Surat Congress and the Aftermath
AT THE Calcutta Congress session in December 1906, the Nationalists had succeeded, largely as a result of Sri Aurobindo's influence and his effort behind the scenes, in prevailing on the Congress to pass resolutions adopting Swaraj as its goal and Swadeshi, Boycott and National Education as the effective means of realising it. This was a serious setback for the Moderates, who had strongly opposed the resolutions, and they were waiting for an opportunity to get back their hold over the organisation. Moreover, their Bombay group led by Sir Pherozeshah Mehta and Gokhale, could not stomach the resolution on Swaraj. There was talk at this time of political reforms being introduced in India. Lord Minto had replaced Lord Curzon as the Viceroy and in England also there was a new Secretary of State, John Morley, said to be a statesman of liberal views. There were repeated warnings by Sri Aurobindo in the Bande Mataram not to be hoodwinked by proposals of political reforms which were paper concessions only, and which in practice would merely strengthen the British position in India. The Moderates, however, were determined to offer their cooperation to the British and not to offend them by cries of Swaraj.
Meanwhile there were developments in Bengal which also clearly indicated the growing cleavage between the Moderates and the Nationalists. Sri Aurobindo was now the recognised leader of the Nationalists and he led the party at the session of the Bengal Provincial Conference at Midnapur from December 7 to 9, 1907.
The Moderates were led by Surendranath Banerjee. At the conference, there was a 'vehement clash' as Sri Aurobindo put it, the first open rupture between the two parties, with the result that the police had to be called in to restore order. Eventually, the Nationalists held a separate conference under Sri Aurobindo's leadership.
Traditionally the annual session of the Congress took place during the last week of December. At first it was proposed that the 1907 session should be held in Nagpur but the Moderates manoeuvred to get the location shifted to Surat which was a Moderate stronghold whereas at Nagpur the Maharashtrian Nationalists were powerfully represented. From the beginning, therefore, it was apparent that this session of the Congress would be a decisive trial of strength and indeed the proceedings at Surat turned out to be both dramatic and fateful.
The Surat Congress was scheduled to begin on December 26, 1907. Delegates came in strength from many parts of India. Sri Aurobindo led a large contingent of Nationalists from Bengal. Tilak was present along with other stalwarts from Maharashtra like Dr.Munje and G.S. Khaparde.The Nationalists also welcomed back Lala Lajpat Rai and Sardar Ajit Singh who came from the Punjab and had both been recently released from detention. The Moderates were equally well represented. The rival parties were accommodated in separate camps; apparently all was peaceful but in reality suspense and hostility were in the air. The Nationalist delegates included some young revolutionaries (Barin was one of them) and they kept a vigilant eye to make sure that their leaders were not subject to unprovoked attacks in a city which was known to be a Moderate stronghold. The Moderates were not above encouraging rowdyism when it suited their purpose!
The Nationalists did not come to Surat to wreck the Congress or divide it. Some Nationalist leaders indeed wanted to avoid Surat and hold a separate Congress at Nagpur. But Tilak sent a wire: 'For God's sake, no split.' Sri Aurobindo acquiesced. The Nationalists were willing to make any reasonable compromise with the Moderates provided it did not mean sacrificing the four resolutions which had been accepted after so much debate at Calcutta. And it was precisely on this issue that the clash took place.
On the eve of the Congress, i.e. on December 25, the Nationalists held their party meeting. G.S. Khaparde has recorded in his diary: 'There is great discipline in our party. In the afternoon we had our Nationalist Conference. Aurobindo Babu presided and Tilak made another masterly statement, clear and concise and yet full, such as he alone can make. Everybody praises it.' There is also a vivid description of this meeting in Nevinson's The New Spirit of India. He writes: 'Grave and silent - I think without saying a single word - Mr. Aravinda Ghose took the chair, and sat unmoved, with far-off eyes, as one who gazes at futurity. In clear, short sentences, without eloquence or passion Mr. Tilak spoke till the stars shone out and someone kindled a lantern at his side.'
The Nationalists had come to know by this time that the Moderates were getting ready to scuttle the resolutions on Swaraj, Swadeshi, Boycott, and National Education, but unable to go back openly on them, they had decided on a roundabout method. They had prepared the draft of a new constitution for the Congress, which they proposed to get passed at the Surat session. In this draft, among other changes, the goal of the Congress was defined as 'the attainment by India of self-government similar to that enjoyed by the other members of the British Empire.' Moreover, this was conceived as an ultimate goal, not an immediate objective. This was a far cry indeed from the Calcutta resolution. The Moderates also proposed that, under the new constitution of the Congress, only those who accepted its new creed could hence- forward become members of the Provincial Committees. It was at once clear to the Nationalist leaders that if these changes in the constitution of the Congress were adopted, not only would the work done at Calcutta be destroyed, but also the Congress would be dominated by the Moderates for years to come. And, at Surat, the Moderates were very strongly placed to carry through these resolutions. They had been busy enlisting their supporters as delegates for the open session and whilst the Nationalists did their best to follow suit. it was Sri Aurobindo's estimate that the strength of the Moderate delegates (not all of them genuine supporters) was 1300 as against 1100 on the Nationalist side.
This was the background against which the Congress open session began on December 26, 1907, before an audience of over ten thousand strong. And immediately the two parties clashed. The Moderates had selected Dr. Rash Behari Ghosh to be the
President. He was an eminent lawyer but politically he was only a figurehead. When his name was proposed and Surendranath Banerjee, considered the greatest orator of his day, stood up to second the proposal, his voice was drowned in a prolonged clamour of protest and counter protest. This demonstration was not pre-arranged but reflected the tension and antagonism which had been building up between the rival parties. In vain did the Chairman of the Reception Committee, who was then presiding over the meeting, try to control the situation and restore order. The demonstrations continued without a break and eventually the Chairman declared the sitting suspended, although at that stage Dr.Ghosh had still not been officially elected President.
That evening attempts were made to arrive at a negotiated settlement between the parties, but these efforts failed. The Nationalists were prepared to withdraw their opposition to Dr. Ghosh's election as President, provided the Moderates did not try to overrule the Calcutta resolution on Swaraj, but no understanding could be reached.
The Congress session was resumed on December 27. Dr. Ghosh arrived at the meeting in a big procession arranged by the Moderates. He came and occupied the Presidential Chair but hardly had he begun reading his address when Tilak stood up. He had earlier given notice that he would move an amendment and he now ascended the dais to face the delegates. Dr. Ghosh refused to give him permission to speak. Tilak retorted that Dr. Ghosh had not been properly elected as President and that he, Tilak, had every right to address the delegates. With folded arms he faced the audience and began to speak. The rest may be described in Sri Aurobindo's own words: 'There was a tremendous uproar, the young Gujarati volunteers lifted up chairs over the head of Tilak to beat him. At that the Mahrattas became furious, a Mahratta shoe came hurtling across the pavilion aimed at the President, Dr. Rash Behari Ghosh, and hit Surendranath Banerjee on the shoulder. The young Mahrattas in a body charged up to the platform, the Moderate leaders fled; after a short fight on the platform with chairs the session broke up not to be resumed. The Moderate leaders decided to suspend the Congress....'
Thus the Surat Congress ended in a total breakdown. The next day the Moderate leaders gave notice of a meeting, calling it a convention of delegates who were agreed on the changes which
they wanted to introduce in the constitution of the Congress. The Nationalists refused to attend this convention, and so split the Congress irrevocably. Both parties issued separate statements on the proceedings of the Congress session. The Nationalist statement was signed by Tilak, Sri Aurobindo and others. That of the Moderates was described as the 'official statement of the Congress'. Students of political history will find these documents of absorbing interest, for they reflect very clearly the conflicting attitudes and objectives of the respective parties .
This is the outward story of the Surat Congress. But, long afterwards, in reply to a disciple's question, Sri Aurobindo stated: 'History very seldom records the things that were decisive but took place behind the veil; it records the shown front of the curtain. Very few people knew that it was I (without consulting Tilak) who gave the orders that led to the breaking up of the Congress and was responsible for the refusal to join the new-fangled Moderate convention which were the two decisive happenings at Surat.'
Why did Sri Aurobindo decide to break up the Congress? We do not have a direct answer from Sri Aurobindo himself but it can be easily surmised that he did not want the Nationalists to be part of a Congress with the anaemic ideals it was proposing to adopt and which the Moderates could get accepted because of their numerical superiority. Besides, he was never in favour of a 'dead or lifeless unity' between the parties. Though he knew that once the Nationalists broke off with the Congress, they would be ruthlessly persecuted. And, in fact, by July 1908 Tilak was charged with 'exciting disloyalty and bringing feelings of enmity towards the Government'. He was sentenced to six years of imprisonment and sent to Mandalay jail in Burma. And then the Government focussed their entire attention on Sri Aurobindo. But Sri Aurobindo also knew that repression would not extinguish the flame of independence which had now been lit and that it would be held aloft by brave patriots until the nation itself became ready to accept the ideal of complete independence, as eventually it did at the historic Congress session at Lahore in 1929. Meanwhile the Surat Congress sounded the political death-knell of the Mode- rates. Though some individual Moderate leaders were later to occupy eminent positions in the Government, as a political party the Moderates became a waning force and were soon supplanted by other nationalist forces which came to the fore.
The year 1908 was dawning as Sri Aurobindo left Surat for Baroda. This was his first visit to Baroda since his departure for Calcutta in June 1906, and what momentous changes had taken place during these eighteen months! When he left Baroda Sri Aurobindo was hardly known outside his circle of close associates and followers. Now he was in the forefront of Indian politics having inspired in a whole nation the ideal of freedom giving to this a spiritual content and significance not known before The Principal of the Baroda College had directed the students n leave their classes and meet Sri Aurobindo, but they simply ignored the ban. When Sri Aurobindo was being taken in a procession, they ran out, unyoked the horses of his carnage and then proceeded to draw it themselves. Many political workers came and met Sri Aurobindo and he also addressed a number of political meetings.
Amongst those who met him were Chhotalal Purani and his younger brother Ambalal. They were initiated by Sri Aurobindo into revolutionary work and played a prominent part in the movement in Gujarat. Ambalal Purani afterwards became a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, joining the Ashram in the early 1920s; he also served Sri Aurobindo as a personal attendant. In the course of this visit to Baroda, Sri Aurobindo also met the Maharaja. We do not know what transpired during the talks but the Gaekwad desired another meeting, which, however did not take place.
At Baroda, Sri Aurobindo first stayed at Khaserao Jadha's house. Those who met him were struck by the utter simplicity his way of life. You may recall that when he was in service at Baroda, Sri Aurobindo was indifferent to comfort but now his needs were reduced to the bare minimum. Although the winter was severe, he wore only a cotton dhoti and shirt and did not even have a wrapper. His friend Sardar Mazumdar presented him with a Pashmina shawl to keep away the cold. Sri Aurobindo carried no bedding on his railway journeys, and slept on the bare wooden bunks of third-class compartments, using his arm for a pillow. Incidentally, when he went from Calcutta to Surat to attend the Congress session, he travelled in a third-class compartment along with with other nationalist delegates - there were no special arrangements for him. A Mr. J. Ghoshal was also travelling by the same train. He was one of the secretaries of the Congress and belonged
to the Moderate group. Ghoshal was travelling in a first-class compartment in perfect European clothes and style. The train stopped at various stations en route to enable the large crowds which had assembled to have their darshan of the leaders, particularly of Sri Aurobindo. Many flocked to the first-class compartment expecting to find him there and Barin, who was also travelling with Sri Aurobindo, has recounted in his autobiography how the highly embarrassed Mr. Ghoshal, to save his face, repeatedly requested Sri Aurobindo to join him in his compartment. Needless to say, Sri Aurobindo felt no obligation to meet the request!
Sri Aurobindo stayed at Baroda for a fortnight and this stay took on a special significance and importance not so much for political activities, although he was involved in these, but because of a tremendous spiritual experience which, in his own words, was the first of the four great realisations on which his Yoga and spiritual philosophy are founded. I shall now try and give you an account of this, relying largely on his own words.
You know that from the year 1904 Sri Aurobindo was deeply engaged in the practice of yoga but because of the increasing pressure of political work he did not have time for the regular practice of pranayam and other concomitant kriyas. He himself felt that his progress in sadhana had come to a halt and, being at a loss, he asked Barin if he knew of someone who could pull him out of the impasse and help him to pursue yoga more systematically than he had hitherto done. In the course of his extensive wanderings, Barin had met a Maharashtrian yogi, Vishnu Bhaskar Lele by name, and had been impressed by him. It had been a brief meeting but Barin remembered the occasion and now, with Sri Aurobindo's consent, he sent a telegram to Lele at Gwalior to come to Baroda. It is said that when Lele received the telegram he felt that a great soul needed his help in yoga and so he left at once for Baroda.
It was at Khaserao Jadhav's house that Lele came and met Sri Aurobindo. Lele was ready to help but asked that he should suspend all political activities, at least for a few days, and devote himself completely to yoga. So Sri Aurobindo left Khaserao's house and, keeping only his close associates informed of his whereabouts, went with Lele to the house of another old friend, Sardar Mazumdar. Here in a small room on the top floor he was
closeted with Lele and what happened then is something unimaginable, incalculable and, at least to my knowledge, with no parallel in spiritual history. Let me quote Sri Aurobindo himself: '"Sit in meditation", he [Lele] said, "but do not think, look only at your mind; you will see thoughts coming into it; before they can enter throw these away from your mind till your mind is capable of entire silence."
I had never heard before of thoughts coming visibly into the mind from outside, but I did not think either of questioning the truth or the possibility, I simply sat down and did it. In a moment my mind became silent as a windless air on a high mountain summit and then I saw one thought and another coming in a concrete way from outside; I flung them away before they could enter and take hold of the brain and in three days I was free. From that moment, in principle, the mental being in me became a free intelligence, a universal Mind, not limited to the narrow circle of personal thought as a labourer in a thought-factory, but a receiver of knowledge from all the hundred realms of being and free to choose what it willed in this vast sight-empire and thought- empire.'
Much later, when we were serving as his attendants at the Ashram, he once spoke to us of this experience: 'Lele asked me to silence the mind and throw away the thoughts if they came. I did it in three days - and the result was that the whole being became quiet and in seven days I got the Nirvanic experience which remained with me for a long time. I could not have got out of it even if I had wanted to. Even afterwards this experience remained in the background in the midst of all activities.'
There is much scope for thought here, indeed for amazement and wander at this tremendous experience Sri Aurobindo gained in three days. When I asked him once how he had achieved this, he answered: 'It was simply through the Divine Grace - because it has been done by thousands before me throughout the centuries and millenniums and the Divine did not want me to waste time over that.' Yet we can but marvel that he should have had this realisation, which comes as the culmination of a life-long sadhana, in only a few days. And there are other exceptional features about Sri Aurobindo's experience. Mark, for instance, how obedient he was to Lele's instructions and how he followed them to the letter without questioning. Seldom do we meet an intellectual, particularly one of Sri Aurobindo's attainments, with such unquestioning
faith. He speaks of this in a letter to a disciple: '...we sat together and I followed with absolute fidelity what he instructed me to do, not myself in the least understanding where he was leading me or where I was going.' Mark, also, that Sri Aurobindo had this realisation even while he was in the midst of intense political activity. It is true that, for the purpose of concentration, he had withdrawn for a while from outside contacts but he did not have this experience somewhere remote from the world's turmoil, all alone, in Himalayan solitudes. This bears a far-reaching significance, for it shows that karma or action is no bar or bondage to spiritual life.
In his sonnet "Nirvana" Sri Aurobindo has given a description of this experience, bringing its reality nearer and more clearly to our vision, understanding and feeling. Here is the poem:
All is abolished but the mute Alone.
The mind from thought released, the heart from grief
Grow inexistent now beyond belief;
There is no I, no Nature, known-unknown.
The city, a shadow picture without tone,
Floats, quivers unreal; forms without relief
Flow, a cinema's vacant shapes; like a reef
Foundering in shoreless gulfs the world is done.
Only the illimitable Permanent
Is here. A Peace stupendous, featureless, still,
Replaces all, - what once was I, in It
A silent unnamed emptiness content
Either to fade in the Unknowable
Or thrill with the luminous seas of the Infinite.
One word more. Sri Aurobindo's experience - in fact it was, to quote him, 'a series of tremendously powerful experiences and radical changes of consciousness' - came as a surprise to Lele, for he had not intended it. Indeed to Sri Aurobindo himself the experience came as a surprise, for they were contrary to his own ideas - 'they made me see with a stupendous intensity the world as a cinematographic play of vacant forms in the impersonal universality of the Absolute Brahman.' However, the overwhelming impact of this realisation did not at all mean that henceforward he would give up politics. All along invitations had been pouring
in for Sri Aurobindo to address meetings and to meet political workers at Poona, Bombay and other places. The uncompromising stand he had taken at Surat had enhanced his reputation in the eyes of the true patriots who now looked to him for guidance in the critical situation which had arisen.
So from Baroda Sri Aurobindo went to Poona. At his request, Lele accompanied him. Sri Aurobindo's mind had become calm, silent, devoid of all thoughts and as he was not sure how he could give a speech or address meetings in that condition, he asked Lele what he should do. Lele told him 'to make namaskar to the audience and wait and speech would come to him from some other source than the mind'. And so, in fact, the speeches came.
From Poona Sri Aurobindo proceeded to Bombay where also he was called upon to address large meetings. The silent condition of his mind continued and the outside world seemed to be bathed in unreality. Sri Aurobindo has described how, at Bombay, when he was standing on the balcony of a friend's house, he saw 'the whole busy movement of Bombay as a picture in a cinema show, all unreal and shadowy'. And yet he continued with his political activities. The most important speech he had to deliver in Bombay was at a meeting of the National Union at Mahajanwadi on January 19. Again he had this problem - how was he to give a speech in that condition. This is what happened, in Sri Aurobindo's own words; 'I asked Lele what I should do. He asked me to pray but I was so absorbed in the silent Brahman consciousness that I could not pray. Then he replied that it did not matter. He and some others would pray and I had simply to go to the meeting, make namaskar to the audience as Narayan and then some voice would speak. I did exactly as I was told... when I rose .to speak the impression of a [newspaper] headline flashed across my mind and all of a sudden something spoke out.'
Later, during his talks with us, he once explained: 'One result of this silencing was that while I was writing for the Bande Mataram the thoughts didn't pass through the mind; they came direct to the pen and I didn't know beforehand what I was writing - sometimes they passed through the mind which was quite passive.'
Let me return for a moment to the famous speech he delivered at the National Union meeting in Bombay. This was later reproduced in the Bande Mataram and I have already given you an extract from it while telling you about Sri Aurobindo's writings in
that paper. The subject of the speech was "The Present Situation' and he spoke not as a politician but as an inspired prophet of Nationalism. It made a deep impression on the mind of the audience, for it carried a new note from his new perspective. Here is another fragment from it. Sri Aurobindo says: 'Look for the Shakti within yourselves, bring it forward. Then you will realise that whatever you do is being done by that Shakti, not by yourselves.... There, within you, is that Immortal, Unborn and Eternal whom swords cannot sunder, fire cannot burn and to whom all the power in the world is a trifle.'
Before leaving Bombay Sri Aurobindo asked Lele for instructions, and Sri Aurobindo's words in this connection are most revealing: 'He was giving me detailed instructions. In the meantime I told him of a Mantra that had arisen in my heart. Suddenly while giving instructions he stopped and asked me if I could rely absolutely on Him who gave me the Mantra. I replied that I could always do that. Then Lele said that there was no need of further instructions.'
As Sri Aurobindo explained later: 'The final upshot was that [Lele] was made by a Voice within him to hand me over to the Divine within me enjoining absolute surrender to its will - a principle or rather a seed force to which I kept unswervingly and increasingly till it led me through all the mazes of an incalculable yogic development bound by no single rule or style or dogma or Shastra to where and what I am now and towards what shall be hereafter.'
From Bombay Sri Aurobindo went to several places - Nasik, Dhulia, Amravati, Nagpur - centres of Maharashtrian culture and Nationalist strongholds which he visited at Tilak's request. Political workers came to meet him and he was called upon to give many speeches; everywhere his presence inspired those who met and heard him. The same theme ran through all his speeches — Nationalism as a religion, as an imperative force from God. At Amravati, on January 29, the meeting commenced with the singing of 'Bande Mataram' and in the course of his speech Sri Aurobindo spoke on the history and significance of the song.
Sri Aurobindo was back in Calcutta by the first week of February 1908. At once he resumed his Bande Mataram work and now that he had emerged as an all-India leader, he was also much in demand as a speaker, which meant an even greater increase in
his public activities. These activities on the surface seemed to go on as before but as a result of the profound inner change speech and action acquired a power of spontaneity, free from disturbance and in manner flawless, as if some great and higher Power was working through him and was the source of his thoughts, words and action. And we must remember that not only the speeches he then gave or his writings in the Bande Matarm but his later writings in the Karmayogin, and the Arya, his correspondence etc. as well as Savitri and the poems he wrote in Pondicherry all arose out of this mental silence. He told us once: 'You just become an instrument, you have no responsibility of your own. It is a state of great ease and peace.'
Shortly after his return, Sri Aurobindo wrote another letter to his wife Mrinalini who was not then in Calcutta, This, perhaps his last letter to her is a moving document in winch he begins by expressing his regret for not having written to her for a long time. This is my eternal failing,' he pleads, 'if you do not pardon me out of your own goodness, what shall I do? What is ingrained in one does not go out in a day. Perhaps it will take the whole of this life to correct this fault.' And then towards the end of the letter he writes: 'You may think that in my work I am neglecting you, but do not do so. Already, I have done you many wrongs and it is but natural that this should have displeased you. But I am no longer free. From now on you will have to understand that all I do depends not on my will but is done at the adesa (command) of God. When you come here, you will understand the of my words. I hope that God will show you the Light He has shown me in His infinite Grace. But that depends upon His Will. if you wish to share my life and ideal you must strive to you utmost to that, on the strength of your ardent desire, He; may in his grace reveal the path to you also.' Note how totally he has now surrendered to the Divine Will but note, also, how concerned he is that Mrinalini should understand and follow him - Sri Aurobindo was never indifferent to her thoughts and feelings.
Sri Aurobindo's preoccupation with spiritual realities and the new tone his words had acquired can be further :felt in a passage he wrote in the Bande Mataram on February 18, 1908: 'Swaraj is he direct revelation of God to this people, -not mere political freedom but a freedom vast and entire, freedom of the individual, freedom of the community, freedom of the nation, spiritual
freedom, social freedom, political freedom. Spiritual freedom the ancient Rishis had already declared to us; social freedom was part of the message of Buddha, Chaitanya, Nanak and Kabir and the saints of Maharashtra; political freedom is the last work of the triune gospel.... God has set apart India as the eternal fountain- head of holy spirituality, and He will never suffer that fountain to run dry. Therefore Swaraj has been revealed to us. By our political freedom we shall once more recover our spiritual freedom. Once more in the land of the saints and sages will burn the fire of the ancient Yoga and the hearts of her people will be lifted up into the neighbourhood of the Eternal.'
About this time a young patriot, Amarendra Nath Chatterjee, who had contributed generously to the Swadeshi cause, met Sri Aurobindo and was initiated by him into the revolutionary movement. Many years later Amarendra wrote about this fateful meeting and recalled Sri Aurobindo's words to him: 'If we want India's independence, we have to offer everything... we should be ready to give up even our life for it and conquer the fear of death.... Surrender yourself to God and take the plunge in the name of the Mother. This is my diksha to you.' Amarendra says that these words changed the entire course of his life, removing fear and attachment in him. This is how Sri Aurobindo effected miraculous changes in young minds through his presence and the power of his words which acted as mantra.
Meanwhile, at Barin's request, Lele visited Calcutta. He called on Sri Aurobindo at his residence at 23 Scott's Lane and when he inquired about Sri Aurobindo's yoga he was astonished to hear that Sri Aurobindo had given up meditation and other yogic practices. Lele said that the devil had caught hold of Sri Aurobindo. When Sri Aurobindo heard this he said to himself, 'If it is the devil, I will then follow him.' He told us afterwards that since he was in a constant state of meditation in works, repose, sleep, there was no need for regular, fixed hours of meditation. So too Sri Ramakrishna says, 'One who is uttering the name of Kali at all the three sandhyas, where is his need for fixed hours of worship?' Indeed, in the course of only a few months, Sri Aurobindo had gone far beyond the depth of an experienced yogi like Lele.
Barin had another purpose in inviting Lele to Calcutta. Some time before this Barin had left Sri Aurobindo's residence at Scott's
Lane and moved to Maniktolla Gardens in Muraripukur, North Calcutta. This was a piece of ancestral property, about two and half acres in extent, which was more of a jungle than a garden and had a small building almost in ruins. But it suited his plans admirably. For here he gathered round him a dozen or so of young ardent revolutionaries, recruited by him and made to take an irrevocable pledge to give their lives for the Motherland. He gave them special training which included physical austerities, target practice with weapons and the manufacture of bombs. Along with these, they also practised meditation, reading the Gita etc. Sri Aurobindo was aware of these activities but was not directly involved in them. Nolini Kanta has recorded in his reminiscences how he was once sent by Barin to fetch Sri Aurobindo to visit the Gardens. He writes: 'I went by tram and it was about four in the afternoon when I reached there [Sri Aurobindo's residence].... 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 namaskar. This was my first happy meeting with him, my first happy meeting with him, my first Darshan and interview.'
Now, to return to Lele. Barin wanted him to visit Maniktolla Gardens to help the inmates in their yoga practices. But once he was there it did not take Lele long to realise the true nature of their activities and he at once wanted Barin to give up these dangerous pursuits, 'otherwise he would fall into a ditch'. Barin, however, was in no mood to listen and, as Sri Aurobindo commented later, 'he did fall into a ditch', soon facing the gravest crisis of his life.
Dark clouds were now gathering on the horizon. On April 30 a bomb was thrown at a carriage supposedly carrying Kingsford, District Magistrate of Muzzafarpur. He was a notorious official who was hated by the people because he had ordered the public flogging of a fourteen - year boy for a political offence. It so happened that Kingsford was not in that carriage. Two English ladies, who were travelling in it, were unfortunately killed instead. This led to a tremendous hue and cry and the Government
immediately ordered a round of arrests. Sri Aurobindo, who was watching developments closely, sent a warning to Barin to remove all arms and other incriminating evidence from the Maniktolla Gardens but before Barin could act upon the message, the police raided the place on May 2,1908, arrested the occupants and seized the tell-tale materials.
Meanwhile, Sri Aurobindo had shifted residence. On April 28, he had moved from 23 Scott's Lane to 48 Grey Street which also housed the office of the Bengali paper Navashakti. Here, in the early hours of May 2, 1908, Sri Aurobindo was sleeping peacefully, when the police entered in force and arrested him.
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.
When someone is destined for the Path, all circumstances through all the deviations of mind and life help in one way or another to lead him to it. It is his own
psychic being within him and Divine Power above that use to that end the vicissitudes both of mind and outward circumstance.