20th October 2022 marks the eighty-sixth birthday of Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee, legendary author, researcher, scholar, musicologist and board-member of Overman Foundation.
Born on 20th October 1936 to Tejendranath and Usha Mukherjee, Dr. Prithwindra is the grandson of the illustrious revolutionary Jatindranath Mukherjee alias Bagha Jatin. He came to Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1948, studied and taught at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. He was mentioned by the Sahitya Akademi manuals and anthologies as a poet before he attained the age of twenty. He has translated the works of French authors like Albert Camus, Saint-John Perse and René Char for Bengali readers, and eminent Bengali authors into French. He shifted to Paris with a French Government Scholarship in 1966. After defending a first thesis Doctorat d’Université on Sri Aurobindo at Sorbonne, he served as a lecturer in two Paris faculties, a producer on Indian culture and music for Radio France and was also a freelance journalist for the Indian and French press. His next thesis for PhD (Doctorat d’Etat) studied the pre-Gandhian phase of India’s struggle for freedom; it was supervised by Raymond Aron in Paris University IV. In 1977 he was invited by the National Archives of India as a guest of the Historical Records Commission. He presented a paper on ‘Jatin Mukherjee and the Indo-German Conspiracy’ and his contribution on this area has been recognized by eminent educationists. A number of his papers on this subject have been translated into major Indian languages. He went to the United States of America as a Fullbright scholar and discovered scores of files covering the Indian revolutionaries in the Wilson Papers. In 1981 he joined the department of ethnomusicology attached to the CNRS-Paris (French National Centre of Scientific Research) with the project of a cognitive study of the scales of Indian music. He was also a founder-member of the French Literary Translators’ Association. In 2003 he retired as a researcher in Human and Social Sciences Department of the CNRS. A recipient of ‘Sri Aurobindo Puraskar’, in the same year he was invited by Sir Simon Rattle who was to conduct Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for the world premiere of Correspondances, opus for voice (with the divine participation of Dawn Upshaw) and orchestra, where the veteran composer Henri Dutilleux had set to music Prithwindra’s French poem “Danse cosmique” on Shiva Nataraja, followed by texts by Solzhenitsyn, Rilke and Van Gogh. In 2009 he was appointed to the rank of chevalier (Knight) of the Order of Arts and Letters by the Minister of Culture of France. Six years later the Minister of Culture appointed him Knight, too. In 2014, the French Academy recognized Prithwindra’s entire contribution by its Hirayama Award. He has penned more than seventy books in English, Bengali and French and some of his published works include Samasamayiker Chokhe Sri Aurobindo, Pondicherryer Dinguli, Bagha Jatin, Sadhak-Biplobi Jatindranath, Undying Courage, Vishwer Chokhe Rabindranath, Thât/Mélakartâ : The Fundamental Scales in Indian Music of the North and the South (foreword by Pandit Ravi Shankar), Poèmes du Bangladesh (welcomed by the literary critic of Le Figaro as the work of the “delicious Franco-Bengali poet”), Serpent de flammes, Le sâmkhya, Les écrits bengalis de Sri Aurobindo, Chants bâuls, les Fous de l’Absolu, Anthologie de la poésie bengalie. Invited by the famous French publishers Desclée de Brouwer, his biography Sri Aurobindo was launched with due tribute by Kapil Sibal, India’s ambassador in France. His PhD thesis, Les racines intellectuelles du movement d’independence de l’Inde (1893-1918) was foreworded by Jacques Attali: it ended up with Sri Aurobindo, “the last of the Prophets”. While launching Prithwindra’s biography Bagha Jatin published by National Book Trust, H. E. Pranab Mukherjee admitted: “It is an epitome of the history of our armed struggle for freedom.” To celebrate the centenary of Tagore’s Nobel award, in 2013, Prithwindra brought out a trilingual (Bengali-French-English) anthology of 108 poems by Tagore, A Shade Sharp, a Shade flat, it was launched by the President of the illustrious Sociéte des Gens de Lettres founded by Balzac. In 2020, he was honored by the prestigious ‘Padma Shri’ by the President of India for his contribution in the field of education and literature.
On this special occasion, we take the opportunity to present before our readers a bouquet of tributes paid to Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee by luminaries of the East and West. At the same time we pray for his long and healthy life.
With warm regards,
Founder and Managing Trustee,
A Bouquet of Tributes to Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee
- … he has won the appreciation of his colleagues and respect from his students… Mr Mukherjee possesses a sensitive mind coupled with an artistic power of expression … Mr Mukherjee’s interests have been very wide… At an early age Mr Mukherjee showed a keen interest in music, and… his first original Orchestral Composition was a remarkable attempt at a synthesis of the Indian and Western music. Since then, it has been his preoccupation to make a research into the possibility of an integration of Eastern and Western music. He has to his credit several delightful compositions… Mr Mukherjee bears a very good character and aims at a high and noble way of life.” (P. B. Saint-Hilaire [alias Pavitra], Director, Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Pondicherry, 5 May, 1965.)
- “Mr Prithwindra Mukherjee is Doctor of the University of Paris… His mastery of Bengali, English and French makes of him one of the persons who contribute the most to the cultural bringing together of India and Europe.” (Jean Filliozat, Professor and Member of the French Academy).
- “I know him [Prithwindra Mukherjee] since many years and I have always very much appreciated his personal dignity, his affability, his care in accomplishing perfectly all his duties. These moral qualities honour him as much as his intellectual qualities.” (Olivier Lacombe, Professor and Member of the French Academy)
- “I have very great pleasure in testifying to my high opinion of the character, personality and linguistic and literary attainments of my friend Sri Prithwindra Mukherjee. He belongs to one of the most distinguished families in Bengal and India… Prithwindra had his education in one of our most advanced Institutions in India… associated with the hallowed name of the great national leader and thinker and saint, Sri Aurobindo. Here he got a thorough training in his mother-tongue Bengali (in which he is a very prominent writer in both verse and prose) as well as English and French…” (Suniti Kumar Chatterji, National Professor of India in Humanities)
- “Ardent in his research, very well placed in receiving and utilizing apt documents, Prithwindra Mukherjee has been tenaciously carrying on his work since many years. Combined with his human qualities of rectitude and affability, these characteristics draw towards P. Mukherjee the sympathy and esteem of my colleagues and myself.” (Jacques Maitre, Director of Research and President at the Section of Sociology, C. N. R. S., 5 November, 1979)
- “I have the pleasure of certifying that Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee, now teaching at the University of Paris, has been for several years my pupil at our International Centre of Education in Pondicherry. He was always a diligent student and had an inner urge for knowledge and progress which made him take interest in many subjects such as languages, music, poetry and translations… In Bengali he is already one of the leading modern writers… He has been an able exponent of Sri Aurobindo’s vision and of Indian culture over the French Radio. An original musicologist, scholar and linguist, poet and writer, he is serving as a precious bridge between India and the Continent and helping to bring them closer to each other.” (Dr. Nirodbaran Talukdar, author and Sri Aurobindo’s scribe; 19 May 1980.)
- “I have been delighted in noticing in these poems [Alo’r Chakor] the blossoming of a keen-eyed genuine poet: a poet indeed, established in the conviction of his own dharma (God-given Duty)… Therefore I congratulate Prithwindra with affection… Wherever he has been capable of responding to the higher Consciousness, he has composed successful poetry. So beautiful, simple, sincere a style and aspiration and vocabulary—at liberty conveyed through a flowing rhythm. We shall expect in his poetry an increasingly confirmed expression of this Aspiration. May Prithwindra continue to follow the loftiest inspiration which is his own, may he sing on—ever-awake in his radiant dream of a luminous ideal and of beautiful diction. It is certainly these which have found utterance in a cluster of poetic resonances through the poet-voice of Prithwindra…” (Dilip Kumar Roy, author, singer and composer)
- “The major components of the personality of Prithwindra Mukherjee are quite singular: the erudition of a university professor welded to the intensity of an inner concentration and to the elevation of a mystic. Added to this after all the freshness of soul of a stripling…To us Europeans, the musician who reminds the most of Mukherjee is Schubert:… I could as well cite the names of Saadi and Hafiz, the first Persians to speak of love with a human accent leading to God. But in the East, as soon as one goes upward, the various metaphysical trends converge towards the same Absolute. Mukherjee renders this Absolute accessible to our senses, just as the petal of a lily gives us the racy transcription of the delicacy and of the bursting force hidden in purity. He is, in Paris, a living example of the mystical radiation of India throughout the world.” (Gerard Mourgue, Poet, Novelist and Director of France-Culture—Radio France)
- “You have a mastery over the language, you have caught the melody…” (Syed Mujtaba Ali, renowned author)
- “I thank you quite cordially for your collection of poems, where I have the delight of rediscovering a mystical atmosphere so dear and familiar to me, a breath of vastitude, the metaphysics of Sri Aurobindo, and the simplicity of heart, probably the most difficult thing in the world… You are helping us to rediscover our soul, by this ‘icy night’ which you transcend audaciously…” (Jean Bies, Author and Professor)
- “Your words ring with a strange freshness in this West so often a desert, but at the same time how can we not see—and the thing is of a dazzling evidence—that all mystique is one?” (Gerard Engelbach, Poet)
- “How far is it possible to convey in Bengali the lukewarm sweetness or headiness present in the language and the atmosphere of Spain? Our translator is young and, probably owing to his age, even in his verbal constructions he has been able to recreate some sort of a taste of these qualities. Thanks to an identity of temperament, he has been able to capture at least something—a good deal, I was going to say—of the original savour, simple yet intense.” (Nolini Kanta Gupta, Philosopher and Author)
- ‘Even before appearing in book-form, many of these poems [included in his A Rose-Bud’s Song]—published in the Mother India (Pondicherry) and other reviews of culture and literature—drew the attention of eminent personalities. Professor K. R. Srinivasa Iyenger in his ‘Indian Writing in English” (in Contemporary Indian Literature, Jan. 1957, issued by the Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi) mentions Prithwindra “among the other poets who owe their main inspiration to Sri Aurobindo. Mystic poetry like the above is in no sense escapist. Genuine mysticism really offers a corrective to an age that has seemingly lost its standards and sense of values. To return to the ground—the root-of-all, the seed-of-all — is the one sure way of renewal, and it is the cardinal purpose of the Aurobindonian school of poetry to project before us in the accents of mantra a vision of the New Man and the New World arising out of the ambiguous frustrated present.” Echoing a similar optimism in his Introduction to The Golden Treasury of Indo-Anglican Poetry 1828—1965 (Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1970), Professor V. K. Gokak justifies the presence of poets like Prithwindra in that Anthology as a tribute to “neo-symbolism” (p. xxi), representing “mystical poetry or the poetry of visionary power.” (p. xxxiv)… Another characteristic of these poems is the vivid use of colours. The writer is a visual poet, but it is often a dream vision—the sights come to him from the fields of sleep… This dream world is sometimes surrealist and fantastic, … with images here and there from the French Symbolists, but often it is an inner place of devotion and aspiration where the writer is an opening bud, a growing plant, a child or a priest in a world given and presided over by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. This inner world must in time transfigure the outer…” (Dick Batstone, M.A., Oxford)
- “I have pleasure in introducing to lovers of poetry a prodigy of a poet who started writing poetry both in English and Bengali at the age of seventeen. He is barely twenty-four now but has already made his mark, not only as a poet of great promise, but as a translator… What strikes one most in these pulsing utterances of the young poet is the leaven of sincerity, which imparts to the poems a lilt and a twang all its own. Even a hurried glance… will not fail to convince the readers that here is one of the poets who herald the coming dawn of a new age in exalted accents of genuine inspiration.” (Rishabhchand Samsukha, Bhavan’s Journal, 27 November 1960)
- “The more I read now your poems in print, the more I like them. Your writing is a spontaneous composition throbbing with the inspiration of your own ideal in existence. You have been creating your own self through your compositions: you have discovered the endless way of blossoming and have spread your wings in a sky full of light… I congratulate you.” (Nishikanto, poet and lyricist, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry.)
- “It is perhaps not possible to evaluate Alo’r Chakor (‘The Bird of Light’) according to the standards reserved for usual books of poetry. For, if at all we need to compare the essential tone and mood of this collection of poems by Prithwindra Mukherjee—a spiritual disciple of Sri Aurobindo—with anything else, it can only be with the Skylark of Wordsworth… It is of course audacious to claim that the poet of this book under review belongs to the same category as Wordsworth. But the present reviewer has no hesitation in confirming that these poems belong to the same family as that illumined Bird—serving as intermediary between the worlds of the Immortal and of the mortals. Each poem here is like a bud of sun-flower full of spiritual yearning and athirst for the rays of the Divine Sun. Thanks to their ideation, diction, imagination and expression, these poems have a direct access to our heart. In accordance to the poet’s mood, solemn or tripping metrical movements cascade out of the poet’s pen in spontaneous flows… Certainly lovers of classical modes of poetry will feel captivated by these poems.” (Sailesakumar Vandyopadhyaya.)
- “The major components of the personality of Prithwindra Mukherjee are quite singular: the erudition of a university professor welded to the intensity of an inner concentration and to the elevation of a mystic. Add to this after all the freshness of soul of a stripling. It is Sri Aurobindo who brought us together. Mukherjee was then busy completing on the works of this thought-reader of modern India a Thesis for his Doctorate. Each of us on our side had been reading this work since almost twenty years. The Hindu prophet had announced the oncoming reign of the Supermind, just as Freud had done for that of the inconscient. The essential-motor behind Mukherjee is marvel. Entire Nature marvels him because he considers her to be a ‘phenomenon’ and seeks for its solution. Like Sri Aurobindo, he seems to follow God by His footsteps and see these steps everywhere. His poems, therefore, are at once prayers and magical incantations. Spiritual life which flows out like the Ganges across the most varied landscapes, reminds us of the supreme unity of its source. To us Europeans, the musician who reminds the most of Mukherjee is Schubert: just try to find faults with this genius of simplicity and freshness of soul. I could as well cite the names of Saadi and Hafiz, the first Persians to speak of love with a human accent leading to God. But in the East, as soon as one goes upward, the various metaphysical trends converge towards the same Absolute. Mukherjee renders this Absolute accessible to our senses, just as the petal of a lily gives us the racy transcription of the delicacy and of the bursting force hidden in purity. He is, in Paris, a living example of the mystical radiation of India throughout the world. ‘O none save he who seeks the celestial Bard/Shall know this path out of the darkest night’”. (Gerard Mourgue, Poet and Novelist, Director of France-Culture [Radio France] in his Introduction to Prithwindra Mukherjee’s book Le Serpent de Flammes.)
- “… I had been rocking my days with the reading of the Serpent de Flammes. Following under your pen the link leading to the Divine, at times a bit astonished, constantly moved, I have remained under its spell and I have let flow these hours of divine poetry with amazement. I do not have ample possibilities to tell you how well I have tasted the beauty and felt that a great comfort had grown within myself, as if quelling for once all my suffering.” (Jacqueline Amondieu, Educationist)
- “I thank you quite cordially for your collection of poems, where I have the delight of rediscovering a mystical atmosphere so dear and familiar to me, a breath of vastitude, the metaphysics of Sri Aurobindo, and the simplicity of heart, probably the most difficult thing in the world… You are helping us to rediscover our soul, by this ‘icy night’ which you transcend audaciously…” (Jean Bies, author and professor.)
- “My memory remains fond of your poetry just as of your own self, silence being also a way of closeness, which is so well known to poets…” (Rene Char, Poet)
- “Your words ring with a strange freshness in this West so often a desert, but at the same time how can we not see — and the thing is of a dazzling evidence — that all mystique is one?” (Gerard Engelbach, Poet)
- “… [the poems] are serene, and signify a purity and a seeking for an inner peace so rare in contemporary poetry—which bursts forth in shattering and breaking.” (Alain des Mazery, Editor, La vie, Weekly, Paris.)
- “I find in your poems simultaneously a puissant breath and a great passion, as well as an extremely beautiful serenity.” (J. Robnard, Joint Director, Swedish Cultural Association.)
- “Thank you whole-heartedly for this Serpent des flames which I have read as soon as it reached me, with a particular delectation: the title is fascinating and these luminous poems have a power of marvel-making. In spite of the abundance of poets, rarely do I come across something which corresponds to my likings. That is why I am very grateful to you for not having forgotten me.” (Robert Sabatier, Novelist and Poet)
- “I have re-read your poems in their totality… Your poems remind me of those by the Pleiade of our country. Especially whenever you introduce deities from Indian mythology, just as Ronsard used to introduce in his poems deities from Greek mythology… But in your poetry there is, moreover, thought; in your form there is constantly the global conception of a universe. Which renders it solid, almost knit in stainless threads of gold. Your images have been in a certain way reinvented, since they flash out in so different a light, similar to that of the Impressionists’—rediscovering colour. And, at the same time, you possess an emotion with modulations much more refined than those of the Pleiade—and a greater deal of sincerity. The dimension of love, too, is vaster. And the simplicity greater. You thus achieve a synthesis which is all your own, and which brings together — almost playfully — East and West. Above all, sensitive thanks to the personal interpretation of Me and Thee. Your ‘adoration’ is cosmic and ‘sings the canticle of a new litany’. It is extremely beautiful and far too ahead of the poetry which is being written upto date. This is probably a fruit of your own mystic depth. I wish a great future for this Serpent de flames which carries us without effort to another land.” (Gerard Mourgue, Poet and Novelist, Director of France-Culture [Radio France] in a sequel to his Introduction.)
2 Replies to “A Bouquet of Tributes to Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee on the occasion of his 86th birthday”
Prithwin da was my Teacher of French Language in SAICE , always sympathetic and n helpful towards his students who hardly knew the language.
The last time we spoke over phone was some times in early 2000 when I was posted in Moscow – a call came through Paris , and the voice at the other end introduced himself – Dr. Mukherjee speaking . I did not recognise the voice , so enquired , and the response -(in Bengali)
Ami Prithwin da bolchi .
My respects to my Dear Teacher and salutations.
As I was travelling all over Europe in the month of October I, surprisingly, missed this post: “A Bouquet of Tributes to Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee on the occasion of his 86th birthday”. Anyway better late than never! Bonne fête à toi Prithwin-da!
Greetings from Sweden & Hungary