Mrinalini: Sri Aurobindo's Forgotten Wife

Sri Aurobindo’s birthday on the 15th of August provides an occasion to remember his forgotten wife, Mrinalini who died in the scourge of influenza at the young age of 32 while waiting in Calcutta to go and join her husband in Pondicherry. Very little is known of her. Few letters between her and Sri Aurobindo survive as, according to her cousin, she wanted the box in which she kept them to be offered to the Ganga after her death.  The few that remain are those confiscated by the police on the night of Sri Aurobindo’s arrest in the Alipore conspiracy case.  In addition there is a small reminiscence by her father Bhupal babu in which he describes Mrinalini as having nothing uncommon about her.
Mrinalini was 14 years old when she married Sri Aurobindo in April 1901, who was 29 at that time.  They met through an advertisement that Sri Aurobindo put into the newspaper indicating his desire to marry a Hindu girl according to Hindu rites. A close friend of her father’s, Girish Chandra Bose, arranged the marriage.  It was a Hindu ceremony attended by eminent persons like J.C.Bose. Lord Sinha and others as Sri Aurobindo was already a name in Calcutta, but not by his own family who were Brahmos. Mrinalini herself had studied at a Brahmo girls’ school in Calcutta, but all her life she tried to live up to the impossible ideals of a ‘Hindu wife’ that Sri Aurobindo demanded of her. After four years or so they seemed to drift apart perhaps because of the ‘generation’ gap between them but more probably because Sri Aurobindo became increasingly preoccupied with politics, the organization of a secret revolutionary party and was also getting drawn to yoga.  He also started the journals Karmayogin and Dharma which consumed a lot of his time.

That Sri Aurobindo was aware of what she must feel is evident from the well known letter he wrote her in 1905 in which he was certainly trying to shift the responsibilities of a householder from his shoulders. He described himself as “a strange person,” “a mad man” who could never make his wife happy but he said, Hindu religion loved extraordinary characters, endeavors and ambitions. The wife of such a person was bound to be miserable but the sages fixed a way out of this by declaring that for a woman the husband was the supreme guru.  She shared his dharma and so was bound to help, counsel and encourage him in his endeavours. She had to regard him as her God and make his joys and sorrows her own.  It was for the man to choose his work and for the woman to give him help and encouragement.  Sri Aurobindo’s question to Mrinalini was whether she would accept this path. And would she have the capacity to do so?
In his estimate she did not as she was so simple that she listened to anything anyone might say which made her mind “forever restless,” her “intelligence” could “not develop” and she could not “concentrate on any work.” Also she was a product of her times in which people according to him seemed to have become incapable of listening to serious things in a serious manner.  Religion, philanthropy, noble aspirations, high endeavour, the deliverance of the country, all was being ridiculed.  She needed to reject this attitude and develop the strength of mind that she lacked.  But if she did not feel up to the task she could

take refuge in God, enter into the path of God.  He will fill up all your wants.  Or if you have faith in me, I shall impart my strength to you which, instead of reducing my strength, will increase it. 

This of course placed the burden of responsibility and the eighteen years of her marriage were mostly spent in loneliness and often solitude.  After Sri Aurobindo’s arrest in 1907 and although he was released a year later, Mrinalini experienced the dark night of the soul when she felt that she “couldn’t call even God” because she “had no other God” except her husband.  She had “seen God’s manifestation in him alone.”  Death seemed to be the only way out but at that moment Sudhira, her friend from school took her to Ramakrishna Ashram and Mrinalni began to frequent it from that time onwards. She was of course a celebrity as Sri Aurobindo’s wife but she kept aloof as far as she could.  Sarada Mata, Ramakrishna paramhansa’s wife, who came to love her deeply assured her that Sri Aurobindo would be proved innocent but he would not lead a worldly life.

After his release from the prison Sri Aurobindo left for Pondicherry unknown to everyone including Mrinalini. The eight years that followed were the dark night of her soul but Mrinalini transformed her suffering into a sadhana to become a “heavenly being” in the words of Sarada Mata, wife of Ramakrishna Paramhansa to whom she turned during this period. Mrinalini’s father took her away to Shillong where she steeped her life in austere tapasya. She ate simple vegetarian food and always dressed neatly looking like a yogin. Every early morning, after her bath she would pluck flowers from the garden and then go to her Puja room which had beautifully decorated pictures of Kali, Sri Vivekananda and Sarada Mata together with that of Sri Aurobindo to which she offered flowers and incense.   She would meditate there for hours and then spend the day reading religious books mainly of Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna.  In the evening, too, she meditated alone for hours. Letters arrived sporadically from Sri Aurobindo and enlivened her spirits for a while but her marriage had actually ended.  However she felt an inner bond with Sri Aurobindo and never ceased to hope that she would be united with him. At last when it became a possibility in December 1918 death intervened. The mental agony that she had suppressed for years exploded during the delirium of her illness especially the nightmarish experience of the night of Sri Aurobindo’s arrest when she had been with him. The otherwise still and detached Sri Aurobindo, too, on hearing the news of Mrinalini’s death, was moved to tears.

It is remarkable that Mrinalini sold many of her ornaments during her lifetime to contribute to charitable causes. Her last wishes were that the remaining ones were to be kept in her friend Sudhira’s custody, to be sold and a scholarship instituted for a poor girl-student of the Nivedita Girl’s School with Sri Aurobindo’s approval. Ironically it was in separation and suffering that Mrinalini fulfilled the role of a ‘Hindu wife’ assigned to her by her husband proving both him and her father belying both the words of her father and husband who had judged her so unjustly. She deserves to be remembered as a profile in courage who overcame impossible odds to find some meaning in her life; a flower that blossomed unseen but left its everlasting fragrance.


More by :  Dr. Kavita Sharma

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Views: 14012      Comments: 39

Comment Speaks volumes about the kind of filthy person the self-proclaimed Fraudster, i.e. Aurobindo Ghosh really was. Firstly, the way he says in the way Indian men (read eunuchs) say: that are you fit enough to provide me encouragement for my work. Who IS he to raise such Demands? Then after leaving Bengal for Pondicherry doesn't bother to inform her.If his thinking was, which I suspect it was,that he had no responsibility towards her,I would rather SPIT upon such a pseudo saint than do anything else.

17-Dec-2023 12:30 PM

Comment A very poignant story of Sri Ma Mrinalini . After reading the excellent article I do realise that Sri Ma Mrinalini tried her best to come up to the level on the spiritual path with her husband.
Alas! the tyrant hands of destiny didn't let it happen.
I do agree that there should be her photos too with Sri Ma Mira Alfassa and Sri Aurobindo in all the ashrams and SAS's.

Mridula Singh
10-May-2023 05:50 AM

Comment Just now, I have read the well-researched informative article revealing the life of Sri Aurobindos's wife Mrinalini. It was fascinating and touching because it expressed penance, persistence, and complete devotion. But the peroration of the article was extremely nice which concluded the article as an everlasting memory. Thanks for presenting this, I am so lucky to read this after a decade of its publishing. Thanks and Regards

Saurabh Jha
26-Mar-2023 01:13 AM

Comment Thanks for bringing to light such unknown facts. Story sounds quite similar to that of Kasturba Gandhi who had to listen to husband's demands. This was especially during his South Africa stay.
Great men's wife always suffer.

27-Nov-2022 05:24 AM

Comment Thanks for the valuable information.

Atanu Sarkar
11-Aug-2022 04:37 AM

Comment They are heavenly made couple mutually selected by the supreme commander. Except Matha Mrunalini Devi (like Saradadevi)none others could bear the situations faced by her with all dignity and fulfill the Mission of Arabindo. She is a silent instrument for the successful Mission of Arabindo and thus an ideal wife.

24-Dec-2021 23:08 PM

Comment Deeply touched. What can we say about the motivations of these great souls? Except that they show us how to pursue a great idea without caring for the cost... Came here after reading a reference to her in the biography of Holy mother Sarada Devi...
Thank you so much for your effort and great service!

Satyendra Srivastava
23-Dec-2021 19:56 PM

Comment Thanks for this wonderful article. I knew of his letters to her before I read this article & think it's indignant of the ashrams to dismiss her existence.
For high intellect that Aurobindo Ghosh is famous for, one may question his conscious choice of marrying a child half his age.

The society sadly, is always delirious and prefers to stay unconscious and unaccountable of these cruel practices under the guise of "higher purposes" of human.

Mrinalini Sharma
18-Oct-2021 21:07 PM

Comment Sri Aurobindo is always among us, He has an extraordinary consciousness beyond ancient mythology and old tradition and methords, which was adopted in Tretwaya, Dwapar, He realised the vision of Sri Krishna and executed the work of manifestation on earth directed by the Supreme command

He kept away from Maya, Kaya and Chaya. He born for the Divine Supreme to do His mighty work and left an extraordinary example for to lift up above from Maya. His thoughts are for universal not for a particular

23-Aug-2021 14:27 PM

Comment Thank you so much for sharing the life of this extraordinary lady- Maa Mrinaliniji . I was totally unaware that Shri Aurobindoji was married.
Her sad but very inspiring life urges us to rise above our personal trials n tribulations . Married but not in the real sense this great lady finds her purpose & strength to navigate her life & make it meaningful .
Have been to Pondicherry ashram several times but very disappointing to note that there is no mention /photograph of this extraordinary soul.

Mmeera Bhatt
16-Apr-2021 12:14 PM

Comment I didn't know much about Shri Aurobindo, the Mother and/or his family background. Casually searched about him, and got through this link.

What a life Mrinalini endured and went through, despite her asking. One of those unsung here(ins) in Indian history, I see a similarity like Smt. Srinivasa Ramanujam (Maths Wizard), Smt. Chellammal Subramanya Bharathi, Smt. Raghavendra Swamigal Sri Gururaya to name a few.

09-Oct-2020 19:59 PM





Kanchan Chatterjee
20-Aug-2020 12:53 PM

Comment Melodic but interesting. You deserve enough praise. Waiting for reading more such.

08-Jun-2020 22:46 PM

Comment Very well written and a pleasure to read.Unknown facts about part of Sri Aurobinda Ghose's life came to be known.Begore moving to Pondicherry I think Sri Aurobinda moved to Chanda Nagar,also French territory for sometime to avoid arrest by the British.

21-May-2019 09:09 AM

Comment Thanks for the touching article.

KB Suresh
21-May-2019 01:36 AM

Comment Indeed a very touching article. As we always remember Sri Aurobindo for his great exposition and articulation of Indian culture & philosophy as also the idea of Hindu Nationhood based on Sanatana Dharma, we must remember the sacrifices of his wife Mrinalinidevi made for the causes her husband stood for.

Suresh Balakrishnan
21-May-2019 01:32 AM

Comment I have great respect for Maharishi Aurobindo.After read this artical
I bow my head to a great lady Mrinalinidevi.great respect for great lady Mrinalinidevi.
Thanks for sharing.

Bhagwatii trivedi
05-Mar-2019 21:15 PM

Comment Thank you.
I don't know exactly why I love Aurobindo and Mirra.I love Mrinalini now too
thanks to you...

Marie Das Neves
17-Nov-2018 04:24 AM

Comment Marriage may not always mean merger of two different souls.Two differenent persons can never be EXACTLY ALIKE.

Subodh Kumar Satpathy
28-Sep-2018 13:17 PM

Comment Read with avid interest your description on the tragic life of Smt. Mrinalini devi.In1964-68-period I befriended one senior doctor by the name Group Captain S.K.Bose--a retd.RAF medical officer-who saw active service in ww2 and on retirement was recruited in West Bengal Medical Service under Lt. Gen Chacravarty-another doctor--as his deputy.He used to tell me --he was Smt.Mrinalini devi's youngest brother and about many incidences in her life--which were certainly not pleasant.You seem to be a historian.I shall be interested to know was this gentleman--Group Captain S.K.Bose was really the youngest brother of Smt.Mrinalini devi? Awaiting your reply. With regards--nirmalyakumar.

10-May-2016 16:09 PM

Comment We are all great disciple of Shri aurobindo, the mother since three decades.... And the story , sacrifice , of the wife of Shri Aurobindo - Maataji.Mrinalini brought tears in us... As well the sacrifice of .Shri Aurobindo 's family life ,his guilt feelings towards his wife for having deserted her for his sudden attraction towards religious activities and becoming a sanyas and his inability to take a last glimpse when his wife left the world because he can not leave Pondicherry to avoid being caught by the blood thirsty Britishers . Reveals no one live or lived in the world with fullness without undergoing pain atleast in some part of their life..

02-Feb-2016 07:49 AM

Comment Must congratulate Kavitaji for a very informative and sensitive article about a person so noble and so little known.

santosh gupta
27-Jan-2016 04:59 AM

Comment Such a great sacrifice for a great husband, is really great memory of the great wife.
Thanks for this informative treatise.

Shailesh Kumar Singh
30-Mar-2015 01:26 AM

Comment I was aware of this through some book I read from Ban Niwas Library
Thanx for refreshing
I do not think anybody can hide anything if we have intention to know we shall be provided with that information by the unverse through some way or the other.

09-Mar-2015 01:26 AM

Comment Thanks for enlightening us about a great soul.

BS Murthy
29-Jan-2015 01:37 AM

Comment Thankyou

21-Jan-2015 14:53 PM

Comment Saw a stray remark in some of the reminiscences about Shri Aurobindo that there indeed was a marriage. Now from Google I got this link, thank you. Wonder why she is not mentioned in the 'official' records so to say.

Pradeep Nayar
19-Jun-2014 11:40 AM

Comment Very informativ and interestig .A great work done . My Compliments.

vishnu goyal- member core group , sri aurobindo society, Pudducherry

vishnu prakash goyal
14-May-2014 03:44 AM

Comment Nice article informative

23-Apr-2014 01:22 AM

Comment Thank you for this upload. In all the biography I have come accross, his marriage to Mrinalini has been carefully avoided. May be the topic is uncomfortable to his followers.

Saroj Deb
20-Apr-2014 13:06 PM

Comment Thanks for sharing.

Rishi Mithal
08-Feb-2014 03:05 AM

Comment Informative and encouraging one...Thanks for sharing.........

Suresh Chand Gupta
07-Feb-2014 19:17 PM

Comment the article brings to life mrinalini and one felt as though one was listening to an intense melody soaked in pain and suffering. one can only say '???? ???? ????'!

surely she must have done good to so many people who may have come in contact. but if she wasn't left beclouded by the oppressive and unjust patriarchy she would have shone brilliantly and would have done much more as 'shree maa'
was able to do. That was society's loss!
but even if she would have chosen to be 'private' ,why should the system of social recognition not shine its light on the exceptional people in their own sphere? And this is society's injustice!
thanks for bringing these two to light.
as for me i pay my deepest respects to my exceptional sister.

lata raman
07-Feb-2014 05:23 AM

Comment Most wives of great men have a tragic personal life. However, Ma Mrinalini's story of raising herself above her personal tragedy and imersing herself into a perpose is inspiring.

06-Feb-2014 11:24 AM

Comment Dear Kavita ji,
You deserve our collective thankfulness for sharing this beautiful, painful but meaningful life with us.

Rahul Dev
06-Feb-2014 07:39 AM

Comment Many thanks for sharing the life of an extraordinary woman.
In today's woman-hating/abusing world,
this strength and and tenacity is to be shown and known as widely as possible.
Each one of us has to do our part, you are doing yours. Compliments.

usha Bhasin
22-Oct-2013 05:25 AM

Comment thank you for giving all information.

madhu verma
10-Oct-2013 13:29 PM

Comment Thanks a lot for the article.

Gaurav Mittal
29-Sep-2013 03:10 AM

Comment Thanks for the well researched article. For us ordinary humans it is difficult to understand the whys and whats when it comes to understanding the lives of great men and women. One thing though is quite certain that Ma Mrinalini was extraordinary and that no other woman of her time could have succeded in leading the life as she did. If Sharodamoyee Ma loved her deeply that itself shows that Ma Mrinalini was no ordinary person. From the human point of view her life was tragic but spiritually she became a Saint.

Arindam Gupta
19-Jul-2013 08:19 AM

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