Monday, December 22, 2008

Do Westerners, perhaps lack the inner sense to discern what relics emit?

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On relics
- Carel

Many Westerners have a revulsion for the veneration of relics, the body parts of a dead person. Yet cases of relic veneration abound in Catholicism as well as in Buddhism and Hinduism. This veneration may, of course, be ascribed to religious sentiments. But is there more to it? Do Westerners, perhaps lack the inner sense to discern what relics emit? For why did The Mother allow relics of Sri Aurobindo to be distributed and enshrined?

“She said that each and every molecule of Sri Aurobindo's body was filled with Supramental Consciousness,” writes Nirodbaran. “We know that his body was glowing with Supramental Light as soon as he left it. That Consciousness is not a mortal thing which ceases with the death of the physical body. If that is to be, then we wouldn't feel such an extraordinary power and strength when we touch the Samadhi,” he continues. And he explains, “We have learnt that wherever the Relics are enshrined, there dwell such peace and tranquillity. Therefore the relics are not a mere memento. Relics are the living Presence of Sri Aurobindo imbued with the light and force of his lifelong sadhana, just as an atom contains an infinite power in itself.”(1)

In Champakalal Speaks (1976), Champaklal, the servant of Sri Aurobindo, explains how he gathered the hair and nails of Sri Aurobindo that were later given out as relics.(2)

Relics were first installed at the Delhi Branch of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram on December 5, 1957. They were housed in a gold casket which was then encased in three surrounding caskets of silver, sandalwood and rosewood. The same process was followed when relics were installed at the Bangavani centre in Nabadwip, West Bengal , on 21 February 1959. There is an account of it by one of the devotees present:

"Mother explained the relics, what they were and when they had been taken. They were nails and hair taken from Sri Aurobindo on August 25th, 1950. The Mother first herself sewed up the Relics into a brocade bag with a brocade thread, then put it into a small gold box, the symbol of Supermind; then put the gold box into a silver box, the symbol of Overmind; the silver box into a sandal wood box, the symbol of Higher Mind; the sandal wood box into a rose wood box, the symbol of Material Mind; then Mother tied it up with a silk handkerchief used by Sri Aurobindo during his last Darshan. Then Mother covered it up with a piece of red silk cloth, put it into a plastic bag, made it airtight. Then she put the whole thing into a stone casket made for the purpose and Udar cemented it up. ‘Sri Aurobindo sharanam mama' chanted Champaklal at varying pitch at every phase of the ceremony. Mother presented each of use with a card with Sri Aurobindo sharanam mama [Sri Aurobindo is my refuge] printed on it and with blessings written by her own hand. We were twelve of her Selection for the ceremony.”(3)

And relics of The Mother? They are not given. As Nolini Kanta Gupta explained: “We have not till now issued ‘relics' of the Mother, for relics mean remains of a dead person and we did not associate death with the Mother's body. She is ever living to us – even in her body. Sri Aurobindo's was a different matter – the matter was decided by the Mother herself. But in the present case instead of so-called relics we have been issuing things and objects which Mother had in her personal possession and were used by her and considered and treated and loved as part of herself – she herself had declared it so.”(4)

(1) Translation by Gopa Basu of an article on Relics by Nirodbaran in his Bengali book Rancahana Bichitra, as published in Nirodbaran, Divinity's Comrade.
(2) Champaklal Speaks (pp. 104-105), 1976 edition.
(3) From The Mother: A souvenir commemorating the New Advent of Sri Aurobindo in His Motherland: Installation of the Great Relics on the 21st of February 1959 in Bangvani, Nidayaghat, Nabadwip, West Bengal (pp 149), by Gobinda Lal Goswami.
(4) Handwritten note of Nolini Kanta Gupta of 18-12-1977.
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