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Centenary of the Mother’s Coming to Pondicherry
|by Aju Mukhopadhyay|
What a Glorious Coming!
Both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother almost at the same age chose Pondicherry to be their refuge, the fulcrum of their futuristic activities towards divinization of the earth. Sri Aurobindo came first on 4 April 1910 and prepared the ground for the Mother to follow him on 29 March 1914. Sri Aurobindo left the earth after 40 more years leaving the field to the Mother, his only collaborator, to continue the work towards completion which she did with utmost diligence and aptitude for another 23 years. They did the most in the prevailing earth condition which has been recorded in the earth’s spiritual history:
God shall grow up while the wise men talk and sleep;
“I need some place of refuge in which I can complete my Yoga unassailed and build up other souls around me. It seems to me that Pondicherry is the place appointed by those who are beyond, but you know how much effort is needed to establish the thing that is purposed upon the material plane . . . .” Sri Aurobindo wrote in a letter on12.7.1911. (Aurobindo /26/423)
And Mother on the occasion of France’s cession of Pondicherry to India on August 15 1954 wrote, “I want to mark this day by the expression of a long cherished wish: that of becoming an Indian citizen. From the first time I came to India in 1914- I felt that India is my true country, the country of my soul and spirit. I had decided to realize this wish as soon as India would be free . . . . I am French by birth and early education; I am Indian by choice and predilection. In my consciousness there is no antagonism between the two, on the contrary they combine very well and complete one another. I know also that I can be of service to both equally, for my only aim in life is to give a concrete form to Sri Aurobindo’s great teaching and in his teaching he reveals that all the nations are essentially one and meant to express the Divine Unity upon earth through an organized and harmonious diversity.”
Paul Richard the French politician and savant, more interested in intellectual and spiritual matters than politics, visited Pondicherry sometime in the middle of April 1910 on an electioneering mission on behalf of Paul Bluysen, one of the candidates from French India to the Chamber of Deputies in Paris. As soon as he came Richard enquired to know if there was any great spiritual adept in Pondicherry. After some time one Zir Naidu agreed to take him to such a great man, Sri Aurobindo, who had taken asylum there very recently. Sri Aurobindo was then in seclusion in Calve Shankar Chettiar’s house, receiving very few people on special occasions. Pondicherry was then like a dead city, a backwater of the sea, a stagnant pool by the shore, as reminisced Nolini Kanta Gupta in his Memoir. It was a rare occasion that Sri Aurobindo gave long two to three hours’ interview to Paul Richard. They talked about a wide range of subjects like French-Indian politics, literature, spiritualism and the future of the world. Sri Aurobindo was also informed about Paul’s wife, Madam Mirra Richard’s spiritual advancement, her occult knowledge, her high ambition to find a synthesis of human knowledge and about her agenda for the future. He related about the small group of seekers, called Idea Group, which met once in a week in her house and made discourses under her leadership.
Richard in response to his own earnest quest wanted to know the inner significance of the Jewish emblem, the Yogachakra, known as the Star of David or the Seal of Solomon; two intersecting isosceles triangles picturing a lotus. “Sri Aurobindo explained that the symbol stood for opening of the consciousness to the Divine: the bud of aspiration receives the warmth of the rays of the Sun, and there is splendor of efflorescence petal by petal, the pointed aspiration from below being met by the answering response from above.” (Iyengar/1 /47)
It is quite interesting that this very symbol with a square superimposed in the middle and a full bloom lotus afloat in the water in it was to become Sri Aurobindo’s own mystic symbol.
Richard was so impressed by the meetings that he considered Sri Aurobindo as one of the great, perhaps the greatest Messiah of the time. He spoke and wrote very highly of him in different meetings and magazines. To a Japanese audience he spoke,
“The hour is coming of great things, of great events, and also of great men, the divine men of Asia. All my life I have sought for them across the world, for all my life I have felt they must exist somewhere in the world, that this world would die if they did not live. For they are its light, its heat, its life. It is in Asia that I found the greatest among them- the leader, the hero of tomorrow. He is a Hindu. His name is Aurobindo Ghose.” 1
Back home, Richard told the whole story of his visiting the sage to Mirra Richard, who found corroboration of her own ideas and realizations in Sri Aurobindo. She was happy to learn that someone really deciphered the meaning of the Seal of Solomon. Her aspiration to meet him was intensified. She already read the Gita, Dhammapada, Bhakti Sutra, knew Vivekananda and there were her inner realizations, visions, occult training and dreams. She began corresponding with Sri Aurobindo as did Paul Richard. Correspondences continued after Paul Richards’s first visit and it continued after their departure on 22.2.1915 till they reached again the shore of Pondicherry on 24 April 1920 which was the last coming of the Mother as she stayed on till her last earthly days. Though the Government of India did not grant her double citizenship as she wished, it may be said the she was the pioneer or one of the pioneers who mooted the idea of double citizenship in the world which is in vogue now in some form or the other.
Sri Aurobindo also was much impressed by the erudition, spiritual quest and accomplishment of Paul Richard and Madam Richard by his acquaintance with Paul in 1910 and through his correspondences with both of them during the period before their coming in 1914. Introducing the political scenario of Pondicherry when Richard in his next visit in March 1914 came to contest himself for the post of deputy of the French Chamber, Sri Aurobindo wrote in a confidential letter to his disciple, Motilal Roy of French Chandernagore, “Richard is not only a personal friend of mine and a brother in the yoga, but he wishes like myself, and in his own way works for a general renovation of the world by which the present European civilization shall be replaced by a spiritual civilization . . . . He and Madam Richard are rare examples of European Yogins who have not been led away by Theosophical and other aberrations. I have been in material and spiritual correspondence with them for the last four years. If Richard were to become deputy for French India that would practically mean the same thing as myself being deputy for French India. . . . I want to know whether it is possible without your exposing yourself to . . . support one of our own men or a European like Richard who is practically an Indian in belief, in personal culture, in sympathies and aspirations, one of the Nivedita type.” (Aurobindo /27/ 442-443)
That they would be coming was now known to Sri Aurobindo and he was thinking of changing the dilapidated house at Matacoil Street (Mission Street) and moving to a better house in a better area where he would feel easy to receive the Europeans. Sri Aurobindo had earlier shifted from Raghavan House in the European quarter to this native part of the town for want of money. He owed some rent to them. In July 1913 ailing Nagen Nag, a relative of Bijoy Kumar Nag, came to stay with them. With his coming the financial condition improved a little. In mid-October Sri Aurobindo moved from Matacoil Street to 41, Rue Francois Martin (later it became No.10) at a monthly rent of Rs.35; a hopping increase from Rs.15 which raised some eyebrows. The difference of rent would be sufficient to feed the whole Sri Aurobindo family there for a month. But soon they knew the reason. “The ‘revolutionaries’ who had settled at Pondicherry whispered to one another that two Europeans had accepted Sri Aurobindo as their guru and would stay here.
“Then one day in December 1913 Amrita had confirmation from Ramaswamy that two persons from the topmost cultural circle of France were coming to Sri Aurobindo for practicing yoga.” (Nahar/387)
As it was taken specially to receive the coveted guests, the house was eventually named ‘Guest House’. It was a two storied spacious independent house with well-built structure at the junction of two streets in the European quarter. Properties in such quarters still command much more price than those in the native part of the town. The house had arrangement for running water but there was no electricity. Electricity also came later. One day while the younger inmates of the house were busy playing football elsewhere electrician came and fitted four bulbs in the house, two in each floor. Back home they found ‘Light, Light everywhere!’ Thus Sri Aurobindo managed to settle himself in a house worthy of receiving his European guests, his would be disciples. The house now belongs to the Ashram with the famous Playground.
While Sri Aurobindo was ready the guests, Mirra and Paul Richard, boarded the Japanese liner ‘Kaga Maru’ from Marseille on 7 March 1914. They disembarked at Colombo (Sri Lanka) and boarded a train for India. Crossing the straits at Talaimannar and reaching Dhanuskodi they boarded a Boat-Mail, as it was then called, on 28 March 1914 and reached Villupuram. Journey from Villupuram was in the deep night which took them to Pondicherry in the early hours of the dawn on 29th. We experienced such journey much later; some bogeys detached from the main train and attached to an Engine bound for Pondicherry at about 2.30 in the early hours of the morning which reached Pondicherry in the dawn. Mother was such a visitor much earlier than us. Sri Aurobindo had the ‘trikaldrishti of time’ which he noted in his yoga dairy about their arrival and meeting with him with slight differences of time. The Richards boarded in ‘Hotel d’Europe’ or Magrie Hotel.
During her voyage to Pondicherry and after meeting Sri Aurobindo Mother was entirely attuned to his consciousness and expressed them in her dairy notes, the Prayers and Meditations. About them K. R. S. Iyengar has rightly mentioned, “… there is often some ambiguity in the ‘prayers’ and ‘meditations’ whether, when she says, ‘Master’, ‘Lord’, ‘Thou’ or ‘Thee’, she has the impersonal Divine or (as in Radha’s Prayer) she has Sri Aurobindo himself in mind. Perhaps she didn’t pause to make any academic differentiation. Rather, it was spontaneous, sometimes the impersonal, sometimes the personal, Divine.” (Iyengar/1/103).
Mirra was entirely surrendered to Sri Aurobindo before she actually met him for she was inwardly aware and highly expectant of the meeting. Though not both, Mirra Richard of that time later proved to be another Nivedita to be crowned as the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram and all her disciples throughout the world by Sri Aurobindo himself.
On 29 March 1914 Sri Aurobindo received Monsieur Paul and Madam Mirra Richard at the landing of the stair case in the first floor at 3.30 in the afternoon. It is tempting to compare such a meeting as between Savitri and Satyavan in Sri Aurobindo’s epic, Savitri.
Here first she met on the uncertain earth
Long after the meeting, on 25 July 1962, Mother recalled the exact details of her meeting with Sri Aurobindo and its result.
“Even before coming and meeting Sri Aurobindo, I had realized everything needed to begin his yoga. It was all ready, classified, organized. Magnificent! A superb mental construction . . . which he demolished within five minutes!
“I had tried to get complete mental silence- you know, what you just described, this kind of mental stillness he speaks of (when you have it, anything can pass through your head without causing the least ripple), but I had never succeeded. I had tried, but couldn’t do it. I could be silent when I wanted to, but as soon as I stopped thinking solely of that, stopped wanting only that, the invasion resumed and the work had to be done all over again.
“That’s all I had told him (not in great detail, in a few words). Then I sat down near him and he began talking with Richard, about the world, yoga, the future- all kinds of things- what was going to happen (he already knew the war would break out; this was 1914,war broke out in August, and he knew it towards the end of March or early April). So the two of them talked and talked- great speculations. It didn’t interest me in the least. I didn’t listen. All these things belonged to the past, I had seen it all (I too had had my visions and revelations). I was simply sitting beside him on the floor (he was sitting on in a chair with Richard facing him across a table, and they were talking). I was just sitting there, not listening. I don’t know how long they went on, but all at once I felt a great Force come into me-a peace, a silence, something massive! It came, did this (Mother sweeps her hand across her forehead), descended and stopped here (gesture at the chest). When they finished talking, I got up and left. And then I noticed that not a thought remained- I no longer knew anything or understood anything. I was absolutely BLANK. So I gave thanks to the Lord and thanked Sri Aurobindo in my heart.
“And I was very careful not to disturb it; I held it like that for I don’t know how long, eight or ten days. Nothing- not one idea, not one thought, nothing- a complete BLANK. In other words, from the outside, it must have looked like total idiocy. . . .
“Then slowly, slowly, as though falling drop by drop, something was built up again. But it had no limits, it had no . . . it was vast as the universe and wonderfully still and luminous. Nothing here (the head), but THERE (gesture above the head); and then everything began to be seen from there.
“And it has never left me you know, as a proof of Sri Aurobindo’s power it’s incomparable! I don’t believe there has ever been an example of such a (how can I put it?) . . . such a total success; a miracle. It has NEVER left me. I went to Japan; I did all sorts of things, had all possible kinds of adventures, even the most unpleasant, but it never left me- stillness, stillness, stillness . . . .
“And it was he who did it, entirely. I didn’t even ask him, there was no aspiration, nothing (there were my previous efforts; I knew it had to come, that’s all). But on that day I hadn’t mentioned it to him; I wasn’t thinking about it, I wasn’t doing anything- just sitting there. And outwardly he seemed to be fully engrossed in his conversation about this and that and what was going to happen in the world . . . .
“That’s the real way.
“But I have never been able to do it for anyone- not like that, with such plenitude- never, never. . . . It’s fantastic! It was stupendous! . . . .Truly we can say that only the Lord can do such a thing. He alone. Without the slightest effort, without even seeming to . . . he didn’t even seem to concentrate, nothing, just like that.” (Satprem/3/287-89)
With that live experience she wrote in her dairy (Prayers and Meditations) on 30 March 1914,
“In the presence of those who are integrally Thy servitors, those who have attained the prefect consciousness of Thy presence, I become aware that I am still far, very far from what I yearn to realize; and I know that the highest I can conceive, the noblest and purest is still dark and ignorant beside what I should conceive . . . .
“Gradually the horizon becomes distinct, the path grows clear, and we move towards a greater and greater certitude.
“It matters little that there are thousands of beings plunged in the densest ignorance, He whom we saw yesterday is on earth; his presence is enough to prove that a day will come when darkness shall be transformed into light, and Thy reign shall be indeed established upon earth.
“O Lord, Divine Builder of this marvel, my heart overflows with joy and gratitude when I think of it, and my hope has no bounds.
“My adoration is beyond all words, my reverence is silent.” (Mother/1/113)
On April 3 1914 she wrote as if continuing with the same experience of her first meeting:
“It seems to me that I am being born to a new life and all the methods, the habits of the past can no longer be of any use. It seems to me that what I thought were results is nothing more than a preparation. I feel as though I have done nothing yet, as though I have not lived the spiritual life, only entered the path that leads to it, it seems to me that I know nothing, that I am incapable of formulating anything, that all experience is yet to begin. It is as though I were stripped of my entire past, of its errors as well as its conquests, as though all that has vanished and made room for a new-born child whose whole existence is yet to be lived . . . . I know that I must now definitively give myself up and be like an absolutely blank page on which Thy thought, Thy will, O Lord, can be inscribed freely without danger of any deformation.
“An immense gratitude rises from my heart, it seems to me that I have at last reached the threshold I sought so much.” (Mother/1/116)
Nolini Kanta Reminisced, “The first time Sri Aurobindo happened to describe her (Mirra’s) qualities, he said he had never seen anywhere a self-surrender so absolute and unreserved. He has added a comment that perhaps it was only women who were capable of giving themselves so entirely and with such sovereign ease. This implies a complete obliteration of the past, erasing it with its virtues and faults . . . . When she came here, she gave herself up to the Lord, Sri Aurobindo, with the candid simplicity of a child, after erasing from herself all her past, all her spiritual attainments, all the riches of her consciousness. Like a new-born babe, she felt she possessed nothing, she was to learn everything right from the start.” 2
A. B. Purani in his The Life of Sri Aurobindo wrote that Mother, being requested by a Chandernagore journal, wrote few lines under the title, “How I became conscious of My Mission”. This was published later in the Bulletin of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Pondicherry, in its February 1976 issue.
“When and how did I become conscious of a mission which I was to fulfil on earth? And when and how I met Sri Aurobindo?
“These two questions you have asked me and I promised a short reply.
“For the knowledge of the mission, it is difficult to say when it came to me. It is as though I were born with it, and following the growth of the mind and brain, the precision and completeness of this consciousness grew also.
“Between 11 and 13 a series of psychic and spiritual experiences revealed to me not only the existence of God but man’s possibility of uniting with Him, of realizing Him integrally in consciousness and action, of Manifesting Him upon earth in a life divine. This, along with a practical discipline for its fulfillment, was given to me during my body’s sleep by several teachers some of whom I met afterwards on the physical plane.
“Later on, as the interior and exterior developments proceeded, the spiritual and psychic relation with one of these being became more and more clear and frequent; and although I knew little of the Indian philosophies and religions at that time I was led to call him Krishna, and henceforth I was aware that it was with him (whom I knew I should meet on earth one day) that the divine work was to be done.
“In the year 1910 my husband came alone to Pondicherry where, under very interesting and peculiar circumstances he made the acquaintance of Sri Aurobindo. Since then we both strongly wished to return to India- the country which I had always cherished as my true mother-country. And in 1914 this joy was granted to us.
“As soon as I saw Sri Aurobindo I recognized in him the well-known being whom I used to call Krishna. . . . And this is enough to explain why I am fully convinced that my place and my work are near him, in India.” 3
The Richards had to leave Pondicherry, India, on 22 February 1915, a day after the observation of Mother’s birthday under political compulsion as the British power wished them to go away from the circle of Aurobindo Ghose, the revolutionary. Mother was as if torn away from the soil she stubbornly wished to stay on. Her dairy notes during her journey back kept immense records of her agony and struggle, her clinging to the Divine more and more. They first went to Paris and then to Japan. They might have made a short visit to China also. They remained for about four years in Japan and the Mother had immense cultural and spiritual experiences and developments during the period. At the suitable moment the Richards returned to Pondicherry on 24 April 1920 and she remained there till the end of her earthly body which she had in the meantime remade in the occult sphere. During her absence from Pondicherry she continued the intense sadhana which she restarted in Pondicherry. The intensity of her spiritual experiences may be cited in one of her letters to Sri Aurobindo written on 26 November 1915 and its implication in the answer that the Master gave.
“The entire consciousness immersed in divine contemplation, the whole being enjoyed a supreme and vast felicity.
Then was the physical body seized, first in its lower members and next the whole of it, by a sacred trembling which made all personal limits fall away little by little even in the most physical sensation . . . . It was a progressive dilatation of the cells until there was a complete identification with the earth: the body of the awakened consciousness was the terrestrial globe moving harmoniously in ethereal space. . . . Then it felt that its body was absorbed in the body of the universe as one with it; the consciousness became the consciousness of the universe, immobile in its totality, moving infinitely in its internal complexity. The consciousness of the universe sprang towards the Divine in an ardent aspiration, a perfect surrender, and it saw in the splendor of the immaculate Light the radiant being standing on a many-headed serpent whose body coiled infinitely around the universe. The being in an eternal gesture of triumph mastered and created at one and the same time the serpent and the universe that issued from him; erect on the serpent he dominated it with all its victorious might, and the same gesture that crushed the hydra enveloping the universe gave it eternal birth. . . . Then this last vestige of form disappeared and the consciousness itself was absorbed into the Unutterable, the Ineffable. . . . And it was as if the modest corporeal form had become the direct and immediate vesture, without any intermediary, of the supreme and eternal Witness.” (Aurobindo/25/471-72)
“The experience you have described”, Sri Aurobindo replied on 31.12.1915, “is Vedic in the real sense, though not one which would easily be recognized by the modern systems of Yoga which call themselves Yogic. It is the union of the “Earth” of the Veda and Purana with the divine principle, an earth which is said to be above the earth, that is to say, the physical being and consciousness of which the world and the body are only images. But the modern Yogas hardly recognize the possibility of a material union with the Divine.” (Aurobindo/25/384)
From the above two letters it is evident how the Mother’s consciousness was gradually moving along the Indian, Vedic Yoga path. From the next letter by Sri Aurobindo in response to the Mother’s, it will be clear how Indian Vedic was the path of Sri Aurobindo mixed with Tantric also, to which he was gradually drawing the Mother and she entered into it with immense felicity. Their sadhana continued on the same path complimenting each other as required throughout their stay on earth.
The next letter cited is a longer one written on 26.6.1916 by Sri Aurobindo in reply to the Mother’s letter.
“The difficulties you find in the spiritual progress are common to us all. In this Yoga the progress is always attended with these relapses into the ordinary mentality until the whole being is so remolded that it can no longer be affected either by any downward tendency in our own nature or by the impressions from the discordant world outside or even by the mental state of those associated with us most closely in the Yoga . . . all the hostile forces in the spiritual world are in a constant state of opposition and besiege our gains; for the complete victory of a single one of us would mean a general downfall among them. In fact by our own unaided effort we could not hope to succeed. It is only in proportion as we come into a more and more universal communion with the Highest that we can hope to overcome with any finality. . . . I have long had the map of my advance sketched out before me, I am able to measure any progress at each step and the particular losses are compensated for by clear consciousness of the general advance that has been made. The final goal is far but the progress made in the face of so constant and massive an opposition is the guarantee of its being gained in the end. But the time is in other hands than ours. Therefore I have put impatience and dissatisfaction far away from me . . . .
“But the victory has to be won; the rebellious elements have to be redeemed and transformed, not rejected or excised.
“When the Unity has been well founded, the static half of our work is done, but the active half remains. It is then that in the One we must see the Master and His Power, - Krishna and Kali as I name them using the terms of our Indian religions; the Power occupying the whole of myself and my nature which becomes Kali and ceases to be anything else, the Master using, directing, enjoying the Power to his ends, not mine, with that which I call myself only as a center of his universal existence and responding to its workings as a soul to the Soul, taking upon itself his image until there is nothing left except Krishna and Kali . . . .
“To possess securely the Light and the Force of the supra-mental being, this is the main object to which the power is now turning. But the remnant of the old habits of intellectual thought and mental will come so obstinate in their determination to remain that the progress is hampered, uncertain and always falls back from the little achievement already effected. They are no longer within me, they are blind, stupid, mechanical, incorrigible even when they perceive their incompetence, but they crowd round the mind and pour in their suggestions whenever it tries to remain open only to the supra-mental Light and the higher Command, so that the Knowledge and the Will reach the mind in a confused, distorted and often misleading form. It is however, only a question of time: the siege will diminish in force and be finally dispelled.” (Aurobindo /26/425-428)
Considering the Mother’s ministry for the preceding 69 years, in the last year of her ministry on earth, K. D. Sethna commented in “Mother India” on the Mother’s birthday special issue in 1973,
“The meeting of the two represents the coming together of the necessary creative powers by whom a new age would be born. And it is to be noted that both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother had been pursuing the inner life on essentially identical lines which would unite spirit and matter. So their joining of forces was the most natural thing. And it was not only a doubling of strengths but also a linking of complementaries. Sri Aurobindo’s main movement of consciousness may be said to have been an immense Knowledge-Power from above the mind, though whatever was necessary for an integral spirituality was also there in one form or another. The Mother’s chief movement may be said to have been an intense Love-Power from behind the heart, even if all else needed for an all-round Yoga was present as a ready accessory. When she and Sri Aurobindo met, they completed each other, brought fully into play the spiritual energies in both and started the work of total earth-transformation from high above and deep within. (Mother India, February 1973/111-12)
The background of the first meeting between Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and its consequences were primarily and mainly spiritual. The transformation of the entire human being as represented by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother took place in them and it percolated in some of their disciples helped by them. After the first meeting the Mother with Paul Richard and Sri Aurobindo as the leader, started a great journal called “Arya” and its French version, “Revue de la Grande Synthese”. She also rekindled her “Idea” group of Paris by organizing another group with local youth of Pondicherry, the “L’Idee Nouvelle” Society.
After Sri Aurobindo Mother carried on the arduous task of transformation on her own body down to the cells, as a representative of the earth nature, to the extent it was possible in the prevailing earth condition. There were stories behind the stories in such activities of the Mother in the occult and spiritual realm.
But she was more than a spiritual personality. Besides being endowed with superb managerial and administrative capacities responsible for the foundation of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the Auroville and many other organizations, she as an individual was a talented artist; a painter, a singer, a teacher, a writer and above all, a guide to her innumerable children scattered throughout the world. She was the greatest protector of Sri Aurobindo’s works after he had left. She was an ever enthusiast about the life and work of Sri Aurobindo. She carried on his unfinished work in the spiritual world true to their joint ideas and spirit. Things have now lost the luster of her presence. There is none to protect the work and genius of Sri Aurobindo after her departure. It is the duty of the conscientious people, lovers of literature and Sri Aurobindo, to protect his creation which belongs to all humanity as he stood for them. She was a superb creatrix in almost all the spheres of life. Mother’s ministry was a saga of life.
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