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SRI NOLINI KANTA GUPTA
(A Life Sketch)

Nolini Kant Gupta

As observed by Sri Aurobindo, the life of a man of destiny is not on the surface for the outer vision of man to perceive. This Truth was confirmed in the long, dynamic life of Sri Nolini Kanta Gupta, as it flowed river-Iike, seeking its way to the Ocean of the nectarous Divine Reality. The very source of his life's dynamism and creativity was the Ocean of Consciousness in which it moved through his daily actions. Some glimpses of the inner and outer movement of his life are found in his own Reminiscences, from which much of this brief life sketch draws its truer colours. Thus, it is hoped to avoid distortion in this ..I delineation of a man, much of whose outer life was an out- flowing of a vast inner Truth, inaccessible to man's limited gaze.
   Sri Nolini Kanta Gupta, who was born in Faridpore, Bengal (now located in Bangladesh), on 13 January 1889, was the eldest of a family of six brothers and two sisters. At the age of three years, he came to Nilphamari, where his early education began. That he describes his penchant for learning in tandem with his mastery of physical activity, in the form of sports, is highly significant, as his life unfolds itself as one destined to collaborate in a work in which the highest mental and spiritual development joins with a simultaneous effort for physical perfection. As " he recalled his earliest life's occupations:
      "I have dabbled in football almost since my birth or, to be more exact, from the time I barely completed five. My hand was introduced to the pen or chalk and my feet touched the ball practically at one and the same time. Would you believe it, I had my formal initiation into studies not once but twice, and on both occasions it was performed with due ceremony on a Saraswati Puja day, as has been the custom with us. The first time it took place, when I was only four years old and I cannot now tell you , why it had to be at that early age. It may be that I had gone
 into tantrums on seeing somebody else's initiation and a mock ceremony had to be gone through just in order to keep me quiet. But I had to go through the ceremony once again at the age of five, for according to the scriptures one cannot be properly initiated at the age of four, so the earlier one had to be treated as cancelled and a fresh initiation given to make it truly valid. Perhaps this double process has had something to do with the solid base and the maturity of the learning! "
We discover this happy union of the inner and the outer, the spiritual-mental and the physical, at each phase of the development of one who was destined to playa role in the spiritual work of the great reconciler, Sri Aurobindo.
   Nolini-da's high school education began in 1904 at Rungpore, where his sensitive mind and heart were first touched by patriotic influences. Between the age of 15 to 18 years, he went to Calcutta for his higher education at the Presidency College. His patriotic urge for the liberation of his Motherland was further enkindled during his college experience. During his holidays at Rungpore, he had his first fearless, one might even say defiant, brush with the government of the British colonialists. As he explained: ,
      "During the holidays I was back in my home town of Rungpore We roamed the streets singing, that is shouting hoarsely at the top of our voices. We did morning rounds with songs like, Awake O men of India, how long would you sleep' and so on I roamed the streets as usual, shouting 'Bande Mataram' with the processions " , As the Government had served an order banning all processions in the town, Nolini-da, at the age of 16 or 17, was brought to the court for his deliberate defiance of the law. Fined Rs. 25, in those days quite a sum, he was thus initiated into the movement for the freedom of India, which was to bring him into contact
with the one destined to mould his mind and life, his Guru in both laukika and para vidyas, Sri Aurobindo.
   He had the first darshan of the one to whom he was to surrender his all sometime when he was not yet 18 years old. Of this college experience he wrote:
       " I myself attended a number of meetings, particularly at Hedua, in Panti's Math and College Square, in the evening after college hours I chanced to see, in the fading light of evening at a meeting in College Square, Sri Aurobindo. He was wrapped in a shawl from head to foot -perhaps he was slightly ill. He spoke in soft tones, but every word he uttered came out distinct and firm. The huge audience stood motionless under the evening sky listening with rapt attention in pin-drop silence And the other thing I remember was the sweet musical rhythm that graced the entire speech. This was the first time I saw him with my own eyes and heard him."
Though Nolini-da attended the Presidency College along with many who were to make great names for themselves, as the flame of patriotic fervour for the freedom of India grew in his breast, the interest in merely academic pursuits began to pale.
   While'Nolini-da was a student at presidency College, Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of India, divided Bengal, which ignited the flame of protest all over the State. At this time Nolini-da adopted a subtle form of protest, in contrast to his earlier experience in Rungpore. He explained:
       "In what manner did I register my protest? I went to College dressed as if there had been a death in my family, that is to say, without shoes or shirt and with only a chadder on "
Perhaps during this period, the contentment with an ordinary sort of life also died a natural death. As he expressed it:
       " Within a short while I discovered that my mind had taken a completely different turn. Studies offered no longer
 any attraction, nor did the ordinary life of the world. To serve the country , to become a devoted child of the Mother, for ever and a day, this was now the only objective, the one endeavour And as to my decision, that would be unshaken, 'as long as shone a sun and a moon. yavaccandra-divakarau."
This brings us to the next phase in the life of Nolini-da, in which the freedom of the Motherland became the all-consuming passion. He opted to follow the path of Kurukshetra, armed struggle against the English: This was pursued through the manufacture of bombs at the Manicktolla Gardens in Murari- pukur. He explained:
      At last I made up my mind finally to take the plunge, that I must now join the Manicktolla Gardens in Muraripukur . That meant good-bye to College, good-bye to the ordinary life. ...This decision to choose my path came while I was in my fourth year. ...It was settled that I would join the Gardens and stay there I attended College as well, but at infrequent intervals. College studies could no longer interest me. "
This radical choice in Nolini-da's life was much more than a mere 'cult of the bomb'. His life was infused with a spiritual aspiration which welded his being with the spirit of sacrifice for the freedom of India from British domination. Here again, we observe the dual elements of pragmatic means to a physical realisation of freedom, as well as a strong element of spiritual means to spiritual freedom, to be won through tapasyti" and stidhanti". Manicktolla Gardens was not a mere den of terrorists, but had, side by side with bomb-making, an atmosphere of intense spiritual seeking. It followed much the spirit of the Bhagavadgita, in which the highest spiritual Truth was revealed on the battle field. At the same time, Nolini-da's seeking for intellectual learning was evident. As he explains:
       "... life at the Gardens... had just begun We began with readings from the Gita and this became almost a fixed
 routine where everybody took part.
         About this time, I had been several times to my home town of Rungpore At the Rungpore Library I came across another book, namely Gibbon's famous Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire... and added a great deal to my learning and knowledge "
Life in the Gardens was pervaded by the joy and enthusiasm of the inmates. Further describing the character of the atmosphere in the Manicktolla Gardens, Nolini-da wrote:
      " Although we had made the preparation of bombs our first object when we chose this lonely and out of the way place, we were not atheistic and given wholly to a materialistic philosophy. It had been a part of our plan to devote some time to the cultivation of an inner life too in that solitude. I remember how we would get up an hour before sunrise and sitting down in that calm atmosphere in a meditative pose we would recite aloud with deep fervour and joy the mantra of the Upanishad:
             ' As one gets oil out of oilseeds, as one gets butter out of curds, as one gets water out of the stream, as one gets fire out of wood, even so one seizes the self out of the self, one who pursues it in truth and,
      tapasya It would not have been far out to call it an Ashram And it was precisely because of this that Barin got Lele Maharaj down here for our initiation and training in Sadhana, the discipline of Yoga, the same Lele who had been of a particular help to Sri Aurobindo at a certain stage of his own sadhana Yet destiny had already chosen for Sri Nolini Kanta the Guide who would show him the way to join the heights and depths of his being ma perpetual flow of Light. The one whom he had seen speaking to the crowd in College Square, Sri Aurobindo, was to meet him soon, when Barin, Sri Aurobindo's brother, sent Nolini-da to Calcutta to request him to visit the
Gardens. The truth that when the aspirant is ready the Divine ;: appears to him in the form of the Guru, is clearly discerned in the relation of Nolini-da with Sri Aurobindo. As Nolini-da describes their first meeting:
                 " It was during my stay at the Gardens that I had my first meeting and interview with Sri Aurobindo... it was about four in the afternoon when I reached there, As I sat waiting in one of the rooms downstairs, Sri Aurobindo came down, stood near me and gave me an inquiring look. I said, in Bengali, 'Barin has sent me. Would it be possible for you to come to the Gardens with me now?' He answered very slowly, pausing on each syllable separately- it seemed he had not yet got used to speaking in Bengali - and said, 'Go and tell Barin, I have not yet had my lunch. It will not be possible to go today.' So that was that. I did not say a word, did my namaskiira and came away. This was my first happy meeting with him, my first Darshan and interview. "
       The pursuit of the path of violence was not to succeed. The members very early experienced the inevitable with the accidental death of Prafullall during their first experiment with a bomb. Still, they were firmly determined to sacrifice life itself for the cause of India's freedom. As Nolini-da described their bhava:
             
" We were no Vaishnava devotees. We were Tantriks, worshippers of Kali. Our chosen deity was the Goddess of Death incarnate, with her garland of skulls. Ours was the heroes' worship of strength."
      In this happy, nomadic existence at the Gardens, we observe a mingling of several strands of experience which may seem to many incompatible. Along with the Vedantic seeking of the Upanishads, and the surrender to the terrible Mother of Tantra, Nolini-da simultaneously continued to enrich his mind. As he explained:

       
"... However, we did not confine our studies to religious books alone, we had with us some secular literature as well. It was precisely at this period that a collection of Mathew Arnold's poems came into my hands. The book belonged to Sri Aurobindo That was my first introduction to Matthew Arnold "
Thus, spiritual seeking was not sought at the cost of the development of the mental faculties, nor to the detriment of their sacred duty to battle for the freedom from domination of the Indian people. Yet the Supreme Mother had other plans for the progress of Her intended manifestation. Thus the life at Manick- tola Gardens was brought to an abrupt end. At the age of 18 years, Nolini-da was arrested with the other members of the Gardens. He writes:
       " We were all arrested in a body. The police made us stand in a line under the strict watch of an armed guard. They kept us standing the whole day with hardly anything to eat We were taken to the lockup at the Lal Bazar Police Station. There they kept us for nearly two days and nights. This was perhaps the most taxing time of all. We had no bath, no food, not even a wink of sleep. The whole lot of us were herded together like beasts and shut up in a cell Then, after having been through all this, we were taken to Alipore Jail one evening. There we were received with great kindness and courtesy by the gentleman in charge And he had us served immediately with hot cooked rice. This was our first meal in three days, and it tasted so nice and sweet that we felt as if we were in heaven."!"
Still, the ordeal was just beginning. As undertrials they passed one year in jail. Sri Aurobindo was amongst them. Charged with sedition and waging war against the King, the possibility of death hung over their heads, before they could really begin their underground fight for India's freedom. As with Sri Aurobindo, so also with Nolini-da, this enforced retirement from the field of
action brought to the fore the always-present current of spirituality, which would more and more guide their external actions. Still, at such a tender age, Nolini-da had to struggle with the negative emotions of despair and despondency, which he victoriously tackled with the help of the dynamic spiritual power of a book that came into his hands. He writes:
          " A personal reminiscence. A young man in prison, accused of conspiracy and waging war against the British Empire. If convicted he might have to suffer the extreme penalty, at least, transportation to the Andamans. The case , is dragging on for long months. And the young man is in a solitary cell. He cannot always keep up his spirits high. Moments of sadness and gloom and despair come and almost overwhelm him. Who was there to console and cheer him up? Vivekananda. Vivekananda's speeches. From Colombo to Almora, came, as a godsend, into the hands of the young man. Invariably, when the period of despondency came he used to open the book, read a few pages, read them over again, and the cloud was there no longer. Instead there was hope and courage and faith and future and light and air "Indeed, it was the soul that Vivekananda could awaken and stir in you.
During that period, in another cell, Sri Aurobindo was rapidly unfolding his spiritual Being and Power, which in time would act more and more on the being of Sri Nolini Kanta Gupta. Finally, on 6 May, 1909, Sri Aurobindo was released. No evidence had been found of his involvement in terrorist activities. Nolini-da also was released.
   Upon coming out of jail, Nolini-da was in a fix as to his next step in life. For him, going back to the ordinary life was out of the question. He writes:
      " I had just come out of jail. What was I to do next? Go back to the ordinary life, read as before in college, pass examinations, get a job ? But all that was now out of the question. I prayed that such things be erased from the tablet of my fate, firasi ma likha, ma Il'kha, ma Il'kha. ...One
 day, I felt a sudden inspiration. It had to be on that very day on that very day I must renounce the world, make the Great Departure, there was to be no return "
External renunciation, however, was not to be the destiny of Nolini-da, who was to demonstrate by example the ideal of spiritual transformation within the activities of life. Having been frustrated in his first attempt to renounce the world, he found his niche soon in his daily afternoon visits to Sri Aurobindo, at the SanJivani office in the residence of his [Sri Aurobindo's] uncle. The impulse to something higher than the ordinary round of life was still present, and surfaced soon after, along with an impulse to see all of lndia as a wandering ascetic. This time Sri Aurobindo interfered by asking him to wait a few days, and inviting to travel with him for some political work in Assam. The desire was to surface a third and last time in Pondicherry , before the Mother's final arrival. Nolini-da sums up this movement in his life as follows:
       " The first time it had been myself, my own self or soul, who rejected sannyasa. The second time the veto was pronounced by the Supreme Soul, the Lord Sri Aurobindo himself. And the third time it was the Supreme Prakriti, the Universal Mother who it seems scented the danger and hastened as if personally to intervene and bar that way of escape for ever, by piling up against us the heaven-kissing thorny hedge of wedlock "
 Though not recognized as yet, Sri Aurobindo's ideal of the Highest Spirit manifest in Life was to become Sri Nolini Kanta's guiding Light. Next Sri Aurobindo initiated him into several new experiences of life. Though he had never written anything beyond college papers and essays, Sri Aurobindo asked him to pick out some important items from the English papers and write them up in Bengali. As Nolini-da recalled:
" He seemed to be pleased on seeing my writing and said that it might do. He gave me the task of editing the news columns of his Bengali paper Dharma "
   
Thus the job of editing the news columns of the Bengali paper fell to his lot, which slowly turned him into a journalist. It was also from the hands of Sri Aurobindo that he was to receive earned money for the first time. Though this earning for his editorial work was only a token amount, it is interesting that his first writing was done for his destined Guru and his first earnings came from him as well. The die was being cast for a lifelong association in union with one who led his inner and outer life to its full blossoming.
   From that time he came to stay at Shyampukur, living and working on the premises of the two papers, Dharma and Karmayogin. Here, his true awakening and education began in earnest under the benign influence of the Master. As he noted:
      "It is here that began our true education, and perhaps, nay, certainly, our initiation too Sri Aurobindo had his own novel method of education It went simply and naturally along lines that seemed to do without rules. The student did not realise that he was being educated at all. By giving me that work of editing the news he made me slowly grow into a journalist underwriter. Next there came to me naturally an urge to write articles. Sri Aurobindo was pleased with the first Bengali article I wrote This my first article was published in the 11th issue of 'Dharma , dated 15th November, 1909. I was twenty then. Some of my other articles came out in 'Dharma' afterwards. My writings in English began much later One day in the midst of all this, Sri Aurobindo asked me all of a sudden if I had any desire to learn languages- any of the European languages, French for example. I was a little surprised at the question, for I had not observed in me any such ambition or inclination. Nonetheless I replied that I would like to. That is how I began my French..."
How much Sri Aurobindo's initiation was fruitful became ob
vious many years later, when the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a native of France, observed about Nolini-da:
        "He is no inconsiderable poet in French."
 The life of mental and spiritual enrichment, side by side with continued writing to spur the Independence Movement, was brought again to an abrupt halt one evening, when a friend, Ramchandra, brought the disturbing news that the Government had again decided to arrest Sri Aurobindo. As Nolini-da recalled, Sri Aurobindo came out of the house and made straight for the river- side Those of us who were left behind continued to run the two papers for some time But afterwards, we too found it impossible to carry on and our pleasant home had to be broken up. For news came that the police were after our blood;... And I decided to leave for an obscure little village in distant Barisal I spent a couple of months there Then I got. the news that the time had come for starting on my travels again "
Thus Nolini-da followed the footsteps of Sri Aurobindo to Pondicherry, where at last the foundation would be laid for an undisturbed unfoldment of a great spiritual endeavour. The earliest days at Pondicherry were characterised by an austere simplicity. As Nolini-da recalled:
        " I may add that we had no such thing as a bed either for our use. Each of us posessed a mat, coverlet and pillow; this was all our furniture. And mosquito curtains? That was a luxury we could not even dream of for Sri Aurobindo we had somehow managed a chair and a table and a camp cot. We lived a real camp life All I can recall is a single candle-stick for the personal use of Sri Aurobindo. Whatever conversations or discussions we had after nightfall had to be in the dark; for the most part we practise .Sri Aurobindo continued to lead his companions ,in serious
study of various subjects. For several months, for about an hour every evening, the topic of study was the Veda, which drew the special interest of Nolini-da, as well as Subramanya Bharati, the famous Tamil Poet. Sri Aurobindo continued to initiate Nolini- da in the study and mastery of various languages. Nolini-da noted:
      " Sri Aurobindo has taught me a number of languages When I took up Greek, I began straight-away with Euripides' Medea I began my Latin with Virgil's Aeneid, and Italian with Dante. I have already told you about my French, there I started with Moliere "
Thus was Nolini-da's mind moulded carefully by Sri Aurobindo, from his twentieth to twenty-fifth year. A characteristic of Nolini-da was his continued pursuit of football, side by side with his intellectual enrichment. At the age of 25, in 1914, Nolini-da went back to Calcutta. He returned to Pondicherry and remained for several years before going again to Calcutta. This time, in 1919, he went to Nilphamari, where, at the age of 30, he married Indulekha Devi of Mymensingh. He continued to travel between Pondicherry and Calcutta for several years, having begun publishing his Bengali writings in 1921. He brought his wife with him once to Pondicherry , but thereafter he came alone. Ultimately his outer travels ceased, with the unfolding of the imperative spiritual urge of his soul, not a little influenced by the arrival of the Mother. It was perhaps the Mother who awakened him to the spiritual stature of his Companion, Sri Aurobindo. As he explained:
      "The Mother came and installed Sri Aurobindo on his high Pedestal of Master and Lord of Yoga the Mother taught by her manner and speech and showed us in actual practice, what was the meaning of disciple and master "
It was, further, at the urging of the Mother that Sri Nolini Kanta's trips to Calcutta ceased. After the siddhi of Sri Aurobindo, Nolini-da's place in his spiritual work was settled.
 
    From 1926, Nolini-da never again left the Ashram in Pondicherry, where he served as its Secretary and later as one of its Trustees.",
From this period on, it is difficult to say much about Nolini. da's life. Outwardly, he worked for Sri Aurobindo's Ashram and also continued to publish writings in Bengali, English and French. He engaged himself in sports activities throughout his life, even into his eighties. His writings have attracted many by the light they throw on many facets of knowledge and life, including luminous expositions of Sri Aurobindo's Yoga. This dynamic light of an ever-expanding spiritual awareness was applied by Nolini-da to many aspects of mind, life and matter. From his writings alone it becomes clear that their extreme variety and depth of insight are explained as the result of his being an instrument in the 'hands' of a supreme Light, which is capable of illumining everything upon which it is directed. His writings are all short, yet they carry so much light and power that one's understanding is immediately kindled. One finds them containing many germinal ideas, each capable of serving as the basis for a comprehensive understanding of the multiple facets of existence. In his English works alone, one finds political theory, international relations, poetry, musical theory, ancient and modern Western and Eastern literature. esoteric yogic knowledge, and his own poetry. All are critiqued in such away as to open windows onto the spiritual Reality behind, of which they are manifestations. In his Bengali writings, he treated all of the above subjects, and translated as well much of the best from Western Poetry.. His poems in French were even appreciated by the celebrated French Poets, Mon. Maurice Magre and Sylvan Levi. This list does not exhaust the subjects masterfully dealt with in Nolini-da's writings. His last work in Bengali was his translation of Sri Aurobindo's epic poem Savitri. By a thorough review of his collected writings, one clearly understands the Upanishadic reference to that knowledge, "knowing which, everything is known." It is such knowledge, in dynamic and creative form and power, which was manifest in Sri Nolini Kanta Gupta.Thus it was demonstrated by his life and action that the highest spiritual realisation is not only compa
tible with life and the world, but productive of the means to fully understand and enjoy the world in perfect consonance with the Supreme Truth. We see in Nolini-da the Light and Power of the Supreme Mother, pouring itself out upon the world of Her Creation. Such truly is the ideal of Sri Aurobindo, as demonstrated in the life of his lifetime companion and disciple, Sri Nolini Kanta Gupta. He published about 50 Bengali works, and his English writings are embodied in Eight Volumes of his Collected Works. Yet his prodigious outpouring in the form of writings is only one aspect of his life from 1926 to 1983. The crucial development of his spiritual realisation during this period is what really gives the immense value to his writings. About this spiritual achievement, his Yoga Sidhi, we must refrain from any assessment, due to our limited capacity to know. We can perhaps only discern the trend of his spiritual life from the words of Sri Aurobindo, who told Nirodbaran some time in 1940:
       "I always see the Light descending into Nolini."
We can safely say that his Realisation in Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga far transcends even his tremendous outer activity in the form of his published works. The Mother's words to him on his birthday reveal something of this aspect of his True Life. On 13 January 1967, the Mother blessed Nolini-da on his birth- day in the following words: .
       "Happy Birthday N0lini en route towards the Superman. With my love and affection and blessings."


Again, on 13 January, 1971, the Mother sent Her birthday Blessings., writing
       "Happy Birthday Nolini with my love and affection for a life of collaboration and my blessings for the prolonged continuation of this happy collaboration in peace and love.
                                                              The Mother"

 
  
We can confirm our perception that he continued to march ahead tirelessly towards greater realisation, and served as a luminous example of an instrument of the Truth-realisation of the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo. His heights and depths were, however, not measureable by us. The testimony of many who had his darshan, however, could confirm the perception which was expressed one day by Andre, the Mother's son, when he visited Nolini-da after the withdrawal of The Mother. He spontaneously told him that to come to him is truly to be in the Presence of the Mother .
     One aspect of the Mother which was quite apparently manifest in the life of Nolini-da, Mahasaraswati, also made itself felt at the end of his physical life. Sri Nolini Kanta left his body on, the auspicious day of Saraswati Puja in 1983. The room from which he served the Mother and the Master, and achieved his spiritual realisation over a period of more than fifty years, still retain the glow, unmistakable of the Divine Presence with which he united his being. The body with which he served the Supreme Divine continues to radiate the penetrating Peace of Divinity from his Samadhi at Cazanove. Even in apparent death, the body he left behind continues to manifest the Divine Vibrations, thus testifying to the Truth of the Integral Ideal of The Yoga of his Master, Sri Aurobindo.

 

 STEPHEN K. WATSON

Anubhuti Vol 1 No 3

All extracts and quotations from the written works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and the Photographs of
the Mother and Sri Aurobindo are copyright Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry -605002 India