Hail Hindu Heroes
Hail Hindu Heroes
Celebrating Some of India’s Champions of Virtue, Strength and Spirituality
Beginning two centuries ago, there arose
throughout India a retinue of talented, highsouled
and dedicated men and women who were
great by any standard in the history of humankind.
They consecrated their life and works to the resurrection
of their motherland. They lit the lamp of liberty,
articulated a new era, safeguarded India’s individuality
and spirituality, strengthened her people’s intentions
and preserved their way of life. These are some of the
contemporary heroes of Hinduism. Here we briefly recount
their stories and achievements, while artist Sabaji
Bhagwan Polaji of Mumbai provides the portraiture.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1825–1883): “Back to the Vedas.” This
was the clarion call of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, religious leader,
social reformer, gifted speaker and prolific writer. Swamiji founded
the now global fellowship of the Arya Samaj. His writings include
commentaries on the Rig, Yajur and Sama Vedas, an encyclopedic
work on Hinduism called Satyartha Prakash, a book of prayers and a
work on Sanskrit grammar. Swami rejected idol worship and polytheism.
He fought against superstitions, child-marriage, the hereditary
caste system and forced widowhood. He advocated women’s education,
a single national language and the study of Sanskrit.
Born in 1825 in Kathiawar (now in Rajkot district of Gujarat),
Mulshankar, as Swami Dayananda was known as a boy, left his
home at the age of 21. He wandered the country for 20 years and
learned the Vedas from scholars. His Guru, Virajanand of Mathura,
the blind saint with a giant intellect, gave him his mission. Swamiji
passed away at Ajmer on October 30, 1883, having been poisoned.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886): There is one principle
of pure consciousness. It is both personal and impersonal. It can
be reached through the path of love, knowledge and selfless action.
Man should aim at Self realization, and morality is the foundation
of spiritual perfection. This, in essence, is the teaching of Ramakrishna
Born at Kamarpukur village of West Bengal, on February 18, 1836,
Gadadhar, as he was known as a youth, showed spiritual inclinations
even in his boyhood. He had an artistic temperament and a beautiful
voice. His brother took him to Calcutta when he was 20 and made
him a priest at the Kali Temple at Dakshineshwar. Ramakrishna not
only had visions of the Supreme Goddess but had practical training
in tantra. His whole life was an uninterrupted contemplation of God.
Through his profound spiritual realizations, he demonstrated the reality
of God and restored faith in religion for many. People flocked to
him from far and near, seekers of truth of all races, creeds and castes.
His small room in the Dakshineswar temple garden on the outskirts
of the city of Calcutta became a veritable parliament of religions.
The teachings of Ramakrishna were spread all over the world by his
foremost disciple, Swami Vivekananda.
Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941): Poet, novelist, critic, philosopher,
nationalist and educationist, Tagore is the greatest of modern Bengali
writers and a treasure of Indian literature. Tagore gave exquisite
expression to the joy of being one with the river and the mountain
the sky and the stars, the grass
and the flowers. His poetry exalts
nature and mysticism. His
was an aesthetic approach to
life and art, but his faith was
anchored deep in the Brahman
of the Upanishads. Tagore
wrote more than 1,000 poems
and 2,000 songs, besides novels,
short stories, plays and essays.
He was a musician of the highest
order and a painter of delicate
sensitivity. He was awarded
the Nobel Prize for Literature in
1913 for his collection of poems
Born to affluence of Devendra
Nath Tagore and Sharada Devi
in Calcutta, Tagore was educated
mostly at home. He studied for a while at the University College,
London, in 1878. He was married to Mrinalini in 1883. He founded
Shanti Niketan in 1901, a school which later became famous as
Vishwa Bharati, or World University. Tagore fervently protested the
partition of Bengal (1905). His song Jana Gana Mana is the National
Anthem of India.
Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902): As the foremost disciple of Sri Ramakrishna,
Vivekananda not only spread the teachings of his master
but carried the message of Vedanta to the West. He is hailed as a
“bridge-builder between East and West.” He consecrated his own
life to the moral and spiritual upliftment of his nation and humanity.
Born on January 12, 1863, in Calcutta, of Shri Vishwanatha Datta
and Bhuvaneshwari Devi, Narendranath Datta, as Swamiji was
called, had his early education at home. He later graduated in arts
and law. A self-proclaimed rationalist and agnostic, Narendranath
came under the influence of Ramakrishna almost by chance, and
he was immediately captivated by the unqualified spirituality of
Ramakrishna. He took the name Swami Vivekananda as a sannyasin
before departing for America. Vivekananda became famous after
addressing the Parliament of Religions on September 11, 1893
in Chicago, USA. The brilliant light that was Swamiji went out on
July 4, 1902, when he had just turned 39. He is the one of the
greatest modern interpreters and promoters of the Advaita Vedanta
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
(1869–1948): Mahatma Gandhi
is looked upon as the “Father
of the Nation” in India. He had
an overwhelming influence on
the people in the country during
his lifetime. Albert Einstein
hailed Gandhi as: “A man who
has confronted the brutality of
Europe with the dignity of a
simple human being, and thus
at all times has risen superior.
Generations to come, it may
be, will scarce believe that such
a one as this ever in flesh and
blood walked upon this earth.”
Gandhi demonstrated that the
essential strength of man is
spiritual. Injustice and tyranny
should be fought with truth and nonviolence as the guiding principles.
Gandhi roused the masses of India into action for winning
freedom from foreign rule.
Born on October 2, 1869, in Gujarat, Gandhi had his education in
India and England. He left for South Africa in 1893 to argue in a civil
suit. Moved by the plight of Indian settlers, Gandhi demonstrated
the efficacy of his unique strategy—satyagraha—in fighting for their
legitimate rights. Returning to India in 1915, Gandhi launched a series
of movements against the British rule, including noncooperation,
civil disobedience and the Quit India Movement in 1942. He was
sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment. On January 30, 1948,
the apostle of peace and nonviolence fell to an assassin’s bullets.
Mahayogi Sri Aurobindo (1872–1950): One of the greatest pioneers of
the Indian Renaissance, Sri Aurobindo was educated in England
and was proficient in Greek, Latin and English. Yet there was no
greater or more brilliant exponent of Indian culture from the point
of view of the Vedic spiritual tradition. He was no philosopher content
with weaving verbal rhetoric. He was a yogi, an integrated personality
whose life was a sadhana towards realizing the Self Divine.
He has been described as the “Poet of Patriotism” and the “Prophet
of Indian Nationalism.” Aurobindo envisaged the emergence of a
superman, the truth-conscious being, one who has realized the Divinity
within himself as the goal of human evolution.
Born on August 15, 1872, Aurobindo attended schools in England
from the age of seven. He returned to India in 1893, taught French
and became Professor of English at the Baroda State College. He
was in Baroda for 13 years. Aurobindo was drawn into politics in
1905 when Bengal was partitioned. He was associated with the Bengali
daily Yugantar and the English daily Bande Mataram. He followed
Tilak in his political thinking, and was with the extremists at
the Surat session of the Congress in 1907. Aurobindo was arrested
in 1908 for revolutionary activity and acquitted after one year. He
became a spiritual aspirant during his imprisonment and chose to
pursue a spiritual mission. He went to Pondicherry and stayed on
there till his mahasamadhi on December 5, 1950. He wrote copiously
in his inimitable, elevated literary style.
Sadhu T.L. Vaswani (1879–1966): An eminent educationist, great social
reformer, philosopher and a man of God, Thanwardas Lilaram
Vaswani lived a life of selfless service. Spiritually inclined from his
childhood, he called upon youth to be dedicated to the service of
the Motherland with faith in God. He considered character-building
to be the essential prerequisite for nation-building. He organized
many educational organizations and youth centers for promoting
education and inculcation of ethical and spiritual values.
Vaswani was born in Hyderabad, Sind, on November 25, 1879.
His father was well versed in Persian and knowledgeable about the
lives of the Sufis. A brilliant student, Vaswani served as professor
and principal in various colleges during 1903–1919. He resigned his
principalship in 1919 and decided to devote the rest of his life to the
service of his motherland. Vaswani, a great orator, was one of the
earliest supporters of Gandhi’s noncooperation movement.
Returning to Hyderabad, in 1929 he started an organization called
“Sakhi Sat-Sang,” devoted to women’s causes. He presided over a
number of conferences and meetings connected with humanitarianism,
religion and peace during the third and the fourth decades
of the century. Following partition, Vaswani settled in Pune in 1949
and set up a number of educational institutions. He has been hailed
as “a thinker and a revealer of the deep truth of the spirit.” He
passed away on June 16, 1966, in Pune. A 10-foot statue of Sadhu
T.L. Vaswani stands before the Pune Railway Station. In 1969, the
government of India brought out a postal stamp in memory of him
Ramana Maharshi (1879–1950): Ramana Maharshi was born on December
29, 1879, at Tiruchuli, a small town near Madurai, in South
India, as the son of Sundaram Aiyar, a middle-class brahmin lawyer,
and his wife Alagammal. The Maharshi was named Venkataraman,
and after his elementary education at Tiruchuli, he was sent to
Madurai for schooling. He was living in his uncle’s home then. It
was there, when he was 17, that he had a great spiritual experience
in a confrontation with death. He felt that he was to die just then,
and his conscious mind was driven inwards by the question “Who is
this ‘I’ who is dying?” From the innermost recesses of his being the
realization came: “I am the soul (Atma or Self), not the body.” From
that time onward, he dwelt in the radiance of the spirit. The fear of
death left him forever.
On August 29, 1896 he left his family in Madurai and ventured to
Tiruvannamalai, where he remained until his departure from this
world in 1950. Beginning in 1922, an ashram grew up around him at
the foot of the hill. People from all walks of life went to the sage and
invariably experienced profound peace as well as gaining practical
solutions to their problems. Though the Maharshi was ever ready to
explain doctrinal or philosophical matters, it was mainly his very
presence that was his greatest blessing to devotees. The Maharshi
once explained to a visitor, “Bhagavan’s teaching is an expression of
his own experience and realization.” The Maharshi attained Mahasamadhi
on Friday, April 14, 1950.
Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888–1975): Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, one
of the three early recipients of the Bharat Ratna Award, was a great
philosopher, educationist and humanist. He was the President of
India during 1962–67 and was hailed as the philosopher-king of
Plato’s conception. He explained the ancient wisdom of the Indian
sages in terms intelligible to the modern mind. Radhakrishnan’s specific
contribution to thought consists of his philosophy of religion
and idealist view of life. Additionally, he gave much impetus to the
comparative study of religions. Radhakrishnan offered a reasoned
defence of religion. He was an exceptional writer and speaker, in a
style that was dignified and impressive. His intellect was encyclopedic.
Science and religion, literature and the fine arts, all these he
elucidated with rare insight.
Born in Tiruttani, Tamil Nadu, in September, 1888, Radhakrishnan
had his education at Tiruttani, Tirupati, Vellore and Chennai.
He started his career as a lecturer and moved to Mysore and Calcutta
to occupy prestigious professorial chairs. He was Spalding Professor
of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford during 1936–39.
Radhakrishnan held the offices of Indian Ambassador to Russia,
1949–52, Vice President of the Indian Union, 1952–62, and President
of India, 1962–67.
Acharya Vinoba Bhave (1895–1982): A scholar and a saint, Acharya
Vinoba Bhave was a beacon of hope and solace to millions in India
and abroad. He was Mahatma Gandhi’s spiritual successor. Vinoba
was born in a village in Maharashtra’s Kolaba district on September
11, 1895. As a youth, he was drawn to Gandhi and his unique
“Weaponless War” for India’s freedom. Like the Mahatma, Vinoba
was also ahead of his time. His bhoodan (gift of land), sampattidan
(gift of wealth), jeevadan (gift of life) and other movements are logical
extensions of Gandhi’s programs of national reconstruction. Believing
in communal amity, he abolished every trace of untouchability
from his heart. In order to understand his Muslim neighbors, he
studied the Koran in the original Arabic for one year. His padayatra
(foot journey), a part of his bhoodan movement, was a demonstration
of the Gandhian doctrine of trusteeship.
Of the many teachings of the Gita which Vinoba highlighted in
his talks, one of the most important was the role of self-help. “The
Gita is prepared to go to the lowest, the weakest and the least cultured
of men. And it goes to him not to keep him where he is, but
to grasp him by the hand and lift him up. The Gita wishes that man
should make his action pure and attain the highest state.” Vinobaji
passed away at Paunar on November 17, 1982. He was posthumously
honored with the Bharat Ratna Award in 1984.
Rukmini Devi Arundale (1904–1986): She is the resuscitator of the Indian
classical dance, bharata natyam, which was almost given up in
the early decades of the present century. Rukmini Devi Arundale
returned the dance to respectability. She looked upon dance not as
mere entertainment but as a means of spiritual transformation, and
she brought the spirit of the temple to the stage.
Born in an orthodox brahmin family, she later became a member
of the Theosophical Society. Her taking up dance was a significant
challenge. Bharata natyam was then learned and performed in the
temples by Devadasis (women servants of God) who were looked
down upon by society. Rukmini Devi had to struggle against this
convention and its stigma. She created a stir in the conservative
society of Chennai in the twenties by marrying George Arundale,
an educationist and one of the leaders of the Theosophical movement
in South India. She trained in music and dance under great
masters. With a view to fostering these arts and preserving them in
their pristine purity, she founded the Kalakshetra (Temple of Arts)
in Madras. The institution today is world renowned.
Rukmini Devi was a member of the Rajya Sabha. She was an
ardent champion of vegetarianism and carried on a crusade against
ritual animal slaughter. She was even proposed as a nominee for the
presidentship of India in 1977.
the portraits in this article were lovingly rendered
by Sabaji Bhagwan Polaji. Born September 2, 1943, Polaji came
to Mumbai, where he earned his degree from Sir J.J. College of
Art. He then worked as a teacher in the B.L. Ruia School situated
in the suburb of Vile Parle. Polaji is a prolific award winner,
both nationally and internationally, earning successive awards
for “Best Teacher.” Other accolades include the India Awards
for Child Welfare and Good Citizens Award. He has organized
seven hundred art camps, as well as many seminars and workshops
in countries like America and Belgium. His love of youth
is evident to all, and he is especially dedicated to the betterment
of orphans and disabled children. Polaji has a thorough knowledge
of Indian history, particularly of India’s independence, and
this has helped him to execute these portraits with devotion and
insight. Each painting shows the individual along with some
glimpse of his or her achievements and accomplishments, so
that any viewer can visually gain an idea of their contributions
to Mother India and Hinduism.
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to Sadguru Sri Sivaya Subramuniyaswami ji, Hinduism Today dot com for the collection)