About Peter Heehs

My name is Peter Heehs and I am a historian based in Pondicherry, India. My historical work falls into four main categories: studies of the life and thought of Sri Aurobindo, of the history of modern India, of the history of Indian philosophy and religion, and of general historiography and the history of ideas. This website is structured around these four main areas of interest.

Born and educated in the United States, I came to Pondicherry, India, in 1971, to study the philosophy and yoga of Sri Aurobindo, the Indian politician, philosopher, poet and yogi. In Pondicherry I was given work under Mr. Jayantilal Parekh, a longtime disciple of Sri Aurobindo and his French collaborator, the Mother (Mirra Alfassa). In 1973, the Mother authorized Jayantilal to set up an archives and research library as a department of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. I was among those who were given the task of building up the resources of this institution. Jayantilal asked me to collect biographical material from the National Archives of India, the Baroda Record Office, the West Bengal State Archives and other places in India. Later I continued this work at archives and libraries in the UK, France, the US and Bangladesh. This was my initiation into biographical and historical research. At the same time my colleagues and I were completing an inventory of the manuscripts of Sri Aurobindo. Discovering much that had not yet been published, we launched the semi-annual journal Sri Aurobindo: Archives  of Research, in which we brought out some of this new material along with biographical documents and research articles. This journal ran from 1977 to 1994, after which we began work on The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.

While collecting material on Sri Aurobindo’s political career, I found I had to make a study of the Indian freedom movement in general in order to place his contribution in context. This research resulted in several books published by different university presses, as well as numerous articles published in historical journals and magazines.

Although Sri Aurobindo’s teaching is not a religion it draws on various spiritual traditions, especially the Vedantic tradition of India as preserved in the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, and the earlier Vedic tradition. Following his lead, I studied the texts of these traditions in English translation and to some extent in the original Sanskrit. This reading led me to the texts of other spiritual traditions as well. Although uninterested in conventional religion, I found much of interest in writings that are usually regarded as religious, and I wrote several articles and one book on Indian religious traditions.

In my research into the political and religious history of Indian history, I have been forced to confront various problems of Indian historiography and have published several articles on the subject in American and Indian journals. Recently I have become interested in the global history of ideas. My next two books will be explorations in this area.

I live most of the time In Pondicherry, south India, but also spend time in the United States and Europe.

Apart from writing, my interests include sports (particularly running and swimming) and other forms of exercise, such as asanas. I do a lot of reading, primarily books and articles related to my work interests, but also novels (American, English and Indian). I also listen to music a lot, primarily Western classical, but also jazz and classic rock. I love to spend time with friends and recently gave in and joined a social networking service. My chief interest remains the practice of yoga, but this is something I speak about rarely even with my friends.

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