As a part of our ongoing series on the early years of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, we are publishing a brilliant article titled, ‘When were Aurobindo Ghose and Mirra called “Sri Aurobindo” and the “Mother”’ penned by Shri Raman Reddy, a noted researcher and archivist at Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives and Research Department. Not only does this article point out the precise time and course of events of the said theme but it also provides us with invaluable archival notes.
With warm regards,
When were Aurobindo Ghose and Mirra called “Sri Aurobindo” and the “Mother”?
Barring a few exceptions, it was only towards the end of 1926 that the disciples in Pondicherry began referring to Aurobindo Ghose and Mirra as “Sri Aurobindo” and the “Mother” in their diary notes, etc. Aurobindo Ghose was first referred to as “Sri Aurobindo” before Mirra came to be known as the “Mother”, and there was a period of transition (longer for the Mother than for Sri Aurobindo) when some of the disciples used both names simultaneously.
A.B. Purani’s handwritten notes of Sri Aurobindo’s Evening Talks show this change of name. This is not apparent from the published text, nor sometimes from the typed copies of the handwritten notes, because “A.G.” and “Mirra” had become “Sri Aurobindo” and the “Mother” by the time the typed copies were made and the book published. The former names were replaced by the latter for the sake of consistency. Purani first used the abbreviation “Shri A” in his rough notes of Sri Aurobindo’s Evening Talk of 16 September 1926 after using “A.G.” until that date. Haradhan Bakshi, another sadhak of the time, began using the name “Shri Aurobindo” in his diary on 19 September 1926. Both then went through a short period of transition during which they kept switching between “A.G.” and “Sri Aurobindo” (sometimes even on the same day), and finally settled for the latter by October 1926.
In the case of the Mother, Haradhan Bakshi referred to her as “Mother” for the first time on 24 September 1926. Until then he had referred to her as “Mira” or “Mira Devi”; he would also use the variant “Shri Mirra Devi” after the Siddhi Day. Though by the beginning of 1927, Haradhan mostly referred to her as “Mother”, it was not until the end of 1928 that he stopped using altogether the name “Mira”. For Anilbaran Roy, there was no period of transition at all. After coming back from Bengal on 10 December 1926, he wrote in his diary, “Sri Aurobindo has retired and Mirra Devi has taken charge of creating a new world.” The following day Sri Aurobindo instructed him in an interview to surrender himself to “Mirra Devi”. The very next day, that is, on 12 December 1926, Anilbaran referred to the Mother as “Mother” and never again as “Mirra Devi”. Other documents show that Barin, Amrita and Bejoy also started using the name “Mother” by the beginning of 1927.
When did Aurobindo Ghose sign as “Sri Aurobindo”?
Sri Aurobindo first signed as “Sri Aurobindo” (and not “Aurobindo Ghose” or “Sri Aurobindo Ghose”) in a letter written to Tirupati on 22 March 1926. However, it was under exceptional circumstances. The next known letter signed by him “Sri Aurobindo” is dated 1 August 1927 — this was later published as Chapter 3 of the book The Mother. Though there are a few more letters signed similarly in 1927 after this date, it was not until 1928 that Sri Aurobindo consistently signed his letters as “Sri Aurobindo” and even referred to himself in the third person as such. The final form of his name was continued into the last decade of his life, during which he made several public declarations. His support for the Allies during World War II (1940), the Independence Day Message (1947), the messages to the Andhra University(1948) and America(1949), were all issued in the name of “Sri Aurobindo”. However, Sri Aurobindo retained his original name “Aurobindo Ghose” to sign legal deeds such as property titles, etc.
JAYA DEVI’S REMINISCENCE
‘I used to visit him [Sri Aurobindo] every day. He would make me sit near him and listen to everything carefully. After four or five days I asked A.G. : “Why are these chairs here?” “They are for people who listen to my words and practise meditation – they sit in these chairs.” Somehow I didn’t like the idea. So I said: “Lord, this doesn’t look proper. That the sadhaks, your disciples, should be sitting in the chairs along with you doesn’t look nice. Better to have mats or carpets on the floor. While you sit in the chair, the rest can sit below.” He only smiled a little and kept quiet. Two days after, I noticed that the chairs had been removed and a durrie spread out on the floor.
‘In those years the Ashram was less crowded and I used to go and see him every day. One day I asked him: “Lord, why do they call you A.G.?” “A.G.? Who says A.G.?”, he counter-questioned. “These sadhaks speak like that, I have heard it.” Then he said, with a smile: “Well, it’s a good idea of yours.” Seven or eight days later, I found on the notice-board: “Sri Aurobindo.” I was told the Mother had given that name. This made me rather happy.
‘After two days, I went to see him with a pair of garlands which I had woven with my own hands and rolled inside a handkerchief. Looking at the hidden object in my hands he asked: “What is it you have brought?” “A pair of garlands,” I answered. “What will you do with garlands?” “One I shall place round your neck and the other at your feet,” I chirped gaily. Pleased with my reply, he said: “Well, give me one, and there, within the house, is your Mother, go and give her the other garland.” “Lord, where is the Mother? In which room? I do not know anything; please guide me a little.” He then explained: “As you go up the inner staircase you will find a room in front. The Mother lives there. You will give the garland to her.” “Lord, permit me to go there,” I said. Smilingly he agreed: “Yes, now go.”
‘I came down, wondering with whom to go. But, I also thought, what was there to worry about in going to the Mother? “Oh my mind, take me there. When the Lord has said so, I will certainly be able to meet her.” On reaching down with this thought, I found Purani’s wife, Lilavati, standing in front. I said to Lila: “Dear sister, please accompany me a little,” “Where to?” inquired Lila. “First let us go up the inside staircase. Then I shall tell you,” I said. “Then let us go,” she answered. After we had gone up the stairs we saw a room in front. I went inside with the garland in hand. Then I saw the Mother standing, in a red-bordered sari. She came a little closer to me and I offered the flowers and made my pranam to her. The Mother had a veil on, and when I gave her the garland she was smiling, but since I didn’t know any English I couldn’t speak with her. After a while, I came away. Lilavati followed suit. When she had come we went to our respective places….
‘It was the month of Asvin in 1926. At the time of Sri Aurobindo’s daily darshan I said: “Lord, the month of Asvin is here. Every year I celebrate Mahashtami puja. I am wondering what to do now; shall I return home or what?” “Why, won’t there be puja here?” he asked. “Yes, it’s possible: the worship of Shiva-Durga. If I can perform your worship and the Mother’s, then perhaps I need not go from here. That is why I am wondering…”
‘“Well, you can do that.”
‘On the day of Mahashtami Sri Aurobindo and the Mother sat in two chairs side by side. With the usual offering I performed the puja. I put garlands round both. Oh, it was as if Shiva and Durga had come down to accept the worship! It is impossible to describe all that I felt. It was ineffable, beyond thought.’
[August – October 1926]
Source: Mother India, August, November 1970, pp 403-404, 623
Jaya Devi’s story is so beautiful that a historian might doubt its authenticity. How is it that such an important event as the Mother writing Sri Aurobindo’s name on the notice board was missed out by the more well-known sadhaks of the time, namely, Purani, Nolini and Champaklal? The chronology in the story is also vague—no precise dates, except that of the Siddhi Day, have been given by her. But the dates can be found with a little effort. According to old records, Jaya Devi (Nonibala renamed) and her younger brother, Dr. Upendranath Bannerji (Dr Babu) arrived in Pondicherry on 7 August 1926. Jaya Devi met Sri Aurobindo the following day. Taking into account her objection to the chairs “four days” later, and their removal “two days” after that, we arrive at the date 14 August 1926. The next available date is that of the Mahasthmati, which was on 14 October in 1926. Between these two dates, the Mother wrote Sri Aurobindo’s name on the notice-board, urging the disciples to address him henceforth as “Sri Aurobindo” instead of “A.G.”. That it had the desired effect is shown by Purani’s notes of the Evening Talks and Haradhan’s diary, which reflect the same period of transition with regard to Sri Aurobindo’s name. Jaya Devi’s story becomes at once credible, and, perhaps, the lesson that we learn is that beautiful stories need not be untrue.
The first two diary entries of Haradhan Bakshi recall that something special happened, or rather began happening to him, from 15.08.1926 onwards. It coincides with Haradhan bowing down to Mirra Devi on the same day. On 20.10.1926, he uses the word “Mother” for the first time. He asks Sri Aurobindo for “Mirra Devi’s direct help” on 8.11.1926. Sri Aurobindo gives him an appointment to meditate with the Mother on 18.11.1926. After his first meditation with the Mother, he tells Sri Aurobindo, “You are my Father and Truth, so She is my Mother and for me She is the manifestation of Love, Knowledge, Power and Mastery.” Though Haradhan’s diary shows the smooth transition from regarding Mirra as another disciple of Sri Aurobindo to Mother as a spiritual guide in her own right, he doesn’t stop using the name “Mirra” even after having started to refer to her as “Mother”. He sometimes refers to both “Mirra” and “Mother” on the same day and within a single paragraph of his diary notation, not to mention the usage of other variants such as “my Mother”, “Mirra Devi”, “Shri Mirra Devi, etc. The matter is not so puzzling as it seems after reading the quote below of what Mother told him about her name:
About Her name She [Mother] said, ‘My name is all powerful in the vital world and against any hostile attack. I asked Sri Aurobindo to change my name. He concentrated and then said to keep it on – perhaps it has a meaning that is not yet revealed. Once I went into the vital world to prepare the way of spiritual realisation for those who start from that plane, I heard the adverse forces flying said, ‘It is Mirra, it is Mirra.’
Haradhan,NB 3, pp 266-67