Works of Sri Aurobindo: Early Cultural Writings (CWSA 01), An Overview


In this English talk on Sri Aurobindo’s writings, we take up the first volume of CWSA (The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo) “Early Cultural Writings”.


Early Cultural Writings (CWSA 01)

Early cultural Writings is an assortment of essays and other prose writings on literature, education, art and other cultural subjects. Most of them were written between 1890 and 1910, a few between 1910 and 1920. The present arrangement has been done by the Editor’s into nine main parts according to the topic. It needs to be noted that Sri Aurobindo never gave himself the name of this collection nor does it exhaust all that Sri Aurobindo has said on the subject. Even though many of the writings are early they show not just seeds but sprouts of Light blossoming in a creative soil where the heart and mind had grown one, where faith and reason are not divorced from each other but woven beautifully and complement each other. It is one of the beautiful aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s writings that they have a synthetic character. Just like his yoga, perfection is not elimination but evolution and a harmony of virtues. He beautifully sums it up through one of the protagonists in a play of nearly 70 pages written in this volume titles The Harmony of Virtue.

Evolution does not eliminate, but perfects. The cruelty that blossoms out in the tiger, has its seeds deep down in the nature of man and if it is minimised in one generation will expand in another, nor is it possible for man to eradicate cruelty without pulling up in the same moment the bleeding roots of his own being. Yet the brute ferocity that in the tiger is graceful and just and artistic, is in the man savage and crude and inharmonious and must be cultured and refined, until it becomes a virtue and fits as gracefully and harmlessly into the perfect character, as its twin-brother physical courage and physical love, its remote relative.

This is Sri Aurobindo at 18 years of age! Note how the broad understanding of the evolutionary transformation was being laid down, in brief strokes that carry the touch of a supreme thinker. ‘Evolution does not eliminate, but perfects’. He further speaks of physical courage as its twin-brother and physical love as its remote relative. Much later we shall see how one of the works undertaken by Sri Aurobindo was to reconcile and synthesis opposites, something that can be done to perfection only in the Supramental Consciousness. All is seen as part of a single plan, links in a single chain of the evolutionary ladder. He further elaborates:

I suppose you will agree with me that for a virtue to be beautiful, there must be a perfect harmony in the elements of beauty, and the colour not too subdued as in the clover nor too glaring as in the sunflower, and the perfume not too slight to be noticeable as in the pansy nor too intense for endurance as in the meadow-sweet, and the form not too monotonous as in a canal or too irregular as in the leafless tree, but all perfectly harmonious in themselves and in fit proportion to each other?…

We have expanded our description of virtue as the evolution of the inborn qualities native to our personality, by throwing in the epithet “perfect”, and have interpreted the full flavour of the epithet in words to the effect that qualities in their evolved perfection must be harmonious one with another and have a beautiful form or expression, and a beautiful colour or revelation of the soul, and a beautiful perfume or justly – at tempered manner and must subdue all three into a just and appropriate harmony. 

[The Harmony of Virtue 65, 77]

This volume also contains writings on Art and Literature, significant among which are his writings on Valmiki, Vyasa, Kalidasa among the ancient poets and Bankim, Tilak, Dayanand among the relatively recent minds that can be considered as fostering the Indian Renaissances. He notes:

Valmiki, Vyas and Kalidasa are the essence of the history of ancient India; if all else were lost, they would still be its sole and sufficient cultural history. 

There are also thoughts On Education, especially a National Education that carry seeds of revolutionising Education. The three principles of Education beautifully elucidated along with the ‘The Brain of India’ and Essays on Art give us a complete perspective and framework of what today is generally known as holistic or Integral Education. These are path-breaking essays whose value is perennial.

A new and engaging style is Conversations of the Dead where a short conversation is built up among two opponents who died opposing each other. They have a quick glance and review of each other’s life to see how their failures and success truly count when seen more objectively from the vantage point of a life that is no more tied to the ever changing scenes through which they moved. For example the dialogue between Jay Singh and Shiva ji runs thus towards the close.

JAYSINGH: Where is the seal upon your work, the pledge of His authority?

SHIVAJI: I undermined an empire, and it has not been rebuilt. I created a nation, and it has not yet perished.

As noted this volume contains writings spanning nearly two decades from 1890 to 1910. The last is Chandernagore manuscripts where we find some very original and interesting essays on Hathayoga and Rajayoga which pack a whole lot of deep knowledge in a few pages.

There is another section on imaginary letters giving us an Indian perspective of European life in which Sri Aurobindo’s satire and humour shine out with brilliance and his love for India can be seen through the pages. Yet he knew what India and Hinduism lacked, and spoke of it too when he wrote about the two types of Hinduism, yet his criticism is laced with love and compassionate understanding of what India is.  Finally, there are some book reviews as well as speeches written for the Maharaja of Baroda. The speeches especially indicate Sri Aurobindo’s eye for details and his ability to organize not only ideas in the realm of ideas and for their own sake but also their practical application in life. Most importantly these writings give us an entry gate into Sri Aurobindo’s infinite mind making it easier for us to go deeper into these ideas as they develop through subsequent writings spread across other volumes.

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