Anushilan Samiti

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Anushilan Samiti
অনুশীলন সমিতি
Anushilan samiti symbol.jpg
Motto United India
Formation 1906
Type Secret Revolutionary Society
Purpose Indian Independence

Anushilan Samiti (Bengali: অনুশীলন সমিতি, Ōnūshīlōn sōmītī, lit: '"Body-building society",) was a Bengali Indian organisation that existed in the first quarter of the twentieth century, and propounded revolutionary violence as means for ending British rule in India. The organisation arose from a conglomerations of local youth groups and gyms (Akhra) in Bengal in 1902, and had two prominent if somewhat independent arms in East and West Bengal identified as Dhaka Anushilan Samiti and the Jugantar group respectively. Between its foundations to its gradual dissolution through 1930s, the Samiti collaborated with other revolutionary organisations in India and abroad. Led by notable revolutionaries of the likes of Aurobindo Ghosh, Rash Behari Bose and Jatindranath Mukherjee, the Samiti was involved in a number of noted incidences of revolutionary terrorism against British interests and administration in India. These included the early attempts to assassinate Raj officials, the 1912 attempt on the life of Viceroy of India, as well as the Sedetious conspiracy during World War I. Within a short time of its inception, the organisation became the focus of an extensive police and intelligence operation which included amongst its force Sir Robert Nathan, Sir Harold Stuart, Sir Charles Stevenson-Moore and Sir Charles Tegart. The threat posed by the activities of the Samiti in Bengal during World War I, along with the threat of a Ghadarite uprising in Punjab, saw the passage of Defence of India act 1915. These measures saw the arrest, internment, transportations and execution of a number of revolutionaries linked to the organisation, and was successful in crushing the East Bengal Branch. In the aftermath of the war, the Rowlatt committee recommended extending the Defence of India act (as the Rowlatt act) to thwart any possible revivement of the Samiti in Bengal and the Ghadarite movement in Punjab.

The organisation moved away from its philosophy of violence in the 1920s, when a number of its members identified closely with the Congress and Gandhian non-violent movement. A number of Congress leaders from Bengal, especially Subhash Chandra Bose, were accused by the British Government of having links with and allowing patronage to the organisation during this time. The organisation's violent and radical philosophy revived in the 1930s, when it was involved in the Kakori conspiracy, the Chittagong armoury raid, and other attempts against the administration in British India and Raj officials. However, the Anushilan Samiti gradually disseminated into the Gandhian movement. Some of its members left for the Indian National Congress then led by Subhas Chandra Bose, while others identified more closely with Communism. The party in West Bengal evolved into the Revolutionary Socialist Party, while Eastern wing later evolved into the Shramik Krishak Samajbadi Dal (Workers and Peasants Socialist Party) in present-day Bangladesh.


The growth of the Indian middle class during the 18th century, amidst competition among regional powers and the ascendancy of the British East India Company, led to a growing sense of "Indian" identity.[1] The refinement of this perspective fed a rising tide of nationalism in India in the last decades of the 1800s.[2] Its speed was abetted by the creation of the Indian National Congress in India in 1885 by A.O. Hume. The Congress developed into a major platform for the demands of political liberalisation, increased autonomy and social reform.[3] However, the nationalist movement became particularly strong, radical and violent in Bengal and, later, in Punjab. Notable, if smaller, movements also appeared in Maharashtra, Madras and other areas in the South.[3] The movement in Maharshtra, especially Bombay and Poona preceded most revolutionary movements in the country. This movement, further, had the ideological, and by some suggestion covert but active, support of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. 1876 saw the foundation of The Indian Association in Calcutta under the leadership of Surendranath Banerjea. This organisation successfully drew into its folds students and the urban middle–class, for which it served as a mouthpiece. The Association became the mouthpiece of an informal constituency of students and middle-class gentlemen. It sponsored the Indian National Conference in 1883 and 1885, which later merged with the Indian National Congress.[4] Calcutta was at the time the most prominent centre for organised politics, and some of the same students who attended the political meetings began at the time to organise "secret societies" which cultivated a cultural of physical strength and nationalist feelings.



By 1902, Calcutta had three societies working under the umbrella of Anushilan Samity. These included a society earlier founded by a Calcutta student named Satish Chandra Basu with the patronage of a Calcutta barrister by the name of Pramatha Mitra, another led by a Bengalee lady by the name of Sarala Devi, and a third one founded Jatindranath Bannerjee and Aurobindo Ghosh- the latter one of the strongest proponents of militant nationalism of the time.[5] By 1905, the works of Aurobindo and his brother Barin Ghosh allowed Anushilan Samity to spread through Bengal. The controversial 1905 partition of Bengal had a widespread political impact: it stimulated radical nationalist sentiments in the Bhadralok community in Bengal, and helped Anushilan acquire a support base amongst of educated, politically conscious and disaffected young in local youth societies of Bengal. The Dhaka branch of Anushilan was led by Pulin Behari Das and spread branches through East Bengal and Assam.[6] More than 500 branches were opened in EBA, linked by a "close and detailed organization" to Pulin’s headquarters at Dhaka. It absorbed smaller groups in the province, and soon overshadowed its parent organisation in Calcutta. Branches of Dhaka Anushilan emerged in the towns of Jessore, Khulna, Faridpur, Rajnagar, Rajendrapur, Mohanpur, Barvali, Bakarganj and other places. Estimates of Dhaka Anushilan Samiti's reach show a membership of between 15,000 to 20,000 membres.Within another two years, Dhaka Anushilan would devolve its aims from the Swadeshi to the dedicated aim of political terrorism.[7][8]

In the meantime, Aurobindo and Bipin Chandra Pal, a Bengali politician, began in 1907 the radical Bengali nationalist publication of Jugantar (Lit:Change), and its English counterpart Bande Mataram. Among the early recruits who emerged noted leaders where Rash Behari Bose, Jatindranath Mukherjee, and Jadugopal Mukherjee.[5] This lent the name of Jugantar party to the Calcutta group.

Nationalism and violence[edit]

The Dhaka Anushilan Samiti embarked on a radical program of political terrorism. It broke with the Jugantar group due to differences with Aurobindo's approach of slowly building a base for a revolution with a mass base. The Dhaka group saw this as slow and insufficient, and sought immediate action and result. The two branches of Anushilan also engaged at this time in a number of notable incidences of political assassinations and dacoities to obtain funds.[9] In the meantime, in December 1907 the Bengal revolutionary cell derailed the train carrying the Bengal Lieutenant Governor Sir Andrew Fraser. In December 1907, Dhaka Anushilan Samiti assassinated D.C. Allen, a former district magistrate of Dhaka. In, 1908, the activities of Anushilan saw eleven assassinations, seven attempted assassinations and bomb explosions, and eight dacoities in western Bengal alone. The targets of these "actions" included British police officials and civil servants, native Indian police officers, approvers and public prosecutors in cases of political crime, as well as the wealthy upperclass wealthy families.[10] Anushilan, notably from early on, established links with foreign movements and Indian nationalism abroad. In 1907, Barin Ghosh arranged to send to Paris one of his associates by the name of Hem Chandra Kanungo (Hem Chandra Das), he was to learn the art of bomb making from Nicholas Safranski, a Russian revolutionary in exile in the French Capital.[6] Paris was also home at the time Madam Cama who was amongst the leading figures of the Paris Indian Society and the India House in London. The bomb manual later found its way through V.D. Savarkar to the press at India House for mass printing. This was, however, followed by a temporary stumble for Anushilan. In 1908, two young recruits, Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki were sent on a mission to Muzaffarpur to assassinate the Chief Presidency Magistrate D.H. Kingsford. The duo bombed a carriage they mistook as Kingsford's, killing two English women in it.[9] In the aftermath of the murder, Khudiram Bose was arrested while attempting to flee, while Chaki took his own life. Police investigations into the murders revealed the organisations quarters in Manicktala suburb of Calcutta and led to a number of arrests, opening the famous Alipore Conspiracy trial. Some of its leadership were executed or incarcerated, while others went underground. Aurobindo Ghosh himself retired from active politics after serving a prison sentence, his brother Barin was imprisoned for life.[11] This was followed by the Dacca Conspiracy Case in 1909 which brought 44 members of the Dhaka Anushilan to trial.[12][13][14] Anushilan, however, took its revenge. Nandalal Bannerjee, the officer who had arrested Kshudiram, was shot dead in 1908, followed by the assassinations of the prosecutor and the approver in the Alipore case in 1909.

Western Anushilan Samiti in the aftermath of Manicktala Conspiracy found more prominent leader in Jatindra Nath Mukherjee which emerged distinctly as the Jugantar group. Meanwhile, Rash Behari Bose extended the groups reach into north India, where he found work in the Indian Forest Institute in Dehra Dun. Mukherjee took over the leadership of the secret society to be known as the Jugantar Party. He revitalised the links between the central organisation in Calcutta and its several branches spread all over Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and several places in U.P., and opened hideouts in the Sunderbans for members who had gone underground[15] The group slowly reorganised guided by Mukherjee's efforts, aided by an emerging leadership which included Amarendra Chatterjee, Naren Bhattacharya and other younger leaders. Some of its younger members including Taraknath Das left India. Through the next two years, the organisation operated under the covers of two seemingly detached organisations, Sramajeebi Samabaya (The Labourer's cooperative) and Harry & Sons.[11] At around this time, Jatin began attempts to establish contacts with the 10th Jat Regiment then garrisoned at Fort William in Calcutta. Narendra Nath carried out through this time a number of robberies to obtain funds. In the meantime, However, a second blow came in 1910 when Shamsul Alam, a Bengal Police officer then preparing a conspiracy case against the group, was assassinated by an associate of Jatindranath by the name of Biren Dutta Gupta. The assassination led to the arrests which ultimately precipitated the Howrah-Sibpur Conspiracy Case.[11]

Nonetheless, the campaign by Anushilan continued. In 1911, Dhaka Anushilan shot dead two Bengali police officers, sub-inspector Raj Kumar and Inspector Man Mohan Ghosh, who had been investigating the unrest, were shot dead at Mymensingh and Barisal respectively. This was followed by the assassination of the CID head constable Shrish Chandra Dey in Calcutta. In February 1911, Jugantar bombed a car with an Englishman in it who was mistaken for Godfrey Denham. The activities of the group was marked most famously in 1912 when an attempt was made by Anushilan led by Rash Behari Bose, in coordination with Har Dayal's group in Punjab, to assassinate the Viceroy of India, Charles Hardinge on the occasion of transfer of the national capital from Calcutta to Delhi.[13]

World War I[edit]

With the clouds of war gathering in Europe, Indian nationalists at home and outside India had decided to use the event of a war with Germany towards the nationalist cause. To these plans, a number of prominent Jugantar leaders became party. Through Kishen Singh, the Bengal revolutionary cell was introduced to Lala Har Dayal when the latter visited India briefly in 1908.[16][17] Har Dayal himself was associated with the India House, a revolutionary organisation in London then under V.D. Savarkar. By 1910, Har Dayal was working closely with Rash Behari Bose.[18] Bose was a Jugantar member employed at the Forest institute at Dehra Dun, who worked, possibly independent of Jatin, on the revolutionary movement in UP and Punjab since October 1910.[19] The India House itself was liquidated in 1910 in the aftermath of Sir W.H. Curzon Wyllie's assassination in the hands of Madanlal Dhingra, a member of the London group. Among the India House group who fled Britain was V.N. Chetterjee, who left for Germany. Har Dayal himself moved to San Francisco after working briefly with the Paris Indian Society. In the United States, nationalism among Indian immigrants, particularly students and working classes, was gaining grounds. Taraknath Das, who had left Bengal for the United States in 1907, was among the noted Indian students who engaged in political work. In California, Har Dayal's arrival bridged a gap between the intellectual agitators in the west coast and the lower classes in the Pacific coast. He emerged a leading organiser of Indian nationalism amongst the predominantly Punjabi immigrant labour workers, founding the Ghadar movement.

Meanwhile, in 1912, Jatin met in the company of Naren Bhattacharya the Crown Prince of Germany during the latter's visit to Calcutta in 1912, and obtained an assurance that arms and ammunition would be supplied to them.[20] Jatin was intimated of Rash Behari's work through Niralamba Swami while on a pilgrimage to the holy Hindu city of Brindavan. Returning to Bengal, Jatin began reorganising his group. Rash Behari had gone into hiding in Benares after the 1912 attempt on Hardinge, but he met Jatin towards the end of 1913, outlining the prospects of a pan-Indian revolution. In 1914 Rash Behari Bose, along with the Maharashtrian Vishnu Ganesh Pinglay and some Sikh militants, planned simultaneous troop risings in different places in February 1915. In the meantime, in Bengal the activity of Anushilan and Jantar launched what has been described by some historians as "...a reign of terror in both the cities and the countryside..." that "...came close to achieving their key goal of paralysing the administration...". A general atmosphere of fear encompassed the police and the law courts, severely affecting the moral.[21] In entire 1915, only six revolutionaries were successfully brought to trial. However both the February plot and a subsequent plot for December 1915 were thwarted by British intelligence. Jatin Mukhejee along with a number of fellow-revolutionaries were killed in a firefight with Policeforces at Balasore, in present day Orissa. This effectively brough Jugantar to an end during the war. The passage of the Defence of India Act 1915 led to widespread arrest, internment, deportation and execution of members of the revolutionary movement. By March 1916 widespread arrests helped Bengal Police crush the Dacca Anushilan Samiti in Calcutta.[22] Regulation III and Defence of India act was applied to Bengal from August 1916 on a widescale. By June 1917, 705 were under home-arrest under the act, along with 99 imprisonments under Regulation III.[22] In Bengal Revolutionary violence in Bengal plummeted to 10 in 1917.[23] After the war these powers were extended by the so-called Rowlatt Acts, the passage of which was one of the goads that led to the launching of M. K. Gandhi’s Non-Co-operation Movement.

Post World War I[edit]

Between 1919 and 1922, the first of the noncooperation movement began with the Rowlatt Satyagrahas under the call of Gandhi. This received widespread support both amongst leading luminaries of the Indian political movement. In Bengal, Jugantar agreed to the request of Chittaranjan Das, one of the most prominent and respected leaders of Congress at the time, and abstained from violence. However, Anushilan did not subscribe to the agreement but sponsored no major actions between 1920 and 1922, when the first non-Co-operation Movement was suspended. The years after saw both Jugantar and Anushilan becoming active again. The activity and influence of the Bengal terrorists led to the passage in 1924 of the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, extended as an Act the next year. This again gave the police extraordinary powers, and between 1924 and 1927 almost 200suspects were imprisoned, among them Subhas Bose. Acts of terrorism in Bengal dropped off Branches of Jugantar formed in Chittagong and Dhaka (present day Bangladesh). The Chittagong branch found particularly strong leadership in Surya Sen and in December 1923 staged a daring robbery of the Chittagong office of the Assam-Bengal Railway. In January 1924, a young Bengalee Gopi Mohan Saha shot dead a European he mistook to be Calcutta Police Commissioner Charles Tegart. The assassin was openly praised by the Bengali press and, to Gandhi’s chagrin, proclaimed a martyr by the Bengal provincial branch of the Congress. Around this time Jugantar became closely associated with the Calcutta Corporation, headed by Das and Subhas Chandra Bose. Bose apparently ‘‘met with active revolutionaries and knew in a general way what they planned to do’’. Terrorists and ex-terrorists would be factors in the Bengal local-government equation from this point on.

In 1923, another Anushilan-linked group, the Hindustan Republican Association was founded in Benares in the United Provinces by Sachindranath Sanyal and Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee, and was influential in radicalising north India, it soon had branches from Calcutta to Lahore. A series of successful dacoities in UP culminated in the train robbery in Kakori. However, the subsequent investigations and two trials broke the organization. Several years later it would be reborn as the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.

In 1927 the Indian National Congress came out in favour of complete independence from Britain. Bengal had quitened relatively within these four years and the government released most of those interned under the Act of 1925. There was an attempt, ultimately unsuccessful, to forge a Jugantar-Anushilan alliance at this time. Some of the younger radicals struck out in new directions, while many, young and old, took part in Congress activities, such as the anti-Simon agitation of 1928. Congress leader Lala Lajpat Rai succumbed to wounds received when police broke up a Lahore protest-march in October. Bhagat Singh and other members of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association avenged his death in December. Later Bhagat Singh boldly threw a bomb into the Legislative Assembly. He and other HSRA members were arrested, and three of them attracted wide attention by going on a hunger strike in jail. Bengali bomb-maker Jatindra Nath Das persisted until his death in September 1929. The Calcutta Corporation passed a resolution of sorrow and condolence after his martyrdom, as did the Indian National Congress when Bhagat Singh was executed.

Last phase[edit]

As Congress-led movement picked up pace in the early thirties, some former revolutionaries identified with Gandhian political movement and became influential Congressmen, notably among them Surendra Mohan Ghose. Many Bengal Congressmen also maintained links with the Anushilan groups. Anushilan's revolutionary ideology and approach had not, in the meantime, died away. In April 1930, Surya Sen and his associates raided the Chittagong Armoury. The Gandhi-led Civil Disobedience Movement also saw the most active period of revolutionary terrorism in Bengal after first world war. During 1930 alone eleven British officials were killed, notably during the Writer’s Building raid of December 1930 BY Benoy Basu, Dinesh Gupta and Badal Gupta. Three successive District Magistrates of Midnapore were assassinated and dozens of other successful actions were carried out during the first half of the decade. But this was a last flare-up before the fire was extinguished. The terrorist movement in Bengal may be said to have ended in 1934.

Through the twenties and thirties, many Anushilan members began identifying with Communism and leftist ideologies. Former Jugantar leader Narendranath Bhattacharya, now known as M. N. Roy, became an influential member of the Communist International, hellping to find the Communist Party of India. Particularly during the mass detentions of the 1930s around the Civil Disobedience Movement, many members were won over to the party. By the end of that decade a number of left-wing parties were competing for the youth of Bengal. Most were aimed at broad-based class warfare, opposed to terrorism in principle. Those who did not join left-wing parties identified more closely with Congress.

Jugantar was formally dissolved in 1938, many former members continued to act together under Surendra Mohan Ghose, who acted as a liaison between other Congress politicians and Aurobindo Ghose in Pondicherry.



Anushilan and Jugantar each were organised on different lines, reflecting their divergence. Anushilan Samiti was centrally organised, with a rigid discipline and vertical hierarchy. Jugantar, was more loosely organised as an alliance of groups, acting under local leaders that occasionally coordinated their actions together. The prototype of Jugantar's organisation was Barin Ghosh's organisation set up in 1907, in the run-up to the Manicktolla conspiracy. It sought to emulate the model of Russian revolutionaries that was described by Frost. The regulations of the central Dhaka organization of the Anushilan Samiti were written down, and reproduced and summarised in government reports. According to one estimate, the Dacca Anushilan Samiti had at one point 500 branches, mostly in the eastern districts of Bengal, with 20,000 members. Branches were opened later in the western districts, Bihar, and the United Provinces. Shelters for absconders were established in Assam and in two farms in Tripura. Organisational documents shows a primary division between, on the one hand the two active leadersBarin Ghosh and Upendranath Bannerjee, and the rank-and-file on the other. Higher leaders including Aurobindo were supposed to be known only to the active leaders. Erstwhile members of Anushilan, particularly those of the Maniktala group, had suggested that the each group were interconnected with a vast web of secret societies throughout British India. However historian Peter Heehs concludes the links between provinces were limited to contacts between a few individuals like Aurobindo who was familiar with leaders and movements in Western India. He concludes the Maniktala society had links between the other groups and the Manicktalla society, such as the Anushilan and Atmannati Samitis, were more often competitive than co-operative. An internal circular of circa 1908 written by Pulin Behari Das, describes the division of the organisation in Bengal, which largely followed British administrative divisions, with central Samitis linked with a few small Samitis.


Membership was limited to Hindus only, which was ascribed to the religious oath of initiation and was unacceptable to Muslims. Each member was assigned to one or more of three roles. These included collection of funds, implementation of planned actions and propaganda respectively. In practice, however, the fundamental division was between what was conceived as "military’’ work and ‘‘civil’’ work.Dals consisting of five or ten members led by a dalpati were grouped together in local samitis led by adhyakshas and other officers. These reported to district officers appointed by and responsible to the central Dhaka organization. This was commanded by Pulin Das and those who succeeded him during his periods of imprisonment. Samitis were divided into four functional groups: violence, organisation, keepers of arms, householder department. Communications were by special couriers and were written in secret code. This practice and many others were taken from literary sources and were in part a concession to the young men’s need to act out romantic drama.

Less is known about the Jugantar network, which took the place of the Maniktala society after Alipore Bomb case. It faced divisions similar to Anushilan. Historian Leonard Gordon notes that at least in the period between 1910 and 1915, each group (dol, lit:Team) in the Jugantar network were separate units composed of a leader known as dada (lit: elder brother), and his followers. The dada was also guru, tutoring those under his commans practical skills, revolutionary ideology and strategy. Gordon suggests that the dada system developed out of pre-existing social structures in rural Bengal. Dadas both co-operated and competed with the each other for men, money and material.

Philosophical influences[edit]

Indian philosophies[edit]

The Samiti was influenced by the writings of the Bengalee nationalist author Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. To this was later added the philosophies and teachings of Swami Vivekananda, and the writings of the group's own leader Aurobindo Ghosh exemplified in hiswork Bhawani Mandir. A recurring theme in these were emphasis on "Strong muscles and nerves of steel", which some historian identifyasstrongly influenced by Shakta Philosophy of Hinduism. This marked the beginnings of interest in physical improvement and proto-national spirit among young Bengalees, and was driven by an effort to break away from the colonial stereotype of effiminacy imposed on the Bengalee. These were symbolic to the recovery of masculinity, and parts of a larger moral and spiritual training to cultivate control over the body, develop sense of national pride and a sense of social responsibility and service.[24][25]

European influences[edit]

In Bengal at large, through the decades 1860s and 1870s, there arose large numbers of akhras, or gymnasiums consciously designed along the lines of the Italian Carbonari which drew the youth.[26] These were influenced by the works of Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini and his Young Italy movement.


  1. ^ Mitra 2006, p. 63
  2. ^ Desai 2005, p. 30
  3. ^ a b Yadav 1992, p. 6
  4. ^ Heehs 1992, p. 2
  5. ^ a b Sen 2006, p. 148
  6. ^ a b Popplewell 1995, p. 104
  7. ^ Heehs 1992, p. 6
  8. ^ Gupta 2006, p. 160
  9. ^ a b Roy 1997, p. 5
  10. ^ Popplewell 1995, p. 108
  11. ^ a b c Roy 1997, p. 6
  12. ^ Popplewell 1995, p. 111
  13. ^ a b Popplewell 1995, p. 114
  14. ^ Engineer 2006, p. 105
  15. ^ M.N. Roy's Memoirs p3
  16. ^ Roy 1997, p. 7
  17. ^ Roy 1997, p. 8
  18. ^ Desai 2005, p. 320
  19. ^ Popplewell 1995, p. 167
  20. ^ Terrorism in Bengal, Compiled and Edited by A.K. Samanta, Government of West Bengal, 1995, Vol. II, p625.
  21. ^ Popplewell 1995, p. 201
  22. ^ a b Popplewell 1995, p. 210
  23. ^ Bates 2007, p. 118
  24. ^ Bandyopadhyaya 2005, p. 260
  25. ^ Heehs 1992, p. 3
  26. ^ Heehs 1994, p. 534


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