This biography of Sri Aurobindo examines all aspects of his life: his education and early political activities as well as the work he undertook after his arrival in Pondicherry. A brief introduction to Sri Aurobindo's main prose works, a description of his collaboration with the Mother, and an analysis of certain aspects of the Second World War are treated in various chapters. The author draws on the work of previous biographers as well as evaluating the most recent sources available, including the volumes of The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo that contain previously unpublished material. The book includes twenty-six pages of photographs. The author has also written a short biography of the Mother.
Since the publication of the first biography of Sri Aurobindo in English in 1911, a handsome mass of works on the subject has come up despite the formidable difficulty caused by the fact that Sri Aurobindo's was a life the true significance of which could not be measured by events marking the surface of his physical existence.
But we know that he lived a life exciting and absorbingly interesting even when it is surveyed on its surface, till his coming over to Pondicherry in early 1910.
The chronology of events in the earlier phase of his life that can be recounted may appear insignificant to Sri Aurobindo himself and even to those who have some idea about the stupendous spiritual work in which he remained engrossed at Pondicherry, but in terms of India's history, the evolution of its political destiny in particular, they are simply indispensable. Many more documented facts on the ideas, activities and influence of Sri Aurobindo during the time of his brief sojourn in politics and their later impact have surfaced since the birth centenary of Sri Aurobindo in 1972.Sri Aurobindo: Saga of a Great Indian Sage
by Wilfried Huchzermeyer, a scholar of Indology, philosophy and comparative religion, is a refreshing addition to the series of studies on the life of Sri Aurobindo. He has tried to do justice to both the phases of Sri Aurobindo's life, the account of the later phase being naturally based on whatever little of it had been articulated or noted down by the Master or the Mother.
Each biographer worth that designation approaches his subject from a particular point of view, be it pronounced or unpronounced. Huchzermeyer too seems to have launched his work with a particular point of view as one would surmise from his Preface:
A long time ago while staying in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, I happened to overhear a sadhak introducing a visitor on the basics of Integral Yoga. After a while I caught the sentence, "Sri Aurobindo's standpoint is Indian, but his viewpoint is Western."
This aphorism, enriched by a little play on words, outlines in an original way Sri Aurobindo's spiritual philosophy. We envisage him standing firmly on the soil of Indian tradition, but enlarging his perspective with his dynamic and evolutionary approach and his full acceptance of life and matter. We would have to add that he has also rediscovered and revitalized some aspects of the Indian tradition, especially the ancient Vedic culture.
Notwithstanding any particular point of view, we see the author working out a narrative that is at once well documented and easy to read. The work may not justify the author's statement, "I intend to present Sri Aurobindo's life comprehensively and in detail," but he has done pleasant justice to each phase and aspect of Sri Aurobindo's life, citing such facts that are representative of them and passing from one to the next in a natural and instinctively sound glide.
The work is presented in seventeen chapters – the last one being on Auroville – and each chapter has several sections. For example, Chapter Thirteen entitled "The Second World War" has a section on Winston Churchill. It contains the Mother's explanation to a sadhak
who is baffled by Sri Aurobindo's and the Mother's occult support to Churchill, who had openly said that he had no intention of liquidating the British empire, meaning he was not for India's freedom. As reported by Nirodbaran in his Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo
, the Mother explained:
But leave all that to the Divine. Churchill is a human being. He is not a yogi aspiring to transform his nature. Today he represents the Soul of the Nation that is fighting against the Asuras. He is being guided by the Divine directly and his soul is responding magnificently.
This is to illustrate the author's way of picking salient quotes to highlight some of Sri Aurobindo's actions at a supraphysical plane, though for the sake of the physical plane.
The work contains, the seventeen chapters apart, more than forty photographs and also several appendices, consisting of Sri Aurobindo's comments on India, observations about Sri Aurobindo by a few renowned personages, the meaning of the symbols of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and a precise chronology of events in the life of Sri Aurobindo. Also included are a glossary of important Sanskrit terms as well as a few English words "newly introduced by Sri Aurobindo" in the context of his yoga and a list of Sri Aurobindo's works and some of the important books and journals relevant to this colossal subject.
Without a doubt Huchzermeyer's work is an excellent introduction to the life and vision of the Master. It should come as a bonanza for beginners.
Manoj DasShri Manoj Das is a well-known writer. Awarded the Padma Shri for his distinguished contribution to literature, he is also the recipient of the Saraswati Samman and Sahitya Akademi awards.