CLRI Que 1: Hi Jitendra, can you share the reason why you selected Sri Aurobindo Ghose’s works as your research topic while there are so many Indian writers in English? Particularly now there are a good number of Man Booker Prize winners also.
Ans: Sri Aurobindo, a great politician, philosopher, freedom-fighter, mystic, literary critic and Yogi, considered himself primarily a poet. He had an integral vision of life and spirituality. Sri Aurobindo’s poetry has already carved a niche for itself. His vast poetry, encompassing many forms and moods, expresses an enormous variety of emotions. All this provided me with a wide creative space for research.
Of course, there are some Indian Man Booker Prize winners like Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga whose excellent novels provide ample possibilities for serious research. But being an alumnus of “Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Pondicherry”, I had a natural preference for Sri Aurobindo. As there had been no research on the concept of Man in Sri Aurobindo’s poetry, I decided to present his concept of Man to the masses.
CLRI Que 2: Sri Aurobindo was a philosopher at heart. What is his contribution to Indian philosophy?
Ans: Most of the philosophers have always created a gulf between this world and beyond, but Sri Aurobindo creates the perfect synthesis of spirituality and the world. His theories of evolution, consciousness and matter place him at the forefront of Indian philosophers. He formulated a scientific and spiritual vision of evolution. He foresees a complete transformation of Man and the world. He believes that a new spiritualised race of humanity is about to come. His unusual life experiences convinced him of such future possibilities. He traced Man’s evolution through anthropology, sociology, politics, psychology, culture and religion in over 37 newly-published, huge volumes of writings.
CLRI Que 3: What is the outcome of the synthesis of Aurobindo’s Western and Eastern philosophies?
Ans: Sri Aurobindo’s teachings reflect that man is a portion, a spark of the Divine. Hence, man is very much capable of living in harmony with the entire Creation and society. By a radical change and upliftment of his consciousness, man can live harmoniously despite any political, religious and economic structures. Human evolution integrates all levels, from the spirit to the very physical.
In the psyche of humanity, Superman has always been an archetype. Around 1900, the notion of the superman became common in European philosophy. Many philosophers along with Friedrich Nietzsche tried to put forth theories and suggestions to alleviate human misery and improve the human condition. But it is extremely difficult to transform matter, the earth and Man.
Sri Aurobindo, based on a great and perfect philosophy, advocated an ideal world of social equality, fraternity and freedom. He showed how to perceive politics from the standpoint of spirituality. After clearing the incompleteness of Marx’s philosophy, he presented his integral philosophy in which the elements of the east and the west, past and future, science and religion, heart and mind, which seem contradictory to us, are presented in a beautifully synthesised image. Sri Aurobindo has a vision of the possibility of a divine life for man upon the earth.
Sri Aurobindo emphasises the complementarities rather than the oppositions of Eastern and Western philosophies. He believes that all humans are of the same divine origin.
CLRI Que 4: In his earlier life, Sri Aurobindo was a revolutionary political leader. Why he spent his later life in seclusion?
Ans. In 1908, Sri Aurobindo was implicated in the Alipore bomb case. During his one year’s confinement in a solitary cell, he unexpectedly had many unique and great spiritual experiences. On being acquitted, he continued his revolutionary work for India’s liberation until 1910. Then, in response to an inner command from his soul, he went to the French colony of Pondicherry to devote his life to a single concentration on spiritual practice. The political fighter turned into a revolutionary Yogi. Despite personal appeals from Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and many others, Sri Aurobindo did not swerve from his firm resolution to follow the spiritual path until the very end of his life.
CLRI Que 5: Sri Aurobindo is regarded to be the first Indian who created a major literary corpus in English when India was still under the English rule and there was no concept of Indian English Literature. Your comment.
Ans. Sri Aurobindo was a prolific writer who wrote extensively on various subjects and topics hardly leaving any . Some critics equated him to the level of John Milton and Dante on the basis of his magnum opus Savitri. Sri Aurobindo had made insightful comments and literary criticisms on great figures like Shakespeare, Homer, Goethe, Dante, Wordsworth, Aeschylus, Virgil, Milton, Sophocles, Valmiki, Kalidasa and Vyasa.
“Review of Collected Poems and Plays in the Times Literary Supplement [London] (8 July 1944)” appreciated Sri Aurobindo in these words:
Of all modern Indian writers Aurobindo — successively poet, critic, scholar, thinker, nationalist, humanist — is the most significant and perhaps the most interesting … In fact, he is a new type of thinker, one who combines in his vision the alacrity of the West with the illumination of the East. To study his writings is to enlarge the boundaries of one’s knowledge … He is blessed with a keen intuition. He knows that a man may be right and not wise. He treats each word of his as though it were a drop of elixir. In all this he is unique — at least in modern India. … a yogi who writes as though he were standing among the stars, with the constellations for his companions.
CLRI Que 6: In his early days, Sri Aurobindo’s poems were influenced by the beauty of nature, Irish patriotic movement and Greek heritage. Can you please cite some of the poems or lines which second this?
Ans. Sri Aurobindo believed in fighting for the liberty of one’s own country. In 1891, he paid tribute to the memory of Charles Stewart Powell, the Irish patriot in the form of a beautiful poem.
Sri Aurobindo had mastery over Greek and Latin languages. In his poetry and plays, he frequently refers and alludes to ancient Greek myths and legends.
I dreamed my sun had risen.
He had a face like the Olympian Zeus
And wings upon his feet.
Sri Aurobindo portrays the beauty of nature in myriad ways.
CLRI Que 7: According to you, “Man is everywhere in his poetry with minute projections, innumerable possibilities and natural tendencies towards self-exceeding.” Can you give some examples with a few of Sri Aurobindo’s popular works?
Ans: Sri Aurobindo does not reject man’s day-to-day worldly life. On the contrary, man’s mundane life should be transformed and divinised.
Only when thou hast climbed above thy mind
And liv’st in the calm vastness of the One
Can Love be eternal in the eternal bliss
And love divine replace the human tie.
(Savitri, Book VI, Canto I)
Sri Aurobindo’s vision of man’s destiny is lofty even in social and political spheres. In Thoughts and Glimpses, he states:
What is there new that we have yet to accomplish? Love, for as yet we have only accomplished hatred and self-pleasing; Knowledge, for as yet we have only accomplished error and perception and conceiving; Bliss, for as yet we have only accomplished pleasure and pain and indifference; Power, for as yet we have only accomplished weakness and effort and a defeated victory; Life, for as yet we have only accomplished birth and growth and dying; Unity, for as yet we have only accomplished war and association.
In a word, godhead; to remake ourselves in the divine image.
Man has an indisputable urge to exceed himself and realise a higher life. In his great prose work The Life Divine, he elucidates thus:
“The earliest preoccupation of man in his awakened thoughts and, as it seems, his inevitable and ultimate preoccupation,—for it survives the longest periods of scepticism and returns after every banishment,—is also the highest which his thought can envisage…The earliest formula of Wisdom promises to be its last,—God, Light, Freedom, Immortality.”
(Sonnet The Dumb Inconscient)
CLRI Que 8: Sri Aurobindo prophesized The Future Poetry. Can you tell me something about its concept?
Ans. Sri Aurobindo defines poetry as “rhythmic speech which rises at once from the heart of the seer and from the distant home of the Truth”. He asserts that “Vision is the characteristic power of the poet.”
Like man, poetry also keeps on evolving continuously. Sri Aurobindo believes that English poetry is progressing towards the poetry which is capable of expressing itself in the Supreme rhythmic language which “seizes hold upon all that is finite and brings into each the light and voice of its own Infinite.” Sri Aurobindo’s aesthetics, rooted in the Vedas and the Upanishads, assimilated and accommodated many modern trends. He has very clearly identified and shown several layers or planes from where the Muse descended into the poetry of Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Shelly, and Byron etc. He opines that Poetry is the Mantra of the Real. Mantra is the “inevitable word”, emerging from the depths of a poet’s soul, enabling readers to experience delight, joy and beauty. In long poems like Savitri, Ilion, Love and Death, and Urvasie, Sri Aurobindo sustained high poetic inspiration over long stretches. His profound vision of life finds expression in unfaltering rhythm, vibrant with revelatory power.
In The Future Poetry, Sri Aurobindo says:
The world is making itself anew under a great spiritual pressure… It is in effect a larger cosmic vision, a realizing of the godhead in the world and in man, of his divine possibilities as well of the greatness of the power that manifests in what he is, a spiritualised uplifting of his thought and feeling and sense and action, a more developed psychic mind and hear, a truer and a deeper insight into his nature and the meaning of the world, a calling of diviner potentialities and more spiritual values into the intention and structure of his life that is the call upon humanity, the prospect offered to it by the slowly unfolding and now more clearly disclosed Self of the universe,. The nations that most include and make real these things in their life and culture are the nations of the coming dawn and the poets of whatever tongue and race who most completely see with this vision and speak with the inspiration of its utterance are those who shall be the creators of the poetry of the future.
CLRI Que 9: Savitri – a Legend and a Symbol is Sri Aurobindo’s magnum opus but is it exactly the same story of Savitri from Indian mythology or is it different. If different, how?
Ans: Savitri, the longest poem in English language with its 23, 815 lines of blank verses, provides perennial inspiration to seekers of Truth. In Mahabharata, we have the legend of Savitri who proves love’s potential superiority over death. Sri Aurobindo transforms this legend into a symbol of elaborate significance. Satyavan is the soul besieged by darkness and ignorance. Savitri, the creative power, saves Satyavan from the doom. This legend is a source of inspiration for Sri Aurobindo to traverse the path to immortality. Man is too weak, puny, meagre and distorted to challenge the oppression of death. But Savitri’s sadhana, on behalf of the humanity, will one day usher in the Divine Love which will conquer Death.
Savitri has the large canvas of human history. It is a story of man’s evolution. Man’s future, the occult cosmology and the geography of the entire universe are revealed wonderfully. Savitri travels to find her soul , encounters her soul-forces and feels the bliss of unity of Consciousness. She grapples with Death and wins. Savitri embodies images of infinity.
CLRI Que 10: What is the message you wanted to convey through your book?
Ans: Man is not a finished product of Nature. In the next stage of evolution, Man will be eventually transformed into Superman. The entire book hinges on this prophetic vision of Sri Aurobindo. Man can consciously participate in the process of evolution from mind to Supermind. It will hasten the birth of a divinised humanity upon the earth.
Dr. Jitendra Sharma obtained his Master’s Degree in French from Karnatak University, Dharwar and had M.Phil. in French from the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad. He has also studied in the Stendhal University of Grenoble in France. His literary articles have appeared in various journals and he has participated in more than 80 national/international seminars, workshops and conferences. He heads the Department of French at St. Joseph’s College, Devagiri, Calicut (Kerala) where he tries to implement Sri Aurobindo’s education methodology in his teaching profession.