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August 2007

 

Sri Aurobindo statue for Auroville

On the occasion of the 40th birth anniversary of Auroville, the Governing Board of the Auroville Foundation will unveil a statue of Sri Aurobindo in Auroville.

Sri Aurobindo's statue will be another bronze cast of the one already installed in the Parliament House, New Delhi, and in the Sri Aurobindo Bhavan in Kolkata (Calcutta). The one in Delhi was unveiled in August 2006 by Shri Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the Vice President of India, and Shri Somnath Chatterjee, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, India's lower House of Parliament. The occasion was graced by the presence of many ministers and parliamentarians, both from the ruling coalition as well as from the opposition.

As might have been expected, the decision of the Board to have an identical statue in Auroville didn't go unchallenged. Soon after the announcement, Auroville's internal website bristled with comments. Remarkably absent, however, were any objections to the principle of having a statue of Sri Aurobindo. There was criticism that this particular statue “doesn't capture the spirit or personality of Sri Aurobindo”; “that it is not good enough for Auroville, due to its colour and overly Greek appearance,” and that “the general impression is weighty, like Socrates, and not very delicate, with a dhoti which is much too heavy.” And there was frustration that opportunity hadn't been given to an Auroville artist to make a bust or statue, preferable in spotless white marble.

One criticism, borne of equal veneration, was of having Sri Aurobindo's statue standing in the open. What about the bird droppings? And do we really want a rickety fire-escape kind of steel stairs built next to him for garlanding politicians to climb – as is the case with statues of politicians all over India ?

Auroville Today researched files of the Ashram Archives to find what Sri Aurobindo and The Mother had to say about statues – and about relics. The pickings were thin, but the few we found were amazingly rich. We also discovered that there is quite an abundance of busts and statues of Sri Aurobindo, and that small statuettes are now even on sale on the street corners of Pondicherry. All these are based on the few photographs of Sri Aurobindo that exist: some of the young Sri Aurobindo gazing into the future – the photo which The Mother felt would be the beginning of the legend' – but most on Henri Cartier Bresson's photos, taken in April 1950.

Here we present two conversations of The Mother with Satprem. One is on the inner force and presence of statues. The other one is on placing statues in the open air.

The inner force and presence of statues

The statue of Sri Aurobindo near the running track of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram - Delhi Branch,  New Delhi. Sculptor: unknown

The statue of Sri Aurobindo near the running track of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram - Delhi Branch, New Delhi.
Sculptor: unknown

Bronze bust by Elsa Fraenkel. This was the first sculpture of Sri Aurobindo which was displayed in his room. Present location: Sri Aurobindo Library, Puducherry

Bronze bust by Elsa Fraenkel. This was the first sculpture of Sri Aurobindo which was displayed in his room. Present location: Sri Aurobindo Library, Puducherry

Bust by Erna Rose King, 1964. Mother’s comment on this bust: “The vast calm simplicity of his forehead, reflecting the perfect peace of total knowledge.” Many casts have been made of this statue. Two are in Puducherry (Reception Room, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, and Hall of Harmony, SAICE), others are in England.

Bust by Erna Rose King, 1964. Mother’s comment on this bust: “The vast calm simplicity of his forehead, reflecting the perfect peace of total knowledge.” Many casts have been made of this statue. Two are in Puducherry (Reception Room, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, and Hall of Harmony, SAICE), others are in England.

Bust of Sri Aurobindo near the Meditation Hall of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram - Delhi branch. Sculptor: B.V. Wagh, Mumbai

Bust of Sri Aurobindo near the Meditation Hall of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram - Delhi branch. Sculptor: B.V. Wagh, Mumbai

Bust of Sri Aurobindo in Parliament House, New Delhi, by B.V. Wagh, Mumbai.

Bust of Sri Aurobindo near the Meditation Hall of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram - Delhi branch. Sculptor: B.V. Wagh, Mumbai

Bust by unknown sculptor. Present location: a street in Karadi village near Navasari in Gujarat.

Bust by unknown sculptor. Present location: a street in Karadi village near Navasari in Gujarat.

Sri Aurobindo in death. Sculptor: unknown. Present location: Sri Aurobindo Library, Puducherry.

Sri Aurobindo in death. Sculptor: unknown. Present location: Sri Aurobindo Library, Puducherry.

Bust of Sri Aurobindo. Sculptor: Ruth Steiger. Present location: Sri Aurobindo Library, Puducherry.

Bust of Sri Aurobindo. Sculptor: Ruth Steiger. Present location: Sri Aurobindo Library, Puducherry.

Bust by Purani. Present location: unknown.

Bust by Purani. Present location: unknown.

Table-top statuette by Luciano Gabrielli, Galliate, Italy. Present location: unknown.

Table-top statuette by Luciano Gabrielli, Galliate, Italy. Present location: unknown.

Bronze statue of Sri Aurobindo by unknown sculptor. Location: Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Kolkata.

Bronze statue of Sri Aurobindo by unknown sculptor. Location: Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Kolkata.

Marble statue by Hirishikesh Das Gupta, offered to The Mother on August 15, 1973. Present location: Sri Aurobindo Library, Puducherry.

Marble statue by Hirishikesh Das Gupta, offered to The Mother on August 15, 1973. Present location: Sri Aurobindo Library, Puducherry.

 

“Oh, I've had some very interesting revelations on this point, on the way people think and feel about it. I remember someone once made a little statue of Sri Aurobindo; he gave it a potbelly and ... anyway, to me it was ridiculous. So I said, ‘How could you make such a thing?!' He explained that even if it's a caricature for the ordinary eye, since it's an image of the one you consider God, or a god, or an Avatar, since it's the image of the one you worship, even if only a guru, it contains the spirit and the force of his presence, and this is what you worship, even in a crude form, even if the form is a caricature to the physical eye.

Someone made a large painting of Sri Aurobindo and myself, and they brought it here to show me. I said, ‘Oh, it's dreadful!'
It was ... to the physical eye it was really dreadful. ‘It's dreadful,' I said, ‘we can't keep it.'
Then immediately someone asked me for it, saying, ‘I'm going to put it up in my house and do my puja before it.' Ah! ... I couldn't help saying, ‘But how could you put up a thing like that!' (It wasn't so much ugly as frightfully banal.) ‘How can you do puja before something so commonplace and empty!' This person replied, ‘Oh, to me it's not empty! It contains all the presence and all the force, and I shall worship it as that: the Presence and the Force.'

All this is based on the old idea that whatever the image – which we disdainfully call an ‘idol' – whatever the external form of the deity may be, the presence of the thing represented is always there. And there is always someone – whether priest or initiate, sadhu or sannyasi – someone who has the power and (usually this is the priest's work) who draws the Force and the Presence down into it. And it's true, it's quite real – the Force and the Presence are THERE; and this (not the form in wood or stone or metal) is what is worshipped: this Presence.

Europeans don't have the inner sense at all. To them, everything is like this (gesture), a surface – not even that, a film on the surface. And they can't feel anything behind. But it's an absolutely real fact that the Presence is there – I guarantee it. People have given me statuettes of various gods, little things in metal, wood or ivory; and as soon as I take one in my hand, the god is there. I have a Ganesh (I have been given several) and if I take it in my hand and look at it for a moment, he's there. I have a little one by my bedside where I work, eat, and meditate. And then there is a Narayana which comes from the Himalayas , from Badrinath. I use them both as paperweights for my handkerchiefs! (My handkerchiefs are kept on a little table next to my bed, and I keep Ganapati I and Narayana on top of them.) And no one touches them but me – I pick them up, take a fresh handkerchief, and put them back again. Once I blended some nail polish myself, and before applying it, I put some on Ganapati's forehead and stomach and fingertips! We are on the best of terms, very friendly. So to me, you see, all this is very true.

Only....

Narayana came first. I put him there and told him to stay and be happy. A while later, I was given a very nice Ganapati; so I asked Narayana – I didn't ask his permission, I told him, ‘Don't be angry, you know, but I'm going to give you a companion; I like you both very much, there's no preference; the other is much better looking, but you, you are Narayana!' I flattered him, I told him pleasant things, and he was perfectly happy.

It has always been like that for me – always. And I have never, never had the religious sense at all – you know, what people call this kind of ... what they have in religions, especially in Europe . I see only the English word for it: awe, like a kind of terror. This always made me laugh! But I have always felt what's behind, the presences behind.”

(The Mother to Satprem as recorded in Mother's Agenda, April 29, 1961)

 


The statue of Sri Aurobindo in Calcutta

Satprem: There's a practical problem, Mother concerning the statue of Sri Aurobindo in Calcutta . You know that the Government of Bengal decided to erect a statue of Sri Aurobindo in place of Lord Curzon's – the very man who had sought the division of Bengal , and Sri Aurobindo had tried to stop him.
Sri Aurobindo would take the place of Lord Curzon, across from the “Victoria Memorial.” It's at the entrance to Calcutta .
That's what they decided in principle. Then the government of Bengal was overturned and their decision wasn't put into legal terms, so now everything is pending. Now to restore the momentum, the people of “Pathmandir” have to do something. But the people of Pathmandir have another idea. They purchased some time ago the house where Sri Aurobindo was born in Calcutta ....

Mother: Ah!

And they propose, instead of putting the statue of Sri Aurobindo on a public street, to put it in the house where Sri Aurobindo was born.

But would it be in the open?

No, it will be in the house.

But no one will see it, then!

That's what I think too. But they say, their argument is: if we put it in the house, it will be protected – the crows will not make a mess on it, and the students won't decapitate it!

Are the students of Bengal against Sri Aurobindo?

No, no, Mother! But it so happens they decapitated the statue of Gandhi, for instance!

(With a smile) Ooh!

For Sri Aurobindo himself, it's better in the house – it's more in keeping with his temperament and character. For the people, it's better outside.

Yes, certainly. A statue is made to be in public, so the image is there for everyone to see.

Yes, but if they are likely to damage it or .... That should be absolutely avoided .... I don't know, they're mad there – they're mad everywhere. They're mad here too.

Here too, it came here, the same idea of killing, destroying .... It's everywhere. It's as if the whole vital world had descended on earth (gesture of a crushing mass).

I wouldn't want anything to happen to the statue.

Yes, Mother, but in my opinion, the statue loses its meaning if it isn't in public. If it's put in a house, it loses its meaning.

Obviously! Obviously.

 


What had a meaning is putting Sri Aurobindo across from the Victoria Memorial, in place of the Englishman who wanted to divide Bengal – that has a meaning.

Yes, obviously. But then the Indians would have to behave decently.

Anyway, the people of Pathmandir will do what you say.

(Mother remains concentrated)

The best thing is to have two statues: one in public and one in the house.

All right, Mother.

That would be the best.

I'll tell them.

And they don't have to be the same. One can be sitting and the other standing. The one in the street, standing; and the one in the house, sitting. That will be very nice. Because in the house there's no need to ask anyone's permission. I hope the one in the street is standing?

I believe you had chosen a photo of Sri Aurobindo in which he was looking toward the future. I think it's the photo by the Dutch painter.

Yes, that's it. I would like the one in the street to be standing. And then, in the house, sitting at a table.

At a table?

Or simply sitting. That way, it's fine.

(silence)

If something happens to the statue in the street, well, it will be the sign that Bengal will go under. That's all. It will be too bad for them.

That's the point, I don't want his action to be dependent on that. So, if he is seated in the house, his action continues – even if they destroy his statue [in the street] ....

But they won't touch it, Mother!

I don't think so.

He is too beautiful!

(From a conversation of The Mother with Satprem as recorded in Mother's Agenda, October 27, 1971.)

Sri Aurobindo's statue in Parliament House

The man behind the statue is Lalit Verma, the owner of the Aurodhan art gallery in Puducherry. Lalit, as team leader, did the drawings and the sketches. “There were moments when I was ready to give up,” he says. “Our ideal was to create a statue of Sri Aurobindo that would not only resemble him but also convey something of his presence. I often felt it was impossible.”

The main difficulty was to imagine how Sri Aurobindo would appear standing up. Henri Cartier Bresson's April 1950 photographs are all of Sri Aurobindo in a sitting position. The only photos of him standing are from before 1915. Using measurements of Sri Aurobindo's body taken by one of the old sadhaks in the 1940s, Lalit made many sketches. “One of them was particularly good. I sent it to the Parliamentary Committee. I heard afterwards that one of its members almost went into a trance gazing at it. They gave the order. I replied that I would do my best, but that the statue would not be released until I had the sanction of someone who had seen Sri Aurobindo.” That someone was Nirodbaran, who occasionally would come to check the progress of the work and give advice. “We first worked with small scale models. Then, when we had finished the mould for the final statue, he came again. He looked intently at the mould, and then said ‘Yes, there is no doubt that this is Sri Aurobindo.' Then we cast it in bronze,” says Lalit.

As reported in Auroville Today, October 2006, no.212

 

The importance of Sri Aurobindo's statues

What would be the significance of a statue of Sri Aurobindo in Auroville? When his statue was unveiled in Parliament House, the headline of one national newspaper reporting on the occasion was “Spiritual Power.” It indicated that India has not only a spiritual heritage but also a spiritual destiny. For India 's destiny, according to Sri Aurobindo, is not just to become a nation like many others, but to be the leader in a new world and spiritualise the human race. The Mother, in a conversation in 1954, had said it more specifically: “The future of India is very clear. India is the Guru of the world. The future structure of the world depends on India . India is the living soul. India is incarnating the spiritual knowledge in the world. The Government of India ought to recognize this significance of India in this sphere and plan their action accordingly.”
As India is to the world, so Auroville is to India , according to The Mother. On February 3, 1968, she explained to Satprem why she had created Auroville. “The same thing which in the history of the universe has made the earth the symbolic representation of the universe so as to be able to concentrate the work at one point, the same phenomenon is occurring now: India is the representation of all human difficulties on earth, and it is in India that there will be the ... cure. And it is for that – it is FOR THAT that I had to create Auroville.”

 

The Mother on Sri Aurobindo's ‘gazing into the future' photograph

That's how I first saw him, at the head of the staircase.(silence)
I had an experience while listening to you read; it was as if I heard, ‘The beginning of the legend ... the beginning of the legend ....'
It's rather strange.

He is there and the atmosphere is full of a sort of concentration of force, and there are these two things: ‘This is how legends come into being ... how legends begin .... The beginning of the legend ....' I hear this. And there is also a kind of analogy to the old stories of Buddha, of Christ .... It's strange.

I seemed to be looking back into the present from some thousands of years ahead (it's no longer now, but as if I were propelled somewhere several thousand years ahead, looking backwards) and it's the beginning of the legend.

And the photo adopted by the legend is this full-face one of him as a young man.

A strange impression....

... I got the impression of there being the same difference between the physical fact of Christ or the physical fact of Buddha – and everything we know and say and think and feel about them today – as there is between what we now know of Sri Aurobindo and what will be known of him in the time I was propelled into.

(The Mother to Satprem, as recorded in Mother's Agenda, October 30, 1961)

 

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