Amrita was the name given by Sri Aurobindo to Karlapakam Aravamudachari Iyengar (19 September 1895—31 January 1969), a Tamil Brahmin who became a close disciple of Sri Aurobindo whom he met in 1912. He was the Manager of Sri Aurobindo Ashram and later became one of the first Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust. He is remembered for his delightful sense of humour.
19 September 2015 marks Amrita’s 120th Birth Anniversary. As our humble homage to him, an article on him authored by Krishna Chakravarti has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation along with some of his photographs.
Born in December 1943 to Justice Santosh Kumar Chakravarti and Bokul Rani, Krishna Chakravarti joined the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education as a student in 1956. After completing her education in 1966, she joined the Central Office of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. A dedicated worker and prolific writer, her published works include Sri Aurobindo Laho Pronam (2006), A Garland of Adoration (2007) and Judge Saheb O Maharanir One-Third Dozen er Kahini (2009).
With warm regards,
“Charana dhorita deo go amare neo na neona saraye“
‘All on a sudden the door opened and was left ajar. Sri Aurobindo had come quietly and turned back immediately as the door opened—it looked as if he did not want us to let us have a glimpse of his face. In that fading twilight only his long hair hanging gracefully upon his back and his indescribably beautiful small feet caught my eye sight.’
That was the first glimpse of Sri Aurobindo that Amrita-da had—those feet, like two red lotuses captured his heart strings as if in a net and never could he shatter that tie. He was barely in his teens then, later in1919 he joined Sri Aurobindo’s house hold and served at those feet for fifty years before leaving his body.
Amrita was born on 19th September 1895 at Kazhipervembakkam, a village near Pondicherry and was named Aravumuda Iyenger. Amrita was the name given by Sri Aurobindo. Born in an orthodox Brahmin family, performing all the rituals, keeping a shikha covering nearly three fourths of his head, he was a village boy pampered by his mother. In that village the cry of independence had also reached and Lal-Bal-Pal and Arabindo were familiar names and respected. Of the four names the name Sri Aurobindo caught his heart and soul. In 1905 he came to Pondicherry to study. Sri Aurobindo landed in Pondicherry on 4th April 1910. Very few were aware of his arrival, among them was Amrita-da’s uncle who was in politics. Within three days Amrita-da knew about the arrival and his joy had no bound and a desire to see Sri Aurobindo grew in him. He became friendly with those who frequented Sri Aurobindo’s house and would take long walk after school, on beach with them and would learn from them what they discussed. Thus two years passed and there was no glimpse of Sri Aurobindo. One day in 1912 while proceeding towards beach with Krishnaswami Chettiar, who wanted to keep his cycle in Sri Aurobindo’s house which was on Mission street, that he had the glimpse of those two delicate soft red lotus like feet and was caught.
By his association with Bharathi, Srinivaschari, Krishnaswami Chettiar and others who frequented Sri Aurobindo’s house and had discussions, his mind too was shaping in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s view. ‘There was hardly any subject which they did not talk about in their meetings at night. They discussed literature, society, politics, the various arts; they exchanged stories,even cracked jokes, and had a lot of fun.’ Amrita-da’s teenage mind tried to grasp everything, the narrowness of orthodox mind started widening. Though he performed all the rituals and rites at home, but slowly the realization dawned that a pariah or a shudra was as much of a man as his neighbours, and started treating them as such, which in that era was blasphemous. The untouchability has almost disappeared at present, but in that era what havoc it created can make one shiver. He ‘realised that the disappearance of the sense of division from within me had been the effect of a continuous shedding of light upon my heart imperceptibly by Sri Aurobindo.’
Though he became familiar with other inmates of Sri Aurobindo’s household, he still had no darshan of him face to face. Three years have passed and his eagerness to get introduced to Sri Aurobindo fell as if in deaf ears. Sri Aurobindo’s Birthday was approaching, his appeal to Iyenger for the Darshan was granted. He felt an immense joy.
On 15th August some twenty people gathered in Sri Aurobindo’s house in the evening. Sri Aurobindo came someone garlanded him with a rose garland, then he spoke something in English. Thereafter they sat down in front of banana leaves. Sri Aurobindo stood in front of each banana leaf and looked at the person and one person then served the sweets. Later at night, he approached Sri Aurobindo’s table with folded hands and did pradikshina. ‘Sri Aurobindo’s eyes, it seemed, burnt brighter than the lamp light for me, as he looked at me, in a trice all gloom vanished from within me, and his image was as it were installed in the sanctum sanctorum of my being… I felt within that he had accepted me though I did not quite know it.’
At the first sight of Sri Aurobindo, his beautiful feet ensnared him, then the face to face meeting, his eyes brighter than light captured him. After this meeting he became a familiar face in Sri Aurobindo’s house hold, and became friendly with the other members of the house. Thus Bejoy Kumar gave him the work of posting letters. That was his first work and in 1969 when he left his body, he was the Trustee and Manager of the Ashram.
In December 1913 Sri Aurobindo shifted to another two storied house situate on François Martin Street, with a spacious courtyard in front. Here too Amrita-da paid a daily visit but as Sri Aurobindo lived on the first floor and no one was allowed to go up without permission, he had the misfortune of not seeing Sri Aurobindo at all. In the previous house though not meeting him, he at least could get a glimpse of Sri Aurobindo whenever he took a walk around.His heart thirst for a meeting with him. It was through Bijoy Kanto that he had the darshan of Sri Aurobindo on the corridor of the first floor.
‘Bejoykanto got up first, I followed him, reached the head of the long corridor and, as I stood there, Sri Aurobindo who was about twenty feet away, turned his eyes upon me… What I remember is that a lamp was lit every where in me and I saw in a spontaneous and automatic movement in front of me an intense celestial beauty. My being unknowingly swam as it were in a sea of silence, it fell prostrate at the lotus feet of the master…body life and mind all together in a single block. Sri Aurobindo touched me with his flower like-like hands and made me stand up. I drank the drink he gave me.’ The unquenchable thirst to see Sri Aurobindo again made him to request Bijoykanto and after fifteen days or so he saw Sri Aurobindo alone, Amrita-da did not quite know English, but somehow managed to utter “I want come daily see you”. Sri Aurobindo granted his request .Everyday he would stand in front of Sri Aurobindo who would be sitting on a chair on the terrace, and talk in English, from five thirty to six thirty in the evenings He would pour out to him everything without exception. Sri Aurobindo wanted him to pass the matriculation and in 1915 he went to Madras and as he was short of Rs.9, Sri Aurobindo gave the money. After he cleared the exam Sri Aurobindo wanted him to study further. With a heavy heart he went to Madras for a long stay but his heart was at the feet of Sri Aurobindo. He would visit Pondicherry from time to time and renew his intimacy with Sri Aurobindo’s house hold. Thus years passed and one day in 1917 when he was staying in Sri Aurobindo’s house for a few days that he lost the last sign of orthodoxy at his feet. Nolini-da as per Sri Aurobindo’s instruction cut off his already shrinking shikha at night when he was fast asleep. Amrita-da shivered at the consequence and went back to Madras found a new place to stay, so that he would not meet any familiar person. But his father soon came looking for him found out the new residence and was shocked at his shikhaless head. He had brought the news of his marriage to a rich girl, and went back disappointed. Did the lord play this trick to save his disciple from alienating him! The Guru asked for Guru Dakshina which was given unknowingly by Amrita-da and the Guru saved him from a mundane life. The shishya whom the Guru was shaping from behind veil when he was a mere teenager, settled at the feet of the guru from1919 never to leave the Master and The Mother, where as other disciple went to their native place from time to time. And how did he spend all these years up to 1969, that is another story.
Sri Aurobindo shifted from the house on Mission St. to the house on François Martin St. called Les Hotes end of 1913. Though the rent was high but rumours spread that because he wanted to pay due respect to the guests from foreign. Amrita-da used to visit daily there too. It so happened that one day when he went there he found the courtyard very clean and not a single person was visible, then someone came out of the room told him to go away as Sri Aurobindo was expecting the two foreign dignitaries and only the inmates were allowed to stay inside. With a heavy heart Amrita-da returned, he was not an inmate! He considered himself to be one of them. But one incident made him very happy. The foreigners came to pay their respect to Sri Aurobindo, in those days to pay any homage to an Indian by any foreigner was unthinkable. India was under foreigner rule England France etc. to pay respect to an Indian!
He saw the Mother in Dupleix house, diagonally opposite to Sri Aurobindo’s house, and was introduced as a student of Calve College, poor Amrita-da not an inmate! His first impression of the Mother was that she was one of the others, but his heart felt the magic power of the Mother. He approached the Mother in the spirit of a seeker of knowledge. She was an image of immeasurable power. “She however, held that power in herself without allowing the least display of it. On some occasions the great power would shine forth irresistibly. Our inner sense would perceive this radiation if it was awake.”
Amrita-da was a witness to the launching of Arya, a monthly review both in English and French, by Sri Aurobindo, Paul Richard and the Mother on 15th August 1914. One day Amrita-da started reading the first issue of Arya sitting in the verandah upstairs of Sri Aurobindo’s house, loud enough for himself to hear. He did not understand anything but found it sweet to read and re-read. Unknown to him, Sri Aurobindo stood in front of his table listening. When Amrita-da looked up and saw him, he told that he did not grasp anything but the reading was delightful. Sri Aurobindo replied, “It is not necessary to understand it all at once. Go on reading. If you find joy in reading you need not stop it.” When Amrita-da saw Sri Aurobindo every day in the afternoons, he wanted to know about Yoga. Sri Aurobindo would explain and he would write them down later. Much later Sri Aurobindo asked for that notebook, and it was never returned. Perhaps that was his wish. He studied the book Yogic Sadhan with the Mother, sitting on chairs facing each other, almost as equals. That’s how the Mother was looked upon as one of them.
Soon the World War started, the Mother left for France with Paul Richard. Amrita-da too left for Madras for further studies and Sri Aurobindo wrote the monthly review all by himself. In Madras Amrita-da visited the theosophical society, met Gandhiji and other prominent leaders of the time but none could capture his heart. Solely the Mother enveloped it with her captivating looks. On and off he visited Pondicherry, when with family members, he performed all the rituals but in Sri Aurobindo’s house all was forgotten—no taboos, no cast barriers, no untouchability. Finally in 1919 he settled permanently at Sri Aurobindo’s feet not only saw the formation of Ashram and its growth but was a whole hearted participant in its formation and growth. In 1920 on 24th April the Mother came to Pondicherry and settled permanently and Amrita-da was fortunate to be with her all along—a submissive energetic helper in her work.
The household shifted in 1922 to a new premises on Marine St. a rented house, though the previous one was also kept on rent as Sri Aurobindo’s house hold was growing bigger. Here he acted as the Mother’s messenger, carrying letters attending to visitors etc. On the afternoon of 24th November 1926 he was sent by the Mother to fetch all the inmates of the house and all witnessed the glorious scene of Sri Aurobindo keeping his left hand over the Mother’s head and with the right blessed the inmates. It was the descent of Krishna consciousness. Sri Aurobindo completely withdrew from all outward activities on 26th November leaving the responsibility of the Ashramites in the Mother’s hands and instructed all to address her as the Mother. Amrita-da was one of the first ones to address her thus. The evening meditations with the inmates continued only with the Mother. She rearranged their sitting arrangements, some sat left of her represented her Shakti and those on right hand side represented her Jyoti. Amrita-da sat on left of the Mother and Nolini-da on right.
Early next year the Mother with some inmates shifted to their newly purchased house named Meditation. Amrita-da room cum office was just below the room of Sri Aurobindo. Here from early morning to late night one would see a frail figure, little bent signing the money orders replying to letters, writing a chit for somebody who needed two pillows, though she had grown up sons who should have written that chit, looking after the houses, the inmates, the servants, the quarrels to settle, go to the bank to open an account for Huta-ben as Mother so desired always relaxed, his soft voice never betraying any anxiety, disturbance. He would take the work up to the Mother and to Sri Aurobindo too occasionally, when some important document required his signature, Amrita-da would ask for permission to enter, Sri Aurobindo would sit up on his bed Amrita-da squatted on the floor and then the role reversed, the Guru obeying the shisya in all submission. Amrita-da pointed his finger on the spot where His signature had to be put, full signature or initials, the Guru obeyed without hesitation and then would ask “Is there anything else”, the shisya would reply in negative and leave. The lad who was a mere teenager in 1913, had now grown to be a responsible, relentless instrument of the Mother. He would come down and give the Mother’s reply, and if the reply was not according to the wish of the inmates then gulp down their bitterness with a sad smile. He was Amrita but could have been Neelakantha too. Yes sometimes he was hurt and sad too. Some took advantage of his soft nature but his noble nature would not allow him to be strict or use any harsh words. Only once did I see him annoyed when an ex-student who settled outside came and talked to him about his work outside. Amrita would look up to him with a sad smile, put his head down to look at his papers. When after half an hour the ex-student left he mumbled, “These people think we have no work to do.” It was the delay in the Mother’s work which he could not tolerate. He joined the Physical Education group, was clumsy and trailed behind during marching. He would accompany Nolini-da for film shows but come back with him in the middle of the show because Nolini-da left, though he liked the film.
His relationship with the Mother was very close, affectionate and dependent as a child. His humorous nature would not spare the Mother also from fun. Once she chided him and gave a slap his immediate reply was ‘Good that I had a shave today otherwise my stub would have hurt you”. He started a magazine in Tamil, Vaikarai, and laboured for its circulation, he wanted the Tamilians to grow in the light of Sri Aurobindo. But alas the response was poor. Now that magazine has the highest circulation among all the magazines published by Ashram. He knew Tamil, English, French, Sanskrit and Bengali too, even wrote a poem in Bengali. His love for his mother tongue was so deep that once when somebody asked why is the Sanskrit called Devnagari, his reply was that Sanskrit was not invented by men but by gods. It was They who worked out the letters which are supposed to be among the most perfect in the world. When asked what about Tamil? He replied with a twinkle in his eyes, “Oh, the gods invented Sanskrit for the world to use but amongst Themselves They spoke in Tamil.” That is Amrita-da—short fair with Grecian features refined with soft voice pouring out love and affection for one and all. He was a bridge between us and the Mother, a child to her but elder brother to us looking after our needs, settling our quarrels working from early morning till late at night, the door always open for one and all and his soft voice calling, “Come”. He often used to go for hair cut. With hardly any hair on his head what was the need? When asked his reply was I go for after hair cut. That was the massage given by Manodhar-da to his neck and back-his only recreation. How much he worked hard after Sri Aurobindo’s passing for the formation of the trust can slightly be guessed by the volume of correspondence and legalities. The Mother formed Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust on 1st May 1955 and made Amrita-da one of the Trustees and Manager. Once when a visitor asked him what was his work his reply was, “I look after the needs of the people.” Much later the gentleman came to know that he was the Trustee and Manager of the Ashram. And this is where many were deceived by his unassuming friendly humorous nature.
With heavy load of work he still found the time to write his thoughts “visions and voices”. But he could not devote any more of his precious time to literary vagaries. He too heard voices music when sitting all alone on the sea shore. Like Dwijendra Lal Roy who heard Maha sindhur opar theke, ki sangeet bhese ashe, “Besides hearing voices, he got the eyes to see visions of things and happenings as if on a celluloid screen”. Thus he wrote on Beauty:
“Beauty standing motionless in meditation is beauty of forms,
Beauty moving and shining in meditation is beauty of life,
Beauty thinking in meditation is beauty of thought—
The spirit of beauty is thus standing, moving and thinking from the far off beyonds.”
That he had such deep realizations early in his years make one bend ones head in reverence and also remorse for thinking of him as one of us.
One of the experiences he had when still a teenager, “One day it was noon. I proceeded as usual to Sri Aurobindo’s house. No human voice was heard as I walked down the street. The sun was at meridian; it was all luster So extraordinary was its light that nothing could keep hiding in the places lit up wide by it; all must come to light. Not a speck of dust in that broad day light; it was as though the presence of Lord Krishna behind the sun, pervading the whole sky was there to enhance a hundred fold with its dark blue the light of the sun shining therein.”
Another of his vision was futuristic when he was about nine year old. Along with some Brahmins he was doing night rituals near a pond. “In that dim darkness of the evening, just two or three stars twinkled in the western sky. And then in front of me at a short distance and gradually drawing nearer and rising above as it came close to my head, there appeared a shining ball, a big ball of the size of a palm fruit. Its luster was dark blue. My eyes fixed on it, I kept looking at it. That ball soothing my eyes, comforting my body, seizing my heart and, as it slowly swam up, proceeded far to the south; my sight followed its course till it disappeared.”
Ten miles away from this village was Pondicherry. Sri Aurobindo had not yet arrived. When in the house at François Martin St. Amrita-da had the first Darshan of Sri Aurobindo and lay prostate at His feet that he saw that glowing ball, seen years back, appearing in the dark blue sky within him which slowly brought him to his destination at Sri Aurobindo’s feet. Thus the visionary accomplished his life’s mission on earth, the life prolonged by the Mother’s grace to achieve his destined goal, as the Mother wrote on his birth anniversary:
“After 44 years of faithful service I greet you at the threshold of Realisation, with love and confidence.”
Photographs courtesy: Ms. Tara Jauhar, Ms. Gauri Pinto and Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry.