SHRI YOGENDRAJI AND HIS TIMES
Man is a product of his times. He may accept, reject or improve upon, what he has come across in his times.
The attempt here is to paint a sort of a backdrop, depicting the various trends in life, during the late part of nineteenth and early part of twentieth century when Shri Yogendraji was born. To a considerable extent man is a product of his times. Though the basic qualities of nature come to him by birth, his attitude to life is greatly influenced by what he sees around him, by the teacher under whom he studies, by the books he reads, by the great personalities of his times with whom he may come into contact directly or indirectly. He may either accept or reject or improve upon, what he comes across, but either way the formation of his personality is affected by his social situation.
The special condition prevailing in India at the beginning of the last century, has a relevance for The Yoga Institute, Santacruz. The Founder of the Institute Shri Yogendraji and other people of his generation were born and grew up and got educated during this period. Typical, perhaps, of the English educated Indians of that generation, they thought about life in general, and also about what they could do to solve the problems as they appeared to them.
The early part of the twentieth century with which we are dealing at present, stands in continuity with the later part of the nineteenth century, and together they form an important part of Indian history. No period in Indian history can be dealt with in isolation, for obvious reasons. Something which happens comes as a result of something that has gone before, and in its own time, it gives rise to something else, which comes afterwards. As stated earlier, early twentieth century comes as a continuation of late nineteenth century, which in itself was a period of great social fermentation. This particular period in Indian history, is known as Indian Renaissance. The latter half of the nineteenth century, saw the rise of many great personalities, especially in Bengal and in Western India. Bengal and Bombay were the earlier seats of British power in India. The first two Indian universities established by the British in India, were at Calcutta and Bombay. Hence it was not a mere coincidence, that the social, political and religious upheaval that took place in those times, were felt more strongly in these two regions. Many great social and religious institutions came to be established then. The names are familiar even today. Brahmosamaj established by Rammohan Roy, Ramkrishna Mission established by Vivekananda, Arya Samaj of Dayanand Saraswati, Prarthana Samaj of Justice Ranade, were religious institutions based on reformist ideas, while Seva Sadan of Malabari, Stree Shikshan Samstha of Maharshi Karve etc., were established to improve the lot of women by giving them education and making them economically independent. All these institutions are active, in their respective fields, even today. The establishment of the Indian National Congress, by Sir Hume for directing the struggle for independence, took place at this time also.
As the composition of these institutions suggest, the social activities of those times were taking place on two points, social reforms, and religious reforms. They would ultimately achieve the same thing viz. the liberation of Indians, from the shackles of irrational superstitions and stifling customs. And this liberation was hopefully considered to go hand in hand with political freedom. It was in a way an era of great dreamers, who saw the vision of a fearless and free India, marching strongly on the road to progress. The actual situation of the times was like a stagnant pool of dirty water, where a lot of vegetation and organisms had grown. The rigid social hierarchy with the women and untouchables at the lowest rung, queer practice of social and personal duty, child marriages and the resultant practice of child widows, problems such as these destroyed the initiative of an individual. The belief that customary injunctions were more powerful than scriptural injunctions, was very pronounced. Religious reformers like Vivekananda or Dayananda Saraswati referred to the old Vedic texts in order to make the people see sense.
Published in the July 2010 edition of Yoga & Total Health Magazine.