6 June 2009

Promod Kumar Chatterjee-a painter and a seeker

Promod Kumar Chattopadhyay (1885-1979) was an interesting personality who travelled through many vicissitudes in his life. He was a traveler and travelled extensively all over India, Nepal and Tibet for pilgrimage. But it was not merely for the purpose of pilgrimage –though its spiritual significance was not absent in his psychology-but for his passionate seeking for meeting the enlightened yogis and sadhus, he spent a considerable period of his early and middle life in the paths of the Himalayas and other places of India like a barefooted sannyasin. But he was not a sannyasin. He was already married then and his wife was a loving and dutiful woman. He was a painter of high quality. However, nothing could bind him with the normal familial life and ordinary world. Actually, for an indomitable aspiration for realizing the spiritual truth he became a little restless. This moved him to the dusty path of eternal India. He met innumerable spiritual personalities of almost all the disciplines of the spiritual kingdom of India in the course of his frequent travelling. His love and respect for sacred India and his thirst for India’s spiritual treasure were the predominant factors that determined and shaped predominantly the course of his life. Eventually, he became a realized person, a siddha in Vrindavan –a sacred pilgrimage place of North India- famous for Lord Krishna and Radha’s lila there on the bank of river Yamuna from time immemorial. He then returned home and pursued his career as a painter to earn a livelihood. He joined Baroda School of Arts as its Principle in the Twenties of the last century. Later he founded National Art Gallery in Masilipattanam in Andhra Pradesh in South India and became its President. He wrote many books on his experiences in the course of his extensive travelling in Bengali. His thirst to know about Tantric philosophy and practice led him to visit many renowned places of Tantric sadhana and he met many enlightened yogis and sadhaks of Tantra-discipline. He will be remembered for his renowned book “Tantrabhilasir sadhusanga” which is rich with the history, philosophy and the past glory and present decadence of Tantric sadhana in India and other places. Later he joined Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry in 1958. He painted some portraits of Sri Aurobindo which were highly praised by the Mother as they reflected the inner being of Sri Aurobindo to a great extent. He was amongst a very few who saw a vision of Supramental consciousness in the form of a winged bird. He came to Calcutta again for some personal work in 1975. But he did not return to Pondicherry as his daughters wanted his presence amongst them for the remaining days of his life.* He left his body on 22 September 1979 at the age of 94.

Once when Promod Kumar was returning home after visiting the Kailash Mountain and the lake Manas sarovar in Tibet he, by mistake, walked through a wrong path near Chmpawati in Almora district and entered into a deep forest. He was to reach Tanakpur to catch the train the next day with an elderly person with whom he was travelling. He was detached from his companion who was much behind Promod Kumar in the path. Promod Kumar as was natural to him was walking faster than his companion and was deeply engrossed in the beauty of the surrounding nature. After an hour he came to realise that he was following the wrong path which led him in the deep forest in stead of his destination. He was to reach Tanakpur before the evening. Then it was already evening in the forest and there was no path found for coming out of it. Then to worsen the situation, rain began to fall from already thickly overcast sky. It became gradually severe and the darkness became absolute. He fell from a height on a boulder, which hurt him badly. He was horrified in that dangerous and frightful situation. Leeches clung to his both feet and legs up to the thighs and were sucking his blood. He was bleeding and became extremely weak.

He lost his sense, remained there in the severe cold, and got completely drenched. After sometime he woke up only to suffer consciously. In the middle of that night he cried out to the God, “Why have you put me in such a situation?” Then all of a sudden he heard someone telling clearly in grave voice “Do you regard God as the doer of all your work?” Instantaneously an inner lightening struck him and by a flashing light he realized that he always thought himself as the doer of all his works and enjoyed the results himself, good or bad, that ensued from his works and regarded God as a separate and vast collective consciousness who was not anyway related to his individual work arising out of his personal initiatives. He said to himself “Then why do I call the God to come to my rescue for coming out of this danger that befalls on me for my wrong work? Actually it is the mechanical response of my vital nature. In childhood we call our parents for help and later we call the God whenever we get troubled as consequence of our own works. It becomes as spontaneous as our breathing lungs!”

Perhaps he knew it before but never before was so much aware of this fact. **

The writing of this article is based on this realization of Promod Kumar Chattopadhyay. We all know from our reading of The Gita that we should not expect the fruits of our work. We do not have right for the fruits or results of our work. So we should work not for ourselves but for the Divine. In the same way we do not have any right to work by ourselves. We are mere instruments through whom the Divine is working for something only known to Him. The basic principle of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga is not to attain Brahman or God but to make oneself open to the Divine so that He can work through us. One does not know what is to be achieved from his life. What one is to become. So what makes the feeling that it is I who is working? It is the ego that so feels. But one may raise a point that one does many wrong and heinous works for narrow self satisfactions. Are all these works are done by God? Yes. There is none except Him in His creation. He is evolving i.e. he is in the process of attaining or achieving in myriad ways in all things and beings including the sadhus and murderous criminals. In this journey of evolution everything is progressing towards Him through Him. There is no wrong act. It is the ego only that defines. According to the status of ego in the evolution the work or karma is done in ignorance. We started to compare good and bad karma from the time we started to get in touch of consciousness higher than the general or ‘normal’ in enlightened beings and also in times even in ourselves. There is only one divine pressure behind the evolutionary urge. In some it is less hindered and so we meet a yogi or a poet or great visionaries and in some it is to move through obstacles and we are met with criminals or a Hitler. Every wrong act is an upheaval or catastrophe from the perverse point of ego.

But a bhakta may well ask where does he stand personally in this evolutionary process? He may obviously want to be justified of his individual dignity in his existence! Yes –the Divine approves and acknowledges his want.

But before that one must consecrate all his work and life to the Divine until one feels that it is the Divine that works through him and moves through him. When one consciously feels that the Divine is absolutely established as the driver in his being and one acts from the status of his union with the divine then only he will feel his individual justification in the vibration of the delight of unfolding of the supreme Divine will in this infinite creation. But one must be aware of one’s individual soul first as it is the individual link of the divine that exists within one.

The first essential work in this yoga is to give the right and the fruit of one’s work to the Divine. So the Mother tells us to work with a prayer “Grant that I may do as well as I can the best things to do.” She insists to be in our best in all our works so that she may face less hindrance in her work in us. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother always insisted on the perfection of our instrumentality.

*As told to me by Promod Kumar in presence of his daughter.

**Promod Kumar was able to come out from that jungle and caught the scheduled train on the next day at Tanakpur.