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Sri Aurobindo on Himself

Part One

II. LIFE IN BARODA: 1893-1906


He was first put in the Land Settlement Department, for a short time in the Stamps Office, then in the Central Revenue Office and in the Secretariat. Afterwards without joining the College and while doing other work he was lecturer in French at the College and finally at his own request was appointed there as Professor of English. All through, the Maharaja used to call him whenever something had to be written which needed careful wording; he also employed him to prepare some of his public speeches and in other work of a literary or educational character. Afterwards Sri Aurobindo became the Vice-Principal of the College and was for some time acting Principal. Most of the personal work for the Maharaja was done in an unofficial capacity; he was usually invited to breakfast with the Maharaja at the Palace and stayed on to do this work.


Sri Aurobindo was never appointed to the post of Private Secretary. He was put first in the Settlement Department, not as an officer but to learn the work, then in the Stamps and Revenue departments; he was for some time put to work in the Secretariat for drawing up dispatches, etc. Finally, he oscillated towards the College and entered it at first as part time lecturer in French, afterwards as a regular Professor teaching English and was finally appointed Vice-Principal. Meanwhile, whenever he thought fit, the Maharaja would send for him for writing letters, composing speeches or drawing up documents of various kinds which needed special care in the phrasing of the language. All this was quite informal; there was no appointment as Private Secretary. Once the Maharaja took Sri Aurobindo as Secretary in his Kashmir tour, but there was much friction between them during the tour and the experiment was not repeated.


These invitations were usually for some work to be done and could not be refused.


‘Diligent, serious, etc.’ – this valuation of Sri Aurobindo's qualities was not the Maharaja's. He gave him a certificate for ability and intelligence but also for lack of punctuality and regularity. If instead of ‘diligent and serious’ and ‘a career of meritorious service’ it were said that he was brilliant and quick and efficient in work, it would be more accurate. The description, as it is, gives an incorrect picture.

The authorities objected to his patriotic activities.

Is the reference to the Baroda authorities?

Sri Aurobindo is not aware that his utterances or writings were ever objected to by them. His articles in the Indu Prakash were anonymous, although many people in Bombay knew that he was the writer. Otherwise, except for a few speeches at functions in the Palace itself such as the reception of Dr. S.K. Mullick which had nothing to do with politics, he spoke mainly as Chairman of the Baroda College Union; there was no objection made at any time and he continued to preside over some of these debates until he left Baroda. It was in England while at Cambridge that he made revolutionary speeches at the meetings of the Indian Majlis which were recorded as a black mark against him by the India Office.

When he arrived in India, Sri Aurobindo knew no Indian language except a smattering of Bengali which was one of the subjects he had to study for the I.C.S.

Bengali was not a subject for the competitive examination for the I.C.S. It was after he had passed the competitive examination that Sri Aurobindo as a probationer who had chosen Bengal as his province began to learn Bengali. The course of study provided was a very poor one; his teacher, a retired English Judge from Bengal was not very competent, but what was learnt was more than a few words. Sri Aurobindo for the most part learnt Bengali for himself afterwards in Baroda.


About the learning of Bengali, it may be said that before engaging the teacher, Sri Aurobindo already knew enough of the language to appreciate the novels of Bankim and the poetry of Madhusudan. He learned enough afterwards to write himself and to conduct a weekly in Bengali, writing most of the articles himself, but his mastery over the language was not at all the same as over English and he did not venture to make speeches in his mother tongue.

Sri Aurobindo had regular lessons in Bengali from Dinendra Kumar Roy at Baroda.

No, there were no regular lessons. Dinendra lived with Sri Aurobindo as a companion and his work was rather to help him to correct and perfect his knowledge of the language and to accustom him to conversation in Bengali than any regular teaching.

Sri Aurobindo was not a pupil of Dinendra Kumar; he had learnt Bengali already by himself and only called in Dinendra to help him in his studies.

In Baroda, Sri Aurobindo engaged Pundits and started mastering both Bengali and Sanskrit.

A teacher was engaged for Bengali, a young Bengali littérateur – none for Sanskrit.

He studied Hindi also at Baroda.

Sri Aurobindo never studied Hindi; but his acquaintance with Sanskrit and other Indian languages made it easy for him to pick up Hindi without any regular study and to understand it when he read Hindi books or newspapers. He did not learn Sanskrit through Bengali, but direct in Sanskrit itself or through English.

In Baroda after making a comparative study of all literatures, history, etc., he began to realise the importance of the Veda.

No. Started study of Veda at Pondicherry.

In 1895 were published, for circulation among friends only, his poems, five of which were written in England and the rest at Baroda.

It is the other way round; all the poems in the book [Songs to Myrtilla] were written in England except five later ones which were written after his return to India.

It is not unlikely that ‘Baji Prabhou’ and ‘Vidula’ – two of the longer poems that belong to Sri Aurobindo's early period – had been actually written, or at least mentally sketched, during his last years in Baroda.

No, these poems were conceived and written in Bengal during the time of political activity.

Sri Aurobindo was preoccupied, even when he was but a conscientious teacher or an accomplished poet... with the problem of service and of sacrifice.... From the very first the idea of personal salvation or of individual felicity was utterly repugnant to him.

‘Utterly repugnant’ – this is a little too strong. It was rather that it did not seem anything like a supreme aim or worth being pursued for its own sake; a solitary salvation leaving the world to its fate was felt as almost distasteful.

While engaged in Baroda State Service Sri Aurobindo began to think incessantly if some opportunity could not be found for service in the larger life of Bengal, of the Indian nation itself.

He had already in England decided to devote his life to the service of his country and its liberation. He even began soon after coming to India to write on political matters (without giving his name) in the daily press, trying to awaken the nation to the ideas of the future. But those were not well received by the leaders of the time, they succeeded in preventing further publication and he drew back into silence. But he did not abandon either his ideas or his hope of an effective action.


The facts about the articles in the Indu Prakash were these. They were begun at the instance of K. G. Deshpande, Aurobindo's Cambridge friend who was editor of the paper, but the first two articles made a sensation and frightened Ranade and other Congress leaders. Ranade warned the proprietor of the paper that, if this went on, he would surely be prosecuted for sedition. Accordingly the original plan of the series had to be dropped at the proprietor's instance. Deshpande requested Sri Aurobindo to continue in a modified tone and he reluctantly consented, but felt no farther interest and the articles were published at long intervals and finally dropped of themselves altogether.

The series of articles he wrote in the ‘Indu Prakash’ were on Indian civilisation, entitled: ‘New Lamps for Old’.

This title did not refer to Indian civilisation but to Congress politics. It is not used in the sense of the Aladdin story, but was intended to imply the offering of new lights to replace the old and faint reformist lights of the Congress.

He sent some of his friends, at Baroda and Bombay, to Bengal to prepare for the revolutionary movement.

It was not any of his friends at Baroda and in Bombay who went to Bengal on his behalf. His first emissary was a young Bengali who had by the help of Sri Aurobindo's friends in the Baroda Army enlisted as trooper in the cavalry regiment in spite of the prohibition by the British Government of the enlistment of any Bengali in any army in India. This man who was exceedingly energetic and capable, formed a first group in Calcutta which grew rapidly (afterwards many branches were established); he also entered into relations with P. Mitter and other revolutionaries already at work in the province. He was joined afterwards by Barin who had in the interval come to Baroda.

At this time there was at Bombay a secret society headed by a Rajput prince of Udaipur.

This Rajput leader was not a prince, that is to say, a Ruling Chief but a noble of the Udaipur State with the title of Thakur. The Thakur was not a member of the Council in Bombay; he stood above it as the leader of the whole movement while the Council helped him to organise Maharashtra and the Mahratta States. He himself worked principally upon the Indian Army of which he had already won over two or three regiments. Sri Aurobindo took a special journey into Central India to meet and speak with Indian sub-officers and men of one of these regiments.

During his stay at Baroda Sri Aurobindo got into touch with men that counted, groups that counted. He went to Bengal ‘to see what was the hope of revival, what was the political condition of the people, and whether there was the possibility of a real movement’.

It might be added that he had begun a work that was still nameless; and it was in the course of that work that he went to Bengal ‘to see what was the hope of revival, etc.’

Since 1900 Sri Aurobindo had wished to enter the political fray and to contribute his mite to the forces that were seriously working for India's redemption and rehabilitation. He held private talks, he corresponded, he put pressure on front-rank leaders; but as yet he could do little.

This does not give a correct idea. He had already joined with some of the more advanced leaders to organise bodies for political action which would act when the time for action came;1 it was only in public as yet that he could do little.

Even his own intrepid province of Bengal was in no mood to be persuaded by him and his gospel of virile nationalism.

It was anything but intrepid at the time; it was the mantra of Bande Mataram and the leap into revolutionary action that changed the people of the province.

He found that in Bengal ‘the prevailing mood was apathy and despair’. There was no other go except to bide his time.

It should be added, ‘and to continue his political work behind the scenes in silence. The moment for public work had not yet come’. (Once his work was started he continued it until circumstances made it possible to join in a public movement.)

While in Baroda State Service he visited from time to time his grandfather in Bengal. His visits were for political purposes.

This is not correct. In these visits he was not concerned with politics. It was some years afterwards that he made a journey along with Devabrata Bose, Barin's co-adjutant in the Yugantar, partly to visit some of the revolutionary centres already formed, but also to meet leading men in the districts and find out the general attitude of the country and the possibilities of the revolutionary movement. His experience in this journey persuaded him that secret action or preparation by itself was not likely to be effective if there were not also a wide public movement which would create a universal patriotic fervour and popularise the idea of independence as the ideal and aim of Indian politics. It was this conviction that determined his later action.


Sri Aurobindo always stayed at Deoghar with the family of his maternal grandfather Raj Narayan Bose. The beaux-parents did not live at Deoghar.

Among the leading lights of the day was P. Mitter who was an out-and-out man of action.

P. Mitter had a spiritual life and aspiration and a strong religious feeling; he was like Bepin Pal and several other prominent leaders of the new nationalist movement in Bengal, a disciple of the famous Yogi Bejoy Goswami, but he did not bring these things into his politics.

Sri Aurobindo was influenced by the patriotic fervour of Swami Vivekananda's utterances.2

Sri Aurobindo was not aware of this speech or of any political action by Vivekananda. He had only heard casually of Vivekananda's intense patriotic feelings which inspired Sister Nivedita.

Allan Hume had founded the Indian National Congress to act as an intermediary for bringing together the élite of the English and the Indian peoples to promote discussions, reforms, etc.

This description of the Congress as an intermediary, etc., would hardly have been recognised or admitted by the Congress itself at that time. The British Government also would not have recognised it. It regarded the institution with dislike and ignored it as much as possible. Also, Sri Aurobindo was totally opposed to making any approach on behalf of the nation to the British Government; he regarded the Congress policy as a process of futile petition and protest and considered self-help, non-cooperation and organisation of all forces in the nation for revolutionary action as the sole effective policy.

Sri Aurobindo did not believe in, nor did he like, violent revolution.

This is incorrect. If Sri Aurobindo had not believed in the efficacy of violent revolution or had disliked it, he would not have joined the secret society whose purpose was to prepare a national insurrection. His historical studies had not taught him the lesson indicated here. On the contrary, he had studied with interest the revolutions and rebellions which led to national liberation, the struggle against the English in mediaeval France and the revolts which liberated America and Italy. He took much of his inspiration from these movements and their leaders, especially, Jeanne d'Arc and Mazzini. In his public activity he took up non-cooperation and passive resistance as a means in the struggle for independence but not the sole means and as long as he was in Bengal he maintained a secret revolutionary activity as a preparation for open revolt, in case passive resistance proved insufficient for the purpose.


Sri Aurobindo's policy in India was not based on Parnellism. It had more resemblance to Sinn Fein but was conceived before the Sinn Fein movement and was therefore not inspired by it.

Sri Aurobindo had acquired a measure of intellectual pre-eminence as a result of his stay in England; but that was not enough, and he was certainly not happy. His deeper perplexities remained; he did not know what exactly he should do to make himself useful to his countrymen or how he should set about doing it. He turned to Yoga so that he might be enabled to clarify his own floating ideas and impulses and also, if possible, perfect the hidden instrument within.

There was no unhappiness. ‘Perplexities’ also is too strong. Sri Aurobindo's habit in action was not to devise beforehand and plan but to keep a fixed purpose, watch events, prepare forces and act when he felt it to be the right moment. His first organised work in politics (grouping people who accepted the idea of independence and were prepared to take up an appropriate action) was undertaken at an early age, but took a regular shape in or about 1902; two years later he began his practice of Yoga – not to clarify his ideas, but to find the spiritual strength which would support him and enlighten his way.

He met Brahmananda on the banks of the Narmada for advice on national education activities.

Sri Aurobindo saw Brahmananda long before there was any question of national education activities. Brahmananda never gave him any counsel or advice nor was there any conversation between them; Sri Aurobindo went to his monastery only for darśana and blessings. Barin had a close connection with Ganganath and his Guru was one of the Sannyasis who surrounded Brahmananda, but the connection with Ganganath was spiritual only.

On commencing his silent Yoga at Pondicherry Sri Aurobindo presently outgrew the instructions that had been given to him by Lele and his predecessors.

That was done long before the sojourn in Pondicherry. There were no predecessors. Sri Aurobindo had some connection with a member of the governing body of the Naga Sannyasis who gave him a mantra of Kali (or rather a stotra) and conducted certain kriyās and a Vedic yajña, but all this was for political success in his mission and not for Yoga.

During the Baroda period Sri Aurobindo met, one by one, Sri Hamsa Swarup Swami, Sri Sadguru Brahmananda and Sri Madhavdas.... He had even exchanged spiritual pulses with his first gurus.

He had momentary contacts with Brahmananda, but as a great Yogin, not as a Guru – only darśana and blessings. There was no contact with the others.

Aravinda Babu used to attend the lectures of the Swami – Paramahamsa Maharaj Indraswarup – with much interest... personally met him and learnt about āsanas and prāṇāyāma.

Only heard his lecture at the [Gaekwar's] Palace, did not go to see him, did not practise prāṇāyāma till long afterwards.

He met the saint Madhavdas at Malsar on the banks of the Narmada and learnt about Yoga-āsanas.

Visited, probably with Deshpande, one or two places on the banks of the Narmada, but no recollection of Malsar or Madhavdas, certainly no effect of the meeting, if it happened at all.

Thus it may be said that Aravinda Babu started taking interest in Yoga from 1898-99.

No. I did not start Yoga till about 1904.

Sri Aurobindo began practising Yoga on his own account, starting with prāṇāyāma as explained to him by a friend, a disciple of Brahmananda. Afterwards faced with difficulties, he took the help of Lele who was called for the purpose from Gwalior by Barindra – this was after the Surat Congress in 1908.

Such guidance as he received from his earliest gurus and such partial realisation as he was then able to achieve only reinforced his faith in Yoga as the sole cure for his own ‘rooted sorrow’ and for the manifold ills of humanity.

(Sri Aurobindo put an interrogation mark against the word ‘gurus’.)

There was no resort to Yoga as a cure for sorrow; there was no sorrow to cure. He had always in him a considerable equanimity in his nature in face of the world and its difficulties, and after some inward depression in his adolescence (not due to any outward circumstances, and not amounting to sorrow or melancholy, for it was only a strain in the temperament), this became fairly settled.


1 The programme of this organisation was at first Swaraj, Swadeshi, Boycott – Swaraj meaning to it complete independence. The word Swaraj was first used by the Bengali-Maratha publicist, Sakharam Ganesh Deuskar, writer of Desher Katha, a book compiling all the details of India's economic servitude which had an enormous influence on the young men of Bengal and helped to turn them into revolutionaries. The word was taken up as their ideal by the revolutionary party and popularised by the vernacular paper Sandhya edited by Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya; it was caught hold of by Dadabhai Naoroji at the Calcutta Congress as the equivalent of colonial self-government but did not long retain that depreciated value. Sri Aurobindo was the first to use its English equivalent ‘independence’ and reiterate it constantly in the Bande Mataram as the one and immediate aim of national politics.


2 In Vivekananda's speech ‘The Mission of the Vedanta’ delivered at Kumbhakonam.