The twentieth century had dawned, and looking back on the century that had gone by, Sri Aurobindo had said, “The nineteenth century in Europe was pre-eminently human era, now the vital world seems to be descending there.”
The Mother’s Arrival in Pondicherry
Hundreds year ago, on 24th April, 1920 Mirra Alfassa, a French national with her husband Paul Richard arrived in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry after being recovered from the pandemic of ‘Spanish Flu’ during her visit to Japan. After setting her foot here she never returned, but stayed in the Ashram the rest of her life, and came to be known as ‘The mother’.
This day, 24 April, is remembered and celebrated by the disciples and followers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as one of the eight Darshan Days in a year. The singular importance of Mother’s final arrival in Pondicherry could be imagined from the following saying of Sri Aurobindo – “When I came to Pondicherry a programme was dictated to me from within for my Sadhana. I followed it and progressed for myself but I could not do much by way of helping others. Then came the Mother and with her help I found the necessary method.”
Mirra, the Artist
In the year 1900 in Paris the first Universal Exhibition of paintings and sculptures was organized in which all the leading artists of the epoch participated. By this time with Impressionism finding modes of depiction of truth through light and colors was a well established fact. Mirra Alfassa was an important member in the art scene of Paris. Decades later the Mother would recount, “I lived for ten years among artists… …I mingled with all the great artists of the time, and I was like their kid sister… …much younger than any of them… Well, I was far, far ahead of them in their own domain – not in what I was producing (I was a perfectly ordinary artist), but from the stand point of consciousness – observation, experience, study.’’ Even then Mirra’s aspiration was towards “…a limitless consciousness – no end to one’s own progress…”
Mirra, the Occultist
This kind of aspiration only took Mirra, towards the end of 1905, to the Algerian mystic Max Theon and his English wife Mary Chrystine Woodroffe with a great occult knowledge and power. Theon was well versed in Rig-Veda and the Cabala of the Jews, and had developed a tradition which he called the ‘Cosmic Tradition’. “Theon had written all kinds of things – not philosophy; it was all stories, fantastic stories! Yet this same knowledge was behind them” – many years later explaining to the students of the Ashram school the Mother had explained, “…according to Theon the world was created and destroyed six times. And each time a particular attribute was manifested. But as this attribute could not fulfill itself, the world was ‘swallowed up’ again. Well then, we are the seventh time, and the attribute is Equilibrium.”
Theon was a great teacher, but from the very beginning owing to her own inner life and sadhana, Mirra was aware that Theon knew God only as the Master of man and that is only a partial truth.
Mirra and the Publication of the Arya
On 29 March 1914 Mirra Alfassa with her husband Paul Richard arrived in Pondicherry for the first time. Paul Richard was a candidate for the Pondicherry seat in the French Chamber of Deputies and the elections was to be held on 26 April 1914. Paul Richard earlier had met Sri Aurobindo in 1910 and was greatly impressed. As soon as they had arrived in Pondicherry he went to meet Sri Aurobindo while Mirra had an appointment for the afternoon. In the words of Mirra: “I climbed up the staircase and he was standing there, waiting for me at the top of the stairs… Exactly my vision! Dressed the same way… He turned his head towards me… and I saw in his eyes that it was He.’’ Mirra was alluding to her dream-visions of 1904 when an Indian sage repeatedly visited her to provide her silent guidance.
During this time, in 1914, only the publication of the monthly philosophical journal the Arya was planned and finalized with Sri Aurobindo and Mirra and Paul Richard as editors. The first issue of the Arya came out on 15 August 1914, the 42nd birth day of Sri Aurobindo. But within two weeks of it the First World War had already began and Mirra and Paul Richard were compelled to return back to France. The Mother would speak about it after many years – “The First World War was the result of an enormous descent of the forces of the vital world – the hostile forces of the vital world – into the material world… The whole world, the whole earth suffered from its consequences…”
Mirra in Japan
During the years of the First World War, it was not possible for the Richards to return to India; however, when the circumstance favored they began their journey, on 11 March 1916, to reach Japan in spite of the great dangers it involved.
Hardly two months after her arrival, Mirra published an article ‘Woman and the War’ in a leading Japanese news paper, and soon after gave her talk ‘To the Women of Japan’ which was published and subsequently reprinted several times – “The civilization which is ending now in such dramatic way was based on the power of mind, mind dealing with matter and life. What it has been to the world we have not to discuss here. But a new reign is coming, that of Spirit: after the human, the divine.”
In Japan, completing their first year the Richards moved from Tokyo to the beautiful ancient city of Kyoto where they lived the remaining three years. Of her days in Japan, recollecting much later, the Mother had expressed, “For four years, from an artistic point of view, I lived from wonder to wonder.” How so ever, for Mirra the challenge was to bring about the required conversion in Paul Richard from a highly charged scholarly, philosophical and political ambition to compassionate spiritual aspiration.
In Japan during this period Paul Richard wrote his two important books – ‘To the Nations’ and ‘The Lord of Nations’. He was full of force in propagating the Lord of Nations as “Him who rules the nations with a rod of iron”, and clearly he was becoming day by day, an egoistic autocrat believing in organized physical brute power to bring about the changes in the world.
Mirra and the Pandemic of Spanish Flu
Towards the end of the First World War a severe pandemic of ‘Spanish Flu’ ravaged the world killing nearly fifty millions of people within two years. In the beginning of 1919 in Japan hundreds of thousands were getting affected and killed by ‘Spanish flu’. Mirra was all along keeping calm and aloof. But Paul, as he was well aware of the occult powers of Mirra, was always troubling her with questions like, “But what is this disease? What is there behind this disease?”
Here is an impression about the beginning of January, 1919, as recollected by the Mother in 1953 – “One day I was called to the other end of the town by a young woman whom I knew… I had to cross the whole city in a tramcar. And I was in the tram and saw all those people with masks on their noses, and there was in the atmosphere that of constant fear, and there came a suggestion to me – I began to ask myself – Actually what is this illness? …I returned home with terrible fever. I had caught it…”
The Mother had refused the medicine given to her by the doctor called to her bed.
“At the second day, as I was lying all alone, I saw clearly a being with a part of the head cut off, in a military uniform – or what remained of a military uniform – approaching me and suddenly flinging himself upon my chest, with that half head, to suck my force. I took a good look, then realized that I was about to die. He was drawing my life out… …I was completely nailed to the bed, without any movement, in deep trance. I could not stir and he was pulling out my life. I thought, “This is the end.” Then I called on my occult power, I gave a big fight and I succeeded in pushing him off so that he could not stay any longer. And I woke up….
“I had understood that the illness originated from the beings those who had been thrown violently out of their bodies. I had seen this during the First World War, towards the end, when people were staying in trenches and killed in bombardments. They were in perfect health, altogether healthy, and in the blink of an eye they were thrown out of their bodies, not conscious that they were dead. They didn’t know that they had no body anymore and tried to find in others the life force they could not find in themselves… I know how much knowledge and force were necessary for me to resist. It was irresistible for ordinary persons.’’
Then, as asked by the Mother, she was left alone for two days and concentrated on the evil that was sucking the life out of such a large number of humans. At the end of two or three days there was not a single case in Kyoto. And in a few days Spanish flu had disappeared from the world.
Illness, like every other object and subject, was a field of study for the Mother. All the ailments that occurred in her own body were studied thoroughly. She once said that, “there is nothing fundamentally incurable. It all depends… To be able to cure an illness you have to know its cause, not just its microbe.” and “What people assume to be microbe is quite simply the materialization of a vibration.”
Mirra, the Mother
When the Mother had reached Pondicherry coming from Japan on 24 April 1920, she had quite a few ailments, to name a few, tuberculosis, rheumatism, influenza, filariasis, a flurrying heart… and in her own words, ‘When I came here I was not worth much, and did not give myself many months to live.” But it must have been considering her life strictly through the medical science, because her return to Pondicherry permanently was really “the tangible sign of the sure Victory over the adverse forces…” And Sri Aurobindo himself had said, ‘’What is known as Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga is the joint creation of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.”
And the rest is history.
At the current time, incidentally, the world is facing another massive pandemic being caused by the COVID-19 virus. Thus, the glimpses of the Mother’s spiritual and occult understanding might help us in dealing with such a vast crisis.
(The author is a Poet, Spiritualist and Development Professional)