Sri Aurobindo Ghose

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Analyze the meaning of the poem "Stone Goddess" by Sri Aurobindo.

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In order to properly analyze the meaning of the poem "The Stone Goddess" by Sri Aurobindo Ghose, it is important to understand something about the background of the poet. He studied for a time at the University of Cambridge in England and became a teacher for a time when he returned. Between 1902 and 1910, he was involved in India's struggle for independence. After a period of imprisonment, he fled British India and took refuge in Pondicherry, which at the time was a small French colony on the southeast coast of the Indian Subcontinent. For the rest of his life he devoted himself to spirituality and established an ashram where other spiritual seekers could come and study.

In a section called "Note on the Texts" in Sri Aurobindo's Collected Poems, there is a comment on "The Stone Goddess":

This sonnet is about an experience Sri Aurobindo had at a temple in Karnali, on the banks of the Narmada, near the end of his stay in Baroda (c. 1904-6).

Baroda, known as Vadodara in modern India, is a city in the state of Gujarat. The Narmada is a major river that runs from central India west across the subcontinent. Karnali is a village along the shore of the Narmada River in which sits an important temple to Shiva, one of the principle gods in Hinduism.

We see, then, that Sri Aurobindo was a devoted spiritual seeker as well as a poet. In this context we can better understand "The Stone Goddess." He writes of coming across a goddess in a shrine within a "town of gods," which could be a reference to Karnali. However, he does not see this shrine as a tourist would, which would be as an interesting sight. Instead, he believes that the statue contains a "living presence," that in some way the goddess resides within the sculpture. This goddess, according to Sri Aurobindo, is omnipotent, or all powerful, but at the same time she remains silent and inscrutable, or unknowable. Her symbolic presence in the statue still remains silent and voiceless, but she can communicate directly with the soul, which is able to hear her secret. This "beauty and mystery" cause the person worshiping the goddess and the goddess herself to become united.

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Sri Aurobindo was Indian, but was educated at King's College, Cambridge, and came from a family which adhered to a more "Europeanized" (as he put it) outlook and did not follow a religion which worshiped images. As such, he did not understand the role played by idols such as the titular "stone goddess" in religions which prioritize statues of this kind. This poem is about an experience Aurobindo had which caused him to see the purpose of such statuary.

In this sonnet, it is clear that the speaker is perceiving "the Godhead" within the stone statue he is looking at. While it is something which has been "sculptured" by man, it is nevertheless imbued with a "presence" that contains everything on earth, or "all infinity." The...

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speaker goes on to say that the "inscrutable" presence, the great mother goddess, keeps herself in "hiding" until the person looking upon her has learned the "secret"that is, until we are ready, we cannot understand how a goddess can be contained within a stone object. However, once our souls have understood this, we recognize that the great presence can be contained in stone just as easily as flesh can "drape" the souls of humans.

Essentially, the meaning of the poem is that it is possible for great presences to inhabit anything, whether man-made stone or human bodies, but that without spiritual understanding, we will not be able to see a statue as anything more than a statue.

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"The Stone Goddess" by Sri Aurobindo is a sonnet that expresses the idea that only when a person is truly ready can they feel the spiritual presences that are around them; once that realization is made, those spiritual presences begin to internalize. However, the speaker's struggle with this concept is what is first noticeable to the reader. Indeed, the entire poem shifts back and forth between the material and the personified versions of the statue as the speaker describes his experiences looking at it. Aurobindo says that the statue is "sculptured limbs" and also that it "looked at me, / A living Presence deathless and divine" (2–3). It is interesting that he refers to the fact that the statue was created by humans only to say that it has the ability to see things and is immortal. As he continues to describe the statue, calling it "voiceless and inscrutable" twice, in lines 7 and 10, he begins to come to the realization that the only reason he never recognized its transcendence was that he was unaware and unprepared for it. He says that she (the statue) was "Hiding until our soul has seen, has heard / The secret of her strange embodiment" (11–12). Ultimately, Aurobindo feels a deep sense of kinship with the spiritual presence that he feels. He ends the sonnet by saying, "One in the worshipper and the immobile shape, / A beauty and mystery flesh or stone can drape" (13–14). After struggling to see the presence, Aurobindo understands that there is a profound sense of unity between the statue and himself: the flesh and the stone.

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I think that much in the poem reveals the nature of spirituality that Sri Aurobindo resided in the individual.  Sri Aurobindo believed that individuals are able to approach the divine when they recognize that the divine is waiting for them in all forms.  In the poem, one sees this in how Sri Aurobindo has personified the divine.  The nature of this vision of the divine is "deathless" as well as one that "harbored all infinity."  For Sri Aurobindo, the individual must understand that this is the nature of the divine.  In recognizing this, the individual is able to grasp, if only for a moment, the true nature of the divine.  The mortal on Earth is in a "sleep," but the divine remains awake with its true nature.  It is up to the individual to "wake up" and understand the nature of the cosmos, the gods and goddesses await.  When "our soul has heard" the power of the divine, Sri Aurobindo concludes through his poem that we have woken up.  The visions of the divine in stone and immobile shape is the direction of where Sri Aurobindo believes our paths having awoken take us.  It is in this where the "stone goddess" possesses more life than we could ever imagine.

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