Mother India's Lighthouse: India's spiritual leaders
Part I — Discourses
Sri Aurobindo: a glimpseSri Aurobindo (August 15, 1872 — December 5, 1950), born in Calcutta. Education: stayed two years at Loretto Convent School, Darjeeling; spent fourteen years in England from the age of seven; studied at St. Paul's School, Manchester, and King's College, Cambridge. Returned to India in 1893 after he won the first place in Greek and Latin but disqualified in the open I.C.S. examination for failing to present himself for the riding test. Consecrated to India's independence from London days, he spent thirteen years in the Baroda State Service, first in the Secretariat, later as Professor of French and English, and finally as Vice-Principal of Baroda State College. While there, he devoted his time to learning Indian languages, absorbing Indian culture, and practising yoga. He conducted secret societies for work towards independence and wrote political articles constructively criticising the thinking of India's political leaders of the National Congress. The partition of Bengal brought him to Calcutta and into the National Movement in 1906.
While principal of the Bengal National College, he conducted the journals Bandemataram (English) and Yugantar (Bengali). Also a leader of the secret societies, he worked ceaselessly, publicly and behind the scenes, sowing the seeds of love of country and a desire for independence in the national mind and heart. On May 4, 1908, he was arrested on charges of attempting to subvert British Rule.
During a year's detention in Alipore Jail, he had the vision of Vasudeva everywhere and in everything. He received Sri Krishna's direct assurance of his acquittal and of India's independence, along with the knowledge that the rest of the work towards that end would be carried out by others, while he himself would have to work for a higher Cause. After his acquittal, he started Dharma (Bengali) and The Karmayogin (English).
Receiving the adesh (command) from Above, he retired into seclusion, first at French Chandernagore, then at French Pondicherry, to work for the greater Cause of the world's spiritual transformation and divinisation. He reached Pondicherry on April 4, 1910, and threw himself into concentrated spiritual work. From 1910 to 1920 he conducted Ayra, a philosophical monthly into which the message of the spiritual transformation of humanity poured unceasingly through his pen. This message formed his five major works: The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, Essays on the Gita, The Ideal of Human Unity and The Human Cycle.
Apart from these he wrote numerous other works, a few being Hymns to the Mystic Fire (translations of hymns to Agni from the Rig Veda), The Future Poetry, On the Veda, Collected Poems and Plays. His last and greatest work is Savitri, the epitome of spiritual autobiography. An epic of 23,814 lines equalling any epic in Greek, Latin, English, Italian, or German, it is a new Veda for the New Age.
A strange coincidence: with the start of the first World War, shaking human life and culture to their foundations with its unprecedented horrors, the world-saving message of The Life Divine found publication.
On November 24, 1926, Sri Aurobindo attained his spiritual perfection. He withdrew from all contacts and put into the hands of his spiritual Collaborator, the Mother, the disciples who had gathered around him. This marked the beginning of his Ashram at Pondicherry.
For over 24 years, with the Mother working in front, he continued with his yoga, not caring to rest on the laurels of his first victory of November 24, 1926, but pushing upward till he found himself within sight of his supreme and final Victory which alone could achieve the end of his Mission: the descent of what he called the Supermind into the very cells.
For purposes of his own, he decided to part with his body, and he carried out this decision on December 5, 1950, after a brief "illness." He left the charge of his work to the Mother, who accepted it and gave her word that she would remain on earth to accomplish his work of integral transformation. Sri Aurobindo, in turn, gave his word to the Mother that he would not leave the earth atmosphere until his work was done. People in the Ashram and abroad have been feeling his living Presence and Force at work ever since. On February 19, 1956, the manifestation of the Power for which Sri Aurobindo had sacrificed his body took place, and this Power has since been operating increasingly in world affairs.
The Mother holds that the more the earth responds seriously and sincerely and offers itself for the radical transformation of its nature, the sooner will it change with the help of the New Light and Consciousness.
Sri Aurobindo's Integral YogaA Seer-Poet to the poets, a divine Philosopher to mankind, a Master Yogi to his worshippers, an Avatar to his disciples — who is he? Sri Aurobindo.
Sri Aurobindo's Yoga is an ambrosial consciousness with infinite possibilities; it is a never-tiring march, a decisive and everlasting victory of Truth.
The keynote of Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga is evolution — evolution of consciousness in and through Matter.
There is no shadow of doubt that Matter and Spirit are one. Spirit, when it is fast asleep, is Matter; Matter, when it is fully awakened, is Spirit.
The Integral Yoga is founded on an all-fulfilling experience which is anything but speculation and reasoning.
An integral Yogi is he who has seen all the phases of existence and whose very life is full of variegated experiences and realisations.
A marvel-idealism and a highly practical divinity are housed in Sri Aurobindo. His are the experiences that may serve as humanity's royal road to a life worth living — a life of the Spirit, the Life Divine.
Sri Aurobindo holds that physical work is in no way a bar to spiritual progress. On the contrary, he strongly feels that physical work is an aid to self-preparation for the full manifestation of the Divine both in oneself and upon the earth.
Sri Aurobindo tells the world that it is not only possible but entirely practicable to work easily, incessantly, consciously, inwardly, outwardly, thus finally successfully. And in his opinion, life itself is a blessing of God through which man has to realise Him and be one with Him.
Sri Aurobindo's is the supernal Smile that reveals at once the embodiment of an infinite achievement and the future spiritual destiny of mankind.
Invisible to the blind, yet invincible to the strong, and a wonderful practical hope to the four corners of the globe, is the power of Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga.
Sri Aurobindo is the ever-creative silent Bridge between God's Will and His Fulfilment.
In the Integral Yoga, God-Realisation means merely standing at the shore of the vast sea of Consciousness. The fire-pure change of the inner and outer life means swimming in that sea. Manifestation of the Divine on earth means returning Home after having crossed the sea, bringing with you the Golden All.
It is not a dream of God but His Decree that Heaven and earth must fall supremely in love with each other. He wants their marriage to take place sooner than immediately. Earth feels that she is inferior to Heaven. Heaven feels that he is superior to earth. And because of their mutual hesitation, the day of their marriage is kept in abeyance.
The Integral Yoga has made a significant choice. It wants not only to see and feel the conscious evolution of life, but also to embody a fully harmonised life of Matter and Spirit.
An Integral Yogi is he who sacrifices his life to become a bridge between earth and Heaven. He has foregone Heaven; he uplifts earth.
The aspirant in man is the cross-bearer. The Yogi in man is the crown-bearer.
To say that Yoga is the realisation of God is not to say all. Yoga is the living union with God by self-affirmation and self-abnegation.
Sri Aurobindo tells a man that God-realisation never obliges a man to kill all feelings, to make his heart a sterile wasteland and to pronounce a curse on the world. God is everything and in everything.
Readiness in the Integral Yoga amounts to an aspiration that wishes to be expressed. Willingness amounts to an aspiration that has already been expressed.
An unprecedented teaching of the Integral Yoga propounded by Sri Aurobindo is that man can have material prosperity alongside of his spiritual development.
Give an ordinary man ten dollars. He will immediately wonder what he can buy with it to make life more pleasant. Give a sannyasi ten dollars. He will try to avoid taking it or else find some means by which he can do without it. Give an Integral Yogi ten dollars. Since he has neither attachment to nor repulsion from money, he will try to utilise it as a divine trustee.
To be unconscious of a spiritual opportunity is to starve one's spiritual Destiny.
Difficulties in the Integral Yoga never indicate one's unworthiness. Behind each difficulty there is a possibility, nay, a blessing in disguise, to accept the test boldly and to come out successfully.
In Yoga, all reactions are threatening but passing clouds. Human aspiration is the naked and permanent sword of the soul to stab through the weakness of human stuff and rise triumphant on the ashes of its conquests.
Follow no other ideal than to materialise the power of perfection on earth.
Sri Aurobindo's Yoga is the tallest mango tree. His disciples and followers have to climb right up to the top of the tree and bring the mangoes down to earth. For if the fruit is taken at the top, it tastes sour; if taken at the foot of the tree, it tastes delicious.
What is the actual meaning of coming into contact with God? It means that we shall become one with His universal existence. As after marriage a woman automatically possesses her husband's name, home, and wealth, even so, after our union with God we shall infallibly become one with His all-fulfilling Nature. Verily, in that Divine Hour we shall hear Sri Aurobindo's soul-stirring voice:
The Bengal TigerCan a University rank high among the greatest Universities of the country by the ceaseless toil and unflagging zeal of a single individual? Sir Ashutosh Mukherji's life is a reply in the affirmative to such a question. The name and fame of Calcutta University would not have extended far beyond its own jurisdiction but for Ashutosh. His stupendous sacrifice was not for personal name and fame. He realised the fact that in serving the University alone, to the best of his capacity, he could be a devoted child of Mother Bengal. He became sacrifice itself in order to adorn the University with unprecedented glory.
It is from him that his brothers and sisters of Bengal came to learn that, though under foreign yoke, they were not under foreign tongue. The Bengali language had to come to the fore. That Bengali is taught even in the highest course, — i.e., in M.A. and the postgraduate studies which he introduced for the first time in the University — is due to his prodigious labour extending over years. Come what may, ever a "view-changer" was he. The education he sought to impart in the University was not the so-called education stamped with official approval by our alien rulers. The education he desired to give — rather, gave — was well calculated to foster in the student community the innate sense of true dignity, manhood, and individuality. Neither was he unaware of the fact that eminent scholars of foreign countries had to be brought to the University to impart to the students an education of a very high order. And in this connection his far-flung invitation did not go in vain. The world-renowned Paul Vinogradoff from Russia; one of the foremost oriental scholars, Sylvain Levi, from France; the great Oldenburg from Germany; from England, Thomas, having an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Eastern lore; and many others from foreign shores who were truly eminent in the several walks of life came to Bengal to add to the glory of Calcutta University.
Ashutosh himself was a well-stored mind and a well-arranged intellect. Vast was his learning, broad was his scholarship, unrivalled was he as a debater. Amazingly, he won the P.R.S. (Premchand-Roychand Studentship), which was then the most coveted academic distinction in Bengal.
The milk of human kindness overflowed in him. During his incumbency as the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, he once happened to notice that a boy was failed in one subject by one point only. Thereupon he sent for the Head Examiner and made a personal request to him to re-examine the paper of the student and see if he deserved to get one mark more, remarking that the fate of a whole family might depend on this one point. To the joy of Ashutosh the boy easily obtained even more than one point. This shows the magnanimity of his heart and the wide view of things that he was wont to take.
When his fame had already spread far and wide, once, at Patna, a motor driver who drove him to his destination invited Sir Ashutosh to dinner at his humble cote, hardly believing that his request would be complied with. In the evening he failed to believe his eyes when he saw Sir Ashutosh come for dinner. The driver treated the illustrious son of Bengal with a dinner to the best of his ability, and Ashutosh's heart gave a throb of joy to receive such an unostentatious but cordial reception.
That he was an all-rounder is clear from the fact that when he was a student of the F.A. class he committed to memory all the books of Paradise Lost that had been prescribed for the class, though his forte was mathematics.
Surprise awaits us at the very start of the career of this great son of Bengal. He became the examiner of mathematics at M.A. level the very year after obtaining his own M.A. degree with the highest scholarship. The mathematician in him gradually developed much originality in solving some problems. Later, his feats of cleverness were highly appreciated not only in his own province but also at Cambridge. Mere appreciation of his originality was not sufficient for Cambridge. They embraced him as a member of a Mathematical Association there. The solutions that he offered are known as Mookerjee's Theorems.
Now let us pin our attention on his indomitable spirit. Once he had to visit Aligar as a member of the University Commission. On his way back, while he was travelling in the First Class compartment, an English military officer, who was a co-traveller, threw Mukherji's indigenous shoes off the train out of contempt while he was napping. On awakening, Ashutosh found his shoes missing and the officer sleeping, but he could see through the whole matter. He in no time threw out the coat of the military officer. When the officer woke up, he made an enquiry about his costly coat, to which Ashutosh's bold heart voiced forth, "Your coat has gone to fetch my shoes."
Still more bold was his conduct when he defied the request of Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of India, on the strength of his fathomless devotion for his mother. Lord Curzon made a request to Sir Ashutosh to pay a visit to England so that the Britons could see a specimen of the scholars produced by British education in India. As his mother would not allow her son to cross the seas, Ashutosh had to decline the request of the Governor-General of India. At this Lord Curzon wrote:
"Tell your mother the Viceroy and Governor-General of India commands her son to go."
The Bengal Tiger showed not the slightest trace of fear. The citadel of strength replied: "Then I will tell the Viceroy and Governor-General of India that Ashutosh Mukherji refuses to be commanded by any other person except his mother, be he Viceroy or be he somebody higher still."
The French scholar Sylvain Levi's words reverberate in our heart: "Had this Bengal Tiger been born in France, he would have exceeded even Clemenceau, the French Tiger. Ashutosh had no peer in the whole of Europe."
Rishi BankimBankim is one among Bengal's men of supreme genius. Time will never be able to diminish or bring to a standstill his authority on Bengali language and literature. Needless to say, creators like him can never be counted as the monopoly of any province. Bankim is entitled, by his wonder-genius and masterworks, to rank among those who have easily transcended all limitations of language, race and continent.
Bankim's childhood demands our candid admiration. At a single reading he mastered the alphabet of his mother tongue. Two months' study the child would unbelievably finish in a day. In school, to jump up two rungs of the ladder at a time was to him as easy as to breathe in and out. A succession of amazements was he. Even his College life would not reduce our admiration for his genius. His name is among the first two graduates of Bengal, the other being Jadu Nath Bose.
Bankim's Ananda Math is deeply inspired by patriotism. He felt the country as a Deity, a Mother who is at once incredibly sweet and augustly powerful. In the adoration of the Mother, Bankim's heart pined to see his brothers and sisters discover the secret Strength for a glorious future.
Somehow he seems to be the first modern man who could regard India as the collective Mother personified. He had lamented that he was the only person to call and look upon India as the all-supporting Mother. His call to others to share his view was a mere cry in the wilderness.
Now let us focus our attention on Bankim's profusely inspired song, Bande Mataram. Over a decade ago the song was a subject of bitter controversy. On the one hand, some left no stone unturned to label it as idolatrous, while, on the other, some of the patriots found nothing offensive, nothing absurd in it. Who will dare to forget the great role it played in the Indian life-atmosphere during the last few decades? We can be sure that Bankim was not prompted by any narrow motive to offend or belittle any community while offering his immortal song to the world. His pen simply carried out the command of his heart surcharged with the vision of the true Mother, the Mother who dwells within and without India. It is the deplorable blindness of some of our political leaders that can award Bande Mataram a position of secondary importance. As a protest against this judgement I must cite here K.D. Sethna's irrefutable reasoning and intuition:
"The revelatory vision and the mantric vibration distinguishing Bande Mataram throw Jana Gana Mana entirely into the shade. And it is no wonder that not Tagore's but Bankim's song has been the motive-force of the whole struggle for India's freedom. Until it burned and quivered in the hearts of our patriots and rose like a prayer and incantation on their lips, the country was striving with an obscure sense of its own greatness: there was a vagueness, a lukewarmness, a fear: we were overawed by the material prowess and pomp of our foreign rulers and our efforts to find our true selves were spoiled by either an unthinking imitation of the West or else a defensive anti-Western conservatism. We had not struck upon the master-key to the problem of national existence. Then, out of a book that had been neglected when it had first appeared, the music of Bande Mataram rang into the ambiguously agitated air of the nation's reawakening consciousness… Bande Mataram stimulated and supported the people of India, instilling into them a hope and a strength beyond the human. It is the one cry that has made modern Indian history; not political speeches, but the magical strain breaking through Bankim Chandra from the inmost recesses of resurgent India's heart and fused by Sri Aurobindo with India's mind and life as the true national anthem, brought us, in 1947, on the fifteenth of August (which was also the seventy-fifth birthday of Sri Aurobindo) our political liberation. To put such a saviour-song on any other footing than that of national anthem is to be disloyal to the Power that has given us a new birth."
I believe it will not be out of place if, for comparison, I deal with some other national songs. Revolution, revenge, sacrifice, pangs, tears — these are the fiery and throbbing words that compel the world to pin its attention on France and the French. In 1792 during the French Revolution La Marseillaise was composed by Rouget de Lisle, a French soldier. Nobody will forget Carlyle's wonderful appreciation of the anthem:
"The luckiest composition ever promulgated, the sound of which will make the blood tingle in men's veins, and whole armies and assemblies will sing it with eyes weeping and burning, with hearts defiant of Death, Despot and Devil."
The English national song, God Save the King, is somewhat soft and lucid. At the very commencement the words invoke God, just as the Indians sing Bande Mataram (Mother, I Bow to Thee). But these words long for the welfare and victory of the king as the living emblem of the inner harmony of the nation. The sense of loyalty reigns supreme in this song with its appealing tune.
The German national song, too, rightly deserves its place in the vanguard of the world's choicest anthems. It begins with "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit für das deutsche Vaterland" (Unity and Right and Freedom for the German Fatherland). In fact, there is no shadow of a doubt that the entire world longs for these pleasant-sounding and oft inspiring words — Unity, Right and Freedom.
Back to Bankim. Bengali prose owes it origin to Raja Rammohan Roy. The advent of Vidyasagar carried the movement dauntlessly yet successfully to an appreciably further distance. Bankim's arrival on the scene is marked by the memorable fact that he made the Bengali language a great literary vehicle.
Destiny works in strange ways. Curiously enough, one of his earliest attempts at literature was in English. Fortunately, his Rajmohan's Wife had no successor. Like Michael Madhusudan Dutt, he too turned to the infinitely vast treasure-house of the mother tongue, throwing off the ruthless shackles of an alien speech. Later he wrote to one of his friends:
"I have myself projected a Bengali magazine with the object of making it the medium of communication and sympathy between the educated and the uneducated classes. You rightly say that the English language for good or evil has become our vernacular; and this tends daily to widen the gulf between the higher and lower ranks of Bengali society. Thus I think that we ought to disanglicise ourselves so as to speak to the masses in the language which they may understand."
Bankim's was a frail constitution. But in that frail constitution Bengal saw a reservoir of stupendous possibility materialised.
"Bankim, the greatest of novelists, had… versatility developed to its highest expression. Scholar, poet, essayist, novelist, philosopher, lawyer, critic, official, philologist and religious innovator — the whole world seemed to be shut up in his single brain." (Sri Aurobindo)
Sri Aurobindo's appreciation of Bankim may partly be attributed to the fact that Bankim had theoretically chalked out the path of ideas in the cause of India's independence which Sri Aurobindo was to work out and extend in his inimitable way.
Sri Aurobindo's India had no material equipment to wage a war against the British. But his strength lay in his touch with God. Does he not say in Savitri: "All can be done if God-touch is there"?
It is interesting to observe that Vidyasagar, Bankim, Bhudev Mukherji, Dinabandhu Mitra, Nabin Chandra Sen and Dwijendra Lal Roy, who were outstanding writers and poets, were produced from the Government service in Bengal. It goes without saying that these literary celebrities were headed by Bankim Chandra. Bankim had done unique pioneer work in the field of Bengali literature. Through translations of his enthralling novels, almost all the major Indian languages have considerably added glory to their literatures. Several languages of Europe, too, do not lag behind in spreading Bankim's genius into the wide world.
It was Bankim who discovered the supremely poetic possibilities in the adolescent Rabindranath, placed the garland of honour round his neck in a literary conference, and hailed him as the fast-rising sun in the firmament of literary creation.
Who will hesitate to say that the budding novelist in Rabindranath was considerably influenced by Bankim Chandra? Young Tagore was a voracious reader of Bankim's novels which were then appearing in the pages of the latter's journal Bangadarshan. What effect Bankim's Bangadarshan made upon the contemporary Bengali public can easily be understood from the following words of Tagore:
"It was bad enough to have to wait till the next monthly number was out, but to be kept waiting further till my elders had done with it was simply intolerable."
He further said that Bankim Chandra had "invited both East and West to a veritable festival of union in the pages of his Bangadarshan."
As Bankim was at home in Sanskrit literature and Vaishnava poetry, he drew abundantly upon their riches. He peacefully housed in his creations colloquial style and Sanskrit literary style. They say that Sir Walter Scott is almost buried in oblivion in England. But we dare say that the fate of Bankim Chandra, often called The Scott of Bengal, is otherwise in India. His patriotic fervour, his seer-vision and his inspiration-flood that aroused the nation will retain his fame perpetually not only in his native province, but also far outside its frontiers.
A most winning sympathy, a most exquisite tenderness were not less inherent in him than remarkable courage and manliness.
Now let us learn in a flash from Sri Aurobindo the difference between the earlier Bankim and the later Bankim: "The earlier Bankim was only a poet and stylist — the later Bankim was a seer and nation-builder."
This humble effort of mine ends with the firm conviction that Bande Mataram will keep Bankim's memory green for all time in this great sub-continent and will stand out in the future as the national Mantra that it is.
Gauranga: love incarnateLord Gauranga's rise in the firmament of Bengal when the province was shrouded in a mist of superstition, ignorance and pessimism was a supreme blessing of Providence. The supernal light that he threw on the slumbering and downtrodden country stirred its children to a new life. Buddhism and Tantric Hinduism had reigned supreme. Shankara's advaita, too, had some footing on the soil of Bengal. But the children of Bengal accepted the advaita of Shankara more as a philosophical intellectualism and an academic interest than as a means of concrete experience or of communion with the Divine Being that is within and without the world. The arid intellectualism failed to quench the thirst of some spiritual seekers. Hence they turned to the cult of Krishna-Bhakti defying the scorn of the erudite pundits. And Bengal-Vaishnavism began to inundate the entire province with Sri Chaitanya as its everlasting soul.
Right through his boyhood he was full of fun and mischief. Both boys and girls were the victims of his mischief-making. He was so naughty that he would wear the neighbours out. He was the talk of the village. But at the same time purity and transparency did not leave the boy even for a second. His intellectual keenness was as astonishing as his vigour and energy.
Even when he was in his teens he swam right across the ocean of learning. All the scholars, with no exception, had to bow before this intellectual giant. But a change was fast coming upon him as he was nearing twenty-five. Now divine realisation was to break upon him.
His non-attachment became manifest when he threw into the river Bhagirathi his splendid work on Logic to save the reputation of his friend from being eclipsed by his own greater learning.
It is at once a notorious and deplorable fact that men with a narrow outlook cherish bitter quarrels over the authenticity of the Prophets. They dare not recognise any Prophets other than those of their own faiths. The intuitive words of Mahatma Sishir Kumar Ghosh, the marvellous Biographer of Lord Gauranga, and Founder of the Amrita Bazar Patrika in 1866, run:
"…they (Prophets) prove only the genuineness of one another. If Jesus Christ is a Prophet, we are bound to regard Mahomed and Sree Gauranga in the same light. If Sree Gauranga is a Prophet, we are bound to accept the reality of the mission of Jesus and Mahomed." To be sure, each Prophet represents a rung in the process of evolution. One more quotation from Mahatma Sishir's Lord Gauranga is irresistible:
"Our object is to preserve the kingdom of Christ and not to destroy it. A study of the life of the Nadia Avatar will only confirm the faith of an unbelieving Christian in Christ, and of a sceptic in the reality of a beneficient God and of a future life."
Sri Chaitanya's Vaishnavism is synonymous with the Radha-Spirit, the living emblem of divine love at its highest. And this love attains the acme of perfection in possessing and being possessed by the ever-blissful Sri Krishna. "Radha," says Sri Aurobindo, "is the personification of the absolute love for the Divine, total and integral in all the parts of the being from the highest spiritual to the physical, bringing the absolute self-giving and total consecration of all the being and calling down into the body and the most material nature the supreme ananda."
Can Knowledge and Devotion be housed peacefully in one single frame? Sri Chaitanya's life is a reply in the affirmative. This moment he is Krishna, next moment he is Radha. When his eyes run in streams for Sri Krishna he is Radha personified. And when he takes his seat on the hallowed dais he is Sri Krishna himself. The influence of Chaitanya's Bhakti on the soil of Bengal can never be expressed so lucidly as it has been done by Vivekananda, the Vedantin of Vedantins.
"Chaitanya's Bhakti," says the beloved disciple of Ramakrishna, "ruled over the whole land of Bengal, bringing solace to everyone. His love knew no bounds. The saint or the sinner, the Hindu or the Muhammadan, the pure or the impure, the prostitute, the streetwalker — all had a share in his love, all had a share in his mercy, and even to the present day, although greatly degenerated, as everything does become in time, his seat is the refuge of the poor, of the down-trodden, of the outcast, of the weak, of those who have been rejected by society."
Lord Gauranga's Vaishnava philosophy is that we need not extinguish the senses. We needs must keep them intact, but also we must keep them under proper control. To him a sinner was not an object of ire or contempt, but of compassion and love.
Shachi Devi's immediate and overwhelming vision of the manifested Divinity in her son automatically compelled her to bow her head before him, and he as unreservedly placed his foot on her head. This incident has no equal in spiritual history before or after him.
He looked down upon preaching. A mere touch or look did the miracle of miracles. Two fiends in human shape were Jagai and Madhai. His beloved compeer Nityananda was hurt with the broken neck of an earthen jar flung by Madhai, the younger and fiercer of the two. It struck his forehead and blood spurted from the wound. Nityananda was beside himself with joy that Lord Gauranga's attention would be drawn to the worst possible sinners and that his redeeming Grace would at last be showered on them. But Chaitanya flew into a rage and invoked his Chakra to punish Madhai, for he would not tolerate the suffering of his true disciple who was dearer to him than his own life. Nityananda, forgiveness incarnate, voiced forth: "We do not want salvation just now. First save the greatest sinners in the world and then you can take our case into consideration." Even then Chaitanya was not pacified, but was bent upon punishing Madhai. Madhai's inside was being clawed as earth is clawed by a cat. His throbbing prayer is at once striking and significant: "My Lord, I don't ask forgiveness of you, nor am I afraid of punishment. Let it come, and I shall welcome it. Only tell me, is there any way, any penance, by which I can, at any future period, attain to your lotus feet? Only tell me the way if there be any, and then cast me off."
We all know how Lord Gauranga's silent influence transformed Madhai and Jagai into the holiest of holy souls.
The word "miracle" means something wonderful, nay unbelievable. But what is actually a miracle? It is an act beyond the laws of Nature, brought about by some unseen divine agent. God is subject to no laws. To promote the spiritual good of His creation it is quite natural that He produce effects that transcend the material order and baffle our preconceived notions. Chaitanya's miracles were prompted not to arrest the attention of people but to bestow his love and his compassion on poor suffering humanity. It is said that miracles attributed to Buddha and Mohammed are not recorded by eye-witnesses or even by the contemporaries of eye-witnesses. But our Lord Gauranga's fate is otherwise. All his miracles were recorded not only by eye-witnesses, but also by his immediate and faithful followers. So there is no shadow of a doubt that those miracles are not even an inch from the truth. A life replete with miracles was his.
Man can pay his true homage to the Avatar Sri Chaitanya when he is capable of sharing even an infinitesimal fraction of his Divine Ecstasy.
Chitta Ranjan DasHow to hail Chitta Ranjan? To honour him as a Vaishnava to the marrow, a highly literary figure, a politician of the front rank, a man endowed with oratorical gifts, an unrivalled Bar-at-Law, a potential leader, a hero who knew what fighting means, is in no way adequate. The most befitting epithet for this unique personage would be Deshabandhu (the friend of the country) for his unstinted sacrifice for his country and countrymen.
Rare is the man whose life far exceeds his great achievements. Also rare is the man whose message to the world is his life itself. But in the life of Deshabandhu we find a rare combination of both these high qualities.
Chitta Ranjan had been to England to sit for the Indian Civil Service. Unfortunately, nay, fortunately he headed the list of the unsuccessful. Had he won the "Heaven-Born Service", he would certainly have become a civil servant. And who could guarantee that he would not have exerted his unusual power to climb to the highest rung of the ladder? And if he had done so, how could opportunity have knocked at his door and asked him to mix with and work for his countrymen whom he so sincerely loved? What Providence wished from Chitta Ranjan was a great service to his Motherland. The devoted son was ever confident of his Motherland's brightest future. His deep patriotism gave a significant meaning and purpose to the exalted glory of India all over the world. It happened that during his stay in that foreign land a meeting was once held at Oldham under the Presidentship of Gladstone. In a speech on "Indian Agitation", Chitta Ranjan's tone and expression left no doubt that he was a citadel of strength:
"Gentlemen, I was sorry to find it given expression to in Parliamentary speeches on more than one occasion that England conquered India by the sword and by the sword she must keep it! (Shame.) England, gentlemen, did no such thing, it was not her sword and bayonet that won this vast and glorious empire; it was not her military valour that achieved this triumph. (Cheers.) England might well be proud of it. But to attribute all this to the sword and then to argue that the policy of the sword is the only policy that ought to be pursued is to my mind absolutely base and quite unworthy of an Englishman." (Hear, hear.)
The years 1907 and 1908 shall shine perpetually in the history of Bengal. The current of true patriotism simply inundated the four frontiers of the province. On the fourth of May, 1908, in the small hours of the morning Sri Aurobindo was arrested, and soon he was considered to be the supreme leader of the firebrand revolutionaries. The two significant features of the Alipore Bomb Case were the unexpected acquittal of Sri Aurobindo and C.R. Das's swift flare-up into fame. Das was then a junior Counsel. Bhupal Bose, the father-in-law of Sri Aurobindo, appointed Byomkesh Chakravarti to defend his son-in-law. The old man dismissed Das as a child, saying:
"I should not commit the charge of the case of my son-in-law to a younger counsel."
But somehow Das felt an inner urge to participate in the defence of Sri Aurobindo, his dear friend whom he had first met in England. In those days he used to communicate with the spirit-world with the help of a planchette. One day a particular message was received by him repeatedly.
"You must defend Arabinda. " To the query who he was, the reply came, "Upadhyaya." Requested to be more explicit, the "spirit" replied: "Brahma Bandhava Upadhyaya.”1 From that day on it became quite clear to Chitta Ranjan that he would have to conduct the Alipore Bomb Case.
Meanwhile for some reason or other the counsel Byomkesh Chakravarti was dispensed with and C.R. Das was called in.
On this occasion Sri Aurobindo's sister Sarojini Ghosh played a significant role to save her brother. She raised subscriptions and even begged from door to door, appealing to the very rickshaw-drivers and the coolies who, on their part, never failed to respond to her throbbing appeal. At last, on the 18th of August, 1908, in Bande Mataram she issued the following appeal:
"I am sincerely grateful to my countrymen and countrywomen of different provinces, creeds and grades of society for their kind response to my appeal for funds for the defence of my brother, Srijut Aurobindo Ghosh. The time has now come to engage a Counsel to defend him in the Court of Sessions.
"Perhaps the public have not hitherto had any accurate idea of the probable expenses of my brother's defence. My legal and other advisers tell me that the amount required would not fall short of sixty thousand rupees. But only twenty-three thousand rupees have been received up to date:
"May I not hope that the balance will be received shortly?…"
Deshabandhu's love and affection for Sri Aurobindo will be evident from the following incident. When some of the friends of Sri Aurobindo made a fervent request to him to conduct the case to the best of his ability, he was deeply pained:
"Am I less anxious than any of you to get Aurobindo released?"
On another occasion he said that while defending Aurobindo he felt that he himself was the accused and he was arguing his own case. What a sense of identification he developed with his intimate friend!
While closing the Alipore Bomb Case he made a short and eloquent speech. His prophetic voice will ring in the ears of posterity for all time:
"…My appeal to you is this — that long after this turmoil, this agitation will have ceased, 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 echoed and re-echoed not only in India but across distant seas and lands…"
Let us here leave Sri Aurobindo to speak about the loving sacrifice of C.R. Das and the divine mystery involved in the matter.
"He came unexpectedly — a friend of mine, but I did not know he was coming. You have all heard the name of the man who put away from him all other thoughts and abandoned all his practice, who sat up half the night day after day for months and broke his health to save me — Srijut Chittaranjan Das. When I saw him, I was satisfied, but I still thought it necessary to write instructions. Then all that was put away from me and I had the message from within, 'This is the man who will save you from the snares put around your feet. Put aside those papers. It is not you who will instruct him. I will instruct him.' From that time I did not of myself speak a word to my Counsel about the case or give a single instruction, and if ever I was asked a question, I always found that my answer did not help the case. I had left it to him and he took it entirely into his hands, with what result you know."
Sister Nivedita was one among those who highly appreciated the rare sacrifice made by Chitta Ranjan in the interests of Aurobindo. She said, "I knew you to be great, but did not know that you are so great." She then pinned a dark red rose into the buttonhole of Chitta Ranjan's coat.
— James Freeman Clarke"
This pleasant sounding statement cannot be applied to patriot-politicians like C.R. Das. "With me," says he, "work for my country is no imitation of European politics. It is a part of my religion. It is a part and parcel of all the idealism of my life."
When his only son Chira Ranjan was eagerly prepared to go to jail for the country, his relatives and friends advised Chitta Ranjan to dissuade him from doing so. At this Chitta Ranjan was more than angry with them. "When will you understand this simple truth, that I must send my own son to jail first and then only am I entitled to invite the Bengali youths to launch into the service of the Motherland?" More surprise awaits us. A deep and tranquil smile played upon his eyes the moment he heard that his wife Basanti Devi and his sister Urmila Devi were asked to step into the police station. For he realised that the hour of victory was fast approaching.
His sense of duty: his father, Bhuvan Mohan Das, had declared insolvency. Nobody could lay any claim on his debt, and according to the British Law the son was exempt from being charged. But the deepest sense of duty in the devoted son Chitta enjoined him to free his father. When a sum of Rs. 75,000 was made over to clear off the father's debt, Justice Fletcher, with a heart full of admiration for Chitta Ranjan's unprecedented deed, declared, "An act of this kind is not to be seen even in Europe." And soon after this momentous event took place his aged father died.
Chitta Ranjan had a helping hand even in social reform. The deplorable condition of Indian widows cut him to the quick. He made bold to say that it is mere stupidity on our part either to force the widows to marry once again, or make them practise celibacy the rest of their lives. According to him, it is to the widows that the chance should be given to choose their future state and not to the so-called social reformers.
Untouchability was altogether foreign to his nature. He failed to put up with the haughtiness of the higher-class people. He utterly disdained their merciless conduct towards the low. His sympathetic heart voiced forth: "Next time, how I wish to take birth among the untouchables and devote myself to their service!"
I am now tempted to relate an interesting as well as arresting incident which will display Chitta Ranjan's love and reverence for Sri Aurobindo. Deshabandhu was then the Editor of a popular periodical, Narayan. Nolini Gupta had sent a contribution entitled "Arter Adhyatmikata" (Spirituality in Art)<a href="#fn612r" id="fnref612r">2</a> from Pondicherry for publication in 1917. Chitta Ranjan was enamoured of the article and was certain that the actual writer could be nobody else save Sri Aurobindo, covering himself with a pseudonym. For the word "Nolini" also means lotus, just as "Aurobindo" means lotus. "Gupta" means hidden and was taken to be the indication of Sri Aurobindo's living incognito. Considering that it was no longer necessary for Sri Aurobindo to remain hidden from public view, he published the said article under the name of Aurobindo Ghosh instead of Nolini Gupta. Soon after, Sri Aurobindo wrote to his dear friend Chitta that he was not the writer of that article but that there was actually one among his associates in flesh and blood bearing the name Nolini Gupta. Of course, at present Nolini Gupta needs no introduction.
1925. Deshabandhu left the earth. The Master-Seer of the Age, from his silence-hushed Ashram, telegraphed a message to a daily journal that had wired for a comment.
"Chitta Ranjan's death is a supreme loss. Consummately endowed with political intelligence, constructive imagination, magnetism, a driving force combining a strong will and uncommon plasticity of mind for vision and tact of the hour, he was the one man after Tilak who could have led India to Swaraj."
Tagore's glorious tribute to the mighty departed soul runs:
With thee came down the immortal breath.
This thou booned us with thy body's death.3
"Time," says Gandhi, "cannot efface the memory of a man so great and good as Deshabandhu. At this time of trial for the nation there is no Indian who does not feel the void created by his death."
Bengal suffered a tremendous blow. Deshabandhu was a man of fifty-five when Death snatched him away. His life was a short, but a very full and busy one. Even those who did not know him at close range felt his death as a personal loss.
Mother India in her sweetestMother India in her sweetest expresses herself through the heart and pen of her gifted son, Dwijendra Lal Roy. Bengal is all admiration for D.L. Roy. He is never named without enthusiasm and praise as a man in the highest degree amiable and thought-provoking. His was the faith that did not waver. His was the courage that did not falter. Poetry was not the sole field of D.L. Roy, for he excelled likewise in prose. His poems, his songs, and especially his dramas brought him unbounded fame. He was the poet of poets, the singer of singers, the dramatist of dramatists, not made but born. He won the heart of Bengal by the originality of his thought, couched in a novel language, impregnate with a fresh vitality which he infused into Bengal.
Curiously enough, like Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Dwijendra Lal too wrote poems in English while starting his poetic career. He who reads even D.L. Roy's English poems enjoys the power of a poet, embellished with beauty and enlarged with majesty. Lyrics of Ind was his first and last work in English. The poems were written in London when he was barely twenty-three. The book was published there in September 1886. "My principal object in the composition of the following verses," says he, "has been to harmonise English and Indian poetries as they ought to be. Both are beautiful; but whilst the one is visionary and sensuous, the other is vigorous and chaste; whilst the one dreams, the other soars; whereas the one makes a poetry of Religion, the other makes a religion out of Poetry.”
Let me cite the last stanza from the poem entitled "The Marriage":
Let man to man be joined in love,
And dance to its sweet measure;
Let soul to soul be married here,
Our high-priest will be Pleasure.
As the blue heavens kiss the sea,
As the sea clasps the river;
Let heart to heart now blended be
for ever and for ever.
Can these lines ever be consigned to the limbo of oblivion?
One more quotation from that book is irresistible:
Mine is a heart that weeps with gratitude,
And for a word or deed of love, that would
Cry childlike; weave a wreath with many a tear;
In gratitude worship, even before it kneel;
But from beloved lips an accent rude
Might rend my heart in twain, that none could heal,
And my life's flowery days might blast and sear.
What an irony of Fate that on his return from England he should have been abandoned by his friends and relatives. It was long after his return from England that his relatives and friends came to his place while his son, Dilip Kumar Roy, was being invested with the sacred thread. Indeed, it was a moment of extreme delight for the poet. For he had hopes that the son would carry on the many-sided genius that the father had bequeathed to the Nation.
The patriotic urge in D.L. Roy became visible during his college life. Gradually he developed and matured it along with his lofty thought and inner search. He scattered patriotic songs like jewels. And some of these songs in no time quickened the tempo of patriotic fervour in those days in idealistic souls of youthful revolutionaries. Love of his country welled forth from his heart like a fountain. Sri Aurobindo praised highly two of his songs which he translated himself. One was Dwijendra Lal's immortal song Bharat Amar:
India, my India, where first human eyes awoke to heavenly light!
All Asia's holy place of pilgrimage, great Motherland of might!
World-mother, first giver to humankind of philosophy and sacred lore,
Knowledge thou gav'st to man, God-love, works, art, religion's opened door.
O even with all that grandeur dwarfed or turned to bitter loss and maim,
How shall we mourn who are thy children and can vaunt thy mighty name?
Before us still there floats the ideal of those splendid days of gold;
A new world in our vision wakes, Love's India we shall rise to mould.
India, my India, who dare call thee a thing for pity's grace today?
Mother of wisdom, worship, works, nurse of the spirit's inward ray!
He has written a score of beautiful patriotic songs. But this counts among his very best and remains a source of inspiration to all to this day. Even if he had written nothing else, it would have made him immortal for all time.
Many provinces in India have not only translated his exquisite dramas, but also staged them time and again quite successfully. Mebar Patan (Fall of Mevar) is perhaps the best of all the dramas written by him. It is a book of absorbing interest by which every son of the Motherland should feel inspired.
Dwijendra Lal was endowed with a many-mooded personality. Virility, strength, lyric beauty and simplicity are four pillars on which rested the entire superstructure of his poetry. He had an admirable freedom of thought from the usual traditional ideas and sentiments. Also, he was rich in wit, humour, irony, sarcasm, comedy and parody.
One of the notable features in his dramas is the lucid expression of the sacrifice, love and inspiration of women. He says, "I believe that the Bengalees, though fallen on evil times, can yet keep their heads erect because of the strength of character of their women."
Rabindranath admired his genius profoundly as he himself wrote in the preface of his biography:
"The only thing worthy of note, so far as my relationship with him was concerned, is that I have always felt the profoundest admiration for his lofty genius."
Neither are we to forget Roy's high appreciation of Tagore:
"He stands head and shoulders above all his contemporaries in Bengal."
"His was the feast in presence." This appreciation sprang out from the lips of a critic while describing Shakespeare. The very same quality D.L. Roy possessed.
He died before his fiftieth birthday in 1913, mourned by thousands who had been inspired by his character and poetic gifts.
A Vedic Truth in the crucible of modern scienceSri Jagadish Chandra Bose is an immortal name in the scientific world. He was the scientist of scientists, not made but born. Yet to say that he was only a scientist is not to say all. J.C. Bose the seer was as great as J.C. Bose the scientist. He represented a novel type in the world of science. He was the forerunner of a new age of scientific research. He had moved the frontiers of intuitive science towards a fresh attainment. A man of deep faith, a perfect example of artless living and lofty thinking, an embodiment of all that is good and inspiring was Jagadish Chandra.
Sarvam prana ejati nihsrtam (Everything springs up from life and makes movements therein).
This eternal message of the Upanishads ceaselessly reverberated in the innermost recesses of the discoverer of "plant sensitivity." The world has come to learn from this son of India the secret of observing a plant shivering, suffering, struggling, perhaps even reciprocating love. In a word, but for him the modern world would have remained quite in the dark about the deeds and misdeeds of the plants so near and dear to the Mother Earth and us as well. His approach to the scientific world was absolutely original. Although his apparatus did not demand of him a heavy charge, yet, strangely enough, by virtue of his skill he won the greatest honour.
In 1900 an international exhibition of scientific research was held in Paris. Many eminent scientists from all parts of the world gathered there to offer their contributions. The spiritual giant Swami Vivekananda happened to attend it. Highly impressed by the admirable achievements of those scientists, his heart pined to see a son of Bengal who could walk shoulder to shoulder with those mighty figures. Suddenly, to his astonishment, the magnetic personality of J.C. Bose caught his attention. He was overjoyed to find his Bengali brother eclipsing his colleagues. His assertion about Bose was:
"Today Jagadish Bose — an Indian, a loving son of Bengal — heads the list of the galaxy of scientists. Three times three cheers for Jagadish Chandra!"
Let us also not miss a thrilling and arresting report that appeared in a London daily:
"…if you watch his astonishing experiments with plants and flowers, you have to leave an old world behind and enter a new one. The world where plants are merely plants becomes mercilessly out of date, and you are forced abruptly into a world where plants are almost human beings. Professor Bose makes you take the leap when he demonstrates that plants have a nervous system quite comparable with that of men, and makes them write down their life-story."
Now, lest metal should be displeased with him, the seer scientist revealed to the world that metal, too, possesses signs of life. Life is within, life is without each object. To quote Sri Aurobindo, the Master of Integral Yoga, "A bridge has been built between man and inert matter. If we take Dr. Bose's experiments with metals in conjunction with his experiments on plants, we may hold it to be practically proved for the thinker that Life in various degrees of manifestation and organisation is omnipresent in Matter and is no foreign introduction or accidental development, but was always there to be evolved. Mind, which modern Science has not yet begun to rightly investigate, awaits its turn."
To Professor Bose, scientific research was nothing other than the life principle itself. As the spiritual thirst in him was great, he made bold to say in a wonderful speech delivered at the Royal Institute, London, that "They who behold the One, in all the changing manifoldness of the universe, unto them belongs the eternal truth, unto none else, unto none else."
Bose gives a revealing intimation of the Truth that man must seek brotherhood today so that he may grow capable of liberating himself from the clutches of the feelings of superiority that threaten to eclipse the sun of true civilisation.
The Indian scientist sees eye to eye with the mighty poet. He takes one step further:
"Nothing is as far from truth as saying that the world is indebted to some particular nation for its progress in the sphere of knowledge. All countries of the world are interdependent… This attitude of interdependence forges the bond of unity and determines the pause and progress of civilisation."
In this positive assertion we do observe that his cosmopolitan heart is smitten almost beyond cure with a vision of endless brotherhood.
Verily Jagadish Chandra's Avyakta (The Unmanifest) is one of the few to be chewed and digested. Here the style is vigorous, the analysis and arguments telling. Reading between the lines of this unique work of his, we can easily form the idea that he was an expositor of rare rounded knowledge. While presenting the book to his life-long bosom friend Rabindranath he writes:
Around you are entwined the memories of years of my joy and sorrow...Today I send into the glare of your sunlight the glimmer of my glow-worm.
Rabindranath's immediate reply too is arresting and it throws much light on Jagadish Chandra's literary genius. His letter runs:
Much of your Avyakta is well known to me...Although you have Science as your first love, yet well could literature claim that coveted place. It is only by your inattention that she stands neglected.
The seer scientist successfully crossed the barrier between physics and physiology. He crossed also the barrier between the living and the non-living just to inform the world of his rare realisation that there is but one Truth which simultaneously embraces all branches of knowledge. He admitted the fact that public life and various other professions will be apposite spheres of activity for aspiring young men. But he desired something more from the chosen few: "I call those very few who, realising an inner call, will devote their whole life with strengthened character and determined purpose to participate in the infinite struggle to win knowledge for its own sake and see truth face to face."
"You have left us nothing to do!" Such was the glowing tribute paid to Bose by the scientists of Vienna after observing his investigations, so complete and perfect. Their sincere appreciation of Bose clearly indicates that he stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries in the world of science.
While presenting his works to Bose, George Bernard Shaw, who is known all the world over for his challenging plays, for his love of fun, his keen wit, his sharp criticism, writes:
"From the lowest physiologist to the greatest Physiologist of the world."
The matchless novel Jean-Christophe reached the hands of the Indian scientist from the French savant Romain Rolland with an extremely significant message: "To the discoverer of a new world."
It is imperatively necessary to write a few words about his wife, Lady Abala Bose. She was a personality of tremendous executive drive and precision. She was at once his guide and disciple as necessity demanded. Sister Nivedita and many other eminent figures remained beholden to this venerable woman to the end of their lives.
I am tempted to bring Socrates onto the scene. The matchless philosopher was addressed by his own wife, Xanthippe, as "Public Nuisance Number One." And when a bucket of filthy water was emptied over the husband by his better half after she had delivered a wifely lecture, the wise heart of the philosopher voiced forth: "Rain always follows thunder."
Strange are the ways of Providence. To the scientist his better half proved a veritable blessing. To the philosopher his better half proved a deplorable misfortune — although his compassionate philosophic heart could never subscribe to this view. Back to the scientist. No doubt, there is a great possibility even for the most materialistic science of today to become intimately united with the higher spiritual knowledge. But when can that fated day dawn? The moment the scientists will endeavour to discover truth not solely with the external gross senses, but also with their subtler and deeper senses. For a happy synthesis between science and spirituality, between Matter and Spirit, is not only possible but inevitable.
The Bose Institute, which was to him a Temple and not a Laboratory, he dedicated to the Nation on the 30th of November, 1907. Basu Vignan Mandir proved a stupendous success in his life. The seer scientist has left an imperishable memorial of himself in his Mandir.
Bose's internal life was sanctity exemplified. He was a repository of gentleness and kindness. His life was as clean as it was simple. His was a long record of scientific research — selfless service to humanity. His manifest earnestness and zeal and easily winning personality had endeared him not only to the Indian souls but to those in the West. Truth to tell, as a seer-scientist the world has not seen his like again.
Nehru and AmericaAmerica is swift and direct. She is also decisive. Incertitude fails to touch her. Nehru was wakeful and unfailing. He was also untiring. No gulf was to be found between his life and his message. As America is a clarion-call to the development of a universal Freedom, so also is Nehru's soul to the blossoming of an all-sustaining Peace. Nehru saw in America an evolution which is at once enormously dynamic and unimaginably unparalleled. America saw in Nehru, in his vision, an evolution which is supremely peaceful and divinely meaningful.
"Prime Minister, we welcome you here to the shores of this country as a friend, as a great world leader, as one who has in his life and times stood for those basic aspirations which the United States stands for today."
(Welcoming remarks of President Kennedy at the Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, November 6, 1961).
Significant are these words, more so because President Kennedy brought forward clearly to the American consciousness one of the basic aspects of Nehru's Mission. Nehru was perfectly mirrored in Kennedy's accurate scrutiny. Neither did the Premier lag behind in assessing Kennedy:
"We face mighty problems in the world today, and you, Mr. President, bear perhaps the greatest responsibility in this world. And so we look up to you and to your country, and seek to learn from you, and sometimes also to express what we have on our minds, that we can achieve the greatest aim that the world needs today — peace and opportunity to grow and flourish in peace."
America discovered in Nehru's soul the secret of uplifting man's characteristics into character. Nehru discovered in America's soul the secret of transmuting human dynamism into international unity.
Worried by a shoreless sea of doubts, hounded by the undying throes of poverty and mercilessly faced with a rapidly increasing population — India cannot so easily overcome this fate of hers.
Threatened by her own creation, the two roaring bombs, suffering from the pressures of others' demands, eclipsed by doubts about her own future in the world of tomorrow — America cannot so easily escape this fate of hers.
A profound insight is the element with which President Johnson characterises Nehru's contribution to the four frontiers:
"History has already recorded his monumental contribution to the moulding of a strong and independent India. And yet, it is not just as a leader of India that he has served humanity. Perhaps more than any other world leader, he has given expression to man's yearning for peace. This is the issue of our age. In his fearless pursuit of a world free from war, he has served all humanity."
Unlike those of a good many luminaries of the world, Nehru's was a reputation that did not rise and fall like the flash of a sky-rocket. With his passing behind the curtain of eternity, India's heart was smitten with excruciating pangs and slow-healing sorrows, while America was deprived of two far-flung embracing arms. To America, Nehru was a fount of inspiration and an unforgettable international. To Nehru, America was a towering achievement, a great boon to the world at large.
Two Olympian influences, East and West, surprisingly luminous and instructive, ran simultaneously through the span of Nehru's life.
Kipling's prophetic utterance: "East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet" proved empty in the life of Jawaharlal Nehru.
People railed at Nehru's neutralism, but his neutralism had a profound purpose of its own which was appreciated by the deepest minds in America.
"Nehru's great contribution has been reason and patience. His influence helped to cool national tempers, to work the nations away from each crisis. Sometimes his efforts were misunderstood, his complicated neutralism condemned. But if we are safer in the world today, as we seem to be, much of the credit goes to India's gentle leader." (Hanford Sentinel, California, May 28, 1964)
Life to the American consciousness is nothing short of completing one task after another with the hope of realising the all-liberating Freedom. Life to the Indian consciousness is nothing short of completing one endeavour after another with the hope of realising the all-nourishing Peace.
In our salutations to America, we see God the Warrior and Protector. In our salutations to Nehru, we see the Divine Dreamer and the Torch-Bearer of Truth.
A great quartetThe Trinity of India's national independence movement, started in the first decade of this century, was Bal-Pal-Lal. The harmonious blend of these three great names as of their minds and hearts still gives a thrill of joy and gratitude to the memory of the Nation.
The character and the personality of Bal Gangadhar Tilak were equally responsible for his success. This son of Maharashtra instilled into his Indian brothers character, strength, vigour and self-respect which, he thought, would wield a tremendous influence on the future generation. He was one of the voices that never faltered. Also he was one of the voices that could unite and build. He looked down upon conceit and hypocrisy even when they were part of a deliberate plot or plan. His speeches were exquisitely racy and absorbingly significant.
"…a name to be remembered so long as the country has pride in its past and hope for its future." In these few words of appreciation from Sri Aurobindo's immortal pen the world can form an idea of the contribution of Tilak to his Motherland.
Idleness is an unpardonable error. It gives birth to foolishness. And foolishness aptly shows us the way to destruction. We had managed to lose the power of Vision that resided ever within us. Alas, others had to come and make us conscious of it. Tilak's incisive utterance runs:
"We have been very idle. We have grown so stupid owing to our idleness that we are required to be told by foreigners that our treasuries conceal gold and not iron."
Bengal Partition, October 16, 1905 — Tilak was convinced like every right thinking man that those who meekly tolerate wrongs are as much to be blamed as the doers thereof. He asked the Bengalis to muster courage and fight against the injustices committed by the British Government. He inspired them to raise a shout of protest and to condemn the misdeeds of the British.
"You must make a permanent cause of grievance. Store up the grievances till they are removed. Partition grievances will be the edifice for the generation of India. Do not give up this partition grievance, for the whole of India is at your back. It is a cornerstone and I envy the people of Bengal for laying this cornerstone."
A thing never to be forgotten is the bold utterance made by Bipin Chandra Pal about the Partition of Bengal.
Lord Curzon passed his gubernatorial pen, cut the Province of Bengal in twain. Bengal remained one, and all that his attempt did was to create a deathless determination in the people to continue to be one to the end of their life. (Hear, hear)… No, gentlemen, the partition has failed. Mr. Morley says it is a "settled fact." History declares that it is a "settled failure" (Cheers) and I think "settled failure" is as good an expression as "settled fact." (Hear, hear). Now that partition has failed we do not care whether the Partition goes or whether it remains.
As the country can never dare to forget Tilak, even so with the "Surat split." Unfortunately, many people are under the wrong impression that this sorry split was all due to divergence in ideals. No, it was just because of difference of opinion as to the method of work which was to be carried out to gain the one common ideal of Swaraj. Tilak sincerely hoped that his Indian brothers would forget before long this deplorable event. To quote him:
"The difference being one of method and not of ideal it would surely be forgotten as time rolls on, and the keenness of it would surely be lessened every year till we meet again on a common platform."
Needless to say, after the Surat Congress Tilak became an object of contempt to many. They called him the deliberate breaker of the Congress. But, according to Sri Aurobindo, "To no one was the catastrophe so great a blow as to Mr. Tilak." If we at all want to understand Tilak rightly then we have no other choice than to listen to the following significant words of Sri Aurobindo:
"He (Tilak) did not love the do-nothingness of that assembly, but he valued it both as a great national fact and for its unrealised possibilities, and hoped to make of it a central organisation for practical work. To destroy an existing and useful institution was alien to his way of seeing and would not have entered into his ideas or his wishes."
At a time when our Motherland was swooning under the yoke of subjugation imposed by the British, the profusely inspired voice of Tilak, the Father of Indian Unrest, was heard: "Home rule is my birthright." And his voice was propagated from that very moment to eternity.
The greatness of Bipin Chandra Pal was many-sided. He was a patriot to his fingertips, a dauntless and progressive thinker, a man with a prophetic vision, a great literary figure, the possessor of a trumpet voice. He will, no doubt, be remembered longest as an orator. A ceaseless stream of eloquence ran direct from his heart to inspire and conquer the hearts of his countrymen. Unique as an orator, Pal was far greater as a lover of his Motherland. His heart bled for the suffering and slumbering nation. His speeches were nothing short of an overwhelming distribution of energy and it was often that this energy was successfully communicated to the public like an electric charge. His fiery speeches proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that in spite of physical prostration for a few centuries, India was still surcharged with an inner indomitable will that would one day enable her to stand in the vanguard of knowledge and power.
Pal failed to see eye to eye with the Congress at the beginning of the present century. The timid political agitation that was carried out by the Congress was, in his opinion, another name for begging. Hence he called the Congress "a begging institution." In this respect Sri Aurobindo too could not side with the Congress that stood for a policy of petition, nay, prayer.
It is worth remembering how Tilak differed from Pal:
"All talk about future progress, about the establishment of Responsible Government in the Province and afterwards in the Central Government is a very good talk with which I fully sympathise but which I am not prepared to demand as the first step of the introduction of Home Rule in India. That is the difference between myself and Mr. Bipin Chandra Pal. He wants the whole hog at once. I say, it would be granted to you by stages: demand the first step so that the introduction of the second step would be much more easy than it is at present."
Pal was definite in his assertion that India was to work out a new history for herself. It was next to impossible to form a self-government within the British Government, because the empire would undoubtedly be against the spirit of self-respect and self-reliance of the Indian people. On the other hand, he wanted a free and independent United States of India.
Pal was considered to be the most dangerous man in India by Lord Minto, then Governor-General of India. On April 2, 1907, he could not help writing a letter to Lord Morley, the Secretary of State for India in London: "I do not think we should allow Bipin Chandra Pal to stump the country preaching sedition as he has been doing." And soon after this he proposed "the deportation of Bipin Chandra Pal on the ground that his behaviour has been monstrous."
Pal's triumphant call to patriotism reached every heart, rich and poor, wise and unwise. It is an undeniable fact that patriotism is the true love of one's own country. Pal adds something to it. He says: "Love's test is sacrifice." His final conclusion is: "Agitation is not, in any sense, a test of true patriotism. That test is self-help and self-sacrifice."
Indeed, one of his self-sacrifices captures our attention and draws admiration from all his countrymen. But for him Aurobindo, his dearest colleague, would have been thrown into jail. He cheerfully accepted six month's rigorous imprisonment just to keep his cherished friend Aurobindo at large.
Pal thundered against those who were in favour of tabooing politics from our schools and universities. He reminded his opponents of the facts that in the Oxford and Cambridge Unions they discuss politics, and in the school they bring up brigades. He observed: "Do they sing the National Anthem in the public schools in England?
Rule Britannia! rule the waves,
Britons never shall be slaves.
Is it tabooed in any public school in England? If not, how can you say that singing Bande Mataram is not consistent with the advancement of the real culture and education among the people of this country?" (Shouts of "Bande Mataram")
And he made bold to say that if the student community were consumed with the incantation-fire of Bande Mataram, then the education of students would no longer remain a problem. To quote him: "If this is done, you will solve the problem of education in India such as it has not as yet been solved by the British-controlled universities and officialised agencies of public institution in this country." Like his closest colleague Aurobindo, he too felt the mantric spirit of Bande Mataram in the depths of his heart. To them, Bande Mataram was not a mere sound, but a living force; not even a word, but a fiery inspiration, nay, the vision of an apocalypse.
What is a nation after all? According to Bipin Chandra Pal, a nation is not simply a collection of individuals. His firm conviction is that "a nation is an organism; it has organic life, and like all organisms a nation has an end unto itself, which is different from the ends that regulate the activities of other similar organisms, other similar nations." And Sri Aurobindo reveals the truth that lies behind the rise of India. "She does not rise as others do, for herself or when she is strong, to trample on the weak. She is rising to shed the eternal light entrusted to her over the world. India has always existed for humanity and not for herself and it is for humanity and not for herself that she must be free."
In his unique Uttarpara Speech Sri Aurobindo's lofty appreciation of Bipin Chandra Pal runs: "He is one of the mightiest prophets of Nationalism." No other characterisation of Bipin Chandra Pal's life could be more apposite than this.
Lala Lajpat Rai — "The Lion of the Punjab." How tremendously he fought, how terribly he suffered after he had thrown himself headlong into the battlefield of freedom! It was the profoundest fellow-feeling and not common self-interest that moved his patriotic heart. In this connection let us recollect Sri Aurobindo's prophetic utterance about patriotism: "Our ideal of patriotism proceeds on the basis of love and brotherhood beyond the unity of the nation and envisages the ultimate unity of mankind."
Politics was not the sole field of Rai. Strangely enough, he played a magnificent role in social reform and the Arya Samaj movement at Lahore. In this he was heartily helped by the young devoted patriots of the province.
Like Pal, he too was definite in his assertion that independence could be achieved only by our own efforts, and that to depend on British generosity would be to cry in the wilderness. He had little sympathy with Gandhiji's non-cooperation. He knew what fighting means. He was a stranger to satyagraha. Also, he failed to be at one with Gandhiji's view of life, that is to say, he did not expect much from mere simplicity in life. What he wanted was "a zest for real life." He was a religious Hindu to the marrow both by temperament and self-training.
To our country's cause he consecrated his whole life, his everything. He was highly inspired by the soul-stirring teachings of Swami Vivekananda. On the one hand, he was the hero of heroes; on the other, he was a Nation-builder. He was terribly hurt when he saw the English-knowing Indian aping his master in all his manners. What he found worse was that the English-knowing Indian cheerfully detested Indian life and took pride in being out-and-out anglicised.
It is worth remembering how Tilak felt for Rai at the time of his deportation:
"Lala Lajpat Rai…had done nothing that was not lawful, and yet the whole official hierarchy conspired and acted like one man to deport him. I cannot imagine a clearer sign that the greatness of the British Government is doomed, and that decay and demoralisation have set in." Further, he advised the young men of the Punjab to cast aside fear and not to sink into despondency. "You must imitate your ruler only in one thing, namely, in maintaining an unfailing succession of public workers. If one Lala Lajpat Rai is sent abroad, another ought to be found to take his place as readily as a junior Collector steps into the shoes of a senior."
And on that occasion, how Sri Aurobindo with his indomitable will inspired the people of the Punjab is not only striking but also highly elevating. It was far into the night. Sri Aurobindo was asleep. One of his co-workers came in and gave him the news of Lala Lajpat's deportation. While searching for paper to write on, he found a piece of packing paper within his reach. He in no time wrote out the following words for publication in his Bande Mataram on the morrow:
"Men of the Punjab! Race of the lion! Show these men who would stamp you into the dust that for one Lajpat they have taken away, a hundred Lajpats will arise in his place."
"Swaraj is my birthright," so said Tilak.
"Swaraj," said Rai, "is our war-cry, our all-inspiring and all-absorbing aim in life."
According to Sri Aurobindo, "Swaraj means fulfilment of our national life."
Again, we are not to forget that Rai was a very competent authority on education. His book, The Problem of National Education in India, throws considerable light on the true aims and ideals that ought to govern India's vision in every sphere of life. It is indeed a book of boldness and precision.
Rai was eminent in several walks of life. Verily his was a life that knew not how to shock or belittle any human being.
I now venture to ask my readers to observe how Bal-Pal-Lal looked upon Sri Aurobindo, to whom came naturally the understanding of both East and West. No hyperbole, to meet him was to feel the presence of something that could be described as the very essence of culture and refinement.
Tilak's lofty appreciation of Sri Aurobindo runs in this wise:
"None is equal to Aravinda in self-sacrifice, knowledge and sincerity…It is a dispensation of benign Providence that persons like Aravinda have been drawn to the national work…He writes from divine inspiration, sattwic intelligence, and unshakeable determination."
Pal, who was one of his closest colleagues, cherished an unimaginable admiration for Sri Aurobindo. "Youngest in age among those who stand in the forefront of the nationalist propaganda in India, but in endowment, education and character, perhaps superior to them all — Aravinda seems distinctly marked out by Providence to play in the future of this movement a part not given to any of his colleagues and contemporaries …His only care is for his country…the Mother as he always calls her… Nationalism… at its best, a concern of the intellect with some, at the lowest, a political cry and aspiration with others… is with Aravinda a supreme passion of his soul."
Long after Sri Aurobindo bade farewell to politics — to be precise, on January 5, 1925 — Lala Lajpat Rai came to meet him at Pondicherry. There was an exchange of free ideas on current politics. To quote his genuine appreciation of Sri Aurobindo which he wrote long ago: "In intellectual acumen and in scholastic accomplishments, he is perhaps superior to Har Dayal, but above all, he is deeply religious and spiritual. "
While Bal-Pal-Lal have left their impress on India's history, Sri Aurobindo is still at work unseen, and will be so till Mother India is well set on her peerless pedestal.
According to Sri Aurobindo, true independence is that which would make man one with his Creator, an independence that would make the earth a habitation of the Infinite.
This independence is far from realised, no doubt, but its realisation is as inevitable as the fact that today precedes tomorrow.
Michael Madhusudan Dutt
— Sri Aurobindo"
Madhusudan was born with rock-like determination. He proved himself to be a student of exceptional gifts, and his teachers and professors with no difficulty recognised in him a fast-blossoming intellectual figure. When his boyhood was just commencing to bud into adolescence, countless coloured images rocketed in the sky of his imagination for a swift flare-up into fame.
From his adolescence he was consumed with the desire to be an out-and-out Englishman. There was no shadow of a doubt in him that the moment his feet touched the foreign shores he would become a world figure. According to him, Bengal, nay, the whole of India was sadly wanting in the capacity of appreciating a genius, whereas the free thinking of foreigners could evaluate real merit. Let us leave him to speak:
Where man in all his truest glory lives,
And nature's face is exquisitely sweet;
For those fair climes I heave impatient sigh,
There let me live and there let me die.
At last the fated day dawned. On February 9, 1843, Madhusudan embraced Christianity in spite of his parents' and relatives' thundering and wailing in chorus. On that red-letter day Madhusudan in Michael's heart sang:
Long sunk in superstition's night,
By Sin and Satan driven, —
I saw not, — cared not for the light
That leads the blind to Heaven.
But now, at length thy grace, O Lord!
Bids all around me shine;
I drink thy sweet, — thy precious word,
I kneel before thy shrine!
Again let us not miss Michael's song in Madhu in after years on the eve of his departure to England.
Forget me not, O Mother,
Should I fail to return
To thy hallowed bosom.
Make not the lotus of thy memory
Void of its nectar — Madhu1
Neither Shakespeare nor Milton but Byron was Madhusudan's hero. It is really worth noticing how the lives of Lord Byron and Michael Madhusudan were fashioned completely in a similar mould. The characters of the two can be summed up in one word: audacity. These two mighty poets at once remind us of Danton the French revolutionist: "L'audace, encore l'audace, toujours l'audace!"
With Childe Harold's Pilgrimage Byron won the world. To cite the poet himself: "I awoke one morning and found myself famous."
With Meghnad-Badh the Indian poet distinguished himself. However, it took a few years for this epic to win recognition all over the country.
Bankim, the creator of Bengali literature, pays a glowing tribute to the poet of Meghnad-Badh thus: "…to Homer and Milton, as well as to Valmiki, he is largely indebted, and his poem is on the whole the most valuable work in modern Bengali literature."
"The Epic Meghnad-Badh," says Tagore, "is really a rare treasure in Bengali literature. Through his writings, the richness of Bengali literature has been proclaimed to the wide world." Vidyasagar's lofty praise runs: " Meghnad-Badh is a supreme poem."
Nolini Kanta Gupta, who ranks high among the great literary figures of Bengal, writes: "The day Bankim produced his artistic beauty, Kapalkundala, and Madhusudan penned —
the day Rabindranath could declare —
Not mother, not daughter, not bride art thou,
O Beauty incarnate,
O Urvasi, denizen of Paradise! —
was a momentous day for Bengali literature to proclaim the message of the universal muse and not exclusively its own parochial note. The genius of Bengal secured a place in the wide world overpassing the length and breadth of Bengal. And Bengali poetry reached the highest status."
Let me deal a little more with Byron and Madhusudan. "Self-worshipper": such was the comment made by Keats on Byron. Macaulay goes one step ahead: "He [Byron] was himself the beginning, the middle and the end, of all his own poetry, the hero of every tale, the chief object in every landscape." But who can dare to accuse the Indian poet of the same crime? Not even a single criticism of the kind can be levelled against him. Be that as it may, I should like to draw the attention of my readers to a strangely significant matter. In Byron's Manfred what the Abbot St. Maurice spoke of Manfred can equally be applied to the life of Madhusudan:
This should have been a noble creature: he
Hath all the energy which should have made
A goodly frame of glorious elements,
Had they been wisely mingled, as it is,
It is an awful chaos — light and darkness —
And mind and dust — and passion and
Mixed and contending without end or order,
All dormant or destructive.
A wonderful linguist was Madhusudan. His reading is almost unbelievable. Besides Bengali, Sanskrit and Tamil, he studied Greek, Latin, Italian and French and could read and write the last two with perfect grace and ease.
His heart gave a throb of joy after he had made his first attempt at the Bengali sonnet. He presented the poem to his dear friend Rajnarayan (Rishi Rajnarayan Bose), along with a letter which runs:
"What say you to this, my good friend? In my humble opinion, if cultivated by men of genius, our sonnet in time would rival the Italian."
We are at once reminded of Italy's high appreciation of Madhusudan. It happened that when Madhusudan was staying in Versailles, France, the third centenary of Dante was being celebrated all over the West. Madhusudan wrote a poem in memory of the immortal poet and translated it into French and Italian and finally sent it to Italy. Victor Immanuel, then ruling monarch of Italy, was enamoured of the poem and wrote to the poet: "It will be a ring which will connect the orient with the occident."
Madhusudan's life was at once a stupendous boon and an enormous sorrow. Loss of self-control was in the main responsible for this sorrow and his over-flowing poetic originality for this boon.
As Tamburlaine was Marlowe's first attempt at blank verse in Elizabethan England, even so Sharmistha was Madhusudan's first attempt at blank verse in Bengali literature.
The Bengal Tiger, Sir Ashutosh Mukherji, while paying a glowing tribute to Madhusudan's blank verse, said, "As long as the Bengali race and Bengali literature would exist, the sweet lyre of Madhusudan would never cease playing." He further added: "Ordinarily, reading of poetry causes a soporific effect, but the intoxicating vigour of Madhusudan's poems makes even a sick man sit up on his bed."
In France poor Madhusudan suffered tremendous blows from within and without. His Indian friends who had inspired him to cross the ocean had by now managed to forget the beggar Madhusudan altogether. Except for a very few well-wishers, the poet had to remain satisfied with many a fair-weather friend. But the Goddess of poetry had not deserted him from the day he began to worship her. The poet's boat was plying, as it were, between the Scylla of stark poverty and the Charybdis of innumerable loans. He was simply over head and ears in debt. As he was not in a position to clear off his debts, he was very often threatened by the four walls of a prison.
The tenebrous night was over. The sun at last dawned, thanks to the munificent generosity of Vidyasagar, equally known as Dayar Sagar (the ocean of kindness). The matchless Pundit of the country sent the poet a large sum of money. The son of Mother Bengal returned to her "Elysian lap." To our joy, Madhusudan realised his mistake. He wrote to his friend Gour from France: "If there be any one among us anxious to leave a name behind him, and not pass away into oblivion like a brute, let him devote himself to his mother-tongue. That is his legitimate sphere — his proper element."
Just three days prior to his death, Madhusudan, with the help of Shakespeare, expressed his deepest conviction of life to his dear friend Gour:
...out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.
Gour too could easily have taken the help of Longfellow:
Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal.
Madhusudan died. We are as much ashamed as pained to confess that the gloomy veil of ungratefulness which had lain across the eyes of the Bengalis was not rent asunder until fifteen years from the day of his passing, when we, his countrymen, erected a tomb on his grave. No doubt, some of his countrymen did understand that such an act was essentially a duty on their part to perpetuate the memory of the mighty poet whose very life was to their gain, but there the matter ended. It is no good lamenting the past. The golden future is at our disposal. Now, we are proud to see that the all-inviting epitaph which shines there came from the poet himself:
Stop a while, traveller!
Should Mother Bengal claim thee for her son.
As a child takes repose on his mother's elysian lap,
Even so here in the Long Home,
On the bosom of the earth,
Enjoys the sweet eternal sleep
Poet Madhusudan of the Duttas.4
As at the outset of this humble attempt of mine Madhusudan came under the lofty praise of Sri Aurobindo's immortal pen, even so at the close Madhusudan comes under the equally high praise of the Master-Seer of the Age:
"All the stormiest passions of man's soul he [Madhusudan] expressed in gigantic language.”
Mahatma GandhiMohandas Karamchand Gandhi was better known as Mahatma Gandhi. "Mahatma" means "Great-Souled One." His followers and admirers adorned him with this significant title, but the Mahatma's soulful humility vehemently disclaimed the title. To be absolutely correct, Mahatma Gandhi had two more names: Ahimsa, Non-Violence, and Satyagraha, Soul-Force.
Gandhi announces: "The votary of non-violence has to cultivate the capacity for sacrifice of the highest type in order to be free from fear. He recks not if he should lose his land, his wealth, his life. He who has not overcome all fear cannot practise non-violence to perfection."
Gandhi proclaims: "Satyagraha is a force that works silently and apparently slowly. In reality, there is no force in the world that is so direct or so swift in working."
Gandhi was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but both of his parents cared nothing for the so-called material wealth. They did care for something else, and it was the inner wealth. His father's indifference to material wealth, his politically oriented brain and his tremendous will; his mother's piety, purity, simplicity, sincerity, inner hunger and conscience of the soul; and his wife's inspiration, dedicated service and constant sacrifice all loomed large in Gandhi's life.
He went to England to study law when he was nineteen years old. Three years later he returned to India and started practising. Alas, in those days, in his legal practice, he received the garland not of victory, but of sad failure. Such being the case, he wanted to be a high school teacher in Bombay. Here too, God denied him this new career. Gandhi's application to be a teacher was not favoured with acceptance. But in 1893, opportunity knocked at his life's door. The heart of this young barrister cried with his fellow-countrymen who were victims of ruthless injustice in South Africa. He left for Africa. He defended their case, their cause. He helped them and served them. There, in Africa, he gradually became a lawyer of the superlative degree. Mahalakshmi, the Goddess of Beauty and Plenty, blessed his heart with Her beauty, and his outer life with plenty. Money, the bird, flew towards him and sweetly sat on his hand. Success, the dog, ran towards him and faithfully sat at his feet.
Behind the bird and the dog, a human being from a far-off land came and inspired his aspiring heart and illumined his searching mind to fulfil his life's ideals. Gandhi's life became the perfect expression of Tolstoy's inspiration. With a view to practising his ideals, he cast aside the crown and throne of his outer achievements. He embraced ahimsa. He embraced satyagraha. He was one of those who awakened the slumbering nation and inspired the oppressed and depressed country to come out of the foreign yoke. He was successful. By this time, his frail body was no longer a stranger to inhuman brutalities. He had to undergo, several times, severe prison sentences. On being imprisoned for the first time, on January 11, 1908, he remarked:
"We shall feel happy and free like a bird even behind the prison walls. We shall never weary of jail-going. When the whole of India has learned this lesson, India shall be free. For, if the alien power turns the whole of India into a vast prison, it will not be able to imprison her soul."
His release from last imprisonment was on May 6, 1944. He spent no less than two thousand three hundred and thirty-eight days in jail.
His outer life suffered. His inner life triumphed. His life and his soul's conviction became indivisible. His country's independence became the object of his soul's concern. His country's "untouchables" became the object of his heart's concern. Bharat Mata placed her hands of Infinite Bounty on the head of her devoted son. His country's untouchables discovered their haven in his boundless heart.
For the redemption of the untold sufferings of the untouchables Gandhi's heart of supreme sacrifice voices forth:
"I do not want to be reborn, but if I have to be reborn I should be reborn an untouchable so that I may share their sorrows, sufferings, and the affronts levelled against them in order that I may endeavour to free myself and them from their miserable condition."
We all know the supreme necessity of humility in a seeker's life. No humility, no realisation of the Infinite Truth. One must needs be as humble as the dust. But Gandhi's humility does not want to stop even at this point. He says: "The seeker after truth should be humbler than the dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after truth should so humble himself that even the dust could crush him. Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of the truth."
The world, especially the Christian world, is afraid of the consequences of sin. A Christian is more concerned about his sin than is any other man on earth. The Indian heart in Gandhi speaks about sin: "I do not seek redemption from the consequences of sin, I seek to be redeemed from sin itself."
A Vedantin — a student of Vedanta — will proclaim that there is no such thing as sin. It is merely a play of ignorance.
Gandhi throws light on conception and continence:
"I think it is the height of ignorance to believe that the sexual act is an independent function necessary like sleeping or eating. The world depends for its existence on the act of generation, and as the world is the playground of God and a reflection of His glory, the act of generation should be controlled for the ordered growth of the world. He who realises this will control his lust at any cost, equip himself with the knowledge necessary for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of his progeny, and give the benefit of that knowledge to posterity."
Mother Earth is truly proud of her son Gandhi's sincerity. He said: "For me the observance of even bodily brahmacharya has been full of difficulties. Today , that is to say, at the age of sixty, I may say that I feel myself fairly safe, but I have yet to achieve complete mastery over thought, which is so essential."
Gandhi married at the age of 13. He was blessed with four sons.
Fasting played a major role in Gandhi's life. His sound advice is "eat only when you are hungry and when you have laboured for food." This reminds me of a Zen story:
The Chinese Zen master, Hyakujo, used to work very hard with his disciples, even at the ripe old age of eighty. He used to prune the trees, clean the grounds, trim the garden, and so forth. His disciples were extremely shocked at these exertions. They knew well that it would be of no use to suggest to him to stop working, for he would turn a deaf ear to them. A brilliant idea flashed through their minds. They hid his tools. The Master played his part. He stopped eating. This went on for several days. The disciples discovered why he was not eating. They returned his tools to him. With a smile, he took the tools and exclaimed, "No work, no food!" He began eating as usual.
Gandhi often fasted to get things done in his own way. Let me tell you two amusing but significant incidents in Gandhi's life. His wife once saved twenty-five rupees to spend for a special purpose. When Gandhi came to know about it, he brought his poor wife's conduct to the attention of the public. He was furious. He exposed her in his weekly Young India under the caption, "My shame, my sorrow," and observed a three-day fast! He had taught his wife that there should be no personal belongings and no hoarding up of money.
On another occasion Gandhi took a vow that he would fast unto death. Tagore immediately said to his countrymen having realised the gravity of Gandhi's vow: "He has come after a thousand years. Shall we send him back empty-handed again?"
Gandhi's Gurudev, Rabindranath Tagore, once remarked:
"I differ with Gandhi in many respects, but admire and revere the man highly." In one aspect of life, at least, we see the difference between these two great souls. In renunciation Mahatma found his deliverance, while Tagore found his deliverance in the fruit of fulfilment. Tagore sings, "Deliverance is not for me in renunciation, I feel the embrace of freedom in a thousand bonds of delight." The Upanishadic seers sing through the heart of Mahatma, "Tena tyaktena bhunjita" (Enjoy through Renunciation).
Prime Minister Nehru, during his speech to the Congress of the United States on October 13, 1949, spoke about the Father of the Indian Nation:
"In India there came a man in our own generation who inspired us to great endeavour, ever reminding us that thought and action should never be divorced from moral principle, that the true path of man is the path of truth and peace. Under his guidance we laboured for the freedom of our country, with ill will to none, and achieved that freedom. We called him reverently and affectionately the Father of our Nation. Yet he was too great for the circumscribed borders of any one country, and the message he gave may well help us in considering the wider problems of the world."
Four days later, on October 17, while addressing Columbia University, Nehru again spoke about his mentor, guide and master:
"The great leader of my country, Mahatma Gandhi, under whose inspiration and sheltering care I grew up, always laid stress on moral values and warned us never to subordinate means to ends. We were not worthy of him and yet to the best of our ability we tried to follow his teaching. Even the limited extent to which we could follow his teaching yielded rich results."
Krishnalal Shridharani, the well-known author of My India, My America, has something amusing but striking to share with us:
"Once I was invited by a decidedly liberal minister to address a church group. After my speech on Gandhi and his non-violence, we withdrew to my host's office. He was full of praise for Gandhi's character as a man, his high ideals, his conduct, but he sincerely doubted that Gandhi could ever enter Heaven until the burden of the Hindu saint's sins was delegated to Christ. I answered that according to my way of thinking, Gandhi's life had been the nearest approximation of the "Christ life," and I also expressed some fear about the chances of the rest of us modern mortals if Gandhi were to be denied Heaven!"
Now let us hear from Gandhi what he has to say about his own salvation or about his going to Heaven:
"It was impossible for me to believe that I could go to Heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian. When I frankly said this to some of the good Christian friends, they were shocked. But there was no help for it."
Gandhi says about religion: "After long study and experience I have come to the conclusion that (1) all religions are true; (2) all religions have some error in them; (3) all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism.”
Each individual has the right to have a God of his own. He is competent enough to define God according to his inner receptivity and outer capacity. Gandhi's God is nothing other than truth. He says: "There are innumerable definitions of God, because His manifestations are innumerable. They overwhelm me with wonder and awe, for a moment stun me. But I worship God as Truth only."
Some of the world figures have called him the Saint Paul, Saint Thomas, and Saint Francis Assisi of the modern era. I call him the Pacific Ocean of Heart's Love and Soul's Compassion. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps I am right. But I am adamant in my assertion that Mahatma Gandhi is not the exclusive treasure of India, but a peerless pride of mankind; and he will remain so down the sweep of centuries.
Ascetic scientistAcharya Prafulla Chandra Ray's was a life of genuine celibacy and tranquil serenity. This illustrious savant of Bengal came into the world a century ago. The year 1861 is indeed memorable in the history of awakening India, for that year Mother India gave birth to three mighty sons. Pandit Motilal Nehru's name will shine perpetually, not only as Jawaharlal's illustrious father, but more for his part in the freedom movement of India. Tagore, the International Figure, poet, artist and mystic, is an ever-lasting name. Prafulla Chandra Ray's contribution to the world of chemistry is magnificent.
Ray's very name awakes an unflagging zeal, an arduous tapasya in the hearts of indolent and ease-loving Bengali youths. His great sacrifice is familiar to Bengalis of all ages. He carried out his self-imposed duties … propagating the principles of chemistry, he fought like a giant in the atmosphere of bondage in a poverty-stricken country. In him we find a superb scientist, industrialist and educationalist. In the fields of politics and social reform, too, he had a helping hand. But he always wanted to remain behind the silent curtain of anonymity. Many of his pupils have become great in the world of chemistry. As he was the pioneer, he had to fight against stupendous odds. However, his contribution to the history of chemical science is highly original. Among his dear pupils, nay, his intellectual heirs, Meghnad Saha, Nilratan Dhar and Jnanendra Chandra Ghosh have won world-renown.
No doubt, Ray cannot be classed with Newton, Faraday, and such others. But in his case the most striking achievement is this: that he held the banner of science and marched through the stormy night of India's prolonged bondage under foreign yoke.
It is quite interesting to note that J.C. Bose and P.C. Ray were life-long friends. For about thirty years they worked side by side. They inspired and appreciated each other highly. These two eminent personalities — Jagadish Chandra and Prafulla Chandra — were also ardent adorers of Bengali literature.
"The Laboratory of Sir P.C. Ray is the nursery of the young chemists of New India." Such was the tribute paid to him by the well-known French scholar Sylvain Levi.
Prof. Sir William Ramsay, at the end of a lecture by P.C. Ray at the Chemical Society in Burlington House, London, said, "We had the privilege and pleasure of listening tonight to that eminent Indian chemist whose name is already familiar to us for his most interesting researches on nitrates, and who, unaided, has kept the torch burning for years in that ancient land of civilisation and learning."
In 1901 he founded the Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works with a sum of Rs. 800. It has now an authorised capital of Rs. 34 lakhs. And we are not to forget his firm conviction that there is no royal road to success. He sowed the seed, we now reap the fruit thereof.
Like Tagore, he too was knighted. On the occasion of his receiving Knighthood, Sir W. J. Pope in his capacity as President of the Chemical Society congratulated him thus:
"It is the sincere hope of the members of the Council that you may long be spared to continue your unique work in connection with the development of chemical research in India."
Dr. P.C. Ray (A.D. Sc. of Edinburgh), when he came to attend a conference in Madras, was asked how many children he had. He took out of his pocket a long list of seventy-three, all of them his eminent pupils. He loved them more dearly than he could ever have loved his own children if he had had any.
Rabindranath said of him that Dr. Ray was a living illustration of ekoham vahusyam (I am alone, I want to be many). Truly has Ray diffused his own being among his intimate disciples — his love of science, his love of free Indian culture, his love of country.
Finally, we can say that his was the life that perfectly synthesised the nobility of character of ancient Indian sages, and the love of equality of the West.
Rishi Rajnarayan BoseThe father of Sri Aurobindo's mother, Swarnalata, the "grandfather of Indian Nationalism," the militant defender of his country, the Olympian champion of truth, the ruthless antagonist of sham, and, above all, a holy personage of hallowed memory who arouses a profound esteem and veneration in the hearts of the Bengalis, is Rishi Rajnarayan Bose.
He was a fond child of the Goddess of learning. Not once but twice he successfully proved himself matchless: as a student and as a teacher. "It was my principle," the Rishi said, "as a teacher to guide the boys by means of love." He was thoroughly at home in English literature. He had an easy access to the mines of Sanskrit and Arabic literatures.
Some of his countrymen took him amiss. They took him for an old man who cherished a clinging to the education and culture of ancient India, be it supremely good or abysmally bad. In fact, what he wanted was to draw the attention of his countrymen to the silliness of holding the notions that "the Indian way of eating, the Indian way of dressing, the Indian way of learning" — in a word, whatever India could offer to the world in any sphere of life — is insignificant, while whatever the English offer is worth having for a man in a civilised society. According to him, no other country in the hoary past dared belittle India for anything. And now why should it be otherwise? The Indians must be Indians heart and soul. To ape the English is to ask the presiding Deity of India to quit her own throne. And what, after all, would they get by this mad pursuit? Nothing short of self-perdition. He was a pioneer in the field of giving concrete shape to Indian Nationalism.
His heart would be uncontrollably swayed while he was singing Bande Mataram, careless of the fact that his voice was sadly wanting in the art of singing. In this connection let us remember what he wrote to the author of Anandamath in which shines our national Anthem. He was simply enamoured of the book, and wrote to Bankim, "May your pen be immortal!" The Rishi's prayer was fulfilled.
A character with diverse virtues was he. This moment his face shows a thunderbolt determination. The next moment he becomes the personification of irresistible laughter. This moment he tries to identify himself with the innermost Spirit. The next moment he discharges the duties of a wise householder. This moment he gives advice to alumni and the adorers of Bengali literature on how to serve the country better through their powerful contributions. The next moment he loses himself in the company of impossible fools.
The superiority complex was altogether foreign to his nature. Children had free access to him who was four times as old as they. Tagore was one among those little ones. One will be frankly bewildered as to how such a thing could take place in Bengal, where age is treated with far more reverential awe than in any other part of the world. It was impossible for any one to resist the good humour of the Rishi. Once Sri Aurobindo said to one of his disciples:
"Your question reminds me of the story of my grandmother. She said: 'God has made such a bad world! If I could meet Him I would tell Him what I think of Him.' My grandfather said: 'Yes, it is true; but God has so arranged that you can't get near Him so long as you have such a desire in you!' "
"A prophet is not honoured in his own country." This frequently mouthed proverb proved quite true in the case of Rishi Rajnarayan. His own son-in-law K.D. Ghosh decided to send his children to England to become thoroughly anglicised. As preparation for the fulfilment of his wishes, perhaps, he appointed a European nurse to attend his child, Auro, and later sent him to an English convent at Darjeeling for his primary education. But as a contrast, it is equally strange that the very same father should send to his son Auro in England press-cuttings from India describing the injustices and atrocities of British rule here. Thus unconsciously he supplied fuel to the fire of patriotism with which the son appears to have been born. The father did all this, for he intuitively felt that his son Auro was destined to do something very great. His expectations were more than fulfilled in Sri Aurobindo's becoming a spiritual Leader of mankind, while his immediate expectations were only partly fulfilled. Aurobindo learned what the West could teach him, yet he remained thoroughly Indian in the core of his heart, and was not anglicised, as his father desired. The grandfather's joy and pride knew no bounds to find in his grandson a unique love for his Motherland, for his culture and education, notwithstanding his Western education of the highest order.
One is taken aback to learn that Michael Madhusudan Dutt and Rajnarayan Bose were hand in glove with each other in spite of their having principles poles asunder. Rajnarayan went to the length of tabooing English words in Bengali conversation. For every English word used, he and his friends had to pay the penalty of one pice.
An interesting anecdote: It happened that Vivekananda, during his itinerancy, once paid his homage to the Rishi Rajnarayan at Baidyanath. He was accompanied by his brother disciple Akhandananda. Vivekananda had already advised his gurubhai not to disclose to Rajnarayan that he, Vivekananda, knew English, and he now pretended to have no knowledge of that language. As it seemed to Rajnarayan that Vivekananda knew no English, they spoke in Bengali. Rajnarayan was highly pleased with the Bengali youth who did not use a single word in English during their conversation. But alas, luck went against the old man. By a slip of the tongue he used the word "plus" during their pure Bengali conversation. Thinking that it would be still worse to explain the word in English to the guest, he simply placed one finger across another and thus explained it. At this the present generation may burst into laughter. But to the Rishi, who was dead against the British, it was a matter of supreme importance.
Madhusudan on the other hand could not help saying: "I can speak in English, write in English, think in English, and shall be supremely happy if I can dream in English!”
Yet on the eve of his departure to England he presented his famous poem "Adieu to Bengal!" to Rajnarayan. This can be explained by the fact that no cloud of painful misunderstanding ever cast its sombre shadow upon the light of lucid tenderness and sympathy with which the two mighty souls greeted each other. Needless to say, both had an intense love for the Motherland. In that unique Bengali poem, Madhusudan prayed that even if he breathed his last abroad his Motherland might not forget to retain him in her memory.
Among the mighty minds caught by the spirit of India's renaissance and among the pioneers in the field of national creativity, the Seer of the age, Sri Aurobindo, has seen in only two personalities the true Rishi-vision: Bankim Chandra and Rajnarayan. In his Bankim-Tilak-Dayananda and Bankim Chandra Chatterji he has immortalised Bankim; to Rajnarayan he has given perpetuity in a sonnet: Transiit Non Periit.
Transiit Non Periit
(My grandfather, Rajnarayan Bose, died in September 1899)
Not in annihilation lost, nor given
To darkness art thou fled from us and light,
O strong and sentient spirit; no mere heaven
Of ancient joys, no silence eremite
Received thee; but the omnipresent Thought
Of which thou wast a part and earthly hour,
Took back its gift. Into that splendour caught
Thou hast not lost thy special brightness. Power
Remains with thee and the old genial force
Unseen for blinding light, not darkly lurks:
As when a sacred river in its course
Dives into ocean, there its strength abides
Not less because with vastness wed and works
Unnoticed in the grandeur of the tides.
Rabindranath, who had great admiration and veneration for Rishi Rajnarayan, has noted two significant aspects of his character:
"On the one hand he had committed himself and his household affairs entirely to the care of the Divine; on the other hand he would busy himself making innumerable plans feasible or otherwise for the advancement of the country's progress."
It is interesting as well to note the remark made by Devendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath, about Rajnarayan Bose when the latter's famous lectures The Superiority of Hinduism and Past and Present were brought to light: "Whatever falls from the lips of Rajnarayan Babu creates a great sensation in the country."
Rajnarayan's multifarious activities bestowed upon his residence at Baidyanath the most prized title, "Mecca" of the social reformers and the lovers of Bengali literature.
Truly Rajnarayan was a patriot of the deepest order — an uncommon personality who combined to an astonishing degree energy in action with boldness in thought.
Raja Rammohun: Father of modern IndiaRaja Rammohun Roy was the spirit of freedom incarnate. His was a life that knew no fear; he commanded a patience that knew no despair. His was the high resolve to brave all the storms of life, to turn all curses of destiny into blessings. Verily, he is one of those great souls who are hooted in their own age and supremely honoured in the next. Equal-minded towards scorn and praise, he fought his battles all alone. His life-history is a message of freedom and a gospel of luminous works.
A versatile genius was he. He was at home in Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, Urdu, Bengali, English, French, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. No hyperbole, he could pass with the utmost ease from one language to another. As his learning was varied and profound, even so his achievements were vast and wonderful.
It was the Raja who inaugurated the Modern Age in this great subcontinent. His personality was at once many-sided and perfectly balanced. By virtue of his freedom of spirit he dynamised our national being. He was the pioneer path-maker who removed teeming obstacles that impeded our steady progress within and without at every step. It was he who, for the first time, understood the true significance of the Modern Age. He fully realised the truth that an isolated independence can never be the ideal of human civilisation. No sphere of our national existence did he leave untouched. The spirit of self-assertion in the light of the all-pervading Brahman was his slogan. Right from his adolescence he sacrificed his life, his everything, to bring to the fore the true gems of India's civilisation which were scattered, unnoticed and uncared for. He gave the death-blow to the idolatry of our ancestral faith. Also, he clearly observed that blind superstition was reigning supreme in Hindu society.
Naturally this rebel soul became a cause of worry to his venerable father. Soon his father could not help asking the son to quit his house. The proud son did listen to his father. He undertook a fateful journey, crossed the Himalayas, and found himself on Tibetan soil to learn the significance of Buddhism. Strangely enough, here too he had to face the same problem of idolatry. With his indomitable will he criticised it thoroughly. Soon his life fell under the shadow of grave danger.
But for some kind-hearted Tibetan ladies he would have been put to death by the Lama-worshippers. Throwing dust in the eyes of his foes he returned home safe.
Rammohun had three kinds of friends: those who wanted to honour themselves by association with the Raja, so distinguished a personality; those who frequented his residence in season and out of season to have his advice and get their desires fulfilled; and the rare ones who came to sympathise with him and his highly elevating principles.
The Raja had already become an object of contempt in his country for his anti-idolatry attitude. And when he opened the "Brahma Sabha" (The Theistic Association) and brought about the anti-suttee agitation, his antagonists simply let loose a full flood of abuse on him. But history bears witness to the fact that Rammohun, the hero of heroes, with the help of Lord Bentinck successfully abolished the dreadful custom of Hindu widows burning on the funeral pyres of their husbands.
It was quite natural that the misery and degradation of women in Bengal should have appealed strongly to the ever-sympathetic heart of the Raja. Both his genuine sympathy and high admiration for the women of Bengal were striking:
"Women are in general inferior to men in bodily strength and energy; consequently, the male part of the community, taking advantage of their corporeal weakness, have denied to them those merits that they are entitled to by nature, and afterwards they are apt to say that women are naturally incapable of acquiring those merits…You charge them with want of resolution, at which I feel exceedingly surprised; for we constantly perceive, in a country where the name of death makes the male shudder, that the female, from her firmness of mind, offers to burn with the corpse of her deceased husband; and yet you accuse those women of deficiency in point of resolution."
Tagore's admiration for Rammohun is unique. He describes the Raja as "A Universal man." The world-renowned scholar Max Muller addressed Rammohun Roy as the Father of Comparative Religion. Vivekananda calls him "the first man of the new regenerate India." "Rammohun Roy," says Sri Aurobindo, "was a great man in the first rank of active genius who set flowing a stream of tendencies which transformed our national life."
The politician and the philanthropist in the Raja, too, deserve ample praise:
"If religion is from God, is politics from the Devil?"
"The true way of serving God is to do good to man."
The Raja was almost consumed with the desire to visit Europe. After his arrival in England he met William Roscoe, the historian of the Medicis, and Jeremy Bentham, the Utilitarian philosopher. Roscoe is reported to have observed after seeing him, "Deeply grateful am I to God for keeping me alive to witness this blessed day." Bentham addressed him as his "intimately admired and dearly beloved collaborator in the service of mankind."
The Raja had an intense longing to visit America. America, too, sincerely wanted him. Dr. Kirkland, ex-President of Harvard University, exclaimed, "The Raja was an object of lively interest in America and he was expected there with the greatest anxiety."
Rammohun cherished a great admiration for France. Hence he did not fail to visit that country. According to him, France is a "country favoured by Nature and richly adorned by the cultivation of the arts and sciences and, above all, blessed by the possession of a free constitution." Napoleon had conquered his heart even when he was in his teens. The French King, Louis Phillippe, invited him to dinner several times.
It was at Bristol that he breathed his last on May 27, 1833. His longtime home in Arno's vale has been a hallowed place for both his eastern and western admirers. Rammohun's ideas were far ahead of his age, but by virtue of his tremendous toil in the cause of regenerating India he will live forever.
Finally, let me conclude this homage of mine with the glowing tribute paid to him by Mary Carpenter, the author of The Last Days in England of Raja Rammohun Roy:
Thy Nation sat in darkness, for the night
Of pagan gloom was o'er it, — Thou wast born
Midst superstition's ignorance forlorn:
Yet in thy breast there glowed a heavenly light
Of purest truth and love, and to thy sight
Appeared the day-star of approaching morn.
Sarat ChandraSarat Chandra is one of those whose writings have attracted much attention in India and abroad, but of whose life and manners very little has been communicated to the world outside Bengal.
Sarat Chandra's eyes were in his heart. His genius is marked by a splendid grasp of the tragic world in its social conflicts. Sarat Chandra the man and Sarat Chandra the novelist equally shared a revolutionary spirit. He found no difficulty in coming in contact with a large variety of people. His experience of life reinforced his liberal outlook on life. He was perfection itself in describing the agonies of women, the abstruse problems of human life, the conception of love. His novels condemn social injustice, social indifference and opposition. And the teachings of his novels can be summed up in two words: love, frustration. He was deeply stirred by the suffering of the middle-class people.
We live in a world which is poisoned with hatred. The pressure of society, he realised, is the root of all evil, and he could not help railing at the leaders of society. He asked them to observe the value and dignity of those persons whom they had so ruthlessly discarded. Softness and sympathy towards deplorable humanity permeate his works. Society may find it difficult to give shelter to a fallen woman, but to ignore her grace and goodness in life, he declared, is unpardonable foolishness. Never did he look at women as women, but as human beings. If the same opportunity were given them, he was certain that they could walk shoulder to shoulder with men.
Sarat Chandra's works tell us that he had the profoundest respect not for the men of vast learning or wealth, but for the men of virtue. He was terribly hurt by the fact that the present society is under the subjugation of the so-called men of learning, and tortured by the men wallowing in the pleasures of riches. His heart was ready to tolerate everything save and except hypocrisy. His life was an illustration of his teaching.
If comparison has any importance, then he can aptly be compared with de Maupassant, as Tagore can be compared with Balzac. We shall not be far from the truth if we hold that Bankim Chandra is the creator of an epoch and Sarat Chandra is the announcer of an epoch in Bengali literature. With his inquisitive mind, Sarat Chandra went deep into the heart of Bengal to discover both her tremendous sorrow and her stupendous joy.
From the very beginning, the creative spirit blossomed into full splendour in the works of Sarat Chandra. His sudden arrival with his Baradidi (The Eldest Sister) in the field of literary creativity was so strange a fact that it sprang a genuine surprise on the readers and adorers of Bengali literature. He wrote it under a nom de plume. Hence people were certain that it was the mighty product of Tagore. But Tagore, too, was frankly bewildered by the fact that Bengal had such a powerful writer.
The uniqueness of his Mahesh can only be felt and not described. It happened that Dilip Kumar Roy, who is one of the true admirers of Sarat Chandra, once made a fervent request to his Gurudev, Sri Aurobindo, to peruse the book. Sri Aurobindo was then in a whirlwind of work. Notwithstanding, his disciple's request did not go in vain. He read it. His comment on the book was, "A wonderful style and a great and perfect creative artist with a profound emotional power."
Let us not forget that Sarat Chandra was all admiration for Sri Aurobindo. In one of his letters to Dilip Kumar he wrote, "What ever brief messages Sri Aurobindo gives you or answers to your questions I read with every care, ponder over and re-read. Of course, many things are past my understanding, I admit. But that should not lead you to think that I have ever said anything against him to any of your friends and relations not favourably disposed towards you. The whole country holds him in profound respect, am I the only exception?"
His Sri Kanta, according to all, wonderfully satisfies all the conditions to win the adjective "unique." On reading the translation of the first part of Sri Kanta, Romain Rolland, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his Jean-Christophe, remarked:
"Evidently Sri Kanta can claim the Nobel Prize."
The life that passes in penury must necessarily pass in obscurity. Sarat Chandra is no exception. He was born of poor parents. He knew what poverty means. Yet he was a stranger to greed. A striking incident:
Fortune had still to dawn on Sarat Chandra when Deshabandhu Chitta Ranjan Das requested him to contribute something to his journal Narayan. Sarat Chandra complied. He gave his story "Swami" for publication. Chitta Ranjan was immensely impressed by the story. He sent him a blank cheque with a covering letter saying that he was not in a position to put a price on such a wonderful story and Sarat Chandra could fill in his own figure. But Sarat Chandra drew only a hundred rupees.
Sarat Chandra used to say that he was wanting in patience, so he could not apply himself to writing poetry, in spite of the fact that he wanted to be a poet. But we know how at times he used to spend hours together to write only a few lines in prose according to his satisfaction.
Now let us observe how the poet Rabindranath, by way of a joke, compares himself with Sarat Chandra:
"In story-writing many people place Sarat above me, but that does not affect me. For even the greatest censor cannot deny my superiority over him in poetry."
Sarat Chandra's death was an irreparable loss for thousands of his countrymen. They felt it as a personal loss. And Tagore, too, was one of those. But the way he consoled his bereaved countrymen is revelatory, and a fact never to be forgotten.
He who has his place carved
In the heart of love,
Death's law can give us no sense of his loss.
He who has been taken away
From the bosom of the earth
Has been held in the heart of his country.
Finally Sarat Chandra cannot better be described than in the seer-words of Sri Aurobindo:
"What is stamped on Sarat Chandra's photograph, everywhere, is a large intelligence, an acute and accurate observation of men and things, and a heart full of sympathy for sorrow and suffering. Too sensitive to be quite at ease with the world, and also perhaps too clear-sighted. Much fineness of mind and refinement of the vital nature."
Lyricism on fireWe need not waver between doubt and certainty to hold that no other Indian woman has won her laurels in so many walks of life as did Sarojini Naidu. She was a unique poet, a superb politician, a trumpet call of patriotism, a stirring speaker on public platforms, a woman of tremendous executive drive, a staunch congressional worker. She revealed herself in a succession of amazements.
The world knows her poetry as an inimitable delectation, a magnificence of rhythmic expression. "Some of her [Sarojini's] lyrical work," says Sri Aurobindo, "is likely, I think, to survive among the lasting things in English literature, and by these, even if they are fine rather than great, she may take her rank among the immortals." It is quite interesting to observe when and how she was blessed by the God of poetry to have her first access to the "realm of gold": "One day, when I was eleven, I was sighing over a sum in Algebra: It wouldn't come right; but instead a whole poem came to me suddenly. I wrote it down. From that day my 'poetic career' began."
Another quite astonishing event in her adolescence was that she passed her Matriculation for Madras University, in her twelfth year.
Right from her adolescence she possessed a cosmopolitan heart. Hence she was a genuine stranger to the caste system. The "Chatterjee" of Bengal and the "Naidu" of Madras (Andhra) have established a happy union between the two great provinces of India.
I sent my soul into the invisible,
Some letter of that after life to spell.
And by and by my soul returned to me
And answered, I myself am Heaven and hell.
— Omar Khayyam (Rubaiyat)
Long before her birth the great Persian poet had depicted the essence of all spiritual doctrines so highly admired by Sarojini. I now venture to draw the attention of my readers to observe how another Persian, K.D. Sethna, an outstanding poet, critic, and philosopher, has compared Sarojini with some Indian leaders when she burst upon the view of her countrymen by virtue of her meteoric rise in the political horizon:
"Gandhi could instil great strength of moral purpose, Pandit Nehru a fine and wide idealism, Sardar Patel a bold and dynamic drive for liberty. But the visionary intoxication which seemed to make all burdens drop was peculiar to Sarojini… Sarojini did not overlook difficulties, but she rendered them transpicuous, as it were, and showed a resplendent future beyond them."
To the patriots she was an irresistible enthusiasm. Her life proved a surge that laughed at the impossible. It was often that her advice gained ready acceptance. One of the qualities that she had in the fullest manner was the art of humour. The humorous words flung from her tongue would make people rollick in laughter. Also she was endowed with intellectual faculties of a high order, and an imperial ease in English language. To the poet she was a never-failing fountain of beauty in earthly and Heavenly expressions. The staunch patriot in her cried out through her immortal poetical voice:
Thy future calls thee with a manifold sound
To crescent honours, splendours, victories vast;
Waken, O slumbering Mother, and be crowned,
Who once wert empress of the sovereign past.
Sarojini Devi's multifarious activities might have considerably disturbed her spiritual thirst. Nevertheless, hers was the heart of a true aspirant. Her devotional attitude is so striking that even those who are solely devoted to spirituality cannot help admiring, nay, imitating her self-surrendering prayer:
Take my flesh to feed your dogs if you choose,
Water your garden-trees with my blood if you will,
Turn my heart into ashes, my dreams into dust —
Am I not yours, O Love, to cherish or kill?
As ill-luck would have it, men are deluded into the belief that they are infinitely superior to women. Not in defence of women, but as a bare truth she thundered against this great folly of men. She voiced forth the most important role that women play in the uplifting of humanity:
"It is we, and not you, who are the real nation-builders, and without our active co-operation at all points of progress, all your Congresses and Conferences are in vain. Educate your women and the nation will take care of itself, for it is true today as it was yesterday and will be to the end of human life that the hand that rocks the cradle is the power that rules the world."
Furthermore, there is a magic spell of delight and wonder woven around the name of Sarojini Naidu in this great sub-continent.
Bharati, awakener of Tamil NadPoet, patriot, savant, awakener of Tamil Nad — Bharati is all these. There is a magic spell of intimacy and national feeling woven around the very name of Bharati. For it is true, as it was yesterday and will forever be, that his songs have an astonishing power to quicken the tempo of the patriotic fervour of his countrymen.
When his political life fell under the shadow of danger, he fled in 1908 to Pondicherry, then a French settlement. For some time he was lost to the public eye, and his life was poverty stricken.
In 1910 occurred a stroke of Providence. Aurobindo Ghosh of Bengal was no more in the vortex of politics. The presiding Deity of Pondicherry housed the fiery apostle of Indian Nationalism not only peacefully but also cheerfully.
The opportunity was too good to be missed. For years, when the sun would go down, Bharati would go to Sri Aurobindo's place to bask in the sunshine of his affection. Under that great influence, his head began to teem with national songs which brought him, in after years, transcendental praise. Sri Aurobindo taught him how to vision the country as the Mother personified. Bharati saw that, while mankind was engrossed in the immediate, Sri Aurobindo was devoted to the Ultimate. It was Sri Aurobindo who so very kindly helped him to launch into the Vedic mysteries, and made him at home in ancient literatures. Let us listen to Prema Nandakumar, an authority on Bharati and a student of Sri Aurobindo, describe the relation between the two: "…a spell-binder, an inspiration, a veritable Krishna to the neophyte Arjuna."
Soon Bharati became a man of great comprehension and was able to animate his mass of fresh knowledge by an active and lucid imagination. Now gradually Sri Aurobindo began to dive within to unveil all the mysteries of life. Bharati found the time ripe to cross the frontier of Pondicherry. In 1918 he left Pondicherry, only to be arrested at a place near Cuddalore. But only for a fleeting month did he have to undergo imprisonment.
On his return to Madras he found Mahatma Gandhi in the vanguard of the fight for freedom. He soon became one of his ardent admirers. And by this time his own admirers, too, were more than sufficient. A unique thrill they felt when he would break into his national songs. He was highly inspired by Bankim's Bande Mataram. He in his own way composed national songs to arouse the slumbering people of Tamil Nad. His songs were not only slogans of liberty but also slogans for social emancipation.
Poet Sarojini Naidu's appreciation of and admiration for Bharati is at once inspiring and significant:
"People like Bharati cannot be counted as the treasure of any province. He is entitled, by his genius and his work, to rank among those who have transcended all limitation of race, language and continent, and have become the universal possession of mankind."
It was from Sister Nivedita that he came to learn that women are not to be looked down upon. They deserve to walk shoulder to shoulder with men. That he was profoundly inspired by Nivedita's lofty teachings can easily be observed from these lines of his:
Gone are they who said to woman: "Thou shalt not open the Book of Knowledge." Nor shall it be said that woman lags behind man in the knowledge that he attains.
Also, Nivedita inspired him to be above the caste system. In accordance with her momentous advice the poet in Bharati sings:
We are of the same caste and race,
We are children of Bharat all;
We are equal in law and stature,
And everyone is Bharat's King!
Long live the Republic.
Nivedita's prophetic utterance regarding Bharati's future came perfectly true: "Some day, I am sure, you will become famous. God bless you."
As Lokamanya Tilak made bold to say that "Home rule is my birthright," even so Bharati's fearless heart voiced forth:
Equality is the experienced fact."
Bharati's cosmopolitan heart cried out to see a lucid interrelation among his Indian brothers.
What is life without unity?
Division can only spell ruin.
Could we hold fast to this truth,
What more should we need?
We'll bow to thee, Mother.
What an irony of Fate! Bharati had hardly reached the age of 39 when Death snatched him away. But he has left an imperishable imprint on Rajagopalachari: "Agastya incarnate who has given us Tamil afresh."
Vidyasagar"Vidyasagar, scholar, sage and intellectual dictator, laboured hugely like the Titan he was, to create a new Bengali society." (Sri Aurobindo)
A citadel of strength and a lighthouse of simplicity was Ishwar Chandra. To the poor he was Dayar Sagar (the Ocean of Kindness), to the learned he was Vidyasagar (the Ocean of Knowledge), to the humble he was the most humble-minded of men, though he never admitted the fact, and to the proud and the arbitrary he was the lion-hearted rival.
Ishwar was born when his parents were in the grip of poverty. His life clearly proves that one can win unbounded fame even after being born of the poorest parents.
It is quite interesting to observe that Napoleon and Vidyasagar, who were both surcharged with an indomitable will, were deprived of even an average height. Also, unbelievable was their love for their mothers. The Indian conquered the heart of his countrymen with a heroic spirit, boundless learning, kindness, and charity, while by the strength of his volcanic will Bonaparte conquered the heart of France and left behind a name to blaze in the history of the world.
In his boyhood Ishwar was most notorious for playing pranks. He was also equally outstanding in the merit of displaying his studies. Not to listen to his father's instructions was his bold determination. He would always do the diametrical opposite of his father's wishes. The wise father at last discovered a plan. He would ask his son Ishwar to do the reverse of what he intended him to do. That is to say, when he wanted Ishwar to have his bath he would ask him not to take a bath in such cold weather. In no time Ishwar would hurry to the pond and finish his bath. One day when the Inspector was to visit the school he wanted Ishwar to put on his best attire. So he told Ishwar that as he was not the son of a rich man he was not expected to put on fine clothes. Soon the son put on his best clothes and hurried to school.
Fear was unknown to him. According to him a man does not deserve to be called a man unless and until he fights for his self-respect. "It is better," said he, "to open a grocer's shop than to hold a high position wanting in prestige."
Vidyasagar once visited Mr. Kar, then Principal of Presidency College. During their conversation he found Kar's legs spread wide on his table. What an insult! Now let us observe how Vidyasagar paid Kar back in his own coin.
One day Kar called on Vidyasagar for some work. Vidyasagar placed not only his legs but also his sandals on the table and thus enjoyed his talk with the Principal. The Englishman was more than angry with Vidyasagar. He lodged a complaint with the higher authorities against him. The matchless Pundit was summoned. He justified his conduct by saying that he had learnt the selfsame etiquette from Mr. Kar himself when he had visited him a few months before. He further added that our Indian etiquette could by no means be the same.
Vidyasagar had no other God save man. He had no other religion but to serve humanity. His parents were his living deities and he considered his mother a paragon of virtue. He was ever ready to fight with the impossible at his mother's behest. If he was at home he would bow to his parents first and then begin his daily activities. If he was away from home he would bow to their portraits first and then launch into his daily programme.
One day he said to his mother, "Mother, I have now become a stranger to poverty. I wish you to buy some jewels." At this his mother said, "Yes, my son, I too have been cherishing the same desire for a few months. I wish to buy only three jewels: (1) The village boys are absolutely addle-headed; you are to open a free school for them. (2) See, my son, poor people are dying without any treatment; you must open a charitable dispensary for them. (3) My poor villagers have no houses to live in; you must make such an arrangement that they may properly live." In no time the son burst into tears and touched his mother's feet with his devoted head and promised that he would fulfil her desires. And within a few years he did fulfil them — to the joy of his beloved mother.
It was Vidyasagar who introduced into Bengali society the remarriage of widows of tender age. At this a multitude of people let loose a flood of abuse upon him. He stoically braved all calumny; nay, he, as it were, pounded his foes to atoms. Under his auspices no less than sixty remarriages took place, and these entailed a cost of eighty-two thousand rupees.
A surprising anecdote: We all know that Chief Justice Sir Gurudas Banerjee was one of the illustrious sons of Bengal. He was well known for his devotion to his mother, who was orthodox to her very marrow. Every day Sir Gurudas himself used to bring the sacred water from the Ganga for his mother. Indeed, God's ways are always strange. This venerable lady on her deathbed enjoined her son to invite Vidyasagar to her obsequies. By this time Vidyasagar had become an object of contempt in the orthodox community of Bengal on account of his introducing widow remarriage into Hindu society. Strangely enough, she further added that Vidyasagar should be the foremost guest at her obsequies. The son carried out the command of his dear mother, defying the bitter abuses of the orthodox Brahmins. This event clearly indicates how even a purely orthodox woman had heartily supported the just cause of widow remarriage undertaken by Vidyasagar.
In his book Bodhodaya (The Awakening of Knowledge), meant for children, he has defined God thus:
"God is the formless self-form of Consciousness." It is interesting to note how he chose to impart the highest notion of God to the budding learners. Clearly he stood far above the anthropomorphic conception of God, and he was conversant with the Vedantic idea of the Brahman.
Let us not forget Sri Ramakrishna's genuine admiration for Vidyasagar. The spiritual Giant once called on the Pundit and said: "At long last I have reached the ocean." Vidyasagar's immediate and humble reply is equally worth remembering: "If it pleases you, you may take some quantity of saline water from the ocean." The Lighthouse of spirituality retorted: "Why should it be saline water? Verily, you are the ocean of Vidya (Knowledge), and not of Avidya (Ignorance)."
"There is none in Bengal," says Vivekananda, "who has not in some way or other derived benefit from the multifarious activities of Vidyasagar."
The relation between Vidyasagar and the great poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt was that of a father and a son. It is well known how Vidyasagar, nay, Dayarsagar saved Madhusudan's life from imminent peril at Versailles, France. After his return from the foreign shore, he still took money in season and out from Vidyasagar. It happened that Vidyasagar was once counting some currency notes at home. His Madhu hurried into the room and placed his hand forward. Vidyasagar fondly said: "Wait a bit, let me finish my counting." But Madhu was in a tearing hurry. He took some currency notes and sprinted off. The father's affectionate heart voiced forth: "Madhu, O Madhu, you are so impossible!" Madhusudan lived in the heart of Vidyasagar on such a footing of affection.
Rabindranath's unique love and admiration for Vidyasagar can be gauged from the glowing tribute paid to him through his remark: "Perhaps it is by oversight that God has sent a real man among seventy million of so-called men inhabiting Bengal."
Vidyasagar was a man of supreme genius whose memory one can cherish as an invaluable treasure.
Part II — Rabindranath: the myriad-minded
Adorer of natureThe life of almost every great poet is blessed with some special gifts. Rabindranath was an adorer of Nature. In the West, Wordsworth and Shelley also studied in the same school of Nature. These three mighty poets wanted to establish a relation with Nature beautifully, sincerely, and finally inseparably. But the aspect of Nature that Tagore loved most was her beauty.
ArtThe sole function of Art is to discover beauty within and without. And Art is in itself a self-expression of the different levels of Consciousness.
The mysterious slogan "Art for Art's sake" expressed by Victor Cousin is, however, only partially true. To quote Sri Aurobindo: "Art for Art's sake certainly — Art as a perfect form of and discovery of Beauty; but also Art for the soul's sake, the spirit's sake and the expression of all that the soul, the spirit wants to seize through the medium of beauty.”
In the words of Tagore, "Art, like life itself, has grown by its own impulse, and man has taken his pleasure in it without definitely knowing what it is." — Personality
There is a considerable difference between the Art of the East and that of the West. Tagore has lucidly defined the object of Oriental Art and Occidental Art:
"The greatness and beauty of Oriental art, especially in Japan and China, consists in this, that there the artists have seen the soul of things and they believe in it. The West may believe in the soul of Man, but she does not really believe that the universe has a soul. Yet this belief of the East and the whole mental contribution of the East to mankind is filled with this idea. So, we, in the East, need not go into details and emphasise them; for the most important thing is this universal soul, for which the Eastern sages have sat in meditation, and the Eastern artists have joined them in artistic realisation."
Art has a character of its own as society or spirituality has. It is an absurdity on the face of it to think that Art is and must for ever remain a faithful servant to morality. Art is freedom itself. Art is that which finds equal delight in the core of beauty and in the core of ugliness. Verily the nature of Art is an all-seeking harmony.
BeautyIn spite of the general belief that beauty and truth are two separate things, Keats has told us that "Beauty is truth, truth beauty."
Beauty and Tagore were inseparable friends — one soul in two bodies.
— Nolini Kanta Gupta Poets and Mystics"
Beauty is always sweet. But why is it so? Here is the answer given by Tagore:
Bengal and Bengali literatureMother Bengal's literary contribution to Tagore's childhood was a very meagre presentation. The poet in his teens increased and enlarged it into a swift-flowing river.
Rabindranath's love and sacrifice for Bengal were one and the same. In 1905, at the time of the partition of Bengal, the patriot in Rabindranath suffered more than the poet. His immortal prayer ran:
Where Bengal's all-fulfilling literary treasure is, there will Tagore be also.
BrahmanNo mind, no form, I only exist;
Now ceased all will and thought.
The final end of Nature's dance,
I am It whom I have sought.
— Sri Chinmoy The Absolute
BuddhaThe Buddha appeared on earth to dispel by the illumination of knowledge the ignorance that had enveloped the human mass, to release the human soul from the prison-cell of desire into the wideness of the silence and peace of Nirvana.
"Buddha instructed not only to give up desires but also to extend love, for the soul attains to its real nature through this ever-widening extension of love," so says Tagore. — Shantiniketan 7
As morning shows the day.
— Milton Paradise Regained"
As every canon admits of exception, even so this truth does not always hold. But in the life of Rabindranath it is absolutely true.
The more we make a child happy, the more we can expect good of him. It is but a child's cheerful face that can frighten away the teeming ills of the world.
To serve a unique purpose Tagore invites a child to appear on the world-scene.
Go and stand amidst their scowling hearts, my child, and let your gentle eyes fall upon them like the forgiving peace of the evening over the strife of the day.
Let them see your face, my child, and thus know the meaning of all things; let them love you and thus love each other.
Come and take your seat in the bosom of the limitless, my child.
— The Crescent Moon"
Cosmopolitan"I am not an Athenian, nor a Greek, but citizen of the world." This lofty utterance of Socrates serves equally well in Tagore's life, for he is not a Bengali, nor an Indian, but a universal man.
CreationCreation within, creation without. To look at the surface of Tagore's creative genius without trying to fathom its depth is simply to judge him in parts. No wonder that Tagore's mighty creation did not win universal appreciation in the beginning. For we know that its depth calls for a stirring of the soul's eyes.
The child of Mary came to preach Love and Surrender to God and establish on earth the Kingdom of Heaven. He brought our soul to the fore and declared: "I and my Father are one."
The tenet of Christ — love thy neighbour as thyself — has been interpreted by Tagore with a new orientation. He opines that it is not an ordinary precept; here the emphasis is not on loving one's own neighbour but on loving as one's own self.
DeathPoor Tagore enjoyed the earth only for eighty fleeting years. But the blessed earth has obtained him for all time.
"Death," says Tagore, "lays its hand upon the ego in all its forms. The world is not deprived of anything. All losses are incurred by the ego alone." — Shantiniketan 7
Tagore has died only to become deathless fully and integrally in the Indian, nay, universal consciousness.
EducationEducation is that which tends towards the formation of character. To quote Tagore, "I believe that the object of education is the freedom of mind which can only be achieved through the path of freedom — though freedom has its risk and responsibility as life itself has." He throws more light on education when he observes: "The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence."
A school, however perfect, is nothing more than a road leading to education. Who is ignorant of the fact that Tagore himself was not a school product? Yet at the same time, Rabindranath's knowledge was as vast as the Indian Ocean.
EgoOne's puny ego is the worst possible foe of love. Therefore, the poet in Tagore in lamentation cries out: "I came out alone on my way to my tryst. But who is this that follows me in the silent dark?…He is my own little self, my Lord, he knows no shame; but I am ashamed to come to thy door in his company."
Again in one of his letters he says: "Egoism is the price paid for the fact of existence."
— Tagore, Personality"
True, Tagore was a fond child of Fortune; but how wonderfully he developed and utilised his gifts in the creation of love and beauty is of supreme importance. He was, we can say, a golden chance. But Tagore made himself infinitely more valuable than this chance. By dint of his unique genius he has become the loveliest choice of present-day humanity.
— Lenin Speech, 1917"
Dignity is the brave son of freedom and the true father of joy.
Tagore asks women not to try to tie down their husbands, but to allow them full freedom. The imposition of bondage is sure to recoil on them, and, at the same time, it is apt to deprive the male of his manliness.
In his Fruit Gathering he sings as regards his own freedom: "Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved but hope for the patience to win my freedom."
GitanjaliGood to read Gitanjali.
Better to explore it.
Best to live its truth.
Before Gitanjali won him world-renown, Tagore was not even a triumphant poet in Bengal, much less a victorious one. Such were then the teeming clouds over the firmament of Bengal.
Tagore became the conqueror,
The world became the possessor,
In a golden moment of one and the same year — 1913.
We know that neither man nor God is in fault. Voltaire helps us to assert the existence of God in a unique manner.
"The world embarrasses me,
and I cannot dream
That this watch exists and has
How lucidly true is it when Tagore says: "It is a mere tautology to say that God is unknowable, when we leave altogether out of account the person who can and does know Him. It is the same thing as saying that food is uneatable when the eater is absent. Our dry moralists also play the same tricks with us in order to wean our hearts away from their desired objects." — Personality
GratitudeThree times three cheers for the world, for her expression of gratefulness to the memory of Tagore, the Unique. This praise is well-timed, coming on the occasion of his birth centenary.
— Emerson, Self-Reliance"
Verily, the whole of Bengal, as ill luck would have it, misunderstood Rabindranath until he won the Nobel Prize in 1913.
Himalayan blunderAs one star widely differs from another star in glory, so Tagore differs from Shakespeare, Virgil, Milton, and Dante. To expect one and the same flower from their mental gardens is to commit a Himalayan blunder.
History and literatureHistory says: "Rabindranath was." But the present-day literature of the entire humanity says: "Rabindranath is still, and will for ever be.”
Humility and inspirationAs the real test of a truly great man is his humility, so the first test of a great poet is the power of receiving inspiration, if not intuition. But luckily enough, the poet in Rabindranath had both qualities in an infinite measure.
HumourHumour has a free access not only to our emotions but also to our arid intellect. To produce genuine humour is not an easy thing. It demands genius. Out of Tagore's numerous touches of humour, let me cite here only three to show that even his genius as a humourist India cannot deny.
(1) "If I look with my eyes open, my wife suspects that I am on the lookout for her sister. If I sit with my eyes closed, she thinks that my mind is occupied with her sister. If I cough, she ascribes some motive to it. And if I check it with my utmost efforts, she sees into it something more serious." — Vaikunther Khata
(2) "The Ayurvedic physicians (Kaviraj) hold that the heart organ stands on the organ of digestion, though the poets do not admit that the emotion of love is based on the power of forbearance and self-control." — Sesh Raksha
(3) "The thermometer of love shows three degrees of temperature. When a man asserts that he has not fallen in love, it indicates the subnormal temperature of 95°. When he admits that he loves, then he runs the temperature of 98.4, which is, according to the doctors, quite normal and entirely free from any danger. But when the fever of love exceeds 105°, the patient ceases to use all endearing terms and begins to call his beloved names; in the absence of such behaviour, his heart would burst by the pressure of the steam of love, and it may lead to an accident of the worst type. It is only an M.D. in the medical science of love who can estimate how delirious becomes the language of a patient stricken with the fever of love."
Now let us place Tagore's own view as regards humour:
"Humour is a dangerous thing. It is well if it surrenders itself willingly with a smiling face, but a catastrophe may result if you try to take it by storm." — (From his letters)
We find in the famous book Mangputé Rabindranath, by Maitreyi Devi, a fine specimen of Tagore's sense of humour. "Don't you know, it is already proved that I am not entitled to cut jokes? A professor has given his verdict that a lyric poet cannot have any sense of humour. Irrefutable is his reasoning. Therefore it has to be admitted that either I possess no sense of humour or I am not a poet at all. Is it not a pity that I am about to lose my celebrity as a poet which I have acquired with so much toil?"
IdealRabindranath's was the ideal that touched almost all the aspects of human life, and he proved himself a grand success everywhere.
ImaginationPoetry without imagination is the worst possible absurdity.
— Albert Einstein On Science"
Anatole France comes one step ahead and makes bold to say:
Verily, Tagore, the Master-poet of modern India, was the emblem of an all-fulfilling imagination.
ImitationImitation is a deplorable stupidity. Every individual has a place to fill in the world. He is absolutely important in some respect. According to Frederick the Great, "It is impossible to imitate Voltaire without being Voltaire."
So in the case of Rabindranath.
ImpossibilityIn the words of Emerson, "An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man." But Shantiniketan is an imperishable shadow of Rabindranath, the unique.
JapanJapan is a land of beauty. Boundless is her vital energy. Wonderful is her politeness. Matchless is her fondness for simplicity and beauty. Tagore writes:
"The cause of Japan's strength lies in the fact that she does not fritter away her energy in fruitless hustle-bustle and exchanges of hot words. As there is no waste of energy, the Japanese do not run short of it at the hour of their need. The mental and vital peace and endurance form a characteristic feature in their national character. They know how to control themselves when they are confronted with grief, sorrow, shock and causes for indignation. That is why the foreigners fail to understand the Japanese mind." — Japané-Parasyé
He further says that "in Japan, Oriental mind has learnt the technique of work, but it is they who work out their own plans. So, it may be hoped that a synthesis may be brought about between Occidental ideas and Oriental activities. If it so happened, then it will be an ideal fulfilment." — Japané-Parasyé
J.C. Bose on TagoreIt is well known that Sir J.C. Bose and Rabindranath were bosom friends. Immense was their intimacy, much was their mutual help. The discoverer of the nervous impulse in plants (for which the Royal Society did him a signal honour) declares:
"With open palms much have we received from the world; likewise we too through your [Tagore's] hand have offered much to the world at large."
KnighthoodAs a token of patriotism and love for his country he, Rabindranath, relinquished his knighthood, the highest title offered by British Government in India. A protest against certain political ordinances had been held at Jalianwalabagh, Lahore. Under the instruction of Sir Michael O'Dwyer, then Governor of the Punjab, General Dyer had ordered continuous shooting of the innocent people assembled there until all ammunition had been used up. As a dire protest against this brutal massacre Tagore was prompted to take his bold step.
KnowledgeKnowledge and ignorance are the obverse and the reverse of a coin. Knowledge is the best possible good, while ignorance the worst possible misfortune. "As for me," Socrates says, "all I know is that I know nothing." We are in no time reminded of the bold statement made by Bacon: "I take all knowledge to be my province."
— Tagore, The Gardener"
LettersTagore's letters are as remarkable as his dramas are. What insight! what charm! what humour do they possess! I cite here some wits from them.
Life"A life of nothing's nothing worth,
From that first nothing ere his birth,
To that last nothing under earth.
— Tennyson, Two Voices
But let us sing just the opposite with regard to the life of Tagore:
A life of fulness's fulness worth,
From that first fulness ere his birth,
To that last fulness beyond earth.
"Our lives," Tagore says, "are famished for want of neglected joys within our reach, while we are pursuing chimerical impossibilities."
He writes elsewhere something about life which is very significant.
"In our life we have one side which is finite, where we exhaust ourselves at every step, and have another side, where our aspiration, enjoyment and sacrifice are infinite."
Literature"Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal," so said Moore. Likewise Bengali literature has no disease that Tagore's unique pen cannot cure.
LoveLove is the mother of stupendous ecstasy and deepest pangs, and also she is daughter of emotion. But no love is simultaneously as ambrosial and as venomous as self-love.
— Marguerite Blessington"
And love in India is self-dedication.
Love is all-where. It is the common messenger of God and man. Tagore writes: "We know that we are born of love — our relationship is of love, and we feel that our father and mother are the true symbols of our eternal relationship with God." To quote one of his most beautiful lines:
It is but love which is never anxious of satisfying itself. And it is love alone that runs across the giant breast of Death, and perhaps beyond.
ManEach man is a miracle. Each individual is an epic. As ill-luck would have it, we have neither time nor curiosity to see the miracle or go through the epic. And what is man after all? To quote the reply made by Byron:
We know, man is not what he seems. He is something more than his present appearance and achievements. We may say that man is that very thing which must be surpassed. Tagore writes:
"Man is, on the one hand, nature, and on the other, he is the Self. On the one hand, he tries to fulfil the highest duty to the Supreme, on the other, he is anxious to please the person dear to his own heart. On the one hand, he achieves the summum bonum of life with the help of truth, on the other, he has to attain to Beauty through the highest good." — Shantiniketan 3
Marriage"A woman must be a genius to create a good husband," so said Balzac. What does Tagore say on this subject? "It is a wonder that girls are eager and zealous to develop their talents only before their marriage, after which they remain solely busy with their household affairs.
— Translated from Alapchari Rabindranath by Rani Chandra
His missionTagore utterly denied the slogan, “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” His fruitful life was a mission of interpreting the East to the West; he wanted nothing more, nothing less than a flood of peace between the two hemispheres.
Mother"For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
Equal love and equal blessing when they go together are called mother. Rabindranath's mother breathed her last when he was but a child. What an emotional thrill flashes across our mind when we read Tagore's recollection of his mother's love filled with blessing.
— My Reminiscences"
MusicIt is music that, being the universal language, has no need to learn any particular language of the world.
Tagore's life and his multifarious activities are founded on an intuitive music. Tagore says: "Music is the purest form of art, and therefore the most direct expression of beauty, with a form and spirit which is one and simple, and least encumbered with anything extraneous. We seem to feel that the manifestation of the infinite in the finite forms of creation is music itself, silent and visible."
MysticismTagore's mysticism is a firm conviction of his personality, that is to say, his genuine relation with the great Soul in himself, and also the inevitable fulfilment of the destiny of man.
NationalismNationalism is not a highly political or mental aspiration. What is nationalism? In the words of Sri Aurobindo, "Nationalism is not a mere political programme; Nationalism is a religion that comes from God…"
Now let us observe what Jawaharlal Nehru writes about the contribution of Rabindranath to Nationalism:
"Nationalism, especially when it urges us to fight for freedom, is noble and life-giving. But often it becomes a narrow creed, and limits and encompasses its votaries and makes them forget the many-sidedness of life. But Rabindranath Tagore has given to our nationalism the outlook of internationalism and has enriched it with art and music and the magic of his words, so that it has become the full-blooded emblem of India's awakened spirit."
— Voltaire Life of Moliere"
Nature is a flow of harmony that infallibly unites the within and the without, the what is and the what-is-to-come. No insincerity or blunder is to be found between Nature's action and Nature's law. Tagore will now show us what God actually does through Nature and the human soul: "It is said that Nature is the field through which God manifests his Power, while through the human soul He manifests his Love. In Nature He asserts Himself through Power, while in the human souls He gives himself away through love."
If we see eye to eye with the view that Tagore is nothing more than one among the innumerable poets of India down through the sweep of centuries, that is indeed news!
NewspapersIt is really surprising that a man at times doubts the authenticity of a thing even after being an eye-witness. But the moment he runs his eyes over that very event in a newspaper, he finds considerable truth in it. So often it is found that newspapers are not only news suppliers, but also news producers with the help of an unfathomable sea of imagination. In the words of Napoleon, "Four newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets." Tagore's view on newspapers is also worth remembering, especially for the writers: "No one has achieved Immortality by writing for newspapers."
OathIt was only Rabindranath who was on several occasions able to persuade Gandhi-ji to give up his oath of fasting unto death.
An occasionOne day in his childhood Rabindranath wanted to accompany his elders to school. The private tutor gave him a slap and remarked, "Now you are weeping for not being able to go to school, but a time will come when you will weep more bitterly for having to go to school." In later years Rabindranath said that no other prophecy proved to be as accurate as this in his life.
PaintingIn 1930, almost in the evening of his life, Rabindranath started devoting himself to painting. In this new field of Art some people found much in him, some found practically nothing. Some admired and encouraged him unstintingly, while some simply threw cold water on him. Tagore observes: "People often ask me about the meaning of my pictures. I remain silent even as my pictures are. It is for them to express and not to explain."
PlaysTagore's plays have a vast and sublime range of poignant emotion, and in some of them how wonderfully he reveals the teeming storms of life with a new orientation.
Prakritir Pratishodh (Nature's Revenge): In this play we find an ascetic of the first water coming back to ordinary human life through his commiseration with poor humanity. The play teaches us that Nature is bound to take revenge on us if we despise her.
Chitrangada (Chitra) was the daughter of the king of Manipur. Her physical beauty compelled Arjuna, the third Pandava, to accept her as the partner of his life. But as satisfaction was not to be found in physical beauty, he sought for the Beauty that lies beyond the body.
Raja (The King of the Dark Chamber) is, according to some critics, nothing more than an allegory. But Tagore writes: "Critics and detectives are naturally suspicious. They scent allegories and bombs where there are no such abominations. It is difficult to convince them of our innocence. With regard to the criticism of my play '/The King of the Dark Chamber"…the human soul has its inner drama, which is just the same as anything else that concerns man. Sudarshana is not more allegory than Lady Macbeth, who might be described as an allegory representing the criminal ambition in man's nature. However, it does not matter what things are according to the rules of the critics. They are what they are and therefore difficult of classification."
The moment Sudarshana realised that in enjoying the outer beauty alone the true fulfilment of life can never be attained, she utterly surrendered herself to the king and in no time she discovered the secret that in the offering of oneself there lies the key of true fulfilment.
An interesting event. One day while Tagore was residing at Maitreyi Devi's place at Mangpu, which is near Kalimpong, a French lady, Mademoiselle Boshenec, came before the Poet and said, "Gurudeva, to-day Post Office will be staged in France." After observing silence for a few minutes, Tagore said that in Russia The King of the Dark Chamber was staged repeatedly. Again after a long silence: "This is called reward," said he.
Dakghar (The Post Office) is another play that brought him much fame. A young life full of expectation was Amal's. All that he wanted was to go 'somewhere' and see 'something'. Poor Amal's expectation of a letter from the king clearly indicates that human life is nothing but an expectation right from the womb to the tomb.
PoetryIt is no hyperbole to say that very few poets in the world had or have as free an access to the inner realms of Poetry as Tagore.
— Sri Aurobindo (From The Golden Book of Tagore)"
In this connection let me cite Amal Kiran, the beautiful name given by Sri Aurobindo to his poet-disciple who has had the rare good fortune to discuss with his Master matters of high poetry through series of correspondence.
There are critics who say that Tagore cannot be classed with the poets of the highest magnitude, for he did not try an epic. O wiseacre! his lyrics have sufficient power to lift you up into the realm of poetic delight where his pen reigns supreme over almost all branches of Art.
To many of us it is but an insoluble mystery whether Tagore moulded his life according to the growth of his poetical works or whether it was his gradual poetical flow that brought about successive vicissitudes in his outer life. However, his poetical genius and his life marched side by side in a perfect harmony.
It was his wonderful Nirjharer Swapnabhanga, (The Awakening of the Fountain) that took him for the first time into the realm of Intuition. A new life dawned within him, and he looked at the creation with a new vision.
I shall rush from peak to peak,
I shall sweep from mount to mount,
With peals of laughter and songs of murmur
I shall clap to tune and rhythm.
Sonar Tari (The Golden Boat): this unique poem was mercilessly criticised by many uncomprehending critics. Some called it sheer mysticism, others claimed that the poem was nothing but barren mist. To me at least, it is nothing inferior to a lucid touch of Revelation, however small in quantity it might be. Here the finite wants to taste the Infinite; further, the finite wants to be one with the all-pervading Infinite.
Who comes singing to the shore as he rows?
It seems to be an old familiar face.
He moves with full sail on;
Looks neither right nor left.
The helpless waves break on either side.
It seems to be an old familiar face.
The birth of the philosopher we notice in Rabindranath the day he brought to light one of his earliest works, Sandhya Sangit (Evening Songs). And this philosopher expressed himself through Tagore's innumerable writings, until the latter breathed his last.
In Naivedya (Offering) we find the poet Rabindranath declaring that he does not belong to the school of Renunciation. The world is not illusionary. Its joy and sorrow, its beauty and ugliness have a veritable value. He wanted to view and acquire Truth and Beauty in and from all the objects of the world. He sings:
"Mine is not the seat of Yoga
Behind the doors of senses shut."
In height and depth, in grandeur and sublimity, no other poem of Tagore's can equal Balaka. Here the doors of the world beyond are, as it were, thrown wide open to him. Not only did he bring down the truths of that world, but also he bestowed these achievements on all Bengali literature. Ceaselessly and dauntlessly the world shall march towards its final goal. The surge of beauty that pervades the earth is never a chimera's mist. This beauty is a self-fulfilling truth.
I hear the wild restless flutterings of wings
In the depth of silence, in the air, on land and sea.
Herbs and shrubs flap their wings over the earthy sky.
Who can say, what is there in the tenebrous womb of the earth?
Millions of seeds open out their wings
Even like flights of cranes.
I see ranges of those hillocks, those forests
Moving with outspread wings from isle to isle,
From the unknown to the unknown.
With the flutter of starry wings
Darkness glimmers in the weeping night.
To be sure, Urvasie (The Celestial Nymph) is the wonder of wonders produced in the field of Tagore's poetry. It is here that he reaches the acme of beauty filled with delight. Verily, according to Tagore, Urvasie is at once an eternally self-revealing and self-fulfilling goddess.
O Urvasie swaying soft and sweet,
When thou dancest before the assembly of the gods,
Thrills of delight course through thy limbs,
Waves upon waves swirl rhythmically in the
bosom of the ocean,
The undulating tips of the shivering corn
Appear like the fluttering skirt of mother earth.
From the necklace hung upon thy breast
Drop down the stars on the floor of the sky.
And all at once man loses his masculine heart
in sheer rapture.
Silence, silence, in a pin-drop silence Puravi sings so sweetly in the core of the poet's heart his songs of Farewell. No more does the poet care for the hustle-bustle of broad daylight. Self-sufficient in peace, he no longer permits the reminiscences of the past, however sweet, to jog his mind.
From his exquisite poem, Swarga Hate Viday (To Bid Adieu to Heaven), we can easily grasp the idea that earthly love and beauty are more intense and delightful than those of Heaven precisely because they are transient. For love and beauty exist in Heaven for good.
It is said that the poet's poem and the prophet's word fly higher than a high-pinioned bird. No wonder, then, that Tagore became at once a poet and a prophet of the highest magnitude when his pen produced Namaskar (Salutation).
"Rabindranath, O Aurobindo, bows to thee!
O Friend, my country's friend,
O voice incarnate, free,
Of India's soul!..."
Finally we are not to forget what relation Tagore actually had with his poetry. In one of his letters he writes: "Consciously or unconsciously, I may have done many things that were untrue, but I have never uttered anything false in my poetry: that is the sanctuary where the deepest truth of my life finds refuge."
ProseTagore was essentially a Master-poet by temperament, immediately and exquisitely conscious of every claim of mellifluous beauty in all its multifarious forms. His was a personality of singular charm, and a character of singular sweetness. The more we sing Tagore's songs, the better the transparent sincerity breathing through them impresses us.
Needless to say, in the field of prose, too, he is undoubtedly a treasure-house of penetrating wisdom, sublime and beautiful thoughts. His sparkling prose-works are both great and delightfully helpful to the present-day need of humanity. Many of his prose books guide us rightly and purposely through the thick and thin of life. And it is, as it were, an imperative need for an adorer of Bengali literature to quote Tagore's prose to justify the author's own genius.
Let me reproduce here a pleasantly readable remark made by Tagore on prose.
"I wonder why the writing of pages of prose does not give one anything like the joy of completing a single poem. One's emotions take such perfection of form in a poem, they can be taken up by the fingers, so to speak. While prose is like a sackful of loose material, incapable of being lifted as you please." — (From his letters)
Truth had a peculiar dream. In the dream he saw Tagore's prose and Tagore's poetry exchanging hot words.
Prose: "Poetry, you must admit that I gave Rabindranath perfection long before you. And when? When he was but in his teens."
Poetry: "True, you gave him perfection before me. But the real sense of it came only after I had been recognised. It is the Nobel Prize given to me that illumined your own depths to the world."
Prose: "Sufficient. Tagore is not all he is on the strength of your gift alone."
Poetry: "But without me, he will never be the real Rabindranath."
QualityMany great individuals who have luminous qualities have yet a rough and arid exterior. Tagore is among the very few exceptions: his outer and inner being glowed alike.
QueriesThe sole business of the fools is to speak sixteen to the dozen and ask tireless questions, and that of the wise is to answer them. But it is an undeniable truth that the eyes of the wise are often suffused with tears in answering the dunces. Of course, truly innocent and truth-seeking queries do not disturb the men of wisdom; rather such queries give them an overdose of emotional delight. Here is a striking example:
You never say a word when father writes.
When my father wastes such heaps of paper, mother, you don't seem to mind at all.
But if I take one sheet to make a boat with, you say, 'Child, how troublesome you are!'
What do you think of father's spoiling sheets and sheets of paper with black marks all over on both sides?
— Rabindranath The Crescent Moon"
QuotationMy readers may quite reasonably ask why I have so often quoted Tagore. It is precisely because, according to my firm conviction, there is no better way to understand or express Tagore than to bring him always on the scene.
RabindranathRabindranath: A towering personality of multifarious achievements.
In Rabindranath's works Bengali literature rightly deserves to shake hands with world literature.
A day shall dawn when Rabindranath's soul-stirring songs will go a long way to the formation of character of the Indians.
His was a Spirit that was ever open to the new Light.
His was the politics that could never be separated from the core of spirituality.
Rabindranath's Viswabharati is a glorious idea seeking a perfect Form.
A marvel indeed, Rabindranath had the rare capacity to mingle the strains of human sorrow and joy, human sweetness and bitterness into one song.
Dancing was looked down upon in Bengal until Rabindranath's tireless toil and mighty personality rehabilitated this art. Dancing was then taken up even by the girls and women of aristocratic families. Rabindranath's faultless view is that dancing is undoubtedly a means of self-expression.
ReformerAs a national figure Tagore was among the very few true Reformers of India; as an international one he was a genuine messenger of beauty, love and peace.
From his life-long activities we observe that reforms must begin or come from within, and not from without.
Relatives and dear onesTagore's name received unimaginable fame through the length and breadth of the world, while his heart received tremendous blows one after another. How difficult it was for him to put his sufferings aside! His wife expired when she was on the right side of forty, and some of his children died quite young. Moreover, death snatched away some of his devoted young admirers who, he had thought, would add much to the glory of Bengal. Curiously enough, all these bereavements occurred in the course of three successive years. So Tagore once remarked that to live a long life is not at all a blessing.
A memorable event: we all know that Tagore breathed his last on August 7, 1941. In that very year, on May 6, 1941, his 80th birthday had been celebrated all over the world. On this occasion Mahatma Gandhi's greeting ran:
"Four-score is not enough. May you finish five! Love."
Tagore's immediate reply was: "Thank you for your message, but four-score is impertinence. Five-score would be intolerable."
ReligionNo religion is absolutely perfect. Yet not only do we fight for religion, but also are we often willing to sacrifice our lives for it. And what we hopelessly fail to do is to live it. A true religion is that which has no caste, no creed, no colour. It is but an all-uniting and all-pervading embrace.
"Religion," Tagore says, "is not a fractional thing that can be doled out in fixed weekly or daily measures as one among various subjects in the school syllabus. It is the truth of our complete being, the consciousness of our personal relationship with the infinite; it is the true centre of gravity of our life." — Personality
Let me cite one of his acute observations on religion from the Modern Review, December 1917. He writes: "If religion, instead of being the manifestation of a spiritual ideal, gives prominence to scriptures and external rites, then does it disturb the peace more than anything else."
We may perhaps say that Tagore's religion is the religion of humanity which comprises all that is superb in all the religions.
Tagore, the king of Bengali literature, not only reigns but also governs. And it is needless to say that Bengali literature takes much delight and pride in being governed by its Master-poet, Tagore.
RussiaRussia was immensely impressed by the unique personality of Tagore. And the poet also appreciated considerably her great stress on education. In one of his letters he writes: "I wish to let you know how I have been impressed by the amazing intensity of your energy in spreading education among the masses. I appreciated it all the more keenly because I belong to the country where millions of my fellow countrymen are denied the light that education can bring them. You have recognised the truth that in extirpating all social evils one has to go to the root, which can only be through education."
Shantiniketan"Shantiniketan is India." This high tribute was paid to Tagore not by an insignificant human being, but by the father of the Nation, Gandhi-ji. And our Prime Minister went the length of saying that "he who has not visited Shantiniketan has not seen India."
Although many have worked and many will continue to work for Shantiniketan, we can safely say that Shantiniketan is a one-man University. Viswabharati is surely an invitation to the remotest corner of the world. It is a cheerful sacrifice to attain to the all-fulfilling truth of mankind. Now let us quote Tagore: "It has been my steadfast endeavour, that the boys of my Shantiniketan school should acquire a true vision of the history of humanity as a whole, broad and untainted with our race-hatred.
— Modern Review, December 1917
Similarly, Tagore is I; his creative genius has the power to be we. The well-known scientist Meghnad Saha fervently hoped that Tagore, like Goethe, would turn to science. "May we not hope that, like his illustrious predecessor Goethe, he [Tagore] will turn for a while to modern science, and give expression in his inimitable poetry to the Hope behind the invading despair and the Harmony behind the modern Babel of jarring voices. — (From The Golden Book of Tagore)
Seer and poetCan gold be separated from the golden vessel? No, impossible. Such is the case with the seer Rabindranath and the poet Rabindranath.
SongRabindranath was the world-song sung by the Singer in him. A golden chain of beauty and love did come into existence from this world-song to bind the two extremities of the globe, the East and the West.
But Rabindranath once said that, when he was capable of singing, his own compositions were very few, but when he became a prolific composer of songs his voice failed him.
And here is a prophetic utterance of Tagore about his own songs:
"With the march of time everything changes. But I can definitely say that my songs will have a considerably greater stability. Especially the Bengalis will have no other alternative but to sing my songs in the hours of their sorrow, grief, joy and delight. They needs must sing these songs epoch after epoch.” — Translated from Alapchari Rabindranath by Rani Chandra
Tagore burst into fame with more than two thousand songs. In the West Schubert comes second with six hundred or so.
Finally, I cannot help reproducing here a few momentous words from Tagore's Fruit Gathering:
"To the birds you gave songs, the birds gave you songs in return.
You gave me only voice, yet asked for more, and I sing."
SolitudeIt happened that several times Tagore, leaving his home, resorted to solitude to produce unique poems. Curiously enough, his desire was not fulfilled in the least. He had to return home. And his realisation was that to write something unique it is the state of the mind that counts the most and not the place.
Sorrow"To Sorrow I bade good-morrow,
And thought to leave her far away behind;
But cheerly, cheerly, She loves me dearly:
She is so constant to me, and so kind.
— Keats Endymion
Sorrow helps us immensely. It is apt to humble our pride. It chastens us. It opens our hearts to magnanimity and sympathy. To check our innumerable errors and make us watch ourselves and put us on the road to perfection, sorrow must necessarily exist in the world.
How beautiful and penetrating are the following lines of Tagore:
Mother, I shall weave a chain of pearls for thy neck with my tears of sorrow.
The stars have wrought their anklets of light to deck thy feet, but mine will hang upon thy breast.
Wealth and fame come from thee and it is for thee to give or to withhold them. But this my sorrow is absolutely mine own, and when I bring it to thee as my offering thou rewardest me with thy grace.
StoryNothing is so tedious as a twice-read story. But Tagore's Galpaguchchha (short Stories) is an exception. One never feels one has read it often enough.
Socrates and TagoreNolini Kanta Gupta, whose contribution to Bengali literature, according to Tagore, is unique, observes about Socrates and Tagore thus:
"Socrates is said to have brought down philosophy from heaven to live among men upon earth. A similar exploit may be ascribed to Tagore. The Spirit, the bare transcendental Reality contemplated by the orthodox Vedantins, has been brought nearer to our planet, close to human consciousness, in Tagore's vision, being clothed in earth and flesh and blood, made vivid with the colours and contours of the physical existence. The Spirit, yes by all means, but not necessarily asceticism and monasticism. So Tagore boldly declared in those famous lines of his: 'Mine is not the deliverance achieved through mere renunciation. Mine, rather, the freedom that tastes itself in a thousand associations.'" — Poets and Mystics
SympathySympathy is but a musical instrument. Each individual is fortunate and rich enough to have this instrument. But the most deplorable thing is this — that we play on this instrument only once in a blue moon.
Tagore represented the lofty ideal of an ever-progressive culture founded on universal humanity. This was possible for him precisely because he possessed an all-embracing and all-pervading sympathy.
Synthesis of extremesWhat Rabindranath actually wanted in his tireless and life-long works was a true and perfect synthesis between enjoyment and renunciation in our life of manifold activities. According to him, we can never cut asunder all the ties of the world. We can, however, exceed them. And that is possible only if we sincerely admit their reality and pass through them.
TagoreThe Bengal of today is a fruitless lamentation. The Bengal of tomorrow can, however, be the torch-bearer of the rare fulfilment of the promise of today.
His was the heart that gave no shelter to the doctrine of the unreality of the finite. His was the genius that had the quality of universality in a striking degree.
Glory to Tagore, for through him even the most insignificant and the humblest Bengali villagers can speak to the world at large.
His songs are the songs that in a twinkling penetrate the heart and quicken the soul. Verily, Tagore's life was a sacrifice to culture. His songs were his prayers about this great culture.
Tagore and GandhiGandhi-ji's tribute to Tagore runs: " 'Great Sentinel' of the East."
"I differ with Gandhi in many respects, but I admire and revere the man highly…," so says Tagore.
Mahatma's deliverance is nothing other than the fruit of renunciation.
Tagore's deliverance is precisely the fruit of fulfilment. Tagore sings:
"Deliverance is not for me in renunciation, I feel the embrace of freedom in a thousand bonds of delight."
Tagore and GoetheIn the East Tagore, in the West Goethe — these two mighty poets retained their creative genius all through their lives.
And what Tagore says about the teacher is also quite striking: "A teacher can never truly teach unless he is still learning himself. A lamp can never light another lamp unless it continues to burn its own flame."
We all know that Nature teaches more than she preaches. The same thing holds good in Tagore's life. He taught us not only more but much more than he actually preached.
TearsIt is possible for a poor man to buy the pleasures of the rich with his tears, but even the ocean of tears of Bengali writers will sadly fail to buy the creative genius of Tagore.
ThirstAs fame is the thirst of the young-blood, so Tagore's thirst was to see in every object of the world beauty within and without.
TranslationPeople say that Gitanjali and some other translated works of Tagore in English fall short as literary translations. They are not faithful to the original Bengali. But do such critics ever care to know that the most important thing is not the strict equivalence of words, but the poetical flavour of the same idea?
TruthTruth has no death; falsehood has. Man says: "Time is precious." Time says: "Not I, not I. Truth only is precious." Let us bring George Bernard Shaw on the scene. "My way of joking," says he, "is to tell the truth. It is the funniest joke in the world." To be sure, nothing is as great as truth. And this truth has many rungs. "The highest truth," according to Tagore, "is that which we can only realise by plunging into it. And when our consciousness is fully merged in it, then we know that it is no mere acquisition, but that we are one with it."
— Motto of the State of Kentucky, U.S.A"
Our National Song is an expression of our National Soul, Mother India's prayer to the Divine voiced by her Poet of Dawn.
"Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,
Thou Dispenser of India's Destiny.
Thy name rouses the hearts
Of the Punjab, Sind, Gujarat and Maratha,
Of Dravid, Orissa and Bengal.
It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,
Mingles in the music of Jamuna and Ganges,
And is chanted by the waves of the India Sea.
They pray for thy blessing and sing thy praise,
Thou Dispenser of India's destiny.
Victory, Victory, Victory to thee."
According to Tagore, India should and must seek power in union, and not in competition with the West in brutal wars.
UniversityViswabharati is the creation of a personality not only imaginative, but also practical. The University was a child of yesterday in 1921. And it has now become a world-famous institution.
The world knows that Tagore won the Nobel Prize in 1913. And it was in the same year, during the Vice-Chancellorship of Sir Ashutosh Mukherji, that Calcutta University had the good fortune to honour him with the degree of D.Litt., honoris causa. Again, in 1937 he got the honour of giving its Convocation Address. It was a great surprise, unprecedented in the history of the University, that the Address was given in Bengali and not in English.
August, 1940, was a memorable month in the Poet's life. The University of Oxford conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature. It obviously signified a growing friendship between the East and the West.
His famous Personality was read out by him at Harvard University, and his presence is still cherished there with gratitude.
U.S.A. and America's spiritual idealismTo a shallow observer America appears to be rolling in luxury and cannot be expected to be deeply spiritual. But the falsity of this observation cannot better be described than in the words of Rabindranath Tagore, whose bold statement is borne out by personal experience:
"…when we say that America is materialistic, we speak of a fact that is too apparent to be completely true…there is a strong current of spiritual idealism flowing beneath the surface soil of the American mind."
Further, what he said to the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a cablegram from Kalimpong, India, June 1940, shows the significant role he expected America to play on the world-stage.
"All our individual political problems today are merged into one supreme world of politics which I believe is seeking help in the United States as the last refuge of spiritual man."
Vedanta and VaishnavismVedanta's head is always held high. Vaishnavism's head is always bent low. So they are as opposite as sky and earth. But these two heads never knock at each other in Rabindranath. He has housed them peacefully and synthesised them perfectly. The devout Vaishnava through him sings:
The Vedantin with absolute monism through him declares:
Thou and I have the self-same nature."
ViolenceTagore had very little faith in violence, and no faith in non-violence, the political programme of Mahatma Gandhi.
Vivekananda and TagoreVivekananda was a torrent of fire.
Tagore was a sea of beauty and delight.
Vivekananda was a Clarion-call.
Tagore was a soul-stirring Flute.
Both Narendranath (Vivekananda) and Rabindranath loved humanity much, the former speedily and the latter steadily.
Vivekananda says, in effect, "No time to linger. Awake, O India! and measure the loftiest Height with your dauntless head."
Tagore says in effect, "First look everywhere, and then to the Highest, O Ind, raise your proud head."
VoyagerVerily Tagore was a voyager to Infinity's shore where the finite has at last its perfect play.
WholeWhat Arnold spoke about the noted Greek poet, Sophocles, can easily be applied to the life of Tagore.
WomanVery often it is found that man's certainty is less infallible than woman's mere speculation. Fortunately or unfortunately, women no longer desire to equal men. Now they want to compete with men. We believe that no woman would put up with Tolstoy's ruthless blows. He makes bold to say, "Regard the society of women as a necessary unpleasantness of social life, and avoid it as much as possible." But Rabindranath extols women to the skies. "Woman is endowed with the passive qualities of chastity, modesty, devotion, and power of self-sacrifice in a greater measure than man is." Further his prophetic voice speaks: "…The women, the feebler creatures, — feebler at least in their outer aspects, — who are less muscular, and who have been behind-hand, always left under the shadow of those huge creatures, the men, — they will have their place, and those bigger creatures will have to give way."
To quote a still higher praise — rather, the highest: "Had man's mind not been energised by the inner working of woman's vital charm, he would never have attained his success. Of all the higher achievements of civilisation — the devotion of the toiler, the valour of the brave, the creations of the artist, — the secret spring is to be found in woman's influence."
Again he throws considerable light on woman in one of his conversations with Sri Dilip Kumar Roy:
Works"All this, and heaven too" go divinely together in the works of Tagore. His multifarious works for the cultural renaissance of Bengal have had no equal or second.
World-poet and world-figureO Tagore, although you are a world-poet and a world-figure, Bengal claims you as her own, and a matchless pride courses through her nerves in beholding your unique greatness.
Xanthippe and MrinaliniTagore's wife Mrinalini Devi had many good qualities. Her sacrifice to the cause of Tagore's fulfilment in life, especially in connection with the founding of Shantiniketan, was great. She did not hesitate in the least: rather, with immense joy she gave away even her personal ornaments and other belongings to run the school.
Now Xanthippe. What a contrast! Poor Socrates, the unparalleled philosopher of the time, suffered grievously at his wife's hands. In other words, should we not rather say in the words of Xenophon, an intimate friend of Socrates as well as a military Commander, that Socrates' wife had a “shrewish temper, which Socrates bore patiently.”
I believe we can say without much ado that the wife of the poet was simply an embodied sacrifice, while that of the philosopher was a sad misfortune personified.
YetThy gifts to us mortals fulfil all our needs and yet run back to Thee undiminished.
The river has its everyday work to do and hastens through fields and hamlets; yet its incessant stream winds towards the washing of Thy feet.
The flower sweetens the air with its perfume; yet its last service is to offer itself to Thee.
Thy worship does not impoverish the world.
From the words of the Poet, no doubt, men take whatever meaning pleases them; yet their last meanings point to Thee, O Lord!
YouthTagore's birth-centenary was indeed an occasion of rejoicing for us, his admirers, and for enthusiasts of Culture all over the world. It was for the youth of the globe to hail this hallowed opportunity by offering to the Master-poet their profound homage.
When defeatism was threatening, rather, invading the Indians, Tagore did his part of duty: he infused the indomitable spirit of self-reliance into the minds of the Indian youths with his penetrating and enlightening songs.
ZealKeats' Endymion is, no doubt, a grand success with its wonderful vividness and splendid felicity. But his Hyperion was, according to many critics, a sad failure. However, one cannot say that Hyperion has no magnificence at all. As ill-luck would have it, when this epic was brought to light, the poet was savagely criticised even by his bosom friends. As a result, his health broke down and the long-threatening consumption grew more formidable. He was ultimately compelled to pay his debt to nature. So it will be no exaggeration to say that lack of indomitable zeal was in the main responsible for snatching away one of the wonder-poets of the world. Poor earth could not cherish his presence even for thirty fleeting years.
Now let us focus our attention on Rabindranath's zeal. During his earlier days he had to face very bitter criticism of his writings in season and out of season. Kaliprasanna Kabyabisharad, the well-known editor of the Bengali weekly Hitavadi, probably stood as the bitterest and most impossible critic of Tagore's works. His merciless pen runs:
"Flap not your wings to fly, O pigeon-poet!
Stay where you are, in your hole.
Even to your babblings and to your bullyings you have given the air of poesy.
That too you have published as a work of Art.
And the return it has fetched you was one full rupee in cash."
Any other poet of lesser zeal would have sunk down under the weight of such ruthless criticism, but Rabindranath proved to have an adamant nature. And that is why he was so successful. In spite of innumerable blows from his boyhood to the end of his life, his eyes smiled and his lips sang like the beautiful flowers and lucid sunbeams peering through the saffron robes of Dawn.
Part III — The disciple and the Master
Vivekananda the wonder-warriorSri Ramakrishna’s unstinting Grace and Naren’s volcanic Will combined to create Vivekananda, who created a commotion all over the world. The never-to-be-forgotten words of Sri Aurobindo run:
“…the Master marked out Vivekananda as the heroic soul destined to take the world between his two hands and change it.”
Vivekananda came into the world in an age seething with rank materialism. Spiritual values were at a discount. He held the mighty torch of spirituality high. Exceptional was his clarion call to lead the life of the Spirit. The soul-stirring message of Sri Ramakrishna was embodied in him, in this lion amongst men. And as regards the message of India to the world, “Remember,” declares Vivekananda, “not the Soul for Nature, but Nature for the Soul.”
But there is the amusing story that Vivekananda in his childhood, in reply to his father’s query, said that his ambition in life was to become a coachman like the one who loved him much and whose love he reciprocated.
Another anecdote: once in his adolescence he asked his father what he had done for his son. “Go and look into the mirror,” came the prompt reply. Naren obeyed. He looked at his own reflection in the mirror and walked away quietly. Evidently he became convinced that he owed his magnificent personality solely to his father.
Now let us move on to a more significant topic. Tagore was an adorer of beauty, while the dominant trait of Vivekananda was the expression of power. But Vivekananda, too, possessed a deep sense of appreciation of subtle beauty. “Beauty,” says he, “is not external, but already in the mind.” Here we are reminded of what his spiritual daughter Nivedita wrote about her Master. “It was dark when we approached Sicily, and against the sunset sky, Etna was in slight eruption. As we entered the straits of Messina, the moon rose, and I walked up and down the deck beside the Swami, while he dwelt on the fact that beauty is not external, but already in the mind. On one side frowned the dark crags of the Italian coast, on the other, the island was touched with silver light. ‘Messina must thank me,’ he said; ‘it is I who give her all her beauty.’ ”
Truly, in the absence of appreciation, beauty is not beauty at all. And beauty is worthy of its name only when it has been appreciated. Further, they are not many in number who really have the power of appreciating it.
— Victor Hugo"
In the realm of spirituality this truth got full manifestation in Vivekananda’s life. His was the heart that pined to realise the lofty Truth. And he did it. But about his actions, we can say that they were democratic; that is, his actions were for the good of humanity at large.
Vivekananda looked upon the world as his dear Motherland, and upon mankind as his true brothers and sisters. Come what may, to serve them was his cherished religion. Religion is a unique thirst for the One and the many. Assimilation and tolerance are the true signs of the greatest religion. Let us not forget Colton: “Men will wrangle for religion; write for it; fight for it; die for it; do anything but live it.” Religions are like the lines of a poem. As each line is helpful — rather, responsible for the completion of the poem — even so every religion is responsible for the entire fulfilment of the others. And according to Vivekananda religion is never a mere creed, but an ever-living and enlightening experience. How beautifully he unites the two antagonists, the materialist and the spiritualist: “The materialist is right. There is but One. Only he calls that Matter and I call it God.”
It is an undeniable fact that the Western mind has a liking for making plans before it takes up anything. Is it at all advisable? Not in the least, in the opinion of Vivekananda. The Eternal Will is sure to carry out its work at its chosen hour. Once he had to reprove Nivedita. “Plans! Plans! That is why you Western people can never create a religion! If any of you ever did, it was only a few Catholic saints, who had no plans. Religion was never preached by planners.”
Again, it was Vivekananda who spoke to his Indian brothers about the greatest achievement of the English: “They have known how to combine obedience with self-respect.”
Neither are we to obliterate from our minds his solemn warning to the Westerners that they must never attempt to force upon others that which they have found good for themselves. But his consolation too is very cogent. He elsewhere says, “Never forget that a man is made great and perfect as much by his faults as by his virtues. So we must not seek to rob a nation of its character even if it could be proved that that character was all faults.”
God and men are as inseparable as one’s head and hair. It is our blind stupidity that fails to find the indivisibility of man and God. The gods who are not one of us, who ignore us and look down upon us, can never be our cherished gods. “I would not worship,” Vivekananda boldly exclaims, “even the Greek gods, for they were separate from humanity! Only those should be worshipped who are like ourselves, but greater. The difference between the gods and me must be a difference only of degree.”
“Better to wear out than to rust out.” Vivekananda’s whole body — rather, his earthly life — vibrated with this unique Idea. Mother Earth lost him when he was on the right side of forty. But his work? No hyperbole, it can easily be rated as the eighth wonder of the world. Let us cite here his firm conviction with regard to work. “By work alone,” he writes, “men may get to where Buddha got largely by meditation or Christ by prayer. Buddha was a working Jnani, Christ was a Bhakta, but the same goal was reached by both of them.”
His was a life of unimaginable sacrifice. And how can India, his Motherland, dare to forget his message of stupendous sacrifice? “For my own part I will be incarnated two hundred times, if that is necessary to do what I have undertaken amongst my people.” At this Sri Ramakrishna, if he had heard his disciple, could have done nothing but clap and dance in supreme ecstasy. For it was this very Naren whose heart ached to remain always in samadhi and whom he had to scold fondly by saying, “I thought you had been born for something greater, my boy!”
— Julius Caesar"
Nowhere else had this truth been proved so wonderfully as it was in the life of Vivekananda. Caesar conquered only empires, but the spiritual Giant of India conquered the heart of mankind. The great Emperor was only of an age, but the disciple of Sri Ramakrishna shall shine for all time.
Vivekananda and his Master1A popular view is that without Vivekananda Sri Ramakrishna would have remained the Sri Ramakrishna of Bengal; to the wider world he would at most have been a mere name. One may quite reasonably dispute the point, for no spiritual force of Sri Ramakrishna’s dimensions could lose its dynamism and remain confined within the narrow limits of one little province. But it goes without saying that Vivekananda would not have been his mighty self without his child-like, simple, but towering spiritual Master.
The reciprocal appreciation of the greatness of the disciple and the Master found an exceedingly interesting expression in their lives. The former was firmly convinced that millions of Vivekanandas could come into existence at the fiat of his Master, while the latter declared that his Naren was the incarnation of Narayan himself to uplift humanity.
Without Arjuna would the victory of Kurukshetra have been possible? Sri Krishna had to preach the whole Gita to train his disciple, over and above infusing into him his divine force.
Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda appeared in an age more advanced. Hence the Master could much more easily make of Naren what he intended him to be.
In the life of Narendranath we notice two instances in which Matter submitted to Spirit. The young Narendranath, steeped in agnosticism, accepting matter and doubting the existence of the supreme Spirit, would question people who seemed to be advanced in spirituality as to whether they had direct vision of God. Maharshi Devendranath, father of Tagore, attempted thrice in vain to answer the query of the bold young man, and at last said, “You possess the eyes of a Yogi.”
This very Narendranath fell at the hallowed feet of Sri Ramakrishna, who was a veritable embodiment of Spirit, and who saw Spirit permeating Matter.
As a contrast, the supremely materialistic America practically bowed down before Vivekananda, who stood there as the spiritual representative of the East.
His was a life of numerous miracles. At the age of eight he entered into trance for the first time! He was only thirty years old when America — nay, the West — found the spiritual giant in him! In his childhood and boyhood he condemned women terribly. But in his later years he fought like a giant for the progress of Indian womanhood! We may, however, hold that in his earlier days Vivekananda was afraid not of woman but of temptation. It took six long years for him to make his proud head bow to the Mother Kali. And when his surrender was complete he opened his devoted lips: “All my patriotism is gone. Everything is gone. Now it’s only Mother, Mother!”
I am sure my purpose will be best served if I just reproduce his own words about Kali. “How I used to hate Kali!” Vivekananda said, “and all Her ways. That was the ground of my six years’ fight — that I would not accept Her. But I had to accept Her at last. Ramakrishna Paramahansa dedicated me to Her, and now I believe that She guides me in every little thing I do, and does with me what She wills.”
Vivekananda ruthlessly looked down upon the so-called miracles that create a commotion in the minds of people. “I look upon miracles as the greatest stumbling block in the way of truth. When the disciples of Buddha told him of a man who had performed a so-called miracle — and showed him the bowl, he took it and crushed it under his feet and told them never to build their faith on miracles, but to look for truth in everlasting principles. He showed them the inner light — the Light of the Spirit, which is the only safe light to go by. Miracles are only stumbling blocks. Let us brush them aside.
To show surprise at anything amounts to a tacit expression of ignorance, and hence of weakness. “Never show surprise,” such was the command of Viswanath Dutta to his son Naren when he was in his teens. The son acted according to his father’s instructions from that very day until the end of his life. He spent years at the foot of the silence-hushed and snow-capped Himalayas during his itinerancy. He met people drawn from all sections of society — from the lowest to the highest. He came in close contact with the poorest and the richest of the world. In spite of striking differences in the world, surprise could never take shelter in his all-conceiving eyes.
Perfection is the only choice for a man treading the path of spirituality. Perfection and infinite bliss run abreast. True happiness lies nowhere else except in perfection. But how to achieve this perfection? Vivekananda shows us a unique way to achieve the impossible. He writes: “If we can distinguish well between quality and substance, we may become perfect men.”
Sweetness and happiness are rarely found in carrying out earthly duties. No human being must be judged by the nature of his duties, but by the manner and the spirit in which he discharges them. What is our duty and what is not our duty has been the most puzzling, the most intricate problem to solve since the dawn of civilisation. But the bold statement made by Vivekananda solves it in a very easy manner: “Any action that makes us go Godward is a good action, and that is our duty; any action that makes us go downward is evil, and that is not our duty.” And we may further add to it that in order to advance in life, it is our duty to have faith in ourselves first and then in the Divine. Everybody must remember the undeniable truth that without having faith in oneself one can never have faith in God.
ILS 114. Appeared in the Hindusthan Standard, India, April 15, 1962↩
Ramakrishna: Soul of the East1No Indian youth of the rising generation can ever dream of escaping the subtle influence of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. This simple Brahmin conquered the hearts of men with a spiritual weapon which is commonly called Intuition-Power. He was born with it. He did not much care for the other weapon, which is Brain-Power.
Looked at with human eyes, his appearance was so helpless — a storm-tossed raft seemed more dependable than the frail frame of this prophet. But going deep within, one could discover his true personality. To one’s surprise, one could find in his teachings a colossal Will that could shake the world.
Here was a man whose authoritative voice declared that he not only had seen the Omnipotent, but also could show Him to his beloved disciple Naren (Vivekananda). He further claimed that he saw God more clearly than he saw the disciple standing before him.
As Ramakrishna’s life was replete with wonderful visions, so was his beloved Naren’s life surcharged with the power to fulfil those visions here on earth. Awakened India must ever remain beholden to Ramakrishna/Vivekananda, for it is they who were the most outstanding spiritual figures to appear on Indian soil during the last century. The Master and the disciple were hardly two distinct individuals. Each helped to shape the other. To our deeper vision, they formed an integral whole.
Sri Ramakrishna’s precepts were couched in the simplest language, in words that flew straight into the hearts of the people. The blessings that India — nay, the world — received from him, his unique universal sympathy, stand matchless. “I do not care,” he said; “I will give up a thousand such bodies to help one man. It is glorious to help even one man.”
To live the truths that one has preached is often an impossibility. Glory to Sri Ramakrishna that he was a triumphant living example of the truths that he preached. To him, religion was nothing short of realisation. He synthesised most of the major world religions by his direct and immediate realisation of each of them. One by one, he pierced the core of each religion, extracted its essence, and became the perfect embodiment of that path to the Supreme. Sri Ramakrishna firmly believed, too, that a time would come when an aspirant would be able to attain to God-realisation by three days’ practice.
“Ramakrishna was God manifested in a human being… Vivekananda was a radiant glance from the eye of Shiva,” so said Sri Aurobindo, the founder of the Integral Yoga. Vivekananda looked upon his Master as the embodiment of perfection. “In the presence of my Master, I found out that man could be perfect even in this body.”
In the following lines produced from the penetrating pen of K.D. Sethna, we shall observe how, in the march of evolution, one Avatar paves the way for the next one:
“Ramakrishna, the illiterate man from the temple of conventional worship, was a veritable colossus of mystical experience; in him direct and immediate realisation of the Divine Being reached an intensity and variety which made him a marvellous summing-up of the whole spiritual history of India, with a face carrying the first gleam of a new age of the human soul — the age that will be known as the Aurobindonian.”
And do we not remember the supremely prophetic utterance of Sri Aurobindo? “We do not belong to past dawns, but to the noons of the future.”
“East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.” The famous statement by Kipling was proved false when Vivekananda, with the flood of Sri Ramakrishna’s inspiration, gloriously united the East and the West with his unique message on religion.
India wants “to be.” The West wants “to do.” Is it not at once safe and advisable “to be” first, and then to offer one’s contribution to the wide world? “Atmanam viddhi,” “Know thyself”, says the Upanishad. First know thyself, and then do thou proclaim thyself. This was Ramakrishna’s secret.
There are different paths leading to the Divine. But the shortest and most sunlit path is the Mother Cult. This Mother Cult was most powerfully shown to the Indians by Sri Ramakrishna. The never-ceasing injunction of his teachings was, “Approach the Divine as a child approaches his mother, with the same purity, sincerity, ardent love, and faith, and the Mother will come to you! Call ‘Ma, Ma’; call again and again. The Mother is bound to come.”
When the influence of Western culture had almost caused the real “self” of India to die, and the children of India were running amuck to imitate Western culture, Ramakrishna Paramahansa knew that the time was ripe for him to revive the lost tradition of India.
“Sri Ramakrishna,” said Nolini Kanta Gupta, the celebrated Bengali author, “represents spirituality at its absolute, its pristine fount and power. In him we find the pure gold of spirituality at a time when duplicity, perplexity, deceit and falsehood on the one hand, and atheism, disbelief and irreverence on the other reigned supreme…When spirituality had almost disappeared from the world and even in India, it existed, as it were, merely in name, there was the advent of Sri Ramakrishna bringing with him spirituality in its sheer plenitude and investing it with eternal certitude and infallibility.”
It was Ramakrishna, too, who showed the greatest reverence for women that the world has known. He felt that women were the embodiments of the Divine Mother and he treated them as divinities. His own consort, Sarada Devi, he worshipped as the Divine Mother Herself.
Far and wide travelled the renown of Ramakrishna’s spiritual teachings, influencing, among others, the French savant Romain Rolland. So deeply was he touched that in the evening of his life he wrote the memorable book, The Life of Sri Ramakrishna. Two lines of significant insight I quote from that book.
“The man whose image I here invoke was the consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three million people… His inner life embraced the whole multiplicity of men and God.”
Professor Max Muller, another famous European, was also an ardent admirer of Ramakrishna. Max Muller had devoted the major portion of his life to the study of the Hindu scriptures, had translated the Rig Veda into English, and was the author of History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature and Sacred Books of the East. Among his later works was Ramakrishna: His Life and Sayings.
Once Swami Vivekananda went to Oxford to pay homage to Professor Max Muller, whom he looked upon as a sage and a “Vedantist of Vedantists and kindness itself.” On Vivekananda’s departure, the Professor, who had seen seventy winters, accompanied the Swami to the railway station, justifying his coming by saying, “It is not every day that one meets a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahansa.”
Sri Ramakrishna, to thee we offer our deepest homage. Our hearts feel that what you possessed was the Infinite, and that the Infinite was your heart’s Eternal Home.
ILS 115. Appeared in the Amitra Bazar Patrika of N. India, Feb. 18, 1962↩
The child of KaliThe child Ramakrishna was at once God-centric and God-intoxicated. It is often that a God-lover is misunderstood and considered to be a lunatic of the first water. Sri Ramakrishna was no exception in the eyes of some of his countrymen. As a child cries to his mother for sweets and toys, so did the child Ramakrishna cry for love and devotion to his Mother Kali. And this love and devotion is nothing other than the secret key to open the door to God-realisation.
Ramakrishna will appear to one as a man of overflowing emotion, to a second as an ardent aspirant, to a third as a man of philosophical wisdom, to a fourth as a man of unique sincerity. It is obvious that different persons should possess different opinions regarding his personality. For in a matter like this, a flawless analysis on an intellectual basis is next to impossible, and all our human judgement must sadly fail to yield any useful result. But nobody will ever hesitate to call him the most beloved child of Kali, the Mother. His sole aim in life was to have nothing save and except a constant union with the Mother Kali. His aim he did fulfil. And in one word we can sum up the message of his life: Ma.
A wonderful swimmer in the sea of Brahman’s Silence, a unique clarion in the world-atmosphere of the Spirit’s expression was Sri Ramakrishna. Although he had attained to the transcendental plane, he preferred to be the flute to be played by his Mother Kali. To cite him: “I do not want to be sugar, but I want to taste sugar.”
Ramakrishna was, as it were, the seed sown in the world-soil and Vivekananda the bumper crop of which humanity is the reaper. Ramakrishna was the Inspiration, Vivekananda was its Expression, and humanity now has both Inspiration and Expression as its peerless possessions.
Every word that fell from his divine lips carried weight. Sharp humour, too, was not wanting when the occasion demanded it, but those who had to suffer his humorous blows did feel later on that those blows were meant only to awake their slumbering soul. His trance-bound countenance, the simplicity of his expression, his unassuming and genial manner, the lucid cordiality of his relationship with all, coupled with his magnificently hallowed life and divine love, won for him a universal attraction and devotion.
It was Ramakrishna who peacefully housed in himself the Cosmic and Trans-cosmic Consciousness with all possible inclusiveness of outlook. What he felt was spontaneous. What he said was spontaneous. What he did was spontaneous. He had no purpose of his own, and whatever we apparently hold to have been his purpose, that too, to our astonishment, was never influenced by the stream of desire. He had no will save that of his Mother Kali. Consequently, an occasion never arose in his self-dedicated life to the Mother on which he had to hold himself responsible for any of his activities.
We can easily come to the conclusion that the descent of Avatars like Sri Ramakrishna with a human body is intended simply to uplift and further the progress of mankind in the evolutionary process. They go on doing good to mankind in their earthly bodies so long as such continuance is necessary in the interest of humanity, in spite of their being immune from any action, good or bad, big or small.
Naturally, we do not and cannot know all the phases of Sri Ramakrishna’s mystic life. But what we dare understand is this: that he taught us how to call to the Mother. No doubt we are her children, but it is absolutely necessary to feel that She is our real Mother, and that we are her real children, and that we have every right to demand of her all our needs, which She will never fail to fulfil for us.
Ramakrishna ranks high among the greatest mystics and spiritual figures of the world. His very life was in itself the most effective refutation of the half-believer and unbeliever of the Divine. Reason, whether erring or unerring, was altogether foreign to his nature. Who was Ramakrishna, if not a unique revelation of intuition? This supreme Mystic showed to the world that there is something divine beyond and behind terrestrial appearances, and that it is no mere inference of the hesitating understanding that the world is real. His teachings were surcharged with conviction. They sprang from the innermost depth of this heart. His simple and candid language has touched the heart of mankind as clearly as the sense-organs apprehend the physical objects of the world.
Apparently we do notice that the true and higher life is less contagious than the evil and the lower life. But the higher consciousness that constantly and puissantly flooded the mind and the heart of Ramakrishna exerted a unique attraction on all persons around him, whether they were his disciples or not, and finally lifted them above the ordinary plane to partake of the divine sweetness. They found that a supremely calm and serene atmosphere was not to be had from the eloquent discussions of the intellectuals, but only from Ramakrishna, the eternal child of the eternal Mother Kali.
It is quite surprising that Naren, the dearest disciple of Ramakrishna, had in the beginning no faith in Mother Kali. Days ran into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years, yet the proud head of Naren would not surrender to Kali. In season and out he would argue with his Master about the authenticity of divinity in the Mother. At times the Master was hurt. But the Mother used to brush off his qualms. Once She told Her child that in due time Naren would have faith in Her and stop arguing with him. With a heart full of certitude the Master said to his hesitating disciple that a time would come when at the mere mention of Mother Kali his eyes would shed tears. Infallible was his prophecy. In after years Vivekananda says: “How I used to hate Kali! and all Her ways. That was the ground of my six years’ fight — that I would not accept Her. But I had to accept Her at last. Ramakrishna Paramahansa dedicated me to Her, and now I believe that She guides me in every little thing I do, and does with me what She wills.”
Vivekananda’s invocation to Kali the Mother is unique.
...Come, Mother, come!
For Terror is Thy name,
Death is Thy breath
And every shaking step
Destroys a world for e’er.
Thou “Time,” the All-Destroyer!
Come, O Mother, come!...
Something more significant we learn from him. He confides to us that only such a devotee can hope to cherish her Presence:
“Who dares misery love,
And hug the form of Death,
Dance in destruction’s dance
To him the Mother comes.”
The great Messenger of Nazareth declared to the world:
“He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”"
He made bold to declare so on the strength of his supreme identification with his Father. Now I must bring Sri Ramakrishna’s consort on the scene. Sarada Devi constantly felt and saw that the child of Kali had completely identified himself with his Mother. So to her he was neither her husband nor the God-man Ramakrishna, but Kali.
Two mothers and a son: Bhuvaneshwari, Sarada Devi, and NarenSweeter than the sweetest is the smile of our physical mother. Deeper than the deepest is her affection. Mightier than the mightiest is the power of her blessing. Vaster than the vastest is her hope for her son.
If there be anything never-to-be forgotten, it is the reminiscences of one’s own mother. “Wife and children may desert a man, but his mother never,” so says Vivekananda. In his childhood and boyhood Vivekananda found his confidante in nobody else save his mother; and from her he inherited not only moral purity and aesthetic sense, but also many intellectual faculties and a unique memory. His mother’s commanding personality could easily win the respect and veneration of all who came in contact with her. Her son’s influence shook the world, and her influence moulded his life considerably.
The young Naren was subject to fits of restlessness. His temper was of the quickest and he was possessed of dauntless spirit and childish pranks, but even so, with no difficulty he could make a clean breast of the misdeeds of his restlessness to his mother.
“Should the worst come to the worst, never swerve from the path of truth.” One day the schoolboy Naren got this bold and precious advice from his mother after his return from school. A sad incident had taken place in the class. The geography teacher had said, “Naren, what you say is wrong.” “No, Sir, it is right.” “I say, it is not in the book.” “No, Sir, it is.” “No argument, I shall beat you black and blue.” Smack went the cane repeatedly. Yet Naren’s sincere and bold heart would not acquiesce in what he knew to be wrong. After a while the teacher opened the book. To his extreme sorrow and shame he found Naren to be perfectly right.
As Naren was wont to disclose everything to his dear mother, this sad incident too he related to her. A tender smile played upon her lips. She fondly caressed and blessed her son, saying, “I am really happy and proud of you, my son. Should the worst come to the worst never swerve from the path of truth.”
Another piece of advice he got from his mother in his boyhood. “Bileh [Naren], as you will try your utmost not to lose your prestige, even so never indulge in hurting or lowering others’ prestige.”
True, poverty is no sin. But this truth too we cannot altogether ignore — that poverty often doubts the existence of the merciful God. Within a few months after the death of Viswanath Dutta, the family members found themselves in the jaws of poverty. Friends and relatives began deceiving them terribly. The eldest, Naren, was simply unfit to make both ends meet. Alas, one morning while he was rising from bed and repeating the name of God, his attention was distracted by the sudden outburst of his mother, who cried out, “Fool, be quiet! you have made yourself hoarse with praying to God from your childhood up. And what has He done for you?” His mother’s words cut him to the quick. Such an occurrence, however, was very rare.
In after years, many times Vivekananda spoke of his mother with a deep sense of gratitude. “It is my mother who has been the constant inspiration of my life and work.”
In 1894 Vivekananda was a guest of Mrs. Ole Bull in America. To comply with her request he gave a lecture on “The ideals of Indian Women” to the women of Cambridge, suburb of Boston. They were so charmed by it that they could not help writing a letter to his mother in India.
..we, who have your son in our midst, send you greetings. His generous service to men, women and children in our midst was laid at your feet by him in an address he gave us the other day on ‘The Ideals of Indian Women.’ The worship of his mother will be to all who heard him an inspiration and an uplift... Accept, dear Madam, our grateful recognition of your life and work in and through your son. And may it be accepted by you as a slight token of remembrance to serve in its use as a tangible reminder that the world is coming to its true inheritance from God, Brotherhood and Unity.”"
Two arresting incidents will form a significant contrast between the mother and the son with respect to mundane love for each other. One night during his lonely itinerancy, while he was in Madras, Vivekananda dreamed that his mother had died. He was utterly upset, for he firmly believed that his mother was actually dead — so much so that he was preparing himself to perform her obsequies in Madras. His disciple Alasingha Perumal pointed out that as a sannyasin, a renouncer, he had no right to perform the last rites of his mother. “Nonsense, how could Shankara do all that? I am not going to abide by such silly and obligatory rules which preclude me from making my last offerings of gratitude to the memory of my dearest mother,” came the prompt reply from the Swami. Subsequently he consulted an occultist who assured him that his mother was alive and hale and hearty. And this occultist’s word proved to be quite correct. On the other hand, when the news of her son’s entering the state of Final Illumination reached his mother’s ears, her brave heart voiced forth, “Giving birth to a son having such an exceptional genius I am ever prepared to receive such blows.”
Now let us turn to his spiritual mother, Sarada Devi. However great the earthly mother may be, her love is no match for the disinterested love of the spiritual Mother. Vivekananda’s deepest conviction about the spiritual Mother runs:
Once Vivekananda’s physical mother went to the Belur Math with one of her woman friends. She showed her friend the newly constructed buildings and the beautiful surroundings and remarked, “My Naren has done all this.” Sarada Devi and Naren also happened to be near by. Vivekananda in no time corrected his mother, saying, “Not your Naren,” and pointing to Sarada Devi, “but hers. Your Naren is by no means capable of such achievements.”
On the eve of his departure for America he decided that he would cross the seas only after having some concrete indications from his Master. He waited and waited, but in vain. At last he argued that his spiritual Mother and the Master were one and the same, and that he would seek her permission to go abroad. Accordingly he wrote a letter to Sarada Devi from Madras. By the time he received a letter from her he had had a dream in which he saw his Master Sri Ramakrishna proceed to the West over the waves and waters. This he took for approval of his plan. Presently he received whole-hearted permission from his spiritual Mother. With redoubled faith he was able to undertake his historic voyage.
When the Swadeshi movement was in full swing, Sarada Devi once remarked, “Had my Naren been alive, he could not have remained quiet and would have surely been put in jail.” This indicates how constantly she cherished the memory of her darling Naren, whom she would not allow to go anywhere alone after his triumphant return from the West. We will not be far from the truth if we dare say that behind the fiery political activities of Nivedita her Master Vivekananda’s mighty influence loomed large. We are apt to lose sight of Swami Vivekananda’s great contribution to the reawakening of the Indian Nation. His spiritual genius has, so to speak, eclipsed his patriotism. To cite Amal Kiran (K.D. Sethna):
“We who live in this day of India’s reawakening to the Yogic secrets of her own past cannot but pay homage to the mighty figure of Vivekananda. Together with his Guru, Ramakrishna, he was the most potent early shaper of the resurgence of our national genius.”
Vivekananda’s heart pined for the removal of the untold poverty and suffering of the masses — not through alms and charity, but by awakening the Spirit in their hearts, so that they could make their own way and stand up with their heads erect, as men amongst other men.
On the day of Sri Ramakrishna’s passing his disciples and consort were standing by him. An excruciating pain was in their hearts. Sarada Devi’s eyes were full of tears, for soon her Kali (Ramakrishna) would pass behind the curtain of eternity. Naren was confused — almost baffled. Suddenly to their surprise Sri Ramakrishna, to whose life remained a few fleeting hours, said to Sarada Devi: “Why do you weep so bitterly? I leave your Naren with you.”
We have dealt with the two mothers, physical and spiritual. Now let us focus our attention on their son. It will not be sufficient to say that Vivekananda was the son or brother or friend of so and so. Who, then, was Vivekananda? Or was there any need for any one to ask him for his credentials? Let us leave J.H. Wright<a href="#fnwn57" id="fnrefwn57">1</a> to answer it. “To ask you, Swami, for your credentials is like asking the Sun to state its right to shine.”
“The very fact that Ramakrishna’s chosen instrument for world-work was Vivekananda, a complex passionate analytic mind, a highly cultured master of system and organisation, a richly endowed physical nature, shows that India moves instinctively to grip earth no less than Heaven. At least the intention of Ramakrishna was to reshape through Vivekananda the whole of the country’s life in the light of God-realisation.” With these most significant words K.D. Sethna has depicted with unsurpassed mastery Vivekananda’s life-long mission.
Verily, Vivekananda once boldly declared that his personality was ushered upon the earth to bring down into the day-to-day practical life the precepts of Vedanta which Shankara wanted to reserve only for the ascetics dwelling in caves and forests.
These words of Longfellow are absolutely correct, but some more we may add to them: a genius can be judged only by another genius.
When Vivekananda’s days were numbered, he once said in a very low voice, “If there had been another Vivekananda, then he would have understood what this Vivekananda has done. But in years to come hundreds of Vivekanandas will come into the world.”
It is left to history alone to bear witness to these profoundly pathetic and supremely prophetic words of Vivekananda, an Olympian leader of mankind.
117, 21. J.H. Wright was Professor of Greek at Harvard University. It was he who introduced Vivekananda to the President of the Parliament of Religions↩
Vivekananda speaks about Christ
It is easier to have faith in the Personal God than in the impersonal. God dons the earthly cloak. He bodies forth the creation of His own time, and casts a far-flung glance into the yet unborn to bring it into existence. He reveals Himself to each individual according to his power of receptivity.
To the beginner, Christ would immediately speak of the Personal God: “Pray to your Father in Heaven.” To the one a little more advanced, he would say, “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” But to the one who was fully advanced and his dear disciple, he would proclaim: “I and my Father are One.” We find the same truth echoed in Sri Ramakrishna’s words. He disclosed to his beloved Naren (Vivekananda), “He who is Rama, He who is Krishna, dwells at once in this body as Ramakrishna.”
It is a sad fact that often the disciples of various paths misinterpret the teachings of their masters to the extent of claiming theirs as the only Master. In doing so, they bring their teachers down to the level of ordinary men. An aspirant, they claim, in spite of high achievements, counts for nothing unless and until he is prepared to give all credit to their master. What blind ignorance! If the master were an ear-witness of his disciple’s utterance, he would burn with shame. On this Vivekananda says:
“Suppose Jesus of Nazareth was teaching, and a man came and told him, ‘What you teach is beautiful. I believe that it is the way to perfection, and I am ready to follow it; but I do not want to worship you as the only begotten Son of God.’ What would be the answer of Jesus of Nazareth?
“’Very well, brother, follow the ideal and advance in your own way. I do not care whether you give me the credit for the teaching or not… I only teach truth, and truth is nobody’s property, nobody’s patent truth. Truth is God Himself. Go forward.’ But what the disciples say nowadays is, ‘No matter whether you practise the teachings or not, do you give credit to the Man? If you credit the Master, you will be saved; if not there is no salvation for you.’ ”
An interesting event took place when Vivekananda was staying at Thousand Island Park. It was a dark and rainy night. A few ladies from Detroit had travelled hundreds of miles to find him there. Having met him, one of them humbly spoke out, “We have come to you just as we would go to Jesus if he were still on the earth and ask him to teach us.” Vivekananda, deeply moved and overwhelmed with humility, replied, “If only I possessed the power of Christ to set you free now!”
Christ unveiled the truth, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” A heroic echo is heard in Vivekananda: “It is already yours… It is yours by right.” We are drawn to the famous lines of the Gita: “He who seeth Me everywhere and seeth everything in Me, of him will I never lose hold, nor shall he ever lose hold of Me.” Almost parallel to this are the divine words of Christ: “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
The Nazarene was a product of the East, although the people of the West have managed to forget this bare truth. “An Oriental of Orientals,” said Vivekananda of the son of Mary. It is quite natural that in the Bible we come across many images, symbols, natural scenes and simple ways of living common to the oriental countries. But what is more important, the oriental view is that this material life falls short of true satisfaction. So when Christ says, “Not this life, but something higher,” Vivekananda cannot help remarking, “Like a true son of the Orient, he is practical in that.”
Vivekananda meant that our earthly achievements, however grandiose, are in no way enough to quench the ever-pinching thirst of human souls to attain to higher life.
Christ’s body is Christianity. Christianity embodies humility. Vivekananda’s humility the entire world treasures. He once said:
“If you ask me, ‘Is there a God?’ and I say ‘Yes,’ you immediately ask my grounds for saying so, and poor me has to exercise all his powers to provide you with some reason. If you had come to Christ and said ‘Is there any God?’ he would have said, ‘Yes,’ and if you had asked, ‘Is there any proof?’ he would have replied, ‘Behold the Lord.’ ”
Vivekananda and AmericaHe who broke the barrier between East and West and placed the two on common ground is still a living force in both. His function was to bring in oneness where there was none before, by carrying the best of each to the other. The East had become lost by moving away from materialism; the West, by keeping clear of spirituality. A happy marriage of the two, he deeply felt, was the supreme need of the world. Life without spirituality was as poor as life without material power. Hence he dynamised the East with the force of the West, and inspired the West with the ancient wisdom of the East.
It is foolish to think that he sailed for America to satisfy his mental curiosity. It is also an absurdity to believe that his feet touched foreign shores to make a noise in the world. No. It was Sri Ramakrishna’s silent blessing that kindled the inspiration-fire of the beloved disciple to share his light with the soil and soul of America.
No country is superior to others in all spheres of life. Vivekananda, with his deeply penetrating insight, says: “As regards spirituality, the Americans are far inferior to us, but their society is far superior to ours.” He showed how a happy and true union could be effected between the other-world-loving Indians and this-world-loving Americans: “We will teach them our spirituality and assimilate what is best in their society.”
Asia, Europe and America — each continent made a contribution of its own to the world at large. With the help of his spirit’s vision, Vivekananda revealed the truth: “Asia laid the germs of civilisation, Europe developed man, and America is developing woman and the masses.”
It is an established fact that the women in America are the most advanced in the world, especially in the cultivation of knowledge. Vivekananda made a surprising observation:
“The average American woman is far more cultivated than the average American man.” He further added: “The men slave all their life for money and the women snatch every opportunity to improve themselves.” His highest compliment to women came when he said: “I have seen thousands of women here whose hearts are as pure and stainless as snow.” And again: “American women! A hundred lives would not be sufficient to pay my deep debt of gratitude to you! I have not words enough to express my gratitude to you.”
However, he was also deeply indebted to American men. For it was J.H. Wright, Professor of Greek at Harvard University, who was first in realising what Vivekananda was when the Indian monk was found, prior to becoming a delegate to the Parliament of Religions, almost destitute, no better than a street-beggar. Verily, Professor Wright, that blessed son of America, was a man of action. He introduced Vivekananda to the President of the “Parliament” in Chicago. The professor’s flaming and instructive words have echoed and re-echoed in the hearts of both East and West: “To ask you, Swami, for your credentials is like asking the Sun to state its right to shine.”
Vivekananda’s soul-stirring addresses inspired the audience to have faith in all the religions of the world, to hug the best in each religion. There was a magic spell of throbbing delight woven around his very name at the Parliament of Religions. He was the figure that dominated the world’s gaze there. A report appeared in the Boston Evening Transcript of September 30th, 1893, about the great triumph of the Indian spiritual giant: “If he merely crosses the Platform, he is applauded, and this marked approval of thousands he accepts in a childlike spirit of gratification, without a trace of conceit.”
The same paper on April 5th, 1894, had an irresistible recollection:
“At the Parliament of Religions, they used to keep Vivekananda until the end of the programme, to make people stay until the end of the session. On a warm day, when a prosy speaker talked too long and people began going home by hundreds, the Chairman would get up and announce that Swami Vivekananda would make a short address just before the benediction. Then he would have the peaceful hundreds perfectly in tether. The four thousand fanning people in the Hall of Columbus would sit smiling and expectant, waiting for an hour or two of other men’s speeches, to listen to Vivekananda for fifteen minutes.”
In no time America realised that Vivekananda was no isolated dreamer, nor, unlike most spiritual figures of the East, did he care primarily for his own personal salvation. They discovered in him a lofty spiritual realist and a universal lover of humanity. It was his vast personality and his spiritual inspiration that achieved for him such acclaim in America. Vivekananda’s credo was characterised by its freedom; thus the freedom-loving Americans responded enthusiastically to his message. They accepted his teaching that material prosperity and spiritual aspiration must run abreast and help each other if man is to see the full face of Divine Knowledge.
It is indeed only when we live in this truth that we can bask in the glorious Sunshine of the Soul that is Vivekananda.
Vivekananda and EnglandWhat Vivekananda, as a boy, despised and obstinately refused to learn, proved, in his glorious youth, a mighty instrument of victory in his hands. Apart from his towering spiritual personality, his hold on the English tongue facilitated his hold on the mind, heart and soul of East and West. His obstinacy failed to reverse God’s Will, which was shaping his destiny.
“…Vivekananda has forged from it [the English language] a thrilling clarion of the Vedanta calling both the East and the West…,” so writes K.D. Sethna in his The Indian Spirit and the World’s Future.
I hope it will not be out of place to cite a few momentous lines from that book just to make my readers intimate with the significance and necessity of the English language in India:
“We shall be underestimating the significance of the English language in India if we think that it is only a valuable means of promoting our political, economic and technological interests in the democratic world. English is, above all, an immensely cultural asset. And it is such an asset not simply because it renders available to us magnificent countries of the mind, but also because it renders possible to us the most magnificent expression of our soul.”
It will be no exaggeration to say that by virtue of the English language alone India stands in the vanguard of the political history of mankind.
As each individual has a distinct place to fill in the world, even so every language has an important role. And it has been an established fact that no other European tongue has so much power of assimilating elements from foreign languages as does the English language.
The English language was brought into Britain by Teutonic invaders. These invaders were of three types: Jutes, Saxons and Angles. Modern English has undergone a considerable change. It is no more the language brought into Britain by the Saxons and the Angles.
Grimm, a German linguist, writes in his famous book On the Origin of Languages that “English possesses a veritable power of expression such as perhaps never stood at the command of any other language of men. Its highly spiritual genius and wonderfully happy development and condition have resulted from a surprisingly intimate union of the two noblest languages in modern Europe, the Teutonic and the Roman.”
Not only in his boyhood, but also in the prime of his youth, while his feet were touching the alien shores, Vivekananda’s ruthless contempt for England was almost unbelievable. As regards the English national life, a strong suspicion was then haunting his mind.
To quote him: “No one ever landed on English soil with more hatred in his heart for a race than I did for the English.” But with what result? He had to revise his feeling overnight. In the following lines we shall observe his excessive love for England disclosed by himself before a multitude of people at Calcutta:
“There is none among you here present, my brothers, who loves the English people more that I do now.” We may as well ask him why and how could the English have won his heart? His immediate reply is: “The more I lived among them, saw how the machine was working — the English national life — and mixed with them, I found where the heartbeat of the nation was, and the more I love them.”
Had we been able to share this lofty truth of Cicero’s, there would not have existed the giant wall of misunderstanding between England and India. The arrow of England is Matter. The arrow of India is Spirit. The victory of either can never be the true fulfilment of human birth. Both the arrows must be united to pierce the veil of Ignorance. Lo, the victory of victories, the fulfilment of fulfilments is at our disposal. Vivekananda’s supremely pathetic voice speaks:
Obedience and self-respect are the two divine qualities in a human being. If one can combine these two unique virtues, then truly one has achieved something invaluable. Of the greatest achievement of the English, Vivekananda’s lofty appreciation is this: “They have known how to combine obedience with self-respect.”
I am sure I will lose much in this humble attempt of mine if the ever-inspiring memory of Nivedita does not echo in my heart. In sending his spiritual daughter Nivedita’s supreme sacrifice into the world, Swami Vivekananda declared: “Nivedita is the fairest flower of my work in England.”
The presiding Deity of England not only claps her hands with delight, but also burns herself, as it were, in the flames of ecstasy to hear from a spiritual Giant of the East, “My work in England has been more satisfactory than anywhere else. I firmly believe that if I should die tomorrow, the work in England would not die, but would go on expanding all the time.”
The disciple of Sri Ramakrishna was a live spring of spiritual force. No hyperbole, he was the Recoverer and Vivifier of the submerged soul of India. It was with his Master’s immortal teachings that he vitalised the sinews of India and illumined her darkened soul. Vivekananda was not only a great Indian figure, but also a world influence. What we actually learn from him is to fight while there is life within our limbs. Fight against what? Fight against Weakness, fight against Ignorance.
Vivekananda in PondicherryPondicherry derives from Puduhcheri, a new town. Yes, it is a new, an ever-new town, new from age to age.
In Agastya’s time it was Vedapuri, the seat of Vedic knowledge. The truths of the Veda are at once eternal and ever-new. Coming down to our own days, we find Vivekananda visiting Pondicherry in 1893, just a few months before embarking on his historic voyage to America, where the multitudes of people heard in him the voice of eternity ringing across the ages, and saw in him the ineffable vision of God.
Vivekananda, the dearest disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, Tilak, the fearless Champion of India’s swaraj, Bharathi, the patriot Bard of India’s nationalism and independence, Sri Aurobindo, the Heaven-born Prophet of India’s independence and of the Life Divine — all hallowed the town with the dust of their feet. Sri Aurobindo’s fixing on Pondicherry as the divinely ordained seat of his world-transforming Sadhana led to visits by a number of distinguished leaders of the national movement — Lala Lajpat Rai, C.R. Das, Moonje Purushottandas Tandon and Rabindranath Tagore, to name only a few. In 1914 there occurred an epoch-making event in the history of the world. From Paris came a remarkable spiritual figure, Madame M. Alfassa, now known as the Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. It is she who by her divine Personality and far-seeing powers of organisation has changed the face of Pondicherry to a great extent, and is continuing to build a New Life in this ever new town. The Vedapuri of old is again going to be the Vedapuri of the modern times — the meeting-place of East and West, the place of pilgrimage of the whole world.
During his six-year itinerary, Vivekananda toured India from end to end. From the Himalayan heights down to the plains he came, to the farthest point of Cape Comorin, the confluence of the three waters, the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea. The appalling poverty, malignant wretchedness, and untold degradation of India tortured his athletic heart. Furthermore, the caste system was for him an unspeakable abomination.
Equally, to set foot on foreign shores was, in those days, a counter-abomination for the orthodox. Hence Vivekananda’s position in the orthodox circles of Pondicherry could easily be imagined. There was a hot exchange of words over his sea voyage between Vivekananda and an orthodox pandit of the town. The pandit had a musty load of crystallised superstitions of by-gone days in his head. He gloried in spending all his energy discussing the touchableness and untouchableness of this man and that man, of this food and that food, of this country and that country. We shall leave Vivekananda himself to relate to us that curious incident:
“Balaji and G.G. may remember one evening at Pondicherry — we were discussing the matter of sea-voyage with a Pandit, and I shall always remember his brutal gestures and his kadapi na (Never)! They do not know that India is a very small part of the world, the whole world looks down with contempt upon the three hundred millions of earth-worms crawling upon the fair soil of India and trying to oppress each other. This state of things must be removed.” This was the Pondicherry of 1893!
Few could really feel and appreciate his stupendous sacrifice for his Motherland. Rabindranath said of Vivekananda, “He sacrificed his life into a bridge between East and West.” Sri Aurobindo said of Vivekananda, “The capitulation of Vivekananda to Sri Ramakrishna was a capitulation of the West to the East.” The symbolic beginning is now become the realistic fact that is emerging in Pondicherry. France replaced her political link with Pondicherry with a golden link of her culture. Pondicherry stands as an Indian town with a broad intellectual culture and outlook — the promising beginning of a consummation of Vivekananda’s dream to bring West into East and East into West, as well as Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s dreams, all aiming at Unity in diversity of culture.
A spiritual giant and a seer-poetVivekananda was a flaming tongue of fire. Tagore was a sea of beauty and delight. Vivekananda was a clarion-call. Tagore was a soul-stirring flute. For both, humanity was a great love — dynamic and powerful on the part of Vivekananda, soft and sweet on the part of Tagore.
Vivekananda says in effect: “No time to linger! Awake, O India, and with your dauntless strength achieve the loftiest height of your Spirit.” Tagore says in effect: “Look everywhere and see God’s beauty, and then, O Ind, raise your proud head towards the Highest.”
With his spirit’s height, Vivekananda was the most nourishing, life-giving fruit. With his creative genius, Rabindranath was the most beautiful flower. The Goddess Mahakali shone in the eyes of Vivekananda. The Goddess Mahalakshmi smiled through the eyes of Rabindranath.
Yet it was only after their recognition by the West that the East would claim them, the spiritual giant by the impact of his Chicago address, the mystic poet by virtue of his Gitanjali. In both cases, the divine singer expressed himself in divine measure. Through his spiritual emotion and his soul-stirring voice, Narendra pleased his divine Master, Ramakrishna, and through him, the world. By his soul-awakening songs of transcendental beauty, Rabindranath charmed the world and seized the All-Blissful.
Both Narendranath and Rabindranath came into the world from the Unknown. They were, as it were, two tireless voyagers. Rabindranath touched the earth-sphere in 1861, just two fleeting years before Narendranath. Narendranath left earth and entered the upper-sphere in 1902, thirty-nine long years before Rabindranath.
Verily, Vivekananda and Tagore were pilgrims to Infinity’s Shore, where the finite, at last, has its perfect Play.
The spiritual daughter of Swami VivekanandaEast represents the Soul-power. West represents the power of Matter. The absolute surrender of Miss Margaret Noble at the feet of an Indian sannyasin stands as a glorious proof of the submission of the West before the spiritual Light of India. This truth finds its significant corroboration in the very name Nivedita given her by her Master. Truly, Nivedita was an emblem of true offering. She successfully utilised the power that she received from her Master in the cause of uplifting Indian womanhood and of freeing the Indian Nation from foreign yoke. This again proves that as the East is endowed with the power of imparting spirituality, even so the West possesses the power of receiving it.
The sincerity of Nivedita’s devotion to her Master expressed itself more in her life than in anything else. She lived the truths which she heard from the Swami’s soul-awakening lips. And in this connection, it will be quite apposite on our part to remember the fiery and intoxicating words that she received from Vivekananda on the eve of her departure for India: “I will stand by you unto death, whether you work for India or not, whether you give up Vedanta or remain in it. The tusks of the elephant come out, but they never go back. Even so are the words of a man.” Needless to say, her Master’s words echoed and re-echoed in the innermost recesses of her heart during her historic voyage — nay, to the end of her life.
Margaret’s father was quite aware of her bright future even in her childhood. He found that his daughter was not of the common run. Therefore, before breathing his last, Samuel, who was a parson, spoke to his wife in a low tone, almost a whisper, about Margaret:
“When God calls her, let her go. She will spread her wings…She will do great things.”
On January 28, 1898, Margaret landed in India. She was one of the most precious jewels that the West could offer to India. It may also be said that she was an unknown schoolteacher who would later stand in the glare of wide publicity.
“The Mother’s heart, the hero’s will,
The sweetness of the southern breeze,
The sacred charm and strength that dwell
On Aryan altars, flaming free
All these be yours and many more,
No ancient soul could dream before,
Be thou to India’s future son,
The mistress, servant, friend in one.”
The chief disciple received from her Master this unique benediction while she was being initiated into the vow of Brahmacharya (celibacy) and the name Nivedita was given to her. A man treading the path of spirituality must never forget that, as opportunity never knocks at one’s door twice, even so benediction, a true benediction, rarely repeats itself. But the power of that benediction can easily fight out the stupendous odds of centuries that eclipse the Knowledge-Sun of the disciple.
It will be worth while to pay more attention to the word “benediction”, the touchstone in the life of Nivedita. It happened that during their stay at Almora, Vivekananda for some time assumed altogether a different aspect in his relation to Nivedita. He was unbelievably severe to her. He neglected her much more than one could believe possible. “My relation,” says the disciple, “to our Master at this time can only be described as one of clash and conflict.” But the red-letter day at last dawned to save her life from the deepest pangs. To cite her once again: “And then a time came when one of the older ladies of our party, thinking perhaps that such intensity of pain inflicted might easily go too far, interceded kindly and gravely with the Swami. He listened silently and went away. At evening, however, he returned and finding us together in the verandah, he turned to her and said with the simplicity of a child, ‘You are right. There must be a change. I am going into the forests to be alone and when I come back I shall bring peace.’ Then he turned and saw that above us the moon was new and a sudden exaltation came into his voice as he said, ‘See! the Mohammedans think much of the new moon. Let us also with the new moon begin a new life!’ As the words ended he lifted his hands and blessed with silent depths of blessing his most rebellious disciple, by this time kneeling before him… I was assuredly a moment of wonderful sweetness of reconciliation…Long, long ago Sri Ramakrishna had told his disciples that the day would come when his beloved ‘Naren’ would manifest his own great gift of bestowing knowledge with a touch. That evening at Almora I proved the truth of his prophecy.”
A rare combination of sweet devotion and lofty intellect was Nivedita. No Indian will ever deny the important role that she played after entering into the Indian political fray. With a fearless heart she associated herself with the activities of Sri Aurobindo, Tilak, and other political leaders of the front rank. In those days she was surcharged within and without with her Master’s indomitable spirit. She had fully learned the meaning of suffering. To our joy her mighty sacrifice was crowned with success.
“Nivedita,” says Tagore, “was the universal mother. We have seldom come across such motherly love which can embrace the whole of a country outside the bounds of its family circle… When Nivedita used to say ‘our people', one could easily detect the tone of intense familiarity in that; it was so sincere and yet so spontaneous!… Nivedita had the natural power to endear herself to the people of India, irrespective of caste, creed and religion. She could mix with them intimately and freely. She looked at them with respect and not with compassion.”
In this connection let us cite here an incident that actually took place in her life. The milk-man who would daily supply her with milk asked her one day to give him some advice on religion. On hearing it her eyes widened with surprise. “You! you are an Indian. You need to have a piece of advice from me? Is there anything that you people do not know? You are the descendant of Sri Krishna. Accept my salutation.”
The following lines appeared in the Karmayogin, edited by Nivedita in the absence of Sri Aurobindo, who had then retired to Chandernagore on receiving a divine Command from above. We shall observe here how Nivedita identified herself with India and expressed her high hopes that India would occupy the highest rank of leadership in the domain of intellectual activities:
“The whole history of the world shows that the Indian intellect is second to none. This must be proved by the performance of a task beyond the power of others, the seizing of the first place in the intellectual advance of the world. Is there any inherent weakness that would make it impossible for us to do this? Are the countrymen of Bhaskaracharya and Shankaracharya inferior to the countrymen of Newton and Darwin? We trust not. It is for us, by the power of our thought, to break down the iron walls of opposition that confront us, and to seize and enjoy the intellectual sovereignty of the world.”
The Master as I saw him, by Nivedita, inevitably has its place with those books that are to be ‘chewed and digested.’ According to Sri Aurobindo this book was written with the blood of her heart. Also it was Sri Aurobindo who, many years ago, addressed her as the flame-spirit.
The life and teaching of Sister Nivedita can easily claim to form an imperishable part of the recent history of Indian womanhood. Her wonderful sacrifice lives in spirit in spite of her departure from human existence, through the ever-expanding activities of the followers and admirers of RamakrishnaVivekananda. Nivedita’s was a heart of supreme selflessness. Her devotion pined to dive into the sea of Hindu Religion to discover “full many a gem of purest ray serene.” And she got them. She, with her superb intellect, ceaselessly helped Indian education, art, science, and politics. Her multifarious activities transcend human understanding, culminating in direct contact with the Olympian spirit of her Guru/. Her humility remained throughout as an innate characteristic, notwithstanding the ceaseless outpouring of respect and veneration she received from the hearts of those who knew her and closely studied her life.
Napoleon’s dictionary did not house the word “impossibility”, and hers had no room for “despair”. Even the last words she uttered under her breath amply show that her life, which was a true replica of her Master’s heroic spirit, would not give way to despair: “The boat is sinking, but I shall see the sunrise.”
Part IV — World-poets
World-poets"Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease
And builds a heaven in hell's despair.
Love so beautifully idealised can be materialised if it springs from its Highest Source and has no link with anything inferior here below.
"I was angry with my friend.
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe;
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
Wrath is a weakness worth getting over. Again it cannot disturb the inner equilibrium, which is worth everything.
Better than best is to remain unaffected by the shocks of the world.
"Nor ear can hear nor tongue can tell
The torture of that inward hell!"
To nurse an inward hell and escape the penalty is to ask for too much.
All the greater glory to the Source which has given the fame!
May the world realise this truth!
Infinite is the thirst for the Infinite.
Because it is the reflection of the All-Beautiful.
Because our great origin is both Truth and Beauty.
Hence says the Seer-Poet:
— Sri Aurobindo, Savitri"
Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream.
Rather, life, the great gift of God, is a splendid field for self-realisation.
That is the sign of a great spirit perverted.
Weakness is an implied denial of one's true self.
True in a limited context, never an absolute truth.
And silence can tell even more than brevity.
The Shelleys of the future will hear sweetest songs inspired by all-blissful thoughts.
"The desire of the moth for the star,
Of the night for the morrow,
The devotion to something afar
From the sphere of our sorrow.
Our Shelleys of the New Age will be singing of the transformation of the sphere of our sorrow into the sphere of our Delight!
"My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure.
Let us look forward to the New World that is manifesting in the old — to the New World that will be full of Sir Galahads but with their hearts absolutely true to none and nothing else than the Divine and His Influence.
"'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
True, perhaps on the human plane. But true love is Love divine that knows no loss.
The true seer-eye of the poet foresaw the possibility that is now on the point of realising itself.
Because the human body is the very temple of God.
And it may well be added: Minds that have little to perceive have nothing to confer.
As a portion of the Infinite, the soul can have depth, height and breadth without measure, but tumult can never belong to the soul. It is a play of the inferior vital.
Part IV — World-philosophers
Or of frustration and palsy of the spirit.
And a body self-dedicated to the Divine's work is the lovely Palace for the soul.
And self-subordination to the Self makes a perfect man.
No knowledge is knowledge that does not reveal the source of all knowledge. And knowledge will fulfill itself when the world takes all knowledge, including that of the Most High, for its province.
Oh that our education system could live up to this minimum!
And what is needed to have ideas worked out through those brains and arms is a one-pointed will which is affirmation itself and an eternal stranger to negation.
Alas, pleasant living is all that the world cares for, and not the qualities associated with difficult living: hard work, discipline and self-control.
We may read into this noble truth the upward march of the human soul from its prison-house of ignorance to its Home of Freedom, Light and Knowledge; and its downward march to the Here-below with the riches gained in the upper sphere, which march makes the two ends meet and become one.
— William James"
Yes, and why worth living? Because life was given to man to manifest the Divine Reality in its every aspect.
How very true! And this recognition posits the question of the greater sources of Knowledge such as the Supermind.
And where from does weakness spring? It springs from man's self-chosen separation from his true self, the divine Reality within him.
Our lower self is the formidable wall of separation from our higher or divine Self. This wall pulled down, man becomes his true self.
The simile implies that our consciousness is hardly a whit better than that of the dumb oyster. But true it is that man's frail body can pinion his mighty soul!
The great man is really the one who conquers that emptiness, filling it with the dynamic Truth of existence. His will to live is his will to fulfil the why of his existence.
When our humility becomes its genuine self, it becomes an open vessel for the gifts of the Omniscient.
— Herbert Spencer"
Spencer referred to the struggle to survive in the material life. But how to be the fittest in the spiritual life? By making oneself a conscious instrument of God's Vision and Will.
The Creation, as a manifestation of the Omnipresence, can nowhere have a vacuum.
Man transformed will be a divinised godhead.
An architect who shapes his own life hangs not on his pedigree. His descendants will number their ancestors and count their lineage from him, the seed.
Hence the necessity of more and more revealing books — books that can reveal the yet-unknown truths of man and nations.
Editor's introduction to the first editionGreatness is not the monopoly of any individual. Mother Earth has been blessed with many outstanding children who have helped her soaring aspiration for Perfect Perfection. These sons and daughters have made significant spiritual, philosophical, intellectual, aesthetic, scientific and political contributions. We can join the earth in her deep appreciation and gratitude for the genuine efforts made by her brave hero-children.
As a spiritual Master, Sri Chinmoy is full of admiration for the spiritual giants who have preceded him. But his gratitude extends likewise to those who have enriched earth with aesthetic, scientific, intellectual and political achievements. With his inner eye, Sri Chinmoy can enter into the soul of any past or present being. In this book, written in India before he came to the West in 1964, Sri Chinmoy records the soul's qualities as well as the inner and outer achievements of various Indian leaders.
Mother India's Lighthouse is a collection of essays on eminent Indian figures. These leaders, some of whom are perhaps little known in the West, are all beloved throughout their Motherland. The study of their lives gives us Western readers valuable insights into a cross-section of Indian achievements.
Rabindranath, The Myriad-Minded and The Disciple And The Master are in-depth studies of Indians well known even in the West. The poetry of Nobel Prize-winner Rabindranath Tagore is surcharged with his spiritual vision. Sri Chinmoy's own poetic genius shines through every page of this commentary on his illustrious fellow Bengali.
The Disciple And The Master tells of Sri Ramakrishna, the greatest spiritual Master of the nineteenth century, and Vivekananda, his beloved disciple. Coming directly from Sri Chinmoy's most intimate inner connection with both of these towering spiritual figures, these delightful and illumining glimpses provide revealing new insights into the souls of the Master and the Disciple.
Sri Chinmoy's appreciation extends also to the achievements of the West. In World Philosophers and World Poets he has selected several lines from the writings of each of various great creative intellects which represent the core of that particular author's life-work. Sri Chinmoy then adds his own clarifying, expanding and illumining commentary.