King’s College, Cambridge, on Sri Aurobindo

Dear Friends,

Sri Aurobindo was a student of King’s College, Cambridge, from 1890 to 1892. After his physical withdrawal in December 1950, a spontaneous appreciative tribute was paid to him by King’s College in their Annual Report of 1951. In spite of its few inaccuracies, this complimentary document is valuable because of its independent British source.

The said tribute has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

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Aurobindo (then Aravind Acroyd) Ghose came up from St Paul’s in 1890. His father, Dr. Krishnadhan Ghose of Khulna in East Bengal, and an M.D. of Edinburgh, wishing him to be brought up in the best English tradition, had sent him to this country at the early age of seven, and put him in the care of a family at Manchester. At King’s he was a Scholar, and Prizeman, and in 1892 was placed in the 1st Class of the Classical Tripos. While at Cambridge he also published some poems, Songs of [1] Myrtilla, and passed the examination into the Indian Civil Service with record marks in classics. Apparently disliking horses, however, he omitted to take the riding test that was necessary, and this debarred him from joining. He then entered the service of the Maharajah Sayaji Rao III of Baroda, a very enlightened and progressive Prince, and at the Baroda College he became Lecturer in French, Professor of English, and Vice-Principal. In September 1903 he wrote to us in King’s, giving his address—this reads curiously now—as Racecourse Road, Baroda, or the Baroda Officers’ Club, Baroda Gymkhana. That so quick and sensitive a young Indian mind should have felt drawn at that time to politics, however, was natural, for Bengal was in a ferment over the controversies with which Curzon’s Viceroyalty had ended; and in 1906 Aurobindo moved to Calcutta. There, as Principal of the Bengal National College and as Editor of Bande Arataram [2], he advanced rapidly to the spearhead of the nationalist agitation, and was widely believed—though this was not proved—to be implicated in the cult of Terrorism. Twice arrested for sedition, the second time in connection with the Alipore Bomb Conspiracy, he was twice acquitted; and, while for many months in prison during trial on the latter occasion, he underwent the extraordinary change which converted India’s foremost young political ‘activist’, the patriot-hero of those days, into the famous sage and recluse. Soon after leaving jail, to avert fresh attentions from the police, he disappeared quietly during 1910 into French Territory at Pondicherry, where he remained until his death on December 5, 1950, the centre of a cult totally, startlingly, removed from that of the bomb and the revolver with which, as late as 1935, the Government of India’s Intelligence officials still half-believed him to be associated. Of the eminence that he attained during those decades, not only as contemplative or mystic, but as academic philosopher, critic and literary craftsman there can be no question. Books and articles flowed steadily from his pen—most of them insufficiently known to Western readers because they were published in India—and his Essays on the Gita (1916-1918) and his monumental The Life Divine, in particular, are works of very high distinction. His ashram at Pondicherry became a place of pilgrimage; yet during his later period he lived there almost completely withdrawn, permitting himself to be seen even by his own followers only twice a year in formal darshan, and on very rare occasions making oracular pronouncements on politics which must somewhat have perplexed or displeased his conventional nationalist admirers. Early in World War II, for example, he declared himself wholly in sympathy with Britain, and he commended the Cripps Mission in 1942. At his death on December 5, 1950, aged 78, the Press throughout India was filled with columns in his praise, to the exclusion of much ordinary news; President Prasad, Prime Minister Nehru, the Governors of States, and many leading public men wrote copiously in eulogy and reminiscence; and within a few hours, at Pondicherry, 60,000 people had filed past his bier. His gifts of spirit and of intellect had plainly been of the loftiest quality, and to this was added the romance of a unique career. Some would say that his position, among the great men produced by the new India of this century, is equaled only by that of Gandhi and Tagore.

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[1] to
[2] Mataram

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Dyuman’s Talk on the Service Tree

Dear Friends,

Chunibhai Patel (19.6.1903—19.8.1992) was a Gujarati sadhak who was renamed ‘Dyuman’ (“the luminous one”) by Sri Aurobindo on 24 November 1928. He visited Pondicherry for the first time on 11 July 1924 and surrendered himself to Sri Aurobindo. He became an inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram in May 1927. He was in charge of the Dining Room and looked after the Granary. A dedicated worker to the core, the Mother made him one of the Founder-Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust on 1 May 1955. He became the Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust in 1991.

On 2 February 1988 Dyuman had given a talk on the Service Tree to some of the youngsters of Sri Aurobindo Ashram outside his room in the Ashram main building. The slightly abridged version of the said talk—which was originally published in the January 1989 issue of Mother India (the monthly magazine published from Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry)—has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

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Dyuman 1

Uptil now we know that Hanuman was the greatest servant, dāsa. Today I will tell you how Sri Aurobindo used to serve the Mother, how he waited for the Mother when she was late.

We usually had the night-meditation at 12 o’clock, 1 o’clock or 1.40 a.m. One night after 11, seeing the people waiting, the Mother said, “I am coming.” Then she rested. She went into a trance. Now it was 1.40 a.m. People were waiting downstairs. Sri Aurobindo was waiting in his room. The Mother was not to be found. Where is the Mother? I went to Sri Aurobindo. I found him sitting on his bed waiting for the Mother from 11 o’clock… I said, “She is in a trance.” He replied, “Wait 3 minutes, wait 5 minutes. If she doesn’t get up, tell the people to go home.” I waited, no response from the Mother. I went again to Sri Aurobindo and told him, “She is still in a trance.” “Tell the people to go home.” At 1.45 a.m. I went to the small window half-way down the Meditation Hall staircase and announced, “Sri Aurobindo says, ‘Go home’.” Then the Mother woke up and actually started running. “Ah! they are all waiting!” “No, Mother, Sri Aurobindo asked them to go home.” “But food for Sri Aurobindo?” Sri Aurobindo, like a dāsa, had been waiting for her all the time.

She gave him food after 1.45 a.m. He had waited for nearly three hours, just sitting and waiting. That is why Sri Aurobindo is the greatest dāsa, servitor of the Mother. Equally, the Mother was a servitor to Sri Aurobindo. Till now nobody has been born greater than the Mother as a servitor to Sri Aurobindo, to the Lord, nor greater than Sri Aurobindo to the Mother Divine, Adishakti. He worshipped Her. He served Her. It’s in this context that the name “Service” was given to the tree. None of us had any idea.

The Ashram consisted of four different houses. One by one they were hired or purchased and joined together. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo were staying in the Library House—what is now the entrance to the Ashram. They came to this house on 8 February 1927. Subsequently new building-work started. To wash the bricks for this work and for the cement, three tanks were built in 1930. From Prosperity Hall to Ravindra’s fruit-room all was newly built.

There was a mango tree where the Service Tree now stands. The mango tree was to be cut down, the Mother asked us to get a Service Tree (plant) from the Botanical garden. As Parichand is now the Ashram gardener, Manubhai was then the gardener—his helpers were Ambu and Dyuman. Manubhai is gone, Ambu is here still, Dyuman also is here. The tree was planted on a Tuesday. Why this was done we couldn’t make out. In 1930 it was planted.

Did the Mother plant it herself?

No, the Mother asked us to plant it. The place those days was full of cats—would go on the roof, drop the tiles, because they would always fight; and there was always a lot of noise. They were everywhere. So we asked the Mother, “Why not remove this? why not remove that?” “No, no! If you want, you may fill up these three tanks with sand or something and put ferns on top.” We did that when Sri Aurobindo left his body. She said (now listen carefully), “I want to keep him in the centre of the Ashram. There are three tanks—keep the western side tank as it is, the other two you can make one. Go deep down 10 feet. Put Sri Aurobindo at the bottom. At 5 feet put a slab.” Then she uttered a prophecy for herself—“If something happens to me, put me there.” So, accordingly, He is below, then comes the Mother, and at the top you go and surrender yourselves to Her and to Sri Aurobindo. And this Sri Aurobindo and this Mother we are all serving. That is the gist of the beginning of the Service Tree.

Whom does it serve? I told you, “The Mother and Sri Aurobindo.” How each of them served each other I have told you. Why the place was kept there from 1930, that she knew, though she was telling us, though Sri Aurobindo was telling us from 1920 that he would remain for ever and 24th November 1926 was declared the Day of Victory, and two days later was the Immortality Day. The Mother brought down the Force of Immortality. But the Divine Grace has other ways. He left his body and the Mother decided to keep him in this Ashram at the centre, not outside, so that this becomes the centre of the universe and the universe comes to the Lord for the new life and She merges into Him. This is called Sri Aurobindo’s Samadhi. She merged into him. No separation between the two.

The tanks were here, and we have heard that there was a kitchen somewhere.

That was on the southern side. When the Ashram started, the Ashram meant formerly Sri Aurobindo and around him some of his people—not relatives but those who followed him. They were here. Then when the Overmind’s descent took place on the 24th November the Mother and Sri Aurobindo thought, “What we have received is a surety for the next thing—the Supramental Descent, why not give facilities to aspiring souls?” Remember these words: “Let’s give them facilities so that they may aspire more and something more may come down upon earth.” For this reason they called this establishment the Ashram. There was no other suitable name. So we had the kitchen and the dining room here, not there, from 1927—1934. On January 4, 1934 we shifted from here to the present dining room building.

Where was the mango tree?

When we purchased this house the mango tree was in the centre of the courtyard, where there is the coconut tree now.

Was it cut down?

The tree died and we had to remove it…

Were there any mangoes?

No, we never received any mangoes, never. But under that tree were all our departments: lime, bricks, tin-making, workshops, were here in this small place. Nowadays we have so many departments separately.

When did you come here?

I came in 1924. I met Sri Aurobindo. In those days there was no staying arrangement. He asked me to go back. I told him, “As you are asking me to go, I am going but I shall come back, for this is the home for me.” Home, I made a difference between a home and the Ashram, because I belong to a home. And I came back in 1927 when the Ashram began and I am still here.

Did you water the Service Tree every day?

Yes, Ambu and I. You know Ambu? He stays at Nanteuil. He came in 1928 as a young boy. We were a gang of workers. These are the stories of 60 years ago.

Were there tanks where the Samadhi is now?

There were three tanks. Here the wall was removed. Where you take tulsi leaves from the Samadhi, that was the third tank. The wall in between was removed. On the morning of December 5, Sri Aurobindo left his body at 1.26 a.m., and the work began. On the morning of the 6th when the Mother went to his room, she found that his body was changing its colour and becoming golden. Usually bodies become black after death. On the morning of the 7th, it became more luminous and on the 8th even more so. But according to the law we couldn’t keep the body for long. So the doctor of the General Hospital had to be called to certify that the body was intact, in perfect condition. On the morning of the 9th, it showed some signs of discoloration and it was decided to bring it down. By the middle staircase it was brought down from his room.

At one time, the Mother had the idea: “Here there are too many people, too much noise. I wish I could give Sri Aurobindo solitude.” She thought of purchasing the Trésor House where Dr. Satyavrata has his Nursing Home now. Then Sri Aurobindo said, “No, if I move, the whole world will tumble down. I won’t move at all.” And he remained here, so much so that no rain, no cyclone could disturb him. He was engrossed deeply in his work.

Once there was a big cyclone. The Mother rushed to his room to close the windows. He had no idea that there was a cyclone raging outside. He was writing, that’s all. So that was Sri Aurobindo.

When you planted the Service Tree, didn’t the cats disturb it?

No, the cats did not disturb it and everything—the cats, etc.—remained unchanged till 1945. When the Second World War was going on, there was the threat that the Japanese might come and drop bombs here, then we built a new house where two old houses had stood.

When was the concrete structure built to hold the branches of the Service Tree?

The Service tree began to grown, the branches began to go on the roof of the old house. We had to remove the old house. What to do with the branches? So this scaffolding was built—what we call the Sanchi railings were created. They were done by Sammer the architect from Czechoslovakia who had come here with Raymond and Nakashima and together the three of them built Golconde. So this whole creation in the Ashram courtyard was by Sammer and at the foot of each pillar you’ll find a square place. You see, the Mother used to come in the evening on the terrace and give meditation. Her idea was to have grass in each square but that could not be done, so pebbles were put.

When was this built?

The whole thing started from 1930-32. When the first-floor room was ready, then the Mother came there on 24th April 1932. She used to be in the small corner room where Champaklal now stays.

Did the Service Tree grow very fast?

Yes, because of all-round protection and then water, and thirdly because the Mother was always looking at it. The Mother is responsible for its growth. So often in cyclonic weather the branches were broken. If you look carefully, you’ll see that many have been cut. As they were broken we had to cut them off.

Didn’t the roots disturb the place where Sri Aurobindo’s body has been kept?

Well, I haven’t gone down where the body has been kept, so I can’t say.

But when the pit was being prepared?

No, at that time nothing. Then the tree was very young. Now it’s very big—a giant tree. But 38 years back, it was only 20 years old. Now the roots are moving everywhere. They have even crossed the wall and gone on the other side.

Is the tree still young?

I’ll give you the picture of the Service Tree filled with flowers. When it was 50 years old, the picture was distributed to everybody…

What was your age when you came here?

I was 21. I wandered about everywhere. I wanted to be an Himalayan monk, I went to the Belur Math of Ramakrishna, I went to Shantiniketan. I wandered. I was destined to be here…

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Sri Aurobindo’s Rare Interview published in “The Hindu” in 1915

Dear Friends,

Not many are aware of the fact that Sri Aurobindo had granted an interview to a correspondent of The Hindu in early 1915. This interview was quoted in full by Lala Lajpat Rai in his book Young India along with an introduction titled Arabinda Ghosh—Vedantist and Swarajist.

The text of the interview has been uploaded in the online forum of Overman Foundation along with Lala Lajpat Rai’s introduction.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

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photo

Arabinda Ghosh—Vedantist and Swarajist

It is difficult to say to which of these classes, if to either at all, Arabinda Ghosh belonged to or still belongs. At one time it was believed that he belonged to the first class, to which most of the other Bengalee extremists belonged, but whether that belief was right and whether he still thinks on the same lines, it is difficult to say. One thing is certain, that he was and is quite unlike Har Dayal in his line of thought. In intellectual acumen and in scholastic accomplishments he is perhaps superior to Har Dayal, but above all he is deeply religious and spiritual. He is a worshipper of Krishna and is a high-souled Vedantist. Even simpler and more ascetic in his life and habits than Har Dayal, he is for an all-round development of Indian Nationalism. His notions of life and morality are pre-eminently Hindu and he believes in the spiritual mission of his people. His views may better be gathered from an interview, which he recently gave to a correspondent of The Hindu, of Madras. We quote the interview almost bodily and in the words of the interviewer.

“But what do you think of the 1914 Congress and Conferences?” I insisted.

He spoke almost with reluctance but in clear and firm accents. “I do not find the proceedings of the Christmas Conferences very interesting and inspiring. They seem to me to be mere repetitions of the petty and lifeless formulas of the past and hardly show any sense of the great breath of the future that is blowing upon us. I make an exception of the speech of the Congress President which struck me as far above the ordinary level. Some people, apparently, found it visionary and unpractical. It seems to me to be the one practical and vital thing that has been said in India for some time past.

“The old, petty forms and little narrow, make-believe activities are getting out of date. The world is changing rapidly around us and preparing for more colossal changes in the future. We must rise to the greatness of thought and action which it will demand upon the nations who hope to live. No, it is not in any of the old formal activities, but deeper down that I find signs of progress and hope. The last few years have been a period of silence and compression in which the awakened Virya [1] and Tejas of the nation have been concentrating for a great outburst of a better direct energy in the future.

“We are a nation of three hundred millions inhabiting a great country in which many civilisations have met, full of rich material and unused capacities. We must cease to think and act like the inhabitants of an obscure and petty village.”

“If you don’t like our political methods, what would you advise us to do for the realisation of our destiny?” was the next question.

He quickly replied: “Only by a general intellectual and spiritual awakening can this nation fulfil its destiny. Our limited information, our second-hand intellectual activities, our bounded interests, our narrow life of little family aims and small money-getting have prevented us from entering into the broad life of the world. Fortunately, there are ever-increasing signs of a widened outlook, a richer intellectual output and numerous sparks of liberal genius which show that the necessary change is coming. No nation in modern times can grow great by politics alone. A rich and varied life, energetic in all its parts, is the condition of a sound, vigorous national existence. From this point of view, also the last five years have been a great benefit to the country.”

I then asked what he thought of the vastly improved relations that now exist between the Briton and the Indian in our own country and elsewhere.

“It is a very good thing”, he said and he explained himself in the following manner: “The realisation of our nationhood separate from the rest of humanity was the governing idea of our activities from 1905 to 1910. That movement has served its purpose. It has laid a good foundation for the future. Whatever excesses and errors of speech and action were then disclosed came because our energy, though admirably inspired, lacked practical experience and knowledge.

“The idea of Indian nationhood is now not only rooted in the public mind, as all recent utterances go to show, but accepted in Europe and acknowledged by the Government and the governing race. The new idea that should now lead us is the realisation of our nationhood not separate from, but in the future scheme of humanity. When it has realised its own national life and unity, India will still have a part to play in helping to bring about the unity of the nations.”

I naturally put in a remark about the Under-Secretary’s ‘Angle of Vision.’

“It is well indeed,” observed Ghosh, “that British statesmen should be thinking of India’s proper place in the Councils of the Empire, and it is obviously a thought which, if put into effect must automatically alter the attitude of even the greatest extremists towards the Government and change for the better all existing political reasons.

“But it is equally necessary that we Indians should begin to think seriously what part Indian thought, Indian intellect, Indian nationhood, Indian spirituality, Indian culture have to fulfil in the general life of humanity. The humanity is bound to grow increasingly on. We must necessarily be in it and of it. Not a spirit of aloofness or of jealous self-defence, but of generous emulation and brotherhood with all men and all nations, justified by a sense of conscious strength, a great destiny, a large place in the human future—this should be the Indian spirit.”

The oneness of humanity is a topic dear to the heart of Babu Arabinda Ghosh and when I (i.e., the interviewer) suggested to him that Vedantic ideas would be a good basis for unity, his reply was full of enthusiasm:

“Oh, yes”, he said, “I am convinced and have long been convinced that a spiritual awakening, a re-awakening of the true self of the nation is the most important condition of our national greatness. The supreme Indian idea of the oneness of all men in God and its realisation inwardly and outwardly, increasingly even in social relations and the structure of society is destined, I believe, to govern the progress of the human race. India, if it chooses, can guide the world.”

And here I said something about our “four thousand” castes, our differences in dress and in “caste marks”, our vulgar sectarian antipathies and so on.

“Not so hard, if you please,” said Mr. Ghosh with a smile. “I quite agree with you that our social fabric will have to be considerably altered before long. We shall have, of course, to enlarge our family and social life, not in the petty spirit of present-day Social Reform, hammering at small details and belittling our immediate past, but with a large idea and more generous impulses. Our past with all its faults and defects should be sacred to us. But the claims of our future with its immediate possibilities should be still more sacred.”

His concluding words were spoken in a very solemn mood:

“It is more important that the thought of India should come out of the philosophical school and renew its contact with life, and the spiritual life of India issue out of the cave and the temple and, adapting itself to new forms, lay its hand upon the world. I believe also that humanity is about to enlarge its scope by new knowledge, new powers and capacities, which will create as great a revolution in human life as the physical science of the nineteenth century. Here, too, India holds in her past, a little rusted and put out of use, the key of humanity’s future.

“It is in these directions that I have been for some time impelled to turn my energies rather than to the petty political activities which are alone open to us at the present moment. This is the reason of my continued retirement and detachment from action. I believe in the necessity at such times and for such great objects, of Tapasya [2], in silence for self-training, for self-knowledge and storage of spiritual force. Our forefathers used that means, though in different forms. And it is the best means for becoming an efficient worker in the great days of the world.”

[1] Force, energy and vitality.
[2] Life of meditation and self-denial.

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