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Documents in the Life of Sri Aurobindo

THE DEPARTURE TO CHANDERNAGORE


1

Extract from A.B. Purani notebook PT MS9, pp. 79-80: talk of 27 September 1925 with Moni (Sureshchandra Chakravarty).

What strikes Moni most is that all along he [Sri Aurobindo] has been a passive instrument & the external circumstances have, it may seem, moulded him.…

…He described how A.G. [Aurobindo Ghose] decided to leave politics. Very dramatic.

As usual A.G. came to the Karmayogin office (Routine) & then there was talk about the warrant against him. He remained thoughtful for five minutes — said that he was going to Chandranagore [sic], got up went by tram to some place — then to Ghat. took the boat and went straight to Chandranagore.

He did not think even for a moment about Karmayogin. Papers, articles, politics. party — wife. house. — nothing. Simply went away.

2

Extract from A.B. Purani notebook PT MS12, pp. 215-16: talk of 28 June 1926.

Haradhana — Is it a fact that you came away straight to Chandranagore [sic] from the Dharma office & the CId’s by God’s grace were not there? Shri A[urobindo] — I was at the Karma Yogin office & we knew about the search that was going to be made evidently with the object of arresting me. There were some people there & Ramchandra was there proposing to give a fight to the Police & so many other ideas were flying about when suddenly I heard a voice from above saying “No. Go to Chandranagore” —

After coming from the jail I used to hear voices & in those days I used to obey them without questioning. & I told them that I would go to French India — & then arrangements were made & the CId’s I don’t know whether by God’s Grace or the prostitutes’ grace but they were not there.

Haradhana — And about coming to Pondicherry also you heard a voice[.]

Shri A[urobindo] — “Yes” that is quite true.

3a

Extract from A.B. Purani notebook PT MS16, p. 649.

5.2.1939.

Disciple: In the life of Nivedita which Lizelle [Reymond] is writing she has found many letters in one of which she mentions that you gave her the charge of editing Bande Mātaram after you left Calcutta.

Sri Aurobindo: No. It was the Karma Yogin — not Bande Mātaram. I saw her before I left Calcutta for Chandranagore [sic]. It was from her that I got the news of my contemplated arrest. She had many friends in the Government circle. Then I wrote an article, “my political will” — that stopped the arrest.

3b

Extract from Nirodbaran notebook NT MS11, pp. 132-33.

5.2.39.

Purani began today by telling Sri A[urobindo] that Herbert’s wife [Lizelle Reymond] is collecting Nivedita’s letter[s] to publish them. She has collected many letters[.] “In one letter she mentions that you gave her the charge of editing one paper — Bande Mataram? — after you left Calcutta.” [Sri] A[urobindo] — No; it was Karmayogin. You can tell her that. There is no harm now in saying that as it is a long time off. I saw her before I left Calcutta for Chandernagore and asked her to take charge of the paper which she did. It was from her that I got the news of my contemplated arrest. She had many friends in the Govt circle. Then I wrote the article “my political Will” that stopped the arrest[.]

4

Points from letter Swami Sunderananda to Girijashankar Raychaudhuri, 11 February 1944; extracted from Udbodhan, vol. 46, no. 6 (Ashadh 1351). (Translated from the Bengali.)

1. Sri Aurobindo came to Bagbazar Math, made pranam to the Most Venerable Mother and from Bagbazar Math went by boat to Chandernagore.

2. Brahmachari Ganen Maharaj and Sister Nivedita went to the ghat with Sri Aurobindo.

3. Sri Aurobindo took his wife to the Most Venerable Mother and got her diksha [initiation].

4. Sri Aurobindo’s wife used to visit the Math.

5. After the death of Sri Aurobindo’s wife, Sri Aurobindo’s father-in-law, Bhupal Bose, arranged a feast at the Math.

6. In Bande Mataram, Karmayogin, Dharma and in some of his speeches Sri Aurobindo states his opinion very clearly regarding Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda.

5

Extract from letter Sri Aurobindo to Charuchandra Dutt, typed copy dated 15 December 1944. (Published in On Himself (1972), pp. 56-58.)

This is my answer to the questions arising from your letter. Except on one point which calls for some explanation, I confine myself to the plain facts.

… … …

… … …

(3) I did not go to the Bagbazar Math on my way to Chandernagore or make pranam to Sri Saradamani Devi. In fact I never met or even saw her in my life. It was not from Bagbazar but from another ghat (Ganga ghat) that I went straight by boat to Chandernagore.

(4) Neither Ganen Maharaj nor Nivedita saw me off at the ghat. Neither of them knew anything about my going; Nivedita learned of it only afterwards when I sent a message to her asking her to conduct the Karmayogin in my absence. She consented and from that time to its cessation of publication was in control of the paper; the editorials during that period were hers.

(5) I did not take my wife for initiation to Sri Saradamani Devi; I was given to understand that she was taken there by Sudhira Bose, Debabrata’s sister. I heard of it a considerable time afterwards in Pondicherry. I was glad to know that she had found so great a spiritual refuge but I had no hand in bringing it about.

(6) I did not go to Chandernagore on Sister Nivedita’s advice. On a former occasion when she informed me that the Government had decided to deport me, she did urge me the advice to leave British India and do my work from outside; but I told her I did not think it necessary, I would write something that would put a stop to this project. It was in these circumstances that I wrote the signed article “My Last Will and Testament”. Nivedita afterwards told me that it had served its purpose; the Government had abandoned the idea of deportation. No occasion arose for her to repeat the advice, nor was it at all likely that I would have followed it: she knew nothing beforehand of the circumstances that led to my departure to Chandernagore.

(7) These are the facts of that departure. I was in the Karmayogin office when I received word, on information given by a high-placed police official, that the office would be searched the next day and myself arrested. (The office was in fact searched but no warrant was produced against me; I heard nothing more of it till the case was started against the paper later on, but by then I had already left Chandernagore for Pondicherry.) While I was listening to animated comments from those around on the approaching event, I suddenly received a command from above in a Voice well known to me, in the three words; “Go to Chandernagore.” In ten minutes or so I was in the boat for Chandernagore. Ramchandra Majumdar guided me to the Ghat and hailed a boat and I entered into it at once along with my relative Biren Ghosh and Mani (Suresh Chandra Chakrabarti) who accompanied me to Chandernagore, not turning aside to Bagbazar or anywhere else. We reached our destination while it was still dark and they returned in the morning to Calcutta. I remained in secret entirely engaged in Sadhana and my active connection with the two newspapers ceased from that time. Afterwards, under the same “sailing orders”, I left Chandernagore and reached Pondicherry on April 4th 1910.

I may add in explanation that from the time I left Lele at Bombay after the Surat Congress and my stay with him in Baroda, Poona and Bombay, I had accepted the rule of following the inner guidance implicitly and moving only as I was moved by the Divine. The spiritual development during the year in jail had turned this into an absolute law of the being. This accounts for my immediate action in obedience to the adesh received by me.

You can on the strength of this letter cite my authority for your statements on these points to the editor of the Udbodhan.

6

Extract from “Surrejoinder” (Pratibader Uttar), Girijashankar Raychaudhuri, Udbodhan, vol. 47, no. 2 (Phalgun 1351), pp. 56-57. (Translated from the Bengali.)

… … …

… … …

3. “Sri Aurobindo did not go to Chandernagore on Sister Nivedita’s advice. However, once she did give a similar advice.” This only goes to confirm the opinion of myself and Sri Motilal Roy. Aurobindo went to Chandernagore five months after writing “My Last Political Will and Testament”. He went to Chandernagore a month after Shamsul Alam was murdered in the High Court. Sister Nivedita advised Sri Aurobindo to go to Chandernagore after Shamsul Alam’s murder. Therefore it is not true that after the writing of “My Last Political Will and Testament”, “Sister Nivedita never advised Sri Aurobindo again about leaving the country”, because Shamsul Alam’s murder took place three months after “My Last Political Will and Testament” was written. The police suspected that Sri Aurobindo was involved in this murder.

My friend, Sri Arunchandra Dutt, wrote to me on 13 January 1945 from Chandernagore:

“I have asked the venerable sanghaguru (Sri Motilal Roy) about the subject mentioned in your letter. This is what I could gather from him: After Shamsul Alam’s murder in the High Court, there was a widespread rumour in Calcutta that Sri Aurobindo might be arrested. At that moment, Sister Nivedita urged him to go to some other country.… There is no real reason for disagreement about the above-mentioned incident. Those who have raised some doubt about it have no personal knowledge about this matter and cannot hope to have. Therefore I feel it unnecessary to speak more about the matter.”

“That there was a close association between Sri Aurobindo and Sister Nivedita in national work is beyond doubt.” I have proved this point. Not the slightest room has been left for doubt.

“After reaching Chandernagore, Sri Aurobindo sent word to Sister Nivedita urging her to take up the charge of the Karmayogin. That Sister Nivedita did so is known to all. It is she who wrote all the subsequent editorials in the Karmayogin.” I accept this.

4. Sukumar Mitra, Sri Aurobindo’s maternal cousin, told me that after the police surrounded the Karmayogin office, he (Sukumar-babu) went to that office and made Aurobindo leap over the wall of the neighbouring house. He escaped through the neighbouring house. When told he must escape, Aurobindo at first did not agree. If Aurobindo escaped through the neighbouring house only after receiving the adesh “Go to Chandernagore”, then that is the way it happened. It is possible that at first he was not willing to escape because he had not yet received the adesh. He may have received it a little later.

7

Extracts from Sureshchandra Chakravarti, “A Page of Unpublished History: Reminiscences”, Prabasi, vol. 45, pt. 1, no. 1 (Baishakh 1352), pp. 22-28. (Translated from the Bengali.)

…It was in that same February of that year 1910 — about the middle of the month, or perhaps towards the end. The time was about eight in the evening. In a second-floor room of a house at 4, Shampukur Lane in the Shambazar area of Calcutta, a mature young man sat surrounded by some younger people. The mature young man sat on what was the only piece of furniture in the room — a small wooden bed. One or two of the younger men found a place on the same bed; the others sat on the floor. The mature young man had a sheet of paper in front of him and a pencil in his hand. He was doing automatic writing and reading it aloud. The younger men listened intently as he spoke and with their various questions pestered spirits who were presumably from the other world.

The name of this mature young man was Sri Aurobindo Ghose. The youths present were Sri Birendranath Ghosh, Sri Saurindranath Basu, Sri Bejoykumar Nag, Sri Hem Sen, Sri Nolini Kanta Gupta and this writer.1 All except Saurin and myself had been among the accused in the famous Alipore Bomb Case of 1908-09. They along with many others had been released for want of proof.

I need not enter here into the details of the Alipore Bomb Case.…

After his release from jail, Sri Aurobindo resumed his work for the country with full force; he began publishing two weekly reviews, Karmayogin in English and Dharma in Bengali. But a change had come over his style of writing. What he had written previously for the English daily, Bandemataram, was mostly political. But in his Karmayogin and Dharma articles a deeper strain was perceptible.…

…The office of the Karmayogin and Dharma was in the house I have mentioned at 4 Shampukur Lane.…

…At this time Aurobindo lived at College Square, in the house of his uncle, Krishnakumar Mitra, who was editor and proprietor of Sanjivani.…

…Aurobindo used to come to the house on Shampukur Lane everyday at about four or five in the afternoon. Here he remained busy with his editorial work for some time. Then he chatted with us. Automatic writing was done almost daily. From there he would return to College Square at nine or nine-thirty. When he went back we all used to go with him up to the Grey Street bend. From there he went by tram.… Sometimes Aurobindo got very late, so late that trams were not available. Then a carriage had to be hired in order for him to return.…

One evening in February 1910, at about eight at night in the second floor room at 4, Shampukur Lane, Sri Aurobindo was doing some automatic writing and reading it aloud to some young men. It would be wrong to suppose that the writing of spirits is completely solemn from beginning to end. All spirits are not serious; there are some who love humour and mirth. And so these automatic writing seances were sometimes serious with solemn voices and sometimes bubbling with laughter and fun. While such a spirit-writing was in full swing, Ram-babu entered the room.

Ram-babu’s full name was Ramchandra Majumdar. He also was young — still under thirty. Fair-complexioned, he sported a moustache and beard, not grown carelessly but well-tended, what the English call a well-trimmed beard. His hair and dress were always so neatly arranged that it seemed he was on the way to his wedding. I cannot recall ever having noticed anything unkempt or untidy about his hair or dress. He had a scar on his forehead — a sign perhaps of an overly docile childhood! Ram-babu was from Calcutta and he lived in this area. His house was in a lane (I do not recall its name) running north from Shampukur Street. He was on the staff of Karmayogin and Dharma.

He entered the room and informed Aurobindo in a rather agitated voice that a warrant had been issued against him again. The information was reliable, it had been conveyed to him by a high-placed police official. This turn of affairs was not altogether unexpected. It had been rumoured for some time that the government would not rest until they had put Aurobindo in the clink. Still, when we heard the news the atmosphere of the room changed suddenly. In place of the bubbling mirth there descended a stunned silence, like sudden darkness after intense light. We waited anxiously. For a few seconds Aurobindo seemed to think — just a few seconds. Then he said, “I will go to Chandernagore.” Ram-babu said, “Just now?” Aurobindo replied, “Just now, this very moment.”2

Aurobindo stood up and went out of the house with Ram-babu. Biren followed a little behind them and I followed a little after Biren. In front was Aurobindo and Ram-babu; at a little distance behind them, keeping them in sight, was Biren; at a little distance behind Biren, keeping him in sight, was I. In this way we formed not a festive but a silent procession. This procession of four, apparently disconnected but on an invisible plane linked together by a subtle thread, set out in a northerly direction.

As long as Sri Aurobindo had stayed in this house, the detective police kept a constant watch over it. Just a few days before our automatic writing seances had been shifted from a room overlooking the street to an inner apartment in order to stop the aural inquisitiveness of the policemen. But we noticed that on the evening that Aurobindo left the house with Ram-babu, the two of us following in succession, there was no trace of any policeman anywhere about the house.…

But I do not think that the police could have done much even if they had been there at the time. I mentioned earlier that Ram-babu was from this area and it was evident that he knew every nook and corner of the locality by heart. He led Aurobindo into a neighbourhood which to me was unusual, inconceivable. I had just come to Calcutta and had not yet got over my provincial outlook. Until then I had seen in this capital only rows of tall buildings proudly lining the wide streets. Before I entered this neighbourhood I could not even have dreamed that the supposedly intelligent creature called man could have turned his dwelling-place into such a tangle. It is certain that this place could have no sane purpose other than to thwart a possible pursuit by detective policemen that day. The houses were huddled together, the lanes narrow and congested and at every step there were turns and twists.… In that palpable stillness, on a solitary path in a locality criss-crossed by numberless turns and twists, it would have been impossible for the police, even for the great ancestor of all policemen, to follow anyone and keep him within sight until the end. This is why I say that even if a detective policeman had been on duty, I do not think he could have done much. But he certainly would have learned that on that particular evening, instead of returning from the house to College Square, Aurobindo had gone off in the opposite direction, through a labyrinthine neighbourhood, to some unknown destination.…

In any case, after walking for some fifteen or twenty minutes we finally came to a ghat on the Ganges. As I have said before, I was new to Calcutta — hardly three months had passed since I arrived — and I was not very familiar with the city (nor am I today). So I cannot say for certain which ghat it was; it might have been the Bagbazar ghat. When we reached the ghat, Ram-babu hailed one of the boatmen and asked: “Hey, will you take a fare?”

I still remember these few words of Ram-babu and his voice still rings in my ears. After this the boatman and Ram-babu spoke to each other in low tones. When they finished, Aurobindo got into the boat. Then Biren and I got in. Ram-babu took his leave. The boat sailed off over the waters of the Ganges.…

I am duty-bound here to raise a few questions about an issue. Srijut Girijashankar Ray Chaudhuri has written a biography of Sri Aurobindo in Udbhodhan under the title “Sri Aurobindo”. I have heard from people that in this biography he has purveyed some erroneous conclusions arrived at on the basis of false and true data. I did not believe what people said. I thought mortal man is by nature prone to jealousy. What might people moved by jealousy not say! But when I read in the Ashadh issue of Udbodhan two statements made by Girijashankar Ray Chaudhuri concerning Aurobindo’s leaving Calcutta for Chandernagore in 1910, I began wondering whether what people were saying about Aurobindo’s biography was, after all, not altogether untrue. Mr. Ray Chaudhuri writes in the above-mentioned issue:– “My esteemed friend Swami Sundarananda, the editor of Udbodhan, on 11 February wrote to me from the Udbodhan office the following points:

[Here Sureshchandra quotes points (1) and (2) of our “Document 4”]

Mr. Ray Chaudhuri’s esteemed friend has no doubt written these things, but from the point of view of truth these things are utterly unworthy of esteem.

It would be good to find out what marketplace supplied Sundarananda with these beautiful (sunder) bits of information. There is a saying in English: Truth is beauty and Beauty is truth. These two pieces of information might no doubt be considered beautiful but they are not true. It would seem as though some information minister — a propaganda minister of some sort — was up to some mischief. I am not criticising the information minister; on the contrary, I feel that he is gifted to the superlative degree.

In order that historical truth might not be covered up in the future, I would like to set down here in clear words that both these pieces of information supplied by Sunderananda are absolutely false — utterly, unhesitatingly, indisputably, incontrovertibly false. Aurobindo did not go to any math on that day, nor did he offer pranam to Sri Sri Ma. (In fact Aurobindo never saw the late Saradamani Devi.) Neither did he meet Ganen Maharaj or Sister Nivedita on that day at that time. Three people went with Aurobindo to the ghat on the Ganges; their names are Ram Majumdar, Biren Ghosh and Suresh Chakravarti. Of these, Ram-babu went away; the other two accompanied Aurobindo up to Chandernagore.

But three cheers to the intelligence of these story-tellers! That day Aurobindo left Calcutta in secrecy. But the first thing he does is go to a place like the math and attract the attention of a dozen people. As if that were not enough, in an area like Bagbazar he comes out on the street with a European lady and walks to the river-ghat so that everyone can take notice of him. I don’t see why these story-tellers did not add further that Aurobindo bought a few kilos of Rasagollas in Bagbazar and then went to pick up a mattress from Barobazar. Had they done this the outward and inward would have made a very happy match indeed. And the story would have become more interesting.

Let me say something about the writing of biography. Most people, ninety-nine percent of them, think that writing biographies is a most simple matter. But in fact it is more difficult than writing novels and stories, just as portrait-painting is more difficult than landscape-painting.…

It is evident that Girija-babu is no expert at collecting information. If he was, it would not have been difficult for him to verify carefully the authenticity of his two items of information concerning Aurobindo’s departure for Chandernagore. He had merely to drop a three-paise postcard.…

…Now let us return to the main story. Our boat sailed off. God knows what the boatmen were thinking! It was a beautiful moonlit night, nature was in bloom, the Ganges flowed happily. The boatmen were used to having gentlemen come out for a sail on nights like this. But on this night these three creatures sat so quietly on the bare wooden planks in the darkness of the thatched cabin that it would have been difficult to know whether they were there or not.… Had these boatmen been psychologists or philosophers they would have certainly begun speculating and arrived at God knows what conclusions. But unfortunately they were neither psychologists not philosophers and the boat went unhindered on its way. Nothing extraordinary occurred during the journey. Just once the boat got stuck on a sandbank.… Biren and I got down with the boatmen and after about ten minutes of pushing and shoving we managed to free the boat. God!

After sailing for the whole night, the boat reached Chandernagore before dawn while it was still quite dark. From the boat Aurobindo sent Biren to a well-known citizen of Chandernagore — Srijut Charuchandra Ray. Mr. Ray expressed his inability to help Aurobindo in any way. But through Biren he gave Aurobindo some sound advice. He told him to go to France. Apparently Mr. Charu Ray thought that Aurobindo just had to tell the boatmen and they would ferry him in an hour or two across the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean to Nice, Toulon or Marseilles.… After hearing about Aurobindo’s coming, Srijut Motilal Ray urged Aurobindo to come and stay in his house.

This event took place in February 1910. Now it is December 1944. T-h-i-r-t-y-f-o-u-r years!…

After this article was completed, I came across two pieces of information contained in the Phalgun 1351 issue of Udbodhan. The first of these was supplied by the editor of Udbodhan and the other by Girijashankar-babu. I had heard that Ram-babu was no longer living. But the editor of Udbodhan wrote:

“Srijut Ram Majumdar is still living. Just a few days ago he came to the Udbodhan office and told us that he took Sri Aurobindo to the Holy Mother’s residence in Bagbazar. Sri Aurobindo got into a boat at Bagbazar’s Ganga ghat and went to Chandernagore. — Editor of Udbodhan

I am happy the rumour about Ram-babu’s death was false and I wish him a very long life. But it is not clear from what the editor has written whether Ram-babu took Sri Aurobindo to Sri Sri Ma’s house on the way to Chandernagore. If this is what is meant by this note, then I have to state that it is not true. And if Ram-babu has said this then it is a great mystery — or perhaps a lapse of memory.…

That day Ram-babu took Sri Aurobindo straight to the Ganges ghat and nowhere else. There can be no mistake about this.

The second piece of information is Girija-babu’s. It is even more amusing. Girija-babu writes:

“Sukumar Mitra, Sri Aurobindo’s maternal cousin, told me that after the police surrounded the Karmayogin office, he (Sukumar-babu) went to that office and made Aurobindo leap over the wall of the neighbouring house. He escaped through the neighbouring house.”

There is no indication in Girija-babu’s article whether Sukumar-babu himself entered the office surrounded by the police by climbing over the wall. In any case if Sukumar-babu told such a thing to Girija-babu, it is entirely a figment of his imagination and I am certain that anyone could prove this story wrong just by cross-examining him briefly. Girija-babu is so eager to believe certain things that he accepts whatever he hears like a child mesmerised by fairy-tales. I do not know whether Sukumar-babu ever set foot in the office as long as I stayed there. At any rate, at no time of the night or day was Sukumar-babu anywhere near the house on the night Sri Aurobindo went to Chandernagore. Girija-babu can take this as a gospel truth — that is, if he believes in the gospel.…

8

From Hindusthan Standard, 6 June 1945.

LETTERS TO EDITOR
SRI AUROBINDO — AN EPISODE OF HIS LIFE

Sir, — It is indeed, well that “Sanibarer Chitthi”, by putting in a significant paragraph in a recent number, has drawn the attention of the public of the province to the controversy which has been lately raging over the question, whether Sri Aurobindo on the eve of his departure from Calcutta by boat, did personally pay homage to the Holy Mother Sri Sri Saradeswari Devi, in her own residence at the Baghbazar Math?

The controversy may sound curious to many; since neither the confirmation, nor the denial of the fact of Sri Aurobindo’s paying homage to the Holy Mother, would tend to maximise or minimise the spiritual glory in which She is immovably established. But I have some knowledge of facts which would throw light on this unknown episode of Sri Aurobindo’s life and spiritual make-up. It is therefore important that I should speak out.

Enquiry discloses that the controversy originated from the writings of Sj. Girija Sankar Roy Chowdhury. He has been portraying in the pages of the ‘Udbodhan’ the politico-religious life of Sri Aurobindo prior to the latter’s leaving the province of his birth to avoid further troubles and persecutions. The writings of Sj. Roy Chowdhury dwelling on Sri Aurobindo are still being published in the magazine and more than 25 instalments have appeared in its pages.

But it is only lately that Sj. Charu Ch. Dutta of Love-Lock Place, thought it wise to take exception to certain facts and incidents in the life of Sri Aurobindo as these are depicted by Sj. Roy Chowdhury. Sj. Dutta’s letter to the editor of the “Udbodhan” wherein he challenged the facts as given therein by Sj. Roy Chowdhury was duly published in the pages of the magazine along with the reply to the same from Sj. Roy Chowdhury.

It is needless to say that a perusal of the letter and the reply to it, would show to any impartial reader that the latter met almost all the objections which had been raised by the former with the exception of only two points, viz., Sri Aurobindo visiting the ‘Mother’s house’ and his paying a personal homage to the Holy Mother there. But the reason of this omission possibly lies in the fact that in a previous number of the magazine, Sj. Roy Chowdhury took particular care to inform his readers that he got the information from Swami Sundarananda, a monk of the Belur Math and Editor of the “Udbodhan”.

Now taking advantage of a situation as this, Sj. Suresh Ch. Chakravarty of the Pondicherry Abbey of Sri Aurobindo, came forward to publish in the Baisakhi number of the “Prabasi”, a story under the caption, “A Page from the Unpublished History.” In this story Sj. Chakravarty, while “seeking to kill a good many birds by a single stone,” as the learned editor of “Sanibarer Chitthi” aptly puts it, has taken Sundaranandaji severely to task for having supplied the alleged wrong informations to Sj. Roy Chowdhury.

I myself knew Sri Aurobindo very closely. Resigning my services in ‘The Patriot’, Ahmedabad, I came down to Calcutta to join the ‘Bandemataram’ of which he was the editor. I worked under him along with Sjts. Shamsundar Chakravarty, Hemendra Prosad Ghose, Upendra Nath Banerji and Birendra Ghosh. I knew Sister Nivedita, and I was in close touch with Swami Saradanandaji and other monks of Belur. I therefore I think I should speak out what I know on the question.

I went to the Bagbazaar Math on the day when Sj. Aurobindo left. Swami Saradananda related that the Holy Mother was somewhat surprised to see the small stature of Aurobindo as he fell on his face in homage before Her. She was heard to say, “So small a man and the Government was afraid of him so much!” — The Holy Mother, however, gave him ‘counsels’ (‘upadesh’), advised him to strive well for the ‘Adesh’ to make him invincible as the Thakur [Sri Ramakrishna] would say, and placing Her hand on the head of Aurobindo, She gave him Her blessings to make him fearless. Was it ‘Hasta-diksha’ as some call it in common parlance? For, indeed, so rudely awakening was this holy touch of the Mother that the feelings of Aurobindo were worked up to a high pitch; so much so that when he came downstairs, he was walking with tardy steps as if he were half-lost in himself. Swami Saradanandaji to compose him, made him rest awhile in a chamber below. Yours etc. K. Ghosh, Vedantachintamoni.

9

Note dictated by Sri Aurobindo. Published in Sunday Times (Madras), 24 June 1945, and in On Himself (1972), pp. 60-61.

I am authorised by Sri Aurobindo to contradict the statement quoted in your issue of the 17th inst. from the Hindustan Standard that he visited Sri Saradamani Devi on the day of his departure to Pondicherry (?) and received from her some kind of diksha. There was a story published in a Calcutta monthly some time ago that on the night of his departure for Chandernagore in February 1910 Sri Aurobindo visited her at Bagbazar Math to receive her blessings, that he was seen off by Sister Nivedita and a Brahmachari of the Math and that he took this step of leaving British India at the advice of Sister Nivedita. All these statements are opposed to the facts and they were contradicted on Sri Aurobindo’s behalf by Sri Charu Chandra Dutt in the same monthly.

Sri Aurobindo’s departure to Chandernagore was the result of a sudden decision taken on the strength of an adesh from above and was carried out rapidly and secretly without consultation with anybody or advice from any quarter. He went straight from the Dharma office to the Ghat — he did not visit the Math, nobody saw him off; a boat was hailed, he entered into it with two young men and proceeded straight to his destination. His residence at Chandernagore was kept quite secret; it was known only to Srijut Motilal Roy who arranged for his stay and to a few others. Sister Nivedita was confidentially informed the day after his departure and asked to conduct the Karmayogin in place of Sri A[urobindo] to which she consented. In his passage from Chandernagore to Pondicherry Sri Aurobindo stopped only for two minutes outside College Sq[uare] to take his trunk from his cousin and paid no visit except to the British Medical Officer to obtain a medical certificate for the voyage. He went straight to the steamship Dupleix & next morning was on his way to Pondicherry.

It may be added that neither at this time nor any other did Sri Aurobindo receive any kind of initiation from Sarada Devi; neither did he ever take any formal diksha from anyone. He started his sadhana at Baroda in 1904 on his own account after learning from a friend the ordinary formula of Pranayama. Afterwards the only help he received was from the Maharashtrian Yogi Vishnu Bhaskar Lele who instructed him how to reach complete silence of the mind and immobility of the whole consciousness. This Sri Aurobindo was able to achieve in three days with the result of lasting and massive spiritual realisations opening to him the larger ways of Yoga. Lele finally told him to put himself entirely into the hands of the Divine within and move only as he was moved and then he would need no instructions either from Lele himself or anyone else. This henceforward became the whole foundation and principle of Sri Aurobindo’s sadhana. From that time onward (the beginning of 1909) and through many years of intensive experience at Pondicherry he underwent no spiritual influence from outside.

10

Ramchandra Majumdar. “Another Page of Unpublished History”, Prabasi vol. 45, pt. 1, no. 6 (Sraban 1352), pp. 275-78. (Translated from the Bengali.)

For a few days I went to a remote village in Burdwan district. There I chanced upon an article by Sureshchandra Chakravarti in the Baisakh issue of Prabasi entitled “A Page of Unpublished History”. The author refers to me twice in this article — first, while describing Sri Aurobindo’s daily routine at the Karmayogin office and later while giving an account of the departure for Chandernagore. Suresh is a poet; he has described the events in a charming style and often rather ornately. But all the events have not been rightly recorded in the article. Below I write very briefly all that I know about these matters.

In my opinion, it would have been better to leave this account unpublished. But now that it has been published, all the incidents ought to be correctly recorded. Suresh, alias Moni, was at that time just a boy. He hasn’t mentioned this fact fearing that people would dismiss his story for that very reason. I can still remember his sweetly smiling face; there was always a smile of his face. Moni and Bejoy were the youngest of us — within their teens.3 Every year Moni and Nolini used to come to Calcutta from Pondicherry and meet me. There was a close bond of affection between us. Nolini was serious by nature and large-hearted; Bejoy was enterprising and recklessly self-sacrificing. Although only a boy, Bejoy was Sri Aurobindo’s comrade. One day Sri Aurobindo said about him: “I love him more than anybody else in this world.” My relation with Sri Aurobindo was that of friend and servitor.

One day to test us Sri Aurobindo said: “If India were free and I became king, what would you do?” Nolini at once answered: “We would revolt against you.” I replied: “I shall stand by you unto death. I will always obey you.” It was incorrect [for Suresh] to say that only “automatic writing” was done at the Karmayogin office; every aspect of our education was looked after there.

[Here Ramchandra writes about Sri Aurobindo’s way of teaching.]

I still have a few pages written by Sri Aurobindo in his own hand on the subject of astrology and also his thoughts on Barin’s horoscope. A gentleman named Shrishchandra Goswami came to me and introduced himself as a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. I saw that he had a message given by Sri Aurobindo. On account of the message I trusted him and gave him this manuscript. Without telling me, he copied the book and then returned the original to me. Later I learned that the Arya Publishing Company had published this book. In any case the fact that Sri Aurobindo’s book was brought out under his own name is a source of consolation.

[Here Ramchandra writes about Sri Aurobindo’s automatic writing.]

In the Karmayogin office, Sri Aurobindo used to amuse himself with us in various ways. But whatever he did had some meaning to it. After coming from Krishna-babu’s house he would first write an article for the Karmayogin and then would correct proofs. Nolini used to correct proofs and so did I. In this way office-work would be done for an hour or two. After nightfall we used to assemble. On some days Sri Aurobindo used to learn Tamil at the office. Who could have said that in a short time he would have to settle down in the Tamil country. In about fifteen days he learned Tamil and wrote a poem in Tamil. Astonished, I asked him how he could do this. He answered: “Look, once you have mastered one language you can easily learn any language in a few days.”

[Here Ramchandra writes about Swami Vivekananda.]

…Sri Aurobindo and his follower Debabrata Basu wished to become sannyasis of the Belur math. Debabrata-babu became a sannyasi at the Belur math under the name of Swami Prajnananda. The then head of Belur math, Swami Brahmananda, did not agree to accept Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo had an exceptional reverence for Sri Ramakrishnadev. He said: “Ramakrishna the God Himself.” About Swamiji, he said “Man rising to God” and about himself he said “Man rising to humanity.” In the journal Dharma he wrote a few articles on Sri Ramakrishna. The article “Bharater Pranapurusha Sri Ramakrishnadev” which was published in that journal is by him. I am particularly certain about this. I would have to write a whole book if I wanted to tell everything.

Now I will continue the story I began earlier. Our days at the Karmayogin office at no. 4 Shampukur Lane passed peacefully. Often we stayed until night.

[Here Ramchandra writes about an ex-sepoy employed at the Karmayogin office.]

A few days after all this took place something happened that brought about the end of our happy association with Sri Aurobindo. I will speak about this presently. But first I will contradict what Suresh, knowing nothing, has written. He writes that Sri Aurobindo never went to see Sri Sri Saradamanidevi. Suresh knows nothing about this. He has not even asked Sri Aurobindo about it. In fact Aurobindo-babu did not go alone to Udbodhan but went with his wife to make pranam to Sri Sri Matathakurani [a title of Saradamani Devi]. This incident took place a little before his departure for Chandernagore. It is true I do not recollect the date, but I remember that the event did take place on that occasion. My memory has not failed me yet; neither is there any reason to suppose that I have lost my reason. Sri Aurobindo’s visit will add nothing at all to the glory of the Most Venerable Sri Matathakurani, adored by Sri Sri Ramakrishnadev. On the other hand, Aurobindo-babu will not come down one step from his level of sadhana. I do not know what he thinks but I think that this darshan of the Devi removed all obstacles from his path in life as well as in sadhana.

The facts regarding Sri Aurobindo’s visit to Udbodhan are as follows: I went and informed the revered Swami Saradananda-ji: “Aurobindo-babu would like to come and make pranam to Sri Sri Matathakurani.” He replied: “Bring him.” I took Kumar Atindrakrishnadev Bahadur’s horse-carriage and went to Krishna-babu’s house. At that time Aurobindo-babu’s wife used to stay there. Aurobindo-babu was ready. Within a short time he and his wife came out and sat in the carriage. I was going to sit on top of the carriage when he frowned a little and in silent rebuke asked me to come and sit inside. I went in and sat down. The strong-limbed horse sped towards Bagbazar and in a short time we reached the Udbodhan office. Aurobindo-babu went in with his wife. That day Gaurima was also present. Both made pranam to Sri Sri Ma. She blessed them by touching their heads and gave them guidance. When Aurobindo-babu came out of the room, Gaurima held his chin and, quoting a line from one of Swamiji’s poems, said: “As lofty as thy heart,/ The pains thou must face/ O great-souled selfless love,/ This world is not thy dwelling-place.” Somewhat pensive and with trembling steps, Aurobindo-babu came down and began speaking to Sharad Maharaj. This is the actual incident. I was told that Sri Sri Ma said on seeing Aurobindo-babu: “Such a short man — to think the government is so frightened of him!” I also heard that the Mother had called him “My fearless child”. Just as we were climbing into the carriage, Krishna-babu (Vedantachintamani) arrived at Udbodhan.

It seems that Srijut Charuchandra Dutt has been authorised by Sri Aurobindo to write that he [Sri Aurobindo] never went to see Sri Sri Ma. Reading this I wondered whether an educated man could write such things. I urge him to ask Sri Aurobindo about this. He would never and could never say that he did not go to Udbodhan to have darshan of Sri Sri Ma.

Before the departure for Chandernagore, a Brotherhood was created among us. This was a mysterious affair. Sri Aurobindo blessed everyone. I have already mentioned that there was a hidden significance in everything he did.

A few days later I got news from a certain C.I.D. man that Sri Aurobindo would soon be arrested and that very probably a warrant would be issued against him in the Shams-ul Alam murder case. We had received this information earlier from two other sources. As soon as I got this news I rushed to Krishnakumar-babu’s house and informed Sri Aurobindo. He heard the news with an unruffled mind and then he took me with him to the Karmayogin office. At first there was talk of arranging for bail. Then he said: “Go and ask Nivedita.” I went to Sister Nivedita’s house. He already knew her; he had met Nivedita for the first time in Baroda. She had presented him with Swamiji’s Rajayoga. Aurobindo-babu used to say that it was after reading this book that he felt an urge to read about Hindu philosophy. Sister Nivedita used to write articles for Karmayogin. During the period when Aurobindo-babu was hiding in Chandernagore, it was Nivedita who looked after the journal. Srijut Motilal Roy used to write for Dharma and so did I. When Moti-babu wrote an article entitled “Navtantra”, the managers (of Dharma) were required to deposit a security of two thousand rupees for Dharma. Because of this, this journal had to stop publication. Anyway, I told Sister Nivedita the whole story. She said: “Tell your chief to hide and the hidden chief through intermediary shall do many things.” One day Aurobindo-babu told me: “Mother Kali through Sister Nivedita ordered me to hide.” If Suresh would take note he would realise that even after such a long time I remember all the facts quite well and that my memory hasn’t weakened at all. I returned to the office with the news. Aurobindo-babu said: “All right, arrange.” All that Suresh has written after this is correct. He has just omitted to write that before reaching Ganga Ghat, Aurobindo-babu went to Sister Nivedita’s house in Bosepara Lane to meet her. Perhaps he spoke to her about conducting the Karmayogin. We were not present during this conversation; we were sitting downstairs in the verandah and so we did not know what they talked about. From Nivedita’s house we went to the Bagbazar Ganga Ghat. In Bagbazar, Aurobindo-babu and Biren-babu sat on the steps of Kharo (“thatched”) Ghat. Moni and I went up to Hatkhela Ghat in search of a boat and from there we came back by boat to Bagbazar Ghat.

Before the boat left, Aurobindo-babu told me: “Be rare in your acquaintances. Seal your lips to rigid secrecy. Don’t breathe this to your nearest and dearest.” The boat drifted away.…

11

A note dictated by Sri Aurobindo. Published On Himself (1972), pp. 62-67.

In his reply to Suresh Chakravarty’s article my old friend Ramch[andra] Majumdar congratulates himself on the strength of his memory in old age. His memory is indeed so strong that he not only recollects, very inaccurately, what actually happened, but recalls also and gives body to what never happened at all. His account is so heavily crammed with blunders and accretions that it may provide rich material for an imaginative and romantic biography of Sri Aurobindo in the modern manner but has no other value. It is a pity to have to trample on this fine garden of flowers but historical and biographical truth has its claim. I shall correct some of the most flagrant errors in this narrative.

First of all, Suresh Chakravarty’s article about the journey to Chandernagore confined itself to inaccurate statements of the facts and denied the story of a visit to Sri Sarada Devi in the course of that journey. This point has now been practically conceded for we see that the alleged visit has been transferred to another date a few days earlier. I may say that Suresh’s narrative of the facts was brought to the notice of Sri Aurobindo who certified that it was true both as a whole and in detail.

But now another story has been brought up which is full of confusions and unrealities and is a good example of how a myth can be established in place of the truth. Sri Aurobindo never spoke with Sister Nivedita about any case intended to be brought against him by the Government in connection with the murder of Shamsul Alam, for the good reason that no such intention was ever reported to him by anybody. Sister Nivedita never directed or advised him to go into hiding. What actually happened had nothing to do with the departure to Chandernagore. What happened was this: Sister Nivedita on a much earlier occasion informed Sri Aurobindo that the Government intended to deport him and advised him “not to hide”, but leave British India and work from outside; Sri Aurobindo did not accept the advice. He said that he would write an “Open Letter” which he thought would make the Gov[ernment] give up its idea; this appeared in the Karmayogin under the title “My last will and testament”. Afterwards Sister Nivedita told him that it had had the desired effect and there was no more question of deportation.

Sri Aurobindo did not see Sister Nivedita on his way to Chandernagore; this is only a relic of the now abandoned story of his visit to the Math at Baranagar on that occasion in which it was related that she had seen him off at the Ghat. She knew nothing whatever of his departure for Chandernagore until afterwards when he sent her a message asking her to take up the editing of the Karmayogin in his absence. Everything happened very suddenly[.] Sri Aurobindo, as he has himself related, while at the Karmayogin Office, heard of an approaching search and his intended arrest; he suddenly received an adesh to go to Chandernagore and carried it out immediately without informing or consulting anybody — even his colleagues and co-workers. Everything was done in fifteen minutes or so and in the utmost secrecy and silence. He followed Ram Majumdar to the Ghat, Suresh Chakravarty and Biren Ghose following at a little distance; a boat was hailed & the three got in and went off immediately. His stay in Chandernagore also was secret and known only to a few like his later departure to Pondicherry. Sri A[urobindo] never asked R to arrange for a hiding place; there was no time for any such arrangement. He went unannounced, relying on some friends in Chandernagore to arrange for his stay. Motilal Roy received him first in his own house, then arranged in other places, allowing only a few to know. This is the true account of what happened according to Sri A[urobindo]’s own statement.

The new story now told that Devabrata Bose and Sri Aurobindo both asked to be admitted into the Ramkrishna Mission and Devabrata was accepted but Swami Brahmananda refused to accept Sri Aurobindo is another myth. Sri Aurobindo never even dreamed of taking Sannyas or of entering into any established order of Sannyasis. It ought to be well known to everybody that Sannyas was never accepted by him as part of his yoga; he has founded an Asram in Pondicherry but its members are not Sannyasis, do not wear the ochre garb or practise complete asceticism but are sadhaks of a yoga of life based on spiritual realisation. This has always been Sri Aurobindo’s idea and it was never otherwise. He saw Swami Brahmananda only once when he went on a boat trip to visit the Belur math; he had then about fifteen minutes’ conversation with Swami Brahmananda but there was no talk about spiritual things. The Swami was preoccupied with a communication from the Govt and consulted Sri Aurobindo as to whether there was any need of an answer. Sri Aurobindo said no, and the Swami agreed. After seeing the math Sri Aurobindo came away and nothing else happened. He never by letter or otherwise communicated with Swami Brahmananda before or afterwards and never directly or indirectly asked for admission or for Sannyas.

There have been hints or statements about Sri Aurobindo taking or asking for initiation from certain quarters about this time. Those who spread these legends seem to be ignorant that at this time he was not a spiritual novice or in need of any initiation or spiritual direction by anybody. Sri Aurobindo had already realised in full two of the four great realisations on which his yoga and his spiritual philosophy are founded. The first he had gained while meditating with the Maharashtrian Yogi Vishnubhaskar Lele, at Baroda in January 1908; it was the realisation of the silent spaceless and timeless Brahman gained after a complete and abiding stillness of the whole consciousness and attended at first by an overwhelming feeling and perception of the total unreality of the world, though this feeling disappeared after his second realisation which was that of the cosmic consciousness and of the Divine as all beings and all that is, which happened in the Alipore jail and of which he has spoken in his speech at Uttarpara. To the other two realisations, that of the supreme Reality with the static and dynamic Brahman as its two aspects and that of the higher planes of consciousness leading to the Supermind he was already on his way in his meditations in Alipore jail. Moreover, he had accepted from Lele as the principle of his sadhana to rely wholly on the Divine and his guidance alone both for his sadhana and for his outward actions. After that it was impossible for him to put himself under any other guidance and unnecessary to seek help from anyone. In fact Sri Aurobindo never took any formal initiation from anyone; he started his Sadhana on his own account by the practice of pranayama and never asked for help except from Lele.

One or two less important points have to be mentioned to show how little reliance can be placed on the details of R’s narrative.

[Here Sri Aurobindo refutes what Ramachandra had written about automatic writing.]

A smaller but more amazing myth presents Sri Aurobindo as a poet in Tamil — and this apparently after only a few days of study. Far from writing Tamil poetry Sri Aurobindo never wrote a single sentence even of Tamil prose and never spoke a single phrase in the Tamil language. He listened for a few days to a Nair from Malabar who read and explained to him articles in a Tamil newspaper; this was a short time before he left Bengal. At Pondicherry he took up the study of Tamil, but he did not go very far and his studies were finally interrupted by his complete retirement.

About Sri Aurobindo’s question of becoming a king.4

R’s whole account is crammed with reckless inaccuracies and unreal details. Srish Goswami has pointed out in a letter that the astrological writings of Sri Aurobindo of which R speaks were only some elementary notes and had no importance. Sri Aurobindo drew them up at Baroda to refresh his memory when he was studying the subject with the idea of finding out for himself what truth there might be in astrology[.] He had never any intention of figuring as an astrologer or writer on astrology[.] These notes did not form a book and no book of Sri Aurobindo’s on this subject appeared from the A[rya] P[ublishing] House[.] It is not a fact that Sri Aurobindo’s wife Mrinalini Devi was residing at Sj K.K[.] Mitra’s house in College Sq[uare]; Sri Aurobindo himself lived there constantly between the Alipore trial and his departure to French India[.] But she lived always with the family of Girish Bose, principal of Bangabasi College. One is unable to understand the meaning of the saying attributed to Sri Aurobindo that he was a man rising to humanity unless we suppose that he was only the animal man rising towards the status of a thinking being; certainly Sri Aurobindo never composed such a resonant and meaningless epigram. If it had been to a Divine Humanity it might have had some meaning but the whole thing sounds unlike what Sri A[urobindo] might have said[.] In fact all that R puts into Sri Aurobindo’s mouth is of a character foreign to his habits of speech e.g. his alleged Shakespearean and Polonius-like recommendation to R himself while departing to Chandernagore. He may have enjoined silence on R but not in that flowery language[.]

This should be enough; it is unnecessary to deal with all the inaccuracies and imaginations. But I think I have said enough to show that anyone wanting the truth about Sri Aurobindo would do well to avoid any reliance on R’s narrative. It can be described in the phrase of Goethe “Poetic fictions and truths” for the element of truth is small and that of poetic fiction stupendous. It is like the mass of ale to the modicum of bread in Falstaff’s tavern bill. In fact it is almost the whole.

12

Extracts from Nolinikanta Gupta, “About Sri Aurobindo”, Prabasi, vol. 45, pt. 2, no. 1 (Phalgun 1352), pp. 1351-1352). (Translated from the Bengali.)

About Sri Aurobindo

For some time there has been a controversy in the newspapers and reviews over certain events in Sri Aurobindo’s life. But the truth about the events in his life can only be told by him — and should be the final word in the matter.

I write this letter or essay in accordance with Sri Aurobindo’s instructions and at his request. In addition I may say that the refutation made previously by Mr. Charuchandra Dutt in the Udbodhan was written with Sri Aurobindo’s knowledge and after having received his full approval. And what was written by Sureshchandra Chakravarty in Prabasi did not appear without Sri Aurobindo’s knowledge. A letter written in this regard by me in accordance with Sri Aurobindo’s instructions has been published in the Madras newspaper Sunday Times.

Sri Aurobindo says that the facts are these:

(1) The statement made by Sureshchandra Chakravarty (Prabasi, Baishakh 1352) had to do with what happened on the way to Chandernagore. Relative to this, several hearsay stories have been set afloat — viz., that on the way he saw Srijukta Sarada Devi; also that he saw Nivedita. Sureshchandra has clarified this mixed-up account. Afterwards Ram-babu agreed that Sureshchandra’s narrative was correct; but then he introduced a new piece of information: that the alleged hearsay events did not take place on that day, but on another.

(2) On the way to Chandernagore Sri Aurobindo went to the Udbodhan office. This part of the tale has now been abandoned and the part about Nivedita’s coming up to the ghat to bid farewell has been dropped. Now we have a part about how Sri Aurobindo went to Bosepara to meet Nivedita. The truth is that Sri Aurobindo did not go to Bosepara, nor did he see Nivedita. This is clearly set forth in Sureshchandra’s account. In fact Nivedita knew absolutely nothing about Sri Aurobindo’s going to Chandernagore. Only when Sri Aurobindo sent word to her a day or two later to take charge of the editing of the Karmayogin did she come to know about it, for the whole thing took place altogether unexpectedly. Exactly what happened has been explained by Sri Aurobindo himself as follows: one day at the Karmayogin office he heard “of the approaching search of the office and of his intended arrest”;5 at that moment “he suddenly received an adesh to go to Chandernagore and carried it out immediately without informing or consulting anybody — even his colleagues and co-workers. The whole thing was done in fifteen minutes or so and in the utmost secrecy” without anyone knowing about it (except of course those of us who were present at the time). Sri Aurobindo “followed Ram-babu to the ghat, Sureshchandra and Biren Ghose” — not Dhiren as Ram-babu says — following at a little distance. A boat was hailed and the three got in and went off. Nowhere on the way was there any noise, conversation, meeting, etc. The “stay in Chandernagore also was secret and known only to a few” — not only the Chandernagore stay but the departure to Pondicherry also was secret and known only to a few. “Sri Aurobindo never asked R[am-babu] to arrange for a hiding-place; there was not time for any such arrangement.” Sri Aurobindo went without sending word to anyone; he thought that one or two people known to him in Chandernagore would somehow arrange a place for him. Srijut Motilal Roy sheltered Sri Aurobindo at first in his house; he let no one except a few of his intimate friends know anything about the matter. “This is the true account of what happened according to Sri Aurobindo’s own statement.”

(3) The Government intended to bring charges against Sri Aurobindo in connection with the murder of Shams-ul Alam — there was never any talk between Sri Aurobindo and Nivedita on this subject nor any possibility of it, for no one ever gave this sort of information to Sri Aurobindo. And “Sister Nivedita never directed or advised him to go into hiding.” [Here Nolini translates the passage “What actually happened … no more question of deportation”.]

(4) The claim is made that Sri Aurobindo and Sri Debabrata Bose asked to be admitted in the Sri Ramakrishna Math; Debabrata-babu was admitted but Sri Aurobindo was refused. Sri Aurobindo never even in dream desired to take Sannyas or become a member of an established order of Sannyasis. “It ought to be well known to everybody that Sannyas was never accepted by him as part of his yoga.” The central idea of his sadhana is a yoga of awakened or conscious life based on spiritual realisation. “This has always been Sri Aurobindo’s idea and it has never been otherwise.”

[Here Nolini paraphrases Sri Aurobindo’s description of the visit by boat to Belur Math and the brief conversation with Swami Brahmananda.]

(5) [The passage “There have been hints … spiritual direction by anybody.” paraphrased.]

(6) [The passage “His statement about the automatic writing … and nothing else.” paraphrased.]

(7) Another splendid story of Ram-babu’s — that after Sri Aurobindo learned Tamil in a fortnight or so, he wrote straightaway a poem in Tamil and when asked about this he answered gravely: “Once you have mastered one language you can easily learn any language.” This entire story is fiction. Far from writing Tamil poetry, Sri Aurobindo never wrote or spoke a single complete sentence even of Tamil prose. In the Karmayogin-Dharma office a “Nair” (whose mother-tongue was Malayalam, not Tamil) for just a few days read and explained to him some articles published in a Tamil newspaper. Sri Aurobindo simply sat and listened.

(8) The facts about the astrology story are as follows. Sri Aurobindo studied this subject a little at Baroda in order to find out what truth there might be in it. At that time he jotted down a few things in a notebook — these notes Ram-babu has transformed into a full-scale work on astrology. There was never any such book, and the Arya Publishing House never published or planned to publish one. Sri Aurobindo “had never any intention of figuring as an astrologer or writer on astrology”

(9) Now one last fanciful story is told — Ram-babu has drawn a picture of an expedition in horse-carriage with Mrinalini Devi — but the very horses of this story are hobbled at the outset. For Mrinalini Devi did not stay at Krishna Kumar Mitra’s house — that is, at the Sanjivani office. Sri Aurobindo says that from the time of his release from Alipur jail until his departure to Chandernagore he indeed did stay at Krishna Kumar Mitra’s place but Mrinalini always stayed with the family of Sri Girishchandra Ghose. So the very foundation of the edifice built by Ram-babu has crumbled down.6

13

Extract from a note by Swami Sundarananda, editor of Udbodhan, appended to Ramchandra Majumdar’s article (Document 10 above) when it was republished in Udbodhan, vol. 47, no. 8 (Bhadra 1352), p. 232. (Translated from the Bengali.)

In this article Srijut Ramchandra Majumdar has given a detailed account of the story of Sri Aurobindo’s visit to Udbodhan and his departure for Chandernagore. In it he has written clearly that Sri Aurobindo went with his wife to Udbodhan to have Sri Sri Saradamanidevi’s darshan. The manager of Udbodhan, Swami Vishweshwaranandaji (at that time Brahmachari Kapil) was present then. He writes from Kishoreganj (Mymensingh) in a letter of 18 Jyeshtha: “It is an undeniable fact that Sri Aurobindo came to Udbodhan and had Sri Sri Ma’s darshan and did pranam to Her and then went down into the room where the venerable Sharad Maharaj used to sit and did pranam to him as well. The whole thing took place before my eyes.” The then assistant editor of Bande Mataram, Srijut Krishnachandra Ghosh — Vedantachintamani — saw Sri Aurobindo as he was leaving Udbodhan. In his article Ram-babu has referred to this. Krishna-babu has written an article about it entitled “Sri Aurobindo — An Episode in His Life” published in the Hindustan Standard of 5 June. Besides these three notable eyewitnesses, there are some people among those who came to Udbodhan and who knew about this incident who are still alive. We [i.e. Sundarananda] gave the information about Sri Aurobindo’s visit to Udbodhan to Srijut Girijashankar Raychaudhuri only after we had heard about it from some of these persons.

When Girija-babu published his article about Sri Aurobindo’s visit to Udbodhan Srijut Charuchandra Dutt, I.C.S., rebutted it, writing: “He [Sri Aurobindo] never saw or met Sri Saradamanidevi. I am informing the readers of Udbodhan about this with Sri Aurobindo’s approval.” (Udbodhan, Phalgun, 1351, p. 557)

Srijut Sureshchandra Chakravarty also published a rebuttal to the story about Sri Aurobindo’s visit to Udbodhan in a long article in the Baisakh and Jyeshtha issues of Prabasi entitled “A Page of Unpublished History”. He writes there: “Sri Aurobindo never met the late Saradamanidevi.” (Prabasi, Baisakh, 1352, p. 27)

It will be seen from this that both have completely denied the story about Sri Aurobindo visiting Udbodhan. Moreover Charu-babu writes that he is authorised by Sri Aurobindo to inform us about this. We are unable to understand why he acted in this way.

In his article, Ram-babu writes that he took Sri Aurobindo to Udbodhan “a little before” he left for Chandernagore. It can be seen from his account that on the way to Chandernagore Sri Aurobindo went to Sister Nivedita’s house on Bosepara Lane and that after meeting her he proceeded from Bagbazar Ghat by boat. But despite the fact that he was with Sri Aurobindo, Suresh-babu has not mentioned this important incident in his article. The interval between the two episodes — Sri Aurobindo visiting Udbodhan and his departure from Bagbazar Ghat for Chandernagore after meeting Sister Nivedita — was quite negligible, and those who gave us the information did so after a considerable lapse of time. It will seem that they were wrong in supposing that the two episodes took place on the same day. We regret very much that the information given by us contained this error. In any case, it is of quite secondary importance whether Sri Aurobindo visited Udbodhan on the day he left for Chandernagore or a little prior to that and who or how many people went with him to Bagbazar Ghat. The main point of the controversy is this: Did Sri Aurobindo visit Udbodhan and have Sri Sri Ma’s darshan or not? Both Charu-babu and Suresh-babu have completely denied this main point. But from the article written by Ram-babu who was an eyewitness, from Swami Vishwesharananda-ji’s letter and from the account given by Krishna-babu, it is clearly established that Sri Aurobindo did go to Udbodhan to have Sri Sri Ma’s darshan.

14

Extracts from Lizelle Reymond, Nivedita Fille de l’Inde. Paris and Neuchatel: Editions Victor Attinger, 1945. (Translated from the French.)

Nivedita found Aurobindo Ghose greatly changed. The fire in his eyes seemed to consume his emaciated features. This commanding man had become tranquil and he moved with a quiet dignity. Wherever he went people would raise their hands and bless him, for they felt he possessed an irresistible force. Those who had once derided him as a visionary were silenced, for Aurobindo was the only leader who could utter the stirring words that Bengal needed to survive its distress. [pp. 317-18]

When after his release from jail, he heard of Nivedita’s return to India, he knew she was the one he was waiting for, the living link.

Their collaboration was intimate and total, but short-lived — barely seven months to accomplish a huge task. Nivedita followed in his footsteps, contributing to his work. With them were a dozen close disciples, mostly prisoners released from Alipore jail. They looked after Aurobindo and accompanied him, for his safety was in constant jeopardy.

Aurobindo was the only nationalist leader left in a despondent and silenced party. He gave the call, rekindled the patriotic spark, proclaimed a new revolution — the inner revolution of man casting upon a declining society the spiritual element in his fully realised being: in his soul, in his vital body, in his mind and his subconscious forces. His work was that of a sociological yogin.

The two weeklies he started, the Karmayogin in English and the Dharma in Bengali, violent in tone, preached this lofty goal. The first one, the Karmayogin, published on 19 June 1909, gave a clear statement of his aim: to establish a society in which man could reach the principle of immortality by perpetual self-renewal. Individual effort should lead to self-immersion in order to harmonise all the jarring parts of the being, work on them, constrict them, press upon them until they became a fully controlled projection of consciousness, fully released into the liberating evolution. [pp. 319-20]

The Karmayogin ran to thirty-nine issues. The thirty-second was just out of the press when fresh prosecutions directly involving Aurobindo suddenly broke out. Nivedita was warned in time. She expected a police raid on her own house, but a high protection guided her. This time the intimation of danger had come through a devotee of the Holy Mother, Yogin Ma, to whom one of her grandnephews, Soshi Bhushan De, a C.I.D. officer, had spoken confidently. Upset, Yogin Ma had voiced her fears to Swami Saradananda. The information was correct.

Gonen Maharaj rushed to warn Aurobindo. He found him at work. “The work comes first!” He knitted his brows, then, changing his mind, said, “If Nivedita carries on the work, I shall go!” He wrote all day. He entitled his last article “An Open Letter to My Countrymen; My Political Will and Testament”. He left that very night.

He went to Nivedita’s house where he spent the whole of the next day. A small French boat was to moor alongside Bagbazar at nightfall. Those last strenuous hours were veiled in secrecy like a temple mystery. Two worshippers of the Divine Mother were meeting for a mutual transfer of powers. This was the climax of their lives of action, the unique moment as depicted in the popular images where the Mother of Energy, biting her tongue, abruptly checks her course and changes direction — a moment full of God-knowledge, of pure intuition.…

[Here Lizelle Reymond gives details of the supposed meeting of Sri Aurobindo and Nivedita.]

They meditated for several hours beneath the glowing red sky, he absorbed in the infinite surrender of his life, she in the abundant riches which she felt she must pass on to him at this crucial moment — all she possessed, the power she had received from her guru, the power of the Mother that was to return to the Mother because, for her, the cycle had come to an end. Joyfully, in a great light, Nivedita opened her hands to give all. Aurobindo accepted the gift. In return he entrusted her with his task, until he reached the place where the Mother awaited him.

After dusk Nivedita accompanied the traveller together with a few intimate friends. As she saw the boat gliding away and its lights growing dim, she knelt down on the bank. The faint gleam of the flickering lights on the water was almost invisible. They looked like the lamps that are fastened on tiny dry grass rafts and set upon the water — prayers sailing into the night and borne away by the waves. Jaya, jaya, Ma Kali!

After the master had left, Nivedita stepped into his place. [pp. 321-22]

In spite of Nivedita’s firm grip on the reins, Aurobindo’s absence began to create confusion. It was rumoured that he had been taken prisoner by the British, that he had gone abroad to gather support; he was accused of forsaking his followers or changing his tactics. The deadline was drawing near; she needed to buy time. In the penultimate issue of the Karmayogin, Nivedita published this disconcerting note:

[Here is given a translation of the note published in Karmayogin (SABCL vol. 2), p. 413]

One last issue of the Karmayogin came out on April 2nd. A week later Nivedita was informed that Aurobindo had reached Pondicherry and found the desired retreat: a place by the shore, a secluded garden, and silence. He was not alone; a few of his most loyal disciples had joined him by another route. Nivedita wept with joy. On the next day, with her usual biting irony, she gave the English press the address of the political refugee who was now safely out of reach. The trick had come off very well.

15

Extracts from a letter from Sri Aurobindo to Pavitra dated 13 September 1946. Published On Himself (1972), pp. 67-71.

The account which seems to have been given to Lizelle Reymond and recorded by her on pages 318-3197 of her book is, I am compelled to say, fiction and romance with no foundation in actual facts.…

[Here Sri Aurobindo refutes certain statements made by Reymond about his practice of yoga.]

Then about my relations with Sister Nivedita — they were purely in the field of politics. Spirituality or spiritual matters did not enter into them and I do not remember anything passing between us on these subjects when I was with her. Once or twice she showed the spiritual side of her but she was then speaking to someone else who had come to see her while I was there. The whole account about my staying with her for 24 hours and all that is said to have passed between us then is sheer romance and does not contain a particle of fact.…

[Here Sri Aurobindo speaks about his early association with Nivedita.]

I had no occasion to meet Nivedita after that until I settled in Bengal as principal of the National College and the chief editorial writer of the Bande Mataram. By that time I had become one of the leaders of the public movement known first as extremism, then as nationalism, but this gave me no occasion to meet her except once or twice at the Congress, as my collaboration with her was solely in the secret revolutionary field. I was busy with my work and she with hers, and no occasion arose for consultations or decisions about the conduct of the revolutionary movement. Later on I began to make time to go and see her occasionally at Bagbazar.

In one of these visits she informed me that the Government had decided to deport me and she wanted me to go into secrecy or to leave British India and act from outside so as to avoid interruption of my work. There was no question at that time of danger to her; in spite of her political views she had friendly relations with high Government officials and there was no question of her arrest. I told her that I did not think it necessary to accept her suggestion; I would write an open letter in the Karmayogin which, I thought, would prevent this action by the Government. This was done and on my next visit to her she told me that my move had been entirely successful and the idea of deportation had been dropped. The departure to Chandernagore happened later and there was no connection between the two incidents which have been hopelessly confused together in the account in the book. The incidents related there have no foundation in fact. It was not Gonen Maharaj who informed me of the impending search and arrest, but a young man on the staff of the Karmayogin, Ramchandra Mazumdar, whose father had been warned that in a day or two the Karmayogin office would be searched and myself arrested. There [have]8 been many legends spread about on this matter and it was even said that I was to be prosecuted for participation in the murder in the High Court of Shamsul Alam, a prominent member of the C.I.D. and that Sister Nivedita sent for me and informed me and we discussed what was to be done and my disappearance was the result. I never heard of any such proposed prosecution and there was no discussion of the kind; the prosecution intended and afterwards started was for sedition only. Sister Nivedita knew nothing of these new happenings till after I reached Chandernagore. I did not go to her house or see her; it is wholly untrue that she and Gonen Maharaj came to see me off at the Ghat. There was no time to inform her; for almost immediately I received a command from above to go to Chandernagore and within ten minutes I was at the Ghat, a boat was hailed and I was on my way with two young men to Chandernagore. It was a common Ganges boat rowed by two boatmen, and all the picturesque details about the French boat and the disappearing lights are pure romance. I sent someone from the office to Nivedita to inform her and to ask her to take up editing of the Karmayogin in my absence. She consented and in fact from this time onward until the suspension of the paper she had the whole conduct of it; I was absorbed in my sadhana and sent no contributions nor were there any articles over my signature. There was never my signature to any articles in the Karmayogin except twice only, the last being the occasion for the prosecution which failed. There was no arrangement for my staying in Chandernagore at a place selected by Nivedita. I went without previous notice to anybody and was received by Motilal Roy who made secret arrangements for my stay; nobody except himself and a few friends knew where I was. The warrant of arrest was suspended, but after a month or so I used a manoeuvre to push the police into open action; the warrant was launched and a prosecution commenced against the printer in my absence which ended in acquittal in the High Court. I was already on my way to Pondicherry where I arrived on April 4. There also I remained in secrecy in the house of a prominent citizen until the acquittal, after which I announced my presence in French India. These are all the essential facts and they leave no room for the alleged happenings related in the book. It is best that you should communicate my statement of facts to Lizelle Reymond so that she may be able to make the necessary corrections or omissions in a future edition and remove this wrong information which would otherwise seriously detract from the value of her life of Nivedita.

16

Extracts from Lizelle Reymond, The Dedicated: A Biography of Nivedita, New York: John Day, 1953.

Aurobindo Ghose was now out of prison, and Nivedita had her school decorated, as for the most auspicious festival days, to celebrate his release. She found him completely transformed. His piercing eyes seemed to devour the tight-drawn skin-and-bones of his face. He possessed an irresistible power, derived from a spiritual revelation that had come to him in prison. During the entire ordeal he had seen before him nothing but the Lord Krishna: Krishna the adored and adorable, the essence of Brahman, the Absolute in the sphere of relativity: the Lord Krishna had become at the same time prisoner, jailer, and judge. Long afterward Sri Aurobindo described, in a letter, this period of his life:

I was carrying on my yoga during these days, learning to do so in the midst of much noise and clamour, but apart and in silence.… My sadhana (spiritual practice) before and afterward was not founded on books, but upon personal experience that crowded from within. In the jail I had the Gita and the Upanishads with me, practised the Yoga of the Gita, and meditated with the help of the Upanishads. I sometimes turned to the Gita for light when there was a question of difficulty, and usually received help, or an answer, from it.… I was constantly hearing the Voice of Vivekananda speaking to me for a fortnight in the jail in my solitary meditation, and felt his presence.…

Now, released from prison, Aurobindo Ghose found his party discouraged and downcast. With a mere handful of supporters — Nivedita among them — he launched an appeal and tried to rekindle the patriotic spark in a weakening society. His mission was now that of a yogin sociologist.

The two newspapers which he founded — the Karma-Yogin in English and the Dharma in Bengali, both violent in tone — preached this lofty aim.… [pp. 347-48].

…Was Aurobindo Ghose to become the leader of another movement of collective consciousness? No, his mission was of a different nature. He was, as Nivedita understood him, the successor to the spiritual Masters of the past, offering the source of his inspiration for all to drink from in yogic solitude. Since his imprisonment at Alipore, Aurobindo Ghose was no longer a fighter, but a yogi.

The Karma-Yogin ran to thirty-nine issues. The twenty-ninth had just left the presses when news came of fresh persecutions which directly threatened the paper. The government had evidently taken offense at Aurobindo’s attitude, and at that of the group of patriots who sat under his leadership in Sukumar Mitra’s house in College Street, his temporary quarters, where Nivedita was a frequent visitor. The full scope of Aurobindo’s vision was revealed in long conversations there, and made the listeners gape with astonishment.

One day Nivedita was warned by a young friend that the Criminal Investigation Department intended to deport Aurobindo Ghose. She passed on the information to him immediately, through the usual network of runners.9 Although he replied by publishing a letter to allay the government’s fears, other incidents which suddenly developed made it necessary for him to quit his post. He left in response to a divine order which he could not ignore, and he placed his paper in Nivedita’s hands.

When she received Aurobindo’s hasty message asking her to edit the Karma-Yogin in his stead, and when she realized that he had gone, she meditated for a long while, so as to keep her sangfroid and to understand how the nationalist movement was collapsing about her. The present was repeating the past: again she had the task of another to finish, and the same wave of power, in the same direction. But this time the task was short. For her it was also the last episode of the great epic in which she had lived for ten years — the independence of India, her guru’s dream, the guiding thread of his life. Now it was all being carried away. “Hari Om Tat Sat.…” She was, after all, only an instrument. But in the evening, on the edge of the Ganges where she had gone with Gonen Maharaj — the novice at her service — she sat crying by the waters. That very night Aurobindo Ghose had left for Chandernagore. The stars reflected in the great river were like so many beacons of hope. She felt convinced that this failure in the growth of national consciousness would produce, some day, perhaps within a lifetime, a victory from apparent ruin. [pp. 350-51]

Although Nivedita kept a firm hand on the reins, as editor of the Karma-Yogin, the absence of Aurobindo Ghose began to cause uneasiness. It was rumoured that he was a prisoner of the English. It was also rumoured that he had gone abroad to enlist support. Other tongues accused him of having deserted his followers and changed his tactics. In her paper’s last number but one, Nivedita published the following announcement:

We were greatly astonished to learn from the local press that Sj. Aurobindo Ghose had disappeared from Calcutta, and is now interviewing the Mahatmas in Tibet! We are ourselves unaware of this mysterious disappearance. As a matter of fact, Sri Aurobindo is in our midst, and if he is doing any astral business with Kuthumi or any of the other great Rishis, the fact is unknown to his other Koshas [bodies]. Only as he requires perfect solitude and freedom from disturbance for his sadhana for some time, his address is being kept a strict secret. This is the only foundation for the remarkable rumor which the vigorous imagination of a local contemporary has set floating. For similar reasons he is unable to engage in journalistic works, and Dharma has been entrusted to other hands.

Another number of the Karma-Yogin appeared on the second of April. A week later, Nivedita learned that Aurobindo Ghose had reached Pondicherry and had found a refuge there. A few of his most faithful followers, who were to become his disciples, had joined him there by another route.10 The following day Nivedita, with her usual biting irony, told the English press where the Nationalist leader really was. [pp. 351-52]

17

Extract from a letter of Sri Aurobindo to Motilal Roy, n.d. [August 1912]

What you say about the Ramakrishna Mission is, I dare say, true to a certain extent. Do not oppose that movement or enter into any conflict with it; whatever has to be done, I shall do spiritually, for God in these matters especially uses the spiritual means & the material are only very subordinate. Of course, you can get into that stream, as you suggest, and deflect as much as you can into a more powerful channel, but not so as to seem to be conflicting with it. Use spiritual means chiefly, will & vyapti. They are more powerful than speech & discussion. Remember also that we derive from Ramakrishna. For myself it was Ramakrishna who personally came & first turned me to this Yoga. Vivekananda in the Alipore jail gave me the foundations of that knowledge which is the basis of our sadhana. The error of the Mission is to keep too much to the forms of Ramakrishna & Vivekananda & not keep themselves open for new outpourings of their spirit, — the error of all “Churches” and organised religious bodies. I do not think they will escape from it, so long as their “Holy Mother” is with them. She represents now the Shakti of Ramakrishna so far as it was manifested in his life. When I say do not enter into conflict with them, I really mean “do not enter [into] conflict with her.” Let her fulfil her mission, keeping always ours intact and ever-increasing.

1 Of these Biren, Saurin and Bejoy are dead. No news of Hem Sen is available. — Author.

2 The reader should not suppose that these were the exact words spoken by Aurobindo and Ram-babu. I am merely trying to convey the sense of what they said and to describe the things that took place.

3 Words printed in italics here and below are in English in the text.

4This line apparently was written by the person taking dictation. It has evidently to do with the story told in Ramchandra’s third paragraph. Sri Aurobindo ultimately did not think it worthwhile to dictate a reply to this.

5 Here and below passages translated into Bengali directly from Sri Aurobindo’s English have been transcribed directly from our “Document 11” and printed here within quotation marks.

6 Further contributions bearing on this controversy will not be printed — Editor of Prabasi.

7 Sri Aurobindo’s comments actually cover pages 317-24 of Reymond’s book.

8 MS has

9 There are several versions of how and when Nivedita warned Sri Aurobindo. We give here her own story.

10 That was the humble beginning of the “Sri Aurobindo Ashram” which has today 899 sadhakas. Since the death of Sri Aurobindo, as a memorial for the development of his work, an International University center was opened in April, 1951, to students from all over the world.



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