Sri Aurobindo blended the best values of the Orient and Occident

Ranajoy Sen

Sri Aurobindo has an illustrious and luminous legacy. Initially a committed revolutionary of the Indian freedom movement, he eventually came to be regarded as a highly respected Yogi. His works are a dazzling articulation and commentary of India’s cultural, philosophical, and spiritual riches. His birth anniversary coincides with India’s Independence Day. He was born at Calcutta – currently known as Kolkata – on August 15, 1872. His father, Dr. Krishna Dhan Ghose, was an accomplished civil surgeon who also eagerly inculcated the best of British values and culture. His mother, Swarnalata, was a well educated lady, endowed with social graces. Aurobindo Ghose grew up in a comprehensive Anglicised environ. Krishna Dhan Ghose resolved that his children be educated in English. Consequently, he, along with his two brothers, attended schools in Darjeeling in India and in Manchester and London in United Kingdom (UK). Subsequently, he studied Greek and Latin at the University of Cambridge. He successfully qualified the then highly prestigious Indian Civil Service (ICS) examinations, but declined to join it. A career in the ICS did not evoke interest. A career, entailing the nurturing and application of intellect, was more appealing. In February, 1893, he left UK and sailed to Bombay – now Mumbai – in India. The subsequent nearly two decades was a phase of gradual metamorphosis in his thought and work. He went to the then princely state of Baroda, where after some years of work in the state’s administrative offices, was appointed a lecturer at the Baroda College by the state’s ruler, the Gaekwad. Highly impressed with his scholarship, teaching methods and popularity among students, the Gaekwad made him professor of English, and subsequently, Baroda College’s acting principal in 1905. At Baroda, he learnt Sanskrit all by himself. A working knowledge of Bengali, Gujarati and Marathi was also acquired. From Baroda, he made regular visits to his home province of Bengal. There was, at that time, a steady build-up of a movement against British reign and its policy of divide and rule in Bengal. While highly appreciative of the best of British and Western values, thought and way of life, he deeply resented the repressive methods of British colonial rule in India. To take part in this movement, he left Baroda and arrived at Calcutta in 1906. During next four years, he rose in the ranks of the freedom movement, advocated complete liberation from British rule, got involved in revolutionary activities and spent one year in jail on sedition charges. Even then, however, his scholarship flourished simultaneously; contributions for publications titled Bande Mataram and Karmayogin commenced. It was through these writings that a predilection towards thoughts on education, constructive work and above all towards the riches of India’s philosophical, religious and cultural heritage gradually came by him. He fervently supported Indian liberation from British yolk. But, through deep reflections and study, the realization was effected that the core of societal uplift was determined through assiduous, constructive work. Towards that objective, he left his wife and family in Bengal, forever, and arrived at the then French-administered Pondicherry on April 4, 1910. Once there, he could not be persecuted by the government of British India. From then onwards, he contributed to India’s liberation through the use of India’s inherent repository of cultural and spiritual wisdom. Reflecting upon and interpretation of Vedas, Upanishads and the Bhagwad Gita were undertaken. To that, he contributed with his concept of “Integral Yoga”: a combination of physical fitness and mental concentration, taken to a high level, whereby acute realizations and capability for successful work are arrived at. In Pondicherry, he and his acolytes gradually built an ashram. There, in 1914, a French lady, named Mirra Alfassa, and her husband met him. The lady highly admired Indian philosophy and yoga. Overwhelmed after conversing with him, she accepted him as her spiritual master. On April 24, 1920, she came over to Pondicherry, never to return again. With time, eventually, she came to be known to all as the Mother. He was supreme at the Pondicherry ashram. Subsequently, he was respectfully designated as Sri Aurobindo. But, the Mother presided over the ashram’s management. In reverence, she was only next to him. Notwithstanding keen observation of social and political events, he and the Mother emphasized upon the cultural and spiritual contributions of India. His seminal works are Savitri, The Life Divine and The Synthesis of Yoga. When India attained independence, he opined that with it the real task of good governance and leading the country to prosperity had arrived. Earnest, clear reflection, appropriate priorities, aiming for perfection in work, constructive endeavours, and raising oneself to a higher and larger moral consciousness, were to be the guiding principles. Sri Aurobindo left this world in December, 1950. Thereafter, the Mother led the ashram. In November, 1973, she too departed this world. The famed Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry attests to the magnificent work and legacy of Sri Aurobindo. As India grapples with its tasks of economic and social uplift and for successful diplomacy, his work and message could provide crucial guidelines and benchmarks. It came from an illustrious Indian, who blended together the best contributions of the Orient and the Occident.

The writer analyses political, economic and foreign affairs.