Once during his Baroda years, Sri Aurobindo visited a Kali temple on the bank of the Narmada river. Recounting that visit, he later said:
“With my Europeanised mind I had no faith in image worship and I hardly believed in the presence of God. I went to Kemali where there are several temples. There is one of Kali and when I looked at the image I saw the living presence there. For the first time, I believed in the presence of God.” (5th January, 1939, Evening Talks, recorded by A.B. Purani, p. 592)
The inner significance of this experience was also expressed through a sonnet of his:
THE STONE GODDESS
In a town of gods, housed in a little shrine,
From sculptured limbs the Godhead looked at me, —
A living Presence deathless and divine,
A Form that harboured all infinity.
The great World-Mother and her mighty will
Inhabited the earth’s abysmal sleep,
Voiceless, omnipotent, inscrutable,
Mute in the desert and the sky and deep.
Now veiled with mind she dwells and speaks no word,
Voiceless, inscrutable, omniscient,
Hiding until our soul has seen, has heard
The secret of her strange embodiment,
One in the worshipper and the immobile shape,
A beauty and mystery flesh or stone can drape.
(Sri Aurobindo, Collected Poems, CWSA, Vol. 2, pp. 608)
The Divine Mother in Indian Tradition
Invocation and worship of the Divine Mother is an integral part of Indian religio-spiritual traditions. Since times immemorial people in India have invoked, in various ways and through diverse practices, the force of the Divine Mother, the Shakti, in her multiple manifestations.
Shakti was defined by Sri Aurobindo very simply as “the female principle in Nature which is at the root of all action” (CWSA, Vol. 13, pp. 27-28). In India, we see all our goddesses as forms of shakti, each one a unique manifestation of the universal shakti, the universal conscious-force, the chit-shakti. These shakti-s are energies of the one Energy of the highest divine Being.
In the Devi Sūkta of the Rigveda Samhita (10.125) we find that Vāk, symbolising speech, the daughter of the sage Vāgāmbhṛṇī, realises her identity with the Divine Mother, the Power of the Supreme Lord. This power manifests throughout the universe among the gods, among humans and beasts, and among the creatures of the deep ocean.
In the Kena Upanishad, we meet the Divine Mother in the form of Uma, granting wisdom to Indra and other gods, who are shown the truth that they were able to defeat the asuras or demons only with the help of the Power, the Shakti of the Supreme Lord.
“…the Mother is one but she comes before us with differing aspects; many are her powers and personalities, many her emanations and Vibhutis that do her work in the universe. The One whom we adore as the Mother is the divine Conscious Force that dominates all existence, one and yet so many-sided that to follow her movement is impossible even for the quickest mind and for the freest and most vast intelligence. The Mother is the consciousness and force of the Supreme and far above all she creates. But something of her ways can be seen and felt through her embodiments and the more seizable because more deﬁned and limited temperament and action of the goddess forms in whom she consents to be manifest to her creatures.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 32, p. 14)
Durga, one of the forms of the Divine Mother, represented as having ten different weapons in Her hands and sitting on a lion, is the “Mother’s power of Protection,” said Sri Aurobindo (CWSA, Vol. 32, p. 69). But with Durga, comes Kali too.
“It is only a few religions which have had the courage to say without any reserve, like the Indian, that this enigmatic World-Power is one Deity, one Trinity, to lift up the image of the Force that acts in the world in the figure not only of the beneficent Durga, but of the terrible Kali in her blood-stained dance of destruction and to say, “This too is the Mother; this also know to be God; this too, if thou hast the strength, adore.” And it is significant that the religion which has had this unflinching honesty and tremendous courage, has succeeded in creating a profound and wide-spread spirituality such as no other can parallel. For truth is the foundation of real spirituality and courage is its soul.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 19, p. 45)
“Four great Aspects of the Mother, four of her leading Powers and Personalities have stood in front in her guidance of this universe and in her dealings with the terrestrial play.
“One is her personality of calm wideness and comprehending wisdom and tranquil benignity and inexhaustible compassion and sovereign and surpassing majesty and all-ruling greatness.
“Another embodies her power of splendid strength and irresistible passion, her warrior mood, her overwhelming will, her impetuous swiftness and world-shaking force.
“A third is vivid and sweet and wonderful with her deep secret of beauty and harmony and ﬁne rhythm, her intricate and subtle opulence, her compelling attraction and captivating grace.
“The fourth is equipped with her close and profound capacity of intimate knowledge and careful ﬂawless work and quiet and exact perfection in all things.
“Wisdom, Strength, Harmony, Perfection are their several attributes and it is these powers that they bring with them into the world, manifest in a human disguise in their Vibhutis and shall found in the divine degree of their ascension in those who can open their earthly nature to the direct and living inﬂuence of the Mother.
“To the four we give the four great names, Maheshwari, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi, Mahasaraswati.” (CWSA, Vol. 32, pp. 17-18)
Many are the means and ways of Her working, because manifold indeed are her aspects and forms. She works through her various powers and she transcends them all. She works on the plane of this world of ignorance, and she guides the entire earth-play through her Supreme Force. She is the Individual, the Universal and the Transcendent; She expresses herself in Form and in No-Form.
“Transcendent, the original supreme Shakti, she stands above the worlds and links the creation to the ever unmanifest mystery of the Supreme. Universal, the cosmic Mahashakti, she creates all these beings and contains and enters, supports and conducts all these million processes and forces. Individual, she embodies the power of these two vaster ways of her existence, makes them living and near to us and mediates between the human personality and the divine Nature.” (CWSA, Vol. 32, p. 14)
We adore the Supreme Shakti, the Devi which is the conscious power, executive energy of the Lord. But we must not forget that the words Devi and Shakti are by no means Her ultimate definitions. The primordial or Adi Shakti is beyond intellectual comprehension.
“The human mind shut in the prison of its half-lit obscurity cannot follow the many-sided freedom of the steps of the Divine Shakti. The rapidity and complexity of her vision and action outrun its stumbling comprehension; the measures of her movement are not its measures. Bewildered by the swift alternation of her many different personalities, her making of rhythms and her breaking of rhythms, her accelerations of speed and her retardations, her varied ways of dealing with the problem of one and of another, her taking up and dropping now of this line and now of that one and her gathering of them together, it will not recognise the way of the Supreme Power when it is circling and sweeping upwards through the maze of the Ignorance to a supernal Light. Open rather your soul to her and be content to feel her with the psychic nature and see her with the psychic vision that alone make a straight response to the Truth. Then the Mother herself will enlighten by their psychic elements your mind and heart and life and physical consciousness and reveal to them too her ways and her nature.” (CWSA, Vol. 32, p. 25)
Invoking the Shakti
One of the most significant works of Sri Aurobindo, – among many other equally significant works – has to do with the Mother element, which he invoked in three specific and highly momentous ways.
First, was the awakening of the Mother element, the Shakti element in the sleeping India, when he reminded Indians of the force of the mantra of Bande Mataram which had been lying dormant in some ideative field of the nation. Sri Aurobindo charged it with a spiritual sense and the whole country woke up in response. The awakening of Shakti took the form of an aspiration for freedom.
Second was when Sri Aurobindo placed the Shakti, the Divine Mother in the forefront at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. By doing this, he gave a new orientation to his Yoga. Instead of relying on the Purusha, yoga was now going to be based on a dynamic Shakti. This is what makes Integral Yoga truly Integral, because it is now fully integrated with Life. We see this element of integration in all developments of yoga that came afterwards.
Third was when Sri Aurobindo embodied the consciousness of the Mother in the sound-word of Savitri.
At the head she stands of birth and toil and fate,
In their slow round the cycles turn to her call;
Alone her hands can change Time’s dragon base.
Hers is the mystery the Night conceals;
The spirit’s alchemist energy is hers;
She is the golden bridge, the wonderful fire.
The luminous heart of the Unknown is she,
A power of silence in the depths of God;
She is the Force, the inevitable Word,
The magnet of our difficult ascent,
The Sun from which we kindle all our suns,
The Light that leans from the unrealised Vasts,
The joy that beckons from the impossible,
The Might of all that never yet came down.
All Nature dumbly calls to her alone
To heal with her feet the aching throb of life
And break the seals on the dim soul of man
And kindle her fire in the closed heart of things.
All here shall be one day her sweetness’ home,
All contraries prepare her harmony;
Towards her our knowledge climbs, our passion gropes;
In her miraculous rapture we shall dwell,
Her clasp shall turn to ecstasy our pain.
Our self shall be one self with all through her.
(Savitri, Book III, Canto II, CWSA, Vol. 33, p. 314)
Bharata Shakti – A Power, A Godhead
Sri Aurobindo reminds us that each nation is also essentially a shakti, the power of evolving spirit in humanity. Mother India, he said, is not a piece of earth; she is a Power, a Godhead. All nations have such a Devi supporting their separate existence and keeping it in being.
“India is the Bharata Shakti, the living energy of a great spiritual conception, and ﬁdelity to it is the very principle of her existence. For by its virtue alone she has been one of the immortal nations; this alone has been the secret of her amazing persistence and perpetual force of survival and revival.” (CWSA, Vol. 20, p. 57)
“If India is to survive, she must be made young again. Rushing and billowing streams of energy must be poured into her; her soul must become, as it was in the old times, like the surges, vast, puissant, calm or turbulent at will, an ocean of action or of force.”
Sri Aurobindo wrote these lines in his ‘Bhawani Mandir.’ (CWSA, Vol. 6, p. 83)
Today’s India is, demographically speaking, a young nation. But is that young energy on its way to becoming an “ocean of action or of force”? And more importantly, have we – our education, our popular culture, our media, our system – been able to give the right direction to this young energy so that when it becomes an “ocean of action or of force” it is through creative and constructive pursuits meant to raise the individual, the society, the nation, the humanity and not be a destructive force?
“We in India fail in all things for want of Shakti.”
Sri Aurobindo wrote this too in the same work. And we find another important reminder there that our knowledge too needs Shakti, otherwise it is a dead thing, he said. What will one do with knowledge of the highest ideal, the highest vision without having the shakti to execute the vision, the conscious-will, the inner force, power and strength to live the idea? India needs Shakti alone, he said forcefully.
This was written in early 1900s, but the truth rings even more true today, in 21st century.
If we have to be reborn as a society, as a nation, if we have to raise ourselves to work toward the true mission of India, to fulfill India’s true destiny, we must grow in Shakti.
In Bhavani Bharati, his only poem in Sanskrit, written between 1904 and 1908, Sri Aurobindo paints the picture of an awakening of the Indian heart and mind to the cry and call of the Mother, the Bhavani Bharati, the Mother of the Nation. A poem of 99 verses, Bhavani Bharati was confiscated by the Calcutta Police and was rediscovered in 1985.
Reading this poem even today inspires us to wake up and fight for our motherland, to bring back her full glory, to sacrifice all that must be sacrificed in order to bring about the victory of the Truth over Un-truth, of Dharma over Ignorance, of Good over Evil. The Mother of the Nation asks tremendous sacrifice. It is not a call for the faint-hearted. Warriors, she needs, to defend her honour, to seat her on her glorious throne.
Truly speaking, all beings in the universe are Shakti-worshippers, whether they are aware of it or not, for there is no one who does not aspire for power and energy in some form or other. Science has now proved that everything is pure, imperishable energy. This energy is only an aspect of the Divine Shakti which manifests in every form.
Let us approach the Great World-Mother with an open heart, lay bare our heart to Her with frankness and humility, love her with a simple heart like that of a child, without any pretence or arrogance. In her boundless Grace, in her illimitable Love, in her infinite Knowledge, and in her immeasurable Power, she blesses us all.
Let us also remember that when the darkness of the ignorance and falsehood begins to engulf our minds and hearts, we must pray more fervently for the light of wisdom and truth. And the Mother will answer. She always does.
“You know the story of Durga, don’t you? Durga who every year has to destroy her asura; and always she is compelled to begin again. It goes on in this way till the end of the reign allotted to the titans. When they will be banished from this world, it will not be thus any longer. But till then, that is as long as they are useful…for intensifying the aspiration, clarifying the consciousness, for putting to the test the sincerity of people, they will be there. The day the test will not be needed, the day the sincerity will be pure and self-existent they will disappear. Then that day, Durga will no longer need to begin her battle over again every year.” (The Mother, CWM, Vol. 5, pp. 96-97)