movement was made on 7th August 1905, in a meeting held at the Calcutta
town hall. Even moderate leaders like Surendranath Banerjea toured the
country urging the boycott of Manchester cloth and Liverpool salt. On
September 1, the Government announced that partition was to be effected on
16 October 1905. The following weeks saw protest meetings being held
almost everyday in Bengal; some of these meetings, like the one in Barisal,
drew crowds of ten to twelve thousand. That the message of boycott went
home is evident from the fact that the value of British cloth sold in some of
the mofussil districts fell by five to fifteen times between September 1904
and September 1905.
Vande Mataram Theme The day partition took effect—16th October 1905
—was declared a day of mourning throughout Bengal. People fasted and no
fires were lit at the cooking hearth. In Calcutta, a strike was called. People
took out processions and band after band walked barefoot, bathed in the
Ganges in the morning and then paraded the streets singing Vande Mataram,
which almost spontaneously, became the theme song of the movement.
People tied rakhis on each other’s hands as a symbol of the unity of the two
halves of Bengal. Later in the day, Anandmohan Bose and Surendranath
Banerjea addressed two huge meetings which drew crowds of 50,000 to
75,000 people. These were, perhaps, the largest mass meetings ever to be
held under the nationalist banner this far. Within a few hours of the meetings,
a sum of Rs. 50,000 was raised for the movement.
Creative Use of Festivals and Melas The Swadeshi period saw the
creative use of traditional popular festivals and melas as a means of reaching
out to the masses. The Ganapati and Shivaji festivals, popularised by Tilak,
became a medium for Swadeshi propaganda not only in western India, but
also in Bengal. Rabindranath’s contribution lay in the fact that he prepared
his people mentally and emotionally for the Swadeshi movement. He himself
plunged into action at the very start. Besides making public speeches, he
wrote profusely in Bangla periodicals—essays, short stories, poems—
inspiring the Bengali mind. The other great contribution was his musical
compositions. His patriotic songs swayed the Bengali heart with its lyrical
and melodic quality, touching a chord within and filling them with love and
pride for their country.