45. The Last Battle
She landed in Bombay in mid-July, 1909, alone, under an assumed name, disguised. No one would have connected with Nivedita the smartly dressed woman who stood on the first-class deck watching the ship dock. Dressed in the latest fashion, with an elaborately trimmed gown and a large white hat covered with feathers, she looked down idly on the passengers who were hurrying down the gangway. Her friends had written her, “The police are threatening to arrest you as soon as you land/’ In these circumstances, “Mrs. Margot” had taken her precautions.
From Bombay to Calcutta, she traveled in a reserved compartment – not a very likely place to look for a nationalist – and was accompanied by a bearer who was skilled in the art of piloting English tourists. . . . Before reaching Calcutta, moreover, she changed from the express to a slow cross-country train. The Boses, meanwhile, had taken a different route Backto India.
Arrived in Bagh Bazar, Nivedita retained her incognito for more than three weeks. None of the policemen who watched the comings and going of the sisters of the school was interested in her. An American disciple, Devamata, had come to help Christine, and when she arrived her presence alarmed the police. “Are you Sister Nivedita?” they demanded. “No!” she replied. As Christine was the other Sister, this sufficed. Nivedita’s fashionable disguise aroused no suspicions! It permitted her to walk about the town without any trouble, and to re-establish contact with the circles she had left.
She had indeed returned to turmoil and trouble. The “Ali-pore conspiracy” had been discovered two months before-money, books, tracts, bundles of pamphlets printed in Paris and the United States, arms and explosives – in a house which belonged to the family of Barindra Ghose. Arrests in number had been made, there were long-drawn-out trials, and a program of raids and repression has been answered by bomb-throwings in the towns. Nivedita learned that her faithful friend Barindra Ghose had been condemned to death. He was twenty-six years old.
He had been regarded by the judges as one of the mainsprings of the conspiracy, having preached the gospel of independence from district to district, and having organized a system of recruitment for a band of impressionable youths who were imbued with the principles of discipline, patriotism, and self-negation, and ready to sacrifice their lives. Although he had been bom in England, he refused to be tried as a British subject. His further crimes of having founded the Yugantar and other secret societies, and having distributed arms, caused less surprise than his spontaneous confession “giving the most damning evidence of the plot. He had contrived the scheme, designed the means, and inspired the work.”
The sentence of death upon Barindra Ghose, and upon Ullaskar Dutt, who was also condemned, was not carried out, and at the end of a year it was changed to transportation, for life, to the Andaman Islands. Barindra was released after fourteen years. Aurobindo Ghose, meanwhile, was acquitted after one year of preventive arrest. Of the thirty-four people tried, some fifteen were given severe sentences.
Returning to this situation, Nivedita found that most of her friends had disappeared, some of them under heavy sentences in fortress or prison. Tilak, with his six years’ term, was one of the latter, and Nivedita kept up a regular correspondence with him through the editor of his paper, the Mahratta, who visited the prison every week. Others of her friends were hiding in the jungle or fleeing farther afield. She felt broken not only for them but for the weakening of the movement through the loss of its leaders.
Even the Belur Monastery was menaced, under suspicion of harboring political exiles. It was rumored that after the Alipore trial two notorious revolutionaries whose cases had been dismissed, Devavrata Bose and Sachindranath, had become probationer monks. The government protested and put a police cordon around the monastery, which was not removed for several years.
It was undeniable that several conspirators had been wearing the ocher-yellow robe when they were caught It was also well known that the crowd instinctively associated the renunciation of the exile with that ot the sadhu and protected the former through the anonymous disguise of the pilgrim and the sanctuary of the inviolable temples. Every sannyasin came under suspicion. Twice Swami Brahmananda had to defend his spiritual sons and the integrity of his organization. He alone was aware of the tremendous vocation felt by the new recruits. He was deaf to the threats of the police but tightened the rules of the Order so as to protect himself. No layman was allowed to enter the monastery. All the monks’ external activities were suppressed, except their missions of charity. When the news of Nivedita’s return spread, Brahmananda had the Calcutta dailies repeat the publication of the independence of her work.
Aurobindo Ghose was now out of prison, and Nivedita had her school decorated, as for the most auspicious festival days, to celebrate his release. She found him completely transformed. His piercing eyes seemed to devour the tight-drawn skin-and-bones ot his face. He possessed an irresistible power, derived from a spiritual revelation that had come to him in prison. During the entire ordeal he had seen before him nothing but the Lord Krishna: Krishna the adored and adorable, the essence of Brahman, the Absolute in the sphere of relativity: the Lord Krishna had become at the same time prisoner, jailer, and judge. Long afterward Sri Aurobindo described, in a letter, this period of his life:
I was carrying on my yoga during these days, learning to do so in the midst of much noise and clamor, but apart and in silence… My sadhana (spiritual practice) before and afterward was not founded on books, but upon personal experience that crowded from within. In the jail I had the G/taand the Upanishads with me, practised the Yoga of the Gita, and meditated with the help of the Upanishads. I sometimes turned to the Gita for light when there was a question of difficulty, and usually received help, or an answer, from it. – . . I was constantly hearing the Voice of Viveka-nanda speaking to me for a fortnight in the jail in my solitary meditation, and felt his presence.
Now, released from prison, Aurobindo Ghose found his party discouraged and downcast With a mere handful of supporters – Nivedita among them – he launched an appeal and tried to rekindle the patriotic spark in a weakening society. His misson was now that of a yogin sociologist.
The two newspapers which he founded – the Karma-Yogin in English and the Dharma in Bengali, both violent in tone-preached this lofty aim, which the Karma-Yogin, appearing on June 19th, 1909, was the first to define:
… The life of the nation, which once flowed in a broad and single stream, has long been divided into a number of separate meagre and shallow channels. The two main floods have followed the paths of religion and politics, but they have flowed separately. . . . We shall deal with all sources of national strength in the past and in the present, seeking to bring them home to all comprehensions and make them applicable to our life, dynamic and not static, creative and not merely preservative. . . .
Economic and political news of the svadeshi, the regroupings in Bengal, Gokhale’s efforts in the opposition party, Nivedita’s easily recognized articles, information about exiled nationalists and deportees – all this was joined and mingled with Aurobindo Ghose’s spiritual teaching. He was already known as the “seer/” Sri Aurobindo, although still involved in political life, and as yet not manifested to his future disciples on the spiritual path. For Nivedita he was the expression of life itself, the life of a new seed grown on the ancient soil of India, the logical and passionate development of all her guru’s teaching. Aurobindo
Ghose acknowledged Sri Ramakrishna, “Whom many would call a madman/’ he said, “a man without intellectual training, without any outward sign o£ culture or civilization, who lived on the alms of others – such a man was sent by God to Bengal, to the temple of Dakshinesvar, and the East and the West. The educated men, men who were the pride of the university, who had studied all that Europe can teach, came to fall at the feet of this ascetic. The work of salvation, the work of raising India, was begun.” He said, again: “The work is far from finished, it is not even understood. That which Vivekananda received and strove to develop has not yet materialized.”
Aurobindo’s open and logical method of presenting his own spiritual experience, and revealing the divine message he had received in his solitary meditation, created the necessary unity between his past life of action and his future spiritual discipline. He said: ‘When I first approached God, I hardly had a living faith in Him. . . . Then in the seclusion of the jail I prayed, T do not know what work to do or how to do it Give a message/ Then words came: ‘I have given you a work, and it is to help to uplift this nation. … I am raising up this nation to send forth My word. … It is Shakti that has gone forth and entered into the people. Long since, I have been preparing this uprising and now the time has come, and it is I who will lead it to its fulfillment!”
Nivedita thought she could still hear the voice of Swami Vivekananda stirring up the masses: “Arise, sons of India! Awake!” That had been the first phase of the struggle. Now this life-giving cry was repeated differently, because the effort required in the changing circumstances was no longer identical; but the source of it was still the same! Now the new order was that every individual should become a sadhaka of the nation – a seeker – so that “the One could find Himself and manifest Himself in every human being, in all humanity.” Aurobindo Ghose was throwing out the first ideas of the integral yoga he was to teach, depicting man in his cosmic reality. At the same time in the Transvaal there was another young leader, named Gandhi, practicing with thousands of Hindus the doctrine of passive resistance. Was Aurobindo Ghose to become the leader of another movement of collective consciousness? No, his mission was of a different nature. He was, as Nivedita understood him, the successor to the spiritual Masters of the past, offering the source of his inspiration for all to drink from in yogic solitude. Since his imprisonment at Alipore, Aurobindo Ghose was no longer a fighter, but a yogi.
The Karma-Yogin ran to thirty-nine issues. The twenty-ninth had just left the presses when news came of fresh persecutions which directly threatened the paper. The government had evidently taken offense at Aurobino’s attitude, and at that of the group of patriots who sat under his leadership in Sukumar Mitra’s house in College Street, his temporary quarters, where Nivedita was a frequent visitor. The full scope of Aurobindo’s vision was revealed in long conversations there, and made the listeners gape with astonishment
One day Nivedita was warned by a young friend that the Criminal Investigation Department intended to deport Aurobindo Ghose. She passed on the information to him immediately, through the usual network of runners.* Although he replied by publishing a letter to allay the government’s fears, other incidents which suddenly developed made it necessary for him to quit his post He left in response to a divine order which he could not ignore, and he placed his paper in Nivedita’s hands.
When she received Aurobindo’s hasty message asking her to edit the Karma-Yogin in his stead, and when she realized that he had gone, she meditated for a long while, so as to keep her sang-froid and to understand how the nationalist movement was collapsing about her. The present was repeating the past: again she had the task of another to finish, and the same wave of power, in the same direction. But this time the task was short. For her it was also the last episode of the great epic in which she had lived for ten years – the independence of India, her guru’s dream, the guiding thread of his life. Now it was all being carried away. “Hari Om Tat Sat. . . She was, after all,
There are several versions of how and when Nivedita warned Sri Aurobindo. We give here her own story.
only an instrument. But in the evening, on the edge of the Ganges where she had gone with Gonen Naharaj-the novice at her service – she sat crying by the waters. That very night Auro-bindo Ghose had left for Chandemagor. The stars reflected in the great river were like so many beacons of hope. She felt convinced that this failure in the growth of national consciousness would produce, some day, perhaps within a lifetime, a victory from apparent ruin.
Nivedita was entirely responsible for the final numbers of KarmaYogin. Among extracts from Swami Vivekananda’s lectures she inserted many articles of her own over Aurobindo Ghose’s signature, as well as the last two chapters of The Ideal of Karma-Yogin, which she wrote as a precise summing-up of the yogi’s teaching. No one suspected. In the thirty-sixth number, dated March 12th, 1910, she published her credo. This prayer was really her will: her renunciation of all political life. She had composed it as she drew for her pupils the flag of free India – two gold vrajas in the shape of a cross, on a red background.
I believe that India is one, indissoluble, indivisible. National Unity is built on the common home, the common interest, and the common love.
I believe that the strength which spoke in the Vedas and Upanishads, in the making of religions and empires, in the learning of scholars and the meditation of the saints, is bom once more amongst us, and its name today is Nationality.
I believe that the present of India is deep-rooted in her past, and that before her shines a glorious future.
O Nationality, come thou to me as joy or sorrow, as honor or as shame! Make me thine own!
Although Nivedita kept a firm hand on the reins, as editor of the KarmaYogin, the absence of Aurobindo Ghose began to cause uneasiness. It was rumored that he was a prisoner of the English. It was also rumored that he had gone abroad to enlist support. Other tongues accused him of having deserted his followers and changed his tactics. In her paper’s last number but one, Nivedita published the following announcement:
We were greatly astonished to learn from the local press that Sj. Aurobindo Ghose had disappeared from Calcutta, and is now interviewing the Mahatmas in Tibet! We are ourselves unaware of this mysterious disappearance. As a matter of fact, Sri Aurobindo is in our midst, and if he is doing any astral business with Kuthumi or any of the other great Riskis, the fact is unknown to his other Roshas [bodies]. Only as he requires perfect solitude and freedom from disturbance for his sadhana for some time, his address is being kept a strict secret. This is the only foundation for the remarkable rumor which the vigorous imagination of a local contemporary has set floating. For similar reasons he is unable to engage in journalistic works, and Dharma has been entrusted to other hands.
Another number of the Karma-Yogin appeared on the second of April. A week later, Nivedita learned that Aurobindo Ghose had reached Pondicherry and had found a refuge there. A few of his most faithful followers, who were to become his disciples, had joined him there by another route.* The following day Nivedita, with her usual biting irony, told the English press where the Nationalist leader really was.
Nivedita’s task was accomplished, completely and faithfully. But the strength that had been given her to perform it was abruptly withdrawn. Suddenly she felt herself so weak that she hardly had a thought which was her own. Then she fell Backon her Divine Mother. She had laid down the burden that had been placed upon her.
With Aurobindo Ghose gone, she remained alone, confident in her guru and his vision. “Margot, go ahead – always” Swami Vivekananda had told her. “Some day you will know peace and freedom. . . . And Mother India will know victory. . .
That was the humble beginning of the “Sri Aurobindo Ashram” which has today 899 sadhakas. Since the death of Sri Aurobindo, as a memorial for the development of his work, an International University center was opened in April, 1951, to students from all over the world.