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150th Anniversary of Sri Aurobindo—What no one says

India is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the greatest Avatar of the 20th Century, Sri Aurobindo—he who predicted man after man, in the same manner that man followed animal. All kinds of articles essays, books have come out, dealing with different aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s genius: his philosophy probably one of the highest and most far-reaching, which he expounded in books like The Life Divine or The Synthesis of Yoga; his extraordinary poetry, which he penned in his masterpiece Savitri, that has been compared in style, and rhythm to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and some of Shakespeare’s visionary plays; his culture and vision of artistic India, summed up in The Foundations of Indian Culture, which 110 years after it was written, should be the Bible of every painter, sculptor, architect here; his political work of course, how he led with Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Pal and others, a nationalist programme to counterbalance the pro-British moderate wing of the Congress.

What has been bypassed and kept under silence, though, is his espousing the message of the Bhagavad Gita, that sometimes when Dharma is in danger, when your people, your culture, and your borders are being trampled upon by an oppressor, force and violence may be necessary.  In the words of Sri Aurobindo himself:  ‘Sri Aurobindo has never concealed his opinion that a nation is entitled to attain its freedom by violence, if it can do so or if there is no other way; whether it should do so or not, depends on what is the best policy, not on ethical considerations.’[i]

The human mind is linear, which means that it cannot see multiple truths at the same time, and divides the world into evil and divine, good and bad, black and white … In this way, every historian, every biographer of Sri Aurobindo, even his closest contemporary disciples, have ignored or swept under the carpet Sri Aurobindo’s choice of violence for liberation from the British colonial yoke. These biographies pretend that Sri Aurobindo’s brother Barin, manufactured bombs and revolvers in the basement of their father’s ancestral house in Calcutta without the knowledge of the Master. Some of these bombs were actually used, for instance against British magistrate Douglas Kingsford who hanged many revolutionaries (but unfortunately missed him). This was attributed to Baren, but listen to what Sri Aurobindo wrote: ‘If Sri Aurobindo had not believed in the efficacy of violent revolution or had disliked it, he would not have joined the secret society whose whole purpose was to prepare a national insurrection.’[ii]

The Buddhist and Gandhian influence of ahimsa at any cost seems to haunt the minds of political leaders post-independence, not only from the ranks of the Congress, but also of the BJP and even the RSS. Violence is considered unspiritual, undivine and adharmic. We see, for instance, that China is able to hoodwink India at every step, encroaching upon its territory in Ladakh, Sikkim or Arunachal Pradesh, then pretends to negotiate, retreat only partly, and then encroach somewhere else. Sri Aurobindo never minced his words, and in private conversations with his disciples, recorded in the famous book, Evening Talksby AB Purani, he often lambasted Mahatma Gandhi’s absolute and rigid nonviolence - for instance during the Caliphate movement, or when Churchill’s envoy Sir Stafford Cripps offered in 1939 independence to India as a Commonwealth nation, if the National Congress cooperated with the allies’ Second World War effort, which Gandhi pressured Nehru to refuse.

Sri Aurobindo was inspired by all the great figures of Western history who used violence to liberate their countries: ‘ I had studied with interest the revolutions and rebellions which led to national liberation, the struggle against the English in mediaeval France and the revolts which liberated America and Italy. I  took much of his inspiration from these movements and their leaders, especially Jeanne d’Arc and Mazzini.’

Thus, the history of the independent movement, which was mostly penned by Congress-related historians with a Marxist bend of mind, needs to be rewritten, giving Sri Aurobindo his rightful place, and mentioning his endorsing of violence as a Dharmic tool. Will it happen? One is surprised to see that in the huge committee formed to celebrate Sri Aurobindo’s 150th anniversary, one finds politicians with little or no knowledge of Sri Aurobindo, high bureaucrats who have a Nehruvian intellect, or Gandhians. One is also astonished that very few people from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram have been included and absolutely nobody from Auroville, the 52-year-old international township near Pondicherry, which is founded on Sri Aurobindo’s ideals.

Sri Aurobindo himself, from 1947 till his samadhi in 1950, saw all the wrong directions that India was taking, and the Mother herself, his spiritual companion who continued his work, said that he was suffering from it.  Building statues, forming committees and writing papers is not enough—what one has to do is put into practice Sri Aurobindo’s ideals. Indeed, he wrote a lot on what an independent India must look like, not blindly copying the West, but remaining faithful to her ancient roots, while adopting the latest technologies and scientific discoveries of the western world and being aggressive and unforgiving towards India’s enemies.

Nehru totally disregarded Sri Aurobindo’s ideals, refused to equip his army and continued his ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai’, in spite of many signs that Mao Zedong considered India an enemy. The humiliation of the 1962 Indo-China war still rankles today. India needs to revive the spirit of Kshatriya which has been blunted by the Mahatma Gandhi’s policies. And for that, we need to rediscover the true nationalism as preached and practiced by the Great Master: “ Peace is a part of the highest ideal, but it must be spiritual or at the very least psychological in its basis; without a change in human nature it cannot come with any finality.’[iii]

François Gautier


[i] Sri Aurobindo, Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings of Historical Interest, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 2015, p. 48

[ii] Sri Aurobindo, Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings of Historical Interest, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 2015, p. 71

[iii] Sri Aurobindo, Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings of Historical Interest, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 2015, p. 48

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