Sri Aurobindo in Bengal, Part 22

“All life is a field for the practice of religion, and worldly life, too, is a part of it. Religion does not consist only in the cultivation of spiritual knowledge or the development of the heart’s devotion. Doing of work, too, is religion. It is this great teaching that is a permanent leaven of all our literature — eṣa dharma sanātanaḥ (this is the eternal religion).

There is a general notion that action forms, indeed, part of religion, but not action of all kinds. It is only those actions that are imbued with sattwic feeling or stem from the ethical consciousness of the doer and conduce to renunciation deserve to be called religious action. This… is a mistaken notion. If sattwic action is religious, so is rajasic action. If being kind to all creatures is religious, so is the slaying of one’s country’s enemies in a righteous battle. If to sacrifice one’s happiness, wealth and even life for the good of others is an act of religion, so is it to take proper care of one’s body, which is a means of religious progress. Politics, too, is religion, and poetry, and painting, and the regaling of others with sweet music. Any action, be it great or small, which has no taint of selfishness in it, is a religious action…. The highest and best religion is that which makes us perform all our actions as an offering, a sacrifice to Him, and regard them equally as done by His Nature.”

Free rendering of some lines from
Sri Aurobindo’s articles in his Bengali paper Dharma

The Karmayogin prospered. Its philosophical articles were a distillation of ancient Hindu wisdom presented through the prism of a synthetising vision. What had appeared disparate, anomalous and ambiguous was discovered as integral parts of an organic whole. Each strand of Indian spirituality, each phase of Indian culture, even each thread of the epic tapestry of ancient India was viewed and interpreted in a new light. Philosophy and history, allegory and legend, logic and satire, all came handy in a masterly dealing with the problems of national politics. The freshness, force, and piquancy of its reviews endeared the Karmayogin to its readers, and its popularity increased to such an extent that a cheaper edition was urgently called for. On the 1st January, 1910, the Karmayogin came out with the following notice:

“The difficulty felt by many students and educated men of small means in buying the Karmayogin at its ordinary price of two annas, has been so much pressed on our attention that we have found it necessary to bring out a cheaper edition at one anna a copy…. The Karmayogin… is now sufficiently successful to allow of a concession of this kind being made without financial injury…”

The publication of Sri Aurobindo’s “An Open Letter to my Country” was followed by a lull. For a few days rumours of his arrest ceased. But they revived again, for the British Government felt unsafe so long as Sri Aurobindo was at large. On the 8th January the Karmayogin wrote under the heading, “The Menace of Deportation”:

“Once more rumours of deportation are rife, proceeding this time from those pillars of authority, the police. It seems that these gentlemen have bruited it abroad that twenty-four men prominent and unprominent are within the next six or seven days to be deported from Bengal, and so successfully has the noise of the coming Coup d’État been circulated that the rumour of it comes to us from a distant corner of Behar. It appears that the name of Sj. Aurobindo Ghose crowns the police list of those who are to be spirited away to the bureaucratic Bastilles. The offence for which this inclusion is made is, apparently, that he criticises the Government, by which we presume it is meant that he publicly opposes the Reforms. It is difficult to judge how much value is to be attached to the rumour, but we presume that at least a proposal has been made. If we are not mistaken, this will make the third time that the deportation of the Nationalist leader has been proposed by the persistence of the police. The third is supposed to be lucky, and let us hope it will be the last. The Government ought to make up its mind one way or the other, and the country should know whether they will or will not tolerate opposition within the law; and this will decide it. Meanwhile, why does the thunderbolt linger? Or is there again a hitch in London?”

Sri Aurobindo’s A System of National Education began in the 12th January issue of the Karmayogin. Sri Aurobindo’s translation of the Mundaka Upanishad was begun on the 5th Feb, 1910. In the 19th February issue Sri Aurobindo started his poem, Baji Prabhou. It was prefaced by the following note: “This poem is founded on the historical incident of the heroic self-sacrifice of Baji Prabhou Deshpande who, to cover Shivaji’s retreat, held the pass of Rangana for two hours with a small company of men against twelve thousand Moguls. Beyond the single fact of this great exploit there has been no attempt to preserve historical accuracy”.

We quote a few lines from the poem which reminds us in its concentrated force and graphic intensity of Matthew Arnold’s Sohrub and Rustum, though the episode here is pitched in a higher key and the tone is nobler.

“A noon of Deccan with its tyrant glare
Oppressed the earth; the hills stood deep in haze,
And sweltering athirst the fields glared up
Longing for water in the courses parched
Of streams long dead. Nature and man alike,
Imprisoned by a bronze and brilliant sky,
Sought an escape from that wide trance of heat….
“Tanaji Malsure, not in this living net
Of flesh and nerve, nor in the flickering mind
Is a man’s manhood seated. God within
Rules us, who in the Brahmin and the dog
Can, if He will, show equal godhead. Not
By men is mightiness achieved; Baji
Or Malsure is but a name, a robe,
And covers One alone. We but employ
Bhavani’s strength, who in an arm of flesh
Is mighty as in the thunder and the storm…”

On the 24th January Shamsul Alam, Deputy Superintendent of the Intelligence Dept., was shot dead in the High Court by a youth of about twenty. Shamsul was the right hand man of Mr. Norton in the Alipore Bomb Case.

Under “Facts and Opinions”, we have the following in the Karmayogin of the 29th January, 1910:

“The startling assassination of Deputy Superintendent Shamsul Alam on Monday in the precincts of the High Court, publicly, in day-light, under the eyes of many and in a crowded building, breaks the silence which had settled on the country, in a fashion which all will deplore…. All we can do is to sit with folded hands and listen to the senseless objurgations of the Anglo-Indian Press, waiting for a time when the peaceful expression and organisation of our national aspirations will no longer be penalised. It is then that Terrorism will vanish from the country and the nightmare be as if it never had been.”

This daring assassination of the arch detective drove the Government crazy, and in its distraction it clutched at deportation as the only means to shore up its power and prestige. Sri Aurobindo decided to leave Bengal.

Romantic yarns have been spun by some of the enthusiastic biographers and fellow-workers of Sri Aurobindo round his departure from Calcutta. We have no space here for a consideration of those fantasies and fabrications. We quote from Sri Aurobindo himself what he has said about his departure.

“Here are the facts of that departure. I was in the Karmayogin Office when I received the word, on information given by a high-placed police official, that the Office would be searched the next day and myself arrested. (The Office was in fact searched but no warrant was produced against me; I heard nothing more of it till the case was started against the paper later on, but by then I had already left Chandernagore for Pondicherry.) While I was listening to animated comments from those around on the approaching event, I suddenly received a command from above, in a Voice well-known to me, in three words: ‘Go to Chandernagore.’ In ten minutes or so I was in the boat for Chandernagore. Ramachandra Majumdar guided me to the Ghat and hailed a boat and I entered into it at once along with my relative Biren Ghosh and Moni (Suresh Chandra Chakravarti) who accompanied me to Chandernagore, not turning aside to Bagbazar or anywhere else. We reached our destination while it was still dark; they returned in the morning to Calcutta. I remained in secret entirely engaged in sadhana and my active connection with the two newspapers ceased from that time. Afterwards, under the same ‘sailing orders’ I left Chandernagore and reached Pondicherry on April 4, 1910.

“I may add in explanation that from the time I left Lele at Bombay after the Surat Sessions and my stay with him in Baroda, Poona and Bombay, I had accepted the rule of following the inner guidance implicitly and moving only as I was moved by the Divine. The spiritual development during the year in jail had turned this into an absolute law of the being. This accounts for my immediate action in obedience to the Adesh (Command) received by me…”[1]

Referring to the same subject in a refutation of some of the misstatements which had appeared in the Press, Sri Aurobindo said again,

“Sri Aurobindo’s departure to Chandernagore was the result of a sudden decision taken on the strength of an ādeśa from above and was carried out rapidly and secretly without consultation with anybody or advice from any quarter. He went straight from the Dharma office to the Ghat — he did not visit the Math, nobody saw him off; a boat was hailed, he entered into it with two young men and proceeded straight to his destination. His residence at Chandernagore was kept quite secret; it was known only to Sj. Motilal Roy who arranged for his stay and to a few others. Sister Nivedita was confidentially informed the day after his departure and asked to conduct the Karmayogin in place of Sri Aurobindo to which she consented…”[2]

When Sri Aurobindo’s boat touched Chandernagore, Biren went to Charu Chandra Roy, a distinguished citizen of the town who was a fellow-prisoner of Sri Aurobindo in the Alipore jail to request him to make some arrangement for Sri Aurobindo’s stay. “Charu Chandra was afraid and did not know what to do. In the meantime, when Biren and Suresh were thinking of going back to the boat with a disappointing reply, one Sishir Ghose took them to Motilal Roy. Motilal, on coming to know about it, readily accepted to accommodate Sri Aurobindo. He went to the boat and brought it near to the place where he stayed. Sri Aurobindo disembarked and was taken to his house. His request to keep his arrival secret was complied with and Motilal Roy made arrangements to keep him underground.”[3]

In Sri Aurobindo’s Uttarpara Speech we have had passing glimpses of his spiritual life as it was shaping in the Alipore jail, and we can very well see how he was being directed by the Divine in all the movements of his life and to what new avenues of work he was being led. We find another instance of the divine guidance in the sudden, unpremeditated way he left Calcutta under the divine Adesh (Command). He did not pause to reflect on the pros and cons of the course dictated. He did not make any arrangements about his stay at Chandernagore. He did not care to consider what would be the consequences of his departure. He left because he was asked to leave. Why should he bother about himself and what would happen to him when he knew in every fibre of his being that the Infinite Love had taken charge of him? He belonged neither to himself nor to the world, but to God alone and he was happy to be thus possessed and moved by Him for the fulfilment of His work.

“My soul unhorizoned widens to measureless sight,
My body is God’s happy living tool,
My spirit a vast sun of deathless light.”[4]


[1] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
[2] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
[3] Life of Sri Aurobindo — A.B. Purani (Suresh was in the boat. It was only Biren who went to Charu Chandra Roy)
[4] From “Transformation”, a poem by Sri Aurobindo.

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