August 15, 2021 which ushers in the 150th year of the birth anniversary of Sri Aurobindo, the great revolutionary turned yogi is not just synchronicity, that the Indian Independence Day coincides with the date of birth of this exceptional son of the soil.
C.R. Das, the defence counsel for Srijut Aurobindo Ghose, before the Sessions Court, Alipore presided over by C.P. Beachcroft, ICS, asserted the following in his defence peroration on the last day of his arguments before the Additional Sessions Judge on 31.3.1909: “My appeal to you, therefore, is that a man like him, who is being charged with the offences imputed to him stands not only before the bar in this court but stands before the bar in the High Court of History, and my appeal to you is this: That long after the controversy is hushed in silence, long after the turmoil, the agitation ceases, long after he is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism and the lover of humanity. Long after he is dead and gone his words will be echoed and re-echoed not only in India, but across the distant seas and lands. Therefore, I say the man in his position is not only standing before the bar of this court but before the bar of the High Court of History.” (C.R.Das was otherwise, an ardent nationalist and the mentor of fiery Subhas Chandra Bose)
The above paragraph sums up succinctly, the revolutionary phase of Sri Aurobindo’s life, from 1893 to 1910. It is once again, not accidental, that the revolutionary yogi and his spiritual collaborator Madame Mirra Alfassa, a French lady of Egyptian and Turkish descent, endowed with supernatural artistic and occult faculties, endearingly called ‘The Mother’, together, founded the Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry, to practice the vision and philosophy of ‘Integral Yoga’.
Coming to the Hyderabad connections of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother it is interesting to note, that between the years 1925 to 1950, many aristocratic families including the Prime Minister to the Nizam of Hyderabad, Sir Akbar Hydari, opened up to the spiritual perceptions of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, by moving away from their outer formal Islamic backgrounds and some of them by shunning their extensive properties, in the form of palatial buildings, lands and the retinue of servants in attendance, at their beck and call. It is said that the Prime Minister to the Nizam, never started his day, without reading a few passages from Sri Aurobindo ‘magnum opus’ ‘The Life Divine’, a massive tome on the story of human evolution, and when hard-pressed for time, due to official preoccupations, he would mug up a passage already read and repeat it, while bathing. So intense was his attraction to Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of human evolution, which integrates Eastern and Western Philosophies harmoniously, in the broad Hegelian dialectical framework of thesis – antithesis culminating in Synthesis.
The other devout Muslim disciple from Hyderabad worthy of mention was the mother of Bilkees Latif, the wife of Former Air Chief Marshal I.H Latif. Bilkees Latif’s mother Alys, was of French origin and after she fell out with her alcoholic husband, lived in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram under the umbrage of The Mother and her wise counselling. Alys, and the secular philosophy imbibed from The Mother, left an deep indelible mark on BIlkees Latif’s mind, which is celebrated in her book entitled ‘Her India- the Fragrance of Forgotten Years’ (published by Arnold Heinemann – 1984).
More interesting is the story of two Hyderabadi brothers named Aga Sayed Ibrahim (renamed Dara by Sri Aurobindo) who moved to the Ashram in 1926 and died there itself in the year 1966 and his brother Aga Sayed Ishaque (renamed Prashanto by Sri Aurobindo) who later followed him, to the Ashram at Pondicherry alongwith his two other sisters i.e. Mehdi Begum (renamed Chinmayee by Sri Aurobindo) and Zahara Begum (renamed Sudhira by Sri Aurobindo) along with their step mother Tajdar Begum and one other brother Aga Sayed Yakub (renamed René by The Mother) would visit the Ashram frequently on the pretext of looking up their family members and also come under the benign protection of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.
Prashanto, initially stayed in the Ashram after having finished his studies from Oxford from the year 1927 upto 1936 and then left the Ashram, only to return in the year 1953 and later died in the Ashram. It is crucial to note in the case of this family, that they all moved to Pondicherry, after selling off their lands and the palatial bungalow, on which now stands the State Bank of Hyderabad, in the Gunfoundry area. Their lives have been finely portrayed in the book entitled ‘Among The Not So Great’, a Sri Aurobindo Ashram publication, written by an ashramite by name Prabhakar (Batti) in the year 2003.
Going back to the case of Sir Akbar Hydari, the then Prime Minister to the Nizam, who got the Nizam of Hyderabad to finance Rs one lakh for construction of a unique International Guest House to house foreign devotees, such as the daughter of the then American President, Nishta Wilson (renamed by Sri Aurobindo). The said Guest House named ‘Golconde’, named after the Golconda Fort of Hyderabad – a mine of jewels, world famous for the Kohinoor diamond, was designed by Antonin Raymond a practicing architect of Japan, and an assistant of the legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and later joined by George Nakashima to complete the Guest-House.
This building, is perhaps the most environment friendly structure on the face of this earth, ‘a modern equivalent of the caves (of the Rishis) for the integral yoga (practitioners) of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother’.
There is yet another admirer in Zaheer Ahmed of the Hyderabad Civil Service, who describes Sri Aurobindo’s magnetic personality through a revolutionary character in his book ‘Dusk and Dawn in Village India’, which portrays the turbulent times of the Telangana Armed Struggle coupled with the Peasant Rebellion of 1942-1948.
All the above mentioned anecdotes of elite aristocratic Muslim families moving away from their traditional Islamic background, towards secular spirituality, is the legacy left behind by them for posterity, under the spiritual shadow of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. As against this background the question that arises in one’s mind is, as to where has this culture of transcendental secular spirituality gone from this medieval city of Hyderabad, modelled after Isfahan the Iranian city and known for its cosmopolitan culture, called the ‘Ganga-Yamuna tehjeeb’.
On this auspicious occasion of Sri Aurobindo’s 150th Birth Anniversary, let Hyderabadis ruminate on the legacy of Secular Spirituality, as imbibed by the aristocratic Muslim families mentioned herein above as well as others not mentioned herein.
(The author is an Advocate, Supreme Court of India)
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