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At the Feet of The Mother

Sri Aurobindo in Baroda



“These are they who are conscious of the much falsehood in the world; they grow in the house of Truth, they are strong and invincible sons of Infinity.”

Rigveda, VII.60.5

1893 — a memorable year! It was in 1893 that Sri Aurobindo came back from England to fight for the freedom of India and release her imprisoned godhead, and Vivekananda sailed for America carrying with him the light of the Vedanta to the benighted humanity of the West. What was Sri Aurobindo thinking, what were his feelings as he came in sight of his beloved motherland? When he had left India, he was a mere child of seven, perhaps unaware of the heavenly fire smouldering beneath his sweet, angelic exterior. And when he returned, he was a young man of twenty-one, burning to realise his dreams and visions. These fourteen years, the most impressionable and formative part of his life, were spent in the West in the heyday of its scientific civilisation. We have already seen that Sri Aurobindo’s mind was nourished and developed by the classical spirit in Western culture, and his poetic sensibilities were set aglow by the superb creations of the Western Muse. But his soul remained untouched, his heart’s love flowed towards India, and his will flamed to fight and suffer for her freedom.[1] He did not then know much about India, but he felt a mysterious pull towards her, an irresistible attraction which his mind could hardly explain. “It was a natural attraction”, he said later, “to Indian culture and ways of life, and a temperamental feeling and preference for all that was Indian.” So, his thoughts and feelings converging on India, Sri Aurobindo approached the destination of his return voyage.

And how did India receive her beloved child? What gifts, what presents had she kept ready for him? She bestowed upon him, as an unsolicited grace, one of the brightest gems of her immemorial heritage — a high spiritual experience! In the midst of the confused hum and bustle of the strangers swarming up and down the gangways, “a vast calm descended upon him… this calm surrounded him and remained for long months afterwards”. In this connection, he once wrote to a disciple: “My own life and my Yoga have always been, since my coming to India, both this-worldly and other-worldly without any exclusiveness on either side. All human interests are, I suppose, this-worldly and most of them have entered into my mental field and some, like politics, into my life, but at the same time, since I set foot on the Indian soil on the Apollo Bunder in Bombay, I began to have spiritual experiences, but these were not divorced from this world but had an inner and infinite bearing on it, such as a feeling of the Infinite pervading material space and the Immanent inhabiting material objects and bodies. At the same time I found myself entering supraphysical worlds and planes with influences and an effect from them upon the material plane, so I could make no sharp divorce or irreconcilable opposition between what I have called the two ends of existence and all that lies between them. For me all is Brahman and I find the Divine everywhere.”[2]

That was the characteristic way in which India greeted her son when he returned to her bosom after a long sojourn in a foreign land. This greeting was at once a symbol and a prophecy. It was an index to the glory of his life’s mission.

This sudden and unexpected spiritual experience that invaded and encompassed Sri Aurobindo recalls the somewhat similar — only it was less unexpected — instance of Sri Chaitanya’s conversion in the temple of Vishnu at Gaya. An arrogant young pundit of exceptional intellectual attainments and justifiably proud of his matchless erudition, Sri Chaitanya (he was then known as Nimai Pundit) stood in front of the image of Vishnu’s feet, in the shrine, gazing at the image, and rooted to the spot. A huge wave of devotion surged up within him. It swept his whole being. It overwhelmed him. His body was seized by a violent thrill and trembling, and tears of uncontrollable emotion streamed down his cheeks. It was an experience as sudden and strange in its onslaught as transforming in its result. Nimai Pundit died at that mysterious instant, and out of him rose a new man, a modest and humble lover of Vishnu, a God-drunk apostle of Bhakti.

In Sri Aurobindo’s case, as has been said above, the experience was even more unexpected, for he had no knowledge of the Hindu Shastras. He had neither any desire for yogic experiences nor any knowledge of them. “I had many doubts before. I was brought up in England amongst foreign ideas and an atmosphere entirely foreign….The agnostic was in me, the atheist was in me, the sceptic was in me, and I was not absolutely sure that there was a God at all….”[3] Once, in a letter to a disciple,[4] he referred to a pre-yogic experience in London, but he did not describe its nature. The experience he had at the Apollo Bunder can, therefore, be taken as the first authentic yogic experience that came his way — unbidden but decisive — as a gift of Grace, a bounty of Mother India.

Sri Aurobindo returned alone from England, and his two elder brothers remained there for some time. Then, the eldest brother, Benoy Bhusan, came back to India and obtained an employment under the Maharaja of Coochbehar. He sent some money to Manmohan, and the latter also returned. Manmohan was at first appointed Professor of English at the Dacca College, and subsequently at the Presidency College of Calcutta, which was, at that time, the best college under the greatest University in India. A few words about the brothers and sister of Sri Aurobindo will not be out of place here.

Benoy Bhusan, the eldest, was of a practical but generous nature. In order to relieve the financial strain under which the three brothers had been labouring in England on account of the irregularity and subsequent stoppage of remittances from their father, he had taken a job as an assistant to James Cotton who was secretary of the South Kensington Liberal Club where the three brothers had been staying. Manmohan makes a rather amusingly sarcastic reference to his elder brother in one of his letters to Laurence Binyon: “At last to my joy my brother came to see me, who, as you know, is a very matter-of-fact person, with a commercial mind, a person who looks at everything from a business point of view. And he began comforting me with the reflection that everybody must die some day, remarking how conveniently near the cemetery I was…and hoping that undertakers did not charge very high, as he had come to the end of his last remittance.”[5] The letter reveals the rich vein of wit and humour which ran in all the brothers. Regarding Benoy Bhusan Sri Aurobindo once remarked, “He is a very nice man, and one can easily get on with him. I got on very well with my eldest brother.”

Manmohan was of a different type. He was anything but practical. He was a dreamer and a visionary. A classmate of Laurence Binyon and a friend of Oscar Wilde, he was himself a poet of considerable merit. He, Binyon, Phillips (Stephen Phillips) and Cripps…brought out a book (of poetry)[6] in conjunction, which was well spoken of. “I dare say, my brother stimulated me greatly to poetry.”[7] “Manmohan used to play the poet in England. He had poetical illness and used to moan out his verses in deep tones. (Once) we were passing through Cumberland. We shouted to him but he paid no heed, and came afterwards leisurely at his own pace. His poet-playing dropped after he came to India.”[8] He had decided to make England his home, but circumstances forced him to return. As a professor of English in the Presidency College, Calcutta, he earned a well-deserved reputation. His lectures on poetry used to be a treat. It is said that he created a poetical atmosphere, and that students from other colleges would some times steal into his class to breathe in that rarefied atmosphere of poetic enjoyment. One would often see him going up and down the stairs of the Presidency College, hat in hand, eyes downcast, and wearing an absorbed, unsmiling, and rather pensive look. He would not lift his eyes to see who passed by him. But once at his desk, he was a changed man. Warming up to his subject, he would weave exquisite patterns of romance and beauty, and fill the classroom with the vibrations of a naturally vocal sensibility. Nevinson writes of him in his New Spirit in India: “I found him there (in the Presidency College) teaching the grammar and occasional beauties of Tennyson’s ‘Princess’ with extreme distaste for that sugary stuff.” Some of his poems have been incorporated in a few anthologies of English verse, published in England, and George Sampson, writing about him in his book, The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature, says: “Manmohan (1867-1924) is the most remarkable of Indian poets who write in English. He was educated at Oxford, where he was the contemporary and friend of Laurence Binyon, Stephen Phillips and others who became famous in English letters. So completely did he catch the note of his place and time that a reader of his Love Songs and Elegies and Songs of Love and Death would readily take them as the work of an English poet trained in the classical tradition.”

Sarojini, the only sister, was much younger than Sri Aurobindo, and extremely devoted to him. We shall presently quote a letter from Sri Aurobindo to Sarojini, which shows how dearly he too loved her.

Barindra, the youngest brother, was born, as we have already seen, in England. But he came back with his mother and sister, when he was a mere child, and his boyhood days were passed at Deoghar where their maternal grandfather, Rishi Rajnarayan Bose, was living at that time. After their father’s death, Barindra had to pass through various experiences of struggle and hardship. In fact, his whole life can be said to have been a series of storms and upheavals, for much of which it was his own nature that was responsible. He had ambition and a spirit of adventure, generosity and courage, but he was domineering, recklessly impulsive and emotionally unstable. He played a major role and blazed a trail in the revolutionary movement of Bengal, and has left a name in the history of the movement; but he could never free himself from the tragic fate that dogged his steps up to the end of his days.

To take up the thread of the narrative. Sri Aurobindo visited Bengal in 1894 for the first time after his return from the West. He went to Rohini, which is about four miles from Deoghar. There he met his mother, his sister Sarojini, and Barindra. It was their first meeting after about fifteen years.

From Rohini, Sri Aurobindo went to Deoghar and met his maternal grandfather, Rajnarayan Bose, and other relatives, and stopped with them for a few days.

This high-souled patriarch, Rishi Rajnarayan Bose, a pioneer nationalist and religious and social reformer of Bengal, was then passing his old age in the peaceful retreat of Deoghar. Sri Aurobindo must have felt a great affinity with him. “Rajnarayan Bose”, as Bepin Chandra Pal says, — and no views carry more weight than this political stalwart’s who worked shoulder to shoulder with Sri Aurobindo for the country’s freedom — “was one of the makers of modern Bengal. He started life as a social and religious reformer. In him it was not merely the spirit of Hinduism that rose up in arms against the onslaught of European Christianity, but the whole spirit of Indian culture and manhood stood up to defend and assert itself against every form of undue influence and alien domination. While Keshub[9] was seeking to reconstruct Indian and specially Hindu social life more or less after the modern European model, Rajnarayan’s sturdy patriotism and national self-respect rebelled against the enormity, and came forward to establish the superiority of Hindu social economy to the Christian social institutions and ideals. He saw the onrush of European goods into Indian markets, and tried to stem the tide by quickening what we would now call the Swadeshi spirit, long before any one else had thought of it. It was under his inspiration that a Hindu Mela or National Exhibition was started a full quarter of a century before the Indian National Congress thought of an Indian Industrial Exhibition…. A strong conservatism, based upon a reasoned appreciation of the lofty spirituality of the ancient culture and civilisation of the country; a sensitive patriotism, born of a healthy and dignified pride of race; a deep piety expressing itself through all the varied practical relations of life — these were the characteristics of the life and thought of Rajnarayan Bose…. In his mind and life he was at once a Hindu Maharshi, a Moslem Sufi and a Christian theist of the Unitarian type… He…seemed to have worked out a synthesis in his own spiritual life between the three dominant world cultures that have come face to face in modern times… He was Aravinda’s maternal grandfather; and Aravinda owed not only his rich spiritual nature but even his very superior literary capacity to his inherited endowments from his mother’s line.”[10]

When Sarojini was staying at Bankipore for her education, Sri Aurobindo used to help her with money from time to time. He also sent money to his mother. The following letter written by him to his sister from Baroda not only reveals his tender love for her and his lively humour, but his eager longing to get away from the cramping atmosphere of Baroda to Bengal, which he loved so dearly, and whose call he must have been hearing within him. Something of his love of Bengal is reflected in his poem on Bankim Chandra, from which we reproduce the following three lines:

O plains, О hills, О rivers of sweet Bengal,
O land of love and flowers, the spring-bird’s call
And southern wind are sweet among your trees.


“My dear Saro,

I got your letter the day before yesterday. I have been trying hard to write to you for the last three weeks, but have hitherto failed. Today I am making a huge effort and hope to put the letter in the post before nightfall. As I am invigorated by three days’ leave, I almost think I shall succeed.

It will be, I fear, quite impossible to come to you again so early as the Puja, though if I only could, I should start tomorrow. Neither my affairs, nor my finances will admit of it. Indeed it was a great mistake to go at all, for it has made Baroda quite intolerable to me. There is an old story about Judas Iscariot, which suits me down to the ground. Judas, after betraying Christ, hanged himself and went to Hell where he was honoured with the hottest oven in the whole establishment. Here he must burn for ever and ever; but in his life he had done one kind act and for this they permitted him by special mercy of God to cool himself for an hour every Christmas on an iceberg in the North Pole. Now this has always seemed to me not mercy, but a peculiar refinement of cruelty. For how could Hell fail to be ten times more Hell to the poor wretch after the delicious coolness of his iceberg? I do not know for what enormous crime I have been condemned to Baroda, but my case is just parallel. Since my pleasant sojourn with you at Baidyanath (Deoghar), Baroda seems a hundred times more Baroda….”[11]

Sarojini must have greatly enjoyed such an affectionate and entertaining letter from her brother. Describing her brother, she once said: “…a very delicate face, long hair cut in the English fashion, Sejda was a very shy person.”

Sri Aurobindo used to pass many of his vacations at Baidyanath or Deoghar which, besides being an excellent health resort and a famous place of Hindu pilgrimage, is a lovely little town, half sleepy and half awake, with its delightful gardens, and its hills and rocks overlooking green fields and meadows. Pilgrims from all parts of India go there to worship the symbolic image of Shiva, carrying with them pots of pure Ganges water from long distances to pour upon the Deity.

Basanti Devi, daughter of Krishna Kumar Mitra and a cousin to Sri Aurobindo, says about him: “Auro Dada used to arrive with two or three trunks, and we always thought they must contain costly suits and other articles of luxury like scents etc. When he opened them, I would look into them and wonder. What is this? A few ordinary clothes and all the rest books and nothing but books. Does Auro Dada like to read all these? We all want to chat and enjoy ourselves in vacations; does he want to spend even this time in reading these books? But because he liked reading, it was not that he did not join us in our talks and chats and merry-making. His talk used to be full of wit and humour.”[12] Sri Aurobindo wrote a poem on Basanti on one of her birthdays.

At Baroda Sri Aurobindo “was put first in the Settlement Department, not as an officer, but to learn the work, then in the Stamps and Revenue Departments; he was for some time put to work in the Secretariat for drawing up dispatches etc. Afterwards without joining the College and while doing other work, he was lecturer in French at the College, and finally at his request was appointed there as Professor of English. All through, the Maharaja used to call him whenever something had to be written which needed careful wording; he also employed him to prepare some of his public speeches and in other work of a literary or educational character.” Afterwards Sri Aurobindo became Vice-Principal of the College and was for some time its acting Principal. “Most of the personal work for the Maharaja was done in an unofficial capacity…. There was no appointment as Private Secretary. He was usually invited to breakfast with the Maharaja at the Palace and stayed on to do this work.”

Sri Aurobindo was loved and highly revered by his students[13] at Baroda College, not only for his profound knowledge of English literature and his brilliant and often original interpretations of English poetry, but for his saintly character and gentle and gracious manners. There was a magnetism in his personality, and an impalpable aura of a lofty ideal and a mighty purpose about him, which left a deep impression upon all who came in contact with him, particularly upon young hearts and unsophisticated minds. Calm and reserved, benign and benevolent, he easily became the centre of respectful attention wherever he happened to be. To be close to him was to be quieted and quickened; to listen to him was to be fired and inspired. Indeed, his presence radiated something which was at once enlivening and exalting. His power sprang from his unshakable peace, and the secret of his hold on men lay in his utter self-effacement. His greatness was like the gentle breath of spring — invisible but irresistible, it touched all that was bare and bleak around him to a splendour of renewed life and creative energy.

In regard to his work at the Baroda College, he once remarked to some of his disciples: “He (Manmohan) was very painstaking. Most of the professors don’t work so hard. I was not so conscientious as a professor. I never used to look at the notes, and sometimes my explanations did not agree with them at all…. What was surprising to me was that the students used to take down everything verbatim and mug it up. Such a thing would never have happened in England…. Once I was giving a lecture on Southey’s Life of Nelson. My lecture was not in agreement with the notes. So the students remarked that it was not at all like what was found in the notes. I replied: ‘I have not read the notes — in any case they are all rubbish!’ I could never go to the minute details. I read and left my mind to do what it could. That is why I could never become a scholar.”[14]

The testimony of one of his students, named R.N. Patkar,[15] will be found very interesting inasmuch as it throws some authentic light upon the way he lived at Baroda and did his teaching at the College:

“Sri Aurobindo was very simple in his mode of living. He was not at all fastidious in his tastes. He did not care much for food or dress, because he never attached any importance to them. He never visited the market for his clothes. At home, he dressed in plain white chaddar and dhoti, and outside invariably in white drill suits. He never slept on a soft cotton bed, as most of us do, but on a bed of coir — coconut fibres — on which was spread a Malabar grass mat which served as a bed sheet.

“Once I asked him why he used such a coarse and hard bed, to which he replied with his characteristic smile: ‘Don’t you know, my boy, that I am a Brahmachari? Our shastras enjoin that a Brahmachari should not use a soft bed.’[16]

“Another thing I observed about him was the total absence of love of money. He used to get the lump sum of three months’ pay in a bag which he emptied in a tray lying on his table. He never bothered to keep money in a safe box under lock and key. He did not keep an account of what he spent. One day I casually asked him why he was keeping his money like that. He laughed and then replied: ‘Well, it is a proof that we are living in the midst of honest and good people.’ ‘But you never keep an account which may testify to the honesty of the people around you?’, I asked him. Then with a serene face he said: ‘It is God who keeps account for me. He gives me as much as I want and keeps the rest to Himself. At any rate, He does not keep me in want, then why should I worry?’

“He used to be absorbed in reading to the extent that he was at times oblivious of the things around him. One evening the servant brought his meal and put the dishes on the table and informed him, ‘Sab, khana rakha hai’ — ‘Master, the meal is served’. He simply said, ‘Achchha’ — ‘All right’, without even moving his head. After half an hour the servant returned to remove the dishes and found to his surprise the dishes untouched on the table! He dared not disturb his master, and so quietly came to me and told me about it. I had to go to his room and remind him of the waiting meal. He gave me a smile, went to the table and finished his meal in a short time and resumed his reading.

“I had the good fortune to be his student in the Intermediate class. His method of teaching was a novel one. In the beginning, he used to give a series of introductory lectures in order to initiate the students into the subject matter of the text. After that he used to read the text, stopping where necessary to explain the meaning of difficult words and sentences. He ended by giving general lectures bearing on the various aspects of the subject matter of the text.

“But more than his college lectures, it was a treat to hear him on the platform. He used to preside occasionally over the meetings of the College Debating Society. The large, central hall of the College used to be full when he was to speak. He was not an orator but was a speaker of a very high order, and was listened to with rapt attention. Without any gesture or movements of the limbs he stood, and language flowed like a stream from his lips with natural ease and melody that kept the audience spell-bound…. Though it is more than fifty years since I heard him, I still remember his figure and the metallic ring of his melodious voice.”[17]

At Baroda, Sri Aurobindo stayed at first in a camp near the Bazar, and from there he moved to Khasirao Jadav’s house. Khasirao, who was working as a magistrate under the Baroda State, was at that time living elsewhere with his family. His house was a beautiful, two-storeyed building, situated on a main road of the town. When Khasirao was transferred back to Baroda, Sri Aurobindo had to move to a house in another locality. After some time, when plague broke out there, he had to move again to another house, which was an old bungalow with a tiled roof. It was so old and in such bad repair that it used to be unbearably hot in summer, and, during the months of the monsoon, rain water leaked through its broken tiles. But, as Dinendra Kumar Roy[18] records in his Bengali book, Aurobindo Prasanga, it made no difference to Sri Aurobindo whether he lived in a palace or a hovel. Where he really dwelt, no tiles ever burned, nor did rain water leak. He was, to use an expression of the Gita, aniketah, one who had no separate dwelling of his own in the whole world. But it was different with Dinendra Kumar. What with swarms of fleas by day and pitiless mosquitoes at night, burning tiles in summer and leaking roofs during the rains, the poor man was so disgusted that he damned the poky, ramshackle domicile as being worse than a rich man’s stable.

Among Sri Aurobindo’s friends at Baroda, mention may be made of Khasirao Jadav, Khasirao’s younger brother, Lt. Madhavrao Jadav, who was very intimate with Sri Aurobindo and helped him in many ways in his political work, and Phadke, a young, orthodox Maratha Brahmin, who was a man of letters and had translated a few Bengali novels including Bankim Chandra’s Durgesh Nandini into Marathi. Sri Aurobindo used to read Marathi with him from time to time. Phadke was of a genial temperament, cheerful and witty. Bapubhai Majumdar, a Gujarati Brahmin barrister, stayed with Sri Aurobindo for some time as his guest. He was a handsome man with an inexhaustible fund of comic stories. His laugh was contagious — it was hearty and hilarious. Sometimes his quips and jokes and droll yams would send Sri Aurobindo into bursts of laughter. He was afterwards appointed Chief Justice of a State in Gujarat.

Sri Aurobindo learnt both Marathi and Gujarati at Baroda. He also learnt a dialect of Marathi called Mori from a pundit. He had an aptitude for picking up languages with an amazing ease and rapidity. He learnt Bengali himself, and learnt it so well as to be able to read the poetry of Michael Madhusudan Dutt and the novels of Bankim Chandra Chatterji; and both of these authors are anything but easy. “Bengali was not a subject for the competitive examination for the I.C.S. It was after he had passed the competitive examination that Sri Aurobindo as a probationer who had chosen Bengal as his province began to learn Bengali. The course of study provided was a very poor one; his teacher, a retired English Judge from Bengal, was not very competent….” It is rather amusing to note that one day when Sri Aurobindo asked his teacher to explain to him a passage from Bankim Chandra Chatterji, he looked at the passage and remarked with the comic cocksureness of shallow knowledge: “But this is not Bengali!” Sri Aurobindo learnt Sanskrit himself without any help from anybody. He did not learn Sanskrit through Bengali, but direct in Sanskrit or through English. But the marvel is that he mastered it as thoroughly and entered as deeply into its spirit and genius as he had done in the case of Greek and Latin. He “never studied Hindi, but his acquaintance with Sanskrit and other Indian languages made it easy for him to pick up Hindi without any regular study and to understand it when he read Hindi books or news-papers.”

An exceptional mastery of Sanskrit at once opened to him the immense treasure-house of the Indian heritage. He read the Upanishads, the Gita, the Puranas, the two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the poems of Bhartrihari, the dramas of Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti etc., etc. Ancient India, the ageless India of spiritual culture and unwearied creative vitality, thus revealed herself to his wondering vision, and he discovered the secret of her unparalleled greatness. His soul caught fire. In discovering the greatness of India, he discovered himself — the greatness of his own soul, and the work it had come down to accomplish. It was a pregnant moment, when his soul burst out into a sudden blaze. It was a moment of reminiscence in the Platonic sense. It was a transforming revelation. Ancient India furnished him with the clue to the building of the greater India of the future.

Sri Aurobindo translated some portions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, some dramas of Kalidasa, the Nitishataka of Bhartrihari, some poems of Vidyapati and Chandidas etc. into English. Once, when R. C. Dutt, the well-known civilian, came to Baroda at the invitation of the Maharaja, he somehow came to know about Sri Aurobindo’s translations and expressed his desire to see them. Sri Aurobindo showed them to him (though not without reluctance, for he was by nature shy and reticent about himself), and Dutt was so much struck by their high quality that he said to Sri Aurobindo: “If I had seen your translations of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata before, I would not have published mine.[19] I can now very well see that, by the side of your magnificent translations, mine appear as mere child’s play.”

Sri Aurobindo wrote many English poems during his stay at Baroda, and also began some which he finished later. The earliest draft of his great epic, Savitri, was begun there. His first book of poems, Songs to Myrtilla and Other Poems, was published there for private circulation. It contained many poems written in England in his teens, and five[20] written at Baroda. Urvasi, a long poem, was also written at Baroda and published for private circulation.[21] But we shall not go into any more details here about his poetical work at Baroda, for we propose to devote a whole separate chapter to his poetry, and study its growth and flowering. No biography of Sri Aurobindo can be said to be complete without an earnest attempt at a study of his poetical genius. For, as he has himself said, he was a poet first, and everything else afterwards. But he was a seer-poet, in the Vedic sense of the word, and a singer of the mystery and magnificence, the myriad worlds and wonders of creation — a mystic seer and a melodious singer of the divine Will, the divine Beauty and the divine Joy that flame and dance behind the fretful drift of our blind world.





“He, who is an illimitable ocean of compassion, and as graceful as a cloud-bank charged with rain; in whom Lakshmi and Saraswati revel in endless felicity; whose Face is like an immaculate lotus in full bloom; who is adored by the kings and leaders of the gods; and whose Divine Nature has been hymned in the inspired words of the Vedas — may He, my Lord, the Master of the worlds, reveal Himself to my vision.”

“A Hymn to the Supreme Lord of the Universe”
by Sri Chaitanya

In the second year of his stay at Baroda, i.e. in 1894, Sri Aurobindo had another spiritual experience, which came in the same unexpected way as the first one he had at Apollo Bunder. One day, while he was going in a horse carriage, he suddenly found himself “in danger of an accident.” But he had, at that very moment, “the vision of the Godhead surging up from within and averting the danger.” “The Godhead surging up from within” was certainly a greater and more dynamic experience than the previous one of an encompassing calm, and must have left a powerful impression upon him. In 1939 he wrote a sonnet on this experience, which we quote below from his Last Poems.



I sat behind the dance of Danger’s hooves
In the shouting street that seemed a futurist’s whim.
And suddenly felt, exceeding Nature’s grooves,
In me, enveloping me the body of Him.

Above my head a mighty head was seen,
A face with the calm of immortality
And an omnipotent gaze that held the scene
In the vast circle of its sovereignty.

His hair was mingled with the sun and the breeze;
The world was in His heart and He was I:
I housed in me the Everlasting’s peace,
The strength of One whose substance cannot die.

The moment passed and all was as before;
Only that deathless memory I bore.


In 1902 Sister Nivedita[22] visited Baroda. “I met Sister Nivedita at Baroda when she came to give some lectures there. I went to receive her at the station and take her to the house assigned to her; I also accompanied her to an interview she had sought with the Maharaja of Baroda. She had heard of me as one who believed in strength and was a worshipper of Kali, by which she meant she had heard of me as a revolutionary. I knew her already because I had read and admired her book, ‘Kali the Mother’. It was in those days that we formed a friendship. After I had started my revolutionary work in Bengal through certain emissaries, I went there personally to see and arrange things myself. I found a number of small groups of revolutionaries that had recently sprung into existence but all scattered and acting without reference to each other. I tried to unite them under a single organisation with barrister P. Mitter as the leader of the revolution in Bengal and a council of five persons, one of them being Nivedita[23].

“I had no occasion to meet Nivedita after that until I settled in Bengal as Principal of the National College and the chief editorial writer of the Bande Mataram. By that time I had become one of the leaders of the public movement known first as extremism, then as nationalism, but this gave me no occasion to meet her except once or twice at the Congress, as my collaboration with her was solely in the secret revolutionary field. I was busy with my work and she with hers, and no occasion arose for consultation or decisions about the conduct of the revolutionary movement. Later on, I began to make time to go and see her occasionally at Baghbazar[24]”.[25]

“Then, about my relations with Sister Nivedita, they were purely in the field of politics. Spirituality or spiritual matters did not enter into them, and I do not remember anything passing between us on these subjects when I was with her. Once or twice she showed the spiritual side of her, but she was then speaking to someone else who had come to see her while I was there.

“She was one of the revolutionary leaders. She went about visiting places to come in contact with the people. She was open and frank, and talked openly of her revolutionary plans to everybody. There was no concealment about her. Whenever she used to speak on revolution, it was her very soul, her true personality, that came out…. Yoga was Yoga, but it was that sort of work that was, as it were, intended for her. Her book, ‘Kali the Mother’ is very inspiring. She went about among the Thakurs of Rajputana trying to preach revolution to them…. Her eyes showed a power of concentration and revealed a capacity for going into trance. She had got something. She took up politics as a part of Vivekananda’s work. Her book is one of the best on Vivekananda…. She was a solid worker.”[26]

Sister Nivedita tried to rope in the Maharaja of Baroda into the revolutionary movement, but the response she received from the astute ruler was rather cool and non-committal. He said he would send his reply through Sri Aurobindo, but “Sayajirao (the Maharaja) was much too cunning to plunge into such a dangerous business, and never spoke to me about it”.[27]

In 1903 Sri Aurobindo took a month’s leave and went to Bengal. His presence was required there to smooth out the differences that had arisen among some of the leading political workers. But he was soon called back by the Maharaja who wished that he should accompany him on his tour to Kashmir as his personal secretary.

In Kashmir, Sri Aurobindo had his third spiritual experience of a decisive character, as unexpected and unbidden as the first two, but of a capital importance from a certain standpoint. He says about it: “There was a realisation of the vacant Infinite[28] while walking on the ridge of the Takht-e-Suleiman in Kashmir”. In 1939, he wrote the following sonnet on this experience:



I walked on the high-wayed Seat of Solomon
Where Shankaracharya’s tiny temple stands
Facing Infinity from Time’s edge, alone
On the bare ridge ending earth’s vain romance.

Around me was a formless solitude:
All had become one strange Unnamable,
An unborn sole Reality world-nude,
Topless and fathomless, for ever still.

A Silence that was Being’s only word,
The unknown beginning and the voiceless end
Abolishing all things moment-seen or heard,
On an incommunicable summit reigned,

A lonely Calm and void unchanging Peace
On the dumb crest of Nature’s mysteries.”[29]


The Kashmir tour with the Maharaja did not prove to be very happy. It was not in Sri Aurobindo’s nature to admit encroachments upon his time of study and rest, and dance attendance on the Maharaja at all hours of the day or whenever he was summoned. The Maharaja respected and admired him for his noble character, his calm and penetrating intelligence, and his brilliance, quickness and efficiency, but was often put out by his habitual lack of punctuality and regularity; and it was this lack that caused “much friction between them during the tour.”

Sri Aurobindo was Chairman of the Baroda College Union, and continued to preside over some of its debates until he left Baroda. His speeches used to be very inspiring, as we have already learnt from the record of advocate R.N. Patkar. He had also to deliver lectures at occasional functions at the palace. But so long as he was in State Service he studiously avoided introducing politics into his speeches. He used also to address the young students who had formed a Young Men’s Union (Tarun Sangha) under his inspiration.

In 1901, Sri Aurobindo went to Bengal and married Srimati Mrinalini Bose, daughter of Bhupal Chandra Bose. Principal Girish Chandra Bose of the Bangabasi College, Calcutta, had acted as the go-between. Mrinalini Devi was fourteen years old at the time, and Sri Aurobindo twenty-nine. The marriage was celebrated according to Hindu rites, and the function was attended by the great scientist, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, Lord Sinha, barrister Byomkesh Chakravarty etc. As Sri Aurobindo had been to England, the question of expiation was raised by the orthodox section of the community, but Sri Aurobindo refused to do any expiation, even as his stout-hearted father had refused before him. At last a face-saving proposal came from the priests that Sri Aurobindo should shave his head. But Sri Aurobindo turned down this proposal also. Then “an obliging Brahmin priest satisfied all the requirements of the Shastra for a monetary consideration!”

After his marriage Sri Aurobindo went to Deoghar, and from there, he, his wife and his sister went to Nainital, a hill resort in the Himalayas. We get a reference to this place in his letter to one Bhuvan Chakravarty, who was probably a political worker in Bengal.


Dear Bhuvan Babu,

I have been here at Nainital with my wife and sister since the 29th of May. The place is a beautiful one, but not half so cold as I expected. In fact, in daytime it is only a shade less hot than Baroda except when it has been raining. The Maharaja will probably be leaving here on the 24th, — if there has been rain at Baroda, but as he will stop at Agra,[30] Mathura[31] and Mhow,[32] he will not reach Baroda before the beginning of July. I shall probably be going separately and may also reach on the first of July. If you like, you might go there a little before and put up with Despande. I have asked Madhavrao to get my new house furnished but I don’t know what he is doing in that direction. Banerji is, I believe, in Calcutta. He came up to see me at Deoghar for a day.

Yours sincerely,
Aurobindo Ghose.[33]


Regarding his married life and relations with his wife, nothing can be more revealing than his letters to her, written in Bengali. These letters are, moreover, Sri Aurobindo’s first confession of faith, the first verbal statement of the sleepless aspiration of his soul. Here we perceive his inextinguishable thirst for God, his intense yearning to see Him,[34] and his unfaltering resolve to be a flawless instrument in His hands. We perceive that behind the surge and glow of his militant nationalism, there was the blazing fire of a spiritual aim. In the light of this secret communication to his wife, we seem to understand something of what he meant when, later, in his Uttarpara Speech, he said: “I came to Him long ago in Baroda, some years before the Swadeshi began and I was drawn into the public field”; and again when he said in the same Speech: “The Sanatana Dharma, that is Nationalism.” His fervent patriotism was but a spark of his soul’s spiritual fire. He loved Mother India with such a self-effacing ardour, because he saw the Divine Mother behind her; and love for the Divine Mother was inherent in him, suffusing and animating every fibre of his being. It was the overmastering passion of his soul. And it was this love for the Divine — in the beginning it was an imperceptible influence[35] — that made him a nationalist. Even when he found himself irresistibly drawn towards Mother India and the work of national freedom, he was secretly drawn towards God and led by His Will. His nationalism was much more than mere nationalism, it was much more than internationalism — it was spiritual universalism, if one can so put it. His Nationalism was Sanatana Dharma. It led him to toil all his life for the divine fulfilment of the whole human race, for God in man and man in God.

The goal which Sri Aurobindo held up before himself at that early age when he wrote these letters to his wife, was not escape, not Nirvana,[36] but God; not extinction of life, but its expansion and enrichment, its divine illumination, utilisation and fulfilment. Something in him intuitively revolted against the ascetic flight from life. “But I had thought that a Yoga which required me to give up the world was not for me,” he observed once. His study of the spiritual culture of ancient India had left no doubt in his mind of its “stupendous vitality”, its “inexhaustible power of life and joy of life”, its “almost unimaginable prolific creativeness”. Ancient Indian spirituality was not a despairing gospel of world-disgust and supine quiescence, whatever may have been the passing symptoms of its long period of decline. It was a virile affirmation of life, but of a life for God and in God; it was a perpetual call to divine self-expression in creative action. Sri Aurobindo’s whole being responded to this ancient call. He was a born warrior whose spiritual nerves knew no shrinking from the assaults of the world-forces. He spurned all thought of escape, for, as he has expressed it in his epic poem, Savitri, “Escape brings not the victory and the crown.” He resolved to discover the solution of the riddle of the world at the heart of the riddle itself. He laboured for God’s victory on earth, for establishing God’s Kingdom of Light in this dim vale of tears, for transforming suffering itself into the eternal bliss and blessedness of the Divine. Does not the Upanishad declare that, not sorrow and suffering, but Ananda or bliss is the eternal substratum, the sustaining sap and essence of existence? Sri Aurobindo resolved to fight for crowning the ascending spiral of evolution with the glory of the long-dreamt-of divine Manifestation.

His letters to his wife vibrate with this resolve, and contain the seed of the whole subsequent unfoldment of his life. There is another thing in them, which at once arrests attention: it is his complete, unreserved, and joyous surrender to God. The whole secret of Sri Aurobindo’s greatness lies in this integral surrender. But more of this when we come to study his spiritual life.

We offer below an English translation of some of the most important passages from Sri Aurobindo’s letters to his wife:


My dearest Mrinalini,

I have received your letter of the 24th August. I am distressed to learn that your parents have again been stricken with the same kind of bereavement; but you have not mentioned which of their sons has passed away. Grief is all too natural, but what does it avail? One who goes in search of happiness in the world finds sorrow at the core of it: sorrow is ever bound up with happiness. And this law holds good not only in regard to one’s desire for offspring, it is the inevitable result of all worldly desires. The only remedy is to offer all joy and grief with a calm mind to the Divine.

Now, let me tell you about the other matter. You must have realised by now that the person with whom your fate is linked is a very strange one. I don’t have the same kind of mental outlook, the same aim in life, the same field of action as most men have in the modern time. With me all is different, all is uncommon.[37] You know what the common run of men think of extraordinary ideas, extraordinary endeavours, and extraordinarily high aspirations. They call all that madness. But if the mad man succeeds in his field of action, instead of calling him mad, they call him a great man of genius. But how many of such men succeed? Out of a thousand, only ten may be extraordinary, and out of those ten, only one may succeed. Far from having had any success in my field of action, I have not been able to enter it. So, you may consider me a mad man. It is very unfortunate, indeed, for a woman to have her lot cast in with a mad man; for, all the hopes and desires of women are confined to the joys and sorrows of the family. A mad man cannot make his wife happy, rather he causes her no end of trouble and suffering.

The founders of the Hindu religion were aware of it. They greatly cherished and valued extraordinary character, extraordinary endeavour, and extraordinary dreams. They had a high regard for all extraordinary men, whether great or insane. But what remedy is there for the pitiable misery of the wife in such a case? The Rishis prescribed the following remedy: They said to women: Your only mantram (a formula embodying the guiding principle of life) should be that the husband alone is the supreme Guru (spiritual master) of his wife. The wife is the partner of his spiritual life. The wife should help her husband with her counsel and encouragement in all that he accepts as his Dharma or religious duty. She should regard him as her god[38] and share his joys and sorrows. It is for the husband to choose his vocation, and for the wife to aid and encourage him in it.

Now the question is: Will you tread the path of Hinduism or follow the ways of modern civilisation? That you have been married to a mad man is a consequence of some evil deed committed by you in your past life. You had better make terms with your fate. But what sort of terms? Swayed by the opinion of others, will you just airily put him down as a mad man? The mad man cannot help pursuing his path of madness, and you cannot hold him back — his nature is stronger than you. Will you, then, sit in a corner and weep your heart out? Or run along with him on his chosen road, and try to be the mad wife of a mad husband, even as the wife of the blind king (Dhritarashtra)[39] bandaged her eyes in order to share her husband’s blindness? Whatever training you may have had at a Brahmo school, you belong to a Hindu family, and the blood of our Hindu forefathers runs in your veins. I have no doubt that you will follow the latter course.

I have three manias, one might call them madness. The first is that I firmly believe that the qualities, talent, higher education and learning, and wealth God has given me, all belong to Him, and that I am entitled to use only so much of them as is necessary for the maintenance of the family, and whatever else is thought indispensable; and all that remains should be returned to God. If I used everything for myself, for my own pleasure and luxury, I should be a thief. According to the sacred books of the Hindus, he who does not render unto God what he has received from Him is a thief. Up till now, I have rendered only one-eighth to God and used for my personal pleasures the remaining seven-eighths. And, settling my accounts in this way, I have been passing my days in a state of infatuation with worldly pleasures. Half of my life has gone in vain. Even the animal is not without the gratification of feeding himself and his family.

It is clear to me now that so long I have been indulging my animal propensities, and leading the life of a thief. It has filled me with great remorse and self-contempt. No more of it. I give up this sin for good and all. To offer money to God is to spend it in sacred causes. I don’t regret having helped Sarojini and Usha with money — to help others is a virtue; to protect those who have taken refuge with you is a great virtue, indeed. But all is not done by giving only to our brothers and sisters. The whole country, in its present plight, is at my door, seeking for shelter and help. There are three hundred millions of my brethren in this land, of whom many are dying of starvation, and most, afflicted with sorrow and suffering, drag on a wretched, precarious existence. It is our duty to do good to them.

Tell me, will you, as my wife, participate with me in this Dharma? I wish to live like an ordinary man and spend on food and clothing no more than what an ordinary man of average means spends on them, and to offer the rest to God. But my wish will be fulfilled only if you agree with me and are ready for the sacrifice. You were complaining of not having made any progress. This is a path of progress I am pointing to; will you follow it?

The second mania is a recent possession. It is that, by whatever means possible, I must see God face to face. Modern religion consists in glibly mouthing God’s name at all hours, saying one’s prayers when others are looking on, and showing off how devout one is! This is not the sort of religion I want to practise. If God exists, there must be some way or other of realising His existence and meeting Him. However hard and rugged the way, I am resolved to tread it. Hinduism declares that the way lies in one’s body and mind; and it has laid down certain rules for following the way. I have begun to observe these rules, and a month’s practice has led me to realise the truth of what Hinduism teaches. I am experiencing all the signs and symptoms it speaks of. I should like to take you with me along this path. It is true, you will not be able to walk abreast of me, for you lack the knowledge necessary for it; but there is nothing to prevent you from following me. All can attain to the goal by treading this path; but it depends upon one’s will whether one should take to it or not. None can drag you along upon it. If you are willing, I shall write to you more on this subject later.

The third mania is this: Others look upon their country as a mass of matter, comprising a number of fields, plains, forests, mountains and rivers, and nothing more. I look upon it as my mother. I revere and adore it. What does a son do when he sees a demon sitting upon his mother’s chest and about to drink her life-blood? Does he sit down to his meals with a quiet mind and enjoy himself in the company of his wife and children? Or, does he run to the rescue of his mother? I know I have the power to redeem this fallen race.[40] It is not physical power I am not going to fight with sword or gun — but the power of knowledge.[41] The prowess of the Kshatriya (warrior) is not the only power; there is another power, the fire-power of the Brahmin, which is founded in knowledge. This is not a new idea or a new feeling, I have not imbibed it from modern culture — I was born with it. It is in the marrow of my bones. It is to accomplish this mission that God has sent me to the earth.[42] The seed began to sprout when I was only fourteen, it took firm root when I was eighteen. My aunt has made you believe that some bad man has led your good-natured husband astray; but, in fact, it is your good-natured husband who has led that man and hundreds of others to the path, be it good or evil, and will yet lead thousands of others too. I don’t presume to assert that fulfilment will come during my life time, but come it will.

Well, what, then, will be your decision in this matter? The wife is the Shakti (power) of the husband. Are you going to be a disciple of Usha and practise the cult of worship of the Europeans? Will you lessen the power of your husband, or double it by your sympathy and encouragement? You may say: “What can an ordinary girl like me do in such great matters? I lack mental strength, I lack intelligence; I am afraid even to think of these things.” There is an easy solution. Take refuge in God, enter the path of God-realisation; He will soon make good the deficiencies you have. Fear gradually fades out of the person who has taken refuge in the Divine. Besides, if you put your trust in me, and listen to me instead of listening to others, I can give you out of my own power, which will increase rather than diminish by it. It is said that the wife is the Shakti (power) of the husband, which means that the husband’s power is doubled when he sees his own image and hears the resonance of his own high aspiration in his wife….

You have a natural tendency towards unselfishness and doing good to others. The only thing you lack is strength of will. It will come by turning to God with love and adoration.

This is the secret thing I wanted to tell you. Don’t breathe a word of it to anybody. Ponder over these things with a tranquil mind. There is nothing in it to be afraid of, but plenty to ponder over. In the beginning it will be enough for you to meditate on God for only half an hour every day, and to express your ardent will to Him in the form of a prayer. By and by, the mind will be prepared. Always pray to Him: “May I be of constant help to my husband in his life, his aim, and his endeavours for realising the Divine, and serve him as his instrument, and not stand in the way of his progress.”

Your husband


23, Scott’s Lane,
February 17, 1907.

My dear Mrinalini,

…I was to have seen you on the 8th January, but could not, not because I was unwilling, but because God willed otherwise. I had to go where he led me. This time it was not for my own work that I went, it was for His. The state of my mind has undergone a change, but I shall not tell you anything about it in this letter. When you come here, I will tell you all I have to tell. For the moment I have to let you know only this that I am no longer my own master. Where God leads me I have to go, what He makes me do I have to do, just like a puppet.[43] It will be difficult for you to understand now what I mean, but it is necessary to inform you, otherwise my movements may give rise to grievances in you and make you suffer. Don’t think that I am neglecting you in my preoccupation with my work. Up till now I have often sinned against you, and it was but natural that you were displeased with me. But I am no longer free. You have henceforth to understand that all that I do depends not upon my will, but upon the command of God.[44] When you come here, you will be able to grasp the sense of what I say. I hope God will show you the light of His boundless Grace, even as He has shown it to me; but it all depends upon His Will. If you wish, as my wife, to share with me a common spiritual life, try your utmost to exert your will, so that He may reveal to you also the path of Grace. Don’t show this letter to anybody, because what I have communicated to you is extremely confidential. I haven’t spoken about it to anybody else; it is forbidden. No more today.[45]

Your husband


Mrinalini Devi “lived always with the family of Girish Bose, Principal of Bangabasi College”. Once, when Sri Aurobindo was at Pondicherry, his brother-in-law wrote to him, urging him to return to Bengal and lead a householder’s life. Sri Aurobindo wrote the following letter in reply.

“…You want me to live as an ordinary householder and, I suppose, practise some kind of meditation or sadhana in the time I can spare from my work and my family duties. This would have been possible if what I am called to do were an ordinary sadhana of occasional meditation which would leave the rest of my life untouched. But I wrote to you that I feel called to the spiritual life, and that means that my whole life becomes part of the sadhana. This can only be done in the proper conditions, and I do not see how it is possible in the ordinary life of the family and its surroundings. You all say that God will not bless my sadhana, and it will not succeed; but what I feel is that it is He who has called me; my whole reliance is on Him and it is solely on His Grace and Will that my success in the sadhana depends. The best way to deserve that Grace is to give myself entirely into His hands and to seek Him and Him alone. This is my feeling and my condition, and I hope you will see that this being so I cannot do what you ask for.”

Mrinalini Devi lived on in Calcutta till her death in 1918. She was fortunate enough to receive initiation from Sri Sarada Devi, the saintly wife of Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Aurobindo once remarked in this connection: “I was given to understand that she was taken there (to Sri Sarada Devi) by Sudhira Bose, Debabrata’s[46] sister. I heard of it a considerable time afterwards in Pondicherry. I was glad to know that she had found so great a spiritual refuge, but I had no hand in bringing it about.”[47]





“I know what is righteous, but I feel no urge towards it; I know what is unrighteous, but I do not feel inclined to desist from it. According as Thou, О Lord, seated in my heart, appointest me, so do I act.”[48]

Before we pass on to the next subject, it would be rewarding to look a little more carefully into a few statements made by Sri Aurobindo in his letters to his wife, for they not only show that he had a clear prevision of the mission of his life, but mirror the crucial stages of spiritual development through which he was sweeping during the latter part of his stay at Baroda and the beginning of his political life in Bengal. They are, as it were, a blue print of his whole life and, from that standpoint at least, most important.

First of all, he speaks of the three manias, which were the dynamic forces moulding his life and nature. The first, the will to consecrate all he was and all he had to God: “I firmly believe that the qualities, talent, higher education and learning, and money God has given me, all belong to Him.” The second, a consuming passion for realising God: “I must see God face to face.” The third, his resolve to raise India to her full divine stature for the redemption of mankind: “I look upon it (my country) as my mother. I revere and adore her.”[49] Self-consecration, God-realisation, and the service of the country as the service of the divine Mother, these three passions of his soul were really three aspects of the single mission of his life, which was a dynamic and creative union with the Divine for fulfilling His purpose on earth. But the precise nature of his mission will become more and more clear to us, as we proceed, studying the succeeding phases of his outer life and what he has himself said about them and about his thoughts and ideas in his voluminous letters and other writings.

These three master passions dominated three principal stages of Sri Aurobindo’s life. The cult of spiritual patriotism dominated the first stage; the will to total self-offering to God, the second; and divine realisation and manifestation, the third. But it must not be supposed that each of them worked by itself, during the period of its domination, to the exclusion of the others. Essentially they formed an organic unity, each helping the others, and all contributing to the accomplishment of his life’s work.

The patriotism which fired his being since his boyhood was not a mere love of the country of his birth, and a yearning for its freedom and greatness. It was worship of India, as we have already seen, as the living embodiment of the highest spiritual knowledge, and the repository of the sublimest spiritual achievements of the human race. He had no narrow partisan patriotism that attaches a person to his own country and makes him regard it as the greatest and best. He loved and adored India, because he knew that in the present Chaturyuga (a cycle of four ages: Satya, Treta, Dwapara, and Kali) India was destined to be the custodian of the supreme knowledge, and the leader of the world in the ways of the Spirit[50] — a fact which is being more and more realised and acknowledged by the master minds of the present age. He looked upon India as the spiritual battlefield of the world where the final victory over the forces of the Ignorance and darkness would be achieved. The following lines from his The Yoga and Its Objects throw a flood of light on this point and explain his spiritual nationalism:

“God always keeps for Himself a chosen country in which the higher knowledge is, through all chances and dangers, by the few or the many, continually preserved, and for the present, in this Chaturyuga at least, that country is India…. When there is the contracted movement of knowledge, the Yogins in India withdraw from the world and practise Yoga for their own liberation and delight or for the liberation of a few disciples; but when the movement of knowledge again expands and the soul of India expands with it, they come forth once more and work in the world and for the world…. It is only India that can discover the harmony, because it is only by a change — not a mere readjustment — of present nature that it can be developed, and such a change is not possible except by Yoga. The nature of man and of things is at present a discord, a harmony that has got out of tune. The whole heart and action and mind of man must be changed but from within and not from without, not by political and social institutions, not even by creeds and philosophies, but by realisation of God in ourselves and the world and a remoulding of life by that realisation.”

In the light of these words we understand something of the fiery intensity of love and devotion and prophetic ardour with which Sri Aurobindo flung himself into the national movement and the privations and hardships it entailed. He did not consider it a sacrifice at all to throw away his brilliant prospects at Baroda in order to be able to serve his country as a politician, because he believed and knew that it was really God and His approaching manifestation that he was serving. If we do not take special note of this spiritual side of his nationalism, we shall miss all the significance of his political activities and create an unbridgeable gulf between the first part of his life and the last, as has been done by many of his countrymen. If Sri Aurobindo thirsted and strove for India’s political freedom, it was because he wanted the ancient spirituality of India to triumph again, more extensively than ever before, in the world of Matter, and weave a rich, many-coloured tapestry of organic perfection for man. He knew that India was nothing without her spirituality, for her spirituality pervades her whole being, and that spirituality is not of much value, so far as our earthly existence is concerned, without its message and ministrations to life. And he knew also that India is the land of the most virile and dynamic spirituality, the land where, in the hey-day of its culture, every action of life was sought to be done as a sacrament and a living sacrifice to the Supreme. Politics offered him the first means to rouse the ancient nation into a compelling sense of its inherent spiritual potentiality and a sustained endeavour to recover its rightful place in the world. Dwelling upon the aims and bearings of his politics, Sri Aurobindo says in his The Ideal of the Karmayogin:

“A nation is building in India today before the eyes of the world so swiftly, so palpably, that all can watch the process and those who have sympathy and intuition distinguish the forces at work, the materials in use, the lines of the divine architecture…. Formerly a congeries of kindred nations with a single life and a single culture, always by the excess of fecundity engendering fresh diversities and divisions, it has never yet been able to overcome permanently the most insuperable obstacles to the organisation of a continent. The time has now come when those obstacles can be overcome. The attempt which our race has been making throughout its long history, it will now make under entirely new circumstances. A keen observer would predict its success, because the only important obstacles have been or are in process of being removed. But we go further and believe that it is sure to succeed because the freedom, unity and greatness of India have now become necessary to the world….[51] We believe that God is with us and in that faith we shall conquer. We believe that humanity needs us[52] and it is the love and service of humanity, of our country, of the race, of our religion that will purify our heart and inspire our action in the struggle.”

That Sri Aurobindo’s politics and militant nationalism were nothing but a seething focus of a world-transforming spirituality is amply attested even by his very early writings. In his The Ideal of the Katmayogin he says:

“There is a mighty law of life, a great principle of human evolution, a body of spiritual knowledge and experience of which India has always been destined to be guardian, exemplar and missionary. This is the Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion. Under the stress of alien impacts she has largely lost hold not of the structure of that dharma, but of its living reality. For the religion of India is nothing if it is not lived. It has to be applied not only to life, but to the whole of life; its spirit has to enter into and mould our society, our politics, our literature, our science, our individual character, affections and aspiration. To understand the heart of this dharma, to experience it as a truth, to feel the high emotions to which it rises and to express and execute it in life is what we understand by Karmayoga. We believe that it is to make Yoga the ideal of human life that India rises today; by the Yoga she will get the strength to realise her freedom, unity and greatness; by the Yoga she will keep the strength to preserve it. It is a spiritual revolution we foresee and the material is only its shadow and reflex.”

In connection with the three master passions of his life, it is interesting to note that before Sri Aurobindo’s arrival at Pondicherry, where he settled and lived after his retirement from active political life (from 1910 to 1950), a famous South Indian Yogi had made a prediction that “thirty years later (agreeing with the time of my arrival) a Yogi from the North would come as a fugitive to the South and practise there an integral Yoga (Poorna Yoga), and this would be one sign of the approaching liberty of India. He gave three utterances as the mark by which this Yogi could be recognised and all these three were found in the letters to my wife….”[53]

In his first letter to his wife, written from Baroda and dated 30th August, 1905, Sri Aurobindo writes: “Hinduism declares that the way lies within one’s body and mind, and it has laid down certain rules which have to be observed for following the way. I have begun observing these rules, and a month’s practice has led me to realise the truth of what Hinduism teaches. I am already experiencing all the signs and symptoms it speaks of….” The observance of the rules laid down by Hinduism was done with such a superhuman intensity of the soul’s will and the heart’s devotion that in the course of a single month Sri Aurobindo achieved what, even in exceptional cases, takes long years of strenuous struggle to come to fruition. “I am experiencing all the signs and symptoms it speaks of….” It appears as if the floodgates of spiritual experience had been thrown open to him.

“I have the power to redeem this fallen race. It is not physical power — I am not going to fight with sword or gun — but the power of knowledge. The prowess of the Kshatriya is not the only power; there is another power, the fire-power of the Brahmin, which is founded in knowledge. This is not a new feeling, I have not imbibed it from modern culture — I was born with it. It is in the marrow of my bones. It is to accomplish this great mission that God has sent me to the earth.”

We know that Sri Aurobindo was temperamentally reserved. His answers to questions except when he was in the company of his close friends, used to be usually in the monosyllabic “yes” or “no”. His Bengali tutor, Dinendra Kumar Roy, relates that Sri Aurobindo once told him that the less one speaks about oneself the better. But in the paragraph, quoted above, he does not mince his words. We do not find in it the modesty and reticence characteristic of him in regard to personal matters.[54] Here he evidently speaks from a super-personal consciousness. Here we find the unmistakable ring of the Divine Consciousness-Force (Chit-Tapas) uttering its Will. When God speaks through the chosen soul of man, He speaks in such accents of fire. It is undeniable that, apart from the spiritual experiences he had had, there must have awakened in him something or Someone that could speak in such a prophetic tone of sovereign power. For, many can have high spiritual experiences and enjoy some kind of union and communion with the Supreme Reality, but who can speak in this categoric strain of absolute certitude, unless God speaks directly through his voice: “I know (it was a knowledge with him, not a mere aspiration or resolve) I have the power to redeem this fallen race.” He further asserts with disarming candour and forthrightness that he was born with this power, that it was bred in his bones, and that to accomplish this mission God had sent him to the earth.

“The seed began to sprout when I was only fourteen; it took firm root when I was eighteen.” When he was fourteen years old, he was in England, knowing practically nothing of India, Indian culture, or the political and economic condition of India, let alone Indian spirituality. He knew next to nothing of Yoga. The seed that he speaks of must then have been a spontaneous inner awakening, a lightning flash of his soul’s consciousness of its life-work. The seed took firm root and became stable and secure when he was eighteen. It can, therefore, be confidently stated that it was not, evidently, his practice of Yoga, which he began in 1904 (when he was about thirty-one years old), or his study of the sacred books of his country (which he began when he was twenty-two or twenty-three years old), that gave him the foreknowledge of his life’s mission. It was something he had felt and perceived growing within himself in England.[55] And it is only in the light of this mystic prescience that we can explain the sudden, unsought-for, decisive experiences and realisations that descended upon him like an avalanche ever since he set foot on the soil of his motherland. Yoga did not make him conscious of his mission, it only led him along on the way to its accomplishment. Yoga did not awaken his soul, it was his soul that spontaneously blossomed through Yoga. And that he was not only conscious of his life’s mission but of the precise nature and extent of it, is proved by his intuitive recoil from all forms of ascetic, world-shunning spirituality. When perceiving the decided bent of his mind, his Cambridge friend, K.G. Despande, advised him to practise Yoga, he flatly refused, saying that it would lure him away from the life of action. In his essays on Bankim Chandra Chatterji, the maker of modern Bengali prose and the inspired writer of the national anthem, Bandemataram, he wrote: “The clear serenity of the man showed itself in his refusal to admit asceticism among the essentials of religion.” He knew pretty well that his work would embrace all life and its activities, and that it was to the creation of a vigorous, dynamic, practical spirituality, capable of flooding all earthly existence with the treasures of the Spirit that he was called. He must have heard the dumb appeal of Matter for a restitution of its innate divinity. For, Matter, too, is Brahman, annam brahma.

Another thing that stands out in his letters to his wife is the phenomenal rapidity of his spiritual progress just after he began the practice of Yoga. Not only the signs and symptoms we have referred to and which fortified his intuitive faith in Hinduism, but a more positive result, characteristic of his integral approach to spirituality, flows at once from his self-surrender to God. “For the moment I have to let you know only this that I am no longer my own master. Where God leads me I have to go, what he makes me do I have to do, just like a puppet…. You have henceforth to understand that nothing that I do depends upon my will, but upon the command of God….” This state of being completely possessed by the Divine and moved by Him even in one’s physical action is, as Sri Aurobindo afterwards so often explained in his letters to his disciples and in his writings on Yoga, the inevitable result of an unreserved surrender of the whole being of man, including his body and all its movements, to God. But it can be achieved only after a long practice of the Integral Yoga. But, in his case, it was achieved in the course of about a couple of years. He was being led by God in all that he was doing. It can, therefore, be easily concluded that his politics, almost from the beginning of its active phase, was shaped and guided by unseen directives. It was the politics of a Yogi. And it would be irrational, for those at least who believe in unseen directives, to judge his political utterances and activities, either by the canons of current political theories and rules of expediency, or by the puny standards of unrealistic mental ethics. He did what he was led to do, in the spirit of the verse we have quoted at the head of this essay, with a joyous confidence in the wisdom of God’s guidance.

There is yet another thing that arrests attention in his letters to his wife. It is that he never thought that the final emancipation of India would come by the power of sword or gun. “It is not physical power — I am not going to fight with sword or gun —”. He wanted the political freedom of India as a step and means to the freedom and fulfilment of her soul, to a spiritual reconstruction of her thought, life and society. That can be done only by Brahma-teja, the blazing power of spiritual knowledge. He perceived that the power was in himself, he felt that it was growing in him, and he knew that it would never fail him. His politics was a prelude to his greater and wider spiritual work of raising humanity to a higher level of consciousness, which is, he knew, the immediate urge of evolutionary nature; it was not inconsistent with his spirituality. Even when he left Bengal, he left only his political field of work, but not politics. “He kept a close watch on all that was happening in the world and in India and actively intervened whenever necessary, but solely with a spiritual force and silent spiritual action.” His poetry and politics, his philosophy and Yoga were all of a piece — they composed a coherent, integrated, harmonious whole.

We shall now offer to the reader the intimate pen-picture of Sri Aurobindo by Dinendra Kumar Roy, which we have promised.[56] Dinendra Kumar was a distinguished man of letters in Bengal. He was sent by the maternal uncle of Sri Aurobindo to help him learn the Bengali language, particularly its colloquial form and pronunciation. Dinendra Kumar stayed with Sri Aurobindo in the same house for a little over two years from 1898, and had the opportunity of making a close study of his life and nature. His testimony, besides being authentic, affords glimpses of Sri Aurobindo’s private life, which we get nowhere else. Here we see how he lived from day to day, what were his habits, his tastes, his characteristic reactions to men and things, his instinctive gestures and chance utterances, his views on some of his well-known contemporaries etc. — little details and sudden flashes which, according to Vivekananda, reveal the greatness of a great man more than his deliberate thoughts and public actions. We are giving below an English version of some portions of Dinendra Kumar’s Bengali book, Aurobindo Prasanga.

“My beloved friend, late Suresh Chandra Samajpati,[57] once told me: ‘When Aurobindo was at Baroda very few Bengalis knew him or recognised his worth. Nobody was aware of the treasure that lay hidden in the desert of Gujarat…. But during his long stay there, you were the only Bengali who was fortunate enough to have the opportunity of knowing him intimately and observing him at close quarters for some time…. Today new Bengal is eager to hear about him….” Today millions of Bengali readers are, indeed, very anxious to know something of the past life of Aurobindo. I hope the holy saga of the life of this dedicated servant of Mother India will not be disregarded by the youth of Bengal.

“What little I know of him is derived from my personal experience. When I was asked to coach Aurobindo in Bengali, I felt rather nervous. Aurobindo was a profound scholar. He had secured record marks in Latin and Greek in his I.C.S. examination. He had received heaps of books as prizes from the London University. Among those books, there was an exquisite illustrated edition of the Arabian Nights… in sixteen volumes, which I later saw in his study. I had never seen such a voluminous edition of that book — it dwarfed even the Mahabharata in bulk, looking, as it did, like sixteen volumes of the Webster’s Dictionary. It had innumerable pictures in it….

“Before I met Aurobindo, I had formed an image of him somewhat like this: a stalwart figure, dressed from head to foot in immaculate European style, a stem gaze in his spectacled eyes, a distorted accent and a temper exceedingly rough, one who would not tolerate the slightest breach of form. It is needless to add that I was rather disappointed in my estimate when I saw him for the first time. Who could have thought that this darkish young man with soft dreamy eyes[58] and long, thin, wavy hair parted in the middle and reaching to the neck, clad in coarse Ahmedabad dhoti and close-fitting Indian jacket, his feet shod in old-fashioned Indian slippers with upturned toes, a face sparsely dotted with pock-marks — who could have thought that this man could be no other than Mr. Aurobindo Ghose, a living fountain of French, Latin… and Greek? I could not have received a bigger shock if someone had pointed to the hillocks about Deoghar and said: ‘Look, there stand the Himalayas’.[59] However, I had hardly known him for a couple of days when I realised that there was nothing of the meanness and dross of the earth in Aurobindo’s heart. His laughter was simple as a child’s, and as liquid and soft. Though an inflexible will showed at the corners of his lips, there was not the slightest trace in his heart of any worldly ambition or the common human selfishness; there was only the longing, rare even among the gods, of sacrificing himself for the relief of human suffering. Aurobindo could not yet speak in Bengali, but how very eager he was to speak in his mother tongue! I lived with him day and night, and the more I came to be acquainted with his heart, the more I realised that he was not of this earth — he was a god fallen by some curse[60] from his heavenly abode. God alone can say why he had exiled him as a Bengali to this accursed land of India. He had gone to England as a mere boy, almost on the lap of his mother, and it was much after the first flush of his youth that he had returned to his motherland. But what struck me as most amazing was that his noble heart had suffered not the least contamination from the luxury and dissipation, the glitter and glamour, the diverse impressions and influences, and the strange spell of Western society.

“Aurobindo never cared for money. When I was at Baroda, he was getting a pretty fat salary. He was alone, he knew no luxury, nor the least extravagance. But at the end of every month he had not a shot in the locker….

“While talking, Aurobindo used to laugh heartily[61]…. He was not in the habit of prinking himself up. I never saw him change his ordinary clothes even while going to the king’s court. Expensive shoes, shirts, ties, collars, flannel, linen, different types of coats, hats and caps — he had none of these. I never saw him use a hat….

“Like his dress, his bed was also very ordinary and simple. The iron bedstead he used was such that even a petty clerk would have disdained to sleep on it. He was not used to thick and soft bedding.[62] Baroda being near a desert, both summer and winter are severe there; but even in the cold of January, I never saw him use a quilt — a cheap, ordinary rug did duty for it. As long as I lived with him, he appeared to me as nothing but a self-denying sannyasi (recluse), austere in self-discipline and acutely sensitive to the suffering of others. Acquisition of knowledge seemed to be the sole mission of his life. And for the fulfilment of that mission, he practised rigorous self-culture even in the midst of the din and bustle of an active worldly life.

“I have never seen anybody with such a passionate love of reading. Because of his habit of keeping late hours for reading and writing poetry, Aurobindo used to rise slightly late in the morning. He wrote English poetry in various metres. He had an extraordinary command of the English language. His English poems were sweet and simple, his descriptions lucid and devoid of over-colouring. He possessed an uncommon felicity of expression, and never misused a single word. He wrote his poems on a piece of gray-granite paper, and seldom blotted out anything he wrote. A moment’s thought just before the composition, and poetry would flow like a stream from his pen…. I never saw him lose his temper.[63] No passion was ever seen getting the better of him. It is not possible to have such a control of oneself and one’s senses without considerable self-culture.

“He ranked Valmiki above Vyas. He regarded the former as the greatest epic poet in the world. He once said: ‘I was captivated by the poetic genius of Dante, and immensely enjoyed Homer’s Iliad — they are incomparable in European literature. But in the quality of his poetry, Valmiki stands supreme. There is no epic in the world that can compare with the Ramayana of Valmiki[64]….

“Aurobindo read the newspapers during his lunch. Marathi food did not agree with my taste, but Aurobindo was accustomed to it.[65] Sometimes the cooking was so bad that I could hardly take a bite, but he ate quite naturally. I never saw him express any displeasure to his cook. He had a particular liking for Bengali food…. The quantity of food he took was very small; and it was because of his abstemious and temperate habits that he kept perfectly fit in spite of heavy mental labour. He took good care of his health…. For one hour every evening, he would pace up and down the verandah of his house with brisk steps…. He was fond of music, but did not know how to sing or play on any musical instrument….

“As he had little worldly knowledge, he was often cheated; but one who has no attachment to money has no regrets, either, for being cheated. At Baroda he was known to all ranks of people, and they had a great respect for him…. The educated community of Baroda held him in high esteem for his uncommon gifts. By the students of Baroda he was revered and adored as a god. They honoured and trusted this Bengali professor much more than the British Principal of their college. They were charmed by his manner of teaching….

“Sometimes, of an evening or an afternoon, a cavalryman would trot up from the Lakshmivilas Palace with a letter for Sri Aurobindo from the Private Secretary of the Maharaja. The Secretary wrote: ‘The Maharaja would be very pleased if you would dine with him tonight’, or sometimes he wrote: ‘Would it be convenient to you to see the Maharaja at such and such an hour?’ I have seen that, pressed for time, Aurobindo would sometimes even decline the Maharaja’s invitation!… How many respectable men danced attendance on the Maharaja for months together in the hope of getting an interview with him, and here was a mere teacher who considered his duty much more valuable than the favour of a king!

“The Maharaja knew Aurobindo very well. He knew his worth and valued it. He was well aware that though there were many fat-bellied men in his large offices, who drew two to three thousand rupees a month, there was no second Aurobindo. I wonder if there is another Maharaja in India who is so appreciative of the merits of others. Aurobindo had a high opinion of him. Once he told me: ‘The present Maharaja is capable of ruling over a large empire. As a politician, he has no peer in the whole of India.’…

“Aurobindo was always indifferent to pleasure and pain, prosperity and adversity, praise and blame…. He bore all hardships with an unruffled mind, always remembering the great gospel: ‘As Thou, О Lord, seated in my heart, appointest me, so do I act’, and absorbed in the contemplation of his adored Deity. The fire that would have consumed any other man to ashes has served only to burn out his I-ness and render him brighter than ever.

“Aurobindo would sit at his table and read in the light of an oil lamp till one in the morning, unmindful of the intolerable bite of mosquitoes. I saw him seated there in the same posture for hours on end, his eyes fixed on the book he read, like a Yogi plunged in divine contemplation and lost to all sense of what was going on outside. Even if the house had caught fire, it could not have broken his concentration.[66] Daily he would thus burn the midnight oil, poring over books in different languages of Europe — books of poetry, fiction, history, philosophy, etc., whose number one could hardly tell. In his study, there were heaps of books on various subjects in different languages — French, German, Russian, English, Greek, Latin etc., about which I knew nothing. The poetical works of all English poets from Chaucer to Swinburne were also there. Countless English novels were stacked in his book-cases, littered in the corners of his rooms, and stuffed in his steel trunks. The Iliad of Homer, the Divine Comedy of Dante, our Ramayana, Mahabharata, Kalidasa were also among those books. He was very fond of Russian literature…

“After learning Bengali fairly well, Aurobindo began to study Bengali classics, Swarnalata, Annadamangal by Bharat Chandra, Sadhavar Ekadashi by Deenabandhu etc.[67]

“Aurobindo read Bankim Chandra’s novels by himself, and understood them quite well. He had an extraordinary regard for Bankim Chandra. He would say that Bankim Chandra was the golden bridge between our past and present. He wrote a beautiful English sonnet on Bankim Chandra as a tribute to his greatness. He highly enjoyed the Bengali writings of Vivekananda. He said to me that he felt the very warmth and pulse of life in his language, and that such a splendour of vibrant force and fire in thought and word alike was, indeed, something rare. He had also bought and read the poetical works of Rabindranath Tagore. He held this nightingale poet of Bengal in high esteem.

“I used to order many books from the Gurudas Library of Calcutta for Aurobindo. He also purchased many of the books published by the Basumati Press in Calcutta…. Two well-known booksellers of Bombay, Atmaram Radhabai Saggon and Thacker Spink & Co., were his regular suppliers of books. They sent him long lists of new publications every month, and sometimes every week. Aurobindo would make his selections from the lists and place his orders. As soon as he drew his salary, be would remit by M.O. Rs. 50 or 60, sometimes even more, to the booksellers. They used to supply his selected books on deposit account. He seldom received books by post; they came by Railway parcels, packed in huge cases. Sometimes small parcels came twice or thrice in the course of a month. He would finish all those books in eight or ten days and place fresh orders. I have never seen such a voracious reader.[68]

“Aurobindo had a profound faith in astrology.[69] He admitted the influence of the planets on human life. He had not the least doubt that one can know about the auspicious and inauspicious events of a man’s life by studying his horoscope…. I got a horoscope of Aurobindo’s life prepared by Sri Kalipada Bhattacharya, who was well versed in astrology. Once, when I met him afterwards, the astrologer told me: ‘Your pupil is an extraordinary man. Although he stands high in the Maharaja’s favour, there is a lot of hardship and suffering in store for him. He is not destined to enjoy much of worldly life.’

“When we were staying at the Camp house, Shashi Kumar Hesh, a rising artist, had returned from Europe, where he had been to study the art of painting. I had heard that his family surname was Ash, but as the English pronunciation and meaning of the word appeared to him rather disreputable, he changed his surname into Hesh…. He came to Baroda to see the Gaekwar with letters of recommendation from Sir George Birdwood and Dadabhai Naoroji…. He did not put up with us as a guest of Aurobindo, but accepted the hospitality of the Maharaja, and was lodged at the latter’s Guest house, which was a large and handsome building, surrounded by a garden and furnished in the European style…. He used to come every day to our Camp house. At the very first meeting, we fell under his spell. A day’s acquaintance was enough for him to make us his own. Aurobindo told me that Hesh looked like an Italian…. Impressed by Aurobindo’s erudition, Hesh was all admiration for him. Once he made Aurobindo give him two or three sittings at the Guest house, and he painted an oil colour portrait of him. A stroke or two of the brush and the portrait at once beamed with life….

“Whoever has once lived even for ten days with Aurobindo will never be able to forget him. It was my great good fortune that I had the opportunity of living with him for over two years….”

During this period of his life at Baroda, Sri Aurobindo perused the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and the speeches and writings of Vivekananda. He had the highest regard and admiration for Sri Ramakrishna. What he has written about him has hardly been surpassed in the depth and ardour of its appreciation. He says: “And in a recent unique example, in the life of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, we see a colossal spiritual capacity, first driving straight to the divine realisation, taking, as it were, the kingdom of heaven by violence and then seizing upon one Yogic method after another and extracting the substance out of it with an incredible rapidity, always to return to the heart of the whole matter, the realisation and possession of God by the power of love, by the extension of inborn spirituality into various experience and by the spontaneous play of an intuitive knowledge.”

And on Vivekananda he says in his book, The Ideal of the Karmayogin: “The going forth of Vivekananda, marked out by the Master as the heroic soul destined to take the world between his two hands and change it, was the first visible sign to the world that India was awake not only to survive but conquer.” About his inner contact with Swami Vivekananda we shall quote Sri Aurobindo’s own words later.





BANDE MATARAM (Hymn to the Mother)

Translation in prose by Sri Aurobindo

I bow to thee, Mother, richly-watered, richly-fruited,
cool with the winds of the south,
dark with the crops of the harvests, the Mother!
Her nights rejoicing in the glory of the moonlight,
her lands clothed beautifully with her trees in flowering bloom,
sweet of laughter, sweet of speech,
the Mother, giver of boons, giver of bliss!
Terrible with the clamorous shout of seventy million throats,
and the sharpness of swords raised in twice seventy million hands,
Who sayeth to thee, Mother, that thou art weak?
Holder of multitudinous strength,
I bow to her who saves,
to her who drives from her the armies of her foemen, the Mother!
Thou art knowledge, thou art conduct, thou our heart,
thou our soul, for thou art the life in our body.
In the arm thou art might, О Mother,
in the heart, О Mother, thou art love and faith,
it is thy image we raise in every temple.
For thou art Durga holding her ten weapons of war,
Kamala at play in the lotuses
And Speech, the goddess, giver of all lore, to thee I
I bow to thee, goddess of wealth, pure and peerless,
richly-watered, richly-fruited, the Mother!
I bow to thee, Mother,
dark-hued, candid,
sweetly smiling, jewelled and adorned,
the holder of wealth, the lady of plenty,
the Mother![70]

(Composed by Bankim Chandra Chatterji)

We have already gleaned some essential elements of the spiritual background of Sri Aurobindo’s love of India. We have seen that behind his militant nationalism, there was the secret fire of an intense yearning for God and the fulfilment of His work on earth through a resurgence of Indian spirituality.[71] But when he first appears before his countrymen as a political thinker, it is only the love of his motherland that shines forth and inspires his writings, and the political liberation of his nation that seems to be the immediate, impelling objective. He had followed the Indian political movement even when he was in England, and his close study of it had revealed to him the fundamental weaknesses it was labouring under. Soon after his return to India, he set himself to expose those weaknesses with an incisive, relentless logic, pull down the fragile structure of the Indian National Congress, and build it anew on the solid foundation of a fervent nationalistic idealism and a profound political philosophy, drawing their sustenance from the very roots of Indian culture and true to the spirit of the nation. But before we begin a study of his political thought and life, it would be well to cast a glance at the religious, social, and political changes which had been taking place in India before Sri Aurobindo emerged, first as a political thinker, and then, as the most original and powerful exponent of spiritual nationalism. Rapid and revolutionary, indeed, were these changes which, originating in Bengal, spread to all parts of the country, and, in the course of a few decades, brought about a splendid outflowering of the national soul. A brief outline of India in the middle of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century will give the reader (and particularly the Western reader) the right perspective in which to view the origin, nature and growth of Indian nationalism and Sri Aurobindo’s contribution to it.

The latter half of the eighteenth century saw the Indian nation almost prostrate in the dust — its spirituality smouldering under an inert mass of dead and deadening formalism, the mainspring of its life corroded by rust, its vitality at a low ebb, and its vision narrowed and clouded. It had ceased to think creatively. Its thinking mind and higher reason had ceased to mediate between its soul and its life. And this atrophy of the thinking mind spelled, on the one hand, a catalepsy of the spiritual aspiration, and, on the other hand, a withering and enervation of life and its constriction within the shells of a supine conformity. “The evening of decline… was prepared by three movements of retrogression. First, there is, comparatively, a sinking of that superabundant vital energy and a fading of the joy of life and the joy of creation… this energy for a very brief period sinks nearest to a complete torpor… the decadence was marked and progressive. Secondly, there is a rapid cessation of the old free intellectual activity, a slumber of the scientific and critical mind as well as the creative intuition; what remains becomes more and more a repetition of ill-understood fragments of past knowledge. There is a petrifaction of the mind and life in the relics of the forms which a great intellectual past had created. Old authority and rule become rigidly despotic and, as always then happens, lose their real sense and spirit…. This diminution amounts to a certain failure of the great endeavour which is the whole meaning of Indian culture, a falling short in the progress towards the perfect spiritualisation of the mind and the life. The beginnings were superlative, the developments very great, but at a certain point where progress, adaptation, a new flowering should have come in, the old civilisation stopped short, partly drew back, partly lost its way. The essential no doubt remained and still remains in the heart of the race and not only in its habits and memories, but in its action it is covered up in a great smoke of confusion. The causes internal and external we need not discuss; but the fact is there. It was the fact of the momentary helplessness of the Indian mind in the face of new and unprecedented conditions.[72]

Socially, the Nation, starving for the sap of a living spirituality and losing its nerve in the face of alien forces of aggression, shrank into itself and stood hedged in by defensive taboos and inhibitions. It was a state of stagnation, marked by the rigour of rules, a rigidity of creeds and cults, and a progressive cultural sterility.

Politically, the country presented the spectacle of a welter of States or small kingdoms, engaged in intrigues and rivalries, and blindly struggling to satisfy their mean, parochial interests. It was a confusion, an “anarchy which gave European adventure its chance”. The rapid disintegration of the Moghal empire was accompanied by a more or less general torpor of the martial spirit and an easy proneness to any superior might.

Describing the then state of the country, Rabindranath says:

“…our country having lost its link with the inmost truths of its being struggled under a crushing load of unreason, in abject slavery to circumstance. In social usage, in politics, in the realms of religion and art, we had entered the zone of uncreative habit, of decadent tradition, and ceased to exercise our humanity.”

“It was at this moment that the European wave swept over India. The first effect of this entry of a new and quite opposite civilisation was the destruction of much that had no longer the power to live, the deliquescence of much else, a tendency to the devitalisation of the rest. A new activity came in, but this was at first crudely and confusedly imitative of the foreign culture. It was a crucial moment and an ordeal of perilous severity; a less vigorous energy of life might well have foundered and perished under the double weight of the deadening of its old innate motives and a servile imitation of alien ideas and habits. History shows us how disastrous this situation can be to nations and civilisations. But fortunately the energy of life was there, sleeping only for a moment, not dead, and, given that energy, the evil carried within itself its own cure.”[73]

The first result of the onslaught of the alien culture was, as Sri Aurobindo points out, a crude and confused imitation. Of all the provinces of India it was Bengal that was most affected by this servile tendency to aping European manners, European habits and European ways of life. Religious restraints, moral scruples and time-honoured social conventions were thrown to the winds. Those who received the new Western education and imbibed the materialistic and rationalistic spirit of the West, revelled in assaulting the outworn ramparts of Hindu orthodoxy, and abandoning themselves to a life of Bohemian self-indulgence. It was, indeed, a period of moral anarchy, reckless iconoclasm and a wanton denial and defiance of the higher values of life, which the nation had so long been cherishing and conserving with a religious zeal. Lala Lajpat Rai gives an amusing, though somewhat sombre picture of the educated Bengalis in his Young India: “He (the Bengali Babu) began to live as the Britisher lives; English life, English manners and customs, became his ideal. Gradually he became very fond of English literature and began to think as an Englishman thought. The Bengalees were the first to send their sons to England for their education and to compete for the I.C.S. (Indian Civil Service) and the I.M.S. (Indian Medical Service). They with the Parsees were the first to qualify for the English Bar. In England they lived in an atmosphere of freedom. With freedom in drinking and eating they also learned freedom of thought and expression. The first generation of the Bengalees was thus Anglicised through and through. They looked down upon their own religion; they thought poorly of Indian society…. Some of them became Christians….”

Fortunately, this period was a very short one, and the injury it inflicted upon the nation was restricted to the small community, educated on Western lines. The enormous mass of the people still lived on in the wintry twilight of a cultural decadence, jealously guarding the heritage of the past, but too languid and listless to build upon it a brighter future and a new, dynamic order of creative life. But this immobile conservatism, too, was not without its utility.[74]

“Whatever temporary rotting and destruction this crude impact of European life and culture has caused, it gave three needed impulses. It revived the dormant intellectual and critical impulse; it rehabilitated life and awakened the desire of new creation; it put the reviving Indian spirit face to face with novel conditions and ideals and the urgent necessity of understanding, assimilating and conquering them. The national mind turned a new eye on its past culture, reawoke to its sense and import, but also at the same time saw it in relation to modern knowledge and ideas.”[75]

It was at this juncture that Raja Ram Mohan Roy was born. His birth in Bengal had an important significance, for Bengal was destined to be “the chief testing crucible or the first workshop of the Shakti of India; it is there that she has chosen to cast in the greatest vivacity of new influences and develop her initial forms and inspirations.”[76] “The first impulse”, born of the reception and assimilation of Western culture and coming in the wake of the crude movement of blind imitation, was “gigantic in its proportions and produced men of an almost gigantic originality.” “Ram Mohan Roy arose with a new religion in his hand….” It is interesting to note here that unlike the Renaissance in Europe, the Renaissance in India derived its first inspiration from spirituality. It was not intellectual, artistic or political in its inception and essence, but unmistakably spiritual,[77] seeking sustenance from the national culture of the past, but endeavouring to adapt it to the spirit and needs of the modern age. As Sri Aurobindo says: “All great movements of life in India have begun with a new spiritual thought and usually a new religious activity. What more striking and significant fact can there be than this that even the new European influence, which was an influence intellectual, rationalistic, so often anti-religious, and which drew so much of its idealism from the increasingly cosmopolitan, mundane and secularist thought of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, precipitated in India from the very first an attempt at religious reformation and led actually to the creation of new religions? The instinct of the Indian mind was that, if a reconstruction of ideas and of society was to be attempted, it must start from a spiritual basis and take from the first a religious motive and form. The Brahmo Samaj had in its inception a large cosmopolitan idea, it was even almost eclectic in the choice of the materials for the synthesis it attempted; it combined a Vedantic first inspiration, outward forms akin to those of English Unitarianism and something of its temper, a modicum of Christian influence, a strong dose of religious rationalism and intellectualism. It is noteworthy, however, that it started from an endeavour to restate the Vedanta, and it is curiously significant of the way in which even what might be well called a protestant movement follows the curve of the national tradition and temper, that the three stages of its growth, marked by the three churches or congregations into which it split, correspond to the three eternal motives of the Indian religious mind, Jnana, Bhakti and Karma, the contemplative and philosophical, the emotional and fervently devotional and the actively and practically dynamic spiritual mentality. The Arya Samaj in the Punjab founded itself on a fresh interpretation of the truth of the Veda and an attempt to apply old Vedic principles of life to modern conditions. The movement associated with the great names of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda has been a very wide synthesis of past religious motives and spiritual experience topped by a reaffirmation of the old asceticism and monasticism, but with new living strands in it and combined with a strong humanitarianism and zeal of missionary expansion….”[78]

In order to show that all movements of rebirth or renovation of the Indian nation have been invariably preceded and inspired by a spiritual or religious resurgence, we have reproduced the above passage from Sri Aurobindo in which he has given an illuminating survey of the origin and development of the present renaissance in India, and how it has been progressing on the time-old lines of the national genius. We have thus had to anticipate a little of what we shall consider slightly later.

The national ferment produced a long line of towering personalities in almost all walks of life. The very appearance of pioneering geniuses signalised the advent of a new dawn of the national life. It was, certainly, no accident — we speak here of Bengal only — that Ram Mohan Roy was followed by Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, Rishi Rajnarayan Bose, Pandit Shivnath Shastri, Akshaya Kumar Dutt, Keshav Chandra Sen, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, poet Madhusudan Dutt, Bankim Chandra Chatterji, the inspired seer of the National Anthem, Bande Mataram, and the greatest novelist in Bengali literature, Dr. Rajendra Lai Mitra, Sri Ramkrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda, Yogi Vijay Krishna Goswami, the world-poet Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, the gifted pioneer of the new school of Indian Art, Jagadish Chandra Bose, the greatest Indian scientist[79], etc. etc., — an unbroken line of outstanding personalities who enriched every sphere of Indian life. We have not mentioned the more recent names, some of which are equally illustrious in their respective fields of thought and activity. All this proves that the Shakti of the nation was well at work, the divine fiat had gone forth, and a great future of incalculable possibilities was preparing behind the lightning transitions of India’s outer life.

Ram Mohan Roy, who foreshadows — very naturally in the faint glimmer of the approaching light — some of the main elements of the grand synthesis which was going to be the chief gift of renaissant India to the world, has been called by Rabindranath Tagore “the inaugurator of the Modern Age in India” and “the path-maker of this century”, and by Lajpat Rai “the first nation-builder of Modern India”.[80] “Ram Mohan Roy, that great soul and puissant worker”, as says Sri Aurobindo, “who laid his hand on Bengal and shook her — to what mighty issues — out of her long, indolent sleep by her rivers and rice fields”, was, indeed, a genius of exceptional versatility, and a wide, enlightened and comprehensive vision. He embodied the new spiritual and cultural trends and the emergent socio-political consciousness which sprang into existence from the contact of the East and the West after the initial spell of fascinated imitation had passed. He was a herald of the coming dawn. A rapid review of some of the principal facets of this giant personality will give us a revealing insight into the creative forces and ideas that were surging up from the awakening soul of the nation for building the India of the future; for, according to Sri Aurobindo, “Ram Mohan Roy was a great man in the first rank of active genius” who “set flowing a stream of tendencies which have transformed our national life.” Swami Vivekananda called him “the first man of new regenerate India”.

A Tantric[81] by early initiation and a Vendantist by natural self-development, Ram Mohan Roy was essentially a spiritual personality. All that he attempted and achieved sprang from his intrinsic spiritual sense and outlook. He was an apostle of Universal Theism. Rabindranath calls him “a Universal Man”. He was a religious humanist and a staunch rationalist who effected a reconciliation between reason and religious faith. He was the first translator into Bengali of the Brahma Sutra and the Upanishads. He was the first social reformer in Bengal whose success in reforms was so great as to throw into the shade even his far greater achievements in other fields of work. He was one of the first advocates of a radical overhauling in education with English as the medium of instruction and scientific training as an indispensable part of the curriculum. He was one of the founders of the Hindu College, which became the nursery of many a shining genius of the time. He was the first Bengali to found and edit a journal in Bengali. He is called the Father of modern Bengali literary prose. He was also a poet whose Bengali hymns, which were sung in the Brahmo Samaj, founded by him, have a moving devotional quality and lyrical sweetness.

Ram Mohan was also the father of constitutional political agitation[82] in India. He was a passionate lover of freedom. William Adams, bearing witness to his love of freedom, says: “He would be free or not be at all…. Love of freedom was perhaps the strongest passion of his soul.” He strove in his own way, and under the conditions obtaining at the time, for the political amelioration of his country. He took a lively interest in the political movements of all countries in the world which were struggling for freedom. In 1882, when the Reform Bill came up for discussion in England, he was so much exercised over it that he declared that in the event of the Bill being defeated, he would give up his residence in the dominions of England and settle in America. It is said that on his voyage to England, “when his boat touched the Cape of Good Hope, though seriously injured and made lame for several months by an accident, he insisted upon being carried to a French vessel where he saw the flag of liberty flying, so that he might be able to do homage to it. The sight of the glorious tri-colour kindled his enthusiasm and made him for the time being insensible to pain. The French received him warmly and he was conducted over the vessel beneath the revolutionary flag. When returning, he shouted, unmindful of his pain, ‘Glory, glory, glory to France!’”[83] He once wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in France that all humanity is one family and that the different nationalities are its branches.[84] He was a champion of the unity of mankind, and envisaged something like a League of Nations, long before any such idea had struck anybody. He espoused the cause of the peasants in India and fought valiantly for the freedom of the Press.

Max Müller calls Ram Mohan the father of Comparative Religion. Monier Williams says about him: “Ram Mohan is the first earnest investigator in the science of comparative theology which the world has produced.”

In Ram Mohan’s personality and his life-work we glimpse the wide, cosmopolitan, international, universal consciousness which was preparing to dawn upon the progressive mind of the Indian nation, accentuating the tendency to a synthesis of the past and the present, the East and the West, spirituality and life. It was a mere beginning, the first, pale streaks of the dawning glory; but all the same, it was a sure prognostic of the coming dawn. Ram Mohan was, indeed, in the words of Sir Brajendranath Seal, the eminent scholar and philosopher, “a precursive hint of the India that was rising” — the India, rising not for herself, but as Sri Aurobindo proclaims, for God and humanity. The times were big with a great future.

The new spirit of religious awakening brought in by Ram Mohan was “developed on original lines” by Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath Tagore, and by Sri Aurobindo’s maternal grandfather, Rishi Rajnarayan Bose. Debendranath went closer to the heart of the spirituality of the land, and Rajnarayan, discarding the eclecticism of Ram Mohan, upheld the cause of the pure essence of ancient Hinduism. Keshav Chandra Sen, upon whom had fallen the mantle of Debendranath, but who later broke with him and formed a new Brahmo Samaj, reverted to the eclecticism of Ram Mohan (in fact, Ram Mohan’s tentative attempt at a synthesis — in the external formulation of an inner realisation — between the Vedanta, Christian Unitarianism and Moslem Sufism[85] had really resulted in a sort of eclecticism); but his preponderant bias for Christianity led him into a pot-pourri of diverse religious strains. Keshav’s nature was genuinely religious and emotional, and was immensely widened and enlightened by his contact with Sri Ramakrishna; but his approach to Hinduism was through Christianity, and so, his preaching, in spite of its resounding success at the moment, failed to leave any lasting impression upon the national mind. However, the Brahmo Samaj was responsible for some socio-religious and educational reforms, and for weaning many a soul from the influence of Christian missionaries.

At this time, in another part of India, arose another man, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj, who, according to Mrs. Besant, first proclaimed “India for Indians”. He discovered in the Vedas the perennial source and support of Hindu society, and sought to draw upon its spiritual and cultural riches for the establishment of an ideal national society in India. Describing Dayananda’s personality and work, Sri Aurobindo says: “Among the great company of remarkable figures that will appear to the eye of posterity at the head of the Indian Renaissance, one stands out by himself with peculiar and solitary distinctness, one unique in his type as he is unique in his work…. Here was one who did not infuse himself informally into the indeterminate soul of things, but stamped his figure indelibly as in bronze on men and things. Here was one whose formal works are the very children of his spiritual body, children fair and robust and full of vitality, the image of their creator. Here was one who knew definitely and clearly the work he was sent to do, chose his materials, determined his conditions with a sovereign clairvoyance of the spirit and executed his conception with the puissant mastery of the born worker. As I regard the figure of this formidable artisan in God’s workshop, images crowd on me which are all of battle and work and conquest and triumphant labour. Here, I say to myself, was a very soldier of Light, a warrior in God’s world, a sculptor of men and institutions, a bold and rugged victor of the difficulties which matter presents to spirit. And the whole sums itself up to me in a powerful impression of spiritual practicality. The combination of these two words, usually so divorced from each other in our conception, seems to me the very definition of Dayananda…. He brings back an old Aryan element into the national character…. (He was) a man with God in his soul, vision in his eyes and power in his hands to hew out of life an image according to his vision…. What a master-glance of practical intuition was this to go back trenchantly to the very root of Indian life and culture, to derive from the flower of its birth the seed for a radical new birth! And what an act of grandiose intellectual courage to lay hold upon this scripture (the Veda) defaced by ignorant comment and oblivion of its spirit, degraded by misunderstanding to the level of an ancient document of barbarism, and to perceive in it its real worth as a scripture which conceals in itself the deep and energetic spirit of the forefathers who made this country and nation — a scripture of divine knowledge, divine worship, and divine action…. He seized justly on the Veda as India’s Rock of Ages and had the daring conception to build on what his penetrating glance perceived in it a whole education of youth, a whole manhood and a whole nationhood…. Ram Mohan stopped short at the Upanishads. Dayananda looked beyond and perceived that our original seed was the Veda….”[86] A relentless crusade against priestly authority and paralysing superstitions, an uncompromising rejection of idol worship and a trenchant affirmation of the one, indivisible Brahman as at once constituting, pervading and transcending the whole universe, a repudiation of the caste system and untouchability, an advocacy of the democratic principle in religion and society, an insistence on the equality of the sexes and on equal education of them on purely national lines, and an aggressive, militant nationalism were some of the outstanding contributions of the Arya Samaj to renaissant India. It struck out an original plan of converting even non-Hindus to Hinduism. The growing spirit of nationalism derived a great impetus from the Arya Samaj movement.

The Theosophical Movement, founded by Madame Blavatsky,[87] proclaimed the greatness of Indian wisdom and the superiority of Indian spiritual culture to all other cultures of the world. It thus helped, to a certain extent, restore the faith of the newly educated community of Indians in their spiritual and cultural inheritance, and turn their minds from a blind worship of the materialistic thought and civilisation of the West. It is interesting to note that it was Swami Dayananda who had invited Madame Blavatsky to come to India.

Contemporaneous with Swami Dayananda was Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the embodiment of the highest synthesis of spiritual experience till then achieved. He was a living challenge to the materialistic rationalism of the times, a living refutation of the invading spirit of scepticism and atheism, and a living fount of the Light and Love, the Peace and Purity of the Divine whom he loved and adored as the Divine Mother. His greatest disciple, Swami Vivekananda, was in America in 1893, waiting for his apostolic triumph at the Parliament of Religions, which was to open a new chapter in the history of the impact of the East upon the West.[88] The example and influence of Sri Ramakrishna acted as a potent regenerative and formative force in the Renaissance of India, and set ablaze the awakening spirit of nationalism.

Like the Reformation, following on the heels of the Renaissance, in Europe, all these religious and reformist movements in India stimulated the spirit of nationalism and whetted the hunger for freedom. The chains of slavery began to bite into the flesh of the nation’s body, the leaden yoke galled and oppressed.

In the field of literature, which is the medium of expression of a nation’s soul, arose some remarkable men of original genius. “The two Dutts, Okhay Kumar and Michael Madhu Sudan, began a new prose and a new poetry.” “…Madhusudan’s first great poems Sharmistha and Tilottama had a complex effect, much of a piece with the sensation created by Marlowe’s Tamburlaine in Elizabethan England or Hugo’s Hernani in 19th century France. They took men’s imagination by storm with their splendour, passion and mighty imagery; by creating the Bengali blank verse they freed poetry from the facilities and prettinesses of the old rhymed stanza; by their magnificences of style and emotion they brought new elements into Hindu literature, and they gave battle with their strange and fiery coloured music to the classic frigidity of the Sanskritists…. That marvellous epic, the Meghnad-badh, was the coup de grâce. When Vidyasagar praised the Meghnad-badh as a supreme poem, the day of the Sanskritists was over….”[89]

“The society by which Bankim was formed was the young Bengal of the fiftees, the most extraordinary perhaps that India has yet seen — a society electric with thought and loaded to the brim with passion. Bengal was at that time the theatre of a great intellectual awakening. A sort of miniature Renascence was in process. An ardent and imaginative race, long bound in the fetters of a single tradition, had had suddenly put into its hand the key to a new world thronged with the beautiful or profound creations of Art and Learning. From this meeting of a foreign Art and civilisation with a temperament differing from the temperament which created them, there issued, as there usually does issue from such meetings, an original Art and an original civilisation. Originality does not lie in rejecting outside influences but in accepting them as a new mould into which our own individuality may run….”[90]

“Bankim came into that heritage of peace which Madhusudan had earned…. Both were equipped with enormous stores of reading, both were geniuses of a vast originality, both had creative power, a fine sense for beauty and a gift for emotion and pathos…. One was the king of prose, the other the king of poetry.” “…Bankim, the greatest of novelists,[91] had the versatility developed to its highest expression. Scholar, poet, essayist, novelist, philosopher, lawyer, critic, official, philologian, and religious innovator, — the whole world seemed to be shut up in his single brain”.[92]

“What is it for which we worship the name of Bankim today? What was his message to us or what the vision which he saw and has helped us to see? He was a great poet, a master of beautiful language and a creator of fair and gracious dream-figures in the world of imagination…. He gave us a means by which the soul of Bengal could express itself to itself. He had a positive vision of what was needed for the salvation of the country…. It was the gospel of fearless strength and force which he preached under a veil and in images in Ananda Math and Devi Choudhurani. And he had an inspired unerring vision of the moral strength which must be at the back of the outer force. He perceived that the first element of the moral strength needed must be tyāga, complete self-sacrifice for the country and complete self-devotion to the work of liberation…. He perceived that the second element must be self-discipline and organisation. Lastly he perceived that the third element of the moral strength must be the infusion of religious feeling into patriotic work. The religion of patriotism — that is the master idea of Bankim’s writings…. Of the new spirit which is leading the nation to resurgence and independence, he is the inspirer and political guru…. The supreme service of Bankim to his nation was that he gave us the vision of our Mother…. It is not till the Motherland reveals herself to the eye of the mind as something more than a stretch of earth or a mass of individuals, it is not till she takes shape as a great Divine and Maternal Power in a form of beauty that can dominate the mind and seize the heart that these petty fears and hopes vanish in an all-absorbing passion for the Mother and her service, and the patriotism that works miracles and saves a doomed nation is born…. It was thirty-two years ago that Bankim wrote his great song (Bande Mataram) and few listened; but in a sudden moment of awakening from long delusions the people of Bengal looked round for the truth and in a fated moment somebody sang Bande Mataram. The mantra had been given and in a single day a whole people had been converted to a religion of patriotism. The Mother had revealed herself. Once that vision has come to a people, there can be no rest, no peace, no further slumber till the temple has been made ready, the image installed and the sacrifice offered. A great nation which has had that vision can never bend its neck in subjection to the yoke of a conqueror.”[93]

We have seen how the Indian Renaissance, originating in Bengal, permeated the whole country in waves of national stirrings, and roused the people into an intense urge for creative freedom and cultural self-assertion. In all spheres of life, one felt more and more the surging tide of a fresh vitality, the glow of an unwonted animation, the throbbing buoyancy of youthful idealism. The soul of India, reacting to the Western influence, imbibing what was life-giving and wholesome in its modernism, discarding what threatened to disrupt the bases of its own culture or deflect it from the course of its natural advance, turned with a wistful eye upon the immense legacy of its past and sought in it the secret of building a future which will be neither a replica of the past nor a confused and haphazard self-adaptation to the fickle demands of the present.

The revival of the intellectual and critical faculty, the galvanising of the national life by its renewed contact with the living truths of the past, and the quickening of the creative impulse constituted some of the most fruitful factors of the Indian Renaissance. Western education had brought in its train the intellectual and scientific ferment of Europe. Rationalism, Positivism, Utilitarianism, Scientific Humanism, Individualism, and Materialistic Realism of the West coloured the mind of the English-educated men of India and, in a great measure, moulded its thought and outlook, though, with the passing of time, the cardinal tendencies of the national character asserted themselves and assimilated what was salutary in the Western influence to enrich their own cultural content. The magnificent watchword of the French Revolution, the inspiring teachings and thoughts of Mazzini, the examples of Ireland and America, Italy and Germany fired the nationalist sentiment and political idealism in India. Historical research, pioneered by Dr. Rajendralal Mitra and Romesh Chandra Dutt, the publication of the Sacred Books of the East by Max Muller, and the assiduous labours of Western Orientalists in unearthing and broadcasting the treasures of ancient Indian metaphysics, philosophy and literature contributed to the growth of a vivified sense of national pride and dignity. The aggressive proselytising zeal of Christian missionaries drove the Hindus to an intensive study of their own scriptures and philosophies, so that they might combat the missionary propaganda and save the society from conversion to an alien faith. This also helped nourish the spirit of patriotism and national consciousness.

The above are some of the principal factors which precipitated the birth and development of the spirit of nationalism in the country, apart from the intangible, but irresistible, forces of evolution working from behind a veil. But no less important and fruitful were the forces of resistance and opposition, the forces that served the national cause by striving to thwart it. Adversity proved, indeed, a blessing in disguise. The nation emerged stronger and brighter from the baptism of fire.

The enormous drain of India’s wealth and material resources,[94] the ruthless exploitation and economic strangulation that went on almost unabated since the days of the East India Company, the deliberate destruction of Indian industries and handicrafts in the interests of the British industrialists and tradesmen, annexation of some of the Native States by fraud and force, the squeezing of the States and the moneyed classes under diverse pretexts, the grinding down of the peasantry by excessive taxes, and the brutal oppression of the Indigo cultivators[95] — all these and many other causes created a deep discontent against the British rulers. A series of devastating famines and virulent pestilence swept over the country taking a toll of millions of lives and reducing the groaning masses to utter destitution and untold suffering. These visitations and the desolation and misery they caused were “largely due to the chronic poverty of the people”. Chill penury, sapping what little vitality was left in the masses of the people, tended to drive them to desperation. Poverty[96] combined with repression and humiliation brought the country within measurable distance of a second revolutionary outbreak. The East India Company had been content with its plunder and pillage, and did not care much to interfere with the social and religious life of the people; but since the Mutiny of 1857, the attitude of the British Raj, which took over the administration of India from the East India Company, was characterised by racial arrogance, distrust, and disdainful hardness; and the increasing tempo of repressions and persecutions that followed served only to embitter and inflame more and more the feelings of the starving masses, and feed the fires of nationalism.

It is remarkably significant that the very first movement started to organise the intelligentsia for the growth and development of the national spirit, after the spade work done by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, was inspired and initiated by Sri Aurobindo’s maternal grandfather, Rishi Rajnarayan Bose. Nowhere else in India had any such definite step been taken before it for the resuscitation of the national spirit.[97] “The first clarion call was sounded by Rajnarayan Bose in 1861 when he issued a prospectus for the establishment of a Society for the Promotion of National Feeling among the Educated Natives of Bengal. It was a heroic attempt to turn the thoughts of the anglicised English-educated Bengalis towards their own culture and customs. Those who had hitherto thought in English, talked in English, and even dreamed in English, were now asked to speak and write in Bengali, to wear dhoti and chadar instead of hats and coats, to give up the habit of taking European food and frequent European hotels, to adopt indigenous games and physical exercises, to promote the Hindu system of medicine, etc. etc. To a generation which was the ardent advocate of European or Christian ethics and rationalism, Rajnarayan Bose, himself a prominent product of the English education, boldly proclaimed the superiority of Hindu religion and culture over European and Christian theology and civilisation…. The most significant trait of this nationalism was an intense love of the motherland, based on a conception of its past greatness and future potentialities….”[98] It must be remembered that this movement was not started from any religious or political motive as such, though religion and politics were both implicit in it, but from a purely patriotic motive, from “an intense love of the motherland, based on the conception of its past greatness and future potentialities.” We find in this intrepid nationalist venture of Rajnarayan Bose the seed of the nationalism preached and practised by Sri Aurobindo about half a century later.

Another significantly interesting fact is that the next move, purely patriotic and nationalist, was also inspired by Rajnarayan Bose, though it was chiefly organised by Nabagopal Mitra. The object of the Hindu Mela[99], inaugurated by them was to encourage the use of indigenous products, and the revival of Indian industries and handicrafts, Indian methods of physical culture and the feeling of national self-respect and self-reliance. “It advocated the idea of pan-Indian nationality and urged the adoption of the cult of self-help as an instrument of national regeneration”.[100] “Though Rajnarayan Bose talked of ‘persistent constitutional agitation and other lawful means’, he had fully believed in the legitimacy of the use of force against the alien rulers of India, and in the necessity of forming secret societies for that purpose. Rabindranath Tagore has narrated in his Memoirs how he and his brother Jyotirindranath Tagore became members of the Secret Society established by Rajnarayan Bose where the members had to take oath that they would destroy by the use of force the enemies of the country.”[101]

In 1885, the Indian National Congress was founded by A.C. Hume, a retired civilian, at the secret suggestion and under the veiled auspices of Lord Dufferin, the then Governor-General of India. It was Lord Dufferin’s intention to use the Congress as a “safety-valve” for the seething discontent in the land. Thus inaugurated, the Indian National Congress launched upon its career of prayer, petition and protest. It was dominated by the English-educated higher middle and middle classes of the country, mostly wedded to Western ideas and guided by Western political and social theories. Some of these politicians were able and intelligent men, sincerely desirous of serving the country and promoting its political and social welfare; but they had little insight into the soul of the nation, its destiny, and its potential powers, and less knowledge of the real character of the British bureaucracy and the nature of its stranglehold on India. “The Congress”, as says Sri Aurobindo, “wanted to make England’s yoke easy and its burden light, but not to remove the yoke altogether.” All that it hoped to achieve by its prudent policy of gradual and constitutional pressure, was a colonial form of government, expressing Britain’s platonic sympathy for the political aspirations of the Indian nation, and evincing an imperial solicitude for its advancement under its perpetual tutelage. It lacked the vision, the faith, the courage, the impetuous drive and daring of the inspired rebel who would die rather than submit to bear the yoke of slavery.[102]

But disillusionment was not long in coming. Political agitation and bureaucratic repression gathered momentum from mutual conflict. Even the moderation of the Moderates was on the stretch. Forces of unrest and disaffection were brewing in ominous resentfulness. But beyond the fretful gloom, the dawning light was gilding the far rim of the eastern horizon. It was at this moment that Sri Aurobindo, soon after his return from England, entered the arena of Indian politics with his patriotic soul and powerful pen.






India, my India, where first human eyes awoke to heavenly light,
All Asia’s holy place of pilgrimage, great Motherland of might!
World-mother, first giver to humankind of philosophy and sacred lore,
Knowledge thou gav’st to man, God-love, works, art, religion’s opened door.[103]

Six months after Sri Aurobindo’s arrival at Baroda, he started contributing a series of political articles under the general title, “New Lamps for Old” to Induprakash, a weekly paper edited in Bombay by his Cambridge friend, K.G. Deshpande. “They were begun at the instance of K.G. Deshpande,… but the first two articles made a sensation and frightened Ranade and other Congress leaders. Ranade warned the proprietor of the paper that, if this went on, he would surely be prosecuted for sedition. Accordingly the original plan of the series had to be dropped at the proprietor’s instance. Deshpande requested Sri Aurobindo to continue in a modified tone and he reluctantly consented, but felt no farther interest and the articles were published at long intervals and finally dropped of themselves altogether.”[104]

Regarding his interview with Mahadeo Govind Ranade, Sri Aurobindo says in his Bengali book, Kara Kahini, (The Story of my prison life): “I remember when, back home from England, fifteen years ago, I started writing in the Induprakash of Bombay, strongly protesting against the Congress policy of prayer and petition, the late Sri Mahadev Govind Ranade, seeing how these articles were acting on the minds of the youth, exhorted me, from the moment I met him, for two quarters of an hour, to leave off such writing and take up some Congress work. He wished to entrust me with the work of jail reform. I was surprised and displeased at this request and refused it.”[105] Questioned about the significance of the title of the series, Sri Aurobindo said: “This title did not refer to Indian civilisation but to Congress politics. It is not used in the sense of Aladdin story, but was intended to imply the offering of new lights to replace the old and faint reformist lights of the Congress.”[106]

The editor of the Induprakash introduced New Lamps for Old with the following statement. The series was published anonymously.

“We promised our readers sometime back a series on our present political progress by an extremely able and keen observer of the present times. We are very much pleased to give our readers the first instalment of that series. The title under which these views appear is ‘New Lamps for Old’, which is suggestive, though a metaphorical one. The preface will take us over to the next issue. The views therein contained are not those that are commonly held by our politicians, and for this reason they are very important. We have been convinced that efforts in political progress are not sustained but are lacking in vigour. Hypocrisy has been the besetting sin of our political agitation. Oblique vision is the fashion. True, matter of fact, honest criticism is very badly needed. Our institutions have no foundation and are in hourly danger of falling down. Under these circumstances, it was idle, nay criminal, to remain silent while our whole energy in political progress was spent in a wrong direction. The questions at issue are momentous. It is the making or unmaking of the nation. We have, therefore, secured a gentleman of great literary talents, of liberal culture and of considerable experience, well versed in the art of writing, at great personal inconvenience and probable misrepresentation, to give out his views in no uncertain voice, and, we may be allowed to add, in a style and direction peculiarly his own. We beseech our readers’ most careful and constant perusal on his behalf and assure them that they will find in these articles matter that will set them thinking and stir their patriotic souls.”[107]

Thus did Sri Aurobindo’s political thought launch out upon its breath-taking career. His first shots were aimed, not at the British bureaucracy who were fleecing India of all her resources and stamping out her political aspiration and initiative, but at the Indian National Congress, which had deluded itself and deluded the nation into thinking that it was India’s potential deliverer. Sri Aurobindo, as we have already seen, had followed the activities of the Congress even when he was in England. At Baroda he studied them more closely for six months; and it was with an unerring intuition that he laid his finger on the basic defects and disabilities which were standing in the way of its success. He was, in fact, the first to subject the policies and methods of the Congress to a ruthless scrutiny and incisive logic, and expose them to the nation at large. “Sri Aurobindo stands out as the first exponent of the new revolutionary political thought and idealism which inspired national effort, struggle, and suffering through half a century and achieved for India her full political freedom in 1947. It was Sri Aurobindo’s rare insight and inner vision that first detected the inherent defects of the traditional Congress method of political work which was so far based on what was rightly described as mendicant politics — the politics of small administrative reforms, passing pious Resolutions as appeals to the foreign rulers, and ignoring the fundamental need of the country, that of its total freedom from foreign rule itself.”[108]

The Congress was started more with the object of saving the British Empire from danger than with that of winning political liberty for India. The interests of the British Empire were primary, and those of India only secondary; and no one can say that the Congress has not been true to that ideal. It might be said with justice and reason that the founders of the Indian National Congress considered the maintenance of the British rule in India of vital importance to India herself.[109] The movement (of the Congress) did not appeal to the nation. The leaders lacked that faith which alone makes it possible to make great sacrifices for it.[110]

The first article of the series appeared on the 7th August, 1893.[111] Like many other English-educated Indians, Sri Aurobindo also, when he was in England, had hailed the Indian National Congress as a timely and efficient instrument of political salvation. “It is within the recollection of most of us”, said he, “to what giddy an eminence this body was raised, on how prodigious a wave of enthusiasm, against how immense a weight of resisting winds. So sudden was it all that it must have been difficult, I may almost say impossible, even for a strong man to keep his head and not follow with the shouting crowd. How shall we find words vivid enough to describe the fervour of those morning hopes, the April splendour of that wonderful enthusiasm? The Congress was to us all that is most dear, most high and most sacred; a well of living water in deserts more than Saharan, a proud banner in the battle of Liberty, and a holy temple of concord where the races met and mingled…”[112]

But it did not take long for the first impression to wear off. A closer scrutiny revealed the canker in the apple. “…If the blind lead the blind, shall they not both fall into a ditch?” … “I myself two years ago would not have admitted that it (this apophthegm of the Galilean Prophet) can be truthfully applied to the National Congress. Yet that it can be so applied, — nay, that no judicious mind can honestly pronounce any other verdict on its action, — is the first thing I must prove, if these articles are to have any raison d’être. I am quite aware that in doing this my motive and my prudence may be called into question. I am not ignorant that I am about to censure a body, which to many of my countrymen seems the mightiest outcome of our new national life; to some a precious urn in which are guarded our brightest and noblest hopes; to others a guiding star which will lead us through the encircling gloom to a far distant paradise: and if I were not fully confident that this fixed idea of ours is a snare and a delusion, likely to have the most pernicious effects, I should simply have suppressed my own doubts and remained silent. As it is, I am fully confident, and even hope to bring over one or two of my countrymen to my own way of thinking, or, if that be not possible, at any rate to induce them to think a little more deeply than they have done.”[113] This was, then, the object of this frank and forthright criticism — to induce the English-educated men to think deeply on the political problems of the country and escape from the spell of an unthinking admiration of the Congress. To awaken and stimulate the thinking mind of a subject people is to set it firmly on the road to freedom.

“…I say of the Congress, then, this, — that its aims are mistaken, that the spirit in which it proceeds towards their accomplishment is not a spirit of sincerity and whole-heartedness, and that the methods it has chosen are not the right methods, and the leaders in whom it trusts, not the right sort of men to be leaders; — in brief, that we are at present the blind led, if not by the blind, at any rate by the one-eyed.”[114]

If Sri Aurobindo’s indictment of the British Government is strong and sharp, his exposure and denunciation of the weaknesses of his own people is mercilessly scathing. His censure of the Congress is so ruthless, because he wishes the Congress well, and would like to see it mend its ways and become effectively national. “Our actual enemy is not any force exterior to ourselves, but our own crying weaknesses, our cowardice, our selfishness, our hypocrisy, our purblind sentimentalism. I cannot really see why we should rage so furiously against the Anglo-Indians and call them by all manner of opprobrious epithets. I grant that they are rude and arrogant, that they govern badly, that they are devoid of any great or generous emotion, that their conduct is that of a small coterie of masters surrounded by a nation of helots. But to say all this is simply to say that they are very commonplace men put into a quite unique position. Certainly it would be very grand and noble, if they were to smother all thought of their own peculiar interests, and aim henceforth, not at their own promotion, not at their own enrichment, but at the sole good of the Indian people. But such conduct we have no right to expect save from men of the most exalted and chivalrous character; and the sort of people England sends out to us are not as a rule exalted and chivalrous, but are usually the very reverse of that. They are really very ordinary men, — and not only ordinary men, but ordinary Englishmen, — types of the middle class or Philistines, in the graphic English phrase, with the narrow hearts and commercial habit of mind peculiar to that sort of people. It is something like folly to quarrel with them for not transgressing the law of their own nature. If we were not dazzled by the artificial glare of English prestige, we should at once acknowledge that these men are really not worth being angry with: and if it is idle to be angry with them, it is still more unprofitable to rate their opinion of us at more than a straw’s value. Our appeal, the appeal of every high-souled and self-respecting nation, ought not to be to the opinion of the Anglo-Indians, no, nor yet to the British sense of Justice, but to our own reviving sense of manhood, to our own sincere fellow-feeling — so far as it can be called sincere, — with the silent and suffering people of India. I am sure that eventually the nobler part of us will prevail, — that when we no longer obey the dictates of a veiled self-interest, but return to the profession of a large and genuine patriotism, when we cease to hanker after the soiled crumbs which England may cast to us from her table, then it will be to that sense of manhood, to that sincere fellow-feeling that we shall finally and forcibly appeal.”[115]

“Prompted by our English instruction we have deputed to a mere machine so arduous a business as the remoulding of our entire destinies, needing, as it does, patient and delicate manual adjustment and a constant supervising vigilance — and this to a machine not efficient and carefully pieced together but clumsy and made on a rude and cheap model. So long as this temper prevails, we shall never realise how utterly it is beyond the power of even an excellent machine to renovate an effete and impoverished national character and how palpably requisite to commence from within and not depend on any exterior agency.”[116]

“To commence from within” was the central secret of the reconstruction of national character, which Sri Aurobindo taught as early as 1893, and continued to insist upon all through his life. To touch into life the well-springs of the national being, to make its latent or dormant forces stream forth in a steady current and flow through all its fibres, to raise it from the darkness and inertia of tamas into a whirl of creative energies, and thereby bring about a radical transmutation of its whole existence in accord with the essential urges of the present and the vision and prescience of its future destiny — this was the ideal and method Sri Aurobindo consistently followed so long as he was in politics, and, with a universal sweep and a more powerful dynamic and unfaltering drive, when he was in spiritual life. Politics was the gateway through which he entered into the surging tide of the national life. But he did not remain long at the gateway. He called upon his countrymen to rally under his banner and set about clearing the foreground of the weeds that had covered the passage. He gave the initial inspiration, held up the ideal and the prospectus, and left it to those who were meant for that work to pursue the national objective on the lines chalked out by him, and himself plunged into the flood and rode the waves, in order that he might the better prepare the spiritual and psychological climate and conditions in which, and in which alone, the great destiny of India could be fully and perfectly realised. As we have said before, his politics was a prelude to his much vaster work of a universal sweep, and not just a small fragment, severed from the main body and representing a false start and a mistaken excursion.”[117]

To those who asserted that “in all ages and all countries it is the thinking classes who have led the unthinking, and in the present state of our society we are bound not only to think for ourselves, but also to think for those who are still too ignorant to exercise that important function”, Sri Aurobindo retorted: “If we are bent upon adopting England as our exemplar, we shall certainly imitate the progress of the glacier rather than the progress of the torrent. From Runnymede to Hull riots is a far cry; yet these seven centuries have done less to change partially the political and social exterior of England than five short years to change entirely the political and social exterior of her immediate neighbour. But if Mr. Ghose’s[118] dogmatic utterance is true of England, I imagine it does not apply with equal force to other climes and other eras. For example, is it at all true of France? Rather we know that the first step of that fortunate country towards progress was not through any decent and orderly expansion, but through a purification by blood and fire. It was not a convocation of respectable citizens, but the vast and ignorant proletariat that emerged from a prolonged and almost coeval apathy and blotted out in five terrible years the accumulated oppression of thirteen centuries…. Is it at all true that the initiators of Irish resistance to England were a body of successful lawyers, remarkable only for a power of shallow rhetoric, and deputed by the sort of men that are turned out at Trinity College, Dublin? At any rate that is not what History tells us…. Just as the main strength of that ancient strenuous protest resided in the Irish populace led by the princes of their class, so the principal force of the modern subtler protest resides in the Irish peasantry led by the recognised chiefs of a united people. I might go on and cull instances from Italy and America…”[119]

We have already, in the first chapter, referred to Sri Aurobindo’s love of France, which was the result of a natural attraction.[120] We have also seen how much Ram Mohan Roy admired France. And it is interesting to know that Swami Vivekananda had the same admiration for that most cultured country in Europe. In a passing comparison between England and France, Sri Aurobindo wrote: “But if we carry our glance across the English Channel, we shall witness a very different and more animating spectacle. Gifted with a lighter, subtler and clearer mind than their insular neighbours, the French people have moved irresistibly towards a social and not a political development. It is true that French orators and statesmen, incapacitated by their national character from originating fit political ideals, have adopted a set of institutions curiously blended from English and American manufactures; but the best blood, the highest thought, the real grandeur of the nation does not reside in the Senate or in the Chamber of Deputies; it resides in the artistic and municipal forces of Parisian life, in the firm settled executive, in the great vehement heart of the French populace — and that has ever beaten most highly in unison with the grand ideas of Equality and Fraternity, since they were first enounced on the banner of the great and terrible Republic…. They chose not the fierce, sharp air of English individualism, but the bright influence of art and letters, of happiness, a wide and liberal culture, and the firm consequent cohesion of their racial and social elements…. To put it in a concrete form, Paris may be said to revolve around the Theatre, the Municipal Council and the French Academy, London looks rather to the House of Commons, and New York to the Stock exchange.”[121]

“Our national effort must contract a social and popular tendency before it can hope to be great and fruitful…. The proletariat among us is sunk in ignorance and overwhelmed with distress. But with that distressed and ignorant proletariat — now that the middle class is proved deficient in sincerity, power and judgment — with that proletariat resides, whether we like it or not, our sole assurance of hope, our sole chance in the future. Yet he is set down as a vain theorist and a dreamy trifler who would raise it from its ignorance and distress. The one thing needful, we are to suppose, the one thing worthy of a great and statesman-like soul is to enlarge the Legislative Councils until they are big enough to hold Mr. Pherozeshah Mehta and other geniuses of an immoderate bulk. To play with baubles is our ambition, not to deal with grave questions in a spirit of serious energy. But while we are playing with baubles, with our Legislative Councils, our Simultaneous Examinations, our ingenious schemes for separating the judicial from the executive functions, — while we, I say, are finessing about trifles, the waters of the great deep are being stirred and that surging chaos of the primitive man over which our civilised societies are super-imposed on a thin crust of convention is being strangely and ominously agitated.”[122]

Not only did Sri Aurobindo expose the deficiencies and errors of the Congress, but his political knowledge and insight led him to predict the dire consequences of its half-hearted and opportunist policies upon the teeming, sweating, and starving masses of the Indian people, driven to desperation by ravaging famines and the oppressive laws and levies of the Government. “Already a red danger-signal has shot up from Prabhas Pattan[123] and sped across the country, speaking with a rude eloquence of strange things beneath the fair surface of our renascent, enlightened India; yet no sooner was the signal seen than it was forgotten. Perhaps the religious complexion of these occurrences has lulled our fears; but when turbulence has once become habitual in a people, it is folly that will reckon on its preserving the original complexion. A few more taxes, a few more rash interferences of the Government, a few more stages of starvation, and the turbulence that is now religious will become social…. I again assert as our first and holiest duty the elevation and enlightenment of the proletariat….”[124]

Sri Aurobindo heard the distant rumbling of the live volcano of the “ailing and tortured” Indian proletariat, and warned the Congress that the volcano might erupt any day in shooting columns of burning lava, if courageous sincerity and self-sacrificing zeal, integrity and political foresight were not immediately applied to the solution of the national problems. But neither the Congress nor the British Government were in a mood to listen. They merrily jogged along between blinkers. And what was the result? Within a few years of the warning, the pent-up indignation of the people burst up, shaking the country to its very foundations. Political tragedies are often the outcome of the rulers’ obstinate blindness to the writing on the wall.

The series, New Lamps for Old, ends[125] on the ringing note of the awakening and political education of the Indian masses, without which it were mere folly to hope to achieve anything substantial and stable. Sri Aurobindo forecast the line of action which the Congress had to adopt afterwards, but, then, it was not the Congress of the mendicant Moderates, but of those who, chafing at the fetters of slavery, resolved to sacrifice themselves, if need be, on the altar of national freedom. Freedom became for them a matter of life and death. As Sri Aurobindo expressed it later: “It is light and air that favour growth. Cooped and cabined, we only pine and die.”[126]

“…The proletariat is, as I have striven to show, the real key of the situation. Torpid he is and immobile; he is nothing of an actual force, but he is a very great potential force, and whoever succeeds in understanding and eliciting his strength, becomes by the very fact master of the future. Our situation is indeed complex and difficult beyond any that has ever been imagined by the human intellect; but if there is one thing clear in it, it is that the right and fruitful policy for the burgess, the only policy that has any chance of eventual success, is to base his cause upon an adroit management of the proletariat. He must awaken and organise the entire power of the country and thus multiply infinitely his volume and significance, the better to attain the supremacy as much social as political. Thus and thus only will he attain to his legitimate station, not an egoist class living for itself, but the crown of the nation and its head.”[127]

The gravamen of Sri Aurobindo’s charge against the Congress is contained in this short passage, already quoted above: “I say of the Congress, then, this, — that its aims are mistaken, that the spirit in which it proceeds towards their accomplishment is not a spirit of sincerity and wholeheartedness, and that the methods it has chosen are not the right methods, and the leaders in whom it trusts, not the right sort of men to be leaders….” The absence of the right aim, the right spirit, the right methods, and the right men argues the lack of a keen sense of bondage and a deep, burning desire for freedom. Until there is that sense of bondage, the galling, torturing, intolerable sense that the life of a slave is worse than death, there can be no longing for freedom. One who is consumed by a yearning for freedom,[128] cares not for dangers and difficulties, not even for death. It is this lack of a sense of bondage and a longing for freedom, mumukṣutva, on the part of the Indian National Congress to which Sri Aurobindo attributes its failure to achieve anything substantial. Writing on mumukṣutva in his paper, The Bande Mataram, in 1906, he says:

“Mumukshutva or the longing for emancipation… is the most important pre-condition of political emancipation…. This longing implies as its own pre-conditions, one, the existence of bondage, and two, a keen sense of it. And the most disheartening feature in the present political leadership… is an almost utter absence of this sense. Our leaders are not at all conscious of their own and their country’s present political bondage. They do not, notwithstanding all their ravings against the Government, really feel the utter degradation and misery of their present position in the constitution of their State. Their sense of the disabilities and disadvantages of British despotism is personal and self-regarding. They complain because they are not appointed to high offices in the administration, and the appointment of a Bengali as the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, or of a Madrasee as Advocate General in Madras, sends up a chorus of congratulations from the whole body of the Indian press, who have not as yet arisen to a perception of the elementary truth that such isolated instances of official advancement do not and can never compensate for the serious intellectual and moral wrong which the government of one people by another, an alien people, always inflicts. The leader who today leads a most violent attack on the Government, is therefore found, the moment that Government admits him into its counsels or woos him with offers of honour and preferment, to support and defend it most enthusiastically. All this is due to the absence of that keen sense of bondage — of that mumukshuttva — which is an essential pre-condition of emancipation both of individuals and nations.”[129]

It was this keen sense of bondage, and an intense longing for freedom which Sri Aurobindo endeavoured to instil into his countrymen by various means, idealistic and practical. These means were of a complex and apparently contradictory nature, which baffled even some of his most devoted fellow-workers in the political field, for they did not possess the intuitive vision and foresight of India’s glorious destiny, the acute historical sense and political wisdom, and, above all, the illumined, resourceful suppleness with which he could deal with the complicated interplay of the psychological forces going on behind the stream of outer events.[130] His first contribution to Indian politics was, as we have already seen, a consuming thirst for the liberation of the country, a passion for complete and unqualified independence, which he infused into the Indian nation. And the sole driving force behind the application of the means he advocated, was the religion of patriotism, the worship of India as the Mother, for whose emancipation it must be a surpassing joy and rare privilege for her children to suffer and sacrifice themselves. This was his second contribution. His appeal was always to the religious or spiritual sense of the people, which is the only sense, as Swami Vivekananda knew and proclaimed, upon which is grounded the whole fabric of Indian life and culture. We shall learn much more and in greater elaboration about this gospel of spiritual Nationalism as we proceed.





“Swaraj as the fulfilment of the ancient life of India under modern conditions, the return of the Satyayuga of National greatness, the resumption by her (by India) of her great role of teacher and guide, self liberation of the people for the final fulfilment of the Vedantic ideal in politics, this is the true Swaraj for India…. She (India) cannot do it without taking the management of her own life into her own hands. She must live her own life and not the life of a part or subordinate in a foreign Empire.”[131]

— Sri Aurobindo

When Sri Aurobindo dropped the unfinished political series, New Lamps for Old, he started in the same journal, Indu Prakash, a short sequence of critical appreciation of Bankim Chandra Chatterji, the renowned genius of Bengali letters and the author of the national anthem, Bande Mataram. After completing the series on Bankim Chandra, Sri Aurobindo stopped contributing to the Indu Prakash. At this time, both the political and spiritual sides of his nature were pressing forward for free self-expression and self-realisation. It was a simultaneous development, marked by an increasing effort of his intrinsic spirituality to prevail over his ardent spirit of nationalism. Even when he felt a strong urge for spiritual power, it was his politics that inspired the urge and sought to employ it to its own end. “…I came in contact with a Naga Sannyasi… I told him that I want to get power for revolutionary activities. He gave me a violent Stotra (Sanskrit hymn) of Kali with jahi, jahi (slay, slay) to repeat. I did so and, as I had expected, it came to nothing.”[132] But it did not take his spirituality long to subdue his politics to its own will and initiate and direct all its operations. There was, then, no more any discord or contrary pulls between the two movements. They became, in fact, one — a single current of soul-force fulfilling itself in life. But his spirituality was yet in its radiant childhood. It had not found its destined path. It had no definite vision of its ultimate fulfilment. It was compounded of God’s secret direction, his soul’s insistent urge, and his mind and heart’s aspiration, prayer and preparation. A mighty spirituality was rising from within and pervading and mastering all parts of his being, and he gave himself up to it without reserve. This stage of his inner development is vividly portrayed in his poem, The Vedantin’s Prayer.



Spirit Supreme
Who musest in the silence of the heart,
Eternal gleam,

Thou only art!
Ah, wherefore with this darkness am I veiled,
My sunlit part

By clouds assailed?
Why am I thus disfigured by desire,
Distracted, haled,

Scorched by the fire
Of fitful passions, from Thy peace out-thrust
Into the gyre

Of every gust?
Betrayed to grief, o’ertaken with dismay,
Surprised by lust?

Let not my grey
Blood-clotted past repel Thy sovereign ruth,
Nor even delay,

О lonely Truth!
Nor let the specious gods who ape Thee still
Deceive my youth.

These clamours still;
For I would hear the eternal voice and know
The eternal Will.

This brilliant show
Cumbering the threshold of eternity
Dispel, — bestow

The undimmed eye,
The heart grown young and clear. Rebuke, О Lord,
These hopes that cry

So deafeningly,
Remove my sullied centuries, restore
My purity.

О hidden door
Of Knowledge, open! Strength, fulfil thyself!
Love, outpour![133]


The poem is intensely moving. It is suffused with the aroma of the poet’s deepest aspiration. It mirrors his soul and his heart in their most poignant moment of God-seeking. But what distinguishes it from such other poems is the distinctive note it strikes in the following lines:


“I would hear the eternal voice and know
The eternal Will.”

“O hidden door
Of Knowledge, open! Strength, fulfil thyself!
Love, outpour!”


Sri Aurobindo’s unascetic, unorthodox, life-affirming spirituality breathes in the poem its characteristic aspiration: the eternal voice must be heard, the eternal Will (God’s Will to Self-unfoldment in the world) must be known, and allowed to express and realise itself in the poet’s whole life. And Strength (the Divine Power) must fulfil itself. Not in some remote and recondite Beyond, but here, in this earthly life, in this human bodily existence, in the very midst of our natural activities, the Divine Union must be realised and the Divine Manifestation take place. These lines strike the keynote of the dynamic spirituality that was developing in Sri Aurobindo, and the integral Yoga he was to practise and teach for the radical transformation of human nature and the birth of the supramental race on earth.

An outline of Sri Aurobindo’s political views seems to be called for at this point. There has been a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding in the public mind in regard to the manifold and flexible nature of his politics, and people have formed and expressed misleading and often fantastic ideas of it. Some have taken him to be a pacifist, believing in non-violence; others have gone to the other extreme and dubbed him the arch-leader of the terrorist movement in Bengal. And some have taken the middle stand, interpreting his politics as a curious compound of a strong reactionary religious bias, Parnellism, Sinn Fein, and an intense, militant, revolutionary nationalism. The best thing for us would be to hear from himself what his politics really was, how it envisaged its ultimate goal and meant to attain it.

“There were three sides to Sri Aurobindo’s political ideas and activities. First, there was the action with which he started, a secret revolutionary propaganda and organisation of which the central object was the preparation of an armed insurrection. Secondly, there was a public propaganda intended to convert the whole nation to the ideal of independence which was regarded, when he entered into politics, by the vast majority of Indians as unpractical and impossible, an almost insane chimera. It was thought that the British Empire was too powerful and India too weak, effectively disarmed and impotent even to dream of the success of such an endeavour. Thirdly, there was the organisation of the people to carry on a public and united opposition and undermining the foreign rule through an increasing non-cooperation and passive resistance.[134]

“At that time the military organisation of the great empires and their means of military action were not so overwhelming and apparently irresistible as they are now: the rifle was still the decisive weapon, air power had not yet been developed and the force of artillery was not so devastating as it afterwards became. India was disarmed, but Sri Aurobindo thought that with proper organisation and help from outside the difficulty might be overcome, and in so vast a country as India and with the smallness of the regular British armies, even a guerrilla warfare accompanied by general resistance and revolt might be effective. There was also the possibility of a general revolt in the Indian army. At the same time he had studied the temperament and characteristics of the British people and the turn of their political instincts, and he believed that although they would resist any attempt at self-liberation by the Indian people and would at the most only concede very slowly such reforms as would not weaken their imperial control, still they were not of the kind which would be ruthlessly adamantine to the end: if they found resistance and revolt becoming general and persistent they would in the end try to arrive at an accommodation to save what they could of their empire, or, in an extremity, prefer to grant independence rather than have it forcefully wrested from their hands.”[135]

These were the three planks of Sri Aurobindo’s political programme. We shall dwell upon them in greater detail when we come to study his active politics in Bengal. It will be our endeavour to show, on the basis of his political writings and speeches, that he had not only proclaimed complete independence free from foreign control as the only goal of the nationalist movement, but drawn up a programme with an exhaustive exposition of the philosophy inspiring and sustaining it, and the practical methods of its application to the developing situation in the country. All that he had said in the pages of the Bande Mataram in 1907-8 formed the staple of the subsequent political work in India, and the gospel given during those years of an immense political upheaval was followed almost verbatim till the attainment of independence, except for the creed of non-violence to which he never subscribed. Here again, on the question of non-violence, his views appear to hold water when we consider them in the revealing light of the dire but avoidable disaster the nation has had to pass through as the inevitable consequence of an imposition of non-violence on the heterogeneous mass of Indian people, irrespective of the differences of their individual nature.[136]

Regarding non-violence, Sri Aurobindo says: “In some quarters there is the idea that Sri Aurobindo’s political standpoint was entirely pacifist, that he was opposed in principle and in practice to all violence and that he denounced terrorism, insurrection, etc. as entirely forbidden by the spirit and letter of the Hindu religion. It is even supposed that he was a forerunner of the gospel of Ahimsa. This is quite incorrect. Sri Aurobindo is neither an impotent moralist nor a weak pacifist.

“The rule of confining political action to passive resistance was adopted as the best policy for the National Movement at that stage and not as a part of a gospel of Nonviolence or pacific idealism. Peace is a part of the highest ideal, but it must be spiritual or at the very least psychological in its basis; without a change in human nature it cannot come with any finality.[137] If it is attempted on any other basis (moral principle or gospel of Ahimsa or any other), it will fail and even may leave things worse than before. He is in favour of an attempt to put down war by international agreement and international force, what is now contemplated in the ‘New Order’, if that proves possible, but that would not be Ahimsa, it would be putting down of anarchic force by legal force, and even then one cannot be sure that it would be permanent. Within nations this sort of peace has been secured but it does not prevent occasional civil wars and revolutions and political outbreaks and repressions, sometimes of a sanguinary character.[138] The same might happen to a similar world-peace. Sri Aurobindo has never concealed his opinion that a nation is entitled to attain its freedom by violence, if it can do so or if there is no other way; whether it should do so or not depends on what is the best policy, not on ethical considerations. Sri Aurobindo’s practice in this matter was the same as Tilak’s[139] and that of other nationalist leaders who were by no means Pacifists or worshippers of Ahimsa.”

On the same question of non-violence versus violence, Sri Aurobindo says again: “If Sri Aurobindo had not believed in the efficacy of violent revolution or had disliked it, he would not have joined the secret society whose purpose was to prepare a national insurrection. His historical studies had not taught him the lesson indicated here. On the contrary, he had studied with interest the revolutions and rebellions which led to national liberation, the struggle against the English in mediaeval France and the revolts which liberated America and Italy. He took much of his inspiration from these movements and their leaders, especially, Jeanne d’Arc and Mazzini. In his public activity he took up non-cooperation and passive resistance as a means in the struggle for independence but not the sole means and as long as he was in Bengal he maintained a secret revolutionary activity as a preparation for open revolt, in case passive resistance proved insufficient for the purpose.”[140]

What Sri Aurobindo wrote on Mazzini in the Karma-yogin of 21st August, 1909, is, to a certain extent, true of his own way of dealing with the various and conflicting problems of the political rebirth of India. His habit in action was “not to devise beforehand and plan but to keep a fixed purpose, watch events, prepare forces and act when he felt it to be the right moment.”[141] This has been, as we all know, the case with all those who are led by the inner light — not to occupy the mind with devising and planning, reasoning and debating and calculating on the flimsy basis of ambiguous and precarious sense-data and inference, but to keep it silent and wait upon the intuition of each moment for guidance in thought and action. As Sri Aurobindo says in his Thoughts and Aphorisms: “When I speak, the reason says, ‘This will I say’; but God takes the word out of my mouth and the lips say something else at which reason trembles.” “I am not a Jnani, for I have no knowledge except what God gives me for His work. How am I to know whether what I see be reason or folly? Nay, it is neither; for the thing seen is simply true and neither folly nor reason.” The spiritual light never fails one, if one has risen into it and can command its constant action. But to the dusky mind of man the Light is an illusion, and the action of a Yogi a baffling riddle.

“Of all the great actors who were in the forefront of the Italian Revolution, Mazzini and Cavour were the most essential to the Italian Regeneration. Of the two, Mazzini was undoubtedly the greater. Cavour was the statesman and organiser, Mazzini the prophet and creator. Mazzini was busy with the great and eternal ideas which move masses of men in all countries and various ages, Cavour with the temporary needs and circumstances of modern Italy. The one was an acute brain, the other a mighty soul. Cavour belongs to Italy, Mazzini to all humanity.[142] Cavour was the man of the hour, Mazzini the citizen of Eternity.[143]… Mazzini summed up the soul of all humanity, the idea of its past and the inspiration of its future in Italian forms and gave life to the dead. At his breath the dead bones clothed themselves with flesh and the wilderness of poisonous brambles blossomed with rose. Mazzini found Italy corrupt, demoralised, treacherous, immoral, selfish, wholly divided and incapable of union; he gave her the impulse of a mighty hope, a lofty spirituality, an intellectual impulse which, despising sophistry and misleading detail, went straight to the core of things and fastened on the one or two necessities, an ideal to live and die for and the strength to live and die for it. This was all he did, but it was enough…. His eyes were always fixed on the mind and heart of the nation, very little on the external or internal circumstances of Italy. He was not a statesman, but he had a more than statesmanlike insight. His plan of a series of petty, local and necessarily abortive insurrections strikes the ordinary practical man as the very negation of commonsense and political wisdom. It seems almost as futile as the idea of some wild brains, if indeed the idea be really cherished, that by random assassinations the freedom of this country can be vindicated. There is, however, a radical difference. Mazzini knew well what he was about. His eyes were fixed on the heart of the nation, and as the physician of the Italian malady his business was not with the ultimate and perfect result but with the creation of conditions favourable to complete cure and resurgence. He knew final success was impossible without the creation of a force that could not be commanded for some time to come. But he also knew that even force could not succeed without a great spiritual and moral strength behind its action and informing its aspirations. It was this strength he sought to create. The spiritual force he created by the promulgation of the mighty and uplifting ideas which pervade his writings and of which Young Italy was the organ.[144]

“But moral force cannot be confirmed merely by ideas, it can only be forged and tempered in the workshop of action. And it was the habit of action, the habit of strength, daring and initiative which Mazzini sought to recreate in the torpid heart and sluggish limbs of Italy. And with it he sought to establish the sublime Roman spirit of utter self-sacrifice and self-abnegation, contempt of difficulty and apparent impossibility and an iron insensibility to defeat. For his purpose the very hopelessness of the enterprises he set on foot were more favourable than more possible essays. And when others’ and sometimes his own heart reproached him with flinging away so many young and promising lives into the bloody trench of his petty yet impossible endeavours, the faith and wisdom in him upheld him in the face of every discouragement. Because he had superhuman strength, he was permitted to uplift Italy. Had it been God’s purpose that Italy should become swiftly one of the greater European powers, he would have been permitted to free her also. He would have done it in a different way from Cavour’s — after a much longer lapse of time, with a much more terrible and bloody expense of human life, but without purchasing Italy’s freedom in the French market by the bribe of Savoy and Nice, and with such a divine output of spiritual and moral force as would have sustained his country for centuries and fulfilled his grandiose dream of an Italy spiritually, intellectually and politically leading Europe.”[145] (Sri Aurobindo: The Need in Nationalism and Other Essays).

We propose to undertake a comprehensive study of the rationale of Sri Aurobindo’s revolutionary and insurrectionary politics in the next article, for, it is vital to a proper understanding of Sri Aurobindo’s political thought and action, and the militant nationalism of which he was the prophet.





“Indian civilisation… made it its chief aim to minimise the incidence and disaster of war. For this purpose it limited the military obligation to the small class who by their birth, nature and traditions were marked out for this function and found in it their natural means of self-development through the flowering of the soul in the qualities of courage, disciplined force, strong helpfulness and chivalrous nobility for which the warrior’s life pursued under the stress of a high ideal gives a field and opportunities…. Being subjected to high ethical ideals and every possible rule of humanity and chivalry the function of war was obliged to help in ennobling and elevating instead of brutalising those who performed it…. It is war of this kind and under these conditions that the Gita had in view, war considered as an inevitable part of human life, but so restricted and regulated as to serve like other activities the ethical and spiritual development which was then regarded as the whole real object of life…”

Essays on the Gita by Sri Aurobindo — Ch.VI.

The question which has occurred to most patriots and nationalists in India — it occurred even to many of Sri Aurobindo’s close and trusted colleagues — is this: Why did Sri Aurobindo engage in insurrectionary and revolutionary politics? He was one of the foremost leaders of the Nationalist or Extremist party, respected by his fellow-workers and followers as no other leader was respected. He exercised an unparalleled influence upon the youth of the country, who simply adored and idolised him. Even those who differed from him could not help paying homage to his flaming patriotism, his exalted spiritual idealism, his absolute sincerity of purpose, his far-seeing, intuitive intelligence, and above all, the Olympic grandeur of his soul, which was a rare blend of a selfless, universal love, and indomitable will to conquer the freedom of India for the good of humanity, and an utter, self-effacing humility, which steered clear of all lime-light and was content only to dare and achieve.[146] The tributes that some of the greatest of his contemporaries paid him and the admiring esteem in which he was held even by some sensitive foreigners, testify to the fact that his personality was universally considered to be unique in its inner resources, and powerfully dynamic. If we cast a hurried glance at some of these tributes before taking up the study of the rationale of his revolutionary politics, we shall see that they prove, more than anything else, that his politics was no rash adventure or a desperate gamble of a thoughtless moment. It was a spontaneous response of Bengal to the challenge of the hour.

Bepin Chandra Pal, than whom there was no more eloquent preacher and exponent of Indian Nationalism in those days, and who worked with Sri Aurobindo on the editorial board of the Bande Mataram, writes from an intimate knowledge of him: “Youngest in age among those who stand in the forefront of the nationalist propaganda in India, but in endowment, education and character, perhaps superior to them all — Aravinda seems distinctly marked out by Providence to play in the future of this movement a part not given to any of his colleagues and contemporaries…. His only care is for his country… the Mother as he always calls her…. Nationalism… at its best, a concern of the intellect with some, at the lowest, a political cry and aspiration with others… is with Aravinda a supreme passion of his soul. Few, indeed, have grasped the force and meaning of the Nationalist ideal as Aravinda has done…. Blessed are they for whom this tragic antithesis between the ideal and the real has been cancelled; for whom to know the truth is to attain it; in whom there is no disparity, either in time or degree, between the idea and its realisation; in whom the vision of the ideal, by its own intrinsic strength, at once attunes every craving of the flesh, every movement of the mind, every motion of the heart and every impulse of the will to itself; who have to strive for its realisation, not within but without; who have to struggle not with their own self, but with the not-self; who have to fight and conquer not themselves but others, in order to establish the Kingdom of God, realised by them in the relations of their own inner life, in the actualities and appointments of the life of their own people or of humanity at large. They are, so to say, the chosen of God. They are born leaders of men. Commissioned to serve special ends affecting the life and happiness of large masses of men, they bear a charmed life. They may be hit, but cannot be hurt. They may be struck but are not stricken. Their towering optimism and the grace of God turn every evil into good, every opposition into help, every loss into gain. By the general verdict of his countrymen, Aravinda stands today among these favoured sons of God.[147]

“…politics meant to him much more than is ordinarily understood by the term. It was not a game of expediency, but a school for developing character. Aravinda is an apostle of modern education. Indeed, his ideal of modern education is even higher than what is understood by modern education ordinarily in Europe. It is a supremely spiritual ideal. Its aim is to actualise the highest and deepest God-consciousness… in the outer life and appointments of human society…. Had he been given a free hand in the new National College, that institution would have opened an altogether new Chapter not only in the history of modern education in India, but perhaps in the whole world. To work the realism of the spirit of modern culture into the idealism of ancient Indian philosophy would not only secure for India her lost position as the teacher of humanity, but would perchance even save modern civilisation from total collapse and destruction under the pressure of a gross and greedy industrialism.”[148]

“… Aravinda was the leading spirit, the central figure, in the new journal (the Bande Mataram). The opportunities that were denied him in the National College he found in the pages of the Bande Mataram, and from a tutor of a few hundred youths he thus became the teacher of a whole nation.”[149]

Bal Gangadhar Tilak, one of the greatest Nationalist leaders, who knew Sri Aurobindo intimately and enjoyed his friendship and respectful confidence, wrote about him in some of his editorial comments in the Keshari.[150] We give here a free English rendering of some gleanings from them: “None is equal to Aravinda in self-sacrifice, knowledge and sincerity…. If one sees him, one won’t think it was Aravinda… so weak of body and so simple in dress and bearing…. It is a dispensation of benign Providence that persons like Aravinda have been drawn to the national work…. His failure[151] in the Indian Civil Service examination was a blessing in disguise…. His erudition, sattwic temperament, religious mind, and self-sacrifice…. He writes from divine inspiration, sattwic intelligence, and unshakable determination….”

Lajpat Rai, who knew him, and met him in Calcutta, and also in some sessions of the Indian National Congress, speaks about him in his book, Young India: “…In intellectual acumen and in scholastic accomplishments, he is perhaps superior to Har Dayal, but above all, he is deeply religious and spiritual. He is a worshipper of Krishna and a high-souled Vedantist…. His notions of life and morality are pre-eminently Hindu and he believes in the spiritual mission of his people….”

Henry W. Nevinson, an English M.P., who travelled in India with his eyes wide open, and his mind sympathetically attuned to the pulse of the new life which he witnessed all over India, had a talk with Sri Aurobindo in Calcutta, and saw him again at Surat during the famous session of the Indian National Congress. He writes in his book, The New Spirit in India: “He was a youngish man, I should think still under thirty. Intent dark eyes looked from his thin, clear-cut face with a gravity that seemed immovable, but the figure and bearing were those of an English graduate…. He regarded the Partition of Bengal as the greatest blessing that had ever happened to India. No other measure could have stirred national feeling so deeply or roused it so suddenly from the lethargy of previous years. ‘Since 1830,’ he said, ‘each generation had reduced us more and more to the condition of sheep and fatted calves’. He lamented the long peace, leading to degeneracy and effeminate ways…. There is a religious tone, a spiritual elevation in such words, very characteristic of Aravinda Ghose himself…. Nationalism to him was far more than a political object or a means of material improvement. To him it was surrounded by a mist of glory…. Grave with intensity, careless of fate or opinion, and one of the silent men I have known, he was of the stuff that dreamers are made of, but dreamers who will act their dreams, indifferent to the means.”

It is not necessary to multiply extracts like the above from the tributes showered upon Sri Aurobindo by all those great leaders of thought and action, who came in more or less close contact with him. It is quite evident from these that the one strain of his personality which had an immediate and universal appeal, the one common note in all the expressions of homage and respect, was the transparent spirituality of his nature, and his absolute, child-like reliance on God and His guidance. When such a person, spiritual, sincere, highly educated and intelligent, and irreproachably pure and steadfast in his feelings and will, embarks upon revolutionary politics, it would be stark folly to put it down to a reckless freak. There must have been sound reason behind, an imperative knowledge and inspiration, which it should be our endeavour to understand, as far as possible, with the help of his own statements. This will necessarily involve the question of violence vs non-violence, referred to above, which, in view of the latest developments in Indian politics, has assumed a surpassing importance. Unless this question is torn out of the ethico-religious nimbus with which it has been surrounded for over four decades, the confusion, which has crippled India’s spiritual evolution and hindered her advance on the lines of her self-nature to her true destiny, cannot be dissipated. It is the key question of the hour, and it should be faced squarely, and with forthright candour and courage.

The first impression that Sri Aurobindo had on his tours in Bengal during the closing years of the last century, when he was serving in the Baroda State, was of the “prevailing mood of apathy and despair”. Except for the anglomaniacs who peacocked about in borrowed feathers and tinkered at social reform, and the Congress Moderates with their goodly begging bowls, Bengal was sunk in tamas. It lay supine under the heels of the British Raj. Sri Aurobindo wanted to rouse it into activity, to infuse a new spirit and a new life into its torpid limbs, even as Swami Vivekananda had sought to do in his own way before him. Tamas had to be churned, the immobility of inertia had to be lashed into the storm and turmoil of passionate drives. Sri Aurobindo was aware of the immense potential of his country, and felt that, if rajas could be quickened and energised, and a burning love of the motherland inspired in the hearts of the youths, the nation would rise to its feet and march forward, not only to the conquest of freedom, but to the fulfilment of its great destiny. But political freedom was the immediate objective, and Sri Aurobindo believed that an organised insurrection and guerilla war might go a long way to realise it. He started with Bengal. He supplied the spark, the kindling, upheaving and galvanising force, which convulsed the frozen timidity and lethargy of long years of political serfdom, and prepared the human soil for the approaching hour of action. He worked at first in secret from Baroda. But when the hour of action arrived, when the Partition of Bengal shook up the whole nation, he plunged into the fray and led the fight for freedom. Passive resistance (we shall dwell upon it later) and active, defensive resistance, he inspired and organised both, and though he was not committed to non-violence, in view of the prevailing circumstances in the country he leaned more upon the former. But he also gave a tremendous fillip to the revolutionary movement. Under his inspiration, young boys threw themselves into the revolutionary work, not only with careless self-abandon, but with the surging delight of a deliberate self-sacrifice for the liberation of their motherland, the Mother of their passionate love and devotion. Gone was the chill darkness of stupefied slavery, and, in its place, came gleams of hope, ardours of enthusiasm, leaping flames of rebellious indignation, and the desperate courage that counts no cost too great to attempt and achieve. Indignation fed the fires of patriotism, and the newly roused insurrectionary spirit fretted at the chains of slavery.

If we could transport ourselves into the context of the Partition days of Bengal, we would see how sudden and surprising an awakening was achieved in the name of Nationalism! Without that awakening, that marvellous sowing of the seeds of patriotism, the subsequent political harvests in India would hardly have been possible.

Was the awakening and agitation confined to some patriotic intellectuals and the educated youths of the country? But that is inevitable in the beginning of every revolutionary movement. It is the thinking section of the nation that responds first to new ideas and inspirations.

Did the movement lack proper organisation and cohesive force, and suffer from internal discord? That, too, was inevitable in the trying circumstances of the hour. Brutal governmental repression,[152] persistent opposition from the vested interests in the country, inexperience and immaturity of the workers, crippling financial stringency, clash of emergent political ideas, and the general apathy of the mass mind — these were the heavy odds against which the infant insurrection had to struggle for survival. That it survived so long, in whatever form it may be, and achieved so much within so short a period witnesses to the immense vitality and vigour of the inspiration which had generated in it the first stirrings of life and given it the initial impulsion.

Did the revolutionary movement entail violence, bloodshed, imprisonment, suffering, and the sacrifice of some promising youthful lives? But Sri Aurobindo knew well enough that that was the price the nation had to pay for wresting freedom from unwilling hands, for rekindling the Kshatriya spirit in itself, and for rising from the tamasic numbness into the swirl of rajasic passions on its way to the enlightened peace and mental poise of sattwa.[153] Sri Aurobindo did not grudge the price, even as Mazzini, the lover of God and humanity, had not, even as Rana Pratap and Joan of Arc had not grudged it in their times. He knew, that was the shortest and surest way to national awakening. He knew, besides, that the nation was not ready for completely eschewing violence. Rather, a drastic, cavalier repression of the all too natural feeling of violent indignation, he knew, would eventuate in explosive outbursts of the most disastrous kind. And so it did happen later. The savage orgies of reprisal — it matters little whether they were political or communal — were such outbursts, which drenched the country in blood[154] and left an ugly scar upon its fair name, and a paralysing legacy of fissured India and proliferating internal dissensions.

We cannot do better than quote a few passages from what Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1907 on this question:

“When tamas, inertia, torpor have benumbed a nation, the strongest forms of rajas are necessary to break the spell; there is no form of rajas so strong as hatred. Through rajas we rise to sattwa, and for the Indian temperament the transition does not take long. Already the element of hatred is giving place to the clear conception of love for the Mother as the spring of our political actions.” — The Morality of Boycott, an unpublished writing of Sri Aurobindo, seized by the Police and made an exhibit in the Alipore Conspiracy Case (May, 1908).

“A certain class of mind shrinks from aggressiveness as if it were a sin. Their temperament forbids them to feel the delight of battle and they look on what they cannot understand as something monstrous and sinful. ‘Heal hate by love’, ‘drive out injustice by justice’, ‘slay sin by righteousness’ is their cry. Love is a sacred name, but it is easier to speak of love than to love. The love which drives out hate is a divine quality of which one man in a thousand is capable. A saint full of love for all mankind possesses it, a philanthropist consumed with a desire to heal the miseries of the race possesses it, but the mass of mankind does not and cannot rise to the height. Politics is concerned with masses of mankind and not with individuals.[155] To ask masses of mankind to act as saints, to rise to the height of divine love and practise it in relation to their adversaries or oppressors is to ignore human nature. It is to set a premimum on injustice and violence by paralysing the hand of the deliverer when raised to strike. The Gita is the best answer to those who shrink from battle as a sin, and aggression as a lowering of morality.” — The Morality of Boycott, an unpublished writing of Sri Aurobindo seized by the Police and made an exhibit in the Alipore Conspiracy Case 1908.

“Hinduism recognises human nature and makes no such impossible demand. It sets one ideal for the saint, another for the man of action, a third for the trader, a fourth for the serf. To prescribe the same ideal for all is to bring about varṇasaṅkara, the confusion of duties…. Politics is the ideal of the Kshatriya, and the morality of the Kshatriya ought to govern our political actions. To impose in politics the Brahmanical duty of saintly sufferance is to preach varṇasaṅkara. (ibid.)

“The sword of the warrior is as necessary to the fulfilment of justice and righteousness as the holiness of the saint. Ramdas is not complete without Shivaji. To maintain justice and prevent the strong from despoiling and the weak from being oppressed is the function for which the Kshatriya was created.[156] ‘Therefore’, says Sri Krishna in the Mahabharata, ‘God created battle and armour, the sword, the bow and the dagger.’” (ibid.)

Referring to the circumstances in which passive or nonviolent resistance fails, Sri Aurobindo says: “To shrink from bloodshed and violence under such circumstances is a weakness deserving as severe a rebuke as Sri Krishna addressed to Arjuna on the field of Kurukshetra. Liberty is the life-breath of a nation; and when the life is attacked, when it is sought to suppress all chance of breathing by violent pressure, any and every means of self-preservation becomes right and justifiable[157]… just as it is lawful for a man who is being strangled to rid himself of the pressure on his throat by any means in his power. It is the nature of the pressure which determines the nature of the resistance.[158]

Enlarging upon the necessary evil of war and aggression,[159] so long as man in the mass is what he is, Sri Aurobindo writes in his Essays on the Gita:

“War and destruction are not only a universal principle of our life here in its purely material aspects, but also of our mental and moral existence. It is self-evident that in the actual life of man intellectual, social, political, moral, we can make no real step forward without a struggle, a battle between what exists and lives and what seeks to exist and live, and between all that stands behind either. It is impossible, at least as men and things are, to advance, to grow, to fulfil and still to observe really and utterly that principle of harmlessness which is yet placed before us as the highest and best law of conduct. We will use only soul-force and never destroy by war or any even defensive employment of physical violence? Good, though until soul-force is effective, the Asuric force in man and nations tramples down, breaks, slaughters, burns, pollutes, as we see it doing today, but then at its ease and unhindered, and you have perhaps caused as much destruction of life by your abstinence as others by resort to violence; still you have set up an ideal which may some day and at any rate ought to lead up to better things. But even soul-force, when it is effective, destroys. Only those who have used it with eyes open, know how much more terrible and destructive it is than the sword and the cannon; and only those who do not limit their view to the act and its immediate results, can see how tremendous are its after-effects, how much is eventually destroyed and with that much all the life that depended on it and fed upon it. Evil cannot perish without the destruction of much that lives by the evil, and it is no less destruction even if we personally are saved the pain of a sensational act of violence.

“Moreover, every time we use soul-force we raise a great force of Karma against our adversary, the after-movements of which we have no power to control. Vasishtha uses soul-force against the military violence of Vishwamitra and armies of Huns and Shakas and Pallavas hurl themselves on the aggressor. The very quiescence and passivity of the spiritual man under violence and aggression awakens the tremendous forces of the world to a retributive action; and it may even be more merciful to stay in their path, though by force, those who represent evil than to allow them to trample on until they call down on themselves a worse destruction than we would ever think of inflicting. It is not enough that our own hands should remain clean and our souls unstained for the law of strife and destruction to die out of the world; that which is its root must first disappear out of humanity…. So far as the problem of the individual’s action goes, his abstention from strife and its inevitable concomitant destruction in their more gross and physical form may help his own moral being, but it leaves the Slayer of creatures unabolished.”[160]

“A day may come, must surely come, we will say, when humanity will be ready spiritually, morally, socially for the reign of universal peace; meanwhile the aspect of battle and the nature and function of man as a fighter have to be accepted and accounted for by any practical philosophy and religion.”[161]

If we disabuse our minds of our shallow ethical prepossessions, and ponder deeply and dispassionately on the spiritual truth of the words quoted above, much of the confusion of our thoughts, particularly of our political thought, will vanish for ever, and we shall be able to march forward to our national destiny[162] with surer steps, and by the deathless light of our spiritual culture.





“All make tranquil, all make free.
Let my heart-beats measure the footsteps of God
As He comes from His timeless infinity
To build in their rapture His burning abode.

Weave from my life His poem of days,
His calm pure dawns and His noons of force.
My acts for the grooves of His chariot-race,
My thoughts for the tramp of His great steeds’ course!” [163]

Love of Mother India and love of God now flamed up in Sri Aurobindo, the one intensifying the other, till they fused into one overmastering passion for the Divine and the fulfilment of His Will and Purpose in the material world.

But it is interesting to observe how the patriotic urge led him to spirituality. It is true that spiritual aspiration was already there, latent in him. His three outstanding spiritual experiences, which we have referred to, had come to him “unasked, unsought for”,[164] bearing witness to the fact that spirituality was the key passion and central yearning of his soul. But it awoke and began to dominate and lead his nature only after he felt that his work for the freedom of India, which had other and vaster aspects than the merely political, could not succeed except by the aid of a power beyond that of the human mind. He had by then knowledge enough of the spiritually-oriented culture of India, and faith and wisdom enough to perceive the working of a universal Intelligence behind the stumbling will and paltry efforts of man. He longed to harness that power to his work, which was slowly but steadily making him alive to its supernational, even its superhuman, magnitude and significance. It was assuming within him the dimensions of a world mission. But what actually happened was that the Power, which he sought to harness, tended, instead, to harness his whole being and nature and life to its own Will and Purpose, and began to lead him, through apparent success and failure, and through a criss-cross of various activities and experiences, towards the accomplishment of the real object of his life, his apostolic world-mission.

We shall endeavour to follow this intricate and intensely interesting course of his life in the light of his own statements, and where that light is not available, we shall stop short of forming definite conclusions rather than hazarding ingenious interpretations on the basis of ambiguous or misleading data, as some of his biographers (notably the overbold Girija Sankara Roy of Bengal) have done. For, as Sri Aurobindo has himself said, his life has not been lived on the surface; and those who presume to judge him by the so-called facts of his outer life, torn from the context of their spiritual and psychological motor forces, do nothing better than one who is naive enough to think that he has exhausted the glory and mystery of the sunrise when he has noted the glowing spectrum of the fugitive colours it casts up in the sky. To subject the actions of a spiritual personality to a mental and moral scrutiny is to risk tumbling into gross misrepresentations. It would be sheer pathetic fallacy, not from the standpoint of the canons of poetic criticism, but of those of prosaic, objective, rational judgment, to call in question Rama’s spiritual greatness, because he wept for the missing Sita in the forest, or killed (unjustly, as the Puritan would say) Vali, brother of the ape-king Sugriva,[165] or Sri Krishna’s divine character, because he made love (so it appeared outwardly) to Radha and any number of Gopis, and induced Yudhishthira to tell a camouflaged lie.[166] The mind of man should either declare that there is nothing super-rational or transcendental in spirituality, which is only a fine working of the reflective and analytic intellect, or learn the humility to recognise its own inherent limitations and not attempt to overshoot its mark. An overweening confidence in its own competence to judge all things under the sun is fatal to its own growth.

Sri Aurobindo used to go out with Deshpande and some others of his friends to the banks of the Narmada river in search of Yogis who could give him some power for his political work. On one such excursion, he visited a temple of Kali and had the realisation of the living Presence of the Mother in the image. We reproduce below the poem which he wrote later on this experience:

“In a town of gods, housed in a little shrine,
From sculptured limbs the Godhead looked at me, —
A living Presence deathless and divine,
A Form that harboured all infinity.

The great World-Mother and her mighty will
Inhabited the earth’s abysmal sleep,
Voiceless, omnipotent, inscrutable,
Mute in the desert and the sky and deep.

Now veiled with mind she dwells and speaks no word,
Voiceless, inscrutable, omniscient,
Hiding until our soul has seen, has heard
The secret of her strange embodiment,

One in the worshipper and the immobile shape,
A beauty and mystery flesh or stone can drape.”[167]

Sri Aurobindo paid two or three visits to a great Yogi, Brahmananda, who was living on the banks of the Narmada. He describes the Yogi in the following words: “There is no incontrovertible proof. Four hundred years is an exaggeration. It is known however that he lived on the banks of the Narmada for eighty years, and when he arrived there, he was already in appearance at the age when maturity turns towards over-ripeness. He was when I met him just before his death a man of magnificent physique — showing no signs of old age except his white beard and hair, extremely tall, robust, able to walk any number of miles a day and tiring out his younger disciples, walking too so swiftly that they tended to fall behind, a great head and magnificent face that seemed to belong to men of more ancient times. He never spoke of his age or of his past either except for an occasional almost accidental utterance. One of these was spoken to a disciple of his, well-known to me, a Baroda Sardar, Mazumdar (it was on the top storey of Mazumdar’s house by the way that I sat with Lele in 1908 and had my decisive experience of liberation and Nirvana). Mazumdar learned that he (Swami Brahmananda) was suffering from a bad tooth and brought him a bottle of…, a toothwash then much in vogue. The Yogi refused, saying: ‘I never use medicine. My one medicine is Narmada water. As for the tooth, I have suffered from it since the days of Bhao Gardi.’ Bhao Gardi was the Maratha General, Sadasiva Rao Bhao, who disappeared in the battle of Panipat, and his body was never found. Many formed the conclusion that Brahmananda himself was Bhao Gardi, but this was an imagination. Nobody who knew Brahmananda would doubt any statement of his — he was a man of perfect simplicity and truthfulness and did not seek fame or to impose himself. When he died, he was still in full strength and his death came not by decay but by the accident of blood-poisoning through a rusty nail that had entered into his foot as he walked on the sands of the Narmada…. I may say that three at least of his disciples to my knowledge kept an extraordinary aspect and energy of youth even to a comparatively late or quite advanced age — but this may not be uncommon among those who practise both Raja and Hatha Yoga together.”[168]

Describing his visit to Swami Brahmananda, Sri Aurobindo says again: “He had the most remarkable eyes. Usually his eyes were either closed or half-shut. When I went to see him and took leave, he opened his eyes full and looked at me. It seemed as if he could penetrate and see everything within clearly.”[169]

It was from a disciple of Brahmananda, Devdhar by name, who was an engineer at Baroda, that Sri Aurobindo took the first lessons in Yoga. “It (the Yoga) was confined at first to assiduous practice of pranayama (at one time for six hours or more a day). There was no conflict or wavering between Yoga and politics; when he started Yoga he carried on both without any idea of opposition between them. He wanted however to find a Guru. He met a Naga Sannyasi in the course of this search, but did not accept him as Guru, though he was confirmed by him in a belief in Yoga-power when he saw him cure Barin in almost a moment of a violent and clinging hill-fever by merely cutting through a glassful of water crosswise with a knife while he repeated a silent mantra. Barin drank and was cured….”[170] Thus, in God’s inscrutable ways, Sri Aurobindo was led to practise the very Yoga which he had so long fought shy of as being life-negating and anti-pragmatic. But it was not yet the spiritual aspect of Yoga, but only the preparatory neurosomatic and psycho-physical discipline. “A Baroda engineer who was a disciple of Brahmananda showed me how to do it, and I started on my own. Some remarkable results came with it. First, I felt a sort of electricity all around me. Secondly, there were some visions of a minor kind. Thirdly, I began to have a very rapid flow of poetry. Formerly I used to write with difficulty. For a time the flow would increase; then again it would dry up. Now it revived with astonishing vigour and I could write both prose and poetry at tremendous speed. This flow has never ceased up to now. If I have not written much afterwards, it was because I had something else to do. But the moment I want to write, it is there. Fourthly, it was at the time of the Pranayama-practice that I began to put on flesh. Earlier I was very thin. My skin also began to be smooth and fair and there was a peculiar new substance in the saliva, owing to which these changes were taking place. Another curious thing I noticed was that whenever I used to sit for Pranayama, not a single mosquito would bite me, though plenty of mosquitoes were humming around. I took more and more to Pranayama, but there were no further results. It was at this time that I adopted a vegetarian diet. That gave lightness and some purification.”[171]

On the same subject he says again: “After four years of Pranayama and other practices of my own, with no other result than increased health and outflow of energy, some psycho-physical phenomena, a great outflow of poetic creation, a limited power of subtle sight (luminous patterns and figures etc.), mostly with the waking eye, I had a complete arrest.”[172]

What Sri Aurobindo says regarding the subtle sight, referred to above, will be found interesting by the scientists who are materialistic in their thought and outlook, and deny the existence of the subtle worlds:

“I remember when I first began to see inwardly (and outwardly also with the open eye), a scientific friend of mine began to talk of after-images — ‘these are only after-images’. I asked him whether after-images — ‘remained before the eye for two minutes at a time — he said, ‘no’, to his knowledge only for few seconds; I also asked him whether one could get after-images of things not around one or even not existing upon this earth, since they had other shapes, another character, other hues, contours and a very different dynamism, life-movements and values — he could not reply in the affirmative. That is how these so-called scientific explanations break down as soon as you pull them out of their cloud-land of mental theory and face them with the actual phenomena they pretend to decipher.”[173]

Thanks to the remarkable advances in physics, biology, psychology, and para-psychology, it has become difficult for the modern sceptic to remain smugly entrenched within his rigid materialist bias. The new realms of knowledge these progressive sciences are opening before his vision; the conquering force and fervour, the profound penetration, keen sensibility and scrupulous observation with which they are exploring many an unsuspected hinterland and lowland, and even sometimes some of the uplands, of human personality and the subtler configuration and dynamic of Nature, in order to arrive at the organic unity of universal existence, have thrown down the bastion of scientific rationalism. Particularly, modern psychology is advancing with such giant strides that, it appears, it will not be long before it veers round to the ancient Vedantic truth of the living, multiple unity of all existence — sarvam khalvidam Brahma. This drive towards unity — unity in the life of humanity as well as in the personality of man — characterises the best efforts of all sciences and arts today. There is also a growing attempt at an integration of all sciences into a composite corpus of knowledge. One can very well discern materialistic rationalism fading away like the spectre of a discredited superstition.

“The New Physics”, says F.L. Kunz, “demonstrates the reality of super-sensory and non-material domains, styled Force-fields. Force-fields are aspects of that background of nature called the Continuum; they are today constantly employed in orbiting artificial satellites, exchanging signals with them, and dissolving matter into energy and residues.

“Thus we have two different and interconnected aspects of nature, namely, the discrete objects and creatures in the foreground, and the Continuum, which is to some extent revealed by the existence, the properties and the behaviour of sensed objects. In short, there is the phenomenal sense world and the noumenal real world, precisely as the best of the Greeks and the Hindus realised.”[174]

“There is no hypothesis capable of explaining the birth of life, the development of consciousness, without the intervention of factors that can be described as extra-scientific and supernatural,” says Lecomte du Noüy.

Once questioned on the validity of supersensory experiences, Sri Aurobindo replied:

“I suppose I have had myself an even more completely European education than you, and I have had too my period of agnostic denial, but from the moment I looked at these things I could never take the attitude of doubt and disbelief which was for so long fashionable in Europe. Abnormal, otherwise super-physical experiences and powers, occult or Yogic, have always seemed to me something perfectly natural and credible. Consciousness in its very nature could not be limited by the ordinary physical human-animal consciousness, it must have the other ranges. Yogic or occult powers are no more supernatural or incredible than is supernatural or incredible the power to write a great poem or compose great music; few people can do it, as things are, — not even one in a million; for poetry and music come from the inner being and to write or to compose true and great things one has to have the passage clear between the outer mind and something in the inner being….

“You ask me whether you have to give up your predilection for testing before accepting and to accept everything in Yoga a priori — and by testing you mean testing by the ordinary reason. The only answer I can give to that is that the experiences of Yoga belong to an inner domain and go according to a law of their own, have their own method of perception, criteria and all the rest of it which are neither those of the domain of the physical senses nor of the domain of rational or scientific enquiry.[175] Just as scientific enquiry passes beyond that of the physical senses and enters the domain of the infinite and infinitesimal about which the senses can say nothing and test nothing — for one cannot see and touch an electron or know by the evidence of the sense-mind whether it exists or not or decide by that evidence whether the earth really turns round the sun and not rather the sun round the earth as our senses and all our physical experience daily tell us — so the spiritual search passes beyond the domain of scientific or rational enquiry and it is impossible by the aid of the ordinary positive reason to test the data of spiritual experience and decide whether those things exist or not or what is their law and nature. As in Science, so here you have to accumulate experience on experience, following faithfully the methods laid down by the Guru or by the systems of the past, you have to develop an intuitive discrimination which compares the experiences, see what they mean, how far and in what field each is valid, what is the place of each in the whole, how it can be reconciled or related with others that at first might seem to contradict it, etc., etc., until you can move with a secure knowledge in the vast field of spiritual phenomena. That is the only way to test spiritual experience. I have myself tried the other method and I have found it absolutely incapable and inapplicable. On the other hand, if you are not prepared to go through all that yourself, — as few can do except those of extraordinary spiritual stature — you have to accept the leading of a Master, as in Science you accept a teacher instead of going through the whole field of Science and its experimentation all by yourself — at least until you have accumulated sufficient experience and knowledge. If that is accepting things a priori, well, you have to accept a priori. For I am unable to see by what valid tests you propose to make the ordinary reason the judge of what is beyond it.”[176]

The above quotation is an effective reply to those sceptics, scientific rationalists and materialists who impugn super-sensory and spiritual experiences. But it is a good augury that some of the greatest of modern scientists, men of high calibre and open minds, whose sole aim in their vocation is a disinterested search for truth, are fast outgrowing the limitations of their strait-jacket presuppositions, and advancing with firm steps towards wider horizons and a more unifying and harmonising knowledge of man and nature.

If the supersensory worlds exist — it would, indeed, be foolhardy to deny their existence in the teeth of overwhelming evidence from some of the researches of modern Science — we should inquire as to what they are; how they are situated, in what order or hierarchy; how they are related to our material world, and whether there are forces and influences from them penetrating and affecting our life and thought; what changes take place in us when we rise into them in consciousness, or receive their influences in us; what are the sources of subtle sight, subtle hearing, and other occult powers, which it is too late in the day to laugh away; above all, what are those domains of immortal light and bliss and blessedness of which the very greatest of our historical personalities speak in almost identical terms and with a singular ring and consensus of certitude, and whether they can be brought down to transfigure our mortal life and nature on earth into divine life and divine nature. These are some of the vital questions we have to attack and attempt to resolve, as we proceed with our study of Sri Aurobindo’s many-faceted life and work. For, even his politics was not the politics of a mere patriotic politician — it was an organic part and an expressive medium of his Yoga, and shot through with spirituality. The well-springs of its motivation lay, not in his enlightened mind and cultured heart, but in the deeps of his soul, far deeper than our reason and practical sense can ever probe. It takes a Yogi to appraise the actions and achievements of a Yogi. As Swami Vivekananda once said: “If there were another Vivekananda, he could have understood what Vivekananda has done.”

But we are always on firm ground. In the modern age of Science, Sri Aurobindo has proved by his experiences and example and teachings that spirituality is a perfectly scientific affair — a Super-Science, if you will, but not unscientific. He has blazed a trail for the modern scientists and the scientists of the future. He has pursued the spiritual life, the life of a dynamic Yogi, in the true scientific spirit, if by Science is meant an insatiable seeking for Truth, a consuming curiosity to discover the hidden secrets of man and Nature, and an unfaltering method of scrupulous observation, experimentation and experience. He was a great admirer of Science and its achievements. He acknowledged our indebtedness to Science for making us conscious of the immense potentialities of Matter and material life, and curbing the traditional religious tendency to the ascetic denial and escapism. Science has opened our eyes to the reality and sanctity, if not yet the divinity of Matter. It has helped to restore the ancient Vedic and Upanishadic gospel of the unity of all existence and the identity of Spirit and Matter. Sri Aurobindo had full faith in the final triumph of the true scientific spirit, unfettered and unperverted by passing, material interests, in revealing to man the infinite greatness that lies slumbering in him, and the transcendental glory of his destiny. His spirituality, which germinated in England,[177] and developed in India, was an ascent of his soul, not through trance, or a suspension of the waking consciousness, but a fully conscious, exploratory, and heuristic ascent from level to level of experience, and from world to world of beings and forces, to the highest peaks of the transcendent Spirit, and its subsequent descent, charged with the dynamic Light and Power of the Spirit, to transfigure by means of them our squalid earthly life of darkness, disorder and discontent. His life, as it unfolds before us, is a vivid demonstration of the invincible power of the spirit of man, rising above all bondage to ignorance and mortality, and vindicating its birthright to absolute, masterful freedom and infinite perfectibility, which is, precisely, the cardinal aim and aspiration of Science. Sri Aurobindo was the greatest scientist of his age, but a scientist not only of Matter and Energy, but of the infinite and eternal Reality, the One without a second, the integral, indivisible unity of transcendent and universal Existence. His Yoga had no mists and shades and twilights in it, or the decoying glimmers of a spurious occultism. He lived and worked, taught and wrote, in the true spirit of a scientist, who has advanced in the sunlight of a growing knowledge, tested and verified in the crucible of hard experience.





“The hope of national regeneration must absorb our minds as the idea of salvation absorbs the mind of the mumukshu. Our tyaga must be as complete as the tyaga of the nameless ascetic. Our passion to see the face of our free and glorified Mother must be as devouring a madness as the passion of Chaitanya to see the face of Sri Krishna. Our sacrifice for the country must be as enthusiastic and complete as that of Jagai and Madhai who left the rule of a kingdom to follow the Sankirtan of Gauranga. Our offerings on the altar must be as wildly liberal, as remorselessly complete as that of Carthagenian parents who passed their children through the fire to Moloch…”[178]

Sri Aurobindo

Barindra, Sri Aurobindo’s youngest brother, first came to Baroda in 1901. After passing the Entrance Examination in 1900, he studied for six months in the First Year class at Patna College. But his mind was not in his studies. He went to Dacca, where his brother, Manmohan, was a professor, and was admitted to Dacca College, but could not continue there for long. The dream of doing agriculture possessed him, and, extorting a promise from Manmohan for financial help, he went to Calcutta. But the help did not come, and the dream faded away into thin air. His next romantic venture was a tea-shop at Patna, which proved a dismal failure. He had to shut up shop, because he was over head and ears in debt, having blundered away all the money he had wheedled out of his simple mother. Romantic imagination and cold commercial calculation seldom yoke together. He now thought of taking refuge with Sri Aurobindo. He arrived at Baroda one fine morning, and presented to his brother a rather unpresentable figure, unkempt and untidy, and clad in a dirty shirt. At that time Sri Aurobindo’s sister, Sarojini, and his wife, Mrinalini, were staying with him at Baroda.

Comfortable and care-free in the family of his brother, Barindra now turned his romantic mind to Planchette and automatic writing. In those days these spiritualistic séances were almost a universal hobby. We know that the great poet, Yeats, took keen interest in them, and Rabindranath tells us in his autobiography that he tried these experiments for some time. Barrister Chittaranjan Das[179], we learn from a reliable source, received in one such experiment a message from the spirit of Brahmabandhava Upadhyaya[180], urging him to take up the defence of Sri Aurobindo in the famous Alipore Bomb Case. Chittaranjan was a budding barrister at that time, and, encumbered with the burden of his father’s debts and the maintenance of a big family, he was unable to make up his mind as to whether he should take up Sri Aurobindo’s case or not. For, being a very important and difficult case, it was sure to tax much of his time and energy, and, being a labour of love, it would bring him no returns. But the message from the spirit of Brahmabandhava helped him to decide.[181] He took up the case and conducted it with such remarkable brilliance and ability that, not only Bengal, but the whole country rang with his praise. He secured the acquittal of Sri Aurobindo in the teeth of the most stubborn opposition from the Police Raj. Sri Aurobindo’s case was the turning point of Chittaranjan’s life. He shot into the legal firmament as its brightest luminary, and, by his unstinted generosity and sacrifice in the cause of national freedom, became the idol of Bengal.

In view of the importance attached to the question of spirit-communication and general psychical research in the West, we reproduce a few words from Sri Aurobindo which, we hope, the readers will find enlightening:

“Sri Aurobindo totally denies that he used the automatic writing for any kind of moral or other edification of those around him; that would have meant that it was spurious and a sort of a trick, for no writing can be automatic if it is dictated or guided by the writer’s conscious mind. The writing was done as an experiment as well as an amusement and nothing else. I may mention here the circumstances under which it was first taken up. Barin had done some very extraordinary automatic writing at Baroda in a very brilliant and beautiful English style and remarkable for certain predictions which came true… there was notably a symbolic anticipation of Lord Curzon’s subsequent unexpected departure from India[182] and, again, of the first suppression of the national movement and the greatness of Tilak’s attitude amidst the storm; this prediction was given in Tilak’s own presence when he visited Sri Aurobindo at Baroda and happened to enter first when the writing was in progress. Sri Aurobindo was very much struck and interested and he decided to find out by practising this kind of writing what there was behind it[183]…. But the results did not satisfy him and after a few further attempts at Pondicherry he dropped these experiments altogether…. His final conclusion was that though there are sometimes phenomena which point to the intervention of beings of another world, not always or often of a high order, the mass of such writings comes from a dramatising element in the subconscious mind; sometimes a brilliant vein in the subliminal is struck and then predictions of the future and statements of things not known in the present and the past come up, but otherwise these writings have not a great value….”[184]

A few more words on the same subject and we have done with it. Nolini Kanta Gupta, Secretary of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, who had the rare fortune and privilege of living in close association with Sri Aurobindo and serving him, first as a political follower, and next as a disciple of his, relates the following in his reminiscences, published in the Mother India:

“All know what is automatic writing. Sri Aurobindo showed us, rather made us hear specimens not of automatic writing, but of automatic speech. At about eight in the evening, we used to sit around him in a room. The lights would be turned off. A sudden hush would fall, and all of us kept silence for a while. Then slowly a voice would come from Sri Aurobindo. Evidently it was not his own voice. There were many such voices, coming one after the other, and each of a different manner and tone. Each voice would declare its own identity. I distinctly remember a few voices. One day someone came and said many fine things — on education, on literature, and on our country etc. We got eager to know his name. After putting us off for a moment, he finally gave out that he was Bankim Chandra. The talks used to be in English…. Another day someone else appeared and announced in a strident, dreadful voice: ‘I am Danton! Terror! Red Terror!’, and harangued us on the necessity and justification of bloodshed in the French Revolution. Yet another day somebody came and introduced himself thus: “I am Theramenes.’ Theramenes was a political leader in ancient Greece. In a quiet, mellow voice, he gave us a lecture on politics….”

It would interest the readers to learn that the book, Yogic Sadhana (now out of print), though an apparent product of Sri Aurobindo’s pen, was supposed to have been written by Rammohan Roy, who, it seems, used Sri Aurobindo’s hand in a sort of automatic writing. For, when it was being written, Sri Aurobindo saw the spirit of Rammohan Roy in the room.

To return to our subject. During his visits to Bengal, Sri Aurobindo had inspired Barin with the spirit of patriotism, and the latter’s stay at Baroda for sometime served only to kindle it to a blaze. The potential leader of the Bengal revolutionaries was preparing for his meteoric role.

After discontinuing his series of articles in the Induprakash, Sri Aurobindo, so long as he was in the Baroda service, kept studiously aloof from all public political activity. But he was secretly preparing the field for his work in Bengal, which, he knew, was soon to begin. He was sowing broadcast, both by his inner powers and private messages and instructions, the seeds of patriotic fervour and self-sacrificing revolutionary zeal. Without a burning love of the country, the Mother India, and the nation, no political movement, he said, was likely to be effective. He worked from behind the scenes and in silence for a “wide public movement which would create a universal patriotic fervour and popularise the idea of independence as the ideal and aim of Indian politics.”[185] “He made his first political move when he sent a young Bengali soldier of the Baroda army, Jatin Banerji,[186] as his lieutenant to Bengal with a programme of preparation and action which he thought might occupy a period of 30 years before fruition could become possible. As a matter of fact it has taken 50 years for the movement of liberation to arrive at fruition and the beginning of complete success. The idea was to establish secretly or, as far as visible action could be taken, under various pretexts and covers, revolutionary propaganda and recruiting throughout Bengal. This was to be done among the youth of the country while sympathy and support and financial and other assistance were to be obtained from the older men who had advanced views or could be won over to them. Centres were to be established in every town and eventually in every village. Societies of young men were to be established with various ostensible objects, cultural, intellectual or moral and those already existing were to be won over for revolutionary use. Young men were to be trained in activities which might be helpful for ultimate military action, such as riding, physical training, athletics of various kinds, drill and organised movement. As soon as the idea was sown it attained a rapid prosperity; already existing small groups and associations of young men who had not yet the clear idea or any settled programme of revolution began to turn in this direction and a few who had already the revolutionary aim were contracted and soon developed activity on organised lines; the few rapidly became many. Meanwhile Sri Aurobindo had met a member of the Secret Society[187] in Western India, and taken the oath of the Society and had been introduced to the Council in Bombay. His future action was not pursued under any directions by this Council, but he took up on his own responsibility the task of generalising support for its objects in Bengal… and they took the oath of the Society and agreed to carry out its objects on the lines suggested by Sri Aurobindo. The special cover used by Mitter’s[188] group was association for lathi play which had already been popularised to some extent by Sarala Ghosal[189] in Bengal among the young men; but other groups used other ostensible covers. Sri Aurobindo’s attempt at a close organisation of the whole movement did not succeed, but the movement itself did not suffer by that, for the general idea was taken up and activity of many separate groups led to a greater and more widespread diffusion of the revolutionary drive and its action…”[190]

Sri Aurobindo was in contact with Tilak, who was the greatest dynamic nationalist, not only in Maharashtra, but in the whole country, though he was not at that time so well-known. His imprisonment on a false charge of instigation of murder[191] brought him into the limelight overnight. At the Ahmedabad Congress in 1902 “Tilak took him (Sri Aurobindo) out of the pandal and talked to him for an hour in the grounds expressing his contempt for the Reformist movement and explaining his own line of action in Maharashtra.” (Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother)

In 1902 Sri Aurobindo sent Barin to Bengal to help Jatin Banerji, who had been deputed there earlier, in organising the revolutionary group and rousing the youth of Bengal. But Jatin and Barin could not hit it off long together, and they separated, to the great detriment of the revolutionary cause. Sri Aurobindo went to Bengal to patch up their differences, but they did not consent to work together. The revolutionary movement suffered for a time on account of this quarrel[192], but the idea of revolutionary action continued to seep into the mind of young Bengal, and inspire it to a more organised and resolute effort. Barin came back to Baroda when the police launched upon a ruthless persecution of the revolutionaries.

Barin conceived the idea of building a temple somewhere in the solitude of the hills in Western India for training a band of political sannyasins who would dedicate themselves entirely to the service of Mother India. The idea was evidently derived from the book, Anandamath, by Bankim Chandra Chatterji. A pamphlet embodying the basic idea and the lines of its practical application was written by Sri Aurobindo. The Rowlatt Committee report mentions this book, and Lord Ronaldsay reproduces excerpts from it in his book, The Heart of Aryavarta. About the pamphlet, Sri Aurobindo says, “Bhavani Mandir was written by Sri Aurobindo but it was more Barin’s ideal than his. It was not meant to train people for assassination but for revolutionary preparation of the country. The idea was soon dropped as far as Sri Aurobindo was concerned…. The selection of a site and a head of the monastery must have been simply an idea of Barin. He had travelled among the hills trying to find a suitable place but caught hill-fever and had to abandon his search and return to Baroda….”[193] C.C. Dutt of the Indian Civil Service relates in one of his Bengali books that he had been to the Ashram of one Keshavanandaji, a Hathayogi, who was conducting a training centre for young men. Something of the Bhavani Mandir scheme was sought to be realised there. But Sri Aurobindo did not pursue the idea further. It was always his way to inspire everybody, who came into active contact with him, on the line of his bent and aptitude, and not interfere with his individual evolution by imposing his thoughts and ideas upon him. He left everybody free to follow the self-law of his being and develop according to it. This was the chief characteristic of his leadership, and, understandably enough, a constant source of bewilderment to his associates and followers. For, his serene yogic detachment, his perfect unconcern in the midst of various action, and his different ways of dealing with and leading different natures baffled them. Try as they would, they failed to take his measure with their mental yardsticks. Prophet souls are eternal enigmas and paradoxes of history.

We give below a few extracts from the pamphlet, Bhavani Mandir:

“A Temple is to be erected and consecrated to Bhavani, the Mother, among the hills. To all the children of the Mother the call is sent forth to help in the sacred work.

“Who is Bhavani?

“In the unending revolutions of the world, as the wheel of the Eternal turns mightily in its courses, the Infinite Energy, which streams forth from the Eternal and sets the wheel to work, looms up in the vision of man in various aspects and infinite forms. Each aspect creates and marks an age. Sometimes She is Love, sometimes She is Knowledge, sometimes She is Renunciation, sometimes She is Pity. This Infinite Energy is Bhavani, She also is Durga, She is Kali, She is Radha the Beloved, She is Lakshmi, She is our Mother and the Creatress of us all.

“Bhavani is Shakti.

“In the present age the Mother is manifested as the Mother of Strength. She is pure Shakti.

“The whole world is growing full of the Mother as Shakti…

“We in India fail in all things for want of Shakti…

“Our knowledge is a dead thing for want of Shakti…

“Our Bhakti cannot live and work for want of Shakti…

“India therefore needs Shakti alone.

“The deeper we look, the more we shall be convinced that the one thing wanting, which we must strive to acquire before all others, is strength — strength physical, strength mental, strength moral, but above all strength spiritual which is the one inexhaustible and imperishable source of all the others. If we have strength everything else will be added to us easily and naturally…

“India, grown old and decrepit in will, has to be reborn.

“Our race has grown… such an old man with stores of knowledge, with ability to feel and desire, but paralysed by senile sluggishness, senile timidity, senile feebleness. If India is to survive, she must be made young again. Rushing and billowing streams of energy must be poured into her; her soul must become, as it was in the old times, like the surges, vast, puissant, calm or turbulent at will, an ocean of action or of force.

“India must be reborn, because her rebirth is demanded by the future of the world…”

Thus Sri Aurobindo poured forth an unceasing stream of dynamic spiritual force to regenerate and transform, not only India, but the whole of mankind. His nationalism was more than internationalism — it was spiritual universalism, as we have already said before. And at the heart of this spiritual universalism was Mother India, the Divine Mother, Bhavani, the Supreme Shakti, diffusing Her strength, Her fire-Force of creation and destruction for the redemption of the world.[194]

In 1902 Sri Aurobindo went to Midnapur in Bengal during a vacation, Barin and Jatin Banerji accompanying him. The trip was for organising the projected six centres in Bengal. When he returned to Calcutta, he gave the oath of the revolutionary party to P. Mitter. He used to go to Bengal during the vacations for the revolutionary work. He thus visited Khulna, Dacca, Midnapur, etc. Lathi-play, boxing, cycling, riding, target-shooting, etc. were regularly taught in most of these centres. Lives of Mazzini, Garibaldi and other revolutionaries were read with great interest, along with histories of revolutions, and all this training was capped by and derived its creative dynamis from a study of the Gita which inculcates the spirit of selfless work and sacrifice. It must be noted that most of the front-rank leaders were disciples of advanced Yogis, and led a spiritual life of purity and austerity. This spiritual leavening was the distinguising feature of the lives of the Bengal revolutionaries. Patriotism was with them a spiritual duty, a self-denying adoration of the Mother. And it was a common knowledge that the main inspiration and impetus behind this spiritualised patriotic orientation was Sri Aurobindo.[195]

In 1904 Sri Aurobindo met Charu Chandra Dutt I.C.S. who was District Judge at Thana in Bombay Presidency, and converted him to the Bhavani Mandir ideal. It was at Charu Chandra’s house that he first met Subodh Mullick, Charu Chandra’s brother-in-law, who was to become one of his most loyal friends and a great political and financial supporter. Subodh Mullick’s contribution of a lakh of rupees (Rs. 1,00,000) helped the establishment of the Bengal National College at Calcutta. He had stipulated (at the time of the contribution) that Sri Aurobindo should be given a post of professor in the College with a salary of Rs.150 per month; and this gave Sri Aurobindo an opportunity to resign his position in the Baroda Service, go to Bengal, and join the College as its Principal. It was but a prelude to a plunge into the political movement, and a total self-dedication to it. Subodh Mullick also contributed munificently to the running of some of the Secret Societies.

“Sri Aurobindo included in the scope of his revolutionary work one kind of activity which afterwards became an important item in the public programme of the Nationalist Party. He encouraged the young men in the centres of work to propagate the Swadeshi idea which at that time was only in its infancy and hardly more than a fad of the few. One of the ablest men in these revolutionary groups was a Maharatta named Sakharam Ganesh Deuskar who was an able writer in Bengali and who had written a popular life of Shivaji in Bengali in which he first brought in the name of Swaraj, afterwards adopted by the Nationlists as their word for independence…”[196] It is said that Sri Aurobindo sent Barin to Deuskar, requesting him to write an authentic book on the British exploitation of the economic resources of the country, and Deuskar readily acceded to the request. “He published a book entitled Desher Katha describing in exhaustive detail the British commercial and industrial exploitation of India. This book had an immense repercussion in Bengal, captured the mind of young Bengal and assisted more than anything else in the preparation of the Swadeshi movement. Sri Aurobindo himself had always considered the shaking off of this economic yoke and the development of Indian trade and industry as a necessary concomitant of the revolutionary endeavour.”[197]

In 1904 Sri Aurobindo was appointed Vice-Principal of the Baroda College, and in 1905 he officiated as its Principal. Had he continued in the Baroda Service, he would have easily adorned the highest post there, educational or administrative. The Maharaja respected him, and had a high opinion of his intellectual brilliance and his many-sided abilities. In fact, he was not at all willing to leave him. The colleagues and students of Sri Aurobindo loved and adored him for his extraordinary intellectual attainments, his burning love for India and Indian culture, his saintly character, and his gentle, unassuming manners. The general public, even though they had very little chance to come in direct contact with him, simply revered him, and felt a thrill of emotion whenever they referred to him as “Ghose Saheb”. But a greater call tore him away from this cosy atmosphere of quiet service and silent preparation, and plunged him headlong into the heart of an expanding vortex.

Sri Aurobindo attended the Ahmedabad National Congress in 1902, the Bombay Congress in 1904, and the Banaras (Varanasi) Congress in 1905. In all these sessions of the Congress, he tried to prevail upon the leaders to fight for full independence, free from British control, and submit to no compromise. He wrote a manifesto called “No Compromise” and had it circulated in Bengal. In various ways, he inspired the progressive political mind of Bengal to oppose by all means at their command — boycott of all British goods and British institutions, non-cooperation and passive resistance, village reconstruction, founding of national schools and colleges etc. — the Partition of Bengal which Lord Curzon had decided to inflict upon Bengal in order to stifle its fast growing political consciousness and nationalist spirit. We shall dwell upon the Bengal Partition and study how Bengal reacted to it in the next chapter.

It was just after the Partition that Sri Aurobindo’s active political life began, though he had laid its foundation much earlier. He had foreseen the barbarous fury of bureaucratic repression and its vengeful cruelty, and the utter futility of the prayers and petitions of the Moderates; and he was constantly at work inculcating the spirit of nationalism, the will to passive or active revolution, as the developing situation demanded, and the urge to complete freedom. But the days of the Partition were days of storm and stress, of the chaotic hurtle and blur of tangled forces through which the nation was forging its way to its political destiny. It is only if we go behind this surging mass of motley forces that we can discern the specific contribution of each of the supreme pilots of the national movement. And that is not an easy job. History records what is apparent and on the surface, and not what is real and decisive behind appearances. The swirling dust and litter of the foreground obscures our historical perspective and renders our assessments factually false. Our mortal eyes fail to perceive the subtle creative forces that generate revolutions.

A short while after his return from the Banaras Congress, Sri Aurobindo took leave and went to Bengal. He stayed there till June, 1906. From Calcutta he went to attend the Barisal Conference, where he witnessed the electrifying effect of the national cry of Bande Mataram, then resounding through the towns and villages of Bengal, and the callous inhumanity of the British Raj bent upon crushing the renascent spirit of patriotism. The brutal fact confirmed his foresight. It unsealed the fountain of his spiritual powers. The fire of his soul rained equally upon his country and the British bureaucracy, setting ablaze the sluggish heart and galvanising the torpid limbs of the former, and blasting the wits of the latter. His pen shot leaping tongues of flame. It roused and inspirited his countrymen as nothing else had done before, and their awakened ardour and enthusiasm fed and throve upon the desperate errors of the distraught and unnerved bureaucracy.

From Barisal Sri Aurobindo accompanied Bepin Pal on a tour of East Bengal to study the possibilities of his revolutionary plan and the general political situation of the province.

It was now felt that an organ was urgently needed to popularise the idea of violent revolt, and, so, Yugantar, a Bengali paper, was started. It was Barin’s project, approved by Sri Aurobindo. It was “to preach open revolt and the absolute denial of the British rule and include such items as a series of articles containing instructions for guerrilla warfare. Sri Aurobindo himself wrote some of the opening articles in the early numbers and he always exercised a general control…. It had as its chief writers and directors three of the ablest young writers in Bengal, and it at once acquired an immense influence throughout Bengal…. It may be noted that the Secret Society did not include terrorism in its programme, but this element grew up in Bengal as a result of the strong repression and a reaction to it in that Province.”[198] In one of his talks Sri Aurobindo said later: “My idea was an armed revolution in the whole of India. What they did at the time was very childish, killing a magistrate and so on. Later it turned into terrorism and dacoities which were not at all my idea or intention. Bengal is too emotional, wants quick results and can’t prepare through a long course of years.”[199]

In June Sri Aurobindo came back to Baroda. His mind was made up. Bengal, he felt, had need of him. It was to be the field of his political work. His path lay clear before him — the path of the adoration of the Mother through suffering and sacrifice. The expected call came anon from Bengal. He was invited to take charge of the newly-founded Bengal National College in Calcutta. He took leave again, this time for an indefinite period, and left Baroda in July, 1906. The chapter of manifold intensive preparation closed, and a new chapter of profound, dynamic spiritual sadhana and inspired, creative political action opened. And this dual activity, inner and outer, wrought the mosaic of India’s destiny.[200]




[1] Sri Aurobindo admired Mazzini and Joan of Arc, and wrote a short poem as a tribute to the Irish patriot, Parnell, in 1891. It is interesting to note that Annie Besant once called Sri Aurobindo the Mazzini of India.

[2] On Yoga by Sri Aurobindo, Tome I, p.129.

[3] Uttarpara Speech by Sri Aurobindo.

[4] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.

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

[6] Prima Vera.

[7] Nirodbaran’s Notes.

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

[9] Keshub Chandra Sen, one of the foremost leaders of the Brahmo Samaj.

[10] Rajnarayan Bose died in 1899. Sri Aurobindo wrote a sonnet on him: “Transiit, Non Periit”.

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

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

[13] Sri K.M. Munshi, ex-govemor of the Uttar Pradesh, who was one of the students of Sri Aurobindo at the Baroda College, writes: “My own contact with Sri Aurobindo dates back to 1902 when, after passing the Matriculation examination, I joined the Baroda College. Though previously I had, only on occasions, the privilege of being in personal contact with him, the Aurobindonian legend in the College filled me with reverence, and it was with awe that I hung upon his words whenever he came to College as Professor of English.”

[14] Nirodbaran’s Notes.

[15] R.N. Patkar, an advocate.

[16] This simple, child-like faith in the injunctions of the Hindu Shastras, and a whole-hearted fidelity in following them was, indeed, characteristic of Sri Aurobindo in the Baroda period of his life, though the questing and questioning faculty of his mind was strong and alert, and his robust reason never abdicated its office. It was his intuition that guided him in such matters and satisfied his reason.

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

[18] We shall soon meet Dinendra Kumar Roy and enjoy his interesting pen-portrait of Sri Aurobindo.

[19] R. C. Dutt’s translations of the two Epics were published in England and highly acclaimed.

[20] These five were: One on Madhusudan Dutt, one on Bankim Chandra Chatterji, a sonnet on his maternal grandfather, Rajnarayana Bose, and two English adaptations from Chandidas, the reputed Bengali mystic poet whom he read along with Vidyapati and others at Baroda.

[21] Love and Death, a long poem, and the drama, Perseus the Deliverer, belong also to Baroda period.

[22] Miss Margaret Elizabeth Noble, who was a disciple of Vivekananda and had made India her home. She was a great social and political worker known for her revolutionary ardour and outlook, and a powerful writer on religious, social and political problems.

[23] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.

[24] A northern locality in Calcutta.

[25] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.

[26] Nirodbaran’s Notes.

[27] Nirodbaran’s Notes.

[28] Vivekananda describes the beginning of a somewhat similar experience:

“But in the twinkling of an eye he (Ramakrishna) placed his right foot on my body. The touch at once gave rise to a novel experience within me. With my eyes open I saw that the walls, and everything in the room, whirled rapidly and vanished into naught, and the whole universe together with my individuality was about to merge in an all-encompassing mysterious Void”.

[29] Last Poems by Sri Aurobindo.

[30] A town in the United Provinces, famous for the Tajmahal.

[31] A town in the United Provinces hallowed by memories of Sri Krishna.

[32] A small town in the United Provinces.

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

[34] The most progressive Hindu mind is never satisfied with anything less than “seeing” God. When Swami Vivekananda met Sri Ramakrishna for the first time, he put the same question to him: “Have you seen God?”. He had put the same question to Maharshi Debendra Nath Tagore, father of Rabindra Nath Tagore. The question is typical of spiritual aspirants in India. And no less typical was the breath-taking reply Sri Ramakrishna gave to Vivekananda: “Yes, my boy, I have seen Him, I have talked with Him, and I can make you see Him.” In ancient India, the Rishis who guided the society were such seers of God, living light houses for the sea-faring souls of men.

[35] “It was something from behind which got the idea accepted by the mind; mine was a side door entry into the spiritual life.” Life of Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani.

[36] “To reach Nirvana was the first radical result of my own Yoga…. I lived in that Nirvana day and night before it began to admit other things into itself at all… Nirvana in my liberated consciousness turned out to be the beginning of my realisation, a first step towards the complete thing, not the sole, true attainment possible, or even a culminating finale.” Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.

[37] Italics are ours.

[38] cf. Manu: “Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure elsewhere, or devoid of good qualities, a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife. If a wife obeys her husband, she will for that reason alone be exalted in heaven.”

[39] The blind father of the Kauravas in the Mahabharata.

[40] Italics are ours.

[41] Italics are ours.

[42] Italics are ours.

[43] Italics are ours.

[44] Italics are ours.

[45] These letters were not meant for the public — they were a secret communication to his wife. But during the searches that took place in 1908, they were seized by the British police and, later, produced in the Alipur court when Sri Aurobindo was being tried, after a year’s detention in the Alipur jail, on a false charge of sedition. The letters thus came to see the light of day; and here they are, a priceless treasure for Sri Aurobindo’s biographers. They mirror Sri Aurobindo’s heart and soul as nothing else of that period does. His next self-revelation was in his famous Uttarpara Speech. But of that later.

[46] A fellow-worker of Sri Aurobindo in the political field. He later joined the Ramakrishna Mission.

[47] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.

[48] “Tell me of That which thou seest otherwhere than in virtue and otherwhere than in unrighteousness…” — Kathopanishad.

“One whose intelligence has attained to unity, casts away from him even here in this world of dualities both good doing and evil doing…” — The Gita.

“… He (the divine worker) has passed even beyond that distinction of sin and virtue which is so all-important to the human soul while it is struggling to minimise the hold of its egoism and lighten the heavy and violent yoke of its passion.” — Essays on the Gita, Sri Aurobindo.

[49] In reply to Nirodbaran’s question whether Sri Aurobindo looked upon India as the living Mother, he wrote: “My dear Sir, I am not a materialist. If I had seen India as only a geographical area with a number of more or less interesting people in it, I would hardly have gone out of my way to do all that for the said area.” — Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo by Nirodbaran, Part I.

[50] “India must become dynamic and effect the conquest of the world through her spirituality.” — Vivekananda

[51] Italics are ours.

[52] Italics are ours.

[53] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.

[54] “I do not care a button about having my name in any blessed place. I was never ardent about fame even in my political days: I preferred to remain behind the curtain, push people without their knowing it and get things done.” — Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.

[55] “…But this began in London…” Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, Part I, by Nirodbaran.

[56] “Dinendra Kumar Roy lived with Sri Aurobindo in Baroda as a companion and his work was rather to help him to correct and perfect his knowledge of the language and to accustom him to conversation in Bengali than any regular teaching.” — Sri Aurobindo and His Ashram.

[57] One of the leading journalists in contemporary Bengal.

[58] Regarding his eyes, “the English Principal of the Baroda College said to C.R. Reddy (who was later Vice-Chancellor of the Andhra University): ‘So you have met Aurobindo Ghose. Did you notice his eyes? There is a mystic fire and light in them. They penetrate into the beyond.’ And he added: ‘If Joan of Arc heard heavenly voices, Aurobindo probably sees heavenly visions.’” The Liberator by Sisir Kumar Mitra.

[59] This portion (14 lines) I have taken from Sanat Banerji’s fine translation of some parts of Dinendra Kumar Roy’s Bengali book. The translation was published in Mother India.

[60] There was no curse. “It was to accomplish this great mission that God has sent me to the earth,” as he has himself avouched in his letters to his wife. In the poem, A God’s Labour, he gives the reason of his birth:

“He who would bring the heavens here

Must descend himself into clay

And the burden of earthly nature bear

And tread the dolorous way.”

[61] His maternal grand-father, Rajnarayan Bose, was known for his hearty and roaring laughter.

[62] On his travels in Gujrat he carried no bedding with him. He used to sleep on the bare bunk of the Railway carriage and use his arm as a pillow.

[63] “Anger has always been foreign to me.” Nirodbaran’s Notes.

[64] In his Vyasa and Valmiki Sri Aurobindo says: “The Ramayana is a work of the same essential kind as the Mahabharata; it differs only by a greater simplicity of plan, a more delicate ideal temperament and a finer glow of poetic warmth and colour.” We shall study his views on the two epics in one of the later chapters.

[65] Sri Aurobindo says about his first experience of Marathi food: “I hope your dinner at Dewas did not turn out like my first taste of Maratha cookery — when for some reason my dinner was non est and somebody went to my neighbour, a Maratha professor, for food. I took one mouthful and only one. О God! Sudden fire in the mouth could not have been more surprising. Enough to bring down the whole of London in one wild agonising swoop of flame! — Life of Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani. Afterwards, of course, he got used to it. He liked the food he took at Tilak’s place, and he characterised it as “Spartan” in its simplicity.

[66] Charu Chandra Dutt, an I.C.S. and a friend and fellow-worker of Sri Aurobindo in the political field, relates an incident which illustrates Sri Aurobindo’s power of concentration.

“Once Sri Aurobindo came to Thana, a town in Gujarat, where I was posted. It was raining heavily on that day. As we could not stir out, we fell to target-shooting to beguile the time. My wife proposed that Sri Aurobindo should be given the rifle so that he might also have a try, but Sri Aurobindo refused, saying that he had never handled a rifle. But because we insisted, he agreed. We had only to show him how to hold the rifle and take aim. The target was the black, tiny head of a match stick, hung at a distance of ten or twelve feet. Aurobindo took aim, and, lo and behold! the very first shot flew the stick into the target, and the first hit was followed up by the second, and the second by the third! It took our breath away. I remarked to my friends: ‘If such a man doesn’t become a siddha (spiritually perfect), who would become — people like you and me?’” Puranokatha-Upasanhara by Charu Chandra Dutt.

[67] Recently, about 42 Bengali books, which had belonged to Sri Aurobindo have been sent to Sri Aurobindo Ashram from Baroda. They include the Complete Works of Ishwar Gupta, Sekal О Ekal by Rajnarayan Bose, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Chandidas, Jnanadas, the Dramatical Works of Amritalal Bose, the Poetical Works of Govindadas, a collection of poems by Dinabandhu Mitra, Bengali Sonnets by Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Ananda Math by Bankim Chandra, Goray Galad by Rabindranath Tagore, etc.

[68] “I have read comparatively little — (there are people in India who have read fifty times or a hundred times as much as I have), only I have made much out of that little…” — Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo by Nirodbaran, Part I.

He had a very concentrated way of reading, which enabled him to go through the books with an almost miraculous rapidity. Charu Dutt refers in his book, Puranokatha-Upasanhara, to the following incident. Once after returning from College, Sri Aurobindo picked up a novel that was lying near where he sat and began to read it, while Charu Dutt and some of his friends were noisily engaged in a game of chess. After half an hour, he put down the book and took up a cup of tea. They had often noticed him doing like that before, and so were eagerly waiting for an opportunity to test whether he read the books from cover to cover or only glanced through some of the pages. They at once subjected him to a viva voce test. Chru Dutt opened the book at random and read out one line from it, asking Sri Aurobindo to repeat the sequel. Sri Aurobindo thought for a moment, and then repeated the contents of the page without a single mistake. If he could read a hundred pages in half an hour, is it any wonder that he went through parcels of books in an incredibly short time?

[69] “Narayan Jyotishi, a Calcutta astrologer, who predicted, not knowing then who I was, in the days before my name was politically known, my straggle with Mlechchha enemies and afterwards the three cases against me and my three acquittals, predicted also that though death was prefixed for me in my horoscope at the age of sixty-three, I would prolong my life by Yogic power for a very long period and arrive at a full old age.” — Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.

“Khasirao Jadav’s father died according to the exact date and moment found out by an astrologer.” — Nirod’s Notes.

“Astrology? Many astrological predictions come true, quite a mass of them, if one takes all together. But it does not follow that the stars rale our destiny; the stars merely record a destiny that has been formed, they are a hieroglyph, not a Force, — or if their action constitutes a force, it is a transmitting energy, not an originating Power. Someone is there who has determined or something is there which is Fate, let us say; the stars are only indications. The astrologers themselves say that there are two forces, daiva and purusakara, fate and individual energy, and the individual energy can modify and even frustrate fate. Moreover, the stars often indicate several fate-possibilities; for example that one may die in mid-age, but that if that determination can be overcome, one can live to a predictable old age. Finally, cases are seen in which the predictions of the horoscope fulfil themselves with great accuracy up to a certain age, then apply no more. This often happens when the subject turns away from the ordinary to the spiritual life. If the turn is very radical, the cessation of predictability may be immediate; otherwise certain results may still last on for some time, but there is no longer the same inevitability. This would seem to show that there is or can be a higher power or higher plane or higher source of spiritual destiny which can, if its hour has come, override the lower power, lower plane or lower source of vital and material fate of which the stars are indicators. I say vital because character can also be indicated from the horoscope much more completely and satisfactorily than the events of the life.” — On Yoga, Book II. Tome II by Sri Aurobindo.

[70] Translator’s note: “It is difficult to translate the National Anthem of Bengal into verse in another language owing to its unique union of sweetness, simple directness and high poetic force. All attempts in this direction have been failures. In order, therefore, to bring the reader unacquainted with Bengali nearer to the exact force of the original, I give the translation in prose line by line.” There is also a translation in English verse by Sri Aurobindo.

[71] “Already the Vedanta and the Yoga have exceeded their Asiatic limit and are beginning to influence the life and practice of America and Europe; and they have long been filtering into Western thought by a hundred indirect channels. But these are small rivers and underground streams. The world waits for the rising of India to receive the divine flood in its fullness.” — The Ideal of the Karmayogin by Sri Aurobindo.

[72] The Renaissance in India by Sri Aurobindo.

[73] The Renaissance in India by Sri Aurobindo.

[74] “The resistance of the conservative element in Hinduism, tamasic, inert, ignorant, uncreative though if was, saved the country by preventing an even more rapid and thorough disintegration than actually took place and by giving respite and time for the persistent national self to emerge and find itself.” — The Ideal of the Karmayogin by Sri Aurobindo.

[75] The Renaissance in India by Sri Aurobindo.

[76] The Renaissance in India by Sri Aurobindo.

[77] It is recorded that, during the Mutiny of 1857, behind most of the bands of the insurgents, there were Gurus or religious leaders as the source of inspiration and direction. What could Shivaji have achieved without his Guru, the Yogi Ramdas? There was spiritual power behind the creation and organisation of the Sikh militia.

In this connection, the following historical account makes interesting reading: In 1772, in Rangpur, a district in Bengal, there was a revolt of Sannyasis (ascetics) against the British rule. These Sannyasis belonged to North India. Bankim Chandra’s famous novel, Ananda Math, was inspired by this revolt. He had composed the Bande Mataram seven or eight years before he wrote Ananda Math. Even as early as 1763, the insurgent Sannyasis were waging guerilla war against the British. In that year, they suddenly appeared in Dacca in East Bengal, then as suddenly flew to Coochbehar, and there worsted the British soldiers in a skirmish. In 1768, they engaged a contingent of British troops in an open fight in the district of Saran in Bihar. In 1770, they were found in Dinajpur, then in Dacca and Rajsahi. In 1772, they fought a regular battle with the British troops in Rangpur and defeated them. In most of these encounters, they used to carry the day. Everywhere the local people helped them in all possible ways, and, even when threatened by the Government, never let them down. In the battle in Rangpur, Capt. Tomes was killed. Capt. Edwards was killed in Dinajpur fight. Neither the threat of severe punishment nor the huge prices set on the heads of the Sannyasis could induce the local people to betray them. In 1773, Warren Hastings, who was then the Governor General of India, wrote about them: “These Sannyasis appear so suddenly in towns or villages that one would think they had dropped from the blue. They are strong, brave, and energetic beyond belief.” Evidently, they had resolved to sacrifice their lives for the protection of Hindu religion and culture which, they thought, were in great danger. The Mutiny of 1857 was, in many respects a legitimate successor of the Sannyasi revolt, exploding in a wider and more violent outburst. — Based on Dr. Jadugopal Mukhopadhyaya’s ‘Viplavi Jivaner Smrit’, written in Bengali.

[78] The Renaissance in India by Sri Aurobindo.

[79] “The pride and glory of Bengal” — Vivekananda.

[80] Ram Mohan predicted that India would be free and take her rightful place as the Guru of Asia.

[81] Ram Mohan was initiated by a Tantric named Hariharananda Tirthaswamy, and practised Tantric Yoga on the lines of Mahanirvana Tantra, a Tantric scripture of great authority.

[82] “If religion is from God, is politics from the Devil?” — Ram Mohan Roy.

[83] Ram Mohan — the Man and his Work, edited by Amal Horne.

[84] When he went to France, he was welcomed and honoured by the King, Louis Philippe, who invited him to dinner and fêted him.

[85] Ram Mohan was a master of Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic and English, and deeply read in the canonical books of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. He also knew Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

[86] Bankim-Tilak-Dayananda by Sri Aurobindo.

[87] “She had some vision…. She was a remarkable woman” — Sri Aurobindo (Nirodbaran’s Notes).

[88] Swami Vivekananda’s phenomenal success in America raised India in the estimation of the whole world, and electrified the national sentiment in his motherland.

We may as well observe here that it is a fact, though not very widely known, that Swami Vivekananda had in him the makings of a revolutionary nationalist. Had not his Master’s spiritual mission claimed him as its own, he would have become a firebrand political leader, and made no bones about declaring an armed revolt against the alien Government. Sister Nivedita, whom he moulded with his own hands, owed her revolutionary political fire to him. (Ref. Swami Vivekananda Patriot-Prophet by Bhupendranath Datta.)

Vivekananda once told Jatin Mukherji (popularly known as Bagha Jatin, because he had killed a tiger with a mere knife) that the spiritual regeneration of India would not be possible till India was politically free. Jatin Mukherji, who was inspired by Vivekananda, and afterwards by Sri Aurobindo, was a redoubtable revolutionary who succeeded for long in defying the military might of the British Raj, and at last, betrayed and besieged, fell, fighting with his five trusted comrades against a whole troop of soldiers. Sri Aurobindo once remarked about him: “He was a man who would belong to the front rank of humanity anywhere. Such beauty and strength together I haven’t seen…” (Nirodbaran’s Notes).

[89] Bankim Chandra Chatterji by Sri Aurobindo.

[90] Ibid.

[91] Bankim still retains his claim to uncontested supremacy as an Indian novelist. No other novelist since has had the epic vastness of his canvas, the grandeur of his imaginative creation, and the stately dignity and magnificence of his diction. All Indian languages are indebted to him for inaugurating a new era in the world of fiction, even as they are indebted to Rabindranath Tagore for ushering in a new era in poetic creation. Bankim Chandra’s novels have been translated into all the languages of India, and inspired and influenced a whole generation of novelists.

[92] Bankim Chandra Chatterji by Sri Aurobindo.

[93] Bankim-Tilak-Dayananda by Sri Aurobindo.

[94] “…Eminent writers, both Indian and English, have pointed out that the Industrial Revolution in England was itself ‘a consequence of the plundered wealth of India’…during the first half of the nineteenth century, India lost the proud position of supremacy in the trade and industry of the world, which she had been occupying for well-nigh two thousand years, and was gradually transformed into a plantation for the production of raw materials and a dumping ground for the cheap manufactured goods from the West…” — An Advanced History of India by Majumdar, Ray-Chaudhury and Dutta.

“…the manufactures of India were once in a highly flourishing condition. The Moghul Courts encouraged large towns and urban enterprise. European traders were first attracted to India, not by its raw products, but its manufactured wares. It was the industrial ‘wealth of Ormuz and Ind’ that dazzled the eyes of Western nations and sent them in search of a passage to that land of fabulous prosperity. Large portions of the Indian population were engaged in various industries down to the close of the eighteenth century…. The Indian cities were populous and magnificent.” — New India by Sir Henry Cotton.

[95] The brutal oppression of the Indigo cultivators by the British Indigo planters led to a mass upsurge of such magnitude and intensity that it was called “the first revolution in Bengal after the advent of the English”.

[96] “Paralysing poverty is more eloquent than the professional demagogue. And starvation is a better teacher than manuals of political economy.” Bande Mataram of March 2, 1907.

An eloquent testimony to the poverty of the Indian people is furnished by the following incident:

On the very day of his epoch-making triumph at the Parliament of Religions, Swami Vivekananda was invited by a rich and distinguished man to his home in a most fashionable part of the city. “Here he was entertained right royally; a princely room fitted with luxury beyond anything he could conceive was assigned to him. But instead of feeling happy in this splendid environment, he was miserable…. As he retired the first night and lay upon his bed, the terrible contrast between poverty-striken India and opulent America oppressed him. He could not sleep pondering over India’s plight. The bed of down seemed to be a bed of thorns. The pillow was wet with his tears. He went to the window and gazed out into the darkness until he was well-nigh faint with sorrow. At length, overcome with emotion, he fell to the ground, crying out, ‘O Mother, what do I care for name and fame when my motherland remains sunk in utmost poverty’. To what a sad pass have we poor Indians come when millions of us die for want of a handful of rice…. Who will raise the masses of India? Who will give them bread? Show me, О Mother, how I can help them’” — Life of Swami Vivekananda by his Eastern & Western Disciples.

This was in 1893. The poignant cry of anguish wrung out of Vivekananda’s leonine heart, his passionate love of his motherland, and his ardent appeal to the Divine Mother to raise the masses of India triggered the movement of a Force which has been unsleeping in its action, and which will not rest till it raises India to her highest, divine stature.

[97] Debendranath Tagore’s Tattva-bodhini Sabha, founded in 1839, was a religious and literary organisation. Prarthana Samaj, founded in Maharashtra in 1867 was a reformist social movement.

[98] R. C. Majumdar in Studies in the Bengal Renaissance, published by the National Council of Education, Bengal.

[99] Mela means a fair.

[100] Growth of Nationalism in India by Profs. Haridas Mukherjee and Uma Mukherjee.

[101] Soumyendranath Tagore in Evolution of Swadeshi Thought (Studies in the Bengal Renaissance).

“…Your arts and industries, which won and are still winning the admiration of Europeans, are languishing. Your artisans, the products of whose hands win such admiration are starving from want of employment. The immense material resources as well as the money of your country are being carried away by foreigners while we have to depend on England for even such a common article as lucifer match, nay, even for the very salt which seasons our rice…. The soil of India is getting impoverished year after year. Starvation is so much increasing in the country that one of the governing body himself admits that fifty millions of people are living on one meal a day…” Rajnarayan Bose (Vide studies in the Bengal Renaissance).

[102] “…the efforts they (the leaders of the Congress) have put forward have been puerile and paltry…. The movement lacked the essentials of a popular movement. The leaders were not in touch with the people…. A national movement, demanding only a few concessions and not speaking of the liberties of the nation and of its ideals, is never an effective movement…” — Lajpat Rai (Young India).

[103] The first stanza of Dwijendralal Roy’s Bengali song, translated by Sri Aurobindo.

[104] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, page 27.

[105] The Liberator by Sisir Kumar Mitra, page 40. Sri Aurobindo met M. G. Ranade in Bombay some time in 1894 — The Life of Sri Aurobindo by A. B. Purani.

[106] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, page 27.

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

[108] Dr. R.K. Mukherji in Sri Aurobindo’s Political Thought by Profs. Haridas Mukherjee and Uma Mukherjee.

In this connection it would be interesting to know what Swami Vivekananda thought about the Congress. In 1898 — five years after Sri Aurobindo had attacked the Congress policy of protest, petition and prayer — Aswini Kumar Datta, the saintly leader of the district of Barisal in Bengal and a great educationist and social worker, about whom we shall hear something from Sri Aurobindo himself later on, met Swami Vivekananda at Almora (in the Himalayas) and had the following talk with him:

ASWINI ВABU: But have you no faith in what Congress is doing?

SWAMIJI: No, I have not. But, of course, something is better than nothing, and it is good to push the sleeping nation from all sides to wake it up. Can you tell me what the Congress is doing for the masses? Do you think merely passing a few resolutions will bring you freedom? I have no faith in that. The masses must be awakened first…. But the essence of my religion is strength. The religion that does not infuse strength into the heart is no religion to me, be it of the Upanishads, the Gita or the Bhagavatam. Strength is religion, and nothing is greater than strength. — Life of Swami Vivekananda by his Eastern and Western Disciples, pp. 586-7.

The truth of the Swami’s words can be best appreciated if we take them in their proper context of the then tamasic or inert state of the enormous mass of the Indian people. He felt the pulse of the nation, and with his characteristic boldness preached to it the paradoxical gospel of strength: “Your football will take you nearer to heaven than the Gita.” He knew that the supine masses had to pass through the storm and tumult of the rajasic or crude and turbid energies before they could rise into the quieter and cleaner atmosphere of moral and spiritual aspirations, the sattwic intelligence and equipoise. He did not make the fatal mistake of asking them to repress the foaming surges of their released energies and convert themselves overnight into moral types. He had the psychological knowledge that such drastic mass repressions are inevitably followed by dreadful explosions and upheavals. The law of evolution does not work on the rigid lines of human ethics.

[109] “For better, for worse, our destinies are now linked with those of England, and the Congress freely recognises that whatever advances we seek must be within the Empire itself….” — Gokhale.

“I am an inveterate. I am a robust optimist like Mahadeo Govind Ranade. I believe in divine guidance through human agency…. My steadfast loyalty (to the Crown) is founded upon the rock of hope and patience…. I accept British rule… as a dispensation so wonderful… that it would be folly not to accept it as a declaration of God’s will.” — Pherozeshah Mehta.

“I have never faltered in my faith in the British character. The British are justice-loving, fair-minded people. Go on with moderation, with loyalty to the British Rule and patriotism towards our country.” — Dadabhai Naoroji (Presidential speech at Lahore Congress, 1893).

[110] Young India by Lajpat Rai.

[111] The last article appeared on 6th March, 1894. The total number of articles on New Lamps for Old was nine.

[112] New Lamps for Old, August 7, 1893.

[113] New Lamps for Old, August 7, 1893.

[114] Ibid, August 28, 1893.

[115] New Lamps for Old, August 21, 1893.

[116] Ibid, October 30, 1893.

[117] “I entered into political action and continued it from 1905 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.” — From Sri Aurobindo’s letter to Barrister Joseph Baptista on January 5, 1920.

[118] Mr. Manmohan Ghose.

[119] New Lamps for Old, September 18, 1893.

[120] We quote his words again: “If there was attachment to a European land as a second country, it was intellectually and emotionally to one not seen or lived in in this life, not England, but France.” — Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.

[121] Induprakash, October 30, 1893.

[122] New Lamps for Old, December 4, 1893.

[123] An ancient town in Sourashtra (Gujarat).

[124] Sri Aurobindo was one of the, if not the, first in India to preach “the elevation and enlightenment of the proletariat” long before the idea was conceived and propagated, but only in terms of crude material and economic welfare, by the prophets of the Russian Revolution, and gained currency all over Europe. But his ideal was the elevation of the proletariat to the high status of spiritual aristocracy, to Brahminhood, and not the levelling down of all grades of society to the shabby ranks of the material-minded proletariat. His preaching of spiritual Nationalism, if viewed from this angle, reveals its real objective — the attainment of political freedom as the first, indispensable base for the spiritual reconstruction of the race. His heart ached to see the proletariat sunk in abject poverty and squalor, and dead to any sense of the slavery in which they lived. He wanted them to be elevated and englightened, so that they might manifest the potential power, the divine fire, that lay buried within them. And it explains also his insistence on suffering and self-sacrifice on the part of the workers for national freedom, for it is through suffering and self-sacrifice alone that man attains to his divine manhood. “Work that she (Mother India) may prosper. Suffer that she may rejoice.” — Speeches of Sri Aurobindo.

[125] It did not really end, it was discontinued.

[126] Bande Mataram, daily edition, 31.10.1906.

[127] New Lamps for Old, March 6, 1894.

[128] “Strike off thy fetters! Bonds that bind thee down,

Of shining gold, or darker, baser ore…

Know, slave is slave, caressed or whipped, not free.” — Vivekananda

[129] Bande Mataram, daily edition, 31.10.1906.

[130] We shall enlarge upon this important point when we come to study Sri Aurobindo’s political thought and work in all their bearings.

[131] ‘Ideals Face to Face’, Bande Mataram (May 3,1908).

[132] From Nirodbaran’s notes. “…But all this was for political success in his mission and not for Yoga.” (Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, p. 36.)

[133] This poem, unlike most poems of Sri Aurobindo which express his visions, experiences, and realisations, is one which embodies a burning aspiration, and has a haunting human appeal.

[134] The italics are ours.

[135] Sri Aurobindo and His Ashram. How his insight into the temperament and characteristics of the British people has proved true! “They would… in an extremity, prefer to grant independence rather than have it forcefully wrested from their hands” was almost a prophecy of the way independence came to India about forty years later.

[136] “Like every other moral principle, ahimsa has to spring from the depth of the mind, and it must not be forced upon man from outside appeal of urgent needs…. No doubt through a strong compulsion of desire for some external result, men are capable of repressing their habitual inclinations for a limited time, but when it concerns an immense multitude of men of different traditions and stages of culture, and when the object for which such repression is exercised needs a prolonged period of struggle, complex in character, I cannot think it possible of attainment….” (Rabindranath Tagore)

[137] The italics are ours.

[138] How topical it reads today! “On June 1897, on the occasion of the Shivaji festival, Tilak delivered a speech expressing the views that ‘great men are above the principles of common morality’, and thus justifying the murder of Afzal Khan by Shivaji.” — The Indian Nationalist Movement by Dr. S.C. Bartarya.

[139] Sarala Devi Choudhurani, the well-known organiser of physical education and propagator of the cult of lathi-play in Bengal, writes: “My lathi-cult was in full swing in those days. I had succeeded in making the practice of fencing and boxing, of the stick and the sword, and all other arts of manly self-defence popular, and captured the heart of the Bengali youth. But to my dismay,… some of my lathial boys felt tempted to join those bands (of political dacoits and terrorists)…. I was hard put to it to convince them that it would be unworthy of their manhood. For, against all my reasonings was brought in the personality of Tilak and his approval as the greatest argument in favour of the dacoities. So I… wended my way at once to Poona… to have a personal talk with Lokamanya Tilak and learn his views on the matter … Tilak told me distinctly that he did not approve of the dacoities, much less authorise them, if for nothing else, simply on the score of their being practically useless for political purposes. But looking to differences in human nature and the varying processes of evolution, suited to different temperaments, he did not condemn them openly.” — Reminiscences about Lokamanya Tilak By Bapat.

Here was the perspicacious exponent of the Gita’s Karmayoga, and a political leader who knew human psychology and had the wisdom and patience not to confuse and imperil the natural evolution of the masses by insisting on the achievement of moral ideals which were far too high for them. To force the pace of the evolution of the masses is to expose them to the dangers of violent recoils. Tilak knew, as Sri Aurobindo did, that, given an intense love of the motherland, for an Indian youth, the transition from the tossing turbidity of rajas to the comparative quiet and balance of sattwa can never be long. The sacrifices that the Bengali youth made with incredible courage and smiling fortitude compelled the admiration even of the most callous bureaucrats, and wiped away the stigma with which Macaulay and Curzon had branded the Bengalis. These sacrifices have, indeed, never been equalled. They revolutionised the political atmosphere of the country and galvanised the whole nation.

[140] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, p. 33.

[141] Ibid., pp. 34. 35.

[142] “Heralds of a new world, we must found a moral unity, the Catholicism of Humanity.” — Mazzini

[143] “We come in the name of God and of Humanity.” — Mazzini

[144] “Your Country is the token of the mission which God has given you to fulfil in Humanity. The faculties, the strength of all its sons should be united for the accomplishment of this mission… your Country should be your Temple. God at the summit, a People of equals at the base…. Be apostles of this faith, apostles of the brotherhood of nations, and of the unity of the human race…. Preach…, O Brothers, in the name of God. He who has an Italian heart will follow you.” (Mazzini)

[145] “I thought to call up the soul of Italy, and I only see its corpse.” — Mazzini.

[146] “The will of Divine Wisdom is the sole law of revolutions, and we have no right to consider ourselves as anything but mere agents chosen by the Wisdom…. Do we serve the Mother for a reward or do God’s work for hire? The patriot lives for his country because he must; he dies for her because she demands it. That is all.” — Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, 9-2-1908.

[147] Character Sketches by Bepin Chandra Pal.

[148] Character Sketches by Bepin Chandra Pal.

[149] Character Sketches by Bepin Chandra Pal.

[150] A Marathi journal edited by B. G. Tilak.

[151] He did not appear for the riding test, and, so, was disqualified.

[152] “There is no surer method of goading a docile people into a state of dangerous despair than the kind of hectoring and repression he (Sir B. Fuller, the then Governor of Bengal) has been attempting.” — G.K. Gokhale.

[153] (a) “…What is called the resisting of evil is but a step on the way towards the manifestation of this highest power, viz., nonresistance. Before reaching the highest ideal, man’s duty is to resist evil; let him work, let him fight, let him strike straight from the shoulder. Then only, when he has gained the power to resist, will non-resistance be a virtue.” — Vivekananda

(b) At Almora, Swami Vivekananda was asked by a rather gentle and meek person: “What should one do against the tyranny of a strong man?” Turning on him in surprised indignation, the Swami replied: “Why, thrash the strong, of course! You forget your own part in this karma. Yours is always the right to rebel.” And Vivekananda was nothing if he was not, every inch of him, a spiritual man!

[154] The great leader, Gandhiji, at last disillusioned and distressed, admitted with his characteristic candour: “The attitude of violence, which we have secretly harboured, now recoils on us and makes us fly at each other’s throats when the question of distribution of power arises…. Now that the burden of subjection is lifted, all the forces of evil have come to the surface.”

To the stock argument that we have won our freedom by the power of nonviolence, Vinoba Bhave, retorts: “We say we attained independence through the way of peace, but it is only a partial truth. If it had been wholly true, then the whole nation would have experienced ‘the power of peace’. There would have been faith in peace and our country would not have been reduced to the present miserable condition. We would not have presented the sorry spectacle of being divided into many groups, parties and communities, who do not trust one another…. The way of peace we followed for the attainment of freedom was the peace of the helpless….” — Reproduced in Bhavan’s Journal of Nov. 18, 1956.

[155] “Politics is a game of worldly people and not of Sadhus, and instead of the maxim akkodhena jine kodham (conquer anger by non-anger) as preached by Buddha, I prefer to rely on the maxim of Sri Krishna “ye yathā māṁ prapadyante tāṁstathaiva bhajāmyaham” (as they approach me so do I respond). — Tilak (written to the editor of the Young India).

[156] “Even the greatest Rishis of old could not, when the Rakshasas were fierce and determined, keep up the sacrifice without calling in the bow of the Kshatriya.” — Sri Aurobindo

[157] “Let it never be forgotten that as for God, so even for a Sadhu — a saintly man — the first religious duty is the overcoming of the wicked, if the salvation of the people requires it. For this overcoming, ‘the reactional thrust’ or ‘responsive blow’ is at times necessary.” — Tilak

“You must hiss at wicked people. You must frighten them lest they should do you harm.” — Sri Ramakrishna (from his story of the Brahman and the Snake)

[158] The Doctrine of Passive Resistance by Sri Aurobindo. — First published in the Bande Mataram in 1907.

[159] “Aggression is unjust only when unprovoked; violence, unrighteous when used wantonly or for unrighteous ends.” — Sri Aurobindo

[160] Essays on the Gita by Sri Aurobindo, Chapter V.

[161] Essays on the Gita by Sri Aurobindo, Chapter VI.

[162] “…the function of India is to supply the world with a perennial source of light and renovation. Whenever the first play of energy is exhausted and earth grows old and weary, full of materialism, racked with problems she cannot solve, the function of India is to restore the youth to mankind and assure it of immortality. She sends forth a light from her bosom which floods the earth and the heavens, and mankind bathes in it like St. George in the well of life, and recovers hope and vitality for its long pilgrimage. Such a time is now at hand. The world needs India…” — Sri Aurobindo: Bande Mataram Weekly, May 3, 1908.

“…One vision I see clear as life before me, that the ancient Mother has awakened once more.” — Vivekananda

[163] Poems — Past and Present, by Sri Aurobindo.

[164] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, p.155. About the experience of Nirvana, Sri Aurobindo writes: “It came unasked, unsought for, though quite welcome. I had no least idea about it before, no aspiration towards it, in fact my aspiration was towards just the opposite, spiritual power to help the world…”

[165] Rama, who wanted the ape-king Sugriva to help him in his search for the missing Sita, killed Vali, who had dispossessed his brother, Sugriva, of his kingdom and wife. (Ref. the Ramayana)

[166] In order to save the Pandavas from annihilation at the hands of the redoubtable Dronacharya in the battle of Kurukshetra, Sri Krishna persuaded the righteous Yudhishthira, who never spoke a lie, to announce to Dronacharya the news of his son Aswatthama’s death and to add in a very low voice, which was tactfully drowned in a sudden blare of trumpets, that it was Aswatthama, the elephant, who had died. The announcement had a paralysing effect on Dronacharya, the great Brahmin General, and the Pandavas were saved.

[167] Last Poems by Sri Aurobindo.

[168] From a letter written by Sri Aurobindo to Rajani Palit.

[169] From Nirodbaran’s Notes. The Yogi must have felt something extraordinary in the presence of Sri Aurobindo, and made an exception in his favour by opening his eyes full and looking at him.

[170] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, p. 85.

[171] Nirodbaran’s Notes.

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

[173] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, pp. 141-2.

[174] From the journal, Main Currents in Contemporary Thought, March-April, 1961.

[175] “It would be wrong to condemn the alleged knowledge of the unseen world because it is unable to follow the lines of deduction laid down by science as appropriate to the seen world…” A.S. Eddington, Science and the Unseen World.

[176] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, pp. 142-45.

[177] It is generally held — and it is also true — that Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga began at Baroda. But that its seed was in him and first germinated in England, is proved by the following: “At London, when I was reading Max Muller’s translation of the Vedanta etc., I came upon the idea of the Self and thought that that was the true thing to be realised in life. Before that I was an atheist and agnostic.” — From Nirodbaran’s Notes.

It is to be noted that the germination took place in the mind and heart of one who was an atheist and agnostic, brought up from childhood in the midst of the triumphant materialism of the 19th century England!

[178]The Demand of the Mother” in the Bande Mataram of 12.4.1908.

[179] Better known as C.R. Das.

[180] Patriot, philosopher, theologian, mystic, politician and journalist, Brahmabandhava was held in high esteem and considered one of the outstanding personalities of his time. Through his Bengali paper, Sandhya, he roused Bengal to fight for freedom.

[181] His mother, to whom he was passionately devoted, confirmed him in his decision when she said to him: “Why do you worry? Take up Sri Aurobindo’s defence as the Will of God. He will see you through it.”

[182] Lord Curzon had a quarrel with Lord Kitchener, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in India, and had consequently to retire.

[183] This practice was done in Calcutta.

[184] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, pp. 108-10.

[185] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, p. 31.

[186] Jatin Banerji, a Bengali youth possessing a very strong body, remarkable mental courage and patriotic ardour, had enlisted, “by the help of Sri Aurobindo’s friends in the Baroda army, as trooper in the cavalry regiment”. As the first emissary of Sri Aurobindo to Bengal, he began organising the first group of revolutionaries there.

[187] The leader of this Society, who was “a noble of the Udaipur State with the title of Thakur Saheb, worked principally upon the Indian army of which he had already won over two or three regiments.” Sri Aurobindo later became President of the Bombay Council of the Society.

[188] P.C. Mitter, a well-known barrister, who organised the Anusilan Samiti in Bengal in collaboration with Sarala Devi at the instance of Baron Okakura, a Japanese art-connoisseur. He had “a spiritual life and aspiration and a strong religious feeling.”

[189] Sarala Devi Ghosal, a niece of Rabindranath Tagore. We have already referred to her as the foremost organiser of physical education in Bengal.

[190] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, p. 43.

[191] Tilak’s articles in his Marathi paper, Kesari, containing trenchant criticism of the oppressive methods of the British, were construed as having instigated the Chopekar brothers to murder the two plague officers who were enforcing harsh and insulting measures upon the Marathi ladies at Poona in order to check the spread of the epidemic. The charge was not proved, but Tilak was sentenced to 18 months’ rigorous imprisonment in 1897.

[192] Sri Aurobindo formed a Central Council of five persons including P.C. Mitter and Nivedita, and placed the revolutionary organisation under its charge. P.C. Mitter acted as the leader of the revolution in Bengal.

[193] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, pp. 85-86.

[194] Dr. K.M. Munshi, Ex-Governor of the Uttar Pradesh, who was a student of Sri Aurobindo at Baroda College, once asked him how nationalism could be developed. Sri Aurobindo “pointed to a wall-map and said something to this effect: ‘Look at that map. Learn to find in it the portrait of Bharatmata. The cities, mountains, rivers and forests are the materials which go to make up Her body. The people inhabiting the country are the cells which go to make up Her living tissues. Our literature is Her memory and speech. The spirit of our Culture is Her soul. The happiness and freedom of Her children is Her salvation. Behold Bharat as a living Mother, meditate upon Her and worship Her in the ninefold way of Bhakti.’” — From Bhavan’s Journal, dated 22.7.62

[195] Our subsequent treatment of the subject will show more abundantly and clearly how the main stream of this inspiration, emanating from Sri Aurobindo, flowed out through Bengal to the rest of India.

[196] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, pp. 45-6.

[197] Ibid.

[198] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, p. 44.

[199] Life of Sri Aurobindo — A.B. Purani.

[200] “…the greatest thing done in those years was the creation of a new spirit in the country. In the enthusiasm that swept surging everywhere with the cry of Bande Mataram ringing on all sides men felt it glorious to be alive and dare and act together and hope; the old apathy and timidity was broken and a force created which nothing could destroy and which rose again and again in wave after wave till it carried India to the beginning of a complete victory.” — Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, p. 58.