An Indian Philosopher, Yogi, Maharishi, Poet, and Indian Nationalist, a Journalist, Newspaper Editor
Education: Aurobindo studied for the Indian Civil Service at King's College, Cambridge, England.
Biography : Aurobindo Ghose was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata), Bengal Presidency, India on 15 August 1872 in a Bengali family that was associated with the village of Konnagar in the Hooghly district of present-day West Bengal. His father, Krishna Dhun Ghose, was then assistant surgeon of Rangpur in Bengal and later civil surgeon of Khulna, and a former member of the Brahmo Samaj religious reform movement who had become enamoured with the then-new idea of evolution while pursuing medical studies in Edinburgh. His mother Swarnalata Devi's father Shri Rajnarayan Bose was a leading figure in the Samaj. She had been sent to the more salubrious surroundings of Calcutta for Aurobindo's birth. Aurobindo had two elder siblings, Benoybhusan and Manmohan, a younger sister, Sarojini, and a younger brother, Barindra Kumar (also referred to as Barin).
Young Aurobindo was brought up speaking English, but used Hindustani to communicate with servants. Although his family were Bengali, his father believed British culture to be superior. He and his two elder siblings were sent to the English-speaking Loreto House boarding school in Darjeeling, in part to improve their language skills and in part to distance them from their mother, who had developed a mental illness soon after the birth of her first child. Darjeeling was a centre of Anglo-Indians in India and the school was run by Irish nuns, through which the boys would have been exposed to Christian religious teachings and symbolism.
He was arrested in the aftermath of a number of bomb outrages linked to his organization in a public trial where he faced charges of treason for Alipore Conspiracy. However Sri Aurobindo could only be convicted and imprisoned for writing articles against British colonial rule in India. He was released when no evidence could be provided, following the murder of a prosecution witness, Narendranath Goswami, during the trial. During his stay in the jail, he had mystical and spiritual experiences, after which he moved to Pondicherry, leaving politics for spiritual work.
At Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo developed a spiritual practice he called Integral Yoga. The central theme of his vision was the evolution of human life into a divine life in divine body. He believed in a spiritual realisation that not only liberated but transformed human nature, enabling a divine life on earth. In 1926, with the help of his spiritual collaborator, Mirra Alfassa (referred to as "The Mother"), Sri Aurobindo Ashram was founded.
His main literary works are The Life Divine, which deals with the philosophical aspect of Integral Yoga; Synthesis of Yoga, which deals with the principles and methods of Integral Yoga; and Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol, an epic poem.
Krishna Dhun Ghose wanted his sons to enter the Indian Civil Service (ICS), an elite organisation comprising around 1000 people. To achieve this it was necessary that they study in England and so it was there that the entire family moved in 1879. The three brothers were placed in the care of the Reverend W. H. Drewett in Manchester. Drewett was a minister of the Congregational Church whom Krishna Dhun Ghose knew through his British friends at Rangpur.
The boys were taught Latin by Drewett and his wife. This was a prerequisite for admission to good English schools and, after two years, in 1881, the elder two siblings were enrolled at Manchester Grammar School. Aurobindo was considered too young for enrolment, and he continued his studies with the Drewetts, learning history, Latin, French, geography and arithmetic. Although the Drewetts were told not to teach religion, the boys inevitably were exposed to Christian teachings and events, which generally bored Aurobindo and sometimes repulsed him. There was little contact with his father, who wrote only a few letters to his sons while they were in England, but what communication there was indicated that he was becoming less endeared to the British in India than he had been, on one occasion describing the British colonial government as "heartless".
Drewett immigrated to Australia in 1884, causing the boys to be uprooted as they went to live with Drewett's mother in London. In September of that year, Aurobindo and Manmohan joined St Paul's School there. He learned Greek and spent the last three years reading literature and English poetry, while he also acquired some familiarity with the German and Italian languages; Peter Heehs resumes his linguistic abilities by stating that at "the turn of the century he knew at least twelve languages: English, French, and Bengali to speak, read, and write; Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit to read and write; Gujarati, Marathi, and Hindi to speak and read; and Italian, German, and Spanish to read."Being exposed to the evangelical structures of Drewett's mother developed in him a distaste for religion, and he considered himself at one point to be an atheist but later determined that he was agnostic. A blue plaque unveiled in 2007 commemorates Aurobindo's residence at 49 St Stephen's Avenue in Shepherd's Bush, London, from 1884 to 1887. The three brothers began living in spartan circumstances at the Liberal Club in South Kensington during 1887, their father having experienced some financial difficulties. The Club's secretary was James Cotton, brother of their father's friend in the Bengal ICS, Henry Cotton.
By 1889, Manmohan had determined to pursue a literary career and Benoybhusan had proved himself unequal to the standards necessary for ICS entrance. This meant that only Aurobindo might fulfill his father's aspirations but to do so when his father lacked money required that he studied hard for a scholarship. To become an ICS official, students were required to pass the competitive examination, as well as to study at an English university for two years under probation. Aurobindo secured a scholarship at King's College, Cambridge, under recommendation of Oscar Browning. He passed the written ICS examination after a few months, being ranked 11th out of 250 competitors. He spent the next two years at King's College. Aurobindo had no interest in the ICS and came late to the horse-riding practical exam purposefully to get himself disqualified for the service. At this time, the Maharaja of Baroda, Sayajirao Gaekwad III, was travelling in England. Cotton secured for him a place in Baroda State Service and arranged for him to meet the prince. He left England for India, arriving there in February 1893. In India, Krishna Dhun Ghose, who was waiting to receive his son, was misinformed by his agents from Bombay (now Mumbai) that the ship on which Aurobindo had been travelling had sunk off the coast of Portugal. His father died upon hearing this news.
n Baroda, Aurobindo joined the state service in 1893, working first in the Survey and Settlements department, later moving to the Department of Revenue and then to the Secretariat, and much miscellaneous work like teaching grammar and assisting in writing speeches for the Maharaja of Gaekwad until 1897. In 1897 during his work in Baroda, he started working as a part-time French teacher at Baroda College (now Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda). He was later promoted to the post of vice-principal. At Baroda, Aurobindo self-studied Sanskrit and Bengali.
During his stay at Baroda, he had contributed to many articles to Indu Prakash and had spoken as a chairman of the Baroda college board. He started taking an active interest in the politics of the Indian independence movement against British colonial rule, working behind the scenes as his position in the Baroda state administration barred him from an overt political activity. He linked up with resistance groups in Bengal and Madhya Pradesh, while travelling to these states. Aurobindo established contact with Lokmanya Tilak and Sister Nivedita.
Aurobindo often travelled between Baroda and Bengal, at first in a bid to re-establish links with his parent's families and other Bengali relatives, including his sister Sarojini and brother Barin, and later increased to establish resistance groups across the Presidency. He formally moved to Calcutta in 1906 after the announcement of the Partition of Bengal. In 1901, on a visit to Calcutta, he married 14-year-old Mrinalini, the daughter of Bhupal Chandra Bose, a senior official in government service. Aurobindo was 28 at that time. Mrinalini died seventeen years later in December 1918 during the influenza pandemic.
In 1906, Aurobindo was appointed the first principal of the National College in Calcutta, started to impart national education to Indian youth. He resigned from this position in August 1907, due to his increased political activity. The National College continues to the present as Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
Aurobindo was influenced by studies on rebellion and revolutions against England in medieval France and the revolts in America and Italy. In his public activities, he favored Non-cooperation and Passive resistance; in private he took up secret revolutionary activity as a preparation for open revolt, in case that the passive revolt failed.
In Bengal, with Barin's help, he established contacts and inspired revolutionaries such as Bagha Jatin or Jatin Mukherjee and Surendranath Tagore. He helped establish a series of youth clubs, including the Anushilan Samiti of Calcutta in 1902.
Aurobindo attended the 1906 Congress meeting headed by Dadabhai Naoroji and participated as a counselor in forming the fourfold objectives of "Swaraj, Swadesh, Boycott, and national education". In 1907 at the Surat session of Congress where moderates and extremists had a major showdown, he led along with extremists along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The Congress split after this session. In 1907–1908 Aurobindo travelled extensively to Pune, Bombay and Baroda to firm up support for the nationalist cause, giving speeches and meeting with groups. He was arrested again in May 1908 in connection with the Alipore Bomb Case. He was acquitted in the ensuing trial, following the murder of chief prosecution witness Naren Goswami within jail premises, which subsequently led to the case against him collapsing. Aurobindo was subsequently released after a year of isolated incarceration.
Once out of the prison he started two new publications, Karmayogin in English and Dharma in Bengali. He also delivered the, Uttarpara Speech hinting at the transformation of his focus to spiritual matters. Repression from the British colonial government against him continued because of his writings in his new journals and in April 1910 Aurobindo moved to Pondicherry, where the British colonial secret police monitored his activities.
In July 1905 then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, partitioned Bengal. This sparked an outburst of public anger against the British, leading to civil unrest and a nationalist campaign by groups of revolutionaries that included Aurobindo. In 1908, Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki attempted to kill Magistrate Kingsford, a judge known for handing down particularly severe sentences against nationalists. However, the bomb thrown at his horse carriage missed its target and instead landed in another carriage and killed two British women, the wife and daughter of barrister Pringle Kennedy. Aurobindo was also arrested on charges of planning and overseeing the attack and imprisoned in solitary confinement in Alipore Jail. The trial of the Alipore Bomb Case lasted for a year, but eventually, he was acquitted on 6 May 1909. His defense counsel was Chittaranjan Das.
During this period in the Jail, his view of life was radically changed due to spiritual experiences and realizations. Consequently, his aim went far beyond the service and liberation of the country.
Aurobindo said he was "visited" by Vivekananda in the Alipore Jail: "It is a fact that I was hearing constantly the voice of Vivekananda speaking to me for a fortnight in the jail in my solitary meditation and felt his presence."
In his autobiographical notes, Aurobindo said he felt a vast sense of calmness when he first came back to India. He could not explain this and continued to have various such experiences from time to time. He knew nothing of yoga at that time and started his practice of it without a teacher, except for some rules that he learned from Ganganath, a friend who was a disciple of Brahmananda. In 1907, Barin introduced Aurobindo to Vishnu Bhaskar Lele, a Maharashtrian yogi. Aurobindo was influenced by the guidance he got from the yogi, who had instructed Aurobindo to depend on an inner guide and any kind of external guru or guidance would not be required.
In 1910 Aurobindo withdrew himself from all political activities and went into hiding at Chandannagar in the house of Motilal Roy, while the British colonial government were attempting to prosecute him for sedition on the basis of a signed article titled 'To My Countrymen', published in Karmayogin. As Aurobindo disappeared from view, the warrant was held back and the prosecution postponed. Aurobindo manoeuvred the police into open action and a warrant was issued on 4 April 1910, but the warrant could not be executed because on that date he had reached Pondicherry, then a French colony. The warrant against Aurobindo was withdrawn.
In Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo dedicated himself to his spiritual and philosophical pursuits. In 1914, after four years of secluded yoga, he started a monthly philosophical magazine called Arya. This ceased publication in 1921. Many years later, he revised some of these works before they were published in book form. Some of the book series derived out of this publication was The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, Essays on The Gita, The Secret of The Veda, Hymns to the Mystic Fire, The Upanishads, The Renaissance in India, War and Self-determination, The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity and The Future Poetry were published in this magazine.
At the beginning of his stay at Pondicherry, there were few followers, but with time their numbers grew, resulting in the formation of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1926. From 1926 he started to sign himself as Sri Aurobindo, Sri being commonly used as an honorific.
For some time afterwards, his main literary output was his voluminous correspondence with his disciples. His letters, most of which were written in the 1930s, numbered in the several thousand. Many were brief comments made in the margins of his disciple's notebooks in answer to their questions and reports of their spiritual practice—others extended to several pages of carefully composed explanations of practical aspects of his teachings. These were later collected and published in book form in three volumes of Letters on Yoga. In the late 1930s, he resumed work on a poem he had started earlier—he continued to expand and revise this poem for the rest of his life. It became perhaps his greatest literary achievement, Savitri, an epic spiritual poem in blank verse of approximately 24,000 lines.
On 15 August 1947, Sri Aurobindo strongly opposed the partition of India, stating that he hoped "the Nation will not accept the settled fact as forever settled, or as anything more than a temporary expedient."
Sri Aurobindo was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize without it being awarded, in 1943 for the Nobel award in Literature and in 1950 for the Nobel award in Peace.
Sri Aurobindo died on 5 December 1950. Around 60,000 people attended to see his body resting peacefully. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and the President Rajendra Prasad praised him for his contribution to Yogic philosophy and the independence movement. National and international newspapers commemorated his death.