Sunday, January 06, 2013

Ambivalence mires Sri Aurobindo

Ambivalence pertaining to Sri Aurobindo in the public mind persists for a plethora of reasons. Bengal renaissance is a lengthy and complex subject and the definitive role that Sri Aurobindo performed within it has not been fully examined. As a result, his place vis-à-vis other eminent actors is yet to stabilize even after a century. The second reason relates to the Congress politics and its distorted portrayal by the historians. Value of Sri Aurobindo’s contribution is judged depending upon one’s sympathy for either faction of the then Congress Party. The third cause ensues form his reformulation of a metaphysics that is at variance with the received interpretations of Indian Philosophy. Closely allied to it, his tweaking of the established Vedic ritualism by a symbolic hermeneutic, too, continues to confuse scholars and believers alike.

The fourth reason is a sensitive one as Sri Aurobindo, along with The Mother, has categorically denied of subscribing to any specific Religion. Related to this is his status of a competitor with a large number of other Spiritual Gurus. The fifth one stems from his deep engagement with the West. Besides his education, his writings are so steeped in inputs from the Western tradition that Indian readers feel frustrated. Even his poems and plays are overlooked for the same reason. Sixthly, although Sri Aurobindo is described as a nationalist and freedom fighter, his subsequent socio-political writings lean more towards Internationalism and Human Unity. This prevents many to accept him as a true patriot.

Last but not the least, conflicting claims as to his being an ideological progenitor of the Hindutva doctrine has cost Sri Aurobindo dearly in the short run. Sentences culled from his writings without context on controversial topics like Hindu-Muslim antipathy or Congress politics and Gandhi etc. circulate so widely that they prejudice people on a large scale. Since it’s not easy for many to refer to original writings, the misrepresentations and the resulting misunderstandings tend to crystallize. Moreover, a hostile biography by an American inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry has put the proverbial nail in the coffin. [TNM55]     

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