26 Jun 2009

Is this Imbroglio or Falsification?

So the peaceful expanse of the brow, the trouble-free face, and the fathomless eyes were after all the artifacts, the work of art...

Is this Imbroglio or Falsification?

Let me read along with you the preface for The Lives of Sri Aurobindo and you will see that the tone is fixed right at the start. Our young author, who also did at that time taxi-driving in the US, once chanced to visit a Yoga centre where on the wall were three pictures. He narrates that one of them was the standard portrait of Aurobindo. “I was struck by the peaceful expanse of his brow, his trouble-free face, and fathomless eyes. It would be years before I learned that all of these features owed their distinctiveness to the retoucher’s art.”

  ...full text...

20 Jun 2009

Regarding Paulette’s False Claim

I have received an email by Paulette addressed to the "AVCompats" forum purporting to represent minutes of a discussion she claims to have had with Alok Pandey and me on the 17th of June.

This is to place on record that I was not present in any such meeting, and that Paulette's claim of my presence is a blatant lie and purely a fabrication of her imagination with no basis in reality. I have not had any discussion with Paulette either in person or by phone or by proxy. I have had no contact with her in any manner whatsoever for several years at least, and I was not aware of any such meeting.

Alok Pandey informs me that he had made some suggestions in a manner of thinking aloud, with no authority or capacity to act upon them. As usual these also have been twisted out of context by SCIY / IYF and other PH supporters and proxies. We are used to these groups distorting facts, deceiving readers and distracting from the core issue which is the book, but this latest blatant fabrication by Paulette represents a new degree of falsehood in their propaganda and campaign of character assassination.

  ...full text...

19 Jun 2009

The Birth Place of Sri Aurobindo -- by Nirmal Singh Nahar

[Letter dated August 1, 1978 from Nirmal Singh Nahar addressed to the Editor, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives and Research.]

I have gone through “Documents in the Life of Sri Aurobindo” on the above noted subject in your highly useful half-yearly journal. Sri Aurobindo Archives and Research, Volume I, No.1, April 1977.

You have been kind enough to include in it the document with which I was associated as the then Special Correspondent of the Press Trust of India in 1949 (1947-1951).

Subsequently also, on my return to Calcutta, my continued interest as to the various claims and counter-claims relative to the exact birth place of Sri Aurobindo, made me probe the question in some depth. As a result of my deep interest and devotion to Sri Aurobindo, the Government of West Bengal proposed my name to be a member of the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary State Committee, which resulted in the small part I had to actively play and to intervene with the blessings, concurrence and full knowledge of the Mother in 1971-1972, for converting No.8, Shakespeare Sarani (originally it was No.4, Theatre Road in 1872) as Sri Aurobindo Bhavan. In recognition of my service and assistance rendered in the matter, in 1972, the then West Bengal State Government nominated me to the First Board of Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Samiti, which was entrusted with the task of looking after Sri Aurobindo Bhavan by an Act of West Bengal in 1972, and then the Minister in Charge, Sri Bhola Nath Sen, specifically invited me to assist him while he was piloting the bill on the floor of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. This background is necessary for my following observations in the matter and, on the basis of the points raised by me, may lead to deeper investigation.

In 1949, on 15th August, Calcutta celebrated Sri Aurobindo's birthday on a large scale under the leadership of Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee, Bar-at-Law, and then leader of the Hindu Mahashabha and later an independent M.P. (Lok Sabha). It was only at that time that a concerted move was made by some interested group of persons to establish that Sri Aurobindo was born at 237, Lower Circular Road (now renamed Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road). But when a photograph of the old building, as it existed in 1872 (published in Sri A. B. Purani's Life of Sri Aurobindo), or the block picture which was published in Amrita Bazar Patrika, Calcutta, was shown to Sri Aurobindo, he is reported to have said: “No, not this house” and soon after on 2nd September 1949, the press statement was issued. To the best of my knowledge and memory, I may add that the statement issued by Nolini Kanta Gupta as Secretary, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, was actually dictated by Sri Aurobindo himself and, as was the practice, Nolinida was authorised to issue the same in his name. I was an inmate sadhaka of the Ashram then. I supposed either Nolinida, Champaklalji, Dr. Satyendra or Dr. Nirodbaran may throw light and confirm the same, as I am writing the above two facts from memory.

Puraniji in his book, Life of Sri Aurobindo, has given the illustration of 237, Lower Circular Road as the house where Sri Aurobindo was born, but he records that Sri Aurobindo was born at a house at Theatre Road (page 3)!

It is now confirmed that the present house which is now known as Sri Aurobindo Bhavan was the same building which existed (from earlier time) in 1872 ¬the year Sri Aurobindo was born - and at that time it was No.4, Theatre Road. Unfortunately some authentic documents that I was able to collect were lost when I had to leave the Ashram (Pondicherry was then the capital of French India) at a moment's notice due to political expediency in 1951.

It has not yet been established exactly in which year the house was built, although I was able to ascertain that in 1872 the house belonged to a Jewish gentleman (most likely, one Mr. Ezra) and it is most likely that Sri Mono Mohan Ghosh, Bar-at-Law, had either taken it himself, or on behalf of his friend Dr. Krishna Dhan Ghosh, rented it to provide accommodation for the family of Dr. K. D. Ghosh, Sri Aurobindo’s father. It may be mentioned that Dr. K. D. Ghosh was a member of the Indian Medical Service and was posted at different district head-quarters and thus was constantly on the move. At that time his two elder sons, Benoy Bhusan and Mono Mohan, were born, and his wife Swarnalata Devi showed early symptoms of mental derangement and it was more necessary for her to stay at Calcutta for medical treatment. Financial consideration also comes to mind and Dr. Ghosh was quite well off then. Moreover in 1869, Dr. K. D. Ghosh went to England for higher medical studies and after three years, in 1871, he returned. It is most unlikely and unusual that both the families of Dr. K. D. Ghosh and his close friend Mono Mohan Ghosh stayed in one house for such a long period of time (ten years - 1869-1879). Both the friends were known to be highly individualistic, independent minded and had accustomed themselves to stay in the fashion of European Lords. Therefore, it may safely be deduced from the fact that Dr. K. D. Ghosh, when he left for England in 1869, had put his family in a separate house. As was arranged by his friend, an European governess was placed to look after his wife and two young sons. It may be that they resided near the place where Barrister Mono Mohan and his family lived, which facilitated him to keep an eye and take overall care of his absent friend's family. Dr. K. D Ghosh returned in 1871 and Sri Aurobindo was born at the house, which to the children was the house of his father's friend.

Further, it is most unlikely and one will hardly believe that Sri Aurobindo's memory betrayed him in 1939 when he said that he was born at the house of his father's friend, Mono Mohan Ghosh, Bar-at-Law, at Theatre Road and most likely at No.4. Therefore it can be concluded that Sri Aurobindo was born in the early hours of August 15, 1872 at No.4. Theatre Road (now No.8, Shakespeare Sarani). In 1879, When Sri Aurobindo was 7 years old, Dr. K. D. Ghosh took his three sons and daughter along with his wife to England where his fourth son Barindrakumar was born. The purpose of taking his three sons to England was to provide them with an English way of life and English education and his wife for further medical treatment and check-up; otherwise normally Dr. K. D. Ghosh would not have taken his wife, who was in such an advanced stage of pregnancy. So, it fits with the fact that in 1879 Dr. Ghosh's friend, Barrister Mono Mohan Ghosh, moved to the then No.4, Theatre Road house after Dr. Ghosh left for England with his family.

There is a curious coincidence that during the initial period of his stay in England, Sri Aurobindo lived in a house on the street named after Shakespeare at Manchester and it bore both Nos. 8 and 4. The coincidence is this that the original Theatre Road of Calcutta was also eventually changed to be named after Shakespeare and this house in Calcutta also bears the Nos. 8 (new) and 4 (old).

Subsequently, the house was purchased by Mono Mohan Ghosh and changed hands afterwards and eventually it was purchased by the Government of Bengal. Documents relating to the details and years are at your Archives, the photostat copies which were sent to you by me in 1973. Previous to 1935 normally it was the official residence of Commissioner, Presidency Division and later on became official residence of Premier or Chief Minister, First of Bengal, then of West Bengal. After Dr. B. C. Roy became Chief Minister, it was the official residence of the Home Minister. After his death (Kiron Shankar Roy), the house was allotted as the official residence of the Central Rehabilitation Minister, Government of India. Afterwards it remained vacant for sometime until 1970, when it became the head-quarters of the First Free Independence Bangladesh Government in exile, at a time when General Yahya Khan unleashed the massacre in East Pakistan.

Afterwards on August 7, 1972 the West Bengal Assembly passed and enacted “The Sri Aurobindo Memorial Act, 1972 (Act XXIV of 1972)” - (copy of the Gazette Extraordinary was also given by me for the records of the Archives) - which thus gave and converted Sri Aurobindo Bhavan as the National Shrine, with full concurrence and blessings of the Mother. (Coincidentally August 7, is a historic date when the people took a vow and proclaimed their determination to attain Swaraj) – birthday of Indian Nationalism on that date in the year 1905).

The Preamble of the Act states as follows:

“An Act to establish the Sri Aurobindo Bhavan and the Sri Aurobindo Samiti, to perpetuate the memory of Sri Aurobindo.

“Whereas, it is expedient to establish at 8, Shakespeare Sarani, Calcutta, the place where Sri Aurobindo was born and spent his childhood days, the Sri Aurobindo Bhavan and to constitute a Society for propagating the teaching of Sri Aurobindo amongst the masses so as to help them raise their mental and moral outlook and to solve their cultural and spiritual problems in the light of such teachings.

“It is hereby enacted in the Twenty Third Year of the Republic of India, by the Legislature of West Bengal.”

The assent of the President of India was first published in the Calcutta Gazette Extraordinary dated 12th August, 1972 and the actual handing over took place on August 15, 1972 - Sri Aurobindo's Centenary Birthday.

Therefore, the West Bengal Government was also convinced and came to the conclusion that Sri Aurobindo was born and spent his childhood at the same said house - 8, Shakespeare Sarani - Sri Aurobindo Bhavan.

Nirmal Singh Nahar
August 1, 1978
A letter to the Editor, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives and Research


A Rejoinder By Nirmal Nahar

Mr. Peter Heehs has sought to establish that the premises at 237 Lower Circular Road (Acharya Jagadish Bose Road), Calcutta was in all likelihood the place where Sri Aurobindo was born on 15th August 1872, primarily because that was the residence of Dr. K. D. Ghosh’s friend, Barrister Mono Mohan Ghosh, at that point of time and on the basis of his reposing full faith in the entries in the Calcutta Street Directory of 1872.

But perhaps he is quite unaware or wants to ignore the fact that during 15th August 1949, a large scale birthday celebration of Sri Aurobindo was held at 237, Lower Circular Road - residence of the then Finance Minister of West Bengal Nalini Ranjan Sarkar. A coterie grew up under the patronage of Nalini Ranjan Sarkar to make a concerted move to proclaim that Sri Aurobindo was born at 237, Lower Circular Road, Calcutta. Savitri Prasanna Chatterjee, a renowned poet was his personal assistant and P.R.O. of his company Hindusthan Cooperative Insurance Company Limited and its group of companies, gathered a powerful group of intellectuals under the leadership of Sajani Kanta Das, Editor of Bengali monthly Sanibarer Chithi. This corroborates with the account of Peter Heehs when he cites Nalini Ranjan Sarkar and others in support of his fanciful exploration.

But this controversy should have been long ended when Sri Aurobindo himself declared categorically soon after the birthday celebration reports and photos were shown to him most likely by A. B. Purani or Nolini Kanta Gupta. On seeing the photo of the building at 237, Lower Circular Road, Sri Aurobindo was reported to have said, “NO, NOT THIS HOUSE” in the presence of his personal sadhak attendants.

Earlier also on December 2nd and 3rd 1939, Sri Aurobindo said that he was born at Theatre Road – “It was No.4, I think” in course of his Talks with Sri Aurobindo as recorded by Dr. Nirodbaran (Talukdar), one of his personal attendants.

Sri Aurobindo confirmed the fact once again in September 1949, through a statement to the then Special Correspondent of the Press Trust of India, Sri Nirmal Nahar - writer of this rejoinder. The statement reads as follows: “Sri Aurobindo was born at the house of Late Barrister Monomohan Ghosh, a close friend of his father, Dr. Krishna Dhan Ghosh. The house was in Theatre Road and the number being most likely 4 (Four). We are not aware whether the house still exists or not.” The writer was also authorised to send a letter to the Editor of an English daily, the NATION, now defunct (Editor: Sarat Chandra Bose) on the same lines. (Xerox copies are enclosed herewith being the carbon copy of the original to prove the authenticity of those press statements.)

In this connection it is also interesting to note the findings of the National Committee, mainly based on the Bengal Directory (Calcutta Street Directory) of 1871 and 1872 - which states “the late Shri Monomohan Ghosh is shown as a resident of 48 Chowringhee which was a part of then Ballard Building facing Theatre Road.”

It is also curious to note that although A. B. Purani publishes the photograph of old 237, Lower Circular Road as the house where Sri Aurobindo was born, at the same time page 3 of his book Life of Sri Aurobindo (lst Edition. Feb. 21, 1958) states that Sri Aurobindo was born at Theatre Road.

Sri Himanshu Niyogi, President of Sri Aurobindo Pathamandir is stated to have said on 15th August 1973 (as reported in the Sri Aurobindo Mandir Bartika, a Bengali journal) that Sri Aurobindo was born at the present 8, Shakespeare Sarani (previously 4, Theatre Road) and added that Surendra Mohan Ghose, [1] M.P. and Congress leader of Bengal and a close devotee of Sri Aurobindo always used to point out the house where now Sri Aurobindo Bhavan stands as the house where Sri Aurobindo was born.

Mr. Peter Heehs cites in favour of his claim the findings of the Sub-Committee of the National Committee on Sri Aurobindo's Centenary, but the committee clearly and unequivocally states: “The arguments in favour of the present 237, Lower Circular Road could not be sustained.” The committee further states that most likely Sri Aurobindo was born at 48, Chowringhee Ballard Building, as has been noted above.

Therefore, Mr. Heehs’ conclusion with the support of Purani and the Government has no basis at all. And what others stated in support of his contention is not based on their own very valuable research and documentations.

Now let us look at other records of the West Bengal Government. While enacting the Sri Aurobindo Memorial Act 1972, it states as follows: “Whereas it is expedient to establish at 8, Shakespeare Sarani, Calcutta, the place where Sri Aurobindo was born and spent his childhood days, the Sri Aurobindo Bhavan and to ...” although, according to Footprints on the Sands published by the Government of Indian states that “doubts were, however, raised by the Government of West Bengal whether 8, Theatre Road, Calcutta, was the correct place of birth of Sri Aurobindo”, the State Government must have changed their views considering the overwhelming evidence which pointed to 8, Shakespeare Sarani as the house where Sri Aurobindo was born.

Mr. Peter Heehs says, “Sri Aurobindo’s impression that he was born in Theatre Road was not based on his personal knowledge; it must have been communicated to him by members of his family, other than his father and mother. It is not surprising that when Sri Aurobindo was informed that he was born in the house of Mono Mohan Ghosh, he or his informant came to the incorrect conclusion that his house was 4, Theatre Road.” Then in the footnote No. 17 he has the audacity to taunt Sri Aurobindo's Yogic Siddhi “memory”. And still he is tolerated. No child knows where he was born. He always comes to know the time and place of his birth from his family and records. How does Peter Heehs say that Sri Aurobindo's father and mother did not tell him about the place where he was born?

Did the planchet of Dr. K. D. Ghosh and Swarnalata come to tell him that? He seems to be determined not to give any credence to what Sri Aurobindo repeatedly said but relies on the statements of the daughters of Barrister Mono Mohon Ghosh. All of them were born long after Sri Aurobindo's birth. How can we give more credence to them than Sri Aurobindo when they state that Sri Aurobindo was born at 237 Lower Circular Road? Did they know by "Yogic Siddhi" that Sri Aurobindo was born at 237 Lower Circular road or is it also the case of mere hearsay?

It seems that a lot of importance is being given to the “Bengal Directory” or "Calcutta Directory" but as is well known that in those days only the names of the owners were indicated. So, how can anyone state categorically that in 1872, Barrister Mono Mohan Ghosh did not rent the present house at 8 Shakespeare Sarani from its owner, one "Ezra", for the purpose of putting up the family of Dr. K. D. Ghosh? It was not customary to record the name of a tenant, moreover it is but natural that Barrister Mono Mohan Ghosh was not shown as the resident of the present 8 Shakespeare Sarani as in actual fact it was rented for his friend Dr. K. D. Ghosh. It is to be noted that soon after the return of Dr. K. D. Ghosh from England in 1871, he was forced to sell his ancestral house at Konnagar, Hooghly, due to his refusal to do "Penance" for going across the seas as demanded by the then conservative Hindu society and permanently shifted to the house provided for his family by his friend Barrister Mono Mohan Ghosh at Calcutta. Sri Aurobindo was in the womb of Swarnalata and she was showing early signs of insanity and needed constant medical attention / treatment. One should not overlook the fact that both Dr. K. D. Ghosh and his friend Barrister Mono Mohan Ghosh as well as his brother Barrister Lal Mohon Ghosh, were fully westernised, not only in their own taste etc. but also forced their wives to change their dress to gowns, imitating the European ladies. It is most unlikely that these two highly individualistic independent minded families stayed in the same house and therefore, as per Mr. Peter Heehs's footnote No. 28 following the principle that "All historians know that historiography deals in probabilities, not certitude..." Barrister Mono Mohan Ghosh rented the house to provide shelter to his friend with two young sons and a European Governess, with their mother who was in an advanced state of pregnancy and looked after the family in the absence of Dr. K. D. Ghosh. He was, on his return made to rejoin as Sub-Assistant Surgeon attached to Bhagalpur dispensary and only on 28th October 1871, he was transferred to Rungpore to act as the officiating Medical Officer, still under 3rd grade of Sub-Assistant Surgeon and was first promoted to 2nd grade on May 16, 1872 and on 8th February 1873 was promoted to the rank of uncovenanted Medical Officer by the Government of India on his petition for having passed M. D. & F.R.C.S. degree examinations with honours from England. And it was only afterwards, he would take his family to Rungpore from time to time. He, in all probability, maintained his Calcutta residence till 1879, when he sailed for England with his wife and 3 young boys and a baby girl. It was only in 1879, after Dr. K. D. Ghosh left the house that his friend Barrister Mono Mohan Ghosh shifted to the present 8 Shakespeare Sarani house. This is further substantiated by a letter received from Sri Anil Ghosh, eldest son of Sri Aurobindo's elder brother Binoy Bhushan Ghosh and resident of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, New Delhi which states that "Sri Aurobindo was surely born at 8 Theatre Road on 15th August 1872". The above statement was communicated to them by their father Binoy Bhusan Ghosh.

Now let us look to the points raised by Mr. Peter Heehs's relative, Annette Akroyd's papers. Although she was a guest of his friend Barrister Mono Mohan, at his house in Lower Circular Road, she nowhere mentions that his friend Dr. K. D. Ghosh's family also stayed in the same building, neither does Rajnarain Bose, father-in-law of Dr. K. D. Ghosh when he describes in his autobiography his visit to Miss Akroyd at the 237 Lower Circular Road residence of Barrister Mono Mohan. Therefore, there is no information from them either that the family of Dr. K. D. Ghosh was staying at .the residence of Barrister Mono Mohan at 237 Lower Circular Road. It may be noted that Sri Aurobindo was christened as Aurobindo Akroyd Ghosh by his father Dr. K. D. Ghosh in her honour and in her presence.

We refrain from other irrelevant points written by Mr. Peter Heehs in his article as it is quite apparent to Calcuttans with some knowledge of the background of "Rajani' and difference between north and south dividing side of Lower Circular Road.

In view of the fact that no authentic documents are available to date to prove where Sri Aurobindo was actually born, the question is whose views can be accepted as authentic? That of the two daughters of Barrister Mono Mohan Ghosh or that of Sri Aurobindo and Binoy Bhushan Ghosh? It is almost certain that Sri Aurobindo was born at the north outhouse of the present 8 Shakespeare Sarani "Sri Aurobindo Bhavan", the building as it originally existed in 1872. This is further confirmed by the Mother, when she handed over the relics of Sri Aurobindo to the representative of the Government of West Bengal in the centenary year 1972 of Sri Aurobindo's birth for enshrinement at the house where he was born in 1872 (vide report appearing in the Bengali journal Sri Aurobinder Arya Patrika 2nd year 10th issues 15th September 1973).


A Rejoinder by Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Calcutta
To Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry

Mr. Peter Heehs has sought to establish that the premises at 237 Lower Circular Road, Calcutta, was in all likelihood the birthplace of Sri Aurobindo, primarily on the basis of his analysis of the entries in the Calcutta Street Directory and on the presumption that Sri Aurobindo must have been born in the house where Barrister Mono Mohan Ghosh himself was residing with his family at the relevant time. Mr. Heehs also claims that this is supported by the findings of a Sub-Committee of the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Committee set up by the Central Govt. and by A. B. Purani's book, The Life of Sri Aurobindo.

In this connection it may be noted that the aforesaid sub-committee after due scrutiny and consideration of the entries of the same Calcutta Directory categorically held that "the arguments in favour of the present 237, Lower Circular Road could not be sustained." Mr. Heehs finds this decision erroneous but that is a matter of opinion. Puraniji did publish in his book Life of Sri Aurobindo a picture of 237 Lower Circular Road as the birthplace of Sri Aurobindo but at the same time wrote on page 3 of the book (lst Edition) that Sri Aurobindo was born at the house of Barrister Mono Mohan Ghosh in Theatre Road. Mr. Heehs is perhaps not aware that in 1949 on being shown the photograph of the same building published by Puraniji Sri Aurobindo reportedly commented, "No, not this house." The official statement issued by the Secretary, Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1949, with the approval of Sri Aurobindo, asserted that the birthplace of Sri Aurobindo was located in Theatre Road and the number was most probably 4 (four). This is consistent with what is mentioned in Talks with Sri Aurobindo by Nirodbaran. Mr. Heehs, however, summarily rejects Sri Aurobindo's own observations about his birthplace as fanciful and not deserving any credence (vide footnote 17 of the article). The competence of Mr Heehs to comment on the nature and powers of 'Yogic Siddhi' is not known but his remark about Sri Aurobindo's statement is considered to be, to say the least, highly irresponsible and presumptuous. It is quite possible that Sri Aurobindo learnt about it from either his parents or elder brothers. In fact his eldest brother Benoy Bhusan had the same opinion about the location of Sri Aurobindo's birthplace being in Theatre Road. This is borne out by a letter of Sri Anil Ghosh, son of Benoy Bhusan. There is no reason to disbelieve Anil Babu.

Mr. Heehs has referred to a letter of Nolinida to Abinash Bhattacharjee. It would be wrong to construe this letter as acceptance by Nolinida of the claim of Mrs. Mrigen Mitra - he had written this for obtaining the reaction of Sri Barin Ghosh on the contention of Mrs. Mitra.

The facts and circumstances tend to indicate that it was quite likely that Mono Mohan Ghosh had arranged a house in Theatre Road (presumably erstwhile No.4) near his residence for the stay of Dr. K. D. Ghosh's family when Sri Aurobindo was born - this is considered probable particularly since the life-style of both Sri Mono Mohan Ghosh and his friend Dr. K. D. Ghosh was fully westernised. Therefore, naturally, the name of Barrister Mono Mohan Ghosh did not appear in the Street Directory in 1872 against this house in Theatre Road because he was not the resident. The letters of Mrs. Akroyd do not reveal that the family of Dr. K. D. Ghosh had been staying in the same house as that of Mono Mohan Ghosh. In the absence of conclusive documentary evidence, it is sincerely felt that Sri Aurobindo's own statement should be the guide and the determining factor in the matter of the location of his birthplace.

Mr. Heehs is entitled to his views. But in view of the foregoing reasons, it cannot be accepted that Sri Aurobindo was born in a house situated at 237, Lower Circular Road. The article in question endeavours to prove that in August 1872 Barrister Mono Mohan Ghosh used to live at the present 237, Lower Circular Road. But, as explained above, if Sri Aurobindo was born in a house other than the actual residence of Barrister Ghosh, then the article is hardly of any relevance so far as the location of the birthplace of Sri Aurobindo is concerned.

Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust may like to consider what useful purpose will be served by publishing the article of Mr Heehs particularly in the face of the Master's own pronouncement on the subject.

One is reminded of the following line from Savitri:

"God shall grow up while the wise men talk and sleep."



Nirmal Singha Nahar Pondicherry

The Press Trust of India

To :
When attention was drawn to several press enquiries particularly in Bengal as to the exact birthplace of SRI AUROBINDO, Srijut Nolinikanto Gupta, Secretary of Sri Aurobindo Asram told P.T.I.:




DECEMBER 2, 1939
N (when Sri Aurobindo lay in bed): Professor Mitra has asked me to tell you that his native village is the same as yours: Konnagar.
Sri Aurobindo : I see, but I went there only once. My village is Theatre Road, Calcutta.

DECEMBER 3, 1939
N (after Sri Aurobindo's walk): Did you say Theatre Road was your village?
Sri Aurobindo : Yes, I was born there in the house of the lawyer Manmohan Ghosh. It was No.4, I think.


Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, Vol. XXV No.2 April 1973

On 15.1.73, the Mother gave the Sacred Relics of Sri Aurobindo to Bholanath Sen. Minister, Government of West Bengal and Himanghsu Kumar Niyogi, President, Sri Aurobindo Pathamandir, for installation at Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, the house where Sri Aurobindo was born, and which has been consecrated by the Government under that name. At Calcutta, the relics were taken to the Alipore Central Jail where Sri Aurobindo was detained as an under trial prisoner and then to Alipore Court where he was tried and acquitted. Arranged by the Government in collaboration with the Pathamandir, the relics were taken round all the Districts of West Bengal. On 16.02.73, the Relics reached Jadavpur University, developed out of the National College of which Sri Aurobindo was the first Principal. From there, in one of the longest of recent processions in Calcutta, they were taken to Sri Aurobindo Bhavan where they were installed by Shri A. L. Dias, Governor of West Bengal.



Before relating the divine visit of Sri Aurobindo's relics to different districts of West Bengal I will state something about Sri Aurobindo Bhavan.

We were to ascertain the exact place of birth of Sri Aurobindo for the past several years. We had gone through records and birth registers kept in Calcutta Corporation, street directories in the National Library but failed to get any conclusive proof because at that time, only the name of the owner of a house, not its occupier, was kept in records. In 1947, the birthday of Sri Aurobindo was celebrated in 'Rajani', a house in Lower Circular Road. Hearing this news Sri Aurobindo said, “That is not the house where I was born. It was somewhere on Theatre Road, may be 4 Theatre Road.”

Taking this statement as a lead we were able to prove from municipal records that 4 Theatre Road in 1935-36 is at present 8 Theatre Road. One Mr. Ezra was the owner of that house. During British rule the house was purchased by the Bengal Government to use as residence of the Commissioner of Residence Division. After Independence the house was requisitioned as the residence of Chief Minister of West Bengal. Prafulla Chandra Ghosh, the then Chief Minister used to live in that house. Home Minister Kiranshankar Roy also resided and breathed his last there. Afterwards it became the residence of Relief and Rehabilitation Minister of the Government of India. During the Bangladesh Freedom Movement this home was the headquarters of the Bangladesh Government in exile; it was the Muzibnagar. Sri Surendramohan Ghosh used to say, “Look at that house! Can you tell me why none can live there for long?”

We have seen in records that Barrister Mono Mohan Ghosh a friend of Sri Aurobindo's father lived in that house No.4 which was later renumbered as 8 Theatre Road. We then clearly assumed that Sri Aurobindo's childhood memory was associated with this very house.

When we approached the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Celebration Committee for that house, the National Committee formed a sub-committee and sent them to Calcutta to verify all the documents. After seeing the records the sub-committee was convinced that Sri Aurobindo's childhood memory was associated with this house, most likely he was born in that house.

The National Committee then requested the Central Government to preserve this house as a national memorial and after crossing some bureaucratic hurdles we were able to get it with the personal help of the Prime Minister of India and assistance from the State Government.

The State Government then passed a Bill in the state legislature to form a trust which should look after the house named Sri Aurobindo Bhavan.[2]



“Whereas it is expedient to establish at 8, Shakespeare Sarani, Calcutta, the place where Sri Aurobindo was born and spent his childhood days, the Sri Aurobindo Bhavan and to constitute a Society for propagating the teaching of Sri Aurobindo amongst the masses so as to help them to raise their mental and moral outlook and to solve their cultural and spiritual problems in the light of such teachings.”


From the Calcutta Gazette, Extraordinary, August 12, 1972, Part III, page 1708 of the Sri Aurobindo Memorial Act, 1972, First Schedule [See Section 2(b)].

(a) Premises No.8, Shakespeare Sarani, being all that piece or parcel or plot of rent-free land measuring 0.61 hectare, more or less, situate in the town of Calcutta bounded in the following manner, that is to say, on the north by Shakespeare Sarani, on the south by 16 and 17, Lord Sinha Road, on the east by 10 Shakespeare Sarani, and on the west by 6, Shakespeare Sarani.

(b) together with all buildings, structures and erections standing or being on the said land, which said premises and buildings are commonly known as 8, Shakespeare Sarani, Calcutta, and

(c) together with all rights, casements and appurtenances whatsoever belonging or attached or appurtenances to the said land, buildings, structures and erections or held or enjoyed therewith.

EXTRACT from the Sri Aurobindo Memorial Bill, 1972, Bill No. 35 of 1972 with Statement of Objects and Reasons.


On the basis of clause 7, of the Bill the premises known as 8, Shakespeare Sarani with all its buildings and structures and land will be transferred to the Sri Aurobindo Samiti of West Bengal. The rough valuation of the property, according to the books of the PWD, is Rs. 1,82,838. The current valuation in terms of the records of the Calcutta Corporation is Rs. 4,14,720. In terms of clause 9 of the Bill the Statement Government may make contribution for the maintenance of the property of the Samiti and for discharging the functions of the Samiti. The amount involved will vary according to the needs of particular year, but it is not likely to be considerable.

Calcutta B. N. Sen, Member-in-Charge
The 29th July 1972


[1] Surendra Mohan Ghosh, M.P. and a leader of Bengal Congress was a direct political disciple of Sri Aurobindo in the early part of the century belonging to the Jugantar Revolutionary group. In later life, he was a frequent visitor to Sri Aurobindo Ashram and had several personal exclusive interviews with Sri Aurobindo from 1948 to 1950. He also acted as a political liaison between Sri Aurobindo and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and National Congress leaders of the period.

[2] Extract translated from an article published in Sri Aurobindo Mandir Bartika, 15th August, 1978.

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Note of Clarification (from Alok and Sraddhalu)

Note of Clarification (Dated 10th May 2009)

Dear friends,

1. It has been a week since Alok Pandey's and Sraddhalu Ranade's detailed letters were issued in response to the personal attacks by IYF activists. The reaction from the spokesmen of Peter Heehs has again ignored critical issues which were outlined, and instead, further abuses have been heaped on us. While this does not help the general atmosphere already thick with hurt emotions, confusion and divisive tensions, such reactions in no way help Peter Heehs' cause either. Therefore, it was felt that a note of clarification is in order.

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11 Jun 2009

Are We Religious Fundamentalists? -- by Raman Reddy

The SCIY (Science, Culture and Integral Yoga) internet forum is so worried about religious fundamentalism gripping the Sri Aurobindo Ashram that it seems to have forgotten what religion means. Everyone in the forum shies away from this word as if it is the worst calamity that could ever happen to humanity in general and the Integral Yoga community in particular. One gets the impression that in their anxiety to avoid ritualism and fanaticism, they have thrown away the baby with the bathwater and replaced it with highfalutin intellectualism. Let me therefore first define what religion means before going further with my critique of this forum, which has been so insensitive to the feelings of the majority of the disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. But, I suppose, we are committing a serious error by even calling ourselves “disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother”!

Religion, as I have understood from the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, is not something fundamentally wrong, but a diminution of spirituality into mere belief and a set of rituals and practices. It has played a beneficent role in the life of the common man, explains Sri Aurobindo in the Life Divine, his magnum opus, though it has often blocked the human soul from further progress. It is also not necessarily un-spiritual, as most intellectuals consider it to be. In fact, these intellectuals generally replace spirituality with intellectuality, so enamoured are they with their own abstract mental formulations. Every religion has produced great spiritual seekers, though not all spiritual seekers come from existing religions. In fact, new spiritual leaders find new paths to the divine realisation in man, which eventually become new religions after the demise of their founders. In short, religion reflects man’s basic tendency to follow the form rather than the spirit of the new pathfinders. Man generally wants to clutch at existing formulations and that too in their outermost aspects, because of his sheer inability to find out for himself the corresponding truths in his own being. This does not mean that one should therefore flout all existing formulations as outdated truths in order to be free from them, but rather rise above them when one can, if one can, and when one is spiritually convinced of the necessity to do so. Otherwise, one can, as most of us lesser mortals do, use them, take help of the readily available wisdom and apply it successfully to our life, instead of trying to be over-smart and condemn past formulations on the mere basis of their belonging to the past! One needs therefore sufficient spiritual maturity and inner growth in order to go beyond religions, which are basically past formulations of inner life and spirituality expressed at a certain point of time, and which will remain valid until they have been overpassed by the general spiritual progress of humanity.

But how do we distinguish religion from spirituality? Let us take the practise of bowing down or folding one’s hands in front of the figure that one adores and contemplates upon. When the action is sincere and reflective of the spiritual truth within, it should not be considered religious; otherwise one will end up condemning all external expression of the spirit. Sri Aurobindo never said that external manifestation is contrary to the spirit within. [1] On the other hand, he encouraged it in the form of Pranam and Darshan during his own lifetime. An action becomes religious only when it becomes routine and mechanical and does not correspond to any deeper psychological truth. In other words, the more the spirit withdraws from the external form, the more religious the form becomes. Thus one has a whole range of truth, a spectrum of the spirit, so to say, starting from the free spontaneous expression of the spirit to the half mechanical routine which most disciples get into, to the totally senseless rituals that are followed out of sheer habit or fear of breaking the convention. The last should be broken by the enlightened intellect, the second and the various degrees of truth ending in the third, should be replaced either by a re-awakening to the half-lost spiritual truth within the existing form or by the discovery of a new truth. Most iconoclasts break the temple along with the spirit behind that built it. In rising above religion, one should therefore replace it by “a higher aspiration” as the Mother said, and not by mere intellectuality and disbelief in divinity. Spirituality is essentially a matter of experience and no amount of abstract thought can replace it.

I come now to the SCIY forum’s current accusation of religious fundamentalism overcoming the disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. First of all, has not this religious card been overplayed, and played at the wrong time for the wrong reasons? This kind of anti-religious rhetoric could draw applause in the context of the Middle Ages – in India, we never had anything comparable to the persecution and inquisitions of the Middle Ages in the West, because there were always so many religions that Truth never became a monolithic monster. Freedom was given even to the Carvakas, the God-denying, pleasure loving materialists of those times, and nobody bothered them as long as they did not bother the others. Each Ashram had its own tradition, its own Guru, its customs and obligations, and if an inmate did not follow them, he was quietly told by the Mathadhipati [2] to pack up, go to another Ashram if he felt that path more congenial, or have a stint of the ordinary life before renewing his spiritual pursuit. It was as plain and simple as that!

It is true that over a period of time each Ashram became more and more rigid in its formulation and prescription of the spiritual path, and that is why Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have decried religion. That is why, in their own Ashram, they made the minimum number of outer rules and left each disciple free to follow the Yoga in his or her own way. The Yoga itself was broadly explained, in principles rather than in practical programmes. Collective meditations were there in the Ashram but never compulsory, even when the Mother was presiding them. Spiritual discourses were limited to such an extent that newcomers were often puzzled as to what they were supposed to inwardly practise, apart from the standard prescription of “Do the Mother’s work and she will do your sadhana.” The only thing insisted upon was work for the community, and here too, every worthwhile activity, ranging from washing dishes in the Dining Room to painting and writing poetry, was considered work. In fact, if anything has been followed with almost a religious fervour even though it was not imposed, I would say it is physical education, having myself grown up at the Ashram with an overdose of basketball, running and swimming, with the result that I suffer, like so many of my colleagues, from sports related injuries. Now which diehard secular fundamentalist would call these activities religious?

But I can already hear the protests of these “intellectual fundamentalists” of the SCIY, who recoil with disgust at the very mention of feeling and emotion: “What about the daily bowing down at the Samadhi? What about the sacred and special occasions which have been institutionalised in the Ashram – the Darshans and the Puja decorations of the Mother’s chair, and, yes, the march-pasts and the salute in front of the Mother’s symbol? Finally, what about the deification of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother into Avatars? ” Actually, most of what we do is replicated in secular institutions. Special days are also celebrated there to mark long-forgotten events, monuments are erected and collective gatherings take place in memory of the founders. In fact, our Ashram fares better than them, because there is total freedom here not to attend these special occasions, whereas you will be surely pulled up for non-attendance in the latter case for breaking protocol.

Secondly, this anti-religious diatribe would have been appreciated had Religion stood in the way of Science, as it did in the Middle Ages when the Inquisition persecuted Galileo. But this is no longer the case now. Sri Aurobindo has made spirituality as scientific as any secular science. Moreover, the limitations of science and rationality have become too obvious in modern times. We are no more trapped in “the science versus spirit” paradigm and are moving towards a greater synthesis of Spirit and Matter. Sri Aurobindo has provided this vast framework where everything has its due place. Faith in the Divine can go hand in hand with science and intellectuality – he even recommends this until the higher faculties can replace the mind. Avatarhood and worship of the Guru can co-exist with the freedom of the human individual. There is no essential contradiction between the Personal and the Impersonal Divine: for example, when the Overmental Consciousness descended in Sri Aurobindo on the Siddhi Day, he termed it the descent of Krishna. He had no qualms about declaring the Mother as the Avatar and instructing his disciples to submit themselves to her for spiritual growth and guidance. At the same time, in his public statements he spoke of the Divine Shakti as if it were an impersonal force. Now, in such a context, I wonder how one can be overly anxious to condemn religion. When Galileo said that the earth was not the centre of the universe and the high-priest of the Inquisition made him recant for his blasphemy, it was pretty clear on which side was the Truth! But here comes spirituality in a big way into modern life commanding our respect and attention, without denying the truth of Science and Matter. Truth has donned such a wide framework that it is impossible to condemn either religion or science!

When the Mother condemned religion, it was different. She urged us to go above it, and not below. Saying that Truth was always beyond mental formulas, she abhorred codifying Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga in intellectual terms and making a system out of it. Now what happens to lesser mortals that most of us are, when Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are no more on the earthly scene to constantly revivify the Truth that was manifesting through them? The natural tendency for us is to fall back on whatever they have said or done and try our best to apply it in our lives. Given our basic human limitations, we cannot hope to do any better, far from exceeding what our Gurus have achieved. As it is, the knowledge that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have imparted in the realm of spirituality will keep us busy for the next thousand years, without any need for an upgraded version! If anybody thinks otherwise, let him prove it by his spiritual experience and growth rather than mental arguments. The attitude of these over-confident intellectuals on the SCIY forum is to question everything without realising that their very questioning is foolish, because there is no spiritual foundation to it. Has anybody there sufficient spiritual development to be able to question the fundamentals of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s Yoga? Has anybody found his or her psychic being or has some awareness of the various levels of consciousness above the mind that Sri Aurobindo has written about? Even admitting a legitimate need for questioning, is Yoga only a matter of debate and comparative study of spiritual disciplines without prior spiritual experience? And what is wrong with those who would rather confine themselves to what Sri Aurobindo has written and not give credence to the Freudian interpretations of a dishonest researcher? How do they suddenly become blood-thirsty fundamentalists?

Another point that the SCIY forum has raised is, “Why not allow dissent within the system? Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s framework of Truth is wide enough to permit other views into it. All is a question of interpretation, so why limit ourselves only to a certain positive and hagiographic interpretation of Sri Aurobindo’s life and philosophy and not squarely face the objective truth as the academic world sees it? He himself was so much against mental rigidity and institutionalisation; we should not therefore commit the same error and trap ourselves in his own formulation of spirituality.” The argument sounds convincing but on a closer scrutiny reveals its inherent contradiction and underlying deceit. First of all, we are using Sri Aurobindo’s own words to destroy the Truth that he represents, like the devil quoting the scriptures, or more like a cheeky high school kid quoting the teacher’s words in order to cover up his own mischief. Secondly, if we contest the basic yogic values and principles as enunciated by Sri Aurobindo, where do we land ourselves? Let us take a simple example – the necessity of overcoming the lower nature in the Integral Yoga. Now we can take this as one theory among many others and end up justifying the lower nature, partly because of our inability to surrender ourselves to the Divine, which is the only way to overcome and transform it. Or we can simply and unquestioningly accept the yogic principle, as most of us do, having full faith in Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s knowledge. If we fail or advance with great difficulty, as it mostly happens, we don’t start doubting the principle itself. In fact, the more we silence the mind, the easier it becomes for the higher force to descend in us and do the needful. In other words, Truth is tested out practically and not theoretically, and it is long practise and experience that eventually vindicates it. In the above-mentioned case, you run the risk of rejecting Sri Aurobindo even before giving him a fair and full trial.

I come now to the issue of locus standi in the Heehs affair, which has been obfuscated from the very beginning by his supporters. Peter Heehs was one of the chief editors of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives, which is the repository of the most precious manuscripts that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have left for posterity. He took advantage of his position not only to flout the primary spiritual rule of not denigrating the Guru in his own Ashram, but went against the basic norms of institutional allegiance. No institution, whether secular or spiritual, would have allowed such a breach of trust! The mobilisation of public opinion that happened at the Ashram was genuine, for 95% of the disciples found the Lives of Sri Aurobindo highly objectionable, to the extent that some of them even wanted to close down the Archives. The authorities of the Ashram kept silent out of sheer catholicity and not because they appreciated the book. The best proof of it is that it is still not up for sale on the shelves of the Ashram bookstore. But the fact that most disciples would not have cared to object had the book been written by an outsider, has been deliberately overlooked by Heehs’ defendants, because that itself is sufficient proof against their accusation of “religious fundamentalism” in the Ashram. For how can objecting to a serious violation of the basic discipline of the Ashram by an inmate be termed religious bigotry? What thus happened was not a “rise of fundamentalist forces”, as is so glibly pronounced by these ruffled spokesmen of Heehs, but a spontaneous public outcry, the scale of which the Ashram has never witnessed.

The next point that I want to mention is the utter lack of good public relations by Heehs’ defendants. Instead of trying to understand why so many Ashramites have been deeply hurt, they (most prominently Richard Hartz who writes under the pseudonym of Angiras) put the blame on the distressed disciples instead of the guilty writer! When the disciples became angry after reading the Extracts, [3] Hartz immediately accused them of fundamentalism, one of the worst accusations you can make nowadays, because the very word conjures up visions of blood-thirsty crowds out to kill a non-believer. Now for many people who live in the West and who have never had any experience of life in spiritual communities, this bait worked, as we see from the responses of more and more Westerners, especially from the U.S.A. Then, as if to thrust the dagger deep into the festering wound, he concluded that Indians do not have good English reading skills, because of which they have misunderstood Heehs. All this, mind you, he says after enjoying for more than thirty years the hospitality of the Ashram, where there is no dearth of English speaking disciples. I surely expected him to have a better assessment of his own fellow members. Even assuming them to be dumb asses (which they are certainly not!), he should have tried to put his point across a little more gently to his fellow Ashramites, and prevail by good sense rather than by the virulent criticism of those who were brave and articulate enough to openly criticise Heehs!

As for the politics behind this whole affair, it is probably for the first time in the Ashram that the “intelligent Westerner versus the stupid Indian devotee” card has been so successfully used. In India, we are so familiar with politicians playing such cards in order to catch votes that we immediately see through the game and wait for truth and common sense to prevail. I hope those Westerners, whose national or racial sense has been whipped up, will one day realise this in the same way as we do. For the overall message that is conveyed through all this furious defence and counterattack by the SCIY forum is: (1) No disciplinary action should be taken against “a white scholar” no matter what he does. (2) Westerners, because they come from a different cultural background, need not bother about the sensibilities of the less-cultured “natives”. Now, this attitude is reminiscent of the colonial days and the British Raj rather than reflective of the mind of a globalised spiritual community. In fact, I suspect that part of the fury of Heehs’ friends is due to the fact that they have found themselves on the losers’ side of globalisation. Instead of gracefully accepting that their colleague was in the wrong and letting him face the consequences of his actions without thinking in terms of colour or race, they had to make so much noise to cover up his arrogant mistakes. The matter was after all individual and never racial; the objections were to Heehs’ scholarship in particular and not to Western culture in general.

Finally, if there is one area where Indians need not learn from the West (barring a few exceptions), it is spirituality. Just as the West has a significant advantage over present day India in the field of material organisation, so also India has the undeniable superiority of an age-old spiritual tradition, which has percolated down to every man on the street. This ethos is sadly missing in the West, even among those who are well-acquainted with Sri Aurobindo’s books and deliver lectures on them, which explains their lack of sensibility to the obvious defects of the book. An Indian disciple of Sri Aurobindo will generally read and judge the book in the context of its spiritual implications, which are far more important to him than the mere literary value of it. For example, the Guru is a representative of the Divine in India and becomes a means and channel for you to come in contact with the Divine Force. So once you accept him, not only tradition but the fundamental dynamics of the relationship itself demands that you don’t criticise him with impunity. A Westerner, who is not familiar with this tradition, will hardly react when you tell him that Heehs should be censured for denigrating his Guru.

Another example of this difference of reaction is with regard to Heehs’ shoddy portrayal of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s relationship. Now many Westerners think that there is nothing objectionable in showing a romantic relation between them, because even if you accept Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as divine personalities, you can expect a human side of the Divine. So why make such a big fuss about the human side when most of us have not exceeded that level of relationship in our own lives. An Indian disciple would not even dream of this suggestion, because his life is so linked with the daily reality of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s Force that the slightest tinge of doubt in this matter would make him extremely uncomfortable. Heehs not only goes against this basic spiritual sense but also dishonestly misrepresents the relationship as romantic. I say, dishonestly, because both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother had gone far beyond this human level of relationship when they met for the first time in 1914. Sri Aurobindo had left Mrinalini, his wife, and the Mother had already divorced Morisset, her first husband. Her marriage with Paul Richard was, as we all know, a marriage de convenance. The deeper reason that lay behind the marriage, she explains in the Agenda, was her endeavour to transform the Lord of the Nations, whose emanation was no other than Paul Richard himself. When the Mother came to Pondicherry for the second time in 1920 (the period which Heehs describes in his book on pages 326-327), there was no question of any romantic relationship with Sri Aurobindo. On the contrary, they came together for the stupendous work of the supramental transformation. The descent of the Overmind that followed within a few years of her second coming and the establishment of the Ashram are more than ample proof of this joint endeavour. Moreover, Heehs depends on tertiary documents to perpetrate his damage. He relies on what A.B. Purani had noted down of what Nolini Kanto Gupta told him – A.B. Purani himself was not present in Sri Aurobindo’s house during this period. The final picture that emerges is therefore twice decontextualised, first by A.B. Purani in recounting what Nolini Kanto Gupta told him, and further by Heehs with a multiplying effect in his book. We should also remember that both Nolini Kanto Gupta and A.B. Purani did not care to mention this juicy gossip in their own books. [4]

Among the other passages which an Indian psyche would look askance at is the casual way in which Heehs has dismissed Darshans as “theatrical” ceremonies.[5] Now this shows his utter insensitivity with regard to what thousands of people have felt inwardly at the physical touch of their Gurus. If he himself never had this deeply edifying experience, he should have at least kept silent instead of making fun of it. I wonder what kind of thick skin (or hide) makes him write in this way after staying in that very Ashram for the best part of his life! I hope his supporters will soon realise that they are defending a person whose behaviour they should be ashamed of and make the necessary amends to those who have been deeply offended by his book.

I end with a final note of clarification in case my defence of the stand taken by most Indian disciples is termed racist, and worse, misconstrued as hatred of Western culture. Most of us have grown here with plenty of Western culture in our college days, when we soaked ourselves in Western literature, admired its frankness and liberality, and even enjoyed its pop music. English and French being the mediums of instruction, many of us are actually weak in our regional languages. It is only of late that we have been exposed to the bad side of it and abruptly realised that we cannot take everything lying down! But I suppose this too is a necessary process of globalisation when you grow through confrontation than meekly accept the assumed superiority of the Western culture. According to the Mother, the best of every nation should emerge victorious in the spiritual synthesis of the future. God forbid, if, under the garb of freedom of speech, it is the victory of the worst of every nation! One such wrong combination would be a weakened Indian spirituality bending down to unbridled Western hedonism and materialism. I would of course hope for the reverse to happen – a strong Indian nation integrating the best of Western culture without losing its spiritual core. I am sure everybody, both Westerners and Easterners, will benefit by it.

Raman Reddy

[1] An interesting anecdote comes to mind about an orangutan which spontaneously folded its hands as soon as it saw the Mother. See The Mother’s Agenda, Volume 8, Conversation of 13 May, 1967.

[2] Head of the Ashram or Math.

[3] The Extracts were selected passages from The Lives of Sri Aurobindo which were found to be highly objectionable by the disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Heehs tried to vainly defend himself by saying that they were decontextualised in their presentation. For more on this topic, read my article In Defence of the Extracts published on this website.

[4] For more information on this topic, read my review of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo published on this same website. In fact, much more additional documentation can be provided on this topic, which most disciples are familiar with.

[5] The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs, pp 399-400

[Originally posted at 5/31/2009 03:10:00 PM]
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9 Jun 2009

The Shadow and After -- by Alok Pandey

A shadow and a storm has just passed over the collectivity that is loosely grouped around the Ideal of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Loosely, because it is constituted of a wide range of humanity in different ranges and stages of its inner development and outer conditioning. There are many who are drawn to Sri Aurobindo for his idea of evolutionary transformation. There are others who are attracted to his philosophy, still others to his poetry, especially Savitri. Some others are attached to him because he represents in his personality, the very best that the East and West could offer, a unique synthesis of the two. Then there are those Indians who specifically feel proud of being born in a country where he took birth and the Mother chose as Her home. They can identify in Sri Aurobindo a much awaited return of the Avatar and his promise of a Vedic age of Truth and feel in His words the voice of Krishna on the great battlefield of life and the song of the ancient Rishis of the Upanishadas. The Westerners find in him their own appeal especially where he speaks of going beyond religions and social conventions and his stress upon freedom and individuality. Even the communists and the atheists find something in Sri Aurobindo that attracts them despite themselves. All kinds of humanity, the Devas and Asuras, the straight and simple village folks and the complicated and confused city dwellers, the traditionalists and the modernists, each finds in Him something that represents to them their own highest point. And yet each sees in him his limited ego’s reflection as in a glass, missing out his vastness and his infinity. Still others are impressed by his writings, his luminous thoughts on contemporary issues of education, psychology, health, politics, and so on and so forth. Some are simply awed by his sheer creative genius even if they understand nothing, some are inspired by his writings, others attracted to his personality, some admire him because of his intellectual prowess, others by the countless stories of his deep compassion for the human race and for this troubled earth. Still others love him and know not why. Finally, there are those few to whom the very name of Sri Aurobindo evokes the sense of the Supreme Divine. To serve him in any way is their delight. Given this wide range of humanity that is drawn to him, it is only natural that their responses to the Truth that Sri Aurobindo has brought will be varied and different, even conflicting with each other’s vision.
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3 Jun 2009

An Elucidation of the JK-PH Nexus—by Varuna Mitra

An elucidation of the JK-PH nexus and connection as seen from their books Esalen: America a Religion of No Religion (2007) and The Lives of Sri Aurobindo (2008), respectively—by Varuna Mitra

A long drawn battle has been taking place on various sites regarding the book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo and a lot of people have spoken about an academic exposition of this book. Some spoke of the JK-PH connection and others lack of any such connection. Discussed below are some pertinent points.

(Peter Heehs is thanked in the acknowledgements by JK)

Numerous other individuals also played significant roles in my research and thinking. Some receive major treatment here. Others work…….Jane Hartford, Gil Hedley, Peter Heehs, James Hickman…..
[Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, Acknowledgements, p. xii]

(Sources of some of the quotes are from PH’s then unpublished manuscript of Lives of Sri Aurobindo)

There are good historical reasons why Aurobindo avoided any explicit alliance with the Tantras. We must never forget that he was writing in a political context and time period in which the terms “Tantra” and “Tantric” carried overwhelmingly pejorative meanings, partly because they had long been savaged my Christian missionaries who saw in the sexual rituals and animal sacrifices of the Tantric traditions the epitome of human depravity, violence and religious folly. Murphy himself is clear that such categories still evinced reactions of deep ambivalence and cultural embarrasment from Bengalis of the ashram in the 1950s 23 Simply because we lack the centrality of the term “Tantra” in his text, then, does not mean that we cannot or should not use the term in our own precise ways; it simply means that Aurobindo chose not to do the same for his perfectly own sensible and very defensible historical and cultural reasons. He had his own audience. So do we.
[Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, Ch.2, p. 63]

23. One of the few places where Aurobindo explicitly employed Tantric language was in his private correspondence with his revolutionary brethen. In these documents, he uses Tantric expressions as a code language to refer, for example to revolvers they were attempting to transport through the French postal system or to specific revolutionary actions (see Peter Heehs, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo [New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming], ch.26, MS pp. 17-18.

Hence he did not hesitate to emphasize (at least in his private diaries) the physical, even sexual, dimensions of his own experience of this kamananda or “erotic bliss,” “equal to the first movements of the actual maithuna ananda,” literally, the bliss of sexual intercourse.26 This latter description is from Aurobindo’s Record of Yoga, a recently published two-volume tome whose highly experimental and nondogmatic qualities make it Michael Murphy’s “new favorite Aurobindo.” According to Aurobindo’s biographer Peter Heehs, one of the most common themes of the Record is that of Ananda.

“The secret,” Aurobindo once wrote of the Goddess Shakti, “is to enjoy her in the soul as one enjoys a woman with the body.”27 He also clearly associated “the way of Ananda” with the “left-handed” path of Tantra.28

And here he was being entirely faithful to the ancient Sanskrit texts, which in a much more explicit way link the bliss of ananda pleasures and ecstasies of the penis. 29 Though Aurobindo is clear that such mature spiritual events carry very physical dimensions (his entire system insists on this), there is no evidence that after his wife dies he acted physically on what he called his kamananda or “bliss of sexual desire,” which, as Heehs points out, often came upon him spontaneously, for example when he was writing or walking. 30
[Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, Ch. 2, pp. 64-65.]

30. Heehs, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo
, ch. 27, MS p.11

(Some striking similarities in the picking of particular quotes and interpretive language of the two authors)

Hence he did not hesitate to emphasize (at least in his private diaries) the physical, even sexual, dimensions of his own experience of this kamananda or “erotic bliss,” “equal to the first movements of the actual maithuna ananda,” literally, the bliss of sexual intercourse.26

[Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, Ch. 2, p. 64]

The usual desire for gratification, as Aurobindo has the guru call it, was presumably a factor in his decision to get married, but it does not seem to have been an important one. His later writings show that his knowledge of human sexuality was more than academic, but the act seems to have held few charms for him.76 Consummation may have been delayed because of Mrinalini's youth, and his own stoicism, partly innate and partly learned from philosophers such as Epictetus, would have helped him to keep his sexual tendencies in check.
[The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, Encountering India]

76. For Sri Aurobindo's general knowledge of human sexuality, see his letters to disciples on sex, which occupy more than forty pages, 1507-1549, of Letters on Yoga. For his experience of maithunananda, see Record of Yoga, 204, 300, 302, 329, 431, 464, 774, and 1456. Maithu-nananda means literally the bliss, ananda, of coitus, maithuna. In the Record it refers to a particular intensity of spontaneous erotic delight, but some references, notably on page 204 ("equal to the first movements of the actual maithuna ananda") seem to imply a knowledge of ordinary maithuna.
[The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, References]

(This statement giving reasons for Sri Aurobindo’s marriage as sexual gratification and also that Sri Aurobindo’s ‘general knowledge’ about sexuality being more than academic is very interpretive. If JK does it, it is to fulfill his focus on homosexuality and homo-eroticism in spirituality. If PH did not have any such focus, then its very strange that he should interpret in the same manner, leading thus to the same conclusions as JK.)

“The secret,” Aurobindo once wrote of the Goddess Shakti, “is to enjoy her in the soul as one enjoys a woman with the body.”2
[Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, Ch. 2, p. 64.]

The suggestive language of aphorism may have been more apt to express the intensity of the path of love, as in this example from his posthumously published collection Thoughts and Aphorisms:

What is the use of admiring Nature or worshipping her as a Power, a Presence and a goddess? What is the use, either, of appreciating her aesthetically or artistically? The secret is to enjoy her with the soul as one enjoys a woman with the body.65
[The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, Major Works]

(That JK mentions it is not the focus because he will find and use what suits his ideas about sexuality and spirituality, but PH being a member of the Archives, found exactly the same quote valid out of a list of 547 aphorisms and about 133 on devotion (bhakti yoga) apart from a number of exquisitely beautiful passages on Bhakti in Letters on Yoga and the Synthesis of Yoga, for his book is astounding.)

Aurobindo’s writings certainly know nothing of actual sexual fluids, although he does appear to have been perfectly aware that this attempted spiritual transmutations of the physical body relied on the suppression and sublimation of actual sexual energies: “I for one have put the sexual side completely aside,” he said on December 13, 1923, “it is lying blocked so that I can make this daring attempt at physical transformation.” 33
[Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, Ch. 2, p.65.]

On another occasion he said more directly: "I for one have put the sexual side completely aside, it is lying blocked so that I can make this daring attempt" at spiritual transformation.26
[The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, Guide: Ascent of Supermind]

(Another instance of exactly the same quote being picked up as JK, and both have interpreted in the same psychoanalytic way, that Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual experiences can be related to suppressed sexuality. It is interesting to note that this quote is not from any of the readily available works of Sri Aurobindo but from a talk published in Sri Aurobindo Circle 9 (1953): 207.)

Note of explanation regarding some Sanskrit terms:
In the reference, PH and in his book JK, have defined maithuna as coitus. But this is the narrower and more perverted meaning of maithuna, it has been essentialized as sexual intercourse by American scholars of religion with little or no knowledge of Sanskrit. The correct understanding of maithuna as derived from its Sanskrit meaning is: The term maithuna, like its English equivalent ‘intercourse’, has social as well as sexual connotations. And in the Tantric sense, it also has spiritual meanings.

PH and JK have focused exclusively on the sexual meaning
However, maithuna also means intercourse with the world with all our senses—to intensely engage the world in order to transcend the duality of separation. It is used as a metaphor for a positive engagement with the world. In its highest sense it can mean the enjoyment acquired by the soul through the senses.

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