decided to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign. Around the same time, Pune was in the grip of a severe plague.  The officer in charge Rand, adopted harsh measures, that included barging into the private quarters of people’s homes, pulling them out of their beds, separating infected people rudely from their families. Enraged by the actions,two brothers Damodar Hari and Balakrishna Hari known as the Chapekar brothers way laid Rand and assassinated him. Both were arrested and hanged for their act.

Tilak took on the Government more strongly than ever with a series of articles titled “Has the Government gone mad?”  in the Kesari. His fiery writings now made the Government officials concerned and they decided he was a threat. The Government put a case on Tilak,accusing him of abetment to murder in the Rand case, and arrested him in 1897. Charged with sedition  and slapped with charges of disturbing peace, Tilak was sentenced to one and a half years rigorous imprisonment. Put in a dark cramped cell, filled with mosquitoes and bugs, and given coarse food,Tilak  was subjected to the worst ever indignities. He had to make mat and ropes from coir, his fingers got blisters. His spirit was however not broken and he wrote his landmark  work “Arctic Home in the Vedas”  in prison. Finally on pressure from other leaders and scholars, the Government released Tilak from prison.

Released in 1898,  Tilak by now had become a hero, people rushed in the streets to have a glimpse of him. His portrait began to be worshiped in homes by people. He was a national, pan Indian leader now. Soon he began to spread the message on Swadeshi through newspapers and lectures.  Travelling all over Maharashtra, Tilak exhorted people to boycott foreign goods and buy only Indian ones. Foreign clothes were burnt in a bonfire, local jaggery was used. Cotton mills, paper mills,factories by Swadeshi entrepreneurs were started.

“Swadeshi, Swaraj, National Education”
  was Tilak’s  motto,  and soon the feeling spread like wildfire among the masses.  The Government was looking for an opportunity to curb Tilak, and found it soon enough.  The wife of a rich man Baba Maharaj  complained that Tilak was misusing their trust’s money.  Once again the Government conducted a sham trial, and he was arrested, handcuffed like a common criminal.  Coming out on bail,Tilak  fought a long battle for justice and was finally rewarded damages after 14 long years. When the Globe and Times of India, alleged that Tilak incited people to commit murders, he sued both of them and made them apologize.

When Bengal was partitioned in 1901, massive protests broke out against the arbitrary decision. A district magistrate was assassinated by a young revolutionary Khudiram Bose.  One of the main leaders Aurobindo was handcuffed and taken to the police station like a common criminal. Any one suspected of using explosives could be sentenced to 14 years, without any proof.

It is unfortunate that bombs are being made in the country. But the responsibility for creating a situation in which it has become necessary to throw bombs, rests solely on the government. This is due to the gover nment’s unjust rule.

Tilak criticized the repressive measures in Kesari, under an article “The Country’s Misfortune”.  The Government now decided that Tilak was too dangerous to be left free any longer and charged him with sedition. Arrested on June 24, 1908, Tilak was sentenced to six year’s rigorous imprisonment at Mandalay in Burma.   He was in his 50s by then, a diabetic,and the sentence angered many a supporter of his, as well as many Western thinkers. Once again in Mandalay, Tilak was placed in a cramped prison with just a cot, a table, a chair and a bookshelf.  Placed in solitary confinement,  his room had no protection from the heat or cold. He spent time, reading and once again wrote another book Gita Rahasya. He also learnt German and French in prison,and followed a simple routine. Every morning he would pray to God, chant the Gayatri Mantra and do his daily rituals. It was around this time, his wife too passed away.

Released and back  in India on June 16th, 1914, Tilak received a hero’s welcome in Pune. However by this time, a rift had come in Congress between the Extremists and Moderates.  Tilak  headed the Extremist faction,  that also had Lala Lajpati Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal.  However with attempts to unite the two groups failing, Tilak quit Congress and started the Home Rule League along with Annie Beasant,  G.S.Khaparde and  S.Subramania  Iyer.  Tilak  went from village to village  explaining the concept of Swaraj.  For Tilak home rule meant one thing “An Indian should have as much freedom in India as an Englishman has in England.”  He began to tour the North, first Lucknow and then Kanpur, and declared boldly “Swaraj is our birthright, we shall have it”.

We want equality. We cannot remain slaves under foreign rule. We will not carry for an instant longer, the yoke of slavery that we have carded all these years. Swaraj is our birth right. We must have it at any cost. When the Japanese, who are Asians like us, are free, why should we be slaves? Why should our Mother’s hands be hand- cuffed?

Tilak even toured  England and explained the miserable conditions of the masses under British rule. The Home Rule movement was further intensified, and he won the admiration of  Labor  Party members too. When the Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place, Tilak further intensified the struggle, touring all over India.  However  the constant stress took a toll on him, and by June 1920, his condition began to worsen. And on August 1, 1920, the great man was no more, passing away in sleep.A veritable ocean of people surged to have a glimpse of the great man,  Mahatma Gandhi,  Lala Lajpat Rai, were among those who carried the funeral bier of Tilak. A man of honesty,  integrity and simplicity was no more. But he would be an inspiration for many a revolutionary and freedom fighter.  One among them  was Chandrashekhar Azad born on the same date as him.  Tilak  stated  Swaraj is my birthright,  and Azad gave up his very life for that.  It was sheer destiny that both were born on the same date.Mahatma Gandhi’s  tribute to Tilak on passing away.

He used his steel-like will power for the country. His life is an open book. The Lokamanya is the Architect of New India. Future generations will remember Tilak with reverence, as the man who lived and died for their sake.

About Ratnakar Sadasyula

Blogger with a passion in movies, music,books and history. A techie by profession, and a writer at heart. Author of City of Victory a book on Vijayanagar Empire
This entry was posted in Indian Freedom Struggle, Maharashtra, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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