Jawaharlal Nehru’s Letter to Lakshmi Menon on the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry

Dear Friends,

On 27 August 1958, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, had written a letter to Lakshmi Menon, Deputy Minister in the Ministry of External Affairs, in which he had made certain observations about the Sri Aurobindo Ashram of Pondicherry. In this letter, which was declassified sometime in 2011, we find Jawaharlal Nehru stating that the Sri Aurobindo Ashram have been ‘very anti-Indian in the past’.

The entire text of Nehru’s letter has been published in the website of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee


Overman Foundation.

27 August 1958

My dear Lakshmi,

Your note about your visit to Pondicherry.

I do not think it is desirable for us to issue an ultimatum to the French Government about the date for de jure transfer.  That kind of thing will do us little good and may do us much harm. It will not, in fact, make much difference to Pondicherry. It is true that there is some uncertainty about the future and this comes in the way of certain political aspects of the question. But nobody is at all certain about Pondicherry continuing in India. We made it quite clear that Pondicherry will not be absorbed in Madras State or interfered with in any other way unless the people themselves so wish.

The Aurobindo Ashram there has certainly done some good work. They have very large resources to which they are continuously adding. Nevertheless, I do not consider the atmosphere generated in that Ashram as very desirable. No doubt they are pro-Indian now but they have been very anti-Indian in the past.  However, there is no reason why we should take advantage of what they have done.

About the other matters you have written to me, I am sending your note to the Foreign Secretary.
Yours sincerely,

Jawaharlal Nehru

45 Replies to “Jawaharlal Nehru’s Letter to Lakshmi Menon on the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry

  1. Remarkable sharing, Anurag ! This should modify whatever good perceptions we hold for Nehru. And also question Nehru: the visionary(?).

    1. We should certainly modify our perspective, but it is directly opposite to what you may think. I have left a couple of comments regarding Pt. Nehru below. Also, what exactly is the source of this letter? And what is the context behind this? Why did Pt. Nehru ever visit an anti-Indian place?

  2. It is not expected at all. Today, 27 May is his Death Anniversary and I read now his uncharitable remarks on Sri Aurobindo Ashram. It is just unthinkable.

    1. Unbecoming of a gentleman to make such a blunt statement in official letter against Ashram calling them ‘Anti-National in the Past’ when in official records show there is not an ota of truth…

      1. Quite expectedly there’s been a long list of comments (mostly defence and few real good debate) on Overman Foundation site on this letter. I wish Nehru would have elaborated. Just a statement is unworthy unless it is supported with enough arguments. There might be a lot of reasons behind such conception, obviously. Anyway, criticism is always welcome, although however most of the devotees (of every lofty ideal) are never ready to accept any criticism. Blind rejection is as bad as blind acceptance.

  3. We would have liked to know how and why on earth we were anti -Indian if Pandit ji were alive today
    . However his visit later to the Ashram must have radically changed his this misplaced perception .. Surendra s chouhan SAICE ‘ 69

  4. There were many unfavorable remarks on the Ashram in the past. One should not dignify those unimportant comments with criticism or even publishing them.

      1. “Moreover, as Aurobindo Ghose
        has pointed out, every truth, however true in itself, yet taken
        apart from others which at once limit and complete it, becomes
        a snare to bind the intellect and a misleading dogma; for in
        reality each is one thread of a complex weft and no thread must
        be taken apart from the weft.”

        —The Discovery of India by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

        Its popularity and influ-
        ence have not waned ever since it was composed and written in
        the pre-Buddhistic age, and to-day its appeal is as strong as ever
        in India. Every school of thought and philosophy looks up to it
        and interprets it in its own way. In times of crisis, when the mind
        of man is tortured by doubt and is torn by the conflict of duties,
        it has turned all the more to the Gita for light and guidance. For
        it is a poem of crisis, of political and social crisis and, even more so,
        of crisis in the spirit of man. Innumerable commentaries on the
        Gita have appeared in the past and they continue to come out with
        unfailing regularity. Even the leaders of thought and action of the
        present day—Tilak, Aurobindo Ghose, Gandhi—have written on
        it, each giving his own interpretation. Gandhiji bases his firm
        belief in non-violence on it, others justify violence and warfare
        for a righteous cause.”

        —Pandit Nehru’s on the Bhagavad Gita (The Discovery of India)

        I am not quite sure why someone who never took pride in the rich Indian culture or heritage would write something like this.

  5. Dear Anurag,

    This negative attitude which Nehru had towards the Ashram was created by Dilip Kumar Roy who could never accept the Mother and spoke badly of her to Nehru. There were many who disliked the Mother and they never stopped poisoning Nehru’s ears. Sri Aurobindo’s placing the Mother on such a high pedestal was considered by many as anti-Indian.

    Please read Georges van Vrekhem’s book and you will see the details.

    The Mother was always very good to Nehru.



    1. Dear Sunayana – You have very rightly put the matter in proper perspective – Dilip Da – though I admire him greatly as a divine singer – his other side of life was not above reproach – He was always in awe of so called brittle greatness of certain persons – Nehru was one among them and he was gullible and he lent his ears easily to whatever was spoken to him – And it will always remain mystery as to why on earth Dilip Da could not accept the Divine Mother in spite of Sri Aurobindo’s repeated words of admonitions and even implorings – The Divine Mother had poured all Her love and blessings UPON Dilip da … but alas !!! …
      Surendra s chouhan SAICE ’69

      1. This revelation is untimely, uncalled for and out of context. Divine ShriMaa and SriAurobindo had always held Nehruji in high esteem, that is quite evident from the comments of Shri S S Chouhan, Shriyut Sunayana Panda and few others. Some people have expressed anger and called names to Nehruji, this is unlike followers of SriAurobindo and Lord would never have approved this.
        This is some sort of conspiracy or what?? Not only Nehruji but after him Indiraji also sought blessings of ShriMaa time to time and issued a postal stamp in honour of Divine Mother.
        This type of propaganda about a person who had spent 10 golden years of his life in jail for Mother India. Though I am a staunch supporter of Right Wing politics but this type of hero killing makes me sad to the core. Kill your ancestors and future generations will kill you.

    2. Yes, Pandit Nehru’s letter (State of Affairs at the Aurobindo Ashram) does seem to support the view that this perception was formed by Mr Roy. In another letter (On Exemptions to Aurobindo Ashram), Pandit Nehru writes:

      “Sri Aurobindo was undoubtedly a great man and we should welcome any proper memorial to him, more especially a new educational centre.”

  6. 1. Hi, what is the point in publishing this letter in so open a forum?

    There was obviously some misunderstanding due to misinformation and I don’t think publicizing one isolated negative remark is a good idea.

    Sri Aurobindo had written highly of Jawaharlal Nehru’s psychic being in a letter to Dilip Kumar Roy and when J. Nehru passed away, The Mother too had spoken in glowing terms of his soul
    as being one with the Soul of India that lives for Eternity.

    It may have been better to publicize those remarks on J. Nehru’s death anniversary.

    2. During Second World War, Nehru’s allegiance was very clearly on the side of Allies while Netaji aligned himself with the diabolical side. Nehru was critical of Netaji’s move of military conquest of India (a move which Sri Aurobindo labelled as “treason and crime against the Motherland” in a letter to DKR).

    Viewed objectively, on this most vital issue, Nehru was on the side of Sri Aurobindo and Netaji was opposing his work, both inadvertently perhaps. But most Bengalis demonize Nehru and glorify Netaji for this.

    One has to be very careful then.

    1. Dear Anurag – We need to take cognizance of what Amartya Kumar Dutta has written – there is a strong – In fact – there is quite a rational argument in what is being said here in his mail based upon indubitable historical facts and perceptions –
      Surendra s chouhan – SAICE ’69

  7. I feel he is not referring to Sri Aurobindo personally but to people in the Ashram – probably some Westerners who might have a critical view on India.
    Also he seems to be not comfortable about Ashram having large property and keeping on adding to it. I suspect some complaints from local people not comfortable about this might have reached him.
    Pl don’t bring Mother into this. She has no role in this matter.
    Again it is highly unlikely that DKR has any responsibility because as I have mentioned above, Nehru’s ire is for a supposed anti Indian stance of Ashram. How could DKR had created this impression (even granting that he might have been anti Mother as alleged by some)?
    But anyway thanks for bringing out this unknown facet of Panditji. Historical facts have no opinions. It is people who read it form one as per their own beliefs.

      1. Nehru knew little about India’s heritage. He was just a politician and helped country’s division. We have little respect for him.

  8. An interesting letter. Would it also be possible to publish what Nehru said either through his first hand account or through emissaries that reported it to the Mother, his impressions after his first visit to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. His daughter Indira had gone with him and subsequently visited a few more times herself. That would give a wider perspective to the whole subject. Nehru’s first impression may have been revised? It would be good to shed some light on this?

  9. Dear Mr Dutta,

    Jawaharlal Nehru passed away on 27th May 1964,: whereas Sri Aurobindo left for his divine journey on 5th December 1950. Hence, how could Sri Aurobindo have possibly written about J. Nehru after the latter’s death ?
    With regards,

  10. Dear Anurag,
    How did Dr Karan Singh react to Jawaharlal Nehru’s views on Sri Aurobindo Ashram?
    Going by what others have written, am I to conclude that it was only due to Dilip Kumar Roy that Nehru viewed Sri Aurobindo Ashram as anti-Indian at some point in time?
    Or, could Mahatma Gandhi too might have similar views.
    Strange are the ways of the world.

    With regards,

  11. The Mother has spoken highly of Nehru and Nehru in his later years as PM has visited the Ashram a couple of times. In the earlier years as PM and as a politician everyone knows about the political blunders that he has made and the consequences of which we are suffering today.We see two sides to a human being and in the case of Nehru as a politician he was a failure but as a ‘human being’ he was certainly an enlightened soul,otherwise The Mother wouldn’t have spoken of him so highly.

  12. Dear Mr. Sudipta Choudhury,

    Please read my note carefully.

    I did not make the ridiculous statement that Sri Aurobindo had written about J Nehru after the latter’s death. I said “and when J. Nehru passed away, The Mother too had spoken in glowing terms of his soul…”

    In any case, if you look at p. 90 of the book “Netaji —The Man” by Dilip Kumar Roy published
    by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in 1966, you will see Dilip Kumar Roy recalls his asking Sri Aurobindo
    whether he would support his (Dilip’s) praying for Jawaharlal Nehru.

    Sri Aurobindo replied: “Pray for him of course. He [Jawaharlal] is a man with a strong psychic
    element and in this life or another that must go beyond the mind to find its source.”

    The precise date is not mentioned but from what has been narrated just before, this correspondence must have taken place around 1936.

    With regards,

    Amartya Dutta

    1. Dear Amartya Babu – Your reply is quite illuminating like the one before – I am well aware of this response of Sri Aurobindo to Dilip da’s query – it is well documented in his book ” Netaji -The Man ” – I have a copy of this book . –
      Regards – Surendra singh chouhan – SAICE ’69

  13. Dear Anurag,
    I am baffled at the above comments. Is this the Work we are assigned by the Divine Mother.
    Quote comes alight;
    ‘ Do not Criticize,
    Do not judge,
    Do not Condemn
    It is not your look out.’
    The Divine
    Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a place for souls evolve.
    Why are we missing the great opportunity.

    1. Dear S Patel –
      We are not criticizing anybody – all that we are trying to do is to get into the bottom of the Truth through a healthy discussion – this is an open liberal ” Forum ” –
      Surendra Singh Chouhan – SAICE’69

  14. Bonjour.
    What is the purpose of publishing the letter. Not worth taking note of Nehru’s comments on Ashram.

  15. Georges Van Vrekhem writes about Sri Aurobindo’s meeting with Maurice Schumann in September 1947 in his book, “The Mother: The Story of Her Life”: ‘This French politician and philosopher, then thirty-five, had been the official spokesman for the Free French Forces in London throughout the Second World War. He was deputed by the French government to be the leader of a cultural mission to propose the setting up at Pondicherry of an institute for the research and study of Indian and European culture, with Sri Aurobindo at its head. Nothing came of the institute, but Schumann’s visit had an annoying consequence: Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian prime minister, was angered because the French politician had gone first to meet Sri Aurobindo before coming to see him.’

    Another, little known event that would make Nehru suspicious of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram — and that may have contributed to the Mother not being awarded dual nationality — was his meeting with Dilip K. Roy. On 13 December 1952, Nehru had already written a memorandum to the secretary general and the foreign secretary, M.E.A. (Ministry of External Affairs), ‘On Exemptions to Aurobindo Ashram’: ‘1.1 have considered this matter carefully and am of opinion that the concession asked for by the authorities of Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram in Pondicherry should not be granted. We should advise accordingly the Ministries concerned here… 2. In view of our difficult relations with the French Establishments in India, any such concession is undesirable, more especially because this means Indian currency going into Pondicherry. [Pondicherry did not yet belong to the Indian Union.] 3. The attitude of the Ashram has hardly ever been favourable to India and sometimes it has been definitely hostile. Sri Aurobindo was undoubtedly a great man and we should welcome any proper memorial to him, more especially a new educational centre. But Sri Aurobindo is no more and it is not quite clear how the Ashram is going to run in future. Such accounts as we had are not favourable and we have even heard that there are internal conflicts there. Most of the property stands personally in the name of Madame Alphonse [He means Alfassa] otherwise known as the ‘Mother.’ So does the jewellery. It would be extraordinary for us to give this concession to a private individual. 4. So far as the University centre is concerned, a number of prominent men in India have commended it, but I have failed to find out under whose auspices it will run and who will be responsible for it. To take some steps to support a University of this type, about which we know nothing, except that it is a memorial to Sri Aurobindo, is obviously not desirable.’ Etc.

    There is another memorandum by Jawaharlal Nehru, ‘State of Affairs at the Aurobindo Ashram,’ written on 22 December 1952, nine days later, and also addressed to the general secretary, M.E.A. ‘I had a visit from Shri Dilip Kumar Roy of Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry. He was much concerned at the state of the Ashram, which according to him consists of eight hundred persons now. He complained about the “Mother”. He said that while the Ashramites were almost all in favour of merger of Pondicherry with India, the Mother was very French in her outlook. 2. He also complained of the way the Mother controlled everything autocratically and dealt with all the moneys of the Ashram as if they were her private property. She gave no account of these public funds. She takes nobody in her confidence. There is no trust or committee to deal with the moneys or other matters of the Ashram. 3. Then he referred to the University. He said there is no University, but it has been declared that this has been started and money is being collected. Why is this money collected? He expressed his gratification at the fact that we refused to allow a concession to the Mother to sell her jewellery without payment of customs dues. 4. Shri Dilip Kumar Roy wanted us to bring some pressure on the Mother or on the French Government in regard to the Ashram and in regard to the so-called University.’ Etc.’ [pp. 410-412]

  16. What follows is an account of the reception given to Jawaharlal Nehru during his very first visit to Sri Aurobindo Ashram on 16 January 1955: ‘The Ashram accorded him a cordial welcome. The Ashram boys and girls, beginning with the youths and ending with the infant section, formed a guard of honour lining his route from the street through the inside courtyard up to the Meditation Hall. He was received by the Secretary and others at the gate. He regarded the boys with intent eyes as he passed to pay homage to the Samadhi. As he was going up to the Mother, the youngest child at the end of the guard offered him a bouquet of roses and greeted him with “Jai Hind.” Then he was alone with the Mother upstairs for about twenty minutes.’ [Glimpses of the Mother’s Life, Volume II, pp. 265-266]

    Here is an account of Nehru’s second visit to Sri Aurobindo Ashram: ‘During Nehru’s second visit to Pondicherry, on 29 September 1955, his coming to the Ashram was no part of the official programme. Towards the end of the official functions he inquired where the Mother could be met at the time. “At the Playground,” he was told. Then he cut short the rest of the programme and drove out without security escort to see the Mother. Indira Gandhi had preceded him and was with the Mother. She was visibly touched by the Mother’s affectionate way of welcome.’ [Ibid., p. 266]

    During the third visit of Nehru to the Ashram, on 13 June 1963, ‘his call on the Mother topped his programme. Then he visited the Centre of Education and in the evening saw the students in games and sports.’ [Ibid., p. 266]

  17. It should be made very clear that the objective of Overman Foundation is neither to belittle nor defame anyone. Since its inception in March 2010, that is, for the past eleven years, the organization has strived to bring to light new discoveries on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. It is a well-known fact that both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother held Jawaharlal Nehru in high esteem. About Nehru Sri Aurobindo had remarked: ‘He bears on himself the stamp of a very fine character, a nature of the highest sattwic kind, full of rectitude and a high sense of honour, a man of the finest Brahmin type with what is best in European education added. That is the impression he gives. I must say that the Mother was struck by his photograph when she first saw it in the papers, singling it out from the mass of ordinary eminent people.’ When Nehru passed away on 27 May 1964, the Mother had written: ‘Nehru leaves his body, but his soul is one with the soul of India that lives for eternity.’

    But it is also a fact that Jawaharlal Nehru did have a negative attitude towards the Sri Aurobindo Ashram initially as is evident from his letter to Krishna Menon that has been published in the open forum of Overman Foundation recently. How and why did his attitude change afterwards is a different story altogether.

    We believe that truth should be presented from every perspective. And that is exactly what we are trying to do.

    With warm regards,
    Anurag Banerjee
    Overman Foundation.

    1. Dear Anurag – your latest missives and posts put everything in happy perspective – I could not have agreed more with Claude Chamberland in this regard – It was just right that you have written everything in detail based upon extraordinary sound research to back up your thesis .
      Surendra Singh Chouhan – SAICE ’69

  18. First I want to thank Anurag for sharing with us his tremendous research on all relevant documents linked with Mother and Sri Aurobindo. All the comments related to this extraordinary piece of archive brought to the light render a higher synthesis and comprehension about the way the Ashram was perceived by Jawaharlal Nehru in the first years after Sri Aurobindo’s Mahasamadhi and how, then, it evolved little by little up to the point that in his third visit to Pondicherry, his first concern was clearly towards meeting Mother. It stands with Sri Aurobindo’s observation that “He [Jawaharlal] is a man with a strong psychic element and in this life or another that must go beyond the mind to find its source.” It seems that more and more over the years, Jawaharlal Nehru’s psychic being took his rights in place of his formerly so strong mental being and this brought him closer and closer to the Mother. The document of 27 August 1958 is only a piece in a chronological puzzle tending to prove this comment that Sri Aurobindo have made in the nineteen thirdy’s!

  19. Now a days everybody knows that this family (Nehru-Gandhi family) is Anti-India, Anti- Indian culture and anti Hindu from the core of its heart from the day one.
    This family always portrayed India as a poor country of snake charmers. They always demeaned the rich Indian culture and its heritage.
    And surprisingly Mr. MK Gandhi was also anti-Hindu.
    Even today this family and their party do not spare a single moment to demean India.
    But Thanks to God, that today people have understood their real character.

    May Sri Maa bless us All.

  20. Dear Anurag,

    First, many many thanks for the detailed expositions which put matters in perspective. 

    Second, in an online forum,  the assumption of something being “well-known” will  not hold for a large class of viewers. So I feel it will be desirable  to publish such letters (like J. Nehru’s 1958 letter to Lakshmi Menon) only as a part of a bigger picture and not in isolation.   You can see that the letter had triggered harsh comments on Mr Nehru from some our correspondents which contradict what Sri Aurobindo and The Mother have revealed about his inner being.

    BTW, you refer to a letter of Panditji to Krishna Menon. Are you referring to the same 1958 letter or is there some other letter published earlier which I’ve overlooked?

    Third,  it is understandable that as the  Head of a nation which has just attained independence, Mr. Nehru would have been cautious and watchful about the Ashram in 1952. He would not have known about the greatness of the Mother, instead he would have heard a few negative comments. We need to remember that Pondicherry was outside British India and even Independent India till 1954. 

    Fourth, what is however intriguing is that even after his two visits to the Ashram in 1955, 
    Mr. Nehru had not modified his view (till 1958 at least) that the Ashram had been anti-India in the past.  In the 1958 letter, he has merely conceded that the Ashram is now pro-India.

    The 1952 letter does not throw  any light on why he believed that the Ashram is anti-India.  It only shows that he was having the view for a long time. The nature of the explicit complaints he refers to (non-existence of a Trust, internal conflicts, etc) cannot by themselves attract the label “anti-India”. There is perhaps something more to it which may become transparent some day.  

    With warm regards

  21. Had gone through the detailed declassified documents regarding the correspondence between central government(Nehru) and the then Indian government’s Muslim agent at Pondicherry.
    The above record is very funny and full of the mischievous and fabricated reports sent by the above mentioned Pondy representative. The real nature of Pandit Nehru comes out from the above exchanges.
    Not able to recall where I had read it, but shall try to search for these exchanges.

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