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Aurobindo Ghose biography

Aurobindo Ghose

(1872-1950)

biography

      Aurobindo ghose was born in Calcutta on 13 August 1872. His father, Krishnadhan Ghose, a civil surgeon, had a medical degree from Aberdeen University (Scotland), and had come back fully westernized. His mother Swaranlata was the daughter of Rajnarain Bose, a Brahmo and a distinguished Bengali of the nineteenth century. Aurobindo was the third son of five children of his parents.

Aurobindo Ghose
Aurobindo’s father was so influenced by Western Culture that he wanted his children to have ‘an entirely European upbringing.' The three brothers were sent to Loreto Convent in Darjeeling, an English medium school. Their father also had arranged an English nurse to train his children in English customs and manners. At home, the family spoke only English and Hindustani. Aurobindo learnt Bengali late in life.
When Aurobindo was seven, his father took the three brothers to England for their education. Aurobindo studied privately from 1879 to 1884, under Mr. and Mrs. Drewett. But in 1884, he was sent to St. Paul School in London, where during his five years stay he learnt Greek and Latin. He also learnt Italian some German and a little Spanish. It was during this time that he started writing poetry - a hobby and a passion which he carried to Cambridge and indeed continued throughout his life. He excelled academically and won a scholarship to the Kings College, Cambridge. While in the final year at St. Paul`s, he got through the ICS open competition getting a good position but managed to fail in the riding test and was disqualified much to the chagrin of his father.
From St. Paul, Aurobindo came to King’s College, Cambridge, where he studied from 1890 to 1892; passed the first part of the Tripos but did not graduate. After staying for nearly fourteen years in England, he sailed back to India and joined the Baroda State Service. From 1893 to 1906, he was serving in Baroda; first as a probationary officer in the Revenue Settlement Department and later as a lecturer in French and then shifting t0 English language and literature in the Baroda College. When he left the College, he was the vice-principal, getting a salary of Rs. 750 per month. During his stay in Baroda, he learnt Sanskrit, Marathi and Gujarati and copiously wrote prose and verse in the English language. He also contributed a series of articles in the Indu Prakash, Bombay, during August 1893 and February 1894, under the title New Lamps Old. But the publication of his articles was stopped after only two articles (out of the proposed nine) as the publishers feared that it may result in a sedition charge. Thereafter, Aurobindo ‘drew back in silence’ and worked surreptitiously till 1905.
In 1901, Aurobindo married Mrinalini Devi, daughter of Bhupalchandra. When Aurobindo left for Pondicherry, he did not take her with him. Mrinalini passed her days in religious pursuits and died in 1918, a forlorn lady.
The partition of Bengal by Viceroy Lord Curzon resulted in the awakening of Bengal and a movement for the annulment of partition was launched, culminating in an outburst of revolt against the government. Aurobindo had been visiting Bengal during vacations in his college and had come in Contact with revolutionaries like P. Mitra, president of the Anushilan Samiti, Sister Nivedita and other revolutionary leaders and had even joined a splinter group of revolutionaries for some time.
The Swadeshi movement ushered in by the partition of Bengal brought out the sense of nationalism in the masses of India. Aurobindo could not resist the temptation to jump in and contribute his share in the national struggle. When the National Council of Education set up National College and School in August 1906, in Calcutta, Aurobindo resigned from the Baroda service and became its first principal, on a nominal salary. But soon he veered round to active politics. He started writing inflammatory articles in Yiganter, a Bengali daily started by the revolutionaries in 1906. He joined the daily newspaper Bande Matram, started by Bipin Chandra Pal in 1906, as its editor. As Bande Matram demanded his full-time attention Aurobindo resigned from the National College. Sometime in December 1906, Bipin Chandra separated from Bande Matram, leaving Aurobindo in control of the paper. In article after article in the Bande Matram, Aurobindo spelled out the programme and agenda of the Nationalist party and advocated complete independence through swadeshi, boycott, national education, non-cooperation and passive-resistance. In his articles he also developed a political philosophy of revolution and wrote that many leaders aimed at destroying the shibboleths and superstitions of the Moderate party such as the belief in British justice and benefits bestowed by foreign government in India. Because of this aggressive publicity (in the Bandematram), the ideas of the nationalists gained ground everywhere. The Bandematram was almost unique in journalistic history in the influence it exercised in converting the mind of a people and preparing it for revolution." Soon Aurobindo emerged as a great nationalist along with national leaders like Tilak and Lajpat Rai. People started looking to him as the new messiah, who would deliver the nation from foreign bondage.
In 1907, the government began taking repressive measures against the press. Bandematram was the first one to be charged for sedition. On 16 August 1907, an arrest warrant was issued against Aurobindo for publishing a letter titled Politics for Indians. However, he was acquitted on 23 September. The arrest and the nonchalant attitude of Aurobindo inspired Rabindranath Tagore to write a beautiful poem which begins with Arabinda Rabindrer laha namaskar" (Rabindranath, Oh! Aurobindo, bows to thee). The Bandematram case added to the fame and stature of Aurobindo in national politics.
On 30 April 1908, a bomb was thrown at a carriage in Muzaffarpur (Bihar) which killed two British ladies, Mrs. Kennedy and her daughter, mistaking the carriage as that of Kingsford, who, as chief presidency magistrate, had pronounced hard sentences on the revolutionaries while posted at Calcutta. The bomb was thrown by Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki who met a martyr’s death. A wave of shock and consternation shook India, followed by unprecedented repression. In May 1908, thirty- seven persons were arrested for the crime which included Aurobindo and his brother Barindra, who was active as a revolutionary. All of them were put on trial. Consequently, Aurobindo spent one year in jail. The defence council for Aurobindo was CR. Das who argued for eight days. He concluded with the statement: “Long after this controversy is hushed in silence, long after the turmoil, this agitation ceases, long after he is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism, and the lover of humanity. Long after he is dead and gone, his words will be looked and re-echoed not only in India but across distant seas and lands. Therefore, I say that the man in his position is not only, standing before the Bar of this court but before the Bar of the High Court of history”. Aurobindo was released after the trial but he had already spent one year in Alipur jail.
When he came out of the jail on 6 May 1909, Aurobindo was a completely changed man. Though he had been practicing yoga since 1904, in the seclusion of the prison cell he reached much higher in the realm of yoga and had deep spiritual experiences. But he did not quit politics immediately. After the closure of Bandematram, he had started two magazines, a weekly Karamyogin (19 June 1909) in English and Dharma a weekly in Bengali, in collaboration with Sister Nivedita and some others. In these two journals, he wrote articles on the ‘deeper significance of Indian nationalism’. He still seemed to exert great influence on the younger generation and even the elder statesmen listened to him. His motto ‘No compromise` rankled the government and they were busy finding an excuse to nab him once again. He got an inkling of that and wrote ‘An Open Letter to My Countrymen’ published in Karamyogin on 31 1909 in which he affirmed the nationalist political programme. This letter is considered as his last political will and testament. The government got even more apprehensive about his activities. In February 1910, Aurobindo received information that the office of the Karamyogin would be searched and he would be arrested. To avoid another arrest and jail term, he left for Chandernagore, a French enclave. After staying there for some time he reached Pondicherry on 4 April 1910, another French settlement in India. He spent the rest of his life there.
Soon after his arrival in Pondicherry he was joined there by a French couple Paul Richard and his wife Mirra, who later became famous as the Mother. Jointly they started English monthly the Arya, a philosophical review; in August 1914 in which were revealed new truths about men divine destiny and the path for its realisation. It also contained the inner meaning of the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Gita as well as the significance of Indian culture and civilization. It also contained a French section. The Arya Ceased publication in 1921 but its contents were later published in several books authored by Aurobindo: The Life Divine, Synthesis ay' The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, The Future Poetry, On the Vedas, The Upanishad, Essays on the Gita and Foundations of Indian Culture.
Aurobindo’s life in Pondicherry is a closed book, though off and on he reacted to the political situation developing in the country and the world at large. For example, in 1940, he advised the Congress to accept the Cripps proposals which the Congress rejected. During the Second World War, he expressed his sympathies with the British and the Allied powers, notwithstanding his antagonism to the British rule earlier. He even wrote a poem about Hitler’s triumphant march through the countries of Europe titled The Children of wotan (Wotan is a Germanic god), a few lines of which read:
Where is the end of your armourmed march,
O Children of Wotan?
Earth shudders with fear at your tread,
The death flame laughs in your eyes.
In Pondicherry, several ex-revolutionaries and other seekers of truth and salvation joined Aurobindo. He called them sadhaks (seekers). Gradually, an ashram developed with strict rules of conduct. But in 1926, Aurobindo retired into seclusion, which he maintained till his death, handing over the management of the ashram to the Mother. For forty years he shut himself up in his ashram and refused to see people from outside. In December 1933, Gandhi expressed a desire to see Aurobindo and the Mother. When Gandhi’s letter was shown to Aurobindo by a disciple he wrote on it in pencil: “You will have to write that I am unable to see him (Gandhi) because for a long time past I have made it an absolute rule not to have any interview with anyone-that I even do not speak with my disciples and only give silent blessings to them three times a year. All requests for an interview from others I have been obliged to refuse. The rule has been imposed on me by the necessity of my sadhana (spiritual pursuit) and is not at all a matter of convenience or anything else. The time has not come when I can depart from it”. That gives a glimpse Of Aurobindo’s life in his ashram in Pondicherry.
Aurobindo died of kidney trouble on 26 November 1950 leaving behind the ashram where over two thousand of his followers (sadhaks) live today as a well-knit community. There is also a Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, which runs several educational institutions on principles taught by Aurobindo. Auroville, an international commune, is where nationals of various countries reside.
Aurobindo’s role in the freedom movement and later as a yogi and philosopher has dwarfed his talent as a poet. “Sri Arvind’s original verses as well as translations of portions of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, devotional songs of Chandidasa and Vidyapati and Bhartrihari bespeak of his poetic talents; his Writings are refulgent with rich imagery, buoyancy, mysticism, originality of approach and refineness of style. And even in his sardonic poems he could weave good poetic garlands”. The culmination of Aurobindo’s poetic genius is reflected ‘in his supreme spiritual work’ in blank verse, Swim', perhaps the longest epic poem in the English language: An American critic called it ‘a great cosmic poem’. It is in three parts. The first part was published in 1950 just before Aurobindo’s death, while part two and three were published in 1951.
Thus, with his few golden utterances and many silences, Aurobindo left his indelible marks on the hearts of his people, and on the sands of history.

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