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At the Feet of The Mother

Parentage, Birth and Early Childhood


Sri Aurobindo was born on the 15th August, 1872. The world was then in the melting pot. Science had just begun losing its long-held ground. The Promised Land to which it had boasted of leading humanity was receding into the mist of the future, for Matter itself was ceasing to be real and concrete. The supremacy of human reason was being challenged by the development of psychology and the new philosophies of Kierkegaard, Bergson and others. It was an age of problems, paradoxes and growing perplexities, a welter of idea-forces never known before in the whole history of the human race. The ideals of unity, freedom and individualism had emerged into the active thought of mankind and were pressing for recognition and realisation. But a phenomenal advance of technology, geared to industrialism and commercial greed, was posing a menace to the higher values of human culture. Clouds were gathering in the sky foreboding a disruption of the very bases of materialistic civilisation. Deep down in the heart of suffering humanity, there was a prayer for a change, for the birth of a new age, a new world-order.

Sri Aurobindo was born in Calcutta. His father’s name was Krishna Dhan Ghosh, who came of noble parents belonging to the distinguished Ghosh family of Konnagar, a small village in the district of Hoogly, which had already produced remarkable leaders of religious and social movements. Krishna Dhan passed the Entrance Examination of the Calcutta University from the local school and was admitted into the Calcutta Medical College. When he was nineteen years old and still studying in the Medical College, he married Srimati Swamalata Devi, the eldest daughter of Rishi Rajnarayan Bose who, to quote the Karmayogin,((( The Karmayogin — 7th and a few subsequent issues of the paper.))) “represented the high water-mark of the composite culture of the country — Vedantic, Islamic and European.” He was a saintly man of high attainments, synthesising in himself the cultures of both the East and the West, and widely known in Bengal as a leader of the Adi Brahmo Samaj and as “the grandfather of Indian nationalism”.((( “Aurobindo’s maternal grandfather, Rajnarayan Bose, formed once a secret society of which Tagore, then a very young man, became a member, and also set up an institution for national and revolutionary propaganda, but this finally came to nothing.” — Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.))) The marriage was performed according to the rites of the Brahmo Samaj to which Krishna Dhan then belonged.

After taking his degree from the Medical College of the Calcutta University, Krishna Dhan proceeded to England for an advanced course of medical studies. He was one of the first Indians to go to England from Bengal, defying the ban of his orthodox society. His father-in-law, Rajnarayan Bose, strongly advised him to steer clear of the baneful influences of the sceptical and materialistic civilisation of the West. Krishna Dhan took his M.D. from the Aberdeen University and returned to India in 1871. But he returned a changed man. He was completely anglicised. His outlook and manners had undergone a sea-change. He loved everything English, and felt a great admiration for the culture and civilisation of the West — its material glamour, its vigorous, energetic life-force, and its sound, rational, practical utilitarianism. He had almost turned an atheist. On his return home, he encountered the opposition of his society, which threatened to outcaste him unless he performed the prayaschitta or expiatory ceremony. But Krishna Dhan was made of sterner stuff than his society thought. He would break rather than bend to an unjust authority. He refused to perform the prayaschitta, and, selling away his property at a nominal price, left his native village for good and all. He was posted as a Civil Surgeon successively at Bhagalpur, Rangpur and Khulna districts. Though a confirmed anglophile and an uncompromising non-conformist, his heart was full of the milk of human kindness. He was generous to a fault, and almost reckless in charity, for which even his own sons had to suffer in England, as we shall see later. Wherever he worked, he was not only respected and honoured, but loved; for he had the gift of identifying himself with the needs and aspirations of the people, and making their cause his own. Wherever he worked, he left the imprint of his benevolent personality, and the place the better for his having worked there — the tone of its civic life improved, its social relations sweetened, and its material amenities enriched. At Khulna where he passed the later portion of his life, his was a name to conjure with, thanks to his generous nature and unfailing public spirit.

Sri Aurobindo’s mother, Swarnalata Devi, was an educated lady of parts. She could write stories and dramas. She was of a sweet and amiable nature, and, unlike her husband, orthodox in her religious leanings. On account of her personal charm and cultured bearing, she was known as the “rose of Rangpur”. But, unfortunately, she fell a prey to her family disease, hysteria, which rendered her husband’s life as well as her own rather unhappy.

Sri Aurobindo was the third son of his father. Benoy Bhusan and Manmohan were his elder brothers. Aurobindo means lotus. It was an uncommon name in those days, and that was why his father chose it for his third son, little suspecting that, in occult language, aurobindo signifies the Divine Consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo grew up in an English atmosphere at home, ignorant of his mother tongue, and surrounded by servants who spoke either broken English or Hindusthani. When he was five years old, he was sent, along with his two elder brothers, to the Loretto Convent School at Darjeeling, run by an Irish nun. There the three brothers had only European boys for friends and companions, for it was a school meant only for European children.