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At the Feet of The Mother

Darshan Days at the Ashram – a Brief History and Significance

Balcony DarshanDarshan is a word familiar in Indian spiritual lore. Essentially it means ‘a vision of the Lord’. Though like all other terms, it has undergone degradation. It is often (mis)used to a seeing or meeting of an important or respected person. Similarly it is also used for the science of studying metaphysical concepts or philosophy. However there is a partial truth behind these lesser derivative meanings as well. Since it is difficult to have a glimpse of the Divine, the other way is to have a glimpse of the divine Representative, the Guru, Master or a vibhuti, who in some way manifests, however partially, some quality of the Divine. Similarly, the more mentalised man tries to capture a glimpse of the Reality through the haze and maze of intellectual concepts. He beholds the body of the Unseen through the weaving of Words. That is the original meaning of darshan shastra in India, unfortunately translated very inadequately by the term philosophy. Darshan shastra is actually a way of trying to get a glimpse of Truth through the charm and power of words. Naturally these are very inadequate means though useful in their own place and time. No wonder the Gita reminds us that we must go beyond the word, sabdabrahma ativartate. Sri Aurobindo says very much the same in the Synthesis of Yoga:

For the sadhaka of the integral Yoga it is necessary to remember that no written Shastra, however great its authority or however large its spirit, can be more than a partial expression of the eternal Knowledge. He will use, but never bind himself even by the greatest Scripture. Where the Scripture is profound, wide, catholic, it may exercise upon him an influence for the highest good and of incalculable importance. It may be associated in his experience with his awakening to crowning verities and his realisation of the highest experiences. His Yoga may be governed for a long time by one Scripture or by several successively,—if it is in the line of the great Hindu tradition, by the Gita, for example, the Upanishads, the Veda. Or it may be a good part of his development to include in its material a richly varied experience of the truths of many Scriptures and make the future opulent with all that is best in the past. But in the end he must take his station, or better still, if he can, always and from the beginning he must live in his own soul beyond the limitations of the word that he uses. The Gita itself thus declares that the Yogin in his progress must pass beyond the written Truth, – sabdabrahm¯ ativartate – beyond all that he has heard and all that he has yet to hear, – srotavyasya srutasya ca. For he is not the sadhaka of a book or of many books; he is a sadhaka of the Infinite.
[CWSA 23: 55 – 56]

Coming to Darshan proper in its original sense, some people wonder why is it so difficult to see the Lord, the Divine who is the sole Omnipresent Reality behind appearances? It is clearly not a fault of the Deity within but a limitation of our own organ of sight. It is difficult for us even to behold the sun in our solar system except during sun rise and sunset. How can we behold That Splendour before which ‘even the sun appears a dark shadow and the stars and the moon and the electric fires shine not.’ Our eyes can only draw a blank, even a dark Nothingness since That Being escapes our vision on all sides. The Lord can see us but we cannot see the Lord. We can at best feel His Presence, seek His glimpse and vision because something in us senses His Presence within and around, but that something in us is far from the reach of our ordinary senses or even of the mind and its field of percepts and concepts. That is why all spiritual disciplines insist on quietening or even stilling of the mind and senses as much as possible to feel and sense this wonderful Divine Presence, hidden behind His own Works. Of course the outright materialist uses this inability of our sight and hearing and the senses in general to straight away deny the very Presence of the Divine. This of course is a skewed logic, since it is based on false premises that our senses are the reporters of Reality. We know now very well that our senses do not report but limit and distort Reality.

That apart, darshan or a vision of the Divine exists as is proved by the life of great seers and saints. Though even here there are ranges and levels of seeing, and not all visions are the vision of the Supreme, yet these are proof enough that much exists beyond our senses that can be experienced and seen and known. In fact our vision climbs from the dull mortal sight that conceals more than it reveals, through a series of subtle sights wherein the Reality is revealed to us in varying degrees of Its Splendour, leading to the human being encounter with the gods and other superhuman beings. It is easy to mistake any of these beings for the Divine, and form a cult or a religion around him as has happened in the history of earth’s spiritual evolution. The Mother reveals:

Above the mind there are several levels of conscious being, among which the really divine world is what Sri Aurobindo has called the Supermind, the world of the Truth. But in between is what he has distinguished as the Overmind, the world of the cosmic Gods. Now it is this Overmind that has up to the present governed our world: it is the highest that man has been able to attain in illumined consciousness. It has been taken for the Supreme Divine and all those who have reached it have never for a moment doubted that they have touched the true Spirit. For, its splendours are so great to the ordinary human consciousness that it is absolutely dazzled into believing that here at last is the crowning reality. And yet the fact is that the Overmind is far below the true Divine. It is not the authentic home of the Truth. It is only the domain of the formateurs, all those creative powers and deities to whom men have bowed down since the beginning of history. And the reason why the true Divine has not manifested and transformed the earth-nature is precisely that the Overmind has been mistaken for the Supermind. The cosmic Gods do not wholly live in the Truth-Consciousness: they are only in touch with it and represent, each of them, an aspect of its glories.
[CWM 3: 173]

There exists, however, beyond the limits of our mortal sight, beyond even the arc and horizon of our subtle sights, a sight Divine that discloses the very body of the Lord, ‘tanusvam’ as an act of Grace. Human effort, human tapasya, may prepare us for that grand vision but there comes a point where it stops, having reached the crystal gates, where all effort pauses and waits upon the Lord Himself to open the doors denied for long and the devotee is blessed with the vision of the Supreme.

Yet it is far from easy to reach even up to this high point where one can breathe the Lord’s atmosphere and bathe in His energies of Light and Love. Hence, answering to Earth’s cry and need for the Lord’s redeeming touch, the Divine Himself descends and chooses to come within the range and limits of our mortal sight. He wraps His secret Body of Beauty and Bliss, that is built of the tissues of shadowless Light, in the thick cloak of our humanity. This too is a darshan, the darshan that is closer to us, more easily accessible, even though this too is an act of Grace and not all are Blessed to have it even when the Divine moves in our midst in the garb of ordinary humanity. In India these descents of the Divine are called as Avatara, which is different from being a Representative of the Divine as the Guru and the Vibhuti are. Of course the Avatara can also assume the role of the Guru and the Vibhuti if that be necessary for the Work. But He is not limited by that. His splendour radiates in many ways and nourishes the many needs of Earth. He enters into contact with all earthly beings, not just humans in various ways. The good and the evil equally receive His attention and the healing power of Love. The Masters are however more of a channel for pouring upon Earth the rays of Light and Love from the Divine. The Vibhutis have an even more restricted and limited though focussed role; they come to do the Divine’s Work upon Earth and return back to His lap once the work is over. But the Avatara is a many-sided action, His very Presence is redeeming and rejuvenating for the suffering earth. His contact and His touch unlocks a door in matter, unseals the eye obscured with the dust of matter, cuts a little door in the walls of matter to allow some more light and Love to enter the abysses of darkness that surround us here. In short, he brings matter into contact with the Supreme, and leaves His stamp and seal upon earth and humanity, His fiery signature that none can deny or oppose. The Mother reveals to us about the role of the Avatara:

If you rise high enough, you find yourself at the heart of all things. And what is manifest in this heart can manifest in all things. That is the great secret, the secret of the divine incarnation in an individual form, because in the normal course of things what manifests at the centre is realised in the external form only with the awakening and the response of the will in the individual form. Whereas if the central Will is represented constantly and permanently in an individual being, this individual being can serve as an intermediary between this Will and all beings, and will for them. Everything this individual being perceives and offers in his consciousness to the supreme Will is answered as if it came from each individual being. And if for any reason the individual elements have a more or less conscious and voluntary relation with that representative being, their relation increases the efficacy, the effectiveness of the representative individual; and thus the supreme Action can act in Matter in a much more concrete and permanent manner. That is the reason for these descents of consciousness—which we may describe as “polarised”, for they always come to earth with a definite purpose and for a special realisation, with a mission— a mission which is decided upon, determined before the incarnation. These are the great stages of the supreme incarnations on earth.
[CWM 10: 73 – 74]

It is in this context that we have to understand the Darshan Days at the Ashram. There were different darshan moments with the Mother; the most well-known and eagerly sought after by seekers and aspirants being the ‘Balcony Darshan’ when the Mother would come out on the Balcony adjacent to Her room where seekers and devotees would be waiting for a glimpse. The Mother Herself reveals the real purpose of this darshan:

Sweet Mother, What do you give us in the morning at the balcony, and what should we try to do in order to receive what you are giving?

 Every morning at the balcony, after establishing a conscious contact with each of those who are present, I identify myself with the Supreme Lord and dissolve myself completely in Him. Then my body, completely passive, is nothing but a channel through which the Lord passes His forces freely and pours upon all His Light, His Consciousness and His Joy, according to each one’s receptivity.

The best way to receive what He gives is to come to the balcony with trust and aspiration and to keep oneself as calm and quiet as one can in a silent and passive state of expectation. If one has something precise to ask, it is better to ask it beforehand, not while I am there, because any activity lessens the receptivity.

Then there were individual moments before the Divine during personal interviews, moments eternal when one was face to face with the Eternal assuming a human form. All these various Darshans were an occasion for the Divine Mother to pour Her heart of Love on those who had entrusted their life and destiny to Her. Of course in Her universal Being, as the Universal Mother, She is always doing what each creature needs; Her vast embrace holds this many-faceted universe and Her profound Love and Grace reaches out to all who call and ask for It. Even when not sought after, Her Love and Grace are the secret support of all creation. However it is quite a different thing when the Divine embodies Himself in an individual body, assuming the dark terrestrial robe. It is a chance for earth and matter itself to take a leap forward.

The day of the Divine descent, ordinarily called as Birthday, is remembered by Earth with joy and gratitude. Since, all things in nature tends to follow a rhythm and return cyclically, there is a tradition to celebrate and commemorate these days which mark days of special Divine descents. In India there is also a long tradition of celebrating days of special Divine events. The purpose of these celebrations is not just a remembrance but a receiving and a re-enactment of the truth that these days represent. It is a day for both individual and collective progress; a day also of stock-taking of our own individual progress, above all, a day of opening and receiving the Divine influx, of repeating the marvel of the first descent and further consolidating the divine victory upon earth.

In keeping with this tradition, those revolutionary patriots and admirers, who had gathered around Sri Aurobindo in His pre-Pondicherry days, began to celebrate His birthday. There was a seed of truth in it as revealed by Sri Aurobindo Himself:

Formerly we used to celebrate the event of my physical birth in a “vital” manner. There was the seed of the inner Truth in it, but the manifestation was vital. Now, I wish that if the day is observed it should be in keeping with the Truth it symbolises. You all know of the Supramental Truth that has to descend into our life. This day that Truth is symbolised.
[A.B. Purani, Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo: 297]

Later, after coming to Pondicherry, the birthday celebrations of Sri Aurobindo began to assume more and more a deeper significance. In one of His birthday talks, Sri Aurobindo reveals:

The period of the 15th is a period of great descents but also of great resistances. This 15th was not an exception…
[Nirodbaran. Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo: 57]

 It very often happens that when the Darshan day is approaching the adverse Forces gather themselves for an attack individually or generally in order to prevent what has to be individually received from being received and what has to be generally brought down from being brought down. Also very often there is a strong attack after the darshan day because they want to undo what has been done or else to stop it from going farther. But as far as the individual is concerned, there is no need of undergoing this attack; if one is conscious of its nature, one can react and throw it away. Or if it still presses one can keep one’s will and faith firm and come out of the temporary obstacle with a greater opening and a new progress. The Mother’s force and mine will be with you always.
[CWSA 35: 524 – 525]

However after the landmark event of 24th Nov 1926, when the personality of Sri Krishna descended and fused with Sri Aurobindo, He withdrew from whatever limited public contact He still would have, leaving the disciples in the safe hands of the Divine Mother who consequently took charge of their inner and progress as well as outer needs. This was not an easy transition for many. Much as Krishna of Vrindavan had suddenly vanished leaving the gopa and gopis under the care of Radha, so too Sri Aurobindo suddenly became outwardly as if inaccessible. Like Krishna He had launched Himself into a prolonged battle with the Asuric forces to re-establish the fading dharma and redeem the Earth and humanity. It was not enough that a few faithful disciples were saved when the very future of earth and humanity was at peril. Earth was still reeling under the devastating fires of the first world-war and its after-shocks. The future life of humanity hanged in precarious balance with clouds of another great war already looming in the horizons. Hence the withdrawl during which Sri Aurobindo put all His efforts and powers to ensure a safe passage for humanity through this dangerous and narrow gorge of Time. But the disciples, who were used to a daily contact with their Master, felt somewhat like the gopas and gopis of old. It was hard for many to regard the Mother as having the same spiritual status as Sri Aurobindo. Had not Radha become one of the gopis to show the way of love? Who could imagine that Radha was not one of the gopis but Sri Krishna Himself in another form? Who could think that it is She to whom Krishna had entrusted the souls in Vrindavan actually held the key to Krishna Himself? None could really find Krishna, even if He be physically near to Him, who had not loved and become one with Radha’s Consciousness!

Yet this Mahabharata of Kaliyuga was different. Hence this time, responding to the cry and anguish of the disciples and devotees, since 1927 Sri Aurobindo consented for Darshan on three days, the 21st Feb (The Mother’s Birthday), the 15th Aug (Sri Aurobindo’s Birthday) and the 24th November (which we may term as Sri Krishna’s return to the physical world also known as the Siddhi day). However a long gap came up after the Darshan of 15th Aug 1938. The battle Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were waging from Their rooms in grim earnest, sheltering earth and men, took its toll and Sri Aurobindo suffered a thigh bone fracture just on the 23th Nov 1938. Nirodbaran captures this moment when the embodied Divine Himself is struck by the dark hostiles much like Rama and Lakshmana in the battle of Ramayana:

The calendar stood at November 1938, the month of the Darshan. A few weeks more and we would meet the Master after a long wait of three months. After every Darshan we start counting the days for the next one, for each occasion brings the Eternal and his Shakti closer to us and is therefore a significant landmark in our lives. As the date comes nearer, our days too take on a brighter hue and the day before the Darshan, all faces glow with sweet smiles. Friends meeting on the road greet each other with one word, “Tomorrow!” or with a silent look of happy expectation. The Dining Room hums with the same theme. Wherever you go, whomsoever you meet, no other talk except the Guru’s Darshan for one or two minutes, – an eternal moment…

Each Darshan is an occasion for him to survey the progress we have made after the last one and to give us a fresh push towards a further advance.

 The day passed in a happy rhythm. Most of the sadhaks had gone to bed early to prepare inwardly for the great event. Over the Ashram reigned an atmosphere of deep peace and silence. Only one light was burning in Sri Aurobindo’s corner room towards the street and keeping a vigil over the pervasive darkness. The Mother too had retired early, leaving Sri Aurobindo at his work. He was perhaps busy with Savitri now that the “avalanche of correspondence” had been arrested due to Darshan work. Thus the small hours were reached. Then in Purani’s room the light was switched on; it was 2 a.m. He had to prepare hot water for the Mother’s bath. At 7.30 a.m. the Darshan would start. But nobody suspected that

 Across the path of the divine Event
The huge foreboding mind of Night, alone
In her unlit temple of eternity,
Lay stretched immobile upon Silence’ marge.

 ….It appears that Sri Aurobindo while passing from his sitting-room to the bathroom (probably revolving some lines of Savitri) fell with his right knee striking the head of a tiger. Perhaps there was jubilation among the adverse forces crying, “Our enemy has fallen!” Sri Aurobindo, however, remained unperturbed and tried to get up. Failing to do so he lay down quietly expecting that the Mother would come in soon. As was natural, the Mother in her turn received a strong vibration in her sleep which made her feel that something had gone wrong with Sri Aurobindo. She came in immediately and found him lying on the floor. Her intuition and good general knowledge of medical science made her suspect a fracture…

His right knee was flexed, his face bore a perplexed smile as if he did not know what was wrong with him; the chest was bare, well-developed and the finely pressed snow-white dhoti drawn up contrasted with the shining golden thighs, round and marble- smooth, reminiscent of Yeats’s line, “World-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras”. A sudden fugitive vision of the Golden Purusha of the Vedas!
[Nirodbaran, Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo: 1-3]

The disciples had to wait for long. Quite naturally they turned to the Mother to intercede on their behalf for a Darshan of Sri Aurobindo. One can understand from their request what it meant and how much they craved for this divine delight that the soul and body experiences at the divine contact. Did not Shabari wait for 35 long years to have a glimpse of Rama or the stone-like Ahilya for much more, awaiting the redeeming Divine touch in a trance abandoning speech and act and all motion, turning a curse into a boon? But this time the Divine was Compassion incarnate. Conceding to the request of disciples and the Mother’s intercession on their behalf, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother gave a special Darshan on the 24th April 1939 which hence became a regular event.

This is the brief history of the four Darshan days at the Ashram. The Mother has given a significance to each darshan day as follows:

The four Darshan Days are:
21 February, the Mother’s birthday (1878);
24 April, the Mother’s final arrival in Pondicherry (1920);
15 August, Sri Aurobindo’s birthday (1872);
24 November, Siddhi Day (Victory Day), the descent of Krishna, the Overmind Godhead, into the physical (1926).
[CWM 15: 184]

All these darshan days were days of special descents and were meant to hasten earth’s further progress and help our ailing humanity. The earth could not contain these descents of special Light and Force except periodically and indirectly through the physical persona of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Like Shiva they would first receive the mighty Ganga and then release it in measured quantity upon Earth. However something new began to happen after the great event of the Supramental Manifestation of the 29th Feb 1956. The Mother remarked regarding this darshan days thus:

29 FEBRUARY 1956: The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth. The Golden Day. Henceforth the 29th February will be the day of the Lord.
[CWM 15: 188]      

The Darshan days continue to hold a very special meaning to all who have turned to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. These are not just about having a glimpse of the Divine but much more about receiving His Presence and Influence in our most material and outer parts Thus these days provide a tremendous help for our progress. Here it does not matter now where we live, whether in Pondicherry or far away since the Ashram itself has now extended far beyond the boundaries and borders of Pondicherry as the Mother Herself clarified to the disciples in 1958, subsequent to the Supramental Manifestation:

It will soon be a year since, one Wednesday, we had the manifestation of the supramental force. Since then, it has been working very actively, even while very few people are aware of it! but still I thought the time had come for – how to put it? – for us to help it a little in its work by making an effort of receptivity. Of course, it does not work only in the Ashram, it is working in the whole world and in all places where there is some receptivity this Force is at work, and I must say the Ashram hasn’t an exclusive receptivity in the world, the monopoly of receptivity…
[CWM 9: 39]

For a very long time the Ashram was only a gathering of individuals, each one representing something, but as an individual and without any collective organisation. They were like separate pawns on a chess-board—united only in appearance —or rather by the purely superficial fact of living together in the same place and having a few habits in common—not even very many, only a few. Each one progressed—or didn’t progress— according to his own capacity and with a minimum of relations with others. So, in accordance with the value of the individuals constituting this odd assemblage, one could say that there was a general value, but a very nebulous one, with no collective reality. This lasted a very long time—very long. And it is only quite recently that the need for a collective reality began to appear— which is not necessarily limited to the Ashram but embraces all who have declared themselves—I don’t mean materially but in their consciousness—to be disciples of Sri Aurobindo and have tried to live his teaching. Among all of them, and more strongly since the manifestation of the supramental Consciousness and Force, there has awakened the necessity for a true communal life, which would not be based only on purely material circumstances but would represent a deeper truth, and be the beginning of what Sri Aurobindo calls a supramental or gnostic community…
[CWM 9: 173]

With this change the significance of the Darshan days also changed.

In the days when Sri Aurobindo used to give Darshan, before he gave it there was always a concentration of certain forces or of a certain realisation which he wanted to give to people. And so each Darshan marked a stage forward; each time something was added. But that was at a time when the number of visitors was very limited. It was organised in another way, and it was part of the necessary preparation. But this special concentration, now, occurs at other times, not particularly on Darshan days. And it occurs much more often, on other kinds of occasions, in other circumstances. The movement is much accelerated, the march forward, the stages succeed each other much more rapidly. And perhaps it is more difficult to follow; or in any case, if one doesn’t take care to keep up, one is much more quickly out-distanced than before; one gets the feeling of being late or of being abandoned. Things change quickly. And I ought to say that these Darshan times with all this rush of people serve not so much for an inner progress—that is to say, inside the Ashram—as for a diffusion outside. The use we make of these days is a little different; above all, it is to go farther, have a vaster field, reach more distant points. But the concentration is less and there is this inconvenience of a large crowd, which was always there but which has been much greater during these last years than at the beginning. At the beginning there was not such a crowd; and perhaps the quality of the crowd was also a little different…

 But Mother, what is the significance of the message you give every Darshan?

 Yes, as I have just told you, this is spread in thousands of copies all over the world. It is an externalisation of the thing, it is a way of spreading the influence, spreading the message, reaching farther. Everything that is said in a Darshan message has been studied, proved, tested, beforehand. And on Darshan day it is given. First the experiment is made, then it is declared publicly. The first movement is the individual development; at the Darshan time it is spread abroad. Sri Aurobindo always spoke of two movements: the formation of the individual in order to be able to reach the goal individually, and the preparation of the world…. For the progress of the individual is, so to say, not exactly delayed or helped by the condition of the whole, but this brings about a certain balance between the two. The individual movement is always much more rapid and more penetrating; it goes farther, more deeply and more quickly. The collective movement forms a sort of basis which both restrains and supports at the same time. And it is the balance between these two movements which is necessary. So, the more rapidly one goes individually, the more necessary it is to try to extend and strengthen the collective basis.
[CWM 8: 262 – 264]

Still, there is no doubt something special about visiting Their rooms, Their place and seat of tapasya. Even if one cannot see with the eye of faith or is not yet blessed to have a divine vision, yet one can feel the special and extra-ordinary atmosphere as one files past the corridors where the Timeless paced with Time and the Infinite made Its home in a narrow strip of Space. The Mother reveals to us regarding Sri Aurobindo’s Room and His special Presence at the Samadhi reminding us of the ever-present Divine Help amidst the tumults of our earthly life and its golden future secured for us by the Grace and tapasya of the twin Avataras:

There, — there is the manifestation of the Truth. To be in front of His room is to perceive the Absolute Consciousness. He who knows how to open himself, truly open himself wide and spontaneously, will find His invariable help for everything. It is unbelievable! It is Invincible! And All-Powerful! Do not pretend. In front of Him, one has to be straightforward, scrupulously frank and sincere and one has to simply open oneself to be able to feel His Beatitude.

 It is extraordinary, the power of His Reality. No one could stand and no one could bear it if He reveals Himself in His entirety. That is why I was warning you in advance. Never pretend or make a semblance that you are one of those who have the permission to stand before His room. It vibrates with His Presence. Be happy and make of your life a consecra­tion for accomplishing His work here below. It is an exceptional oppor­tunity. Be worthy of it and do not waste time.

 What a marvel! What a Power! What Grandeur! The One who was with us, His Power and His Force still vibrate in His room. It is a place for meditation and for receiving the Vibration of the Truth which it emits. It is charged. The presence of Sri Aurobindo is palpably felt by one who is sincere. Voilà.
[Mona Sarkar, Blessings of the Grace: 109-110]

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