Bhavānī Bhāratī — A Sanskrit Poem by Sri Aurobindo for Awakening the Spirit of Nationalism
Bhavānī Bhāratī is a short Sanskrit poem written by Sri Aurobindo sometime between 1904 and 1908. This is the only poem which Sri Aurobindo wrote in Sanskrit. It is patriotic in nature and contains 99 verses in three metres of eleven syllables (triṣṭubh) — Upajāti, Indravajrā and Upendravajrā. The poem was untitled when Sri Aurobindo wrote it. Sri Aurobindo after writing this poem did not get a chance to see it again; for it was confiscated by the Calcutta Police in May 1908 when he was imprisoned. In the year 1985 Sri Aurobindo Ashram recovered and published it with the appropriate name Bhavānī Bhāratī.
The poem begins with the idea that while Indians are sleeping happily and enjoying worldly pleasures their Motherland is being oppressed by the Titans who suck her life-blood. On one side the worldly pleasures, enjoyments, possessions, kith and kin, poetry, wife, etc., and on the other, the heart-rending cry of Mother India oppressed by the Titans. The poet who represents himself as the whole country, develops a feeling of humiliation and a sense of guilt that not only has he been unable to help Mother India in this dire situation but is sleeping happily.
At this time he hears an inner call. His sleep is disturbed by the touch of a dreadful hand. He sees Mother India standing before him in the form of Kali; a garland of human bones round her neck; a chain of human skulls on her waist; scars of Titan lashes are on her back. She is hungry. She is poor. She is fearsome. She is naked. She is dark:
नरास्थिमालां नृकपालकाञ्चीं वृकोदराक्षीं क्षुधितां दरिद्राम्।
पृष्ठे व्रणाङ्कामसुरप्रतोदैः सिंहीं नदन्तीमिव हन्तुकामाम्॥
narāsthimālāṃ nṛkapālakāñcīṃ vṛkodarākṣīṃ kṣudhitāṃ daridrām.
pṛṣṭhe vraṇāṅkāmasurapratodaiḥ siṃhīṃ nadantīmiva hantukāmām..
Bhavānī Bhāratī (BB) 5
This dreadful dark figure declares that she is Mother India, the Mother of the beloved child of the gods who are invincible in the face of Fate or Time or Death:
मातास्मि भोः पुत्रक भारतानां सनातनानां त्रिदशप्रियाणाम्।
शक्तो न यान् पुत्र विधिर्विपक्षः कालोऽपि नो नाशयितुं यमो वा॥
mātāsmi bhoḥ putraka bhāratānāṃ sanātanānāṃ tridaśapriyāṇām.
śakto na yān putra vidhirvipakṣaḥ kālo’pi no nāśayituṃ yamo vā.. BB 12
Verses 13 to 31 are a remarkable portion of Bhavani Bharati from the point of view of national unity and strength. In those verses Sri Aurobindo has described the call of Mother India standing before him: She calls her children to protect her. She makes them aware of their glorious past. She says that once India shone on the earth like a thousand suns because of the purified strength, knowledge and severe austerities of the Rishis:
ते ब्रह्मचर्येण विशुद्धवीर्या ज्ञानेन ते भीमतपोभिरार्याः।
सहस्रसूर्या इव भासुरास्ते समृद्धिमत्यां शुशुभुर्धरित्र्याम्॥
te brahmacaryeṇa viśuddhavīryā jñānena te bhīmatapobhirāryāḥ.
sahasrasūryā iva bhāsurāste samṛddhimatyāṃ śuśubhurdharitryām.. BB 13
Here in this land the great heroes enjoyed smearing blood of their enemies on their bodies; they could not tolerate any opposition from their foes. But she regrets the pitiful and cowardly nature of her present children. She berates each of them — the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas, the people of each part of this country and calls them to arise and strive to enrich her:
भो भो अवन्त्यो मगधाश्च बङ्गा अङ्गाः कलिङ्गाः कुरुसिन्धवश्च।
भो दाक्षिणात्याः शृणुतान्ध्रचोला वसन्ति ये पञ्चनदेषु शूराः॥
bho bho avantyo magadhāśca baṅgā aṅgāḥ kaliṅgāḥ kurusindhavaśca.
bho dākṣiṇātyāḥ śṛṇutāndhracolā vasanti ye pañcanadeṣu śūrāḥ.. BB 23
In the next part of the poem (verses 32 to 47) Sri Aurobindo has given a vivid description of the miserable condition of Mother India. He gives his vision of Mother India being surrounded by the Titans who nourish their offspring by sucking her blood. They are huge and vile in their appearance. They are inflated with the pride of their strength. To defeat them the Mother herself lifts her weapon and rushes on them roaring in battle.
Verses 48 to 99 describe Mother India as being worshipped by the gods and the Rishis of the Himalayas and the people of the whole world. This part of the poem contains, mainly, chants in the praise of Goddess Bhavānī Bhāratī in her various forms.
She is praised as Omnipotent, Terrible, Mighty, Compassionate, the Preserver, the Primeval Goddess, the Supreme Power, Bhāratī, the Mother of Aryans: Kali, the utterly ruthless one; Radha the incarnation of love; Annapurna the merciful and gracious one; Savitri, the radiant one; the ten-armed Durga; the thousand-armed Mother of unthinkable energy:
तुभ्यं नमो देवि विशालशक्त्यै भीमव्रते तारिणि कष्टसाध्ये।
त्वं भारती राजसि भारतानां त्वमीश्वरी भासि चराचरस्य॥
tubhyaṃ namo devi viśālaśaktyai bhīmavrate tāriṇi kaṣṭasādhye.
tvaṃ bhāratī rājasi bhāratānāṃ tvamīśvarī bhāsi carācarasya.. BB 73
दशायुधाढ्या दशदिक्ष्वगम्या पातासि मातर्दशबाहुरार्यान्।
सहस्रहस्तैरुपगुह्य पुत्रानास्से जगद्योनिरचिन्त्यवीर्या॥
daśāyudhāḍhyā daśadikṣvagamyā pātāsi mātardaśabāhurāryān.
sahasrahastairupaguhya putrānāsse jagadyoniracintyavīryā.. BB 90
This, in brief, is the story of Bhavānī Bhāratī. The story is short, simple, but vigorous, powerful, inspiring and carries the spirit of the Nation. A nation, according to Sri Aurobindo, “is not a piece of earth, nor a figure of speech, nor a fiction of the mind. It is a Mighty Shakti, composed of the Shaktis of all the millions of units that make up the nation…” (CWSA, Vol. 6, p. 83) He further explains that this Mighty Shakti is Bhavānī Bhāratī, Mother India. She is the Mother of Strength, the repository of infinite energy. This Mother of Strength is now “inactive, imprisoned in the magic circle of Tamas, the self-indulgent inertia and ignorance of her sons. To get rid of Tamas we have but to wake the Brahma within.” (CWSA, Vol. 6, p. 83) This awakening of the Brahma within is possible through the real worship of the Mother of Strength. And Sri Aurobindo’s Bhavānī Bhāratī in its entirety is an invocation of this Mother of Strength.
The idea of the soul of the nation as the expression of the infinite energy of Brahman has been described by Sri Aurobindo in the following verse of Bhavānī Bhāratī where Mother India has been addressed as the reservoir of infinite energy, strength of the strong, gentleness of the gentle and as the omnipotent one:
अनन्तशक्त्यृद्धिमशेषमूर्तिं को वक्ष्यतीमां तव सर्वशक्ते।
तेजस्त्वमेतद्वलिनां बलञ्च त्वं कोमलानामपि कोमलासि॥
anantaśaktyṛddhimaśeṣamūrtiṃ ko vakṣyatīmāṃ tava sarvaśakte.
tejastvametadvalināṃ balañca tvaṃ komalānāmapi komalāsi.. BB 88
Sri Aurobindo has not only described the aspect of the power of the universal Mother in his Bhavānī Bhāratī, but he has seen love and knowledge as well as beauty and compassion in her. She is all-powerful and a destroyer in the form of Kali; she is beauty in the form of Lakshmi; she is compassion in the form of Annapurna; she is love in the form of Radha; she is knowledge in the form of Saraswati. All these aspects are present in her. Sri Aurobindo sings her praise as follows:
काली त्वमेवासि सुनिष्ठुरासि त्वमन्नपूर्णा सदया च सौम्या।
नमामि रौद्रां भुवनान्तकर्त्रि प्रेमाकुलामेव नमामि राधे॥
kālī tvamevāsi suniṣṭhurāsi tvamannapūrṇā sadayā ca saumyā.
namāmi raudrāṃ bhuvanāntakartri premākulāmeva namāmi rādhe.. BB 87
For Sri Aurobindo the nation is the Mother of Strength. Therefore the Spirit of the Nation has been invoked by him in this poem; he does it by praising the Mother in her various forms. These prayers are as powerful as the Mother herself.
In Bhavānī Bhāratī Sri Aurobindo saw the future India in a completely different form than the India known to us. He saw the people of India coming forward to guard and save Sanatana Dharma. The whole world is hastening to sing her praises and the resplendent Lakshmi, with a smile on her lips, is residing permanently in this land.
सनातनान् रक्षति धर्ममार्गान् पुनः सहस्रांशुकुलार्यजन्मा।
लक्ष्मीः पुनः साप्यचला स्मितास्या समुज्ज्वला राजति भारतेषु॥
sanātanān rakṣati dharmamārgān punaḥ sahasrāṃśukulāryajanmā.
lakṣmīḥ punaḥ sāpyacalā smitāsyā samujjvalā rājati bhārateṣu.. BB 94
If he saw this vision of the country it cannot be false. India will rise again; she will smile and the whole world will respect her. What is needed is giving ourselves to her in service, immersing ourselves in her worship, invoking her presence in our hearts; we have to invoke the Spirit of the Nation in us.
Bhavānī Bhāratī is not just an ordinary patriotic poem; it makes us feel the presence of the Mother of Strength, creates the sense of the national spirit in us, makes us aware that we are eternal; with it we can stand against hostile Fate and Time and Death. It makes us free from self-indulgent inertia. This is the greatness of Bhavānī Bhāratī.
Apart from its subject matter, this poem stands as a unique creation from the point of view of its poetic beauty. Sri Aurobindo has presented the story in a Puranic style, as we see in the Durgā Saptaśatī (caṇḍī). A perceptive reader with a sense of poetry can immediately experience the simplicity, power, rhythm and appropriateness of the words used by Sri Aurobindo. The eleven syllable metres in which this poem is composed are marvellously befitting ones. We know that in Sanskrit most of the triṣṭubh group metres are generally used to express power, anger, heroism, war, intensity etc. As Bhavānī Bhāratī in its entirety is an invocation of power, strength and heroism Sri Aurobindo has chosen the metrical patterns very justly for its composition.
Hence the style and diction that Sri Aurobindo has adopted for the poem, the flavour that he has added to it by the touch of his masterly hand, the spirit that he has brought out here by his extraordinary genius, — all these have made the poem a unique piece among the Sanskrit poetic works of the 19th century.
Let me conclude this with the last two verses of Bhavānī Bhāratī (98 & 99) in which Sri Aurobindo prays to the Divine Shakti to make the land of Bharat her eternal abode:
प्रीतिर्दया धैर्यमदम्यशौर्यं श्रद्धा तितिक्षा विविधाश्च विद्याः।
अनन्तरूपे त्वमसि प्रसीद चिरं वसार्ये हृदि भारतानाम्॥
prītirdayā dhairyamadamyaśauryaṃ śraddhā titikṣā vividhāśca vidyāḥ.
anantarūpe tvamasi prasīda ciraṃ vasārye hṛdi bhāratānām..
O infinite in thy forms, thou art contentment, compassion, patience and indomitable hero-ism, faith and endurance and knowledge of every kind. Be gracious, noble goddess; dwell long in the hearts of the Indian people!
सिन्धून् हिमाद्रिञ्च सुसौम्यभासा प्रकाशयन्ती सुदृढप्रतिष्ठा।
तिष्ठ प्रसन्ना चिरमार्यभूमौ महाप्रतापे जगतो हिताय॥
sindhūn himādriñca susaumyabhāsā prakāśayantī sudṛḍhapratiṣṭhā.
tiṣṭha prasannā ciramāryabhūmau mahāpratāpe jagato hitāya..
Illumining these rivers and snowy mountains with a most gentle lustre, be firmly established in the Aryan country. Abide forever gracious in this land, O Mighty One, for the good of the world!”