Savitri, The Book

Savitri is best described in Savitri itself through these luminous words:

The skilful Penman’s unseen finger wrote
His swift intuitive calligraphy;
Earth’s forms were made his divine documents,
The wisdom embodied mind could not reveal,
Inconscience chased from the world’s voiceless breast;
Transfigured were the fixed schemes of reasoning Thought.
Arousing consciousness in things inert,
He imposed upon dark atom and dumb mass
The diamond script of the Imperishable,
Inscribed on the dim heart of fallen things
A paean-song of the free Infinite
And the Name, foundation of eternity,
And traced on the awake exultant cells
In the ideographs of the Ineffable
The lyric of the love that waits through Time
And the mystic volume of the Book of Bliss
And the message of the superconscient Fire.
[Savitri: 232]

These lines appearing at the end of Book Two Canto Eight (The World of Falsehood) are an apt description of the Book itself. Their context of course is that the Yogi King Aswapati has descended into the densest savitri-cover-art-smldarkness of the nether worlds to discover the secret cause of world’s failure in all its upward efforts. But what happens as he descends into the very bottom, the last stronghold of the Abyss, he suddenly touches upon an almighty spring of Love, a secret Wisdom brooding in the dark abysses that is suddenly released and carries him upwards in its mighty currents to realms of Beauty and Delight.

The book Savitri also was started in its present form in 1916 when the world was descending towards the red heat of hell in the First World War. Its final birth of course was soon after the Second World War like a New Dawn appearing in the Eastern sky after the bad dreams of the Night. The skillful penman fits beautifully with Sri Aurobindo who is the Master of the Divine Word and uses it with such deftness and natural ease that only a Mind hushed to the bright Omniscience of the Intuitive ranges of thought and beyond alone can do.

Of course it is well-known that Sri Aurobindo had realized the Silent Consciousness of Nirvana as early as 1907 even before his arrival to Pondicherry. Whatever he wrote henceforth was written or rather transmitted through this Silence from realms beyond Mind. Thus Savitri becomes a revelatory Scripture along the lines of the Veda. It embodies the living experience and realisations of the author and hence can transmit to someone who is ready and receptive enough some glimpse of these higher states. To the man of literature Savitri is sublime poetry. To the aspiring yogin it lays bare the experiences and realisations, the beings and forces and energies one encounters on the journey towards Light and Truth and Immortality. To those who are open and seeking for Guidance in their yogic journey, Savitri can be a wonderful Guide on the routes of Infinity. To a seeker of Truth it helps to reveal Truth in its entirety as it is beheld by a cosmic vision. To the God-lover Savitri enthralls the heart and soul as it brings nearer to us the divine persona of Savitri, a partial incarnation of the Divine Mother and through her story grants us the liberating touch of Her Love and Grace.

Sri Aurobindo regarded it as his ‘most important work’ and appearing in two parts in 1950 and 1951 (soon before and soon after Sri Aurobindo’s physical withdrawl on 5th Dec 1950) it becomes at once his last message, the gift of his tapasya created as a labour of Love, for Earth and Man. The least we can do is to read and reread it. Whether we understand it or not the very act of reading it will bring us in touch with Sri Aurobindo’s Consciousness and like fire awaken us to His Light and Power regardless of our understanding. Even as a mantra reveals the Deity and the hidden truth it embodies, Savitri too reveals her truth and the Godhead embodied within to those who can open through the simple act of faith with a will to know and discover what still lies hidden to our mind and senses, with an aspiration to walk the way opened to Earth and Man by the twin Avataras of our Age, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. To such souls, Savitri reveals itself as the story of Sri Aurobindo and the Divine Mother written over the broad canvas of Earth-life spanning across many lives from the very beginning of Time.

We shall, by and by, touch upon different aspects and dimensions of this wonderful work of Sri Aurobindo, his labour of Love and supreme gift to mankind. Sri Aurobindo regarded it as his most important work. Indeed it is the result of his divine labour that spanned through several decades and in a way, is his first and last work. An earliest draft was started during his stay in Baroda and the last bit corrected just before his physical withdrawal. Sri Aurobindo writes in a letter regarding the birth of the book:

I used Savitri as a means of ascension. I began with it on a certain mental level, each time I could reach a higher level I rewrote from that level. Moreover I was particular—if part seemed to me to come from any lower levels I was not satisfied to leave it because it was good poetry. All had to be as far as possible of the same mint. In fact Savitri has not been regarded by me as a poem to be written and finished, but as a field of experimentation to see how far poetry could be written from one’s own yogic consciousness and how that could be made creative. I did not rewrite Rose of God or the sonnets except for two or three verbal alterations made at the moment.

                                                                                                     [1936]

[The question was: “We have been wondering why you should have to write and rewrite your poetry-for instance, Savitri ten or twelve times-when you have all the inspiration at your command and do not have to receive it with the difficulty that faces budding Yogis like us.”]

Savitri was originally written many years ago before the Mother came, as a narrative poem in two parts, Part I Earth and Part II Beyond (these two parts are still extant in the scheme2) each of four books—or rather Part II consisted of three books and an epilogue. Twelve books to an epic is a classical superstition, but the new Savitri may extend to ten books—if much is added in the final version it may be even twelve.3 The first book has been lengthening and lengthening out till it must be over 2000 lines, but I shall break up the original first four into five, I think-in fact I have al-ready started doing so. These first five will be, as I conceive them now, the Book of Birth, the Book of Quest, the Book of Love, the Book of Fate, the Book of Death. As for the second Part, I have not touched it yet. There was no climbing of planes there in the first version-rather Savitri moved through the worlds of Night, of Twilight, of Day—all of course in a spiritual sense—and ended by calling down the power of the Highest Worlds of Sachchidananda. I had no idea of what the supramental World could be like at that time, so it could not enter into the scheme. As for expressing the supramental inspiration, that is a matter of the future.

[1936]

Nirod da recounts its finishing moments:

During the last four years, from 1946 to 1950, he laboured constantly on the unfinished parts and gave them an almost new birth, with the exception of The Book of Death and The Epilogue, which, for some inscrutable reason, he left practically unrevised…..

The revision of Savitri was going on apace with regular unabated vigour. Book after Book was getting done and fascicules of them released for publication. Some 400-500 lines of The Book of Everlasting Day were dictated on successive days, since we could not spare more than an hour a day for the monumental work and that too had often to be cut short to meet other demands. We were, nevertheless, progressing quite steadily. I marvelled at the smooth spontaneous flow of verse after verse of remarkable beauty. Once I had complained to him in my correspondence why, having all the planes of inspiration at his command, should he still labour like us mortals at his Savitri. Why should not the inspiration burst out like the “champagne bottle”? Now I witnessed that miracle and imagined that it also must have been the way Valmiki composed his Ramayana. At this rate, I thought, Savitri would not take long to finish. On everyone’s lips was the eager query, “How far are you with Savitri?

But Savitri, as I have mentioned, was not his sole preoccupation. Many other adventitious tasks were thrust upon him and he did not say “No” to them out of the magnanimity of his divine nature…..

The work on Savitri proceeded as usual, but slowed down in pace, especially when we came to a mighty confrontation with the two big Cantos of The Book of Fate. Revision after revision, addition of lines, even punctuations changed so many times! It seemed like a veritable “God’s labour” against a rock of resistance. At his time the Press sent up a demand for a new book from him. The Future Poetry was given preference and some passages which were meant to be dovetailed into the text of the chapters were written. But since he wanted to write something on modern poetry and for his works of modern poets were needed, orders were sent to Madras for them while whatever few books were available from our small library were requisitioned. As I read them out, he said, “Mark that passage,” or “These lines have a striking image” – (once the lines referred to were, I think, from C. Day Lewis’ Magnetic Mountain). He himself read out a poem of Eliot’s to me – I don’t remember exactly which, and remarked, “This is fine poetry.” In this way we proceeded. Since we had to wait for the arrival of the books, he said, “Let us go back to Savitri.” His whole attention seemed to be focussed on Savitri, but again, the work had to be suspended owing to the pressure of various extraneous demands. They swelled up to such an extent that he was obliged to remark, “I find no more time for my real work.” When the path was fairly clear and I was wondering what his next choice would be, he said in a distant voice, “Take up Savitri. I want to finish it soon.” This must have been about two months before his departure. The last part of the utterance startled me, though it was said in a subdued tone. I wondered for a moment if I had heard rightly. I looked at him; my bewildered glance met an impassive face. In these twelve years this was the first time I had heard him reckoning with the time factor. An Avatar of poise, patience and equanimity, this was the picture that shone before our eyes whenever we had thought or spoken about him. Hence my wonder. We took up the same two Cantos that had proved so intractable. The work progressed slowly; words, ideas, images seemed to be repeated; the verses themselves appeared to flow with reluctance. Once a punctuation had to be changed four or five times. When the last revision was made and the Cantos were wound up, I said, “It is finished now.” An impersonal smile of satisfaction greeted me, and he said, “Ah, it is finished?” How well I remember that flicker of a smile which all of us craved for so long! “What is left now?” was his next query. “The Book of Death and The Epilogue.” “Oh, that? We shall see about that later on.” That “later on” never came and was not meant to come. Having taken the decision to leave the body, he must have been waiting for the right moment to go, and for reasons known to himself he left the two last-mentioned Books almost as they were. Thus on Savitri was put the seal of incomplete completion about two weeks before the Darshan of November 24th. Other literary works too came to an end.

 And significantly The Book of Fate was the last Book to be revised. What I deemed to be minor flaws or unnecessary repetitions, and thought that a further revision would remove them, appeared, after his passing, to be deliberate and prophetic:

A day may come when she must stand unhelped
On a dangerous brink of the world’s doom and hers
…..
In that tremendous silence lone and lost
…..
Cry not to heaven, for she alone can save.
…..
She only can save herself and save the world.

We know how true these words have proved.

Savitri for Sri Aurobindo was not a book to be started and finished but an unending tapasya. Savitri has accompanied his spiritual journey and as he went further and further, higher and higher into the realms of the Unknown, he modified Savitri to further embody the states of consciousness that he experienced in course of his tapasya. Thus Savitri becomes an embodiment of Sri Aurobindo’s Consciousness, his Will bequeathed to earth and men. We as earthly beings can share this Will and be aligned to it thereby hastening its hour of fulfillment. For one thing is certain that however long and whatever it may take, this Will Divine implanted in the soil of earth and written in the scroll of man’s destiny with the Divine signature upon it is bound to fulfill itself. As revealed in Savitri itself:

Even should a hostile force cling to its reign
And claim its right’s perpetual sovereignty
And man refuse his high spiritual fate,
Yet shall the secret Truth in things prevail.
For in the march of all-fulfilling Time
The hour must come of the Transcendent’s will:
All turns and winds towards his predestined ends
In Nature’s fixed inevitable course
Decreed since the beginning of the worlds
In the deep essence of created things:
Even there shall come as a high crown of all
The end of Death, the death of Ignorance.
But first high Truth must set her feet on earth
And man aspire to the Eternal’s light
And all his members feel the Spirit’s touch
And all his life obey an inner Force.
This too shall be; for a new life shall come,
A body of the Superconscient’s truth,
A native field of Supernature’s mights:
It shall make earth’s nescient ground Truth’s colony,
Make even the Ignorance a transparent robe
Through which shall shine the brilliant limbs of Truth
And Truth shall be a sun on Nature’s head
And Truth shall be the guide of Nature’s steps
And Truth shall gaze out of her nether deeps.
When superman is born as Nature’s king
His presence shall transfigure Matter’s world:
He shall light up Truth’s fire in Nature’s night,
He shall lay upon the earth Truth’s greater law;
Man too shall turn towards the Spirit’s call.
Awake to his hidden possibility,
Awake to all that slept within his heart
And all that Nature meant when earth was formed
And the Spirit made this ignorant world his home,
He shall aspire to Truth and God and Bliss.
Interpreter of a diviner law
And instrument of a supreme design,
The higher kind shall lean to lift up man.
Man shall desire to climb to his own heights.
The truth above shall wake a nether truth,
Even the dumb earth become a sentient force.
The Spirit’s tops and Nature’s base shall draw
Near to the secret of their separate truth
And know each other as one deity.
The Spirit shall look out through Matter’s gaze
And Matter shall reveal the Spirit’s face.
[Savitri: 709]

But if we can open ourselves to the consciousness of Savitri then the work will go faster and perhaps smoother. To hasten or slow down, to help it happen smoothly or hinder it temporarily through our hidden and overt resistances is upto us. But in the end, however either way we shall only fulfill the word of a happy Destiny for earth and men enshrined in Savitri. The transformative power of Savitri’s word is also revealed in Savitri itself, as indeed of all mantric word:

As when the mantra sinks in Yoga’s ear,
Its message enters stirring the blind brain
And keeps in the dim ignorant cells its sound;
The hearer understands a form of words
And, musing on the index thought it holds,
He strives to read it with the labouring mind,
But finds bright hints, not the embodied truth:
Then, falling silent in himself to know
He meets the deeper listening of his soul:
The Word repeats itself in rhythmic strains:
Thought, vision, feeling, sense, the body’s self
Are seized unutterably and he endures
An ecstasy and an immortal change;
He feels a Wideness and becomes a Power,
All knowledge rushes on him like a sea:
Transmuted by the white spiritual ray
He walks in naked heavens of joy and calm,
Sees the God-face and hears transcendent speech:
[Savitri: 375]

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