Balwant Gangadhar Tilak (Marāṭhī: बाळ गंगाधर टिळक) (July 23, 1856 - August 1, 1920) was an Indian nationalist, social reformer and ace freedom fighter. He was the first popular leader of the Indian Independence Movement and is known as "Father of the Indian unrest." Tilak roused the nation's consciousness for complete independence (famously thundering "Swaraj (total freedom) is my birthright and I shall have it") and was revered as Lokmanya ("the one respected/loved by people/world").

Tilak was a scholar of Indian history, Sanskrit, Hinduism, mathematics and astronomy.

Early life

Tilak was born in Chikhali, a village near Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, into a middle-class family. He was a keen student with a special aptitude for mathematics; and was among India's first generation of youth to receive a modern, college education. After graduation, Tilak began teaching mathematics in a private school in Pune and later became a journalist. He became a strong critic of the Western education system, expressing that it was demeaning to Indian students and was disrespectful of India's heritage. Consequently, he organized the Deccan Education Society with few other notable intellectual giants such as Gopal Ganesh Agarkar and Vishu Shastri Chiplunkar, to improve the quality of Indian education. Under this Society, teh Fergusson College was founded in Pune where Tilak taught mathematics

Political career

Tilak founded the Marathi daily Kesari (Lion) which fast became a popular reading for the common people of India. Tilak strongly criticized the government for its brutality in suppression of free expression, especially in face of protests against the division of Bengal in 1905, and for denigrating India's culture, its people and heritage. He demanded the British immediately give the right to self-government to India's people.

Tilak joined the Indian National Congress in the 1890s, but soon fell into opposition of 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. The act raised the marriageable age of a child bride from 10 to 12 which was already 16 in Britain since 1885. This was one of the first significant reforms introduced by the British since Indian rebellion of 1857. The Congress and other liberals whole-heartedly supported it but Tilak raised a battle-cry terming it as 'Interference in Hindu Religion'.Since then he was seen as a hard-core Hindu nationalist. When in 1897 bubonic plague spread from Bombay to Pune the Government became jittery and Assistant Collector of Pune, Mr. Rand and his associates, employed extremely severe and brutal methods to stop the spread of the disease by destroying even 'clean homes'. Even people who were not infected were carried away and in some cases, the carriers even looted property of the affected people. When the authorities turned a blind eye to all these excesses, furious Tilak took up people's cause by publishing inflammatory articles in his paper Kesari, quoting Hindu Scripture Bhagwat Gita to take up arms. Following this, on 27 June, Rand and his assistant were killed. Tilak was charged with incitement to murder and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. 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. In 1907, the Congress Party split into the Garam Dal (literally, "Hot Faction"), led by Tilak, Pal and Lajpat Rai, and the Naram Dal (literally, "Soft Faction") led by Gokhale during its convention at Surat in Gujarat.

On 30 April 1908 two Bengali youths, Prafulla Chaki and Kudiram Bose, threw a bomb on a carriage at Muzzafurpur in order to kill a District Judge Douglass Kenford but erroneously killed some women travelling in it. While 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 raided and found 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 and he was imprisoned from 1908 to 1914 in Mandalay, Burma.

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.

Tilak, who started his political life as a Maratha Protagonist, during his later part of life progressed into a fine nationalist after his close association with Bengal nationalists following the partition of Bengal. When asked in Calcutta whether he envisioned a Maratha type of government for Free India, Tilak replied that the Maratha dominated Governments of 16th and 17th centuries were outmoded in 20th century and he wanted a genuine federal system for Free India where every religion and race were equal partners. Only such a form of Government would be able to safe-guard India's freedom he added

Philosophical and social contribution

Although he was basically a proponent of Advaita Vedanta, he differed from the classical Advaitin view that jnana (knowledge) alone brings release. Tilak added a measure of karma yoga (the yoga of activity) to this, not as subordinate to jnana yoga, but as equal and complementary to it. Tilak proposed various social reforms, such as a minimum age for marriage, and was especially keen to see a prohibition placed on the sale of alcohol. His thoughts on education and Indian political life have remained highly influential — he was the first Congress leader 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. However, 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.

Another of the major contributions relates to the propagation of Sarvajanik (public) Ganesh festival, over 10–11 days from Bhadrapada Shukla (Ganesh) Chaturthi to (Anant) Chaturdashi (in Aug/Sept span), which contributed for people to get together and celebrate the festival and provided a good platform for leaders to inspire masses. He first observed the festival at Gwaliar premoted by Sardar Khasgiwale. He found the idea innovative and later he wrote in Kesri about it on 26 September 1893. His call for boycott of foreign goods also served to inspire patriotism among Indian masses.

Later years and legacy

Tilak was a critic of Mahatma Gandhi's strategy of non-violent, civil disobedience. Although once considered an extremist revolutionary, in his later years Tilak had considerably mellowed. He favored political dialogue and discussions as a more effective way to obtain political freedom for India. His 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. Some consider Tilak as the spiritual and political leader of Mahatma Gandhi. But Gandhi himself considered Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a contemporary of Tilak, as his political mentor. When Tilak died in 1920, Gandhi paid his respects at his cremation in Bombay, along with 200,000 people. Gandhi called Tilak "The Maker of Modern India".


Tilak authored the well-regarded The Orion, or, Researches into the antiquities of the Vedas (1893) in which he used astronomy to establish that the Vedic people were present in India at least as early as the 4th millennium BC.

Later, in 1903, he wrote the much more speculative Arctic Home in the Vedas. In it he argued 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.

Tilak also authored 'Geetarahasya' - the analysis of 'Karmayoga' in the Bhagavadgita, which is known to be gist of the Vedas and the Upanishads.

Other collections of his writings include:

  • The Hindu philosophy of life, ethics and religion (published in 1887).
  • Vedic chronology and vedanga jyotisha.
  • Letters of Lokamanya Tilak, edited by M. D. Vidwans.
  • Selected documents of Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, 1880-1920, edited by Ravindra Kumar.
  • Trial of Tilak.