Documents in the Life of Sri Aurobindo
LIFE IN PONDICHERRY 1910 AND AFTER
LIFE IN PONDICHERRY
Extract from Freedom Movement in India: Some Jottings from Old Memories, by S. Srinivasachari. Unpublished MS. [Hereafter Srinivasachari MS]
He [Sri Aurobindo] came there [to Shankara Chettiars house] about April 1910 and remained till October when he removed to a separate house in the European quarters near the seashore. Though his stay there was only for five or six months, it was quite eventful. We kept his presence in Pondicherry a secret for a month or two, except for a few of our friends who saw him on the pier with us on the day of his arrival none else had any suspicion even about it; our constant visit to the house was quite an ordinary event, as we were visiting Chettyar very often from the beginning. But it did not last long, the India Government missing Sri Aurobindo in Bengal must have set the police to find out his whereabouts.
After a short time the Government of India must have come to know of [his] stay in Pondicherry for a number of policemen in baredress [mufti] were found watching our movements, they must have even located the place of residence for the Isvaran Dharmaraja temple had a tall Gopuram from which these police spies tried to get a glimpse of the upper flat of the house but all was in vain for the walls of the rooms sufficiently protected the open space from being seen from the Gopuram of that temple. Except ourselves no other was allowed to go upstairs, even the members of the household abstained from going upstairs for not intruding upon his quiet life. He was spending all his time in preparing his Yogic Shadan [sic] which he dictated to us both in the evening from five to seven. He was giving us also some instructions as to how to practise concentration, we were also asked to watch detachedly how the ideas take their rise, cling to our mind and disappear, he asked us not to be disturbed or get excited when unwanted ideas force themselves upon us for it is only by preserving our calmness that we can study their strength in their growth or decline in us. After such instructions our conversation would turn on general subjects, on one of those occasions I asked him what he meant by the Akasic records about which he used to write in his Karmayogin. He said that he himself cannot say much about them, he felt some scribbled scrolls were unfurling before his eyes with some connected ideas rising in his mind, he was neither able to say what language [it] was nor what the script was. On another occasion he was telling us that the coming Yuga will be a glorious one for man will be able to live a far higher life, almost divine in this world. I asked him how can such a thing be possible now, we are just at the beginning of the Kali Yuga which [is] said to be the worst of the four? He said that in every yuga the other yugas also have their influence one after the other and impart their characteristics for the time being. Then Bharati said that if divine life is lived on earth, then we must be immortals also. Yes, he said, we are bound to be so when we work for it. He told us also that when he had that divine illumination he found within himself something compelling him to break away from his present political life, and at the same time there was some other thing in him which resisted and refused to do so; it was only after a few days struggle that he gained peace of mind when [he] decided to give it up. [Continued as Document 7]
V. Ramaswami Iyengar, Veteran Writer Recalls a Few Glimpses. Free India, 10 December 1950.
In January 1910, I ran away from my home in Tanjore District to Calcutta. There I met one Venkataraman of Mayavaram. Our talk turned to a discussion on the political leaders. I was keen on meeting Mr. Surendranath Banerjee.
My friend cut me short and said: Look here, what an idiot you are! Why should you meet this old chap? If at all it is worth seeing somebody, it is Aurobindo Gosh [sic].
As an Editor
I knew even then something about Aurobindo Gosh. In fact, I was anxiously following the Maniktola Bomb Case. Mr. Beechcroft, the Presiding Judge gave the benefit of doubt to Aurobindo Gosh and discharged him. Sometime later, Aurobindo started a weekly paper Karma Yogin which went on to 42 issues and then there was nothing known about him.
My friend and myself went to the College Square where Aurobindos uncle, Krishna Kumar Mitter, lived. The house was locked. There were C.I.D. constables watching the entire square. Afterwards we learned that Aurobindo Gosh had disappeared. So we could not meet him then. I came away from Calcutta. He managed to escape the vigilance of the police to reach Chandranagore; and from there, he came to Pondicherry in a French steamer, under the name of Rajendranath Mukerjee. Two or three months later, one N.K. Ramaswami Iyer, Advocate, of Tanjore blurted out to my friend K.V. Rangaswami Iyengar of Srirangam the secret that Aurobindo was at Pondicherry. Immediately he sent me to Pondicherry to find out the truth of that statement.
A Memorable Day
I went to Pondicherry and with the help of Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathi and Mr. Srinivasachariar, I was able to pay my respects to Aurobindo, in a room on the top floor of Kalavala Sankaran Chettiars house. Along with him I met two Bengali friends, Nalini Kanta Sarkar Gupta and Suresh Chandra Chakravarthi (alias Mani). These two friends are still in the Ashram.
That day was ever memorable to me. It was a sumptuous treat to me to see Aurobindo and Bharathi talk. The conversation was a sort of variety entertainment. Only the level was very high, both of them being, in the cricket language, all-rounders.
Very many people in this part of the country and of this generation may not know that Aurobindo was actively engaged (before he dived into Yoga-sadhana) in leading a movement to free India. Many of the pre-Gandhian movements believed in bombs and revolvers. Aurobindo was informed every now and then about the activities of this movement from all over India especially from Bengal and the Punjab. We would all be hearing the stories. There was no secrecy. No oath of secrecy was administered to us and this is a very remarkable trait in Aurobindos character. He trusted our honour and sense of patriotism, not to divulge such things even to our nearest and dearest.
A Case of Conspiracy
The French Police at Pondicherry at the instigation of British India police launched a case of conspiracy against us all, including Sri Aurobindo. The judge-de-instruction [juge dinstruction] came to Aurobindos house to search it. On the table of Sri Aurobindo he saw two books, one Greek and another Latin. The Judge asked Aurobindo whether he was conversant with these two languages and Mr. Gosh said, Yes and there was no more search; the Judge departed quietly with the police.1
There was a regular blockade of the Swadeshis (the Indian patriots who took asylum in Pondicherry were called Swadeshis) by the British Indian police. No money was allowed to come in. All visitors were threatened.
One fine morning, in Aurobindos house there was hardly any money, for marketing. He asked us what things we had got for cooking. There was some rice, chilies, gingley oil and salt. The chilies were fried; rice was cooked and there was a grand dinner with the salt added thereto. You must have seen Aurobindo, then! What a remarkable man! The man who could roll in wealth and command any convenience! He wanted to finish that day, with that hearty meal.
Once a young man of doubtful antecedents somehow was recommended from Bengal for stay at Pondicherry. He was a Bengali. He came. He was a jack-at-all-trades. Very clever fellow. After he stayed with us for about six months, one night at about 11 oclock he prostrated before Aurobindo and said: I am a dirty spy of the British India police. I am paid to spy on you. I hoodwinked the Headquarters in Bengal, to think that I am a patriot. Here is about Rs. 1,000 as my salary for the last five months. Do whatever you like with me. I surrender myself in your hands. I am now entirely changed.
There was pin-drop silence. We were struck dumb, and Aurobindo the great man he was, simply smiled. He said There is no need to excuse you. You had sufficiently repented. You can live here as long as you want.2
I know nothing about his Yoga, but I can tell people that Sri Aurobindo was something of a phenomenon, more remarkable than remarkable men. The way in which he moved with us young men was something which I cannot easily describe. Affection is a poor word. Camaraderie is a dull word. Motherliness is good, but is only one aspect of his conduct towards us.
His sense of humour was colossal. He had a gift of aggressive laughter without giving offense to anybody, least of all, to the party affected.
Where can I meet Bharathi again? Where can I meet Sri Aurobindo? These are the two Masters that moulded my life.
Extracts from Government of India, Home Political-B Proceedings, February 1911, Nos. 1-5, and September 1912, Nos. 21-24. [National Archives of India]
20. Pondicherry. It has been ascertained that amongst the companions of Arabindo Ghose is A.B. Kolhatkar, B.A., of Nagpur, who was convicted of sedition as editor of the Desha Sewak. He has been in communication with Madame Cama with a view to leaving India, and the latter has sent him Rs. 300 to pay for his passage to England or to a place in the West Indies where there is said to be a colony of two or three thousand Indians working as factory hands.
Seditious literature is still coming in large quantities: five copies of Savarkars book on the Mutiny addressed to Nagaswami Aiyer, brother-in-law of Subramania Bharati, were recently intercepted, in addition to copies of the Free Hindustan, Talwar and Bande Mataram. In spite of these interceptions S. Srinivasa Chari recently had a considerable amount of this kind of literature in his house.
Weekly reports of the Director of Criminal Intelligence on the political situation during January 1911, p. 5.
9. Pondicherry. On 15th August a meeting was held at the house of Arabindo Ghose, in celebration, it is believed, of his 40th birthday. The meeting was attended by V.V.S. Aiyar, who was V.D. Savarkars right-hand man in the anarchist conspiracy in London and Paris, C. Subramania Bharati, a well-known writer of sedition against whom a warrant is out for complicity in the murder of Mr. Ashe, and a few other well-known revolutionaries. During the proceedings five pictures were garlanded with flowers, namely those of (1) the goddess Kali, the patron saint of the Bengali revolutionary movement, (2) Bharat Mata, the personification of Mother India, (3) Tilak, and (4) and (5) Khudiram Bose and Profulla Chaki, the two young Bengalis who threw the bomb which killed Mrs. and Miss Kennedy at Muzaffarpur in April 1908. Arabindo Ghose, who at first kept to himself a great deal in Pondicherry, is now in much closer touch with V.V.S. Aiyar and his dangerous gang.
Ibid., August 1912, p. 13.
THE FRENCH ELECTIONS OF 1910 AND THE ARRIVAL OF PAUL RICHARD
Extract from The Mother, How I became Conscious of My Mission (1920). Published in The Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 13, p. 39.
In the year 1910 my husband came alone to Pondicherry where, under very interesting and peculiar circumstances, he made the acquaintance of Sri Aurobindo.
Extract from Diary of the British Consul in Pondicherry, 1910. [National Archives of India, History of the Freedom Movement Files B 1/2]
It may be noted here that when Mons Richards [sic] came out to this Colony in the hope of standing for the Depute-ship, he was invited by Zir Naidu to receive an address. Here he met Sanker Chetty and other swadeshists who induced him to pay Arabindo a visit and from another source I learned that he paid Arabindo several other visits. Mons Richards is a great friend of the Depute Bluysen.
Extract from Journal Officiel des Etablissements Français dans lInde, 6 May 1910, p. 347. [Romain Rolland Library, Pondicherry; translated from the French]
DECLARATION of the results of the legislative election of 24 April 1910.
The election commission for the legislative election of 24 April 1910, established by order of the Governor on 1 and 2 May, has, on 4 May 1910, declared Mr Paul Bluysen elected Deputy of the French Settlements in India. Mr Bluysen received 20,580 votes.
From Srinivasachari MS.
In this way we were spending our time and though political subjects would often come up in the conversation now and then, it lost its importance as our sole preoccupation. A few months later an election for choosing a Deputé to represent the French Settlements in India in the French Chambre (Parliament) at Paris. It was very common in these elections here for the riotous elements to be let loose on the inhabitants as a result of universal suffrage. Many persons would then try to settle their scores in their private quarrels, more particularly the leaders of parties. They were generally divided as Hindu and European and as the majority of the population in all these five French settlements being Hindu, their candidate generally used to come out successful. But this time a rowdy element in the Hindu party went over to the European side owing to some personal quarrel. As Pondicherry was the headquarters of these settlements, by terrorizing the city and by a lot of malpractices any candidate could be made to succeed in these elections. This time the Hindu leaders among whom [was] Gaston Pierre, a French lawyer, a leader of the Bar in Pondicherry, put up as their candidate, Paul Richard, an Advocate of the Counseil Privé3 in Paris. Usually the candidate remains in France and is never present at the election in the city, the party leaders themselves do all the electioneering work. But this time Paul Richard wanted to be present on the occasion and had come all the way from Paris just before the election. He was put up in the house of Gaston Pierre as the legal and political chief advisor in the Hindu Party, Sankara Chettyar and Zir Naid[u] who were the moving spirits on this side were very closely connected with both of them. When the whole electioneering campaign was over and the results went against their party, Paul Richard while conversing with both of them expressed his desire to travel in Northern India and even go to the Himalayan regions to meet some Yogis there if possible and wanted some one to direct him. He said he did not come to India solely for this election, but he availed of it as a good opportunity to fulfil his desire and if they could recommend anybody in Chandernagore who would be willing to take him, he would all the more be thankful to them. While promising to make enquiries about it they casually mentioned to him that there was one in Pondicherry, referring to Sri Aurobindo, who had come as a political refugee and who is said to have had some divine visions, but the great difficulty with him is that he does not allow anybody to see him. On hearing this Paul Richard became greatly interested in it and requested them to arrange without fail if not for a meeting, at least, permission to look at him from a distance. Sankara Chettyar told him that he could not promise anything now but undertook if not for a conversation at least for a darsan. Poor man he was in a fix, he had promised to keep Sri Aurobindos presence in his house absolutely secret and now in an unguarded moment he had given it out and when Bharati and myself went to his house that evening, he came to us with apologies and wanted us to excuse him his indiscretion in having taken his friend Zir Naidu into his confidence who inadvertently had spoken of his presence to Paul Richard. He had promised him to try and get his permission at least to have a look at him. He further told us that his European friend wants to go North in search of Yogis and would be glad if any one could take him to persons who are well advanced in it as he himself seems to be very much interested in Mysticism. We replied to him that we will do what we can in the matter and went upstairs and consulted between ourselves beforehand. Pondicherry is only a small speck compared to British India and we may be put to trouble easily at any moment and the friendship of an Advocate of the Privy Council in Paris may stand in good stead for [us] in time of need. So we were for trying to bring about the meeting between the two. Even though we wanted to get a favorable reply from Sri Aurobindo we began the talk by telling him of the indiscretion of the house-owner and his friend in revealing his presence to Paul Richard who being greatly interested [in] Western Mysticism wants to have a look at him if an interview with him is not possible, before he leaves for Northern India in quest of Yogis. At first Sri Aurobindo flatly refused to grant [not just] an interview but even a distant look at him. He said, I am not here to satisfy the curiosity of [a] political worker who is come from France on an electioneering campaign here and who may have some academic interest in these matters. It is better that I keep away from such people. These are not the very words uttered by him, but these more or less bring out the opinion he had on the subject concerned. We did not press the matter further and spent the time in finishing the routine work and the customary general talk and towards the end I again broached the subject. I placed before him our position in Pondicherry, a small town with rowdy elements always ready to do the bidding of their unscrupulous leader. We have come here seeking protection from the British to please whom France is ready to close its eyes on certain international irregularities committed on its own soil, on an Indian. To give an example I reminded him of the case of Dr Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in which the British policemen arrested on the sacred French soil in open daylight in the face of a French policemen to whom the unfortunate prisoner ran for protection and dragged the unwilling victim to the British steamer in the port of Marseilles.4 On that occasion I sent a cablegram which I [showed] him personally and got his approval before despatching it for publication to the Matin the wellknown Paris Daily. The cablegram cost me more than forty rupees which the British Indian Government quietly pocketed without sending the news cabled to the addressee, because some Clause in their Code gives them the right of withholding any message they like. So Bharati and myself did our best to induce him to reconsider his decision as a fine opportunity is offering itself without our seeking. After some more consideration he consented to receive Paul Richard provided the interview is short and ends with the first one. We thanked him and came downstairs to Sankara Chettyar and communicated the glad news. He requested me to accompany him the next morning to meet Paul Richard and speak to him directly.
We both went to the house of Gaston Pierre and Zir Naidu who was already there introduced me to Paul Richard. I was well impressed by his broad face and earnest look and his beard and after the preliminary introductions were over, he wanted me to convey his thanks to Sri Aurobindo for granting him an interview and told me that he took interest in occult matters much more than in politics which in the present instance had offered him a chance to visit India and he would consider his purpose achieved if he could come into contact with persons who are engaged in Mystic practices seriously and would not regret much his failure in this election. He said he would first meet Sri Aurobindo and then settle his future programme. I told him their meeting was at 7 p.m. that evening. As I rose to take leave of him he showed me a rough sketch he was drawing during the conversation and asked me whether Sri Aurobindo looked like it. I thought it contained some of his features and told him so.
Bharati and myself went in the evening to Sri Aurobindo and communicated my morning conversation and my impressions. At about 7 oclock Paul Richard came and was received by Sri Aurobindo and after the usual introductions and preliminary talks they both began to exchange their ideas about Mysticism and I acted as their interpreter as Richard could not understand English very well. Their conversation was very interesting then but now they are very vague to me as I had forgotten the interesting links. In the course of their conversation Sri Aurobindo seemed to get more and more interested in Richard, for when the latter asked for a few minutes of private talk with him he readily consented and both went into a separate room taking me with them and their conversation went on for nearly an hour. I do not remember all the subjects that they conversed about at that time but the general outline of it was that both of them had met each other and had worked together in Ancient Egypt, Arabia and other places in their previous births, for some time about the old Egyptian Mystics and their traditions which are still kept up by some of the modern Mystics even today. As they finished their conversation and were coming out of the room Paul Richard said that he now understood why he felt such a strong urge to come to Pondicherry, it was certainly for that meeting of meeting[s] of theirs and for starting to continue their work in this birth. He said the next time he comes back his wife who is spiritually more advanced than himself might accompany him to Pondicherry. Sri Aurobindo also seemed to be greatly satisfied with the meeting. We came out of the room and they took leave of each other. Paul Richard left for Paris by the next steamer. [Continued as Document 13]
Extract from Sureshchandra Chakrabarti (Moni), Smritikatha. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1962, pp. 173-87. [Translated from the Bengali.]
A short time after Aurobindo had settled in Mr Chettiars house five or six or at the most ten or fifteen days after a newly arrived Frenchman came to meet him. This French gentlemans name was Paul Richard. He was a barrister in Paris. The address on his visiting card was 9, rue Val de Grace. In 1910, the electoral rolls of two French Indian political parties, the European party and the Hindu party, gave no evidence of being divided according to colour. The proof is that the leader of the Hindu party at the time was a French barrister named Gaston Pierre, while one of the main pillars of the European party was Nandagopal Chettiar, a dark-skinned Tamil gentleman.
This is what we used to hear about the elections in French India in those days: despite the fact that the Hindu party had more voters, it was always the European party that won the elections. I dont know what the situation was in the other four towns of French India. But in Pondicherry, Mr Nandagopal Chettiar was a very big man. He may have been the assistant mayor of Pondicherry. Mr Chettiar was from the fisherman caste. Whether he sprang from the exalted line of King Shantanus father-in-law5 or not I am not able to say; but in Pondicherry at that time he wielded great power. The fisher communities of Pondicherry and its vicinity were under his sway. They fished in the ocean, ferried merchandise between the jetty and the ships (I have already pointed out that in the Pondicherry harbour ships could not be moored at the jetty), and during elections, after guzzling down a sufficient quantity of toddy or another such liquid, sowed terror in the hearts of the Hindu partys voters on behalf of the European party. They were known by the people of Pondicherry as la bande de Nandagopal, that is, the rowdies of Nandagopal. They used to sow such terror in the souls of the rival partys voters that many among them, far from casting their vote, actually locked themselves in their houses during the elections and did not even go out. Nandagopals festival processions would parade through the streets making all sorts of noise and chanting slogans such as Vive la France! and Vive Monsieur Gaebelé!. (Gaebelé was the leader of the European party who had virtually made the post of mayor his ancestral prerogative.) When the votes were finally counted it was found that the European party had won the election. This is the history of the elections in French India in those days.
Mr Richard came to Pondicherry in order to contest the seat for French India in the Chamber of Deputies, and entered the fray in the hope of being selected as candidate of the Hindu party.6 From my earlier description of French politics, readers will have no trouble realizing that Mr Richard had no ghost of a chance to get elected. Therefore it is needless to state that the rival partys candidate won.
Although Mr Paul Richard was fully European and was born in a French Roman Catholic family,7 he had no faith in the Christian religion. Stranger still, he had no faith in Western culture or civilization either. We must not forget that we are talking about the year 1910. In the final decade of the last century and the first decade of the present one, Europe had reached the highest summit of its glory. In 1910 it was in the vanguard of humanity in art, literature, science, research, thought, in the accomplishment of work and the enjoyment of pleasure. But even at that time Mr Richard was most skeptical about Europe. Perhaps the proverb all that glitters is not gold was echoing in his being. Although he lived amidst the contemporary affluence and glory of his great country, his attention was turned towards the distant East. He felt deep within him an attraction for the East, and especially for India. He believed that the key to the attainment of humanitys supreme good was not to be found in Europe but would come from the East, in particular from India. He believed that there existed within Indian culture and spirituality a mantra or secret that could provide a permanent solution to the ultimate questions of humanity. He had a deep trust in the soul of India, perhaps even a profound dedication to it.
So, it is possible that in April 1910, Mr Richard had not come to India chiefly with the idea of fighting his way into politics. He may have wanted to kill two birds with one stone. Perhaps his special interest and curiosity lay in seeing India rather than getting into politics. That is why the first thing he asked after setting foot on Indian soil was whether it would be possible for him to meet a yogi. At that time there lived in Pondicherry a certain Mr Zir Naidu who was one of the principal members of the Hindu party. Mr Richard asked this Mr Naidu if he could introduce him to a yogi.
So when Mr Richard expressed to Mr Naidu his desire of meeting a Yogi, Mr Naidu whispered in his ear with the utmost secrecy that in Pondicherry itself there was a great yogi, possibly adding that the yogi was a difficult man to meet. But nevertheless he would try.
I suppose that Mr Naidu went to Mr Srinivasachari, who spoke to Aurobindo about the idea, and that Aurobindo agreed to meet Mr Richard. This is just the way I imagine it happened. Needless to say, all this business done through intermediaries happened without my knowledge.
In any case, one morning at about 9.30 or 10.00 oclock, Paul Richard, accompanied by Mr Srinivasachari and Mr Zir Naidu, went in person to the third floor to Mr Shankar Chettiars house to meet Aurobindo.
In person indeed! He was a tall man, his tall frame made taller by the French colonial sunhelmet. His face was not one that you could ignore. He seemed to be between thirty-five and forty years of age. His eyes, if not the sort that could be called lotus eyes, were unmistakably lit up with the glow of intelligence, and his nose was not the sort that went unnoticed. His coat was of a chocolate brown colour, and his shirtcuffs, which from time to time peeped out from under the coat-sleeves, were not altogether spotless, as if some chocolate powder had rubbed off on them. But what most drew my attention to Mr Richard was his full long flowing pitch-black beard. I had never seen a Westerner with such a pitch-black beard before.
K.V. RANGASWAMI IYENGAR, NAGAI JAPATA AND YOGIC SADHAN
Letter of Sri Aurobindo, date unknown. Published in On Himself, p. 373.
The Yogi from the North (Uttara Yogi) was my own name given to me because of a prediction made long ago by a famous Tamil Yogi, that thirty years later (agreeing with the time of my arrival) a Yogi from the North would come as a fugitive to the South and practise there an integral Yoga (Poorna Yoga), and this would be one sign of the approaching liberty of India. He gave three utterances as the mark by which this Yogi could be recognised and all these were found in the letters to my wife.
As for Yogic Sadhan it was not I exactly who wrote it, though it is true that I am not a Mayavadin.
Extract from letter of Sri Aurobindo dated 28 October 1934. Published in A & R 2 (1978): 192.
The Yogic Sadhan is not Sri Aurobindos own writing, but was published with a note by him, that is all. The statement made to the contrary by the publishers was an error which they have been asked to correct. There is no necessity of following the methods suggested in that book unless one finds them suggestive or helpful as a preliminary orientation of the consciousness e.g. in the upbuilding of an inner Will etc.
Letter of Sri Aurobindo dated 4 May 1934. Published in On Himself, pp. 372-73.
Your friend writes about my disapproval of Vairagya in Yogic Sadhan. But Yogic Sadhan is not my composition, nor its contents the essence of my Yoga, whatever the publishers may persist in saying in their lying blurb, in spite of protests.
Extract from a talk of Sri Aurobindo of 10 December 1938. Transcripts of Purani and Nirodbaran [identical].
[Sri Aurobindo:] Do you know the origin of the name Uttara Yogi?
[Disciple:] No, Sir.
[Sri Aurobindo:] There was a famous Yogi in the South who while dying said to his disciples that a Purna Yogi from the North would come down to the South and he will be known by three sayings. Those three sayings were those I had written to my wife. A Zamindar disciple of that Yogi found me out and bore the cost of the book Yogic Sadhan.
From Srinivasachari MS
The leader of the turbulent Hindu group that won the victory for the European party in the election this time, while closely watching the movement of Richard had come to know through his spies of the presence of Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry and the place of his residence. He would have assured the British police of his presence in town and would have promised them to keep an eye on him. From that time his presence there and the way he is spending his time in Yogic practices must have been known to everybody interested in him. Kodyalam Rangaswami Iyengar who later became a member of the Central Legislative Council in Delhi sent his man Va Ra who had made a name as a good Tamil writer in his later days, secretly to arrange for an interview with Sri Aurobindo. He went to Bharati and told the purpose he had come for. Bharati mentioned it to me and in the evening when we met him as usual Bharati told him what all he knew about Kodyalam Rangaswami Iyengar and his family and after getting his consent the interview was arranged. On the first occasion Rangaswami Iyengar himself wanted to keep his arrival and departure secret, perhaps it might have been for avoiding the police trouble. But the next time he visited a year or so after he came accompanied by one of his friends Dr S. Soundar Rajan (who after the Indian Independence was the Minister of Health in Madras in Rajajis Ministry and after) he made no secret of it.
After these incidents Sri Aurobindo must have thought that there was no meaning in thinking that his presence in Pondicherry was still a secret. Moreover after his conversations with Paul Richard and Kodiyalam Rangaswami Iyengar must have greatly confirmed his premonitions about his mission to establish in this world his new system of Yoga. Just as he heard from the former his practices of the same in some of his previous births, the latter spoke to him of a tradition in his family from his grandfathers time that a Uttara Yogi (Yogi from the North) would be coming to these parts and they would help him in his mission. His grandfather was under the impression that the Uttara Yogi might come from some northern part of the Tamil Nad and so he entertained in Nagai near Rajamannarkoil or Mannargudi a number of families who had some yogic tendencies. He was given to understand that this humanity will get great powers under its control and that man will be flying in air, a thing undreamt of in those days, and akása gamanam or air travel will be a matter of daily occurrence with him. Even in the year 1910 when we heard it, it looked very strange, like many others we thought that it will be an individual achievement possible only to Siddha Purushas and such a thing we were sure could not happen at so near a future as was foretold, but it never occurred to us that it was quite possible if we worked collectively as it is done today. All the same when we spoke to Kodyalam Rangaswami Iyengar of Sri Aurobindos Yogic Sadan he took very great interest in it and taking a copy of it from him and published it in the name of Uttara Yogi, that is Sri Aurobindo. Though these things happened later on still when he understood that his stay in Pondicherry was a matter of common knowledge, he wanted us to look for him a separate [house] to live in. A near relative of Sankara Chettyar had a house in the European quarters for about Rs. 20/- a month and Sri Aurobindo went and occupied it for the present though it was a bit distant from our dwelling places. This was about September 1910 and very soon after the British police also engaged a house in the same quarters and took up its residence with Abdul Karim as its chief, though all of them were in baredress. As the house was about half a mile from our places our visits to him were not so frequent as before but only once or twice a week ordinarily, if nothing of importance made us go to him oftener. The secret police were somewhat more active and were watching closely the Railway station and the ships in the port to note who is coming to him and who is going out. Within seven or eight months [Sri Aurobindo] left that house and came nearer to our place.
Extract from K. Amrita, Old Long Since, in Nolini Kanta Gupta and K. Amrita, Reminiscences (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1969), pp. 152-54. [Translated from the Tamil.]
It became a habit with me to meet Ramaswami Iyengar on the beach every evening at about 5-30 just after leaving school. It was natural for my school friends also to accompany me.
How did Ramaswami Iyengar come to Pondicherry? How did he meet Sri Aurobindo? I did not know well then. I heard that it was he, Ramaswami Iyengar, who had secretly invited K.V. Rangaswami Iyengar, of whom more presently, and arranged a meeting between him and Sri Aurobindo.8
The story is this. A Siddhapurusha a Yogi called Nagai Japta was the Kulaguru (family preceptor) of K. Rangaswami Iyengar and a close friend of his. My uncle used to tell me of many a miracle which the Yogi had done. It was rumoured that when paddy fields went dry for want of water, Japtas power would bring down the needed rain and make the withering paddy plants shoot forth again.
This great man had also said to the family members of Rangaswami Iyengar to this effect: A great saint will come to the South from the North; he is a great Yogi and will show the way not only to our country but to the whole human race; he will be indeed your Kulaguru after me, you should accept him as such. This he said and after a few days disappeared, one did not know where.
On learning of Sri Aurobindos arrival at Pondicherry, Rangaswami came here secretly with the help of Ramaswami, to see Sri Aurobindo and talk to him. Secrecy was necessary at that time to avoid suspicion of the British Police.
Rangaswami came several times afterwards to meet Sri Aurobindo openly. But it was during the earlier secret visits Sri Aurobindo wrote apparently the book Yogic Sadhan for him and gave it to him.
In the company of some close friends like Srinivasachari, Ramaswami and Rangaswami, there used to be now and then what is called automatic writing, that is to say, writing by spirits, as they are named. I am not sure whether the persons mentioned were the only ones present, there might have been a few others too. I gathered different versions from different people on the matter. It is said that Bharati also used to be in those meetings.
The book Yogic Sadhan had its origin in this way. It is said that it was written through the medium of Sri Aurobindo by some great spirit, probably Rammohan Roy; for it seems Sri Aurobindo said that he saw the figure of Rammohan as he was doing the writing. The spirit entered into him, that is to say, into his hands and wrote down the book. That is why the book, printed at Srirangam Vani Vilas Press, at the instance of Rangaswami Iyengar, was ascribed to an Uttara Yogi as author or editor: that is to say, a Yogi who had come from the North gave form to the book.
Text by S. Ranganathan, Lakshmi Bhavanam, First St., Mannargudi [Tamil Nadu] 604001, dated 26 May 1988.
Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya Nama Om Sri Aravindaya Nama
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A brief history of Sri Vasudeva Iyengar Swami9 the Scion of Nagai the founder of Nagai Japtha the Uthara Yogi:
According to the manuscripts available, the Adi Uthara Yogi, the Scion of Nagai and the famous NAGAI JAPTHA was born in the Tamil year Virodhi, in the month of Purattasi, with the birth star Uthiram, corresponding to 27th September, 1829.10 He was born to Sri Rangachariar and Janaki Ammal in the hamlet SEMBODAI in Vedaranyam taluk of Thanjavur district.
He moved out of his birth place at a fairly young age and finally landed in the village Nagai, a small hamlet in Mannargudi-Vadeseri road. Something striking must have happened here, for the village atmosphere put an end to his nomadic life and made him settle down and finally become the Japtha. The Nagai village and surrounding areas were rich with Vedic scholars, comprising of the three branches of religious philosophies (Vaishnavaites, adwaithins, and dwaithins) prosecuting themselves in their own way of rites and rituals. Sri Vasudeva Iyengar following his own sedentary life of Japa yagnas must have attracted the attention of these scholars and very soon he congregated a close well knit circle of followers who were collectively called the Nagai Japthas. The group gave importance to a special form of Japa yagna comprising of the great Gayatri Mantra ingeniously weaving into the system the Ashtakshara Mantra11 also. The repetitive rendering of the Japas in groups and in individual levels rendered a remarkable symphony and harmony to their lives, and very soon the Nagai Japthas became quite popular and the entire group of followers of the founder Japtha perfected the system of collective meditation accepting him as their veritable GURU. Soon they built a small fortress around the colony and an exclusive place for meditation the KUSUMAKRAM a raised platform like structure in an octagonal shape with a Pranava chakra in the apex. His followers were struck at the extraordinary meditative prowess coupled with yogic powers that they verily started addressing him as Adi Uthara Yogi!
The founder Japtha was unmarried till his late years and probably on the request of his disciples consented to marry at fairly late age of 35 or so and had a daughter born. He must have attained siddhi (samadhi) shortly after marriage. Prior to his samadhi he had evidently left word with his disciples that they would in future follow a great Guru from North and when further pressed for proper identification, he had advised them that the great Yogi from North would also be known UTHARA YOGI, who will land in the South soon. Nearly four decades had passed and yet the Nagai Japthas were unable to seek their Master or locate him anywhere. Finally around 1908 Kodiyalam (K.V.) Rangaswami Iyengar and his brother K.V. Srinivasa Iyengar identified in Sri Aurobindo clear similarities of thoughts of their Guru. Sri Aurobindo also called himself Uthara Yogi and the famous Alipore trials involving Sri Aurobindo brought to light various striking similar ideas between the great souls and it was not difficult for the brothers to get in touch with Sri Aurobindo through their usual contacts, one among them was Sir Sharma of Mavoor, who was a great Kali Bhakta and who had spent a major part of his life in Calcutta. Probably Rangaswami Iyengar was one of the early few to have influenced Sri Aurobindo and to have rendered financial assistance to move to Pondicherry from Chanden Nagore.12
A brief history of the Kodiyalam brothers:
K.V. Rangaswami Iyengar and his brother K.V. Srinivasa Iyengar were the two sons among the nine children of Sri Kodiyalam Vasudeva Iyengar. They were born in 1887 and 1889 respectively as the second and third in the line. Sri Vasudeva Iyengar of Kodiyalam was actually married to the youngest sister-in-law of the great Nagai Japtha, and he was an unknowing child of two or three when the Japtha attained samadhi. The only daughter of the Nagai Japtha was a few years older than Kodiyalam Vasudeva Iyengar. He was popularly known as the Zamindar of Kodiyalam and was very well known among the ruling British and represented the landed genre in the Council. He died around 1906 at a young age of 40 and his eldest son K.V. Rangaswami Iyengar was elected to the British State Council and also represented in the Imperial British Council of State in Delhi. Both the brothers were very close not only to the British administration, but also to the then National leaders like Balgangadhar Tilak, Khaparde, Gopalakrishna Gokhale, Lala Lajpat Rai, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Poet Subrahmanya Bharathi and so on. Their closeness to the British was quite advantageous to them in rendering assistance to Sri Aurobindo during his secret travel to Pondicherry from Calcutta, as they were the least suspects in the British eyes. It was all the more advantageous to Sri Aurobindo also in making an easy passage to deep south from the turmoil of National and political extremism. Seeing him safe in the shores of Pondicherry in those days was not an easy task and to continue to assist him without culling the disfavour of the British authorities was an equally difficult task. Kodiyalam brothers proximity to the British rulers must have been responsible in their continued help to Sri Aurobindo without creating any untoward suspicion in the British eyes. Practically all the visits of the brothers to Pondicherry to meet both Sri Aurobindo or Subrahmanya Bharathi were kept well guarded secrets that no proper records or even casual mentions are made in the history. That is why most of the details of their assistance or other forms of help were entirely shrouded in mystery. Even a brief visit and stay of Poet Subrahmanya Bharathi in 1918 to Nagai village as the guest of the Kodiyalam brothers (escaping the shrewd British intelligence) was mentioned in the biography of Poet Bharathi by V. Ramaswami (Va. Ra.). It is of interest to observe here that Va. Ra. himself was brought up through the munificence of K.V. Rangaswami Iyengar who was responsible to educate him beyond his school days in S.P.G. College, Trichy. This early association with Kodiyalam family, paved an easy way for the Kodiyalam brothers to contact and convey messages to Sri Aurobindo through Va. Ra. Since K.V.R. was a member of the British Council of State in Delhi he was unable to frequently visit Pondicherry; however the early visit and meeting with Sri Aurobindo is clearly mentioned in the biography and his efforts to undertake the publication of the very first work of Sri Aurobindo christened YOGIC SADHAN was also mentioned. It is of particular interest to note here that the above work was authored by Sri Aurobindo as UTHARA YOGI. A letter written by Sri Aurobindo in April, 1916 to Sri K.R. Appadurai (brother-in-law of Poet Bharathi) show clearly that KVR continued to help Sri Aurobindo during times of need.13
Sri K.V. Srinivasa Iyengar had vividly described his episodes of visits to Pondicherry between 1911 and till the time Sri Aurobindo restricted his public darshans and interviews. He was a frequent visitor to Pondicherry to represent his brother and he used to trek the distance between Cuddalore and Pondicherry by walk with his pet bull-dog, as though he was on casual walking errands and sneak into the prohibited territory with cash to be handed over to Sri Aurobindo. His description of the news flash on the Alipore trials involving Sri Aurobindo and the disclosure of certain details about his being a Yogin simply thrilled the brothers, who never lost an opportunity to get in touch with him and render all possible help. And their first meeting at Pondicherry, where they exchanged for the first time about their views and beliefs of the Uthara Yogi was an experience of their life time! It was the belief of the Kodiyalam family who were the followers of the Nagai Japtha, that Sri Aurobindo was actually the incarnation of the founder of the Nagai Japthas, the Adi Uthara Yogi. The Nagai clan who had been in search of their GURU for well over three decades must have been overjoyed at finally locating him in Sri Aurobindo!
* * * * *
1 Cf. Documents in the Life of Sri Aurobindo, A & R 9 (1985): 20811, Documents 915: The House Search Incident of 1912.
2 Cf. Documents in the Life of Sri Aurobindo, A & R 9 (1985): 212-14. Documents 15-16: The Incident of Biren Roy.
3 Richard was in fact an avocat à la cour dappel (barrister in the Court of Appeals).
4 V.D. Savarkar was arrested in London on 13 March 1910 in connection with the Nasik assassination of 21 December 1909. After prolonged legal proceedings, the court ordered his return to India, and on 1 July he was put on the P & O steamer Morea bound for Bombay. On 8 July, while the Morea was lying in Marseilles harbour, Savarkar escaped through a porthole, swam to the dock, and presented himself to a gendarme who, however, returned him to the pursuing British police. Savarkars friends in France claimed that his recapture by the British on French soil was a violation of French sovereignty, but the Hague Tribunal upheld its legality, and Savarkar was sent back to India, where he was sentenced to transportation to the Andamans. Srinivasachari could not have reminded Sri Aurobindo in April or May 1910 of an incident that had not yet happened. But he may have advanced the general line of reason presented above, and perhaps later applied it to the Savarkar case.
5 Dasharaja, king of the fishermen. He was father of Satyavati, who bore to King Shantanu two sons, Vichitravirya and Chitrangada.
6 See Archival Notes.
7 See Archival Notes. The religion of Richards family is not known for certain; but he had himself been a Protestant minister before coming to India.
8 Cf. Documents 2 and 13.
9 In a letter of 26 August 1988, S. Ranganathan writes: I am advised to alter the name of the Swami as SRI VASUDEVA and not to use the religious name after his surname. It will be simply Sri Vasudeva and not Sri Vasudeva Iyengar.
10 Amavasya & Sunday. [marginal notation]
11 OM Namo Nārāyanāya.
12 If, as it would appear from Documents 2 and 13, Rangaswami Iyengar learned of Sri Aurobindos coming to Pondicherry only some time after Sri Aurobindos arrival, it would seem unlikely that Rangaswami had anything to do with Sri Aurobindos departure from Chandernagore.
13 See Archival Notes.