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Aurobindo Ghosh

Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950)

Sri Aurobindo (Aurobindo Ghose) was born in Calcutta on 15 August 1872. His father Krishnadhone Ghose (1845-1893) came of the well-known Ghose family of Konnagar, a township in the district of Hooghly, West Bengal, the historic birthplace of quite a few leaders of Indian renaissance. Krishnadhone married Swarnalata, the eldest daughter of Rajnarayan Bose, a pioneer of Indian nationalism.

He took his M.D. at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and served as C.M.O. at many places in Bengal. He was a man of great ability and wide munificence. He developed an almost exclusive love for everything Western and wanted to give his three sons ‘an entirely European upbringing’. Consequently, Aurobindo, when only seven years old, and his two elder brothers-Binoybhusan and Monmohan-were taken by him to England.
Aurobindo had his early education in a English family. When he joined the St. Paul’s School in London as a scholar, he had already learned Latin, and read by himself, even as a schoolboy, Shakespeare and the romantic poets. He passed the Indian Civil Service examination, obtaining record marks in Greek and Latin, and also the Classical Tripos (Part I) of the University of Cambridge, with a high first class and all Classics Prizes. He also learnt French and German, Italian and Spanish to read Goethe, Dante and Calderon in the original. He started writing poetry in Greek, Latin and English when he was only eleven. Later he took up literary Bengali too.
In his eleventh and fourteenth years he had mystic intimations of his personal role in great events and world movements of the future. As Secretary to the Indian Majlis, Cambridge University, he made revolutionary speeches, hinting at armed rebellion as the way to India’s liberation. Although he successfully competed in the I.C.S. Examination, he promptly dismissed the idea of joining the alien Government’s service. He returned to India, in 1893, with an appointment in the Baroda State Service.
At Baroda, he worked first in the Revenue Department. Later he became a lecturer in French and Professor of English; afterwards, Vice-Principal, then Officiating Principal of the State College. The Principal, an Englishman, observed ‘a mystic fire and light in his eyes’. Aurobindo’s thirteen years at Baroda were years of preparation for his future work. He learned Sanskrit, Marathi, Gujrati and spoken Bengali; studied the Epics, the Upanishads and Sanskrit literature; wrote poetry, plays and essays in English.
His political activity in India began, in 1893, with his articles in the Indu Prakash of Bombay, exposing the futility of the then Congress aims and methods. He drew up a plan of revolutionary work and took part in its organization in the Bombay Presidency and Bengal. In 1902, the first Calcutta organisation was started under his direction. The same year, Sister Nivedita joined this center and worked with him till 1910.
In 1901, Aurobindo married Mrinalini Devi (1888-1918), daughter of Bhupalchandra Basu, according to strict Hindu rites. In a letter to his wife in 1905, he expressed a little of what he felt his life was meant for-the liveration of his country by the power of the spirit, Brahmatej, founded in Jnana (knowledge), which he felt he had in him. After Aurobindo had left Bengal for Pondicherry, Mrinalini passed her days in religious pursuits in devoted remembrance of her husband.
The Partition of Bengal in 1905 brought Aurobindo out into the open as a leader. He went to Calcutta as Principal of the newly-set-up National College, now Jadavpur University.
Aurobindo directed the revolutionary workers to utilize the Partition for expanding their activities. He guided the nationalists in formulating their policy and organizing their work; started the famous Bengali daily Yugantar and joined the Bande Mataram, the English daily of Bipinchandra Pal. These two nationalist organs carried his lofty ideas of love of the country and its freedom and greatness into the hearts of his countrymen.
He published in the Bande Mataram his sequence on “The Doctrine of Passive Resistance”, charting out a necessary method of execution of the nationalist programme of ‘Swadeshi’ and ‘Boycott’. On the eve of the Calcutta Congress, 1906, Aurobindo was the first to openly declare ‘complete autonomy free from British control’ as the country’s aim, and to organize the Nationalist Party with Bal Gangadhar Tilak as the leader.
Early in 1907 Aurobindo told his youngest brother Barindra to organise a revolutionary center in their Maniktala Garden in Calcutta. The same year he attended the Surat Congress, but the Nationalists, failing to have their stand adopted, had the session broken up. This collapse of Moderate leadership of the Congress pointed to the new spirit that was arising.
In August 1907 Aurobindo was arrested for having published certain articles in the Bande Mataram. The charge failed because it could not be proved that he was the editor of the paper. The arrest and his nonchalant stand inspired in Rabindranath Tagore one of his best poems-a thrilling homage to Sri Aurobindo which begins with Arabinda Rabindrer laha namaskar, “Rabindranath, O Aurobindo, bows to thee”.
Aurobindo wanted Swaraj because, as he himself said, ‘in the next great stage of human progress it is not a material but a spiritual, moral and physical advance that has to be made and for this a free Asia and in her a free India must take the lead, and Liberty is therefore, for the world’s sake, worth striving for …India must have Swaraj…in order to live well and happily but also in order to live for the World…and for the spiritual and moral benefit of the human race’.
Aurobindo was in the political field from 1902 to 1910 only, the first half of which was spent on silent groundwork, the second half, from 1906 to 1910, on open activities. During this brief period, ‘he flooded the land from Cape to Mount with the effulgence of his light’, says P. Sitaramayya in his ‘History of the Indian National Congress.’
Arrested along with 38 other revolutionaries in May 1908, Aurobindo spent a year in jail as an under trial prisoner. But he was acquitted. Concluding his defence argument in the Court, Chittaranjan Das prophesied that Aurobindo would be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism and as the lover of humanity, and that his words would be echoed and reechoed, not only in India but across distant seas and lands.
While in jail he had the realization of cosmic consciousness and the vision of Sri Krishna everywhere and in everything; he had, besides, Sri Krishna’s assurance of India’s freedom and of his release for his greater work for the world.

Aurobindo had started doing Yoga in 1904. In 1907, while meditating
according to the guidance of the Maharashtrian Yogi Lele, he had the realization of the silent Brahman and a complete stillness of mind. From then on whatever he wrote and said, as he himself has said, came from a higher source above the mind. And all his movements began to guided by what he recognized as the Divine Will.
After his acquittal in May 1909, Aurobindo resumed his work with two newly-started weeklies, the Karmayogin in English and the Dharma in Bengali, in both of which he wrote articles on the deeper significance of Indian nationalism. His political work continued, although there was a noticeable change in approach. His memorable speech at Uttarpara just after his release gave an indication of this change. However he organized the Bengal Provincial Conference at Hooghly and in ‘An Open Letter to My Countrymen’ published in the Karmayogin on 31 July 1909, he re-affirmed the nationalist political programme. The government was apprehensive of his political activities and wanted to put him in jail again.
One evening in February 1910, he received information in the Karmayogin office (4, Shyampukur Lane) that the office would be searched the next day and he would be arrested. Following an inner voice he made his decision quickly and left for Chandernagore immediately in a country boat. After staying in Chandernagore for a few days, he left for Pondicherry by a French boat, under an assumed name, and landed there on 4 April 1910.The British Government tried several times to get him back in British territory, but he refused to move out of the French settlement. For many years the British Government kept a strict watch on him and on the other Bengali revolutionaries who joined him at Pondicherry.
Aurobindo’s arrival in Pondicherry proved to be a turning-point in his career. He withdrew himself completely from all political activities and devoted himself entirely to literature and philosophy. In this work he received great help and co-operation from an enlightened French couple, Paul Richard and his wife (later to become famous as the Mother) who came to Pondicherry on the eve of the First World War.
When in August 1914 the First World War broke out, Aurobindo jointly with Paul and Madame Richard started the monthly philosophical review, the Arya, in which he reveled new truths of man’s divine destiny, the path to its realization, the progress of human society towards its divine future, the unification of the human race, the nature and evolution of poetry and its future, the inner meaning of the Veda, the Upanishads and the Gita, the spirit and significance of Indian civilization and culture.

All these have since been embodied in ‘The Life Divine’, ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’, ‘The Human Cycle’, ‘The Ideal of Human Unity’, ‘The Future Poetry’, ‘On The Veda’, ‘The Upanishads’, ‘Essays on the Gita’, and ‘The Foundations of Indian Culture’. The Arya ceased publication in 1921 after six years of uninterrupted appearance.
Aurobindo’s supreme spiritual work in poetry is the epic ‘Savitri’ in 23,813 lines of blank verse, the longest poem in English, described by Sir Herbert Read as ‘great by any standard’, and as ‘a great cosmic poem’ by the American philosopher and critic R. F. Piper. Besides ‘Savitri’, there is a large body of poetic creation including several dramas. There are about fifty other publications covering his essays, speeches, correspondence, and translations of commentaries on Vedic and Upanishadic texts.
In 1926 Aurobindo retired into seclusion which was maintained till his death in 1950. Only in 1928 he broke his seclusion and met Rabindranath Tagore who saw his face ‘radiant with an inner light’ and said to him: ‘You have the Word and we are waiting to accept it from you’. From time to time may distinguished political leaders came to Pondicherry to seek his guidance in national and international matters: others tried to persuade him to come out and assume political leadership of the country again.
He declined the latter proposal, making it clear that very few were likely to follow his ideals and ideas, which would be ‘unintelligible to many and an offence and stumbling-block to a great number’. Nevertheless, he maintained his keen interest in India’s freedom and world affairs.
In his vision ...
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