Monday, December 26, 2005

Mother was both human and divine

A true homecoming. During the hundredth year of Mother’s homecoming, AJU MUKHOPADHYAY goes back to trace its historical significance. Deccan Herald Sunday, April 25, 2004
She came to India for the first time in 1914, met Sri Aurobindo and was convinced that her place of work was here. But the wind of cruel politics tore her away to Europe and Japan. After a long struggle, on April 24, 1920, she returned to India and settled forever in Pondicherry. This was the day of her homecoming. A painter, an occultist, an educationist, a musician, a writer and an organiser, Mother was both human and divine. With an ancestry of Egyptian and Turkish, she was a French by birth but Indian by predilection. India for her was her mother country. It was Barrister Paul Richard who first came to Pondicherry in 1910. He was highly impressed after meeting Sri Aurobindo and spoke and wrote about him very eloquently. In 1914 Paul along with Mirra Richards, now married, came to Pondicherry. Mirra met Sri Aurobindo for the first time on March 29, 1914, and received an absolute silence, which she had longed for a long time. At the very first meeting she recognised him as Krishna and the guru of her dream and the spiritual rapport between the two began.
Arya, the review, which which went on to publish some major portion of Sri Aurobindo’s works, was launched by both Richards and Sri Aurobindo on August 15, 1914.But the Richards earned British disfavour for their association with the most dangerous political refugee, Aurobindo Ghose and his comrades, including poet Subramania Bharati. With the outbreak of the First World War British pressure on the French to expel political refugees - including the Richards - from Pondicherry increased. Though the expulsion of the political refugees to Djibouti could be postponed and later dropped, Richards had to leave for France on February 22, 1915. Shocked at this expulsion, Mirra had left her soul here. “O Lord, what have I done that Thou has thrown me thus into the somber Night?” she exclaimed in her dairy note, while sailing to France. As Paul Richard was given as assignment to visit Japan and China the couple reached Yokohama, Japan, in 1916 and remained there for about four years. While in Japan, Paul Richard wrote a book in French, Au Japon, which was translated into English by Madame Mirra Richard. Paul dreamed about Asian Federation and urged Japan to free Asia from the British domination. When poet Tagore and his party visited Japan, it is reported that Richard tried to register their sympathies for the cause of Asia. He collaborated with Black Dragon Society, whose organ Asia Jiron honoured Aurobindo Ghose by publishing a flaming article on him with his picture. This society also gave shelter to Indian revolutionary leaders like Rashbehari Bose and others.
Finally in 1920 the couple sailed back to Pondicherry. The return contributed to great relief and high expectation in Madame Mirra Richard. As earlier, the Richards started to live in a separate house. But on November 26, of the same year, a cyclonic storm damaged the house where Mirra was living. So her belongings were shifted to the same house where Sri Aurobindo was living with some disciples. Gradually, she took charge of the household and her caring hands changed its shape. In course of time Sri Aurobindo introduced her as the Mother to his disciples. November 26, 1926, the day when Lord Krishna is supposed to have descended on Sri Aurobindo, is marked as the Siddhi Divas - the de facto birthday of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. According to excerpts from Mother's Agenda, Sri Aurobindo then called everyone and said, “I have resolved to withdraw from activity; She will be your Mother.....”, thus officially naming Mirra as the Mother. Immersed in sadhana, he never again came out in public.
If Sri Aurobindo was the founder of the ashram, Mother was its builder. She had a dream that she would create a little world where people would not be dogged by the imperative necessities of life, so that they could devote their time for the divine life. Ashram, according to her, was the beginning of the realisation of her dream. A School started in 1943 was upgraded in 1951. Auroville was founded in 1968. With the expansion of activities ashram produced its daily needs. Yoga and study centers were created throughout the country and abroad. Mother communicated with her innumerable children - ashramites who numbered 750 in 1952 itself, when K M Munshi, the leader and statesman visited the Ashram. Writing down his experiences following the visit Munshi wrote, in Sri Aurobindo Ashram: A Pilgrimage: “A tennis playing, silk-garmented lady of seventy-five … saluting the ashramites at march-past….
Mother was everywhere. She planned, she financed, she regulated, she drew up schemes of education, buildings and workshop… she knew every disciple intimately… almost invisible, played such harmonious tunes on this seven-fifty souled orchestra… The atmosphere of the Ashram was drawn out of a living and abiding influence… of a man who lived there for nearly four decades… but how long will this mighty influence last?'”In order to remove such misunderstandings Sri Aurobindo wrote- “An Ashram means the house or houses of a teacher or master of spiritual philosophy in which he receives and lodges those who come to him for the teaching and practice…. And ends with his life-time unless there is another teacher who can take his place.”Mother was the teacher who took his place and the ashram reached the pinnacle of its glory during her lifetime. The author can be contacted at

ELIMINATING SEX-CONSCIOUSNESS: A dress to fit and be comfortable with
Peoples of different countries had different dresses with varied colours and shapes, which stroke wonder in one's heart. Dress is attuned to the climate of a country, a part of its culture. Indians in ancient time had two lengths of cloths as their main attire: Upper garment, uttariya and the lower one from the west, paridhana or vasana. In colder places a third garment was worn, draped like a mantle, called pravara. Differing in fashion of wearing, the same pieces of dresses, called dhoti, sari and chaddar were used to cover the body of all Indians of both sexes. Ladies in olden times perhaps kept the upper part of their bodies naked up to waist, as evidenced by the sculptures and paintings and confirmed by historians like A L Basham and James Ferguson. The Nayyar women of Kerala used to appear likewise in public until the recent past.In spite of innumerable foreign invasions the pith of Indian culture remained almost the same. In dress and fashion Muslim and Western influences have been more perceptible in recent time.Young ladies have almost discarded saris, mekhalas and such things. After salwar kameez, it is the time for trousers. It may be mentioned that trousers entered with the Sakas and Kushanas from the Central Asia.
The Mother introduced white shorts and shirts with kitty caps way back in 1944, for the girl students who took part in games and athletics. Not merely for convenience, the most potent point was to eliminate sex-consciousness among the young people. To her critic she said that she came to break the conventions and superstitions. But she respected all cultures. She herself learnt wearing kimono in Japan, veil in Algeria and sari in India. One takes from others when the wind of fashion blows, but it is better not to give up one's own cultural treasure altogether. In diversity remains the unity, not necessarily in uniformity. AM

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