Pujalal Ranchhoddas Dalvadi (17.6.1901—27.12.1985) was an associate of Ambalal Balkrishna Purani. He trained the youth of Gujarat in different forms of physical exercises in the gymnasium at Bharuch started by Purani. He visited Pondicherry for the first time on either 23rd or 24th October 1923 and had the Darshan of Sri Aurobindo. After a couple of visits he settled in Pondicherry as a permanent member of Sri Aurobindo’s household in 1926. He worked in the first floor of the Ashram main building which housed the apartments of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. His activities included cleaning the Mother’s room and bathroom and dusting the carpet and furniture. A born poet, he has written many poems and invocations in Sanskrit, English and Gujarati addressed to Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and Sri Krishna. The Mother used to call him, “My Poet.” He taught Sanskrit hymns and verses to many young pupils of the Ashram School. He has also translated Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri into Gujarati. He also wrote a book on the different forms of poetry titled Chchandapravesh. Though he had studied till the twelfth class some of his writings are now prescribed texts in various schools, colleges and universities of Gujarat.
An article on Pujalal written by Smt. Krishna Chakravarty and translated into English by Shri Maurice Shukla (one of Pujalal’s students) has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.
Krishna Chakravarty, wife of Adinath Chakravarty, visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram for the first time in August 1965 and stayed for two and a half months. After her return to Calcutta, she wrote to the Mother expressing her wish to become an inmate of the Ashram. The Mother accepted her request and she joined the Ashram as an inmate in February 1968.
With warm regards,
When God descends upon this earth, he brings along with him into the lila his playmates, who assemble around him one by one. Among the extraordinary companions of Sri Aurobindo was Pujalal.
Pujalal-ji took birth on 17th June 1901 in Godhra, a village in the Panchmahal district of Gujarat. His father was Sri Ranchhoddasji Dalvadi and his mother, Dhulibai. Pujalal-ji’s father was courageous, strong and radiant. His mother was an embodiment of love, gentleness and compassion.
Pujalal’s ancestors were from Napa, a village in the Khera district. When the Muslim Nawab attacked, they moved from Napa to Godhra.
Before Pujalal’s birth, many children were born in his family, but they all died young. That’s why Puja was the apple of everyone’s eye. Prayers were offered to God beseeching a long life for Puja and he was named Punjalal.
His days of happy childhood were spent in Godhra. The families of Pujalal-ji, his grandfather and his elder uncle lived in three adjoining houses. There was a rather large pond in front, surrounded by several banana trees.
Puja’s grandfather loved him very much. From time to time he would go to Puja’s school and, with great warmth and tenderness, hand him one paisa as pocket money. (One paisa was worth a lot at that time. You could buy many things with it.) Quite often Puja’s grandfather would lovingly feed him with hot millet bread soaked in ghee and gur (molasses), a favourite Gujarati snack. At other times he would offer him a sweet made with ripe banana.
Puja-ji’s father was in the brick-business and owned about thirty-five bighas of land. He was as strong as he was short-tempered. Puja-ji remembered an incident: From time to time Muslim goondas in their neighbourhood used to make a lot of commotion. Once one of these goondas entered his house to cause trouble. Puja-ji’s father gave him such a thrashing that he dropped his weapon and fled. He did not trigger any disturbance after that.
When Puja was a child, his father once took him to a distant village, carrying him on his shoulders. The little boy astride his shoulders sat happily playing the table on his father’s head. The father said nothing, but upon returning home he gave him such a spanking that the neighbours came rushing to save the boy. The beating was so harsh that Puja developed fever. Everyone rebuked the father severely.
I asked Puja-ji: “How strong was your mother’s love for you?” He laughed and said: “Who else can love if not a mother? My dear mother loved me very much. Her love was immeasurable. An incident comes to mind.
“My younger sister’s name was Chanchal. My mother laid little Chanchal on the dolna (a rocking cradle) and went for a bath. She asked me to swing the cradle. Hardly had she left when my little sister started crying. I tried to quiet her sweetly but despite my efforts she did not stop crying. Then I thought of frightening her and so I went into the kitchen and came back with a burning piece of wood picked up from the wood-stove with a pair of tongs. I stood in front of Chanchal and imagined that on seeing this burning piece of wood she would get scared and shut up. Unfortunately the piece slipped from the tongs and landed on my little sister’s hand! Her tender hand got burnt at once. I too began screaming while my little sister was howling away. Mother rushed out on hearing the cries of her children and saw that my sister’s hand had got badly burnt with the burning piece of wood. But my mother said nothing to me. It took quite some time for the wound to heal, but my sister carried the scar all her life.”
Little Puja was admitted to the village school. After finishing there he joined an English school in Godhra.
Pujalal-ji mentioned in one of our conversations that he was extremely fond of swimming. There was a huge pond or a sort of lake behind their house. It may also have been a marsh. This pond or lake later got divided. A railway bridge was constructed over one part of the lake, a road to the royal palace went through another and an access road was laid through the third to reach the village. Next to this water-body was a huge tamarind tree. There was also a banyan on the embankment. By the pond near their house there was a small kutcha ghat and on the other side quite a large pucca one. Puja-ji used to enjoy bathing in this large pond. He would swim from one end of the pond to the other. But sometimes his friends would splash water on his face and eyes and disturb little Puja whenever he went to swim there. So then he would go to another pond to swim. By the pond there was a rather huge mango tree. One day he climbed onto this mango tree and jumped off into the pond. As he did not know anything about diving, he hurt his chest very badly. Then there was a pond with innumerable white lotuses. Puja-ji would swim to the centre and pluck the lotuses. From their seeds a delicious sweet was prepared. Once he swam for a long time with one of his relatives, shuttling from one end to the other, but later, when he was in the middle, he suddenly became breathless. By holding on to his relative he managed to reach the shore with great difficulty. On another occasion, while he was swimming in the pond he saw a Muslim man washing clothes. When he swam to his side the man gave him a huge slap. Little Puja could do nothing but turn back heavy-hearted.
As mentioned already, Puja was born in 1901. Swami Vivekananda was still alive. (He left his body in 1902.) From his childhood Puja was drawn to Swamiji. One of his friends who was a few years older used to tell him about Swamiji. From him he heard about Swami Vivekananda’s return to India after making his famous speech in America. When he came back, school and college students removed the horses from his carriage and started pulling it themselves. The young brides of the houses, who usually stayed indoors, came out of their houses to shower flowers on Swamiji’s carriage and performed arati before him. The entire route was lined with people. Everyone was eager to have at least a glimpse of this man. Puja loved remembering these incidents of Swamiji’s life.
When Puja finished class V in the English school of Godhra, he left Godhra to join the Parsi English school in Nadiad. There he stayed at his elder sister-in-law’s place. And thus his happy childhood days rolled on. Then it was time for a new chapter in his life.
In Nadiad a new chapter unfolded in Puja-ji’s life. After joining the Parsi English High School, he met Ambubhai Purani. Purani-ji had opened an akhara (gymnasium) in Nadiad where wrestling, lathi, knife play and other martial arts were taught. Puja-ji joined this akhara in order to practise and develop these skills.
Now, the principal of the Parsi school was lame. He did not appreciate sports or games or physical exercise. Besides, he feared that the presence of his schoolboys in these nationalist akharas could also attract the wrathful eye of the British Government. Therefore he tried to dissuade Puja several times from participating in the akhara. Puja repeatedly disobeyed him so he was dismissed and sent away without a certificate. Ambubhai took Puja to Ahmedabad, got an order from an official of the Education department and thus succeeded in getting Puja a certificate from the principal of the Parsi school. After this Puja enrolled in an English-medium high school.
Puja was an extremely energetic young boy. His brother-in-law once jokingly called him a monkey. Being called a monkey hurt him so deeply that he moved out of his sister’s house. His father was seriously ill at that time and the family’s financial situation was also rather tight. Puja rented a room and began living alone. He often ate just one meal a day in an inexpensive local restaurant while continuing with his studies. Later he moved in with Purani-ji.
At exam time Puja left with Purani-ji for Ahmedabad to sit for the matriculation examination there. A doctor they knew put them up in his bungalow. Ambubhai had another reason to go there and that was to start another gymnasium. At that time the Indian people were up in arms against the Rowlatt Act, which had just been passed. Some of them killed a British surgeon. The British Government reacted to this with very repressive laws. In retaliation, some people in Ahmedabad set fire to the examination hall and the matriculation test papers were torn up and destroyed. As a result Puja could not take the exam and returned to Nadiad. He took the exam a few days later somewhere else and passed successfully.
But Puja-ji was more interested in sports than in studies. He was good at different sorts of exercises, as well as wrestling, lathi, knife play and gymnastics. As for studies, though he was fond of history and geography, he could not come to terms with maths.
Puja-ji then enrolled in a college in Ahmedabad. Along with several other boys he rented a room above a temple. Purani-ji had opened a canteen for needy students, but this canteen was almost three miles from the place where they stayed. As a result, Puja-ji usually had just one meal a day, even as he carried on with his studies and his various physical activities at the gymnasium.
Once in the college sports meet, Puja came first in the quarter-mile run, beating a Parsi boy who was known to be the best in this event. (This boy went on to become a police inspector who harassed Indians considerably.) Hardly was the quarter-mile run over that the one-mile race was flagged off. Here Puja-ji came second. The governor distributed the prizes on this occasion.
Even though he was battling against poverty, Puja-ji stopped neither his studies nor his physical training at the gymnasium. He possessed very few clothes and had to go barefooted to college. The British principal objected to his coming to college barefooted. “What connection is there between education and wearing shoes?” Puja-ji asked. At night he slept on a bedsheet spread over a cold stone floor. Even in winter he had no other bedding and would cover himself with a part of his dhoti. In that biting cold, his body would just shiver and curl up. After a cold-water bath in the morning, he would walk three miles to the akhara and help Purani-ji with the gymnasium work. He never felt any physical discomfort at that time and was always happy. Purani-ji’s father, Ambalal Balkrishna Purani, had a sweet shop. Sometimes Puja-ji would go to his shop and eat sweets. At times he would walk three miles to a gymnasium in Sharangpur, munching almonds all the way. In those days in Gujarat, you could get a seer (about two pounds) of almonds for ten annas (a rupee was equivalent to sixteen annas).
While studying for his Intermediate degree, Puja chose science because he felt that it was necessary to master the sciences to take India forward. But since he was weak in maths he did not go very far and failed in his exams. Once again he paid his college fees in order to continue his studies. But even after paying his fees, he did not sit for the exam. Thus college education came to an end.
As mentioned earlier, Puja was drawn to sports, physical training and work for the country. The youth were intent on battling for the liberation of their Motherland and they realized that the Motherland would never achieve freedom unless her children became strong and fearless. Puja-ji therefore directed all his energies towards this service of the country. He accompanied Purani-ji to Bharuch to take up the training of boys in the gymnasium there. One more chapter now unfolded in his life.
Pujalal-ji went to Bharuch with Purani-ji and began training the boys in the gymnasium in the different skills of lathi, knife play and physical exercises.
The town of Bharuch is set on the Narmada, not very far from the sea. The river there is almost half a mile wide. On full moon or new moon nights when the sea is at low tide, big wall-like waves would rise in the Narmada.
Pujalal harboured a sort of fear of this river. Yet he knew that the presence of any sort of fear in the being was an obstacle to progress. Somehow he had to conquer this fear. How did he finally overcome it? Let us hear the story.
It was the dead of night and dense darkness reigned all around. The whole town was silent, not a sound or stir anywhere except the swelling waters of the Narmada. The river was flowing past at tremendous speed on the surge of its huge waves. The waves crashed on the banks relentlessly. A railway bridge stood across the river.
The time was after two, half past two at night. Puja-ji advanced towards the Narmada. He stopped for a moment and looked up at the sky. In the deep night even the sky appeared inky black, as if a huge eerie being pervaded space. Pujalal-ji lowered his gaze and in the thick of night behold Mother Narmada’s indescribable image before him. In a flash he jumped into the Mother’s waiting whirling arms. Overcoming the waves, frolicking through the waters, he swam on and on until he reached the other bank of this half-mile-wide river. Then he walked back across the rail bridge to the other side. He had overcome his dread of the river.
There were a few old forts in Bharuch. When the waters of the Narmada swelled up because of the tide they would enter these forts. Flooding was common. Once there was a very bad flood and the waters entered one of the old forts. People in the area went from house to house by boat. Even then, Purani-ji and Puja-ji used to bathe in the river every day.
One day, while going to the river, Purani-ji said, “We bathe in the river every day. Now, if one could swim in the Narmada, that would be an act of courage!” Puja-ji took up Purani-ji’s challenge and both of them jumped into the river. The river was very wide at that time—wherever you looked you saw only water. They aimed to reach a certain ghat, the ferryboat point. Both of them swam furiously as they were carried along by the surging waters. The current was strong and the two swimmers pushed against it to advance. Purani-ji managed to reach the ferry-ghat, but Puja-ji was caught by the current in the middle. It was difficult to escape the billowing waters and strong current in the middle. Puja-ji could neither advance nor retreat. Though stuck in the middle, he did not panic. At last he managed to get out of this current and after swimming a good distance reached the ferry-ghat.
The ferrymen and those at the ghat had been observing Puja-ji’s struggle with dismay. Seeing him reach the ghat, they all heaved a sigh of relief.
At times Puja-ji took some boys of the akhara for a walk along the Narmada. The famous Shulpanishwar temple of Shiva was almost sixty miles away on the bank of the Narmada, but still they would walk there. The Narmada is known as the Ganga of Gujarat. Everyone in Gujarat worships Mother Narmada uttering, “Narmada kankar, hey Shankar!” or “Vasey Shankar!” (In every pebble of the Narmada dwells Shankar.) Along the banks of the Narmada are several places of spiritual retreat for rishis and munis. Innumerable yogis, sadhus and sadhaks sit there, absorbed in their spiritual endeavour. In addition to these spiritual seekers the common people too converge on the Narmada with devout fervour. Hundreds of beautiful temples dot its banks.
On the Narmada’s banks, in a small hut near a village called Malsa, lived one Swami Madhodas. He was a spiritual seeker from Bengal who pursued a life of sadhana there. Puja-ji was very fond of this place. But by the time he went to Malsa, Swami Madhodas was no longer alive.
Puja-ji’s favourite saint was Shankarananda Giri Maharaj, a seeker of a very high calibre. He was the spiritual brother of Swami Brahmananda, the great yogi whom Sri Aurobindo had met on the banks of the Narmada. Like Brahmananda, he was said to be 250 or 300 years old, and both suffered from toothache! Shankarananda Giri Maharaj had a strong, compact physique. He reminded Puja-ji of the German chancellor Hindenberg during the First World War. Shankarananda had participated in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 which was the first clear battle-cry for India’s independence.
Having a darshan of Shankarananda Maharaj filled one with a feeling of great purity and the heart was suffused with faith and devotion. He had his ashram by the Narmada where a few of his disciples lived. There were also some fields attached to it. Once on his way back to Ahmedabad, Pujalal-ji stopped there for the night with his boys. Deeply touched by the purity of the ashram atmosphere, he decided to return there one day without the boys. And his resolve was sincere, for he did go back to the ashram all alone after accompanying the boys back home. He spent a few days there in extreme happiness. Shankarananda was very fond of him and welcomed him with a lot of affection. The swami did not allow everyone into the ashram. Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda, for example, went to see him there, but Shankarananda Giri Maharaj did not meet him.
Once Pujalal sat in a quiet corner of the ashram reading the Gita by himself. Suddenly Shankarananda appeared before him and asked, “What are you up to young man?” “I’m reading the Gita,” Pujalal replied. “You can do that later. Serve Shankar first,” Shankarananda retorted. “Of course, I will serve Shankar. But now I need to get some knowledge; that’s why I am reading the Gita,” Pujalal answered quietly.
Purani-ji also went to see Shankarananda and stayed in his ashram for a few days. Ambubhai even worked on the fields. He was as robust as he was hard-working, and Shankarananda was extremely pleased with him.
At that time, Pujalal-ji had long hair and a bushy beard that covered his face. Shankarananda’s disciples used to address him as ‘Rishi-ji’. Of all the spiritual seekers and yogis Puja-ji had met, it was Shankarananda that Puja-ji was most fond of— after Sri Aurobindo. And this fondness was mutual.
Puja-ji also met Vishnu Bhaskar Lele who came to Ahmedabad once. Lele spoke for a long time with Purani-ji, but he did not inspire in him great faith. Pujalal-ji also went to visit Gandhi-ji’s Sabarmati ashram, but he did not enjoy it very much. Like Purani-ji, Puja-ji believed in the revolutionary path to gain freedom. His battle was to win freedom for his Motherland. They knew that unless her children were fearless, winning freedom for their Mother was impossible. That is why Purani-ji had set up clubs and gymnasiums everywhere in Gujarat to train the youth in martial arts and other physical exercises. They had sworn their lives for Mother India’s liberation.
Pujalal-ji’s ideal and inspiration was Swami Vivekananda. He never stopped reading his writings. To him they were a fountain of strength. Bhagwan Sri Ramakrishna’s words led him to the quest of the Ultimate.
After Bharuch, Pujalal-ji left for Kushindra to take charge of exercise-training in a gymnasium established by Purani-ji. While he was working at Kushindra, he received the grace of visiting Pondicherry for the first time. Two amusing incidents took place on his journey to Pondicherry.
Pujalal-ji got into a small train in order to proceed to Pondicherry. A muslim goonda along with his gang of hoodlums was sowing terror in this train by insulting and assaulting the passengers. He moved towards Puja-ji and twisted his leg. Pujalal-ji gave him a resounding slap in return. The fellow-passengers were delighted. The goonda’s gang pounced on Puja-ji and began pulling his hair and beard. At this point the fellow-passengers came to his rescue. What did he himself do in that situation? Pujalal-ji doesn’t remember. As soon as the train pulled into the next station, the goonda, fearing the police, took to his heels with his gang.
When Puja-ji reached the terminus, he got off to catch the big train. Since the train was scheduled to arrive only later, he lay down on a bench to rest and soon fell asleep; indeed, he slept for a very long time. Both the trains he could have taken had left by then. Where could he spend the night now? The railway police had been observing him and wondered, “He has been sleeping for so long on the platform. Two trains have come and gone and he still has not woken up. Who could he be? He must be a goonda.” They approached Puja-ji and ordered, “Let’s go.” “Where?” Puja-ji enquired. “To the police station,” they replied. With great difficulty, Pujalal-ji managed to convince the police that he was no goonda and that he had simply overslept in the station.
Pujalal-ji first came to Pondicherry either on the 23rd or 24th of October in 1923. Purani-ji had preceded him. In those days Sri Aurobindo used to come and sit on a chair in the verandah at eight o’clock in the morning. He would read the newspapers and meet any visitors who wished to see him. As soon as Puja-ji saw Sri Aurobindo, he felt that if there was God in the world, then this was verily he, that Purnabrahma Narayana. Puja-ji told Sri Aurobindo, “I want to take up yoga-sadhana.” “Why?” Sri Aurobindo asked. “For God,” Puja-ji replied. Sri Aurobindo then looked at him intently for a long time. After observing him thoroughly both within and without, he finally gave his consent for him to take up yoga. With his customary humility, Pujalal-ji told us, “I wasn’t, after all, a very good-natured chap.” Sri Aurobindo continued, “Keep aspiring to the Divine above.” Sri Aurobindo then moved his left hand above his head. “Aspire to him up there. The Divine will descend.”
Every day Pujalal-ji would make a flower-garland and put it around Sri Aurobindo’s neck. Then he would sit near him and meditate for a while. Even though he did not know the spiritual significance of the flower, the shefali or Aspiration flower was his favourite. After that, he would weave a garland for the Mother and offer it to her.
In those days, besides Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, there were very few people living in the Ashram. Nolini-da, Amrita-da, Moni, Bejoy Nag and a very small number of others lived with them. Puja-ji returned to Gujarat after his first visit to Pondicherry.
Once he came with Purani-ji’s wife Lilavati and her year-and-a-half-old daughter Anu. Pujalal-ji always loved children and little Anu used to adore him. After a couple of visits between Pondicherry and Gujarat in 1926, he came back to Pondicherry.
Every evening Puja-ji used to go for a walk along the sea-front. One evening, while taking his walk someone came running to call him. He was taken to the Ashram. The day was the 24th of November, 1926.
Puja-ji said, “Returning to the Ashram that day, I felt as if I were battling against a huge storm and massive winds in order to move forward. The closer I came to the Ashram, the more difficult it became to walk. Once I reached the Ashram I saw Nolini-da, Amrita-da and many others sitting quietly. I sat down in their midst. A little later Sri Aurobindo came out and behind him the Mother as well. It was the day when Sri Krishna’s consciousness descended. Sri Krishna’s consciousness came down into Sri Aurobindo that day.
“Sri Aurobindo’s complexion was like that of the golden champak flower. His cheeks were aglow with a roseate golden light. The Mother was wearing a saree and her head was covered. I could not see her face very well.
“Sri Aurobindo looked at everyone. We all went and bowed before him and the Mother. Sri Aurobindo held his left hand a few inches above the Mother’s head and blessed everybody with the right hand. He gave hints that henceforth he would carry out his work through the Mother. By accepting the Mother we would be led to Sri Aurobindo. The air was still. A profound silence pervaded the atmosphere, a sublime peace and ananda reigned all around. After everyone had finished their pranam, Sri Aurobindo sat for a while longer, waiting perhaps for anyone who had not yet come for the pranam. Then both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother slowly got up and went inside. The door closed behind them. At this point Datta, rapt in a divine trance, exclaimed: ‘The Lord has descended, He has conquered death and sorrow, He has brought down immortality.’”
After the 24th of November, 1926, Pujalal-ji remained in Pondicherry for good. The river had finally found the ocean. He surrendered himself at the Feet of the Mother.
Following the descent of Krishna’s consciousness, Sri Aurobindo withdrew into seclusion. From then, the Mother would sit daily for meditation with everyone at night, instead of in the evening. Very often she would go into a trance. At times she would remain in trance for two to three hours! What could the sadhaks do in such a situation? How long could they go on meditating? Many would fall asleep! And you could hear their loud snoring!
Upstairs, Sri Aurobindo used to pace up and down like a lion. During the meditation downstairs one could hear those solemn footfalls in the thick of night. Nothing escaped Sri Aurobindo’s consciousness. When he heard this snoring during the meditation almost every night, he asked the Mother to discontinue it. It was difficult for many to maintain a meditative consciousness at night. They quickly fell into the snoring consciousness!
Pujalal-ji told me that the Mother herself used to distribute soup to everyone in the room where the Reception room stands today, and while distributing soup she would sometimes go into a trance.
Sarala-di was a worthy daughter and caretaker of Pujalal-ji. She served him with great dedication and he showered a lot of affection on her. Everyone in the Ashram calls her Sarala-ben. She told me quite a few things about Puja-ji and I will tell them to you as we go along.
There’s a beautiful, blue statue of Krishna in Pujalal-ji’s room, a standing, smiling Sri Krishna with his flute. Beside him stands his beloved cow; even she is gazing lovingly at Sri Krishna. Sarala-di told me that it was Mrityunjoy’s mother who gave this statue to Pujalal-ji. It was white in the beginning. Brinda’s mother, Kalin-di, coloured it blue. Whenever this statue of Krishna faded, some artist or the other from the Ashram would repaint it.
An Ashram artist named Sarala Rastogi once took Krishna’s statue to her house because it needed repainting. But she took quite some time to do it. After a few days Puja-ji called Tara and told her, “Go and get Krishna back.” When Tara returned with Krishna, Puja-ji said, “This Sri Krishna is no ordinary statue made of clay. The Lord himself has infused life into it and dwells within.”
Puja-ji continued, “I have loved Lord Krishna from my very childhood. I would keep repeating Om namo bhagvate Sri Vasudevaya namah almost always, especially when I was out on a journey. This is a mahamantra. The Mother’s mantra for us is Om namo bhagvate. She has left a blank in place of Sri Vasudevaya namah. That blank can be filled with Sri Aravindaya namah and so you have Om namo bhagvate Sri Aravindaya namah.”
In his childhood Pujalal-ji once experienced the presence of Balkrishna, who was seated above his head. From there he began progressively descending into his throat, chest and abdomen. Wherever he descended, there followed a stream of ananda.
Another time Purani-ji’s wife, Lilavati-ben, cooked something for Sri Aurobindo and sent it to him with Pujalal-ji. In those days the Dining Room used to be situated where the present Fruit Room is. Puja-ji handed the cooked dish to Amrita-da or somebody else and then went and stood near the Reception Room. Suddenly he saw Sri Aurobindo coming down the staircase. Sri Aurobindo looked at Puja. “Ah, what a look that was!” exclaimed Puja-ji. “If there was God on earth, it was him.” Sarala-di, who told me the story, added, “That day Puja-ji had the darshan of the Supreme Absolute. It is impossible to describe that extraordinary form in words.”
When Puja-ji first came to the Ashram, Sarala-di observed, he had splendid long hair and his face was covered with an impressive beard. The Mother used to admire his hair, saying, “Such long hair!” or “Such curly hair!”
And thus many years passed and the young boy became a middle-aged man. His beard and hair started turning grey!
The first Group for physical activity started in the Ashram in 1945 on Dada’s (Pranab-da’s) initiative. Before the advent of these sporting activities in the Ashram, most sadhaks sported long hair and luxurious beards. As soon as sporting activities began, many of them chopped off their long hair and beard on the Mother’s advice. But Puja-ji did not give his up. There probably was some talk among the sadhaks about this. So Puja-ji told the Mother, “It is because you like my hair that I haven’t touched it.” The Mother answered, “You were young then. Now you have grown up. Grey hair and a grey beard don’t look good on you now.”
Puja-ji went that very day to get his hair and beard cut. When the hairless, beardless Pujalal went to work upstairs, nobody recognised him! It was only Mother who recognised him, seeing his eyes. She took him by the hand and led him to Sri Aurobindo, “Look! Here is your new Puja!” Puja-ji bowed to Sri Aurobindo and Sri Aurobindo blessed him by placing both his hands on Puja-ji’s head.
“By cutting off my hair and beard,” Puja-ji confessed, “I gained immensely. I received my Guru’s blessings! In those days nobody was allowed to go and see him. By cutting off my beard and hair, I had his darshan, his touch and his blessings!”
The Mother told Dada that two photographs of Puja-ji were sent to her, one in which he had a beard and long hair and the other in which he was without them. The Mother laughed a lot seeing the two pictures. “Ancient yogi” she said on seeing the first photograph. The second one for her was “Modern yogi”.
Dada mentioned two other incidents from Pujalal-ji’s life. One day Pujalal-ji was giving a demonstration of lakdi patta (movements with a wooden stick and shield) at the Playground before the Mother. He had a wooden stick in one hand and a shield in the other and simulated sword-play. This was a very popular form of sport in Gujarat. Pujalal-ji most probably gave this demonstration with Vishnu-bhai. When the demonstration was over, the Mother turned to Dada and said, “Did you notice the fire in Puja’s eyes?”
On another occasion Pujalal-ji organised a Garba dance programme. All the children, especially the Gujarati ones, from the various groups took part in it. The Mother was present for this programme too.
After settling down in the Ashram for good, Pujalal-ji began working upstairs in the Mother’s room, cleaning the carpet, painting the rooms and furniture, etc. After some time he felt that he was not fit for Sri Aurobindo’s yoga. So one day, while working upstairs, he told the Mother, “Mother, I am not fit for yoga and sadhana. I have too many shortcomings. I am far too weak. That’s why I don’t wish to remain here.”
The Mother replied, “The Divine does not descend all the time. It happens very rarely, after a long, long time. It is not right, therefore, to leave Him and go away. You just go on doing your work.”
Puja-ji felt that the Mother was telling him to simply go on serving. This service itself was his yoga and his sadhana.
Everyday Puja-ji would begin his work in the Mother’s room before daybreak. The Mother would herself open the door. At that auspicious moment, before the arrival of the goddess of dawn, he would have the vision of the Mother of the universe!
Once Puja-ji went to work upstairs as usual at that auspicious time. The Mother opened the door and said, “There is a bird sitting at the door. Sri Aurobindo has asked that the bird should not be disturbed.” Sri Aurobindo had told this to the Mother even before Puja arrived!
He began working very silently so that the bird was not disturbed in any way. Then at daybreak the bird flew away. “Just see, how much love and compassion there was in Sri Aurobindo’s heart for all life,” Pujalal-ji remarked.
Some time after this, Puja-ji had jaundice, but he did not know it. It was the Mother who saw his yellowish eyes and sent him to the doctor. After this, she reduced his work by half. Lalu-bhai came in, in order to relieve Puja-ji.
When Puja was staying at Kushindra, Lalu was only four or five. When Lalu came to Pondicherry he spoke only a smattering of English. But after coming here, he learned both English and French. He was able to read Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s works in the original. He would sometimes even catch misprints or overlooked errors in their books. He also learnt to speak Bengali, Oriya and Tamil. Puja-ji told me, “When Lalu used to stand before Sri Aurobindo, his palms were always joined in salutation.”
A pigeon used to come and perch atop one of Sri Aurobindo’s cupboards. Naturally it would foul the cupboard with its droppings, but Sri Aurobindo never shooed it away. Such was his love and gentleness toward living creatures.
One day an own flew into Puja-ji’s room. Seeing Puja-ji, it suddenly dropped dead! But Puja-ji knew that owls often faked death. After coming back from his bath, he noted that the owl was sitting merrily on its perch once again. The owl’s ability to act amused him immensely. Later he went to the Mother and told her about it. The Mother said, “It might be sick. Take him very gently and leave him in the garden.” So he put him gently on a tree in the garden.
After the descent of Krishna’s consciousness in 1926, Sri Aurobindo went into seclusion. At that time, nobody except the Mother could see him. This seclusion continued until the accident in 1938. But in the early 1930’s, everyone began writing to him. He would answer their letters day after day, often late into the night. In those days there were many women in the Ashram who had not had much education. Many of them did not speak English, so they would write to Sri Aurobindo in their mother-tongue. The Gujarati women wrote to him in Gujarati. Sri Aurobindo knew some Gujarati. And he kept a Gujarati-English dictionary, which he would consult whenever the need arose.
Once someone offered two coconuts to the Mother. These nuts had begun to germinate. The Mother asked Puja to plant them in the soil and let them grow. First Puja planted the coconuts in a tub filled with earth which he kept on the terrace where Navajata’s room stands today. When the trees started growing, they were transplanted into the ground, one inside the Ashram and the other in Golconde. The tree in the Ashram never grew very high. A Service tree was planted near it, so the coconut tree could not grow very tall, though it had been planted earlier. Once during a storm, the Service tree got almost uprooted. Puja-ji and some others tied some ropes in order to prop it up. But today the roots of this tree have spread all around and some have even reached the surrounding streets outside. At several places, under the pressure of these roots, the cemented floor has been affected.
Pujalal-ji used to live at the Guest House in the beginning. He would work at the Ashram from four in the morning until eleven at night. He had his meals in Dyuman-bhai’s room and would also rest there. Later, the Mother wanted him to move to the Ashram main-building and showed him two places there: the Fruit-room area and the room on the southern side of the Samadhi which was then made of mud (from there butter-distribution would take place), and asked him to choose where he wanted to shift. Pujalal-ji selected the mud-house. The Mother got the mud-house pulled down and had the present room constructed. When it was ready Pujalal-ji was asked to shift. He requested the Mother to grace the space by walking into the room before him. “A palace!” the Mother exclaimed as she entered the room.
When Pujalal-ji moved from the Guest House to the Ashram, he brought with him a Champa tree (Psychological perfection) and transplanted it in front of the Fruit-room window on the north. It still stands there today, laden with flowers spreading its fragrance all year long.
Asked by Sarala-di about Sri Aurobindo’s shifting from his room above the Reception to his final residence above the Meditation Hall, Pujalal recalled: “Sri Aurobindo was living in seclusion after the descent of the Overmind, so when the time came for him to move to his new residence, a passage was especially prepared for this occasion. Saris were hung on either side of this passage right from the room above the Reception up to the new residence. Then Sri Aurobindo walked through this passage leading to his room, without being seen by anybody.”
Sri Aurobindo lived in a room above the present Reception and Reading rooms until 1926. Meanwhile the Mother had bought the house where Sri Aurobindo’s room is at present. In those days there was just a mud-house there with a big mango tree in front. After this house was bought, a cat came and took refuge with the Mother. This cat was named Bushy. Bushy offered herself at the Feet of the Mother. Bushy was provided with fish every day. Once when she was served an unusually big fish, she gripped it between her teeth, climbed all the way upstairs and showed it to the Mother. On another occasion she saw a mouse and started playing hide-and-seek with it. The poor mouse died of fright! Instead of gobbling it up, Bushy brought the mouse to show to the Mother. Placing the dead mouse in front of the Mother, she began playing with it, showing off all sorts of acrobatic tricks, as if she were performing some very heroic acts. Often Bushy would follow the Mother up to Sri Aurobindo’s door. She wanted to see Sri Aurobindo very much but at that time no one was allowed to enter his room. Often she would jump up and try to enter his room, but she never succeeded. Later Bushy gave birth to two kittens. One was named Castor; I don’t remember the second kitten’s name. One of the kittens got his neck caught in an iron hook once, and nobody could manage to get him off the hook. Finally Puja-ji held the kitten by the neck and managed to free it from the hook.
The Mother had another favourite cat. Puja-ji did not remember its name. It would sleep in the Mother’s bed.
Sri Aurobindo had a large he-cat named Big Boy. Big Boy had a little brother named Kiki. Kiki was a very quiet cat and used to be scared of Big Boy. Sri Aurobindo would feed Big Boy with his hand. If Sri Aurobindo showed any affection to another cat such as Kiki, Big Boy would get upset and angry.
Often, one cat or another would comfortably settle down in Sri Aurobindo’s chair. Sri Aurobindo would never drive them away. He would just make a little space for himself in such a way that the cat was not disturbed. That is the kind of love he harboured for all beings.
Pujalal-ji was a poet-devotee. He has written many poems and invocations in Sanskrit, English and Gujarati to the Mother, to Sri Aurobindo and to Sri Krishna. No other sadhak in the Ashram has written as much on the Mother. That’s why she aptly nicknamed him “My Poet”.
Pujalal-ji used to sit daily for meditation in his room facing the Samadhi. One day while he was sitting in this way, he received a ‘command’ from Sri Aurobindo that Savitri needed to be translated into Gujarati. Puja-ji wrote to the Mother about this. The Mother read his letter and blessed him to start the work. Only after getting the Mother’s blessing did Puja-ji undertake the Gujarati translation of this great epic by the Master.
Sarala-di mentioned in one of our conversations that Pujalal-ji was one of Mahasaraswati’s sons and so was blessed by her. She constantly showered her Grace and Compassion on him. While translating Savitri he did not need to think at all; the Gujarati translation came down to him canto after canto all in one block, carrying with it the right words and the right meaning, couched in flawless beauty.
Pujalal-ji also translated the totality of the poems written by Sri Aurobindo except for Ilion and Songs to Myrtilla, as well as The Supreme Discovery and numerous other writings of the Mother. Pujalal-ji wrote a book on the different forms of poetry entitled Chchandapravesh.
Pujalal-ji studied only till the 12th class but some of his writings are now prescribed texts in the schools, colleges and universities of Gujarat. A number of doctoral theses have also been written on his writings.
Puja-ji was much loved by the children of the Ashram and you could see children crowding around him in his room. He would teach them Sanskrit shlokas or verses. In the beginning this happened near the staircase leading up to Kamala-ben’s room and the Ashram would then be filled with the sweet voices of children reciting Sanskrit verses.
A boy called Partho came to the Ashram when he was two. He met Pujalal-ji and became friends with him. If anyone talked about him, Pujalal-ji would always say, “my Partho”. From time to time he would recite to Partho in Bengali Tagore’s poem, ‘Puraton Bhrityo’.
As a little boy, Partho used to enjoy listening to stories. He knew the stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata by heart. He especially loved hearing tales of devotion and heroism. He had a special affection for the life of Maharana Pratap. He would run around the house wielding a stick and shield and shouting some strange things. Partho’s mother told Pujalal-ji about this. After listening to her, he observed, “There’s obviously some connection with a past life.” Pujalal-ji had a profound respect and admiration for the Maharana of Mewar. “Rana Pratap ka nam lenese mera khoon ublata hai.” (My blood rages at the mere name of Rana Pratap!)
Puja-ji once told me that in one of his previous lives he had been a friend and court-poet of Prithviraj Chauhan, the king of Delhi and Ajmer. His name was Chandrabardai and he was known as Chand-kavi. One day Puja-ji told me about Prithviraj’s heroism and he extolled his warrior qualities, his skill at wielding different weapons and his expertise in archery. Prithviraj could shoot an arrow on target just by listening to the sound. His greatness and generosity are unrivalled. “During the reign of Prithviraj, Mohammad Ghori attacked his kingdom. After a fierce battle Prithviraj defeated him. But just see his greatness and generosity. He did not harm the vanquished enemy but forgave him and sent him back to his kingdom. But then Mohammad Ghori returned to attack Prithviraj with more troops. A tremendous battle ensued. Through crookedness, force and craft he managed to defeat Prithviraj. He blinded him after the battle. In Chandrabardai’s account, the blind Prithviraj is said to have killed Mohammad Ghori with an arrow, although historically it is believed that Mohammad Ghori defeated and killed Prithviraj in the second big battle. Prithviraj was too good a human being. Though he was peerless in bravery he was unfamiliar with deceit and duplicity. He could never imagine that someone he had forgiven after defeating him in battle could return to destroy him.
Once little Partho went with his parents for a holiday to Delhi, Hardwar etc. Puja-ji told him before leaving “Write to me from there.” Partho wrote to him when he reached Delhi and in reply Puja-ji sent him a beautiful one-page letter. In that letter he wrote a shloka from the Gita Mahatmyam:
Sarvopanishado gavo dogdha gopalnandanah
Partho vatsah sudhirbhokta dugdham gitamritam mahat.
Maurice, a former student on our Ashram School, fondly remembers: “As a little boy, I used to go to Pujalal-ji every morning around 6 to learn Sanskrit shlokas from him. Pujalal-ji would write each shloka in his extraordinarily neat hand in the notebook and then ask me to recopy it. This may have helped in memorising the shloka. I was always amazed at how quickly I would be able to commit the shloka to memory. It obviously had to do with the climate of gentle heart-warming love and affection that Pujalal-ji created between the teacher and the student. I cannot forget that atmosphere in the room with Pujalal-ji sitting serene, and relaxed (as if time didn’t exist!), totally composed, with this soft, gentle affection streaming all around him, as he repeated a shloka: it was like a Vedic ashram, with children sitting around a rishi and breathing in purity and warmth and knowledge all at the same time from the environing air itself! That formidable mix of the morning breeze, the presence of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother inside the Ashram, the fragrance of the flowers and incense from the Samadhi a few metres away, the sound of those pristine Sanskrit syllables uttered in an unhurried steady voice by this unbelievably gentle loving teacher blending with the sweet birdsong and squirrel-chirping from the Service tree—it was all quite overwhelming, really, even for a child like me!”
There is another incident that Maurice recounted which merits retelling: “Once I was with Pujalal-ji in his room. We had finished our shloka-session. He affectionately put a toffee into my hand, I remember, which I unwrapped and popped into my mouth. To us children, getting a toffee in those days was a source of tremendous joy. Mother used to give us toffees, Dada used to give us toffees, our captains used to give us toffees. In that joy of getting a toffee, I carelessly forgot about the wrapper and left it on the floor. As I got up to go, I looked up at Pujalal-ji to take my leave and then froze. His calm, collected look had such an intensity that I knew something was not quite right. He was angry, but in an incredibly controlled way. It felt as if a mountain were piercing my soul with its lofty impassivity, sending out a flame of fire to purge the air of some wrong movement of consciousness. It was the toffee wrapper! Quickly I bent down, picked it up and dropped it in the bin in a corner of the room. One more lesson had been learnt by default: the slightest negligence of any sort was the reflection of a shabby consciousness that was not worthy of the Mother’s children. This vigilance in regard to neatness and beauty was a part of Pujalal-ji.”
Partho once went to see Puja-ji with his mother after quite a long time. Sarala-di said “What happened? Why haven’t you come for all these days?” Partho’s mother answered, “So many people have come from far away and they have all come here to meet you. That’s why we didn’t disturb you.” Puja-ji gently smiled and remarked, “So what if many people have come? You should still come and meet me.” Such was his love and affection for one and all.
And then the 27th of December 1985 arrived. It was the birthday of Sri Adinath Chakravarty, a disciple of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. We went with him to meet Puja-ji a little before half past seven in the evening. He was lying in bed as for quite some time he had been ailing. All the physical suffering and pain he bore with an ever-present smile. He looked at us tenderly and offered us toffees as usual. To Adinath Chakravarty he gave a beautiful handkerchief. He also gave him some sweets and held his hand for a long time. Then he looked at me with a gaze brimming with tenderness. I felt at that moment that he would not remain long on this earth. But who could have foreseen that only a little while later he would return to the Mother’s arms.
Dr. Dilip Datta came at eight. He examined him and said, “You are all right, now.” Puja-ji replied that he was feeling fine. After the doctor left, two boys who were in Pondicherry for a youth camp told Puja-ji “Since you are fine, can we have dinner at the Dining Room and come back?” “I am very well,” Puja-ji replied, “I have laid myself at the Feet of the Mother, so you have nothing to worry about. It is all in her hands now. I am free. You, too, offer yourselves at the Feet of the Mother and live in ananda.” These were his last words.
After this Lalu-bhai arrived. Sarala-di said, “You’ve come early today.” Lalu-bhai gave Puja-ji his medicine but as he was pouring water into Puja-ji’s mouth, the water trickled out. Sarala-di asked him to sit up and take the medicine. But by then Puja-ji had already gone.
It was Uttarayan, the full moon of the month of Maghi. He had chosen this auspicious day himself to return to the Mother. The jivatman merged with the Paramatman.
Puja-ji used to say, “Pray to the Mother that she hold you by both your arms and never leave you.” He would say, “I feel that service to the Divine is everything. I have never done any yoga. I don’t even know what yoga is. You can get everything through service. Always, in every activity, we must remember Him. Being human we tend to forget Him and get engrossed in something else. It is the Divine who does the sadhana for us. What can we do so that He does the yoga and sadhana for us? Look at His Grace and compassion: if we take one small step towards Him, He moves ten strides forward to embrace us.”
The Mother with Pujalal on 25 October 1954