The Passing of Sri Aurobindo

The Passing of Sri Aurobindo

Two hours after Sri Aurobindo’s passing, the Mother announced the news

to the Ashram inmates at 3.30 a.m. on 5 December.

The news spread quickly, and was flashed at once all over the world. Sri Aurobindo’s

body was to lie in state till noon, and the Ashram gates were to be

thrown open to enable all to pay their homage to the Mahayogi.

While Pondicherry was stunned by the news, the sadhaks were

overwhelmed by a sudden sense of desolation. It was as though a

fathomless zero was flung across the world.

Leaders and savants who had known Sri Aurobindo and those who had only

followed his career from a distance or had merely read his works, all

were equally shaken by the news that came over the air in the morning.

The President of India, Rajendra Prasad, said in the course of the

statement that he issued: “India will worship and enshrine his memory

and place him in the pantheon of its greatest seers and prophets.” The

Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, referred to Sri Aurobindo’s

“astonishing brilliance of mind” and described him as “one of the

greatest minds of our generation”. The news took Sardar Vallabhbhai

Patel’s mind to the “very beginnings of our struggle for freedom”. Dr.

C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar saw in Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual life “a

reduplication of the quest and the askesis of the Buddha and other

apostles of humanity”. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, then India’s ambassador

in Russia, described Sri Aurobindo as “the greatest intellectual of

our age and a major force for the life of the spirit”. Numberless were

such tributes, and they had the ring of spontaneity; many were wrung

from the heart, many emanated from a genuine appreciation of the poet,

the patriot, the philosopher, or the great sage of Pondicherry.

Sri Aurobindo’s disciples and close associates, of course, could

hardly recover from “the impact of the event and formulate their

reactions. For instance, S. Doraiswami Aiyar could merely say: “I have

been shaken out of my foundations

* The last three lines were one of the three passages dictated last by

Sri Aurobindo as additions to Savitri. The autobiographical slant is


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to grasp the significance of what is apparently the greatest tragedy

to humanity at this critical juncture in its history.” Dr. R.

Vaidyanathaswami remarked that “to the devotees and sadhaks, in the

Ashram and outside it, he had been their Rocks of Refuge, and the

world without him would lose its brightness”.

An English disciple, Morwenna Donnelly, recorded in great anguish of

spirit: Faced by this event, I felt that for the first time I could

understand a little of that desolation of spirit which the followers

of Jesus must have endured between the terrible Friday and the evening

of the ‘first day of the week’.

Jesus had warned his followers that his Kingdom was not of the earth,

and Sri Aurobindo too had often warned his disciples not to visualise

the promised Supramental descent in their own convenient mental terms.

What Jesus had said to “doubting Thomas” was pertinent still: Be not

faithless but believing!

Some disciples who were poets as well were able to invoke out of the

fiery ordeal of their agony itself the “marvel bird” of ever-living

love and gratitude and hope. Thus one of them, the Ceylonese-born J.


Are we sad today? Is the earth dark without light?

Nay, Master, Thou didst not live in vain

Thy life sublime and austere was not spent

For nought…. Holding to the hem

Of Thy garment we shall raise ourselves

To High Heaven, by Thy Grace, if not now

In some distant age, and once again

We shall behold Thee, O Master,

Shining with ever greater lustre, shining

Like the Sun, but unafraid we shall reach Thee

And touch Thee, and be burnt in the Fire

Of Thy love.

By 5 a.m., Sri Aurobindo’s body covered in spotless white silk was

laid in state on a cot, itself covered in pure white, in the room he

had occupied for over 23 years. A painting of the Buddha from Ajanta

adorned the eastern wall, and the whole room was strewn with flowers.

The Ashram inmates had darshan first, between five and six; then the

people of Pondicherry and others who had come from outside filed past

silently and in the most orderly manner possible and paid their

respects to the almost mythical Person who had made Pondicherry his

home for a period of forty years.

Although it was intended at first that the body should be interred in

the Ashram compound in the afternoon, the preparations were suddenly

stopped, and late in the evening an announcement was made conveying

the decision to postpone the interment:

The funeral of Sri Aurobindo has not taken place today. His body is

charged with such a concentration of Supramental light that there is

no sign of decomposition

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and the body will be kept lying on his bed so long as it remains intact.

By evening over 60,000 people, young and old, had queued past the

sublime Master – their eyes dimmed with tears and their visible grief

one with the spontaneous and solemn silence. For everyone -for almost

everyone of the sixty thousand – it was a unique moment, a moment

abstracted out of the stream of time when eternity was made out of the

moment. Each took the burden of his (or her) own personality, carried

his own inner climate of the soul; and the figure of the Purusha lying

in the ananta-śayanam posture affected each a little differently

perhaps, yet it was also on the whole a cleansing, cathartic and

chastening experience for most.

One of the inmates, Dara (Aga Syed Ibrahim), had a singular experience

that morning when he walked past Sri Aurobindo’s body lying on the cot

in its snow-white background:

I found myself in Sri Aurobindo’s own room by the side of his cot. He

seemed so peaceful and happy, and the flesh shone with a new lustre

which I had failed to see at the darśan  time on 24th November. Why

could I not see it before?… I could not take my eyes off his face

and arms. It seemed to me he was alive. It was certain that he was in

a condition of deep and upward soaring trance just then.76

Many others too had similar experiences. Between 1.30 a.m. and 7.30

p.m. was a stretch of eighteen hours, yet Sri Aurobindo’s body had not

only not shown any signs of decomposition, it had actually acquired a

new lustre and the radiant complexion of life! Death, where is thy

sting? Whose, then, is the Victory?

The Mother described the new lustre as the Supramental light, and

helped Dr. Sanyal also – who at first couldn’t – to see it: “a

luminous mantle of bluish golden hue around him.” And Sethna’s

portrait has almost an epiphanic quality: “Spiritually imperial – this

is the only description fitting the appearance of the body…. The

atmosphere of the room was vibrant with a sacred power to cleanse and

illumine, a power which appeared to emanate from the Master’s poise of

conquering rest and to invade the bodies of all the watchers… as

if… there came pouring down to humanity the life-transcending grace

of the Supermind.” On the 6th, more and more pilgrims – including M.

Andre Menard, the Commissioner for French Settlements in India – had

darśan  of the miracle of the living God in a lifeless body! It was

not simply the delay in the body’s decomposition; this was a superb

positive leap of revelation as well, the glow of the Golden Purusha in

majestic repose.

It was noteworthy that Sri Aurobindo’s passing moved deeply all

sections of the community throughout India. Officials and ministers of

the French India Government and of the Government of India in

Pondicherry were among those who paid their homage to the departed

Seer. Floral wreaths on behalf of the President of India and the Prime

Minister were placed before Sri Aurobindo. Telegrams from all corners

of the world poured in continually, and letters and messages piled up

in heaps. In West Bengal, a Government resolution described Sri

Aurobindo as

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“the greatest Bengali Seer and savant of recent times”, and as a mark

of respect to him all Government offices, courts and educational

institutions were ordered to remain closed for a day. In Bombay, the

share market, the bullion market, and other markets and many

institutions were closed on the fifth, and in Kanpur, Banaras, and

many other centres too there were similar closures as a mark of

respect to the great patriot who had become a Pilgrim of Eternity.

The press everywhere gave wide coverage to the event, and there were

well-informed as well as appreciative editorial tributes in most

papers. Among the best of these was the Hindu leading article on 6


The news of the sudden passing of Sri Aurobindo will be received with

profound sorrow throughout the civilised world. In an age of rampant

materialism incorruptible witnesses to the supremacy of the spirit are

none too many…. The seer of Pondicherry acknowledged no limits to

man’s capacity to realise the divine in himself, no inhibitions that

might militate against the harmony that alone could establish the rule

of righteousness on earth. He spoke with no provincial accent, nor did

he make dogmatic assertions that might have had the effect of

repelling open minds. His was a universal message and his marvellous

mastery of the written word helped to secure for it a respectful

hearing across the barriers of race and language. For Aurobindo the

prophet the unity of the human family in the Divine consciousness was

not merely a matter of faith, it was a goal to be realised.

A shining page in our history records his heroic part in the struggle

for Indian freedom. Nurtured on the English poets, his ardent nature

rallied early to the call of patriotism, spurning a life of elegant

ease. He brought to public life a burning eloquence, a power of

idealism and a dynamic leadership which roused the land from end to

end and destroyed that consent which had been the charter of


…it must be confessed that the very subtlety of his speculation and

the dazzling opulence ‘of its expression often combine to put off all

except the most hardy intellect and the most persevering will; nor

should it be forgotten that a philosophy that bases itself on the

integral apprehension of truth cannot be understood merely with the

discursive intellect. In insisting that philosophy is not merely ideas

that are talked about but experience that transforms, Sri Aurobindo

was in accord with age-long Indian tradition…. Sri Aurobindo taught

a doctrine which may be correctly regarded as not a negation but an

amplification of India’s immemorial teaching. And generations to come

will honour his memory as that of a great path-finder in the realm of

the spirit.

On the 7th morning the Mother issued a statement that was prayer and

benediction both:

Lord, this morning Thou hast given me the assurance that Thou wouldst

stay with us until Thy work is achieved, not only as a consciousness

which guides and illumines but also as a dynamic Presence in action.

In unmistakable terms

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Thou hast promised that all of Thyself would remain here and not leave

the earth atmosphere until earth is transformed. Grant that we may be

worthy of this marvellous Presence and that henceforth everything in

us be concentrated on the one Will to be more and more perfectly

consecrated to the fulfilment of Thy sublime Work.

At 8 a.m. the same day. Dr. Sanyal and two other physicians examined

Sri Aurobindo’s body 54 hours after life had become extinct, and

declared that the body was still intact showing no signs of

decomposition. This was certified also by Dr. Barbet, the Chief

Medical Officer of French India. Such of Sri Aurobindo’s disciples and

admirers that had come from outside – by car, train or plane – were

permitted to have darśan , but the inmates and the local people who

had already had darśan  on the 5th or the 6th were excluded. This

policy of selective darśan  was enforced on the 8th also.

For over three days Sri Aurobindo’s body had remained intact: the

golden tint had persisted: the eyes closed serenely had yet radiated

the Greater Life, not the extinction of life. Might it not be that Sri

Aurobindo intended to return to the body? On the 8th December, the

Mother asked Sri Aurobindo in their occult meeting place to

resuscitate, to return to life, but he answered, according to her

testimony: “I have left this body purposely. I will not take it back.

I shall manifest again in the first Supramental body built in the

Supramental way.” That seemed to be final; “the lack of receptivity of

the earth and men”, said the Mother on the 8th, “is mostly responsible

for the decision Sri Aurobindo has taken regarding the body”:

Hard is it to persuade earth-nature’s change;

Mortality bears ill the eternal’s touch.. ,77

But the world-redeemer must redeem the world even in spite of the

world, in spite of recalcitrant humanity:

The poison of the world has stained his throat….

He dies that the world may be new-born and live.78

On the 9th morning, after over 100 hours of Supramental sustenance,

the first signs of decomposition were noticed at last, and it was

decided to inter the body in the evening. The body was placed in a

gleaming rose-wood coffin made under Udar Pinto’s directions in the

Ashram Harpagon Workshop. The box was lined with silver and satin,

with a velvet cushion at the bottom. Sri Aurobindo’s body was covered

with a gold-embroidered cloth, and after India’s Consul-General in

French India, R.K. Tandon, had offered his homage, Champaklal covered

his beloved father’s face with a piece of white cloth, and the lid

carrying Sri Aurobindo’s symbol of the two intersecting triangles with

the water and lotus at the

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centre,* all in gold, was screwed on the coffin. It was then carried

by the sadhaks and laid in the cement concreted vault made ready in

the Ashram courtyard under the “service tree”, first planted in 1930,

with its now wide-ranging multiple branches, covering almost the whole

place and giving abundant shade and raining protective grace. The

coffin was placed in such a way that Sri Aurobindo’s head might still

be turned to the east, and concrete slabs soon covered the vault.

Floral wreaths were placed, and sadhaks – first Champaklal, then

Nolini, then the rest – placed potfuls of earth on the covered vault.

There was nothing credal or sectarian about the ceremony. Not a word

was spoken, there were no audible hymns or prayers, and no rites that

indicated adhesion to any particular religion. The enveloping silence

was, however, more eloquent and more profound than all the funeral

orations of the world. The scene, with the sun slowly setting, was

ineluctably symbolic of the happenings.

The Mother in her great silent strength of suffering watched the

solemn proceedings from upstairs, through a window overlooking the

courtyard. Now that her spiritual comrade and Divine co-worker of over

thirty-five years had chosen to withdraw from the scene, who could

weigh the Atlas weight of responsibility that now lay on her

shoulders? But, then, didn’t Sri Aurobindo anticipate it all – and

forewarn all – when he dictated just a few weeks before his passing:

A vast intention has brought two souls close

And love and death conspire towards one great end.79

Death, so-called “death”, was “a beginning of greater life”. Who could

say what the Divine intention was – what was “God’s secret plan”?

Alone, alone, seemingly alone in her immaculate solitariness, alone in

earth’s transforming hour, alone when the “soul of the world that is

Satyavan” is held to ransom by the Asuric hordes of the dark, the

hideous spectres of a possible nuclear war, what was to be the

Mother’s role in the context of December 1950? Again, hadn’t Sri

Aurobindo divined and even created her predicament and also prescribed

her course of action in the great passage in Savitri dictated almost

as the last thing he did as a poet with the vision and the voice


As a star, uncompanioned, moves in heaven

Unastonished by the immensities of space,

Travelling infinity by its own light,

The great are strongest when they stand alone….

A day may come when she must stand unhelped

On a dangerous brink of the world’s doom and hers,

* In Sri Aurobindo’s symbol, the descending triangle represents

Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence – Conscious-Force – Bliss), the ascending

triangle stands for the aspiration from the lower material existence

under the form of Life – Light – Love. The junction of both (the

central square) is the perfect Manifestation – the water is

multiplicity or creation and the Lotus at the centre is the Avatar of

the Supreme.

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Carrying the world’s future on her lonely breast,

Carrying the human hope in a heart left sole

To conquer or fail on a last desperate verge.

Alone with death and close to extinction’s edge,

Her single greatness in that last dire scene,

She must cross alone a perilous bridge in Time

And reach an apex of world-destiny

Where all is won or all is lost for man. …

For this the silent Force came missioned down;

In her the conscious Will took human shape:

She only can save herself and save the world.80

At last, “immobile in herself, the Mother gathered force, and gave the

world the mantra of renewal, the Mother’s hymn of gratitude to the

Master in the name and on behalf of all the world and all humanity:

To THEE who hast been the material envelope of our Master, to THEE our

infinite gratitude. Before THEE who hast done so much for us, who hast

worked, struggled, suffered, hoped, endured so much, before THEE who

hast willed all, attempted all, prepared, achieved all for us, before

THEE we bow down and implore that we may never forget, even for a

moment, all we owe to THEE.

For days and weeks following, Sri Aurobindo’s closest disciples and

most devoted admirers continued to speculate regarding the meaning of

the mystic holocaust or self-immolation if such it was. The retention

by the body of its natural complexion – if anything the Golden Purusha

only more golden – and of its natural tight organic formation puzzled

many, not least the medical men. Was it not a reversal of Nature’s Law

that Sri Aurobindo’s body – under tropical conditions too, and without

the induction of drugs or special conditions – should have defied

decomposition for over 100 hours, and reposed “in a grandeur of

victorious quiet, with thousands upon thousands having darśan  of

it?”81 Neither everyday experience nor medical science would give even

half that much time as the outside limit for a body in the tropics to

resist decomposition after death. And then, – the sustained glow, the

supernal calm, the gracious mien! Did all that drama of immitigable

death and radiant transcendence mean nothing? Was it not more than –

at best – a freak of nature?

“Withdrawal, the great withdrawal!”, they said – but hadn’t Sri

Aurobindo’s life been a whole series of withdrawals? While yet young

in years, he was withdrawn from his home to the residential school in

Darjeeling, and then from India to England. Having qualified for the

I.C.S. (the “heaven-born” Service), he manoeuvred to withdraw from it;

having risen high in the Baroda Service and become Acting Principal of

the Baroda College, he withdrew from that prison of affluent security

and plunged into the maelstrom of politics and revolution; at the

height of his influence after Surat, he withdrew to a quietude of

Nirvanic calm in

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a small room in Baroda – then Narayana withdrew him to the Alipur jail

so that he could continue his sādhanā  – and still later Sri Aurobindo

withdrew from politics altogether and proceeded from Calcutta to

Chandernagore, and from Chandernagore to Pondicherry; and there,

having won height after height of realisation and accomplished the

God’s Labour of the Arya, he withdrew to complete silence on 24

November 1926; and now, in December 1950, this climactic withdrawal

from the body itself! Weren’t the several withdrawals so many

strategic retreats that were really purposive forced marches, each

“withdrawal” merely signifying that one more phase of his campaign of

conquest was over and another, in another but related field, had begun

? Why, then, regret the “great withdrawal” of 5 December 1950?

Or one reviewed Sri Aurobindo’s divers roles on the terrestrial stage;

a Kacha mastering an alien lore in England but rejecting the

blandishments of Devayani; a young Augustus at Baroda, imposing his

empire on the “realms of gold”; a Perseus or Prometheus of ‘Bhavani

Mandir’; an Arjuna surrendered to Krishna at Alipur; a Vyasa doing a

neo-Mahabharata in the Arya, a neo-Vishvamitra giving us a new Gayatri

in The Mother; a Yogishwara Krishna doubled with a Yogishwara Shiva

playing an invisible hand in world happenings; and on 5 December 1950,

“The Last Great Act of drawing off the ‘halahala’ that his own

Mahakala action had precipitated out of the cosmic ferment”.82

Or one tried to find solace in the classical symbol of the seed dying

to give life to plant or tree. The whole rhythm of existence upon

earth – life and birth and growth and death was a mystery. And the

greater mystery at the heart of phenomenal life was the miracle of

resurrection following the shock of the crucifixion. Nolini Kanta

Gupta said some time after the event:

He has done it: he has made Nature take the final leap. The mental

being with its triple node is at last bundled up and cast into the

Supramental status. As he saw and assured us.

A seed shall be sown in Death’s tremendous hour…

Nature shall overleap her mortal step –

the formed seed is now in the womb developing fast and sure, it awaits

the moment to break out into the light of material and universal


There was a “death” certainly, and there was a phenomenon surpassing

our notions of “death”. The death was unnecessary because, had Sri

Aurobindo been willing to use his Yogic force as he had done on former

occasions, the “disease” couldn’t have made headway and proved mortal.

Not age, not disease, not just these; death was suffered, it was

almost invited. But why? There must have been a capital reason; not a

personal reason, but a cosmic reason – what was it? What was it Sri

Aurobindo hoped to achieve – or avert – by making his tremendous

assignation with the Night?

Since coming to Pondicherry, the whole aim of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga was to

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bring the Supermind here into our world, and make it a part of the

earth-consciousness, as ‘Life’ and ‘Mind’ already are. When, during

his interview on 4 February 1943, Dilip asked Sri Aurobindo, “Is your

real work this invocation of the Supramental?” the Master answered

very simply, “Yes, I have come for that.”84 If that was the cardinal

purpose of Sri Aurobindo’s avatarhood and ministry on earth, anything

he did – including his “self-immolation” – must have had a close

connection with that fundamental objective. Even in 1938, the Mother

used to see the Supermind descending into Sri Aurobindo, but it

couldn’t be settled for good in the earth-consciousness, especially in

the physical or the physical mind. In the series of articles included

in The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth, Sri Aurobindo introduced,

as we have seen earlier, the “realm between” – the Mind of Light – a

limited or delegated power of the Supermind; and we have the Mother’s

word – reinforced by the experience of the Supramental radiance from

his body from 5th to 8th December – that “as soon as Sri Aurobindo

withdrawal from his body, what he called the Mind of Light got

realised here”. Was it, perhaps, necessary for Sri Aurobindo to

receive the full force of the Supermind in the physical, retain it for

a few days, so that the way might be cleared for the ultimate

Supramentalisation of the earth and man?

It is the mark of the ‘gentleman’ that he would suffer himself, rather

than inflict pain on others or even see them suffer. According to

Nirod, Sri Aurobindo was a “Supramental perfect gentleman”, and had a

magnanimity of the kind described in the lines –

A magnanimity as of sea or sky

Enveloped with its greatness all that came.

And it is of Shiva most that Sri Aurobindo reminded Nirod!85 And

Yogiswara Shiva, what was his role in world-existence:

A dreadful cord of sympathy can tie

All suffering into his single grief and make

All agony in all the worlds his own….

The poison of the world has stained his throat.86

If he could himself invite and absorb – even at the cost of

surrendering the material envelope that was his body – the first full

impact of the Supramental descent (as Shiva received the impact of

Ganga cascading in a downpour on the earth), both to make sure of the

descent and to contain and consolidate the gains for the world, why;’

certainly he would do it – as Shiva drank the poison and yet contained

it in his throat! If the victory could be won somewhere somewhen by

somebody, it would become possible ultimately for anybody to win it

anywhere. To open the Possibility was the main thing. And the

sacrifice of his body, as the first physical base for the

demonstration of the Supramental possibility — if that could advance

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the date of the total descent of the Supramental light, or ensure the

near descent — well, the sacrifice was worth making. Since, after all,

even without his physical presence, he would be here, one with the

Mother’s consciousness and power, he could also accelerate, witness

and participate in the decreed Divine manifestation upon earth.

“A meditative silence reigned in the Ashram for twelve days after the

passing of the beloved Master,” writes Rishabhchand; “then the normal

activities began, but with a striking difference. One felt a pervading

Presence in the Ashram atmosphere. .. ,”87 On 14 December the Mother

half-admonished the sadhaks: “To grieve is an insult to Sri Aurobindo

who is here with us, conscious and alive.” And on 18 January 1951, she

gave a firmer assurance still:

We stand in the Presence of Him who has sacrificed his physical life

in order to help more fully his work of transformation.

He is always with us, aware of what we are doing, of all our thoughts,

of all our feelings and all our actions.

The Samadhi itself, visited daily by hundreds in an attitude of

devotion and prayer, seemed to testify to the reality of Sri

Aurobindo’s continued Presence, bathed in the life-giving rays of the

Everlasting Day. In Nirodbaran’s inspired language:

Out of his Samadhi, a thousand flames seem to be mounting up and,

lodged in our soul, burning in an ever rejuvenating fire, while His

Presence enveloping and merging with and radiating from the Mother’s

being and body is pervading the whole atmosphere. One can see His

Presence, hear his footfalls, his rhythmic voice, ever vigilant,

devoid of the encumbrance of the physical body.88

Still Nirod hears the Master’s whisper, “lam here, I am here”, and

with the ear of faith we can hear the words too.

The mystic realisation of his presence in our midst – for his

nectarean presence and beneficence is not confined to the Samadhi

environs or even the Ashram alone – is the Promise of preservation,

liberation and transformation to humanity poised perilously on the

edge of the precipice: the deep Abyss on one side, the steep ascent to

truth on the other. In this phoenix hour, the hour of the unexpected,

when the Asuric and Divine forces are fighting the battle of man’s

future – the battle of Satyavan the Soul of the World – Sri Aurobindo

gives us the all-sufficing Word that his coming will not have been in

vain, that his ministry, “Sri Aurobindo’s Action”, is as pauseless and

potent as ever.

Come, O Creator Spirit, come,

And make within our hearts thy home;

To us thy grace celestial give,

Who of thy breathing move and love.89

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