The Journey to Pondicherry

Today (4.4.2021) is the 111th anniversary of Lord Sri Aurobindo’s arrival in Pondicherry.

🌷 The journey to Pondicherry 🌷

🦋 Departure to Chandernagore 🦋

🌸 Facts of departure 🌸

These are the facts of that departure. I was in the Karmayogin office when I received word, on information given by a high-placed police official, that the office would be searched the next day and myself arrested. (The office was in fact searched but no warrant was produced against me; I heard nothing more of it till the [Karmayogin Sedition] case was started against the paper later on, but by then I had already left Chandernagore for Pondicherry.) While I was listening to animated comments from those around on the approaching event, I suddenly received a command from above in a Voice well known to me, in the three words; “Go to Chandernagore.” In ten minutes or so I was in the boat for Chandernagore. Ramchandra Majumdar guided me to the Ghat and hailed a boat and I entered into it at once along with my relative Biren Ghosh and Mani (Suresh Chandra Chakrabarti) who accompanied me to Chandernagore, not turning aside to Bagbazar or anywhere else. We reached our destination while it was still dark and they returned in the morning to Calcutta. I remained in secret entirely engaged in Sadhana and my active connection with the two newspapers ceased from that time. Afterwards, under the same “sailing orders”, I left Chandernagore and reached Pondicherry on April 4th 1910.

🕉 Divine ‘Adesha’ 🕉

I may add in explanation that from the time I left Lele at Bombay after the Surat Congress and my stay with him in Baroda, Poona and Bombay, I had accepted the rule of following the inner guidance implicitly and moving only as I was moved by the Divine. The spiritual development during the year in jail had turned this into an absolute law of the being. This accounts for my immediate action in obedience to the adeshreceived by me.

Extract from: CWSA > Autobiographical Notes > The Departure From Calcutta, 1910 > Pg 89

🐢 Journey to Chandernagore 🐢

Sri Aurobindo, Ramchandra Majumdar, Biren and Moni went straight to the Ganga Ghat. Ramchandra was their navigator. It took 10–15 minutes to reach the Ghat.

Biren and Moni accompanied Sri Aurobindo to Chandernagore.

Ramchandra Majumdar returned from the ghat.

🍃 Mysterious Absence of CID team 🍃

The absence of CID teams is an abiding mystery. After about a month, when the news became public, newspaper columnists pointedly asked questions of the CID and sought justification of monthly expense of four hundred rupees on Sri Aurobindo’s surveillance.

Chandernagore is approximately 30 kms up-river from Calcutta.

They reached it before dawn, about 4 AM in the morning.

It had taken the boat almost seven hours to reach Rani Ghat where it moored.

🌱 Arrival at Chandernagore 🌱

Sri Aurobindo first sent Biren to Charuchandra Roy of Chandernagore with a request for providing a secret residence. But he expressed his inability.

Subsequent to the testimony of the traitor, Narendranath Goswami, Charuchandra Roy had been charged in the Alipore Bomb Case and arrested. The few months he spent in detention in Jail and especially the time in solitary confinement had taken its toll on him. He had almost reached the breaking-point when the case was withdrawn against him at the instance of the French Government. The harrowing experience must have been weighing heavily on his mind at the time when he refused his help.

💧 Secret Residence at Chandernagore

Motilal Roy

Motilal Roy, who had only heard Sri Aurobindo’s Uttarpara speech, came to know of his presence in Chandernagore. He located the boat at 6:30 am and offered his services, which Sri Aurobindo accepted.

Motilal Roy led the party on the last leg of their journey. There was a short boat-ride to another ghat. They alighted and continued on foot, climbing a row of stairs, through a spinney until they finally reached Motilal’s residence. At last the journey was complete. Sri Aurobindo’s secret residence at Chandernagore had begun.

The two companions — Biren and Moni — assured by Sri Aurobindo, started on their return journey in the hired boat.

🏠 Motilal Roy’s Residence 🏠

Sri Aurobindo, seated in an easy-chair in Motilal Roy’s sitting room explained the need for complete secrecy to avoid detection of his presence by the British Governement, who would do all they could to find him.

One of the hideaways was a store room for furniture in that very house. A thick layer of dust covered everything in it. Bats, spiders and other insects were co-habitants. A small portion on the floor was cleaned for Sri Aurobindo to take his seat. As a proper meal would compromise secrecy, Motilal shared a portion of his own meal

💦 Changing Hideaway 💦

The hideaways had to be changed often: a thatched hut, a garden house, a dilapidated shed near a Jagannath temple and other less-frequented locations at the outskirts. The transfer of location was generally effected under the cover of darkness and only a handful of men knew of such matters.

Sri Aurobindo’s secret residence at Chandernagore spanned a period of about six weeks. There was wild speculation in the local Media on his sudden absence and the following article appeared in ‘Karmayogin’ newspaper to set the record straight…

🌿 Rumour and Humour related to Sri Aurobindo’s Absence 🌿

We are greatly astonished to learn from the local Press that Sj. Aurobindo Ghose has disappeared from Calcutta and is now interviewing the Mahatmas in Tibet. We are ourselves unaware of this mysterious disappearance. As a matter of fact Sj. Aurobindo is in our midst and, if he is doing any astral business with Kuthumi or any of the other great Rishis, the fact is unknown to his other Koshas. Only as he requires perfect solitude and freedom from disturbance for his Sadhana for some time, his address is being kept a strict secret. This is the only foundation for the remarkable rumour which the vigorous imagination of a local contemporary has set floating. For similar reasons he is unable to engage in journalistic works, and Dharma has been entrusted to other hands.

CWSA > Karmayogin (no. 37) > ‘Sj. Aurobindo Ghose’ — 19.March.1910

🌴 Intense Sadhana 🌴

Sri Aurobindo led a secluded life at Chandernagore where ‘he plunged entirely into solitary meditation and ceased all other activities’. It was a period of intense sadhana. When he spoke it was as if somebody else were speaking through him. He would eat the food placed before him mechanically remaining deeply absorbed at all times. He meditated with his eyes open and saw various subtle forms and sights — a stream of letters or akasa lipi and the figures of three female energies: Ila, Saraswati and Sarama…

🐠 Vedic Thought 🐠

My first contact with Vedic thought came indirectly while pursuing certain lines of self-development in the way of Indian Yoga, which, without my knowing it, were spontaneously converging towards the ancient and now unfrequented paths followed by our forefathers. At this time there began to arise in my mind an arrangement of symbolic names attached to certain psychological experiences which had begun to regularise themselves; and among them there came the figures of three female energies, Ila, Saraswati, Sarama, representing severally three out of the four faculties of the intuitive reason, — revelation, inspiration and intuition. Two of these names were not well known to me as names of Vedic goddesses, but were connected rather with the current Hindu religion or with old Puranic legend, Saraswati, goddess of learning and Ila, mother of the Lunar dynasty. But Sarama was familiar enough.

CWSA > The Secret of the Veda > Page 36

🌱 “Sailing Orders for Pondicherry” 🌱

One day, Sri Aurobindo received “sailing orders for Pondicherry” in the same way as the ‘Divine Adesha’ which brought him to Chandernagore.

‘As for Adesh, people speak of Adesh without making the necessary distinctions, but these distinctions have to be made. The Divine speaks to us in many ways and it is not always the imperative Adesh that comes. When it does it is clear and irresistible, the mind has to obey and there is no question possible, even if what comes is contrary to the preconceived ideas of the mental intelligence. It was such an Adesh that I had when I came away to Pondicherry.’

🍁 Plans for Departure 🍁

Plans for his departure to Pondicherry had to be made in great secrecy because of police surveillance. There were two stages of the journey. The first, and the shorter passage, was from Chandernagore to Calcutta. Sri Aurobindo relied on Motilal to make the arrangements. He also sent word to Amar Chatterji, the young revolutionary from Uttarpara, for assistance. The second part of the journey was longer and fraught with much greater risk. For this, Sri Aurobindo wrote to his maternal cousin Sukumar Mitra (Krishnakumar Mitra’s son), to work out the details of the plan. Sukumar was also advised that Bijoy Nag, a young follower of Sri Aurobindo, would accompany him to Pondicherry. At the same time Sri Aurobindo sent a note to Suresh Chakravarty asking him to travel to Pondicherry and make arrangements for their stay.

🦈 Inspired Planning 🦈

In his reminiscences, Sukumar Mitra writes: ‘It was 1910, around the end of March. Unexpectedly I received a letter from Sri Motilal Roy of Chandernagore. He informed me of Auro-da’s desire to leave Chandernagore and go to Pondicherry. All the arrangements for his departure were to be made by me. And I had to be most careful in keeping all this a secret…. I resolved to work with the utmost care and circumspection at every step and in every detail. At that time half a dozen plain-clothes detectives used to sit near the tank in front of our house and keep watch. They shadowed me as soon as I came out of the house…. Since the police openly picked me up and followed me from the moment I left the house, I felt it better not to be directly involved in making the arrangements but instead to get the work done by giving instructions to two men I trusted. Even so what I told one I did not pass on to the other, and I did not allow the two to meet…. I decided to send Sri Aurobindo to Pondicherry by a French ship rather than by train, for to go by rail was, I decided, too dangerous. If he took the train he might be recognised during the long journey, for there were police spies on the alert at the stations. At that time a French shipping company called Messageries Maritimes operated from Calcutta. Ships of other companies also sailed from Calcutta to Colombo but they did not halt at Pondicherry. There was another advantage in travelling by a French ship, a political one. As soon as the ship went beyond the British Indian coast, the passengers would come under French jurisdiction. The security Sri Aurobindo sought by going to Pondicherry would be his once he had travelled eighty miles south of Calcutta.’

🐬 Assumed Names 🐬

Sukumar planned to make the travel bookings in the names of Jatindra Nath Mitter of Uluberia (a town not far from Calcutta), and Bankim Chandra Bhowmik of Nilphamari, in Rangpur district, names to be assumed by Sri Aurobindo and Bijoy for the journey. The names and addresses were not fictitious but taken from the subscribers’ list of Sanjivani, the nationalist journal. The intent was to mislead the police in any subsequent investigations.

💐 Departure to Pondicherry 💐

On the morning of March 31, the day prior to the sailing of SS Dupleix , Motilal Roy saw Sri Aurobindo off from the Boraichanditola Ghat at Chandernagore. Motilal himself did not accompany Sri Aurobindo but deputed two of his trusted followers to be with him.. In accordance with the plan, the boat moved downstream and crossed the river to reach Agarpara on the eastern bank. In the meantime Amar Chatterjee had hired a boat at Uttarpara and, along with his right-hand man Manmath Biswas, set off for Agarpara. This journey was also uneventful and they had no trouble in making contact with Sri Aurobindo at Agarpara.

🐋 Missed Rendezvous 🐋

Around midday Nagen and Suren set off in a boat which went up the river with the object of meeting the other boat that carried Sri Aurobindo, Amar and Manmath. All had worked out well so far.But now fate, or an unseen Hand, intervened. The two boats failed to establish contact either at the appointed ghat or in mid-river.

Amar was now getting increasingly worried. He decided that he could wait no longer for Nagen to turn up and instructed the boatman to proceed towards Calcutta. He had concluded that he must meet Sukumar to find out what had gone wrong. Meanwhile Nagen and Suren, equally perturbed at having searched for and failed to find Sri Aurobindo, also decided that they must return to Calcutta and report to Sukumar.

🐟 Grave Danger 🐟

Alighting at a ghat near Chandpal Ghat where the Dupleix was berthed, they hired a carriage, put Sri Aurobindo inside and rushed towards Sukumar’s house in the College Square area. Amar stopped the carriage some distance away from the house and sent Manmath to enquire at Sukumar’s place.

There was grave danger in this. This was an area where plain-clothes policemen and informers were always on the look-out. Sri Aurobindo’s face was well known. Amar recalling the events writes: ‘My mind was restless as I sat with Aurobindo in the carriage worrying about where the others were. But he whose safety was causing me so much restlessness and agitation was himself untroubled, unshaken, motionless like a statue…’

In the meantime, contact was finally made with Sukumar. He was aghast to know that Sri Aurobindo was there and asked that they immediately go back to the vicinity of Chandpal Ghat and wait there.

🐿 Back on Track 🐿

Sukumar now instructed Naren to proceed to Chandpal Ghat and meet Sri Aurobindo and his companions. Naren recalls: ‘Once again I took the two trunks from the mess and loaded them on a horse-carriage; taking the tickets along with me I rushed back to Chandpal Ghat. There I saw Aurobindo’s carriage waiting by the roadside. Our coolie was sitting nearby. When he saw me he at once ran up and said, “Your babus have come. I’ve already told them of our arrangement. It’s late. If you waste any more time, the doctor sahib won’t carry out the examination — he will have gone to sleep…” The coolie put the two trunks on the roof of Aurobindo’s carriage with some other things…. I climbed in and sat beside Amar-da. Aurobindo and Bijoy Nag were sitting behind us. The coolie got up and sat next to the coachman. I don’t remember the name of the street on which the doctor’s house was situated but I recollect that it was in the European quarter on the other side of Chowringhee.’

🌾 Medical Examination 🌾

‘When we reached the doctor’s residence, all four of us waited on the verandah… Before the doctor called in Aurobindo and Bijoy Nag, I gave them their tickets and told them the names and addresses under which they had been purchased… We had to stand and wait on the verandah for almost half-an-hour before the doctor called them in… They came out ten or fifteen minutes later with certificates.’

🌹 Boarding SS Dupleix 🌹

We climbed back into the carriage greatly relieved. It again sped towards Chandpal Ghat. We could not see the slightest trace of anxiety on Aurobindo’s face. Later, we were to talk about this among ourselves and Amar-da rightly said: “The one for whom we were anxious was altogether calm like someone absorbed in the trance of samadhi.” That Aurobindo was a man beyond anxiety or fear, that he was abhi [fearless] I had heard, but before this meeting I had not had the good fortune of seeing it for myself.’

It was almost eleven at night when the carriage reached Chandpal Ghat. After putting the luggage on the coolie’s head the four of us boarded the Dupleix and entered the reserved cabin. The coolie arranged the luggage and then left. Bijoy Nag made Aurobindo’s bed. Amar-da and I stood facing Aurobindo near the door. Amar-da took some currency notes from his shirt-pocket and gave them to Aurobindo saying that they were from Michhri-babu (Zamindar of Uttarpara). He accepted the notes without a word. Then Amar-da lowered his head, and touching his forehead with folded hands made namaskar to Aurobindo. I laid my forehead on Aurobindo’s feet as an expression of my reverence, and in the touch of that divine body, I felt fulfilled.’

🍂 Master-stroke facilitated by Providence

Late in the afternoon of March 31, Sri Aurobindo’s safety seemed to be in great jeopardy, for the carefully prepared plans had gone awry. And yet, as we look back and reconstruct the events, it becomes clear that the delay in boarding the ship actually proved a blessing in disguise. It may have been catastrophic had Sri Aurobindo reached the ship in time to be examined by the doctor. The meticulous plan had failed to consider the police presence during medical examinations. The records show that the police report for that evening merely stated that two ticket-holders with Bengali names did not turn up at the ship for the medical examination. It was not until April 4 that the police made further enquiries and learnt that two passengers had in fact embarked at the last moment and sailed away the next day. The late hour at which Sri Aurobindo boarded the ship (it was about 11.00 p.m.) was an unplanned Master-stroke faciliated by Providence.

Early next morning, April 1, SS Dupleix steamed out of Calcutta carrying Sri Aurobindo into the safety of the open seas and, four days later, on April 4, 1910, he reached Pondicherry.

🎍Calve Sankar Chettiar House 🎍

“..There also I remained in secrecy in the house of a prominent citizen until the acquittal, after which I announced my presence in French India…”

CWSA > Autobiographical Notes > The departure from Calcutta,1910 > Page 101

🕊 I am and will remain in Pondicherry’ 🕊

I shall be obliged if you will allow me to inform every one interested in my whereabouts through your journal that I am and will remain in Pondicherry. I left British India over a month before proceedings were taken against me and, as I had purposely retired here in order to pursue my Yogic sadhana undisturbed by political action or pursuit and had already severed connection with my political work, I did not feel called upon to surrender on the warrant for sedition, as might have been incumbent on me if I had remained in the political field. I have since lived here as a religious recluse, visited only by a few friends, French and Indian, but my whereabouts have been an open secret,.. I find myself now compelled, somewhat against my will, to give my presence here a wider publicity.

An open letter to the Editor of the ‘Hindu’

42, Rue de Pavillon, Pondicherry — 7.Nov.1910

Believer in Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga and His Vision of Universal Unity and Supramental Consciousness. “Man is not final, He is just an intermediate being”.