The literary landscape of India stretches at least as far back as 6000 years. At least as far as we know. And these last 6000 years have been like the Himalayas, range after range of great heights, peak after peak of splendor, the entire width and breadth and height of their massive accomplishment representative of a civilization and a culture, a vision vast and profuse and diverse, an achievement equaling the greatest realizations of humanity in any realm of human activity.

And in this stretch of the Himalayan literary landscape of India, we have kavi and seers and rishis of our Vedic times, and those of the Upanishads, and the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and puranas, the regional literatures of its hundreds of dialects and national languages, and those of the saints of the bhakti marg and the Bauls and the South and the East with the resonances and harmonies of the people as if an interminable orchestra rising from the genius of its innumerable people.

Putting together a canon of Indic Literature might someday be a worthwhile encyclopedic task for a very motivated and dedicated team of researchers, scholars, translators, curators and sahityakars. For the literature of a nation is its subtle body, its sookshma shareera, that tells us of its deeper movements, its wide-ranging ideas, and eventually, tells us of its soul. It is critical to acknowledge, honor and study its greatest exponents and ensure that the populace does not forget them due to lethargy or superficial distractions. For if we forget our best writers and poets, we have consigned our future to mediocrity and a slow deterioration into barbarism and crudeness.

It is my realization that the Indians have done poorly in ensuring that our national treasures, the most creative minds and spirits, are widely circulated and studied with utmost focus and attention. One of our greatest poet, philosopher, essayist, literary critic, playwright and visionary global leader was Sri Aurobindo who has not only defined modern India but is also defining our modern world every day with his far-reaching ad prophetic insights. 

He is perhaps the greatest literary figure that India has produced in the last hundred years; yet, it is only in India that we can forget our best and highest in such a perfunctory manner. I was looking at movies made on Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, etc. that detail their entire life from birth to literary development with extensive research and analysis. Their places of birth and work are sites of pilgrimage for the literary faithful. The Hemingway house in Florida Keys is a place we go to with an almost religious fervor to hear of his stories, his personal life and absorb every possible vibe of that place. And yet, one of the greatest essayist that the world has produced to date, in any language is known only to a faithful few in Pondicherry, India.

Sri Aurobindo’s prose, lucid and crystalline, is intense and poetic, and can easily take place among the best prose-writers such as Montaigne, Samuel Johnson, GB Shaw, Camus, etc. His style, at once classical yet dynamic and modern, is unique in that it takes a vast scale in its sweep easily and in the clearest possible language, gives us a lapidary experience of reading.

His books ‘The Life Divine’, ‘Essays on the Gita’, and ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’ transformed spiritual and yogic literature in a manner that even a secular reading of these books does not take away from their value and significance, and might even enhance it.

As a philosopher, rather a darshanik in the Indian mold, who does not speculate or play with abstractions, but beholds matters of great import and truth, he gave us far-reaching perspectives that, if paid attention to, can and are changing the future of mankind. His philosophy was not theoretical but pragmatic and rooted in earth.

Similarly, his literary criticism, written out in ‘The Future Poetry’, is coherent, comprehensive and deeply insightful. Sri Aurobindo studied the entire 600 years of English poetry and predicted its future direction as one of the representative languages and literature of humanity. Within the sweep of his world-view, he encompasses the evolution of English right from Chaucer to the advent of modernist poetry. And he could pick up trends and movements within the larger frame of reference of English literary development and hint which way they would be moving further.

As a playwright and story-writer, Sri Aurobindo wrote a few but it was obvious that these were more fields of experimentation and exploration for him. And yet, even now, some of his plays are eminently stage-able and enjoyable.

But it is as a poet that Sri Aurobindo’s greatest contribution to the world of literature needs to be seen. Contemporary criticism was not ready for Sri Aurobindo, despite their professions to be objective and fair-minded in their review and appraisal.

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