Bal Gangadhar Tilak

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Bal Gangadhar Tilak
Lokmany tilak.jpg
Alternate name(s): Lokmanya Tilak
Place of birth: Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, India
Place of death: Bombay,India
Movement: Indian Independence Movement
Major organizations: Indian National Congress

Bāḷ Gaṅgādhar Ṭiḷak (Marāṭhī: बाळ गंगाधर टिळक) (July 23, 1856 - August 1, 1920), was an Indian nationalist, philosopher, social reformer, and the first popular leader of the Indian Independence Movement. He is known as "Father of the Indian unrest." Reverently addressed as Lokmanya (meaning "Beloved of the people" or "Revered by the world"), Tilak was a scholar of Indian history, Sanskrit, Hinduism, mathematics, law, and astronomy. He was one of the first and strongest proponents for Swaraj (complete independence) in Indian consciousness, and is often considered the father of Hindu nationalism. His famous quote, "Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it!" is well-remembered in India even today. In 1881, he established two newspapers, the Marathi Kesari (Lion), and The Mahratta, published in English, to arouse political consciousness in the general population. After being imprisoned for sedition from 1908–1914, he emerged a political leader and helped to found the Home Rule League.

Tilak wrote an original commentary on the Bhagavadgita, Bhagawadgita-Rahasya (Secret of the Bhagavadgita), in which he discarded the orthodox interpretation that the Bhagavadgita taught the ideal of renunciation; in his view, it taught selfless service to humanity. Tilak regarded karma yoga (the yoga of activity) not as subordinate to jnana yoga, but as equal and complementary to it.


Early life

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was born July 23, 1856, in Madhali Alee (Middle Lane) in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, into a middle class family of the Chitpavan Brahmin caste. His father, Gangadhar Ramachandra Tilak, was a Sanskrit scholar and a famous teacher who began his education at home while he was still very young. Tilak was an excellent student and was very good in mathematics. From an early age, he demonstrated intolerance for injustice, and was not afraid to speak the truth. When Tilak was ten, his father was transferred to Pune from Ratnagiri. He joined the Anglo-Vernacular School in Pune and was educated by well-known teachers. Soon after coming to Pune, Tilak lost his mother, and by the time he was sixteen, his father had also died. While Tilak was studying in Matriculation he was married, according to Hindu tradition, to a ten year old girl named Satyabhama.[1] Tilak was among India's first generation of youth to receive a modern college education.

After passing the Matriculation Examination, Tilak joined the Deccan College. He graduated from Deccan College, Pune, in 1877, with a first class in mathematics.[1] After graduation, Tilak began teaching mathematics at Fergusson College in Pune. He became critical of the Western education system, feeling that it demeaned the Indian students and disrespected India's heritage. He organized the Deccan Education Society to improve the quality of education for India's youth.

Political career

In 1880, Tilak founded two daily newspapers, the Marathi Kesari (Lion), and The Mahratta, published in English. Within two years, Kesari was attracting more readers than any other language newspaper in India. The editorials vividly portrayed the suffering of the people, and reported on actual events, calling on every Indian to fight for his rights. The language was intended to arouse, in the most timid reader, a passionate thirst for freedom. Tilak used to say to his colleagues, "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 daylight." Tilak criticized the government for its brutality in suppressing freedom of expression, especially the protests of young nationalists against the division of Bengal in 1905; and for denigrating India's culture, its people, and heritage. He demanded that the British immediately give Indians the right to self-government, and attacked the moderate nationalists who supported Western-style social and political reforms.

Tilak was a member of the Municipal Council of Pune, Bombay Legislature, and an elected "Fellow" of the Bombay University. He joined the Indian National Congress in the 1890s, but soon found himself opposing its liberal-moderate attitude towards the fight for self-government. In 1891, Tilak opposed the Age of Consent bill, introduced after the death of a child bride from sexual injuries, to raise the marriage age from ten years old to twelve (the marriage age had already been raised to sixteen in Britain, in 1885). This was one of the first significant reforms introduced by the British after the Indian rebellion of 1857. The Congress and other liberals whole-heartedly supported it, but Tilak raised a battle-cry representing it as "interference in Hindu religion." Following this incident, he was regarded as a hard-core Hindu nationalist.

At that time, the nationalist movement in India was largely confined to the upper classes. Tilka sought to popularize it among the ordinary people by introducing Hindu religious symbolism and alluding to the Maratha struggle against Muslim rule. He organized two important festivals, Ganesh, in honor of the elephant-headed god worshiped by all Hindus, in 1893; and Shivaji, in 1895, to remember Sivaji, the founder of the Maratha state, who was the first Hindu hero to fight against Muslim power in India. These were intended to arouse nationalist sentiment and to promote the unity of people of all castes and sects.

In 1897, when bubonic plague spread from Bombay to Pune, the Government became jittery. The Assistant Collector of Pune, Mr. Rand, and his associates employed severe and brutal methods to stop the spread of the disease, destroying even "clean homes." People who were not infected were carried away and in some cases, the carriers even looted the property of the affected people. When the authorities turned a blind eye to all these excesses, an angry Tilak took up the people's cause by publishing inflammatory articles in his paper, Kesari, quoting the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, to say that no blame could be attached to anyone who killed an oppressor without any thought of reward. Following the publication of these articles, on June 27, Rand and his assistant were assassinated. Tilak was charged with incitement to murder and sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment. For the first time in British history, intellectuals in England (including the great orientalist, Max Muller) intervened on his behalf and convinced the Government that the trial was unfair. When he emerged from prison, he had become a national hero and adopted a new slogan, "Swaraj (Self-Rule) is my birth right and I will have it." The trial and sentence earned him the title Lokamanya (“Beloved Leader of the People”).

Tilak opposed the moderate views of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and was supported by fellow Indian nationalists Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal and Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab. They were referred to as the Lal-Bal-Pal triumvirate. In 1907, the annual session of the Congress Party was held at Surat (Gujrat). Trouble broke out between the moderate and the extremist factions of the party over the selection of the new president of the Congress, and the party split into the Garam Dal ("Hot Faction," or extremists), led by Tilak, Pal, and Lajpat Rai, and the Naram Dal ("Soft Faction," or moderates). Tilak and Gopal Krishna Gokhale both regarded this as a "catastrophe" for the nationalist movement, and Tilak did his best to avoid it. But it was too late and older moderates were glad to get rid of the trouble making extremists. H.A. Wadya, one of the closest associate of Sir Pherozshah Mehta, wrote, "The union of these men with the Congress is the union of a diseased limb to a healthy body and the only remedy is surgical severance."

Imprisonment and Home Rule League

On April 30, 1908, two Bengali youths, Prafulla Chaki and Kudiram Bose, threw a bomb on a carriage at Muzzafurpur in an attempt to kill District Judge Douglass Kenford, but instead killed some women traveling in it. Chaki committed suicide when caught; Bose was tried and hanged. British papers screamed for vengeance and their shrill cries became even more insistent when police raids discovered a cache of arms at Calcutta. But Tilak, in his paper “Kesari,” defended the revolutionaries and called for immediate Swaraj, or Self-rule. The Government swiftly arrested him for sedition. He asked a young Muhammad Ali Jinnah to represent him, but the British judge convicted him. To forestall a national uprising, the judgment was delivered at midnight and Tilak was taken under military vigil to be deported to Mandalay, Burma (present Myanmar, which was also under British control), where he was imprisoned from 1908 to 1914. While in prison, Tilak received news that his wife and companion of forty-five years had died.

By the time Tilak completed his six year prison term, he was the unquestioned leader of the Indians. Upon his release, Tilak re-united with his fellow nationalists and re-joined the Indian National Congress in 1916. He also helped found the All India Home Rule League in 1916-18, with Annie Besant and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In 1916, he signed the historic Lucknow Pact, a Hindu-Muslim accord, with Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the future founder of Pakistan. In 1918, Tilak visited England as president of the Indian Home Rule League, and established relationships with the leaders of the the Labour Party. By the time Tilak returned home in 1919, to attend the meeting of the Congress at Amritsar, his attitude had changed to the point that he opposed Gandhi's policy of boycotting the elections to the legislative councils established by the Montagu–Chelmsford reforms. Tilak instead advocated a policy of “responsive cooperation” which introduced a certain degree of Indian participation in regional government. Tilak campaigned from village to village, educating the people about the aims of the Home Rule League. He died August 1, 1920. In their tributes, Mahatma Gandhi called him “the Maker of Modern India” and Jawaharlal Nehru, “the Father of the Indian Revolution.” More than 200,000 mourners assembled on Chowpati beach of Bombay, without a single untoward incident.

The court which convicted Tilak bears a plaque that says, "The actions of Tilak have been justified as the right of every individual to fight for his country. Those two convictions have gone into oblivion—oblivion reserved by history for all unworthy deeds."[2]

Political legacy

Tilak, who had started his political life as a Maratha Protagonist, evolved into a nationalist during the later part of his life, after associating himself closely with Bengal nationalists following the partition of Bengal. When asked in Kolkata whether he envisioned a Maratha type of government for Free India, Tilak replied that the Maratha-dominated governments of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were outmoded in twentieth century, and that he wanted a genuine federal system for Free India, where every religion and race would be equal partners. Only such a form of government, he added, would be able to safe-guard India's freedom.

Tilak was one of the first to maintain that Indians should cease to cooperate with foreign rule, but he always denied that he had ever encouraged the use of violence. Tilak was a critic of Mahatma Gandhi's strategy of non-violent civil disobedience. He favored political dialogue and discussions as a more effective way to obtain political freedom for India. Gandhi himself considered Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a contemporary of Tilak, as his political mentor. However, Tilak’s boycott of foreign goods and a program of passive resistance, known as the Tenets of the New Party, that Tilak hoped would free people from the hypnotic influence of British rule, were later adopted by Mohandas K. Gandhi in his campaign of nonviolent noncooperation with the British. Tilak was idolized by Indian revolutionary Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who penned the political doctrine of Hindutva.

Social and cultural influence

Tilak’s writings on Indian culture, history, and Hinduism spread a sense of heritage and pride amongst Indians for India's ancient civilization and glory as a nation. He was the first leader in Congress to suggest that Hindi, written in the devanagari script, should be accepted as the sole national language of India, a policy that was later strongly endorsed by Mahatma Gandhi. English, which Tilak wished to remove completely from the Indian mind, remains an important means of communication in India. But the usage of Hindi (and other Indian languages) has been reinforced and widely encouraged since the days of the British Raj, and Tilak's legacy is often credited with this resurgence. His newspaper, Kesari, founded in 1881, is still currently published.

In 1893, Lokmanya Tilak reshaped the annual Ganesh festival from private family celebrations into a grand public event.[3] He did so "to bridge the gap between the Brahmins and the non-Brahmins and find an appropriate context in which to build a new grassroots unity between them" in his nationalistic strivings against the British in Maharashtra.[4] Tilak chose Ganesha as a rallying point for Indian protest against British rule because of his wide appeal as "the god for Everyman".[5] Tilak was the first to install large public images of Ganesha in pavilions, and he established the practice of submerging all the public images on the tenth day.[6]

Tilak was responsible for the establishment of hundreds of schools, and called for social reforms such as the banning of child marriage and the acceptance of widow remarriage. He also advocated the placing of a prohibition on the sale of alcohol.

Philosophy and works

At the age of 52, in Mandalay jail, a diabetic and ailing, Tilak wrote his magnum opus, the Bhagawadgita-Rahasya (Secret of the Bhagavadgita), an original exposition of the Bhagavadgita. Although he was basically a proponent of Advaita Vedanta, Tilak differed from the classical Advaitin view that jnana (knowledge) alone brings release from bondage. He discarded the orthodox interpretation that the Bhagavadgita taught the ideal of renunciation; in his view, it taught selfless service to humanity. Tilak regarded karma yoga (the yoga of activity), not as subordinate to jnana yoga, but as equal and complementary to it.

Tilak’s conclusions on the origin and date of Rigvedic Aryans, were acclaimed and universally accepted by orientalists of his time. In 1903, he wrote the much more speculative Arctic Home in the Vedas,arguing that the Vedas could only have been composed in the Arctics, and the Aryan bards brought them south after the onset of the last Ice age.


  1. 1.0 1.1, Bal Gangadhar Tilak Biography. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  2. Jyotsna Kamat, Remembering Tilak Maharaj, Kamat's Potpourri. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  3. Barbara D. Metcalf and Thomas R. Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India (Cambridge University Press, 2006, ISBN 978-0521682251), 151.
  4. Robert L. Brown, Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1991, ISBN 978-0791406571).
  5. A.R. Momin, The Legacy Of G. S. Ghurye: A Centennial Festschrift (Popular Prakashan Ltd, 2011, ISBN 978-8171548316), 95.
  6. Anita Raina Thapan, Understanding Gaņapati: Insights into the Dynamics of a Cult (New Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 1997, ISBN 978-8173041952).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bakshi, S. R. Bal Gangadhar Tilak struggle for Swaraj. New Delhi: Anmol Publications, 1990. ISBN 8170412625
  • Brown, Robert L. Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God. Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1991. ISBN 978-0791406571
  • Grover, Verinder, and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Political Thinkers of Modern India. New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publications, 1990. ISBN 8171002463
  • Jog, Narayan Gopal. Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, 1962.
  • Metcalf, Barbara D., and Thomas R. Metcalf. A Concise History of Modern India. Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0521682251
  • Momin, A.R. The Legacy Of G. S. Ghurye: A Centennial Festschrift. Popular Prakashan Ltd, 2011. ISBN 978-8171548316
  • Shay, Theodore L. The Legacy of the Lokamanya; the Political Philosophy of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Bombay: Indian Branch, Oxford University Press, 1956. ASIN B0007IZQFO
  • Thapan, Anita Raina. Understanding Gaņapati: Insights into the Dynamics of a Cult. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 1997. ISBN 978-8173041952
  • Tilak, Bal Gangadhar and Bhalchandra Sitaram Sikthankar. The Hindu Philosophy of Life, Ethics and Religion. Om-tat-sat, s'rīmad Bhagavadgītā rahasya; or, Karma-yoga-śāstra, Including an External Examination of the Gītā, the Original Sanskrit Stanzas, Their English Translation, Commentaries on the Stanzas, and a Comparison of Eastern with Western Doctrines, etc. Poona: Published for Tilak Bros. by R.B. Tilak, 1935.
  • Tilak, Bal Gangadhar and Ravindra Kumar. Selected Documents of Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, 1880-1920. New Delhi: Anmol Publications, 1992. ISBN 8170416035
  • Tilak, Bal Gangadhar and Mahadeo Dhondo Vidwana. Letters of Lokamanya Tilak. Poona: Kesari Prakashan, 1966.
  • Wolpert, Stanley A. Tilak and Gokhale: Revolution and Reform in the Making of Modern India. Oxford University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0195623925

Indian Independence Movement
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