Almost exactly one hundred years ago, the steamship SS DUPLEIX cast anchor near the town of Pondicherry. Waiting on land were a group of revolutionaries, among them, Tamilnadu’s most celebrated voice of resistance, poet Subramania Bharathi. The eager reception committee had anticipated this moment for thirty years. Alighting from the vessel was one of the world’s most radical and brilliant new age thinkers – Sri Aurobindo. Then known as Aurobindo Ghose.
It was April 4, 1910 to be exact. That was the date that Sri Aurobindo, aged 38, came to South India from Bengal and began his great experiment in international living we now know as the Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville. His writings through journals, diaries, books and speeches flowed like a torrent through the monthly publication ARYA. Forced into a western education by his father, Aurobindo Acroyd Ghose as he was initially named, heard the inner call (aadesh) through the mystical form of Lord Krishna. In Calcutta, Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore bowed before this young man exhorting him to speak out for all enslaved Indians. A freedom fighter who was jailed for his seditious activities against the British in Calcutta, Aurobindo came to Pondicherry four years before he met the Frenchwoman Mirra Richard, later known as THE MOTHER. She had also been guided to India by the vision of Krishna and immediately found empathy with the young Bengali thinker. It was not until 1926, however, that the Aurobindo Ashram was founded with 1500 spiritual disciples.
Almost 30 years prior to that momentous landing in 1910, a group of radical freedom fighters and their wealthy patrons had heard a prophecy that a UTTARA YOGI, a mystic from the north, who would arrive in South India to liberate the minds and bodies of colonised Indians. One among these was my own great -great grandfather Kodiyalam Vasudeva Iyengar, the proud landowner of Kodiyalam village, near Mannargudi, Tamilnadu.
So many connections were made one recent evening at a Chennai bookstore, when writer Arup Mitra released his book UTTARA YOGI. A work of fiction, the book parallels the actual historical events of Sri Aurobindo’s life and shares remarkable moments of struggle, sacrifice and ultimate inspiration. That we go through our lives as puny Davids (Vamana ) when we have the capacity to attain the status of Goliaths (Viswarupa) is the subtext of the book.
UTTARA YOGI is far superior to any of the self help books that line store shelves today. It does not spout smart sound bites but instead reveals the real life, sacrifices and selfless inner struggle of a genius who became a seer of Dakshina Bharat and whose foresight about India and her humanity is a timely reminder for the next generation.