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Friday, May 1, 2009

Trivial “hagiographies” by Diwakar, Keshavmurti, Pramode Kumar Sen, Rishabhchand, Sisirkumar Mitra never counted for Heehs-the-Great

A critique of the book "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" by Peter Heehs
committed to objective, academic, respectful and honest discussions
Apr 26, 2009
Objective History in Four Lessons by Prithwindra Mukherjee
[Dr Prithwindra Mukherjee has recently been awarded the Chevalier in the Order of Arts & Letters by the Ministry of Culture, France (2009). An expert on the pre-Gandhian Indian revolutionary movement (1893-1918), and author of a PhD thesis supervised by Raymond Aron, he points out errors galore in Heehs' so-called scholarship, especially with regard to Bagha Jatin (Jatin Mukherjee), who was Dr. Prithwindra's grandfather.] INTRODUCTION

A recent enterprise in the West is to discredit India’s spiritual message by a vulgar and charlatan process of psychoanalysis, reducing age-old images of sanctity into clinical cases of sexual perversion, libelling spiritual experiences as “subjective (…), only hallucinations or signs of psychotic breakdown. Even if not, do they have any value to anyone but the subject ?” [1] While exploring Sri Aurobindo’s political career, drawing benefit from the light and shade of the secret societies that had cropped up under the Leader’s radical influence, one such biographer took himself to be the dispenser of the Destiny presiding over Indian historiography and suppress some significant militants, while ushering into limelight minor or undeserving dramatis personae.

In The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs, singling out blatant instances of such a dishonest manoeuvre that are directly related to a topic on which I have been working since 1955 – pre-Gandhian freedom movement in British India (1893-1918) – I bring them to the notice of interested readers. The book was to be re-printed by Penguin India in November 2008, before it was stopped by a red signal from the Orissa Hight Court. Some of the conclusions, as mentioned in the petition are: “Aurobindo’s character, life, writings and thoughts did not hold integrity”, “He possesses a morally loose character”, “his claims to spiritual expression and realization [are] questionable and irrelevant” and that “his spirituality emerges from a streak of inherited madness.” [2]

LESSON I “Hagiographers deal with documents the way retouchers deal with photographs.” [3]

LESSON II “Biographers must take their documents as they find them.”[13]

LESSON III (This split) “marked the end (sic!) of the Bengal secret society. The groups in Calcutta that survived acted alone and without vigour.” [21]

LESSON IV “(Biographers) have to examine all sorts of materials, paying as much attention to what is written by the subject’s enemies as by his friends, not giving special treatment even to the subject’s own version of events.” [51] [...]

Let us not forget, however, that in The Lives a similar feat of compassion, on p.390, had led Heehs-the-David to deign cite only once his redoubtable Goliath of a “biographer” : K.R.S. Iyengar.[55] Several others, less fortunate, have been deprived of this immortality : trivial “hagiographies” by Diwakar, Keshavmurti, Pramode Kumar Sen, Rishabhchand, Sisirkumar Mitra never counted for Heehs-the-Great. Similarly, henceforth deciding to strip Jatin Mukherjee of all possible credit, The Lives has scrupulously dropped all references to such publications as by Arun Chandra Guha[56], Jadugopal Mukherjee, Uma Mukherjee. Unable to resist the temptation of including Sri Aurobindo’s timely advice to Bhupendra Kumar Datta (which determined the Jugantar attitude towards Gandhi in 1920), Heehs has overlooked my publications before finding a second-hand reference.[57] He has altogether kept clear of the track of Yogendra Vidyabhushan who had accommodated Sri Aurobindo in 1903 and had arranged for Jatin Mukherjee’s meeting with him. According to Hemendraprasad Ghose (K.D. Ghose’s nephew and Sri Aurobindo’s colleague on the Bande Mataram staff), Jatin led the Jugantar movement for over a yuga [twelve years].[58] [...]

Biographical Notes: Better known as dreamer of human unity and founder of an integral yoga aiming at the Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was, unanimously, father of a militant nationalist politics which helped the Congress Party wriggle out of its Moderate and loyal practice of petition before demanding a self-rule (Swaraj). Labelled as Extremists, the trio Lal-Bal-Pal [68] supported this revolutionary turn. In 1905, the entire country rose against the Government’s decision to divide Bengal into two provinces in order to minimise the Bengali influence in the colonial administration. Sri Aurobindo seized this opportunity : in addition to an open challenge of boycotting everything British and of passive resistance, he added the dimension of a secret society crowning the movement with an armed insurrection. In 1910, he retired to Pondicherry for concentrating on experiments in spiritual living. In 1914, a French disciple joined him and was recognised as The Mother of the Ashram that developed around them. Source: Prithwindra Mukherjee, The Asianists’ ASIA, Vol.5 (2008) http://stateless.freehosting.net/menupage.htm

Bagha Jatin is a loving nickname people gave to Jatindra Nath Mukherjee (1879-1915), a fearless revolutionary leader. As a college student, desirous to be a monk, Jatindra had approached Vivekananda and had learned that even an honest family man can lead an ideal life : engaged in social relief, under the Master’s influence, he came to work for India’s political freedom as an indispensable condition for man’s spiritual progress. Among founders of secret societies, he took a creative part in Sri Aurobindo’s nationalist programme since 1903, inventing the ‘Extremist’ Jugantar movement.[69] While awaiting shipments of German arms on the coast of Orissa, he was surrounded by a detachment of armed police. Promoting the revolutionary endeavour from the phase of individual martyrdom to the guerrilla, he with his four associates fought and fell in 1915, leaving behind them suitable conditions for an imminent mass movement. Source: Prithwindra Mukherjee The Asianists’ ASIA, Vol.5 (2008) http://stateless.freehosting.net/menupage.htm

Jayantilal Parekh was born near Surat in 1913. His father was a banker. Jayantilal had an inborn artistic talent. After a year in the Bombay School of Architecture, he entered the art school of Vishwabharati (founded by Rabindranath Tagore) as a student of .Nandalal Bose. While travelling the South in Tagore’s entourage, he visited the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. After finishing his course in Vishwabharati in 1935, he settled in the Ashram where - along with work of different sorts,- the Mother encouraged him to continue drawing and painting. Jayantilal played a significant role in the development of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, and was the guiding force behind the publication of the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library. In 1973 he established the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives, which continues the work of preserving and publishing the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. In 1995 he initiated the publication of the Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo. In January 1999 he died of a cancer. Jayantilal quietly produced lasting results. Source: Peter Heehs in The Mother’s Lasso, an Internet site

Peter Heehs, after a brief college life, lived in a New York Yoga centre as a stock boy and taxi driver. He reached Pondicherry in the early 1970s. Asked by Jayantilal “to collect material dealing on the life of Sri Aurobindo, to organise his manuscripts and prepare them for publication.” Making full use of this springboard, Heehs gained momentum as historian, while preparing a so-called authentic biography of the most revered contemporary spiritual figure : Sri Aurobindo. His motivation behind this enterprise becomes obvious when we are told that the very first and warm review of this “biography” was published by one notorious Jeffrey Kripal who seems to be a personal friend of Heehs’. Source: Peter Heehs, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo

Jeffrey Kripal's 1995 book from University of Chicago, Kali's Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna was a psychoanalytic study of the Bengali mystic Ramakrishna. He argues that "Ramakrishna’s mystical experiences...were in actual fact profoundly, provocatively, scandalously erotic." The book Kali's Child …caused intense controversy among both Western and Indian audiences which still persists unresolved. The deductions of the book Kali's Child have been disputed and argued to have been built on mistranslations, distortion of sources, misuse of tantra, misuse of psychoanalysis and Hermeneutics. Source : Wikipedia

Prithwindra Mukherjee (Historian, Musicologist, Poet, Philosopher) :*Born : Calcutta, 1936. Brought up : Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry (1948-1966).*Studies : (a) “Higher Course”, Pondicherry (1958); (b) Docteur d’Université, Paris Sorbonne (1970); (c) Docteur d’Etat, Paris (1986). *Experience : (a) Teaching languages & literature at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education; (b) Lecturer on Indian Civilisation, University of Paris-INALCO (1974-78); (c) Lecturer on Indian Philosophy, University of Paris XII (1978-81); (d) Part-time Research Scholar at Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient, Paris (1971-81); (e) Author-Producer of Features, Radio-France (1973-81); Full-time Research Scholar at National Centre of Scientific Research, Human & Social Sciences (1981-2003). *Publications: more than 50 books, 350 articles & papers in Bengali, French & English. 12 LPs & CDs, 2 Documentary Films. *Distinctions: (a) French Government Scholarship (1966-70); (b) Fulbright Scholarship (1981); (c) Medal from the Society of Encouragement to Progress, UNESCO (1983); CNRS Bronze Medal, Paris (1986); Sri Aurobindo Award from the Governor of West Bengal (2003); CNRS Special Medal (2003);Chevalier in the Order of Arts & Letters, Ministry of Culture, France (2009).

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