The Bengal leaders felt that mere demonstrations, public meetings and resolutions were not likely to have much effect on the rulers.
More positive action that would reveal the intensity of popular feelings and exhibit them at their best was needed. The answer was Swadeshi and Boycott. Mass meetings were held all over Bengal where Swadeshi or the use of Indian goods and the boycott of British goods were proclaimed and pledged.
In many places the public burning of foreign cloth was organised and shops selling foreign cloth were picketed. The Swadeshi Movement was an immense success. According to Surendranath Banerjea:
Swadeshism during the days of its potency coloured the entire texture of our social and domestic life. Marriage presents that included foreign goods, the like of which could be manufactured at home, were returned.
Priests would often decline to officiate at ceremonies where foreign articles were offered as oblations to the gods. Guests would refuse to participate in festivities where foreign salt or foreign sugar was used.
An important aspect of the Swadeshi Movement was the emphasis placed on self-reliance or Atmasakti. Self-reliance meant assertion of national dignity, honor and self-confidence.
In the economic field, it meant fostering indigenous industrial and other enterprises. Many textile mills, soap and match factories, handloom-weaving concerns, national banks and insurance companies were opened. Acharya PC. Ray organised his famous Bengal Chemical Swadeshi Stores. Even the great poet Rabindranath Tagore helped to open a Swadeshi store.
The Swadeshi Movement had several consequences in the realm of culture. There was a flowering of nationalist poetry, prose and journalism. The patriotic songs written at the time by poets like Rabindranath Tagore, Rajani Kant Sen, Syed Abu Mohammed and Mukunda Das are sung in Bengal to this day.
Another self-reliant, constructive activity undertaken at the time was that of National Education. National educational institutions where literary, technical or physical education was imparted were opened by nationalists who regarded the existing system of education as de-nationalising and, in any case, inadequate.
On 15 August 1906, a National Council of Education was set up. A National College with Aurobindo Ghose as Principal was started in Calcutta.