Mrinalini Devi

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Sri Aurobindo with Mrinalini Devi 1901.jpg

(Charu Chandra Dutt:) “In his now famous letters to his wife, Aurobindo made his relation with her perfectly clear. I did not know of these letters till they actually appeared in print. One day I had asked him in the course of conversation, “Chief, you knew that you were going to plunge into the vortex of revolutionary politics. Why did you marry? Don’t tell me if you don’t want to.” He thought for a moment and replied very slowly, “Well, Charu, it was like this. Just then I was very despondent and felt that I was destined to lead the life of a pedagogue. Why, then, should I not marry?” Aurobindo married, be it noted, in April 1901.”[1]

(Mrinalini's father:) “I do not know how far Mrinalini assisted Sri Aurobindo in his political work, but this much is true that she never stood in his way. Sri Aurobindo had a quiet sincere love for her and she had towards her husband an unquestioning obedience.”[2]

“A finer substance in a subtler mould
Embodies the divinity earth but dreams;
Its strength can overtake joy’s running feet;
Overleaping the fixed hurdles set by Time,
The rapid net of an intuitive clasp
Captures the fugitive happiness we desire.
A Nature lifted by a larger breath,
Plastic and passive to the all-shaping Fire,
Answers the flaming Godhead’s casual touch:
Immune from our inertia of response
It hears the word to which our hearts are deaf,
Adopts the seeing of immortal eyes
And, traveller on the roads of line and hue,
Pursues the spirit of beauty to its home.
Thus we draw near to the All-Wonderful
Following his rapture in things as sign and guide;
Beauty is his footprint showing us where he has passed,
Love is his heart-beats’ rhythm in mortal breasts,
Happiness the smile on his adorable face.
A communion of spiritual entities,
A genius of creative Immanence,
Makes all creation deeply intimate:
A fourth dimension of aesthetic sense
Where all is in ourselves, ourselves in all,
To the cosmic wideness re-aligns our souls.
A kindling rapture joins the seer and seen;
The craftsman and the craft grown inly one
Achieve perfection by the magic throb
And passion of their close identity.
All that we slowly piece from gathered parts,
Or by long labour stumblingly evolve,
Is there self-born by its eternal right.
In us too the intuitive Fire can burn;
An agent Light, it is coiled in our folded hearts,
On the celestial levels is its home:
Descending, it can bring those heavens here.
But rarely burns the flame nor burns for long;
The joy it calls from those diviner heights
Brings brief magnificent reminiscences
And high splendid glimpses of interpreting thought,
But not the utter vision and delight.
A veil is kept, something is still held back,
Lest, captives of the beauty and the joy,
Our souls forget to the Highest to aspire.”[3]

(Sri Aurobindo letter to Mrinalini, 1905:)
“What do you say? Will you be, in regard to this, the copartner of my dharma? We will eat and dress like simple people and buy what is really essential, and give the rest to the Divine. That is what I would like to do. If you agree to it, and can make the sacrifice, then my urge can be fulfilled. You were complaining, “I could not make any progress.” Here is a path to progress that I point to you. Would you proceed in that path?
Now I ask you: What do you want to do in this matter? The wife is the śakti (the power) of the husband. Are you going to be the disciple of Usha and adulate the sahibs? Would you be indifferent and diminish the power of your husband? Or would you double his sympathy and enthusiasm? You might reply: “What could a simple woman like me do in all these great works? I have neither will power, nor intelligence, I am afraid even to think of these things.” There is a simple solution for it — take refuge in the Divine, step on to the path of God-realisation. He will soon cure all your deficiencies; fear gradually leaves the person who takes refuge in the Divine. And if you have faith in me, and listen to what I say instead of listening to others, I can give you my force which would not be reduced (by giving) but would, on the contrary, increase. We say that the wife is the śakti of the husband, that means that the husband sees his own reflection in the wife, finds the echo of his own noble aspiration in her and thereby redoubles his force.
         Would you always remain like this? “I shall dress well, eat good food, laugh and dance and enjoy all possible pleasures” — such a state of mind is not called progress. Nowadays the life of women in our country has assumed a very narrow and humiliating form. Abandon all these things and come with me. We have come to the world to do God's work, let us begin it.
         There is one defect in your nature — you are too simple. You listen to all that people say. This always keeps the mind restless, does not allow intelligence to develop, and there is no concentration in any work. This has to be corrected; you must acquire knowledge by listening to one person only, accomplish the work with a firm aim and firm mind, you have to disregard the slander and ridicule of people and keep your devotion firm.
         There is another defect also — not of your nature but of the times. The times have become like that in Bengal; people are unable to listen seriously even to a serious talk; they laugh at and make fun of all that is high and noble, Dharma, philanthropy, high aspiration, great endeavour, liberation of the country; they try to laugh away everything. You have developed this fault a little by your association with the Brahmo school; Barin also had it, and to some extent we all are subject to this fault, but it has increased to a surprising degree among the people of Deoghar. It is necessary to throw out this mentality with a strong resolution; you will be able to do it easily, and once you cultivate the habit of thinking, your real nature will blossom; you are already inclined to philanthropy and sacrifice; only what is wanting is the strength of mind. You will get that strength from your devotion to God. Your praying to God will bring you that strength.
         This was my secret. Without divulging it to anybody, reflect over these things with a tranquil mind. There is nothing to be afraid of, but plenty to think about. In the beginning you won't have to do anything more than to devote half-an-hour every day to meditate on God. You should put before Him your strong aspiration in the form of a prayer. The mind will get gradually prepared. You should always offer to Him this prayer: “May I not come in the way of my husband's life, and his ideals, and in his path to God-realisation; may I become his helper and his instrument.” Will you do it?”[4]

(Charu Chandra Dutt:) “One afternoon [in 1907], Bhupal Babu, Aurobindo’s father-in-law, came to see us in the Wellington Square house. The Chief had not as yet returned from his college. Bhupal Babu said to us, “Charu, Subodh, I have come to ask Aurobindo to come and dine with me this evening. My daughter, Mrinalini, has come to Calcutta to meet him, if possible. So I would like Aurobindo to stay the night in our house and return to you tomorrow morning. Do send him along.” We were all tremendously excited over this invitation. When Aurobindo came home about 5 p.m., he could see that something out of the common had occurred. We gave out a loud yell on seeing him and all spoke together. He laughed and said, “One at a time, please.” Then I said, “My dear fellow, this sort of gala occasion comes but once in a blue moon! Aurobindo is going to visit his spouse this evening.” He said with a suppressed smile, “Yes! go on.” It was Subodh’s turn to speak. He said, “Bhupal Babu came to invite you. You are to dine with him this evening and spend the night in his house. It appears that Mrs. Ghose has come down to Calcutta expressly for the purpose of congratulating her lord on his acquittal.” Aurobindo said merely, “I see.” Then my wife started, “There is nothing to see. Please get ready quickly and put on the clothes I have laid out for you. They have all been properly pleated and crinkled by Subodh’s bearer.” No reply from the other side; nothing but a shy twinkle in the eye. My wife, encouraged by the twinkle, went on, “And, look here, Ghose Sahib, Subodh’s wife and I are weaving two beautiful garlands of Jasmine — one for you and one for our Didi. I shall instruct you about them, later on.” The poor philosopher quietly capitulated. He had not a chance of speaking. After tea, he was hustled into the dressing room for being valeted by Subodh’s bearer. He did not protest. After all, who was going to listen to him that evening, our great Chief though he was. When he came out, he looked gorgeous in his fine dress, but there was also a simple shy smile on his face. We had all been waiting to greet him. Lilavati stepped forward with the two garlands and said, “One of these you are going to put round Didi’s neck and the other she is going to put round yours. Please don’t forget.” The Chief with a tender smile replied. “It shall be done, Lilavati.” As he was getting into the carriage Subodh called out, “And, please don’t come back till tomorrow morning.” Turning to the Durwan he ordered. “Lock the gate at 10 p.m. Ghose Saheb is not coming back tonight.”
         Next morning, quite early, a servant came upstairs and said to Subodh, “Ghose Saheb wants to know, sir, if you are all coming down to tea.” “Ghose Saheb? When did he come back?” “He returned about 11 p.m.” We all trooped downstairs. There he sat in his arm-chair, quietly smiling to himself. We fired a volley of questions at him. He replied calmly, “Well, I had a superb dinner and returned here about 11 p.m. Lilavati, your instructions regarding the garlands were carried out to the letter.” Lilavati asked plaintively, “But why did you come away so soon?” The Chief’s reply was, “I explained things to her and she allowed me to come away.” I suppose these explanations were later on, embodied in the famous letters.”[5]

(Sri Aurobindo letter to Mrinalini, 1907:)
“Would you listen to a request of mine? I am passing through very anxious times, the pressure from all sides is enough to drive one mad. If you too get restless now, it would only add to my anxiety and worry, a letter of encouragement and comfort from you would give me much strength, and I can overcome all fears and dangers with a cheerful heart. I know, it is hard for you to live alone at Deoghar, but if you make your mind firm and rest on faith, then the feeling of sorrow cannot dominate your mind. This suffering is your inevitable lot, since you have married me. At intervals there is bound to be separation, because unlike ordinary Bengalis, I am unable to make the happiness of the family and of the relations the main aim of my life. In these circumstances, what is my dharma is also your dharma; and unless you consider the success of my mission as your happiness, there is no way out.”[6]

“In a magic circle wrought the enchanted Might.
The spirit stood back effaced behind its frame.
Admired for the bright finality of its lines
A blue horizon limited the soul;
Thought moved in luminous facilities,
The outer ideal’s shallows its swim-range:
Life in its boundaries lingered satisfied
With the small happiness of the body’s acts.
Assigned as Force to a bound corner-Mind,
Attached to the safe paucity of her room,
She did her little works and played and slept
And thought not of a greater work undone.
Forgetful of her violent vast desires,
Forgetful of the heights to which she rose,
Her walk was fixed within a radiant groove.
The beautiful body of a soul at ease,
Like one who laughs in sweet and sunlit groves,
Childlike she swung in her gold cradle of joy.
The spaces’ call reached not her charmed abode,
She had no wings for wide and dangerous flight,
She faced no peril of sky or of abyss,
She knew no vistas and no mighty dreams,
No yearning for her lost infinitudes.
A perfect picture in a perfect frame,
This faery artistry could not keep his will:
Only a moment’s fine release it gave;
A careless hour was spent in a slight bliss.
Our spirit tires of being’s surfaces,
Transcended is the splendour of the form;
It turns to hidden powers and deeper states.
So now he looked beyond for greater light.
His soul’s peak-climb abandoning in its rear
This brilliant courtyard of the House of Days,
He left that fine material Paradise.
His destiny lay beyond in larger Space.”[7]

(Ila Sen, Mrinalini's neighbor in Shillong:) “I saw her in my early teens. Minu-di was incomparable in her sweetness of character. She stole away the children’s hearts with her affection. One day she was late in coming for the play. I went to look for her and found that the wife of the local magistrate was requesting Minu-di to sing. Shy and hesitant she sat before the harmonium and began a well-known Bengali devotional song. I listened to the whole song standing outside. So rapturous was her voice that I couldn’t move away.
         I learnt about Sri Aurobindo’s arrest from Minu-di’s young sister who was of our age. He became the topic of the day. Minu-di used to hear the talks but never lost her composure. She was leading a very simple life and eating simple food, avoiding meat and fish. They had a lovely garden from which she would pick flowers in the early morning and enter her Puja House and spend many hours there. It was kept beautifully decorated with pictures of Kali, Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and Sarada Mata. Two small pictures of Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo were placed on either side of a shelf. One day I entered the room after she had left and I saw flowers offered at Sri Aurobindo’s feet and incense burning by the side.
         Plenty of people used to come to have her Darshan and do pranam to her. If she had any foreknowledge of it she would try to avoid them but would sometimes be caught unawares. When the news of Sri Aurobindo’s release arrived, our school dispersed and we ran to Minu-di to offer our heart’s love. We used to think that she would one day join Sri Aurobindo and she was herself cherishing that hope till her last day.”[8]

(Mrinalini's younger sister:) “Every early morning, after her bath she would pluck flowers from the garden. She would look incomparably beautiful amidst countless flowers of all varieties of colour. She would then enter the Puja House and pass hours in meditation. After that, she would attend to the usual chores and spend the rest of the day in the study of religious books, mostly of Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna. In the evening, she shut herself up for hours again in the Meditation Room. At times, at the request of her parents and friends she would take up the harmonium and sing devotional songs composed by Tagore and others.
         She was always simply but neatly dressed and looked like a Yogini. In the matter of food, meat, fish and sweets were excluded from her diet. Only at the request of her parents she would waive this austere rule.
         Letters from Sri Aurobindo arrived at long intervals addressed to her as Mrs. Ghosh. That would revive her spirit for a few days. But never did she seek sympathy or open her heart to anyone except her mother and Sudhira. My cousin who had gone to Pondicherry wrote to us that Sri Aurobindo was plunged deep in yoga. Sri Aurobindo asked Mrinalini to follow the same path. She began the practice according to the directions given by Sri Aurobindo. We hoped for a long time that he would return to Bengal when the political situation had eased. But it was a vain hope, for it was feared that he would be arrested as soon as he set his foot on Indian soil. My father tried hard to take Mrinalini to Pondicherry, but the Government refused permission.”[9]

(Mrinalini's younger sister:) “At last arrived the year 1918, December. She received the call from Sri Aurobindo, saying, ‘My sadhana is over. I have achieved my object, siddhi. I have a lot of work to do for the world. You can come now and be my companion in this work.’ This naturally made Mrinalini and all others extremely happy.
         Now our father thought of taking my sister to Pondicherry. The Government gave permission. So they arrived in Calcutta via Ranchi. But Mrinalini Devi fell a victim to the scourge of influenza which was raging everywhere. After a week’s illness she passed away on 17 December at the age of 32.
My cousin who was [in Pondicherry] at the time wrote to my mother: ‘Today I saw tears in the eyes of your stone-hearted son-in-law. With the telegram in one hand, he sat still and tears were in his eyes.’ Sri Aurobindo told him too that Mrinalini’s soul had come to him soon after her death. Also a photo of Mrinalini Devi that was on the mantel-piece is said to have fallen.
She had a small boxful of letters received from Sri Aurobindo. She desired that the box should be drowned in the Ganges after her death. It is a great pity that most valuable letters were lost to us in this way.”[10]

19 February 1919

My dear father-in-law,
         I have not written to you with regard to this fatal event in both our lives; words are useless in face of the feelings it has caused, if even they can ever express our deepest emotions. God has seen good to lay upon me the one sorrow that could still touch me to the centre. He knows better than ourselves what is best for each of us, and now that the first sense of the irreparable has passed, I can bow with submission to His divine purpose. The physical tie between us is, as you say, severed; but the tie of affection subsists for me. Where I have once loved, I do not cease from loving. Besides she who was the cause of it, still is near though not visible to our physical vision.
         It is needless to say much about the matters of which you write in your letter. I approve of everything that you propose. Whatever Mrinalini would have desired, should be done, and I have no doubt this is what she would have approved of. I consent to the chudis [gold bangles] being kept by her mother; but I should be glad if you would send me two or three of her books, especially if there are any in which her name is written. I have only of her her letters and a photograph.


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