It was an April afternoon in 1909 and everything was as usual in the court of Mr Beachcroft, the Sessions Judge at Alipore, Kolkata, but for an unusual silence dominating the air despite a huge crowd outside. C R Das, Bar-at-Law (later the famous Deshbandhu Chittaranjan) was to conclude his week-long submission in defence of Aurobindo Ghose (later Sri Aurobindo), accused of leading a secret group of young revolutionaries out to uproot the British rule.
Speaking for an hour, Das laid down his sheaf of notes, paused for a moment and as if in a state of trance, spoke: “Long after this controversy is hushed in silence, long after this turmoil, this agitation ceases, long after he is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism and the lover of humanity. Long after he is dead and gone his words will be echoed and re-echoed not only in India, but across distant seas and lands. Therefore I say that a man in his position is not only standing before the bar of this court but before the Bar of the High Court of History.”
Never has a lawyer’s statement in his client’s defence proved so very literally prophetic.
Born on 15 August 1872 at Kolkata to Dr K D Ghose and Swarnalata Devi, Sri Aurobindo, after a stint at an Irish Convent at Darjeeling, was led by his parents to England, aged nine. It is interesting to note what Barrister Eardley Norton, the prosecution lawyer in the aforesaid “first State trial of any magnitude in India”, wrote about his opponent later in a preface to “The Alipore Bomb Trial” by B K Bose.
“Aurobindo Ghose had been a brilliant scholar in England. He had been Head of St. Paul’s and won a scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge. There he was a contemporary of Mr Beachcroft, I.C.S., who tried him at Alipore and who had been Head of Rugby and had also won a scholarship at Cambridge. Both won honours at the University, and at the final examination for the Indian Civil Service Aurobindo the prisoner beat Beachcroft the Judge in Greek!”
The official history of the King’s College, Cambridge, records: “The most extraordinary Indian to come to King’s was Sri Aurobindo Ghose… He got a First in his Tripos… He passed into I.C.S., for which he had worked simultaneously with record marks in Classics; but disliking horses he omitted to take the obligatory riding test…”
Thus deliberately disengaging himself from the I.C.S. because by then he had resolved not to serve an alien government, he returned to India in 1893 and joined the Baroda (Vadodara) Raj service, mostly working as the professor of French and English at the Maharaja’s College. He mastered Sanskrit in an incredibly short time, delved deep into the Vedic lore and at the same time studied the Indian political situation and through a series of articles in a prestigious Mumbai journal, ‘Indu Prakash’, tried to give a radical turn to the timid policies of the Indian National Congress.
Coming over to Kolkata in 1906 he plunged into active politics and edited the herald of national resurgence, ‘The Bande Mataram’. In fact his was the first voice to call for an unqualified freedom for the country, and, as Pattabhi Sitaramayya wrote in his ‘History of the National Congress’: “Aurobindo’s genius shot up like a meteor. He was on the high skies only for a time. He flooded the land from Cape to Mount with the effulgence of his light.”
In the history of our freedom movement there is no other instance of one causing such headache to the highest in the hierarchy so soon—the Governor General Lord Minto describing him “as the most dangerous man we have to deal with” to the Secretary of State for India, Lord Morley. Failing to secure conviction for him in the Alipore trial, the State knocked on his door with an arrest warrant accusing him of propagating sedition through an article, but in vain! He had disappeared from British India. The news created a stir in the House of Commons. Leader of the Labour Party (and the future Premier) Ramsay Macdonald read out the entire article and challenged the Treasury Bench to point out where sedition lay in it! It was the first-ever debate on an Indian leader in the British Parliament.
Even in those tumultuous days, whoever came in contact with him felt a touch of inexplicable serenity. But they would not know that deep within himself he was a yogi and while in jail he had a clear direction for the path he was destined to explore. Assured of India’s liberation in his seer vision and guided by it as well, Sri Aurobindo arrived in Pondicherry, the French colony, in April 1910. It was time for him to strive for a different liberation—that of humanity from its bondage to a massive primeval ignorance. He realised that at present mankind was passing through an evolutionary crisis. Mind’s role had been exhausted and only the unfolding of a new consciousness could enable man to transcend the dichotomy between his tremendous material achievement and his capacity to harness it meaningfully.
History has endowed us with the bare common sense that violence, hatred and falsehood can make neither a nation nor an individual happy. Mankind does not lack moral doctrines either. But a stuff lying at the bottom of our consciousness, stiff and stubborn, termed Inconscience, sabotages all our ideal intents. Its transformation can be ensured only by the descent of and intervention by a new force in spiritual evolution, termed Supramental.
Sri Aurobindo explains and substantiates the possibility, nay, the promise, in his magnum opus, ‘The Life Divine’. A promise to live by indeed. But what checks its manifestation? Maybe, we are yet to be disenchanted of the wizardry of our ignorance and yet to cultivate a collective aspiration to transcend it and absorb the descent of the saving Grace.