Among the Western Gurus who propagated Hinduism while making India their home, the name of Mirra Alfassa or Mother Mira of Pondicherry shines in the list of saints and seers who tried to bring about a fundamental change in human existence along with her Master Shri Aurobindo which they believed would culminate in a ‘Divine Life on earth’. They believed that there was a new Spiritual Power in the universe called ‘Supermind’ which was an extension of the Divine Consciousness and which could descend into the earth’s atmosphere and effect changes in individual consciousness thus ushering a Divine life on earth. Mother Mira was said to be one of the Conduits (pipe or tube to allow water to flow) for its action and many of her devotees claim miraculous changes in their consciousness and fortunes even after she is no longer in her physical body. All these great Gurus were highly influenced by the great tenets of Hinduism especially the Bhagavad Gita at some point in their lives which moulded their thought and vision and propelled them towards their goal.
Birth and Early life
Mother Mira was born as Mirra Alfassa in the year 1878 in Paris to a Jewish family. Her father was a Jewish Turk named Moise Maurice Alfassa, and her mother was Jewish Egyptian named Mathilde Ismalun. She was an exceptionally gifted child in music and painting, and from early childhood, had many inner spiritual experiences that baffled her mother. Her lapses into bliss and trances especially during family gatherings were a source of embarrassment to her parents. She had many out of body experiences from a very young age and realised that there was an inner being in her which she needed to discover. In Paris, she met an Indian, who sensing her deep aspiration suggested to her to read the Bhagavad Gita which she managed to obtain in French. She took Krishna as the symbol of Eternal Divinity and in her meditations saw many spiritual figures who wished to help her. Among them, she saw a dark Asian figure whom she felt to be Krishna, who helped her in her spiritual journey. The book Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga also proved beneficial to her.
Marriage and subsequent events
At the age of twenty, she married a Frenchman Henri Francois Morisset, and they subsequently had a son. She became a part of Parisian art circles. She later met the famous occultist Max Theon and his wife who explained to her the psychic experiences which she had been at a loss to understand. She was drawn into mysticism and psychic phenomena and had regular meetings with seekers and students. As time passed, she and her husband had differences and later they separated. She then organised a group of people whose aim was the gaining of self-mastery and knowledge.
The meeting with Sri Aurobindo
Mirra met a Frenchman Paul Antoine Richard who had been to Pondicherry in India which was a French colony in those days. He had gone to seek election to the French Senate from Pondicherry and while he was there he had come in contact with the seer Aurobindo. On his return, the affinity of thoughts and ideas between Mirra and Richard ultimately led to their marriage. They then continued to remain in correspondence with Shri Aurobindo, who gave them advice on all matters, worldly and spiritual. They then decided to sail to India and meet the holy sage. When she saw him for the first time, she realised that he had been the one who had been guiding her whom she had assumed to be Krishna. She immediately recognised his power and inner effulgence, as in his presence she felt her mind becoming quiet and still with all thoughts ceasing. For two days, she remained in this state of yogic consciousness. Sri Aurobindo would undergo intense sadhana followed by group meditation and talks with devotees. The Richards stayed on in Pondicherry absorbing the spiritual teachings but subsequently had to return to Paris due to the outbreak of the First World War. They then travelled to Japan where Mirra visited many Buddhist places of pilgrimage where she met many personages like Rabindranath Tagore and Tolstoy’s son.
Return to Pondicherry
Mirra then returned after the war to Pondicherry and remained in the ashram near Sri Aurobindo’s living quarters along with Dorothy, an Englishwoman, who regarded Mirra as her Guru. The talks and meditations with Sri Aurobindo continued and as the number of disciples increased Mother Mira as her Guru Aurobindo addressed her, felt the need of founding an ashram.
The Aurobindo ashram was founded in 1926 and at the end of the year, Aurobindo decided to withdraw from public view and enter seclusion. He identified Mira as the Divine Mother and asked her to take full charge of the ashram. Mother Mira would bless the devotees and carry out the meditations, talks and running of the ashram. One of the inmates of the ashram was Margaret Wilson, daughter of the US President Woodrow Wilson. It is said that Henry Ford and John. F. Kennedy too wished to meet the Mother, but the outbreak of the Second World War prevented them from doing so. It is believed that the force and spiritual power that emanated from the ashram was tremendous and even succeeded in turning the course of events in the Second World War against the Nazis ensuring victory for the allies. They were also subtly involved in working for the freedom of India from colonial rule.
Death of Aurobindo
After the death of Sri Aurobindo, Mother Mira continued to write books and it is said that during this time, her spiritual experiences were greatly intensified. She established ashrams in Delhi and Gujarat and aided the disciples in their spiritual quest. A number of devotees who visited her mention the great force that was accumulated in her body known as the ‘Supramental power’ which transformed the lives of laymen, industrialists and politicians who sought her blessings. It is said that before passing away, Sri Aurobindo transferred all his Divine Energy to her. During her later years, she is said to have lived on this energy and never required sleep. Like great yogis who could regenerate their cells through the power of consciousness Mother Mira in spite of old age and ill health, could overcome the effects of the physical mind. Many of her talks and experiences are recorded in a number of books like The Agenda, Prayers and Meditations, Education, Questions and Answers at various periods and so on.
Mother Mira founded Auroville (the city of dawn), an international township where spiritual aspirants could live together, to pursue higher goals. The soul of Auroville is ‘Matrimandir or the Mother’s temple’. It is constructed as a sphere inside which is a meditation hall. This construction enables sunlight to enter the building through a small hole on the roof during all hours of the day. There is an urn in the shape of a lotus bud in which is deposited earth from all nations of the world depicting a symbol of human unity. There are many mini settlements in this town with a richly forested landscape which includes bakeries, shops, art workshops, libraries, computer buildings, cafes and schools including the Matrimandir and auditorium.
Passing Away of Mother Mira
Mother Mira died in the year 1973 at the ripe old age of 95 years. Her body was later placed in Samadhi in the vault in the courtyard of the ashram where her Guru Shri Aurobindo’s body had been placed after his death.
One of the greatest contributions of Mother Mira was the founding of Auroville, which is now a UN sponsored organisation and an international community of peace and human progress. Its vision is to enable individuals to evolve beyond their basic nature and discover the inner divinity latent in them. She was considered to be an incarnation of Divine Mother and becoming the spiritual guide of the community, she was referred to as Mother by all. According to her, one of the reasons why she adopted Hinduism instead of her birth religion, Judaism, was that she felt ‘God is basically considered the judge of mankind in Judaism while in Hinduism he was its lover’. Mother Mira was the mother of integral Yoga and along with Shri Aurobindo, reinterpreted the Vedanta and Yogic traditions of India. She inspires thousands of seekers even to this day in their goal of self-realisation and bliss.