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Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak Biography History Facts

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Bal Gangadhar Tilak – “Swaraj is my birthright and  I shall have it” was the loud and clear call given by the man who was born just four years before Abraham Lincoln, the most un-conservative President of the USA took oath as the sixteenth head of America when the politics in that country was wrapped in a deep turmoil.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

The same conditions prevailed even in India during the partition of Bengal in 1905.

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Bal Gangadhar Tilak Biography

During the first war of Independence in 1857, the creed of a large number of inspiring people had been perforated and suppressed by the revolutionaries in the British Indian army.

It was not possible for the British to have a control over them for almost all of them belonged to the educated middle class.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was Popularly Known as “Lokmanya”

Many of them were professionals too. To mobilise these would be leaders to counteract the revolutionaries was the need of the government.

  • Englishmen in India, like Henry Cotton and Allan Octavian too wanted their safety and thought in this direction.
  • They came up with an idea to build a concord between the government and the people.
  • Hume worked in the direction and established the Indian National Union in 1885.
  • It was renamed as Indian National Congress.
  • The first meeting of the organisation was held in Bombay under the leadership of W.C. Bonnerjee, a veteran lawyer of Kolkata.

Lokmanya Tilak

Hume was successful in his efforts. He was able to form an association of moderates who can employ constitutional methods of protests and accept the products produced in Great Britain. They considered such activities as unlawful.

Pherozeshah Mehta, Surendranath Banerjea and Gopal Krishna Gokhale belonged to this group. But there were firebrands too who had joined Congress.

Lal Bal Lal Freedom Fighters

Lal-Bal-Pal i.e. Lala Lajpat Rai from Punjab, Bal Gangadhar Tilak from Maharashtra and Bipin Chandra Pal did not believe in the maze of constitutional procedures. They were firebrand and had a considerable following in their provinces. Tilak was considered an extremist.

He did not believe in the process of persuasion to secure political rights. He, like Aravinda Ghose, believed in strong pressure. One can’t get freedom with a begging bowl. The people have to fight for it.

One may feel that Tilak believing in extremes while dealing with the foreign masters was a precursor of Chaphekar brothers, Bhagat Singh, Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah and Chandrashekhar Azad who targeted British officers and killed them. National humiliation was avenged as a personal vendetta by them.

They sacrificed themselves one after the other at the Altar of Bharatmata a vigorous act that counted but could not remove the shackles of the mother. They, of course, revered Tilak but the latter was not their Vanguard.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak believed in agitation fiery agitation against the regime taking the masses with him. Lokamanya Tilak was born into an orthodox family on July 23, 1856. His father Gangadhar a schoolmaster infused in him a love for learning.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak Achievements

  • He studied Sanskrit, Mathematics, History, Astrology and law with the same vigor. People hardly knew these achievements.
  • It is rather noteworthy that when he decided to enter active social and political life he infused in the people’s love for learning.
  • He considered education a basic condition for freedom and growth. He was of the opinion that Indians studying under Macaulian system of education regarded our ancient learning and knowledge as useless.
  • He believed that we should “preserve the national sentiment by giving due credit to all that is good in the old system but without detriment to progress and reforms needed for our national uplift”.
  • Thus he founded the New English School in 1880 and Deccan Education Society in 1885. The primary mission was to educate the younger generation as great Patriots.

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Even after undergoing through several hurdles, Bal Gangadhar Tilak still pursued his studies sincerely. After matriculation, he was a student of Prestigious Deccan College, Poona.

Starting from the early days, Bal Gangadhar Tilak loved controversy as he believed it would give him a finish to his dialectical skill when he enters into politics. But he was quite different from his contemporaries Gokhale and others. He did not make education a source of income.

Having residence at the college itself, Tilak completed his graduation in Mathematics in first class.Two years later he was a Bachelor of Law. He started practicing with his fast friend Agarkar.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak Ambition And Career

  • Many peers like Agarkar, Kelkar, James Fergusson and Mahadev Govind Ranade actively associated themselves with Tilak for his efforts in the field of Education.
  • Tilak never aspired for any government job and put his heart and soul in entering into politics. He started teaching at the New English School on a very low salary.
  • One would be surprised to know that he taught diverse subjects like Mathematics and history with equal interest.
  • As he took his students in natural surroundings he explained many a thing with examples from everyday life.

While Bal Gangadhar Tilak opted for a career as a teacher, due to his peak dialectical skill, he soon turned into a journalist.

  • He started two journals and published them, one in Marathi and the other in English. Actually, he wished to reach the Common man and infuse fiery patriotism in them.
  • Kesari in Marathi and Mahratta in English were started in 1881. Kesari means a lion.
  • In the very beginning before Kesari was started he prepared a prospectus for the paper that said, “We are determined to discuss every subject in an impartial manner and in the light of what we think to be true.

There is undoubtedly a growing tendency towards flattery under the British rule, and all honest people would admit that this tendency is undesirable and detrimental to the interests of the people. The Articles in the newspaper will be in keeping with the name given to it”.

  • Thus the paper became an eyesore for the Britishers from day one. It was quite natural that the landlord did not want to make the administration go against him.
  • He refused to allow printing press in his premises. Tilak and his friends moved the machine and the composing apparatus to New English School.
  • The maiden issue was out next morning and distributed by the editor-cum printer. His journals found ample space to impart his ideas of nationalism and the necessity of attaining Swaraj.

Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak

His articles became so popular among the young men and women of his times that he was respected by the people. They gave him the honor by calling him Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

Gradually Tilak associated himself with the social evils in the society. He played an active role in the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha that was established in 1870.  He wanted to get rid of child marriage have literacy among women and widow remarriage. He was of the firm opinion that “Social change was the key to political awareness”.

Education, he thought, was basically meant for changing the age-old notions of discrimination against some sections of society especially women. Tilak was deadly against western civilization. He wanted to shape the new society on the firm base of our heritage.

He said, “When western civilization was first introduced to us some of our people were so dazzled by its scientific knowledge and method that they regarded our ancient learning as useless and rushed to the western sciences. They did not care to know what books we have on the subject and much less to know what was written on them.

Tilak believed that national consciousness follows religious consciousness. We in India even today have firm faith in our religion.

  • So many things can be taught through the magic wand of religion. Some of them are Durga Puja in Bengal that unites people for nine days.
  • Ramlila in the North plays the same role while Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated with great enthusiasm throughout India. Religious songs are sung group dances are also performed.
  • He thought it was an easy way to awaken the masses. Ganesh Puja served a meeting place for people from all walks of life.

Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak And Hinduism

Later he managed the things in such a way that the songs were full of patriotism and self-sacrifice. Worship of Ganesha did not remain a family festival. It was celebrated on a bigger platform the family of the people arousing a deep sense of patriotism.

bal gangadhar tilak-GaneshUtsavMandal1900

Besides Ganesh Puja, he started Shivaji Festival. In Mahratta he wrote, “Hero worship is a thing deeply implanted in human nature and our political aspirations need all the strength which the worship of an Indian hero is likely to inspire in our minds,” He said, “Every hero, be he Indian or European, acts according to the spirit of his times.

What makes Shivaji a national hero is the spirit which actuated him throughout and not his deeds as such”. Tilak highlighted Shivaji as a liberator, a national hero.

He related the deeds of Shivaji’s bravery to the political situation. Shivaji Festival is still celebrated with great enthusiasm throughout Maharashtra.

       All this religiosity did not keep Tilak aloof from the calamities that the country had been facing. In 1896 the very year when Shivaji Festival was being celebrated a severe famine was experienced in Maharashtra. It was a people’s cause.

  • Tilak dedicated himself and all his resources for the cause. Strange enough it was not liked by the government officials.
  • Tilak’s work was unique. He enlightened the peasantry to come over the calamity in a legal process.
  • In a large gathering of peasants, Tilak said, “When the Queen desires that none should die when the Governor declares that all should live and when the Secretary of State is prepared to incur debt if necessary, will you kill yourself by timidity and starvation? If you possess the money to clear the government dues by all means.
  • But if you have not, will you sell your things away only to avoid the supposed wrath of subordinate government officials.”

Somehow or the other the famine was over but not the anger and wrath of the officials. Next year there was a plague. Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak withdrew himself from all political and social activities. He organized relief camps to nurse the sick.

  • The Government to appoint a British official, Rand as Plague Commissioner. But Rand’s soldiers instead of helping the sick broke into houses, defiled and destroyed property, humiliated women.
  • They also put obstruction on the work of Tilak in his work at the relief camps. Formerly, Tilak made fiery speeches and wrote strongly against the brutality of Rand.
  • On the one hand, people were suffering from the worse plague of the time on the other Rand organized a feast to celebrate the Queen’s diamond Jubilee.
  • It was June 22, 1897. The people were very angry so much that the Chaphekar brothers wanted to have vengeance. They shot Rand and Lieutenant Ayerst.

Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak Imprisonment

Famine and plague were kept aside by the British. They considered his fiery speeches and his poems and articles responsible for inciting the young chapekar brothers. Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak was charged with sedition and arrested in July that very year. He was sentenced to 18 months rigorous imprisonment. None of the moderate leaders could help him. Of Course, they gave statements.

In 1897 itself in December at the Amravati Session of the Indian National Congress Surendranath Banerjea declared, “A nation is in tears. For Mr. Tilak, my heart is full of sympathy and my feelings go forth to him in his prison home.”

bal gangadhar tilak-surendra benarjee

Dadabhai Naoroji was in England. He said, “Gagging the press is simply suicidal. There never was a great mistake than to prosecute Mr. Tilak. This was a new departure from the principles on which the British Government was conducted.”

The only advantage that Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak reaped during his imprisonment was his relations with Max Mueller. Max Mueller sent him a copy of the ‘Rigveda’. The antiquities of the Vedas and Aryans were his favourite subject.

It prepared the foundation of his book The Arctic Home in the Vedas. As Tilak had grown very weak because of tortuous work he was given in Jail the government released him prematurely. He was rather a skeleton when he came out of the jail.

R.C. Dutta wrote from England, “Your endeavors will never go in vain. They are bound to bear fruit. Your leadership will lead the nation to victory”, He immediately plunged into politics again and at the congress session he stood out as one of the outstanding leaders.

Boycott Of British Goods

Plunging again in politics meant a tussle between him and the moderates. The partition of Bengal in 1905 earlier had generated agitation within the nation.

  • The question was that how such major problems were to be solved through lawful agitation or through aggressive nationalism.
  • Partition had actually united the people in an aggressive way. The sentiment of nationalism grew intense in a natural way. They came to the streets with black flags. Cries of Vande Mataram could be heard throughout the country.
  • Still, moderates like Surendranath Banerjea, Gokhale and Pherozeshah Mehta insisted upon Principles of constitutional methods of protests.
  • The boycott was regarded by them unlawful extremism. They wanted to be on the safer side. They did not want themselves to be arrested and suffer, as did Tilak.
  • Now it was the turn of the so-called extremists to come to the fore. Bipin Chandra Pal and Aravind Ghose in Bengal, Lala Lajpatrai in Punjab and Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Maharashtra raised their head and declared the boycott in British goods.
  • The active trio became famous as Lal-Bal-Pal. Congress was controlled by the moderates. But now Tilak declared a war against them.  

bal gangadhar tilak - LALBALPAL

  • He said, “The moderates think they can be got by persuasion. We think they can be got by strong pressure”.
  • As he used his pressure the moderates rather sulked. Gokhale admitted that “this upheaval of popular feelings would create a landmark in the history of national progress”.

But as they did not change their approach Bal Gangadhar Tilak and his compatriots were rather forced to launch a new party.

bal gangadhar tilak - bengal-1905bal gangadhar tilak - bengal-1905

Bal Gangadhar Tilak Nationalist Party

  • As Lal-Bal-Pal were not satisfied with the current congress, the started a new party in 1906 called the Nationalist Party.
  • This all gave a new momentum to the freedom struggle. Tilak started the Vandemataram movement. He started Swadeshi campaign.
  • His innovative mind gave a new shape to the movement. A ‘Paisa’ fund was organized to help develop Indian industry.
  • People picketed against foreign goods and arranged bonfires of foreign cloth as an expression of a boycott. The foreign cloth had already become a symbol of exploitation.

As Congress emerged into a national body, Tilak decided to have a control over it the very next year. At the Surat session, he rather roared furiously.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak Slogan

“Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it”.

bal gangadhar tilak-quote-swarajya

Although he had undaunted courage, together with the Britishers, he had to face the moderate group in the Congress too.

  • But by this time the younger generation had come totally under the sway of Tilak.
  • Immediately after the Surat session government started repressive measures under Newspaper after the Surat session government started repressive measures under Newspaper Act.
  • Authorities could confiscate any press and start prosecution for any so-called act of sedition.
  • Undeterred by all this Tilak went on writing articles to promote swadeshi movement and demand independence.

He wrote two articles in Kesari ‘The Country’s misfortune’ and ‘These remedies are not lasting”.

Although there was nothing like sedition in them the government wanted to silence the leader of the masses. Tilak was arrested on June 24. He didn’t take the assistance of a lawyer. Standing in the dock as a representative of the millions of people he argued his case himself.

It was a historic trail. His arguments against the sedition act and the repressive acts of the government continued for 21 hours. Being a lawyer himself he showed how to argue. But it was already decided to book and punish Bal Gangadhar Tilak in the case.

The Jury lets him make a final statement on July 22. Lokmanya Tilak said in his somber voice.

“All I wish to say is that, in spite of the verdict of the jury, I maintain that I am innocent. There are higher powers that rule the destiny of men and nations, and it may be the will of Providence that the cause I represent may prosper more by my suffering than by my remaining free”.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak Jail Life

Tilak was sentenced to six years of transportation. There was complete hartal in Mumbai. There were incidents of violence too in protest against the judgement.

Except for the demonstrators with black flags shouting slogans against the verdict, none could be seen on the streets for six days symbolic to six years’ transportation.

On September 15 he reached Mandalay Jail. He was given holding cell away from the prison garrison. He had equally to face the heat of the summer and winter cold in that cell.

Tilak’s only gain at Mandalay was a personal one. He spent most of his free after tortuous jail work in reading.

  • He learned German, French and Pali. But his greatest fascination was the Bhagavad Gita.
  • The question that attracted him the most was What is Karma? He wanted to solve this problem. He argued on the basis of the Gita.
  • This formed the basis of his famous work ‘Gita Rahasya’. According to him “Gita advocate the performance of action.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak Gita Rahasya

This action must be done to keep the world going by the right paths of evolution which the Creator has destined the world to follow”.

  • Of course, the Gita has given importance to jnan (Knowledge) and bhakti (devotion to God). He sensed that these two were a path of course subdued by Karma.
  • Karma or action is the real dharma. Lord Krishna, in the Gita, prepared Arjuna to fight i.e. to resort to furious action to perform his duty of upholding dharma.
  • To prove his contention Tilak gives examples from the works of Roman historians, Greek mythology, and Shakespeare.
  • He gave examples from books of other religions too to explain his arguments.
  • Tilak started writing Gita Rahasya in November 1910 and finished the 900-page manuscript in March 1911.
  • On his return at end of his term in 1914 Tilak had collected 400 books in his cell some sent by his friend’s others supplied by the government.
  • Of course, his family wanted to publish the Gita Rahasya. After putting efforts the manuscript finally arrived India and was handed over to his family.
  • Since then, the work has been translated into several Indian languages as well as in English.

Its sale exceeds any other book of its type for it was not a stereotyped one but an innovation in itself. 

Besides his this great achievement he suffered a very great loss while he was at Mandalay. He had to remain in jail and couldn’t have a last look at his wife when she expired. He was not released.

He wrote back to his nephew “I am used to taking my misfortune calmly, but I confess the present shock shook me considerably. What grieved me most is my enforced absence from her side at this critical moment. But this was to be. I always feared it and it has happened. One chapter of my life as closed and I am afraid it won’t be long before another will be.”

Politics nowhere in the world is a smooth sailing. The three pillars of democracy liberty equality and fraternity emerged out of pitched battles against the king. But the finale was a dictatorship. In USA division of the country was just imminent when the leadership of Abraham Lincoln saved the country.

But the politics in India has been rather a chequered on. People and groups would start quarreling among themselves as soon as a handle is lost. That is the same thing happened during the national movement in Mandalay. There was a lull. After he got released,  his prime aim was to ensure unity in Congress and to make it stronger.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak aim was to have Swaraj.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak And Home Rule League

Bal Gangadhar Tilak started a new organization to strengthen Congress Home Rule League. Centers were set up throughout the country.

  • It was led by Annie Besant in the south. Tilak defined Home Rule League as ‘I should be in my country what an Englishman is in England’.
  • It meant Indians should have the management of their country in their own hands. Masses were again attracted by Congress and it gained strength.
  • It was during this time i.e. 1914 that the first world war started. The congress, Tilak, and others gave their support to the British Government in their hour of need.
  • They expected more liberties in return. But nothing came out. The British deceived again and Tilak thoughts turned reality.
  • Tilak had earlier written. “Political rights are never obtained by begging. Whatever be the government, it would be selfish; when one nation dominates over another, it does so for selfish ends and not for the good of the ruled. Even if the rulers weren’t foreigners.”

bal gangadhar tilak - home rule league

“They would not part with their power easily or voluntarily. Unless they have been caught in a tight corner, they will not part with power. If the people want power, they have to obtain it self-help and by fighting for it. If the rulers say that they would hand over to you your administration after you were fit for governing yourself, it need not be taken literally.

One need not be lulled by such sweet promises. We must work hard for it and work continuously for it. Try the obstructionist tactics as for as possible. It is a point of selfish interest, pure and simple. All talk of fair play and generous attitude is bosh. This is politics; this is not a religious fraternity.

History does not record any event where the conquered have been given freedom by the conquered willingly”. That is what can be seen in today’s Indian politics. What Bal Gangadhar Tilak said before independence comes true even in post-independence period.

From Nehru to Atal Behari there has been a long race for power and clutching to power.

  • Britain prepared the Montague Chelmsford report that shattered to pieces all dreams of Indian leaders and the masses.
  • No rewards were rendered. More restrictions were imposed. Political activities were curbed and justice curtailed. Sentence was passed without the proper hearing.
  • There were no appellate courts. There was a wave of unrest throughout the country again. Tilak made plans to go to England.
  • He spoke for the people of his country in the British Parliament. He went to other European countries too and delivered fiery speeches.

Massacre of Jallianwala Bagh

  • During Lokamanya Tilak’s stay in England. The worst massacre of Jallianwala Bagh took place on April 13, 1919. People all over the world were shocked.
  • In India, people were more distressed as the government instead of taking any action against General Dyer applauded his sense of duty.
  • Dyer, however, had to pay with his life few years after his return to England. Tilak came back to India.
  • He suffered from acute diabetes and was in the grip of old age. Due to this illness, on August 1, 1920, Tilak breathed his last at 64.
  • Tilak had actually laid down the foundation of India’s freedom. Gokhale who belonged to the moderate group and ranged against him in politics said of him, “… there is no man who has shown grit and patience and courage so rare that several times, in the course of his struggles, he lost his fortune and by his indomitable will put it all together.”
  • Like Gokhale, Gandhi too belonged to Tilak’s rival group. But he appreciated the sense of patriotism in him.
  • He said, “It is difficult to believe of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak as dead. He was so much part of the people. He was a great man of our times who could able to hold on the masses. The support that he gathered from thousands of countrymen can be termed as exceptional achievement.
  • He was unquestionably the idol of the people. His word was a law among thousands. A giant among men has fallen. The voice of a lion is hushed.
  • What was the reason of his hold on his countrymen? I think the answer is simple. His patriotism was a passion with him. He knew no religion but the love of his country. He was a born democrat.”

bal gangadhar tilak - Jallianwala Bagh

        “He believed in the rule of the majority with an intensity that fairly frightened me. But that gave him his hold. He had an iron will, which he used for his country. His life was an open book. His tastes were simple. His private life was spotlessly clean. He had dedicated his wonderful talents to the country. No man could ever preach the honest truths of Swaraj with the same intensity as Lokamanya.”

        “His countryman, therefore, implicitly, believed in him. He will go down the generations yet unborn as a maker of modern India. People will admire his memory as a man who lived for them and died for them.”

Bal Gangadhar Tilak Death

Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak suffered with Pneumonia and died before independence on 1 August 1920 in Mumbai.

Also Read:

Sathyavadi Raja Harishchandhra – The Truthful King

Significance of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhayaya           

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