The Last Darshan Photographs of Sri Aurobindo

Dear Friends,

Since the mid 1920s to 1950, no photographs of Sri Aurobindo were taken. In April 1950 the famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, came to Sri Aurobindo Ashram and asked the Mother to permit him to take Sri Aurobindo’s photographs. When the Mother gave him permission, Henri Cartier-Bresson took a number of photographs of the various activities of the Ashram and also some photographs of the Mother. OnMonday, 24 April 1950he took some photographs of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother giving Darshan.

 Today, on the occasion of the Darshan Day, we are sharing with you some of the photographs of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother taken on the Darshan day of24 April 1950by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Chairman,

Overman Foundation.

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Sri Aurobindo’s letter to Moraji Desai

Dear Friends,

Not many people are aware of the fact that Moraji Desai, who was the Prime Minister of India from 1977 to 1979 had come to Sri Aurobindo Ashram in August 1935. During his stay he wrote a letter to Sri Aurobindo asking him questions about spiritual matters. Sri Aurobindo had answered his letter on17 August 1935. This letter was published by Moraji Desai in the first volume of his book, ‘The Story of My Life.’

Today we take the opportunity of sharing Sri Aurobindo’s letter to Moraji Desai with you.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Chairman,

Overman Foundation.

                             Sri Aurobindo’s letter to Moraji Desai

‘Shri Moraji Desai,

I do not know that it is possible for me to give you any guidance on the path you have chosen — it is at any rate difficult for me to say anything definite without more precise data than those contained in your letter.

There is no need for you to change the line of life and work you have chosen so long as you feel that to be the way of your nature (svabhava) or dictated to you by your inner being, or, for some reason, it is seen to be your proper dharma. These are the three tests and apart from that I do not think there is any fixed line of conduct or way of work or life that can be laid down for the Yoga of the Gita. It is the spirit or consciousness in which the work is done that matters most; the outer form can vary greatly for different natures. Thus, so long as one does not get the settled experience of the Divine Power taking up one’s work and doing it, one acts according to one’s nature; afterwards it is that Power which determines what is to be done or not done.

The overcoming of all attachments must necessarily be difficult and cannot come except as the fruit of a long sadhana, unless there is a rapid general growth in the inner spiritual experience which is the substance of the Gita’s teaching. The cessation of desire of the fruit or attachment to the work itself, the growth of equality to all beings, to all happenings, to good repute or ill repute, the dropping of the ego, which are necessary for the loss of all attachments, can come completely only when all work becomes a spontaneous sacrifice to the Divine, the heart is offered up to Him and one has the settled experience of the Divine in all things and all beings. This consciousness or experience must come in all parts and movements of the being (sarvabhavena), not only in the mind and idea; then the falling away of all attachments becomes easy. I speak of the Gita’s way of Yoga; for in the ascetic life one obtains the same objects differently by cutting away from all the objects of attachment and the consequent atrophy of the attachment itself through rejection and disuse.

                                                                               Sri Aurobindo’

Reminiscences of Bhupal Chandra Bose, Sri Aurobindo’s father-in-law

Dear Friends,

Today we are sharing with you a brief statement made by Bhupal Chandra Bose, Sri Aurobindo’s father-in-law on 26 August 1931 where he has recorded his reminiscences of his daughter Mrinalini Devi who was married to Sri Aurobindo in April 1901.

 Bhupal Chandra Bose had visited Pondicherry in the early 1930s and had the darshan of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Chairman,

Overman Foundation.

                             Reminiscences of Bhupal Chandra Bose

I. Her father and mother both belong to the Jessore district. The ancestral home of the Basu family is situated in a village named Meherpore on the left bank of the Kapadaka river, 24 miles to the south of the district town of Jessore. Mrinalini’s father, Bhupal Chandra Basu (born 1861)—the writer of this short note—graduated from the Calcutta University (1881) and received an agricultural training as a State scholar at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, in England, and after his return to India, served for two years as a teacher in the Bangabasi School and College of which he was a joint founder with his lifelong friend Srijut Girish Chandra Bose, entered Government service in 1888 and after serving as an Agricultural Officer for 28 years in Bengal and Assam, retired in 1916 and settled down at Ranchi soon after his retirement.

During service his headquarters were for a year (1888-89) at Ranchi, then in Calcutta (1889-97) and finally for nineteen years at Shillong (1897-1916), and Mrinalini spent portions of her life at all these places. This note would be incomplete without a special mention of the very intimate and affectionate relations which have existed ever since the year 1883 between her father and his family on the one hand and Sj. Girish Chandra Bose and his family on the other. So much so that to most of their acquaintances Mrinalini’s father is known as a younger brother of the latter. Mrinalini spent considerable periods of her life under her uncle Girish Babu’s roof and was regarded as a daughter of his house. It was Girish Chandra who looked after her education while she was a boarder at the Brahmo Girls’ School in Calcutta. It was he who negotiated her marriage and did everything in connection with that ceremony and it was under his roof that Mrinalini passed away in December 1918.

II. Mrinalini, the eldest child of her father, saw the light of day on the… 1887[1] in Calcutta in a house in Eden Hospital Street (or lane), which with the entire lane was demolished after a year or two and merged in the extension grounds of the Calcutta Medical College.

III. Mrinalini spent her early childhood in Calcutta. She was at first educated under a private teacher, and soon after her father’s transfer to Shillong, she was sent down to Calcutta and lived as a boarder for nearly three years at the Brahmo Girls’ School until the time of her marriage in April 1901. She evinced no exceptional abilities or tendencies at this age, indeed at no stage of her life.

There was nothing remarkable about her short school career. She however contracted two notable friendships during this time. One of the two was Miss Swarnalata Das, M.A., eldest daughter of a very intimate friend of her father Sj. Raj Mohan Das, a distinguished Officer of the Assam Police, who after his retirement, devoted his heart and soul to the work of uplifting the depressed classes in East Bengal, and is now living a retired life at Dacca. Swarnalata was several years her senior in age and acted towards her as an elder sister during her school life. After graduating in Calcutta Swarnalata was sent to England for higher training in the art of teaching and after her return worked as a senior teacher of the Brahmo Girls’ School of which she acted for a time as the Lady Superintendent. She was cut off in the prime of life leaving behind a memory which for purity and sweetness cannot be excelled. Mrinalini’s second friend was Miss Sudhira Bose, a classmate of hers with whom she lived in closest intimacy till the day of her death. Sudhira was a younger sister of late Devabrata Bose, an associate of Sri Aurobindo in the Alipore Bomb Case, who after his acquittal at the trial, turned a Sannyasin and joined the Ramakrishna Mission. Miss Sudhira too joined the same Mission and worked as a teacher of the Sister Nivedita School, of which, after Sister Christine left for America shortly before the war, she became the head. Sudhira too was not destined to live long. She fell a victim to a sad railway accident at Benares in December 1920, thus surviving her friend by exactly two years.

Mrinalini, though she was surrounded by Brahmo friends and was a boarder in a Brahmo School never evinced any special interest in the Brahmo movement nor in any of the social reforms associated with that movement. The whole religious bent of the later years of her life was in the direction of the Hindu revival movement inspired by Paramhansa Ramakrishna and his great disciple Swami Vivekananda.

IV. There was no relationship, nor even acquaintance between the Boses and the Ghose family, except that Mrinalini’s father once came in contact with Sri Aurobindo’s father, Dr. Krishnadhan Ghose, while he was stationed as Civil Surgeon at Khulna. It must have been about the year 1890 when Sri Aurobindo was preparing himself in England for the I.C.S. examination.

Sri Aurobindo first met Mrinalini at the house of her uncle Sj. Girish Chandra Bose in Calcutta in the course of his search for a mate to share his life, and chose her at first sight as his destined wife. Their marriage took place shortly afterwards in April 1901. It is not possible for the writer or for anybody else to say what psychical affinity existed between the two, but certain it is that as soon as he saw the girl, he made up his mind to marry her. The customary negotiations were carried on by Girish Babu on the bride’s side. Sri Aurobindo was at the time employed either as a Professor or as Vice-Principal of the Gaekwar’s College at Baroda. He was then 28 years 9 months old, and his wife was only 14 years and 3 months, the difference in age being over 14 years.

V. The writer knows next to nothing about the married life of the couple at Baroda. After Sri Aurobindo came to Bengal and during the stormy years that followed, Mrinalini had little or no opportunity of living a householder’s life in the quiet company of her husband. Her life during this period was one of continuous strain and suffering which she bore with the utmost patience and quietude. She spent the greater period of the time either with Sri Aurobindo’s maternal relatives at Deoghar or with her parents at Shillong. She was present with her husband at the time of his arrest at 48, Grey Street in May 1908 and received a frightful mental shock of which the writer and others saw a most painful evidence in the delirium of her last illness ten years later.

The writer is unable to say from his own knowledge how far Mrinalini agreed with and helped her husband in his public activities, but he can say this much for certain that she never stood in the way of his work. She never evinced any aspiration for public work.

VI. The famous letter of Sri Aurobindo to his wife bears the date 30th August without mention of the year. There is a reference in the letter to the death of a brother of hers (a second bereavement to her parents) from which the writer makes out the year to be 1905. It was the month of the declaration of the Bengal Boycott. Sri Aurobindo was apparently then at Baroda, and Mrinalini with her parents at Shillong.

The writer has never seen any of Mrinalini’s letters to her husband and is therefore unable to say whether they contained anything noteworthy.

VII. The writer cannot throw any light on the mutual relations between Mrinalini and her husband, except that they were characterised by a sincere though quiet affection on the side of the husband and a never questioning obedience from the wife. One can gather much in this respect from Sri Aurobindo’s published letters. After Sri Aurobindo left Bengal, the two never met again, but all who knew her could see how deeply she was attached to her husband and how she longed to join him at Pondicherry. The fates however decreed it otherwise.

During the first 3 or 4 years of his exile, Sri Aurobindo lulled her with the hope that some day (which we thought could not be very distant) he would return to Bengal. His letters to his wife as well as to the writer were few and far between, but they gave ample grounds for such a hope. At last Sri Aurobindo ceased to write at all, possibly because of his exclusive preoccupation with Yoga, but to the last day of her life Mrinalini never ceased to hope.

VIII. There was no issue of the marriage. During Sri Aurobindo’s trial at Alipore which lasted a full twelve months Mrinalini lived with her parents at Shillong or with her uncle Girish Babu in Calcutta. She paid several visits to her husband at Alipore Central Jail in the company of her father. She never evinced any visible agitation during those exciting times, but kept quiet and firm throughout.

IX. Sri Aurobindo disappeared from Calcutta at the end of February or beginning of March 1910. Mrinalini was living at the time in Calcutta. We did not know his whereabouts, until several weeks later it was announced in the papers that he had escaped to Pondicherry to get out of the reach of the British Courts.

Sri Aurobindo never called his wife to Pondicherry for Sadhana. They never met again. Her father made a serious attempt after his retirement from Government service in 1916 to take her to Pondicherry but the attitude of Government at the time prevented him from realising this wish.

These long years of separation (1910-18) she spent with her parents at Shillong and Ranchi, paying occasional visits to Calcutta. She devoted these years almost exclusively to meditation and the reading of religious literatures which consisted for the most part of the writings of Swami Vivekananda and the teachings of his Great Master.

The writer believes she perused all the published writings of the Swami and all the publications of the Udbodhan Office. Of these she has left behind an almost complete collection.

Mrinalini often visited Sri Ma (widow of Paramhansa Dev) at the Udbodhan Office in Bagbazar, who treated her with great affection, calling her Bau-Ma (the normal Bengali appellation for daughter-in-law) in consideration of the fact that the Holy Mother regarded Sri Aurobindo as her son.

Mrinalini desired at one time to receive dīksha from one of the Sannyasins of the Ramakrishna Mission. Her father wrote to Sri Aurobindo for the necessary permission but the latter in reply advised her not to receive initiation from any one else and he assured her that he would send her all the spiritual help she needed. She was content therefore to remain without any outward initiation.

X. Mrinalini passed away in Calcutta in the 32nd year of her life on the 17th of December 1918, a victim of the fell scourge of influenza which swept over India in that dreaded year.

There was nothing notable about her death. In fact but for the fate which united her for a part of her short life to one of the most remarkable and forceful personalities of the age, her life had nothing extraordinary about it.

Nothing happens in the world without serving some purpose of the Divine Mother, and no doubt she came and lived to fulfil a Divine purpose which we may guess but can never know.

For sometime before she passed away, she had been selling her ornaments and giving away the proceeds in charity and what remained unsold, she left with her friend Miss Sudhira Bose, at the time Lady Superintendent of the Sister Nivedita School. Soon after her death Sudhira sold off the ornaments and the whole of the proceeds, some two thousand rupees was, with Sri Aurobindo’s permission, made over to the Ramakrishna Mission and constituted into an endowment named after Mrinalini, out of the interest of which a girl student is maintained at the Sister Nivedita School.

XI. Mrinalini in the Mother—the writer would rather say nothing about this. If the facts relating to the descent of Mrinalini’s spirit in the Mother which the writer heard from the Mother herself are to be published, it is proper that the Mother’s permission be taken by the publisher and she be approached for an authentic and firsthand account of the incident. The writer is greatly afraid that he might be guilty of grave mistakes if he were to narrate it from his own memory.

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[1] The portion was kept blank by the author but the date of Mrinalini Devi’s birth is 6 March 1887.