The 1936-37 version of Savitri: First Installment

Dear Friends,

We are happy to announce that Overman Foundation has received permission from Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust to publish the 1936-37 version of Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri in its online forum. We are extremely grateful to Shri Manoj Das Gupta, Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, for giving us the said permission.

About this version, Nirodbaran writes in his Twelve Years With Sri Aurobindo: “It is only in the version of 1936, sent in instalments privately to Amal [Kiran], that we find for the first time, brief descriptions of the planes, starting with the plane of subtle matter. Later these brief descriptions are amplified and each plane gets a fairly long Canto to itself. In the 1936 version there are no Cantos yet—there are only sections with sub-headings.” (p. 177, 1995 edition)

The first installment of the 1936-37 version of Savitri has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Overman Foundation.



The Last Dawn

IT was the hour before the Gods awake.
Across the path of the divine Event
The huge unslumbering spirit of Night, alone
In the unlit temple of immensity,
Lay stretched immobile upon silence’ marge,
Mute with the unplumbed prevision of her change.
The impassive skies were neutral, waste and still.
Then a faint hesitating glimmer broke.
A slow miraculous gesture dimly came,
The insistent thrill of a transfiguring touch
Persuaded the inert black quietude
And beauty and wonder disturbed the fields of God.
A wandering hand of pale enchanted light
That glowed along the moment’s fading brink,
Fixed with gold panel and opalescent hinge
A gate of dreams ajar on mystery’s verge.
A thought was sown in the unsounded Void,
A sense was born within the darkness’ depths
Vague like a promise from still powerless suns,
A memory quivered in the heart of Time
As if a soul long dead were moved to live.
But the oblivion that succeeds the fall
Obscured the crowded tablets of the past,
And all that was destroyed must be rebuilt
And slow creation laboured out once more.
Yet the undying Ray took shape on high.
Out of the superconscient altitudes
A glamour from unreached transcendences
Iridescent with the glory of the Unseen,
The brief perpetual sign recurred above.
Ablaze awhile upon creation’s edge
Dawn built her aura of magnificent hues,
Burying its seed of grandeur in the hours—
Bright like a soul that nears the sill of birth
And is absorbed into life’s common day,
A spark of heaven enshrined in Matter’s crypt,
Its lustre vanishing in the inconscient planes.
Almost that morn the epiphany was disclosed
Of which she is the coloured signal-flare:
A lonely splendour from the invisible goal
Almost was flung upon the opaque Inane.
Only a little the God-light endures,
But through that little the ancient Marvel shines.
Once more a tread perturbed the vacant vasts.
A face upon infinity’s borders, One
Parted the ageless lids that open Heaven;
A Form from far beatitudes seemed to near.
Ambassadress twixt eternity and change,
Outlined but still protected by her mask,
The omniscient Goddess leaned above the breadths
That wrap the fated journeyings of the stars
And saw the spaces ready for her feet.
Once she half looked behind for her veiled Sun,
Then, thoughtful, turned to her immortal work.
Earth felt the Imperishable’s passage close,
The waking ear of Nature heard her steps
And wideness turned to her its limitless eye,
And, scattered on sealed depths, her luminous smile
Kindled to fire the silence of the worlds.
All grew a consecration and a rite.
Air was a vibrant link between earth and heaven;
The wide-winged hymn of a great priestly wind
Arose and failed upon the altar hills,
The high boughs prayed in a revealing sky.
Here where our half-lit ignorance skirts the gulfs
On the dumb bosom of the ambiguous earth,
Here where one knows not even the step in front
And Truth has her throne on the shadowy back of doubt,
An anguished and precarious field of toil
Outspread beneath some large indifferent gaze,
Our prostrate soul bore the awakening Light.
Here too the glamour and prophetic flame
Touched for an instant trivial daylong shapes,
Then the divine afflatus, lost, withdrew,
Dimmed, fading slowly from the mortal’s range.
A sacred yearning lingered in its trace,
The worship of a Presence and a Power
Too perfect to be held by death-bound hearts,
The prescience of a marvellous birth to come.
Affranchised from its respite of fatigue,
Once more the rumour of the speed of Life
Renewed the cycles of the blinded quest.
All sprang to their unvarying daily acts;
The thousand peoples of the soil and tree
Obeyed the unforeseeing instant’s urge,
And, leader here with his uncertain mind,
Alone who seeks the future’s covered face,
Man lifted up the burden of his fate.

     And Savitri too woke among these tribes
That hastened to join the brilliant summoner’s chant
And, lured by the beauty of the apparent ways,
Acclaimed their portion of ephemeral joy.
Akin to the eternity whence she came,
No part she took in their small happiness.
Its chequered eager motion of pursuit
And fluttering-hued illusion of desire,
Its message of brief light shone not for her.
A mighty stranger in the human field,
The embodied Guest within made no response.
In her there was the anguish of the Gods
Imprisoned in the transience of our mould,
The deathless conquered by the death of things.
A vaster joy had dwelt with her, but long
Could stand not on this brittle earthly base.
A narrow movement on Time’s deep abysm,
Life’s fragile littleness denied the power
And proud and conscious wideness and the bliss
That she had brought into the mortal form:
Offered to the daughter of Infinity
Its passion-flower of love and doom it gave.
As with one who watches over men left blind
And bears the load of the unwitting race,
A dread foreknowledge separated her
From all of whom she was the star and stay:
To the lone immortal’s unshared work she rose.
At first life ached not in her burdened breast.
Awhile she lay in silence twixt two realms,
Nothing recalling of the sorrow here,
Then sighing put her hand upon her bosom,
Nor knew why the dull lingering grief was there,
Deep, quiet, old, made natural to its place.
Heavy, unwilling were life’s servitors
Like workers with no wages of delight:
Sullen, the torch of sense refused to burn;
The unassisted brain found not its past.
Only some vague earth-nature held the frame.
But soon her strong far-winging spirit returned
Across the ebbing of the seas of sleep.
Her house of Nature felt the unseen sway:
Illumined swiftly were the darkened rooms,
And memory’s casements opened on the hours,
And the tired feet of thought approached her doors.
All came back to her. Earth and love and doom,
Dim giant figures wrestling in the night,
The ancient disputants encircled her,
And in the shadow of her flaming heart
At the sombre centre of the dire debate
An image white of high and godlike Pain,
A guardian of the unconsoled abyss
Inheriting the long agony of the globe,
Appeared and gazed with fixed regardless eyes
That saw grief’s timeless depths but not life’s goal.
Afflicted by his harsh divinity,
Bound to his throne, he waited unappeased
The daily oblation of her unwept tears.
All the fierce question of man’s hours relived:
The sacrifice of suffering and desire
Earth offers to the immortal ecstasy
Began again beneath the eternal Hand.
Awake she endured the moments’ serried march,
And looked on this green smiling dangerous world,
And heard the ignorant cry of living things.
Her soul arose confronting Time and Fate:
Immobile in herself, she gathered force.
This was the day when Satyavan must die.

The Issue [2]

Awhile she moved in the many-imaged past.
All that she once had dreamed and hoped and been
Flew by her eagle-winged through memory’s skies.
All her life’s highways and its sweet bypaths
Were mapped in her sun-clear recording view,—
Then this new turn where Heaven raced with Hell.
Twelve passionate months had brought a day of Fate
When, lonely, she must face the power of Death,
Measuring her depths with his all-seizing Night.
Alone among unknowing happy hearts
Her armoured soul kept watch upon the hours
Listening for a foreseen tremendous step
In the closed beauty of the inhuman wilds.
A combatant in silent dreadful lists,
No helper had she but the Strength within;
There was no witness of terrestrial eyes.
The Gods above and Nature sole below
Were the spectators of that mighty strife.
Around her were the austere sky-pointing hills
And the green murmurous broad deep-thoughted woods
Muttering incessantly their muffled spell.
Here in this dense magnificent coloured world,
Amid the chequered sunbeams and blithe flowers
Draped in the leaves’ emerald vivid monotone,
Immured, her destiny’s secluded scene
Kept vacant for its act a grandiose stage:
Her drama’s radiant prologue here she had lived.
Twelve months before this white ray-haunted dawn
Here through an aureate opening in Time
Amidst the cloistral yearning of the woods
And under the aspiration of the peaks,
Changing to rapture the dull earthly round,
Repeating the marvel of the first descent
Love came to her hiding the shadow, Death.
Well might he find in her his perfect shrine!
Since first the Earth-being’s heavenward growth began,
Through all the long ordeal of the race,
Never a rarer creature bore his shaft,
That burning test of the godhead in our parts,
A lightning from the heights on our abyss.
All in her pointed to a nobler kind.
Near to earth’s wideness, intimate with heaven,
Exalted and swift her young large-visioned spirit
Winging through worlds of splendour and of calm
O’erflew the ways of Thought to unborn things.
Ardent was her self-poised unstumbling will,
Her mind, a sea of white sincerity,
Passionate in flow, had not one turbid wave.
As in a mystic and dynamic dance
A priestess of immaculate ecstasies,
Inspired and ruled from Truth’s revealing vault,
Moves in some prophet cavern of the Gods,
A heart of silence in the hands of joy
Inhabited with rich creative beats
A body like a parable of dawn
That seemed a niche for veiled divinity
Or golden temple-door to things beyond.
Immortal rhythms swayed in her time-born steps;
Her look, her smile awoke celestial sense
Even in earth-stuff and their intense delight
Poured a supernal beauty on men’s lives.
The great unsatisfied godhead here could dwell.
Vacant of the dwarf self’s imprisoned air,
Her mood could harbour his sublimer breath
Spiritual that can make all things divine:
For even her gulfs were secrecies of light.
At once she was the stillness and the Word,
A continent of self-diffusing peace,
An ocean of untrembling virgin fire.
In her he met a vastness like his own;
His warm high subtle ether he refound
And moved in her as in his natural home.
Till then no mournful line had barred this Ray
Since her orbed sight in its breath-fastened house,
Opening in sympathy with happier stars
Where life is not exposed to sorrowful change,
Remembered beauty death-claimed lids ignore
And wondered at this scene of fragile forms
Carried on canvas strips of shimmering Time.
Although she learned to bear the human load,
The impunity of unborn Mights was here.
A radiance from the Immortals’ world was there:
Almost they saw who lived within her light
The white-fire dragon-bird of endless bliss,
Her playmate in the sempiternal spheres
In her attracting advent’s lustrous wake
Descended from his unattainable realms,
Drifting with burning wings above her days.
Heaven’s tranquil shield guarded the missioned child
A glowing orbit was her early term,—
Years like gold raiment of the Gods that pass;
Her youth sat throned in calm felicity
But joy cannot endure until the end.
There is a darkness in terrestrial things
That will not suffer long too glad a note.
The armed Immortal bore the snare of Time.
One dealt with her who meets the burdened great.
A Will moves his too large for us to know,
Whose sanction he obeys as him our fates.
Assigner of the ordeal and the path
Who uses in this holocaust of the soul
Death, fall and sorrow for the spirit’s goads,
The dubious Godhead with his torch of pain
Lit up the chasm of the unfinished world,
Calling to fill with her vast self the abyss.
He used the Spirit’s dreadful strategy.
Assailing her divinest elements,
Measuring the difficulty with the might,
He dug more deep the gulf that all must cross,
Made kin her heart to the striving human heart,
And forced her strength to its appointed road.
To wrestle with the Shadow she had come
And must confront the riddle of man’s birth
And life’s brief struggle in dim Matter’s night.
Whether to bear with Ignorance and Death
Or hew the ways of Immortality,
To lose or win the godlike game for man,
Was her soul’s issue thrown with Destiny’s dice.
But not to accept and suffer was she born.
This was no fabric of terrestrial make,
A creature formed to bend beneath the yoke
Submissive and subject to earth’s dolorous law,
Half-animated for a passing play
An image fluttering on the screen of Fate,
Or, tossed along the gulfs of circumstance,
A chattel and a plaything of Time’s lords.
A conscious Frame was here, a self-born Force.
For in this strange uneasy compromise
Of limiting Nature with the limitless Self
Where all must move between an ordered Chance
And an uncaring blind Necessity,
Too high the Fire spiritual dare not blaze.
An answering touch might shatter all measures made
And earth sink down with the weight of the Infinite.
A grey tribunal of the Ignorance,
An inquisition of the priests of Night
In judgment sit on the adventurer Soul,
And the dual tables and the Karmic norms
Restrain the Titan in us and the God,
Pain with its lash, joy with its silver bribe
Guard the Wheel’s circling immobility.
A bond is put on the high-climbing mind,
A seal on the too vast and open heart
To keep the throne of the Inconscient safe,
While the slow coilings of the aeons pass
And the Animal browses in the sacred fence
And the gold Hawk can cross the skies no more.
But one stood up who lit the limitless flame.
Arraigned by the dark Power that hates all bliss
In the dire court where life must pay for joy,
Sentenced by the mechanic justicer
To the afflicting penalty of man’s hopes,
Her head she bowed not to the unseen decree,
Obedient to the statutes fixed of old,
Admitting without appeal the nether Gods.
Inapt to fold its mighty wings of dream,
Her spirit refused struck from the starry list
To quench in dull despair the God-given light,
Asked not from mortal frailty pain’s relief,
Accepted not to close the luminous page
And set a signature of weak assent
To the brute balance of the world’s exchange.
In her own self she found her high recourse
And matched with the iron law her sovereign right;
Her single will opposed the cosmic rule.
To stay the wheels of Doom this greatness rose.
A flaming warrior from the eternal peaks
Empowered to force the doors denied and closed
Smote from death’s visage its dumb absolute
And burst the bonds of consciousness and Time.

(To be continued)

[1] From Sri Aurobindo’s Notes: “This First Book is divided into sections and the larger sections into subsections… The first section is ‘The last Dawn’, i.e., the dawn of the day of Satyavan’s death, (but it must be remembered that everything is symbolic or significant in the poem, so this dawn also,) the next is ‘The Issue’; both of these are short. Then comes a huge section of the Yoga of the Lord of the Horse (Aswapati, father of Savitri) relating how came about the birth of Savitri and its significance; finally the birth and child¬hood of Savitri” (26.10.1936).

[2] From Sri Aurobindo’s Notes: “Here is… the second section which is entitled ‘The Issue’—that is of course the issue between Savitri and Fate or rather between the incarnate Light, the Sun Goddess, and Death the Creator and Devourer of this world with his Law of darkness, limitation, ignorance.” (31 October 1936)


Polemics of Decolonisation: The Art Criticism of Sri Aurobindo and Ananda Coomaraswamy by Dr. Sachidananda Mohanty

Shortly after August 1910, on exile from British India at the French enclave of Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo wrote a rejoinder to an article entitled ‘Comment and Criticism: The Indian Fine Arts critics’, earlier published in The Modern Review of Calcutta (Vol. 8, No.2, pp. 207-13). The Review’s editor identified the author of the article as ‘a student of Ravi Varma, (1848-1906) the famous Indian artist.’ While defending Varma, the article made disparaging remarks against critics such as Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Sister Nivedita.

Castigating the reviewer for his ‘theatrical wit and school boy impertinence’, Sri Aurobindo thought that ‘the Ravi Varma superstition in India had received its quietus’. For the painter in question, ‘is the grand debaser of Indian taste and artistic culture.’ Sadly, ‘a belated lance is lifted in the August number of The Modern Review for the fallen idol.’ (ECW: 468)

The hostility displayed in the review, adds Sri Aurobindo, is baffling. After all, he says: ‘Dr. Coomaraswamy is a critic of established reputation whose contributions to the study of Indian Art are valued in every country in Europe and Asia where the subject is studied. Sister Nivedita’s ‘literary genius, exquisite sympathetic insights and fine artistic culture are acknowledged by all who have the faculty of judging both in England and in India. Havell has a recognized position in the criticism of Art. One may differ from such authorities, but one is at least bound to treat them with some show of respect.’ While the criticism of Nivedita and Havell are somewhat guarded, possibly because they are foreigners, Coomaraswamy’s credentials, Sri Aurobindo suggests, are dismissed by referring to him, as a ‘geologist’ and a ‘doctor’. The idea apparently is to project the Indian arts critic as an imposter. There is the display of a ‘characteristic specimen of wit’ in the Modern Review: ‘We cannot expect anything better from a Geologist, who naturally loves and is made to love everything rigid and stony.’

The text of Sri Aurobindo’s rejoinder was incomplete and the piece remained unpublished during his life time. However, its contents are worthy of critical attention since these are in line with much of what he wrote on the subject around this time. It illuminates our understanding of several issues of the day and draws attention to unresolved questions of postcoloniality, and contemporary cultural criticism. These include our understanding of the relationship between traditions and modernities, usable traditions and unusable modernities, religious nationalism and secular modernity, cultural continuities/universals vis-à-vis cultural specificities, and finally, the ‘Mission’ and ‘uniqueness’ of cultures versus cultures seen as socio-historical and political constructs.

While I shall allude to some of the above in the course of my essay, I shall primarily focus on the role of the arts in the polemics of decolonisation used by two kindred spirits of the early 20th century; namely Sri Aurobindo and Ananda Coomaraswamy.

While postcolonial critics such as Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, Aizaz Ahmed, and others have unveiled the colonial cartography in ample measure, there seems to be a surprising omission of the earlier narratives of decolonisation during the early part of the 20th century. Many of these seem to belong to the dominant religious/spiritual traditions of the day. Later and more recent approaches have preferred the secular and cultural materialist position. Modern systems of thought have not paid adequate attention to the question of faith and the notion of the sacred. The upsurge in religious fundamentalism world wide could be one of the many factors that may have caused an intellectual weariness to handle this question. I shall argue in this essay that there is a need to come up with an alternative theory. For; the omission has impoverished postcolonial theory significantly. It has ignored a vital world view and a significant part of the cultural history of South Asia. For my purpose, I shall therefore take up for closer study the art criticism of Ananda Coomaraswamy and Sri Aurobindo against the backdrop of decolonisation that was central to both the figures.


There are remarkable parallels (and notable differences) between Sri Aurobindo (15 August 1872 to 5 December 1950) and Ananda Coomaraswamy (22 August 1877 to 9 September 1947). Their life span makes them contemporaries. Both came from the upper class/caste background and both were products of the modern West. Coomaraswamy’s parents were the Ceylonese Tamil legislator and philosopher Sir Muthu Coomaraswamy and his English wife Elizabeth Beeby. Young Coomaraswamy lost his father at the age of two and was educated and brought up abroad. Moving to England in 1879, at the age of 12, he attended a preparatory school in Stroud, Gloucestershire and graduated from University College, London in 1900 with a degree in Geology and Botany.

On 19 June 1902, Coomaraswamy married Ethel Mary Partridge and moved to Ceylon. His contributions to mineralogy led to the formation of the Geological Survey of Ceylon which he headed for some time.

After his divorce and second marriage to an English woman who performed on stage in the name of Ratan Devi, he moved to the United States to serve as the first keeper of Indian Art in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1917. He had two more marriages, to American artist Stella Bloch in November 1922 and Argentine Luisa Runstein in November 1930. He was a distinguished member of the art circle in New York City, and a close friend of the artist Alfred Stieglitz. In 1933 he became a Fellow for Research in Indian Persian and Mohammedan Art at the Museum of Fine Art.

He wrote more than thirty books on art, sculpture, art history, architecture, philosophy, metaphysics, and East-West Relations and undoubtedly ranks as one of the best known exponents of Indian arts in the West. His middle name ‘Kentish’, marker of a valorised English pedigree and culture, generally unnoticed in his later career, might signify a dethronement of one’s colonial past. Both in his life and vocations, he stands at the cross roads between tradition and modernity, East and the West. He stood for values described as inalienably ‘Indian’ and yet chose places of work and life companions who went beyond national boundaries and political frontiers. He was synthetic and universal in outlook. Part of the close circle of Rabindranath Tagore, he chose the art galleries and museums of the advanced West as the place of work and dissemination of ideas. His many lives flowed effortlessly from nationalism to cosmopolitanism, based on the primacy of the arts. From the English soil he seems to draw sustenance from Victorian critics like, Mathew Arnold, John Ruskin, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the latter’s faith in the centrality of art in the Victorian Society. There are also the influences of the earlier historical periods such as the Hellenic, the European Renaissance and other civilization of the World such as the ancient, the pre-colonial India that underlined the importance of the arts and aesthetics in national life. Blake’s vision of a new Hellas or a New Jerusalem that marks the fusion between art and the New World would be a favoured ideal for Coomaraswamy.

Coomaraswamy’s ideas, beliefs and life values, both artistic and creative, were not derivative. He assimilated influences both old and new and forged approaches that were innovative and creative.


Coomaraswamy’s better known counterpart in this essay, Sri Aurobindo, had an equally anglicised upbringing and carried an English style middle name, ‘Akroyd’, after his father’s friend Annettle Akroyd, the founder of the Brahmo girls’ school in Calcutta (Heehs:7). Aurobindo’s parents were Kristo Dhone Ghose (or K. D. Ghose) and Swarnalotta, daughter of Rajnaryan Basu, a leading member of the Brahmo Samaj and Bengal Renaissance. K.D. Ghose who earned a degree of M.D from Aberdeen University, U.K. was thoroughly anglicized and wanted his children to follow his footsteps. Like Coomaraswamy, Sri Aurobindo and his brothers, particularly Manmohan and Barindra Kumar were denied maternal affection .Soon after Aurobindo’s birth, Swarnalotta showed signs of mental disorder which persisted till the end of her life.

At the Ghose household, no Indian languages including Bengali was spoken. The three children were admitted to the Loreto Convent, Darjeeling in 1877. Later in 1879, they were taken to Manchester and left under the care of a congregational Minister named William H Drewett who was asked by K. D. Ghose not to allow the children to ‘make the acquaintance of any Indian or undergo any Indian influence’. (Heehs: 9) Although an agnostic, K.D. Ghose insisted that his children ought to be left free to decide about the question of faith. In his childhood, Aurobindo remained an agnostic. After spending five years at Manchester, Aurobindo studied at St. Paul’s school, London in 1884 and King’s College, Cambridge in 1890. In 1892 he passed the ICS but did not appear at a riding test and was disqualified.

Aurobindo arrived in Bombay on February 6, 1893 and joined the Baroda Service, first in the administration and then as a Professor of English and French at the Baroda College. By 1900, he turned attention to the National Freedom Struggle. He established contact with Secret societies in Maharashtra and Bengal. On 30 April 1902 he married Mrinalini Bose. He plunged actively into the Swadeshi Movement in 1905 over the Partition of Bengal and became the editor of Bande Mataram in 1906. He joined as the Principal of Bengal National College. In 1908 he was arrested in the Alipore Bomb Case and after a year in jail he was acquitted on 6 May 1909. After his acquittal he edited two journals Dharma and Karmayogin. Following a divine command or ‘Adesh’ he reached Pondicherry on 4 April 1910. On 29 March 1914 he met, Mirra Alfassa later known as the Mother who became his spiritual collaborator. From 15 August 1914 to January 1921 the English monthly Arya carried his best known writings. On September 19, 1940, during the World War II, Sri Aurobindo declared support for Allies. He gave the Independence Day message on 15 August 1947 where he spelt out his vision of a new resurgent India and the future of humanity. Towards the end of his life, he devoted attention to his Magnum Opus, Savitri, and passed away on 5 December 1950.

I have spent some time in drawing attention to the key aspects of the life histories of the two figures because I believe the main trajectories of their lives have a bearing on the decolonising agenda they championed.

Sri Aurobindo is widely known as a nationalist, philosopher and mystic. He looked at himself primarily as a poet. His reputation as a spiritual Guru and Saint has somewhat eclipsed his considerably body of critical and cultural writings, a portion of which deals significantly with literature and the arts. As in the case of Coomaraswamy, Sri Aurobindo’s conceptions of art and his significant art criticism are to be seen as the inextricable part of his larger view of life of which decolonisation plays a crucial role. While the Ceylonese thinker’s writings on art are better known than his views on and participation in the political struggle for freedom, Sri Aurobindo’s nationalistic writings are better recognized than his art criticism. Even the more celebrated The Foundations of Indian Culture which appeared in the Arya from November 1918 to January 1921 which contains a significant body of criticism devoted to sculpture, painting, music and architecture have not received the attention they deserve among students of art history and comparative aesthetics.

The chapter on Indian Art offers a comprehensive account on this subject. This and four other chapters gain significance from the opening chapter provocatively titled ‘Is India Civilized?’ The underlying argument is that all aspects of national culture including the arts have to be seen against the backdrop of the Indian nationhood. The discovery of the meaning of the Indian nation against the larger world civilisations is therefore an essential requisite for art criticism of both Coomaraswamy and Sri Aurobindo. There are at least three specific references to Coomaraswamy in the Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo (new edition), Early Cultural Writings, pp. 468-69. Renaissance in India, p. 255 and Karmayogin, pp. 244-48.

Coomaraswamy’s best known work The Dance of Shiva was published by Sun wise Turn Press, New York in 1918 around the time Sri Aurobindo published The Renaissance in India, August-November 1918. The equally notable art criticism of Sri Aurobindo comprised the period between 1909 and 1910 and all of them, namely The National Value of Art, a series of six essays, ‘Two Pictures’, ‘Indian Art and an Old Classic’ and ‘The Revival of Indian Art’ appeared in the Karmayogin. Similarly two other essays in the form of reviews appeared in Arya. ‘South Indian Bronzes’ was published in the journal in October 1915 and in Views and Reviews since 1941. Likewise, ‘Rupam’ was published in the Arya in July 1917 and in Views and Reviews since 1941. Since the journal Arya enjoyed a good circulation and was widely noticed in nationalistic, philosophical and cultural circles, it would be fair to assume that Coomaraswamy and Sri Aurobindo were broadly aware of each other’s writings although we may not have enough knowledge regarding the actual correspondence between the two.

Aside from The Foundations of Indian Culture and Early cultural Writings, Sri Aurobindo underlined his approach to decolonisation in The Secret of the Vedas where he gave a symbolic interpretation of the Vedas from the Indian point of view.


Let me consider Coomaraswamy’s The Dance of Shiva from the points of my arguments implicit in the title of my paper. The book is divided into chapters that include, among others, the following: Indian Philosophy of life, View of art: Hindu and Buddhist, the Dance of Shiva, Status of Indian Women, Sahaja and Young India.

Each race, contends Coomaraswamy, contributes something unique to the word’s civilizations in keeping with its own spirit, its own Swabhava. India’s own contribution would be its Indianness. While there cannot be anything absolutely unique with regard to any nation’s experience, ‘its peculiarities will be chiefly a matter of selection and emphasis, certainly not a difference in specific humanity.’ (p.3)

India’s genius, he says, is found in a ‘constant intuition of the unity of all life,’ and ‘the conviction that the recognition of this unity is the highest good and the uttermost freedom.’ This view has permeated all aspects of her life and is the essential basis of sociology and education. Along with this view, there are several other concepts that lend uniqueness to this approach. Moksha liberates us from Avidya or ignorance. It believes in the will to power rather than the Will to Life that characterizes the dominant commercialism of the modern West. Unlike the Hindu view, the Buddhist advocates an ‘escape from the eternal recurrence’ as the ‘summum bonum’, the wisest purpose of life. There is the ‘religion of eternity’ (Nirguna Vidya) and the religion of Time (Saguna Vidya). The ideal is not to create a distinction between the Sacred and the profane but ‘to illuminate daily life with the life of heaven.’

Other categories are equally noteworthy: Pravritti Marga typified by outward movement, the path of pursuit and self assertion and Nivritti Marga, the path of return and inward self-realization.

While this world view preaches equality among men and women, there cannot be absolute equality, because as Coomaraswamy argues, ‘variation of temperament or inheritance… constitutes the natural inequality of men, an inequality that is too often ignored by the theories of Western democracies’. India’s social institutions including the marriage systems, he adds, have wisely emphasized duties rather than rights. Here again, as in the case of the caste systems, Coomaraswamy seems to be less forthcoming about the pronounced inequity in the Indian society.

The character of the world process follows a rhythmic process; subject-object, self-non self, will-matter, unity-diversity, love-hate birth-death, evolution-involution, descent-ascent, Srusthi and Samhara.

The Chaturvarna that is the basis of the Indian caste system argues Coomaraswamy is ‘designed rather to unite than to divide’. For the members of the different castes enjoy greater commonalities than differences. The system demands higher ethical and spiritual standards from the so-called upper castes. The higher the position in the caste hierarchy, the more stringent is the punishment for transgression. ‘For, responsibility rises with intelligence and status.’ We have here a body of collective privileges and responsibilities akin to guild socialism. There is unfortunately ‘decay’ in Asia because of the shift from cooperation to competition. Such a turn may spell doom for Europe. It will not be able to fight industrialism because this enemy will be entrenched Asia. (20) The objective of human life is not the pursuit of material life, physical objects and comforts, but to develop the ‘mental, moral and spiritual powers latent in man.’


Sri Aurobindo’s exposition of Indian culture, outlined in The Foundations of Indian Culture was written in response to ‘an extravagant jeu d’esprit’ by William Archer, the drama critic in his India and the Future. The latter volume was ably critiqued by Sir John Woodroffe in a defence provocatively entitled Is India Civilized?: Essays on Indian Culture. The epigraph to Woodroffe’s opening chapter is a telling quotation from Archer that sums up the latter’s view of India:

Barbarian, barbarism, barbarous — I am sorry to harp so much on these words. But they express the essence of the situation … There are of course many thousands of individuals who have risen and are rising above it (barbarism), but the plain truth concerning the mass of the (Indian) population — and not the poorer classes alone — is that they are not civilized people (Woodroffe: XII)

How do we judge a culture asks Sri Aurobindo. The greatness of a culture lies in the manner it tries to effect a ‘natural harmony of spirit, mind and body.’ Spirituality is the keynote of Indian culture although others have also had spiritual components to their own. All cultures go through the stages of conflict, competition, concert and finally the spirit of sacrifice and mutual sharing.

We see the desire of Europe, argues Sri Aurobindo, to Europeanize the entire world in its self-image. Either India will be rationalized or industrialized out of all recognition or will be ‘the leader of a new phase.’ Indian Religion has passed through four principal stages. It comprises the following:

A belief in the highest conscious state of existence
A need for self preparation by development and experience
An imperative to provide well founded knowledge and self-discipline
A necessity to sustain an organisation of the individual and collective life for gradual progress.

While the Chaturvarna in its intention may have envisaged a flexible structure of the four fold order, Sri Aurobindo is firm that the caste system of the later period was an utter caricature and ought to be discarded. He makes no compromises regarding systems he sees are outmoded and therefore must be cast off completely.

For the European mind there is the Indian ‘political incompetence,’ ‘despotism of the Brahmin theocracy’ and ‘absolute monarchy of the oriental’. In reality, however, the Indian polity was based on ‘communal freedom and self-discrimination.’

As Sri Aurobindo wrote insightfully in August 1919 in the Arya:

The mentality of the West has long cherished the aggressive and quite illogical idea of a single religion for all mankind, a religion universal by the very force of its narrowness, one set of dogma, one cult, one system of ceremonies, one array of prohibitions and injunctions, one ecclesiastical ordinance. That narrow absurdity prances about as the one true religion which all must accept on peril of persecution by men here and spiritual rejection or fierce, eternal punishment by God in other worlds (IR: 146).

Both Sri Aurobindo and Coomaraswamy discarded a return to the past, to any form of revivalism, for the clock, they said, cannot be turned back. There is a paramount need for ‘creative introspection preparatory to renewed activity.’ ‘The first expression of national idealism is then a rehabilitation of the past.’ (DS: 166) As he declares aptly:

We would not and cannot return. In India, as in Europe, the vestige of ancient civilization must be renounced: we are called from the past and must make our home in the future. But to understand, to endorse with passionate conviction and to love what we have left behind us is the only possible foundation for power. If the time has hardly yet come for the creation of new values — and it cannot long be delayed — let us remember that time and sufferings are essential to all creation. (DS: 166)

Sri Aurobindo is equally futuristic in his approach while advocating a renewed understanding of our past. Writing in the Arya in May 1918 he outlined his vision of the future that clearly goes beyond nationalism and the project of decolonisation of the Indian Mind. It embraces his prophecy in the terrestrial evolution and the coming of a new spiritual society. He wrote:

Man’s road to spiritual Supermanhood will be open when he declares boldly that all he has yet developed, including the intellect of which he is so vainly proud, are now no longer sufficient for him. Light within shall be henceforth a pervading preoccupation. Then will this philosophy, art, science, ethics, social existence, vital pursuits be no longer an exercise in mind and life, done for themselves, carried in a circle, but a means of discovery of a greater truth behind mind and life and for the bringing of its power into our human existence (Sri Aurobindo: 135)


What then is the conception of art here? Since the defining features of Indian culture is the realizing of the underlying unity of life and the dominant spiritual motif, as argued by Coomaraswamy and Sri Aurobindo, then art should be an integral part of the national spirit.

In the Vedas, Coomaraswamy tells us, the practice of art is viewed as ‘a form of Yoga’ (DS: 24). Art is viewed in deeply psychological terms. For instance, Agni Purana draws a connection between dream and art. The practice of visualization as referred by Shankaracharya is seen identical in worship and art (DS: 27). The artist in order to be effective must realize four required moods of friendliness, compassion, sympathy and impartiality (DS: 27). He must meditate upon Shunyata or non-existence of all things. For, Yoga is ‘not merely a mental exercise or religious discipline, but the most practical preparation for any undertaking whatever’. For instance, Hanuman prays to the Gods before he attempts to rescue Sita in the Ashoka grove. In other words, art, ethics and spirituality go hand in hand in this scheme of things.

The aesthetic emotion — Rasa — in the spectator Rasika is carried through determinants (Vibhava) in Croce’s’s words ‘physical stimulants’ to aesthetic reproduction, consequents (Anubhava), ‘deliberate manifestation of feelings as gestures etc.’, mood (Bhava) 33 in number, ‘induced in the characters by pleasure and pain,’, ‘involuntary emotions’, (Satva Bhava) ‘emotional states originating in the inner nature. For the work of art to produce Rasa, one of the permanent moods must form a master motif in which all other expressions of emotions are subordinated. Degree of excellence in poetry is discussed in Kavya Prakasha and Sahitya Darpana.

As Coomaraswamy asks rhetorically:

What then is Beauty, what is it that entitles us to speak of diverse works as beautiful or rasavant? What is this sole quality which the most dissimilar works of art possess in common? Let us recall the history of a work of art. There is (1) an aesthetic emotion on the part of the original artist — the poet or creator; then (2) the internal expression of his intuition — the true creation or vision of beauty (3) the indication of this by external signs (language) for the purpose of communication — the technical activity; and finally (4) the resulting stimulation of the critic or Rasika to reproduction of the original intuition or of some approximation to it. (DS: 48)

On the other hand, early Buddhist art is popular, sensuous and animistic. Gandhara art is a mixture of the Eastern and Western formula. ‘Buddhist primitive’ art exists in Amarnath in India and Anuradhapura in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), thanks to ‘energy working in greater isolation’.

For Coomaraswamy, the dance of Shiva is a manifestation of primal rhythmic energy that represents Shiva’s main activities: Srusthi, Sthithi and Samhara. The dance is also symbolic of the world cycle.

Coomaraswamy is at his critical best when defending the many armed images of Indian art. For instance, Vincent Smith finds Indian sculptures that adorn the medieval temples as ‘hideous’, and ‘grotesque’. Similarly, Maskell speaks of ‘these hideous deities with animal’s heads and innumerable arms.’ Sir George Birdwood suggests that ‘the monstrous shape of the Puranic deities is unsuitable for the higher forms of artistic presentation.’ (DS : 80)

Coomaraswamy refutes these charges as completely unfounded. A basic lack of understanding of the spiritual traditions of Indian art is behind such abysmal condemnation. And thus, European viewers are apt to be repelled by the sculpture of ‘Hiranya-Kashipu’. The truth, however, is that it depicts the splendid rendering of the well-known themes of the impious king who met his death at the hands of the avenging deity in Man-lion form’. (DS: 83)

In turning to music, Coomaraswamy sees a similar difference in the attitude to music in the cross-cultural context. There is the European tradition of ‘Chamber music of an aristocratic society’ vis-a-vis temple music where the musician is the ‘Servant of God.’ We can understand this tradition with the help of Raga and Ragini. The Raga is a selection of five, six or seven notes distributed along the scale but the Raga is more particularized than a mode, for it has certain characteristic progression and a chief note to which the singer constantly returns.’ (DS: 90). Ragas are associated with rhythmic ritual of daily and seasonal life. The examples cited here are most telling. There is the parable of the singer who was forced to sing the Deepak Raga, and tragically burst into flame, and the equally symbolic tale of Narada who sang badly and the musical notes in the form of men and women lay ‘weeping over their broken arms and legs.’ (DS: 92). After all, the ‘Indian singer is a poet and the poet a singer.’ Indian music is essentially impersonal.

This view of art also finds parallels in Tagore’s conceptions spelt out in essays that are part of a collection called Personality: Lectures Delivered in America (1917). While arguing that art is created out of a Surplus of Emotions, Tagore went on to say:

The greatness and Beauty of Oriental Art, especially in Japan and China, consist in this, that there the artists have seen this soul of things and they believe in it. The West may believe in the soul of Man, but she does not really believe that the Universe has a soul. Yet this is the belief of the East, and the whole mental contribution of the East to mankind is filled with the idea. So we in the East need not go into details and emphasize them; for the most important thing is this universal soul, for which Eastern sages have sat in meditation and Eastern artists have joined them in artistic realization. (Devy:46)


Sri Aurobindo has a relatively smaller but equally significant body of art criticism that has been mentioned earlier. Of the art forms he does a closer analysis of forms of fine arts, sculpture and architecture while mentioning music in passing. Of literature, literary theory and criticism, he has written plentifully in his Future Poetry, earlier cultural writings and in his letters to poet disciples. Although not trained formally in the artistic tradition, Sri Aurobindo was exposed to the best of the Western and Indian art during his education in England as well as his Baroda days. He kept himself abreast of developments in art especially regarding the Bengal School of Art.

It is in the series of essays under what came to be known as The National Value of Art that Sri Aurobindo defines his concept of aesthetic nationalism. ‘The first and lowest use of art’, says Sri Aurobindo ‘is purely aesthetic, the second is the intellectual or educative, the third and highest the spiritual’. (ECW: 439). Each plays an important role. The aesthetic aspect of life is of crucial importance. He observes: ‘We do not ordinarily recognize how largely our sense of virtue is a sense of the beautiful in conduct and our sense of sin a sense of ugliness and deformity in conduct’. (ECW: 442). However, ethics and aesthetics have had a troubled relationship in the West. There were four gradations Sri Aurobindo says in the Greek ethical thought — ‘the euprepis, that which is seemly or outwardly decorous, the dikaion, that which is in accordance with dike or nomos, law, custom, standard of humanity based on the sense of fitness…, thirdly the agathon, the good based partly on the seemly and partly on the just and lawful, and reaching towards the purely beautiful; then finally the supreme kalon, that which is beautiful, the supreme standard… The progress of ethics in Europe has been largely a struggle between the Greek sense of aesthetic beauty and the Christian sense of higher good (ECW: 443).

Beyond the aesthetic and intellectual utility of art, there is the spiritual. For, ‘spirituality’ he says, ‘is a wider thing than formal religion – and it is in the service of spirituality that Art reaches its highest self – expression.’ (ECW: 450) Why is the cultivation of the arts important to the life of a nation. As Sri Aurobindo explains:

It is not necessary that every man should be an artist. It is necessary that every man should have his artistic faculty developed, his taste trained, his sense of beauty and insight into form and colour and that which is expressed in form and colour, made habitually active, correct and sensitive. (ECW: 153)

Sri Aurobindo brings to bear on his essays and reviews such as ‘Two Pictures’, ‘Indian Art and an Old Classic’, ‘The Revival of Indian Art’, ‘Rupam’ and ‘South Indian Bronzes’, his understanding of a spiritualized aesthetics and the role it can play creatively in the new Indian nation. And thus in “Shama’a” edited by Mrinalini Chattopadhyay, he singles out the English artist, J. D. Fergusson’s ‘Rose Rhythm’ and the accompanying article on his work by Charles Marriot. Sri Aurobindo finds in this portrait ‘a strong psychical truth’. ‘The impression given is the materialisation of a strong and vivid astral dream.’ The difference between this and the psychic manner in which the East will at once appear’ by turning to the ‘gracious and subtle Indian painting’ in the first number. (ECW: 626).

The same aesthetic skill is displayed in Sri Aurobindo’s review of O.C. Gangooly’s South Indian Bronzes, ‘an opulent collection of nearly a hundred fine plates proceeded by five chapters of letterpress, one side of the artistic work of the South’. Sri Aurobindo disproves the theory that divides the North and South on racial lines and posits instead the existence of two types of culture in ancient India. In discussing these bronzes, especially Nataraja, the Dancing Shiva in the ‘self-absorbed concentration the motionless peace and joy’, Sri Aurobindo alludes to the dominant spirit of Oriental art. ‘All characteristic Oriental art’, he declares, ‘indeed seeks to go beyond the emotions and the sense; a Japanese landscape of snow and hill is as much as image of the soul as a Buddha or flame haired spirit of the thunderbolt.’ (ECW: 582)


To conclude: Ananda Coomaraswamy and Sri Aurobindo manifest close parallels and some differences with regard to culture and nationalism. Products of the modern West, both critics turned to Indian sources for fashioning out a new national imaginary. Decolonisation was central to both. Yet both rejected forms of nativism or insular chauvinism. Instead, they espoused a cosmopolitanism firmly rooted to a critical understanding of Indian traditions. Coomaraswamy spent most part of his career in the West with western companions. Sri Aurobindo after early life in Baroda, and an active political life (1905 – 1910) in Bengal, retired to Pondicherry to ‘the cave of Tapasya,’ where with the French mystic Mirra Alfassa, he worked out a new destiny for mankind, based on his theory of a future evolution of Man. While Sri Aurobindo is more versatile in a multi-disciplinary context, and takes up art criticism as part of his larger oeuvre, Coomaraswamy’s knowledge of the history of arts is more focused and professional. Between the two, Coomaraswamy appears to be somewhat conservative in some areas of social living, yet both of them pioneered a radically new approach in the first half of the 20th Century.

Art historians need to make a fresh assessment of Coomaraswamy in the light of the criticism of Nihar Ranjan Ray, K.G,Subramanyan, Amritanayagam and others

The analysis of the art scene in this context must cover the days of the Company School of Art during the height of the Raj, the role played by Rabindranath Tagore, his nephews and the brothers Gaganendranath and Abanindranath, and others like Nandalal Bose. Yet others such as art administrators like E.B. Havell, the Principal of Calcutta School of Art, institutions like the Visva Bharati at Santiniketan, played an equally important role in the resurgent interest in Indian art

Although periodic assessment of the Bengal Renaissance continues to be made, art historians and critics need to make a similar evaluation of the contribution of early critics of Indian Art against the backdrop of Swaraj in ideas.

Sadly, both Sri Aurobindo and Ananda Coomaraswamy are neglected today, much to the detriment of theory and cultural criticism. It is hoped that a renewed interest in both vis a vis the role of the arts will help create a new meaning for the intellectual thought of modern India.


Note: An earlier version of this essay was presented at the national seminar on Ananda Coomaraswamy at the Department of Philosophy, University of Hyderabad, Feb 3-5 2011.I thank the Department of Philosophy especially Professor S.G. Kulkarni for inviting me to present this paper.


Aurobindo, Sri. 1993. India’s Rebirth, Mysore: Mira, Aditi Centre.

Aurobindo, Sri. 2003. Early Cultural Writings (ECW) (The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. I). Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

—– 1959; rpt. 1998. The Foundations of Indian Culture. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

—– 1997. Essays Divine and Human. (The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 12). Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

Barthes, Roland1977. Image, Music Text. London: Flamingo.

Coomaraswamy, Ananda K. 1918. The Dance of Shiva, Fourteen Indian Essays. New York: Sunwise Turn Press.

—– 1989. What is Civilization? New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Giroux, Henry A.1992. Literarcy, Pedagogy and Politics of Difference’. College English. 19-1.

Greenblatt, Stephen J. 1991. Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World, Oxford : Clarendon Press.

Heehs, Peter. 1989. Sri Aurobindo: A Brief Biography. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Hill, Patrick J.Hill.1991. ‘Multiculturalism: The Crucial Philosophical and Organizational Issues’ Change, July /August.

Havell, E.B. 1972. A Handbook of Indian Art. Varanasi: India Academy.

Kernan, Alvin.1990. The Death of Literature, New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Mohanty, Sachidananda.2008; 2009,2010..Sri Aurobindo: A Contemporary Reader, New Delhi: Routledge India, 2008;rpt.2008,2010.

———– 2009, ‘Adoptive Language, Culture Wars and Claims of Multiculturalism,’ JSL, JNU, Autumn.pp.40-47

Parekh, Bhiku 1999, ‘What is Multiculturalism? Seminar ed. Gurpreet

Reising, Russell J. The Unusuable Past, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Said, Edward.1985.Orientalism Reconsidered’, Cultural Critique, I Fall.

Woodroffe, John Sir.rpt. 2010. Delhi: Shivalik Prakashan.


About the Author: Dr. Sachidananda Mohanty is Professor, Department of English, University of Hyderabad. He is the recipient of several national and international awards including those from the British Council, the Salzburg, the Katha and the Fulbright. He has to his credit 21 books in English and in Oriya including D.H. Lawrence Studies in India, Writers’ Workshop,1990, Lawrence’s Leadership Politics and the Defeat of Fascism, Academic Foundation,1992, Understanding Cultural Exchange, Vision Books 1997, Literature and Culture, Prestige, 2000 Travel Writing and the Empire, Katha, 2002; rpt. 2003, Early Women’s writing in Orissa, 1898-1950: A Lost Tradition, Sage Publications, 2005, Gender and Cultural Identity in Colonial Orissa, Orient Longman 2008, and Sri Aurobindo: A Contemporary Reader, Routledge India, 2008; 2009. His essays and articles have appeared in some of the leading journals and forums in the country including India Today, The Hindu, The Indian Express, The New Quest, The Book Review and Economic and Political Weekly.


“Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry”—An Audio-Visual Presentation: A Report

Dear Friends and Well-wishers,

Sri Aurobindo Sakti Centre Trust and Overman Foundation had jointly organized an audio-visual presentation on Sri Aurobindo titled “Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry” on Thursday, 1 August 2013 at 6.30 p.m. in the premises of Sri Aurobindo Sakti Centre located at P—532, BLOCK “M”, New Alipore, Kolkata 700053.

This audio-visual presentation which was perhaps the first of its kind held at Sri Aurobindo Centres in West Bengal chronicled the entire period of Sri Aurobindo’s life from 1910 to December 1950 with the help of 154 photographs (some of which were quite rare) and narratives through a slide show. Based on a script prepared by Mr. Anurag Banerjee, the said presentation was conducted by Mr. Partha Sarathi Bose (Managing Trustee, Sri Aurobindo Sakti Centre Trust) and Mr. Anurag Banerjee (Founder, Overman Foundation). A special attraction of the programme was the rendition of two recorded songs on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother composed and sung by the great musical maestro Dilip Kumar Roy.

The programme—which witnessed the presence of senior Aurobindonians like Dr. Jaganmoy Banerjee, Dr. Amartya Kumar Dutta and Mr. Subroto Sen (Secretary, Sri Aurobindo’s Action, West Bengal)—had generated a great amount of interest among the audience.

With warm regards,
The Overman Foundation Team






A Rare Interview of Paul Richard

Dear Friends,

Paul Antoine Richard was born on 17 June 1874 at Marsillargues, in the department of Hérault, in Languedoc (southern France). After finishing school, he enlisted in the army, and in October 1892 was sent to North Africa, where he served for four years. Returning to his homeland in 1897, he settled in Montauban (in the South-West of France), where he took up the study of theology. He preached in Montauban for two years, and in 1900 published a book-length “metaphysical essay”, Le corps du Christ après sa resurrection. Later in 1900 he became a member of the Reformed Church of France in Lille (in the North-East of France, near the Belgian border). Around this time he married Wilhelmine van Oostveen, a young lady of Amsterdam. Richard received his law degree from the Académie de Lille in July 1908. Before long he became a barrister at the Paris Court of Appeals. But his eagerness to enter into the world of politics was very much alive and therefore in February 1910 he joined the Ligue de Défense et de Propagande Républicaine Radicale et Radicale-Socialiste. In 1910 he visited Pondicherry and met Sri Aurobindo. On 5 May 1911 he married Mirra Alfassa alias the Mother. He returned to Europe after his divorce from the Mother; later he went to the United States of America where he taught as a university professor. His published works include To the Nations, The Lord of the Nations, The Scourge of Christ, The Dawn Over Asia, The Challenge of the Future, To India: The Messages of the Himalayas, New Asia, Messages from the Future, The Eternal Wisdom and The Seven Steps to the New Age. In 1967 Paul Richard breathed his last.

On 19 February 1951 an interview of Paul Richard conducted by Prof. Bhagwat Sharan Upadhaya was published in the Amrita Bazar Patrika. This interview has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation. We are immensely thankful and grateful to Shri Suresh Tyagi for tracing this interview and sharing it with us.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Overman Foundation.


I Meet Paul Richard

(By Prof. B.S. Upadhaya, New York)

Prof. B.S. Upadhaya, an eminent Indian scholar who is at present touring the United States on unofficial cultural mission, has been meeting distinguished personalities there. The following is an illuminating account of his interview with Paul Richard, the celebrated author, thinker and mystic. The writer who has very ably covered the whole range of modern problems philosophical, social and political and all the human issues at stake, in his questions to the great philosopher, has elicited striking answers. “The U.N.O. is a mixture of nations and super-national unions—sheep and their rival shepherds leading them to be slaughtered”, observed the philosopher replying to the query about U.N.O.’s future. Besides, the interview is a re-avowal of Paul Richard’s abiding love for India and Asia and reiteration of his theory of Asiatic Monroe doctrine.

This is the first of a series of articles by Prof. Upadhaya.

On the 24th November 1950, exactly at 10 a.m., I walked from the Elephant House into the single-chambered, neat little Chalet of Mr. Richard. He was already up despite the cold severity of the morning, and leaving his bed on which he sat meditating on human problems, he moved to his chair and smiled at me. The smile accorded me a warm welcome although I felt it had a mocking significance for he hates interviews, is difficult to interview, and he knew the purpose of my visit.

“Well then, you have come!”
“To trouble you—”. I agreed.
“To trouble me, ah, yes, to distress me. However, come, here I am. Let us begin at once if we must.”
I took out my pen and paper and asked him the first question:
“Dr. Richard, you are a great traveller. May I know if it was the wander-lust that carried you across the countries, or something else?”
Answer: “I always felt that the whole world was my home, and that I had everywhere unknown friends that I might meet. I was also believing that somewhere in this world were the great wise men that are the real masters and rulers. And I was hoping to find them. So, when opportunities came I was always ready to start.”
Q. And did you find wise men when you went East?
A. I found all sorts of men, some wise, some fools—or looking so to the unwise.
Q. May I ask who they were?
A. Oh, what is the use of naming them? Great names are known to all. But as Romain Rolland once wrote to me, “There are those as much perfected and perhaps still more divine, having remained unknown to fame, more intimate with God”… The greatest ones are the humblest.
Q. Do you think the West is decaying culturally and politically?
A. When a civilisation reaches its period of decline, all its aspects are affected.
Q. How do you view the machine age?
A. The machine is the outcome of what has been named the industrial revolution. As all great creative forces, it accelerates the downfall of those cultures which refuse to be renewed, and the ascendance of the rising ones build on new foundations. The machine enslaves or liberates man. It can create in feudal and individualistic systems, unemployment and starvation for the many; and in new progressive ones, increasing leisure and possible culture for all.
Q. Can Asia and India give anything to the West? (When I put this question Dr. Richard became animated, and trying to overcome his emotion replied:)
A. Asia and India? They have already given all that they had, all that their great past has produced—and the rest since then has been plundered. They have been robbed while they slept. Now they have to create again so that they can once more enrich others and give to the world what it needs most: the wisdom of new seers. It is what Asia and India are prepared to do as they awake in this great dawn of their new civilisations.

Culture is One

Q. What is the fundamental difference between the Eastern and Western culture?
A. Human culture is one. It is the spirit of man throwing great waves of light from East to West and from West again toward East. And all cultures in succession hand to each other the flaming torch of human advance some, as the old Indian one, mustering the inner, spiritual world, and others, as the present European one acquiring the outer knowledge for the conquest of the hidden forces of nature. Our great hope and endeavour is for a future world culture, unifying mankind, integrating in a transcendental realism the science of the universe around us and the wisdom of the Infinite within us.
Q. What part can the past play in shaping the present and the future?
A. Past and future are one, and the present is made of both. Nothing is more ancient than the future: before there were any past the future was. And nothing is more present than the past. For the present is but the past in a new form. The living past is present in us, and there is no need to save its dead forms—the empty shells left on the shore, which can never be revived. History of the past is useful only when it throws its light on the shapes of the future. It is the lack of faith, the fear of the future, which makes people turn toward the past—the grossest form of impiety. Running after the setting sun is the most foolish enterprise. Its rays are lost forever in the empty space. But the same sun which set yesterday will rise to-morrow. And it is towards its new rays—the only real ones—in the opposite direction, that we must turn to be wise.

Belief in God

Q. Do you believe in God or in any equivalent of the God idea?
A. I believe as Thales that “all is full of God”. There are principles and prototypes of every kind of potential existences in the infinite: group soul, gods of species, of tribes, nations, of religions, civilisations, ad infinitum. But none of them is the Supreme. There is no Supreme in the infinite—no Supreme but the infinite. Even the greatest god is infinitesimal in the Infinite. The greatest means the most humble, the most in-existent. It is human ignorance which identifies its own god with the Infinite origin, which makes its god ignore the Infinite. For, the species and its group-soul, its god, have the same relation as a periphery and its centre: they create each other. And the god shares in the self-limitation of its worshipper. The gods share in the sin of man: his exclusive self-assertion, his denial of the infinite. That is why as men themselves they become mortal. To worship a god is to participate in its final doom. To deny is to save him, to restore him to the infinite.
Q. Does it mean that you side with the atheist against the religious believers?
A. I would not say that. For there are two kinds of atheists: the infra-religious one who does not know the gods. And the super-religious one for whom the idea of the Supreme God is a blasphemy against the Infinite. For instead of fear they have faith. They trust the unknown, they contemplate, explore, enjoy within themselves “That” which is beyond the gods. “Men are cattle for the gods” said the Upanishads. “Therefore they do not want man to know “That!”
Q. What do you think is the solution of the erstwhile ailing humanity?

[Following part is mutilated]

…not transcended itself. He is still supreme, having not yet, as all other species, produced above himself a higher form of being to which he can ascend. As long as he will thus remain supreme he will remain tormented, in the throes and travail of inner super creation. The only salvation for man is—the superman, the supramental ecstatic being. Those who are conscious of that make the inner torment creative and refuse to take part in the mad fury and blind destructiveness of the race.
Q. What is the purpose of philosophy?
A. The same purpose as lighting a lamp in darkness.

Must Marriage Continue?

Q. What is your idea about conjugal relationship? Must marriage continue?
A. I cannot see why or how it should or could be stopped. My idea is that all forms of union which have been sanctioned and sanctified by any human community should be respected and accepted by and within all. Man sums up all nature. Monogamy, polygamy, polyandry have an equal right among animals (curiously, the most ferocious animals—lions, tigers, bears, are monogamous and the most peaceful ones—deer, elephants, cows—are polygamous. The most common—cat, dog are promiscuous). But among human beings, the conjugal relationship, whatever may be its social form, can become a holy conscious participation in the universal rite of union of the opposites, whose oneness in the infinite becomes bipolarity in the worlds of form. And through each other man and woman can worship thus the Infinite One in its dual aspect. This is the essence of true marriage.
Q. Do you believe in the saying “Art for art’s sake?”
A. This means in reality “art for the artist’s sake”, and so becomes the selfish, anarchical, exhibitionist art of decaying cultures. True art is individual art for the sake of public service—an intelligible expression of the collective ideal and inspiration: a living art in opposition to the dead art of galleries and museums—which are its mausoleum.

Creative Artists

Q. What should be the function of those who think and create?—the philosopher, historian, scientist, artist and litterateur?
A. Those who think and create, in whatever sphere and country, are rare. Their function is the same in the social organism as the function of what thinks, creates, imagines in the individual body. They are the brain of the collective being—at its head in growing cultures, at a loss in the dying ones.
Q. Do you believe in international culture and world political organisation? How will you arrange the world of to-day politically?
A. I wish I could forget for a little while about those big problems. For I have just sent to my old friend Ganesh & Co., in Madras, a book to be soon published: “The Seven Steps to the New Age”, answering fully those questions. It includes as an appendix a project of an International League of World Culture.
Q. What is your opinion are the good points of the Soviet culture? What is desirable? What do you think of modern democracy?
A. All cultures are welcome. They must not be judged on their first appearances. As long as they remain dynamic their forms change and progress. I like their daring faith which makes them discard the past, sacrifice the present, in order to gain the future. Their destructiveness is proportional to their will and capacity to create. They are the dark mountain behind which the new sun rises. I like also the way in which they give cultural autonomy to their backward tribes in central Asia, encouraging them to develop their own language and traditions. “Modern” democracies are anything but modern. They refuse to become so through deep renewals. To a world desperately in need of change, their forceful stand for status quo gives no other alternative than the acceptance of what they have tried to destroy.

Future of U.N.O.

Q. We have a world organisation—“The United Nations”. Are you satisfied with its structure and working? Do you think it will meet the fate of the League of Nations?
A. Who is satisfied with the U.N.O.? All organisations around it are a success, but their center at Lake Success is a failure. The League of Nations was a league of empires and would-be empires among the nations—a gathering of foxes and fowl. The U.N.O. is a mixture of nations and supernational unions—sheep and their rival shepherds leading them to be slaughtered. For both organisations beautiful “Taj Mahals” have been built, one in Geneva, the other in New York—in memorial.
Q. You are a world citizen and humanist, above petty national profiteering; but tell me your reaction to the French conduct in Indo-China.
A. All my life I have condemned colonialism as the mortal sin of nations. I have commented on World War I in my old book “To the Nations”, as a direct result and punishment of colonial imperialism. Going back from Japan to India in 1920, I sent from the boat which passed Indo-China a wire to the French Governor who was one of my friends…

[Following part is mutilated.]

…pity on these oppressed people). And I persuaded Mahatma Gandhi to make the National Congress at Ahmedabad adopt my plan for a League of Asia, with this motto: “Freedom and Unity of Asia”.
I rejoiced when the first Asian Conference met in Delhi to back Indonesia in her fight. I wish another conference could do the same for Indo-China. And I hope that some day a Pan Asian union will declare the equivalent of a Monroe Doctrine for Asia.

Britain’s Power

Q. Is Great Britain still a force in Europe? What game is she up to?
A. The case of England is still uncertain in many respects—except one: since she has ceased to “rule the waves” several of her colonies have begun to waive the rule. She will therefore gladly change her colonial for a continental empire. But being unable to do so she has only this alternative: either to become a province of Europe or an appendage of America. Her diplomacy consists mainly in avoiding as long as possible the choice.
Q. Which aspect of Indian life and what Indians have influenced you?
A. One thing only influences me, my deep inner link with things and people. Many things link me with India: the Brahmin motto for “plain living and high thinking”, the respect for all life, and above all the deep philosophical and spiritual sense of the Infinite. And many people—all of them now gone, some recently: Aurobindo, Dwijendranath Tagore and his younger brother Rabindranath, Gandhiji and Jagadish Bose—others long ago, the Rishis of the Upanishads, and among them the Buddha and Mahavira. But none of them is dead. They live forever. They will always have new things to teach us.
Q. What kind of writing do you value? Philosophy, mathematics, science, literature? Which writers have you liked?
A. I value all writings which are creative. And the kind of style which condenses the maximum of thought in the minimum of words: the equivalent in philosophy of the mathematical equation in physics, embodying in a few symbols universal constants, laws and harmonies of nature. My preferred form of expression is an epigrammatic equivalent of the old “sutra”. (My last books are made of thoughts in twelve words.) The writers I have liked are those who deal with the riddle of the universe, the destiny of man, the progress and peace of mankind. The enumeration would be too long of the authors, ancient and modern, that I have admired: all those dealing with the three great problems—misery below, mystery beyond, mastery within.

Love Of The Himalayas

Q. Which country do you like best and why?
A. The Himalayas, aloof and pure above the world, linking in Central Asia the three Asian giants: India, China, Russia and their new rising cultures.
Q. What do you think of Japan, her resuscitation and future?
A. I like Japan. I have spent four years, which are unforgettable, in close association with the true Japanese soul. It is a soul of great refinement and heroism, of endurance and fortitude, self-control and nobility. It has several cultures, the Chinese, the Hindu and the European. It will also digest the forcible feeding of the American—and reject what of it can not be refined. It has fallen, trying to imitate the West and to conquer Asia instead of liberating her. It pays now the price of this fault. It will someday repair it.
Q. You are old now. You can look back and tell the stages you have covered. Do you think you have realised your goal? What is your wish regarding yourself? Have you any particular desire remaining unfulfilled?
A. I do not feel old. I am still but a growing child. The stages I have covered are two: I spent the first part of my life in religious research and I have achieved for myself a synthesis of religions, so that now I belong to none but they all belong to me. I have spent the second part of my life trying to find in a philosophy of new physics a material basis for my thoughts and a common root between science and religion. In the deep communion with the Infinite, beyond and within, is this common root, linking the external with the eternal. To probe there within the hard shell of matter and beyond the horizons of the mind, a discipline is necessary which through integration of the opposites changes mental concepts into supramental “trancepts”.

In these, glimpses of the infinite oneness can be seen. Did I thus realise my goal? Certainly not. For it recedes while I advance, opening new magnitudes to penetrate. Have I a wish for myself? To be nearer and nearer to the radiant heart of things. A desire unfulfilled? That of fulfilling my unfinished work. And perhaps also to see a new world take shape—for the new man.

I Like India.

Q. Do you like India? Would you like to go out to India? What would you do there?
A. I like India—the India of the past and that of the future, the India which was and will again be. I go there very often in thought and spirit. What would I do there? What I always did and will do: serving through India, Asia, and through Asia, the world—a new Asia and a new World.
Q. Have you any message that you would like to communicate to the East or any warning to the West?
A. If the West does not listen to the warning of circumstances, how can it care for that of the man? And what message could the East need that it has not heard in its own heart: the message of its great future already present in its inner self.

To India I can only repeat what I said thirty years ago: “The most dreadful tyrannies is that of dead creeds, and the worst autocracy that of theocrats”.

“You have fought the foreign master, the spoiler from without. Fight also that from within.”

“The spell of the Brahmin, the scourge of the Zamindar, the sword of the Sarkar—such is the trinity which the past created and which the future will destroy.”


Paul Richard is a great thinker, mystic, philosopher and humanist. He has been a friend of Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Romain Rolland and Sri Aurobindo. He has always believed in the Asian leadership of the world and in the wisdom of the Indian rishis. He is one of the greatest writers of the age and his style is pithy and sententious, very akin to the structure of the Sanskrit ‘sutras.’ Indians are familiar with his works—To the Nations, Au Japan, The Dawn over Asia, The Lord of the Nations (translated by Sri Aurobindo into English from the French original), To India, The Message of the Himalayas, To the Women, Messages from the Future, New Asia.

The great author is constantly writing and it is for this reason that he has moved now from the city of New York to the solitude of Nyack which he calls “Benares on the Hudson.” He is tall and handsome and bears himself erect at his age of seventy-six. His grey hair and beard become his sharp features and make his mien very distinguished looking. He wears a perpetual benevolent smile which beams across the well-trimmed beard on his visitor. He has the most acute mind whose brilliant and ruthless logic has not been affected by age. His humour is scintillating and satire sharp and deep.

Paul Richard has been a great traveller and has been almost all over the world in search of wisdom. The following is a brief record of his travels, mostly gleaned from his talk. He chose military service that he might be drafted to distant lands and he was sent to North Africa. There he became a real Arab and spoke and wrote Arabic. He was commissioned in 1905 to go to French Guiana and stayed in South America studying the life of the convicts. He was given two murderers for servants whom he made his friends. In 1910 he went to India and met at Pondicherry a kindred soul, Sri Aurobindo, who had just escaped from Calcutta. He visited India a second time in 1914 with his wife and in collaboration with Sri Aurobindo started the “Arya”. The Pondicherry Ashrama of Sri Aurobindo coming into being, his wife became its ruling spirit and kind Mother.

He had already met Tagore in Japan and now Dr. Besant and Gandhi invited him. He met the former at Adyar and the latter at the Nagpur session of the Indian National Congress, addressed Ahmedabad Congress in 1922. Mahatma Gandhi took him to the Sabarmati Ashrama where they conversed before prayer. Their ideas were in considerable agreement in principle though not in detail. After touring Sindh and Kathiawad, Mr. Richard took a boat at Bombay and sailed to Basra, visited Baghdad and Ur, the ancient capital of the Chaldeans. He then crossed the Syrian desert to Haifa in Palestine and stayed for a month in the room of the Persian prophet Abdul Baha. He then spent some time at Cairo writing editorials for the French paper “La Bourse du Caire” and reached France via Greece and Italy. The impending doom over Europe was becoming more urgent every day and finding that there was nothing to do in France, he crossed to America in 1929 which, he thought, although had no past would perhaps have a future. He returned to France in 1930 but on arriving he could not stay in Paris longer than twelve days, and finally bidding goodbye to France left for America again. And since then he has stayed in America twenty years working on philosophy of new physics and integrating philosophy with science. But finding America preparing for war, he wishes to go out again to India, the land of his dreams and one country really given to peace.


Barindra Kumar Ghose’s Letters to his sister Sarojini


Dear Friends,

Born in England and raised in Bengal, Sri Aurobindo’s youngest brother Barindra Kumar Ghose (1880-1959) joined the revolutionary movement around 1902 and went on to become the head of the Maniktolla Secret Society. Between 1906 and 1908 along with his associates he tried to assassinate a number of British officials. Following an unsuccessful attempt to kill Mr. Kingsford, the District Magistrate of Muzaffarpur, he was arrested in May 1908 along with Sri Aurobindo and his other colleagues. The prisoners of this trial—which became famous as the Alipore Bomb Trial—were tried for conspiring to wage war against the King of England. Barindra Kumar was sentenced to death in 1909 but later the death-sentence was commuted to life-imprisonment in the Andaman Islands penal colony.

During his imprisonment in Alipore Central Jail, Barindra Kumar had written some letters to his sister Sarojini. Three of these letters have been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.

We are thankful to Mr. Biswajit Ganguli of Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Kolkata, for discovering these letters and allowing us to publish them in the forum of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Overman Foundation.



Alipur Jail Lockup
20th July, 1908

Dear Sister,
We are all well here. So long we were kept separately in different cells. Now they have put us together in a large cell composed of four rooms. So life is more bearable now. Please don’t fail to let me know how you are all doing. There are Rs. 300 left by Abinash [1] in a box, the key of which is left with you. If you at all have to take out of it for Mother do so only when every other source for raising money fails. If we at all spend out of that money Sejadada [2] will repay. You can very well imagine how difficult it will be for him to repay under the circumstances. My best love and respect for you all.

Your affectionate


11th Sept, 1908

Dear Sister,
Please send me a few clean cloths soon. My Sessions case comes on next Monday, I believe. Want of clean suits will inconvenience me very much. Two pairs of dhuties, two underwears and two towels will do for the present. They are rather strict now-a-days about interviews. All the same you may come, only we have to talk from behind bars. You may have to submit to search for all I know. However, I hope you will bear that for my sake. Give respect and love to all. I am alright. I had slight fever for a day. We are in solitary cells, but this is good for me in one way. I am left all to myself the whole day and night and can live in Her—our divine Mother. More when we meet.

Your affectionate brother

Passed: may be posted

G.A. Davies

for Superintendent.

Contents admissible
under the rules.


30th Dec, 1908

Dearest Sister,
It is a long time since we have not met, I believe, it is the new order of things here that keeps you away. If you do not like to come here, you can see us in court. Our Judge Beachcroft is very kind in that way. I am sure he will see his way to grant the interview, and our father’s friend the Court Inspector Mr. Rahim will be there to arrange it. So you need not feel frightened about it at all. I shall trouble you about a certain thing. Please write for me a letter to Sj. Rash Behari Bose, Judge, Tipperah enquiring after my step-mother [3] ’s address at Benares. If he does not know his son Surendra is sure to know; so you can get Suren’s address as well from his father. I should like to see mother once for the last time before the case is over and have got to arrange for her maintenance. More when we meet. My love for you and for all. I am sorry to hear about uncle’s deportation, but the Government is sure to release him as soon as the country is quiet. May God keep you all happy and well. I am sure He will do the best for me as well.

Your affectionate brother
Barindra Ghose

Contents admissible                                                   Passed: may be posted
under the rules.                                                                         M
…Hill                                                                                Superintendent.


[1] Abinash Chandra Bhattacharya (5.4.1882-10.5.1962) was Barindra Kumar’s first recruit. He was the publisher of Mukti Kon Pathe (Which Way to Liberation) and Bartaman Rananiti (Modern Science of War). He was the first prisoner of the Alipore Bomb Trial to return from the Andamans. His published works include titles like Bahirbharate Bharater Muktiprayasa, Ranosojjaye Germany, Swaraj Sadhana, Mukti Sadhana, Germany Probasipatro, Europe a Bharatio Biplober Sadhana, etc.

[2] Sejadada: Sri Aurobindo.

[3] Manorama Devi.