Shyam Kumari’s ‘How They Came to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother: Volume 5’—A Review by Dr. Larry Seidlitz

Title: How They Came to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother: Volume 5 (ISBN: 978-81-960391-0-3)

Author: Shyam Kumari; Number of pages: 402. Price: Rs. 500 (Five Hundred) only; Publisher: Overman Foundation, Kolkata.

It is bittersweet that Overman Foundation has brought out the fifth volume of Shyam Kumari’s well-known and well-loved series of books “How they came to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother” just prior to her passing away on 14 February 2023 at the age 88. Despite authoring many books in both English and Hindi, including four volumes of “Vignettes of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother”, the last of which, “Charming Vignettes of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother”, was also just released, Shyam Kumari will probably be most widely remembered for this remarkable series of stories of how various sadhaks were called to the path of Integral Yoga. The present volume presents 37 of these stories, on top of the 112 stories recounted in the earlier four volumes. While the author had many remarkable qualities and accomplishments in a range of activities, it was her ability to tell engaging and deeply significant stories that was especially outstanding.

Like the previous volumes, this one presents a mix of stories, some long, some short, some pertaining to well-known and exceptional sadhaks, some to lesser known and more ordinary sadhaks. Also, the author utilizes a variety of methods in collecting the stories: many are based on her interviews, but others are drawn from writings of the subjects themselves or from other’s written accounts. For example, the first long story on Amrita is mostly in his own words from the book “Old Long Since”, supplemented in an Addendum with some additional interesting material on his passing, his past lives, and his humour. Similarly, Amal Kiran’s long story has been compiled from his different books, and Surendra Nath Jauhar’s relativelybrief account is reproduced from his original article. Esha-di’s story has also been compiled from Nirodbaran’s book, “An Extraordinary Girl”, with some additions based on the author’s interviews. Maggi’s story is partly in her own words, and partly in the words of Shri Madhav Pandit. Udar’s story is based on recordings he made for Shyam Kumari’s book series, while Parichand’sis based on the author’s discussions and personal interactions with him. These are the more exceptional and well-known sadhaks covered in this volume, but other lesser-known subjects are extraordinary in their own ways.

For those not well-familiar with the better known sadhaks, a few comments on them from the book may be useful. Amrita came to Pondicherry in 1905 for study as a boy, and having heard of Sri Aurobindo, was eager to meet him when he arrived in 1910. On a few occasions, Amrita was able to get a glimpse Sri Aurobindo from a distance, and on August15, 1913, he got his first chance to have Sri Aurobindo’s personal darshan. The next year he began seeing Sri Aurobindo regularly, and when the Mother arrived on 29 March 1914 he also began meeting regularly with her. From Amrita’s account, we get many details of those first years in Sri Aurobindo’s house.

In Amal Kiran’s account, we get many humorous descriptions of his interactions with the Mother and Sri Aurobindo in various capacities. Amal first came to the Ashram in December 1927 at the age of 23, and had his first darshan on February 21, 1928. Amal was an exceptional writer and poet, and was asked to become editor of the monthly journal Mother India, with its first issue to come out on 21 February 1949. It was to deal among other things with various political issues from a spiritual standpoint, an acute need at the time but for which Amal had “no grasp” and “no interest”. But Mother calmly reassured him, “There is Sri Aurobindo. He will do everything.” And Amal confirmed, “And he jolly well did – because I began writing political articles as if I had done it from my birth. I even came to be venerated as a political oracle…. Within me I couldn’t help laughing.” Amal also wrote on many other issues in the journal. When Sri Aurobindo passed in 1950, he was inspired to write about the significance of his passing from Bombay, with Mother’s blessings.  When it was read out to her, she said, “It is excellent. Tell him I am extremely satisfied. I would like to have it printed in booklet form”, and “It is quite the best thing Amal has written. I would like to print 15,000 copies of it”.

Udar’s story, in his own words, is relatively brief, but it is exceptional like he was himself. He had come to Pondicherry in 1934 for the purposes of business and to save money for his marriage. For a few years he lived in Pondicherry without ever entering the Ashram, even though he had some good friends there. Then in 1937 his fiancé Mona arrived, and together they had their first Darshan. He was awe-struck, and became interested in Sri Aurobindo, the Ashram and the Yoga. Their daughter was born the same year, and soon afterwards they all joined the Ashram. Udar was a talented aeronautical engineer educated in England. With the second world war beginning, the British government asked him to take up the work of setting up an airline and airforce in India. Although he was not interested in leaving the Ashram for this work, Sri Aurobindo said he must go to help with the war effort. After a year of successful work, Sri Aurobindo said that he had done enough and could return, for which he was very happy. Afterwards work on the Golconde residential and guest house began, and later he initiated many other small industries and important projects in the Ashram.

Other extraordinary sadhaks covered in this volume include Parichand, who was the Mother’s gardener and an exceptional yogi; Surendra Nath Jauhar, who would later establish the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Delhi Branch; and Esha-di, who came to the Ashram for the first time when she was just five years old and had a very close relation with both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. It was so close, in fact, that later on after Sri Aurobindo left his body she was still able to converse with him when she wanted, and several of these remarkable inner experiences of him are recounted in this story.

While these sadhaks are widely known to the Ashram community, the 20 others whose stories are recounted are also very remarkable. Some are presented at length, such as those of Sibylle and Shive Dutt, who came from Germany to the Ashram to set up a weaving workshop with their German looms that became well-known for its excellence; and Amidhar, who began practicing yoga as a boy of 14 and already at a young age became adept in occult practices. He had his first darshan at the age of 20 in 1945 during which he became confirmed in Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s power and divinity. In this account are related several of his occult and spiritual experiences and miracles that he encountered due to their grace, and some of his significant legal work done in support of the Ashram. Other stories, while shorter, give tremendous insights into life, sadhana, the wider possibilities of consciousness, and the ways and grace of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Take B, for example, in the story “Son of Mangala”, who worked in the Ashram gardens and could communicate with the plants. Or take V, in the story “The Happy Denouement”, who was a well-educated and talented lady dominated, belittled, and abused by her husband over many years, and who finally, at the Mother’s inner prompting, found the strength to leave him and join the Ashram. From “Uncle Redge”, in the story “From Transylvania”, who managed the “Good Guest House” in the Ashram, we find out the true nature and role of work in sadhana. From “Champaklal’s Dear Aunt Motiba”, we find a pure and simple person whose life started with the early deaths of many of her family members, including her husband when she was just 16. She had come to fetch Champaklal away from the Ashram for marriage to her sister-in-law, but instead she ended up staying back in the Ashram to serve Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. She had many inner experiences, a few of which are recounted, over a very long and dedicated life; she passed away at the ripe age of 111. 

In Shyam Kumari’s true stories of the lives of sadhaks, we get important insights into the working of the Divine’s Grace, both through what appears to be misfortune, and what appears to be the rapid and spontaneous opening of the soul to the divine Sun. The wide diversity of souls and their paths to their divine outflowering are richly displayed here, as is the unwavering love and solicitude of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to all souls who seek light and a greater, higher life. The stories of the sadhak’s lives and how they entered the path of yoga are inspiring and engaging, but it is the deeper lessons about the ways of the Divine and the higher possibilities of a diviner life that are especially fascinating and touching.

Dr. Larry Seidlitz

About the Reviewer: A devotee and scholar of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga, Dr. Larry Seidlitz received his doctoral degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1993. He was an Assistant Professor and researcher in psychiatry and psychology at The University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York, U.S.A., from 1993 to 2000. He has been associated with the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research (Pondicherry) since 2004 and was also the editor of the journal ‘Collaboration’ published by Sri Aurobindo Association of California from 2004 to 2020. Some of his notable publications are ‘Transforming Lives: An Introduction to Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga’, ‘The Spiritual Evolution of the Soul: Essentials of Sri Aurobindo’s Philosophy and Yoga’ and ‘Integral Yoga at Work: A Study of Practitioners’ Experiences Working in Four Professional Fields.’

2 Replies to “Shyam Kumari’s ‘How They Came to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother: Volume 5’—A Review by Dr. Larry Seidlitz

  1. Thank you, Larry and Anurag, for giving the glimpses of the last book by Shyam Kumari – one of the most industrious writer-poet disciples of Sri Aurobindo. Overman Foundation did well by giving her Auro Ratna Award a few months before she left her body.

  2. I am an ardent admirer of Shyam Kumariji’s works. The books “vignettes of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother” is a very precious treasure for me. They brought the presence of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo very close to my heart. One could feel the Love and presence of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo very concretely through these books. Her devotion to The Mother and Sri Aurobindo was very deep. She is a wonderful source of inspiration for many of us. Heartfelt gratitude and love for dear Shyam Kumariji. May her soul be enveloped by the love of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo . Wishing her much peace and joy. Thanks again Shyam Kumariji for bringing forth such wonderful books for everyone. loving regards.

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