Dr. Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi (30 December 1887—8 February 1971)—better known as K. M. Munshi—was a famous politician, educationist and author. In 1938 he established Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. He was the Minister for Agriculture and Food in independent India and also served as the Governor of Uttar Pradesh from 1952 to 1957.
Ambalal Balkrishna Purani (26.5.1894—11.12.1965) was a Gujarati revolutionary who met Sri Aurobindo in 1907. A graduate from St. Xavier’s College (Mumbai) with Honours in Physics and Chemistry, he established a chain of gymnasiums in various parts of Gujarat. He went to Pondicherry in December 1918 to meet Sri Aurobindo who assured him that India’s freedom was imminent. He visited Pondicherry again in 1921 and joined Sri Aurobindo’s household as an inmate in 1923. Posterity would always remain grateful to him for keeping detailed notes of the ‘Evening Talks’ Sri Aurobindo had with his disciples. His duties in the Ashram included answering correspondence arriving from Gujarat, preparing hot water for the Mother’s bath at 2 a.m. and meeting aspirants who were keen to know about the Integral Yoga. He became Sri Aurobindo’s personal attendant when the latter met with an accident in November 1938. After Sri Aurobindo’s mahasamadhi, he took some classes in the Ashram School. He visited U.S.A., U.K., Africa and Japan to preach the message of Sri Aurobindo. A prolific writer who wrote in English and Gujarati, his published works include Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, The Life of Sri Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo in England, Savitri: An Approach and a Study, On Art: Addresses and Writings, Sri Aurobindo: Addresses on His Life and Teachings, Sri Aurobindo’s Vedic Glossary, Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine, Studies in Vedic Interpretation, Sri Aurobindo: Some Aspects of His Vision and Lectures on Savitri.
Some epistolary exchanges between K. M. Munshi and A. B. Purani about Sri Aurobindo have been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.
With warm regards,
Camp: 2 Windsor Place, New Delhi, Oct. 11, 1949.
My dear Ambubhai,
You will excuse my writing in English. I am doing so partly because it is easier to dictate in this language and partly because it might be possible for you to read it to Sri Aurobindo.
As I, perhaps, wrote to you, for years now I have entertained a desire—ineffective indeed—to contact Sri Aurobindo personally. Since 1940, when in jail I realised that in some moments my efforts to “surrender unto God” resulted in an impact with a new vitality; this desire has taken a more articulate form.
I had already written to Sri Aurobindo, through Dilip Kumar Roy, about the kind of sādhanā which I have evolved for myself. For years now, I have persistently been conscious of Vyasa leading me, guiding me; sometimes I feel as if He makes me His instrument. No doubt, often when occupied with worldly affairs, I lose sight of Him for days.
In 1944, when I was at Pahlgam in Kashmir, for days I felt that He was with me as a living Presence. Being a hard-boiled person, I doubted whether this experience was real or one of the tricks of my imagination. But the contact with this living Presence not only led me a step forward in my evolution but it was projected into this world of sense in several ways. For instance, the unexpected materialisation of an almost impossible dream of having a Temple of Aryan Culture (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan) in Bombay came as a direct result of that contact.
Much as I was devoted to Gandhiji and many things of spiritual value though I learnt at his feet, my spiritual world, of which the Vyasa-Vision was the central pivot, remained a thing apart. My book Bhagavad Gita and Modern Life which has just come out in a second edition would perhaps—if you are interested—show you how my mind has worked in this sector.
Then suddenly, accidentally, I met Dilip Kumar Roy; in Sri Aurobindo we found a common inspiration and, so to say, we rushed into each other’s arms. In my then frame of mind, it looked almost an establishment of fresh contact with Sri Aurobindo. I then wrote some letters to Dilip Kumar Roy asking for guidance and Sri Aurobindo was pleased to give it. I have not those letters with me here. He wrote: (1) that my Vyasa-Vision was not a figment of my imagination and that only my thinking it so was creating a barrier to my future progress, and (2) that in spiritual evolution there are stages when conscious efforts must be suspended in order that one may rise to a higher stage. Since then my wish to have a closer contact with Sri Aurobindo became insistent. But I have an instinctive horror of intermediaries—you will excuse me; perhaps it may be due to vanity; but there it is.
During my stay in Hyderabad, I went through one of my intensive courses of “surrender unto God”. I could only go through the trials, both physical and mental, at the time because of my Vyasa-Vision. After I came through my severe illness which followed, I decided just to let myself float effortlessly and go on performing the tasks of the moment, more and more as an ‘instrument’. The Vyasa-Vision has however receded as a living Presence but the sense of being nimittamātram bhava savyasāchin  has persisted. During the last nine months, I have worked intensively on the major problems of constitution-making. For the moment, I feel as if I am waiting for guidance; for something which may broaden the horizon of my self-fulfilment. The question has come to me again and again of late: Is there no greater, fuller use of me—‘this instrument’? I have a curious faith that if there is such, I will receive the mandate as I have received more than one during the last ten years.
You talk about Darshan. Darshan stimulates only those whose capacity for acquiring faith is highly sensitive. I know my limitation. I have indicated to you how Sri Aurobindo has had a certain spiritual and intellectual influence over me since my college days and how of late I have welcomed his guidance. Somehow I feel that he could, if he were so inclined, make it easy for me to follow the characteristic path of evolution which I am pursuing; but I know as well that if I came for Darshan as others do and go away without inspiration, it might have an adverse effect on my development. You will thus appreciate my hesitation in coming to Pondicherry on the usual days for Darshan.
You do not know how acutely I feel the need for guidance or, if I may so call it, a sign. I wait for it more impatiently than I care to confess. Whether it will come at all, I am not sure; whether it will come from Sri Aurobindo or anyone else or at all, I do now know. If the call comes, I will obey; but it must be a call to me with all my limitations; a call which infuses my poor, incomplete self to visualise, to embody and to interpret and, if God gives me energy and years, to reintegrate Aryan Culture for which I live—for which at any rate, I think I live.
And today Sri Aurobindo is the greatest exponent of Aryan Culture. In this conviction I must wait.
I am sorry I have let myself go. This is not written in a sentimental mood, but in so writing I have satisfied the craving of my innermost soul to convey the faith of my life to Sri Aurobindo. I am sure he will understand, if not appreciate, the struggle that I have embarked upon with the impediments which obstruct my progress. If he does not show me some way or if it is not the will of God that he should, I must rest content with doing the best I can in my humble way. If there is one lesson which Sri Krishna has taught me, it is: svadharma nidhanam śreyah .
I am so sorry that I have not been able to keep in touch with the latest Sri Aurobindo literature. I understand from some newspapers that his letters on poetry have been published. You refer to two further volumes of letters and Savitri. Please send me all the works of Sri Aurobindo that have been published during the last 3-4 years by V.P.P. If, as on the last occasion, Sri Aurobindo is pleased to sign his name I shall feel obliged.
My respects to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Best regards to Naginkaka. Has Dilip returned?
K. M. Munshi
Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 22nd November, 1949.
My dear Kanubhai,
I am sure you will be happy to know that your letter was read out to Sri Aurobindo. As you already know, he did remember your experience—the feeling of the presence of Vyasa—which you have recapitulated in this letter. I hope that his help has already reached you and perhaps you are already on the way to the solution of your inner impasse.
I went through some portion of the exposition of the Gita sent by you. It is an intellectual attempt and, as you correctly put it in your introduction, it has no validity of spiritual experience. There are, consequently, many metaphysical statements for which one would ask more reasoning than is found in the book. The attempts at Sadhana are sincere and as such would evoke emulation on the part of young men.
Well, I do not want to add anything more to what I wrote in my last letter about Darshan, since you have already a formed notion about what it would or would not be, and even its possible influence, good or adverse, on you.
I add here only two or three points which seem to me to be relevant to some of the ideas in your letter:
(1) Swadharma is really the expression of Swabhava. One should therefore know one’s Swabhava—one’s nature—before one can express it in one’s Dharma. Swabhava is not identical with Prakriti, the ego-centric nature of man. “Swabhava is the Becoming of the self.” It means the ideal mould of nature in which the free, divine spirit chooses to cast its manifestation. Swabhava therefore indicates in one sense the original and in another sense the ultimate mould of nature in which the Spirit expresses itself.
For instance, the Swabhava of Arjuna was that of a Kshatriya; his nature-mould was that of a hero, a fighter for great causes. His Swadharma, therefore, lay in fighting the battle according to the Aryan Code. But due to a nervous shrinking from the act of killing, due to attachment to his “own people”, “Swajana”, he wanted to adopt the Dharma of the Brahmin and the ascetic. Sri Krishna told Arjuna that his line of evolution and fulfilment lay in following his Swabhava and carrying out the action directed by Swadharma. Arjuna could aspire to divine help in overcoming the difficulties of his own ordinary Prakriti (nature) which came in the way of his Swabhava. But he could not logically implore his Guru’s help while retaining the impurities and imperfections of his nature. He would be accepted by Sri Krishna “with all his limitations” only if he were prepared to throw away the false sense of pity and the attachment which would come in the way of his own Dharma.
My point is that being faithful to the ideal and ultimate mould of one’s own nature is certainly required. Only, it would not mean compromise with the imperfections of one’s Prakriti (nature). That is at least how I understand—that for Arjuna to be faithful to his ideal mould of a Kshatriya is better than following another mould of nature which may attract him and even seem easier and better than the one in which his nature is cast. His own nature-mould may present him with difficulties. It only means that his course of evolution lies in overcoming those difficulties and not in avoiding them and accepting another Dharma-mould of his nature (Swabhava) which might look easier and even be better than his own.
(2) You write that Sri Aurobindo today is the greatest exponent of Aryan Culture. I know that you pay him the highest respect when you say so. I would go a little further, if I may, and say that Sri Aurobindo is not merely “an exponent” (which even a Radhakrishnan and Nehru and perhaps many others are in their own way), he is to me the highest embodiment of Aryan Culture. In fact, in a meeting at Lingaraja College of Belgaum I told the audience that when I was trying to find somebody in our past to whom I could compare Sri Aurobindo I could think of only two personalities: Sri Krishna and Veda-Vyasa. When I think of the grand synthesis of human culture which he has effected with Herculean labour I cannot bring to my mind anybody less than Vyasa in the field of knowledge and Sri Krishna in the field of embodying the Divine Consciousness. In The Life Divine he has not only synthesised all human thought up to date but has added his own coping-stone to it. In The Human Cycle he has analysed the factors of social development and laid bare the foundations and indicated the line of future evolution and of rebuilding the collective life. In The Ideal of Human Unity he has laid bare the political currents and powers and constitutions of humanity and indicated the lines along which alone humanity can attain its political-international unification. He has in The Future Poetry traced the course of poetical expression, and laid down by his own experience the psychological basis of a new poetical creation. He has given us the grand poem Savitri which promises to be the epic of the age. In The Synthesis of Yoga he has revealed the psychological process which would free the present mankind from the need of accepting any Shastra and yet keep open the path of higher evolution for those who want to try it!
A Defence of Indian Culture lays down for the present and the future India the basis of rebuilding our national life on solid foundations. Unostentatious, he has shirked the limelight and has only bothered the general public when his inner voice demanded it. Let me confess to you in this personal letter how deeply I feel the injustice which we, his own countrymen, have been doing to him. But the Light is there and one day the world is bound to see.
(3) A word about intermediaries. Please remember and note that all who have a relation with Sri Aurobindo have a direct relation. There is no one who serves as an intermediary. Whatever communication is addressed to Sri Aurobindo invariably reaches him so that one’s relation with Sri Aurobindo is direct and personal. No one is necessary to act as an intermediary.
I will close this rather long letter with two quotations from The Synthesis of Yoga, which I hope will give you food for thought and may be helpful in your present condition:
“For truth of the Spirit has not to be merely thought but to be lived, and to live it demands a unified single-mindedness of the being; so great a change as is contemplated by the Yoga is not to be effected by a divided will or by a small portion of the energy or by a hesitating mind. He who seeks the Divine must consecrate himself to God and to God only.” (p. 22)
“But if we desire to make the most of the opportunity that this life gives us, if we wish to respond adequately to the call we have received and to attend to the goal we have glimpsed, not merely advance a little towards it, it is essential that there should be an entire self-giving. The secret of success in Yoga is to regard it not as one of the aims to be pursued in life, but as the whole of life.” (p. 24)
A. B. Purani
A Letter for Sri Aurobindo through A. B. Purani
1, Queen Victoria Road, New Delhi, June 1, 1950.
My dear Gurudev,
I am venturing to address you this letter directly though so far I always wrote to you through Dilip Kumar Roy or Ambubhai Purani. I am doing it in all humility, for you have been an inspiring influence all my life and, after Gandhiji’s death, the only person whom I love to look up to with reverence.
I am sending you this letter when I am embarking upon the crucial test of my life.
For over two years now I have reconciled myself to the will of God which I thought indicated that I would not have an opportunity to serve the Motherland as a member of the Central Government. I was disappointed but not unhappy, for, if it was God’s will, there was an end of it. Unexpectedly Panditji’s call came when I was at New York where I was spending my holiday. I immediately responded to the call and am now given a very very difficult portfolio: Food and Agriculture.
I feel that God is trying me. I had the same feeling when I went to Hyderabad as Agent General and, if I succeeded there, it was only because of Him.
I have decided to exert myself to the utmost. If I succeed, India will come out of the Food Crisis; if I die during my duty I shall have left a tradition behind.
I have not been able to convert my spiritual aspirations into any concrete achievement. I am too much of the earth and have no right to a closer communion with you. But I do seek some inspiration from you and your blessings if you would give them.
Time and again I made attempts to come to Pondicherry and pay my respects to you. Once I almost started from Bangalore but with a life in which every day has got some toll or duty, it was not possible. Perhaps in July I may come to Madras and it might be possible for me to come to Pondicherry. But in the meantime I can only send my Pranams to you and Mother.
Yours, with reverence
K. M. Munshi
My dear Kanubhai,
Your letter of the 1st June to hand.
Sri Aurobindo directs me to write to you that you have his blessings in the task before you and that, as he is not writing letters and replying to them personally, he is asking me to write to you on his behalf.
A. B. Purani
I read your letter in the presence of Sri Aurobindo and then I read it to the Mother. She has given me a flower to be sent to you as a token of their blessings, which I include in this letter.
A. B. P.
1, Queen Victoria Road, New Delhi, 22nd June, 1950.
My dear Ambubhai,
Many thanks for your letter of the 8th of June. Thanks for the flower. I am coming to Madras by plane from Bombay on the 6th July and staying there till the morning of the 10th when I shall return to Delhi. On the 9th I am coming to Pondicherry by car to perform a pilgrimage to the Ashram which I had proposed to myself for years. I will be returning the same evening to Madras.
K. M. Munshi
Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 27-6-1950.
My dear Kanubhai,
Your letter of the 22-6-50 duly to hand.
I am so glad that you are able to come at last. Did I not ask you in one of my previous letters about your being included in the Central Cabinet? It is something to be given so great a task. I am therefore doubly glad about your coming now because it may mean so much for the country. To live at the present time, so important in the world’s history and when so great a spiritual Light as the Master is with us, is itself a great fortune. But to know such a Light, to recognise him and to come in his contact, and avail oneself of his help is something very significant for our life.
I may let you know that the Mother has made arrangement for your stay at Golconde—the Ashram guest house.
In order not to inconvenience you I would like to know if you want any special food or tea arrangements which I can make for you here. In fact I want to make your stay as comfortable and as profitable as possible. And as you have a strenuous time ahead the bodily needs can be so met as to cause you the least inconvenience. I know there will be no lack of energy in the task you have to face. The blessings you have are an inexhaustible Source of Energy.
Hoping to meet you soon,
A. B. Purani
1, Queen Victoria Road, New Delhi, June 29, 1950.
My dear Purani,
Many thanks for your letter of the 27th June 1950.
I am much obliged to the Mother for kindly making arrangements for my stay at Golconde. I am, you know, a vegetarian, and do not take chillies, pepper or oil in any shape or form. Otherwise there is nothing special that I need.
I am proposing to leave Madras by car at about 6 a.m. and shall reach Pondicherry at about 9 or 9.30 on the 9th July. Is Dilip Kumar Roy there? Please give him my best compliments.
Hoping to meet you all there, with kind regards,
K. M. Munshi
1, Queen Victoria Road, New Delhi, July 26, 1950.
My dear Ambubhai,
Leaving Pondicherry, I was so engulfed in office work that I had no occasion to thank you for your kindness and hospitality. I am sending you herewith a letter for Gurudev which please hand over to him. I am sending it open and if he sends any message, please send it to me. Would you also please convey my best respects to the Mother for her hospitality and kindness? The flower which you gave me, I have handed over to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
With kind regards,
K. M. Munshi
You must have read my reference to Gurudev published in the Hindu.
A Letter to Sri Aurobindo through A. B. Purani
1, Queen Victoria Road, New Delhi, July 30, 1950.
I apologise for not being able to write to you earlier expressing my deep thanks for the privilege which you accorded to me by giving me an interview. It was an inspiring experience and your presence has brought me a new vision of Life’s mission.
I mentioned to you two matters in respect of which I sought your advice. I restate them lest I should have not made them clear to you. I have reached a certain stage of evolution. As I wrote to you three years ago, the Divine Consciousness in the shape of a vision of Vyasa makes me its instrument sometimes. It does not become explicit, according to you, because my rationalistic mind often thinks it is imagination, not reality. Of late the Vyasa-vision does not come so often mainly because I remain so intensely occupied with different activities that no time is left for gathering the threads of suprasensual experience. At the same time the intense pursuit of activities for their own sake has transmuted for a little extent the earthly elements in me, my attachment to ambition and money, wrath and fear, and strengthened my attempt at surrender to God, Ishwara Pranidhan. I had that knowledge when in Hyderabad I was surrounded by circumstances which threatened my life at many moments.
In accepting Panditji’s invitation to become a Food Minister, I felt that it was God’s will. In that spirit alone I have been working. You promised me three years ago that you would guide me. Though there has been no direct communication, I feel coming closer and when accident brought me to Pondicherry I felt that there was something of God’s will even in the Darshan I had of you.
I would like to have your guidance also as regards the future of Sanatana Dharma. Starting from your Uttarpara Speech which has been a sort of beacon light to me for years, I have been working for the re-integration of Hindu Culture. I have spoken and written about it extensively. Many have come to look upon me as a kind of missionary of re-integrated Indian Culture. But I am neither learned nor profound as a thinker. I can only contribute my faith and the little energy which has been vouchsafed to me. I only pray that strength be given to me to carry forward the message of seers of whom, in my opinion, you are the only surviving Apostle. What shall I do now?
I want very much to come closer to you, in order that I may receive the inspiration which may enable me to re-integrate our ancient culture. I wonder whether that aspiration will be fulfilled.
Out of the two other topics which we discussed, the substance of your views relating to Pondicherry I have conveyed to our Prime Minister.
In all humility, I remain,
K. M. Munshi
Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 3rd August, 1950.
My dear Kanubhai,
In reply to your letter to him of July 30th 1950 Sri Aurobindo has asked me to write to you the following:
“Your feeling that there should be re-integration of Indian Culture under modern conditions is quite right. It is the work that has to be done. And as far as Sri Aurobindo can see at present, Indian Spiritual Culture has a great and bright future before it. It is the future power that can dominate the world.
“So, your efforts in carrying out that work are quite in the right direction, and in carrying out that work you would have his full support and blessings.”
I am sure you will find this reply most encouraging.
I was anxiously awaiting your letter though I knew that you would be taken up by the whirlwind of activity when you went out. One has, even then, to find time and leisure, if one can so call it, for things that ultimately matter. The source has to be there, it has to be tapped to keep the stream running—running in the right direction and carrying life-giving waters.
All of us were pleasantly surprised to read your convocation address as reported by the Hindu. In it you did strike the right note and you also succeeded in conveying to the outside public the correct impression about Sri Aurobindo. Your language rose to the occasion. We had a talk with Sri Aurobindo and I can confide it to you that he appreciated your speech, as a contribution to “the work that has to be done”.
I know you are not merely formal when you convey your thanks to some of us. But is it really necessary when we form parts of one Great Work to be done? We are all happy to see the inspiration you received from the great work and we all look forward to you carrying it out under the guidance of the Light and the unfailing blessings.
It is a great mission that has been laid on Mother India and it is a mission imposed by Him who wants to make Mother India the channel for His work. Let us be sincere and devoted, selfless and desireless and let the Will work. For, then we shall be His worthy instruments. What can be more glorious than that He should manifest on earth?
Please convey my best wishes to Sardar Patel—I much better like his old name Vallabhbhai—when you meet him.
Please convey my best wishes to Lilavati, and blessings to your children.
A. B. Purani
 “Arrow-shooter with both hands (Arjuna), be thou only the occasion.”—The Gita.
 “Better to die following swadharma, that is, the law of one’s own nature.”—The Gita.