9 Apr 2012

Historian dubbed heretic for his Aurobindo 'barbs' -- By M. C. Rajan

 Mail Online India


Demystifying one of the country's most revered mystics, Sri Aurobindo, has landed American historian Peter Heehs in hot water. 

Heehs, who has been in Pondicherry for the past four decades, stirred a hornet's nest with his biography on the spiritualist, published abroad in 2008. Sri Aurobindo's followers have called him a heretic and, subsequently, the regional registration office (RRO) for foreigners in the former French enclave has asked him to leave the country within April 15. 
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His detractors accused him of painting the freedom fighter-yogi as 'schizophrenic' and who had a romantic relationship with the Mother - Frenchwomen Mira Richard who was Sri Aurobindo's collaborator and successor. 

After the Orissa High Court banned the book some time ago, the American author has come out with a suggestion that an Indian edition could be brought out after deleting the objectionable portions. 

But for that, the high court has to give its nod. Though scholars have defended Heehs, the followers of Sri Aurobindo want him deported immediately. 


Union home minister P. Chidambaram has to take a call on the fate of Heehs's deportation. He has ordered a review on why his visa extension was rejected, but his fate remains in limbo. 

Considered a respected scholar on modern Indian history and spirituality, Heehs's The Lives of Sri Aurobindo has triggered an outrage not only in Auroville, a model township of community living and international headquarters of the Aurobindo Ashram, but also among the followers all over. 


Residents of Auroville claimed that the biography has gone to the extent of calling Sri Aurobindo's biological mother a lunatic, indicating it as family trait. 

Clubbing him with Jeffrey Kripal, who earlier arrived at similar conclusions about Sri Ramakrishna, they called Heehs's work an anti-Indian conspiracy. 

What enraged them more was the fact that Heehs was no outsider, but a part of the ashram. He was also a founding member of the archives at Auroville, besides being on the editorial board of the collected works of Sri Aurobindo. 

As such, they considered his biographical work as betrayal. Heehs has also been hauled over the coal for dropping broad hints on a sexual relationship between the spiritual leader and his successor, the Mother. 

This has been construed as crude application of the Freudian concept. 


Further, some of the passages show Sri Aurobindo in absurdly poor light - liar, a person weak in physique, and no significant leadership quality. 


However, scholars have defended Heehs and called his work 'the finest biography' rather than being a hagiography. It is critically acclaimed for treating Sri Aurobindo as human. 

In their view, select passages were taken out of context to distort his work. Historians Romila Thapar and Ramchandra Guha, and Harvard University's Sugata Bose have sought the Prime Minister and the Union home minister's intervention. 

Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, too, has sent a letter to Chidambaram seeking a review on denying a visa extension to Heehs.


In October, the ICS commissioners wrote to Aurobindo asking him to fix a date to take his riding examination. He agreed to go on October 26, but did not turn up. Called to the office to explain, Aurobindo told a series of lies. (Page 30)  

Contemporaries and historians questioned his right to be called an effective politician. Certainly, he was not a great builder or steady
worker. (Page 130

Annie Besant again proclaimed him dangerous, even fanatical on account of 'his refusal to work with any Englishmen'. Members of government used the same terms to describe the man they were trying to imprison. Some added that they thought he was slightly off his head: 'There is madness in his family,' wrote the Viceroy to the secretary of the state. (Page 199


  1. It appears that the respected Mr M.C.Rajan is not privy to the circumstances on the controversy generated by Peter Heehs; he has presented the summary of views.
    There is mention that Peter Heehs has landed in trouble for demystefying Sri Aurobindo. But facts are otherwise.
    Large amount of literature is already there , written and narrated by those who lived in the times of SriAurobindo and who had the privelege of contact with him. These bring out the human side of Sri Aurobindo and also sidelights on the Yogi Sri Aurobindo. Further, Peter has had no direct contact with Sri Aurobindo to appreciate the context and events concerning the human side of Sri Aurobindo's life.So the socalled effort at de-mystefication of Sri Aurobindo by Peter lacks credentials and authenticity.

    Regarding Integral Yoga, there is enough literature , Viz the Mother's work, writings of associates and disciples like Nolini Kanta Gupta, MP Pandit, Nirodbaran, to name a few; these very well serve as step by step guideposts for progressing in the yoga.Peter's work cannot rank anywhere near such writings, as he does not seem to be a practioner of Integral Yoga either;

    Merely working at the Archives at Sri Aurobindo Ashram( he being one of those who worked there and definitely not the founder of the Archives, as claimed by him in his controversial book) does not confer any special qualification on him to be christened as Historian.

    He does not seem to be be an objective historian either, in as much as his version, is through his subjective prism which has covert and overt prejudices against Sri Aurobindo. His work lacks finess and objectivity to stand any test of scrutiny.The proof of this is the long list of errors and distortions and falsities by Peter, which are at the centre of the current debate on his work.

    In his efforts for trying to present Sri Aurobindo to the world in poor light, Peter Heehs has unwittingly shown himself in poor light.

    Given the above, it is not clear as to for whose benefit , and for what purpose he wishes to stay in India.
    India cannot be the refuge of the refuse of overseas toxic stuff.

    My request to the General Editor of this site is to send the clean summary of the misdeeds of Peter and the prevarications and falsity at different stages by him, to the journal carrying Mr. Rajan's piece.This will help them to appreciate the facts and circumstances -which have led to protests by many of us. That will put the record straight, for the public at large to also appreciate the real issues.
    If Peter Heehs is such a celebrity historian, he can find suitable berth at any of the Universities in places other than India. Indians can understand Sri Aurobindo more effectively than Peter and do not require his footnotes and headnotes on Sri Aurobindo.

  2. >>...scholars have defended Heehs and called his work 'the finest biography' rather than being a hagiography. It is critically acclaimed for treating Sri Aurobindo as human.>>

    I am yet to see even one critical article of theirs bringing out the professional merits, if there are any, of the biography. And most of our TV anchors and newspaper reporters keep on saying the same thing without ever critically reading the book.