B1 C1 Movement 1 Passage-by-Passage Summary
The opening passage of the Epic
It was the hour before the Gods awake.
The very first line, the opening line of this great epic, sets the backdrop of the poem. It reminds us of that state of utter darkness into which the first stir of creation entered. The four original powers that had been issued forth to create, the Four Kings, were indeed projections of the Omniscient, Omnipotent One. However as they emerged out of the One, each felt himself complete and alone. Thus started the great sense of separation that eventually led to the great fall of these four beings. They entered a state of utter oblivion and darkness, so much so that they turned into their very opposite, – Truth became Falsehood, Bliss became Suffering, Light became Darkness, Life became Death. There arose a great cry out of this state of utter Inconscience calling for an Intervention. The intervention came, the Divine Mother Herself entered into creation with Her transforming power of Love and along with Her aspects of the One that remained connected to Him through Her. These are the gods, the children of Infinity, whose task is to repair the damage that had happened. The ancient mystics often gave a symbolic meaning to every human experience. Thus the thick of Night, the darkest hour became a symbol of the state of Inconscience. But the hour that follows it, the hour when one can feel the morning even though it is still dark, termed the Brahma muhurta (the divine moment) in Indian thought, is the hour that symbolically represents the hour when the gods are born. Thus this hour being spoken of here is physically, so to say, the transitional hour between the last remnants of the Night and the morning that is yet to emerge. At the same time, it is also the hour when the Divine Mother is plunging Herself into creation, a moment that will be followed by the plunge of the gods. The Master poet synchronises this moment with the waking up of Savitri on the fateful day.
The divine Event and the mind of Night
Across the path of the divine Event
The huge foreboding mind of Night, alone
In her unlit temple of eternity,
Lay stretched immobile upon Silence’ marge.
Almost one felt, opaque, impenetrable,
In the sombre symbol of her eyeless muse
The abysm of the unbodied Infinite;
A fathomless zero occupied the world.
Thus we have a powerful grand opening as if a curtain is being lifted up at a prefixed moment and the stage is lit up for the divine drama to follow. Indeed we are now being introduced to the stage where the drama will be enacted. No ordinary stage is this; it is the entire cosmos, the field of creation itself! The Universe or rather the universes are the grand theatre for the great drama of life where the soul, struggling through heavy odds, opposed by the dark powers and assisted by the gods, must bring into the ambiguous fields of creation Light and Bliss and Truth and Immortality. The divine event is creation itself, as we see noted in the very next line. Creation is, in its deepest and truest sense, neither an accident nor some illusory Maya but something that has been willed to be by none else but the Divine Himself. Yet something stands between the grand purpose and its fulfillment. It is the mind of Night, the powers of Darkness that draw back all upward effort again and again into the Abyss of the Inconscience.
The First and the Last Nothingness
A power of fallen boundless self awake
Between the first and the last Nothingness,
Recalling the tenebrous womb from which it came,
Turned from the insoluble mystery of birth
And the tardy process of mortality
And longed to reach its end in vacant Nought.
In these lines we have a somber description of the field; it is a field of utter darkness and yet it is a temple where the Deity is asleep. The temple is unlit without a stir. It is a formless and inconscient state of being (the unbodied Infinite). It is a state of Nothingness which is impervious to probe. And yet this Nothingness is a shadow of the original Nothingness. The original Nothingness is a Superconscient state wherein all exists as a potentiality. It is the seed state of creation, formless and Unmanifest. The other Nothingness (the last Nothingness) is the Inconscient state into which the effort at creation has lapsed. This too is a formless state that holds within itself the seeds of creation that have been cast into this dark field. Creation will progressively emerge from this dark state assuming different forms and names through recurrent cycles and experiences of birth and death. This is a slow emergence, pulled by the Superconscient Above, pushed by the Superconscient within, yet with a tendency to collapse back into the formless chaos of the Inconscient Darkness. This journey between the two Nothingness, the Superconscient and the Inconscient, is described beautifully in the Vedas as the journey between the two oceans, one upper and the other below.
The dark beginning of all things
As in a dark beginning of all things,
A mute featureless semblance of the Unknown
Repeating for ever the unconscious act,
Prolonging for ever the unseeing will,
Cradled the cosmic drowse of ignorant Force
Whose moved creative slumber kindles the suns
And carries our lives in its somnambulist whirl.
All creation starts from a scratch. It is a possibility that progressively realizes itself with time. Even when nothing seems to be happening on the surface, there is a stir and a movement going on, like the formation of a baby in the womb. It is the stage of conception when nothing is yet visible to the outer eye. So too creation is a conception in the Divine Mind. But it is only with time that it unfolds itself through a clash and struggle of forces. It is in a state of sleep as if moved mechanically by some mechanical energy. Yet this ‘seemingly’ mechanical energy lights up the stars and the suns.
We too are led and moved and carried even in our state of ignorance, even when we live mechanically and unconsciously, simply by force of habit, towards some far-off goal of which we yet have no inkling. For even in this state someone is awake within. His creative slumber is instinct with a secret Knowledge that we see everywhere from the dumbest atom and stone to the bird and beast and man himself. The Upanishad calls it as ‘The One Eternal in many transient, the One Conscious in many conscious beings’.
The wheeling of the Earth
Athwart the vain enormous trance of Space,
Its formless stupor without mind or life,
A shadow spinning through a soulless Void,
Thrown back once more into unthinking dreams,
Earth wheeled abandoned in the hollow gulfs
Forgetful of her spirit and her fate.
The impassive skies were neutral, empty, still.
Even so the Earth ‘seemed’ to be carried in its constant circling around the sun, it ‘appeared’ abandoned amidst an apparently ‘vain’ Space and ‘impassive’ sky. However this state is not the deepest truth. It is a state of forgetfulness. Earth consciousness is plunged in a state of oblivion where it is unaware of its aim and its soul. The word forgetful also suggests that it has experienced its spirit before but has now forgotten it. It is like the rebuilding of things after a complete destruction, like the pralayas of yore. Sri Aurobindo uses this symbol of dawn after the Night to reveal the state of utter darkness and dissolution that precedes a fresh emergence.
The end that ever begins again
Then something in the inscrutable darkness stirred;
A nameless movement, an unthought Idea
Insistent, dissatisfied, without an aim, (p.2 begins)
Something that wished but knew not how to be,
Teased the Inconscient to wake Ignorance.
This awakening or a re-awakening is a slow step-by-step process. There is, at first simply a stir and a motion without a clear sense of direction or purpose. Then there arises the sense of desire and want as if it had simply gone off to sleep rather than vanished. This effort, like all new births, is indeed a painful convulsion. It must struggle against the tendencies towards a collapse and sinking into oblivion. The Inconscient does not want to wake up since it would mean an effort towards change. Therefore it is felt as if it is being teased. The first state to emerge out of this stir in the Inconscient is Ignorance.
The corpse of desire
A throe that came and left a quivering trace,
Gave room for an old tired want unfilled,
At peace in its subconscient moonless cave
To raise its head and look for absent light,
Straining closed eyes of vanished memory,
Like one who searches for a bygone self
And only meets the corpse of his desire.
The awakening is painful, like a throe of childbirth. Each movement creates an impetus for going one more step further as if tracing an old journey once again. The sleep of insconscient is disturbed by an old want, the search for Light, but what it meets is only shadows and phantoms in the Night. Its eyes are still closed and though unable to see or experience the Light, it strains its memory for the record of past experiences.
Survivor of a slain and buried past
It was as though even in this Nought’s profound,
Even in this ultimate dissolution’s core,
There lurked an unremembering entity,
Survivor of a slain and buried past
Condemned to resume the effort and the pang,
Reviving in another frustrate world.
An unshaped consciousness desired light
And a blank prescience yearned towards distant change.
Indeed neither the seeking or want or the effort is new. Something survives the dissolution of a world just as something survives death. It is the secret Spirit that lurks within and changes poise and wakes up again for another attempt regardless of previous ‘futile’ efforts. It does so because it is instinct with the secret Knowledge, the prescience, that the change is going to be, however long it may take. As this memory of past efforts awakens, there also awakens along with it the aspiration that accompanied it. It is the awakening of aspiration in the subconscient. It is the birth of aspiration. This aspiration is in fact the secret Will in creation that survives death and defeat. But since the old forms through which it tried to manifest itself are gone, it is without a distinct shape, and yet it seeks for Light and Truth and Bliss.
The heedless Mother of the Universe
As if a childlike finger laid on a cheek
Reminded of the endless need in things
The heedless Mother of the universe,
An infant longing clutched the sombre Vast.
This is a beautiful image, the image of the childlike finger and the heedless mother. The child is always a symbol of some New Birth or a New Creation that follows upon the destruction of the old. The heedless Mother is the material nature. The touch of this ‘child’, the stir of a new creation begins to wake up the material nature to this new possibility. While the material universe experiences this stir as an infant longing, vague and indistinct, mother Nature feels it as if a child was prodding her to wake up.