AMIT SHAH PONDICHERRY
Union Home and Cooperation Minister, Amit Shah addressing at the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Sri Aurobindo, in Puducherry on Sunday. Image Credit: ANI

By an extraordinary turn of events, India’s Minister for Home Affairs, Amit Shah, was present in Pondicherry (now Puducherry) to inaugurate the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) organised by Sri Aurobindo Society.

Along with the Lt. Governor of Puducherry, Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan and Chief Minister, N Rangasamy, Government of Puducherry, many other dignitaries were present. The event was held in the auditorium of the Pondicherry University, whose Vice-Chancellor, Professor Gurmeet Singh, was also in attendance. India@75 and Sri Aurobindo@150 is never before never after concurrence.

Another happy convergence was that the day marked the 101st anniversary of Mirra Alfassa’s final arrival in Pondicherry on April 24th, 1920. Alfassa, a remarkable and charismatic lady of Egyptian-Jewish-French descent, settled in India as Aurobindo’s partner and successor, coming to be known universally as “The Mother.” The Mother was an artist, occultist, and spiritual leader of outstanding talents.

She was not only an inspiring head of a growing organisation, with multiple departments, that the Sri Aurobindo Ashram turned into, but she also founded the Sri Aurobindo Society and a new international city, Auroville.

Forefront of innovation

Pondicherry, which was a French territory, has a culture and flavour which is somewhat different from the rest of India. Because of Sri Aurobindo, the Mother, and their conjoint legacy, it continues to be in the forefront of innovation and thought leadership in a multiple areas of human endeavour.

What was special about the Indian Home Minister’s address was his observation that though the Constitution of India was the most revered charter of India’s nationhood, if anyone wanted really to understand the soul of India, she or he would have to dive deeply into the work of Aurobindo.

It was Aurobindo who tried to define India’s role and function in the new world order that is emerging before our eyes. He did this in a variety of writings and documents in his long and active public life. But one of its most succinct summing up can be found in his Independence Day broadcast on the eve of August 15, 1947.

The first of his dreams was a “revolutionary movement which would create a free and united India”. Although realised only partially on Aurobindo's birthday given the Partition of India, it still signified political independence from imperial British rule. Aurobindo’s second dream was “the resurgence and liberation of the peoples of Asia and her return to her great role in the progress of human civilisation.”

There are many signs that indicate that the 21st will be an Asian century. It is for us in Asia to rise above the divisions and differences between Asian giants such as China, India, and Japan, as well as feuding neighbours such as Pakistan and India.

The third, fourth, and fifth dreams bear closer attention on our part. Aurobindo wanted presaged “a world-union forming the outer basis of a fairer, brighter and nobler life for all mankind,” with “the spiritual gift of India to the world,” and the final dream, “a step in evolution which would raise man to a higher and larger consciousness and begin the solution of the problems which have perplexed and vexed” us for aeons.

Fractious and fraught world situation

These may seem too idealistic given our fractious and fraught world situation, but the dream “of individual perfection and a perfect society” that humanity has harboured in its breast from the very beginning of our race cannot be erased. Some of these far-reaching evolutionary—some would say revolutionary ideas—are also available in his earlier works, The Human Cycle and the Ideal of Human Unity.

The 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Aurobindo also make us reflect on his idea of spiritual nationalism. This as Home Minister Shah hinted, is borderless.

In his famous “Uttarpara Speech” delivered after being released from a British Indian jail, Aurobindo said that the nation of Indians rises “for the world and not for themselves.” The freedom of India was “for the service of the world.” Some have interpreted this speech as a form of “Dharmic nationalism.”

But it is only when we ponder over his prophetic remarks in a non-sectarian manner that we see how non-chauvinistic they really are. That is when we begin to make the shift from the spirit of the nation to the nation of spirit.

The notion of the spirit nation highlights that beyond the pragmatic and commercial necessity of nations to coexist and collaborate, the destiny of humankind is to realise that it is one is spirit, even if its myriad individual constituents are markedly different in size, shape, colour, dress, customs, culture, food, and thought.

A material nation will have borders and boundaries, politicians and armies, but the nation of the mind, of thought, of intellect, more importantly, of the spirit, will encompass the whole world in its positive energy and message of oneness. Such a cosmopolitanism is much more well-grounded and long-lasting than one that is merely physical.

It is from such a point of view that India, a member of the United Nations Security Council and a respected member of the world community can play a constructive role in solving the Ukraine crisis.

This is a war that no one wants, neither the Ukrainians nor the Russians; neither the Americans nor the Europeans nor the Chinese. It is a war that hurts us all, regardless of which part of the world we live in.

Why shouldn’t a country like India call for a peace summit to try to resolve this crisis? The is the question that the spirit of India@75 Sri Aurobindo@150 and Mother’s arrival at Pondichery@101 inspires us to ask.

With the number of high-level talks that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has had with Presidents Biden, Putin, Macron, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited recently, and EU President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday, such a possibility does not seem entirely farfetched.