15 Apr 2019

Challenging the Ashram Trust’s Stand on Relics

[The Notice below has been issued in the name of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust in the January 2017 issue of the Oriya monthly magazine “Navaprakash”, published by Navajyoti Karyalaya, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. Below is an English translation of the original Notice in Oriya.]

Facts One Should Urgently Know About Relics
(Notice on Relics published in Navaprakash)
Words are insufficient to express the spiritual significance of the sacred Relics of Sri Aurobindo. It can only be realised through profound faith, devotion and sadhana.
Usually, as per the arrangement of The Mother, the Relics are given in Sri Aurobindo Ashram from Sri Aurobindo’s Room. They are well-kept in a series of containers specially prepared and provided by the Ashram. The approval of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust is indispensable regarding the details of the institutions that take them, the places of their installation, the persons who receive them from the Ashram and those who remain in charge, the way in which they are taken and the persons who install them.
It is especially noteworthy that Mother herself has not given the Relics to any individual. She has also not given the right to anybody to hand over or distribute the Relics. If anybody claims that he or she has got the Relics, it means that they are intended for him or her only. If he or she hands them over to any person or institution, it amounts to an unauthorised act. If he wants to hand it over to anybody, it is better to offer it to the Ashram Trust.
It is natural on our part to hope that the true followers of Sri Aurobindo would sportaneously feel the importance and profundity of the enshrinement of this most sacred thing.
When this procedure is broken and the sacred Relics are declared to be enshrined in any place, it means the minimum discipline has not been observed. Therefore Sri Aurobindo Ashram will not be able to approve their authenticity and will not be responsible for them in any way.

 Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust

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Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust’s Interference
Without any Right
(On the Notice in Navaprakash
Regarding the Sacred Relics of Sri Aurobindo)
[After reading in Navaprakash the above Notice, which was given in the name of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, we the devotees of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo in Odisha immediately sent the following letter to Shri Manoj Das Gupta, the Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Prof. Manoj Das, and the Manager of Navajyoti Karyalaya of the Ashram on 20 January 2017. Because Prof. Manoj Das had drafted the notice on behalf of the Ashram Trust, we requested him to reply to our letter and publish it along with our letter in the next issue of Navaprakash. As no reply was published in any of the succeeding issues of Navaprakash, we publish below our letter for everybody’s knowledge.]  

A Humble Question to Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust
On Behalf of The Mother’s Devotees in Odisha
We the brothers and sisters of Sri Aurobindo Study Circles in Odisha have been reading Navaprakash since many years. This year (2017) on the inside page of its back cover under the title “Facts One Should Urgently Know About Relics”, we read that those who are enshrining Sri Aurobindo’s Relics taken from private people instead of the Ashram Trust, are not following the principles of the Ashram and not observing the minimum discipline. “Therefore Sri Aurobindo Ashram will not be able to approve their authenticity and will not be responsible for them in any way.” This notice is written by Prof. Manoj Das, an Ashram inmate, on behalf of the Ashram Trust, having been instructed by the so called leaders of The Mother’s work in Odisha and published in the Odia monthly Navaprakash that comes out from Navajyoti Karyalaya of the Ashram. The content of the Notice is not inappropriate, but Prof. Manoj Das should know the two reasons for which the devotees of Odisha are taking the Sacred Relics from individual sources:
1. The Trustees of the Ashram are refusing to give any more Relics to Odisha as a lot of them have already been given.
2. The devotees of Odisha do not consider it wrong to follow the footsteps of the illustrious Shri Manoj Das Gupta, the Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Prof. Manoj Das and Gadadhar Mishra of Cuttack, Matrubhaban. To elaborate a little, in December 2009 Gadadhar Mishra had come to the Ashram to take Relics for eight places in Odisha. At that time Kumud-ben was in charge of The Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s Rooms and the Relics. When she refused to give any Relics to Odisha, Gadadhar Mishra put pressure on her through Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya, the Director of Physical Education in Ashram, Managing Trustee Manoj Das Gupta, Prof. Manoj Das and several others. At last Kumud-ben agreed to give Relics for only one place. But as Gadadhar had collected money and given assurance to the organisers in 8 places, he threatened them that if the Relics are not given to all the eight places, he will start a hunger strike in front of the Ashram. To please Gadadhar, the Managing Trustee of the Ashram and Prof. Manoj Das managed to collect 7 Relics (5 from a person outside and 2 from Ashram inmates) and requested Kumud-ben to put those 7 Relics in boxes and keep them along with the one box she had kept ready in Sri Aurobindo’s Room. But Kumud-ben flatly refused to do it. So Manoj Das Gupta, the Managing Trustee, took the initiative and prepared 7 boxes for those 7 Relics and kept those boxes in his Ashram office. On 7 January 2010 when one box of Relics was brought from Sri Aurobindo’s Room to the staircase, the 7 boxes were added to the tray that contained only one box from Sri Aurobindo’s Room. When the tray was brought to the Ashram courtyard, people saw the 8 boxes of Relics on the tray. Immediately Gadadhar Mishra took them via Navajyoti Karyalaya to Odisha and himself installed the 8 Relics in their appointed places from 9 to 21 January 2010. After this the devotees felt free to collect Relics from individual sources and install them in the centres.
Do the gentlemen involved in this affair agree to this account or not? If they agree, then who are responsible for the present state of affairs – the Trustees of the Ashram, Prof. Manoj Das, Navajyoti Karyalaya and Gadadhar Mishra, or the simple, innocent devotees of Odisha? We want Prof. Manoj Das to answer our question as it is he who has drafted and published this strange notice in Navaprakash in the name of the Ashram Trust. The readers of Navaprakash who have read the notice must get a proper answer.
Faithfully yours
The Mother’s Devotees of Odisha

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More Questions Regarding the Notice on Relics
As the concerned persons have no courage to reply to our letter of 20 January 2017, we take for granted that their Notice on Relics in the January 2017 issue of Navaprakash is a false threat. We now raise more questions on some points mentioned in the Notice.
1. The Notice says:
“Words are insufficient to express the spiritual significance of the sacred Relics of Sri Aurobindo. It can only be realised through profound faith, devotion and sadhana.”
If this is true, why give such a Notice, advice, instructions and threats? It will be better to leave it to everybody’s faith, devotion and sadhana.
2. The Notice says:
“Usually, as per the arrangement of The Mother, the Relics are given in Sri Aurobindo Ashram from Sri Aurobindo’s Room. They are well-kept in a series of containers specially prepared and provided by the Ashram. The approval of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust is indispensable regarding the details of the institutions that take them, the places of their installation, the persons who receive them from the Ashram and those who remain in charge, the way in which they are taken and the persons who instal them.”
Here the question arises, have the Ashram Trustees themselves followed the procedure of The Mother in giving Relics when they gave Relics to the 8 places of Odisha on 7 January 2010? In spite of the Mother’s personal attendant Kumud-ben’s warning letter to them and the Ashram Physical Education Director Pranab-da’s written notice in the Ashram, did the Trustees refrain from doing what was not in the procedure before? The Trustees break without hesitation the prevailing arrangements of The Mother and exercise unhindered power, whereas they forbid the centres and devotees outside in the name of The Mother not to do the very things which they themselves have done.
3. The Notice says,
“The approval of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust is indispensable regarding the details of the institutions that take them, the places of their installation, the persons who receive them from the Ashram and those who remain in charge, the way in which they are taken and the persons who install them.”
This is applicable to those who take Relics from the Ashram Trust. But why is the approval of the Ashram Trust indispensable for those who take Relics from other sources? Sri Aurobindo Ashram is not a religious institution and the Trustees are not its Head Priests. The Relics do not become sacred because the Trustees touch and approve them. The Relics are like gold, the purity of which does not depend on who gives them or who takes them, how he takes them, where he installs them and what procedure he follows. It is a well-known fact that those who take Relics to Odisha, whatever sources they may come from, offer their utmost love and respect to them. They treat the Relics with the same respect that was given to them when the Mother was in Her physical body. This attitude and action does not depend on anybody’s approval. Moreover, do the Trustees really inspect how the Relics are taken, how they are enshrined and how the shrines are maintained? If they never do that, why do they put such restrictions and show their false concern?
The Ashram Trust has made four conditions to give Relics to a centre:
1. There must be a registered Trust and the properties of the centre must be in that Trust’s name.
2. The construction of the shrine must be completed.
3. There must be some other activities like a study circle or school running there.
4. At least one person should always be there to see the maintenance of the Relics centre.
The Trustees themselves have made these criterions. But do they follow it in practice in every case? One example can be given here: In August 2016, on Manoj Das’s insistence, the Ashram Trust gave Relics to Sri Aurobindo Pathmandir, Kolkata. Has that centre fulfilled a single condition of the above four?
4. The Notice says:
“It is especially noteworthy that Mother herself has not given the Relics to any individual. She has also not given the right to anybody to hand over or distribute the Relics.”
When The Mother was in her physical body, there was no question of these conditions. But after Mother left Her physical body, the Relics were with her personal attendants. Some inmates and devotees outside had the privilege of getting these precious objects from them. When the Trustees stopped giving Relics to Odisha, the devotees started collecting them from these privileged persons and installing them with due respect and care. Have not the Trustees done the same thing on 7 January 2010? Did those 7 Relics come from Sri Aurobindo’s Room? When people only follow the example of the Trustees, why do the Trustees get irritated?
5. The Notice says at the end:
“When this procedure is broken and the sacred Relics are declared to be enshrined in any place, it means the minimum discipline has not been observed. Therefore Sri Aurobindo Ashram will not be able to approve their authenticity and will not be responsible for them in any way.”
There is no justification for writing this as Sri Aurobindo Ashram is not a religious institution ruled by Head Priests with fixed rules and procedures which create also the possibility of breaking them. Those who take Relics from personal sources never seek the approval of the Trustees. They never make the Trustees responsible for the authenticity of the Relics, so the Trustees need not unnecessarily worry about it. As the Trustees feel that they can act freely, so too innumerable devotees in the centres are inspired by the Mother’s ideals and feel free to offer their services to Her in various ways.
Very recently we learnt that the imprudent Managing Trustee Manoj Das Gupta was persuaded by Manoj Das and Gadadhar Mishra to write an official letter on 10 September 2018 to the Secretary of the Home Department, Govt. of Odisha, in which he requested him not to offer the Police Guard of Honour to Sri Aurobindo’s Relics unless there is a certifying letter from the Ashram Trust. As the Home Department of the Govt. of Odisha did not pay any heed to such a foolish letter and continued to offer the Guard of Honor, Manoj Das Gupta, Manoj Das and Gadadhar Mishra got frustrated and instigated a mischievous person to file a case against the person who had installed Sri Aurobindo’s Relics in his centre on 18 January 2019 without referring it to the Ashram Trust or to the Cuttack centre, Matrubhaban. The case has been accepted by the High Court of Odisha on 7 February 2019.
It is very strange how the Trustees act like Head Priests in matters like Sri Aurobindo’s Relics when they declare themselves secular in matters where Sri Aurobindo’s own prestige is concerned! When the question came up to stop the publication of the derogatory book on Sri Aurobindo written by Peter Heehs (an Ashramite), the Managing Trustee wrote proudly, “We neither prescribe nor proscribe!” This statement clearly shows that any disciple residing in the Ashram can disrespect Sri Aurobindo or the Mother in writing and the Trustees will have nothing to do or say about it. When the Trust is so liberal, generous and secular in the case of the blatant denigration of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs, why does it threaten and restrict the inoffensive and innocent actions of simple devotees in the matter of Relics? Is this not a mere changing of colour for political convenience? The Trustees of such character have no moral right to impose needless restrictions on devotees who are collecting the Relics from private sources and installing and maintaining them in their centres with utmost devotion and care.
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