Friday, March 29, 2024

Lokamanya Tilak’s Sleeping Lion, The original Quit India message to British


The year was 1880. India, now a British colony, was a captive land, both in body and thought. Even thinking about independence, was considered sedition, a serious crime.  Yet in those depressing days, six young men from Pune, dared to start a newspaper that aimed to give a rise to free thought.  These six men were, VishnuShastri Chipalunkar, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Vaman Shivaram Apte, Ganesh Krishna Garde,  Gopal Ganesh Aagarkar and Mahadev Vallabha Namajoshi.

On Vijayadashami day of that year, they declared their intention of starting a newspaper, in a letter signed by them, to Mumbai’s Native Opinion, with aims and objectives of their newspaper, which would be called as “Kesari” or The Lion. The name has been suggested by VasudevShastri Khare, an associate.

The publication of Kesari was however delayed as raising capital for the project was a problem but eventually publication of Kesari started on 4th January 1881 from Pune, as a Marathi weekly.

By that time, British system of stating a motto or a mission statement had taken root in India. Educational institutes, schools all had started adopting a phrase as their motto. Instead of Latin words or phrases used by British in their endeavours,   Indians adopted Sanskrit phrases or Shlokas as mottos. For “Kesari” founders, finding a shloka in Sanskrit was no easy task. It was tricky, to say least,   as if it offends the British rulers, the whole enterprise would be in trouble. Yet these men were determined that their message must reach the readers.

Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar hit upon the solution that would not offend anyone, yet would carry purpose of the paper with full force. These beautiful four lines were written in sixteenth century by a great Sanskrit scholar, famously known as “Panditraj Jagganath” in his book “Bhamini-Vilas”.

The Shloka says. 

स्थितिं नो रे दध्याः क्षणमपि मदान्धेक्षण सखे

गजश्रेणीनाथ त्वमिह जटिलायां वनभुवि ।

असौ कुम्भिभ्रान्त्या खरनखरविद्रावितमहा

गुरुग्रावग्रामः स्वपिति गिरिगर्भे हरिपतिः ॥

Which if translated in English, would read as

“O my friend, the elephant king in musth, with aggressive and unpredictable ways, do not wait and linger in this deep and dense forest even for a moment.”

“The lion king of this forest, who breaks large rocks (suspecting these to be elephant heads) into heaps of small stones with his sharp nails, is at present in deep slumber in his cave, under delusion.”


The message was very clear.  These six young men were telling the British Raj in clear terms to leave. They were telling the Raj that it has survived only because India was asleep under delusion. This was the original Quit India message.  Gandhi’s Quit India came much later.  It is a surprise that British Raj, which even objected to Marathi dramas and lyrics included in Marathi dramas, never really found out the real meaning and intention of this Shloka.

Now some trivia. The original shloka in Sanskrit was placed just below the mast head on front page. To make things convincing, its Marathi translation appeared on the editorial page above the main editorial column.  This Marathi translation was made by Vasudevshastri Khare, a close associate of Lokamaya and Sanskrit teacher in New English School Pune.

गजालि श्रेष्ठा या निबिडतर कांतार जठरी|

मदांधाक्षा मित्रा क्षणभरही वास्तव्य न करी॥

नखाग्रानी येथे गुरुतर शिळा भेदुनी करी|

भ्रमाने आहे रे गिरिकुहरी हा निद्रित हरी॥  

Incidently, this Marathi Shloka also had appeared even at the head of those two epic editorials, for which Lokamanya was sentenced with a jail term, under sedition law.

Initially, “Kesari” had no logo as such. However, later a logo with two lions appeared sometime in early 1900’s. This continued until Lokamanya’s death in 1920. 

After this, Lokomanya’s sketch, with a sun like border was included in between two lion figures.

The original Sanskrit Shloka continued until 1947 and was probably removed after.   A new logo with smaller lion figures and Lokamanya’s face, decorates “Kesari” front page today. The original Marathi Shloka by Vasudevshastri Khare, also  adorns the editorial page of “Kesari”, even today.

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