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At the Feet of The Mother

Sri Aurobindo at Pondicherry




“The illumined seer and priest of the call, free from harms, shining with light, carrying his banner of smoke, him we seek, the ray of intuition of the sacrifices.”

Rig Veda: 8.44.10

On the 4th of April, 1910, Sri Aurobindo arrived by the steamer Dupleix at Pondicherry with Bejoy Nag at about 4 in the afternoon. Moni (Suresh Chakravarty) had already arrived on the 31st March and put up at the house of Srinivasachari, an orthodox Tamil Brahmin, to whom he had brought a letter of introduction from Sri Aurobindo. Srinivasachari had at first taken Moni for a spy, and did not attach any importance to his request for finding a suitable house for Sri Aurobindo. But when Moni announced the date of Sri Aurobindo’s arrival, Srinivas took him at his word and thought of arranging a public reception. But Moni dissuaded him, saying that Sri Aurobindo’s coming to Pondicherry was a closely guarded secret and that he would like to live in strict solitude in order to avoid harassment by the agents of the British Government. So, the idea of a public reception was abandoned, and only Moni and Srinivasachari went to the port to receive Sri Aurobindo.[1]

Sri Aurobindo, Bejoy and Moni were lodged on the second floor of Shankar Chetty’s house in Comoutty Street. They stayed there till October. It was the same house where Swami Vivekananda had stayed when he had visited Pondicherry, sometime ago. As there was no bathroom in his apartment, Sri Aurobindo had to come down to the ground floor every day for his bath. They stayed there for about six months as Shankar Chetty’s guests. It was a completely secluded life; and, though the agents of the British Government must have been about, prowling and prying, they could discover no clue to their whereabouts. During the first three months, Bejoy and Moni had to keep to their room day and night. Afterwards Sri Aurobindo allowed them to go out. As a rule, visitors were not admitted, unless somebody wanted to see Sri Aurobindo on a special purpose and was fortunate enough to receive his permission.

Motilal Roy of Chandernagore sent to enquire about Sri Aurobindo’s safe arrival. Subramania Bharati, the renowned poet, patriot and national worker of South India, who had been living at Pondicherry as a political refugee from British India, came in close touch with Sri Aurobindo and used to visit him very often with Srinivasachari. Later, he would see him every day in the evening. He was profoundly influenced by Sri Aurobindo. Writing about the year 1913 in his reminiscences, “Old Long Since”, Amrita says, “Every evening, a little after dark, Bharati would go to Sri Aurobindo’s house. He chose that time not with the purpose of avoiding people who would want to make a note of his visit. It was because Sri Aurobindo used to come out of his room and receive his friends only after seven in the evening. An exception, however, was made for close friends like Bharati and Srinivasachari, who, at a very urgent need, could see him at any time of the day. Their visits to Sri Aurobindo’s house after seven had become a regular affair. Bharati would visit without fail; it was not so with Srinivasachari however.

“There was hardly any subject which they did not talk about in their meetings at night. They discussed literature, society, politics, the various arts….”[2] Long afterwards “Bharati learnt the Rig Veda from Sri Aurobindo”.

About a week after Sri Aurobindo was lodged at Shankar Chetty’s house, a distinguished French thinker and scholar, Paul Richard, came to Pondicherry in connection with Mon. Paul Blusion’s election to the French Chamber. Though the ostensible reason for his coming was the election, he had something much more important up his sleeve. “He was sent from France by Mira — she whom we know as the Mother.”[3] She had given him the sketch of a Yogachakra (a mystic symbol) saying that its interpreter was to be found in India and that he who would interpret it was her master and guide in yoga. On landing at Pondicherry, Paul Richard enquired whether there was any Yogi in the town. He was told of Sri Aurobindo, and as an interview was not an easy affair, he took the help of his friend, Zir Naidu, who was a prominent leader in politics, and obtained Sri Aurobindo’s permission. He saw Sri Aurobindo twice and had long talks with him, and he also got from him the interpretation of the mystic symbol. He was so much impressed by Sri Aurobindo that he hailed him afterwards as the greatest of the Sons of Heaven living upon earth, “the leader, the hero of tomorrow”.[4]

It was while he was staying in Shankar Chetty’s house that Sri Aurobindo fasted for about 23 days, just as an experiment. Asked about it later, he said, “when I did my fast of about 23 days in Chetty’s house, I very nearly solved the problem (of doing without food). I could walk eight hours a day[5] as usual. I continued my mental work and sadhana as usual and I found that I was not in the least weak at the end of 23 days. But the flesh began to grow less and I did not find a clue to replacing the very matter reduced in the body.

“When I broke the fast, I did not observe the common rule of people who undergo long fasts, — beginning with a little food, and so on. I began with the same quantity as I used to take before.”[6]

On the question of fasting, Sri Aurobindo said again afterwards: “I fasted twice: once in Alipore (jail) for ten days, and another time in Pondicherry for 23 days. At Alipore I was full of Yogic activities, I was not taking my food and was throwing it away into the bucket; of course, the Superintendent did not know of it, only two warders knew about it and they informed others saying: ‘This gentleman must be ill; he will not live long!’ Though my physical strength was diminishing, I was able to raise a pail of water above my head which I could not do ordinarily.

“At Pondicherry, while fasting, I was in full mental and vital vigour. I was even walking eight hours a day and not feeling tired at all. And when I broke the fast I did not begin slowly but with the usual normal amount of food.”

When some one asked him, “How is such fasting possible”, he said, “One draws energy from the vital plane instead of depending upon physical substance… ”[7]

K.V. Rangaswami, a zamindar of Kodailam, met Sri Aurobindo at Shankar Chetty’s house. He represented the landlords in the Legislative Assembly in Delhi during the British rule. His guru, Nagai Japata, who was a famous Yogi, had said to him at the time of his death that a great Yogi would come from the North (of India) of whose guidance he could avail himself in his absence. The Yogi, he said, would come to South India seeking refuge, and could be recognised by the triple declaration made by him before. When K.V. Rangaswami heard that Sri Aurobindo had come down to Pondicherry, he thought that it must be he whom his guru had referred to. So he came and saw Sri Aurobindo and promised to bear the cost of publishing the book, Yogic Sadhan.[8]

To quote Sri Aurobindo, “There was a famous Yogi in the South who, while dying, said to his disciples that a Purna Yogi from the North would come down to the South and he would be known by three sayings. These three sayings were the three things I wrote in a letter to my wife. A zamindar disciple of that Yogi found me out and bore the cost of the book Yogic Sadhan.” He also gave some money to Sri Aurobindo and pledged regular financial help. But his help ceased to be regular and finally stopped altogether. He visited Sri Aurobindo twice again at Pondicherry.

V. Ramaswamy Iyengar[9], later known as Va-Ra, came with K.V. Rangaswami. He was powerfully drawn to Sri Aurobindo and came to live with him for sometime in 1911. Sri Aurobindo had seen him in a vision before his coming. In one of his evening talks he said about this vision: “I myself have had these visions, only I don’t usually try to remember or verify them. But there were two curious instances which were among the first of this kind and which therefore I remember…. The other was a certain V. Ramaswamy whom I had to meet, but I saw him not as he was when he actually came, but as he became after a year’s residence in my house. He became the very image of the vision, a face close-cropped, rough, rude, energetic, the very opposite of the smoothfaced Vaishnava who came. So that was the vision of a man I had never seen but as he was to be in future — a prophetic vision.”[10]

Saurin, Sri Aurobindo’s brother-in-law (Mrinalini Devi’s cousin) came from Bengal by the end of September and stayed with Sri Aurobindo. In October — probably towards the end — Sri Aurobindo moved from Shankar Chetty’s house to Rue Suffren in the southern part of the town and lived there till April, 1911. Nolini Kanta Gupta came from Bengal and joined them in November, 1910. Except for a few short visits to Bengal, Nolini Kanta, Moni and Bejoy lived permanently with Sri Aurobindo as his disciples. Bejoy went back to Bengal sometime in the early thirties and died there soon after. Moni passed away at Pondicherry in 1951, and Nolini Kanta, a wiry young man of eighty, the only surviving member of the first batch, has been the Secretary of Sri Aurobindo Ashram ever since its foundation.

It is remarkable how Sri Aurobindo who, shy and reserved by temperament, lived in solitude and seclusion, fully absorbed in his supramental Yoga and the whirl and rush of its revolutionary developments, attracted to himself, one after another, so many of the souls who were touched by his light and were destined to be the standard-beares of his epoch-making spiritual work. When the “Rose of God” blooms can the bees tarry to flock and forgather?





Let us digress for a moment in order to peep into the flurried mind of the almighty British bureaucracy in India.

Sri Aurobindo’s second “An open letter to my countrymen”, published in the Karmayogin on the 25th December, 1909, was considered seditious, and a warrant was issued against him. But as the Police failed to trace him, the printer was convicted, sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and acquitted on appeal.

We reproduce below some of the secret documents of the British Government which provide more amusing fiction and fabrication than facts about Sri Aurobindo’s activities and whereabouts. Puck plays pranks even in the forbidden chambers of solemn officialdom and criminally obfuscates the intelligence of the Criminal Intelligence Department.

“…It is said that the accused, Manmohan Ghose, printer, personally had no wish to move the High Court against his conviction, as he feared an enhancement of the sentence, and the appeal appears to be preferred in the interests of Arabinda Ghose at the instance of Girija Sundar Chakravarty, former manager of this paper. It is believed that if, by any chance, Manmohan Ghose should be acquitted, it would mean the triumphant return of Arabindo Ghose to Calcutta….” (Karmayogin Sedition case — Extract from C.I.D. Weekly Report dated 6th September, 1910).

But the appellant printer was subsequently acquitted by Justices Fletcher J. and Holmwood who delivered two separate judgments. Justice Fletcher gave the following judgement:

“I have come to the conclusion that it does not appear from the article that it is such as is likely to cause disaffection or produce hatred and contempt of the Government, nor can I find from the article that such was the intention of the writer…. All that we have to decide is whether the law has or has not been broken by the publication of this article, and I have come to the conclusion that it has not.”

The acquittal of the printer was a blow to the pride and prestige of the Police, and a chagrined embarrassment to the Government. A telegram was sent to the Secretary of State as follows:

“The result is unfortunate, but there is nothing to be done. The able judgment of Fletcher J. will attract far more attention than the somewhat flabby remarks of his learned brother, Holmwood, and will enable a writer with a facile pen (such as Arabinda Ghose) to publish Sedition with impunity in the Bengals…”

Under the date, 5th (January?) a document reads as follows:

“The Chief Presidency Magistrate issued a warrant for the arrest of Arabinda Ghose under Section 124-A.I.P.C. The warrant remains unexecuted owing to Ghose’s whereabouts not been known.”

It appears that a telegram was sent to the Secretary of State in England, acquainting him with the situation. The Secretary of State wired to the Viceroy:

“…If so, under what law has the warrant been issued? Does the article contain inducement to violence or assassination? Do you know where Arabindo is…?”

To which the flustered Viceroy replied, “Law officers considered the article clearly seditious. Whereabouts of Aravinda Ghose unknown to Government of India. But it is rumoured that he is still in hiding in Calcutta.”

Another document says, “…Arabinda is reported to be in Pondicherry, but it is not certain. Papu Rao wired again yesterday (13.4.1910) from Madras — Arabinda Ghose is certainly here. Ajit Singh is also said to be here. Both intending to proceed to Paris. — Send one to identify.

“I think by ‘here’ Papu Rao meant Pondicherry. We wired again to Bengal Special Department to send a man at once to C.I.D., Madras, who would be able to identify Arabinda Ghose.

“I am of opinion we should stop Arabinda if we can, as I think he will do great harm if he gets to a safe asylum in France or elsewhere. So far we can’t find any law on the subject of executing a British Indian warrant on a French steamer in Colombo port…

“The difficulty may be evaded by the fact that transhipment is necessary in Colombo harbour, for there are no through steamers from Pondicherry to France. The fugitive would be arrested in course of transhipment in a local boat, though not (as Legislative Department at present advise) in the ship’s boat.

“The Law Member gives the opinion that a fugitive in a foreign boat in a British port is not immune from arrest…. This makes it quite clear that Arabinda could be arrested at Colombo if he goes to that port.

“Mr. Cleveland thinks it doubtful if he bolted to Pondicherry. He went by the ‘Dupleix’ from Calcutta and must have left that port about 2nd April. It is said a house has been taken for him at Pondicherry.”

A telegram was sent to the Viceroy: “…Arabinda is in Pondicherry. Necessary action taken to secure his arrest if he tried to go to Paris via Colombo.”

Telegram Director C.I.D. Ceylon: “Aravinda Ghose of Calcutta and Ajit Singh of Lahore, absconders charged with sedition likely to leave Pondicherry for Paris by French steamer. Will you watch for them and arrest under Fugitive Offenders’ Act in Colombo harbour using this as your authority?”

Report from Deputy Superintendent, Papu Rao Naidu, 9.4.1910:

“In continuation of my previous wire of this day, I beg to inform you that Arabinda Ghose arrived at Pondicherry by S.S. Dupleix on the morning of 6th instant.[11] He was received at the beach by the India office people. He is now kept in a separate house in the street wherein the proprietor Srinivasacharry lives. I am also informed that a few days before his arrival, Subramanya Bharati engaged a bungalow of Ganaprakasa Modely, a rich man of Pondicherry, and there opened a Library and Reading Room. I am making arrangement to watch him and the people who meet him every day. I am removing my Madras agent permanently thither and am sending my Sub-Inspector to stay in British limits close by Pondicherry. I have informed Deputy I.G. C.I.D. who has not known about his arrival.”

What follows is a crowning evidence of the efficiency, truthfulness, fertile imagination and clairvoyance of the British Police:

(Extract paragraph 4 from the Weekly Report dated 17.10.1910 from I.G. Police to Director C.I.D.)

“Arabinda Ghose’s disappearance — in regard to the reported arrival of Arabinda Ghose at Pondicherry, mentioned in my last week’s report, further enquiries made in Calcutta indicate that he probably left by the S.S. Dupleix of the M.M. Company on the 1st of April. The Dupleix is the only passenger boat from Calcutta which calls regularly at Pondicherry. On the 31st of March, the Special Branch Officer of Calcutta police who supervises arrivals and departures of Indians by sea reported that two native passengers who gave their names as J.N. Mitter of Uluberia, and Bankim Chandra Bhowmik of Nilphamari, Rungpore, had reserved berths on this steamer for Pondicherry. The Health Officer’s inspection for this ship was held on the evening of the 31st. The Calcutta Police Officer who was present at the Health Officer’s inspection reported that neither of these two passengers had turned up for inspection. On the 4th instant a letter was received from M.M. Company to the effect that these two persons had actually sailed on the Dupleix for Pondicherry but that as they had boarded the steamer at the last moment, they had not been seen by the Calcutta Police Officer. On enquiry it was ascertained from the Health Officer that about 9.30 p.m. on the night of 31st ultimo, two Bengalees giving their names as J.N. Mitter and Bankim Chandra Bhowmik came to his private residence and requested to be furnished with health certificates to enable them to sail on the Dupleix. The Health Officer granted them the necessary certificates. On a photograph of Arabinda Ghose being shown to the Health Officer, he stated that he was probably the individual who gave his name as Jotindra Nath Mitter. The Health Officer further stated that he was struck by the fluent English which this gentleman spoke.

“Enquiries at Uluberia show that there is such a person as J.N. Mitter residing there, but he is at present at home and has never left by sea. There seems little doubt that the J.N. Mitter who embarked on the Dupleix was Arabinda Ghose.

“It is believed that the other person Bankim Chandra Bhowmik may be Nolini Kanto Sen Gupta of Nilphamari, an acquitted accused in the Alipore Bomb case who was known to be an intimate friend and admirer of Arabinda Ghose, and who disappeared about the same time as Arabinda. Unfortunately no photograph of this man is on record, but the description furnished by the Health Officer of the man calling himself Bankim Chandra Bhowmik in many respects agrees with that of Nolini.[12]

“An officer of the Special Department received information that Arabinda had decided to proceed to Berlin to throw in his lot with the Indian Revolutionary party there — the party which publishes and sends out the Talwar. He intended to start from Bombay in the Austrian Lloyds steamer leaving on the 1st of April, but finding that he could not catch that steamer, he decided to leave Calcutta for Pondicherry in the M.M. boat.

“Some rumours state that Arabinda Ghose has taken Rs. 25,000 in sovereigns with him, but if it is true that he intended to proceed to Berlin via Trieste in the Austrian Lloyds steamer and eventually went off in a Messageries boat getting no further than Pondicherry, it looks to me rather as though there had been some difficulty about money.


“The Commissioner of Police is applying for warrants to be sent to Bombay, Madras and Colombo”.

Telegram from D.S.P. to Director C.I.D.:

“My Pondicherry agent identified Arabinda personally on Simla photo.”

The Hindu published the following on 13th November, 1910:

“Babu Aurobindo Ghose writes to us from 42, Rue du Pavilion, Pondicherry, under date November 7, 1910:

“I shall be obliged if you will allow me to inform every one interested in my whereabouts through your journal that I am and will remain in Pondicherry. I left British India over a month before proceedings were taken against me and, as I had purposely retired here in order to pursue my Yogic sadhana undisturbed by political action or pursuit and had already severed connection with my political work, I did not feel called upon to surrender on the warrant for sedition, as might have been incumbent on me if I had remained in the political field. I have since lived here as a religious recluse, visited only by a few friends, French and Indian, but my whereabouts have been an open secret, long known to the agents of the Government and widely rumoured in Madras as well as perfectly well-known to every one in Pondicherry. I find myself now compelled, somewhat against my will, to give my presence here a wider publicity. It has suited certain people for an ulterior object to construct a theory that I am not in Pondicherry, but in British India, and I wish to state emphatically that I have not been in British India since March last and shall not set foot on British territory even for a single moment in the future until I can return publicly. Any statement by any person to the contrary made now or in the future, will be false. I wish, at the same time, to make it perfectly clear that I have retired for the time from political activity of any kind and that I will see and correspond with no one in connection with political subjects. I defer all explanation or justification of my action in leaving British India until the High Court in Calcutta shall have pronouced on the culpability or innocence of the writing in the Karmayogin on which I am indicted.”





As he mounts from peak to peak… Indra brings consciousness of That as the goal.

Rig Veda, 1.10.2

For the first few years of Sri Aurobindo’s stay at Pondicherry, life was rather hard on account of a chronic paucity of funds. Food was scanty and inadequately nutritious. Except Sri Aurobindo all slept on the floor on mats. There was no servant, and since they moved to the rented house in Rue Suffren[13] cooking had to be done by the four young men. The furniture of the house consisted of one table and two chairs only. One towel served them all with exemplary faithfulness. But these hardships failed to affect Sri Aurobindo in the least. Ascetic austerity for its own sake was always repugnant to Sri Aurobindo, but he encountered life’s problems and trials as well as the difficulties and hazards of his spiritual adventure with his characteristic firmness and equanimity.

Motilal Roy of Chandernagore came to Pondicherry in 1911 and noticed the financial difficulty in which Sri Aurobindo was living. He has referred to it in his Bengali book, Amar Jivan Sangini (My Life’s Partner). He also quotes from a letter written to him by Sri Aurobindo: “The situation just now is that we have four annas or so in hand.” He quotes from another letter: “…I am not quite sure about the cash and still less sure about the sufficiency of the amount. No doubt God will provide, but He has contracted a bad habit of waiting till the last moment. I only hope He does not wish us to learn how to live on a minus quantity like B….”[14]

In April 1911 Sri Aurobindo moved with his associates from Rue Suffren to a house in Rue St. Louis and lived there till April, 1913. This house is now called Raghavan House.

Before we proceed with our narrative it would be useful to have a clear idea of the civic life of Pondicherry at the time when Sri Aurobindo settled in it and the dangers and hardships to which he was exposed. There cannot be a more authentic record than the Reminiscences of Nolini Kanta Gupta who was all along with Sri Aurobindo from November, 1910, onwards except for two or three short spells of absence, and we reproduce long extracts from it.

“Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry and took shelter here. We might say of course from another point of view that it was he who gave shelter to Pondicherry within his own consciousness. But why this city in particular? There is indeed the usual view that he retired into French territory to escape the wrath of the British bureaucracy. But actually, all he wanted was to find a quiet spot where he might give himself to his own work undisturbed.

“The place was so quiet that we can hardly imagine now what it was really like. It was not quiet, it was actually dead; they used to call it a dead city. There was hardly any traffic, particularly in the area where we lived, and after dusk there was not a soul stirring. It is no wonder they should say, “Sri Aurobindo has fixed upon a cemetery for his sadhana.”

“It was a cemetery indeed. Whilst the Indian nationalist movement had been flooding the whole country, nothing of that regenerating flood could find an entry here, except for one or two individuals who had felt a touch. It was like a backwater of the sea, a stagnant pool by the shore. There was here no such thing as public life or youth movement or any kind of collective effort, or an experiment in educational reform, — there was no sign whatsoever of an awakening to life.

“A cemetery it was no doubt, but one with its full complement of ghouls.

“In the first rank of these ghouls were the ruffian bands. Such creatures can appear only in a highly tamasic environment. For, the greater the depth of inertia the more is the need for keen rajasic excitement followed immediately by the silence of sleep. Pondicherry of those days had a still more notorious reputation for its cheap wine-shops and its rowdy tipsies. Of this type of ghouls there was a regular invasion from outside every week-end.

“The ruffian bands — known locally as “bandes” in French — were a peculiar institution now almost broken up. The French regime in Pondicherry was supposed to be in theory a reign of liberty, equality and fraternity. But in actual fact, it was the feudalism of pre-Revolution France that held sway here. Or perhaps it was something worse, namely, the arbitrary rule of three or four high officials and rich men of ill-gotten means. The “bandes” were in their pay and they were there to do their bidding; the police had neither the will nor the power to intervene. On certain occasions, during the campaigns for political elections, complete anarchy seemed to reign in Pondicherry, while rioting and murder continued for days on end and blood flowed freely. People would not dare stir out of their houses, especially after dark. We were not openly involved in politics, but some of our friends were. And Sri Aurobindo would sometimes send out some of us to meet them, even after nightfall and on purpose. The local people marvelled at our dauntless courage.

“These ruffian bands — these ghouls I was going to say — turned against us too on more than one occasion. Let me explain in a little more detail.

“Soon after Sri Aurobindo came, he realised that a firm seat must be established here, an unshakable foundation for his sadhana and siddhi, for the path and the goal. He was to build up on the ever-shifting sands of the shore a firm and strong edifice, a Temple of God. Have we not read in the Puranas and other scriptures that whenever and wherever a sage or a Rishi sat down to his meditation and sadhana, there rushed upon him at once a host of evil spirits to break up his work? They seemed to have a special liking for the flesh of the Rishis.

“Those who tried most to stop Sri Aurobindo from settling down and were ever on the alert to move him from his seat were the British authorities. The British Government in India could never accept that Sri Aurobindo had come away to French territory for carrying on his Yoga. Religion and spirituality, these to them were a mere subterfuge. They thought they knew what Sri Aurobindo was — the one most dangerous man in all India, the source of all the trouble. Pondicherry was the place from where were supplied the necessary instructions and advice and perhaps even the pistols and other weapons. Here was the brain-centre of the Indian independence movement. That Sri Aurobindo had been the main-spring of Indian independence they had been told by their life-instinct, although the superficial sense in which they understood it was not, obviously, the whole truth.”

“…force having failed they now tried fraud. An attempt was made to frame a trumped-up charge at law. Some of the local “ghouls” were made to help forge the documents — some photographs and maps and charts along with a few letters — which were to prove that we had been engaged in a conspiracy for dacoity and murder. The papers were left in a well in the compound of one of our men, then they were “discovered” after a search by the police. The French police had even entered Sri Aurobindo’s residence for a search. But when their Chief found there were Latin and Greek books lying about on his desk, he was so taken aback that he could only blurt out, “II sait du latin, il sait du grec!” — “He knows Latin, he knows Greek!” — and then he left with all his men.[15] How could a man who knew Latin and Greek ever commit any mischief?

“In fact, the French Government had not been against us, indeed they helped us as far as they could. We were looked upon as their guests; and as political refugees, it was a matter of honour for them to give us their protection. And where it is a question of honour, the French as a race are willing to risk anything: they still fight duels in France on a point of honour. But at the same time, they had their friendship, the entente cordiale, with Britain to maintain, and it is this that got them into a dilemma.”


“In addition to force and fraud, the British Government did not hesitate to make use of temptation as well. They sent word to Sri Aurobindo which they followed up by a messenger, to say that if he were to return to British India, they would not mind. They would indeed be happy to provide him with a nice bungalow in the quiet surroundings of a hill station, Darjeeling,[16] where he could live in complete freedom and devote himself to his spiritual practices without let or hindrance. Needless to add, this was an ointment spread out to catch a fly and Sri Aurobindo refused the invitation with a “No, thank you.”

“Afterwards came a more serious attack, perhaps the one most fraught with danger. The First World War was on. India had been seething with discontent and things were not going too well abroad on the European front. The British Government now brought pressure on the French: they must do something drastic about their political refugees. Either they should hand them over to the British, or else let them be deported out of India.[17] The French Government accordingly proposed that they would find room for us in Algeria. There we could live in peace; they would see to our passage so that we need have no worry on that score. If on the other hand we were to refuse this offer, there might be danger: the British authorities might be allowed to seize us forcibly.

“I can recall very well that scene. Sri Aurobindo was seated in his room in what was later called “Guest House”, Rue François Martin. We too had come. Two or three of the Tamil nationalist leaders who had sought refuge in Pondicherry came in and told Sri Aurobindo about the Algeria offer and also gave a hint that they were agreeable. Sri Aurobindo paused a little and then he said, in a quiet clear tone, “I do not budge from here.” To them this came as a bolt from the blue; they had never expected anything like this. In Algeria there would be freedom and peace, whereas here we lived in constant danger and uncertainty. But now they were helpless. Sri Aurobindo had spoken and they could hardly act otherwise. They had no alternative but to accept the decision, though with a heavy heart.”


“In those days there was in the College de France in Pondicherry a French professor named Jouveau Dubreuil — later on he became quite a well-known name — who had been engaged in research in ancient history and archaeology. We knew him quite well. He was at that time working on the early history of Pondicherry. From a study of the ancient documents and inscriptions he discovered that the city of Pondicherry, which I have called the city of the dead, had at one time been known as a city of the Veda, Veda-puri. That is to say, it was a centre of Vedic learning. And this Vedic college, our professor found from ancient maps and other clues, was located exactly on the spot where the main building of our Ashram now stands.

“According to ancient tradition, the Rishi Agastya came to the South to spread the Vedic lore and the Aryan discipline. His seems to have been the first project for the infusion of Aryan culture into the Dravidian civilisation.”


“I have said that this cemetery that was Pondicherry had been infested by ghouls and goblins. These had a special category known ordinarily as spies…. These (British) government spies tried to collect information as to who came to our houses, who were the people who met us, what places we frequented and how our guests spent their time. That was why Motilal (Motilal Roy of the Pravartak group in Chandernagor) when he first came to Pondicherry had to come dressed as an Anglo-Indian, and he never entered our house, the Raghavan house of today, except by the back door and under cover of darkness after nightfall.”


“The British Indian police set up a regular station here, with a rented house and several permanent men. They were of course plain-clothes men, for they had no right to wear uniform within French territory. They kept watch, as I have said, both on our visitors as well as ourselves. Soon they got into the habit of sitting on the pavement round the corner next to our house in groups of three or four. They chatted away the whole day and only now and again took down something in their notebooks. What kind of notes they took we found out later on when, after India had become independent and the French had left, some of these notes could be secured from the Police files and the confidential records of Government. Strange records these: the police gave reports all based on pure fancy, they made up all sorts of stories at their sweet will. As they found it difficult to gather correct and precise information, they would just fabricate the news.”[18]

In the Raghavan house in St. Louis Street, Sri Aurobindo’s birthday was celebrated on the 15th August. “Some local people, Sada, Pitrus, David and four others, besides the members of the house, took part in the celebration. Sri Aurobindo sat in a chair in the outer verandah of the new house and all those who had come passed one by one in front of him. Some sweets were distributed.”[19]

Immune against all hostile force, fraud and blandishment and led by the Divine Light, Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga rushed on like a torrential stream bounding over rocks that threatened to impede its course.

We have seen that Sri Aurobindo was in a state of total surrender to the Mother when he was staying at Chandernagore. On being asked by Motilal Roy, he explained and even demonstrated to him what his surrender meant. This surrender led to an identification with the Mother, which is evidenced by his signing his letters to Motilal Roy from Pondicherry as Kali. It was, in fact, a development of the Krishna-Kali experience he had in Alipore jail.





“A son of the two Mothers, he attains to kingship in his discoveries of knowledge, he moved on the summit, he dwells in his high foundation.”

Rig Veda, I.10.2.

We have already quoted Nolini Kanta’s description of Pondicherry as it was when Sri Aurobindo came and settled here. Let us supplement it by a short history of the ancient town and its suburbs as published by = 1 (a symbolic figure), a quarterly organ of Auroville.[20] We find in it that in olden times the whole place was flourishing both spiritually and materially, and was considered an important centre of learning and commerce in South India.

“The origins of Pondicherry go back into the night of time. Pondicherry means ‘the new suburb’. The original name of the town, no longer used, was Vedapuri, and a big temple still stands today, the Vedapurishwara temple, dedicated to the great god, Siva, the god of Contemplatives. Vedapuri means ‘City of Knowledge’. The patron saint of Vedapuri was Sri Agastya, legends of whose life tell of his coming from the far Himalayas, travelling South and settling in the country of the Tamils to teach the people the Veda. For thousands of years Vedapuri was a school for young Brahmins where they learnt to chant the Vedic hymns in Sanskrit and to perform complicated sacrifices in the proper way.

“Buddhism came and went, and then in the first and second centuries of our era we find on that same Coromandel Coast a Roman settlement mentioned in the Periple by Ptolemy of Alexandria. Heavily loaded ships from the far Mediterranean, swept by the constant trade winds, arrived via Cleopatra’s Nile — Red Sea Canal at Poduke as our town was then called. A Roman emporium, a trader’s town where Mediterranean wines and swords, Germanic slaves and Roman gold were exchanged for the spices and silks, precious stones, cottons and peacocks of India. The poet prince Illango, brother of the Chera King Kovalan, describes how ‘Auroville’ appeared in the first century. The text is translated from the original picturesque Tamil.

“The sun shone over the open terraces, over the warehouses near the harbour, and over the turrets with their air-holes like the eyes of the deer (a description of windows built with a Roman arch). In different places the observer’s attention was arrested by the sight of Yavanas (a name for Greeks and Romans) whose prosperity never waned.

“In the harbour were to be seen sailing vessels with many sailors from distant lands. To all appearances they lived as one Community. In the streets of the City hawkers went about with cosmetics, bath powders, cool pastes, flowers, incense and fragrant perfumes. In certain places weavers were seen dealing in fine fabrics of silk, animal hair and cotton. Whole streets were full of cloth, corals, sandalwood and myrrh, besides a wealth of rare ornaments, perfect pearls, gems and gold beyond all reckoning.”

The description of the City itself and the central highway leading to it also has its poetic charm:

“Entering into the central highway of the city, rich with the wealth of sea-borne goods and reaching down to the sea-shore where flags of foreign countries fly high, one is impressed by these stretches of white sand where are displayed various kinds of goods brought in by ships of foreign merchants who have left their houses and settled here.

“Here burning in the evening were myriads of lamps: lamps of those who sold coloured powders, who sold sandalwood, jasmine flowers, scents, and all varieties of sweets; the lamps of dexterous goldsmiths, and of those who, sitting in a row, sold pittu; the broad black lamps placed on lampstands by the sellers of muffins; the lamps of fish-mongers glimmering here and there; and high above all the bright beacon lights erected to guide ships to the shore. There were lamps taken out to sea by fishermen in their boats as they went with their nets, night-long lights set out by foreigners speaking strange languages, and finally the lamps lit by the watchmen of the warehouses containing valuable merchandise from far-away countries.”

“Recent archaeological excavations of a hill called Arikamedu, south of Pondicherry, have yielded Greek and Roman coins and imported Mediterranean pottery, reminiscent of a trade very much to the detriment of the Roman empire. Such was the eagerness of Roman ladies to possess the colourful silks and fine muslins of India that Rome lost all its gold reserves in this exchange, but it benefited the kings of the Coromandel Coast, who became fabulously rich and were able to build the huge temple-towns of Rameshwaram and Chidambaram, of Madurai and Trichinopoly, and — only a hundred miles from where Auroville is being built — the magnificent Versailles of India — Mahabalipuram. Vedapuri itself fell asleep. The destructive force of Islam came and went; the Portugese came and called the town ‘Puducheira’ and Dutch ‘Pœbser’, and the Danes — all trying to get some of the gold the Romans had lost, — and built their trading offices, their ‘comptoirs’. In the 17th century came the French, who built on the shore the largest and most powerful fortress in Southern India. As a fortress it was very successful, also as a safe place for investments in gold during troubled times. It quickly became rich, too rich for the jealous British in Madras, who razed it to the ground.

“Rebuilt in the 18th century in the French provincial style the town can be seen from the hills of Auroville, now a part of free India. Only a few small fisherman’s villages without history stand today where the 20th century with its big bulldozers, is moving in to build the City of a New Dawn.”

The above extracts show how important were Pondicherry and its suburbs both culturally and commercially in the good old days of the Roman Empire and — who knows? — even before that. Let us hope some day a more authentic light will be shed on the history of the Aryan, the Indus-Valley and the Dravidian cultures. And at no distant date the whole world will turn to Pondicherry again not only for culture and education and commerce and industry but for the Light of the New Dawn.

To return to our narrative. Financial stringency obliged Sri Aurobindo to move from St. Louis Street to a small house in the Mission Street.

Ramaswami Iyengar came again and stayed with Sri Aurobindo in this house. Amrita, who was at that time in his early teens and a school student, as we have said above, made friends with Ramaswami, and it was through him that he got admission into Sri Aurobindo’s house and had his first darshan[21] of him.

As he says in “Old Long Since”:[22]

“In the Matakoil Street, now called Mission Street, Sri Aurobindo lived for six months in a house with a tiled roof. That house has at present undergone a radical change; the very spot is unrecognised. It was in this house that I had Sri Aurobindo’s darshan….

“During his stay in this house I had the habit of meeting Ramaswami Iyengar every evening on the beach…. His heart started melting towards me little by little even as ants slowly and persistently leave a trail on granite. The result was that he began to welcome me to his room. The school remained closed two days in the week, Sundays and Thursdays. Those days I could meet Iyengar in Sri Aurobindo’s house at about 4 p.m. From 4 to 5 p.m. we would be alone conversing with each other. Our relation thus began to ripen. After 5 we would go straight to the beach and join other friends.

“Bejoy Nag’s relative, Nagen Nag, who was suffering from tuberculosis, came to Pondicherry with his friend and attendant, Biren Roy, and stayed at this house. His doctor had advised him a change of air and he hoped that Sri Aurobindo would cure him by his yogic power.

“Some evenings when engaged in conversation with Iyengar on the verandah outside his room, I would see Sri Aurobindo come out from the back portion of the house to the hall in front, take his seat on the same mat with the sick man, put to him some questions and return to his room. I was lucky to have Sri Aurobindo’s Darshan in this manner several times without going near him. At that time I could not speak English well. On his way to the front part of the house and back from there, Sri Aurobindo’s preoccupation seemed to be wholly with what he had come for. He would pay little attention, as it were, to any other thing around him. And yet, I was told, nothing could escape his notice.

“During this period I requested Iyengar once or twice to introduce me to Sri Aurobindo. But my requests seemed to carry no weight with him.

“Sri Aurobindo’s birthday was drawing near — August 15, 1913. I requested Iyengar once more. I appealed to him to take me to Sri Aurobindo on his birthday. He replied, wonderful to say, in a consenting tone. I felt an immense joy.

“On the 15th August Iyengar asked me to come at about 4.30 p.m. I reached there slightly earlier. All the invitees started coming one by one from all sides. By about 5 or 5.15 all of them had arrived. It was probably one hour before sunset. This I surmised by the dimness of the light inside the house.

“In the hall of the front portion of the house some twenty or twenty-five banana leaves were laid out on three sides just as it is done in a marriage feast.

“As far as I can remember, no sooner was the main gate bolted from within than Sri Aurobindo came into the hall and stood on one side; someone garlanded him with a rose garland; all present clapped their hands, and Sri Aurobindo spoke something in English. All this I can recollect but vaguely. This vagueness of memory is due, I suppose, to an overwhelming joy and palpitation in me on that occasion.

“All of us sat down before the banana leaves as we do at a collective dinner. I was one of the guests; with eyes full of delight I saw Sri Aurobindo as he stood before each banana leaf, looked at the person seated there, gently passed on to the next and thus to the last person — meanwhile someone walking by his side served various kinds of sweets and other preparations.

“In the courtyard a big jar full of water was kept and by its side a small tumbler. We took some refreshments and after washing our hands we gathered together and kept chatting for a short while. In the meantime Sri Aurobindo had gone to the verandah of the middle portion of the house and sat there in a chair kept for him before a table covered with a cloth. Evidently he was waiting for some other item in the programme. By then it had become dark. In each section of the house one or two lighted hurricane-lamps were put up. The guests took leave one by one or by twos and threes and went home.

“I kept on waiting, not knowing what to do. As soon as the guests left, Iyengar came and told me that three big persons, namely, Bharati, Srinivasachari and V.V.S. Ayer, would see Sri Aurobindo to pay their respects to him. If I could wait till they left, there would only be the inmates of the house, five or six, alone with Sri Aurobindo. He had a mind to take me then to Sri Aurobindo. But for that Sri Aurobindo’s permission was required, he said finally. I nodded assent immediately. It might have already struck seven or gone on to seven-fifteen. A fear lurked in me that I would be questioned at home, ‘Why this delay?’ But still I ventured to give my consent.

“Iyengar once again asked me, ‘Do you intend to see Sri Aurobindo with Bharati and others? Or with the inmates?’ I could not make out what answer to give. Whether in the midst of Bharati and others or in the midst of the inmates of the house Sri Aurobindo would be the same Sri Aurobindo. I began to revolve in my mind how there could be any difference. A little while, it might be less than a minute, I wavered in mind and replied. ‘When the inmates are there.’ ‘If so, you must wait for some time,’ said Iyengar and left.

“At about 8.15 p.m. Iyengar came to me and said: ‘You may get Sri Aurobindo’s Darshan as you pass before his table. Go with folded hands. But no permission to speak with him. While passing by his right, just stand in front, stop awhile, join your hands, silently take leave of him and go home’. Iyengar’s words were imprinted upon my mind.

“I was soon called in. I got up and approached Sri Aurobindo’s table. From the ceiling hung a hurricane-lamp that served to dispel the darkness only partially. Going round Sri Aurobindo by way of pradakshinā I stood in his presence with joined palms and made my obeisance to him. Sri Aurobindo’s eyes, it seemed, burned brighter than the lamp-light for me; as he looked at me, in a trice all gloom vanished from within me, and his image was, as it were, installed in the sanctum sanctorum of my being. Nothing was very clear to me. I went behind him, stood again in front, offered my homage to him and, not knowing whether to stay or go, I staggered perplexed. Sri Aurobindo made a gesture with his heavenly hands to one of those who stood there. A sweet was given me once again. I felt that he had accepted me, though I did not quite know it. I left Sri Aurobindo’s house and proceeded towards my own.


“I started now frequenting Sri Aurobindo’s house. My family members knew nothing of it. I became acquainted with one or two of the inmates — particularly Bejoy Kumar. He used to send letters twice or thrice per month by registered post — called Poste Recommandée in French — to Chandernagore. As intimacy with him grew, he began to send letters through me. There was no fixed hour for this work. He used to send for me at any time between 12 noon and 3 p.m. He ordered me not to disclose this posting of letters to anyone.”

Sri Aurobindo’s household moved to 41, Rue François Martin in October, 1913. Nagen Nag and Biren Roy also moved with them. Ramaswamy went back to Tanjore before the end of the year.






“The luminous heart of the Unknown is she,
A power of silence in the depths of God;
She is the Force, the inevitable Word,
The magnet of our difficult ascent,
The Sun from which we kindle all our suns,
The Light that leans from the unrealised Vasts,
The joy that beckons from the impossible,
The Might of all that never yet came down.”
Savitri, Book Three, Canto Two

In the Guest House something intriguingly hair-raising happened. “One day, this Birendra[23] suddenly shaved his head. Moni said he too would have his head shaved, just because Birendra had done it. That very day, or it was perhaps the day after, there occured a regular scene. We had as usual taken our seats around Sri Aurobindo in the afternoon. Suddenly, Biren stood up and shouted, ‘Do you know who I am? You may not believe it, but I am a spy, a spy of the British police. I can’t keep it to myself any longer. I must speak out, I must make the confession before you’. With this he fell at Sri Aurobindo’s feet. We were dumbfounded, almost stunned. As we kept wondering if this could be true, or was all false, perhaps a hallucination or some other illusion — mayā nu matibhramo nu — Biren started again, ‘Oh, you do not believe me? Then let me show you.’ He entered the next room, opened his trunk, drew out a hundred-rupee note and showed it to us. ‘See, here is the proof. Where could I have got all this money? This is the reward of my evil deed. Never, I will do this work again. I give my word to you, I ask your forgiveness…’. No words came to our lips, all of us kept silent and still.

“This is how it had come about. Biren had shaved his head in order that the police spies might spot him as their man from the rest of us by the shaven head. But they were nonplussed when they found Moni too with a shaven head. And Biren began to suspect that Moni, or perhaps the whole lot of us, had found out his secret and that Moni had shaved on purpose. So, partly out of fear and partly from true repentance, for the most part no doubt by the pressure of some other Force, he was compelled to make his confession.

“After this incident, the whole atmosphere of the house got a little disturbed. We were serious and worried. How was it possible for such a thing to happen? How could an enemy find his entry into our apartments, and live as one of us? What should be done? Bejoy was furious, and it was a job to keep him from doing something drastic. However, within a few days, Biren left of his own accord and we were left in peace. I hear he afterwards joined the Great War and was sent to Mesopotamia with the Indian army.”[24]

“This shows how the atmosphere in those days was full of suspicion and also how great was the number of secret agents in Pondicherry. The way in which Biren’s confession came out was a miracle.”[25]

Nolini Kanta, Saurin and Moni went to Bengal in February, 1914, but their sojourn was cut short by the outbreak of the first World War, and they had to return post-haste in September, for fear of being clapped into prison as old criminals. After their return, Bejoy became eager to go to Bengal. Sri Aurobindo did not quite approve of it, but headstrong that he was, he left, only to be grabbed by the British police who were lying in wait for him just outside the boundary of the French territory. He was held in detention for five long years and was released only after the War had ended.

Motilal Roy received contributions from some patriotic persons in Bengal and sent them to Sri Aurobindo from time to time. There were some men like Durgadas Seth of Chandernagore who were really anxious to help Sri Aurobindo, so that he might not suffer the pinch of want in his life of sadhana.

On the 29th March, 1914, the Mother arrived from Paris with Paul Richard. They met Sri Aurobindo in the Guest House at 3.30 in the afternoon. As soon as the Mother saw Sri Aurobindo, she recognised him as the very person who had been guiding her in her sadhana (spiritual self-culture) in France and whom she knew to be Sri Krishna. Her meeting with the Master was of an immeasurable spiritual significance. It was an epochal event, a landmark in the spiritual culture of man. It inaugurated a new era of dynamic spirituality. It initiated a movement unknown to history and humanity. It led to an unwearied collaboration in their mission of raising man from the troubled twilight of his mind into the infinite splendour of the Supramental Light-Force. The age-old propensity to ascetic withdrawal from the world of action was stripped of its customary mask, exposed to the light of an integral spirituality and tossed into the limbo of the past. Life was affirmed and accepted as the field of divine Manifestation, and a deadly grapple with the entrenched powers of the Ignorance and the Inconscience began its fateful career. The Supramental Light-Force that alone can overthrow the sovereignty of darkness and suffering and death with which earthly life is ever afflicted, was brought down and set to fashion the future and realise the divine destiny of mankind. Earth prepared to receive Heaven. Spirit descended to embrace Matter.

The Mother had realised the Divine and organised her whole life — a life of dynamic spirituality — round the Divine, centred in her heart. “I said yesterday”, she wrote in her diary on the 19th November, 1912, “to that Englishman who is seeking for Thee with so sincere a desire, that I had definitively found Thee, that the Union was constant.”[26]

On the 28th March, the day before she arrived, she had written in her dairy, “Since our departure [from Paris] more and more we can see in everything Thy divine intervention, everywhere Thy law is expressing itself…

“At no moment do I seem to live outside of Thee and never have the horizons appeared to me more vast and the depths at once more luminous and more unfathomable. Grant, О Divine Teacher, that we may more and more, better and better, know and accomplish our mission upon the earth, that we may fully utilise all the energies that are in us, and that Thy sovereign Presence may become more and more perfectly manifested in the silent depth of our soul, in all our thoughts, all our feelings, all our actions…”[27]

Here we find a remarkable identity between the vision and ideal of the Mother and those of Sri Aurobindo, though outwardly the Mother knew nothing of Sri Aurobindo till their first meeting.

On 30th March, the day following her visit to Sri Aurobindo, she wrote:

“How in the presence of those who are integrally Thy servitors, of those who have arrived at the perfect consciousness of Thy Presence, I perceive that I am still far, very far, from that which I would realise; and I know that what I conceive to be highest, noblest and purest is still dark and ignorant in comparison with that which I have to conceive. But this perception, far from being depressing, stimulates and strengthens my aspiration, my energy, my will to triumph over all obstacles so as to be at last identified with Thy law and Thy work.

“Little by little the horizon becomes precise, the path becomes clear. And we advance to an ever greater certitude.

“It matters not if there are hundreds of beings plunged in the densest ignorance. He whom we saw yesterday is on earth: His presence is enough to prove that a day will come when darkness shall be transformed into light, when Thy reign shall be, indeed, established upon earth.

“O Lord, Divine Builder of this marvel, my heart overflows with joy and gratitude when I think of it, and my hope is boundless.

“My adoration surpasses all words and my reverence is silent.”[28]

On the 3rd April, she wrote:

“It seems to me that I am being born into a new life and that all the methods and habits of the past can no longer be of any use. It seems to me that what was once a result is now only a preparation. I feel as if I had done nothing yet, as if I had not lived the spiritual life, as if I was only entering upon the way which leads to it; it seems to me that I know nothing, that I am incapable of formulating anything, that all experience is yet to commence. It is as if I was stripped of all my past, of my errors as well as my conquests, as if all that had disappeared to give place to one new-born whose whole existence has yet to take shape, who has no Karma, no experience it can profit by, but no error either which it must repair. My head is empty of all knowledge and all certitude, but also of all vain thought. I feel that if I can surrender without any resistance to this state, if I do not strive to know or understand, if I consent to be completely like a child, ignorant and candid, some new possibility will open before me. I know that I must now definitively give myself up and be like a page absolutely blank on which Thy thought, Thy will, О Lord, will be able to inscribe themselves freely, secure against all deformation.

“An immense gratitude rises from my heart, I seem to have at last arrived at the threshold which I have so long sought.

“Grant, О Lord, that I may be pure enough, impersonal enough, animated enough with Thy divine love, to be able to cross it definitively.

“O to belong to Thee, without any darkness or restriction!”[29]

It was a meeting of two prophet-souls, two God-sent Pioneers, and their fusion into an identity of Consciousness for the evolution and perfection of the Integral Yoga and the initiation of an all-inclusive spirituality that would lead to earthly transfiguration and the Life Divine. From this identity of their consciousness, the Mother once observed, “Without him (Sri Aurobindo), I exist not, without me he is unmanifest”. This statement, clear and categoric, clinches the dual role they are destined to play in the evolutionary crisis of the modern age.

The Mother at once set about laying the foundation of her work. With some young men of the town who had begun to take interest in Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga she started a Society, called “L’ldée Nouvelle” (The New Idea). It was, in a way, a continuation and extension of the work of the group she had founded in Paris and which was known as the Cosmique (Cosmic). A record of the proceedings of this group has appeared in part in the Mother’s Paroles d’Autrefois (Words of Long Ago).

The following is the short notice on the New Idea which appeared in Sri Aurobindo’s journal, Arya[30], on the 15th August, 1914 (vide Mother India, April 24, 1962).

“The Society has already made a beginning by grouping together young men of different castes and religions in a common ideal. All sectarian and political questions are necessarily foreign to its idea and its activities. It is on a higher plane of thought superior to external differences of race, caste, creed and opinion and in the solidarity of the Spirit that unity can be realised.

“The Idée Nouvelle has two rules only for its members, first, to devote some time every day to meditation and self-culture, the second, to use or create daily at least one opportunity of being helpful to others. This is, naturally, only the minimum of initial self-training necessary for those who have yet to cast the whole trend of their thought and feeling into the mould of a higher life and to enlarge the egoistic into a collective consciousness.

“The Society has its headquarters at Pondicherry with a reading-room and library. A section has been founded at Karaikal and others are likely to be opened at Yanam and Mahe.”





We have already noted the coming of the Mother to Pondicherry, her meeting with Sri Aurobindo and her founding a society called “L’Idée Nouvelle” (The New Idea). On the 15th of August, 1914, (Sri Aurobindo’s birth day) Sri Aurobindo started a monthly journal called Arya. About the journal he wrote to a disciple later: “…I knew precious little about philosophy before I did the Yoga and came to Pondicherry — I was a poet and a politician, not a philosopher. How I managed to do it and why? First, because X proposed to me to cooperate in a philosophical review — and as my theory was that a Yogi ought to be able to turn his hand to anything, I could not very well refuse; and then he had to go to the war and left me in the lurch with sixty-four pages a month of philosophy all to write by my lonely self. Secondly, because I had only to write down in the terms of the intellect all that I had observed and came to know in practising Yoga daily and the philosophy was there automatically. But that is not being a philosopher!”

A French version of the magazine, Revue de la Grande Synthése (A Review of the Great Synthesis) was also published at the same time.[31]

Arya was printed at the Modern Press, Pondicherry, and published from 7, Rue Dupleix, where the Mother was staying. It was called a Review of pure philosophy.

The object which it set before itself was twofold: —

“1. A systematic study of the highest problems of existence;

“2. The formation of a vast Synthesis of knowledge, harmonising the diverse religious traditions of humanity occidental as well as oriental. Its method will be that of a realism, at once rational and transcendental, — a realism consisting in the unification of intellectual and scientific discipline with those of intuitive experience.

“This Review will also serve as an organ for the various groups and societies founded on its inspiration.

“The Review will publish: —

“Synthetic studies in speculative Philosophy.

“Translations and commentaries of ancient texts.

“Studies in Comparative Religion.

“Practical methods of inner culture and self-development.”

Referring to the aim and object of the Arya, Sri Aurobindo declared again:

“Its object is to feel out for the thought of the future, to help in shaping its foundations and to link it to the best and most vital thought of the past.

“The earth is a world of Life and Matter, but man is not a vegetable nor an animal, he is a spiritual and thinking being who is set here to shape and use the animal mould for higher purposes, by higher motives, with a more divine instrumentation.

“The problem of thought is to find out the right idea and the right way of harmony; to restate the ancient and eternal spiritual truth of Self so that it shall re-embrace, permeate and dominate the mental and physical life; to develop the most profound and vital methods of psychological self-discipline and self-development so that the mental and psychical life of man may express the spiritual life through the utmost possible expansion of its own riches, power and complexity; and to seek for the means and motives by which his external life, his society and his institutions may remould themselves progressively in the truth of the spirit and develop towards the utmost possible harmony of individual freedom and social unity.

“This is our ideal and our search in the Arya. “Philosophy is the intellectual search for the fundamental truth of things, religion is the attempt to make the truth dynamic in the soul of man. They are essential to each other.

“Our first preoccupation in the Arya has therefore been with the deepest thought that we could command on the philosophical foundations of the problem; and we have been so profoundly convinced that without this basis nothing we could say would have any real, solid and permanent value that we have perhaps given too great a space to difficult and abstruse thought…”

The contents of the first issue of the Arya were as follows:

The Life Divine

The Wherefore of the Worlds

The Secret of the Veda

a) The Problem and its Solution

b) Selected Hymns

Annotated Texts — Isha Upanishad

The Synthesis of Yoga

The Eternal Wisdom

Varieties — The Soul of a Plant

The Question of the Month

The News of the Month

We find that Sri Aurobindo started in the Arya with his magnum opus, The Life Divine, and The Secret of the Veda, and The Synthesis of Yoga — all three embodying the philosophical, the mystical, and the psychological and spiritual expressions of his Yogic experiences. The Secret of the Veda gives an entirely new mystical interpretation of the symbolic verses of the Veda and throws a new light on the history of ancient Indian spiritual culture.

It should be recalled that Sri Aurobindo’s mind fell silent when he meditated with the Yogi Lele for three days in Baroda in December, 1907, and he ceased to think at all. All that he spoke and wrote since then came down to him from the higher planes of consciousness above the thought-mind.

Under the caption, The Question of the Month, Sri Aurobindo wrote in the first issue of the Arya:

“What is the Synthesis needed at the present time?

“Undoubtedly, that of man himself. The harmony of his faculties is the condition of his peace, their mutual understanding and helpfulness the means of his perfection. At war, they distract the kingdom of his being; the victory of one at the expense of another maims his self-fulfilment.

“The peculiar character of our age is the divorce that has been pronounced between reason and faith, the logical mind and the intuitive heart. At first, the declaration of war between them was attended by painful struggles, a faith disturbed or a scepticism dissatisfied. But now their divorce has created exaggerated tendencies which impoverish human life by their mutual exclusiveness, on the one side a negative and destructive critical spirit, on the other an imaginative sentiment which opposes pure instinct and a faith founded on dreams to the sterile fanaticism of the intellect.

“Yet a real divorce is impossible. Science would not move a step without faith and intuition and to-day it is growing full of dreams. Religion could not stand for a moment if it did not support itself by the intellectual presentation, however inadequate, of profound truths. To-day we see it borrowing many of its weapons from the armoury of its opponent. But a right synthesis in virtue of a higher and reconciling truth can alone dissipate their mutual misunderstandings and restore to the race its integral self-development.

“The synthesis then of religious aspiration and scientific faculty, as a beginning; and in the resultant progress an integrality also of the inner existence. Love and knowledge, the delight of the Bhakta and the divine science of the knower of Brahman, have to effect their unity; and both have to recover the fullness of Life which they tend to banish from them in the austerity of their search or the rapture of their ecstasy.

“The heart and the mind are one universal Deity and neither a mind without a heart nor a heart without a mind is the human ideal. Nor is any perfection sound and real unless it is also fruitful. The integral divine harmony within, but as its result a changed earth and a nobler and happier humanity.”

In reply to a question on the significance of the word Arya, Sri Aurobindo wrote in the September, 1914 issue of the Arya:

“The question has been put from more than one point of view. To most European readers the name[32] figuring on our cover is likely to be a hieroglyph which attracts or repels according to the temperament. Indians know the word, but it has lost for them the significance which it bore to their forefathers. Western Philology has converted it into a racial term, an unknown ethnological quantity on which different speculations fix different values. Now, even among the philologists, some are beginning to recognise that the word in its original use expressed not a difference of race, but a difference of culture. For in the Veda the Aryan peoples are those who had accepted a particular type of self-culture, of inward and outward practice, of ideality, of aspiration. The Aryan gods were the supra-physical powers who assisted the mortal in his struggle towards the nature of the godhead. All the highest aspirations of the early human race, its noblest religious temper, its most idealistic velleities of thought are summed up in this single vocable.

“In later times, the word Arya expressed a particular ethical and social ideal, an ideal of well-governed life, candour, courtesy, nobility, straight dealing, courage, gentleness, purity, humanity, compassion, protection of the weak, liberality, observance of social duty, eagerness for knowledge, respect for the wise and learned, the social accomplishments. It was the combined ideal of the Brahmana and the Kshatria. Everything that departed from this ideal, everything that tended towards the ignoble, mean, obscure, rude, cruel or false, was termed un-Aryan. There is no word in human speech that has a nobler history.

“In the early days of comparative Philology, when the scholars sought in the history of words for the prehistoric history of peoples, it was supposed that the word Arya came from the root Ar, to plough, and that the Vedic Aryans were so called when they separated from their kin in the northwest who despised the pursuits of agriculture and remained shepherds and hunters. This ingenious speculation has little or nothing to support it. But in a sense we may accept the derivation. Whoever cultivates the field that the Supreme Spirit has made for him, his earth of plenty within and without, does not leave it barren or allow it to run to seed, but labours to exact from it its full yield, is by that effort an Aryan.

“If Arya were a purely racial term, a more probable derivation would be Ar, meaning strength or valour, from ar to fight, whence we have the name of the Greek wargod Ares areios, brave or warlike, perhaps even arete, virtue, signifying, like the Latin virtus, first, physical strength and courage and then moral force and elevation. This sense of the word also we may accept. ‘We fight to win sublime Wisdom, therefore men call us warriors’. For Wisdom implies the choice as well as the knowledge of that which is best, noblest, most luminous, most divine. Certainly, it means also the knowledge of all things and charity and reverence for all things, even the most apparently mean, ugly or dark, for the sake of the universal Deity who chooses to dwell equally in all. But, also, the law of right action is a choice, the preference of that which expresses the godhead to that which conceals it. And the choice entails a battle, a struggle. It is not easily made, it is not easily enforced.

“Whoever makes that choice, whoever seeks to climb from level to level up the hill of the divine, fearing nothing, deterred by no retardation or defeat, shrinking from no vastness because it is too vast for his intelligence, no height because it is too high for his spirit, no greatness because it is too great for his force and courage, he is the Aryan, the divine fighter and victor, the noble man, aristos, best, the śreṣṭha of the Gita.

“Intrinsically, in its most fundamental sense, Arya means an effort or an uprising and overcoming. The Aryan is he who strives and overcomes all outside him and within him that stands opposed to the human advance. Self-conquest is the first law of his nature. He overcomes earth and the body and does not consent like ordinary men to their dullness, inertia, dead routine and tamasic limitations. He overcomes life and its energies and refuses to be dominated by their hungers and cravings or enslaved by their rajasic passions. He overcomes the mind and its habits, he does not live in a shell of ignorance, inherited prejudices, customary ideas, pleasant opinions, but knows how to seek and choose, to be large and flexible in intelligence even as he is firm and strong in his will. For in everything he seeks truth, in everything right, in everything height and freedom.

“Self-perfection is the aim of his self-conquest. Therefore what he conquers he does not destroy, but ennobles and fulfils. He knows that the body, life and mind are given him in order to attain to something higher than they; therefore they must be transcended and overcome, their limitations denied, the absorption of their gratifications rejected. But he knows also that the Highest is something which is no nullity in the world, but increasingly expresses itself here, — a divine Will, Consciousness, Love, Beatitude which pours itself out, when found, through the terms of the lower life on the finder and on all in his environment that is capable of receiving it. Of that he is the servant, lover and seeker. When it is attained, he pours it forth in work, love, joy and knowledge upon mankind. For always the Aryan is a worker and warrior. He spares himself no labour of mind or body whether to seek the Highest or to serve it. He avoids no difficulty, he accepts no cessation from fatigue. Always he fights for the coming of that kingdom within himself and in the world.

“The Aryan perfected is the Arhat. There is a transcendent Consciousness which surpasses the universe and of which all these worlds are only a side-issue and a by-play. To that consciousness he aspires and attains. There is a Consciousness which, being transcendent, is yet the universe and all that the universe contains. Into that consciousness he enlarges his limited ego; he becomes one with all beings and all inanimate objects in a single self-awareness, love, delight, all-embracing energy. There is a consciousness which, being both transcendental and universal, yet accepts the apparent limitations of individuality for work, for various stand-points of knowledge, for the play of the Lord with His creations; for the ego is there that it may finally convert itself into a free centre of the divine work and the divine play. That consciousness too he has sufficient love, joy and knowledge to accept; he is puissant enough to effect that conversion. To embrace individuality after transcending it is the last and divine sacrifice. The perfect Arhat is he who is able to live simultaneously in all these three apparent states of existence, elevate the lower into the higher, receive the higher into the lower, so that he may represent perfectly in the symbols of the world that with which he is identified in all parts of his being, — the triple and triune Brahman.”

Under the Heading, The News of the Month, it was announced: The War.

“The Arya, a Review of pure Philosophy, has no direct concern with political passions and interests and their results. But neither can it ignore the enormous convulsion which is at present in progress, nor at such a time can it affect to deal only with the pettier happenings of the intellectual world as if men were not dying in thousands daily, the existence of great empires threatened and the fate of the world hanging in the balance. The War has its aspects of supreme importance to a synthetic Philosophy, with which we would have the right to deal. But now is not the hour, now in this moment of supreme tension and widespread agony. Therefore, for the time, we suppress this heading in our Review and shall replace it by brief notes on subjects of philosophical interest, whether general or of the day. Meanwhile, with the rest of the world, we await in silence the predestined result.”

On the completion of first year of the Arya, Sri Aurobindo announced in the July number of 1915:

“The Arya, born by a coincidence which might well have been entirely disastrous to its existence in the very month when there broke out the greatest catastrophe that has overtaken the modern world, has yet, though carried on under serious difficulties, completed its first year….

 “We have been obliged in our first year for reasons we shall indicate in the preface to our August number to devote the Review almost entirely to high philosophy and severe and difficult thinking. But the object we had in view is now fulfilled and we recognise that we have no right to continue to subject our readers to the severe strain of almost 64 pages of such strenuous intellectual labour. We shall therefore in the next year devote a greater part of space to articles on less profound subjects written in a more popular style. Needless to say, our matter will fall within the definition of a philosophical Review and centre around the fundamental thought which the Arya represents.

“We shall continue The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga and The Secret of the Veda; but we intend to replace the Selected Hymns by translation of the Hymns of the Atris (the fifth Mandala of the Rig Veda) so conceived as to make the sense of the Vedic chants at once and easily intelligible without the aid of a commentary to the general reader….

“Without the divine Will which knows best what to use and what to throw aside, no human work can come to the completion hoped for by our limited vision. To that Will we entrust the continuance and the result of our labours and we conclude the first year of the Arya with the aspiration that the second may see the speedy and fortunate issue of the great world-convulsion which still pursues us and that by the Power which brings always the greatest possible good out of apparent evil there may emerge from the disastrous but long-foreseen collapse of the old order a new and better marked by the triumph of higher principles of love, wisdom and unity and a sensible advance of the race towards our ultimate goal, — the conscious oneness of the Soul in humanity and the divinity of man.”





We reproduce below long passages from the Reminiscences of Nolini Kanta, as they are extremely valuable, being the only authentic record available about how the Mother lived and worked and moved about in the good old days and what the inmates of Sri Aurobindo’s house and others who were connected with them learnt from the Mother’s presence and example — a pen-picture with delicate touches, revealing the Mother’s greatness in her little acts and movements.

“The first time I heard about the Mother was shortly after our arrival here. It was Sri Aurobindo himself who told us about a French lady, an advanced Sadhika (advanced in Yoga), who was desirous of establishing personal contact with him. Whether the Great Soul she was looking for was Sri Aurobindo would be proved by an emblem she would send for him to assign its significance. The emblem was Sri Aurobindo’s own symbol in the form of a diagram, known as Solomon’s Seal. Needless to add, after the proof of identity was received by the Mother, she made preparartions for coming here. Monsieur Paul Richard was at that time much interested in spiritual thought and practice, and he found an opportunity for coming to India. He wished to stand as a candidate for election as a representative of French India in the French Parliament. In those days there used to be two elected representatives of French India — one in the Upper Chamber, the Sénat, the other in the Lower House, the Chambre des Députes….

“The first time he (Mon. Paul Richard) had come, he was alone. The next time the Mother came with him. To all outward appearances, they came here to canvass support for the election, though M. Richard did not in the end get many votes. But this provided an occasion for the Mother to meet Sri Aurobindo and attach a few faithful friends and followers to herself. In connection with the election, the Mother had to pay a visit to Karaikal. It was her first direct experience of the actual India, that is to say, what India was then in its outward aspect. She gave us an amusing description of the room where she had been put up — an old tumble-down room, as dirty as it was dark, and infested with white ants. Thus it was that the Divine Mother, she who is fairer than the fairest and lovelier than infinite beauty, has had to come down and enter into the dirt and muck of human life; how else could we, helpless mortals, have a chance of deliverance?

“When it was known that such a great lady was going to come and live close to us, we were faced with a problem:

What should be our conduct and deportment towards her? Should there be a change in our way of life? For we had been a pack of devil-may-care chaps, dressing and talking, sleeping and eating and moving about in an unconventional way which would not pass in a civilised society. Nevertheless, it was finally decided that we would stick as far as possible to our free and easy ways even in the new circumstances. Why should we let our freedom and ease be compromised or curtailed? This, indeed, is how the ignorance and egotism of man assert the arrogance of his individuality.

“The Mother arrived. She used to meet Sri Aurobindo in the afternoon sittings. She spoke very little. We were out most of that time, but occasionally we would drop in too. When it was proposed to bring out the journal, Arya, the Mother took charge of the necessary arrangements. She wrote out in her own hand the list of subscribers and kept the accounts. Perhaps those papers might still be found somewhere…. The ground floor of the Dupleix House was used as the stock room and the office was on the ground floor of the Guest House. The Mother was the chief executive in sole charge. Once a week all of us used to call at her residence with Sri Aurobindo and have our dinner there. On these occasions the Mother would cook one or two dishes with her own hands. Afterwards, too, when she came from France and settled here for good and all, the same arrangement continued at the Bayoud House…. About this time, she also formed a small group with a few young men….[33] A third line of her work, connected with business and trade, also began at about this time. Just as we have today among us men of business who are devotees of the Mother and work under her protection and guidance, so in that period also there appeared, as if in seed-state, this particular line of activity. Our Sourin founded the Aryan Stores, the chief object of which was to earn money. We were very hard up in those days — not that we are flush with money now, but still…. The Mother, even after her leaving here, corresponded with Sourin from Japan in connection with these business matters.

“Once for some time the Mother took keen interest in cats as a part of her work. Not only was she concerned with human beings, the animal creation and the world of plants, too, were equally fortunate in coming into close touch with her living presence. The Veda speaks of the animal sacrifice; the Mother has also done animal sacrifice, but in a novel sense, by helping them forward on their upward way with a touch of her consciousness. She took a few cats as representatives of the animal world. She said that the king of the cats who rule in the occult world — one might call him the Supercat — had established a sort of amicable relation with her. How this feline brood appeared first in our midst is rather curious. One day all of a sudden a wild-looking cat made its appearance at the Guest House where we lived then; it just happened to come along and stayed on. It was wild enough when it came, but soon turned into a tame cat, very mild and polite. When it had its kittens, Sri Aurobindo gave to the firstborn the name of Sundari, for she was very fair with a pure white fur. One of Sundari’s kittens was called Bushy for she had a bushy tail and her ancestress had now to be given the name of Grandmother. It was about this Bushy that the story runs: she used to pick up with her teeth all her kittens one after another and drop them at the Mother’s feet as soon as they were old enough to use their eyes — as if she offered them to the Mother and craved her blessings. So you see how much progress this cat had made on the path of Yoga. Two of these kittens of Bushy were well-known by their names and became great favourites with the Mother: the older one was Big Boy and the younger Kiki. It is said about one of them — I forget which, perhaps it was Kiki — that he used to join in the collective meditation and meditated like any of us. He perhaps had visions during meditation and his body would shake and tremble while the eyes remained closed. But in spite of this sadhana, he remained in his outward conduct like many of us, rather crude in many respects. The two brothers, Big Boy and Kiki, could never get on well together and had always to be kept apart. Big Boy was a stout fellow and poor Kiki often got a good beating. Finally, both of them died of some illness and were buried in the courtyard. Their grandmother disappeared one day as suddenly as she had come and nobody knew anything about her again.

“The way in which these cats were treated was something extraordinary. The arrangements made for their food were quite a ceremony; it was for them alone that special cooking was done, with milk and fish and the appropriate dressings, as if they were children of some royal family, — all was according to rule. They received an equally good training: they would never commit nuisance within doors, for they had been taught to use the conveniences provided for them. They were nothing like the gipsy-bedouin cats of our Ardhendu.

“In the days before the Mother came, we used to have a pet dog. Its story is much the same. All of a sudden one day there appeared from nowhere in our former residence a common street dog — it was a bitch; she too just came in and stayed on. Sri Aurobindo gave her the name of Yogini. He told us a story about her intelligence. It was already nightfall, and we did not know that she had not yet returned. She came to the front door, pushed against it and did some barking, but we heard nothing, as we were in the kitchen next to the backyard. Suddenly she recalled there was a door at the back through which she might perhaps gain entrance or at least draw our attention. She now ran around three corners of the house and appeared at the back door. From there she could make herself heard and was admitted. She too bore some puppies and two of them became particular favourites with Sri Aurobindo. I cannot now recall how they were called.

“You all know about the deep oneness and intimate relation the Mother has with plants, so I leave out that subject today. As with the world of animals and men, so with the beings of the occult worlds — from the little elves and fairies to the high and mighty gods, all have had their contacts with the Mother, all have shared in her Grace as you may have heard, but the Grace meant at times smacks too!

“Today I leave out the Mother’s role as our Guide on the path of sadhana or yogic discipline. Let me speak in a very general way of an aspect of her teaching that concerns the first principles of the art of living.

“The core of this lies in elevating our life to a cleaner level, and the first and most important need is to put each thing in its place. The training that the Mother has throughout been giving us — I am not here referring to the side of spiritual practice but to the daily routine of our ordinary life — is precisely this business of putting our things in order. We do not always notice how very disorderly we are; our belongings and household effects are in a mess, our actions are haphazard, and in our inner life we are as disorderly as in our outer life, or even more. Indeed, it is because we are so disorderly within that there is such disorder in our outer life. Our thoughts come to us pell-mell and our brains are crowded with stray bits of random thoughts. We cannot sit down quietly for a few minutes and pursue a particular line of thought with any kind of steadiness or order. Our heads are full of noise like a market-place without any peace or restraint or harmony. If the mind is in such a state, the vital being (prāṇa) is still worse. You cannot keep count of the strange desires and impulses that play about there. If the brain is a market-place, the heart is no better than a madhouse. Well, I shall not now enlarge further on the state of our inner being. One of the things the Mother has been trying to teach us both by her word and her example is that to keep our outer life and its materials in proper order and neat and tidy is a very necessary element of our life upon earth. I do not know to what extent we have yet been able to assimilate this teaching in our individual or collective living. How many of us have realised that beauty is at least half the sense of life and serves to double its values? And even if we do sometimes realise it, how many are impelled to shape our lives accordingly?

“The Mother taught us to use our things with care, but there was more to it than this. What is special about the Mother is that she uses things not merely with care but with love and affection. For, to her, material things are not inanimate objects, not mere lifeless implements. They are endowed with a life of their own, even a consciousness of their own, and each thing has its own individuality and character. The Mother says about material things what the ancients have said about the life of plants, that they have in them a latent consciousness that feels pleasure and pain, antaḥ-saṅjñāh bhavanti ete sukha-duḥkha-samanvitāh. We are all aware how carefully the Mother treasures old things and does not like them to be thrown away simply because they are old. The reason for this is not niggardliness or a spirit of conservation; the reason is that old things are to her like old friends, living companions.

“The Mother did not appear to us, — the older people, — as the Mother at the outset; she came to us first perhaps as an embodiment of beauty, grace and harmony. We received her as a friend, as one very close to ourselves, first, because Sri Aurobindo himself received her like that, and secondly because of her qualities. Now that we are on this subject of her qualities, although it is not necessary for a child to proclaim the virtues of his mother, I cannot help telling you about another thing we learnt from her, something deeper. The first time Sri Aurobindo happened to speak of her qualities, he said he had never seen anywhere a self-surrender so absolute and unreserved. He had also commented that perhaps it was only women who were capable of giving themselves so entirely and with such sovereign ease. This implies a complete obliteration of the past, erasing it with its virtues and faults. Referring to it in one of her Prayers and Meditations, the Mother has said that when she came here, she gave herself up to the Lord, Sri Aurobindo, with the candid simplicity of a child, blotting out all her past, all her spiritual attainments, all the riches of her consciousness. Like a new-born babe, she stripped herself of everything; she was to learn everything right from the beginning as if she had known or heard nothing.

“Now to come back to a personal experience. The first thing I had heard and come to know about the Mother was that she was a great spiritual person. I did not know then that she had other gifts too; these were revealed to me gradually. First I came to know that she was an accomplished painter; and afterwards that she was an equally gifted musician. But there were other surprises in store. For instance, she had an intellectual side no less richly endowed, that is to say, she had read and studied enormously, had cultivated her intellect even as the erudite do. I was still more surprised to find that while in France she had already studied and translated a good number of Indian scriptures like the Gita, the Upanishads, the Yoga-sutras, the Bhakti-sutras of Narada, etc. I mention all this merely to tell you that the Mother’s capacity for making her mind a complete blank was as extraordinary as her enormous intellectual acquisitions. This was something unique in her. In the early days, when she had just taken charge of our spiritual life, she told me one day in private, perhaps seeing that I might have got a pride in being an intellectual, that at one time she used to take an interest in philosophy and other intellectual pursuits. But although all that had now gone below the surface, she could bring it up again at will. So, I need not have any apprehension on that score! It was as if the Mother was trying to apologise for her deficiencies in scholarship. This was how she set an example of humility, what we call Divine Humility.

“As I was saying, this capacity for an entire annulment of the past has been one of the special powers of her spiritual consciousness and sadhana. It is not an easy thing for a human being to strip himself naked of all his past acquisitions, whether they are intellectual knowledge or the traits and tendencies of the vital, let alone the habits of the body. And yet this is the first and most important step in spiritual discipline, and the Mother has given us a living example of this. That is why she decided to shed all her past, forget all about it and begin anew the a-b-c of her training and initiation from Sri Aurobindo. And it was in fact at the hands of Sri Aurobindo that she received as a token and outward symbol her first lessons in Bengali and Sanskrit, beginning with the alphabet.

“However all this is simply an attempt on the part of the small to comprehend something of the Vast; it is as if a particle of sand was trying to reflect a little of the sun’s rays, a dwarf trying to catch at the high tree-top with his uplifted arms, a child prattling of his mother’s beauty.

“In the beginning, Sri Aurobindo would refer to the Mother quite distinctly as Mira. Afterwards for some time (this may have extended over a period of years) we could notice that he stopped at the sound of M and uttered the full name Mira as if after a slight hesitation. To us it seemed rather enigmatic at the time, but later we came to know the reason. Sri Aurobindo’s lips were on the verge of saying ‘Mother’, but we were not ready for it, so he ended with ‘Mira’ instead of saying ‘Mother’. No one knows for certain on which particular date, at what auspicious moment, the word ‘Mother’ was uttered by the lips of Sri Aurobindo. But that was a divine moment in unrecorded history, a crucial moment in the destiny of man and earth; for it was at this supreme moment that the Mother was installed in the external consciousness of man on this material earth.

“Let me now end this story with a last word about myself.

“I have said that so far the Mother had been to us only a friend and companion, a comrade almost, at the most an object of reverence. I was now about to start on my annual trip to Bengal — in those days I used to go there once every year, and that was perhaps my last trip. Before leaving, I felt a desire to see the Mother. The Mother had not yet come out of her seclusion nor had Sri Aurobindo retired. I said to Sri Aurobindo ‘I would like to see Her before I go’. — Her with a capital H, in place of the Mother, for we had not yet started using that epithet. Sri Aurobindo informed the Mother. The room now used by Champaklal was the Mother’s room in those days. I entered and waited in the Prosperity room, for Sri Aurobindo used to meet people on the verandah in front. The Mother came in from her room and stood near the door. I approached her and said, ‘I am going’, and then bowed down to her. That was my first Pranam to the Mother. She said, ‘Come back soon’. This ‘come back soon’ meant in the end, ‘come back for good’.”

Sri Aurobindo corrected the proofs of the Arya and saw to it that the printed copies were dispatched to the subscribers regularly on the 15th of every month. Sometimes he would make drafts of his articles and type them, but mostly he would type them off without any drafts. Sometimes he would be typing away late into the night so that the matter could be sent to the press the next morning. Sourin was in charge of the Arya office and Moni was managing the household and the kitchen.

At about this time Sri Aurobindo translated C.R. Das’s Bengali poem, Sagar Sangeet (songs of the sea) into English. It is a beautiful poem the last stanza of which we quote below:

“This shore and that shore, — I am tired, they pall.
Where thou art shoreless, take me from it all.
My spirit goes floating and can find oppressed
In thy unbanked immensity only rest.
Thick darkness falls upon my outer part,
A lonely stillness grips the labouring heart,
Dumb weeping with no tears to ease the eyes.
I am mad for thee, О king of mysteries.
Have I not sought thee on a million streams,
And wheresoever the voice of music dreams,
In wondrous lights and sealing shadows caught,
And every night and every day have sought?
Pilot eternal, friend unknown embraced,
O, take me to thy shoreless self at last.”





Our narrative has come up to the year 1914 when the monthly review, Arya, was started. Arya at once captured the spiritual idealism of the progressive mind of India and evoked an admiring response in some of the thinkers in the West, particularly in France. Its message of synthesis sounded a heartening note in the discord and chaos of the time. It paid its way “With a large surplus,” and was regularly published. Sri Aurobindo was particular about its regularity.

On February 21, 1915, the Mother’s birthday was celebrated. As the First World War had broken out, the Mother had to return to France, and she left on February 22, 1915.

Khasirao Jadhav, an old Baroda friend of Sri Aurobindo’s came down to visit him.

We reproduce below the seven letters written by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to each other on the subject of their Yoga between 1915 and 1916. They are extremely important as they throw much light on their joint mission and the trials and difficulties they had to pass through in order to bring down the new Light to the earth and make “Heaven and Earth equal and one”.


Letters of Sri Aurobindo to The Mother

All is always for the best, but it is sometimes from the external point of view an awkward best…

The whole earth is now under one law and answers to the same vibrations and I am sceptical of finding any place where the clash of the struggle will not pursue us. In any case, an effective retirement does not seem to be my destiny. I must remain in touch with the world until I have either mastered adverse circumstances or succumbed or carried on the struggle between the spiritual and physical so far as I am destined to carry it on. This is how I have always seen things and will see them. As for failure, difficulty and apparent impossibility I am too much habituated to them to be much impressed by their constant self-presentation except for passing moments…

One needs to have a calm heart, a settled will, entire self-abnegation and the eyes constantly fixed on the beyond to live undiscouraged in times like these which are truly a period of universal decomposition. For myself, I follow the Voice and look neither to right nor to left of me. The result is not mine and hardly at all now even the labour.



Heaven we have possessed, but not the earth; but the fullness of the Yoga is to make, in the formula of the Veda, “Heaven and Earth equal and one”.



Every thing internal is ripe or ripening, but there is a sort of locked struggle in which neither side can make a very appreciable advance (somewhat like the trench warfare in Europe), the spiritual force insisting against the resistance disputing every inch and making more or less effective counter-attacks…. And if there were not the strength and Ananda within, it would be harassing and disgusting work; but the eye of knowledge looks beyond and sees that it is only a protracted episode.



Nothing seems able to disturb the immobility of things and all that is active outside our own selves is a sort of welter of dark and sombre confusion from which nothing formed or luminous can emerge. It is a singular condition of the world, the very definition of chaos with the superficial form of the old world resting apparently intact on the surface. But a chaos of long disintegration or of some early new birth? It is the thing that is being fought out from day to day, but as yet without any approach to a decision.



A Letter of The Mother to Sri Aurobindo:

The entire consciousness immersed in divine contemplation, the whole being enjoyed a supreme and vast felicity.

Then was the physical body seized, first in its lower members and next the whole of it, by a sacred trembling which made little by little even in the most material sensation all personal limits fall away. The being progressively, methodically, grew in greatness, breaking down every barrier, shattering every obstacle, that it might contain and manifest a force and a power which increased ceaselessly in immensity and intensity. It was as if a progressive dilatation of the cells until there was a complete identification with the earth: the body of the awakened consciousness was the terrestrial globe moving harmoniously in ethereal space. And the consciousness knew that its global body was thus moving in the arms of the universal Personality, and it gave itself, it abandoned itself to Her in an ecstasy of peaceful bliss. Then it felt that its body was absorbed in the body of the universe and one with it; the consciousness became the consciousness of the universe, in its totality immobile, in its internal complexity moving infinitely. The consciousness of the universe sprang towards the Divine in an ardent aspiration, a perfect surrender, and it saw in the splendour of the immaculate Light the radiant Being standing on a many-headed serpent whose body coiled infinitely around the universe. The Being in an eternal gesture of triumph mastered and created at one and the same time the serpent and the universe that issued from it; erect on the serpent he dominated it with all his victorious might, and the same gesture that crushed the hydra, enveloping the universe, gave it eternal birth. Then the consciousness became this Being and perceived that its form was changing once more; it was absorbed into something which was no longer a form and yet contained all forms, something which, immutable, sees, — the Eye, the Witness. And what It sees, is. Then this last vestige of form disappeared and the consciousness itself was absorbed into the Unutterable, the Ineffable.

The return towards the consciousness of the individual body took place very slowly in a constant and invariable splendour of Light and Power and Felicity and Adoration, by successive gradations, but directly, without passing again through the universal and terrestrial forms. And it was as if the modest corporeal form had become the direct and immediate vesture, without any intermediary, of the supreme and eternal Witness.



Letters of Sri Aurobindo to The Mother:

The experience you have described is Vedic in the real sense, though not one which would easily be recognised by the modern systems of Yoga which call themselves Yogic. It is the union of the “Earth” of the Veda and Purana with the divine Principle, an earth which is said to be above our earth, that is to say, the physical being and consciousness of which the world and the body are only images. But the modern Yogas hardly recognise the possibility of a material union with the Divine.



The difficulties you find in the spiritual progress are common to us all. In this yoga the progress is always attended with these relapses into the ordinary mentality until the whole being is so remoulded that it can no longer be affected either by any downward tendency in our own nature or by the impressions from the discordant world outside or even by the mental state of those associated with us most closely in the yoga. The ordinary yoga is usually concentrated on a single aim and therefore less exposed to such recoils; ours is so complex and many-sided and embraces such large aims that we cannot expect any smooth progress until we near the completion of our effort, — especially as all the hostile forces in the spiritual world are in a constant state of opposition and beseige our gains; for the complete victory of a single one of us would mean a general downfall among them. In fact by our own unaided effort we could not hope to succeed. It is only in proportion as we come into a more and more universal communion with the Highest that we can hope to overcome with any finality. For myself I have had to come back so often from things that seemed to have been securely gained that it is only relatively that I can say of any part of my yoga, “It is done.” Still I have always found that when I recover from one of these recoils, it is always with a new spiritual gain which might have been neglected or missed if I had remained securely in my former state of partial satisfaction. Especially, as I have long had the map of my advance sketched out before me, I am able to measure my progress at each step and the particular losses are compensated for by the clear consciousness of the general advance that has been made. The final goal is far but the progress made in the face of so constant and massive an opposition is the guarantee of its being gained in the end. But the time is in other hands than ours. Therefore I have put impatience and dissatisfaction far away from me.

An absolute equality of the mind and heart and a clear purity and calm strength in all the members of the being have long been the primary condition on which the power working in me has insisted with an inexhaustible patience and an undeviating constancy of will which rejects all the efforts of other powers to hasten forward to the neglect of these first requisites. Wherever they are impaired it returns upon them and works over and again over the weak points like a workman patiently mending the defects of his work. These seem to me to be the foundation and condition of all the rest. As they become firmer and more complete the system is more able to hold consistently and vividly the settled perception of the One in all things and beings, in all qualities, forces, happenings, in all this world-consciousness and the play of its workings. That founds the Unity and upon it the deep satisfaction and growing rapture of the Unity. It is this to which our nature is most recalcitrant. It persists in the division, in the dualities, in the sorrow and unsatisfied passion and labour, it finds it difficult to accustom itself to the divine largeness, joy and equipoise — especially the vital and material parts of our nature; it is they that pull down the mind which has accepted and even when it has long lived in the joy and peace and oneness. That, I suppose, is why the religions and philosophies have had so strong a leaning to the condemnation of Life and Matter and aimed at an escape instead of a victory. But the victory has to be won; the rebellious elements have to be redeemed and transformed, not rejected or excised.

When the Unity has been well founded, the static half of our work is done but the active half remains. It is then that in the One we must see the Master and His Power, — Krishna and Kali as I name them using the terms of our Indian religions; the Power occupying the whole of myself and my nature which becomes Kali and ceases to be anything else, the Master using, directing, enjoying the Power to his ends, not mine, with that which I call myself only as a centre of his universal existence and responding to its working as a soul to the Soul, taking upon itself his image until there is nothing left but Krishna and Kali. This is the stage I have reached in spite of all set-backs and recoils, imperfectly indeed in the secureness and intensity of the state, but well enough in the general type. When that has been done, then we may hope to found securely the play in us of his divine Knowledge governing the action of divine Power. The rest is the full opening up of the different planes of his world-play and the subjection of Matter and the body and the material world to the law of the higher heavens of the Truth. To these things towards which in my earlier ignorance I used to press forward impatiently before satisfying the first conditions — the effort, however, was necessary and made the necessary preparation of the material instruments — I can now only look forward as a subsequent eventuality in a yet distant vista of things.

To possess securely the Light and the Force of the Supramental being, this is the main object to which the power is now turning. But the remnant of the old habits of intellectual thought and mental will come so obstinate in their determination to remain that the progress is hampered, uncertain and always falls back from the little achievement already effected. They are no longer within me, they are blind, stupid, mechanical, incorrigible even when they perceive their incompetence, but they crowd round the mind and pour in their suggestions whenever it tries to remain open only to the supramental Light and the Command, so that the Knowledge and the Will reach the mind in a confused, distorted and often misleading form. It is, however, only a question of time: the siege will diminish in force and be finally dispelled.



After the Congress of 1914 Sri Aurobindo gave an interview to a correspondent of the Madras paper, Hindu. We quote the following as it appeared in the Hindu:

“But what do you think of the 1914 Congress and Conferences?” I insisted.

‘He spoke almost with reluctance but in clear and firm accents. He said:

“I do not find the proceedings of the Christmas Conferences very interesting and inspiring. They seem to me to be mere repetitions of the petty and lifeless formulas of the past and hardly show any sense of the great breath of the future that is blowing upon us. I make an exception of the speech of the Congress President which struck me as far above the ordinary level. Some people, apparently, found it visionary and unpractical. It seems to me to be the one practical and vital thing that has been said in India for some time past.”

‘He continued: “The old, petty forms and little narrow, make-believe activities are getting out of date. The world is changing rapidly around us and preparing for more colossal changes in the future. We must rise to the greatness of thought and action which it will demand upon the nations who hope to live. No, it is not in any of the old formal activities, but deeper down that I find signs of progress and hope. The last few years have been a period of silence and compression in which the awakened Virya and Tejas of the nation have been concentrating for a greater outburst of a better directed energy in the future.”

“We are a nation of three hundred millions,” added Mr. Ghosh, “inhabiting a great country in which many civilisations have met, full of rich material and unused capacities. We must cease to think and act like the inhabitants of an obscure and petty village.”

‘I asked: “If you don’t like our political methods, what would you advise us to do for the realisation of our destiny?”

‘He quickly replied: “Only by a general intellectual and spiritual awakening can this nation fulfil its destiny. Our limited information, our second-hand intellectual activities, our bounded interests, our narrow life of little family aims and small money-getting have prevented us from entering into the broad life of the world. Fortunately, there are ever-increasing signs of a widened outlook, a richer intellectual output and numerous sparks of liberal genius which show that the necessary change is coming. No nation in modern times can grow great by politics alone. A rich and varied life, energetic in all its parts, is the condition of a sound, vigorous national existence. From this point of view also the last five years have been a great benefit to the country.”

‘I then asked what he thought of the vastly improved relations that now exist between the Briton and the Indian in our own country and elsewhere.

“It is a very good thing,” he said, and he explained himself in the following manner: “The realisation of our nationhood separate from the rest of humanity was the governing idea of our activities from 1905 to 1910. That movement has served its purpose. It has laid a good foundation for the future. Whatever excesses and errors of speech and action were then disclosed came because our energy, though admirably inspired, lacked practical experience and knowledge.

“The idea of Indian nationhood is now not only rooted in the public mind, as all recent utterances go to show, but accepted in Europe and acknowledged by the Government and the governing race. The new idea that should now lead us is the realisation of our nationhood not separate from, but in the future scheme of humanity. When it has realised its own national life and unity, India will still have a part to play in helping to bring about the unity of the nations.”

‘I naturally put in a remark about the Under-Secretary’s “Angle of Vision”.

“It is well indeed,” observed Mr. Ghosh, “that British statesmen should be thinking of India’s proper place in the Councils of the Empire, and it is obviously a thought which, if put into effect, must automatically alter the attitude of even the greatest extremist towards the Government and change for the better all existing political relations.

“But it is equally necessary that we Indians should begin to think seriously what part Indian thought, Indian intellect, Indian nationhood, Indian spirituality, Indian culture have to fulfil in the general life of humanity. The humanity is bound to grow increasingly on. We must necessarily be in it and of it. Not a spirit of aloofness or a jealous self-defence, but of a generous emulation and brotherhood with all men and all nations, justified by a sense of conscious strength, a great destiny, a large place in the human future — this should be the Indian spirit.”

‘The oneness of humanity is a topic dear to the heart of Babu Arabinda Ghosh and when I suggested to him that Vedantic ideas would be a good basis for unity, his reply was full of enthusiasm:

“Oh, yes,” he said, “I am convinced and have long been convinced that a spiritual awakening, a re-awakening to the true self of a nation is the most important condition of our national greatness. The supreme Indian idea of the oneness of all men in God and its realisation inwardly and outwardly, increasingly even in social relations and the structure of society is destined, I believe, to govern the progress of the human race. India, if it chooses, can guide the world.”

‘And here I said something about our “four thousand” castes, our differences in dress and in “caste-marks”, our vulgar sectarian antipathies and so on.

“Not so hard, if you please,” said Mr. Ghosh with a smile. “I quite agree with you that our social fabric will have to be considerably altered before long. We shall have, of course, to enlarge our family and social life, not in the petty spirit of present-day Social Reform, hammering at small details and belittling our immediate past, but with a larger idea and more generous impulses. Our past with all its faults and defects should be sacred to us. But the claims of our future with its immediate possibilities should be still more sacred.”

‘His concluding words were spoken in a very solemn mood:

“It is more important,” he said, “that the thought of India should come out of the philosophical school and renew its contact with life, and the spiritual life of India issue out of the cave and the temple and, adapting itself to new forms, lay its hand upon the world. I believe also that humanity is about to enlarge its scope by new knowledge, new powers and capacities, which will create as great a revolution in human life as the physical science of the nineteenth century. Here, too, India holds in her past, a little rusted and put out of use, the key of humanity’s future.

“It is in these directions that I have been for some time impelled to turn my energies rather than to the petty political activities which are alone open to us at the present moment. This is the reason of my continued retirement and detachment from action. I believe in the necessity at such times and for such great objects of Tapasya in silence for self-training, for self-knowledge and storage of spiritual force. Our forefathers used that means, though in different forms. And it is the best means for becoming an efficient worker in the great days of the world.”





In 1917, B. Shiva Rao, a co-worker of Annie Besant, visited Sri Aurobindo. A report of his interview was published in the Hindu of Sunday, May 10, 1959, which we reproduce below:

“The Home-Rule movement was at that time quickly gathering support and vitality mainly as a result of the internments. Some of us who were on the staff of New India went out on trips to build up a campaign of organisation. One of these trips took me to Pondicherry where Sri Aurobindo had made his home after leaving Bengal in 1910. Even in those early days there was an atmosphere of great peace and serenity about him which left on me a deep, enduring impression. He spoke softly, almost in whispers. He thought Mrs. Besant was absolutely right in preaching Home Rule for India, as well as in her unqualified support of the Allies in the first World War against Germany. It was a brief meeting of some minutes’ duration. I believe I saw him again some months later. For twenty-five years I had no sort of contact with him but he was gracious enough to remember me, during Sir Stafford Cripps’ wartime mission to India in 1942. I was surprised one morning when the negotiations were threatening to reach a deadlock (on the transitional arrangements in regard to defence) to receive a message from him for Gandhiji and Sri Nehru: the Cripps’ offer, it was his deliberate view, should be accepted unconditionally by the Congress leaders. It is futile to speculate now what India’s subsequent fate might have been, if the advice of the sage at Pondicherry had been accepted.”

Chandrasekhar, a young scholar of Andhra, first came to Pondicherry probably in 1919. He came again in 1920 and stayed for some time. In 1923 and 1926 he stayed much longer and came into close contact with Sri Aurobindo. Speaking about him, Amrita says in Old Long Since, “Once on my way to Pondicherry I met an Andhra young man, Chandrasekhar Ayya by name. He enquired of me, ‘How can I meet Sri Aurobindo?’ I told him, ‘You may come with me and take your chance.’

“…His first interview with Sri Aurobindo for only five minutes laid the foundation of the priceless things he gleaned in future from Sri Aurobindo.

“A man of intellectual attainments, he was a scholar in Sanskrit and knew English very well… Sri Aurobindo kindled the fire in him.

“…He gave himself entirely to Sri Aurobindo. There grew up steadily an intimacy between them.

“Subramania Bharati learnt the Rig Veda from Sri Aurobindo. Chandrasekhar also studied the Rig Veda with Sri Aurobindo methodically at a particular hour. He studied in this way for two or three years, not by the old traditional commentaries, not in the old style, but in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s own revealing interpretation. I listened to the interpretation with great delight, whenever I could be present.”

Nolini Kanta, Subramania Bharati and Chandrasekhar attended the reading of the Rig Veda regularly. Chandrasekhar’s younger brother, V. Chidanandan, who was then a student of English literature, saw Sri Aurobindo once or twice and sought his advice on his literary studies. He also recorded some of the talks from day to day.

A.B. Purani, who had been reading the Arya and feeling greatly attracted towards Sri Aurobindo, saw him for the first time in December, 1918. We quote a part of Purani’s report of the interview which shows that even in 1918 Sri Aurobindo knew and assured him that the freedom of India would be won by other means than revolutionary activities.

“…he put me questions about my sadhana, spiritual practice. I described my efforts and added: ‘Sadhana is all right, but it is difficult to concentrate on it so long as India is not free’.

“‘Perhaps it may not be necessary to resort to revolutionary activity[34] to free India’, he said.

“‘But without that how is the British Government to go from India?’ I asked him.

“‘That is another question; but if India can be free without revolutionary activity, why should you execute the plan? It is better to concentrate on the Yoga — spiritual development’, he replied.”

“‘But the concentration of my whole being turns towards India’s freedom. It is difficult for me to sleep till that is secured.’

“Sri Aurobindo remained silent for two or three minutes. It was a long pause. Then he said, ‘Suppose an assurance is given to you that India will be free?’

“‘Who can give such an assurance?’ I could feel the echo of doubt and challenge in my own question.

“Again he remained silent for three or four minutes. Then he looked at me and added, ‘Suppose I give you the assurance?’

“I paused for half a minute — considered the question within myself and said, ‘If you give the assurance, I can accept it’.

“‘Then I give you the assurance that India will be free’, he said in a serious tone.

“The question of India’s freedom again arose in my mind, and at the time of taking leave, after I had got up to go, I could not repress the question, — it was a question of life for me — ‘Are you quite sure that India will be free?’

“Sri Aurobindo became very serious. His gaze was fixed at the sky that appeared beyond the window. Then he looked at me and putting his fist on the table, he said:

“‘You can take it from me, it is as certain as the rising of the sun tomorrow. The decree has already gone forth, it may not be long in coming.’

“I bowed down to him. That day in the train after nearly two years I was able at last to sleep soundly. In my mind was fixed for ever the picture of that scene: the two of us standing near the small table, my earnest question, that upward gaze, and that quiet and firm voice with the power in it to shake the world, that firm fist planted on the table, — the symbol of self-confidence of the divine Truth. There may be rank kali yuga, the Iron Age, in the whole world but it is the great fortune of India that she has sons who know that Truth and have an unshakable faith in it, and can risk their lives for it. In this significant fact is contained the divine destiny of India and of the world.”

Amrita came in 1919 and was permitted to stay with Sri Aurobindo. In 1918 the Montagu Chelmsford Reforms were announced by the British Government. Mrs. Annie Besant wrote to Sri Aurobindo pressing him to express his opinion of the Reforms. In reply Sri Aurobindo sent an article signed “An Indian Nationalist” in which he characterised the Reforms as a “Chinese puzzle” and “a great shadow”.

In 1919 the artist Mukul Chandra De, who later became the Principal of the Calcutta School of Art, came to Pondicherry and drew a portrait of Sri Aurobindo, but it was not successful. Let us quote a short letter written by Rabindranath Tagore in connection with a review of his novel, The Home and the World, in the November, 1919, issue of The Modern Review. The letter has been recently acquired by us and we quote it only because it throws further light on Rabindranath’s attitude towards Sri Aurobindo.


Nov. 30, 1919

Dear Sir,

I have not yet read Jadu Babu’s review of my book, but I feel sure that he could never mean to say that Sri Aurobindo Ghose belongs to the same type of humanity as Sandip of my story. My acquaintance with the literature of our contemporary politics being casual and desultory, I do not, even to this day, definitely know what is the political standpoint of Aurobindo Ghose. But this I positively know that he is a great man, one of the greatest we have and therefore liable to be misunderstood even by his friends. What I myself feel for him is not mere admiration but reverence for his depth of spirituality, his largeness of vision and his literary gifts, extraordinary in imaginative insight and expression. He is a true Rishi and a poet combined, and I still repeat my Namaskar which I offered to him when he was first assailed by the trouble which ultimately made him an exile from the soil of Bengal.

Yous sincerely,
Rabindranath Tagore


In 1920 Joseph Baptista, a barrister of Bombay, wrote to Sri Aurobindo at the instance of Tilak, requesting him to accept the editorship of a paper they wanted to bring out as a mouthpiece of the Nationalist Party which had gained considerable strength under the leadership of Tilak. Sri Aurobindo sent the following reply explaining in detail the nature of the spiritual work he was engaged in and regretting his inability to accede to his request.


Pondicherry, January 5, 1920

Dear Baptista,

Your offer is a tempting one, but I regret that I cannot answer it in the affirmative. It is due to you that I should state explicitly my reasons. In the first place I am not prepared at present to return to British India. This is quite apart from any political obstacle. I understand that up to last September the Government of Bengal (and probably the Government of Madras also) were opposed to my return to British India and that practically this opposition meant that if I went back I should be interned or imprisoned under one or other of the beneficent Acts which are apparently still to subsist as helps in ushering in the new era of trust and co-operation. I do not suppose other Governments would any more be delighted by my appearance in their respective provinces. Perhaps the King’s Proclamation may make a difference, but that is not certain, since, as I read it, it also does not mean an amnesty, but an act of gracious concession and benevolence limited by the discretion of the Viceroy. Now I have too much work on my hands to waste my time in the leisured ease of an involuntary Government guest. But even if I were assured of an entirely free action and movement, I should yet not go just now. I came to Pondicherry in order to have freedom and tranquillity for a fixed object having nothing to do with present politics — in which I have taken no direct part since my coming here, though what I could do for the country in my own way I have constantly done, — and until it is accomplished, it is not possible for me to resume any kind of public activity. But if I were in British India, I should be obliged to plunge at once into action of different kinds. Pondicherry is my place of retreat, my cave of tapasya, not of the ascetic kind, but of a brand of my own invention. I must finish that, I must be internally armed and equipped for my work before I leave it.

Next, in the matter of the work itself, I do not at all look down on politics or political action or consider I have got above them. I have always laid a dominant stress and I now lay an entire stress on the spiritual life, but my idea of spirituality has nothing to do with ascetic withdrawal or contempt or disgust of secular things. There is to me nothing secular, all human activity is for me a thing to be included in a complete spiritual life, and the importance of politics at the present time is very great. But my line and intention of political activity would differ considerably from anything now current in the field. I entered into political action and continued it from 1903 to 1910 with one aim and one alone, to get into the mind of the people a settled will for freedom and the necessity of a struggle to achieve it in place of the futile ambling Congress methods till then in vogue. That is now done and the Amritsar Congress is the seal upon it. The will is not as practical and compact nor by any means as organised and sustained in action as it should be, but there is the will and plenty of strong and able leaders to guide it. I consider that in spite of the inadequacy of the Reforms the will to self-determination, if the country keeps its present temper, as I have no doubt it will, is bound to prevail before long. What preoccupies me now is the question what it is going to do with its self-determination, how will it use its freedom, on what lines is it going to determine its future?

You may ask why not come out and help, myself, so far as I can, in giving a lead? But my mind has a habit of running inconveniently ahead of the times, — some might say, out of time altogether into the world of the ideal. Your party, you say, is going to be a social democratic party. Now I believe in something which might be called social democracy, but not in any of the forms now current, and I am not altogether in love with the European kind, however great an improvement it may be on the past. I hold that India having a spirit of her own and a governing temperament proper to her own civilisation, should in politics as in everything else strike out her own original path and not stumble in the wake of Europe. But this is precisely what she will be obliged to do, if she has to start on the road in her present chaotic and unprepared condition of mind. No doubt people talk of India developing on her own lines, but nobody seems to have very clear or sufficient ideas as to what those lines are to be. In this matter I have formed ideals and certain definite ideas of my own, in which at present very few are likely to follow me; since they are governed by an uncompromising spiritual idealism of an unconventional kind and would be unintelligible to many and an offence and stumbling-block to a great number. But I have not as yet any clear and full idea of the practical lines; I have no formed programme. In a word, I am feeling my way in my mind and am not ready for either propaganda or action. Even if I were, it would mean for some time ploughing my lonely furrow or at least freedom to take my own way. As the editor of your paper, I shall be bound to voice the opinion of others and reserve my own, and while I have full sympathy with the general ideas of the advanced parties so far as concerns the action of the present moment and, if I were in the field would do all I could to help them, I am almost incapable by nature of limiting myself in that way, at least to the extent that would be requisite.

Excuse the length of this screed. I thought it necessary to explain fully so as to avoid giving you the impression that I declined your request from any affectation or reality of spiritual aloofness or wish to shirk the call of the country or want of sympathy with the work you and others are so admirably doing. I repeat my regret that I am compelled to disappoint you.

Yours sincerely,
Aurobindo Ghose


The Mother came again on April 24, 1920 and settled in India. She knew that her work was the same as Sri Aurobindo’s and that their collaboration was the secret of its success. At first she stayed at Magrie’s Hotel, then at Subbu’s Hotel in Rue St. Louis, and from there she moved to 1, Rue St. Martin. While she was staying at this house, one day there was a great storm and heavy rain and the old house was considered unsafe to live in. Sri Aurobindo advised her to move to his own house, 41, Rue François Martin where she remained till October, 1922, when they all moved finally to the building in 9, Rue de la Marine which is the present Ashram building.

A few memorable interviews that took place in 1920 are noted below:

W.W. Pearson came from Shantiniketan and met the Mother.

James H. Cousins came and met Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

Dr. Munje came and stayed with Sri Aurobindo. He had long talks with the Master on political subjects.

Sarala Devi Choudhurani came sometime in 1920 or later and had an interview with Sri Aurobindo.

Colonel Joshua Wedgewood, an English M.P., visited Sri Aurobindo.





In 1919, after the armistice, Barin was released from the Andamans. He wrote to Sri Aurobindo asking him about his personal sadhana, the future of the country and the nature of the movement to be carried on for its freedom and resurgence. Sri Aurobindo’s reply was a long one covering practically all aspects of national life and indicating his own line of spiritual work for humanity. We reproduce here some lines from that Bengali letter which has been translated into English:


April 7, 1920

Dear Barin,

…First about our yoga. You wish to give me the charge of your yoga and I am willing to take it, but that means giving its charge to Him who is moving by His Divine Shakti, whether secretly or openly, both you and me. But you must know that the necessary result of this will be that you will have to walk in the special way which He has given to me, the way which I call the path of Integral Yoga, — what I began with, what Lele gave me was a seeking for the path, a circling in many directions — a touch, taking up, handling, scrutinising this or that in all the old partial yogas, a complete experience in some sense of one and then the pursuit of another.

Afterwards, when I came to Pondicherry this unsteady condition came to an end. The Guru of the world who is within us then gave me the complete direction of my path — its complete theory, the ten limbs of the body of this Yoga. These ten years He has been making me develop it in experience, and it is not yet finished. It may take another two years; and as long as it is not finished I doubt if I shall be able to return to Bengal. Pondicherry is the appointed place for my yoga siddhi, except indeed one part of it, and that is action…

I shall write and tell you afterwards what is this way of yoga. Or if you come here I shall tell you about it. In this matter the spoken word is better than the written one. At present I can only say that its root-principle is to make a harmony and unity of complete knowledge, complete works, and complete Bhakti, to raise this above the mind and to give it its complete perfection on the supramental level of the Vijnana. The defect of the old Yoga was here — the mind it knew and the Spirit it knew, and it was satisfied with the experiences of the Spirit in the mind. But the mind can grasp only the divided and partial, it cannot utterly seize the infinite, the indivisible. The mind’s means to reach the infinite are Sannyasa, Moksha and Nirvana, and it has no others. One man or another may get indeed this featureless Moksha, but what is the gain? The Brahman, the Self, God are always there. What God wants in man is to embody Himself here in the individual and in the community, to realise God in life.

 The old way of yoga failed to bring about harmony or unity of the Spirit and life: it rather dismissed the world as Maya or a transient play. The result has been loss of life-power and the degeneration of India. As was said in the Gita, ‘These peoples would perish if I did not do works’, these people of India have truly gone down to ruin. A few Sannyasis and Bairagis to be saintly and perfect and liberated, a few Bhaktas to dance in a mad ecstasy of love and sweet emotion and Ananda, and a whole race to become lifeless, void of intelligence, sunk in deep tamas — is this the effect of a true spirituality? No, first we must get indeed all the partial experiences possible on the mental level and flood the mind with the spiritual delight and illumine it with the spiritual light but afterwards we must rise above. If we cannot rise above, that is, to the supramental level, it is hardly possible to know the last secret of the world and the problem it raises remains unsolved. There, the ignorance which creates a duality of opposition between the Spirit and Matter, between truth of spirit and truth of life, disappears. There one need no longer call the world Maya. The world is the eternal Play of God, the eternal manifestation of the Self. Then it becomes possible to fully know and fully possess God — to do what is said in the Gita, ‘To know me integrally’. The physical body, the life, the mind and understanding, the supermind and the Ananda — these are the Spirit’s five levels. The higher we rise on this ascent the nearer to man comes the state of that highest perfection open to his spiritual evolution. Rising to the Supermind, it becomes easy to rise to the Ananda. One attains a firm foundation in the condition of the indivisible and infinite Ananda, not only in the timeless Parabrahman but in the body, in life, in the world. The integral being, the integral consciousness, the integral Ananda blossoms out and takes form in life. This is the central clue of my yoga, the fundamental principle.

This is no easy change to make. After these fifteen years I am only now rising into the lowest of the three levels of the Supermind and trying to draw up into it all the lower activities. But when this Siddhi will be complete, then I am absolutely certain that God will through me give to others the Siddhi of the Supermind with less effort. Then my real work will begin. I am not impatient for success in the work. What is to happen will happen in God’s appointed time. I have no impulse to make any unbalanced haste and rush into the field of work in the strength of the little ego. If even I did not get success in my work I would not be shaken. This work is not mine but God’s. I will listen to no other call; when God moves me then I will move….

Now let me discuss some particular points of your letter. I do not want to say much in this letter about what you have written as regards your yoga. We shall have better occasion when we meet. To look upon the body as a corpse is a sign of Sannyasa, of the path of Nirvana. You cannot be of the world with this idea. You must have delight in all things — in the Spirit as well as in the body. The body has consciousness, it is God’s form. When you see God in everything that is in the world, when you have this vision that all this is Brahman, sarvamidam brahma, that Vasudeva is all this — vasudevaḥ sarvamiti, then you have the universal delight. The flow of that delight precipitates and courses even through this body…

… Not our strength but the Shakti of God is the sadhaka of this yoga.

…But to get that Shakti one must be a worshipper of Shakti. We are not worshippers of Shakti. We are worshippers of the easy way. But Shakti is not got by the easy way. Our forefathers dived into a sea of vast thought and gained a vast knowledge and established a mighty civilisation. As they went on in their way, fatigue and weariness came upon them. The force of thought diminished and with it also the strong current of Shakti. Our civilisation has become acalāyatana,[35] our religion a bigotry of externals, our spirituality a faint glimmer of light or a momentary wave of religious intoxication. And so long as this sort of thing continues any permanent resurgence of India is improbable…

…I wish to make a large and strong equanimity the foundation of the yoga. I want established on that equality a full, firm and undisturbed Shakti in the system and in all its movements. I want the wide display of the light of Knowledge in the ocean of Shakti. And I want in that luminous vastness the tranquil ecstasy of infinite love, delight and oneness. I do not want hundreds of thousands of disciples. It will be enough if I can get a hundred complete men, purified of petty egoism, who will be the instruments of God. I have no faith in the customary trade of the Guru. I do not wish to be a guru. If anybody wakes and manifests from within his slumbering godhead and gets the divine life — be it at my touch or at another’s — this is what I want. It is such men that will raise the country.

Yours Sejda[36]


Barin came to Pondicherry. Ullaskar Datta, one of the revolutionaries and a fellow worker of Barin also came. Some of the revolutionaries were trying to seek inspiration and guidance from Sri Aurobindo, but since Sri Aurobindo had cut off all connection with active politics, his influence upon them was mainly spiritual.

At about this time the Mother took charge of the management of the house and the kitchen, and, as in everything else she took up, there was a marked and progressive improvement. Order, harmony and beauty flowed spontaneously out of her touch.

Sarojini Ghose, Sri Aurobindo’s sister, came to Pondicherry in 1921. In order to render her some financial help Sri Aurobindo gave her the right to take the sale proceeds of his book, War and Self-determination.

The magazine Arya which Sri Aurobindo had started in 1914 discontinued publication in the beginning of 1921, as probably Sri Aurobindo’s yoga left him little time for such philosophical writing. He became more and more absorbed in his life’s real work: the ascent to and the descent of the Supermind.

In this year collective meditation began. In Purani’s words, “At four in the evening the inmates of the house practised meditation with Sri Aurobindo in the verandah of 41, Rue François Martin.”

Arunchandra Dutt, a disciple of Motilal Roy, came from Chandernagore and stayed at Sri Aurobindo’s house for a few months.

Mrinalini Chattopadhyaya and Kamala Devi Chattopadhyaya also came and met Sri Aurobindo in this year.

In September, 1922, as already stated, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother moved with their disciples to No 9, Rue de la Marine which is now the main building or central quarter of the Ashram.

On the 15th August, 1920, the Prabartak Sangha of Chandernagore, which was founded by Motilal Roy under the inspiration of Sri Aurobindo, had brought out a weekly paper The Standard Bearer. Motilal Roy had come into close contact with Sri Aurobindo and his visits to Pondicherry helped him to avail himself of Sri Aurobindo’s direct guidance. But after 1920 he separated from Sri Aurobindo who then withdrew his inner help and guidance.

To some of the issues of The Standard Bearer Sri Aurobindo contributed articles on different subjects. In the very first issue he wrote the leader under the caption “Ourselves”. The article written about 50 years back reads so fresh today and contains the most vital message for modern India which if carried out in life, can raise this ancient nation to heights of an unprecedented glory and greatness. To struggle in a quagmire is not to progress. To be tossing about in a welter of imported ideologies is not to advance the cause of the nation. There must be determined ascent from the obscurity of the mind into a higher Consciousness. Otherwise the struggle and the tossings will never end and one will have only the illusion of doing something useful. Spirituality is the very soul of India’s culture, and to revert to it and to let it remould and direct life is the only way to national resurgence.


The Standard-Bearer comes into the field today entrusted with a special mission and as the bearer of an ideal and a message. The standard it carries is not that of an outward battle, but the ensign of a spiritual ideal and of a life that must be its expression and the growing body of its reality. Our endeavour shall be to prepare the paths and to accomplish the beginning of a great and high change which we believe to be and aim at making the future of the race and the future of India. Our ideal is a new birth of humanity into the spirit; our life must be a spiritually inspired effort to create a body of action for that great new birth and creation.

A spiritual ideal has always been the characteristic idea and aspiration of India. But the progress of Time and the need of humanity demand a new orientation and another form of that ideal. The old forms and methods are no longer sufficient for the purpose of the Time Spirit. India can no longer fulfil herself on lines that are too narrow for the great steps she has to take in the future. Nor is ours the spirituality of a life that is aged and world-weary and burdened with the sense of the illusion and miserable inutility of all God’s mighty creation. Our ideal is not the spirituality that withdraws from life but the conquest of life by the power of the spirit. It is to accept the world as an effort of manifestation of the Divine, but also to transform humanity by a greater effort of manifestation than has yet been accomplished, one in which the veil between man and God shall be removed, the divine manhood of which we are capable shall come to birth and our life shall be remoulded in the truth and light and power of the spirit. It is to make of all our action a sacrifice to the master of our action and an expression of the greater self in man and of all life a Yoga.

The West has made the growth of the intellectual, emotional, vital and material being of man its ideal, but it has left aside the greater possibilities of his spiritual existence. Its highest standards are ideals of progress, of liberty, equality and fraternity, of reason and science, of efficiency of all kinds, of a better political, social and economical state, of the unity and earthly happiness of the race. These are great endeavours, but experiment after experiment has shown that they cannot be realised in their truth by the power of the idea and the sentiment alone: their real truth and practice can only be founded in the spirit. The West has put its faith in its science and machinery and it is being destroyed by its science and crushed under its mechanical burden. It has not understood that a spiritual change is necessary for the accomplishment of its ideals. The East has the secret of that spiritual change, but it has too long turned its eyes away from the earth. The time has now come to heal the division and to unite life and the spirit.

This secret too has been possessed but not sufficiently practised by India. It is summarised in the rule of the Gita, yogasthaḥ kuru karmāṇi. Its principle is to do all actions in Yoga, in union with God, on the foundation of the highest self and through the rule of all our members by the power of the spirit. And this we believe to be not only possible for man but the true solution of all his problems and difficulties. That then is the message we shall constantly utter and this the ideal that we shall put before the young and rising India, a spiritual life that shall take up all human activities and avail to transfigure the world for the great age that is coming. India, she that has carried in herself from of old the secret, can alone lead the way in this great transformation of which the present sandhyā of the old yuga is the forerunner. This must be her mission and service to humanity, — as she discovered the inner spiritual life for the individual, so now to discover for the race its integral collective expression and found for mankind its new spiritual and communal order.

Our first object shall be to declare this ideal, insist on the spiritual change as the first necessity and group together all who accept it and are ready to strive sincerely to fulfil it: our second shall be to build up not only an individual but a communal life on this principle. An outer activity as well as an inner change is needed and it must be at once a spiritual, cultural, educational, social and economical action. Its scope, too, will be at once individual and communal, regional and national, and eventually a work not only for the nation but for the whole human people. The immediate action of this will be a new creation, a spiritual education and culture, an enlarged social spirit founded not on division but on unity, on the perfect growth and freedom of the individual, but also on his unity with others and his dedication to a larger self in the people and in humanity, and the beginning of an endeavour towards the solution of the economic problem founded not on any western model but on the communal principle native to India. Our call is to young India. It is the young who must be the builders of the new world — not those who accept the competitive individualism, the capitalism or the materialistic communism of the West as India’s future ideal, nor those who are enslaved to old religious formulas and cannot believe in the acceptance and transformation of life by the spirit, but all who are free in mind and heart to accept a completer truth and labour for a greater ideal. They must be men who will dedicate themselves not to the past or the present but to the future. They will need to consecrate their lives to an exceeding of their lower self, to the realisation of God in themselves and in all human beings and to a whole-minded and indefatigable labour for the nation and for humanity. This ideal can be as yet only a little seed and the life that embodies it a small nucleus, but it is our fixed hope that the seed will grow into a great tree and the nucleus be the heart of an ever-extending formation. It is with a confident trust in the spirit that inspires us that we take our place among the standard-bearers of the new humanity that is struggling to be born amidst the chaos of the world in dissolution and of the future India, the greater India of the rebirth that is to rejuvenate the mighty outworn body of the ancient Mother.




[1] According to A.B. Purani, Subramania Bharati also was with them but we have taken Moni’s version as being more authentic. In his Bengali book, Smritikatha, Moni has given a graphic description of how he and Srinivasachari received Sri Aurobindo on board the steamer, took tea with him at the cabin, and brought down his luggage etc.

[2] Old Long Since: by Amrita (Mother India: August 1962). Amrita, who was manager of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, came into contact with Sri Aurobindo as early as 1913, when he was a school boy.

[3] Old Long Since: Amrita (Mother India: January 1963).

[4] The Dawn Over Asia: Paul Richard.

[5] Italics are ours.

[6] A.B. Purani: Evening Talks, 2nd series.

[7] A.B. Purani: Evening Talks, 2nd series.

[8] For the first three months of their stay at Shankar Chetty’s house, they used to have Seances of an evening, in which automatic writing was done both as an experiment and an amusement. The book, Yogic Sadhan, was written during some of these Seances. Sri Aurobindo said in one of his evening talks, “When I was writing it, every time at the beginning and at the end the image of Ram Mohan Roy came before me”. The author’s name was printed in the book as Uttara Yogi. In 1927, Sri Aurobindo withdrew the book from circulation as it was not written by him.

[9] A friend of C.R. Das and a famous Tamil writer.

[10] A.B. Purani: Evening Talks.

[11] Sri Aurobindo arrived on the 4th April, as we have already seen. The Deputy Superintendent was super-efficient!

[12] Nolini Kanta was in Calcutta at that time. It was Bejoy who accompanied Sri Aurobindo to Pondicherry. Nolini Kanta and Bejoy were as like as chalk and cheese!

[13] Then called Rue du Pavillon.

[14] Life of Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani.

[15] M. Nandot, the investigating magistrate, invited Sri Aurobindo to meet him in his chambers and he complied.

[16] “Lord Carmichael sent somebody to persuade me to return and settle somewhere in Darjeeling and discuss philosophy with him. I refused the offer.” — Talks with Sri Aurobindo by Nirodbaran.

[17] “Lord Minto said that he could not rest his head on his pillow until he had crushed Aurobindo Ghose. He feared that I would start the Revolutionary Movement again, and assassinations were going on at that time.” — Talks with Sri Aurobindo by Nirodbaran.

[18] Published in Mother India, December 1961 and April 1962.

[19] Life of Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani.

[20] Auroville or the City of the Dawn, an international city, has been a creation of the Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and founded under her inspiration and guidance in Sri Aurobindo’s name. It is about four miles from Pondicherry. In the Charter of Auroville the Mother says,

1. Auroville belongs to nobody in particular.

Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville one must be the willing servitor of the Divine’s Consciousness.

2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.

3. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.

4. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.

[21] ‘Darshan’ means the holy sight of a god or of a spiritual or saintly person.

[22] Mother India — October, 1962.

[23] Biren Roy who had come with Nagen Nag and stayed at the Guest House as already stated.

[24] Reminiscences by Nolini Kanta Gupta.

[25] The Life of Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani.

[26] Prayers and Meditations — The Mother.

[27] Prayers and Meditations — The Mother.

[28] Prayers and Meditations — The Mother.

[29] Prayers and Meditations — The Mother.

[30] We shall presently speak about the Arya and how and why it came into existence.

[31] It was discontinued after some time.

[32] Referring to the word “Arya” written in Devanagari characters.

[33] We have spoken of it in the previous section.

[34] Purani had told Sri Aurobindo that they were prepared to start executing their plan of the revolutionary work.

[35] The fossilled House or the Home of Conservatism.

[36] Elder brother.