As part of the ongoing post-graduate course at Pondicherry University, titled 'Social Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo', (read more about the course Here ). designed and taught by Dr. Beloo Mehra from Sri Aurobindo Society, a special lecture was proposed by Dr. Mehra to the Chair of Sri Aurobindo Studies at the university. The invited guest speaker was Prof. Sachidananda Mohanty, ex-Vice-Chancellor of Central Odisha University and currently holding the Sri Aurobindo Chair at Punjab University, Chandigarh. The topic for the lecture 'Sri Aurobindo and the Crisis of Contemporary Culture' was proposed by Dr. Mehra so that it will fit in well with the discussions in the ongoing course.
Dr. Richa Tiwari, the Chair of Sri Aurobindo Studies at Pondicherry University made the necessary arrangements for the special lecture to be held on December 18, 2023. The event was held at the Seminar Hall in the Department of Tamil. Dr. Mehra accompanied Prof. Mohanty to the university as a special invitee and as instructor of the ongoing course under which this lecture was proposed by her. All the students enrolled in the course Social Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo were required to attend the lecture. Several other students, research scholars and faculty members from various department also attended the lecture.
After a welcome address by Dr. Richa Tiwari, the Vice-Chancellor (officiating) of Pondicherry University, Prof. K. Tharanikkarasu gave a brief Presidential address. He reminded the present audience about the complexity of the term culture. Prof. B. B. Mohanty, Dean of School of Social Sciences gave a Felicitation address emphasising the integral nature of Sri Aurobindo's social philosophy, particularly the role of individual transformation in his vision. Dr. Richa Tiwari then briefly introduced the guest speaker highlighting his academic accomplishments, particularly in the field of Sri Aurobindo Studies.
To highlight the complex nature of the crisis in contemporary culture, Prof. Sachidananda Mohanty focused his attention on one specific aspect - place of collective memories and how cultures and societies deal with it. He brought in a multi-disciplinary approach to explore what could be possible responses to those memories and histories which are extremely painful and divisive in collective life of societies and nations. He showed several images to highlight some of these troubling histories from across the world, and briefly talked about them. Several of these images had to do with the monuments that have been erected either to honour selected individuals or mark certain events.
Prof. Mohanty then proposed that one way in which the collective mind deals with these memories and pasts is to topple the statues or monuments. The more rational and integrative approach would be to use these structures as educational opportunities for societies to engage with their collective memories - however painful it may be - so that a new harmony can be gradually reached. Here he reminded the audience of Sri Aurobindo's emphatic line - all problems of existence are essentially problems of harmony.
Prof. Mohanty also emphasised in this context the role of university and higher education in general to create a culture and facilitate the emergence of a communal mind which seeks greater harmony through the application of higher reason and intelligent will. This will be then creating the right environment for societies to evolve to higher stages - beyond reason.
The lecture was appreciated by all. The event concluded with a vote of thanks proposed by Prof. Nanda Kumar from Department of Politics and International Studies.
About the speaker:
A noted academic, cultural historian, an ex-Vice-Chancellor and former member of Auroville Foundation, Prof. Sachidananda Mohanty holds the prestigious Sri Aurobindo Chair at Punjab University, Chandigarh. His prior academic positions include: Professor and Head, Department of English, University of Hyderabad, and Vice-Chancellor of the Central University of Odisha. He also served as Governing Board
Member of Auroville Foundation, Government of India. He was a Member of India’s Commission of Education to the UNESCO, Consultant to the Ford Foundation, and Senior Academic Associate at the American Studies Research Centre, [ASRC], Hyderabad.
Dr. Mohanty was educated at Bhubaneswar, Pondicherry, [Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education], the University of Hyderabad, IIT Kanpur, Nottingham University, University of Texas at Austin, and Yale University, New Haven. He has published more than 100 research articles and 28 books in English and Odia. Recipient of many coveted national and international awards, he is also a widely respected public intellectual and an active voice in several leading forums.