Solitary-confinement Prison Cell

Alipore Bomb Case

Sri Aurobindo was arrested on 02.May.1908 under the charge of 'Conspiracy'. He spent one full year in Alipore jail while the British Government, in a protracted court-trial (Alipore Bomb Case) tried to implicate him in various revolutionary activities. He was also kept in solitary confinement for certain periods.

Radical change in Jail

... During this period his view of life was radically changed; he had taken up Yoga with the original idea of acquiring spiritual force and energy and divine guidance for his work in life. But now the inner spiritual life and realisation which had continually been increasing in magnitude and universality and assuming a larger place took him up entirely and his work became a part and result of it and besides far exceeded the service and liberation of the country and fixed itself in an aim, previously only glimpsed, which was world-wide in its bearing and concerned with the whole future of humanity. ......

Extract from: CWSA > Autobiographical Notes > Political Life, 1893-1910 > Page 61

Spiritual Realization in Prison

...I found God...

The year of 1908, Friday, first of May..... Nor did I know at the time that this day would mark the end of a chapter in my life, that there stretched before me a year's imprisonment..... Though I have described it as 'imprisonment' for a year, it was, in effect, like a year's seclusion as in an Ashram or hermitage...... Finally the Compassionate, Sarva-Mangalamaya Shri Hari (All-Good Lord) ... brought me to a yogashram and Himself stayed as Guru and companion in that tiny Sadhan-kutir (seat of spiritual discipline). This yogashram happened to be the British prison. ... The British Government's wrath had but one significant outcome: I found God.

Self-existent Bliss

... the real essence of the prison-experiences ... Although it cannot be said of suffering, that there was none, the period, on the whole, passed in self-existent bliss.

From Tales of Prison Life v2

Cosmic consciousness Read More 

... I looked at the jail that secluded me from men and it was no longer by its high walls that I was imprisoned; no, it was Vasudeva who surrounded me. I walked under the branches of the tree in front of my cell but it was not the tree, I knew it was Vasudeva, it was Sri Krishna whom I saw standing there and holding over me his shade. I looked at the bars of my cell, the very grating that did duty for a door and again I saw Vasudeva. It was Narayana who was guarding and standing sentry over me. Or I lay on the coarse blankets that were given me for a couch and felt the arms of Sri Krishna around me, the arms of my Friend and Lover. This was the first use of the deeper vision He gave me. I looked at the prisoners in the jail, the thieves, the murderers, the swindlers, and as I looked at them I saw Vasudeva, it was Narayana whom I found in these darkened souls and misused bodies. Amongst these thieves and dacoits there were many who put me to shame by their sympathy, their kindness, the humanity triumphant over such adverse circumstances. One I saw among them especially, who seemed to me a saint, a peasant of my nation who did not know how to read and write, an alleged dacoit sentenced to ten years' rigorous imprisonment, one of those whom we look down upon in our Pharisaical pride of class as Chhotalok. Once more He spoke to me and said, "Behold the people among whom I have sent you to do a little of my work. This is the nature of the nation I am raising up and the reason why I raise them."

From Uttarpara Speech

Torturous Conditions in Prison

Solitary Confinement

My prison-cell was nine feet long and about five or six feet wide. This windowless cage, fronted by a large iron barred-door, was assigned to me as my abode. The cell opened into a very small courtyard, paved with stones and surrounded by a high brick wall. A wooden door led outside. The door had a small peep-hole at eye-level, for sentries to keep a periodic watch on the convicts when the door was closed. The door to the courtyard of my cell was generally kept open. There were six such contiguous cells known as the 'six decrees'. The word 'decree' was a reference to the special punishment prescribed either by the Judge or the Jail Superintendent in the form of solitary confinement within these tiny, cramped cells...

The legal system disallowed under-trial prisoners to be subjected to solitary confinement or to be held under such torturous conditions. But such niceties of law were dispensed with when dealing with those accused in affairs related to the Swadeshi movement or 'Bande Mataram' and hence arrangements were promptly made for them as desired by the Police.

Inhuman treatment

...To the normal vision however, the British conduct would qualify as mean and reprehensible. After all, the accused were gentlemen; many were scions of Zamindars; some were, in terms of their lineage, education, qualities and character, the equal of the highest classes in England. The charges too were not ordinary. We stood accused of insurrection to liberate the country from foreign rulers and conspiracy for armed revolution. As for evidence or proof, there was none against many of the accused and arrests had been made merely on the basis of suspicion. Hence it was most unbecoming of the British Imperial officers to treat us like ordinary criminals in a prison, nay, like animals in a cage, to serve us food unfit even for animals, to make us endure scarcity of water, thirst, hunger and to keep us exposed to the sun, the rain and the cold. ....

Extract from: Tales of Prison Life

Toilet in a Basket

When we were all moved into larger cells after the first phase of solitary imprisonment, the authorities arranged for a separate receptacle to aid in the act of excretion. The imposed practice with the bowl in the preceding period though had provided an unsought lesson in mastering the sense of repulsion. The arrangement for excretion in prison was as if designed with the very purpose of imparting this invaluable education.

The concept of Solitary imprisonment as punishment is based on additional restrictions on fundamental human needs by depriving one of human company or denying free access to the open skies. How could such sacred principles be violated by allowing for excretion outside the cell. Hence two tar-coated baskets were provided in the cell itself. The sweepers (mehtar) would clean the baskets in the mornings and evenings. One could get them to clean the baskets at other times too either with suitably intense exhortations or with soul-melting entreaties. Sometimes one had to yield to nature's call outside this routine. Such transgressions would necessarily be accompanied by a corresponding period of intense repentance as one had to suffer the noxious smell until the next round of cleaning.

In the second phase of solitary confinement, there were some reforms in this respect. But British reforms are in the nature of mere tweaking of the administrative aspects whilst the principles of the original system are preserved in entirety. The nature of suffering induced by such arrangements in a cramped cell especially during meals and at night hardly needs elaboration. The concept of attached toilets may be an integral part of western culture in many parts of the world. But to have one tiny cell serve as bedroom, dining-room and toilet was 'too much of a good thing'! We unfortunate Indians, with our primitive practices, are ill-at-ease in ascending to such higher realms of civilisation.

Struggle with Thirst

The authorities surpassed themselves in making arrangements for drinking water in the prison. It was summertime. The poor ventilation in my prison-cell meant that it almost became a forbidden zone for the breeze. But there was no such restriction on the blazing sun, which beat down mercilessly. The terrible heat would turn the tiny cell into a veritable oven where one could experience the feeling of being roasted alive. The only option for quenching the deep thirst that arose in these conditions was the tepid water in the tin-container. I would repeatedly drink this lukewarm water but it provided little relief from the thirst. Instead a bout of heavy sweating would follow and the thirst would be renewed in greater measure. On the other hand, there were some convicts who had access to cool water stored in earthen pots provided to them. Such convicts would feel blessed and attribute this to forgotten tapasya (austerities) of some past-life. However, there seemed to be no logical basis for this arrangement which provided some convicts the means to quench their thirst whilst others were deprived of similar facilities and thus remained ever-thirsty in prison. This mystery compelled even the most ardent believers in the efficacy of human effort to admit of forces beyond which controlled our destiny. The authorities on their part maintained complete impartiality in the distribution of tin-containers and earthen water-pots amongst the prisoners. Notwithstanding the matter of my satisfaction (or lack of it) with such whimsical arrangements, the kind-hearted prison doctor was deeply affected by my thirst-related difficulties. He tried his best to get an earthen pot for me. Since this matter was not under his direct supervision, the efforts did not bear fruit immediately. Eventually the head-sweeper, at his behest, did discover an earthen pot. By this time, I had, in the course of a long and intense struggle, achieved freedom from thirst.

Sri Aurobindo's Account of Prison-life

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Pilgrimage Site

Sri Aurobindo's Prison Cell in Presidency Jail - Pilgrimage Site
Sri Aurobindo's Prison Cell in Presidency Jail - Pilgrimage Site

Sri Aurobindo's Prison cell is preserved in Presidency Jail as a Pilgrimage Site for vistors and devotees.

Presidency Jail Website

Prior permission needs to be obtained from Prison authorities through written application for a visit.

Contact address for IG, Alipore (& Presidency Jail) Prison

Commemorative Plaque

Commemorative Plaque for Sri Aurobindo's Prison Cell in Presidency Jail
Commemorative Plaque for Sri Aurobindo's Prison Cell in Presidency Jail
Newspaper report on the Commemoration
Newspaper report on the Commemoration

Presidency Jail (Old Alipore Jail)


Presidency Jail (Old Alipore Jail)
Belvedere Road, Alipore
Kolkata, West Bengal.

How to visit Sri Aurobindo's Prison Cell

Prior permission needs to be obtained from Prison authorities through written application
Contact address for IG, Alipore (& Presidency Jail) Prison

All extracts and quotations from the written works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and the Photographs of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo are copyright Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry -605002 India.
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