Sri Chinmoy was born in 1931 in the village of Shakpura, near Chittagong in modern-day Bangladesh. His father, Shashi Kumar, was a railway inspector. Chinmoy was the youngest of seven children, the others being Ahana, Chitta, Arpita, Hriday, Lily and Mantu. Shortly before Chinmoy was born, Chitta had an unusually vivid dream which prophecied that a great soul was to be born into the family.
Both parents were extremely spiritual. One story relates how Chinmoy’s mother, Yogamaya, was watching a play about Sri Chaitanya, when she burst into tears at the scene describing how Sri Chaitanya left his mother for the spiritual life. One of her sons tried to console her by assuring them that none of them would ever do such a thing; she replied that she was crying because she wished all her family would have the same love for God as Sri Chaitanya did.
Chinmoy had a very happy childhood. His adventurous and often boisterous behaviour led to his family giving him the nickname Madal, meaning kettledrum in Bengali. When Chinmoy was only one year old, his older brother Hriday joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a spiritual community in South India. The family travelled to the Ashram in a bid to convince Hriday to return, but were so impressed by the spiritual environment that Yogamaya requested (and got) a promise from the Mother of the Ashram that when the children grew up they could join the Ashram. Sadly, this moment was to come sooner than expected: Shashi Kumar and Yogamaya were to pass away within a few short months of each other, when Chinmoy was only twelve. Thus Chinmoy’s Ashram life began.
The next few years were ones of great spiritual progress for Chinmoy. Before long, he was meditating for at least eight hours a day as well as doing the selfless service required of Ashram inhabitants. At the same time, he sought to convey something of his mystical experiences and yearnings for the Highest through music and poetry; at this young age Chinmoy was already composing songs and poems that would resonate inside the hearts of truth-seekers for years to come. At the age of 13, he wrote a 56-stanza poetic tribute in Bengali for Sri Aurobindo’s birthday called August 15, 1945 and set to poetry Sri Aurobindo’s epic The Ideal of Forgiveness. A year later, at 14, he was giving expression to his unflinching aspiration to reach ever closer oneness with God through songs such as Tamasa rate and Jago amar swapan sathi (translated below)
Arise, awake, O friend of my dream.
Arise, awake, O breath of my life.
Arise, awake, O light of my eyes.
O seer-poet in me,
Do manifest yourself in me and through me.
Arise, awake, O vast heart within me.
Arise, awake, O consciousness of mine,
Which is always transcending the universe
And its own life of the Beyond.
Arise, awake, O form of my meditation transcendental.
Arise, awake, O bound divinity in humanity.
Arise, awake, O my heart’s Liberator, Shiva,
And free mankind from its ignorance-sleep.
Around this time, he also wrote one of his most famous poems, The Absolute, describing the mystical state of union with the Divine.
Physical fitness was a key part of the yoga practiced in the Ashram, and the young Chinmoy shone out in this regard. He was the Ashram decathlon champion for two years in a row, and 100m sprint champion for 17 years. His personal 100m sprint record of 11.7s is startling, when one considers it was performed on a cinder track with bare feet!
In 1955, Chinmoy was given the job of secretary to Nolini Kanta Gupta, the great Bengali savant, and translated many of his articles into English. He also wrote quite a few articles himself, some of which were published in Mother India and other publications. All this time, he was expanding and increasing his spiritual capacities, aiming to become a perfect instrument of God (or his Inner Pilot, as Sri Chinmoy sometimes refers to him). In 1964, he received an inner command to go to the West and be of service to the growing number of truth-seekers there.