An audio recording and a transcript of a talk on Savitri by Nolini Kanta Gupta
“Savitri”, the poem, the word of Sri Aurobindo is the cosmic Answer to the cosmic Question. And Savitri, the person, the Godhead, the Divine Woman is the Divine’s response to the human aspiration.
The world is a great question mark. It is a riddle, eternal and ever-recurring. Man has faced the riddle and sought to arrive at a solution since he has been given a mind to seek and interrogate.
What is this universe? From where has it come? Whither is it going? What is the purpose of it all? Why is man here? What is the object of his existence?
Such is the mode of human aspiration. And Ashwapati in his quest begins to explore the world and see what it is, the way it is built up. He observes it rising tier upon tier, level upon level of consciousness. He mounts these stairs, takes cognisance of the modes and functions of each and passes on enriched by the experiences that each contributes to his developing consciousness. The ascent he finds is from ignorance to knowledge. The human being starts from the darkest bed of ignorance, the solid basis of rock as it were, the body, the material existence. Ignorance here is absolute inconscience. Out of the total absence of consciousness, the being begins to awake and rise to a gradually developing – widening, deepening and heightening – consciousness. That is how Ashwapati advances, ascends from a purely bodily life and consciousness, to the next rung of the ladder, the first appearance and expression of life-force, the vital consciousness – energies and forms of the small lower vital. He moves on, moves upward, there is a growing light in and mixed with the obscurity; ignorance begins to shed its hard and dark coatings one by one and gives place to directed and motivated energies. He meets beings and creatures appropriate to those levels crawling and stirring and climbing, moved by the laws governing the respective regions. In this way Ashwapati passes on into the higher vital, into the border of the mental.
Ashwapati now observes with a clear vividness that all these worlds and the beings and forces that inhabit them are stricken as it were with a bar sinister branded upon their bodies. In spite of an inherent urge of ascension the way is not a straight road but devious and crooked breaking into by-lanes and blind alleys. There is a great corruption and perversion of natural movements towards Truth: falsehoods and pretensions, arrogance of blindness reign here in various degrees. Ashwapati sought to know the wherefore of it all. So he goes behind, dives down and comes into a region that seems to be the source and basis of all ignorance and obscurity and falsehood. He comes into the very heart of the Night, the abyss of consciousness. He meets there the Mother of Evil and the sons of darkness. He stands before
…the gate of a false Infinite,
An eternity of disastrous absolutes…
Here are the forces that pull down and lure away to perdition all that man’s aspirations and the world’s urge seek to express and build of Divine things. It is the world in which the forces of the original inconscience find their primitive play. They are dark and dangerous: they prey upon earth’s creatures who are not content with being vassals of darkness but try to move to the Light.
Dangerous is this passage for the celestial aspirant:
Where the red Wolf waits by the fordless stream
And Death’s black eagles scream to the precipice…
He must be absolutely vigilant, absolutely on his guard, absolutely sincere.
Here must the traveller of the upward way –
For daring Hell’s kingdoms winds the heavenly route –
Pause or pass slowly through that perilous space,
A prayer upon his lips and the great Name.
But there is no escape. The divine traveller has to pass through this region. For it lies athwart his path to the goal. Not only so, it is necessary to go through this Night. For Ashwapati
Knew death for a cellar of the house of life,
In destruction felt creation’s hasty pace,
Knew loss as the price of a celestial gain
And hell as a short cut to heaven’s gates.
Ashwapati now passes into the higher luminous regions. He enters regions of larger breath and wider movement – the higher vital and then into the yet more luminous region of the higher mind. He reaches the heavens where immortal sages and the divinities and the gods themselves dwell. Even these Ashwapati finds to be only partial truths, various aspects, true but limited, of the One Reality beyond. Thus he leaves all behind and reaches into the single sole Reality, the transcendental Truth of things, the status vast and infinite and eternal, immutable existence and consciousness and bliss.
A Vastness brooded free from sense of Space,
An Everlastingness cut off from Time…
A stillness absolute, incommunicable …
[Savitri: 308, 310]
Here seems to be the end of the quest, and one would fain stay there ever and ever in that status
…occult, impenetrable, –
Infinite, eternal, unthinkable, alone.
Ashwapati was perhaps about to be lured into that Bliss but suddenly a doubt enters into him – there is a hesitation, a questioning; he hears a voice:
The ego is dead; we are free from being and care,
We have done with birth and death and work and fate.
O soul, it is too early to rejoice!
Thou hast reached the boundless silence of the Self,
Thou hast leaped into a glad divine abyss;
But where hast thou thrown self’s mission and self’s power?
On what dead bank on the Eternal’s road?
Ashwapati veers round. A new perception, a new consciousness begins to open within him. A new urge moves him. He has to start on a new journey, a new quest and achievement. The world exists neither as a Truth nor as an illusion in itself. It exists in and through the Mother of the worlds. There is a motive in its existence and it is her will that is being worked out in that existence. The world moves for the fulfilment of a purpose that is being evolved through earth-life and human-life. The ignorant incomplete human life upon earth is not the be-all and end-all of the life here. That life has to evolve into a life of light and love and joy perfect here below. Nature as it is now will be transmuted into a new pure and radiant substance. Ashwapati is filled with this new urge and inspired by this new vision. He sees and understands now the truth of his life, the goal that has to be achieved, the great dream that has to be realised here upon earth in and through matter. He sees how nature has been labouring ceaselessly and tirelessly through aeons through eternity onward. He is now almost impatient to see the consummation here and now. The divine Voice however shows him the wisdom of working patiently, hastening slowly. The Voice admonishes him:
I ask thee not to merge thy heart of flame
In the Immobile’s wide uncaring bliss…
Thy soul was born to share the laden Force;
Obey thy nature and fulfil thy fate:
Accept the difficulty and godlike toil,
For the slow-paced omniscient purpose live….
All things shall change in God’s transfiguring hour.
[Savitri: 335-336, 341]
But the human flame once kindled is hard to put down. It seeks an immediate result. It does not understand the fullness of time. So Ashwapati cries out:
Heavy and long are the years our labour counts
And still the seals are firm upon man’s soul
And weary is the ancient Mother’s heart….
Linger not long with thy transmuting hand
Pressed vainly on one golden bar of Time…
Let a great word be spoken from the heights
And one great act unlock the doors of Fate.
This great cry of the human soul moved the Divine Mother and she granted at last its prayer. She answered by bestowing of her motherly comfort on the yearning thirsty soul:O strong forerunner, I have heard thy cry.
One shall descend and break the iron Law…
A seed shall be sown in Death’s tremendous hour,
A branch of heaven transplant to human soil;
Nature shall overleap her mortal step;
Fate shall be changed by an unchanging will.
And She herself came down upon earth as Ashwapati’s daughter to undertake the human labour and accomplish the Divine work.
The Divine Mother is upon earth as a human creature. She is to change the mortal earth into an immortal paradise. Earth at present is a bundle of material inconscience. The Supreme Consciousness has manifested itself as supreme unconsciousness. The Divine has lost itself in pulverising itself, scattering itself abroad. Immortality is thus entombed here below in death. The task of the incarnate Supreme Consciousness is to revive the death-bound divinity, to free the human consciousness in its earthly life from the obscurity of the material unconsciousness, re-install it in its original radiant status of the Divine Consciousness.
Such is Savitri’s mission. This mission has two sessions or periods. The first, that of preparation; the second, that of fulfilment. Savitri, the human embodiment was given only twelve months out of her earthly life and in that short space of time she had to do all the preparation. She knew her work from her very birth, she was conscious of her nature and the mission she was entrusted with. Now she is facing the crisis. Death is there standing in front. What is to be done, how is she to proceed? She was told she is to conquer Death, she is to establish immortal life upon mortal earth. The Divine Voice rings out:
Arise, O soul, and vanquish Time and Death.
Yes, she is ready to do it, but not for herself, but for her Love, the being who was the life of her life. Savitri is the Divine Consciousness but here in the mortal body she is clothed in the human consciousness; it is the human consciousness that she is to lead upward and beyond and it is in and through the human consciousness that the Divine Realisation has to be expressed and established. The human Savitri declares: If Death is conquered, it is for the sake of Satyavan living eternally with her. She seems to say: What I wish to see is the living Satyavan and I united with him for ever. I do not need an earthly life without him; with him I prefer to be in another world if necessary away from the obscurity and turmoil of this earth here.
My strength is taken from me and given to Death,
Why should I lift my hands to the shut heavens…
Why should I strive with earth’s unyielding laws
Or stave off death’s inevitable hour?
This surely is best to pactise with my fate
And follow close behind my lover’s steps
And pass through night from twilight to the sun…
But a thunderous voice descends from above shaking Savitri to the very basis of her existence.
And what shall thy soul say when it wakes and knows
The work was left undone for which it came?
Thus a crisis very similar to that which Ashwapati had to face now confronts Savitri also. Both of them were at the crossroads away from the earth in the pure delights of the heavens or in the world labouring on earth’s soil. Savitri’s soul was now revealed to her in its fullness. She viewed the mighty destiny for which she had come down and the great work she had to achieve here upon earth, not any personal or individual human satisfaction or achievement but a cosmic fulfilment, a global human realisation. The godhead in Savitri is now fully awake, established in its plenitude – the Divinity incarnate in the human frame. All the godheads, all the goddess-emanations now entered into her and moulded the totality of her mighty stature.
Here begins then the second stage of her mission, – her work and achievement, the conquest of Death. Only the Divine human being can conquer Death. Savitri follows Death step by step revealing gradually the mystery of death, his personality and his true mission, although the dark God thinks that it is he who is taking away Satyavan and Savitri along with him, to his own home, his black annihilation. For Death is that in its first appearance, it is utter destruction, nothing-ness, non-existence. So the mighty Godhead declares in an imperious tone to the mortal woman Savitri:
This is my silent dark immensity,
This is the home of everlasting Night,
This is the secrecy of Nothingness
Entombing the vanity of life’s desires….
Hopest thou still always to last and love?
Indeed Death is not merely a destruction of the body, it is in reality nothingness, non-being. The moment being, existence, reality manifested itself, established itself as a material fact, simultaneously there came out and stood against it, its opposite non-being, non-existence, non-reality; against an everlasting ‘yes’ there was posited an everlasting ‘no’. And in fact, this everlasting No proves to be a greater effective reality, it has wound itself around every constituent atom of the universe. That is what has expressed itself in the material domain as the irreversible degradation of energy and in the mortal world it is denial and doubt and falsehood – it is that which brings about failure in life, and frustration, misery and grief. But then Savitri’s vision penetrated beyond and she saw, Death is a way of achieving the end more swiftly and more completely. The negation is an apparent obstacle in order to increase, to purify and intensify the speed of the process by which the world and humanity is being remodelled and recreated. This terrible Godhead pursues the human endeavour till the end; until he finds that nothing more is to be done; then his mission too is fulfilled (We are reminded here of a parallelism in Goethe’s conception of the role of Satan (the Negative Principle) in human affairs. Satan is not merely a destroying devil, he is a constructive angel. For it is he “Who must goad and lease, And toil to serve creation“, whenever “Man’s efforts sink below his proper level“). So a last cry, the cry of a desperate dying Death, pierces the universe and throws the final challenge to Savitri:
O human claimant to immortality,
Reveal thy power, lay bare thy spirit’s force,
Then will I give back to thee Satyavan.
Or if the Mighty Mother is with thee,
Show me her face that I may worship her;
Let deathless eyes look into the eyes of Death…
Death’s desire, his prayer too is fulfilled. He faces Savitri but this is not the Savitri against whom he fought. Whose is this voice?
I hail thee almighty and victorious Death,
Thou grandiose Darkness of the Infinite….
I have given thee thy awful shape of dread
And thy sharp sword of terror and grief and pain
To force the soul of man to struggle for light…
What happens thereafter is something strange and tremendous and miraculous. Light flashed all around, a leaping tongue of fire spread out and the dark form of Death was burnt – not to ashes but to blazing sparks of light:
His body was eaten by light, his spirit devoured.
Thus Death came to his death – not to death in reality but to a new incarnation. Death returned to his original divine Reality, an emanation of the Divine Mother.
A secret splendour rose revealed to sight
Where once the vast embodied Void had stood.
Night the dim mask had grown a wonderful face.
In that domain of pure transcendent light stood face to face the human Savitri and the transformed Satyavan.
Savitri has entered into the deathless luminous world where there is only faultless beauty, stainless delight and an unmeasured self-gathered strength. Saviri heard the melodious voice of the Divine:
You have now left earth’s miseries and its impossible conditions, you have reached the domain of unalloyed felicity and you need not go back to the old turbulent life: dwell here both of you and enjoy eternal bliss.
But Savitri answered firm and moveless:
I climb not to thy everlasting Day,
Even as I have shunned thy eternal Night….
Earth is the chosen place of mightiest souls;
Earth is the heroic spirit’s battlefield…
Thy servitudes on earth are greater, King,
Than all the glorious liberties of heaven.
Once more Savitri, even like Ashwapati, has to make a choice between two destinies, two soul-movements – although the choice is already made even before it is offered to her. Ashwapati had to abandon, we know, the silent immutable transcendent status of pure light in order to bathe in this lower earthly light. Savitri too as the prototype of human consciousness chose and turned to this light of the earth.
The Rishi of the Upanishad declared: they who worship only Ignorance enter into darkness, but they who worship knowledge alone enter into a still darker darkness. This world of absolute light which Savitri names ‘everlasting day’ is what the Upanishadic Rishi sees and describes as the golden lid upon the face of the Sun. The Sun is the complete integral light of the Truth in its fullness. The golden covering has to be removed if one is to see the Sun itself – to live the integral life, one has to possess the integral truth.
So it is that Savitri comes down upon earth and standing upon its welcoming soil speaks to Satyavan as though consoling him for having abandoned their own abode in heaven to dwell among mortal men:
Heaven’s touch fulfils but cancels not our earth…
Still am I she who came to thee mid the murmur
Of sunlit leaves upon this forest verge…
All that I was before, I am to thee still…
Voicing Satyavan’s thought and feeling, all humanity, the whole world in joy and gratefulness, utters this mantra of thanksgiving:
If this is she of whom the world has heard,
Wonder no more at any happy change.
Collected Works of Nolini Kanta Gupta, Vol. 4; The Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, Part Ten, pp 237-246