Nobody more important to a 21st century rising India than Sri Aurobindo: Gautam Chikermane

This year when Bharat celebrates Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav we also celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Sri Aurobindo, one of the greatest Indian philosophers the country has seen. Sri Aurobindo was a yoga guru, maharishi, poet and an Indian nationalist, who played a vital role in India’s freedom struggle. Sri Aurobindocommented on the Vedas, […]

This year when Bharat celebrates Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav we also celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Sri Aurobindo, one of the greatest Indian philosophers the country has seen. Sri Aurobindo was a yoga guru, maharishi, poet and an Indian nationalist, who played a vital role in India’s freedom struggle.
Sri Aurobindocommented on the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagwad Gita. He authored an epic poem, Savitri, and presented his integral vision in The Life Divine. His Complete Works, thirty-six volumes in all, can be a daunting prospect even for those acquainted with his philosophy and practice. Penguin India publishedReading Sri Aurobindo edited by GautamChikermane and DevdipGangulia few months ago. The book introduces each of these volumes through the perspectives of twenty-one contributors.
On the occasion of the release of GautamChikermane’s new book Reform Nation(HarperCollins India) we got talking to him about his work, life and writing.
Q. From writing on economics, politics and foreign policies to writing on Aurobindo’s works, how did this transition happen?
A.Writing on economics, finance, regulation, politics and foreign policy was and remains my day job.
Reading philosophy and Indian spiritual traditions has been a part of me since my school days.
Sadly, and in hindsight, I find that the Indian educational establishment has buried India’s philosophical traditions in their Left-leaning ideological destruction. They have kept India away from India, its vast knowledge, its spirituality and its greatest thinkers.
Right from my school days, I have been reading various gurus and thinkers, from Swami Vivekananda to ParamahansaYogananda to J. Krishnamurti.
Imagine this: I drove on the Sri Aurobindo Marg in Delhi everyday, but I did not know who Sri Aurobindo was. Leave aside his spirituality, I did not even know he was a freedom fighter. What can be more tragic for the young of our nation?
Sri Aurobindo had been, and continues to be, cancelled.
I began reading Sri Aurobindo from 1998 onwards. And as I read him, went to his Ashram at Pondicherry, and began to go deeper into his ideas, philosophies, poetry and spirituality, it was clear to me that he is my guru. And as I began to find myself, he found me.
So, when his 150th birth anniversary came on 15 August 2022, the 75th year of India’s Independence, I thought a tribute to Sri Aurobindo was needed. And that’s how Reading Sri Aurobindo was born.
Q. How and why do you think Sri Aurobindo’s works have become more relevant in today’s day and time?
A. Sri Aurobindo provides the intellectual, philosophical and spiritual base for a modern India. All told, there are thirty-six volumes of his works, across 21,000 pages and 6 million words. In these words, you can engage with nationalism and freedom, international relations and culture, poetry and dramas, philosophies and scriptures…all imbued with a deep spirituality.
Take any stream of idea you want to engage with, and Sri Aurobindo provides an integral approach.
His writings are mantric, that is, they bring a presence, a vision, an image that talks to you directly, beyond the words. Take Savitri, for instance. I personally do not ‘understand’ the lines. But I feel the lines ‘know’ me, touch me, impact my life. From thinking to writing, Sri Aurobindo is an anchor.
There is nobody more important to a 21st century rising India than Sri Aurobindo.
Q. Sri Aurobindo’s intellectual genius reflects in his writings across genres and subjects, from economic and social issues to spirituality, what stands out of the outstanding works is his deep-rooted belief in the SanatanDharma and nationalism’s origin in it. How do you view this especially in the current context?
A.For Sri Aurobindo, nationalism and Sanatan Dharma are one. As he said in his 30 May 1909 Uttarpara speech and I quote: “I say no longer that nationalism is a creed, a religion, a faith; I say that it is the Sanatan Dharma which for us is nationalism. This Hindu nation was born with the Sanatan Dharma, with it, it moves and with it, it grows. When the Sanatan Dharma declines, then the nation declines, and if the Sanatan Dharma were capable of perishing, with the Sanatan Dharma it would perish. The Sanatan Dharma, that is nationalism.”
At the same time, it is important to note that on the spiritual plane, Sanatan Dharma for Sri Aurobindo is constantly evolving. It is not anchored to or bound by any dogmatic forms or rigid structures of the past.
There is doubt that it is Sanatan Dharma that is holding India together. You may give all sorts of institutional pointers, societal complexities, cultural diversities…but finally, without doubt, it is unambiguously clear that Sanatan Dharma is the fundamental essence of India. Those cancelling Sanatan Dharma and all its tributaries are in fact cancelling India itself. But they are destined to fail. They will fail because Sanatan Dharma is eternal.
Q. In your introduction to Sri Aurobindo’s essays on Philosophy and Yoga you mention that for him transformation was an evolutionary concept.What according to your understanding of his works contributes to this transformation?
A. For Sri Aurobindo, evolution is not over. As a species, we may think we are the pinnacle of life and we define those pinnacles. Not true. According to Sri Aurobindo, man is a transitional being. Just as life entered matter, and mind entered life, the next evolution will be the transformation of the human into a divine being through the descent of the Supramental consciousness.
What Sri Aurobindo has created is Integral Yoga. This is not an amalgamation of extant Yogas. It is a synthesis of India’s intellectual and philosophical traditions, which he carries forward to the next level. Personally, I see his contribution to spirituality as India’s 10th spiritual tradition. For instance, in this yoga, finding the soul or the Self is only the first step. Not the dissolution of the body but the divinisation of the body, right down to the very cells, the divinisation of matter itself is the goal. That is the transformation Sri Aurobindo talks about.
Q. Sri Aurobindo’s work is exhaustive.How did you all come together to pick the subjects to write on from Sri Aurobindo’s works?
A. I’m going to let you in on a secret. When I began the book, I thought I would write all the chapters. But reading Sri Aurobindo is not easy. For instance, when I read even a few lines of Savitri, I get blissed out. So, I reached out to my co-editor Devdip Ganguli, who teaches at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. But we soon realised that even together, even when we have read most of Sri Aurobindo’s works, we will not be able to do justice to the volume.
It is then that we decided to invite people who have engaged with Sri Aurobindo’s works for decades. We have scholars and writers and teachers. But we also have practitioners and doers. We have Indian and foreign writers. We have women and men. We have young and old. All told, we felt that Sri Aurobindo must not be restricted to a philosophical elite. He belongs to all and all belong to him. And hence, we have 21 writers for 31 chapters—most have introduced one chapter each, some have written more.
Q. Tell us more about your new book Reform Nation that’s just out and what next should we expect from you on Sri Aurobindo?
A. Reform Nation began as a celebration of 30 years of India’s economic reforms that began in 1991, under compulsions of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. The book tracks this seminal shift in India’s economic trajectory and the subsequent reforms under six prime ministers to arrive at a conclusion that what began tentatively in 1991 under Rao has become a journey of conviction under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But in the writing of the book, I wanted to know what happened before 1991, understand how we got there. When I explored the economy in the period 1947 to 1991, I saw forty-four years of despair and economic repression. I saw how India was captured by a Left-leaning ideology that all but destroyed India economically. I saw how industrialists, entrepreneurs, wealth creators, taxpayers, job creators were systematically turned into bad guys, seen as evil. I saw how films celebrated poverty, rejoiced over serial nationalisations of airlines, banks, insurance companies, coal mines and so on. The book records the eight industrial policies before the 1991 reforms and the accompanying laws that stifled enterprise.
This contrast is crucial, as we are seeing those who cannot win votes are using the pre-1991 tools to slyly get them. The return to the Old Pension Scheme in five states of Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Punjab. This is a deform that will lead these five states to financial disaster. And yet, they’ve done it. Reading this book is very important for us to understand what this deform means, how it will harm the country. But pensions are not the only deform. I see voices of nationalisation rise too—Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao has reportedly said he will nationalise power after winning 2024. All these are deforms. The Opposition needs a new narrative that must not destroy India, it must not take India back. And for that, all of them must read Reform Nation along with Chapter 4 of Sri Aurobindo’s 1928 booklet, The Mother, which examines money from a spiritual point of view. My writings on Sri Aurobindo will continue. I am currently busy with three other books. Once they are done, I will return to Sri Aurobindo. Reading Sri Aurobindo is an introductory. My next book on the Supramental Sage will dig deeper, excavate more insights, look ahead at the path Sri Aurobindo has built for us. Reading Sri Aurbindo explores Sri Aurobindo’s deep wisdom and vision for resolving the fundamental issues facing individuals, societies and nations today.
The book has also brought forth some rare pictures and text that hasn’t been written about before.
Lipika Bhushan is a children’s writer and senior publishing professional. She is the founder of