Popularly remembered as the National Teacher of India and The Respected Teacher, Pandurang Sadashiv Sane was a celebrated Marathi author, freedom fighter, social activist, and teacher. Born to a family of khots (revenue collectors), Sane completed his education despite the financial constraints of the family. He used his pedagogy (MA in Marathi, English, and Sanskrit) for the greater social good by pursuing the profession of teaching and choosing to teach in a rural school in Amalner, Maharashtra. While at school, he started the magazine - Vidyarthi, through which he inculcated strong moral values in children. His mother’s deep affection for him was reflected in his love for the children he taught, and they, in turn, referred to him as Sane Guruji. Apart from being a beloved teacher, Sane Guruji was also a patriot and wholly devoted in his service to the nation. While his mother was the driving force for the larger part of his life, his spirit and commitment to the cause of India’s freedom struggle came from his father, Sadashivrao, a staunch supporter of the nationalist leader Lokmanya Tilak.
In response to Gandhiji’s call for a nonviolent freedom struggle, Sane Guruji left his teaching career to devote himself entirely to the nation’s struggle for freedom. He joined the Civil Disobedience Movement and was imprisoned numerous times because of his involvement. It was in the 1930s that Sane Guruji met Vinoba Bhave when they were jailed together. Bhave would recite verses from the Gita, which Sane Guruji would pen down, and this later came to be known as Gita Pravachane. He immortalised his mother in the famous book Shamchi Aai, which he wrote when he was jailed in Nashik for his participation in the Satyagraha Movement. It was during his time in the Dhule jail and Trichinapally that Sane Guruji realized the significance and importance of native Indian languages. This awareness led him to start the Antar Bharti Movement, which was aimed at overcoming regional prejudice, so as to unite the nation.
Post-independence Sane Guruji launched a weekly magazine called Sadhana in 1948 to spread his socialist ideology. He hoped to address regional divides by promoting the learning of multiple languages, rituals, and customs. To take this goal further, Sane Guruji wanted to set up a compound or an organization similar to that of Tagore’s Shanti Niketan. His vision of an inclusive India was now his mission.
In addition to more than 70 literary works penned by him, Sane Guruji wrote biographies of several freedom fighters and patriots, such as C R Das and Gopal Krishna Gokhale and his books, Sweet Tales of Gandhiji and Peaks of Himalayas are also very popular.
An ardent Gandhian, in 1947, Sane Guruji was vociferous about the issue of untouchability. He travelled throughout Maharashtra campaigning for the entry of Harijans into the Vitthal temple. He fasted relentlessly, and finally, on 11 May 1947, the Vitthal temple doors were opened for this community. Gandhiji’s assassination in 1948 distressed him no end. As penance, he went on a fast for 21 days after this devastating incident. Sane Guruji’s disillusionment with the affairs of the country after independence drove him to take his own life on 11 June 1950.
His memory is honoured by way of institutions, postal stamps, and roads that are named after him. His legacy lives on in the form of his literary work. The cell in Nashik Jail where he wrote Shamchi Aai now depicts his life through elaborate murals.