As the third installment of our series on Sri Aurobindo, an article by Dr. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar titled Darshan of Sri Aurobindo has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.
Dr. Kodaganallur Ramaswami Srinivasa Iyengar (1908—1999), M.A. D.Litt, was a famous writer and former Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University who had gifted the Aurobindonian circle two extraordinary biographies of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother titled Sri Aurobindo: A Biography and a History and On the Mother: The Chronicle of a Manifestation and Ministry respectively. Recipient of the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Fellowship in 1985, his other books include titles like Indian Writing in English, Education and the New India, Leaves from a Log: Fragments of a Journey, Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Man and the Poet, Sitayana, Saga of Seven Mothers and Krishna-geetam.
This article by Dr. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar was written in August 1943 immediately after his first Darshan of Sri Aurobindo and printed in the November issue of a now-defunct journal named Human Affairs published from Udipi.
With warm regards,
They were coming still, the stream of visitors to the Ashram swelled day by day till it grew into a flood on the day of darshan. Men, women and children, with their packages and their hold-alls, their Sunday Hindu and their umbrellas, crowded near the gate of the Ashram on the morning of the fifteenth of August 1943—and the sadhaks discharging “gate duty” patiently coped with the rush with a quiet assurance, with a ready smile for one and all. From the four ends of India—from obscure nooks and by-paths, from distant cities and inaccessible hamlets—the pilgrims had assembled in Pondicherry in the vicinity of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
They had come braving the hundred and one annoyances minor and major that our imperfect society engenders in its midst; they had come—these princes and paupers, these financiers and politicians, these landlords and merchants, these poets and philosophers, these students and teachers, these sinners and saints, these seeming scoffers and these half-hearted believers—they had all converged towards the sanctum sanctorum, desiring to have darshan of Sri Aurobindo. Did they know—did all of them know—what darshan meant? What precise experience was in store for them, how exactly it was going to grow into their being and shape their future—they cared not, perhaps, to speculate about all this or, if they did, their minds were baffled in an instant and they quickly gave up the struggle.
Maybe, it was only an idle curiosity that brought some of the visitors to Pondicherry; maybe, some had caught the contagion of enthusiasm from their friends and had therefore proceeded to the Ashram on darshan day to put their half-baked aspirations through the acid test of experience, so that the fluidities of enthusiasm may harden into the pure gold of faith or—failing in the test—break into so many drops and atoms of disillusionment; maybe, some had accidentally chanced to read Yoga and Its Objects or Baji Prabhou or Heraclitus or The Mother or an instalment or two of The Future Poetry, had been swept off their feet, the spark thus enkindled had, day by day, hour by hour, blazed into a bonfire of adoration—unreasoned, irrational adoration—and the poor victims had by sheer gravitational pull, been drawn to the Ashram, they had to count the minutes, the seconds, that divided them from the “unhoped-for elusive wonder”… “the illimitable”… “the mighty one”… “the minstrel of infinity”; maybe, again, some had learned by slow degrees to follow and admire the career of Sri Aurobindo as a nationalist, as a poet, as a philosopher, and yet had failed to go further, had in fact nurtured a giant scepticism about the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, had even—once or twice—dubbed it all mysticism and moonshine, and had accordingly, come to satisfy themselves whether their own views were not, after all, the correct views, whether Sri Aurobindo was not, essentially, a poet and an apostle of nationalism rather than a saint and a mahāyogin. There were men and women of all categories, and children too of all categories, some carrying heaven in their hearts, others merely frolic-some and gay, many suddenly charmed and chastened by the Ashram atmosphere, but a few stubbornly resisting even its invisible currents and persisting in their own unique life-force movements and convolutions.
One heard casual remarks, stray greetings, whispered confidences. The premises of the Ashram were filled with a suppressed excitement. One heard the accents of many Indian languages. One idly wandered hither and thither: one gazed and gazed about oneself and—one felt fairly at home in those seemingly exotic and unusual surroundings. What did it matter if one didn’t know who one’s neighbour was? One knew what he was, or seemed to be,— a co-pilgrim to the shrine of fulfilment. One might speak to one’s neighbour if occasions arose—or if the formal introductions had been made—but it was safer, on the whole to sit or move about quietly. It was better to participate in the luxurious repast of silence; it was more becoming to seek refuge in the wisdom and strength of a chastening and uplifting reticence.
Many of the sādhaks, and many even among the visitors, had a noticeably abstracted air. They sat, by themselves or in little clusters, on the pavements or on the steps of a flight of stairs—and seemed to be lost in thought; of them perhaps it was written
Oft seeks a sweet retired solitude,
Where with her best nurse contemplation
She plumes her feathers, and
lets grow her wings,
That in the various bustle of
Were all too ruffled and
And there were others too—other groups and clusters—and the men and women were agitatedly conversing in pointed jerks, expressive gesticulations, and impatient exclamations. But the generality belonged, perhaps, to neither of these categories. The majority of those who had come to the Ashram for the first time wore just a puzzled air: they had indeed come to an Ashram, they were on the threshold of a unique experience (if the sadhaks were to be believed), they were suddenly projected into a strange new world—and they just wondered, they wondered in their ignorance, they wondered in their humility and awe, they just wondered whither all that pageantry was leading, what priceless revelation was waiting for them round the corner, and how exactly they were going to embalm it and preserve it during all the savourless tomorrows of their star-crossed lives.
The queue was being formed at last. It was about two in the afternoon. It was a bright day in Pondicherry, and it was a great day for Pondicherry. The queue was forming, and though the endless line of pilgrims hardly seemed to move, it actually did move on; the coil curved upwards towards the library and reading room, and curved downwards, emerging into the garden, followed for a little while a straight course, soon turning sharply towards the meditation hall. It moved on, like an impossibly long centipede, enveloping the pillars, scaling the stairs now in one direction now in another and at last reaching the very hall, the very spot… The queue was long, with its cusps and crests, links and breaks, its ascents and descents, it swayed and moved, it stopped and moved and swayed, and a hushed expectancy filled the pores and cells of the human frame and even the very chambers of the obscure human heart. How patiently they awaited their proper chance—how statuesque many of them stood, their eyes avoiding the midday glare of the sun, their fingers firmly clasping the Tulsi garland or the fair white flower or the bright red rose—they waited and they moved, they moved and they prayed. “I cannot believe… I want to believe… I must believe… I will believe… let me believe”… and thus even the agnostic prayed, and hope and despair warred in his bosom, and he held the garland in a yet firmed grasp.
The last turn was taken. One’s eyes grazed over the intervening pilgrims and rested on the two figures seated together in unblenched majesty and aura serene. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo! The great moment had come… the presence was a flood of Light and Truth… and the mere mind staggered under the blow, the mere human frame lurched forward mechanically, but the eyes were held irretrievably in a hypnotic spell. Thought was impossible then… the mind had abdicated its sovereignty for the nonce… and one (dare one say it?) had become almost a living soul. The crowning moment of all! One faced the Mother, one faced the Master… it was impossible to stand the smile, it was impossible to stand the penetrating scrutiny of those piercing eyes. A second or two, perhaps, no more… but how can one take count of the fleeting units of Time? One rather glimpsed then the splendorous truth—“There shall be no more Time!” Eternity was implicated in a grain of Time… one all but crossed the boundaries of Space and Time… one experienced a sudden upsurge of glory that was nevertheless grounded on a bottomless humility. And—but already one was out of the room!
The pulses of life started beating once again; the wires, the machinery of the mind were resuming their work once more; the feet knew whither they should go. The heart was agog still with the agitations of the hour—and one returned to one’s room to gather, to piece together, the thousand and one fancies, the thousand and one aspirations, that had welled up in prodigious exuberance during that one great moment of timeless Time. One grew quieter, serener, one registered a feeling of singular, inexpressible fulfilment. One was abnormally calm, but one was also radiantly, almost divinely, happy!
The presence that thus flooded my storm-tossed soul and chastened it with the gift of grace bore little resemblance to the published photographs and even less to one’s deliberate mental imaginings. And yet—how can I account for it?—it was a truly familiar face. Where had I seen the Master before? I had seen Him ever so often—yet where? The mind raced through the dizzy corridors of thirty-five years of terrestrial life… where, O where had I seen His face before? Was it the face of Zeus that had once held me enraptured as I chanced upon it in a book of mythology? … Or was it rather the face of Aeschylus?—Perhaps, Vasishta looked even like this when he blessed Dasaratha’s son; and it was thus, perhaps, that Valmiki sat when the whole of Ramayana, even to the minutest particularity, shaped itself before his wise and lustrous eyes! And the vision of the Mother and of the Master—were they in very truth the cosmic Mahashakti and the all-highest Ishwara?—the vision remained, the experience persisted, the memory of the smile eased yet the multitudinous pricks of the work-a-day world, and the memory of the brahmatej, austere yet inconceivably beautiful, that was resplendent on Sri Aurobindo’s face yet gave one the hope and the strength to bear the heavy and the weary weight of all this unintelligible world—nay, gave one even the strength to aspire to change it all and boldly to nurture the incipient hope that even the frailest and the foulest clay can evolve—however long the journey and arduous the path—into the supermanhood of the Gnostic Being and the triune glory of Sachchidananda!