Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jugal Kishore Mukherjee (1925-2009)

                                             Jugal-da: In Memoriam 
                                                       By Anurag  Banerjee


With the passing of Jugal Kishore Mukherjee whom we lovingly and respectfully addressed as Jugal-da on Tuesday, 15 December 2009, the Aurobindonian community has lost one of its most learned scholars. An intellectual par excellence, he was one of those few who not only studied the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother but also lived in them. He had achieved a rare distinction among the Aurobindonian scholars of his generation so much so that the emptiness created by his demise can never be filled up. He was like a mobile encyclopaedia who could point out most effortlessly which sentence was taken from which volume of the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother including the page number and paragraph. I’ve experienced it myself and therefore I know.
      Jugal-da was one of those few sadhaks who never uttered a single word about his inner spiritual realizations and experiences. He was one of the most sincere practitioners of the Integral Yoga; he had the least interest to display the vast ocean knowledge he possessed but even a very brief interaction with him could prove what a brilliant brain he had. But what was even more interesting and impressive was his style of answering the queries of the seekers of the Path and explaining to them the concept of the Integral Yoga and its various features. I had the good fortune—rather a privilege—of interacting with him two and half years ago and till date I’ve not been able to come out of that mesmerizing spell. I will come to it a little later.
      About Jugal-da’s early life I knew nothing before I met him and that knowledge too was quite limited. All I knew that he, after completing his post-graduation studies in Science (his special paper was Nuclear Physics) from Calcutta University, joined the Ashram in August 1949 at the age of twenty-four (his year of birth being 1925) and that he was given the charge of organizing the Higher Course in the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education by the Mother herself. He was the head of the Higher Course section which is located at ‘Knowledge’, a beautiful sea-facing building situated next to the main office of Sri Aurobindo Society. My regular visits to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram enabled me to learn more about him. Recently I came across an article on Jugal-da’s life written by R. Ranganath and published in the journal Śraddhā. I am taking the liberty of quoting at length from this article.
      ‘Jugal Kishore Mukherjee… was born in a remote village in Bengal. His father passed away when he was only an infant in his mother’s arms. His mother, reduced to very difficult circumstances, somehow managed to raise Jugalda to boyhood with often one sparse meal a day. Jugalda’s brilliant intellect was noticed by the village school teacher and he was helped and referred to a better school some distance away from his own village. His mother, ever willing to sacrifice her all for the sake of her son, somehow managed to support him in order to enable him to pursue his studies. He landed in Calcutta for his college education and came in contact with the Sri Aurobindo Pathamandir in College Street, an important centre for the dissemination of Sri Aurobindo’s teachings. Studying often under street lights, he managed to complete college. He was lucky enough to have the great Meghnath Saha as his professor.
       ‘He never forgot his mother’s advice, dinned into his ears from infancy: “Remember, my son, for those who have no one in this harsh world, there is always God, the Universal ever-present Friend, who never fails.” Guided by his mother and beaten into tough mettle by the vicissitudes of a life of extreme poverty, he developed an irreversible inner life, and it was only natural that when only 24 years old, without pursuing further studies, Jugalda came and settled in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1949. Hence he was blessed with the Grace of having had Sri Aurobindo’s Darshan for two years.’ (Śraddhā, February 2010, pp. 182-183)
      Here I must pause and narrate an incident about Jugal-da’s mother which I had heard from Krishna-di (Krishna Chakravarty of the Central Office, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry). Bairam-da, who is associated with the cremation service, had once gone to Jugal-da’s house. Jugal-da’s aged mother was living at that time. Seeing Bairam-da and being aware of the nature of service he normally rendered, she said: “Ektu taratari ele!” (meaning, “you’ve come a bit early!” implying she is yet to die.)
      In the initial days of his arrival, Jugal-da was assigned work in the Publication Department of the Ashram which was then headed by Prithwi Singh Nahar. The nature of work assigned to him had no relation with the academic education he had received. This was, in fact, the Mother’s way of making her children learn how to work without developing ego. Sisir Kumar Mitra, who was a professor at Santiniketan and later became the Headmaster of the Ashram School, was given the work of washing plates in the Dining Room when he joined the Ashram. Jugal-da was later shifted to the Ashram School where he taught Physics to his students. When the Ashram Laboratory was inaugurated by the Mother in 1956, he became, along with Pavitra, Mrityunjoy Mukherjee, Sunil Bhattacharya and Joshi-bhai, a teacher of science. ‘But on any given day, rather than teaching Physics he would be more inclined to be discussing Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy or Yoga. Such was his love for Mother and Sri Aurobindo around whom his life was centred!’ (Śraddhā, February 2010, p. 183)
        But little does anyone know that Jugal-da had also acted in Sri Aurobindo’s drama Perseus the Deliverer where he had played the hero. I’ve heard an anecdote about this drama from Richard-da (Pearson). Though Jugal-da was selected to play the role of Perseus, the other actors were not too impressed with his dialogue-delivery in Bengali accent. On the day the Dress Rehearsal was held before the Mother, there was rainfall which made the dialogues uttered by the actors less audible. After the play ended, the Mother remarked to Jugal-da: “I could hear every single word.”
      Not only was Jugal-da a remarkable scholar but he was an author whose books compelled the reader to ponder on the subject on which he dealt. His books—though based mainly on the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother—were unique in nature and in a way they made the theory of Integral Yoga and its various aspects understandable to even the non-intellectuals. We could find in his books the answers to several queries which were capable of changing one’s outlook towards life. His first book The Destiny of the body was published after twenty-five years of his study of the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. From the scientific point of view he has discussed about the possibility of transforming a human body into a supramentalized one. His scholarly analysis and interpretation was praised by K.D. Sethna who contributed a Foreword to this book in which he remarked: ‘Reading the series of studies contributed by Jugal Kishore Mukherjee I could not help being exhilarated not only by the scholarly thoroughness of its knowledge but also by the wide-ranging vitality of its insight… His exposition is a reminder to the champions of the spiritual life that the inner divinity is meant not to tear away from the outer form but to awaken that form to a natural kinship with it. It is also a reminder to the champions of the physical life that the ultimate source of this life’s full flowering lies in that inner divinity and its awakening touch on matter.’[1] His next book—Sri Aurobindo’s Poetry and Sanskrit Rhetoric—illustrated Sri Aurobindo’s poetic compositions from the angle of Sanskrit Alankara-Shastra. It was a delight and matter of immense astonishment to observe how he had traced and identified the ‘rhetorical embellishments’ of the Alankara-Shastra in Sri Aurobindo’s poems including Savitri. His From Man Human to Man Divine which was the sequel to The Destiny of the Body threw light on the concept of physical transformation and the evolutionary destiny of mankind.  His The Wonder that is K.D. Sethna alias Amal Kiran published on the occasion of the 90th birth anniversary of the great poet and scholar in 1994 was a ‘peep’ into the various literary aspects of Amal Kiran as a poet, critic, prose-writer, correspondent, journalist, teacher, humorist etc. Amal Kiran congratulated him in the following words:
       ‘It is a splendid piece of work—wide-sweeping yet minutely attentive and penned with vividness and verve. I marvel at the range of your references and the apt way you have chosen your quotations. I could not help reading the whole thing at one stretch. You made that familiar old fellow KDS stunningly new even to himself!’[2]
      In 2003, in his 78th year, The Practice of Integral Yoga—a comprehensive exposition of the practice of the yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother—took birth from Jugal-da’s pen. A year before his 80th birthday his book Mysteries of Death, Fate, Karma and Rebirth was published in which he delved into the aforesaid mysteries and brought out the answers—the treasures of Wisdom—from the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I have not read his other books like Sri Aurobindo: The Smiling Master, Sri Aurobindo Ashram: Its Role, Responsibility and Future Destiny, The Ascent of Sight in Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri etc., but it can be claimed without the slightest doubt that his was the voice which echoed the true message of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Their works have been read by many but understood by only a handful but even that understanding is limited. And at times the acclaimed scholars tend to misinterpret their teachings and cause irreparable damage innocently. But Jugal-da was not one of those pseudo-intellectuals. Instead of mere understanding, he realized the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and implemented their advice in his day-to-day life. It won’t be an exaggeration if it is claimed that he was the ideal example of ‘plain living and high thinking.’


     I recall very well the day when I was introduced to Jugal-da. It was Sunday, 26th August 2007. I was relishing a drink of coconut-water on the road leading to Pranab-da’s residence with two of my friends (one of whom happened to be an ex-student of the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education) when we saw Jugal-da walking towards the Post Office. I was introduced to him by this friend of mine. I made my obeisance to him and after exchanging pleasantries my friend told him on my behalf that I would like to ask him certain questions about the Integral Yoga and so would he be able to spare some time for me. Jugal-da readily consented and asked us to come to ‘Knowledge’ on 28th August at 10 a.m.
     As per our appointment, we (my friend Rajsourav, the ex-student of SAICE and myself) went to ‘Knowledge’ and entered Jugal-da’s room at exactly 10 a.m. Jugal-da was seated on a chair with his back facing an open window through which a spectacular view of the blue sky and the blue ocean with white waves crashing against the rocky-beach could be seen. Jugal-da was reading a hard-bound book with the help of a magnifying glass. He welcomed us and after a brief exchange of pleasantries, he told me that now I was free to ask him my questions. In those days my mind was full of spiritual queries and I had scribbled those questions on a paper—in fact, it looked like a question paper on Integral Yoga—which I gave to Jugal-da. He told me to read them to him. After the questions were read out, he smiled and said: “Ami adar byapari, jahaj niye amar ki kaj?” (He referred to an old Bengali proverb whose English equivalent is ‘the cobbler must stick to his last.’) Then he added: “Tobe ami chesta korbo.” (meaning, “But I’ll try.”) He called for someone and when a lady came in, he asked her to fetch three copies The Life Divine, Synthesis of Yoga, Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, The Destiny of the Body and Savitri. When the lady came with the books and left after keeping them on the table, Jugal-da turned to me and said: “I’ll be very blunt and direct. I won’t answer your questions one-by-one but I’ll make you read certain passages from these books and you’ll get your answers.” Then he narrated to us the following story:
      The King of Magadha had four sons who never studied but spent their time playing games only. The King did not want his sons to remain uneducated fools so he summoned Chanakya and appointed him the princes’ tutor. Chanakya realized that he would have to adopt some innovative technique of education in order to teach the princes. He took them to the roof of the palace and told them to fly kites. The four princes found it to be immensely delightful and they went on playing with great enthusiasm. Then Chanakya asked the eldest prince: “How many kites do you see in the sky?” “Four,’ he replied. Then he asked the younger prince: “If one of the kites gets torn, how many would remain?” “Three”, replied the prince. Then he asked the third prince: “If in addition to these four kites if you are given one more kite to fly, how many kites would you have?” “Five,” answered the prince. The youngest prince happened to be the smartest of all. He exclaimed: “Brothers, let’s run. He is teaching us mathematics!”
       We enjoyed the story and before long I observed that Jugal-da was adopting the same technique of teaching. He called one of the students of the Higher Course and asked him to solve a mathematical sum with the help of a formula. Though the sum was simple (at least I found it to be simple despite being not a student of mathematics but Commerce), the boy somehow got nervous and was unable to solve it. His nervousness got converted to embarrassment and all he could do after sometime was to give a helpless smile! Jugal-da was very amused and he excused the boy. Then he himself explained the procedure of solving the sum to us. I was wondering why he was explaining these mathematical formulas to us when I had asked him philosophical questions. I received my answer without much delay. To my utter amazement Jugal-da equated mathematics with philosophy and started answering my questions from the scientific point of view as well. Then he asked me while answering another question: “Your friend is in this room. How will you understand whether he is in the room or not without looking at him?” I replied: “I can feel his presence.” Then he turned to Rajsourav and asked him: “And how would you understand whether he [that is, I] is in this room or not?” He replied: “I’ll look around and see.” Then he explained how Truth can be reached both through Science (that is, through observation) and Philosophy (through realization). Then he made us read certain passages from The Life Divine, Synthesis of Yoga, Savitri and Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo one-by-one and as we read, he began to point out: “This is the answer to your first question; this is the answer to your second question” and so on. And I was astonished to observe his encyclopaedic memory—he knew what was printed in which page of what book!
      Regarding one of my queries on the topic of physical transformation, Jugal-da replied: “Even the Mother was not quite sure how it would be up to a certain period. I’ve heard a conversation of hers in which she was asking herself, ‘But how? But how?’” Then he referred to a tape-recorded talk given by the Mother soon after her critical illness in April 1962 and said how she had got the glimpse of the answer she was seeking. He also told us of the hymn OM NAMO BHAGAWATE which she used to chant for she found it to be quite effective in making the cells of the body conscious.
     The course of the conversation turned to the Mother’s mahasamadhi. “Satprem argued,” Jugal-da said, “that the Mother’s body had not decomposed and was still reciting the mantra even in the Samadhi vault. What do you think? Is it still there as it was or it has melted into water?” I understood that it was the physicist in Jugal-da who was speaking.
      Soon after, Jugal-da began to speak of Dilip Kumar Roy (I don’t recall the context). “There is a reference about a sadhak in Nirod-da’s Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo where Nirod-da asks Sri Aurobindo why can’t he give X the realization he seeks. Do you know what Sri Aurobindo’s answer was? Here (opening the page), read this question and the Sri Aurobindo’s answer. I read out the following passage (the italicized sentences are Nirodbaran’s queries):

      I don’t understand when he says that he hasn’t felt any peace in seven years. “All I had is 24 hours of intense Ananda—no other experience…” he says.
      ‘You needn’t take X’s rhetorical statements “at the foot of the letter”, as the French say. He did get peace often, but he said it was nothing concrete or spiritual, only ordinary peace. Also he did not want peace but bhakti. He got some experiences, even sometimes a descent as the result of which his inner being showed itself and wept profusely. But he did not think much of his experiences—not what he wanted. He got bhakti sometimes—but afterwards said he had no bhakti. So on with all the rest. Naturally under such conditions there could be no permanent opening and no steady progress.

      But is it really impossible for you to give him some experience of peace, silence or meditation? Then the Divine is not at all omnipotent...

      ‘My dear sir, what has the omnipotence of the Divine to do with it? In this world there are conditions for everything—if a man refuses to fulfil the conditions for Yoga, what is the use of appealing to the Divine’s omnipotence? He does not believe that the Divine is here. He regards us as Gurus. Yes, but he begins by disputing all my way of Yoga. He does not understand and does not care to understand my processes. He has ideas of his own, does not want peace or equality or surrender or anything else, wants only Krishna and bhakti. He has read things in Ramakrishna and elsewhere as to how to do it, insists on following that. Rejects all suggestions I can make as unpracticable. Erects a sadhana of violent meditation, japa, prayer—for these are the traditional things, has no idea that there are conditions without which they cannot be effective. Meditates, japs, prays himself into fits of dullness and disappears. Also tries in spite of my objections a wrestling tapasya which puts his vital into revolt. Then by a stroke of good luck I succeed unexpectedly in making a sort of psychic opening. Decided to try surrender, purification of the heart, rejection of ego, true humility etc. — tries a little of it and is really progressing. After two months finds that Krishna is not appearing—gets disgusted and drops the beastly thing. And after all that he is always telling me “What an impotent Guru you are! You are evidently able to do nothing for me.” Evidently! That’s X.’[3]  
     After I had finished reading, Jugal-da told us: “I had once asked Nirod-da who this sadhak was. His reply was: it was Dilip-da.  

We discussed some more subjects and how time flew away went unnoticed. Suddenly we realized that it was about noon. As we were about to leave, Jugal-da asked me: “Now you tell me what have you learnt from these discussions we had? What have the answers taught you?” I replied: “I’ve learnt that if one aspires, the answers to his thousand and one queries would automatically come to him. But what is essential is to look for the answers within.” Jugal-da seemed to be pleased and remarked: “It is evident that you have bhakti.” We bade him good-bye and while we were coming out of his room, my eyes fell on the ocean that was visible from the window. I asked myself: “Which is deeper? Is it this ocean of salty-water or this human ocean of Knowledge and Wisdom?” In no time I got the answer that it was the latter.
      I met Jugal-da a number of times later in the streets near the Ashram. The duration of the talks was never as lengthy as those we had at ‘Knowledge’. Along with the exchange of pleasantries there was sometimes a brief exchange of feelings. But what I noticed during my last meeting with him was his resentment at the way certain renowned personalities of the Ashram were presenting the message of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to the outside world. He had specifically mentioned their names to me and remarked sarcastically: “X has become a half-superman; Y has become a quarter-superman.” It was evident that he was dead against the display of acquired yogic powers to the audience.

During my February 2009 visit to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram when I inquired about Jugal-da, I was informed that he had met with an accident due to which he had withdrawn from active life. He had stopped visiting ‘Knowledge’ as well as stepping out of his apartment. When I visited Pondicherry again in August 2009, I inquired about Jugal-da’s health. I was told that though physically he was well he did not quite like the stream of visitors. One of his ex-students had gone to meet him and was well received by him. But when he paid a second visit, after his departure, Jugal-da had remarked: “Why did he come again?” Little did we realize that he had already begun his preparation of leaving his physical body.
     Some time before he left his body, Jugal-da was given the biography of Prithwi Singh Nahar penned by me to read. At that time he had stopped reading as his eyesight had gone bad but someone was kind enough to read it out to him. From Suprabha-di (Prithwi Singh’s youngest daughter) I came to know that he had appreciated my work. But Jugal-da did not give me the opportunity to thank him. He left his body soon after.
      From Jhumur-di (Shrimati Jhumur Bhattacharya) I came to know of Jugal-da’s last days. Towards the end of his life, he would only read The Life Divine. Since his eyesight had gone bad one of his students had printed the entire text of the book in a bigger font so that he could read it with the help of a magnifying glass. To Jhumur-di, he would say: “I’ve told the Mother to take me away.” It proves that he was fully prepared to leave his body. He was in good health till the last day and did not suffer from any ailments. Some days before he left his body, Jhumur-di saw him standing near the window of his room holding the window-pane. On inquiry, he said that he had felt giddy. On Tuesday, 15 December 2009, in the morning when his breakfast was taken to his apartment, Jugal-da’s lifeless body was found lying on the floor. A haemorrhage was the cause of his death.
      Sadhaks and great souls like Jugal-da don’t die. They just leave their physical sheath and join the Gurus in the occult world. His physical absence is deeply felt and would be felt with equal intensity in the future as well but he would always remain present amid us through his illuminating books which would continue to help and guide every seeker in the path of sadhana and clarify the doubts regarding the Integral Yoga. One can always find Jugal-da in his books and all voidness would disappear.


[1] The Destiny of the Body, p. ix-x
[2] Foreword to The Wonder That is K.D. Sethna alias Amal Kiran.
[3] Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, Volume I, pp. 601-602


  1. How predictable can some people, like Anurag Banerjee (AB), be. For how could AB not resist the temptation of pushing his personal agenda by stating:

    "But what I noticed during my last meeting with him was his resentment at the way certain renowned personalities of the Ashram were presenting the message of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to the outside world. He had specifically mentioned their names to me and remarked sarcastically: “X has become a half-superman; Y has become a quarter-superman.” It was evident that he was dead against the display of acquired yogic powers to the audience."

    Because with one petty stroke, AB has undone his monumental labour of portraying JKM as a great soul and sadhak. Because would a great soul and sadhak really entertain petty and personal talk, particularly to talk ill of others?

    If JKM was really the great soul that AB portrays, then AB is misrepresnting JKM's statements about the doings of certain specific people. And if JKM had really stooped so low to delve into personal and petty talk about certain specific people, then AB is wrongly portraying JKM as a great soul and sadhak.

    Either way, AB has clearly shot himself in the foot!

  2. I have been Jugal-da’s student at the S.A.I.C.E. and though I have admired his intellectual and mental capabilities, I would not be surprised if he partook in more petty and personal discussions, even pointing out the petty faults of others with his typical wry sense of humour. Even though he could recite large passages from several of Sri Aurobindo’s works at will, and draw people’s admiration, as a student who interacted with him from close quarters it became quite apparent that this mental ability was rather limited to some mental gymnastics and acrobatics, as he clearly grappled to use Sri Aurobindo’s infinite wisdom to transform his day to day life into something nobler and better. Some of his remarks and reactions towards women clearly indicated that he had major difficulties in dealing with people from the opposite sex. And the way in which he prevented some of his students to talk about the subject of Love also demonstrated that he had quite a few unresolved issues with that subject.

    I am in no position to say whether Jugal-da was a great soul, as described by Mr. Anurag Banerjee, or not, but I am rather sure that it CANNOT be claimed without the slightest doubt that his was the voice which echoed the true message of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Because contrary to Mr. Anurag Banerjee’s claims, in some of his writings, Jugal-da clearly showed considerable shortcomings and difficulties in bridging the East-West divide, and therefore completely failing to echo or voice Sri Aurobindo’s and The Mother’s message of the ideals of Human Unity.

    This comment is not an attempt to denigrate Jugal-da, particularly when he has deceased and is no more. But it is an attempt to put Mr. Anurag Banerjee’s remarks in the proper perspective.

    Because, it is quite evident that Mr. Anurag Banerjee’s showering of adulatory remarks on Jugal-da are not more than a sham which is probably as far removed from the truth as he can be reasonable or objective. Mr. Anurag Banerjee’s remarks are clearly aimed at placing Jugal-da on a pedestal which he has laboriously constructed only to later use that stature in a desperate attempt to give some weight to those personal remarks Jugal-da must have regretfully made about some personalities in the Ashram, against whom Mr. Anurag Banerjee also has an axe to grind.

    Mr. Anurag Banerjee has to make up his mind on whether Mr. Jugal-da was a great soul or whether he was a mortal like most of us with some extraordinary mental faculties maybe, but who partook in petty and personal talk that was far removed from representing the message of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

  3. On the one hand you write...

    "as a student who interacted with him from close quarters it became quite apparent that this mental ability was rather limited to some mental gymnastics and acrobatics"

    and on the other...

    "This comment is not an attempt to denigrate Jugal-da, particularly when he has deceased and is no more. But it is an attempt to put Mr. Anurag Banerjee’s remarks in the proper perspective."

    Well you have managed to denigrate him quite effectively. And as if to add salt to the wounds, you follow up your naked hypocrisy with unbridled arrogance by claiming that YOUR perspective is the "proper" perspective. What are you, the certified gossip columnist of the Ashram? It is really shameful of you to attempt this kind of character-assassination of someone who is no more physically, just because he happens to be one of the earliest opponents of PH and his folks. The pro-PH crowd continues to prove that for it nothing is sacred particularly when indulging in mud-slinging of the "petty personal talk" kind, whether about the living or the departed. This is not surprising in the least. If the Master Himself is not to be spared his disciples cannot expect to be treated any better.