About The Book
Rishahhchand's biography of Sri Aurobindo remains a classic for its seamless integration of factual information, historical context, anecdotal richness, and a constant emphasis on the spiritual destiny that called Sri Aurobindo to his life's work. He draws a vivid picture of Sri Aurobindo as a student in England, brilliant at his studies but spending most of his time and energy reading outside the prescribed curriculum, mostly English poetry and literature, French literature, and the entire history of Europe from ancient to modern times. That same intensity of purpose can be seen in his life in Baroda, where, in addition to his official duties for the State, he learned Indian languages, read widely, wrote poetry, and began his political work in secret.
Throughout these chapters the author weaves the threads of his research into a compelling narrative that always deepens the reader's understanding of the spiritual focus of Sri Aurobindo's life. The chapter "Sri Aurobindo in Bengal" especially emphasises the spiritual destiny that both thrust him into the vortex of the freedom movement and then eventually called him away from its centre of action. The author warns that "if we do not take note of this spiritual side of his nationalism, we shall miss all the significance of his political activities and create an unbridgeable gulf between the first part of his life and the last." The final two chapters follow Sri Aurobindo from Chandernagore to Pondicherry, where the intensity of his former political life gave itself over to effecting the radical spiritual change that was necessary to secure the descent ofthe higher consciousness in man.
"There are moments when the Spirit moves among men and the breath of the Lord is abroad upon the waters of our being; there are others when it retires and men are left to act in the strength or the weakness of their own egoism. The first are periods when even a little effort produces great results and changes destiny; the second are spaces of time when much labour goes to the making of a little result. It is true that the latter may prepare the former, may be the little smoke of sacrifice going up to heaven which calls down the rain of God's bounty.
Unhappy is the man or the nation which, when the divine moment arrives, is found sleeping or unprepared to use it, because the lamp has not been kept trimmed for the welcome and the ears are sealed to the call. But thrice woe to them who are strong and ready, yet waste the force or misuse the moment; for them is irreparable loss or a great destruction.
In the hour of God cleanse thy soul of all self-deceit and hypocrisy and vain self-flattering that thou mayst look straight into thy spirit and hear that which summons it. All insincerity of nature, once thy defence against the eye of the Master and the light of the ideal, becomes now a gap in thy armour and invites the blow. Even if thou conquer for the moment, it is the worse for thee, for the blow shall come afterwards and cast thee down in the midst of thy triumph. But being pure cast aside all fear; for the hour is often terrible, a fire and a whirlwind and a tempest, a treading of the winepress of the wrath of God; but he who can stand up in it on the truth of his purpose is he who shall stand; even though he fall, he shall rise again; even though he seem to pass on the wings of the wind, he shall return. Nor let worldly prudence whisper too closely in thy ear; for it is the hour of the unexpected."
Parentage, birth and early childhood
Sri Aurobindo was born on the 15th August, 1872. The world was then in the melting pot. Science had just begun losing its long-held ground. The Promised Land to which it had boasted of leading humanity was receding into the mist of the future, for Matter itself was ceasing to be real and concrete. The supremacy of human reason was being challenged by the development of psychology and the new philosophies of Kierkegaard, Bergson and others. It was an age of problems, paradoxes and growing perplexities, a welter of idea-forces never known before in the whole history of the human race. The ideals of unity, freedom and individualism had emerged into the active thought of mankind and were pressing for recognition and realisation. But a phenomenal advance of technology, geared to industrialism and commercial greed, was posing a menace to the higher values of human culture. Clouds were gathering in the sky foreboding a disruption of the very bases of materialistic civilisation. Deep down in the heart of suffering humanity, there was a prayer for a change, for the birth of a new age, a new world-order.
Sri Aurobindo was born in Calcutta. His father's name was Krishna Dhan Ghosh, who came of noble parents belonging to the distinguished Ghosh family of Konnagar, a small village in the district of Hoogly, which had already produced remarkable leaders of religious and social movements. Krishna Dhan passed the Entrance Examination of the Calcutta University from the local school and was ad- mitted into the Calcutta Medical College. When he was nineteen years old and still studying in the Medical College, he married Srimati Swarnalata Devi, the eldest daughter of Rishi Rajnarayan Bose who, to quote the Karmayogin,' "represented the high water-mark of the composite culture of the country - Vedantic, Islamic and European." He was a saintly man of high attainments, synthesising in himself the cultures of both the East and the West, and widely known in Bengal as a leader of the Adi Brahmo Samaj and as "the grandfather of Indian nationalism". 2 The marriage was performed according to the rites of the Brahmo Samaj to which Krishna Dhan then belonged.
After taking his degree from the Medical College of the Calcutta University, Krishna Dhan proceeded to England for an advanced course of medical studies. He was one of the first Indians to go to England from Bengal, defying the ban of his orthodox society. His father-in-law, Rajnarayan Bose, strongly advised him to steer clear of the baneful influences of the sceptical and materialistic civilisation of the West. Krishna Dhan took his M.D. from the Aberdeen University and returned to India in 1871. But he returned a changed man. He was completely anglicised. His outlook and manners had undergone a sea-change. He loved everything English, and felt a great admiration for the culture and civilisation of the West - its material glamour, its vigorous, energetic life-force, and its sound, rational, practical utilitarianism. He had almost turned an atheist. On his return home, he encountered the opposition of his society, which threatened to outcaste him unless he performed the prayaschitta or expiatory ceremony. But Krishna Dhan was made of sterner stuff than his society thought. He would break rather than bend to an unjust authority. He refused to perform the prayaschitta, and, selling away his property at a nominal price, left his native village for good and all. He was posted as a Civil Surgeon successively at Bhagalpur, Rangpur and Khulna districts. Though a confirmed anglophile and an uncompromising non-conformist, his heart was full of the milk of human kindness. He was generous to a fault, and almost reckless in charity, for which even his own sons had to suffer in England, as we shall see later. Wherever he worked, he was not only respected and honoured, but loved; for he had the gift of identifying himself with the needs and aspirations of the people, and making their cause his own. Wherever he worked, he left the imprint of his benevolent personality, and the place the better for his having worked there - the tone of its civic life improved, its social relations sweetened, and its material amenities enriched. At Khulna where he passed the later portion of his life, his was a name to conjure with, thanks to his generous nature and unfailing public spirit.
Sri Aurobindo's mother, Swamalata Devi, was an educated lady of parts. She could write stories and dramas. She was of a sweet and amiable nature, and, unlike her husband, orthodox in her religious leanings. On account of her personal charm and cultured bearing, she was known as the "rose of Rangpur". But, unfortunately, she fell a prey to her family disease, hysteria, which rendered her husband's life as well as her own rather unhappy.
Sri Aurobindo was the third son of his father. Benoy Bhusan and Manmohan were his elder brothers. Aurobindo means lotus. It was an uncommon name in those days, and that was why his father chose it for his third son, little suspecting that, in occult language, aurobindo signifies the Divine Consciousness.
Sri Aurobindo grew up in an English atmosphere at home, ignorant of his mother tongue, and surrounded by servants who spoke either broken English or Hindusthani. When he was five years old, he was sent, along with his two elder brothers, to the Loretto Convent School at Darjeeling, run by an Irish nun. There the three brothers had only European boys for friends and companions, for it was a school meant only for European children.
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