For the disciples of Sri Aurobindo, 15 August is when they celebrate India’s Independence Day and their guru’s birthday. It’s a joyous moment seeped in meditation and the singing of Vande Mataram.
August 15th is my own birthday and it is naturally gratifying to me that it should have assumed this vast significance. I take this coincidence, not as a fortuitous accident, but as the sanction and seal of the Divine Force that guides my steps on the work with which I began life, the beginning of its full fruition. Indeed, on this day I can watch almost all the world-movements which I hoped to see fulfilled in my lifetime, though then they looked like impracticable dreams, arriving at fruition or on their way to achievement. In all these movements free India may well play a large part and take a leading position.
This was what Sri Aurobindo, India’s leading philosopher, guru, poet and nationalist said when India gained Independence on 15 August 1947. For Sri Aurobindo, it was a gift from the almighty, since he was born on the same day in 1872.
Followers and disciples of Sri Aurobindo celebrate 15 August in a special way, as their guru’s birthday and India’s Independence Day. “Sri Aurobindo used the occasion of Indian Independence Day to spell his five dreams for the country. The guru was of the view that the Independence Day was a gift given to him,” says Dr Alok Pandey, who edits NAMAH, a journal of integral health published by Sri Aurobindo International Institute for Integral Health and Research.
Sri Aurobindo was concerned that what was a free India wasn’t a united one. He was always for a unified India or Akhand Bharat. “That was the first of his five dreams. Global unity and other things were dreams that followed the first one,” says Dr Pandey, an army doctor, who shifted to Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 2003. Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) had this to say about his first dream for India:
The first of these dreams was a revolutionary movement which would create a free and united India. India today is free but she has not achieved unity. At one moment it almost seemed as if in the very act of liberation she would fall back into the chaos of separate States which preceded the British conquest. But fortunately it now seems probable that this danger will be averted and a large and powerful, though not yet a complete union will be established... But the old communal division into Hindus and Muslims seems now to have hardened into a permanent political division of the country. It is to be hoped that this settled fact will not be accepted as settled for ever or as anything more than a temporary expedient. For if it lasts, India may be seriously weakened, even crippled: civil strife may remain always possible, possible even a new invasion and foreign conquest. India’s internal development and prosperity may be impeded, her position among the nations weakened, her destiny impaired or even frustrated. This must not be; the partition must go…
Sri Aurobindo’s words have proved to be true to this day. So, no surprises why his disciples hold him in such high esteem and celebrate his birthday in the best way they know.
The other four dreams of Sri Aurobindo were: resurgence and liberation of Asia and return of the continent’s role in the progress of human civilisation; unification of the human world through a movement; spreading far and wide India’s spirituality across Europe and America; and finally a step in evolution that would raise man to a higher and larger state of consciousness and create a perfect society.
Sri Aurobindo had withdrawn from public life and confined himself to his room since 1926. Therefore, for the ashram residents, 15 August, until India’s Independence, was a 'darshan' day, as they got an opportunity to visit their guru and pay their respects.
When India got Independence, it was The Mother (1878-1973) who presided over Sri Aurobindo’s birthday and Independence Day celebrations.
The Mother, a co-worker of Sri Aurobindo, had come from France and was known as Blanche Rachel Mirra Alfassa in her pre-ashram days. Sri Aurobindo found her to be almost of his stature and hence hailed her as “The Mother”.
The Mother had designed her own flag that contains a symbol in gold centred or silver-blue background. The flag has a map of a united India.
On Independence Day in 1947, The Mother had this to say about the flag: “It is the flag of India’s spiritual mission. And in the accomplishment of this mission will India’s unity be accomplished.”
Dr Pandey says, The Mother was hurt over the fact that the Indian flag contained three parts and was not one unit. “She always felt that the Indian flag should be single as otherwise the country could face problems. She had foreseen the country’s problems,” he says, adding that she wanted a vibrant and strong India in which Hindus would largely be overarching people of other religions.
So, how is 15 August celebrated at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram? No doubt, 15 August was celebrated well before the Independence Day by the ashram, particularly as 'darshan' day.
The ashram has four more darshan days: 21 February — The Mother’s birthday; 24 April — the date of The Mother’s final arrival in Puducherry; 24 November — Siddhi day, where Sri Aurobindo experienced the descent of Krishna into his body and 5 December —the mahasamadhi day of Sri Aurobindo.
Dr Pandey says that from day one, the procedures on 15 August have been the same. People, until Sri Aurobindo attained mahasamadhi in 1950, would visit his room, pay their respects and sit there to meditate.
The special day has always been a quiet affair since Sri Aurobindo and The Mother preferred it that way.
After Independence, 15 August saw the addition of a march past in the ashram’s playground to commemorate India’s liberation from the British. Initially, it was at a different place before it moved to the playgrounds of Sri Aurobindo International School of Education on Marine Street in 1954.
Since then, the pattern of celebrating Sri Aurobindo’s birthday and Independence Day has been the same. The day starts with the ashram residents going to the ashram for a darshan. “We go to Sri Aurobindo’s room, pay our respects and sit there for sometime meditating,” says Praveen Kapoor, who came to the ashram 49 years ago as a 20-year-old. Sri Aurobindo’s samadhi is now in the same room where he had preferred to stay secluded from 1926 until he attained mahasamadhi.
The darshan begins at 6am in the morning and goes on for almost the whole day as many people from all over the world travel for the darshan. “Nearly 10,000 people turn up from across the world on 15 August for the darshan. The whole area near the ashram is filled with disciples. It has always been a simple but dedicated affair,” says A Selvaraj, a native of Puducherry.
“The darshan day on 15 August has people flocking to the ashram from morning till evening. We are kept busy throughout the day as disciples keep coming,” says an employee of the ashram.
The Independence Day is celebrated in the afternoon and is an experience of a different kind for the ashram inmates. “Until 1962 when The Mother withdrew from public and chose to remain in her room (she gave darshan to the public and disciples from the balcony of her room until she attained samadhi in 1973), she presided over the celebrations. She would stand in front of the united India map and take the salute,” says Kapoor.
Once everyone assembled in the playground in front of the united India map, they would chant Vande Mataram thrice.
Then, those who have assembled there shout “Victoire A la Douce Mere” (which means Victory to the Divine Mother in French). Then, a parade is held before all meditate and disperse. “All the 400 students of the school and 800 ashramites take part in the Independence Day celebrations,” says Kapoor.
Dr Pandey says Vande Mataram is recited fully and the whole atmosphere is “electrified”. Vande Mataram is recited fully and all stand before a united India map because The Mother espoused the cause of a unified subcontinent that included Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“The Mother was against India calling for the war against Pakistan in 1971,” says Dr Pandey.
Locals say a manageable number of disciples turn up on 15 August every year. “There is a steady flow of crowd that comes from across the world. We haven’t seen any phenomenal jump because the ashram now has branches all over the world and some seem to be happy visiting those branches,” says Selvaraj.
“Sri Aurobindo Ashram has been always a revered spot. Twenty to 30 years ago, the locals wouldn’t even want to cross the canal a little away from here to come. Now, we see more people visiting the ashram and its surroundings,” says another ashram resident, without wanting to be identified.
Kapoor says Puducherry began witnessing development only in the last two decades or so. “All that you see in Puducherry now have come up in the last 20 years or so. Until then, this was a very quiet place,” he says.
For disciples of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 15 August marks a phenomenal day when it is their guru’s birthday and India celebrates its Independence.
The morning is an experience for them as they gather in Sri Aurobindo’s room and meditate. It’s a lifetime experience for those coming to the ashram from different parts of the country. The entire gathering roots for a unified and united India.
A disciple says, “the experience of 15 August encourages many to keep coming back to Sri Aurobindo Ashram. It’s not just divine but a lifetime experience that leaves you awe-struck when the Vande Mataram is sung in the evening.”