Introducing the Main Characters
The tale of Satyavan and Savitri is recited in the Mahabharata as a story of conjugal love conquering death. But this legend is, as shown by many features of the human tale, one of the many symbolic myths of the Vedic cycle. Satyavan is the soul carrying the divine truth of being within itself but descended into the grip of death and ignorance; Savitri is the Divine Word, daughter of the Sun, goddess of the supreme Truth who comes down and is born to save; Aswapati, the Lord of the Horse, her human father, is the Lord of Tapasya, the concentrated energy of spiritual endeavour that helps us to rise from the mortal to the immortal planes; Dyumatsena, Lord of the Shining Hosts, father of Satyavan, is the Divine Mind here fallen blind, losing its celestial kingdom of vision, and through that loss its kingdom of glory. Still this is not a mere allegory, the characters are not personified qualities, but incarnations or emanations of living and conscious Forces with whom we can enter into concrete touch and they take human bodies in order to help man and show him the way from his mortal state to a divine consciousness and immortal life.
Savitri, Author’s Note
We can see in the Author’s Note above the main characters of the epic. Out of a plethora of stories and legends in Indian mythology, this particular story has been chosen by Sri Aurobindo because it seems to be best suited for communicating his supreme revelations. It is replete with symbols of universal significance. It provides a scope for Sri Aurobindo to express his own and the Mother’s inner journey, the experiences and realisations that they had and their work and mission upon earth. Aswapati’s experiences are none other than Sri Aurobindo’s. Similarly, Savitri’s experiences are none other than the Divine Mother’s in her present full incarnation as the supreme Mahashakti. The story of Savitri and Satyavan is an early attempt of the Divine Mother to realise an individual possibility which She along with Sri Aurobindo have come to realise at a collective level. Thousands of years were needed for humanity to be prepared to reach this level wherein a larger collective effort can be made. Sri Aurobindo reveals this truth and the subtle reason why this project of Savitri has been taken up now at a larger collective level:
“The psychic being is more than a spark at this stage of its evolution. It is a flame. Even if the flame is covered by mist or smoke, the mist or smoke can be dissipated.”
The Mother also reveals it thus:
“…with the present incarnation of the Mahashakti (as he described it in Savitri), whatever is more or less bound up with Her wants to take part, that’s quite natural.”
Mother’s Agenda, June 27, 1962
When asked again whether the Mother hadn’t been active on earth since the beginning of time and not merely “with the present incarnation of the Mahashakti”, She replied:
“It was always through EMANATIONS, while now it’s as Sri Aurobindo writes in Savitri — the Supreme tells Savitri that a day will come when the earth is ready and ‘The Mighty Mother shall take birth’…. But Savitri was already on earth — she was an emanation.
So they were all emanations?
They were all emanations, right from the beginning. So we have to say: ‘with the PRESENT incarnation.’”
Mother’s Agenda, June 30, 1962
In other words, the story of Savitri and Satyavan is their own story, the first part of which took place in far back times. Through the ages that followed they were busy preparing the earth for this greater possibility. Now the hour has come to realise its final part. That is why he hints in the above Author’s Note that the characters are real and living and not just symbols or personifications of qualities. It is their own story covering millennia, going into the past as well as into the future which Sri Aurobindo could see through the trikaladristi (triple time vision) developed by the Yoga, which has been revealed in and through Savitri. Savitri then is the Divine Mother’s incarnation. She is an embodiment, in a human form, of the divine Light, supreme Love, divine Grace to save earth and mankind. By taking a human form She works upon matter and material existence so that it may become plastic to the Spirit and thereby ready to manifest the Divine even here upon earth. That is the meaning of Satyavan’s return to earth after the passage through death. Immortality in its inner essence has been achieved by the Vedic Rishis by discovering within them the consciousness of immortality and the immortal Self in man. But physical immortality is yet to come. It will come when matter is also fully ready to receive and manifest the divine Light. It is being prepared and the day is drawing near when man’s body shall be transmuted and freed from the clutch of death even as his soul was set free from Ignorance in far back times. These are two mighty steps of the same divine project undertaken by the divine pioneers.
Aswapati, as we are told, is the tapaswi, the Lord of Tapasya, who prepares earth and humanity to receive the Divine Mother. It is his tapasya that makes the impossible possible by the intervention of the Divine Mother consenting to assume a human form.
Aswapati represents the Divine Avatara who bring down the Light and Grace of the Divine Consciousness upon the earth. His wife represents nature that is still untransformed and for whose redemption Aswapati, the seer and yogi, seeks the divine Grace. Savitri is born to them as an embodiment of the New Consciousness to build a New Creation out of the old. Her human mother can then be regarded as the old nature just as Savitri represents the New Consciousness.
Satyavan, of course, is none other than us, the true Self within us, the human soul which in its deepest reality is none other than the Lord Himself who has worn a diminished form for the work he has to do with matter. It is through many such Satyavans waking up to this deeper possibility that the divine life can be manifested upon earth. Therefore, he is another central character in the cosmic poem.
It must be mentioned, however, that Satyavan represents the human soul that has already reached a certain degree of development wherein it is seeking a greater truth that can reconcile earthly life with the Divine. Savitri has come to him leaving behind others who are either seeking their own salvation or are satisfied with their spiritual experiences and realisations and seek no further. Satyavan on the other hand is the type of humanity that is seeking to reconcile earth and the Beyond and not discard one for the other. Such a type of humanity is specially chosen by the Grace for the building of the divine life upon earth.
Dyumatsena represents the mind of man. Though it fathers the soul within (most often it is through the mental intelligence that people start their journey towards the soul) yet in itself it is unable to know the truth of the soul. It has fallen blind and because it is blind to the deeper riches of life it has lost its kingdom of glory and joy.
Narada is the divine Messenger. Once a human being he has arrived at the status of a demigod whose main work is to hasten the divine advent upon the earth by awakening mankind to the love and glory of the Lord. He represents the man who by the power of bhakti can ascend to the status of the gods and thereby mediate between the human being and the Divine.
Death is the main opponent in the epic who represents the dark Inconscience resisting and opposing the evolutionary march of mankind towards a divine life upon earth. The fullness of the divine life upon earth means that a section of humanity shall escape from ignorance and death completely and live in Freedom and Delight impelled by Truth and moved by the divine Love and divine Force within them. The presence of even a handful of such human beings transformed into a divine superhumanity is enough to tilt the balance of earthly life for the rest towards a more harmonious and beautiful and truer life upon earth. Death jealously wants to guard his reign at first by denial of the Divine and then later he admits the Divine but believes Him to be an impersonal state that is remote and indifferent to earthly life. He wants the earth to remain in the grip of his iron law of Ignorance with its consequences of suffering and pain. He does not want the law of Truth to be established which is the law of divine Compassion, Benevolence, Harmony, Peace, Oneness and Love.
Of course, there are many other characters in Savitri who come and go in their proper places and their work and their roles are revealed. Finally, we have the ultimate vision of the Supreme and the Divine Mother Herself beyond which there is none else and none other.
Part One comprising Books One, Two and Three deals with Aswapati’s tapasya. The first two cantos of Book One set the background of the epic by introducing us to Savitri, the main protagonist of the poem. We are also told about her work and her mission. But from Book One, Canto Three onwards the story runs in a flashback mode. We are introduced to Aswapati, the human father of Savitri, who undertakes a tremendous tapasya to beget a child who would come to earth as a saviour Grace. From this point the story goes into great details of Aswapati’s tapasya. Part One ends with Book Three, Canto Four whereby Aswapati secures the boon from the Divine Mother who promises to descend upon earth to redeem earth and man.
‘The Book of Beginnings’ gives us the background of the story. We are introduced in this book to the theme of the epic. This theme runs along two lines. There is, of course, the outward story of Savitri and Satyavan as has been narrated in the Mahabharata. But this is only an outer framework for a world of inner truths and revelations to be poured in. We are introduced here to the two main characters of the epic. The first, the central character around whom the story develops is Savitri herself. She is the Divine Mother who has assumed a human body and has incarnated upon earth to save the soul of man out of the clutches of ignorance and death. Her experiences which are described through the epic are the experiences and realisations of the Divine Mother in her present human birth as Mother Mirra Alfassa whom Sri Aurobindo installed in the sacred seat of his tapasya as the Mother. In this human birth, she has taken up the same work that Savitri had undertaken in far back times as a partial incarnation of the Divine Mother. What was then an individual human possibility has been taken up as a collective possibility. What was then the work of saving the soul from the clutches of ignorance and death has been extended now to the work of transformation of death itself and of human life into a life divine.
Here we are also introduced to Aswapati, the human father of Savitri. He is the divine representative upon earth. He is that portion of the Divine who has chosen to descend upon earth from time to time, bring down a greater light and thereby carry on the march of human civilisation forward step by step. In India, such conscious descents of the Divine are termed as Avataras. Here again we see that Sri Aurobindo pours his own revelations and realisations through the journey of Aswapati. In the Mahabharata, he is the human father who undertakes tapasya to beget Savitri as an offspring. Here we see Aswapati undertaking an even more arduous tapasya to bring down the Divine Mother’s Grace and Love. After securing a boon from the Divine Mother that She will undertake to complete the unfinished task, Aswapati, the forerunner and the divine representative in man, steps behind the scene and leaves the field for Her to continue the work. We see the same in the lives of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother wherein Sri Aurobindo foresees a divine possibility for earth and men, he prepares the field and then hands over the charge of the New Creation to the Mother to continue the work.
Savitri, in this way, becomes not only Sri Aurobindo’s supreme revelation imbued through and through with his consciousness and power but also the inner biographies of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. By linking the life of two divine beings and their work in the hoary past with their present incarnation and work, they indicate that it is a never-ending saga of the Divine working in matter and upon earth for the eventual divinisation of earthly life. The story begins in far back times, and continuing through the ages in different forms and under different names arrives now at its grand culmination and fulfilment. This is the great promise and assurance of Savitri thereby turning it into a prophetic poem of the future, a divine document of life as seen with the eyes of the Divine, and a mantra of transformation to help man in his journey towards the divine life. All these fundamental truths are revealed in ‘The Book of Beginnings’ which begins with the opening scene of creation itself.
The first two cantos provide us with the background of the story. They introduce us to the day when the epic event of Satyavan’s death and return is to take place. The next three cantos are a flashback that takes us back to the very beginnings of Aswapati’s quest, his experiences and the purpose of his tapasya.
The symbol ‘dawn’, as the name suggests, is the symbol of creation that is arising out of the darkness. The everyday return of dawn is a symbol of creation emerging each time after pralaya in the ever-recurring cycles. It is also the backdrop of the great epic struggle of man and the divine help given to him at every crucial stage by a conscious intervention of the Divine. The stage of this divine drama is the earth and its oblivious fields. The ‘night’ is the darkness that precedes creation and engulfs it again and again, resisting the efforts towards the Advent of Light. But dawn returns and labours to uplift earth and man constantly. Of course nothing is completely lost. There is a progress and each return carries within it the memory of past attempts thereby hastening the process. Savitri is this Dawn incarnate bringing hope and Light into our mortal world from the high realms of Immortality.
The dawn described here is the dawn of the day when Satyavan is destined to die. But there is Savitri who has come to earth bringing the dawn of hope and the possibility of leading earth and man to a New Creation. Savitri as the daughter of the Sun is the Dawn that brings illumination and with her touch new things begin to be born. The daughter of the Sun also means that she has chosen to renounce her heavenly home and enter into these obscure fields for bringing the illumination to earth and men. This sacrifice of the Divine in matter, to redeem matter is one of the great secrets known as the Avatara or the divine Advent which is what saves the earth from being swallowed up completely into the gulfs of Night. Yet this Light from the Beyond stays only for a brief while. Man is not ready and earth rejects the boon of undying Love. She prefers her routine orbit along the old familiar paths, the change of seasons that respond to the touch of the sun from afar. A moment’s guest she arrives, lavishes her divine gifts to resisting earth and then fades away from mortal sight. This is how the movement of Dawn ends. However, even in the passing and the fading she has done the work she came to do. She has sown upon earth the seeds of Light. She has filled the heart of earth and man with a sacred longing. She has pushed back the frontiers of ignorance for the few who are ready to hear the call and wake up the will to conquer and tread the sunlit path.
Here we are introduced to the central theme of the book, that is to say, the purpose and mission of Savitri’s incarnation. She has come down to earth and assumed a human form, taken upon herself the burden of the flesh and of a race that is not only blind but in love with its blindness. It is an act of divine Compassion, divine Love and Grace that leans down to earth so that the path may be opened for man to escape the law of death and the iron bondage of material nature that holds such a strong grip upon his life. That is why the Divine has to assume a physical body. Otherwise, there is no need to take a body at all since the Divine already dwells in all beings and is their secret mover and guide even though the world knows it not. She has come to change the laws, which are merely patterns of energy that material nature habitually and mechanically follows in set grooves. She has come armed with the power and the mandate to do so. It is to work directly upon matter that the Avatar assumes a body. It is this final conquest over matter leading to its progressive divinisation that is suggested by the bringing back of Satyavan from the land of the dead. A class of yogis become aware of their immortal part and hence living in that can live immortally if they wish to. Some even discover the secret of living long by imposing upon the body the law of another dimension. They grow old but continue to live in the same body, but it is not a change in the law of bodily life itself. It is a temporary suspension under certain special conditions by an individual. Savitri, on the other hand, has come to change the law. It is not just about discovering the immortal element within us but of transmuting the very body so that it too can escape the law of disease, disintegration and death. It is important to understand this subtle distinction otherwise we miss the tremendous importance as well as the extraordinary difficulty of Savitri’s work. This is the work she has come to do, the work that only the Avatar charged with the mandate can undertake.
With this canto the actual story begins. The canto starts by revealing to us the secret of Savitri’s birth in a single powerful line. Thereby we are introduced to Aswapati whose tapasya prepares the way for the advent of Savitri. Aswapati himself is an Avatar. He is the Divine who has consciously and deliberately plunged into matter to spearhead the evolutionary process. On the one hand he is the representative, the Eternal’s delegate of the Divine upon earth. On the other hand he is also the leader of the human march. Through the long journey passing through many births he has inherited the anguish and the aspiration of the earth. In him this aspiration has reached that great point wherein the human opens to the Divine and a new influx from higher states of consciousness begins to pour into his life.
All this is described in this canto, the psycho-spiritual transformation that comes through an opening to deeper and higher states of consciousness. The process is not described here but the first results. What we see here are the results of entry into higher states of consciousness and the pouring in of these forces and energies from beyond which open doors to a new and higher possibility. This process of progressive widening and heightening and deepening eventually leads him towards the state of freedom which is coveted by the yogis. His soul is now completely freed from the grip of the lower nature. It becomes a witness of the field. It has emerged out of the magic circle within which man is bound. It is also revealed how with this emergence out of the fields of ignorance into the Light new faculties awaken in us. Latent powers and means of knowing and working arise and change the entire perception and response to the world. These experiences are descriptive of the beings of the future who will embody the New Consciousness.
Here we have a description of the discoveries made by Aswapati as he soars beyond the boundaries of Ignorance. He has now access to the secret Knowledge that is embedded in the heart of Time. It is secret because our mind and senses cannot access it. The key to this Knowledge is in our soul and by opening its doors we can step into this magic space. Or else we have to soar beyond the limits of our mind, shed the ego-self entirely and then glimpse it. Aswapati discovers the mystery that has hidden itself in the mask of matter and ignorance and death. He discovers the immortal fire whose purifying tongue blazes in the night of our ignorance. He discovers the source of all sweetness and bliss which resides within the depths of our inmost heart. He discovers the truth of earth and her journey and the appearance of man and the tremendous task, the divine destiny bequeathed to him. He discovers the inner lines of forces that govern man’s existence and the means he is given to navigate through this complex maze. He discovers the Truth that is hidden in the dense Night and awaits its hour of emergence. He discovers the play of soul with nature with the earth as stage and life and death as passage and events and circumstances as the conditions of the play. He discovers the triple poise of the One Divine, the secret of God’s birth in Time, the mystery of the great incarnations, the divine Advents that take place from time to time to transform matter and with it the earthly life. He discovers the secret sense of man’s life and the goal of his journey spanning through many lives. He discovers the very purpose of creation and the path we must take to fulfil this great intent that is hidden in the heart of nature. In short, Aswapati discovers the Veda, or rather the missing pages of the Veda, the unwritten pages to be disclosed through the agency of Time.
Aswapati has already arrived at what is generally termed as the goal of most yogas. If he wants he too can take the last plunge and dissolve into the infinity and eternity Beyond escaping thereby the great cycles of birth and rebirth and the tremendous earthly labour. But now a new aspiration awakens in him. This aspiration is to make the entire field of nature and its instruments of the body and mind fit vehicles and perfect expressions of the Truth that he has glimpsed on the peaks of nature. But nature is not an individual thing however much our ego-self may look at it like that. Nature is universal. The individual ego catches hold of a small wave from that enormous sea and thinks it to be its own. The soul is the true individual but nature is always universal. Aswapati’s being has grown into this universality and hence he must now go further no more as an individual soul alone but as a representative of the human race.
As thus he rises with this new aspiration to make the entire field of nature match the greatness and glory that his soul has glimpsed, Aswapati experiences a vast and powerful descent. This experience is unexpected, swift and sudden and takes his entire being with surprise. It is something new and has never happened in the field of yogic experience so far. Yoga is an ascension out of darkness and ignorance and death towards Light and Truth and Immortality. But this descent opens unexpected fields of possibility. Not only the soul but nature itself can taste the nectar of the divine Bliss. The very cells of the body can discover their divine possibility and be freed from the grip of ignorance and death. It is the possibility of liberation and transmutation of nature itself thereby creating the possibility of a divine life in a divine body. This realisation now begins to draw closer and closer to Aswapati. He has a choice, — either to go ahead and complete the journey alone or else to take mankind along with him. The choice is made spontaneously. He must embark in search of this transforming power for the earth and man. A new journey therefore begins, a journey beyond the last frontiers of cosmic Space and Time, a journey that must take him to the seat of the very highest Power whose touch can redeem the earth and man.
Book Two is a vivid and detailed description of the journey that Aswapati undertakes as the traveller of the worlds. This journey is undertaken as a representative of the race. It is undertaken since it is his mission to change the fabric of lower nature into terms of the higher. But first he must understand thoroughly the material with which the warp and woof of our present creation in ignorance is made. He must take full cognisance of the forces and energies that act upon it but are hidden within it either as patterns of the past or as possibilities of the future. He must understand the beings that influence it, the titans and the gods who labour and wrestle for possession of the earth and human beings for their own agendas. He must search with the spiritual fire all the corners of his being for the hidden key to the change that he seeks to bring about in creation.
This longest book is a vivid description of the lower triple worlds of mind and body and life until Aswapati reaches the last summit of this manifestation. He has to go further beyond to bring a greater force from the unmanifest Transcendent. But that is the subject of Book Three. In this book, we are taken on a detailed tour of the peaks as well as abysses and plain grounds of the different layers of mind and life and matter. In the process, we are also given a glimpse of the evolutionary process and the layers that have emerged so far.
He climbs from plane to plane through the triple worlds of matter, life and mind. He explores each of these worlds, sounds their peaks and depths, fathoms their dark abysses, enters into the various kingdoms and domains they have formed, meets with the beings and forces of these worlds and thereby discovers a whole evolutionary plan through which the human soul passes in its ascension. Then going beyond the last limits of the mind he enters into a state of vast impersonality in which the One Self is reflected as the moon in a calm placid lake. This is however not the end of his journey. Looking for a way he dives deep into his being and discovers there a passage of wonder and delight. It is the centre of the world, the World Soul where souls reach after death to sleep awhile and return back to the great adventure. It is through this wonderful realm that he finds the path to the beyond. He reaches where the World Mother awaits the human soul to receive it as it arrives through all the struggles of the evolutionary journey. It is She who opens the doors by Her Grace for Aswapati to go beyond. Thus Aswapati arrives on the borders of the supramental world after a long and tremendous journey. He must now enter and find the Power that can transform earthly life.
There is a ladder of consciousness within and without through which the soul moves in its evolutionary journey. The rungs of this ladder are the various universal planes of consciousness. But it is within too, in the subjective spaces of man through which he has climbed so far in his evolutionary adventure and is yet to climb further. This ladder has been laid out as a result of the initial involution through which the Spirit plunges itself into the sleep of Inconscience. However, all evolution is the result of the forces and energies of the planes of consciousness that constitute the steps of this ladder pressing towards the material world for manifestation. Its rungs constitute the levels of ascension through which creation climbs to arrive at the very source and origin of creation.
Behind this gross material world as we perceive and experience it there are worlds whose matter is different. It is subtle, so to say, and our present sensory apparatus is not designed to perceive it. Hence we believe it does not exist. But behind these gross senses there are subtle senses now completely lost due to habitual ways of perceiving. These subtle senses can be awakened through yoga and it is thereby we begin to discover worlds behind worlds, worlds beyond worlds hidden to our sight. It is through these subtle senses awakened in Aswapati and through his power to bring his consciousness out of the imprisonment in this gross material frame that he makes these discoveries.
Subtle matter is in fact true matter. What we call matter is the result of a further plunge into Inconscience which gives it grossness and rigidity. But subtle matter has a different quality. It is supple and light. The kingdom of subtle matter is a world where beauty of form predominates over everything else. It is this subtle sheath that carries the soul further after death while the gross body drops off. Our original blueprint of form is here. This subtle matter also provides a protective envelope around our gross physical body and if kept intact, it can safeguard us against many illnesses. In the hierarchy of planes it is the last rung of determinism where events decided in the higher planes above are given their final touches before precipitating upon earth. This is the first kingdom through which Aswapati must pass. It is in this sheath that he can travel further leaving behind the gross body.
Passing through states of subtle matter, Aswapati now enters the Life-worlds. It is a vast and complex domain teeming with energy and motion of various kinds. Of course, life is everywhere, in all domains, but here one finds its native domains which are not modified as in other planes by the corresponding level in which it manifests. In Canto Three we find that Aswapati glimpses it in its totality as one would see an entire mountain range before undertaking the great climb. He sees that the fount of life, its origin is in the divine worlds. In fact, life is a power of the Divine that came here to save matter from its state of dullness and inertia. It awakens in matter the dreams of greater possibilities and higher worlds and energises it to rise higher towards its own divine home. These divine worlds are seen by Aswapati while still on this side of the two hemispheres. They are worlds of Beauty and Bliss, worlds where sorrow could not reach nor any trace of suffering touch its high gods. It is a world where power is governed by truth. The beings of these high and mighty worlds are full of a luminous force. The worlds are their playthings and Time and Space their playfields. Aswapati sees this world and hears its call of bliss but cannot find the gate to enter there. He wonders why life which is divine in its origin has become this struggle and suffering here.
The power of Life that came here to save has become imprisoned in the moulds of matter and must slowly find release. But in this return it must not go back alone but carry matter along with it. Each step of the ascension is a transformation of matter by the corresponding powers of the level of consciousness that seeks to emerge. This is the tremendous journey of life that starts with one infant step. These infant steps expressing themselves in the living forms of plant and animal creations and with the rudimentary mind of primitive man are the first hazy steps through which consciousness seeks to recover itself. As a result of its pressure the first forms of life emerge upon earth from the mud and the little cell and climb through bird and beast to half-animal man.
Canto Five is a continuation of Canto Four. Instead of describing the world of little life and its effects we are shown the beings who stand behind its formation, the drama they enact upon earth as a stage with man and animals as their blind, unwitting instruments. It is important to understand what the godheads really are. A godhead is an impersonal and universal being who can manifest itself through a number of gods and goddesses. Behind these forces and energies stand beings who are like nodal centers for the projection of these forces in the world of forms. Each being, each force tries to enter and take hold of the material world. In fact, these are the forces that have initially stirred matter from its sleep and hence have a natural hold and feel it their right to continue their play with matter. But with the coming of thinking man new forces come into play thereby curbing their unbridled puppet show with early primitive humanity. Though they still exercise quite a hold upon man leading to much needless suffering their action gets modified by the mind and the emergent soul in man. Yet the final remedy is not even with the thinking mind but with something deeper within man. The true remedy starts when we have found our soul. It is then and only then that this dream of nether life with all its untoward consequences and shadows cast upon fate begins to end.
There is a greater life as well, the life of emotions and higher strivings as is revealed in all men who have climbed a little above the ordinary pitch of an average man. This higher vital now begins to stir and wake up in man. A new phase of evolution begins with the stir of these higher movements. There is the birth of idealism on the one hand and ambition on the other. The passion play begins, a struggle and clash and battle and victory become the way of life. Heroism is born that can immortalise itself even through death. Or a spirit of sacrifice where all is lost and given away in a moment of exalted emotion. High climbing moments of music and painting and art take birth in man and it seems that he is touching the hem of a heavenlier life and breathing a diviner air. Then unable to climb beyond a pitch it falls back towards hell and takes the sting of suffering and the sharp prick of emotional pain. This greater life is given to dream rather than to realise. It can build beautiful rainbow worlds of its own imagination and stay in them as if they were true and real. Yet it cannot go beyond a point and man’s soul cannot rest in this magical but limited space forever. To do so would mean to move forever in a never-ending circle of joy tinged with sorrow and suffering loaded with the dream and longing of a future joy that never arrives. It is a dream world, an intermediate world that gives the illusion of the ultimate Truth but it can at best glimpse this Truth through a magic glass and only momentarily so. The illusion wears off and with it the dream ends. Therefore life must go further to find its true origin, its purpose and its goal.
Aswapati experiences this domain of greater life, sees its mighty godheads who seek to build heaven here, even if for a moment. But its heavens never endure. Like sandcastles built upon the shores of Time they fail and collapse in the dust out of which they were made. This now Aswapati seeks to discover, the reason why life cannot climb uninterruptedly towards its divine home. What is it that pulls it down again and again into the abyss. The mystery must be found in the abyss itself and hence towards the abyss he turns now his gaze. He descends into the night to know its heart and the source of its strength. Layer by layer he enters the dark gloom of the primal Night, meets its dangerous forces whose glance itself is fatal and whose lethal touch is a fascination and a death. These forces are spread out everywhere as the dark underbelly of creation. It is the subconscient and the inconscient in man, the dark ambiguous base out of which creation seems to emerge and into which it has the tendency to collapse. Its influence has entered everywhere, in religion and politics, in law and justice, in administration and organisation. Even virtue and righteousness have been turned under their influence into a misleading light that leads towards hell while claiming to climb towards heaven. All the scripts of life and all the lines of nature they corrupt and pervert filling this world with disorder, chaos, disintegration, evil and pain.
Aswapati now turns his gaze to find out the beings who govern this world, the queen of this dark and lonely kingdom where all walk alone covered with the fierce masks of a hard and rigid ego. Here were only deception and cruel pain. Neither friendship nor pity could find a place here. Truth had turned into falsehood, Peace into inertia, Bliss into suffering, Consciousness into unconsciousness, Life into death. It was the shadow of the infinite One and hence tried to mimic and imitate the Reality that it endlessly denied. These hostile influences can enter man’s heart and, overpowering his nature, kill him inwardly. Faith is slain and the high climbing flame of aspiration is quenched. The soul forfeits its divinity and leaves the earthly sphere suffering a severe fall while the mind and body are left as an empty shell to live awhile and die. This is the dark hell through which all must pass on their road to heaven This all must dare and face and endure who wish to discover the Light that never fades and the Love that endures forever. The only thing that helps when one crosses these dark and dangerous realms is the Name of God and the twin powers of courage and faith.
And yet there is hope as Aswapati discovers. In the heart of darkness there lies the great Being who has hidden himself in this ambiguous cloak. This deceptive mask of terror and pain that he has wrapped around himself is only to hasten man’s progress towards the Goal that is already imprinted within his soul. There is a Wisdom working silently even in the Night that prepares us for a greater Dawn. There is a Love that labours under the most impossible conditions to bring even there the superconscient fires. Death and tragedy are a secret rapture’s mask awaiting its sudden disclosure and the shock of joy at this discovery. Falsehood is the tortured shape of Truth and hell is the short cut to heaven’s gates. It is the test of a purifying fire through which the soul must pass in its upward curve. Having battled with the forces of Darkness, having endured the wounds of Time, having remained steadfast in faith despite the challenges posed by heaven and hell, the soul is ready for going further.
The average soul remains tied to the lower vital life with its almost exclusive focus on food and pleasure and the wants of the body. Those who rise to a greater life enter another kind of illusion, more subtle with nobler aspects but still an illusion nevertheless. It can colour our world with fancy and fantasy with the help of dream and imagination pushed by strong ambition or idealising sentiments. But it cannot build anything of lasting value here upon earth. Therefore arises the need to go through the red heat of hell that breaks these illusions and purifies us through suffering and pain. The heroic soul goes through this inner battle with courage and faith and hence gets admittance to the Paradise of the Life gods. It is the highest point to which the vital can rise and rest awhile. It is a realm of pure desire where the heart and the sensual being are healed through currents of delight that sweep through this world. It is a world where the bliss that made the worlds spills into a limited but exalted space midway towards the heights that reach out to the very Highest. It is a world of intoxicating sweetness and joy, the highest heaven of certain religions. But the soul seeking for perfection must go further. This too must be renounced and the journey must continue until the very Highest is found in which God and World grow true and one. Hence Aswapati moves further in his journey.
A new journey begins, a new mountain climb. Aswapati has moved out of the vital worlds, seen its heights, sounded its abysses. Now he starts his climb through the mental worlds. At first, he enters the kingdoms and godheads of the little mind. It is the world whose forces have formed our thoughts up till now. Here too we find a triple layer. First comes a thought based entirely on the sensory input. It is the physical mind that depends upon the sense data and builds its conclusions upon this shaky foundation. Then there is the vital mind, a mind of imagination that gives thought-forms to desires and fantasy. Finally arrives reason proper that tries to reach out to the skies but falls far short. All its conclusions remain in the end inconclusive. Its search for truth, its effort to build a perfect world remains incomplete since it has neither the means of arriving at true knowledge nor the vision to comprehend the totality of things.
There are other levels of the Mind that are yet to manifest openly upon earth. They have manifested in the seer and yogi sometimes, or in the man of genius. These are the realms of the spiritual mind ascending through which we can acquire higher faculties of knowledge than our reason can even conceive. Here too we find the triple realms of higher mind, illumined and revelatory mind and the intuitive mind. These are high and wide realms of thought where one begins to glimpse some reflection of Truth. It is these realms and their large luminous forces that mould the mind of the seer and the sage. High though these realms are and great though the knowledge that they wield, yet they cannot arrive at the ultimate Truth. Nor can they know the ways of the Divine Mother and the tremendous purpose that moves within Her heart. They cannot fathom the meaning and purpose of this universe emerging out of Nothingness. The ultimate Mystery remains even for these high gods a mystery.
Climbing through the summit of thought Aswapati now enters the realm of Ideas where the forces of Truth are unleashed like a phalanx of rays from the body of Light. These are the heavens of the Ideal where one can arrive at either by reaching the apex of the Mind worlds or else by diving deep into the heart and opening the psychic centre within oneself. It is the Swarloka of the Vedic seers where the first rays of the sun are seen in their original glory and splendour. It is the first step taken towards creation in this lower triple world. Each Idea-force is a godhead there who tends towards an expansion of its own unique and independent universe. It calls the human soul to rise towards these sublime heights which demands the sacrifice of all we cherish here. These are the great gods of the Overmind and each is absolute in his own right. Yet at the summits of this splendour and the light all these godheads were joined and united in a single harmonious concert of radiant powers.
It is the Overmental world where the Ideal is born and then descends through various layers and degrees in human consciousness. This world stands as it were upon the very summits of the Mind. It is the highest plane of Mind where Idea weds with Idea around the sacred Fire. The different aspects of Truth are here each standing by the side of other, together in a state of unity. In the splendour of the original Light they stood around the One parent Truth that was seen and felt and known through a very thin, almost transparent reflection. Overmind is the home of the Ideas that built the world. It is not the origin but its splendour is such that it is easy to mistake it for the ultimate Truth. So far it is these godheads who have managed the creation. They receive their impulsion from above and then create a world with its knowledge and power. But the ultimate Source, the Origin is further beyond the last summits. It is towards this that Aswapati now turns his steps, but not before he receives their luminous powers as gifts on the way.
Here cease the limits of Mind. It is the great dividing line and emerging beyond it one experiences the complete stilling of all mental conceptions and cognition. Even the highest conceptions appear illusory and a travesty of Truth that appears at this plane as something bare, impersonal, cold and aloof, something that has nothing to do with form and names that are mere constructs of the Mind. Even at its highest, they are still constructs and nothing else. Thought, sense, the heavings of the heart and the will and passion cease there in a mute silence. All is plunged in the nirvana of a vast impersonality, formless, causeless, a state of escape into vacant Nothingness. It is not the state of pure Existence but Its reflection in the mind substance. Not here however can be found the final remedy for the cosmic enigma. This state can give the much-needed peace and a static liberation to the individual but cannot solve the enigma of earth and its journey. Here is not the origin or the clue to the great mystery of creation. Here one finds a static liberation where Power is held back and Knowledge shines upon the world without limits and dividing lines. It is a oneness impersonal and bare in which the yogis striving for nirvana enter and can stay.
Many have stopped their search here and declared that there is Nothingness at the base of the world. They have declared an indifferent witness watching over the works of time as the ultimate and obviously paradoxical Truth of creation. But the seeking soul of Aswapati must strive further. He has arrived at the impersonal Infinite but where is the divine Person who hides behind the impersonal? Where is the Godhead of the Gita, the Purushottama who is beyond the personal and the impersonal, the universal Godhead and the World Mother? Where is the passage to the yet greater Beyond? Even as Aswapati stands on these pure and bare summits an answer comes to his seeking and he is pulled inwards as it were into the secret tunnel that leads to the World Soul. There he discovers a most blissful state where divine Peace and Rapture are joined in a single Being, a beauty and wonder and charm of the Cosmic Divine. Here is the place where the souls return after death, enter a state of reconstituting sleep for a while and then return back to continue their adventure of birth in Time and Space. Here he meets the Cosmic Divine in His twin poise of Purusha and Prakriti, Iswara and Iswari, whose trance of blissful union sustains the world. Here he has the most enthralling vision of the World Mother whose steps determine the journeying of the stars and the unfolding of Time. The Divine Mother as the Cosmic Power knows the secret aspiration in Aswapati’s heart. Seeing her Aswapati just throws himself at Her feet and surrenders completely at Her feet. It is She who then opens the gates to the Beyond for Aswapati.
The doors of the Ineffable have been opened for Aswapati by the Grace of the Divine Mother. Already he can now experience a new cosmic state arising within him. He has become one with the Cosmic Being, a universal or a world-personality who is now one of the first seers who guide creation on its destined paths. Even before entering the Beyond he starts experiencing the influx of a greater Light and Power arising from a state of utter unity where the lover, the love and the beloved, the knower, the knowledge and the known become one. It is the original plenitude where one can discover the omniscient Wisdom that has gone into creation opening for man a thousand pathways to the One. This state borders the Overmind and the Supermind. It is the line where the two hemispheres, the lower and the higher parts join. This he must now cross to enter the Beyond.
With this attainment, we see that one part of Aswapati’s journey is over. For what lies further he must wait for the supreme fiat of the mysterious Reality beyond.
This is the penultimate phase of Aswapati’s tapasya which is now no more as an individual but for the whole race. He has arrived at the doors of the Transcendent, the unknowable Supreme. The four cantos here describe his experiences as he enters this supreme realm from where none returns. This is the great door, the last exit point. Souls that pass into the Beyond do not come back to tell their experience. They are out of the world play. It is the region of the Unmanifest. It is a domain whose forces have not yet entered the cosmic play. It is from here that Aswapati must bring down a new possibility into the cosmic field so that humanity may embody them.
We can look at the three phases of his journey in the following way. In the first phase, described mainly in Book One, Aswapati realises the Immanent Divine within creation. It is an individual realisation. In Book Two we see him entering the universal planes until he realises the Cosmic Divine. In Book Three we see him entering the Transcendent Divine whose Will is yet to manifest in creation. Aswapati enters here as a cosmic being, a representative of the human race to bring down into creation something that has not yet manifested which yet has the power to change the scheme of things here. He must bring it and establish it in the creation. Once this is done then the Cosmic Divine will manifest it through the complex workings of Time. The four cantos describe this step by step.
Aswapati stands at the doors of the Unknowable. The Unknowable cannot be known by the Mind. It can be known only if It so chooses to reveal Itself to us. One has to wait with endless patience, wait upon the Grace at the peaks of creation. Aswapati feels the wonderful Presence of the Transcendent Divine but it is not possible to behold His splendour nor hold it for long. Touched and uplifted by the direct rays of the Sun, bathed in the supramental vibrations natural at these summits, he finds himself entering into the higher hemisphere of existence. Here he must leave aside all mental constructs and conceptions, all the imperfect means that nature has so far evolved to manifest certain truths but very imperfectly so. The world as we know and experience it is a distortion of Truth. It is not what it is meant to be. This illusion is not an unreality but a distortion of the Reality. It is this that Aswapati is impelled to set right. But one cannot enter into this realm of Truth without shedding all the scales of distortion and limitations. Only Truth can remain in this realm, not even its representations. All must be left behind, either to end in the Stillness profound and ineffable or to be newly made in the mould of Truth. But at first, Aswapati has the experience of the Silent Purusha, Ekamewadwitiyam, the One Infinite who is the occult cause of creation and yet is beyond it. He is Self-born and uncreated yet is the source of all things.
Is this still and silent Self the end of our search? Is this state that cancels nature and world and receives the soul in the bosom of a vast Nihil the last and final step of this great tremendous journey? Is dissolution into the One Reality that transcends the individual and the cosmos, what is called Moksha, the goal of human existence? Aswapati now stands between this state hanging between the eternal Yes that has sanctioned creation’s paradox profound and the eternal No that cancels it. His will is for the redemption of creation. Even as he thus waits, he experiences the nearness of the wonderful Presence of the Divine Mother who takes into Herself world and nature and soul. She is the key to resolving the enigma of the Night and the paradox of creation. It is Her alchemist touch that can transform all things. It is She for whom he has come seeking all the way. It is She alone who can change this earthly life into a life divine thereby freeing earth and man from the clutch of falsehood and ignorance and darkness and death. This marvellous Presence fills Aswapati with rapture and ecstasy. Now all other longings have ceased within his heart and there is only one cry left. His being now grown boundless and wide aspires for the entire race. Only one seeking is left now and it is to fill this earth with Her Presence and Power to heal and help man advance towards its highest destiny. Darkness must vanish completely from earth. All must be filled with Her Beauty and Glory and Peace and Harmony and Bliss.
The touch of the Divine Mother brings about a last and mighty transformation annihilating all resistances hiding in the subconscient parts. His very body and nerves begin to undergo a change as of the last remnants of the ego are gone. Infinity opens its doors upon him and the original superconscient Power begins to pour its radiance and splendour upon his being. He discovers the secret Oneness that begins to widen into innumerable multitudes centred around the One Self. These are the worlds of Truth where there is no division or separation. He is led into this new Life based on unity in diversity. Here all is consciously linked to all in a matrix of spiritual oneness. All here is centred around the Truth, Light, Peace, Harmony and Bliss of the Divine Mother. It is a marvellous creation, the original plan or blueprint of creation before it fell into ignorance, error, division and pain. Here is the divine Perfection which is not static but a dynamic dance around the One and based on oneness. Contrasting to this are our worlds where ignorance and knowledge, truth and error, joy and sorrow weave the texture of our lives. Aswapati now aspires to bring down this greater higher divine world into our ignorance so that the earth may be transformed by it.
Responding to the one-pointed aspiration of Aswapati to bring down here a greater diviner world, the Divine Mother appears on the threshold of his subtle yogic vision and envelops him. Overwhelmed by Her vision his entire being is thrilled. His very body and cells are touched and awake to the superconscient Delight. The Divine Mother has heard his cry and has come in response to his call. At first, She dissuades Aswapati from asking this boon of boons. Earth is not ready and man may not be able to bear the impact of the power of Truth once released upon earth. Aswapati persists in his aspiration seeking the Divine Mother’s direct intervention and Advent to prepare the earth and sow in it the seeds of Light and Truth and Immortality. Finally, the Divine Mother consents to come. She has granted Aswapati that She Herself will come down assuming a human form and change the law of doom into a law of everlasting Truth and Love.
With this boon the first part of the epic closes. Aswapati’s tapasya is over and now he must wait for the fulfilment of the boon he has asked for.
The second part of the epic is centred around Savitri’s journey from birth until she undertakes the yoga for earth and men. It runs through Books Four to Eight. The last book reconnects us to the day when Satyavan must die. In describing the birth and growth of Savitri, also revealed is the mystery of the divine Advent. Through Savitri’s yoga we are also shown the essential outline, the main steps of the yoga for earth and man.
The Divine Mother is on earth. She has consented to come down as the saviour Grace for earth and men. She has come down in response to Aswapati’s tapasya as a boon granted to him. This book now describes Savitri’s birth and growth until she is ready take up her mission for which She has accepted her human birth. But this mission is a joint venture of God and man. It is the human soul through which the task of transformation of earthly life is done. The soul of man must open and respond to Her Love. Then only can the scroll of destiny written for man thus far be changed. This book closes with Savitri going in search of her partner, the soul that is ready for this great adventure of life.
The first canto describes the birth of Savitri. But first earth must prepare itself to receive the Flame-child who brings with her a new epiphany. We see here a beautiful, vivid and symbolic description of the seasons: summer, the rains, autumn and spring. The earth moves through the first three before spring brings new hope and fills the earth with joy and beauty and love. This passage of seasons in sequence is significant of how the human soul must pass through the stage of effort, of purification, of a one-pointed still concentration whence withdrawn within itself it must prepare for the advent of a New Creation. Then the time arrives and earth itself begins to change. She is in a state of joy, the joy of the New Creation.
Savitri arrives but unlike the ordinary human birth this is a conscious birth. She is the Divine Mother who has prepared the body and mind that will be fit and ready to receive her. She brings with her the new possibilities for earth and men. By assuming a human body she opens the door in matter itself for the New Creation and the new possibilities to take roots there. But first she herself must bring them out from her depths into the forefront of her human life. Though divine from her childhood this divinity within her must progressively manifest with her inner and outer development. She has brought with Her a new Consciousness and by her very birth has started infusing it into matter. While on the one hand matter must receive, absorb and assimilate this new Consciousness, on the other hand, Savitri will have to adapt Her Consciousness to matter and its stifling power. It is through this mutual adaptation that the soil of earthly matter will be made ready to receive the New Creation.
The incarnate Divine wearing a human shape grows amidst men. Though Divine she has consented to assume a mortal human cloak and identify with our humanity. Yet something of her divinity could still be seen and felt through the human cloak. In a sense, we are all divinities wearing a human cloak. The difference, however, is that we do not remember it whereas Savitri is a conscious birth. She is not compelled but has chosen to take upon herself a human body and be as one of us.
With the development of her body, the inner being presses upon the surface and new faculties begin to develop. New forms of manifestation begin in the fields of art, music and painting. New thought and new ideas in the fields of philosophy, science and poetry begin to take shape and form. As Savitri grows and moves amidst her circle of friends and shares her gifts, none is yet ready to receive them. The Divine assumes a human shape and seems to walk like one of us, yet inwardly he is far and above. Few can see beyond the outer form, fewer are ready to receive the touch and evolve. Still fewer are ready to follow the path that is opened for man. They sometimes felt and sensed the divinity within her but when she stooped and came close to them they could not bear the touch at such close quarters. Of course, there were a few who felt the touch upon their soul. They opened and gave themselves to her as a flower to the sun. But none could she find who would be the partner in the game divine. Therefore she stood alone amidst all the faces loved and all whom she helped and who were silent recipients of her grace and love.
While Savitri is growing, her human ways safely guarding and nurturing the divinity within her, Aswapati, her human father, hears a voice in the subtle ether exhorting him to send his daughter to find the deeper purpose for which she has come. She must explore the world and find the one who will share her work. Aswapati is reminded of the work that his daughter has come down for. It is him who has asked for the boon as a result of which the Divine Mother consented to come down in the form and persona of Savitri. Now that her being has developed and the fragrance of her divinity and the radiance of her love is spreading all around, she must find her ideal partner and mate. It is with him that she is destined to fulfil her work. In seeking her partner and mate she is also seeking the human type that is best suited for Her work, the one She has come to save and change or transform into the higher type. She must find the humanity ready for being transmuted into the godlike humanity of the future. This is her mission since, as the voice reveals to Aswapati, ‘the gods are still too few in mortal forms’.
Savitri ventures out into the wide world, leaving the safety of her father’s palace and searching for the humanity that carries within it the material for the future type. This is her quest, the quest for her partner in this game divine, one who is like her a soul of fire and love, one who seeks to unite heaven and earth, God and world in a single consciousness and being. In the course of her quest, she meets various types of human beings, — ascetics and sages, tapaswis and renunciates. Great though they are they have already followed a particular line of yoga and are not suitable for the work of the future. They hear her luminous wisdom and feel drawn to her but are unable to surrender and open to her influence. They are seekers after knowledge but the bud of love has not blossomed in their hearts. Love and surrender are the keys that can open the doors of the future that Savitri brings but of this type of humanity she is yet to find one. Hence her journey continues. At the close of this wonderful book that describes the birth and growth of Savitri she reaches the point whence her mission can begin to take shape.
Book Five, ‘The Book of Love’ and Book Six, ‘The Book of Fate’, come almost in the middle of the epic and beautifully connect to the central theme. ‘The Book of Love’ is about the meeting of Savitri and Satyavan that leads to a chain of events woven by destiny. It is this chain that Savitri has come to disrupt and free man from the iron bonds of ignorance that hold him back and ties him down to the wheels of fate. This is one of the most wonderful books and full of the beauty of love. It reveals the secret of this greatest power that moves human life and weds creation to the Creator and the human soul to the Divine. It is divine Love that can win the victory over all forces and transform all things into their secret divinity. Therefore guided by this Love Savitri goes out in search of her divinely human partner. Satyavan is introduced here. He is the human soul tied right now to the bonds of ignorance. Savitri is the divine Power, the divine Grace manifested as Love that has come to save him. Their relationship is symbolic of the Divine and man whose coming together marks the opening of a new door and the emergence of a new possibility for earth and mankind.
Here we see a most beautiful and gorgeous description of the place where Savitri and Satyavan meet for the first time. It is a forest verge amidst the mountains where her chariot has wandered driven by the unseen hands of fate. It is a place pristine and pure, unspoiled by human thoroughfare. This magnificent spot of earth, filled with the grace, beauty and charm of early earth has been chosen by destiny for the union of the two who would walk hand in hand, heart in heart, hereafter. There is a time and place foreseen for everything, even though the play seems random to us. Something within that knows secretly guides our steps and leads us to the place where we should be at a given moment. So too Savitri, leaving behind the regal places, the luxurious courts and the cool serene ashramas, moves on to the beautiful but thinly inhabited forest verge. There, amidst that silence and secrecy, she meets Satyavan, the partner of her dreams.
Savitri has gone in search of her ideal partner and mate in this great game of life. In the course of her journey, she has met mighty kings and brilliant sages. She has come across hero warriors and world-shunning recluse ascetics. These are the highest possibilities that we see manifest in our humanity. But perhaps for this very reason, fixed to their glory and the type of humanity they represent, they are not ready to give up everything for the sake of the new and the unknown. But now coming across the forest verge she meets Satyavan. Here she finds the ideal type of humanity who can be a partner in her game divine. He is simple, humble, full of natural trust and surrender. Noble and generous. he is open to the Wisdom that dwells in nature. Satyavan is indeed a rare jewel. Nurtured by the silences of the forest that has been a witness to the Ages, he has grown in wisdom by reading the unwritten Veda of life. He is in search, an inner search, for the Light that can reconcile all the Beauty that the earth can behold and all the Truth-Light that the heavens can pour. As yet he is unable to find the key to this mystery, the mystery of the marriage between heaven and earth. Here she meets him and in one moment weaves affinity through the gaze. The mystery of Love is born between Savitri and Satyavan.
Here they meet and recognise each other looking through their soul. Though they seem to have met for the first time now, yet they have together enacted the great drama of life in different forms and names, wearing different guises. This soul recognition holds within itself the key to the future. The senses and the surface mind forget, even the heart’s memory is lost as we take on a new body and start the journey of life afresh. But the soul keeps the imprints of the past and the possibilities of the future. So do Satyavan and Savitri meet in a moment of the soul. They are wedded before the Sun of Truth in the forest itself. Their soul, the Truth embedded within it, the Divine within, is their witness. No other ceremony is needed. Nature has set the stage for this heavenly betrothal. Savitri now hastens back home after the choice has been made to share this joy of meeting with her father.
‘The Book of Love’ is followed by ‘The Book of Fate’. It is a stand-alone book where one can find explained the whole tangle of fate and the wheels of destiny as they silently approach our lives creating a web through which the soul must move in its chequered walk. Yet a secret Help is always there and if we know how to entrust our lives to the Divine with faith and confidence in the Grace then He takes upon Himself our burden and fights our battles. This is what Satyavan has done in a moment of destiny and thereby brought in another force, a kind of intervention in the fixed grooves of destiny. All the secrets of fate are now unveiled before us in this wonderful book as Sri Aurobindo unravels for us one knot after another, layer after layer, in which destiny comes packaged to us as the events and circumstances of life.
Generally, the face of fate is concealed to human beings. This is so because we have our role to play in the workings of fate. But were we to know it while still labouring in ignorance we may well not play out our part with the perfection and fullness that is needed for our progress. After all, the wheel of fate is only meant to drive us towards the one inevitable goal of our life. But this journey can sometimes be terrible and dangerous. It may be needed for our growth that we scale some impossible mountain peaks with abysses gaping below our feet, where each step is a death or a new life. But Savitri is a missioned Force whose very work is to stay the wheels of doom and to show to man how he can change his destiny.
In this canto, Narad the divine sage comes to Aswapati’s palace as Savitri returns from her quest. The fate of Savitri and Satyavan is at once revealed before his subtle vision. After some hesitation, he reveals it to Savitri’s mother, the queen, that even though Satyavan is a jewel amongst men, he is ill-fated. His father, a blind king in exile, has lost his kingdom, and Satyavan himself has only one more year to live. While Aswapati, the seer king knows that even what seems adverse to our ignorant eyes serves a divine Good in the cosmic scheme, the queen is disturbed by the decree of fate. She asks Savitri to return and reverse her choice. But Savitri insists. She prefers to stand by the choice she has made in a moment of the soul, even if it seems to be erroneous to the pragmatic mind, rather than follow the dictates of the practical reason. She remains firm upon her choice leaving the queen quite helpless before the fast-approaching gloom that draws upon her dearest daughter’s fate.
What then is fate? Is it a tribunal of justice distributing decrees of reward and punishment meted out to the human soul to keep its feet steady in the right direction? Or is it some mysterious fiat of an arbitrary Creator who enjoys our suffering and pain so that we can turn to Him in supplication? Or is it an evolutionary mechanism devised for the human soul to grow through experience and learn through failure and fall? What is the necessity of suffering and pain in the grand scheme of things? Above all, who chooses our fate, — some gods who weave it for us or our soul that must go through certain experiences and hence chooses its curve of destiny based upon its intrinsic need? And what about the great ones, the shining seers, the Avataras who also suffer when they take a human body? These and many other questions, in fact, all possible questions that man has conceived or has not yet conceived have been raised by Sri Aurobindo through the Queen, mother of Savitri, in this canto. Then the master Poet, the seer of Savitri, the Lord of Yoga, the incarnate Divine, Sri Aurobindo goes about answering them one by one through the words of Narada, the demigod, in this remarkable canto which stands alone in its own right. This book and this canto close by connecting all these threads to the narrative of the Savitri story and why she too must go through the sting of suffering and the challenge of death.
Savitri has accepted the challenge of destiny. She stands firm by her soul’s choice. Unlike weak souls that are looking for every possible door of escape out of this world of sorrow and pain, Savitri like a heroic soul chooses to confront destiny. In doing so she must confront the enigma of death and all the forces that weave the circumstances of our life. But how does she equip herself to accept the challenge, to face and even change an adverse fate? She cannot do it simply as a freak miracle for that would be at most a personal victory. We have been told that She is an incarnation of the Divine Mother, the very source and embodiment of all powers. She has not come here just to intervene in some personal destiny and change the course of things. For that She need not descend and take upon Herself the burden of the flesh. She must instead show the way to man, something that man can and must do to escape the consequences of the primal ignorance that haunts him like a shadow and dodges his ever-forward steps. She must open the doors of a higher possibility, a collective possibility through a seemingly individual victory. It is for this that Savitri now must equip herself. The way she follows to empower herself to take on the challenge of destiny is what is revealed to us in ‘The Book of Yoga’. It is also the path shown to man that he too must undertake to free himself from ignorance and unconsciousness and falsehood and death.
We see here the human side of Savitri. Yet this human love carries a sweetness that comes from the joy of perfect giving and receiving in love. Savitri experiences this joy of togetherness. But she also knows the doom that is closing in upon them. Only a brief-lived happiness is given to her. We see here Savitri experiencing the human states we go through until we eventually accept that we shall always remain pawns in destiny’s hands. Savitri experiences in her human persona the ordeal and the joy and the grief whose shadow looms large upon her future days.
The Avatar must start the path from where man is and lead him to where he can reach. He comes to build the bridge. But for that he must first of all understand the human experience in grim earnest. It is only if becoming like man he can show the way to his higher self that his work is validated. Man can then take the lead and follow God’s example. Otherwise, Avatarahood would serve no real or lasting purpose except for the faithful few. He becomes human so that the human can become divine. He can then ask humanity to become like him. If he has not felt the pain of humanity, then it is idle to show the way out. Therefore Savitri too must feel the pang in the human heart, the pang that follows every joy as a shadow, the pain of separation after the joy of earthly union. Savitri has come to change that. Love must be the victor over death.
She too, like weaker souls, can accept this state of being subject to the laws of fate and submit to the decree, snatching whatever short time she can of her share of joy. Or else she can, as the women of yore, steadfast in love, shed her mortal coil and follow her beloved to the domain of death. But Savitri has come to build perfection here and not elsewhere. Therefore she is cautioned by her divine Self that is right behind the veil of her human self. She is shown how her choice will affect not only herself but the future humanity that will follow her example. She asks her greater divine Self what she must do to fulfil her mission of setting a new divine example for earth and men. What then is given to her is a whole program of yoga that she must undertake. This program is like a brief compendium of Savitri’s yoga and for all who would wish to bring down the divine life here upon earth.
Looking within as a witness of her nature she sees how our nature is filled with all kinds of forces right from mountain peaks with beautiful landscapes down to the abysses. All the world forces and possibilities lie hidden in man. Our past lives in us long after it is dead and our future waits as in a bud a tree. Our evolution starts with darkness and moves slowly towards light. A time comes when something in us begins to consciously aspire for Light and Love and Truth and Beauty and Good. But darkness is not slain. It continues to linger within us and casts its shadow from time to time. All this Savitri observes; this entire field of nature she has come to change. She knows that this change cannot be done by mere human effort. A greater Power must descend and transform earthly life. But for that greater Power to come down, the first thing needed is for our secret soul, the psychic being, to come out and step freely into the human play.
Armed with a tremendous and intense aspiration, Savitri forces her way through the inner gates that bar our consciousness from entering within except in some rare moments of dream or trance. She passes from level to level, from the world of matter to the world of life and then onward to the world of mind. Each of these levels offers to her its gifts and its resistances. It is easy for the traveller to the inner kingdoms to become lost in one of these states and wander for long in some intermediate zones thinking that he has arrived. But Savitri’s one-pointed aspiration and the sincerity of her being safeguard her from these subtle and occult dangers that lurk within. Savitri refuses to rest there and presses further onward towards the mystic cave, pointed out to her by the luminous gods that emerge from her soul reaching out to the world as beautiful thoughts and feelings and helpful, luminous, benevolent energies.
Pressing further she arrives at the first three emanations or luminous powers that emerge from the soul. These are the powers that support the physical, vital and the mental nature from behind the human scene. They are cosmic powers and their workings help man to endure the suffering and pain during our earthly sojourn, to battle against darkness and fight against all that resists the advancing soul, or they release streams of true knowledge and wisdom embedded within our soul to lead us towards Truth and Freedom and Immortality. But the human ego has usurped and misused these energies and powers and forces of nature given for assisting his evolutionary journey into a means to satisfy his vain ambitions and for expanding the empire of his ego. These triple soul-forces are also sometimes known as the three gunas or modes of nature, tamas, rajas and sattwa. These powers have their divine origins as powers of peace and endurance (which changes into tamas), luminous force and strength (rajas), wisdom and balance (sattwa). Savitri observes each of these luminous powers and their corresponding shadows but rests not there. She must move further on.
At last she arrives at the doorsteps of the heart’s mystic cave where the soul is hidden surrounded by a wall of mystic fire. A deep humility is her state as she stands upon the threshold waiting to cross and enter the temple of divinity within, crossing the door of fire. This fire guards this seed of divinity in us so that it remains safe and untouched from the outer world’s corrupting influences. Even though something of the soul flows out into our outer life, even though something of it identifies with the outer cover of man, yet inwardly it remains untouched, itself alone. This must be first uncovered and made to conquer nature so that all our mental, vital and even physical movements can be directed and governed by the soul. This is the crucial first step towards the conquest over death. It is to discover one’s immortal soul and to let it govern our nature rather than leave the ego to govern it. Savitri enters this sanctum sanctorum where the inner divinity resides and fuses with her soul. What follows is a tremendous experience. All her subtle centres, the chakras as they are called, open up under the influence of the soul and their energies pour upon her. Each centre opens and gives to her nature a new uplift. All begin to refine and soar upwards under the influence of the psychic being. The Kundalini Shakti is now fully awake and aroused from her sleep in matter and prepares her for the mighty work she has come down to accomplish. Wonderful though this state is, yet it is an individual victory. She has come for the world and hence her journey cannot stop here. She must discover the last secret.
Savitri is now living in a blissful inner state, conscious of her soul and by its puissance uplifting everything that surrounds her. This is the first psycho-spiritual transformation that she has undergone. But for her mission more is needed. She must reclaim her universality and transcendence. She must enter the last secret. She must dwell in the supramental world as in her natural home. Not only the soul but also the nature must be free and discover its Godlike stature. The great Shadow, the Inconscient that lies at the back of all things, comes to deviate her from the missioned path. It is the voice of Night that is chased away by the voice of Light. Now she must completely rid herself of every trace of the ego so that the Supermind could find a place in a vast and infinite consciousness. Savitri listens and absorbed in a witness state, enters the sheer stillness and impersonality of the Absolute, the state of Nothingness, the Nirvana that annuls everything. She becomes one with infinity and eternity.
Realisation of the impersonal Brahman is not enough for the transformation and the complete conquest over death and fate that Savitri seeks. It sets the soul entirely free and if it wills the soul can through this state merge into the Nirvana of the Beyond and be done with birth and death and care. But Savitri goes beyond to reach to the still greater transcendence, the Supreme One who is there behind life and nature and each and every element. Savitri now enters that cosmic Being and the Transcendent Supreme who alone has the Power to redeem this fallen life. Having arrived at the state of Nothingness she becomes everything. Thus equipped she is now armed with the knowledge and the power to face the forces of fixed fate and take on the challenge of inconscient death that pulls down everything back into the abyss.
This book comprised of one single canto cryptically titled Canto Three seems a natural extension of Cantos One and Two of Book One from an earlier draft. It was titled Canto Three with reference to these first two cantos. However, Savitri was extensively expanded, especially the yoga of Aswapati and Savitri. Hence this canto kept getting pushed back further and further but the title remained unchanged.
Savitri is prepared to confront the riddle of man’s life. She is ready and armed to meet death. She knows the fated day and hence goes with Satyavan into the forest to keep a vigil. The fated moment nears and the god Death arrives as an ominous formless shadow and snatches the soul of Satyavan from his body. There is a description of the process of physical death. But Satyavan has made a grand act of surrender to Savitri even as he slips into the dark trance of death. This free and glad surrender of his being was the first act that he had done when he saw Savitri. This is the last rite at the moment of death. Savitri now follows the steps of Death into his dark lair.
Part Three is the penultimate part of the epic. If Part One is seen as Aswapati’s yoga and Part Two as Savitri’s yoga, then Part Three can be rightly seen as Savitri’s yoga for earth and man. In this part, Savitri finally takes on the challenge of Death and annihilates it. Before this happens she has already secured the boons for Satyavan as described in the original legend. However, Sri Aurobindo extends it further to include the boon she must ask and receive for the earth and human race. By doing this Sri Aurobindo not only extends the scope of the epic but also hints at the continuation of the work initiated by the Divine Mother in Her incarnation as Savitri into this present birth. All this is the subject of Part Three extending from Books Nine to Twelve.
Here we see Savitri walking with Death through the realms where darkness prevails. She walks into the pit, the abyss of inconscience to bring there too the Light and Truth. This journey is not just to rescue Satyavan out of the clutches of Ignorance and Death but also to convert Death. In the original story the dialogue between Savitri and Yama ends up with Savitri reminding him that he is not just yamaraja, the great restrainer of man’s hopes and aspirations, but also dharmaraj, the ordainer of the law of Truth. He has forgotten this law of Truth and seems to be now acting as if under a mechanical impulsion of the inconscience whereby every upwards effort must be resisted and denied. Its pull prevents the human march and Savitri is here to change that. She is here to replace the law of death with the law of Truth and thereby restore dharma. The law of Truth has to be given to mankind not just to renew it but also to upgrade it according to the demands of the evolutionary power in each Age.
In the pitiless heart of Death Savitri installs the power of Love and thereby transforms him, compelling him to feel the beauty of Love. We may say that this conversion of Death that we see in Books Nine and Ten is the most important part of the work without which life’s attempt to divinise will always be thwarted with enormous difficulties. In other words, death here is not just the death of the body but the death of all human effort towards beauty and light and love. It is this falsehood looming always like a shadow over human life that deviates his march and distorts and perverts the oracles of the gods. It inflicts man with a living death wherein he forgets to look into his soul and fails to aspire. Physical death is a relatively small event compared to this inner death that man suffers from. Yet the conquest over physical death is the final symbol of the completest victory since it is in matter where the power of the inconscience is most deeply lodged. The body seems to be entirely governed by mechanical laws that refuse to change.
Here we see Savitri entering the black pit of inconscience, the very home of Death from where he derives his strength. It is the realm where Death is all-powerful and for a moment it seems that all light is extinguished. Yet this is an appearance, a dark asuric maya that veils the Light. Savitri rekindles it bringing hope once again reminding Death and the soul of man that Night is not our beginning or end. We come from the Light and to the Light we go. Night, darkness, death are passages of our great journey, steps that lead us towards reclaiming our divinity and immortality. Death tries to frighten and dissuade her, he tries to snatch away her strength and light and hope. But Savitri the fearless yogini advances in her Kali mood awakening gradually in her the power that would win the victory over Death.
Savitri has entered the pit of darkness. This is from where Death draws all its strength. Towering as a being of darkness, Death exhorts Savitri to return back since there is no other god than he. Yet observing Savitri’s courage to enter the dark void, he offers boons as if to placate her will. He restores King Dyumatsena’s sight and his kingdom. Savitri receives the boons but refuses to turn back without bringing back with her the soul of Satyavan. Death now starts twisting the eternal truth and proclaims himself the one true God. He tries to tell her about the transience and futility of all human life and love. He alone is eternal and there is none else. But Savitri has known her soul. She has realised the Divine and knows who she is. She rather throws the challenge back to Death and questions his so-called knowledge which has no true basis to it. Death tries to trick her by throwing the bogey of knowledge that does not sanction love. Savitri calmly replies that true knowledge is a state of oneness and what better means to arrive at it but through love.
There are twilight realms where life and death meet. The first twilight realm is the dawn or daybreak when the gods of life are in the ascendance. The night seems to fade here for a while but only to return. These are realms of the vital and mental worlds through which the soul of man passes in its journey after death. The second twilight realm is the dusk where light is fading and night is in the ascendance. It is the realm of earth or martyaloka as it is called. Here Death reigns. Yet Savitri chases him into his lair and wins the victory.
Savitri has survived the eternal Night and follows Death further. At first, he along with the soul of Satyavan circuits through the vital and mental worlds. Here they are met with shining spaces and lustrous gods. It is the heavens built by the idealistic thought of man. Behind the mask of Night, there lurks the Light. Darkness and Night are a veil that hides our true truth. We are children of Light, we live by the Light and go to the Light. This is the great truth that is revealed here.
Death disdains the gods of the mental and vital worlds calling it all a snare. He discards the ideal as a malady of the mind sown in the human heart by the gods. He disdains love as merely a chemic product of matter, a temporary hallucination of thought and feeling that can never last. Death proclaims himself to be the one and ultimate Truth and his gospel of the futility of human life and love as the only thing that one must know. He proclaims that it is in his being and nowhere else that souls find rest and peace. Savitri stands steadfast in her love for Satyavan and refuses to let love die or accept a lesser fate of transient happiness by turning to another man or even a god. Her will firm as a rock demands from Death Satyavan and Satyavan alone.
A long debate follows on twilight’s ground where light and darkness are locked together. Savitri shows to Death that the world is still in the making and she demands Satyavan so that together they can build a greater world. It is her turn now to show him what he has missed. Savitri reveals to him that he is seeing only one side of earthly love as already corrupted by his poisonous breath. She reveals to him the secret plan of God for earth and man and the beauty and radiance that still kisses humanity and invites it to higher things. Death partly concedes or is rather impressed by her brilliance and grants her the boon of beautiful and strong children in whom she can find joy and who take care of her as she grows old. But he bids her to return alone. Savitri then reminds Death that she loves only Satyavan and therefore if she returns alone his boon will not fructify. Death refuses once again.
Savitri now meets Death on the ground where consciousness dips towards earth. The dreams and ideals born in the heavens live only awhile before they vanish from earth. Death once again tries to convince Savitri of the futility of it all. He admits now the possibility of some impersonal void that human beings experience as a god but denies it any true power to intervene and change the course of things. He advises that she should quit this dream of a divine life upon earth as it is nothing else but a bondage. Instead, she should seek knowledge that would set her free from this bondage so that she too could escape into the silence of Nirvana. Savitri reveals to him instead the grand plan for earthly life and how this reign of darkness is going to end and this dream of a perfect divine life is bound to be established. Death tries to resist one last time and questions Savitri if she has the power to change things here upon earth. There is a moment of apocalypse and Savitri reveals to Death Her divine Form. Death is unable to bear the pressure and dissolves in Her Light. He abandons his will to capture the soul of man forever in its net. Instead, he is transformed into an instrument of life and light to goad man’s soul upon the path of Truth. With the end of Death the path is opened for the victory of the human soul here upon earth over ignorance, falsehood, suffering and pain.
Death the mask is slain and in its place there emerges the fourfold Being whose glory no vision can describe. It is He who is the One Supreme beyond whom there is none other. It is He who as the Supreme Consciousness and Wisdom initiates creation. It is He who works in the atom and the clod as the intelligent Will. It is He who has built the worlds and determines the movement of the stars.
Savitri is now offered a permanent place in the worlds of eternal manifestation where there is neither night nor darkness nor suffering. She can stay here forever with Satyavan. But once again she refuses the offer that leaves earth to its dubious fate. She wants the soul of Satyavan to be her eternal companion upon earth to build perfection here battling against tremendous powers and the stiff resistances and oppositions of earth nature. Her individual victory must be shared by all. Seeing her firm resolve and unshaken determination to save earth and mankind, the Supreme takes away from her even the worlds of shadowless light and meets her in His Highest status where the boon she has asked for earth can be granted. Savitri asks all that would make earth divine and help mankind march towards a divine life. The boons are granted and the ways opened for earth towards a luminous and golden future. The boon of boons, that is to say, of transforming earthly life into life divine is granted and with that Savitri returns to earth holding and guarding the soul of Satyavan as a priceless treasure between her hands.
All the threads are now gathered together to close the epic. King Dyumatsena has regained his kingdom and his sight. They come to the forest to find that Satyavan is still with Savitri in her lap as if he has woken up from a dream. He senses that something tremendous has happened while he lay asleep and knows intuitively that it is all because of her that things have changed so dramatically and the gods of fortune have smiled upon all of them. In passing Savitri reveals the great secret that we are here to learn, the greatest of all secrets: the truth of love and oneness. They return back to the palace but Savitri holds the dreams of a yet greater future within and nurtures it as a closely guarded secret in her bosom.