Sri Aurobindo in Baroda, Part 3

“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.”[1]

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.”[2] 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[3] — 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….[4] We believe that God is with us and in that faith we shall conquer. We believe that humanity needs us[5] 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….”[6]

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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,[10] 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[11] 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’.[12] 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[13] 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[14]…. 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.[15] 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.[16] 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[17]….

“Aurobindo read the newspapers during his lunch. Marathi food did not agree with my taste, but Aurobindo was accustomed to it.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

“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.[21]

“Aurobindo had a profound faith in astrology.[22] 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.


[1] “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.

[2] 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.

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

[4] Italics are ours.

[5] Italics are ours.

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

[7] “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.

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

[9] “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.

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

[11] 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.

[12] 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.

[13] 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.”

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

[15] 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.

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

[17] 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.

[18] 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.

[19] 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.

[20] 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.

[21] “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?

[22] “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.

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