Aum Jaya Ma Jaya Sri Aravinda
In February 2008, I had come on my regular and very precious visit to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram that I inwardly look forward to every year or two. This time, being 2008, there was the triple event of Mother’s Birthday Darshan on the 21st, Auroville’s 40th birthday on the 28th, and the Golden Day on February 29th, which filled the atmosphere with great Force and Delight. To this however was added a fourth great blessing and manifestation of the Grace which would impact the fate of the Sri Aurobindo Sadhana Peetham on the other side of the world in Lodi, California. USA, and myself personally as the designated representative: The Divine Relics of Sri Aurobindo would be given to Lodi Ashram on April 3rd at 5:30 p.m.
As the auspicious day approached, I felt more and more the familiar sweet sadness of the impending leave-taking of Pondicherry and simultaneously an increasing shower of blessings which started to come from all sides—hundreds of blessing packets, cards and bookmarks in Mother’s handwriting, books donated by senior ashramites, flower gifts potent with just the exact spiritual significance needed at the moment, and a myriad of good wishes, offered from friends and well-wishers. And even a special blessing from the majestic Service Tree in beautiful full bloom in the Samadhi courtyard was received in the form of a gentle caress of a falling blossom landing on my head.
A few weeks earlier Regina and I had gone to ask the managing trustee of the Ashram, Manoj Das Gupta, what would be the procedure and how should the relics be cared for in between the time we receive them and when they were to be permanently installed in the Lodi Ashram two weeks later on April 19th. Manoj-da, with a twinkle in his eye, said first of all that he did not believe in the “high priests” of the Ashram having to lay down the specific injunctions to be followed and that it would be up to the concerned center to inwardly find out what would be appropriate for their unique situation, though he did say that if possible for someone to always be present with the relics dining the interim period of their arrival and the installation, that would be best. We were directed to go to Kumudben in Sri Aurobindo’s room to give the list of persons who would be present at the time when the relics would be received: at that time she strongly advised that we should not let anyone in the crowd to touch the relics on their journey down from Sri Aurobindo’s room through the Samadhi courtyard to the car.
The bright morning of April 3rd finally dawned and the day started with a quiet meditation at the Samadhi and was soon filled with small last minute meetings and packing arrangements for the 3 of us that would accompany the relics to the U.S.: Regina who is the Ashramite in charge of Mother’s House and our long-time sister of the Lodi Ashram, Sujata Mohanty who is looking after the Icchapur Integral School project in Orissa, and myself. Chandresh Patel would accompany us on the Sumo taxi ride and also Satish, a devotee and guest staying at Mother’s House and traveling to the airport for an independent flight.
We arrived at the Ashram about a half hour early and meditated for some while at the Samadhi and finally in the meditation hall which was to be the meeting place for all the people scheduled to come to Sri Aurobindo’s room at the appointed hour: Manoj-da, Richard, Kailasben, Alok-bhai, Regina, Prasant, Linda (Rajeshwari), Chandresh, Prabuddh, Sujatadi, Marie Luise, John Robert, Larry, two last minute additions: Vinod and Julia, as well as Albert-da who came in the stead of Manoj Das Gupta, and finally Dr. Dilip-da. We were called up the stairs to sit for a concentration before the chiming of the clock announced the “Hour of God” and we were led single file into Sri Aurobindo’s room. On a small table in the center of the master’s chamber lay the relics in a small Rosewood outer box (about a 9 cm. cube) inlayed with Sri Aurobindo’s symbol: the box was in a small alabaster dish resting upon an assortment of beautiful candles, (Kumudben explained after the meditation that, as the flowers would not be allowed into the U.S. per customs restrictions, she had instead chosen candles which could be lit at the time of the installation) all arranged on a stainless steel tray lined with brilliant gold/orange velvet, along with a single brilliant red-orange flower of Divine Love. As the designated representative for the Lodi Ashram, I sat before the relics tray and we all, some sitting, some standing as space permitted, joined the concentrated meditation. What others felt I cannot say, but for me it was a moment of rededication and prayer to be open to receive this tremendous Grace being bestowed upon Sri Aurobindo Sadhana Peetham and to be responsive to its Action. At the end of the meditation, Kumudben placed a white rose of “Integral Love for the Divine” upon the tray with a special blessing packet which she said was for me, and indicated a tray of roses for each of the others to take on their way out.
Then the procession began, like a golden radiant stream wending its way from Sri Aurobindo’s chamber, pausing for a moment at specially charged designations as if it were a kind of darshan for the relics. First, just outside Sri Aurobindo’s room we stopped a moment before the large photo of Mother and Sri Aurobindo on the divan in the small darshan alcove, then before descending the stairs, a pause before Mother’s chair and footstool. It was as though in a divine leave-taking, at each special spot, a divine interchange of spiritual forces was taking place between the relics and these places of a particularly charged Presence of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Having earlier been apprehensive of just where I was to go, it was a relief to find that each step of the journey from Sri Aurobindo’s room was led by Raj Kumar who ushered the way forward. Next we stopped before Mother’s couch in the meditation hall and then before the painting at the opposite end. Heading out into the courtyard there was a line of devotees waiting to get a glimpse of the sacred relics on their journey. Despite the repeated admonishment by Raj Kumarji not to touch the relics, many hands kept reaching out in waves as people could not help themselves it seems from the inner prompting to receive Sri Aurobindo’s blessing. I kept shifting the tray out of reach, murmuring “please do not touch, please do not touch” like a mantra. Onwards we circled around the Samadhi to stop beneath the Service Tree where it was indicated to place the tray with the relics on the| Samadhi.
For a luminous, charged moment’s meditation I sat and was grateful for this opportunity to pranam before the relics and the Samadhi, then resumed the journey round the Samadhi passing by the joy-filled faces of the silent throng, so many friends and well-wishers among them. At regular intervals it would be indicated to stop for the photographer who was recording this occasion for the Ashram record. Until this point my being felt charged with the serious import and magnitude of this moment and my face must have been reflecting this, but as I passed by the beaming face of Shipra-di, I felt myself break into a joyful smile of pure gratitude. Onward to the reception sitting room we passed, stopping before the photo of Sri Aurobindo on the back wall and then turning to face on the opposite the Mother’s beautiful photo radiant with compassionate grace for a final moment before exiting out the Ashram main gate. The waiting vehicle was parked just before the gate and many people crowded around and spilled out from the courtyard as we boarded inside. As we waited for all of us travellers to make their way through to be seated, we were surrounded by such a loving send-off of a myriad of hands lifted in namaskar, knowing smiles, smiling eyes and jubilant waves. The car took one final circle round the Ashram leaving behind the beaming crowd and started for the airport.
The atmosphere in the car plunged into silence and for some time we sat immersed in that tremendous Grace of the moment. To me it felt like a kind of wonderful dream, surely a dream of the Divine. As we travelled onwards we chanted “Om Namo Bhagavate”, sang a few remembered bhajans to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, recited lines from Savitri, from Sri Aurobindo’s poems, from texts learned by heart like passages from Sri Aurobindo’s small book, The Mother. We took turns with the special privilege of carrying the relics tray, and in this way the time passed and we came to the airport. There we parted ways with Chandresh who was to be dropped for the night in Chennai and would fly out to the U.S. only the next day. And soon after in the airport Satish went on his way towards his separate flight.
We three remaining attendants were several hours early and took turns holding the relics while the other two went to eat and freshen up. It was decided that the large tray would be unwieldy during the travel and so the tray and the candles were stowed in the suitcases and the small rosewood box and their sacred contents were settled on the small alabaster plate and wrapped in the orange velvet cloth to be hand-carried through the next part of the journey.
The relics are housed in a series of boxes: gold, silver, sandalwood, teak, and rosewood—which signify the various planes of consciousness from the innermost supramental, to the outermost physical. At their final destination, they would be encased in a white marble shrine reminiscent of the Samadhi, fixed atop with a golden combined symbol of Mother and Sri Aurobindo carved into a piece of white marble gifted from the Matrimandir. The boxes are sealed and should not be opened, and this was the concern that we travellers shared as we would need to face the various baggage inspection points. Fortunately, Manoj Das Gupta had given us a letter explaining the sacred contents of the precious bundle that we earned.
Our first test came at the Chennai airport gate upstairs where one passes into the secure boarding area. With Mother’s name on our silent lips, we placed the relics, still wrapped in its orange velvet cover, on the belt to be scanned and the security guard asked to know what was inside. We explained, handing him the letter from the Ashram, and breathed a sigh of relief and gratitude as he waived us through.
The first flight was from Chennai to France and having passed this first hurdle and then a delay in the flight’s departure, we settled into our seats and took turns holding the relics every hour or two through the long, 13 hour flight. Regina recognized an Italian devotee on the plane and he was delighted to know that he was sharing a flight with Sri Aurobindo’s relics and came by to have the Darshan.
Finally we landed in Paris, but the flight was over an hour late and we had very little time to make our connection. Different personnel gave different instructions on where and how we should proceed to the next gate. Sujata-di carried the Relics, Regina and I shouldered the hand-luggage, and we wound-up following the signs to our distant gate for the connecting flight. We raced along, up several ramps, through long, endless corridors, saris flying, to the distant gate knowing not whether we’d already missed our flight.
Finally, catching our breath, we arrived and came to the next hurdle and baggage screening point. All the hand luggage had to be scanned including the relics. The inspector asked us what was in the orange bundle and we handed him the explanatory letter from the Ashram, while Regina explained that we were coming from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. Despite the letter, he said we would have to take the Relics over to the examination desk for inspection, so I took the relics from Sujata-di and waited at the desk as this new examiner was still busy with another couple of passengers. At this point the three of us were all calling inwardly to the Mother. Then suddenly as if he got a second thought or prompted by an unseen Force, the first inspector asked Regina some specific questions about Pondicherry and as she was able to answer them correctly, he broke out into a smile, mentioning that he himself was from Pondy and gave the signal to the other inspector to let us pass through, and we rushed onwards to board the plane for a second long flight. Fortunately the flight was over an hour delayed so we had not missed it.
On the flight we took turns as before to carry the relics an hour or two at a time, each of us in an indrawn state repeating Mother’s name as we held the precious bundle, taking care it should remain upright. I felt such a tenderness, almost as though it was a baby Sri Aurobindo we were caring for.
April 4th had dawned somewhere over the Atlantic. It was on this day in 1910 that Sri Aurobindo arrived in Pondicherry. Now nearly 100 years later he would be arriving in the Lodi Ashram. Descending into San Francisco airport with its notorious U.S. security scrutiny, we had decided to keep the relics in Regina’s bag in order to avoid drawing unnecessary attention through the immigration process. In this way we passed through, picked up our luggage and without any further inspections came out into the arrival lobby.
Here, in sharp contrast to the jubilant throngs of our Pondicherry send-off, on arrival was met by the silent welcome of one lone ashramite, Angelo. Sujata-di’s daughter had also come to meet the relics but somehow we could not find her and had to leave without seeing her. After the stories of the reception of the relics in Orissa and other places in India where they are received with an official State welcome by the governor and thousands of people lining the streets to catch a glimpse and receive the darshan of Sri Aurobindo, the contrast of this silent, unwitnessed, almost secret, arrival here in the U.S. was deeply striking. To me it was symbolic—the luminous drop of Divine Consciousness, like a meteor flying over from another realm, landing in this dense and unconscious ocean of materialism. Here it will do its secret work, silently, continuously, radiating the supramental consciousness into the atmosphere, into the lives of those who are open to the Divine Influence, into this far off corner of the world that is yet so ignorant of its Divine origin and purpose; radiating here too where it is so very needed, “Truth and Light and Life Divine.”
Originally published in Collaboration (Fall 2008 issue)