Sri Aravinda Sarit Sagara

Part 1

— Prema Nandakumar


Price: Rs 300

Pages: 620
Dimensions (in cms): 14x22
Soft Cover
Publisher: Ravi Mohan Rao, Chirala

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About Sri Aravinda Sarit Sagara

In Part I of this bilingual volume the author has written an introductory essay on the life and work of Sri Aurobindo followed by sets of three essays on themes central to each of the first fifteen volumes of the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library (1972). A Telegu translation of these essays appears in the second half of the book. Apparently, Part II will cover the second fifteen volumes.

Although the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library (SABCL) edition of Sri Aurobindo’s writings is now out of print, these essays can be read profitably for the relevant  volumes that form part of the Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, which includes all of the works published in the SABCL and around 3000 pages of previously unpublished material.


One is never sure, as one reads Dr Prema Nandakumar’s essays in English on the first fifteen volumes of the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library (SABCL), whether to continue to enjoy reading her or to put down her work and directly take up Sri Aurobindo’s writings, which she introduces with such infectious enthusiasm as well as dignified devotion for the Mahayogi.

The book being reviewed is the brainchild of Sri Ravi Mohan Rao, who persuaded Dr Nandakumar to pen essays in English on all the volumes of the SABCL. The present book, Part I of this two-part series, comprises forty-four essays in English on the first fifteen volumes of SABCL, followed by the Telugu translations of the essays.

The book begins with an introductory set of five essays that expatiates on Sri Aurobindo’s life as a scholar, patriot, and yogi, and on some highlights of the Mother’s life. Three of these introductory essays are on Sri Aurobindo, and nimbly tell of his life, leaving out nothing that might be of interest to a reader of his works. Nandakumar divides her biographical sketch of him into three phases, starting with his early life in England as a student and scholar, his return to India and subsequent involvement in politics, and his life as a yogi in Pondicherry. One may safely say that none who has felt the need for a biographical backdrop to Sri Aurobindo’s writings will be disappointed by the brief, lively narration of his life story. The remaining two introductory essays are on the Mother, and they concisely touch on the high points of her life and her role in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. These five prefatory essays complete the Introduction, after which Nandakumar passes on to her work proper, namely the essays on Sri Aurobindo’s writings themselves.

The first nine volumes of the SABCL contain Sri Aurobindo’s political writings, cultural writings from early in his life, his writings in Bengali, his poems and plays, his translations into English from certain other Indian languages, and his thoughts on poetry, literature, and art. Nandakumar has three essays on each of these nine volumes, each essay being a paean to Sri Aurobindo’s stature as a nationalist, littérateur, translator, and critic.

She is herself a passionate student of literature and a creative writer on Sri Aurobindo’s works, and her twenty-seven exuberant essays on these nine volumes see her relishing his writings, a relish that will infect even the most blasé reader. But it is not only as a lover of literature that she writes; in her discussions on his political writings, her own passion for her country clearly comes through in her comments on his politics and political pieces.

Her praise of Sri Aurobindo’s writing is not all unqualified, however. For where there is a necessity to distinguish between his lesser writings and his masterpieces, she does not mince words. She thus says unequivocally of some of his early poems that it is the work of a student of English poetry who has not yet gone beyond the limits of meter and rhyme. By the time we get into her essays on the ninth volume, The Future Poetry, we see her not only establishing Sri Aurobindo as one of the great nationalists of his time, but also as an evergreen writer, poet, and critic. It is in her writings on these first nine volumes that she is truly in her

element. If her essays on the next six volumes of the SABCL illuminate in a savant-like way Sri Aurobindo’s treatment of complex themes in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita, on India, and on social and political philosophy, these come nowhere close to the sheer rapture for Aurobindonian literature that characterizes her first twenty-seven essays.

The next eleven essays in this book are on Volumes Ten to Thirteen of the SABCL — The Secret of the Veda, Hymns to the Mystic Fire, The Upanishads, and Essays on the Gita. These essays elucidate Sri Aurobindo’s original treatment of the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Gita. In them she explains Aurobindonian motifs in his interpretation of these classics of Indian sacred lore. It is noteworthy here that her essays are useful to both those familiar with the contents of these volumes as well as those who feel the need for an introduction to them.

Her last six essays in this book are on the volumes titled The Foundations of Indian Culture and Social and Political Thought. The former volume comprises a defense of Indian civilization, writings on the art, literature, and polity of India, and on the renaissance in India. To each of these topics Nandakumar devotes one essay. The latter volume, and the last one that is treated in this book, houses three more or less independent pieces by Sri Aurobindo: The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, and War and Self-determination. Nandakumar devotes one essay to each of these works.

Throughout the book, we have delightful tidbits on the publication of the SABCL, and how greatly it pleased her to see all of Sri Aurobindo’s then available works brought together in one uniform set of volumes in 1972. These anecdotes fit in here precisely because this book does not merely summarize the contents of the SABCL, but also contains Nandakumar’s personal take on them as a devotee and an Aurobindonian scholar.

The forty-nine incisive essays, at once instructive and entertaining even though the material they deal with is often dense, will no doubt leave in the reader enough curiosity to want to delve into the original texts by Sri Aurobindo. And if it does this much, one can conclude with certainty that the purpose of writing these essays is fulfilled. Nandakumar’s skillfulness goes further, however. It is probably no exaggeration to say that what remains with the reader at the end of her forty-ninth essay is a desire for more; a desire that can be quenched by an early release of Part II of the series, with essays on the remaining volumes of the SABCL.

—Sivakumar Elambooranan

Sivakumar was an academic philosopher who has now turned to writing. After living abroad for some years, he is now settled in his native Pondicherry, where he is associated with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.


June 2019