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13 May, 110 tweets, 25 min read

Introduction — 1
An Inexplicable Phenomenon



NO attempt at constructing a biography of #SriAurobindo can be free from a powerful inhibition exercised by the Master’s caution that nobody could write about his life because it had not been on the surface for men to see.

Notwithstanding this caveat, numerous biographies have been written and the earliest one in English was published, obviously without his knowledge, in the year 1911, only a year after he came over to Pondicherry.(1)

Tumultuous events marked his external life, even in that short span of about five years (1905-1910) he devoted to active politics, residing for the most part in Kolkata (then Calcutta).

Willy-nilly, he had become the most significant as well as the most popular leader of the radical wing of the Indian National Congress.

Significant, because there is no evidence of any other national figure of the decade causing so much anxiety to the British rulers of India on the one hand and inspiring such love and reverence in the best of the creative genius of the time on the other.

While in the eyes of the Governor General of India he was the most dangerous man in the country, for Rabindranath Tagore he was the voice-incarnate of India’s soul.

Simple in appearance & austerely dressed, mild-mannered & soft-spoken, he could keep his audience, often comprising of thousands, spell-bound — although only a small percentage of his listeners could follow his British accent —even when great orators failed to sustain…

…their attention. The Times of London carried several reports of his speeches in its issues of July and August 1909. Here is one in which this truth becomes obvious despite its sardonic tenor:

As things were, the audience on August 7 consisted of about 5000 persons of whom about a half was youthful. The sole orator of the Calcutta boycott meeting,

Babu Bhupendranath Bose, excited no enthusiasm whatever, partly because his speech was too moderate and partly because it was only audible to a small number.

The Bengalees have primitive ideas as to the organisation of a meeting and Babu Bhupendranath was expected to harangue an open-air audience, numbering some thousands, from the top of a small dining table.

Mr. Bradlaugh or Dr. Clifford(2) would have failed under such conditions. The remarkable fact was, however, that damped as the crowd was by a lone essay, it burst into loud cheering when Mr. Aurobindo Ghose was seen standing near the dining table aforesaid.

He was unquestionably the hero of the meeting. (3)

Here it would be relevant to look at the first-hand account left by one of his young listeners, Jyotish Chandra Ghosh, who later rose to much eminence:

He was amiable in disposition and was mild, gentle in his manners.
When he would speak, he would do so in soft musical accents & his words in a private conversation had the effect of soothing the troubled nerves of the hearer, not by virtue of its intellectual impressiveness but by a sort of ethereal transmission of a ...

…psychic, spiritual fluid, so to say. . . When he spoke in public, ...

...he would resign himself to a Power and not even think what he was going to say and would stand fixed like a statue, his nerves vibrating in response to a divine rhythm and we felt as we heard him that he had simply kept his psychic senses open and…

…was just repeating automatically what he heard uttered by some invisible Power in his ears.(4)

Some inexplicable trait of his personality impressed even those who had a glimpse of him for the first time, without any preconceived notion. The young

M. R. Jayakar, later a legal luminary and politician-compatriot of C. R. Das, who attended the Calcutta session of the National Congress in 1906, reminisces:

I then had my first opportunity of observing from close quarters the Congress leaders of those times with some of whom my contact increased later. I then saw Aurobindo Ghose and his associates. What struck me were his great earnestness and dignified appearance.

He had not then developed, so far as outside appearance could show, into a complete Yogi, but I got, from a distance, an indication that his political philosophy was different from that of those who surrounded him.(5)

Jayakar, though a seasoned rationalist, was after all an inspired patriot and we can say, for the sake of argument, that his own imagination could have coloured his impression, at least partially.

But here is a most pleasantly surprising revelation made by one of the foremost Indian educationists of the 20th century, Dr. (Sir) C. R. Reddy, then the Vice-Chancellor of the Andhra University, in the course of his bestowing on Sri Aurobindo (in absentia) the

1st Ramalinga Reddy National Prize instituted by his University (an honour that was never given to anybody else).

Dr. Reddy, a Cambridge alumni like #SriAurobindo who had succeeded the latter as the Vice-Principal of the Baroda College, narrates the impression of someone who had no particular reason to nurture any idealistic impression of #SriAurobindo:

Mr. A. B. Clark, the Principal of the Baroda College, remarked to me, “So, you met Aurobindo. Did you notice his eyes? There is mystic fire and light in them. They penetrate into the beyond.”
CH-I/28 And he added, “If Joan of Arc heard heavenly voices, Aurobindo probably sees heavenly visions.”
Clark was a materialist of materialists. I have never been able to understand how that worldly but delightful person could have glimpsed the truth,then latent,about Aurobindo.

But then does not the lightning’s blinding flash, which lasts but a moment, leap forth from the dark black bosom of the cloud?(6)

But there are far more astounding accounts of the serene and shy ‘Aurobindo’ of those days who never made a claim to any spiritual status, inspiring in his young admirers an attitude of reverence that is inexplicable.

Records Nolinikanta Sarkar, the noted Bengali writer, that in a meeting in South Kolkata to celebrate the birth anniversary of #SriAurobindo in 1952, he was surprised to see that the Sankaracharya of Sri Sharada Peetham — one of the four Muths founded by the

Adi Sankaracharya — was the chief guest. Sarkar was intrigued. The Sankaracharyas of these major Muths were invariably exclusive exponents of Mayavada, the doctrine of Illusionism. How was he expected to speak anything appropriate for such an occasion?

Doesn’t #SriAurobindo’s vision of creation and its reality, of human evolution and its culmination, demolish Mayavada’s claim to absolute truth?
Here is a literal translation of Sarkar’s reminiscences in Bengali:

Soon Sankaracharya Maharaj arrived at the venue, an ascetic rather short in stature, the holy staff in hand. He was accompanied by three or four ascetic followers and some householder devotees.

Kamal Chandra Mahashay received him with respect and ushered him into the assembly. We too stood up and greeted him.

He relaxed for a few minutes and began. I cannot reproduce what he said word by word. I narrate whatever I remember. He said:

“It was nineteen hundred and eight. I was then a student. I was in Maharashtra. We the young ones were followers of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Our political life flourished under his influence . . . You can gauge the depth of our devotion to #SriAurobindo from one example.

We used to read the Gita regularly. In the Srimadbhagavat Gita wherever there was the phrase Thus spake God, we replaced it with Thus spake Aurobindo. That was how we saw #SriAurobindo.”(7)

If the feelings of this young revolutionary and his compatriots towards #SriAurobindo of Kolkata days had found such a spontaneously radical expression, in so many others it was no less overwhelming though subdued.

Let us look at one more memoir, translated from Bengali:

I was not only charmed at my first meeting with him, but also grew stronger. I understood in a concrete way that one could be initiated at the very sight of the Guru, without even a touch or a Mantra.

My friend Upendranath (Bandopadhyay) left me near Aurobindo and went away. I sat wonder-struck gazing at his face. I forgot even to offer a Namaskar to him.

The peaceful, self-realised, Vedantic figure opened up a new universe before me — my entire heart was filled with light and delight.

I do not know what one feels when one obtains Darshan of the Divine, but at the Darshan of Aurobindo my mind and life were charged with the warmth of a new spirit. I wondered if I had ever met such a person before.(8)
CH-I/43 There are a number of testimonies of those who had come in contact with #SriAurobindo in his pre-Pondicherry days telling us that he was indeed special & unique, not akin to the rest of his contemporaries, a person in whom unimaginable humility & profundity of wisdom…

…existed as a single natural characteristic. But all that could not be viewed as a prelude to the role he was to play in the history of consciousness. What needs to be emphasised is that he was, by any measuring rod, an inexplicable phenomenon.

Quite independent of his later day stature, he would have been a god to many of those who knew him in his pre-Pondicherry days. A hagiography, as the word is ordinarily understood today, is a biography in which the author idealises his subject.

But I do not know the right word for a biography where the author records, quite objectively, the impressions and experiences of others for whom the subject indeed had proved to be their supreme ideal.

If this too is hagiography, then the word certainly deserves greater respectability.

The issue is, whether or not we believe in the reality of consciousness much higher than the average, even higher than that of what we call a genius or a super-genius,not limited by what we in our wisdom have decided as laws of psychology governing...

…the human personality, manifesting among us. If facts lead us to accept that reality, it matters little what term we use to describe the account of such a consciousness.

This biography, like the preceding ones, intends to present #SriAurobindo’s perceptible and external life based on facts available to this author till date with the help of some of his dedicated researcher friends.

Whenever it becomes unavoidable to refer to #SriAurobindo’s Yogic experiences, these will be presented through the Master’s own words or those of the Mother.

It will be otherwise impossible for any biographer to focus on his adventures in consciousness as the Mahayogi of later years, or even the quiet Yogic pursuit he had begun during his Baroda (Vadodara) days.

A question that inevitably arises is, if the Mahayogi is the real #SriAurobindo why at all describe the façade of his life that may not reveal the real?

The only answer is a sense of Shraddha, a feeling of wonder that such a character moved among men not long ago and the inevitable consequence of that feeling — a renewed...
CH-I/55 in mankind, for there were so many in the society of that time who could recognise what was gloriously extraordinary. The Mother’s jotting in her diary after meeting #SriAurobindo on the 29th of March 1914,

"It matters little that there are thousands of beings plunged in the densest ignorance, he whom we saw yesterday is on earth; his presence is enough to prove that a day will come when darkness shall be transformed into light, & Thy reign shall be indeed established…

…upon earth",

is a revelation at a different plane — a revelation of the mighty for the mighty.

I am struck by the phenomenon that was ‘Pre-Pondicherry’ Sri Aurobindo in the eyes and experience of the least prepared, the fact that for them he appeared as the “hundred-petalled Aurobindo (lotus) in India’s Manasarovar”(9) or as “God-like Aurobindo”(10) and also...

…the fact that he puzzled his foes because he was “treated with the reverence of a king wherever he had gone”,(11) even if we view the Sankaracharya’s attitude as that of the few who possessed some exclusive faculty.

This biography will present in subsequent chapters glimpses of this delightfully puzzling phenomenon whenever warranted, derived from sources mostly in Bengali, not much of which had so far been available in English — this last aspect being one of the reasons…

…for this exercise.

At the calendric plane #SriAurobindo’s life can be broadly divided into two phases: Pre-Pondicherry days and Pondicherry days.

To elucidate my point of view I take the liberty of reproducing, in a slightly modified form, a portion of what I said in an interview conducted by Prof. P. Raja for The Hindu, on the occasion of the Centenary of #SriAurobindo’s Arrival in Pondicherry, …

…the 4th of April 2010:

Q: Often people, overwhelmed by #SriAurobindo’s greatness, ask, “How could one achieve so much in a single life? He inspired India’s struggle for freedom and was its most powerful leader for the brief period that he was in national politics.

What made him wake up to his inner Divinity so that he suddenly broke away from the sort of life he led and came over to Pondicherry? What was the immediate occasion?”

Ans: To articulate an answer to this question is practically beyond me, even though it is no riddle for me. #SriAurobindo for me, as much as for many others, is the Divine #SriAurobindo; it is not possible to visualise a pre-Divine #SriAurobindo.

But this cannot be my answer to the seeker in those who put the question nor can I overlook the sincerity behind the query. After all, #SriAurobindo himself had answered it at the so-called factual plane in his Tales of Prison Life as well as in the Uttarpara Speech.

Q: Will you please state it in your own words?

Ans: I’ll try. But even if one were to use his own words, it would still need a preface and this is how I would put it. Let us put aside the case of #SriAurobindo for a moment.

Even in the lives of average people like us no transition from the usual pattern of life into the life of a spiritual seeker need take place suddenly. A quest for Truth continues deep within us, even though we may not be aware of it.

At a certain degree of its development, any external event or influence could inspire us to break away from the pattern of life we followed and that break may appear sudden.

But no such formula, of course, applies to the Avatar.


Let me put the situation in a metaphorical way. You may decide to wake up at a certain hour of the night and set the alarm in your clock accordingly and go to sleep.

Even when the alarm goes off and you wake up, it may take you a few seconds to recollect that it had been your own doing, a result of your own decision to go to sleep and then to wake up at a certain time.

This is how I see the so-called transition in the life of #SriAurobindo, for he had to, at least symbolically, plunge into the self-forgetfulness of humanity. He had to identify himself with humanity and experience all its limitations.

His incarceration at the Alipore prison served as his own alarm.


As is well-known, he was embraced by Sri Krishna in such a way that he saw none but the Lord in everything and all — in the walls that deprived him of his freedom, in the lawyers who pleaded for him as well as against him, and in the judge, the witnesses and so on.

He was different and great even before that. Surprising his guide Vishnu Bhaskar Lele, he achieved Yogic experiences of such great magnitude in a day or two that would have taken a long time for a normal Yogi to achieve.

But this difference was only the preface to the difference that was to emerge before long.

CH-I/77 In the gloomy and suffocating solitary cell where, as he recollected in his Tales of Prison Life, “bound to the wheels of an iron law, subservient to the whim of others, one had to live deprived of every other contact”,he woke up to the fact that “God was playing a game”
CH-I/78 …with him. In his famous Uttarpara Speech he made explicit the Providential purpose behind his travail: he had indescribable realisations in a few days, the total and intimate identification with the Divine — in other words he woke up to his own identity, his swarupa -

that would ultimately lead him to give us a glimpse of the evolutionary future of man, the message of the Life Divine.

Q: So, the break from the life as he led it was obvious!

Ans: Obvious, is it? But what is not obvious is that there was really no break!

Do I sound enigmatic? It is like this. His struggle for liberation continued. The first phase of his life was devoted to the liberation of the motherland.

India for him was not simply a stretch of inanimate earth, but a consciousness, a living heritage of human aspiration through the ages, towards liberation of
human souls from their bondage to ignorance.

At Pondicherry began the second phase of his struggle for liberation — the emancipation of man from that primeval bondage.

Q: Right. But is there any difference between the liberation sought by great spiritual masters of the past and #SriAurobindo?

Ans: A radical difference indeed. Great souls sought liberation for themselves. There was nothing wrong in that. No doubt, they inspired and guided hundreds or thousands of others to take to that path.

CH-I/84 But they sought liberation, realisation or Nirvana, not divinisation or integral transformation of man into divinity —a goal that #SriAurobindo’s Yoga aims at, a transcendence of mankind as a whole that would be made possible by the intervention of a new consciousness…

…descending from the Supreme. He did his Yoga to bring down that force which he termed the Supermind.

The Mother continued the process when he left his body on the 5th of December 1950.

#TheMother #SriAurobindo

This new consciousness is at work in the atmosphere of the earth, probably waiting for its chance to manifest when there would be a sufficiently strong collective aspiration.

Q: “All earth shall be the Spirit’s manifest home” as he said in his epic #Savitri?

Ans: That’s right. He rejected the widely prevailing notion that the world and the worldly life were illusions — though he did not deny the fact that we remain blinded by a plethora of illusory values.

But Providence did not create this world for it to be merely abandoned as false. It is intrinsically divine and so is our life.

It is not renunciation of life, but the transformation of life, freedom from the octopus hold of unconsciousness — that is the evolutionary goal beckoning man.


As I had stated earlier, there was no phase of #SriAurobindo’s life I could describe as pre-Divine, for his entire life was a preparation and then an offering, a Yajna, on behalf of the earth, for the realisation of the prospect concealed in our destiny,…

… a liberated future.

That we cannot describe any phase of #SriAurobindo’s life as pre-Divine is corroborated by his life-long lieutenant Nolini Kanta Gupta in these words:
. . .

the Yogi, the Divine, the impersonal man in #SriAurobindo was the real person always there from the very birth. Thus we see him starting life exactly with the thing where everyone ends.

In his inner being he had not to pass through the gradations that lead an ordinary person gradually towards the widening ranges of consciousness and existence.

In all the stations of his life, in every sphere and status #SriAurobindo was doing his duties — that is, his work — kartavyam karma — selflessly, which means with no sense of self, or

perhaps we should say with supreme selfhoodness; for such is the character, the very nature of the born Yogi, the God-man.(12)

(To be continued - CH-II)
CH-I/96 References and Notes:
(1) R. Palit: Life of Aravinda Ghose,Punchanantala Road,Howrah,1911.
The book deals mostly with the philosophy of nationalism,religion etc & traces the ancestry of #SriAurobindo with a focus on his maternal grandfather the celebrated Raj Narain Bose.

What is important to note is the author must have started writing the book soon after #SriAurobindo left Kolkata. Hence his description of his subject naturally reflects the general impression his contemporaries had of #SriAurobindo of Pre-Pondicherry days.

An extract: “His purity, his sympathy, his benevolence, his Job-like endurance, and above all, his invincible determination charmed and fascinated all who came in contact with him.

There is an indescribable attraction in his very look, which has done more to secure friendship and to gain followers, than years of acquaintance could do with other men.”

The author wrote in conclusion: “In darkness, and in storm, on the raging waves, and under bursting clouds let each man do his work and leave the rest to God. A life like that of Aravinda will serve as a beacon light. Sorrow has its lessons, its triumphs and its joys.

A life nursed on the lap of sorrows has more lessons to teach than the pampered life of luxury. His life presents a model unsurpassed in the whole history of Patriotism, and we can do no more to show our love to the country than to follow his examples in life.”

(2) Two of the public figures known for their persuasive style of speech. Mr. Bradlaugh was a close associate of Annie Besant.

(3) Manoj Das: #SriAurobindo in the First Decade of the Century (1972), (Reprinted 2003 as #SriAurobindo in the First Decade of the Twentieth Century) #SriAurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry.

(4) Jyotish Chandra Ghosh (1883–1971), scholar and professor, popularly known as Master Mashay, underwent 20 years of incarceration for his anti-colonial activities, a part of which he spent along with Subhas Chandra Bose at Mandalay jail.

He was the President of the Forward Bloc, Bengal, as well as a legislator. The extract is from his only known book, Life-Work of Aurobindo, Atmashakti Library, Calcutta, 1929.

(5) M. R. Jayakar: The Story of My Life, Vol. 1, Bombay (Mumbai) 1959.

(6) Dr. C. R. Reddy: Convocation Address, Andhra University, 1948.

(7) Nolinikanta Sarkar: Jawa Asar Majhkhane, Vol. 1 (Bengali); Mitra & Ghosh, Kolkata.

(8) #SriAurobindo Smriti (Bengali), edited by Bishwanath Dey; Sahityam, Calcutta.

(9) Brahmobandhav Upadhyay in his magazine Sandhya (Bengali).

(10) The Basumati (Bengali) of 15 May 1909.

(11) Norton, the Prosecution lawyer on 17 March, the 144th day of the Alipore Conspiracy Case trial.

(12) Sisir Kumar Mitra: #SriAurobindo, Indian Book Co., New Delhi, 1972.


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More from @djvtwit

14 Sep 20
1) Thoughts and Glimpses

Two Short Essays by #SriAurobindo from "ESSAYS IN PHILOSOPHY AND YOGA"

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#SriAurobindo – On Indian Spirituality and Life

The whole root of difference between Indian and European culture springs from the spiritual aim of Indian civilisation.
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A spiritual aspiration was the governing force of this culture, its core of thought, its ruling passion.
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