Laxmidhar Samantray was only sixty when he passed away in the afternoon of 18.10.2012 at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Nursing Home, Puducherry. He died of renal failure but he suffered from thyroid cancer, epilepsy, asthma, constipation and what not! Dr Gayatri once told him that everything was wrong with his body except his heart! One could add that his emotional and psychological heart too never failed him. For his faith in Sri Aurobindo and the Mother never wavered and his will to be on the side of the Truth never faltered or gave clever excuses to his mind. “Tell X to keep up the fight with the Trustees! Don’t leave them!” he told a well-wisher during his last months, while he himself fought undeterred with his own body, going through a period of excruciating physical pain during which he underwent thyroid surgery and daily dialysis.
Laxmidhar came from a village in Cuttack District, Odisha. The ascetic tendency was always strong in him, so he left his house to become a sannyasi and settled in the outskirts of a village. People started considering him a great soul and began offering him food and flowers, but he did not stay there for long. One fine day, in 1971, he landed at the Pondicherry railway station with five rupees in his pocket. He spent the five rupees on the rikshaw which took him to Navajyoti Karyalaya, where he was hauled like a beggar in front of Pati-ji, the iron man of Odisha. Pati-ji was soon convinced about the earnestness of the young man’s spiritual quest and immediately provided him with work, food and clothes. Laxmidhar thus reached his spiritual destination and began a new journey in his life.
He worked for a decade in the packing and posting section of the Navajyoti Karyalaya and wrote letters to the Oriya devotees at the instructions of Babaji Maharaj. Then he went to the Ashram Press where he worked for a few years as a storekeeper. He shifted next to the Ashram Petrol Bunk, but left it due to an allergy to the smell of petrol. Finally, he landed in the Sports Ground and worked there for a long time until his health broke down in 2011 and cancer was detected in his thyroid. Incidentally, in his early years at the Ashram, Laxmidhar rose to fame in the Ashram Athletics competitions when he won twice the 10000 metres running event. His close friends say that the strain and exertion of these competitions caused permanent damage to his body and he never recovered from it.
There was always a streak of overreach, call it ambition or effort, in Laxmidhar’s nature. I take it positively, for it made him reach beyond the normal limits, beyond what is prudent and discreet – that is what made him indeed a successful long distance runner though at the cost of his health in the long term. There are other examples of this trait which come to my mind. He could gobble 20 rasagullahs and gulp down a few bowls of payas, but he also could starve himself continuously for a few days – he did more of the latter which actually ruined his stomach. When he got angry (which was rare), the ground would shake as if under sage Durvasa’s feet and his opponent’s heart would miss a beat. But he also could sit in deep meditation for long stretches of time in front of the Samadhi, for the sannyasi in him was always present in the background! When he began telling you stories from the Puranas (he had read them all and knew Sanskrit well), you felt like running away because you did not have the time nor the patience to listen to the endless interpolations he weaved in with the eloquence of a storyteller who could keep you awake all night. But the best stories were from the Ashram “Puranas” – tales of love and jealousy and botched-up sadhana, which he recounted with great gusto and humour. How I wish he had penned them down for posterity’s sake!
When the Peter Heehs issue broke out in August 2008, Laxmidhar firmly took his stand against the book and the Trustees of the Ashram. No arguments were sufficient to convince him of the opposite stand. His heart simply refused to accept any kind of justification for gurudroha – he constantly used this word to express his anguish in the matter. It is perhaps this deep anguish that affected his health because he was soon a bundle of health problems and plagued by giddiness, constipation, breathlessness, and finally the cancerous growth in the thyroid. Laxmidhar went down bravely fighting until the very end without changing a wee bit his stand on those who have betrayed Sri Aurobindo and the Mother! Though he was disabled by his physical condition to fight the external battle, I would certainly like to believe that he fought for the Truth at a deeper level of existence, where the real battle goes on ceaselessly between the forces of darkness and light!