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Documents in the Life of Sri Aurobindo

LIFE IN BARODA 2


1

Sri Aurobindo as a Teacher

Sri Aravind Babu first came to the Baroda College as Professor of French. Afterwards, in 1905, when Principal Clarke proceeded on leave, he was appointed to Clarke’s post. I was in Inter at that time. Sri Aravind was teaching Burke’s French Revolution. As his method of teaching consisted in going to the roots, one could never forget what he taught, even though the whole text was not completed. His mastery of the English language was phenomenal. Sometimes he examined our composition books. He wrote on them such remarks as “Fit for Standard III” and “How have you come to the College?”

I was in the B.A. Class in 1906. At that time he was giving us (students of Jr. B.A. with voluntary English) notes on English literature. The College started at 11.00 a.m., but Sri Aravind Babu came exactly at 11.30, went straight to his room and began teaching. We eight students used to sit in his office. Before beginning, he would ask us to read seven or eight lines from the previous day; then his dictation and our writing commenced. While dictating he sat on the chair and looked at the photo of Principal Tait on the wall in front. He had no books or notes with him; everything was extempore. This procedure went on for one and a half hours. These notes were on the Augustan Age of English literature.

That same year agitation began in Bengal and his attention turned to it. He went on leave and the Bande Mataram paper was founded. We were subscribing to it in the College Reading Room. After his return from leave we asked if he was going away. He replied in the negative, but it was certain that he was leaving. We, therefore, thought of giving him a send-off. Principal Clarke declined to permit the use of the College Hall, so we decided to have a photograph taken and refreshments served in the studio of the Vivid Kala Mandir, which was in Pawar’s Wada opposite Ramji Mandir. Three group photographs were taken there:

  1. Sri Aravind with Sr. B.A. Eng. Vol. students
  2. Sri Aravind with Jr. B.A. Eng. Vol. students1
  3. Sri Aravind with French students.

There, of course, while speaking, he told us that he was going and reprimanded us for asking for the use of the Central Hall, as if there was no other place. Of those in the second group I was sitting at the feet of Sri Aravind Babu. My dress at that time consisted of a long coat, Hungarian cap and dhoti. Sri Aravind Babu used to wear English dress—coat, waistcoat and pants—but on his head a white turban [rumāl or pheta], with an embroidered border. It was not customary at that time for students to go to his residence and so we did not go to the bungalow.

Then, after the break-up of the Congress at Surat, he came to Baroda for five or six days to speak on behalf of the Extremist party. There four lectures were delivered in the Bankaneer Theatre. We used to go and sit two hours before the time. His dress then was Bengali dhoti, khamis (shirt) and a shawl wrapped around him, but nothing on his head.

One story which I heard:

While taking tea in the morning in a group with His Highness in Kashmir, he put a question and answered it himself. Seeing the mehatar doing his work of sweeping, he put the question: “Who is happy in this camp?” Answer: “The Maharaja as he has the company of the Maharani and next this mehatar, as his wife is also here with him.” When this tale was carried to His Highness, he enjoyed a hearty laugh.

Another hearsay story is that after the Delhi Darbar incident, the letter which was sent to Lord Curzon was drafted by Sri Aravind Babu.

Both these stories are matters of hearsay.

The buggy in which he went to the College from Khaserao Saheb’s bungalow had purple glass panes.

I have no more information than this.

Letter of Sanker Balwant Didmishe dated 18 September 1967 (Translated from Marathi).

2

Sri Aurobindo’s Marriage

1. Sri Arabindo advertised in newspapers for a bride. My father’s lifelong friend Late Principal Girish Ch. Bose of Bangabasi College negotiated the marriage. Sri Arabindo saw my sister in Girish Babu’s house, personally and selected his bride.

2. Marriage ceremony was performed according to strict Hindu rites. Sri Arabindo being a Brahmo and my sister being the daughter of an England returned Hindu, both of them had to be purified by Prayaschitya before marriage.2 My uncle gave away the bride.

3. Principal guests at the marriage were late Lord Sinha, Byomkesh Chakravarty, Principal G.C. Bose, late Sir J.C. Bose and others.

4. Location of the marriage—in a rented house in Baitak-Khana Road, Calcutta.

5. Date of marriage of Sri Aurobindo 16th Baisack 1308 (29 May, 1901). My sister at the time of her marriage had just completed her 14th year, Sister’s birthday was 6th March 1887 (25th Falgoon, 1294).

6. Soon after marriage Sri Arabindo returned to Baroda with his wife via Deoghur and Nainital. The popular photograph in which Sri Arabindo is seen with his wife3 was taken at Nainital.

[25.11.41. Ranchi, Sisir Bose.]
Statement of Sisir Bose (brother of Mrinalini Ghose), Ranchi, 25 November4 1941.

3

Mrinalini Ghose

I. Her father and mother both belong to the Jessore district. The ancestral home of the Basu family is situated in a village named Meherpore on the left bank of the Kapadaka river, 24 miles to the south of the district town of Jessore. Mrinalini’s father, Bhupal Chandra Basu (born 1861)—the writer of this short note—graduated from the Calcutta University (1881) and received an agricultural training as a State scholar at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, in England, and after his return to India, served for two years as a teacher in the Bangabasi School and College of which he was a joint founder with his lifelong friend Srijut Girish Chandra Bose, entered Government service in 1888 and after serving as an Agricultural Officer for 28 years in Bengal and Assam, retired in 1916 and settled down at Ranchi soon after his retirement.

During service his headquarters were for a year (1888-89) at Ranchi, then in Calcutta (1889-97) and finally for nineteen years at Shillong (1897-1916), and Mrinalini spent portions of her life at all these places. This note would be incomplete without a special mention of the very intimate and affectionate relations which have existed ever since the year 1883 between her father and his family on the one hand and Sj. Girish Chandra Bose and his family on the other. So much so that to most of their acquaintances Mrinalini’s father is known as a younger brother of the latter. Mrinalini spent considerable periods of her life under her uncle Girish Babu’s roof and was regarded as a daughter of his house. It was Girish Chandra who looked after her education while she was a boarder at the Brahmo Girls’ School in Calcutta. It was he who negotiated her marriage and did everything in connection with that ceremony and it was under his roof that Mrinalini passed away in December 1918.

II. Mrinalini, the eldest child of her father, saw the light of day on the…5 1887 in Calcutta in a house in Eden Hospital Street (or lane), which with the entire lane was demolished after a year or two and merged in the extension grounds of the Calcutta Medical College.

III. Mrinalini spent her early childhood in Calcutta. She was at first educated under a private teacher, and soon after her father’s transfer to Shillong, she was sent down to Calcutta and lived as a boarder for nearly three years at the Brahmo Girls’ School until the time of her marriage in April 1901. She evinced no exceptional abilities or tendencies at this age, indeed at no stage of her life.

There was nothing remarkable about her short school career. She however contracted two notable friendships during this time. One of the two was Miss Swarnalata Das, M.A., eldest daughter of a very intimate friend of her father Sj. Raj Mohan Das, a distinguished Officer of the Assam Police, who after his retirement, devoted his heart and soul to the work of uplifting the depressed classes in East Bengal, and is now living a retired life at Dacca. Swarnalata was several years her senior in age and acted towards her as an elder sister during her school life. After graduating in Calcutta Swarnalata was sent to England for higher training in the art of teaching and after her return worked as a senior teacher of the Brahmo Girls’ School of which she acted for a time as the Lady Superintendent. She was cut off in the prime of life leaving behind a memory which for purity and sweetness cannot be excelled. Mrinalini’s second friend was Miss Sudhira Bose, a classmate of hers with whom she lived in closest intimacy till the day of her death. Sudhira was a younger sister of late Devabrata Bose, an associate of Sri Aurobindo in the Alipore Bomb Case, who after his acquittal at the trial, turned a Sannyasin and joined the Ramakrishna Mission. Miss Sudhira too joined the same Mission and worked as a teacher of the Sister Nivedita School, of which, after Sister Christine left for America shortly before the war, she became the head. Sudhira too was not destined to live long. She fell a victim to a sad railway accident at Benares in December 1920, thus surviving her friend by exactly two years.

Mrinalini, though she was surrounded by Brahmo friends and was a boarder in a Brahmo School never evinced any special interest in the Brahmo movement nor in any of the social reforms associated with that movement. The whole religious bent of the later years of her life was in the direction of the Hindu revival movement inspired by Paramhansa Ramakrishna and his great disciple Swami Vivekananda.

IV. There was no relationship, nor even acquaintance between the Boses and the Ghose family, except that Mrinalini’s father once came in contact with Sri Aurobindo’s father, Dr. Krishnadhan Ghose, while he was stationed as Civil Surgeon at Khulna. It must have been about the year 1890 when Sri Aurobindo was preparing himself in England for the I.C.S. examination.

Sri Aurobindo first met Mrinalini at the house of her uncle Sj. Girish Chandra Bose in Calcutta in the course of his search for a mate to share his life, and chose her at first sight as his destined wife. Their marriage took place shortly afterwards in April 1901. It is not possible for the writer or for anybody else to say what psychical affinity existed between the two, but certain it is that as soon as he saw the girl, he made up his mind to marry her. The customary negotiations were carried on by Girish Babu on the bride’s side. Sri Aurobindo was at the time employed either as a Professor or as Vice-Principal of the Gaekwar’s College at Baroda.6 He was then 28 years 9 months old, and his wife was only 14 years and 3 months, the difference in age being over 14 years.

V. The writer knows next to nothing about the married life of the couple at Baroda. After Sri Aurobindo came to Bengal and during the stormy years that followed, Mrinalini had little or no opportunity of living a householder’s life in the quiet company of her husband. Her life during this period was one of continuous strain and suffering which she bore with the utmost patience and quietude. She spent the greater period of the time either with Sri Aurobindo’s maternal relatives at Deoghar or with her parents at Shillong. She was present with her husband at the time of his arrest at 48, Grey Street in May 1908 and received a frightful mental shock of which the writer and others saw a most painful evidence in the delirium of her last illness ten years later.

The writer is unable to say from his own knowledge how far Mrinalini agreed with and helped her husband in his public activities, but he can say this much for certain that she never stood in the way of his work. She never evinced any aspiration for public work.

VI. The famous letter of Sri Aurobindo to his wife bears the date 30th August without mention of the year.7 There is a reference in the letter to the death of a brother of hers (a second bereavement to her parents) from which the writer makes out the year to be 1905. It was the month of the declaration of the Bengal Boycott. Sri Aurobindo was apparently then at Baroda, and Mrinalini with her parents at Shillong.

The writer has never seen any of Mrinalini’s letters to her husband and is therefore unable to say whether they contained anything noteworthy.

VII. The writer cannot throw any light on the mutual relations between Mrinalini and her husband, except that they were characterised by a sincere though quiet affection on the side of the husband and a never questioning obedience from the wife. One can gather much in this respect from Sri Aurobindo’s published letters. After Sri Aurobindo left Bengal, the two never met again, but all who knew her could see how deeply she was attached to her husband and how she longed to join him at Pondicherry. The fates however decreed it otherwise.

During the first 3 or 4 years of his exile, Sri Aurobindo lulled her with the hope that some day (which we thought could not be very distant) he would return to Bengal. His letters to his wife as well as to the writer were few and far between, but they gave ample grounds for such a hope. At last Sri Aurobindo ceased to write at all, possibly because of his exclusive preoccupation with Yoga, but to the last day of her life Mrinalini never ceased to hope.

VIII. There was no issue of the marriage. During Sri Aurobindo’s trial at Alipore which lasted a full twelve months Mrinalini lived with her parents at Shillong or with her uncle Girish Babu in Calcutta. She paid several visits to her husband at Alipore Central Jail in the company of her father. She never evinced any visible agitation during those exciting times, but kept quiet and firm throughout.

IX. Sri Aurobindo disappeared from Calcutta at the end of February or beginning of March 1910. Mrinalini was living at the time in Calcutta. We did not know his whereabouts, until several weeks later it was announced in the papers that he had escaped to Pondicherry to get out of the reach of the British Courts.

Sri Aurobindo never called his wife to Pondicherry for Sadhana. They never met again. Her father made a serious attempt after his retirement from Government service in 1916 to take her to Pondicherry but the attitude of Government at the time prevented him from realising this wish.

These long years of separation (1910-18) she spent with her parents at Shillong and Ranchi, paying occasional visits to Calcutta. She devoted these years almost exclusively to meditation and the reading of religious literatures which consisted for the most part of the writings of Swami Vivekananda and the teachings of his Great Master.

The writer believes she perused all the published writings of the Swami and all the publications of the Udbodhan Office. Of these she has left behind an almost complete collection.

Mrinalini often visited Sri Ma (widow of Paramhansa Dev) at the Udbodhan Office in Bagbazar, who treated her with great affection, calling her Bau-Ma (the normal Bengali appellation for daughter-in-law) in consideration of the fact that the Holy Mother regarded Sri Aurobindo as her son.

Mrinalini desired at one time to receive dīksha from one of the Sannyasins of the Ramakrishna Mission. Her father wrote to Sri Aurobindo for the necessary permission but the latter in reply advised her not to receive initiation from any one else and he assured her that he would send her all the spiritual help she needed. She was content therefore to remain without any outward initiation.

X. Mrinalini passed away in Calcutta in the 32nd year of her life on the 17th of December 1918, a victim of the fell scourge of influenza which swept over India in that dreaded year.

There was nothing notable about her death. In fact but for the fate which united her for a part of her short life to one of the most remarkable and forceful personalities of the age, her life had nothing extraordinary about it.

Nothing happens in the world without serving some purpose of the Divine Mother, and no doubt she came and lived to fulfil a Divine purpose which we may guess but can never know.

For sometime before she passed away, she had been selling her ornaments and giving away the proceeds in charity and what remained unsold, she left with her friend Miss Sudhira Bose, at the time Lady Superintendent of the Sister Nivedita School. Soon after her death Sudhira sold off the ornaments and the whole of the proceeds, some two thousand rupees was, with Sri Aurobindo’s permission, made over to the Ramakrishna Mission and constituted into an endowment named after Mrinalini, out of the interest of which a girl student is maintained at the Sister Nivedita School.

XI. Mrinalini in the Mother—the writer would rather say nothing about this. If the facts relating to the descent of Mrinalini’s spirit in the Mother which the writer heard from the Mother herself are to be published, it is proper that the Mother’s permission be taken by the publisher and she be approached for an authentic and firsthand account of the incident. The writer is greatly afraid that he might be guilty of grave mistakes if he were to narrate it from his own memory.

Statement of Bhupal Chandra Bose, Ranchi, 26 August 1931.

4

“The Stone Goddess”

Regarding the details of the exact location of the Kali Mandir and its historical background, the following are my findings:

The temple is generally called “Mahakali Mandir of Karanali”. It is situated on the northern bank of the river Narmada, just near the famous Kubereshwar Temple. One has to climb about 100 steep steps to reach the Kali Temple after about a mile’s boating in Narmada from Chandod.8 The Shrine is approximately 300 years old. Sri Somvargiriji Maharaj, a Mahant of Niranjani Akhada took to the Sri Chakra Upasana—worship of the Divine Shakti—three centuries ago. He got the three Sri Chakras drawn on three triangular pieces of metal and did Tantra Sadhana for some years. Ultimately he got “siddhi” and acquired occult powers, with great spiritual consciousness. It is said that he had realised Mahakali through the Siddha Chakras and She used to manifest before him often. He was a great yogi and Tantrik. A few days before his death he installed the three Siddha Chakras and Kali idol in front of his yajña-kund9 by the side of a wall and erected a small temple. Since then it is looked after and worshipped by Niranjani Sadhus. The beautiful idol of Mahakali in the temple is about three feet high and a folding wooden tiger is fixed near her feet in such a way that it appears as if the Goddess is mounted on the tiger with Her face in the west direction.10 An iron trisūl11 is placed by the side of the idol. The three yantras are not visible. The entire atmosphere of the place is surcharged with powerful spiritual vibrations. The temple is not at all famous and is in dilapidated condition.

From the year 1903 to 1922, Niranjani Mahant, Sri Himmatpuriji was worshipping the Kali idol. With Lele12 and Deshpande Sri Aurobindo visited the temple in 1906 during this Mahant’s life time and when he looked at the idol of Kali, he saw the Mother Mahakali “a living Presence, deathless and divine”.13

From a letter of Randhir Upadhyaya, Ahmedabad, 10th November 1974.

5

“Bhawani Mandir”

I have gone through the Rowlatt Committee Report. It does not contain any information in regard to the date of publication of the pamphlet. “Bhawani Mandir” is referred to in the Report as one of the three books considered by the Rowlatt Committee of “specially inflammatory kind”. The other two books mentioned are “Bartaman Rananiti” and “Mukti Kon Pathe”.14

The date and authorship of “Bhawani Mandir” is referred to in some detail in James Campbell Ker’s Political Trouble in India, 1907-1917 (Calcutta Government Printing, 1917). This was a confidential publication and its author, a member of the Indian Civil Service, was Personal Assistant to the Director of Criminal Intelligence from 1907 to 1913. I quote below the relevant extract from this work.

This pamphlet first came to notice in August, 1905, when a copy was sent anonymously from Baroda to the Head Clerk to the District Magistrate of Broach. There is nothing on the pamphlet to show who the author or the publisher is, but the Head Clerk stated at the time that he thought the author was “a Mr. Bose, a Bengali Babu who is in the employ of the Baroda Durbar15 and once passed for the I.C.S. but was rejected for failing to pass the test in riding.” Though the name is wrong this obviously refers to Arabindo Ghose, who was a Professor in the Gaekwar’s College at Baroda at the time, and there is no doubt that he was the author. In the course of the searches in Calcutta in May, 1908,16 a copy of this pamphlet in English, with the name Barin K. Ghose on the cover, was found in the Bande Mataram office; a copy was also found in the bomb store at 134, Harrison Road, and another in the house of Debabrata Bose, who was committed for trial as a member of the conspiracy but acquitted.

From a letter of V.C. Joshi, Deputy Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, to the Archives, dated 13 February 1973.

1 Plate 1.

2 “As Sri Aurobindo had gone to England the question of purificatory rites was raised. Sri Aurobindo flatly refused, even as his father, Dr. K.D. Ghose had in his day. At last there was a proposal of shaving the head. When that was turned down `an obliging Brahmin priest satisfied all the requirements of the Shastra for a monetary consideration’!” (Purani, The Life of Sri Aurobindo [1978], p. 50).

3 Plate 2.

4 From something longer written by S.B. to one of his relatives (female)—copied verbation by Girija Shankar Rai Chaudhuri and published by him in Udbodhan 44, no. 2, Phalgun 1348, p. 90.

5 Blank in manuscript. See above Document 2, point 5.

6 On 15 April 1901 Sri Aurobindo was “relieved from the College work” (he had been Professor of English) and instructed to “draw his salary from the Sar Subha’s [Chief Collector’s] office.”

7 The manuscript of the letter in question is in fact dated “30th Aug. 1905”

8 Plate

9 Sacrificial pit.

10 Plate 4.

11 Trident.

12 It is unlikely that V.B. Lele ever went to Karanali with Sri Aurobindo.

13 Sri Aurobindo, “The Stone Goddess”, Collected Poems, page 139.

14 “Modern Warfare” and “What Path to Freedom?”, both published by the Jugantar group, of which Sri Aurobindo’s brother Barin was the leader.

15 Durbar = court. I.e. was employed by the Maharaja of Baroda.

16 In connection with the Alipore Bomb Trial case.



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