Mirra Alfassa

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Mirra Alfassa
Divine-mother (mirra alfassa).jpg
Mirra Alfassa
Institute Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Auroville
Pen name The Mother
Personal
Born Blanche Rachel Mirra Alfassa
21 February 1878
Paris, France
Died 17 November 1973 (aged 95)
Pondicherry
Resting place Pondicherry, India
Religious career
Students Satprem, Nolini Kanta Gupta, Nirodbaran, Amal Kiran, Pavitra
Works Prayers And Meditations, Words of Long Ago, On Thoughts and Aphorisms, Words of the Mother
Signature Mosign.gif

Mirra Alfassa (21 February 1878 – 17 November 1973), known to her followers as The Mother, was the spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo. Her full name at birth was Blanche Rachel Mirra Alfassa.[1]

She came to Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual retreat on 29 March 1914 in Pondicherry, India. Alfassa had to leave Pondicherry during World War I, and spent most of her time in Japan where she met poet Rabindranath Tagore. Finally she returned to Pondicherry and settled there in 1920. After 24 November 1926, when Sri Aurobindo retired into seclusion, she founded her ashram (Sri Aurobindo Ashram), with a handful of disciples. She became the spiritual guide of the community.

The experiences of the last thirty years of Alfassa’s life were captured in the 13-volume work The Agenda. Sri Aurobindo considered her an incarnation of the Mother Divine and called her by that name: “The Mother”.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Childhood[edit]

Mirra Alfassa as a child circa 1885
Mirra Alfassa, circa unknown

Mirra Alfassa was born on 1878 in Paris to Moïse Maurice Alfassa a Turkish Jew father, and Mathilde Ismalun an Egyptian Jewish mother, a bourgeoisie family. She had an elder brother named Mattéo Mathieu Maurice Alfassa, who is later known to have held numerous French governmental posts in Africa. The family had just migrated to France, a year before she was born, the marriage fell apart and both Mathilde and Maurice were living separate lives at 62 Boulevard Haussmann in Paris. Mirra was close to her grandmother Mira Ismalum (née Pinto), who was one of the first women to travel outside Egypt alone and was also a neighbour.[2][3]

Mirra had learnt to read at the age of seven and joined school very late at the age of nine. She is believed to have held interest in various fields of art, tennis, and singing but was a concern to her mother who saw a lack of any apparent deeper, permanent concern over any matter in her.[4] By the age of 14 she had become a good reader and had read most of the books in her father's collection, which is believed to have helped her achieve mastery over French.[5] Her biographer Vrekhem notes that Mirra had various occult experiences in her childhood but knew nothing of the subject and their relevance. She kept these experiences to herself and did not share them with anyone as her mother was believed to be an atheist and any occult experiences were deemed to be a mental problem which had to be treated.[6] Mirra especially recalls at the age of thirteen or fourteen having a dream of a dark figure which she used to call Krishna whom she had never seen before in real life.[7][8][9]

As an Artist & Traveller[edit]

Mirra Alfassa at the age of 24 with son Andre, circa 1902
In Paris[edit]

In 1893 after graduating from school, Alfassa joined Académie Julian[10][11] to study art. Her grandmother Mira introduced her to Henri Morisset who was an ex-student of the Académie; they were married on 13 October 1897.[12] Both were well off and worked as artists for the next ten years, during an era known for having many impressionist artists. Her son André was born on 23 August 1898. Some of Alfassa'so paintings were accepted by the jury of Salon d'Automne and were exhibited in 1903, 1904 and 1905.[13] She recalls herself being a complete Atheist at this time and was against any religious claim on the existence of God, but was experiencing various memories which she found were not mental formations but were spontaneous experiences and never revealed this to anybody in her surroundings. Alfassa had developed an urge to know about such experiences and through finding the book Raja yoga by Swami Vivekananda, was able to explain something about her memories. She also received a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in French which helped her considerably in learning more about these experiences.[14]

Max Théon & Alma Théon[edit]
Mirra Alfassa in Theon’s house at Tlemcen, Algeria (1906 - 1907)

During this time Mirra made the acquaintance of Louis Thémanlys who was the head of the Cosmic Movement, a group started by Max Théon. Through reading a copy of Cosmic Review, she attended the speeches given by Louis and became active in the group. For the first time on 14 July 1906 she journeyed alone to the Algerian city of Tlemcen to meet with Max Théon and his wife Alma Théon. She consequently travelled twice in 1906 and 1907 to their home at Tlemcen and in their house practised and experimented with teachings of Max Théon & Alma Théon. [15]

Alfassa and Henri separated in 1908, and Alfassa then moved to 49 Rue des Lévis, Paris. She lived alone in a small apartment and involved herself in discussion with Buddhists and other cosmic movement circles. During this time she also grew her acquaintance with Madame David Néel.[16] Mirra married Paul Richard in 1911 who after serving four years in the army had involved himself in philosophy & theology. He had come to know Mirra when he was in discussions with Max Théon. Vrekhem a biographer of Mirra informs that Richard was undergoing a legal problem in inheriting children from his first marriage to a Dutch woman, and had asked Mirra for help which she had accepted.[17]

First meetings with Sri Aurobindo and Japan[edit]
Dorothy Hodgson (Dutta), Mirra Alfassa, Paul Richard & Japanese friends in Tokyo c.a 1918

Richard was also an aspiring politician and had attempted to elect himself to the French senate from Pondicherry which was then under French control. Despite his initial failure he wanted to try once more, and on 7 March 1914 Mirra along with Richard set sail to India and reached Pondicherry by 29 March.[18][19] After reaching Pondicherry both had fixed an appointment with Sri Aurobindo who was then settled in Pondicherry and had suspended all his activity for Indian independence from British rule. During her first meeting Mirra recalls the person whom she used to see in dreams was none other than Sri Aurobindo. She is supposed to have felt sudden silence in the presence of Aurobindo and no thought entered her mind.[20]

Richard lost the elections to Paul Bluysen to whom he had supported in previous elections. Both Richard and Mirra were running out of money and decided to publish a review on yoga of Sri Aurobindo called Arya in both English and French. The Journal was first published on 15 August 1914 and ran for the next six and half years. Consequent journals published were later made into complete books.[21] By this time World War I had erupted and Indian revolutionaries were being prosecuted by British for being spies of the German army. Although Aurobindo had totally dispensed his activities against British rule he was considered unsafe and all the revolutionaries were asked to move to Algeria. Aurobindo had refused this offer, so the British had written to the French government in Paris asking to hand over revolutionaries staying at French Pondicherry. This file came over to Mattéo Alfassa (brother of Mirra), who by then was foreign minister and put the file under other working files never to be looked upon again.[22] [23]

On the insistence of the British in 1915, Richard was ordered to move out of Pondicherry. After an unsuccessful attempt to stay, both Mirra and Richard left for Paris on 22 February 1915. After a few years Richard was ordered to promote French trade in Japan (who was then an ally of France and Britain) and China. Mirra left for Japan along with Richard, never to return to Paris again.[24]

Mirra along with Richard stayed in Japan and had acquaintances with the Indian community. Their time in Japan was relatively peaceful, and they spent the following four years there. On 24 April 1920 Mirra returned with Richard to Pondicherry[25][26] accompanied by Dorothy Hodgson. Mirra moved to live near Aurobindo in the Guest House at Rue François Martin. Richard did not stay long in India; he spent a year traveling around North India returning to France and remarried in England after divorcing Mirra. After working a few years as a professor in the United States he died in 1968.[27] On November 24, 1920 due to a heavy storm and rain Sri Aurobindo asked Mirra and Dorothy Hodgson (Later come be known as Dutta) to be moved into Sri Aurobindo´s house and she started living along with other inmates in the house. [28] .[29]

foundation of the Ashram[edit]

Integral yoga

With time many influenced by the Arya Magazine and others who had heard about Sri Aurobindo started to come to his residence either permanently to reside or to practise Sri Aurobindo's yoga. Mirra was initially not totally accepted by the other inmates of the house and was considered an outsider. Sri Aurobindo considered her to be of equal yogic stature and started calling her "The mother", and was known to all inmates as such from then on. Around 1924 onwards Mirra was starting to organise the day to day functioning of the inmates and slowly the house was turning into a Ashram with many followers flowing in every day.[30] After 1926 Sri Aurobindo started to retire from regular activities and put his complete focus towards yogic practises. The number of inmates had grown to 85 members by then and the group had slowly turned into a spiritual Ashram.

Integral yoga & The Siddhi Day[edit]

On November 24, 1926 later declared as Siddhi day (victory day) and still celebrated by Sri Aurobindo Ashram [31] as Mirra and Aurobindo claimed that overmind Consciousness had manifested directly on earth allowing the possibility for Human consciousness to be directly aware and be in the overmind consciousness[note 1].

Sri Aurobindo had received a few complaints against Mirra on the daily running of the Ashram. To settle this matter in finality Sri Aurobindo declared 'The Mother' to be in sole charge of further activities of the ashram through a letter in April 1930.[32] By August 1930, the ashram members had grown to a number of 80 to 100 inmates, a self sustaining community with all basic amenities fulfilled. [33]

Sri Aurobindo and Mirra's work and principal of yoga was named by them: Integral Yoga an all embracing yoga. This yoga was in variance with older ways of yoga because the follower would not give up the outer life to live in a monastery, but would be present in regular life and practise spirituality in all parts of life. [34]

Golconde dormitory (1935)

By 1937 the ashram inmates had grown to more than 150 so there was a need for an expansion of building and facilities, helped by Diwan Hyder Ali, the Nizam of Hyderabad who had made a grant to the ashram for further expansion. Under the guidance of Mirra, Antonin Raymond as the chief architect assisted by Franticek Sammer and George Nakashima, a dormitory building was constructed. By this time the second world war erupted delaying the construction but was finally completed after ten years and was named Golconde.[35] In 1938 Margaret Woodrow Wilson, the daughter of US President Woodrow Wilson, came to the Ashram and chose to remain there for the rest of her life.[36]

By 1939 World War two had broken out. Although some of the members of the Ashram may have supported Hitler indirectly because Britain was attacked, both Mirra and Sri Aurobindo publicly declared their support for the Allied forces. By donating to Viceroy‘s war fund, much to the surprise of many Indians, Sri Aurobindo and Mirra supported the Allied forces.[37]

School in Ashram & death of Sri Aurobindo[edit]

On 2 December 1943 Mirra started a school for about twenty children inside the ashram. She considered this was a considerable movement away from usual life in the ashram which was until then practised total renouncing of the outside world. However she found that the school would gradually align to the principal of Sri Aurorbindo's Integral yoga i.e "all life is Yoga".[38] The school later became known as Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. From 21 February 1949 she started a quarterly magazine called "The bulletin" in which Sri Aurobindo published a series of eight articles under the title "The supramental manifestation upon earth" where in for the first time he wrote about transitional being between man and superman.[39]

Mirra’s painting: ‘Divine Consciousness Emerging from the Inconscient’, 1920-1925

Sri Aurobindo unexpectedly passed away on 5 December 1950 , this was a terrible experience for her,[39]all the activities in the ashram were suspended for twelve days after which Mirra had to decide the future course of the ashram. After which she decided to take up the entire work of the ashram and also to continue the integral yoga internally. The years from 1950 to 1958 were the years where she was mostly seen by her disciples[40]

Pondicherry India[edit]

Mirra Alfassa with Pavitra on terrace of Old Secretariat

On the 15th of August 1954 French Pondicherry became union territory of India. Mirra declared her dual citizenship with India and France.[41] Pandit Nehru visited the Ashram on 16 January 1955 and met with Mirra for few minutes. This meeting cleared many doubts he had about the Ashram. During his second visit to the ashram on 29th september 1955 his daughter Indira Gandhi accompanied him, Mirra had a profound effect on her which developed into a close relationship in later years.[42] Mirra continued to teach French after the death of Sri Aurobindo, although started as simple conversation & recitations later expanded in to deeper discussions about Integral yoga where in she would read a passage from Sri Aurobindo or herself and started commenting on it, this grew into a seven volume book called Questions and Answers. [43]

After 1958 she slowly started to withdraw from outer activities towards yoga, the year 1958 was also marked by a greater progress in yoga[44]and stoped all her activities from 1959 onwards to devote completely towards yoga.

on 21 February 1963 on her 85th birthday she gave her first darshan from the terrace that had been built for her. From then on she would be present here on darshan days below which visitors would gather round to have a glimpse of her. .[45] Mirra Alfassa regularly met with one of her disciple Satprem. He had recorded all their conversation which he later these conversation in 13 volume of book called The Agenda.

Mirra Alfassa playing tennis

Establishing Auroville[edit]

Main article: Auroville
Matrimandir, in Auroville, near Pondicherry

Mirra had published an article titled "The Dream" in which she suggested a place on earth that no nation could claim as its sole property and for all humanity with no distinction.[46] on 1964 it was finally decided to build this city by 28 february 1968 calling it Auroville meaning city of Dawn ( derived from french world aurore) drew up a charter for the city , a model universal township where one of the aim would also be bring about human unity. The still exists and continues to grow. [47] Today Auroville is managed by a foundation set up by the Indian government.

Later years[edit]

Many politians then visited her on regular basis for her guidance, from V V giri , Dalai lama and especially Indira Gandhi was in close contact with her and often visited her guidance. [48] by end of March 1973 she became critically ill, from 20th may onwards all meetings were cancelled. she gave her final darshan on 15th of august of the same year also visited the outside balcony where thousands of followers were waiting to get a glimpse of her, she passed away at 7:25 p.m on November 17th of 1973. on 20th November she was buried next Sri Aurobindo in the courtyard of the main Ashram building.[49]

Biography of Internal experiences and Yogic feats[edit]

Her inner life as she remembers is believed to have started when she was five, she used to sit on a armchair where she is to felt that consciousness above the head. she used to withdraw to the chair in order to feel a pleasant sensatin of the consciousness. She had strange experiences and sometime went into trance in the middle of a sentence or gesture. [50]

Legacy[edit]

Influence[edit]

Followers[edit]

Literary works[edit]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ A detailed description of the Overmind is provided in Book I ch.28, and Book II ch.26, of Sri Aurobindo's philosophical opus The Life Divine

Citations

  1. ^ Archives Départementales de Paris en ligne , acte de naissance n° 1878/390/9e du 21/02/1878, page 6
  2. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 4-7
  3. ^ Mother's Chronicles Bk I; Mother on Herself – Chronology p.83.
  4. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 8
  5. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 10
  6. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 11-13
  7. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 14
  8. ^ Bulletin of the Aurobindo Center of Education, 1976 p.14, Mother on Herself pp.17–18.
  9. ^ Bulletin 1974 p.63.
  10. ^ "The Mother". sriaurobindoashram.org. 2013. Retrieved 11 March 2013. 
  11. ^ Mirra Alfassa, paintings and drawings, P. 157-158
  12. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 15-20
  13. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 24
  14. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 29
  15. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 37-67
  16. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 73-75
  17. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 84
  18. ^ Interview with Prithwindra Mukherjee, The Sunday Standard, 15 June 1969; The Mother by Prema Nandakumar, National Book Trust, 1977, p9.
  19. ^ Karmayogi no date, Van Vrekhem 2001.
  20. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 140-155
  21. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 160-172
  22. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 175-177
  23. ^ Purani 1982 pp.9–12
  24. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 178-180
  25. ^ Iyengar 1978 p.182
  26. ^ Coll. Works vol 8, pp.106–7
  27. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 215-216
  28. ^ Vrekhem (2004), p. 225
  29. ^ Agenda vol.2 pp.371–372
  30. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 228-248
  31. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 250-251
  32. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 258-259
  33. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 286-287
  34. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 270-271
  35. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 303-305
  36. ^ Nirodbaran 1972, Karmayogi
  37. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 310-326
  38. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 334-335
  39. ^ a b Vrekhem (2004), pp. 353-354
  40. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 385
  41. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 408-409
  42. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 412-413
  43. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 414
  44. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 479-486ps=.
  45. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 541
  46. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 547-549ps=.
  47. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 559-562ps=.
  48. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 573ps=.
  49. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 593-598ps=.
  50. ^ Vrekhem (2004), pp. 10-11 ps=.

Bibliography

Further reading[edit]

  • Anon., The Mother – Some dates
  • Aurobindo Ghose (1972), Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, Birth Centenary Edition
  • (1972b) The Mother, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
  • Iyengar, K.R.S. (1978), On the Mother: the chronicle of a manifestation and a ministry (2 vols, continuously paginated), Pondicherry, 1978 (2nd ed)
  • Alfassa, Mirra (1977) The Mother on Herself, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
  • (1978) Collected Works of the Mother, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry Centenary Edition (17 vol set)
  • (1979– ) Mother's Agenda (Engl. transl) Institute for Evolutionary Research, New York, NY (13 vol set)
    • (date?) Flowers and Their Messages, Sri Aurobindo Ashram
    • (date?) Flowers and Their Spiritual Significance, Sri Aurobindo Ashram
  • Das, Nolima ed., (1978) Glimpses of the Mother's Life vol.1, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
  • Mukherjee, Prithwindra (2000), Sri Aurobindo: Biographie, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris
  • Nahar, Sujata (1986) Mother's chronicles Bk. 2. Mirra the Artist, Paris: Institut de Recherches Evolutives, Paris & Mira Aditi, Mysore.
    • (1989) Mother's chronicles Bk. 3. Mirra the Occultist. Paris: Institut de Recherches Evolutives, Paris & Mira Aditi, Mysore.
  • Satprem (1982) The Mind of the Cells (transl by Francine Mahak & Luc Venet) Institute for Evolutionary Research, New York, NY
  • Van Vrekhem, Georges: The Mother – The Story of Her Life, Harper Collins Publishers India, New Delhi 2000, ISBN 81-7223-416-3 (see also Mother meets Sri Aurobindo – An excerpt from this book)
  • Van Vrekhem, Georges: Beyond Man – The Life and Work of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, HarperCollins Publishers India, New Delhi 1999, ISBN 81-7223-327-2

Partial bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]