K. D. Sethna (Amal Kiran): A Centenary Tribute

— Edited by Dr Sachidananda Mohanty


Price: Rs 200

Pages: 492
Dimensions (in cms): 14x22
Soft Cover
Publisher: The Integral Life Foundation, U.S.A.

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About K. D. Sethna (Amal Kiran): A Centenary Tribute

Born in 1904 K. D. Sethna (Amal Kiran) first came to Pondicherry in 1927 and stayed at the Ashram for several years. He permanently settled in Pondicherry in 1954 and has lived there ever since. He is a distinguished writer, his works covering poetry, literary criticism, history, Christianity, philosophy and of course Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. He is also the editor of the monthly journal Mother India.

This volume, brought out to commemorate K. D. Sethna's centenary on 25 November 2004, contains reflective pieces on his life and work by a number of contributors. Also included are essays on Sri Aurobindo's vision and extracts from Sethna's works.


Eleven years back an eminent Sri Aurobindo scholar referred to K. D. Sethna as "a hidden treasure" (see Amal-Kiran: Poet and Critic, ed. Nirodbaran and R. Y. Deshpande, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, 1994). At about the same time, Sethna's collected poems entitled The Secret Splendour were released. Yet, awards didn't come his way. But do awards really matter for Sethna? Did it matter for Sri Aurobindo? He was too big for the Nobel Prize. He remains a poet of tomorrow. Sethna too is a permanent glory in the bouquet of world literature. As he turned hundred on 25 November 2004, Sethna's admirers and interpreters joined their hands to bring out his centenary tribute—thanks to Prof. Sachidananda Mohanty, who had invited all the relevant people to prepare their contributions for the anthology.

Amal Kiran was born K. D. Sethna, a Parsi. He was a brilliant student of philosophy and literature at St. Xavier's College, Bombay. While studying for his M.A. in philosophy, he went to Sri Aurobindo Ashram for the first time and was instantly drawn to Sri Aurobindo. Thereafter he discontinued formal study and indulged in a non-professional literary life under Sri Aurobindo's inspiration and guidance.

The editor quotes Sethna's own words inscribed in one of his books dated 23 August 1972, which essentially sum up his approach to intellectual and artistic achievements: "Who cares for what the world says when those great wide eyes, deeper than oceans, fell on these poems and accepted them as fit offerings to His divinity? The Lord's look, the Lord's smile—that is what I have lived for." Sethna has done research in areas as diverse as Blake and Shakespeare studies, Aryan Invasion theory and ancient Indian history, overhead poetry, Christology, comparative mythology, the study of Hellenic literature and culture, Indian systems of yoga, international affairs, the questions of the English language and the Indian spirit, philosophy, literary criticism, mystical, spiritual and scientific thought, the structure of thought in modern physics and biology... the list is endless!

Divided in seven parts, the book is yet another reminder to the world of a hidden treasure, who still breathes and lives alone with the Eternal in his room in the Ashram hospital facing the vast blue sea. The few who know the "treasure" have written about him in this book. There are seventeen reminiscences by intimate friends and admirers like Aster Patel, Aditi Vasistha, P. Raja, Ananda Reddy, Shyam Sunder and others. There are insightful essays by Sethna specialists like Pradip Bhattacharya and Goutam Ghosal on his historical perception and creative sense. Also there are marvellous essays on his works by R. Y. Deshpande, Prema Nandakumar, Richard Hartz, Rita Nath Keshari, Akash Deshpande, S. Viswanathan, Sonia Dyne, Aniruddha Sircar and others.

Many unknown facts about the life and times of Amal Kiran (the name given to Sethna by Sri Aurobindo himself) are revealed in the articles by Huta, Nilima Das, Sonia Dyne, Pradip Bhattacharya and others. There are plenty of photographs, taking us back to the earlier days of the Ashram. Letters and facsimiles are also there in abundance, showing us the various ways crossed by the pilgrim of truth. Other attractions of the book are the essays on Sri Aurobindo's vision by Kireet Joshi, Manoj Das, Ranjit Sarkar, Hemant Kapoor and some other noted Aurobindonian scholars.

Aditi Vasistha remembers Sethna's words spoken to her in an inspired moment: "Words, while they have a beauty of their own, are sometimes transparent and reveal hidden depths of great poetic value. They give the feel of that which is beyond linguistic expression" (p. 15). Huta Hindocha goes back to the year 1962, when the Mother arranged her reading with Amal Kiran. "Amal made me understand Savitri intellectually and aesthetically. It was 7th August 1965 when I finished reading the whole of Savitri with him. I could not check my tears of joy. Amal too was moved. We shook hands over the long harmonious collaboration and absorbing discussions" (p. 57). S. Viswanathan's essay focuses on Sethna's great achievement as a Shakespeare critic. He is quite right when he says, "Sethna provides not only an elucidation of Sri Aurobindo's ideas about poetry and Shakespeare but abundant examples of his own application and development of these" (p. 108). Sonia Dyne's "A Man of Letters" (pp. 112–30) will be of immense help to the researchers of Sethna's literary genius. Prema Nandakumar reflects on the not-too-well-known exchanges of letters between Sethna and Kathleen Raine and draws our notice to the pioneering gestures of Sethna in the field of Indo-Anglian criticism (p. 170). Goutam Ghosal tells us in his "K. D. Sethna: the Creative Critic" that "Sethna was the first to start a systematic exploration of Sri Aurobindo's theory of art and literature" (p. 215). Rita Nath Keshari's critical essay on Sethna's poetry ("Bejewelled Craftsmanship") is another remarkable highlight of the anthology. She shows us the queer fascination of the poet for precious stones like gold, diamond, sapphire and amethyst (pp. 264–5). Equally interesting is the other critical essay on his poetry by Aniruddha Sircar ("Soul Prompted", pp. 200–10). Mention should again be made of the essays on Sri Aurobindo by Kireet Joshi, Aster Patel, Manoj Das and Hemant Kapoor, which clarify various aspects of Sri Aurobindo's philosophy. The editor has chosen significant extracts from the poetry and prose of Sethna and prepared carefully the list of his published books. The book is a must for anyone researching on K. D. Sethna.

— Sarani Ghosal (Mondal)

Sarani Ghosal Mondal has been working for her Ph.D. on a comparative study of Whitman and Sri Aurobindo from Jadavpur University. She has also done special studies on Manmohan Ghose and Harindranath Chattopadhyay.

May 2005