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Sri Aurobindo and Indian Civilisation
By Pradeep Krishnan    

Sri Aurobindo, India's greatest Yogi, rishi, poet and philosopher prophesised the rebirth of India's greatness. He had implicit faith in “her mission, her gospel, her immortal life and her eternal rebirth”. His hope lay in the conviction: “In India alone there is self contained, dormant, the energy and the invincible spiritual individuality which can arise and break her own and the world's letters.” His message has tremendous relevance in today's context. Never before has humanity faced a crisis of such gravity. The present crisis is truly multi-dimensional. Sri Aurobindo firmly believed that India is the country providentially ordained and historically prepared for showing the world its right path. Every moment of his life Sri Aurobindo discovered himself and discovered India. The two texts in the book are papers prepared by Michel Danino for recent seminars in New Delhi and Coimbatore. The first paper was presented at a seminar in connection with the celebrations of Sri Aurobindo's 125th birth anniversary held at New Delhi in November 1998 organised by the Department of Culture, Ministry of HRD.

It deals with Sri Aurobindo's view of Indian culture and confronts its state of deep neglect in today's India, though it was precisely what gave the country its special strength and its unique ability to survive the onslaughts of time. The author lays emphasis on the field of education and asks why Indian education should exclude the very materials that could easily transform the child into a rich human being, even as we witness today a worldwide degradation of the human substance. The second paper was presented at a seminar on value education organised by the Chinmaya Mission at Coimbatore on February 1999. It deals with a serious distortion found at the root of Indian history as it remains and is taught today—the so-called “Aryan invasion theory”—and shows how all scientific as well as traditional evidence argues against it. As a result, the motives of the proponents of the old model, which seeks to divide Indian people and languages into supposed “Aryan” and supposed “Dravidian”, become suspect, and in any case run counter to both science and Indian tradition, whether from the North or the South.

 Making use of recent archaeological findings, the author gives an overview of the so-called Aryan problem which has distorted the roots of ancient India's history and therefore of Indian civilization. The author Michel Danino was born in 1956 at Honfleur, in France. From the age of 16 he was drawn to India and to Sri Aurobindo and Mother, and in 1977 cut short higher scientific studies to leave for South India, where he has since been living. Working in close collaboration with the Mother's Institute of Research (New Delhi), Mira Aditi (Mysore) and Instituted Researches Evolutives (Paris), he has participated in the English translation and publication of Mother's Agenda (13 volumes) and several other works, in the preparation of India's Rebirth and India the Mother, and has co-authored with Sujata Nahar The Invasion That Never Was.

His other fields of activity include nature conservation and photography. For many years he has also been studying Indian culture and India's ancient history in the light of both Sri Aurobindo's pioneering discoveries and recent archaeological research. The sadhak from France writes that as a young man he found nothing in France or the West-in its science, its philosophies, even in its culture—that could give a full meaning to his life until he read a few pages of Sri Aurobindo. Living in India under the guidance of what Sri Aurobindo has written about the nation's culture has been constantly enriching. It is true that the nation is not “the heaven we would all dream her to be.” But Sri Aurobindo always saw behind the appearances and spoke in 1910 to his countrymen, who had become apes of the West, thus: “Was life always so trivial, always so vulgar, always so loveless, pale and backward as the Europeans have made it? This well-appointed comfort oppresses, me, this perfection of machinery will not allow the soul to remember that it is not itself a machine.

Is this then the end of the long march of human civilisation, this spiritual suicide, this quiet putrefaction of the soul into matter? Was the successful businessman, that grand culmination of manhood towards which evolution was striving? After all, if the scientific view is correct, why not? An evolution that started with the protaplasm and flowered in the orangutan and the chimpanzee, may well rest satisfied with having created hat, coat and trousers, the British Aristocrat, the American capitalist and the Farisian Apache. For these, I believe, are the chief triumphs of the European englightenment to which we bow our heads... What a bankruptcy. What a beggary of things that were rich and noble. Ninety years after Sri Aurobindo made this pronouncement, we have reached the final movement in the West's failure. It would be best to turn to him again for his prescription to cure the ills that afflict humanity today.

He never said that outer growth should be discarded, but pleaded for a corresponding growth within. India was itself an example of reaching great heights in material life as well as spiritual, both complementing each other with an integral vision. Quoting profusely from Sri Aurobindo's writings on the cultural past of India, and adding his own experiences, Shri Danino writes: “If we see today that nothing even of the Mahabharata or the Ramayana is taught to an Indian child, we can measure the abyss to be bridged. That the greatest epics of mankind should be thrown away on the absurd and erroneous protext that they are ‘religious’ is beyond the comprehension of an impartial observer. A German or French or English child will be taught something of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, because they are regarded as the roots of European culture, and somehow present in the European consiousness. He will not be asked to worship Zeus or Athena, but will be shown how the Ancients saw and experienced the world and the human being.

But Indian epics, a hundred times richer and vaster in human experience, a thousand times more present in the Indian consciousness, will not be taught to an Indian child. Even the Panchatantra and countless other highly educational collections of Indian stories—even folk stories-are ruled out”. Shri Danino laments that the young Indians were being deprived of their rightful heritage in this manner and were being cut off from their rich roots and were being fed with “some inspid, unappetizing hotchpotch, cooked in the West and pickled in India. He was also anguished to note that the teaching of Sanskrit is systematically discouraged in India, and that “the deepest knowledge of the human being, that of yogic science, is discarded in favour of shallow Western psychology or psychoanalysis; that the average Indian student never even hears the name of Sri Aurobindo”. In more 54 pages, the author takes the reader on a journey of Indian culture, or educational system, vedic civilisation, etc.

The work is a storehouse of new insights. The well-researched and well-documented work is so readable that one surely would like to finish it in one go. It is strongly recommended for readers of every age. While the scholars would be struck by its exactness, depth and simplicity, students and general readers would find it extremely relevant and would be motivated to need read Sri Aurobindo further. This book is the sixth in a series entitled Vande Mataram which has as its goal to make known a number of texts inspired by a similar vision of a new Indian.

For, as Sri Aurobindo saw, “India of the ages is not dead nor has she spoken her last creative word; she lives and has still something to do for herself and the human peoples...” He further said “Indian is the guru of the nations, the physician of the human soul in its profounder maladies; she is destined once more to new-mould the life of the world and restore the peace of the human spirit.” Thus, “the sun of India's destiny would rise and fill India with its light and overflow India and overflow Asia and overflow the world.”   



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