Chapter 12. The Fate of a Brahmin’s Shikha

As a result of my stay at Madras, the tuft of hair on my head got shortened and shrunken. In my Pondicherry days this tuft (shikha) had drawn its strength from three-fourths of my head. Such a beautiful shikha Bharati would always insist upon being removed whenever be would happen to see it. My mother, however, cherished for my shikha the same affection as she did for myself. Somehow a fear had crept into my mother’s mind that I might one day reduce the shikha to nil. She would often tell me, “Keep the shikha as it is. Do nothing with it in play.” She would mutter to her companions that if someday her child’s shikha came to an end, it could only be through Bharati.

Destiny, however, did away with this stately tuft! How, I shall narrate.

During my two years’ stay at Madras, my shikha’s form shrank to a lean twine. That was the price I had to pay for my life in Madras!

In the year 1917 — I do not quite remember the day and the month — probably during May I put up as usual in the house of Sri Aurobindo when I came to Pondicherry. This time I had decided to stay for two days instead of one.

The inmates of Sri Aurobindo’s house would sometimes begin a conversation at about 9.30 p.m. and continue it till after midnight. And when I was in their midst the conversation would prolong itself much later than midnight. This discussion would embrace diverge subjects such as philosophy, social reforms, the changes that ought to take place in the manners and customs of Indian life, various yogic practices, the characteristic difference between Sri Aurobindo’s yoga and the traditional ones, etc. Amidst such talks Sri Aurobindo would shine as the light of Truth laying bare the central significance of everything.

As luck would have it, on the second day of my stay, when the talk was about to terminate, it suddenly turned towards my shikha. The talk was indeed carried on in a spirit of jest and fun. But I had the apprehension that night that the shikha would no more be on my head. The importance of the shikha for such ceremonies as the upanayāna (investiture with the sacred thread), marriage, srāddha (annual ritual for the deceased), etc., is of course not unknown to anyone.

Next morning having got up, as I felt for the shikha I found it non-existent.

I got struck with fear. How should I dare look straight in the faces of my parents and relatives? A Brahmin youth without a shikha was no better than a pariah! Thoughts like these troubled my mind.

I put off my decision to start for Madras to the third day. There was none to sympathise with my mental agony, the bewildered state of my heart. All inmates of Sri Aurobindo’s house appreciated the extinction of my shikha and scoffed at such senseless customs.

I then went to Bharati thinking that he alone would show sympathy with my condition then. He listened to all that I said and exclaimed, “Do you have the courage to leave your family completely and come out of it? If so, from this very moment stay on with me”. Emphatically he pronounced the sentence and made no attempt to pacify my per­plexed feelings.

As my heart was attached to my parents, specially to my mother, I hesitated a little before replying to the words of Bharati and said, “Now the shikha is no longer with me. It is in somebody else’s grasp! How am I then to stay with you?” It was in this strain that the reply came. I found at last a consolation in the thought and feeling that on going to Madras I would stay there in hiding, out of my parents’ and relatives’ ken.

I started for Madras two or three days later.

I heard afterwards that in accordance with Sri Aurobindo’s decision and order the shikha had been cut off. There is a custom still prevalent in South India to go to a temple and offer prayers there in order to remove the tuft of hair. The temple of Tirupati is held to be the foremost among the places for this purpose. Why does God ask for the shikha, what mystery lies behind it? I cannot explain. Nor can I say why Sri Aurobindo de­manded my shikha.

Not even ten days had passed since my arrival in Madras when my father who had found out my lodging came to my room. Astounded at my appearance he stood fixed like a statue. It took him about ten minutes to come to his own self and then he sat down on the floor. Tears streamed down his cheeks. Some more time passed for the words to come out of his mouth. His words when uttered simply stupefied me.

“You have broken our religious traditions and set at naught all religious rites and customs.” Why did he speak so? There was no religious mark on my forehead — a blank brow! No tuft of hair on my head! No sacred thread across my chest! What else was needed? This was the ghost my father saw of me!

I spoke not a word.

About an hour elapsed before my father, without turning to me, said, “A girl has been chosen for you at Bangalore. She belongs to a rich family. Her parents have of themselves offered to bear all the expenses for your studies up to B.A. They are likely to give as dowry fifty thousand rupees in cash. I have just seen the girl. Yes, she is quite dark in complexion with pock marks on the face. Her family is extremely orthodox. But of what use now to think about all this? You have pulled down the whole edifice that I had built.” So saying he got up all of a sudden and left.

The sacred thread can be bought and put on; the religious mark can also be painted on the forehead; but where to go for the shikha?

The shikha was offered as first fruit to Lord Sri Aurobindo. Was this not a scrupulously orthodox Brahmacharya? The shikha was scissored off clean by Nolini Kanta Gupta in obedience to Sri Auro­bindo’s order at about 2 a.m. on the altar of the temple at sacred Pondicherry in which Sri Aurobindo is the mūrti (deity). He performed this service when I was asleep.

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