From revolutionary to yogi Telegraph Friday, June 1, 2012 RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE The Lives of Sri Aurobindo By Peter Heehs,
The political ideas that Aurobindo began to explore in Baroda and subsequently in Calcutta had as their core the project of building up a secret revolutionary sect to which young men would devote their lives and work to violently overthrow British rule in India. Aurobindo emerged as a major critic of the moderates within the Indian National Congress and was among the first to advocate complete freedom from British rule. This made him a champion of the extremists. Heehs writes in detail about the battle between these two factions of the Congress and about Aurobindo’s role in it.
Aurobindo’s political ideas were articulated in the columns of a journal that he edited, Bande Mataram. During the Swadeshi Movement, he worked closely with the National Council of Education. He was also advising his brother, Barin, on various revolutionary and terrorist activities. This led to his arrest in the Maniktola Bomb Case. He was jailed but acquitted after the trial. Heehs notes very rightly that there was some irony in this since all the charges brought against Aurobindo were valid but the court did not find the evidence presented to it to adequate for a conviction…
Heehs’s research leaves many aspects unexplored. In his early days in
Aurobindo was desperately poor, yet he lived in rented accommodation (one of
the houses was rented at Rs 100 a month.) What were the sources of funds?
Aurobindo’s needs were simple but he had an entourage to maintain. Heehs
glosses over Aurobindo’s treatment of his wife, Mrinalini, whom he never looked
after. Aurobindo smoked and occasionally drank but he insisted on celibacy.
Why? Most importantly, how did he reconcile his profound immersion in the
Upanishads with his advocacy of violence to gain political ends? He never did
abjure this belief in violence. Pondicherry
Heehs relies too heavily on Aurobindo’s own words without standing back to make an evaluation. He is perhaps uneasy with the more obscure aspects of Aurobindo’s spiritual and mystical experiences and thus leaves these at the level of description in Aurobindo’s own terms. He notes the transition from Aurobindo to Sri Aurobindo, from a human to a divine figure. How did the man himself react to this? Aurobindo was a man of laughter and humour. Had these disappeared when he began to wear the mantle of divinity?
Aurobindo was a poet, journalist, political campaigner, revolutionary, seer and philosopher. He had made himself a man of inner calm and strength. Heehs brings out all these aspects and does so lucidly and in some detail. Yet the book leaves behind a sense of dissatisfaction: for the devotee it is not reverential enough, for the sceptic it is too unquestioning.