Why is August 15th that special? Is there something more to it than its being India’s independence day? Amal Kiran, in his brilliant 1950 essay “August 15 – Its World-Significance” observed that there are several “spectacular associations” with this date that make it a date with “momentous implications for the values of civilization“.
[Amal Kiran (1904-2011), was the gifted author of more than 50 books on literature, poetry and history]
In brief, these are the five key observations from his essay:
First, it was the day when the Force that was Napoleon was born. His birth precipitated a key event in world history – the ushering in of a new age of modernity in Europe and the World. This military colossus gathered strength into France and shattered the entire balance of the old world of Feudal Europe.
Second, it was the date of the Turning-point in WW-II and the Battle for Britain, in essence a remarkable date not just for the allied forces, but more generally “for all humanity and its democratic aspirations.”
“Hitler had fixed in 1940 the 15th of August as the day on which he would complete his conquest of Western Europe by broadcasting from Buckingham Palace the collapse of Britain. The fall of Britain would have signed the death-warrant of the whole world outside America. August 15 was meant to be the end of World War II, with a decisive victory of the forces intent on putting the clock back and establishing on earth the reign of the Asura, the Titan, over the evolving God in humanity. But instead of a resounding triumph, August 15 found Britain still full of fight and on that day the largest toll so far was taken of the Luftwaffe – 180 German planes shot down in British skies! “
Third, – this was the date set by North Korea to begin its violent unification campaign with the South; Keeping Russia and China in mind this was to be a significant victory for Communism, and yet another potential step back for humanity. And yet, against all odds, the world-spirit chose otherwise.
August 15 can also be considered the beginning of peace after World War II, though not the peace Hitler had intended to initiate on that day; for Japan surrendered on August 14, I945. And, seeing that peace once more broken by North Korea’s invasion of the South and what was in appearance a civil war but really the first violent stroke by Communism in its plan of world-conquest, burst on us and America undaunted by terrible disadvantages rushed into the carnage in order to save civilisation, we are led to ask whether again this date has a meaning. To get the answer we do not have to search long. The hostilities were preluded in early June by a propaganda campaign by the North Korean radio, relayed by Moscow, demanding the unification of Korea on the Communists’ terms. The word “peaceful” was thrown about, but the suggestion was everywhere that peace hung on unconditional kowtowing by the Southern Government to the dictat of Communism. On June 21 the same radio station spoke further of unification, ostensibly peaceful yet proceeding according to such a plan that within a certain fixed period the goal would inevitably be attained. There was an ominous ring here – and four days later the Communists were on the march across the 38th Parallel. As usual, Communism had talked peace while intending war. But what attaches a peculiarly significant interest to the talk is the time limit announced for the disappearance of the America-sponsored South Korean regime which, for all its imperfection, was yet democratic in essence. The exact words of the broadcast were: “All measures connected with the peaceful unification of our country shall be completely carried out by August 15 of this year.” Yes, once more the day expected to be the beginning of the end of the democratic spirit on earth by armed might was August 15!”
Fourth – Britain decided to withdraw entirely from Indian soil by this date.
There seems to have been no conscious assessment of whatever import it bore by the year 1947 in which the last British soldier left Indian soil. But behind the conscious thought of individuals there is the working of that invisible yet potent being which is the national Soul or genius. Every country has such a soul and every true patriot feels directly or indirectly its presence. In terms of the wide yet demarcated body of land in which one takes birth and grows and dies, in terms of the large mass of people who are bound together by geographical limits, in terms of a long history behind that mass, in terms of a culture subtly single in the midst of all variety of province and language – in diverse terms separate or combined is felt the national soul. And always a personification is made of it, a great presiding spirit is envisaged, a Mother-being that is the true secret life of the country’s collectivity as well as physical expanse. No matter how rationalistic we may be, the moment we are patriots the heart in us intuits this Mother-being and with the dream of its more-than human loveliness and on the supporting breath of its super-animation we move to the exertions and the heroisms that ordinarily lie far beyond our powers”
And finally – it happens to be the birthday of the great Rishi of modern India – Sri Aurobindo.
The way to fulfilment is by stressing neither liberty nor equality but fraternity. Given genuine fraternity, liberty and equality follow. More than any other country India is equipped for building the democratic order on a fraternal basis. For, above all countries it is she who has lived for the only fraternal basis which can last and carry a superstructure of authentic freedom and justice: God-realisation. And as soon as we speak of God-realisation being India’s master quest no less than being the one means of fulfilling the ideals of democracy we come to be on the look-out for a yet profounder reason for our national soul’s predilection for August 15. What we expect to find is the identity of this date with some occasion closely linked to not only our own struggle for independence and for the triumph of the democratic ideals but also the sense of a presiding Goddess with which our nationalism is so powerfully charged and the direct concrete experience of the one yet multiple Divine Reality that has been the lodestar of the Indian consciousness down the centuries. If we could discover the identity we should know with redoubled certitude that the date of our Independence Day was due to no accident nor dictated by mere convenience but decided by the national soul. And by exploring the precise historical circumstances of the identity we should be able to learn where to seek correct guidance for the future and how to rise to the height of our destiny.