Pratijna Devi : In Memoriam by Anurag Banerjee

Dear Friends,

The Aurobindonian community lost a bright jewel with the passing away of Pratijna Devi on Wednesday, 3rd October 2018. Confined to her bed in the Nursing Home of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, for almost three years, her end came at 8.30 p.m.

Born in 1938, Pratijna Devi hailed from a royal family. She was the daughter of Raja Narayan Birabara Samant and Rani Ratnamali Jema of Kujang situated in the district of Jagatsinghpur in Odisha. Raja Narayan Birabara Samant was a freedom fighter who also went on to become a Member of the Legislative Assembly after India gained her freedom from British rule.

A meritorious student since the beginning of her life, Pratijna Devi obtained her Master of Arts Degree in Psychology from the prestigious Ravenshaw College. She was married to Padmashri Manoj Das, the living legend of Odia and English literature. It was with her husband and some of her relatives that she visited Pondicherry for the first time in February 1963 and had the Darshan of the Mother on 21st February. This Darshan of the Mother — on the occasion of Her eighty-fifth Birthday — not only cast a profound impact on Manoj Das but also on Pratijna Devi. A day after the Darshan, Manoj Das told Pratijna Devi that he had never experienced such a profound spiritual atmosphere which was prevalent at Pondicherry and that some day, if possible, he would like to stay on at Pondicherry. Pratijna Devi, who had a spiritual leaning since her childhood and was an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna, replied: “If one day, then why not today?” The young couple wrote to the Mother separately seeking Her permission to join Sri Aurobindo Ashram. They were formally accepted as inmates three days later on 27 February, that is, on the 29th birthday of Manoj Das.

In the initial days, Pratijna Devi was not provided with any specific responsibility in the Ashram. Afterwards she was put in charge of “Home of Progress”, a dormitory for the students who studied in the Ashram School, along with Manoj Das. Pratijna Devi also taught Psychology and Odia literature to the students of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Pondicherry for several decades.

The literary world knows how invaluable Manoj Das’ contribution has been in the field of literature. Pratijna Devi too had made a mark for herself as a prolific writer. She not only wrote exquisite short stories under the pen-names of “Sabyasachi” and “Falguni” but also translated several works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother into Odia. Thus, she introduced a large number of readers and prospective devotees to the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. She also contributed significantly to the publication of Jahna mamu, the Odia version of Chandamama, the popular children magazine.

Pratijna Devi was a unique sadhika. After joining the Ashram, she never went out of Pondicherry; not even when her parents passed away. No invitation — however significant they were — could tempt her to step out of Pondicherry in the fifty-five years that she spent as an inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The Ashram was her home, her world and its inhabitants her real family. She was such a perfect host that few could match up to her art of hospitality. She was loving, affectionate and indulgent just like a mother. Even street dogs were beneficiaries of her unearthly affection.

Pratijna Devi was like a priceless gem whose radiance touched and transformed hearts. She would certainly be missed by one and all.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee


Overman Foundation.

                                                     Shri Manoj Das with the late Pratijna Devi.

51 Replies to “Pratijna Devi : In Memoriam by Anurag Banerjee

  1. my favourite person from childhood , was very close being the only oriya child then 1961-2, she doted on children and made them her own, looking after all their needs and throwing parties for them and giving them presents…also happened to teach me the little oriya I know,in Knowledge once a week, got me through some literary works by just chatting on them, would have never dreamed of reading them..she was given boarding to look after with 5 children where Dilipda’s house is , then shifted to many locations as the size grew and more children were admitted from Odisha and rented places had to be given up, until with funding from govt. of Odisha ”Home of Progress ” was made and she ran a co ed boarding until 1972-3they made it a boys boarding..and shifted to another house on eswaran koil st,where they lived the longest until the house opposite golconde was given to her.., very unfortunate the last few years..

  2. Very sad to hear this news – May the Divine Mother bless the departed soul and anchor her safely to her divine destination –
    Surendra s chouhan ‘SAICE’69

  3. What an inspiring story! Condolences to respected Shri Manoj Das on the loss of this jewel!
    Shraddhvan on behalf of Savitri Bhavan team

  4. Known universally as Apa, Pratijna Devi was truly angelic and out of the world with matchless love
    and generosity showered upon those who came in contact with her.

    It was the singular good fortune of boarders like me to have been brought up under the care of Apa and Manoj babu in the ‘Home of Progress’, popularly known as ‘Orissa Boarding,’ from 1966 onward, till the Home made way for a new incarnation.

    ‘Home of Progress’ was a full fledged Boarding and not a dormitory. The dining room and the reading rooms were on the first floor. The children lived on the first and the second floors.

    It is here that we had food,studies and games.The house was self-contained. We played pranks, hide and seek and completely forgot the background we came from. I received the first prize in cleanliness from the hands of Apa.

    Apa’s room on the first floor was Open House.We entered and exited merrily at our own sweet will completely oblivious to her need for sleep and rest. She never complained.

    Manoj babu had his study cum bed room on the second floor, where the older boys lived.Every night, inside the mosquito curtains, we waited for the approaching foot falls of Manoj babu. He would make sure that all of us were asleep.During day time, when he did not step out for work,he was lost in the world of his books and writing.

    It is doubtful if our own parents had taken such care of us at bed time.

    At Orissa Boarding, we forgot our own parents, such was the divine ambiance.

    Most of us never visited our parents in Odisha during the so called vacation time. It was also the Mother’s wish that children ought not to be influenced by outside forces during their study at the Ashram School. Apa instilled on us the need to follow the Mother strictly.

    At ‘Home of Progress’, we learned the value of freedom and discipline; imbibed the best of Odia culture with the cosmopolitanism of the SAICE.

    Apa nurtured our body and soul; she kept in close touch with our parents. She treated all with a deep sense of equality and affection, and took interest beyond our stay at Pondicherry.

    She would unfailingly call us on the day of our birth anniversary and ask: ‘ Hope you are at Pondicherry. You must come home for dinner.I will wait for you. What time are you coming?’

    We remained her children even in our fifties !

    Apa was aristocratic by temperament, but like her own mother Smt Ratnamali Jema, a noted Gandhian and freedom fighter, known to all of us as ‘ Mama’, Pratijna Devi was absolutely down to earth although she came from a princely background.

    Apa and Manoj babu were an institution by themselves: each complementary to the other: the perfect combination of the mind and the heart: a rare union and companionship indeed.

    On the terrace of Orissa Boarding, on holidays,we had story telling sessions. Apa would read out words of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, and immortal parables of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, and Swami Vivekananda .She instilled on us the importance of a moral and spiritual life, the value of courage of conviction and the need to be frank, honorable and and forthright. She was never given to any claptrap ; she discarded all forms of pretentious behavior.

    We offer our salutations to Apa. We shall always cherish her memories till the end of our life. She was an evolved soul who did not belong to this earth; she touched every one with her radiance and understanding.

    RIP Pratijna Apa.

    Pranam to you [ and Manoj Babu ]

    Sachidananda Mohanty
    Boarder, Home of Progress : 1966-1972
    Student, SAICE, Pondicherry:1966-1975
    Vice Chancellor,
    Central University of Orissa, Koraput

    1. I got opportunity to pass hours with her once During Feb 2012, saw all family members, went her room where we saw only KRISHNA maya vibration, once I visited Nursing home to pay my deepest gratitude. O SWEET MOTHER Let THY WILL BE done.

    2. Dear Sachi,
      Apa’s & Manoj babu’s personalities and their care for all of us who touched their lives is so well brought out in your obituary, that the years just rolled back for me and brought all those beautiful memories flooding back. Thanks to them and The Mother that we were so well nurtured in our childhood. Beautiful piece of writing!!! Loved it. Thank you.
      Rachita Das

  5. One of the significances of PRATIJNA can be “vow” (approaching VRATA). Looking after the children of her boarding with a mother’s heart, she was stern in her respect for the discipline of a collective life, she was supple in applying her acquired knowledge of psychology in her day to day contact. Her deep respect for the traditional Hindu calendar that she celebrated in her personal way transmitted the value of the sacred. Her simple dealing with others knew how to forget that she was a learned person.

  6. Pratignadi showered her love on me whenever I went to meet Manoj do. She was always full of praise for my lifestyle and would say that if she had joined the ashram earlier in life, she would have followed me by cutting her hair and always wearing shorts. She was such a lovable person.
    Tara Jauhar

  7. Anurag,the bit about her leaving pondy is inacurate ,was with her both when her father and later her mother passed away, she NEVER left pondicherry in those 55yrs,only outings picnics she used to arrange on sundays…

  8. Those of you who had known her, should know that she was a personification of gentleness and love. She was a mother to me and others in the “Home of Progress”. She nurtured us through our formative years with love and care and created a home away from home for us. I have learned so many things from her that will stay with me forever. Apa encouraged us to take Odiya classes and love our mother tongue. Because of her encouragement, today I can read and write in Odia later could read wonderful poems of my mom published in magazines. She also taught us to fearlessly swim in sea waters; and to sing prayers which became our evening prayer singing session while our daughters were growing up..Both her and Manoj Babu remained simple and down to earth despite of Apa’s upbringing in an affluent family They had a lot of love for each other that reflected in their actions towards each other, and towards those close to them. Above all she taught me to be courageous and be full of love and faith. May her soul rest in peace.

  9. Lovely. A pure and lovely soul whose precious memories will stay forever! She is completely in Mother’s care for sure. Om Shanti.

  10. A beautiful soul and was a loving mother to all of us in Home of Progress home away from home during our formative years.

  11. She was a rather unique teacher. Fond memories rushed back head/-heartlong when I went to her so familiar room with all her typical personal effects. She was what could be easily dubbed as the representative of Sri Krishna’s JanmAshTami celebrations in our small community. She was also the quiet yet expressive teacher & guide, and the affectionate mother figure, ever ready to share her time whenever anybody would approach her. I feel most humbled & honoured whenever I recall that she used to remember my birthday every year, ever since I finished the Higher Course, & used to keep a gift hamper/pack ready for me whenever I would find the time to visit her on that day(or even the next day I pray most ardently as she lies at final rest in Their Lap.

    1. You’ve written this so beautifully. All heart. What saddens is the “was” in every sentence…but what gives relief is that she finally rests ….. that, in THEIR LAP.

  12. She was my favorite teacher she was very kind and caring towards me I used to help her every year with janmashtumi decoration. She was more than a teacher for me like my guardian whenever I was sick I used stay at her place for recovery. I miss her so much I pray for her soul Rest In Peace in heaven.

  13. I remember Pratigya di with love & respect and her unassuming , sweet gentle nature . I shall be very grateful to any one from SAICE Fraternity to kindly convey my sincere condolences to Shri Manoj Das – who was my Teacher.

  14. She was really a priceless gem whose radiance touched and transferred hearts. We have learnt many things from her and words are not enough to express. A true spiritual person, full of love, generosity and simplicity. She will always remain in our heart.

  15. A matter of shock.
    Our homage to departed soul.
    My condolences to Honourable and divine soul Sri Manoj Das

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