Johannes Hohlenberg’s Recollections of meeting Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry

Johannes Hohlenberg

Dear Friends,

Johannes Hohlenberg (1881—1960) was a Danish artist and author whose published works include a biography of Søren Kierkegaard and treatments of the latter’s works. He visited Pondicherry during the First World War, met Sri Aurobindo and also made a portrait of his. Sri Aurobindo would later recall about him, ‘In 1914 when the Mother came here, there came also a Danish painter who did a sketch of me. At the end of every meditation, he used to say, “Let us now talk of the Ineffable!”’

Johannes Hohlenberg, who was well-read with the works of Max Théon, also met the Mother in France. On his insistence, she taught him the art of exteriorization. Years later the Mother would recall to Satprem: “… I taught him how to do it [exteriorization], and what’s more I was there, he did it in my presence. And, my child, the moment he went out of his body, he was throw into such a panic! The man was no coward, he was courageous but it terrified him so! Sheer panic…”

The first part of Johannes Hohlenberg’s recollections of Sri Aurobindo is quoted from a letter he had written to a devotee of Sri Aurobindo in 1948. This letter, originally written in French, is brought to light from the Archives of Overman Foundation.

Anusuya Kumar, Ph.D from the School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University, Denmark recently presented a meticulous research work on Johannes Hohlenberg where she discussed his encounters with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. It is from her presentation that the second part of Johannes Hohlenberg’s recollections and his painting of Sri Aurobindo are republished in the online forum of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Founder,

Overman Foundation.

[1]

Johannes Hohlenberg’s letter to a devotee of Sri Aurobindo

“Concerning my visit to Aurobindo in Pondicherry in 1915 it is difficult to give details.

“First it is 33 years ago, and my staying there was very short owing to the fact that I was arrested by the Englishmen and put on board of the first ship leaving for Europe. It was during the first war and, as I later knew, my frequent visits to Aurobindo’s house had thrown suspicion on me for being a spy or a revolutionary, as at that epoch his brother was considered as a very dangerous rebel and even he himself was not looked upon with favour. Indeed I was warned by the British consul in Pondicherry, who told me that, though he knew that Aurobindo was perfectly innocent and absolutely honest, I was very likely to be arrested, if I left Pondicherry for English territory. And that is what happened. So my sojourn in India, that was intended to last much longer, was interrupted after little more than a month and all my plans overthrown. Later on my journey home I was again arrested and detained in London for 3 weeks, for the same reason. But that is another story.

“Now I must tell you my reason for going to India.

“In the years 1906-12 I lived in Paris, where I was very intimately befriended with Paul Richard, who in 1910 went to India as a candidate for the chambre de députés, for the French colonies. During this trip he made the acquaintance of Aurobindo, who at that time or shortly after started a monthly magazine: ARYA, that was published in a French and an English edition. It was agreed that I should come to India to help him in this task, and early in the summer of 1914 everything was ready for my departure for Pondicherry to join Mr. Richard, who had returned thereto after having failed to be elected as a député. Then came the war and postponed my departure for nearly a year. At last in the spring of 1915 I was able to start, but at the same time Mr. Richard had to leave India for doing military service in France. For this and other reasons the editorial project had to be given up so far as I was concerned. Still I went on and made the acquaintance of Aurobindo, introduced by Mr. Richard, and made his portrait. Shortly after I left Pondicherry and was arrested, as above said.

“As to the kind of conversation I had with him it is impossible to me, after so long time, to give you any detailed record. They treated religious and moral topics, and my impression of him was that of a very wise and noble spirit. Of the mystical experiences you say he went through at that special epoch he gave no direct evidence, but of course it was felt through his acts and words. Later I wrote a book YOGA, which I dedicated to him and that for a great part is based on the entertainments [perhaps from the French term ‘entretiens’ meaning conversations] I had with him. As a model he was excellent and most obliging.

“Now for the picture of which I send you a photo by the same mail. An unretouched photo, as you may know, never gives an exact impression of the original. The picture is darker than it appears in the photo, deeper and warmer in colour. The brush strokes and the many small lines that look like a network especially in the face, hair and beard are due to rugosities [roughness or coarseness?] in the colour surface and are not seen in the original. The size of the canvas is 80 x 60 cm. The picture is known by Madame Mirra Richard, née Alfassa, who saw it in France at my return journey and who, as I understand, is still in Pondicherry. She liked it very much and certainly still remembers it and can tell you about it.

“This is what I can tell you concerning this matter. I hope it will be sufficient…

Yours very sincerely”

Johannes Hohlenberg's painting of Sri Aurobindo[2]

Johannes Hohlenberg wrote the following after meeting Sri Aurobindo for the first time:

“He received me on a big overshadowed verandah which was open to the one side. The furniture there was extremely simple. There was a table with three chairs around it. On the bare and naked whitewashed walls were a pair of Japanese mats or rugs hanging. Below the ceiling were some garlands of dried mango-leaves… One of the young men led me up to the verandah and I waited there for some minutes. Suddenly, it seemed that I was not alone in the space and turned around to see him standing just in front of me. He had soundlessly entered from a threshold. I looked into an extraordinarily beautiful face. He had a finely chiselled forehead framed with mahogany hair falling down over his shoulders. The eyes were dark with flashes of sienna-terra light. A decisively shaped sharp nose and unusually defined lips that were full and sensuous. A thin black beard fell below the throat. He was dressed in a kind of white cotton robe with a length thrown over his shoulder on one side. The robe was open in the front to the bare chest. He had naked slender feet lightly touching the floor. It was late afternoon with a hint of dusk in the air. The light gave his olive skin a transparency as if it were self-illuminating. When I shook hands with him I could not help becoming self-conscious how his golden arm contrasted with my own red-grey-white European skin. My own body beside his standing there seemed like it had been scrubbed by some abrasive cleanser and washed of natural color. Bleached to the bone. We sat down and began to talk in French and English. Both languages were equal to him. It was amazing to hear him quote Homer one moment and then the Vedas or Shakespeare. It was as if he belonged to all worlds and cultures at once… But this was only one side of his personality. Another seemed to live in infinity. I seemed to sometimes notice a slight hint of a smile on his face when he saw my amazement at his penetrating words. It was like I had been shot through the heart and mind.”

*

The Mother’s Interviews with Dr. Indra Sen about the Supramental Manifestation of 29 February 1956

Mother

Dear Friends,

Dr. Indra Sen (13 May 1903—14 March 1994) was a noted scholar, author and educationist who obtained his Master’s degree in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of Delhi and Ph.D from the University of Freiburg in Germany. He taught Philosophy and Psychology at the Hindu College in Delhi. In 1939 he visited Pondicherry and soon became a staunch follower of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. In 1943 his wife Lilawati was asked by the Mother (who renamed her Violette) to settle down in Sri Aurobindo Ashram as inmates along with her two children. Dr. Sen also joined the Ashram in 1945. He had presented several famous papers on psychology in academic circles but for him the study of psychology was not sufficient without a corresponding spiritual realization because, according to his daughter Dr. Aster Patel, he wanted a realization in consciousness of the spiritual truths of existence. In the works of Sri Aurobindo he found the basis of a wholeness which ‘would make the experience a fact of personal corroboration.’ He coined the term ‘Integral Psychology’ which was accepted by Sri Aurobindo as the proper term for presenting his psychological work.

As the year 2016 marks the sixtieth anniversary of the Supramental Manifestation upon earth, two interviews of the Mother (which took place on 13 May and 22 May respectively) with Dr. Indra Sen about the said manifestation  are published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

*

Indra SenDr. Indra Sen

13 May 1956

The Mother: Were you here on the 29th February?

Indra Sen: Yes, Mother, I was here. I arrived the same day in the morning and I was present at the “Questions and Answers” and the Meditation.

The Mother: Did you feel anything then?

Indra Sen: No, Mother. All I was aware of is that it was a calm and quiet meditation. It is only on the Darshan Day, the 24th April, that a vague and faint sense of reality of the New Force came to me. And since then the feeling of it has been growing, but I don’t have a clear and concrete sense of its existence.

The Mother: Well, what happened was something tremendous. Suddenly a flood of light came pouring forth, as if the divine gate had been thrown wide open. It continued for twenty minutes. Or, rather, I watched it for twenty minutes and then stopped the meditation. I could not carry on the meditation indefinitely—you know how restless people become.

When the light was pouring, I thought that at the end of the meditation I would find everybody knocked out, lying flat. But when I opened my eyes I found them as after any meditation. I myself had to make a special effort to come into my external being and it was with great difficulty that I could utter a word.

Indra Sen: Was this advent unexpected?

The Mother: Absolutely. But all my greatest experiences have come like that. I am in my usual consciousness and they come suddenly, as if to show their reality in the fullest contrast and vividness. They have the best value when first received in this way. When one is informed beforehand, the mind begins to play a part. On the present occasion, when the mind came in I was on our side of the divine gate: there was then just a magnificent light, nothing more. Those who live in their emotions had a better chance to feel things than those who live in their minds.

Indra Sen: What should I do to acquire a sense of the Supermind?

The Mother: The Supermind will work itself out—by the decision of the Supreme. Sri Aurobindo was instrumental in bringing it. The working of the Supermind in my body has gone on since the 5th December, 1950. It has been a progressive individual working; so I thought things would go on like that. But in January this year Sri Aurobindo appeared to me two or three times and it was as if he indicated that the Supermind was coming on a universal scale.

What has come has got engulfed at present and it has to work itself out. Nature did not reject it—she could not. The Supreme decided that the time had come and He released the Force. But the Inconscient has covered it up. It can be felt in the subtle-physical, but in the physical there is hardly anything yet. The manifestation is only a little more than two months old and it will show itself gradually. I can definitely feel it in the subtle-physical, but my sensitiveness is perhaps a little unusual… Two disciples here in the Ashram and three outside simultaneously had rare experiences as a result of what had happened.

A marked difference has now come in our Yoga. Things that were easy are now achieved without effort. Things that appeared difficult appear easy. Things impossible seem now achievable and likely.

The pouring of the Supermind is constant, but at Balcony time every morning it is more concentrated.

People have been here twenty to thirty years—talking of the Supermind’s coming and prepared for it, as it were—yet they did not notice it when it came!

The manifestation was a cosmic phenomenon and I took time to return to this individual self and it was difficult to speak the first word.

In half an hour I formulated the whole experience and wrote it down.

22 May 1956

The Mother: Things are now all changed for me—radically changed.

Indra Sen: How, Mother?

The Mother: Previously everything worked under the pressure of the Mind of Light. Sri Aurobindo secured this working when he left his body. Now it is the Supermind that directly guides and governs. The manifestation is just over two and a half months old and yet a new situation—an absolutely new situation—has come into being.

What has happened now I call a manifestation and not a descent, because it is not an individual event: the Supermind has burst forth into universal play. It has become a principle at constant work upon all earth—a possibility of a general order, as when the mind was first diffused over the earth.

*

Surendra Singh Chouhan’s Review of J. B. P. More’s A Critique of Modern Civilisation and Thought: Facts, Non-facts and Ideas

Title: A Critique of Modern Civilisation and Thought: Facts, Non-facts and Ideas. Author: J. B. P. More. Publisher: TLPMS & Illakiya, Pondicherry. Number of pages: 197.

A SPIRITED RATIONAL ENCOUNTER WITH MODERN CIVILISATION AND THOUGHT

we are the hollow men
we are the stuffed men
shape without form
shade without colour

T. S. ELIOT

J.B.P. More, the distinguished author of this book A Critique of Modern Civilisation and Thought  has scanned clinically in depth the follies and flaws in all the ethos that we have come to understand about modern/western civilisation and thought. The learned and well informed author with incisive analysis has torn apart many inbuilt myths and illusions of this civilisation. He has done so with proven evidence and indisputable hard facts. He has passionately argued with clear ray of reason that the modern way of life and culture is the product of endless greed, insatiable lust for power and savage competitive instincts. This has resulted not only in the destruction of one another but also in the obliteration of whole cultures, languages, religions and civilisations and peoples. This has happened in the American continent, in Africa, in Asia and elsewhere, in the name of certain unscientific western ideas, values and ideologies and the physical and psychological colonisation of other people’s lands and minds since the sixteenth century by the westerners.

The historiographer author seems to have entered the essential core of modern civilisation and thought and, in the process, has discovered the hidden dark circles in them. The shell is all dazzling outside but there is something drastically wrong as we travel deeper into the core of the modern values, lifestyle and structure… the author moves in and around this gigantic structure put up by megalomaniac individuals, craving for power and domination, and underpins the follies and foibles of modern civilisation from diverse perspectives and aspects.

The central thesis of the book is based on facts and non-facts. The author holds that facts like the law of gravity do not create problems, but non-facts or ideas, invented by the brains of men are bound to create problems at various levels as they are virus-infected. The brain is structured to deal with facts and not with abstract non-facts of its own creation. Abstract non-facts can never become facts. The author seems to hold that ideas and ideologies pollute the mind and human relationships and creates never-ending tensions, conflicts and wars in society and the world.

The author strongly holds that all that we have valued about modern civilisation and thought have not solved the miseries of man and has proved itself to be pathetically deficient at various levels of existence since the past two centuries. The author has amplified energetically the shortcomings and fallacies of various aspects of this civilisation and culture through 25 well argued essays, preceded by a long Introduction, which criticises and refutes a broad spectrum of modern thought, theories and concepts.

Colonisation and exploitation have been the bane of this civilisation.The rampant devastation of the diverse social , political, cultural, linguistic and economic fabric of the people who inhabited the vast continents in favour of a strait-jacket ideology, system, culture, economics and politics, promoted by power-hungry megalomaniacs is a tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes. It all began in the 16th century. The so called explorers and the travellers have been the inaugurators of this civilisation the world over. Vasco da Gama and Columbus heads this list, backed by the expansionist designs of the Popes and the European monarchs. The vast populace of the various continents was held captive and became victims of the unspeakable horrors of killings and destruction in Africa and the Americas especially– Black people became slave commodities while the Red Indians were robbed of their lands and exterminated during the expansionist phase of this civilisation. So called progress made by the advent of Industrialisation, technology and capitalism brought in its wake enormous disparity between the peoples and nations, caused innumerable wars in which millions were slaughtered. The author has supported his standpoints and pronouncements with irrefutable facts and historical evidences. The list of calamities and outrageous misdeeds of the so called purveyors of modern civilisation is endless. Western civilisation and the scientists who are deemed to be its pillars promised much, but they cannot put an end to the triple miseries of man i.e. sickness, old age and death. Instead they talk of going to the moon, Mars and Venus as if Paradise is located there! And they spend enormous amount of money to go there! But on earth, the vast masses of people are held in subjection and in utter inequality through various means and pretexts.

As Sri Aurobindo observed in His magnum opus Savitri ‘An idiot hour destroys what centuries made’. This was precisely done by the successive two world wars and the other wars that had followed them, which exposed the hollowness and fragility of western values and the so called high moral stand of the modern/western civilisation’s ethos.

Unbridled arms race and proliferation, wars after wars and killings after killings of human beings in various parts of the world, destruction of animal, bird and aquatic species, forests, lakes and glaciers, the eco-system and the climate, pollution of air, water and earth, never-ending inequalities and injustices in society are some of the appalling consequences of the so called ‘progressive’ capitalist western civilisation within the space of just two centuries…This is what the author has tried to impress upon the readers in page after page of this monumental book.

The author in his profound deliberations, which are far reaching in range and scope, has dealt heavy blows on the various features of the western civilisation and thought by unflappable reasoning and sound assessment. On the whole, his work is a strong indictment of modern civilisation.

The holistic ambiance was totally missing in the birth and growth of modern civilisation and thoughts – and instead, there was a wholesale violent assault on other people’s lands, cultures, wealth and civilisations. It seems, on reading in between the lines of the book, that the author is gifted with “Seeing Intelligence ” which implies that he probed with sharp eyes the deeper malaise that impacted and infected the psyche of the modern/western civilisation and thoughts. A series of well documented facts recorded in pages after pages of the book has effectively de-glamorised the myths and fantasies surrounding the so called high achievements of this civilisation as the sole torch bearer of progress. The author, admittedly, is a neutral observer of the global scene. He has studied the rise and fall of the civilisations. He is well versed in the rhythm of the upward and downward curve of the past and modern thoughts, armed with this supernal understanding he has given to the readers altogether a new unflattering perspective of modern civilisation. It was necessary to chart this course of the maddening ways of this civilisation and its modes of thoughts to warn us about the pitfalls of this complex illusory cobweb of ideas and ideologies of progress which can never bring about peace and harmony in the individual, and in the society.

When the first man dared death and suffered life , it was, as it were , preordained that he and his countless future generations would create endless and diverse forms of cultures, civilisations and modes of thought and so it happened. Again the millenniums passed by and the river banks became the nursery of the great civilisations and cultures.Thought became dominant. The cycles moved on and then came the middle ages and the age of new theories and scientific inventions. Charles Darwin propounded the theory of evolution which declared that only the fittest will survive in the ongoing march of the civilisations. Darwin only announced the evolution of forms not what lay behind the evolutionary complexity of forms. But the westerners caught upon Darwin’s speculation as a scientific fact and used it to justify all their past deeds like colonisation, slavery, extermination and even capitalism. Besides certain ideas invented by western scholars like the notion and superiority of the Aryan race resulted in the terrible holocaust in Germany, the idea and gospel of “Superman” by Nietzsche gave rise to the self aggrandizement of its supporters. J.B.P.More through convincing arguments exposes in this book the pitfalls of inventing irresponsible abstract ideas and ideologies.

As Michel Danino noted that the barely three-century-old Western scientific and technological civilisation, which has erected dazzling constructions on the foundations of greed and plunder is now showing all the signs of advanced decay, its “red evening” is already deepening into a sickening night. On his part, the French thinker Pierre Thuiller has rebuked sharply thus – Westerners remain convinced that their mode of life is the privileged and definitive incarnation of Civilisation. They are unable to understand that this “civilisation has become as fragile as an eggshell…In their eyes, a society is dead only when it is physically destroyed… They do not realize that the decay of a civilisation is inner before anything else … the modern civilisation lives by the moment…” J.B.P.More in his turn has dug deep into the western civilisation and thoughts and portrays its fallacies and dangers in no uncertain terms.

The significant purpose of this book is not only to educate people but also to enlighten them about the essential true history, culture and civilisation, based on facts as opposed to the history as we know of and as we are told, which have been essentially built upon ideas, values and ideologies. It is ‘Grace à’ Monsieur J.B.P.More that we have a unbiased first-hand report of various facets of ‘modern civilisation and thought’ and the havoc wrought by it in the past two centuries. It is also the first large scale attempt to critique modern/western civilisation from a neutral stand-point. The style is aphoristic, conversational and crisp. The different themes are deftly handled with sustained restraint. J.B.P.More has succeeded in putting across the message with telling effect logically and with a high degree of historical perception, consciousness and responsibility… It is for the readers of this book to reflect upon the observations made by the author in every page of this book, written so effortlessly and passionately.

*

About the reviewer: Surendra Singh Chouhan is an ex-student of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education (SAICE); after finishing his Higher Course he taught for a year in SAICE. He is an international educator and a frequent visiting trainer and faculty in the world of academia who had taught Philosophy to the Chinese students in Shanghai under the auspices of Shanghai Normal University. Presently he is hired by a multinational Chinese company to oversee its corporate interests in Sri Lanka, Nepal and India.

*

Photographs of the Mother taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson

henri

Dear Friends,

Considered to be the father of photojournalism, Henri Cartier-Bresson (22 August 1908—3 August 2004) was a world-famous French photographer who co-founded ‘Magnum Photos’ along with Robert Capa, David Seymour, George Rodger and William Vandivert. He spent more than thirty years on assignments for the Life magazine and other journals. He documented some of the great upheavals of the twentieth century which included the Spanish Civil War, the liberation of Paris in 1944, Mahatma Gandhi’s funeral in 1948, the fall of the Kuomintang administration in China, the student rebellion at Paris in 1968 to name a few. His published works include reputed titles like The Photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson (1947), The Decisive Moment (1952), The Europeans (1955), People of Moscow (1955), China in Transition (1956), Photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson (1963), About Russia (1973), etc.

In April 1950 Henri Cartier-Bresson had visited Pondicherry and taken several photographs of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Some of his photographs of the Mother were uploaded in the online forum of Overman Foundation on 13 April 2014. As the second installment of the ongoing pictorial tribute to the Mother, some more photographs of Her taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson in April 1950 have been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

*

8_13

8_12

8_14

8_15

8_17

8_22

140_2

140_3

140_4

140_5

140_6

140_7

140_8

140_9

140_10

140_11

140_13*

Photographs courtesy: Ms. Tara Jauhar

*

The Mother’s Photographs with the Early Inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram

Mother

Dear Friends,

21 February 2016 marks the 138th Birth Anniversary of the Mother. As our special homage to Her, some photographs of the Mother with the early inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, have been uploaded in the online forum of Overman Foundation. While some of these inmates were renowned intellectuals and artists, there were many who were silent and dedicated workers who never came under the limelight but were an integral part of the golden period of the Ashram.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

*

DattaThe Mother with Dorothy Hodgson alias Datta

031The Mother with Charu Chandra Dutt

Mother with Nolini Kanta GuptaThe Mother with Nolini Kanta Gupta

Mother with AmritaThe Mother with K. Amrita

Mother with PremanandThe Mother with Premanand Shukla

Mother with Prithwi SinghThe Mother with Prithwi Singh Nahar

32_130The Mother with Dyuman

149_9The Mother with K. D. Sethna alias Amal Kiran

200 f - 0055-1The Mother with Dilip Kumar Roy

Mother with PujalalThe Mother with Pujalal

Mother with Sudhir Sarkar 1 Nov 1954The Mother with Sudhir Kumar Sarkar

sahana_and_motherThe Mother with Sahana Devi

281The Mother with Sisir Kumar Mitra

01437_bThe Mother with Champaklal Purani

46436_562414600484372_789773379_nThe Mother with Dr. Nirodbaran Talukdar

1779837_669064223149834_791905510_nThe Mother with Udar Pinto and Charu Chandra Mukherjee (Bula)

10614364_763683140337067_7624502704777569291_nThe Mother with Pavitra

AB puraniThe Mother with Ambalal Balakrishna Purani

full - 0201-1The Mother with Vasudha Shah

Mother blessing Kapali Sastry 1951The Mother blessing T.V. Kapali Sastry

Mother blessing Violette in 1951The Mother with Violette (wife of Dr. Indra Sen)

Mother giving blessings to Satyakarma (also seen Chimanbhai, Champaklal and Kamala)The Mother with Satyakarma; also seen Chimanbhai, Champaklal and Kamalaben

Mother with AmbuThe Mother with Ambalal Patel alias Ambu

Mother with BenjaminThe Mother with Benjamin

Mother with Dr Upendra BanerjeeThe Mother with Dr. Upendra Nath Banerjee

Mother with Dr. Upen Banerji, Shyama, HarikantThe Mother with Dr. Upendra Nath Banerjee, Shyama and Harikant Patel

Mother with Dyuman, Rasendran, CounoumaThe Mother with Dyuman and P. Counouma

Mother with GangadharThe Mother with Gangadhar

Mother with HaradhanThe Mother with Haradhan Bakshi

Mother with NishikantoThe Mother with Nishikanto Roychowdhury

Mother with MP PanditThe Mother with M. P. Pandit

With Mona PintoThe Mother with Mona Pinto

Mother with Manoranjan GangulyThe Mother with Manoranjan Ganguly

969052_565346453504071_1993775561_nThe Mother with Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya

Mother and AbhayThe Mother and Abhay Singh Nahar

With Sujata NaharThe Mother with Sujata Nahar

1235967_584308834961615_342673482_nThe Mother with Gauri Bhattacharya

*

Photographs courtesy: Ms. Tara Jauhar, Ms. Gauri Pinto and the Archives of Overman Foundation.

Bokul Sarkar: In Memoriam

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dear Friends,

On Saturday, 9 January 2016, Bokul Sarkar, the youngest daughter of Shanti and Nolini Kanta Sarkar left her physical body at the age of eighty. Nolini Kanta Sarkar (28 September 1889—18 May 1984) was a reputed writer, journalist, singer of humourous songs (including parodies) and editor of noted magazines of the bygone era like Bijoli and Betar Jagat (the fortnightly journal of Indian State Broadcasting Service). A dear friend of Dilip Kumar Roy and Kazi Nazrul Islam and a close associate of Barindra Kumar Ghosh (noted revolutionary and Sri Aurobindo’s youngest brother) he visited Pondicherry to meet Sri Aurobindo in March 1921 and stayed with him in his residence at 41 François Martin Street, better known as the ‘Guest House’. He visited Pondicherry again in February 1930 for the Darshan of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. After his retirement in 1944 he wrote to Nolini Kanta Gupta, the Secretary of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, seeking permission from the Mother to join the Ashram with his family as permanent inmates. When the Mother inquired from Sri Aurobindo about his identity, Sri Aurobindo replied: “He is my old disciple.” The Mother then asked Nolini Kanta Sarkar to wait for four more years.

Nolini Kanta visited Pondicherry a couple of times between November 1944 and August 1947. As a result of Dilip Kumar Roy’s efforts, he along with his wife Shanti and two daughters Gitika and Bokul were accepted by the Mother as permanent inmates of the Ashram. They left Kolkata on 16 February 1948 and arrived at Pondicherry for good on the 19th. He worked in the Bengali section of the Ashram Press and also taught Bengali to the students of the Higher Course of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education.

Bokul Sarkar was born on 19 April 1935. The early years of her life were spent in the company of reputed poets and playwrights of Bengal who, being Nolini Kanta’s friends, showered infinite love and affection on her and Gitika, her elder sister. She visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram for the first time with her father and Gitika in April 1946. After completing her education from the Ashram School she worked in the Bengali Section of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Library for several years until ill-health compelled her to retire.

Bokul was a darling of Sahana Devi and Dilip Kumar Roy who were extremely fond of her melodious and soul-capturing voice. She learnt music from both the maestros and was one of those few capable singers who could render Dilip Kumar Roy’s songs keeping his unique style intact. Bestowed with a nature that was as sweet as honey, she had a grandmotherly affection and concern for one and all. She loved to cook and feed people and one could not help but marvel at her culinary skills. She was a hesitant speaker since she was a shy person by nature; but as soon as she overcame the initial inhibitions she would turn out to be a delightful conversationalist who shared with us memories of the bygone eras with so much precision that talking to her was as good as reading a book. Yet she was one of those rare individuals who never criticized anyone. But what stood apart as the most noteworthy trait of her personality was her inner strength with which she dealt with the dreaded disease of throat cancer which compelled her to cease singing. She knew that death was approaching but was never afraid of it. The only thing she was afraid of was the possibility of physical immobility and helplessness. She wanted to leave her body without any pain and suffering. And her wish was fulfilled.

On Saturday, 9 January 2016, Bokul went to the washroom where she puked blood and passed on to the Beyond. The end came at around 7 in the morning. She left quietly just as she had lived.

Yet she continues to live—in the hearts of those who loved her and whom she loved—for it is impossible to eradicate the fragrance of her existence from our inner selves.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

*

210Nolini Kanta [seated at the back with his youngest daughter Bokul], Kazi Nazrul Islam, Barada Charan Mazumdar, Upendranath Banerjee and Dilip Kumar Roy.

Mother with Bokul Sarkar on 11.10.54The Mother with Bokul Sarkar

62Nolini Kanta with Sahana Devi; seated in front his daughters Gitika and Bokul.

72Nolini Kanta with his daughters Gitika and Bokul.

92Nolini Kanta with his daughters Gitika and Bokul.

*

Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee appointed Chevalier in the Ordre des Palmes Academques

AVT_Prithwindra-Mukherjee_5336

Dear Friends,

In 2009, proposed by the French Minister of Culture, Paris-based famous researcher and author Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee was appointed Chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, in the presence of Swami Veetamohananda of the Centre Védantique, of His Excellency Ranjan Mathur, Ambassador India, of the veteran composer Henri Dutilleux, of Professor Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat, of Bikas Sanyal, Director of the Maison de l’Inde. Gérard Pédraglio, represented Jacques Attali, and offered the medal to Dr. Mukherjee.

Proposed by the French Minister of Education, of Higher Studies and Research, by decree of 1st January 2015, the French Prime Minister appointed Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee Chevalier in the Ordre des Palmes Academques.

Madame Alphonsine Poujade, President of the Association of Membres the Ordre des Palmes académiques (14th District) organised a ceremony at the Maison du Canada (Cité Universitaire), on 22 January 2016 and, after a concert of piano, violins and cello, offered the medal to Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee.

unnamed

In a simple and touching speech, Dr. Mukherjee thanked the authorities and presented the highlights of his contribution as a cultural bridge between India and France.

We congratulate Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee for this rare honour. Not only is he the pride of Bengal but of entire India.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

*

Sir C. R. Reddy’s Tributes to Sri Aurobindo

Dear Friends,

Sir Cattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy (C. R. Reddy) was born to Subramania Reddy in the village of Cattamanchi in the Chittoor District on 10 December 1880. After a brilliant academic career at the Madras Christian College, he went to England with a Government of India scholarship and joined St. John’s College at Cambridge in 1902. Having secured a First Class in History Tripos, he toured U.S.A. before returning to India where he succeeded Sri Aurobindo as the Vice-Principal of the Baroda College in 1908. In 1913 he joined the Maharaja’s College at Mysore as a professor of History and was promoted as the Principal of the same college in 1916. He was also appointed Inspector-General of Education in the Mysore State. When the Andhra University was established he was selected as its first Vice-Chancellor; under his able leadership and guidance, the university became an extraordinary centre of higher education and research. However in 1930 he resigned from his services as a mark of protest against the repressive policy of the British Government and was succeeded by Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. He rejoined Andhra University as the Vice-Chancellor in 1936 and retained this position till 1949. In 1937 he was nominated to the Upper House along with the Vice-Chancellors of the Madras and Annamalai Universities. In July 1948 he went to England to attend the Conference of Empire Universities. In 1949 he joined the University of Mysore as the Pro-Chancellor. Knighted by the British Government for his services, C. R. Reddy passed away on 24 February 1951 due to uraemia.

On 11 December 1948 the Andhra University awarded the University’s Sir Cattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy National Prize to Sri Aurobindo which was presented to him in his room in the Ashram main building on 20 December by Sir C. R. Reddy.

Soon after his visit to Pondicherry, Sir C. R. Reddy had penned an article on Sri Aurobindo titled The Ashram of Sri Aurobindo: An Impression and Interpretation which had appeared in the Mother India, the monthly review of culture published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, on 3 September 1949. This article along with his tribute to Sri Aurobindo paid during the Convocation at the Andhra University in December 1948 and some correspondence between Sri Aurobindo, Nolini Kanta Gupta, Krishna Kumarsinhji and Sir C. R. Reddy have been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

*

Mr. Chancellor, our object in founding the National Prize was to bring about association between the members of the University and the inspiring personalities of contemporary India—they that make history and will live in history as permanent lights that lead us through the encircling gloom. If that was our object, we have reached the summit of realisation today by the kindly acceptance of this offering of ours by Sri Aurobindo. We are not awarding; we are making an offering. If it is due to the eminent merit in Humanities of Sri Aurobindo that we are paying him this tribute, his acceptance of it is the climax of the good fortune of the Andhra University and its blessing.

Amongst the Saviours of Humanity

In all humility of devotion, I hail Sri Aurobindo as the sole sufficing genius of the age. He is more than the hero of a nation. He is amongst the Saviours of humanity, who belong to all ages and all nations, the Sanatanas, who leaven our existence with their eternal presence, whether we are aware of it or not.

The Rishi tradition is the most glorious and priceless feature of Hindu culture. Its origin is lost in mystic antiquity, but its flow has never ceased. It will continue its sublime course till it mingles itself with eternity. We had Rishis in the Vedic era. And then a succession of Seers, of whom Gautama Siddhartha, the fairest flower and fulfilment of humanity, towers to the highest heaven, and the Sages of the Upanishads, Mahavira, Nanak, Ramdas, the inspirer of Shivaji, and in our own times, Dayananda Saraswati, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharshi, and he to whom we are today presenting our National Prize, Sri Aurobindo.

A great Frenchman has hailed Sri Aurobindo as the last of our Rishis. Really, he is the most recent, for in this world of death and sorrow, Rishis are an undying race of bliss. And they pulsate every now and again with far-flashing revelations like those wonderful stars which astronomers call the Light-houses of the Celestial Regions.

Sri Aurobindo excels in the range and compass of his genius. He is a poet, dramatist, philosopher, critic, interpreter and commentator of the Vedas, the Gita, and all the transcendent lore and legend of India, and he is something higher than these, the Saint who has realised his oneness with the Universal Spirit, and has fathomed the depths and brought up treasures of transcendent value and brilliance. But these many aspects of Sri Aurobindo possess an organic unity of thought, impulse and purpose. They all reflect in their several phases the light of eternity that is in him.

I am not going to narrate the life of Sri Aurobindo, as chronologically lived. Our Professor, Mr. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar’s splendid biography of Sri Aurobindo is there for all to read. A book written in a style of superlative charm and power, and one which could without exaggeration be regarded as a masterpiece in English literature. Perhaps I may recall by way of pardonable vanity and the petty desire to shine in Sri Aurobindo’s reflected light, that we are both Cambridge men, he very much my senior, and that I succeeded him as the Vice-Principal of the Baroda College. I had the honour of knowing him, though scantily, in his Purva-Ashrama. We had a number of friends in common. Mr. A. B. Clark, the Principal of the Baroda College, remarked to me, “So you met Aurobindo Ghose. Did you notice his eyes? There is mystic fire and light in them. They penetrate into the beyond.” 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, the 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? The Alipore Jail, where he was consigned to solitude and meditation for a year, marks a turning-point in Sri Aurobindo’s career. The British Government had bound his body and liberated his soul. They did not mean it, but the best things that we do are, not infrequently, done unwittingly, spontaneously. Body enslaved, soul set free, that was the paradox of his incarceration. It was there that his first mystic experiences and direct perception of the Eternal Truths, which according to our Sphota theory are ever present, floating as it were in the space that envelops the Universe, occurred. Beginning to realise himself he retired to Pondicherry in 1910. Can a Rishi ever retire? He may retire in body; very often the retirement of the body is the prelude to the soul ascending the heights of heaven and ranging over the entire globe. His physical being is in Pondicherry; but his influence, can we set limits to it in space or in time? His Ashram, one of the beacon-lights of the world, attracts the devout and the serious-minded without distinction of race and country. Judged by temporal standards he is seventy-six years old, but really time cannot touch him, or earth and its impurities. His soul is like a star and dwells apart.

Unison of Literature, Metaphysics and Sadhana of Realisation

In Sri Aurobindo, literature, metaphysics, and the Sadhana of realisation, are a spiral ascending from Earth to Heaven in mutual support and unison. In the superb summary of Mr. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, “the Seer has fronted reality; the Poet has hymned his ‘Gloried Fields of trance’, the Philosopher has sought to interpret the vision in terms of reason; the Yogi has formulated a method, a multiform technique, for achieving the desired change in consciousness; the sociologist has thrown out significant hints in regard to the organisation of tomorrow’s world; and the creative critic has sensed the rhythms of the ‘future poetry’ and described how the ‘new’ poet will ride on the wings of an elemental spirituality and articulate the ineluctable rhythms of the Spirit.”

As a poet Sri Aurobindo ranks high. In that most difficult of all forms of prosody, the Blank Verse, which under inartistic hands has a fatal tendency to become prose, he has a place all his own, which is among the highest. “Urvasie”, and “Love and Death”, and “Savitri”, a legend and a symbol, are in charm and beauty without a parallel in English Literature. “Ahana” and “Dawn over Ilion” are masterpieces in Hexameter, a classical metre difficult to transplant in modern soils. “Savitri” is rising and growing, and has not yet reached the full flush of her grace and beauty, and when it does, it will have given a new colouring, a new life and attraction to the immortal legend of the Mahabharata.

In many of his works of criticism, interpretations of the Veda and the Gita, he has combined vast research with the intuition of a poet, the reflection of a philosopher and the vision of a Rishi. He has a sentence that will serve to inspire the United Nations Organisation and give it spiritual ground and hope — “Evolution moves through diversity from a simple to a complex oneness. Unity the race moves towards, and must one day realise.” It is a fine phrase “complex oneness” and a far-reaching ray or hope and comfort though today we are all overwhelmed by the complexity and do not seem to be nearing oneness except under the devastating might of the Atom Bomb.

Sri Aurobindo’s faith in the sure but slow evolution of human unity in harmonious diversity is too robust to be dwarfed or defeated by hard, stubborn facts. Rather it is a faith that is out to conquer fact and remould it nearer to the heart’s desire. He is of the race of prophets who see the present as but a transitory moment that should not be allowed to overcome the optimism of man.

Prophet of the Life Divine

It is not as a man of letters or of philosophy, that Sri Aurobindo reaches his unique eminence; but it is as a Yogi who has caught the light and reflects it in blissful abundance. He is the Prophet of the Life Divine, to him it is an experience and not mere idea. This experience could be shared by others. The nature of his spiritual quest, which led to his great conquest, he thus described in a letter to C. R. Das who defended him in the Alipore trial—“I see more and more manifestly that man cannot get out of the futile cycle the race is always treading, until he has raised himself to a new foundation. How could our present instruments, intellect, life, mind, body, be made true and perfect channels for this great transformation? This was the problem I have been trying to work out in my own experience and I have now a sure basis, a wide knowledge, and some mastery of the secret.”

He presents his gospel in a book that is a landmark in the history of human thought and aspiration, “The Life Divine”, which Sir Francis Younghusband has acclaimed as the “greatest book published in my generation”. Pythagoras spoke of the Music of the Heavens. Here is the Music of Humanity, no longer still sad, ascending to Heaven. Sri Aurobindo believes that we shall evolve into a higher state of being; and this evolution will enable us to overcome the limitations and miseries of our present existence and lead us to a world whose course is equable and pure—a life of harmony and bliss. This process of evolution is actual. It is operating steadily here and now, and will not stop short of fulfilling itself. In due course, Man will attain the New Life, in which pains and sorrows will have no existence and death no sting.

Sri Aurobindo relieves our despair by the certainty of this advent. In the world of death, he, the Immortal, gives us the assurance of Immortality. The world has need of Thee, Sri Aurobindo, and that is why Thou art with us still.

Mr. Chancellor, I now request you, on behalf of the Andhra University, to be so good as to make the offering of this National Prize, with which it is my unmerited good fortune to have my name linked, in absentia to Sri Aurobindo. I doubt, though, if the term, in absentia, is properly applicable. For though Sri Aurobindo leads a life of rigorous seclusion, rarely seeing people or being seen by people, yet thousands of devotees in all parts of the world feel him as a real presence. He is not of the earth and does not mix with the earth, but heaven envelops us all. So, Mr. Chancellor, honour the University, and if you don’t think it impertinent of me to say so, honour yourself by awarding the Sir Cattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy National Prize to Sri Aurobindo.

Source: Mother India, 19 February 1949,

*

The Ashram of Sri Aurobindo: An Impression and Interpretation

C. R. Reddy

Through a series on unpremeditated events, a power beyond me drew me last December to Sri Aurobindo and the Holy Mother at their Pondicherry Ashram. I spent a few days there in an atmosphere of inspired bliss. Probably I was beside myself most of the time. Something higher gripped me. Most reluctantly I left the place. Fondly I dwell in memory on the unmerited but wonderful reception I was accorded through causeless grace of the Master and the ineffable tenderness of the Mother.

I do not wish to dwell on this occasion on matters pertaining to inner life. The theme of this paper is the objective nature and significance of the Ashram and the thoughts it evoked in me. It has a significance not only for the Hindus but for entire humanity. There is nothing specially Hindu in Sri Aurobindo’s teachings and discipline. The soul is not Hindu. God is not Hindu. They are Universals. The origin of a particular creed may be traced to a particular height with localisation in time and in geography, but the Ganges and sister rivers of like power for holiness all flow into the same ocean of eternity.

The teachings and discipline of the Ashram have had their source in the mystic heights of Vedic culture, but God is one; man is one. The truths of the soul transcend limitations of body, race, time and space. They have universal, eternal application.

In the Ashram there are pious men and pious women, who by birth belong to various faiths; naturally Hindus mostly, because of the attraction of neighbourhood and of inherited culture. There are Christians, Zoroastrians, Muslims and members of other creeds. But in conviction and in life, these many have been fused into one. Therefore, the faith acquired in the Ashram—a faith which does not negative reason—is a common possession of all. In the discipline they have adopted for the growth and fruition of their lives, they are one. It is the unity of harmony, not of mechanical uniformity and monotony, that makes for the orchestral swell of a heavenly music.

Misguided Questions About Sri Aurobindo

It is a pity that the nature of Sri Aurobindo Ashram is not universally understood. Where it is not understood, it cannot be appreciated. We have had a few critics, who, in my opinion, have not understood and therefore could not appreciate.

One of them wondered how Sri Aurobindo, a Yogi and a Sanyasi, (apparently synonymous terms to him), could have sent his famous message to the Andhra University, when at the recent Convocation, it did itself the honour of conferring its National Prize on him for Eminent Merit in Humanities. The “eminent” should have been “supreme”. He argued: “Aurobindo has renounced the world. Why then does he want to sponsor the idea of linguistic provinces and other affairs? Is this all C.R. Reddy’s forgery?” Apparently his idea is that Sri Aurobindo should have nothing to do with the world, as according to him, he had renounced it. After divorce one should not visit his wife!

Another critic, writing more recently, could not understand why Sri Aurobindo, the mystic, leads a mysterious life at Pondicherry, giving darshan to people only on a few selected occasions, and refusing to undergo publicity. He is a Star, no doubt; but should he not be a Cinema-star? He even insinuates that the Mother is everything there and the Master almost nothing.

I do not wish to answer point by point. In his preface to his Pro Vita Sua, Cardinal Newman ably exposed the inadequacy of point by point replies in dealing with controversies relating to the field of the Soul and Spirit. What is required is explaining, so far as this could be done by language and by human thought which have their limitations, the nature of the life lived and involved. If that cannot explain and convince, nothing else would. Where that fails, logic cannot succeed.

This is not the first time that Sri Aurobindo delivered messages of secular import. He gave a prescient reading of the future when he declared that the liberation of India and of a good bit of the world were contingent on the Allies triumphing over Hitler and his Asuric hordes. He always has been on the side of Suras, the powers of Light, in their battle with Asuras, the powers of darkness. The light he gives is a steady one and permanent. He does not create confusion by hasty opportunism and momentary tactics of a spectacular kind.

The Confusion Between Sanyasi and Rishi

At the root of the misconception that I am trying to dispel is the fallacy that he is a Sanyasi, who has given up the world and therefore, has no right to re-enter it. There is a confusion here between Sanyasi and Rishi. What the critic has said may or may not be true of a Sanyasi but it is not true of a Rishi. Sri Aurobindo is a Rishi.

Renunciation, final, absolute, is not possible for the compassionate. They may renounce this or that which is not compatible with perfect illumination or power, but they cannot give up struggling, sorrow-ridden world without stretching a helping healing hand. The tenderhearted with pity in their souls and power in their hands, cannot be indifferent to the fate of human beings. The Sanyasi may feel that, to be care-free, one has to give up all care for others. That is not the way of the Rishi; nor of a Bodhisatwa, nor of the Master and the Mother at Pondicherry Ashram. If Nirvana is to be entered, it must be after the Mission of Compassion has been fulfilled and not before. And so it is that our saviours possess this trinity of grace—Wisdom, Power and Compassion. They are with us and for us. They look upon this hard earth as the stepping stone to Heaven, and not as its summary, irreconcilable contradiction which must be denounced and renounced.

The Sanyasi that discards clothes and the world is foreign to the Vedic spirit. Renunciation of the world is a creed of later growth and perhaps belong to times when our race had become less virile and had to undergo defeat, despair and despondency. The Rishis were not Sanyasis. Anything but that. They were seers who saw, felt and transmitted the truths they came into contact with—truths eternal, ever-existent, neither made nor unmade by gods. By their spiritual discipline, a natural process and no magic, they sought for and acquired illumination and with it power. Knowledge is power; spiritual knowledge no less than scientific. They lived in the world, and for the world, they retreated to woods and lonely places. Retreat is not renunciation. Though they retired to forests, they had colonies there, peopled not only with men but with women. They grew the most beautiful flowers and the most charming Sakuntalas. They took part in the politics of the day and not infrequently played leading roles. Vashistha guided the Solar dynasties. Vishwamitra was a disturbing factor in his time. If they sought after spiritual illumination and power, it was not to enjoy solitary bliss on the top of inaccessible heights. It was not for attaining Kaivalya or Nirvana; but to be here with us and for us, to help us to improve, and to inflict punishment in case we proved too foolish or too obstinate. Their ideal was more the Bodhisatwa than the Buddha. The ancient Ashrams of the Vashisthas and Vishwamitras, of the Bhrigus and the Angirasas, were brimful of a life of the world which, however, was not worldly; a life on earth that was not earthy, but directed to the good of humanity and its uplift to the stature and status of the bright gods. They welcomed disciples and they received all persons that deserved to be received by their merit. Jabali was of low illegitimate birth but he was a Satya Kama, a lover of truth and was therefore reckoned a Vipra.

Nor were the studies in Ashrams confined to spiritual lore and sacred mysteries. The disciples had to fetch wood not only to feed the sacred fires but the kitchen fires also for feeding the inmates. They brought flowers for worship. Archery and the art of war were fostered. Vishwamitra taught Sri Rama and Lakshmana the use of potent weapons. Agnivasa was the guru of Drona, the Brahmin, who taught the Kauravas and Pandavas without forfeiting his Brahminhood. They trained Kshatriyas in war and weapons so that they might protect our dharma from the aggression of Asuric hordes. Fighting for a righteous cause was not considered to be a degradation of our moral or spiritual nature. The very avatars of gods during their sojourn on earth made blood flow in rivers and swam through them to the eternal gratitude of our race and its devotion.

There was nothing anaemic about the Aryan culture at its best and purest. It is to the immortal credit of Sri Aurobindo that he has tried to re-establish on earth after the lapse of many decadent centuries the true creed and the genuine discipline of the Vedas.

How Sri Aurobindo Unlocked the Secret of the Vedas

In the education of Sri Aurobindo western classics played a leading part. He was a first rate scholar in Greek. Greek and the civilisation of Greece, are twin sisters of Bhasha and ancient Aryanism. Greek seems to have given Sri Aurobindo the key that unlocked the Veda to our generation.

Sri Aurobindo confesses that he does not know why there has been a mystery at the core of every religion; but it is a fact. We may not be able to explain the why and wherefore thereof, but in all religions there seems to be in the depths at the very centre a mystery. In the religion of the Greeks, there was the Eleusinian mystery, to quote but one instance. It is this idea that seems to have led Sri Aurobindo to search for and discover the key to the Vedas.

He had noticed, as all had done, the very close resemblance between the religions of Hesiod, Homer and our Vedas. There was nothing gloomy in either religion. The religion of Hellas teemed with strong Gods and lovely Goddesses who mingled freely with men and women and even entered into matrimonial relationship with them, begetting heroes and heroines, just as they did in Aryavarta in the twilight dawn of history. Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Athene and Aphrodite—are not all these the doubles of the Devas of the Vedic Pantheon? Gods could be defeated by men. The innate spiritual omnipotence of man was thus recognised and symbolised. There was not the same sharp and hopeless separation between heaven and earth as there has been since. Men and women having the blood of Gods and Goddesses in their veins were radiant, powerful and full of hope and joy. Wherever they trod flowers bloomed. They enjoyed life whether in earth or in heaven without fear of thereby forfeiting their right to the highest Swarga or the place to which good beings ascend.

And yet at the core of this bright and breezy religion of the Greeks, there was something deeper, a mystery hidden from the human eye but made clear to the initiates. This mystery was not celebrated as a joyous popular festival but as something solemn, awesome, to be held in secret and far from the madding crowd.

And a further correspondence between Vedic and Hellenic metaphysics: the gods of Greece were subject to an impersonal law and destiny more potent than themselves. Great as they were, there was something greater, more potent. Similarly with us, there was a law of destiny and of Karma supreme over all beings—including the gods. “Even Shiva cannot escape the consequences of his karma.”

Sri Aurobindo, an accomplished scholar in Greek and one who has steeped in the lore of our ancient Vedic culture, struck on the idea that in our case also there must have been a mystery embodied in the Vedas. There was. He discovered it and revealed it to the world.

Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy is in a sense factual. Even in its sublimest flights, it is based on fact, experience and personal realisation, and on seeing like a seer or Rishi. It rises like a pillar of cloud to heaven but it rises from the earth wafted on wings of Sadhana.

Broadly speaking there have been two types of Vedic interpretation, ritualistic and naturalistic. According to the former, by performing the Yagnas and other rites with the appropriate hymns or Mantras, we compel the Gods to give us cattle, horses, and material and other boons that we desire. Even Brahma is obliged, if the Tapas is properly performed, to grant boons, however formidable or even dangerous.

The Naturalistic school, of which Yaska may be regarded as the founder, sees in the Vedic Usha, Vritra, Indra, Agni, Aswins and the other Gods and Goddesses, phenomena of nature personified.

There is a third school, the school of Sri Aurobindo which sees in the Vedic Hymns very real and sublime spiritual truths. When the Rishis performed Yagnas and prayed to Indra for “Go” or “Aswa”, it was not for the paltry purpose of getting a few cows and a few horses. The Vedic mountain did not labour to produce such silly mice. So Go and Aswa must refer to something greater and of far greater significance to man’s life and his progress. Sri Aurobindo proves with wonderful clarity and logic—his spirituality is so inseparably united with reason—that Govu means illumination such as comes from the rays of the sun and Aswa meant not horse but Power. And what for did our Rishis desire acquisition of Illumination and of Power? Not for looking at themselves in a mirror and sitting and brooding over their own beauty like a silly girl; and not to let power remain a bare possession without fruitful application. It was for helping the world and for using them as stages in their yet further progress to the rank and region of the Devas, that they sought Light and they sought Power, sought Omniscience and Omnipotence.

And now we can in some small measure understand the nature of this extraordinary Ashram in which life and the joy of life are mingled in the happy union with spirituality and spiritual progress. It is dug out of the Vedas and planted in Pondicherry.

The Wonderful Mother and the Harmonious Regime

And the wonderful Mother, the presiding genius, and the great Master, the inspiring soul: here we have in perceptible symbol Purusha and Prakriti, giving life, light and joy around.

Early morning the Ashramites assemble in the street overlooked by the balcony from which the gracious Mother gives Darshan; remaining for a while moving about, smiling, looking bright, radiant, a ray of divinity like Usha. If anybody thought that a Holy Mother should cultivate ascetic frigidity and a perpetual scowl as evidence of her spirituality, he would be mistaken. She is not an ascetic. She plays tennis! The Devas are always bright. At this assembly there is a large concourse of men, women and children with bhakti in their hearts and love, light and joy in their looks and talk and behaviour. Nothing gloomy. It is the dawn that dispels the darkness.

At a later hour, the Mother presides like Flora, the Goddess of Flowers, with huge baskets laden with colour and perfume placed before her. Men, women and children, bathed in happy reverence and joyous veneration advance to salute her and receive from her benedictions and flowers. Then the different people foregather in their different circles to talk over the great truths that count; or each retires to his place to meditate and to cultivate psychical discipline and practise sadhana. Sadhana is the way to realise and experience, to perceive, to see and become a seer. This Ashram is no ‘dry as dust’ world. It is a world apart from the world, but existing in it and for it like the Ashrams of our Vedic Rishis. The men and women of the colony have their meals mostly in common. Starvation is not regarded as an essential process for developing spirituality. The food is simple. It is cooked by the women Ashramites. There is enough nourishment and perfect hygiene. And the women find in this service an aid to their Soul’s progress.

There is a dairy where I saw some fine cattle. That is the source of their milk supply.

There is a garden, and the vegetable garden there is one of the best I have seen; and I am not quite a bad judge of gardens and vegetable gardens.

There is a bakery and wholesome bread is assured. Also a laundry and a small soap factory.

Intellectual nourishment is not neglected either. There is a first class printing press equipped with the latest monotype and other machines. And books to read in plenty and a very fine library and a variety of periodicals.

Shabbiness in dress and manners and crude, vulgar conduct are not cultivated as arts leading to the soul’s perfection. Said the great Kalidas: “Shareeram Khalu Dharma Sadhanam” and so the disciples go about dressed in decent clothes, clean, simple and becoming. A guest house is maintained where European conveniences could be had. I hope this will not be regarded as a double transgression of holiness and nationalism.

But in many respects what impressed me most were the educational institutions maintained by the Ashram and the ancient spirit of strength and joy that pervades them. The Mother, the embodiment of grace, light and tenderness, ordered an exhibition of games and physical exercises by the boys and girls of the Ashram Schools. I said to myself, “If all the schools were like this, won’t India be unassailable by internal foes or external?” The parades were excellent. The exercises were gone through not merely efficiently but cheerfully. The girls were dressed in pants and tight-fittings jackets. They performed hazardous exercises like vaulting. Though there was risk of accident to limb, if not to life, they advanced cool, calm, and resolute with bright looks and confident smiles, and went through the exercises without a single hitch or a single failure. Our Sanyasi critics may be aghast that the Mother, who is all grace and tenderness, should have organised our girls, as it were, into a corps of yogic Amazons. But the girls don’t lack the charm and grace of their sex. She told me that it was the Calcutta killings and the bestial abominations perpetrated on our helpless women and children that made her think of organising the students in her schools, boys and girls, into a corps capable of self-defence. At the root is the great Vedic idea that, without a strong body, you cannot have a strong soul, undaunted in danger and ready to perform the great task, the root principle of all Dharma, of defending the weak and helpless.

The Nation’s Need and the Master’s Work

The second criticism is: Why then does Sri Aurobindo shun the world? Why does he not come out and go about? Could we get a more prescient leader or a more powerful? I reply: What is wrong in Sri Aurobindo remaining in seclusion at Pondicherry? Retreat into the “tapovanam” was a frequent way of seeking the right atmosphere for spiritual exercises, concentration and penance. Religious leaders have found in seclusion a potent help for mental and spiritual efficiency and advancement. If the Rishi is spending his time and energy for helping the progress of the world and for equipping himself with the means of achieving that object, what business is it of ours to find fault? For such presumption involves the idea that we are better fitted to tell the Seer what means he should adopt that the Seer himself. I suppose this presumption is due to ignorance more than impertinence. Could not Sri Aurobindo be trusted to know how and by what methods he could carry out his great mission and acquire the needed illumination and power? I for one do not feel myself confident to tell the Master what school he should attend and what lessons he should learn.

Personally, and without meaning to lay down the law for one whose rule I feel I have to accept with implicit obedience, I see no reason why Sri Aurobindo should not, now that India is no longer a dependency, tread our soil once again with his hallowed feet and inspire the millions with his radiant personality. I see no reason. This does not mean that there is no reason. That is for the Master to decide. But Madras and all the cities in India and more specially the stricken provinces of Bengal and the Punjab would like to have his healing touch and his invigorating presence. But it is not for me to prescribe the ways and means. I know that the Master is promoting these and other humanitarian causes not merely in India but all over the globe in his own way and through agencies he deems the best and methods he deems most potent. So I leave it at that, believing where I cannot see.

After four days spent at this contemporary reproduction of the ancient Vedic Ashram, I left Pondicherry to return to Madras. But did I leave? Or was it only my body that left?

Mother India, 3 September 1949.

*

ADDENDUM

Sri Aurobindo’s letter to Sir C. R. Reddy

SRI AUROBINDO ASHRAM.
PONDICHERRY.
July 15, 1948

To
Sir C. R. Reddy
Vice-Chancellor
Andhra University—Waltair

I have been unable to give an early answer to your letter of the 28th June, 1948 which reached me rather late owing to accidental causes. This was due to some hesitation arising from my position as head of the Ashram at Pondicherry. I am not a Sannyasi and my Yoga does not turn away from life; but still I have always followed the rule of not accepting titles, honours or distinctions from any Government or public institution and have rejected or stood back from even the highest when offered to me. But after long consideration I have felt that the distinction which the Andhra University proposes to confer upon me is not of the same character and need not fall within this rule. In any case I do not feel that I can disregard the choice made by the Andhra University in selecting my name for this distinction, and even if things were otherwise, I would have felt that I must accept this as an exceptional case and I could not disregard the choice by an institution like yours of my name for this prize. I authorise you therefore to consider my name for this award and if the University confirms its choice of me, my acceptance of your National Prize. One difficulty remains; you know perhaps that I have been living in entire retirement, appearing in public only on the occasion of the four Darshans on which I receive the inmates of my Ashram and visitors from all parts of India. Otherwise I do not go out of the rooms in which I live and still less ever leave the Ashram or Pondicherry. This makes it impossible for me to go to Waltair to receive the distinction conferred upon me. I would have therefore to ask for an exception to be made in this matter in my case.

Sri Aurobindo

*

Krishna Kumarsinhji (Governor of Madras)’s letter to Sri Aurobindo dated 30 October 1948.

Dear Shri Aurobindo Ghosh

As Chancellor of the Andhra University I have great pleasure in informing you that the Syndicate of the University has resolved to present to you the ‘Cattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy National Prize’ for this year and I would like now to offer the same to you. I sincerely trust that you will be prepared to accept this offer.

With kind regards, I am looking forward to your darshan.

Yours sincerely
Krishna Kumarsinhji

Shri Aurobindo Ghosh
Aurobindo Ashram
Pondicherry

*

Sri Aurobindo’s letter to the Governor of Madras, Chancellor of the Andhra University dated 6 November 1948

Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Pondicherry

To
H. E. The Governor of Madras
Chancellor of the Andhra University

I am in receipt of your letter of 30th October informing me that the Syndicate of the Andhra University has resolved to present to me the “Cattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy National Prize” for this year. I have received with much gratification your offer of this distinction bestowed on me by your University and I am glad to intimate to you my acceptance. I understand from what you say about Darshan that you will personally come to Pondicherry for this purpose and I look forward with much pleasure to seeing and meeting you.

*

C. R. Reddy’s letter to Nolini Kanta Gupta dated 6 November 1948

C. R. Reddy
VICE-CHANCELLOR

ANDHRA UNIVERSITY
Maharanipeta P.O.,
Vizag Dist.
Dated 6th November 48

My dear Sri Nalini Kanta Gupta,

I hope that by now the Master has signified his kindly assent to the offer of award made by His Excellency the Governor-Chancellor. All that I can say is the University has received the crown of honour from sacred hands.

I have already written to you about the date by which, if at all possible, the gracious and inspiring message should reach me.

The actual conferment will be at the Convocation which is to be held on 11th December. I shall deliver the citation of presentation myself.

The Syndicate has resolved that I should go in deputation to Pondicherry and personally present to the Master the Bronze Medallion and the cheque of Rs. 1,116. I beg to know of the date and time that would suit the Master.

I shall be held up for a week after the Convocation, dealing with consequential business. So, any time from the 20th December onwards to the 25th would suit my small convenience. But in this matter the Master’s pleasure is our law.

Please let me have a very early reply.

Yours sincerely
C. R. Reddy

P.S. Though it is only the Vice-Chancellor that is deputed to make this offering, a number of Syndicate members and others connected with the University have expressed their desire to accompany me and pay their deep respects to the Master on the occasion. Naturally I cannot give my consent until permission is received. You may kindly let me know His pleasure on this point also.

*

Governor of Madras’s Letter to Sri Aurobindo dated 8 November 1948

GOVERNMENT HOUSE
Guindy,
8th November 1948

Dr. C. R. Reddy National Prize—Andhra University

Dear Shri Aurobindo Ghosh,

Thank you very much indeed for your letter dated November 6th accepting the Dr. C. R. Reddy National Prize. It is a source of great gratification both to myself and to the Andhra University that you have agreed to accept the prize.

To my very great regret I find myself unable to go to Pondicherry in the near future and since the prize has to be awarded by the time of the University Convocation early next month, the Vice-Chancellor Dr. C. R. Reddy will be proceeding to Pondicherry to present the prize to you.

I hope to be able to come to Pondicherry and have your Darshan some time as early as possible.

With kind regards

Yours sincerely
Krishna Kumarsinhji

*

Sri Aurobindo’s letter to C. R. Reddy dated 5 December 1948

To
Shree C. R. Reddy
Vice-Chancellor, Andhra University

I am sending herewith the message. But it has developed to an excessive length nearer to half-an-hour’s reading than to the minimum five minutes. I hope that the theme which, I am told, is still somewhat controversial, will not be thought for that reason ill-suited to the occasion and that the length of time required will not be found unmanageable. I have felt some scruples on these two points and would be glad to be reassured that it is otherwise.

Sri Aurobindo

*

C. R. Reddy’s letter to the Mother dated 22 December 1948

C. R. Reddy

No. 2, Taylor’s Road,
Kilpauk P.O.
Madras—10
22nd December 1948

Esteemed and Holy Mother,

I reached home this morning at 6.30 A.M. and immediately telegraphed my safe arrival and deep obligation to you, Sri Aurobindo, and all, for your infinite kindness to me during my recent visit.

The ‘Hindu’ and the ‘Mail’ and the ‘Indian Express’ have all published my Press Communique on the tender of the National Prize to the Master and his gracious acceptance thereof.

I am very, very sorry to have to report to you that my dear daughter’s pains and sufferings have been worse during the last two and a half days, and are exceedingly, tragically trying to my feelings. May we all beseech your Grace, to improve her condition and render her free from these agonising pains and sufferings. Pray excuse the liberty of this request, made by an afflicted heart to the Great Mother.

With my pranams to yourself and Sri Aurobindo.

Ever yours devotedly
(C. R. REDDY)

*

C. R. Reddy’s letter to the Mother dated 9 September 1949

C. RAMALINGA REDDY
VICE-CHANCELLOR, ANDHRA UNIVERSITY,
WALTAIR

9.9.49

My dear Mother,

Herewith a small coin of my life, minted in Your Ashram, for the gracious acceptance of Yourself and the master as a token and tribute of my devotion.

Ever Thine
C. R. Reddy

*

C. R. Reddy’s Telegram to the Mother

EXPRESS

MOTHER
ASHRAM
PONDICHERRY

DEEPLY GRIEVED BY THE PASSING AWAY OF SRI AUROBINDO. ONE OF THE GREATEST LIGHTS OF THE WORLD HAS BEEN EXTINGUISHED BUT IT WILL CONTINUE TO SHINE BY REFLECTION FROM YOU AND THE DISCIPLES
C. R. REDDY

*

C. R. Reddy’s letter to the Mother dated 5 December 1950

University of Mysore

Pro-Chancellor C. R. Reddy

West Lake
Yelwal Road
Mysore

Tel. No. 885
Tel. Add.: Pro-Chancellor

5th December, 1950

Dear Revered Mother,

I was stunned to hear this morning the radio announcement of the setting of the Sri Aurobindo Sun—stunned and staggered. There is a gloom in my soul and also on the world. Persons of Sri Aurobindo type appear but rarely in our midst. They come with a mission and they depart when they feel that their mission has been fulfilled or that they had arranged for the mission to continue through their disciples.

Agaram Rangiah, a Mysorean, who paid his respects to the master and you during the recent Darshan, told me that Sri Aurobindo was not looking quite well and that in consequence, the auspicious function had to be hurried through. But there was no anxiety on the score of Sri Aurobindo’s health.

Well, one of the great lights of the modern world has suffered extinction or is it only obscuration? But won’t the light continue to be reflected under your direction by the many mirrors moulded and polished by the Master’s hand? I am confident that his teachings and the lesson of his life will continue to be spread by you and the disciples. Truth is eternal. It is caught and transmitted by the Rishis of whom Sri Aurobindo is one and as illustrious as any figuring in our ancient myth or legend. He is an immortal. His body has gone, but his soul remains.

How sad, and yet in a way how consoling and inspiring, to think that you sent me through Agaram Rangiah, some flowers, symbols of your blessings and benedictional.

Believe me Mother,

Your sincere devotee.
C. R. Reddy

*

Nolini Kanta Gupta’s letter to C. R. Reddy dated 8 December 1950

Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Telegram
Aurobindo—Pondicherry

Pondicherry
8-12-1950

To
Shree C. R. Reddy

Dear friend,

Mother has received your telegram and your kind letter. She says Sri Aurobindo is alive as before although not in material body—the body is being kept as long as it lasts. Mother continues Sri Aurobindo’s work. She sends you her blessings.

We would have liked Sri Aurobindo to be in our midst in his material body, but if he chose otherwise, let his will be done.

Nolini Kanta Gupta

*

C. R. Reddy’s letter to Nolini Kanta Gupta dated 12 December 1950

C. RAMALINGA REDDY
PRO-CHANCELLOR,
MYSORE UNIVERSITY

My dear Gupta,

Very many thanks for your wonderfully spiritual and inspiring letter written under the direction of the Mother.

I enclose a copy of the letter which I addressed to a gentleman in Mysore.

Please remember me to Amruth, Satya Karma, Narayana Reddy and others. How is H. V. Krishna?

With all kind regards,

Yours very sincerely,
C. R. Reddy

*

C. R. Reddy’s letter to K. S. Narayanaswamy dated 12 December 1950

C. RAMALINGA REDDY
PRO-CHANCELLOR,
MYSORE UNIVERSITY

WEST LAKE
YELWAL ROAD
MYSORE
December 12, 1950

Dear Sir,

Very many thanks for your kind letter of 10 December asking me to speak at a meeting to be held as a mark of respect and honour to Shri Aurobindo.

I am sorry it is not possible for me to accept your invitation.

I have just heard from the Ashram. The Ashram people feel that Shri Aurobindo is not really dead but is still with them, though in another form. The Sanathanas never die. It is we that sometimes become dead to them. They are immortal; and we are the mortals.

With kind regards,

Yours sincerely,
(Signature) C. R. Reddy

To,
Sri K. S. Narayanaswamy,
Secretary, The Mysore Institute of Public Affairs,
“Chethana”
Laxmivilas Agrahar,
Mysore.

*

R.Y. Deshpande’s Four Powers in the Social Dynamics, At the Motrano Retreat—The Book of the Divine Mother and Savitri: The Poetry of Immortality, Goutam Ghosal’s The Rainbow Bridge and Badal Chakraborty’s Sri Aurobindo’s Spiritual Laboratory

Dear Friends and Well-wishers of Overman Foundation,

Wish you a Merry Christmas!

We are happy to announce that three new books authored by Shri R. Y. Deshpande on Sri Aurobindo’s masterpiece Savitri are now available at Overman Foundation along with Dr. Goutam Ghosal’s The Rainbow Bridge and Shri Badal Chakraborty’s Sri Aurobindo’s Spiritual Laboratory.

Four powers in the Social Dynamics

Four great Aspects of the Mother, four of her leading Powers and Personalities have stood in front in her guidance of this Universe and in her dealings with the terrestrial play. One is her personality of calm wideness and comprehending wisdom and tranquil benignity, inexhaustible compassion and sovereign and surpassing majesty and all ruling greatness. Another embodies her power of splendid strength and irresistible passion, her warrior mood, her overwhelming will, her impetuous swiftness and world-shaking force. A third is vivid and sweet and wonderful with her deep secret of beauty and harmony and fine rhythm, her intricate and subtle opulence, her compelling attraction and her captivating grace. The fourth is equipped with her close and profound capacity of intimate knowledge and careful flawless work and quiet and exact perfection in all things. Wisdom, Strength, Harmony, Perfection are the several attributes and it is these powers that they bring with them to the world, manifest in a human disguise in their Vibhutis and shall found in the divine degree of their ascension in those who can open their earthly nature to the direct and living influence of the Mother. To the four we give the four great names, Maheshwari, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi, Mahasaraswati.

Consisting of 142 pages, Four Powers in the Social Dynamics is available at a price of Rs. 250 (Two Hundred and Fifty) only.

At the Motrano Retreat

At the Motrano Retreat—The Book of the Divine Mother includes the revised transcriptions of the talks the author gave at Motrano in Italy in 2015 on The Book of the Divine Mother, one of the most illuminating cantos of Savitri.

Consisting of 416 pages, At the Motrano Retreat—The Book of the Divine Mother is available at a price of Rs. 525 (Five Hundred and Twenty-five) only.

Savitri The Poetry of Immortality

There are silences so deep one can hear the journeys of the soul, and it is that which gives meaning and substance to idealism, to nobility, grandeur, eloquence, to skylarks and to green cottages and to flower beds. There may not be overtones and undertones to set the absolute tempo of a masterpiece. But if that journey has to be a soaring ascension to snow-white peaks of silence in the ardour of climbing, in the warmth and intimacy of a vibrant experience, then it has yet to grow in the abundance of subtleties and suggestions that constitute multi-tonal harmonies of silence. Given to blue-bright omniscient hush inspiration streams forth unceasingly, and music transcends mortal speech. Then from the all-seeing heights there is the descent of poetry with the rhythmic sense of the creative Word. Then the five suns of poetry shine in their blaze in our skies,—the Suns of Truth, Beauty, Delight, Life and the Spirit. That is what we have in the epic Savitri.

Consisting of 486 pages, Savitri: The Poetry of Immortality is available at a price of Rs. 575 (Five Hundred and Seventy-five) only.

The Rainbow Bridge

Dr. Goutam Ghosal’s The Rainbow Bridge is a detailed comparative study of Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo. The link between Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo has been too insufficiently explored. There is no book as yet in English, which has attempted to integrate the two makers of the modern Indian tradition. Through this book the author tells the story of two of the greatest luminaries of Bengal who wished to catch the Divine in the net of their poetry and love and bring Him down on this polluted and plundered globe; being the dreamers of a new creation on earth, they wished to form a rainbow bridge marrying the soil to the sky. He seeks for an integral view of the two masters, which comes out through his observations on their poetry and fiction, drama and criticism, letters and casual notes. A new approach to Tagore’s music and painting is an added charm of the book.

Consisting of 235 pages, The Rainbow Bridge is available at a price of Rs. 420 (Four Hundred and Twenty) only.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Badal Chakraborty’s Sri Aurobindo’s Spiritual Laboratory chronicles life in Sri Aurobindo Ashram during the 1940s and 1950s as experienced by the author and also discusses the nature of the work Sri Aurobindo and the Mother did to transform mankind to a higher level of consciousness. The details of the various Darshans the Mother gave at different times of the day and how should each individual proceed in life to make possible the dream of Sri Aurobindo to transform Falsehood and Ignorance to Truth and Consciousness respectively are among the themes discussed in this book which also includes some of the author’s personal memoirs of the Mother.

Consisting of 64 pages, Sri Aurobindo’s Spiritual Laboratory is available at a price of Rs. 100 (One Hundred) only.

To place an order for the aforesaid titles, kindly write to overmanfoundation@gmail.com or call at (0) 98302 44192. Payment can be made through NEFT as well as through money-orders, cheques and demand-drafts.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

*

Pujalal-ji by Krishna Chakravarty

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dear Friends,

Pujalal Ranchhoddas Dalvadi (17.6.1901—27.12.1985) was an associate of Ambalal Balkrishna Purani. He trained the youth of Gujarat in different forms of physical exercises in the gymnasium at Bharuch started by Purani. He visited Pondicherry for the first time on either 23rd or 24th October 1923 and had the Darshan of Sri Aurobindo. After a couple of visits he settled in Pondicherry as a permanent member of Sri Aurobindo’s household in 1926. He worked in the first floor of the Ashram main building which housed the apartments of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. His activities included cleaning the Mother’s room and bathroom and dusting the carpet and furniture. A born poet, he has written many poems and invocations in Sanskrit, English and Gujarati addressed to Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and Sri Krishna. The Mother used to call him, “My Poet.” He taught Sanskrit hymns and verses to many young pupils of the Ashram School. He has also translated Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri into Gujarati. He also wrote a book on the different forms of poetry titled Chchandapravesh. Though he had studied till the twelfth class some of his writings are now prescribed texts in various schools, colleges and universities of Gujarat.

An article on Pujalal written by Smt. Krishna Chakravarty and translated into English by Shri Maurice Shukla (one of Pujalal’s students) has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.

Krishna Chakravarty, wife of Adinath Chakravarty, visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram for the first time in August 1965 and stayed for two and a half months. After her return to Calcutta, she wrote to the Mother expressing her wish to become an inmate of the Ashram. The Mother accepted her request and she joined the Ashram as an inmate in February 1968.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

*

When God descends upon this earth, he brings along with him into the lila his playmates, who assemble around him one by one. Among the extraordinary companions of Sri Aurobindo was Pujalal.

Pujalal-ji took birth on 17th June 1901 in Godhra, a village in the Panchmahal district of Gujarat. His father was Sri Ranchhoddasji Dalvadi and his mother, Dhulibai. Pujalal-ji’s father was courageous, strong and radiant. His mother was an embodiment of love, gentleness and compassion.

Pujalal’s ancestors were from Napa, a village in the Khera district. When the Muslim Nawab attacked, they moved from Napa to Godhra.

Before Pujalal’s birth, many children were born in his family, but they all died young. That’s why Puja was the apple of everyone’s eye. Prayers were offered to God beseeching a long life for Puja and he was named Punjalal.

His days of happy childhood were spent in Godhra. The families of Pujalal-ji, his grandfather and his elder uncle lived in three adjoining houses. There was a rather large pond in front, surrounded by several banana trees.

Puja’s grandfather loved him very much. From time to time he would go to Puja’s school and, with great warmth and tenderness, hand him one paisa as pocket money. (One paisa was worth a lot at that time. You could buy many things with it.) Quite often Puja’s grandfather would lovingly feed him with hot millet bread soaked in ghee and gur (molasses), a favourite Gujarati snack. At other times he would offer him a sweet made with ripe banana.

Puja-ji’s father was in the brick-business and owned about thirty-five bighas of land. He was as strong as he was short-tempered. Puja-ji remembered an incident: From time to time Muslim goondas in their neighbourhood used to make a lot of commotion. Once one of these goondas entered his house to cause trouble. Puja-ji’s father gave him such a thrashing that he dropped his weapon and fled. He did not trigger any disturbance after that.

When Puja was a child, his father once took him to a distant village, carrying him on his shoulders. The little boy astride his shoulders sat happily playing the table on his father’s head. The father said nothing, but upon returning home he gave him such a spanking that the neighbours came rushing to save the boy. The beating was so harsh that Puja developed fever. Everyone rebuked the father severely.

I asked Puja-ji: “How strong was your mother’s love for you?” He laughed and said: “Who else can love if not a mother? My dear mother loved me very much. Her love was immeasurable. An incident comes to mind.

“My younger sister’s name was Chanchal. My mother laid little Chanchal on the dolna (a rocking cradle) and went for a bath. She asked me to swing the cradle. Hardly had she left when my little sister started crying. I tried to quiet her sweetly but despite my efforts she did not stop crying. Then I thought of frightening her and so I went into the kitchen and came back with a burning piece of wood picked up from the wood-stove with a pair of tongs. I stood in front of Chanchal and imagined that on seeing this burning piece of wood she would get scared and shut up. Unfortunately the piece slipped from the tongs and landed on my little sister’s hand! Her tender hand got burnt at once. I too began screaming while my little sister was howling away. Mother rushed out on hearing the cries of her children and saw that my sister’s hand had got badly burnt with the burning piece of wood. But my mother said nothing to me. It took quite some time for the wound to heal, but my sister carried the scar all her life.”

Little Puja was admitted to the village school. After finishing there he joined an English school in Godhra.

Pujalal-ji mentioned in one of our conversations that he was extremely fond of swimming. There was a huge pond or a sort of lake behind their house. It may also have been a marsh. This pond or lake later got divided. A railway bridge was constructed over one part of the lake, a road to the royal palace went through another and an access road was laid through the third to reach the village. Next to this water-body was a huge tamarind tree. There was also a banyan on the embankment. By the pond near their house there was a small kutcha ghat and on the other side quite a large pucca one. Puja-ji used to enjoy bathing in this large pond. He would swim from one end of the pond to the other. But sometimes his friends would splash water on his face and eyes and disturb little Puja whenever he went to swim there. So then he would go to another pond to swim. By the pond there was a rather huge mango tree. One day he climbed onto this mango tree and jumped off into the pond. As he did not know anything about diving, he hurt his chest very badly. Then there was a pond with innumerable white lotuses. Puja-ji would swim to the centre and pluck the lotuses. From their seeds a delicious sweet was prepared. Once he swam for a long time with one of his relatives, shuttling from one end to the other, but later, when he was in the middle, he suddenly became breathless. By holding on to his relative he managed to reach the shore with great difficulty. On another occasion, while he was swimming in the pond he saw a Muslim man washing clothes. When he swam to his side the man gave him a huge slap. Little Puja could do nothing but turn back heavy-hearted.

As mentioned already, Puja was born in 1901. Swami Vivekananda was still alive. (He left his body in 1902.) From his childhood Puja was drawn to Swamiji. One of his friends who was a few years older used to tell him about Swamiji. From him he heard about Swami Vivekananda’s return to India after making his famous speech in America. When he came back, school and college students removed the horses from his carriage and started pulling it themselves. The young brides of the houses, who usually stayed indoors, came out of their houses to shower flowers on Swamiji’s carriage and performed arati before him. The entire route was lined with people. Everyone was eager to have at least a glimpse of this man. Puja loved remembering these incidents of Swamiji’s life.

When Puja finished class V in the English school of Godhra, he left Godhra to join the Parsi English school in Nadiad. There he stayed at his elder sister-in-law’s place. And thus his happy childhood days rolled on. Then it was time for a new chapter in his life.

In Nadiad a new chapter unfolded in Puja-ji’s life. After joining the Parsi English High School, he met Ambubhai Purani. Purani-ji had opened an akhara (gymnasium) in Nadiad where wrestling, lathi, knife play and other martial arts were taught. Puja-ji joined this akhara in order to practise and develop these skills.

Now, the principal of the Parsi school was lame. He did not appreciate sports or games or physical exercise. Besides, he feared that the presence of his schoolboys in these nationalist akharas could also attract the wrathful eye of the British Government. Therefore he tried to dissuade Puja several times from participating in the akhara. Puja repeatedly disobeyed him so he was dismissed and sent away without a certificate. Ambubhai took Puja to Ahmedabad, got an order from an official of the Education department and thus succeeded in getting Puja a certificate from the principal of the Parsi school. After this Puja enrolled in an English-medium high school.

Puja was an extremely energetic young boy. His brother-in-law once jokingly called him a monkey. Being called a monkey hurt him so deeply that he moved out of his sister’s house. His father was seriously ill at that time and the family’s financial situation was also rather tight. Puja rented a room and began living alone. He often ate just one meal a day in an inexpensive local restaurant while continuing with his studies. Later he moved in with Purani-ji.

At exam time Puja left with Purani-ji for Ahmedabad to sit for the matriculation examination there. A doctor they knew put them up in his bungalow. Ambubhai had another reason to go there and that was to start another gymnasium. At that time the Indian people were up in arms against the Rowlatt Act, which had just been passed. Some of them killed a British surgeon. The British Government reacted to this with very repressive laws. In retaliation, some people in Ahmedabad set fire to the examination hall and the matriculation test papers were torn up and destroyed. As a result Puja could not take the exam and returned to Nadiad. He took the exam a few days later somewhere else and passed successfully.

But Puja-ji was more interested in sports than in studies. He was good at different sorts of exercises, as well as wrestling, lathi, knife play and gymnastics. As for studies, though he was fond of history and geography, he could not come to terms with maths.

Puja-ji then enrolled in a college in Ahmedabad. Along with several other boys he rented a room above a temple. Purani-ji had opened a canteen for needy students, but this canteen was almost three miles from the place where they stayed. As a result, Puja-ji usually had just one meal a day, even as he carried on with his studies and his various physical activities at the gymnasium.

Once in the college sports meet, Puja came first in the quarter-mile run, beating a Parsi boy who was known to be the best in this event. (This boy went on to become a police inspector who harassed Indians considerably.) Hardly was the quarter-mile run over that the one-mile race was flagged off. Here Puja-ji came second. The governor distributed the prizes on this occasion.

Even though he was battling against poverty, Puja-ji stopped neither his studies nor his physical training at the gymnasium. He possessed very few clothes and had to go barefooted to college. The British principal objected to his coming to college barefooted. “What connection is there between education and wearing shoes?” Puja-ji asked. At night he slept on a bedsheet spread over a cold stone floor. Even in winter he had no other bedding and would cover himself with a part of his dhoti. In that biting cold, his body would just shiver and curl up. After a cold-water bath in the morning, he would walk three miles to the akhara and help Purani-ji with the gymnasium work. He never felt any physical discomfort at that time and was always happy. Purani-ji’s father, Ambalal Balkrishna Purani, had a sweet shop. Sometimes Puja-ji would go to his shop and eat sweets. At times he would walk three miles to a gymnasium in Sharangpur, munching almonds all the way. In those days in Gujarat, you could get a seer (about two pounds) of almonds for ten annas (a rupee was equivalent to sixteen annas).

While studying for his Intermediate degree, Puja chose science because he felt that it was necessary to master the sciences to take India forward. But since he was weak in maths he did not go very far and failed in his exams. Once again he paid his college fees in order to continue his studies. But even after paying his fees, he did not sit for the exam. Thus college education came to an end.

As mentioned earlier, Puja was drawn to sports, physical training and work for the country. The youth were intent on battling for the liberation of their Motherland and they realized that the Motherland would never achieve freedom unless her children became strong and fearless. Puja-ji therefore directed all his energies towards this service of the country. He accompanied Purani-ji to Bharuch to take up the training of boys in the gymnasium there. One more chapter now unfolded in his life.

Pujalal-ji went to Bharuch with Purani-ji and began training the boys in the gymnasium in the different skills of lathi, knife play and physical exercises.

The town of Bharuch is set on the Narmada, not very far from the sea. The river there is almost half a mile wide. On full moon or new moon nights when the sea is at low tide, big wall-like waves would rise in the Narmada.

Pujalal harboured a sort of fear of this river. Yet he knew that the presence of any sort of fear in the being was an obstacle to progress. Somehow he had to conquer this fear. How did he finally overcome it? Let us hear the story.

It was the dead of night and dense darkness reigned all around. The whole town was silent, not a sound or stir anywhere except the swelling waters of the Narmada. The river was flowing past at tremendous speed on the surge of its huge waves. The waves crashed on the banks relentlessly. A railway bridge stood across the river.

The time was after two, half past two at night. Puja-ji advanced towards the Narmada. He stopped for a moment and looked up at the sky. In the deep night even the sky appeared inky black, as if a huge eerie being pervaded space. Pujalal-ji lowered his gaze and in the thick of night behold Mother Narmada’s indescribable image before him. In a flash he jumped into the Mother’s waiting whirling arms. Overcoming the waves, frolicking through the waters, he swam on and on until he reached the other bank of this half-mile-wide river. Then he walked back across the rail bridge to the other side. He had overcome his dread of the river.

There were a few old forts in Bharuch. When the waters of the Narmada swelled up because of the tide they would enter these forts. Flooding was common. Once there was a very bad flood and the waters entered one of the old forts. People in the area went from house to house by boat. Even then, Purani-ji and Puja-ji used to bathe in the river every day.

One day, while going to the river, Purani-ji said, “We bathe in the river every day. Now, if one could swim in the Narmada, that would be an act of courage!” Puja-ji took up Purani-ji’s challenge and both of them jumped into the river. The river was very wide at that time—wherever you looked you saw only water. They aimed to reach a certain ghat, the ferryboat point. Both of them swam furiously as they were carried along by the surging waters. The current was strong and the two swimmers pushed against it to advance. Purani-ji managed to reach the ferry-ghat, but Puja-ji was caught by the current in the middle. It was difficult to escape the billowing waters and strong current in the middle. Puja-ji could neither advance nor retreat. Though stuck in the middle, he did not panic. At last he managed to get out of this current and after swimming a good distance reached the ferry-ghat.

The ferrymen and those at the ghat had been observing Puja-ji’s struggle with dismay. Seeing him reach the ghat, they all heaved a sigh of relief.

At times Puja-ji took some boys of the akhara for a walk along the Narmada. The famous Shulpanishwar temple of Shiva was almost sixty miles away on the bank of the Narmada, but still they would walk there. The Narmada is known as the Ganga of Gujarat. Everyone in Gujarat worships Mother Narmada uttering, “Narmada kankar, hey Shankar!” or “Vasey Shankar!” (In every pebble of the Narmada dwells Shankar.) Along the banks of the Narmada are several places of spiritual retreat for rishis and munis. Innumerable yogis, sadhus and sadhaks sit there, absorbed in their spiritual endeavour. In addition to these spiritual seekers the common people too converge on the Narmada with devout fervour. Hundreds of beautiful temples dot its banks.

On the Narmada’s banks, in a small hut near a village called Malsa, lived one Swami Madhodas. He was a spiritual seeker from Bengal who pursued a life of sadhana there. Puja-ji was very fond of this place. But by the time he went to Malsa, Swami Madhodas was no longer alive.

Puja-ji’s favourite saint was Shankarananda Giri Maharaj, a seeker of a very high calibre. He was the spiritual brother of Swami Brahmananda, the great yogi whom Sri Aurobindo had met on the banks of the Narmada. Like Brahmananda, he was said to be 250 or 300 years old, and both suffered from toothache! Shankarananda Giri Maharaj had a strong, compact physique. He reminded Puja-ji of the German chancellor Hindenberg during the First World War. Shankarananda had participated in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 which was the first clear battle-cry for India’s independence.

Having a darshan of Shankarananda Maharaj filled one with a feeling of great purity and the heart was suffused with faith and devotion. He had his ashram by the Narmada where a few of his disciples lived. There were also some fields attached to it. Once on his way back to Ahmedabad, Pujalal-ji stopped there for the night with his boys. Deeply touched by the purity of the ashram atmosphere, he decided to return there one day without the boys. And his resolve was sincere, for he did go back to the ashram all alone after accompanying the boys back home. He spent a few days there in extreme happiness. Shankarananda was very fond of him and welcomed him with a lot of affection. The swami did not allow everyone into the ashram. Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda, for example, went to see him there, but Shankarananda Giri Maharaj did not meet him.

Once Pujalal sat in a quiet corner of the ashram reading the Gita by himself. Suddenly Shankarananda appeared before him and asked, “What are you up to young man?” “I’m reading the Gita,” Pujalal replied. “You can do that later. Serve Shankar first,” Shankarananda retorted. “Of course, I will serve Shankar. But now I need to get some knowledge; that’s why I am reading the Gita,” Pujalal answered quietly.

Purani-ji also went to see Shankarananda and stayed in his ashram for a few days. Ambubhai even worked on the fields. He was as robust as he was hard-working, and Shankarananda was extremely pleased with him.

At that time, Pujalal-ji had long hair and a bushy beard that covered his face. Shankarananda’s disciples used to address him as ‘Rishi-ji’. Of all the spiritual seekers and yogis Puja-ji had met, it was Shankarananda that Puja-ji was most fond of— after Sri Aurobindo. And this fondness was mutual.

Puja-ji also met Vishnu Bhaskar Lele who came to Ahmedabad once. Lele spoke for a long time with Purani-ji, but he did not inspire in him great faith. Pujalal-ji also went to visit Gandhi-ji’s Sabarmati ashram, but he did not enjoy it very much. Like Purani-ji, Puja-ji believed in the revolutionary path to gain freedom. His battle was to win freedom for his Motherland. They knew that unless her children were fearless, winning freedom for their Mother was impossible. That is why Purani-ji had set up clubs and gymnasiums everywhere in Gujarat to train the youth in martial arts and other physical exercises. They had sworn their lives for Mother India’s liberation.

Pujalal-ji’s ideal and inspiration was Swami Vivekananda. He never stopped reading his writings. To him they were a fountain of strength. Bhagwan Sri Ramakrishna’s words led him to the quest of the Ultimate.

After Bharuch, Pujalal-ji left for Kushindra to take charge of exercise-training in a gymnasium established by Purani-ji. While he was working at Kushindra, he received the grace of visiting Pondicherry for the first time. Two amusing incidents took place on his journey to Pondicherry.

Pujalal-ji got into a small train in order to proceed to Pondicherry. A muslim goonda along with his gang of hoodlums was sowing terror in this train by insulting and assaulting the passengers. He moved towards Puja-ji and twisted his leg. Pujalal-ji gave him a resounding slap in return. The fellow-passengers were delighted. The goonda’s gang pounced on Puja-ji and began pulling his hair and beard. At this point the fellow-passengers came to his rescue. What did he himself do in that situation? Pujalal-ji doesn’t remember. As soon as the train pulled into the next station, the goonda, fearing the police, took to his heels with his gang.

When Puja-ji reached the terminus, he got off to catch the big train. Since the train was scheduled to arrive only later, he lay down on a bench to rest and soon fell asleep; indeed, he slept for a very long time. Both the trains he could have taken had left by then. Where could he spend the night now? The railway police had been observing him and wondered, “He has been sleeping for so long on the platform. Two trains have come and gone and he still has not woken up. Who could he be? He must be a goonda.” They approached Puja-ji and ordered, “Let’s go.” “Where?” Puja-ji enquired. “To the police station,” they replied. With great difficulty, Pujalal-ji managed to convince the police that he was no goonda and that he had simply overslept in the station.

Pujalal-ji first came to Pondicherry either on the 23rd or 24th of October in 1923. Purani-ji had preceded him. In those days Sri Aurobindo used to come and sit on a chair in the verandah at eight o’clock in the morning. He would read the newspapers and meet any visitors who wished to see him. As soon as Puja-ji saw Sri Aurobindo, he felt that if there was God in the world, then this was verily he, that Purnabrahma Narayana. Puja-ji told Sri Aurobindo, “I want to take up yoga-sadhana.” “Why?” Sri Aurobindo asked. “For God,” Puja-ji replied. Sri Aurobindo then looked at him intently for a long time. After observing him thoroughly both within and without, he finally gave his consent for him to take up yoga. With his customary humility, Pujalal-ji told us, “I wasn’t, after all, a very good-natured chap.” Sri Aurobindo continued, “Keep aspiring to the Divine above.” Sri Aurobindo then moved his left hand above his head. “Aspire to him up there. The Divine will descend.”

Every day Pujalal-ji would make a flower-garland and put it around Sri Aurobindo’s neck. Then he would sit near him and meditate for a while. Even though he did not know the spiritual significance of the flower, the shefali or Aspiration flower was his favourite. After that, he would weave a garland for the Mother and offer it to her.

In those days, besides Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, there were very few people living in the Ashram. Nolini-da, Amrita-da, Moni, Bejoy Nag and a very small number of others lived with them. Puja-ji returned to Gujarat after his first visit to Pondicherry.

Once he came with Purani-ji’s wife Lilavati and her year-and-a-half-old daughter Anu. Pujalal-ji always loved children and little Anu used to adore him. After a couple of visits between Pondicherry and Gujarat in 1926, he came back to Pondicherry.

Every evening Puja-ji used to go for a walk along the sea-front. One evening, while taking his walk someone came running to call him. He was taken to the Ashram. The day was the 24th of November, 1926.

Puja-ji said, “Returning to the Ashram that day, I felt as if I were battling against a huge storm and massive winds in order to move forward. The closer I came to the Ashram, the more difficult it became to walk. Once I reached the Ashram I saw Nolini-da, Amrita-da and many others sitting quietly. I sat down in their midst. A little later Sri Aurobindo came out and behind him the Mother as well. It was the day when Sri Krishna’s consciousness descended. Sri Krishna’s consciousness came down into Sri Aurobindo that day.

“Sri Aurobindo’s complexion was like that of the golden champak flower. His cheeks were aglow with a roseate golden light. The Mother was wearing a saree and her head was covered. I could not see her face very well.

“Sri Aurobindo looked at everyone. We all went and bowed before him and the Mother. Sri Aurobindo held his left hand a few inches above the Mother’s head and blessed everybody with the right hand. He gave hints that henceforth he would carry out his work through the Mother. By accepting the Mother we would be led to Sri Aurobindo. The air was still. A profound silence pervaded the atmosphere, a sublime peace and ananda reigned all around. After everyone had finished their pranam, Sri Aurobindo sat for a while longer, waiting perhaps for anyone who had not yet come for the pranam. Then both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother slowly got up and went inside. The door closed behind them. At this point Datta, rapt in a divine trance, exclaimed: ‘The Lord has descended, He has conquered death and sorrow, He has brought down immortality.’”

*

After the 24th of November, 1926, Pujalal-ji remained in Pondicherry for good. The river had finally found the ocean. He surrendered himself at the Feet of the Mother.

Following the descent of Krishna’s consciousness, Sri Aurobindo withdrew into seclusion. From then, the Mother would sit daily for meditation with everyone at night, instead of in the evening. Very often she would go into a trance. At times she would remain in trance for two to three hours! What could the sadhaks do in such a situation? How long could they go on meditating? Many would fall asleep! And you could hear their loud snoring!

Upstairs, Sri Aurobindo used to pace up and down like a lion. During the meditation downstairs one could hear those solemn footfalls in the thick of night. Nothing escaped Sri Aurobindo’s consciousness. When he heard this snoring during the meditation almost every night, he asked the Mother to discontinue it. It was difficult for many to maintain a meditative consciousness at night. They quickly fell into the snoring consciousness!

Pujalal-ji told me that the Mother herself used to distribute soup to everyone in the room where the Reception room stands today, and while distributing soup she would sometimes go into a trance.

Sarala-di was a worthy daughter and caretaker of Pujalal-ji. She served him with great dedication and he showered a lot of affection on her. Everyone in the Ashram calls her Sarala-ben. She told me quite a few things about Puja-ji and I will tell them to you as we go along.

There’s a beautiful, blue statue of Krishna in Pujalal-ji’s room, a standing, smiling Sri Krishna with his flute. Beside him stands his beloved cow; even she is gazing lovingly at Sri Krishna. Sarala-di told me that it was Mrityunjoy’s mother who gave this statue to Pujalal-ji. It was white in the beginning. Brinda’s mother, Kalin-di, coloured it blue. Whenever this statue of Krishna faded, some artist or the other from the Ashram would repaint it.

An Ashram artist named Sarala Rastogi once took Krishna’s statue to her house because it needed repainting. But she took quite some time to do it. After a few days Puja-ji called Tara and told her, “Go and get Krishna back.” When Tara returned with Krishna, Puja-ji said, “This Sri Krishna is no ordinary statue made of clay. The Lord himself has infused life into it and dwells within.”

Puja-ji continued, “I have loved Lord Krishna from my very childhood. I would keep repeating Om namo bhagvate Sri Vasudevaya namah almost always, especially when I was out on a journey. This is a mahamantra. The Mother’s mantra for us is Om namo bhagvate. She has left a blank in place of Sri Vasudevaya namah. That blank can be filled with Sri Aravindaya namah and so you have Om namo bhagvate Sri Aravindaya namah.”

In his childhood Pujalal-ji once experienced the presence of Balkrishna, who was seated above his head. From there he began progressively descending into his throat, chest and abdomen. Wherever he descended, there followed a stream of ananda.

Another time Purani-ji’s wife, Lilavati-ben, cooked something for Sri Aurobindo and sent it to him with Pujalal-ji. In those days the Dining Room used to be situated where the present Fruit Room is. Puja-ji handed the cooked dish to Amrita-da or somebody else and then went and stood near the Reception Room. Suddenly he saw Sri Aurobindo coming down the staircase. Sri Aurobindo looked at Puja. “Ah, what a look that was!” exclaimed Puja-ji. “If there was God on earth, it was him.” Sarala-di, who told me the story, added, “That day Puja-ji had the darshan of the Supreme Absolute. It is impossible to describe that extraordinary form in words.”

When Puja-ji first came to the Ashram, Sarala-di observed, he had splendid long hair and his face was covered with an impressive beard. The Mother used to admire his hair, saying, “Such long hair!” or “Such curly hair!”

And thus many years passed and the young boy became a middle-aged man. His beard and hair started turning grey!

The first Group for physical activity started in the Ashram in 1945 on Dada’s (Pranab-da’s) initiative. Before the advent of these sporting activities in the Ashram, most sadhaks sported long hair and luxurious beards. As soon as sporting activities began, many of them chopped off their long hair and beard on the Mother’s advice. But Puja-ji did not give his up. There probably was some talk among the sadhaks about this. So Puja-ji told the Mother, “It is because you like my hair that I haven’t touched it.” The Mother answered, “You were young then. Now you have grown up. Grey hair and a grey beard don’t look good on you now.”

Puja-ji went that very day to get his hair and beard cut. When the hairless, beardless Pujalal went to work upstairs, nobody recognised him! It was only Mother who recognised him, seeing his eyes. She took him by the hand and led him to Sri Aurobindo, “Look! Here is your new Puja!” Puja-ji bowed to Sri Aurobindo and Sri Aurobindo blessed him by placing both his hands on Puja-ji’s head.

“By cutting off my hair and beard,” Puja-ji confessed, “I gained immensely. I received my Guru’s blessings! In those days nobody was allowed to go and see him. By cutting off my beard and hair, I had his darshan, his touch and his blessings!”

The Mother told Dada that two photographs of Puja-ji were sent to her, one in which he had a beard and long hair and the other in which he was without them. The Mother laughed a lot seeing the two pictures. “Ancient yogi” she said on seeing the first photograph. The second one for her was “Modern yogi”.

Dada mentioned two other incidents from Pujalal-ji’s life. One day Pujalal-ji was giving a demonstration of lakdi patta (movements with a wooden stick and shield) at the Playground before the Mother. He had a wooden stick in one hand and a shield in the other and simulated sword-play. This was a very popular form of sport in Gujarat. Pujalal-ji most probably gave this demonstration with Vishnu-bhai. When the demonstration was over, the Mother turned to Dada and said, “Did you notice the fire in Puja’s eyes?”

On another occasion Pujalal-ji organised a Garba dance programme. All the children, especially the Gujarati ones, from the various groups took part in it. The Mother was present for this programme too.

After settling down in the Ashram for good, Pujalal-ji began working upstairs in the Mother’s room, cleaning the carpet, painting the rooms and furniture, etc. After some time he felt that he was not fit for Sri Aurobindo’s yoga. So one day, while working upstairs, he told the Mother, “Mother, I am not fit for yoga and sadhana. I have too many shortcomings. I am far too weak. That’s why I don’t wish to remain here.”

The Mother replied, “The Divine does not descend all the time. It happens very rarely, after a long, long time. It is not right, therefore, to leave Him and go away. You just go on doing your work.”

Puja-ji felt that the Mother was telling him to simply go on serving. This service itself was his yoga and his sadhana.

Everyday Puja-ji would begin his work in the Mother’s room before daybreak. The Mother would herself open the door. At that auspicious moment, before the arrival of the goddess of dawn, he would have the vision of the Mother of the universe!

Once Puja-ji went to work upstairs as usual at that auspicious time. The Mother opened the door and said, “There is a bird sitting at the door. Sri Aurobindo has asked that the bird should not be disturbed.” Sri Aurobindo had told this to the Mother even before Puja arrived!

He began working very silently so that the bird was not disturbed in any way. Then at daybreak the bird flew away. “Just see, how much love and compassion there was in Sri Aurobindo’s heart for all life,” Pujalal-ji remarked.

Some time after this, Puja-ji had jaundice, but he did not know it. It was the Mother who saw his yellowish eyes and sent him to the doctor. After this, she reduced his work by half. Lalu-bhai came in, in order to relieve Puja-ji.

When Puja was staying at Kushindra, Lalu was only four or five. When Lalu came to Pondicherry he spoke only a smattering of English. But after coming here, he learned both English and French. He was able to read Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s works in the original. He would sometimes even catch misprints or overlooked errors in their books. He also learnt to speak Bengali, Oriya and Tamil. Puja-ji told me, “When Lalu used to stand before Sri Aurobindo, his palms were always joined in salutation.”

A pigeon used to come and perch atop one of Sri Aurobindo’s cupboards. Naturally it would foul the cupboard with its droppings, but Sri Aurobindo never shooed it away. Such was his love and gentleness toward living creatures.

One day an own flew into Puja-ji’s room. Seeing Puja-ji, it suddenly dropped dead! But Puja-ji knew that owls often faked death. After coming back from his bath, he noted that the owl was sitting merrily on its perch once again. The owl’s ability to act amused him immensely. Later he went to the Mother and told her about it. The Mother said, “It might be sick. Take him very gently and leave him in the garden.” So he put him gently on a tree in the garden.

After the descent of Krishna’s consciousness in 1926, Sri Aurobindo went into seclusion. At that time, nobody except the Mother could see him. This seclusion continued until the accident in 1938. But in the early 1930’s, everyone began writing to him. He would answer their letters day after day, often late into the night. In those days there were many women in the Ashram who had not had much education. Many of them did not speak English, so they would write to Sri Aurobindo in their mother-tongue. The Gujarati women wrote to him in Gujarati. Sri Aurobindo knew some Gujarati. And he kept a Gujarati-English dictionary, which he would consult whenever the need arose.

Once someone offered two coconuts to the Mother. These nuts had begun to germinate. The Mother asked Puja to plant them in the soil and let them grow. First Puja planted the coconuts in a tub filled with earth which he kept on the terrace where Navajata’s room stands today. When the trees started growing, they were transplanted into the ground, one inside the Ashram and the other in Golconde. The tree in the Ashram never grew very high. A Service tree was planted near it, so the coconut tree could not grow very tall, though it had been planted earlier. Once during a storm, the Service tree got almost uprooted. Puja-ji and some others tied some ropes in order to prop it up. But today the roots of this tree have spread all around and some have even reached the surrounding streets outside. At several places, under the pressure of these roots, the cemented floor has been affected.

Pujalal-ji used to live at the Guest House in the beginning. He would work at the Ashram from four in the morning until eleven at night. He had his meals in Dyuman-bhai’s room and would also rest there. Later, the Mother wanted him to move to the Ashram main-building and showed him two places there: the Fruit-room area and the room on the southern side of the Samadhi which was then made of mud (from there butter-distribution would take place), and asked him to choose where he wanted to shift. Pujalal-ji selected the mud-house. The Mother got the mud-house pulled down and had the present room constructed. When it was ready Pujalal-ji was asked to shift. He requested the Mother to grace the space by walking into the room before him. “A palace!” the Mother exclaimed as she entered the room.

When Pujalal-ji moved from the Guest House to the Ashram, he brought with him a Champa tree (Psychological perfection) and transplanted it in front of the Fruit-room window on the north. It still stands there today, laden with flowers spreading its fragrance all year long.

Asked by Sarala-di about Sri Aurobindo’s shifting from his room above the Reception to his final residence above the Meditation Hall, Pujalal recalled: “Sri Aurobindo was living in seclusion after the descent of the Overmind, so when the time came for him to move to his new residence, a passage was especially prepared for this occasion. Saris were hung on either side of this passage right from the room above the Reception up to the new residence. Then Sri Aurobindo walked through this passage leading to his room, without being seen by anybody.”

Sri Aurobindo lived in a room above the present Reception and Reading rooms until 1926. Meanwhile the Mother had bought the house where Sri Aurobindo’s room is at present. In those days there was just a mud-house there with a big mango tree in front. After this house was bought, a cat came and took refuge with the Mother. This cat was named Bushy. Bushy offered herself at the Feet of the Mother. Bushy was provided with fish every day. Once when she was served an unusually big fish, she gripped it between her teeth, climbed all the way upstairs and showed it to the Mother. On another occasion she saw a mouse and started playing hide-and-seek with it. The poor mouse died of fright! Instead of gobbling it up, Bushy brought the mouse to show to the Mother. Placing the dead mouse in front of the Mother, she began playing with it, showing off all sorts of acrobatic tricks, as if she were performing some very heroic acts. Often Bushy would follow the Mother up to Sri Aurobindo’s door. She wanted to see Sri Aurobindo very much but at that time no one was allowed to enter his room. Often she would jump up and try to enter his room, but she never succeeded. Later Bushy gave birth to two kittens. One was named Castor; I don’t remember the second kitten’s name. One of the kittens got his neck caught in an iron hook once, and nobody could manage to get him off the hook. Finally Puja-ji held the kitten by the neck and managed to free it from the hook.

The Mother had another favourite cat. Puja-ji did not remember its name. It would sleep in the Mother’s bed.

Sri Aurobindo had a large he-cat named Big Boy. Big Boy had a little brother named Kiki. Kiki was a very quiet cat and used to be scared of Big Boy. Sri Aurobindo would feed Big Boy with his hand. If Sri Aurobindo showed any affection to another cat such as Kiki, Big Boy would get upset and angry.

Often, one cat or another would comfortably settle down in Sri Aurobindo’s chair. Sri Aurobindo would never drive them away. He would just make a little space for himself in such a way that the cat was not disturbed. That is the kind of love he harboured for all beings.

Pujalal-ji was a poet-devotee. He has written many poems and invocations in Sanskrit, English and Gujarati to the Mother, to Sri Aurobindo and to Sri Krishna. No other sadhak in the Ashram has written as much on the Mother. That’s why she aptly nicknamed him “My Poet”.

Pujalal-ji used to sit daily for meditation in his room facing the Samadhi. One day while he was sitting in this way, he received a ‘command’ from Sri Aurobindo that Savitri needed to be translated into Gujarati. Puja-ji wrote to the Mother about this. The Mother read his letter and blessed him to start the work. Only after getting the Mother’s blessing did Puja-ji undertake the Gujarati translation of this great epic by the Master.

Sarala-di mentioned in one of our conversations that Pujalal-ji was one of Mahasaraswati’s sons and so was blessed by her. She constantly showered her Grace and Compassion on him. While translating Savitri he did not need to think at all; the Gujarati translation came down to him canto after canto all in one block, carrying with it the right words and the right meaning, couched in flawless beauty.

Pujalal-ji also translated the totality of the poems written by Sri Aurobindo except for Ilion and Songs to Myrtilla, as well as The Supreme Discovery and numerous other writings of the Mother. Pujalal-ji wrote a book on the different forms of poetry entitled Chchandapravesh.

Pujalal-ji studied only till the 12th class but some of his writings are now prescribed texts in the schools, colleges and universities of Gujarat. A number of doctoral theses have also been written on his writings.

Puja-ji was much loved by the children of the Ashram and you could see children crowding around him in his room. He would teach them Sanskrit shlokas or verses. In the beginning this happened near the staircase leading up to Kamala-ben’s room and the Ashram would then be filled with the sweet voices of children reciting Sanskrit verses.

A boy called Partho came to the Ashram when he was two. He met Pujalal-ji and became friends with him. If anyone talked about him, Pujalal-ji would always say, “my Partho”. From time to time he would recite to Partho in Bengali Tagore’s poem, ‘Puraton Bhrityo’.

As a little boy, Partho used to enjoy listening to stories. He knew the stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata by heart. He especially loved hearing tales of devotion and heroism. He had a special affection for the life of Maharana Pratap. He would run around the house wielding a stick and shield and shouting some strange things. Partho’s mother told Pujalal-ji about this. After listening to her, he observed, “There’s obviously some connection with a past life.” Pujalal-ji had a profound respect and admiration for the Maharana of Mewar. “Rana Pratap ka nam lenese mera khoon ublata hai.” (My blood rages at the mere name of Rana Pratap!)

Puja-ji once told me that in one of his previous lives he had been a friend and court-poet of Prithviraj Chauhan, the king of Delhi and Ajmer. His name was Chandrabardai and he was known as Chand-kavi. One day Puja-ji told me about Prithviraj’s heroism and he extolled his warrior qualities, his skill at wielding different weapons and his expertise in archery. Prithviraj could shoot an arrow on target just by listening to the sound. His greatness and generosity are unrivalled. “During the reign of Prithviraj, Mohammad Ghori attacked his kingdom. After a fierce battle Prithviraj defeated him. But just see his greatness and generosity. He did not harm the vanquished enemy but forgave him and sent him back to his kingdom. But then Mohammad Ghori returned to attack Prithviraj with more troops. A tremendous battle ensued. Through crookedness, force and craft he managed to defeat Prithviraj. He blinded him after the battle. In Chandrabardai’s account, the blind Prithviraj is said to have killed Mohammad Ghori with an arrow, although historically it is believed that Mohammad Ghori defeated and killed Prithviraj in the second big battle. Prithviraj was too good a human being. Though he was peerless in bravery he was unfamiliar with deceit and duplicity. He could never imagine that someone he had forgiven after defeating him in battle could return to destroy him.

Once little Partho went with his parents for a holiday to Delhi, Hardwar etc. Puja-ji told him before leaving “Write to me from there.” Partho wrote to him when he reached Delhi and in reply Puja-ji sent him a beautiful one-page letter. In that letter he wrote a shloka from the Gita Mahatmyam:

Sarvopanishado gavo dogdha gopalnandanah
Partho vatsah sudhirbhokta dugdham gitamritam mahat.

Maurice, a former student on our Ashram School, fondly remembers: “As a little boy, I used to go to Pujalal-ji every morning around 6 to learn Sanskrit shlokas from him. Pujalal-ji would write each shloka in his extraordinarily neat hand in the notebook and then ask me to recopy it. This may have helped in memorising the shloka. I was always amazed at how quickly I would be able to commit the shloka to memory. It obviously had to do with the climate of gentle heart-warming love and affection that Pujalal-ji created between the teacher and the student. I cannot forget that atmosphere in the room with Pujalal-ji sitting serene, and relaxed (as if time didn’t exist!), totally composed, with this soft, gentle affection streaming all around him, as he repeated a shloka: it was like a Vedic ashram, with children sitting around a rishi and breathing in purity and warmth and knowledge all at the same time from the environing air itself! That formidable mix of the morning breeze, the presence of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother inside the Ashram, the fragrance of the flowers and incense from the Samadhi a few metres away, the sound of those pristine Sanskrit syllables uttered in an unhurried steady voice by this unbelievably gentle loving teacher blending with the sweet birdsong and squirrel-chirping from the Service tree—it was all quite overwhelming, really, even for a child like me!”

There is another incident that Maurice recounted which merits retelling: “Once I was with Pujalal-ji in his room. We had finished our shloka-session. He affectionately put a toffee into my hand, I remember, which I unwrapped and popped into my mouth. To us children, getting a toffee in those days was a source of tremendous joy. Mother used to give us toffees, Dada used to give us toffees, our captains used to give us toffees. In that joy of getting a toffee, I carelessly forgot about the wrapper and left it on the floor. As I got up to go, I looked up at Pujalal-ji to take my leave and then froze. His calm, collected look had such an intensity that I knew something was not quite right. He was angry, but in an incredibly controlled way. It felt as if a mountain were piercing my soul with its lofty impassivity, sending out a flame of fire to purge the air of some wrong movement of consciousness. It was the toffee wrapper! Quickly I bent down, picked it up and dropped it in the bin in a corner of the room. One more lesson had been learnt by default: the slightest negligence of any sort was the reflection of a shabby consciousness that was not worthy of the Mother’s children. This vigilance in regard to neatness and beauty was a part of Pujalal-ji.”

Partho once went to see Puja-ji with his mother after quite a long time. Sarala-di said “What happened? Why haven’t you come for all these days?” Partho’s mother answered, “So many people have come from far away and they have all come here to meet you. That’s why we didn’t disturb you.” Puja-ji gently smiled and remarked, “So what if many people have come? You should still come and meet me.” Such was his love and affection for one and all.

And then the 27th of December 1985 arrived. It was the birthday of Sri Adinath Chakravarty, a disciple of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. We went with him to meet Puja-ji a little before half past seven in the evening. He was lying in bed as for quite some time he had been ailing. All the physical suffering and pain he bore with an ever-present smile. He looked at us tenderly and offered us toffees as usual. To Adinath Chakravarty he gave a beautiful handkerchief. He also gave him some sweets and held his hand for a long time. Then he looked at me with a gaze brimming with tenderness. I felt at that moment that he would not remain long on this earth. But who could have foreseen that only a little while later he would return to the Mother’s arms.

Dr. Dilip Datta came at eight. He examined him and said, “You are all right, now.” Puja-ji replied that he was feeling fine. After the doctor left, two boys who were in Pondicherry for a youth camp told Puja-ji “Since you are fine, can we have dinner at the Dining Room and come back?” “I am very well,” Puja-ji replied, “I have laid myself at the Feet of the Mother, so you have nothing to worry about. It is all in her hands now. I am free. You, too, offer yourselves at the Feet of the Mother and live in ananda.” These were his last words.

After this Lalu-bhai arrived. Sarala-di said, “You’ve come early today.” Lalu-bhai gave Puja-ji his medicine but as he was pouring water into Puja-ji’s mouth, the water trickled out. Sarala-di asked him to sit up and take the medicine. But by then Puja-ji had already gone.

It was Uttarayan, the full moon of the month of Maghi. He had chosen this auspicious day himself to return to the Mother. The jivatman merged with the Paramatman.

Puja-ji used to say, “Pray to the Mother that she hold you by both your arms and never leave you.” He would say, “I feel that service to the Divine is everything. I have never done any yoga. I don’t even know what yoga is. You can get everything through service. Always, in every activity, we must remember Him. Being human we tend to forget Him and get engrossed in something else. It is the Divine who does the sadhana for us. What can we do so that He does the yoga and sadhana for us? Look at His Grace and compassion: if we take one small step towards Him, He moves ten strides forward to embrace us.”

*

Mother with Pujalal on 25.10.1954The Mother with Pujalal on 25 October 1954

*

« Older entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 124 other followers