“He, who is an illimitable ocean of compassion, and as graceful as a cloud-bank charged with rain; in whom Lakshmi and Saraswati revel in endless felicity; whose Face is like an immaculate lotus in full bloom; who is adored by the kings and leaders of the gods; and whose Divine Nature has been hymned in the inspired words of the Vedas — may He, my Lord, the Master of the worlds, reveal Himself to my vision.”
“A Hymn to the Supreme Lord of the Universe”
by Sri Chaitanya
In the second year of his stay at Baroda, i.e. in 1894, Sri Aurobindo had another spiritual experience, which came in the same unexpected way as the first one he had at Apollo Bunder. One day, while he was going in a horse carriage, he suddenly found himself “in danger of an accident.” But he had, at that very moment, “the vision of the Godhead surging up from within and averting the danger.” “The Godhead surging up from within” was certainly a greater and more dynamic experience than the previous one of an encompassing calm, and must have left a powerful impression upon him. In 1939 he wrote a sonnet on this experience, which we quote below from his Last Poems.
I sat behind the dance of Danger’s hooves
In the shouting street that seemed a futurist’s whim.
And suddenly felt, exceeding Nature’s grooves,
In me, enveloping me the body of Him.
Above my head a mighty head was seen,
A face with the calm of immortality
And an omnipotent gaze that held the scene
In the vast circle of its sovereignty.
His hair was mingled with the sun and the breeze;
The world was in His heart and He was I:
I housed in me the Everlasting’s peace,
The strength of One whose substance cannot die.
The moment passed and all was as before;
Only that deathless memory I bore.
In 1902 Sister Nivedita visited Baroda. “I met Sister Nivedita at Baroda when she came to give some lectures there. I went to receive her at the station and take her to the house assigned to her; I also accompanied her to an interview she had sought with the Maharaja of Baroda. She had heard of me as one who believed in strength and was a worshipper of Kali, by which she meant she had heard of me as a revolutionary. I knew her already because I had read and admired her book, ‘Kali the Mother’. It was in those days that we formed a friendship. After I had started my revolutionary work in Bengal through certain emissaries, I went there personally to see and arrange things myself. I found a number of small groups of revolutionaries that had recently sprung into existence but all scattered and acting without reference to each other. I tried to unite them under a single organisation with barrister P. Mitter as the leader of the revolution in Bengal and a council of five persons, one of them being Nivedita.
“I had no occasion to meet Nivedita after that until I settled in Bengal as Principal of the National College and the chief editorial writer of the Bande Mataram. By that time I had become one of the leaders of the public movement known first as extremism, then as nationalism, but this gave me no occasion to meet her except once or twice at the Congress, as my collaboration with her was solely in the secret revolutionary field. I was busy with my work and she with hers, and no occasion arose for consultation or decisions about the conduct of the revolutionary movement. Later on, I began to make time to go and see her occasionally at Baghbazar”.
“Then, about my relations with Sister Nivedita, they were purely in the field of politics. Spirituality or spiritual matters did not enter into them, and I do not remember anything passing between us on these subjects when I was with her. Once or twice she showed the spiritual side of her, but she was then speaking to someone else who had come to see her while I was there.
“She was one of the revolutionary leaders. She went about visiting places to come in contact with the people. She was open and frank, and talked openly of her revolutionary plans to everybody. There was no concealment about her. Whenever she used to speak on revolution, it was her very soul, her true personality, that came out…. Yoga was Yoga, but it was that sort of work that was, as it were, intended for her. Her book, ‘Kali the Mother’ is very inspiring. She went about among the Thakurs of Rajputana trying to preach revolution to them…. Her eyes showed a power of concentration and revealed a capacity for going into trance. She had got something. She took up politics as a part of Vivekananda’s work. Her book is one of the best on Vivekananda…. She was a solid worker.”
Sister Nivedita tried to rope in the Maharaja of Baroda into the revolutionary movement, but the response she received from the astute ruler was rather cool and non-committal. He said he would send his reply through Sri Aurobindo, but “Sayajirao (the Maharaja) was much too cunning to plunge into such a dangerous business, and never spoke to me about it”.
In 1903 Sri Aurobindo took a month’s leave and went to Bengal. His presence was required there to smooth out the differences that had arisen among some of the leading political workers. But he was soon called back by the Maharaja who wished that he should accompany him on his tour to Kashmir as his personal secretary.
In Kashmir, Sri Aurobindo had his third spiritual experience of a decisive character, as unexpected and unbidden as the first two, but of a capital importance from a certain standpoint. He says about it: “There was a realisation of the vacant Infinite while walking on the ridge of the Takht-e-Suleiman in Kashmir”. In 1939, he wrote the following sonnet on this experience:
I walked on the high-wayed Seat of Solomon
Where Shankaracharya’s tiny temple stands
Facing Infinity from Time’s edge, alone
On the bare ridge ending earth’s vain romance.
Around me was a formless solitude:
All had become one strange Unnamable,
An unborn sole Reality world-nude,
Topless and fathomless, for ever still.
A Silence that was Being’s only word,
The unknown beginning and the voiceless end
Abolishing all things moment-seen or heard,
On an incommunicable summit reigned,
A lonely Calm and void unchanging Peace
On the dumb crest of Nature’s mysteries.”
The Kashmir tour with the Maharaja did not prove to be very happy. It was not in Sri Aurobindo’s nature to admit encroachments upon his time of study and rest, and dance attendance on the Maharaja at all hours of the day or whenever he was summoned. The Maharaja respected and admired him for his noble character, his calm and penetrating intelligence, and his brilliance, quickness and efficiency, but was often put out by his habitual lack of punctuality and regularity; and it was this lack that caused “much friction between them during the tour.”
Sri Aurobindo was Chairman of the Baroda College Union, and continued to preside over some of its debates until he left Baroda. His speeches used to be very inspiring, as we have already learnt from the record of advocate R.N. Patkar. He had also to deliver lectures at occasional functions at the palace. But so long as he was in State Service he studiously avoided introducing politics into his speeches. He used also to address the young students who had formed a Young Men’s Union (Tarun Sangha) under his inspiration.
In 1901, Sri Aurobindo went to Bengal and married Srimati Mrinalini Bose, daughter of Bhupal Chandra Bose. Principal Girish Chandra Bose of the Bangabasi College, Calcutta, had acted as the go-between. Mrinalini Devi was fourteen years old at the time, and Sri Aurobindo twenty-nine. The marriage was celebrated according to Hindu rites, and the function was attended by the great scientist, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, Lord Sinha, barrister Byomkesh Chakravarty etc. As Sri Aurobindo had been to England, the question of expiation was raised by the orthodox section of the community, but Sri Aurobindo refused to do any expiation, even as his stout-hearted father had refused before him. At last a face-saving proposal came from the priests that Sri Aurobindo should shave his head. But Sri Aurobindo turned down this proposal also. Then “an obliging Brahmin priest satisfied all the requirements of the Shastra for a monetary consideration!”
After his marriage Sri Aurobindo went to Deoghar, and from there, he, his wife and his sister went to Nainital, a hill resort in the Himalayas. We get a reference to this place in his letter to one Bhuvan Chakravarty, who was probably a political worker in Bengal.
Dear Bhuvan Babu,
I have been here at Nainital with my wife and sister since the 29th of May. The place is a beautiful one, but not half so cold as I expected. In fact, in daytime it is only a shade less hot than Baroda except when it has been raining. The Maharaja will probably be leaving here on the 24th, — if there has been rain at Baroda, but as he will stop at Agra, Mathura and Mhow, he will not reach Baroda before the beginning of July. I shall probably be going separately and may also reach on the first of July. If you like, you might go there a little before and put up with Despande. I have asked Madhavrao to get my new house furnished but I don’t know what he is doing in that direction. Banerji is, I believe, in Calcutta. He came up to see me at Deoghar for a day.
Regarding his married life and relations with his wife, nothing can be more revealing than his letters to her, written in Bengali. These letters are, moreover, Sri Aurobindo’s first confession of faith, the first verbal statement of the sleepless aspiration of his soul. Here we perceive his inextinguishable thirst for God, his intense yearning to see Him, and his unfaltering resolve to be a flawless instrument in His hands. We perceive that behind the surge and glow of his militant nationalism, there was the blazing fire of a spiritual aim. In the light of this secret communication to his wife, we seem to understand something of what he meant when, later, in his Uttarpara Speech, he said: “I came to Him long ago in Baroda, some years before the Swadeshi began and I was drawn into the public field”; and again when he said in the same Speech: “The Sanatana Dharma, that is Nationalism.” His fervent patriotism was but a spark of his soul’s spiritual fire. He loved Mother India with such a self-effacing ardour, because he saw the Divine Mother behind her; and love for the Divine Mother was inherent in him, suffusing and animating every fibre of his being. It was the overmastering passion of his soul. And it was this love for the Divine — in the beginning it was an imperceptible influence — that made him a nationalist. Even when he found himself irresistibly drawn towards Mother India and the work of national freedom, he was secretly drawn towards God and led by His Will. His nationalism was much more than mere nationalism, it was much more than internationalism — it was spiritual universalism, if one can so put it. His Nationalism was Sanatana Dharma. It led him to toil all his life for the divine fulfilment of the whole human race, for God in man and man in God.
The goal which Sri Aurobindo held up before himself at that early age when he wrote these letters to his wife, was not escape, not Nirvana, but God; not extinction of life, but its expansion and enrichment, its divine illumination, utilisation and fulfilment. Something in him intuitively revolted against the ascetic flight from life. “But I had thought that a Yoga which required me to give up the world was not for me,” he observed once. His study of the spiritual culture of ancient India had left no doubt in his mind of its “stupendous vitality”, its “inexhaustible power of life and joy of life”, its “almost unimaginable prolific creativeness”. Ancient Indian spirituality was not a despairing gospel of world-disgust and supine quiescence, whatever may have been the passing symptoms of its long period of decline. It was a virile affirmation of life, but of a life for God and in God; it was a perpetual call to divine self-expression in creative action. Sri Aurobindo’s whole being responded to this ancient call. He was a born warrior whose spiritual nerves knew no shrinking from the assaults of the world-forces. He spurned all thought of escape, for, as he has expressed it in his epic poem, Savitri, “Escape brings not the victory and the crown.” He resolved to discover the solution of the riddle of the world at the heart of the riddle itself. He laboured for God’s victory on earth, for establishing God’s Kingdom of Light in this dim vale of tears, for transforming suffering itself into the eternal bliss and blessedness of the Divine. Does not the Upanishad declare that, not sorrow and suffering, but Ananda or bliss is the eternal substratum, the sustaining sap and essence of existence? Sri Aurobindo resolved to fight for crowning the ascending spiral of evolution with the glory of the long-dreamt-of divine Manifestation.
His letters to his wife vibrate with this resolve, and contain the seed of the whole subsequent unfoldment of his life. There is another thing in them, which at once arrests attention: it is his complete, unreserved, and joyous surrender to God. The whole secret of Sri Aurobindo’s greatness lies in this integral surrender. But more of this when we come to study his spiritual life.
We offer below an English translation of some of the most important passages from Sri Aurobindo’s letters to his wife:
My dearest Mrinalini,
I have received your letter of the 24th August. I am distressed to learn that your parents have again been stricken with the same kind of bereavement; but you have not mentioned which of their sons has passed away. Grief is all too natural, but what does it avail? One who goes in search of happiness in the world finds sorrow at the core of it: sorrow is ever bound up with happiness. And this law holds good not only in regard to one’s desire for offspring, it is the inevitable result of all worldly desires. The only remedy is to offer all joy and grief with a calm mind to the Divine.
Now, let me tell you about the other matter. You must have realised by now that the person with whom your fate is linked is a very strange one. I don’t have the same kind of mental outlook, the same aim in life, the same field of action as most men have in the modern time. With me all is different, all is uncommon. You know what the common run of men think of extraordinary ideas, extraordinary endeavours, and extraordinarily high aspirations. They call all that madness. But if the mad man succeeds in his field of action, instead of calling him mad, they call him a great man of genius. But how many of such men succeed? Out of a thousand, only ten may be extraordinary, and out of those ten, only one may succeed. Far from having had any success in my field of action, I have not been able to enter it. So, you may consider me a mad man. It is very unfortunate, indeed, for a woman to have her lot cast in with a mad man; for, all the hopes and desires of women are confined to the joys and sorrows of the family. A mad man cannot make his wife happy, rather he causes her no end of trouble and suffering.
The founders of the Hindu religion were aware of it. They greatly cherished and valued extraordinary character, extraordinary endeavour, and extraordinary dreams. They had a high regard for all extraordinary men, whether great or insane. But what remedy is there for the pitiable misery of the wife in such a case? The Rishis prescribed the following remedy: They said to women: Your only mantram (a formula embodying the guiding principle of life) should be that the husband alone is the supreme Guru (spiritual master) of his wife. The wife is the partner of his spiritual life. The wife should help her husband with her counsel and encouragement in all that he accepts as his Dharma or religious duty. She should regard him as her god and share his joys and sorrows. It is for the husband to choose his vocation, and for the wife to aid and encourage him in it.
Now the question is: Will you tread the path of Hinduism or follow the ways of modern civilisation? That you have been married to a mad man is a consequence of some evil deed committed by you in your past life. You had better make terms with your fate. But what sort of terms? Swayed by the opinion of others, will you just airily put him down as a mad man? The mad man cannot help pursuing his path of madness, and you cannot hold him back — his nature is stronger than you. Will you, then, sit in a corner and weep your heart out? Or run along with him on his chosen road, and try to be the mad wife of a mad husband, even as the wife of the blind king (Dhritarashtra) bandaged her eyes in order to share her husband’s blindness? Whatever training you may have had at a Brahmo school, you belong to a Hindu family, and the blood of our Hindu forefathers runs in your veins. I have no doubt that you will follow the latter course.
I have three manias, one might call them madness. The first is that I firmly believe that the qualities, talent, higher education and learning, and wealth God has given me, all belong to Him, and that I am entitled to use only so much of them as is necessary for the maintenance of the family, and whatever else is thought indispensable; and all that remains should be returned to God. If I used everything for myself, for my own pleasure and luxury, I should be a thief. According to the sacred books of the Hindus, he who does not render unto God what he has received from Him is a thief. Up till now, I have rendered only one-eighth to God and used for my personal pleasures the remaining seven-eighths. And, settling my accounts in this way, I have been passing my days in a state of infatuation with worldly pleasures. Half of my life has gone in vain. Even the animal is not without the gratification of feeding himself and his family.
It is clear to me now that so long I have been indulging my animal propensities, and leading the life of a thief. It has filled me with great remorse and self-contempt. No more of it. I give up this sin for good and all. To offer money to God is to spend it in sacred causes. I don’t regret having helped Sarojini and Usha with money — to help others is a virtue; to protect those who have taken refuge with you is a great virtue, indeed. But all is not done by giving only to our brothers and sisters. The whole country, in its present plight, is at my door, seeking for shelter and help. There are three hundred millions of my brethren in this land, of whom many are dying of starvation, and most, afflicted with sorrow and suffering, drag on a wretched, precarious existence. It is our duty to do good to them.
Tell me, will you, as my wife, participate with me in this Dharma? I wish to live like an ordinary man and spend on food and clothing no more than what an ordinary man of average means spends on them, and to offer the rest to God. But my wish will be fulfilled only if you agree with me and are ready for the sacrifice. You were complaining of not having made any progress. This is a path of progress I am pointing to; will you follow it?
The second mania is a recent possession. It is that, by whatever means possible, I must see God face to face. Modern religion consists in glibly mouthing God’s name at all hours, saying one’s prayers when others are looking on, and showing off how devout one is! This is not the sort of religion I want to practise. If God exists, there must be some way or other of realising His existence and meeting Him. However hard and rugged the way, I am resolved to tread it. Hinduism declares that the way lies in one’s body and mind; and it has laid down certain rules for following the way. I have begun to observe these rules, and a month’s practice has led me to realise the truth of what Hinduism teaches. I am experiencing all the signs and symptoms it speaks of. I should like to take you with me along this path. It is true, you will not be able to walk abreast of me, for you lack the knowledge necessary for it; but there is nothing to prevent you from following me. All can attain to the goal by treading this path; but it depends upon one’s will whether one should take to it or not. None can drag you along upon it. If you are willing, I shall write to you more on this subject later.
The third mania is this: Others look upon their country as a mass of matter, comprising a number of fields, plains, forests, mountains and rivers, and nothing more. I look upon it as my mother. I revere and adore it. What does a son do when he sees a demon sitting upon his mother’s chest and about to drink her life-blood? Does he sit down to his meals with a quiet mind and enjoy himself in the company of his wife and children? Or, does he run to the rescue of his mother? I know 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 (warrior) 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 idea or 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 mission that God has sent me to the earth. The seed began to sprout when I was only fourteen, it took firm root when I was eighteen. My aunt has made you believe that some bad man has led your good-natured husband astray; but, in fact, it is your good-natured husband who has led that man and hundreds of others to the path, be it good or evil, and will yet lead thousands of others too. I don’t presume to assert that fulfilment will come during my life time, but come it will.
Well, what, then, will be your decision in this matter? The wife is the Shakti (power) of the husband. Are you going to be a disciple of Usha and practise the cult of worship of the Europeans? Will you lessen the power of your husband, or double it by your sympathy and encouragement? You may say: “What can an ordinary girl like me do in such great matters? I lack mental strength, I lack intelligence; I am afraid even to think of these things.” There is an easy solution. Take refuge in God, enter the path of God-realisation; He will soon make good the deficiencies you have. Fear gradually fades out of the person who has taken refuge in the Divine. Besides, if you put your trust in me, and listen to me instead of listening to others, I can give you out of my own power, which will increase rather than diminish by it. It is said that the wife is the Shakti (power) of the husband, which means that the husband’s power is doubled when he sees his own image and hears the resonance of his own high aspiration in his wife….
You have a natural tendency towards unselfishness and doing good to others. The only thing you lack is strength of will. It will come by turning to God with love and adoration.
This is the secret thing I wanted to tell you. Don’t breathe a word of it to anybody. Ponder over these things with a tranquil mind. There is nothing in it to be afraid of, but plenty to ponder over. In the beginning it will be enough for you to meditate on God for only half an hour every day, and to express your ardent will to Him in the form of a prayer. By and by, the mind will be prepared. Always pray to Him: “May I be of constant help to my husband in his life, his aim, and his endeavours for realising the Divine, and serve him as his instrument, and not stand in the way of his progress.”
23, Scott’s Lane,
February 17, 1907.
My dear Mrinalini,
…I was to have seen you on the 8th January, but could not, not because I was unwilling, but because God willed otherwise. I had to go where he led me. This time it was not for my own work that I went, it was for His. The state of my mind has undergone a change, but I shall not tell you anything about it in this letter. When you come here, I will tell you all I have to tell. 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. It will be difficult for you to understand now what I mean, but it is necessary to inform you, otherwise my movements may give rise to grievances in you and make you suffer. Don’t think that I am neglecting you in my preoccupation with my work. Up till now I have often sinned against you, and it was but natural that you were displeased with me. But I am no longer free. You have henceforth to understand that all that I do depends not upon my will, but upon the command of God. When you come here, you will be able to grasp the sense of what I say. I hope God will show you the light of His boundless Grace, even as He has shown it to me; but it all depends upon His Will. If you wish, as my wife, to share with me a common spiritual life, try your utmost to exert your will, so that He may reveal to you also the path of Grace. Don’t show this letter to anybody, because what I have communicated to you is extremely confidential. I haven’t spoken about it to anybody else; it is forbidden. No more today.
Mrinalini Devi “lived always with the family of Girish Bose, Principal of Bangabasi College”. Once, when Sri Aurobindo was at Pondicherry, his brother-in-law wrote to him, urging him to return to Bengal and lead a householder’s life. Sri Aurobindo wrote the following letter in reply.
“…You want me to live as an ordinary householder and, I suppose, practise some kind of meditation or sadhana in the time I can spare from my work and my family duties. This would have been possible if what I am called to do were an ordinary sadhana of occasional meditation which would leave the rest of my life untouched. But I wrote to you that I feel called to the spiritual life, and that means that my whole life becomes part of the sadhana. This can only be done in the proper conditions, and I do not see how it is possible in the ordinary life of the family and its surroundings. You all say that God will not bless my sadhana, and it will not succeed; but what I feel is that it is He who has called me; my whole reliance is on Him and it is solely on His Grace and Will that my success in the sadhana depends. The best way to deserve that Grace is to give myself entirely into His hands and to seek Him and Him alone. This is my feeling and my condition, and I hope you will see that this being so I cannot do what you ask for.”
Mrinalini Devi lived on in Calcutta till her death in 1918. She was fortunate enough to receive initiation from Sri Sarada Devi, the saintly wife of Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Aurobindo once remarked in this connection: “I was given to understand that she was taken there (to Sri Sarada Devi) by Sudhira Bose, Debabrata’s sister. I heard of it a considerable time afterwards in Pondicherry. I was glad to know that she had found so great a spiritual refuge, but I had no hand in bringing it about.”
 Miss Margaret Elizabeth Noble, who was a disciple of Vivekananda and had made India her home. She was a great social and political worker known for her revolutionary ardour and outlook, and a powerful writer on religious, social and political problems.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 A northern locality in Calcutta.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Nirodbaran’s Notes.
 Nirodbaran’s Notes.
 Vivekananda describes the beginning of a somewhat similar experience:
“But in the twinkling of an eye he (Ramakrishna) placed his right foot on my body. The touch at once gave rise to a novel experience within me. With my eyes open I saw that the walls, and everything in the room, whirled rapidly and vanished into naught, and the whole universe together with my individuality was about to merge in an all-encompassing mysterious Void”.
 Last Poems by Sri Aurobindo.
 A town in the United Provinces, famous for the Tajmahal.
 A town in the United Provinces hallowed by memories of Sri Krishna.
 A small town in the United Provinces.
 Life of Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani.
 The most progressive Hindu mind is never satisfied with anything less than “seeing” God. When Swami Vivekananda met Sri Ramakrishna for the first time, he put the same question to him: “Have you seen God?”. He had put the same question to Maharshi Debendra Nath Tagore, father of Rabindra Nath Tagore. The question is typical of spiritual aspirants in India. And no less typical was the breath-taking reply Sri Ramakrishna gave to Vivekananda: “Yes, my boy, I have seen Him, I have talked with Him, and I can make you see Him.” In ancient India, the Rishis who guided the society were such seers of God, living light houses for the sea-faring souls of men.
 “It was something from behind which got the idea accepted by the mind; mine was a side door entry into the spiritual life.” Life of Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani.
 “To reach Nirvana was the first radical result of my own Yoga…. I lived in that Nirvana day and night before it began to admit other things into itself at all… Nirvana in my liberated consciousness turned out to be the beginning of my realisation, a first step towards the complete thing, not the sole, true attainment possible, or even a culminating finale.” Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.
 Italics are ours.
 cf. Manu: “Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure elsewhere, or devoid of good qualities, a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife. If a wife obeys her husband, she will for that reason alone be exalted in heaven.”
 The blind father of the Kauravas in the Mahabharata.
 Italics are ours.
 Italics are ours.
 Italics are ours.
 Italics are ours.
 Italics are ours.
 These letters were not meant for the public — they were a secret communication to his wife. But during the searches that took place in 1908, they were seized by the British police and, later, produced in the Alipur court when Sri Aurobindo was being tried, after a year’s detention in the Alipur jail, on a false charge of sedition. The letters thus came to see the light of day; and here they are, a priceless treasure for Sri Aurobindo’s biographers. They mirror Sri Aurobindo’s heart and soul as nothing else of that period does. His next self-revelation was in his famous Uttarpara Speech. But of that later.
 A fellow-worker of Sri Aurobindo in the political field. He later joined the Ramakrishna Mission.
 Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.