Birth and Parentage
On Thursday, the 15th August, 1871, at about 5 a.m., Sri Aurobindo was born of Sri Krishnadhan and Swamalata, at Calcutta, in Bengal, in a reputed Ghosh family of Konnagar. Sri Krishnadhan went to England and returned an M.D., full of honours.
Raj Narayan Bose, an acknowledged leader in Bengali literature, a writer in the "Modern Review" and the grandfather of Indian nationalism was Sri Aurobindo’s maternal grandfather. Aurobindo owes not only his rich spiritual nature, but even his very superior literary capacity, to his mother’s line.
An Accomplished Scholar
Aurobindo was sent to the Loretto Convent School at Darjeeling when he was four years old. As a boy, Aurobindo received his early education in a public school in England.
The old headmaster of the school observed, "Of all the boys who passed through my hands during the last 25 or 30 years, Aurobindo was by far the most richly endowed with intellectual capacity".
From school Aurobindo went to King’s College, Cambridge, where he distinguished himself as a student of European classics. He passed the Indian Civil Service Examination with great credit in 1890. Failing, however, to stand the required test in horsemanship, he was not allowed to enter the Covenantal Service of the Indian Government. But, returning to India, he became the Vice-principal of the State college in Baroda. He was held in great respect by the Maharaja of Baroda.
Aurobindo’s scholarship soon attracted the notice of all. He was loved by the educated classes in Baroda State. He was exceedingly popular with the general public. Sri K.M. Munshi was one of his students. Munshi admired and loved Aurobindo. To the younger generation, Aurobindo became a veritable god and by them he was called as "Aru Da", meaning "elder brother Aurobindo". Aurobindo married Mrinalini Devi.
Aurobindo was an accomplished scholar in Greek. He got high distinction in Latin. He learnt French very well and picked up a little of German and Italian to study Goethe and Dante in the original. He was steeped in the lore of our ancient Vedic scriptures.
Sri Aurobindo was a genius in history and poetry, a scholar in English and Latin. He was in England for fourteen years. When he was only seven years of age, Dr. K.D. Ghosh sent him to England to be steeped in Western education. That early age was chosen deliberately in order that Aurobindo might forget the native touch and learn to adopt the Western forms instead.
Apostle of Indian Nationalism
It was in 1893 that Aurobindo came back to India. He drew a salary of Rs. 750/- in the Baroda Educational Service. From 1893 to 1906 he drank deep from the fountains of Sanskrit and Bengali literature, philosophy and political science. He then resigned his job and joined the Bengal National College on a salary of Rs. 150/-. He plunged headlong into the revolutionary movement. He was a great figure in the nationalist movements of the time.
Aurobindo edited the English daily Bande Mataram and wrote fearless and pointed editorials. During the next few months, he started the English weekly Dharma. He spread his message: "Our ideal of Swaraj is absolute autonomy, absolute self-rule, free from foreign control". In those days, Aurobindo openly advocated the boycott of British goods, British courts and everything British. He always asked the people to prepare themselves for passive resistance.
Sri Aurobindo, the prophet of Indian nationalism, was one of the pioneers of political awakening in India. He was the leader of the revolutionary movement. He played a great part in the country’s national struggle from 1908. He was in the forefront of the national struggle during the days of the partition of Bengal.
Awakened to the Divine Mission
The famous Alipore Bomb Case was the turning point in Sri Aurobindo’s life. For a year Aurobindo was an undertrial prisoner in solitary confinement in the Alipore Central Jail. It was in a dingy cell of the Alipore Jail that he dreamt the dream of his future life, the divine mission ordained for him by God.
Aurobindo bore the rigours of the imprisonment, the bad food, the inadequate clothes, the lack of light and free air, the strain of boredom and the creeping solitariness of the gloomy cell. He utilized this period of incarceration for an intense study and practice of the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. Chittaranjan Das defended Sri Aurobindo, who was acquitted after a memorable trial.
His Practice of Yoga
Sri Aurobindo began his Yoga in 1904. He had no helper or Guru in Yoga till he met Lele, a Maharashtrian Yogi in Baroda; and that was only for a short time. Meditating only for three days with Lele, Aurobindo followed the Yogi’s instructions for silencing the mind and freeing it from the constant pressure of thought.
Sri Aurobindo himself once wrote in a letter about his practice of Yoga: "I began my Yoga in 1904 without a Guru. In 1908 I received important help from a Mahratti Yogi and discovered the foundations of my Sadhana". He started Yoga by himself, getting the rule from a friend, a disciple of Brahmananda of Ganga Mutt. It was confined at first to assiduous practice of Pranayama, for six or more hours a day. Aurobindo practised and meditated on the teachings of the Gita and the Upanishads.
Ashram at Pondicherry
Sri Aurobindo migrated from Calcutta to Chandranagar and later reached Pondicherry on April 4, 1910. At Pondicherry, he stayed at a friend’s place. At first, he lived there with four or five companions. Gradually the number of members increased. An Ashram grew up around him. Now there are hundreds of inmates in the Ashram accommodated in more than a hundred houses. The Ashramites are engaged in various activities connected with the Ashram—some in the dairy, some in the vegetable garden, yet, others in the laundry and the small bakery. Most of the young girls work in the Ashram’s own printing press. To the Ashram inmates, all activities form a part of their Sadhana. Here life is an undivided whole, not consisting of water-tight compartments.
The Ashram has a school of its own. Here stress is laid on physical culture. Vocational education is imparted to pupils between the ages of 14 to 18.
In 1920, Mira, a French lady—wife of one Paul Richard—who was imbued with the same ideal, joined the Sri Aurobindo circle. She, became the Mother and presided over the Ashram. Every morning she gave Darshan to the eager devotees from the balcony adjoining her room. She supervised every little item of the organization of the Ashram.
The Ashramites in Sri Aurobindo Ashram are not Sannyasins. Aurobindo himself was not a Sannyasin, but a Rishi. The Ashram is a cosmopolitan one. There are Christians, Zoroastrians, Muslims and members of other creeds.
Aurobindo gave Darshan to his devotees on four days a year.
All the activities of the Ashram are managed by the Sadhaks.
The Ashram started the "Arya", an English spiritual journal under the management of the Mother and Paul Richard. The most significant works of Aurobindo appeared serially in the magazine. The Arya stopped publication after six and a half years.
Sri Rabindranath Tagore once visited the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and said to Aurobindo: "You have the word and we are waiting to accept it from you. India will speak through your voice to the world".
Sri Aurobindo’s Philosophy
Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy is in a sense practical. It is based on facts, experience and personal realisations and on having the vision of a seer or Rishi. Aurobindo’s spirituality is inseparably united with reason.
The goal aimed at by Sri Aurobindo is not merely the liberation of the individual from the chain that fetters him, but "to work out the will of the Divine in the world, to effect a spiritual transformation and to bring down the divine nature and a divine life into the mental, vital and physical nature and life of humanity".
"A fixed and unfailing aspiration that calls from below and a Supreme Grace that answers from above are two powers which in their conjunction can effect this. If the transformation is to be integral, integral should be the rejection of all that withstands it" says the Master Sri Aurobindo.
"The call upon us" says Sri Aurobindo, "is to grow into the image of God, to dwell in Him and with Him and be a channel of His joy and might and an instrument of His works. Purified from all that is Asubha (Evil), we have to act in the world as dynamos of that Divine Electricity and send it thrilling and radiating through mankind, so that wherever one of us stands, hundreds around may become full of His light and force, full of God and full of Ananda. Churches, theologies, philosophies have failed to save mankind because they have busied themselves with intellectual creeds and institutions....as if these could save mankind, and have neglected the one thing needful, the power and purification of the soul".
Aurobindo’s Life Divine is, and will always remain, a force guiding the thoughts of men all over the world. His other publications are Essays on Gita, Ideal and Progress, Isa Upanishad, The Superman, Evolution, Heraclitus, The Ideal of the Karmayogin, The Brain of India, the Renaissance in India, Bases of Yoga, Kalidasa, Vikramorvasi or The Hero and the Nymph, Poems, The Riddle of This World, etc.
The Sage’s Mahasamadhi
Sri Aurobindo passed away at 1.30 a.m. on 5th December, 1950 at Pondicherry. He was 78 years old. He was suffering from kidney trouble for a fortnight and was attended upon by Dr. Prabhakar. Sen.
One more glorious child of Mother India, thus laid himself to rest in Her bosom. One more lamp that had shed its light of divine wisdom throughout the world thus disappeared in its own lustre, even as camphor dissolves into the fire. Sri Aurobindo thus attained union with Sri Aravinda—the lotus-eyed Lord of the Universe.
Sri Aurobindo was a poet, politician and philosopher. His writings—philosophic and poetic—are Indian in spirit and Western in rhythm and colour. He was the greatest intellectual of our age and a major force for the life of the spirit. India will not forget his services to politics and philosophy. The world will remember with gratitude his invaluable works in the realms of philosophy and religion.
Aurobindo was one of the greatest of world figures. He was an inspiration to the nationalists of India. Looked at as a religious teacher, his writings will live as long as the world survives.
The crest jewel of renascent India, the bravest among the patriots, the sharpest among the intellectuals, and the subtlest among the seers, Sri Aurobindo fulfilled the glorious purpose of demonstrating to the world that real India, the India of the Vedic seers, could survive and absorb into herself all alien cultures, and that at the hands of one who knew the proper synthesis, Eastern and Western cultures could find their happy blend, without necessarily having to antagonize one another. Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine—the divine life that he lived and preached—will live for ever, inspiring mankind. Posterity will hail him as a member of the galaxy of Vedic seers. May his Light ever shine.