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At the Feet of The Mother


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Savitri is the supreme revelation of Sri Aurobindo’s vision.


It is my task in this chapter to give a factual account of the long process that led to Savitri in its final form. As the grand epic has captured many hearts all over the world by its supernal beauty I thought that they would be much interested in the history of its growth, development and final emergence — the birth of the Golden Child. But I own that it is a formidable task. Though I had the unique good fortune to see Sri Aurobindo working on the epic in its entire revised version, and had some small share in being its scribe, to try in retrospect to reconstruct the imposing edifice from such a distance in memory is indeed difficult, for there are many versions, plenty of revisions, additions, subtractions, emendations from which the final version was made. To give an accurate report of all this process is beyond my capacity. For I am not a scholar, and have no aptitude for research into old (or new) archives, neither did I ever dream that I should one day be called upon to render an account of what the Master had done, or left undone, through this poor mortal as his instrument. Had I not been helped by my esteemed and multi-capable friend Amal Kiran — indefatigable researcher no less than a poet — and by a young friend as assistant, my readers would have had to remain content with just a bare outline.

The apology submitted, let the rash venture begin. Savitri, according to Dinen Roy,((( Dinendra Kumar Roy, a Bengali literary man who was brought to Baroda to live with Sri Aurobindo and assist him in Bengali conversation.))) was started by Sri Aurobindo in Baroda. From all the extant versions, for there are quite a number, it appears that originally the scheme of the poem consisted of two parts: I Earth, II Beyond. The first part had four Books and the second had three Books and an epilogue.

Afterwards there came to be three parts but without names. Each part had a series of Books. The first Book was called Love. Then it was named Quest, and Love became the second Book. In some early versions we have instead of Books, Cantos. Later the Books came to contain the Cantos.

Sri Aurobindo made a good number of recasts before the final form was reached. The first form was begun and completed in Baroda. Other recasts were made in Pondicherry. One of the early ones is subtitled A Tale and a Vision. Later the subtitle was A Legend and a Symbol. It was after several recasts that the present opening line was struck upon: “It was the hour before the Gods awake.”

The version before the very last one had practically the same scheme as the latter, but the Cantos were much shorter, and many themes which were treated at some length received briefer treatment. Particularly the Book now called The Traveller of the Worlds was greatly expanded. He began adding lines in considerable amount in 1938. Sri Aurobindo wrote in the ‘Letters on Savitri’ to Amal in 1931: “There is a previous draft, the result of many retouchings, of which somebody told you; but in that form it would not have been a magnum opus at all. Besides it would have been a legend, and not a symbol. I therefore started recasting the whole thing; only the best passages and lines of the old draft will remain, altered so as to fit into the new frame.”

In 1936 he writes: “Savitri was originally written many years before the Mother came, as a narrative poem in two parts, Part I Earth, and Part II Beyond…. The first Book has been lengthening and lengthening out…. As for the second Part, I have not touched it yet. There was no climbing of planes there in the first version — rather, Savitri moved through the Worlds of Night, of Twilight, of Day — all of course in a spiritual sense — and ended by calling down the power of the Highest Worlds of Sachchidananda. I had no idea of what the supramental World could be like at that time, so it could not enter into the scheme.”

In another letter of the same year: “The poem was originally written from a lower level, a mixture perhaps of the inner mind, psychic, poetic intelligence, sublimised vital, afterwards with the Higher Mind, often illumined and intuitivised, intervening. Most of the stuff of the first Book is new or else the old so altered as to be no more what it was; the best of the old has sometimes been kept almost intact because it had already the higher inspiration. Moreover, there have been made several successive revisions, each trying to lift the general level higher and higher towards a possible Overmind poetry. As it now stands there is a general Overmind influence, I believe, sometimes coming fully through, sometimes colouring the poetry of the other higher planes fused together, sometimes lifting any one of these higher planes to its highest or the psychic, poetic intelligence or vital towards them.”

Sri Aurobindo, sitting on the bed, used to dictate Savitri to Nirod.

Nirod and Champaklal as used to stand during Darshan

The position arrived at in 1946 can be apprehended from a letter written in that year. Sri Aurobindo says: “You will see when you get the full typescript [of the first three Books] that Savitri has grown to an enormous length so that it is no longer quite the same thing as the poem you saw then. There are now three Books in the first part. The first, The Book of Beginnings, comprises five Cantos which cover the same ground as what you typed but contains also much more that is new. The small passage about Aswapathy and the other worlds has been replaced by a new Book, The Book of the Traveller of the Worlds, in fourteen Cantos with many thousand lines. There is also a third sufficiently long Book, The Book of the Divine Mother. In the new plan of the poem there is a second part consisting of five Books: two of these, The Book of Birth and Quest and The Book of Love, have been completed and another, The Book of Fate, is almost complete. Two others, The Book of Yoga and The Book of Death, have still to be written, though a part needs only a thorough recasting. Finally, there is the third part consisting of four Books, The Book of Eternal Night, The Book of the Dual Twilight, The Book of Everlasting Day and The Return to Earth, which have to be entirely recast and the third of them largely rewritten. So it will be a long time before Savitri is complete….” Again, on July 20, 1948 he writes to Amal: “I am afraid I am much preoccupied with constant clashes with the world and the devil… even Savitri has very much slowed down and I am only making the last revisions of the first Part already completed; the other two parts are just now in cold storage.”

Here then we get a brief survey of the work accomplished and what still remained to be done. During the last four years, from 1946 to 1950, he laboured constantly on the unfinished parts and gave them an almost new birth, with the exception of The Book of Death and The Epilogue, which, for some inscrutable reason, he left practically unrevised.

Let us now go into details.

The earliest extant draft of Savitri is in an exercise book that came from Madras to Pondicherry evidently in the early years of Sri Aurobindo’s stay in Pondicherry, years in which his habit of writing the English e like the Greek persisted. This copy appears to have been made from some version already with him, which is lost to us. The draft exists in two sections. The first comprising Book I and a few pages of Book II are in ink which has become brown now. The second is in light greenish-blue ink. Some corrections in this ink occur in the first section. Both the sections have been revised in places in darker blue ink with a thicker nib. The revisions are clear in some places, but unclear and inconclusive in others. Book I is complete. Book II unfinished. The spelling of the three chief characters is: Savithri, Uswapathy, Suthyavan. In the first Book, after a short description of Night and Dawn, there is a very brief account of the Yoga done by Uswapathy, then Savithri is born, grows up and goes out, at Uswapathy’s prompting, to find her mate. She finds Suthyavan. In the meantime Narad comes down to earth and visits Uswapathy’s palace. There is a talk between the two; Savithri returns from her quest and discovery, and a talk takes place among the three. The opening lines of this earliest draft run:

In a huge forest where the listening Night
Heard lonely voices, and in the large hush
Was conscious of the sigh and tread of things
That have no sound for the rich heart of day.

Book II commences:

So she was left alone in the huge wood
By Death the god confronted…

The poem is, simply called Savithri.

The second version is called Savithri, A Tale and a Vision. Apparently it was meant to be in more than one part, because before Book I we have the general title: Earth. Book I is called Quest. It begins:

The boundless spirit of Night dreamless, alone
In the unlit temple of immensity
Waiting upon the marge of silence sat
Mute with the expectation of her change.
The((( An))) hour was near of the transfiguring gods.

Uswapathy’s yoga in this version is a little longer.

The third version is also called by the same general name and its first part is Earth, and Book I is Quest. It starts:

It was an hour of the transfiguring Gods.
The huge unbound spirit of Night, alone
In her((( the))) unlit temple of immensity
Waited immobile upon Silence’ marge…
Mute with the expectation of her change.

In the fourth version we get for the first time the spelling Savitri though Uswapathy persists. There is no indication of a division into Part I and Part II. Book I is there, called Quest. The poem starts:

It was the hour of the transfiguring Gods
The large and vacant spirit of Night, alone
In the unlit temple of immensity
Immobile lay on slumber’s waiting marge
Mute with the expectation of her change.

In the fifth version we have a mention of Part I, but it is not called by any name. We also have Book I, unnamed. The opening line runs:

An hour was near of the transfiguring Gods.

The spelling Uswapathy persists. Book II is entitled Love.

In the sixth version there are no parts again, but Book I is called Quest. The first line is:

It was the hush of a transfiguring hour.

The seventh version has: I Quest.

Now for the first time we have, after two corrections., the opening line as in the final version:

It was the hour before the Gods awake.

In the eighth version we have everything as in the seventh except that the spelling Aswapathy comes in. Book II is there entitled Love.

The ninth version has the same opening arrangement.

The tenth version stands: Savitri Part I, Earth. Book I, The Book of Birth. Aswapathy continues, but there is now Sathyavan.

In each succeeding version after the first, there is a growing expansion in which old lines are taken up into a new framework. The development into separate Books from what was originally all contained within Book I and Book II takes place after the second or third version of the opening matter. This matter now becomes The Book of Quest, followed by The Book of Love, The Book of Fate, The Book of Death. Thus Part I, Earth, is completed. Then starts Part II, Beyond, with The Books of Night, Twilight, Day and The Epilogue.

Each version of Book I runs approximately to one exercise book of 40-80 pages, though the stage of the story differs from exercise book to exercise book when their end is reached.

The tenth version of Book I, made sometime before 1936, is the one on which the later Savitri is based. Even here there is no climbing of planes by Aswapathy. It is Only in the version of 1936, sent in instalments privately to Amal, that we find for the first time, brief descriptions of the planes, starting with the plane of subtle matter.

Later these brief descriptions are amplified and each plane gets a fairly long Canto to itself. In the 1936 version there are no Cantos yet — there are only sections with sub-headings.

Such is the story of Savitri as we found it in November 1938, the time of Sri Aurobindo’s accident. The work on it had to be stopped as a result of this unfortunate event and could not be taken up before the middle of 1940. For though he recovered from the accident sufficiently to take up intellectual work, his first preoccupation was with The Life Divine. After its publication in 1940, he resumed his work on Savitri. By that time he had started sitting in a chair in the morning hours, but in the afternoon he continued for sometime doing the work seated on the bed.

I had no access to the work or to any of his other writings till that year. Though all the works must have been lying on the table or in the drawers, I had to curb my strong impulse to have a peep into the legend of Savitri. For we were in his room for a different purpose and it would have been a breach of trust on our part to lay hands on his sacred private property. The chance came in 1940, first only to place the requisite manuscripts before him, then gradually to work as a scribe. I still distinctly remember the day when, sitting on the bed with the table in front of him, he remarked: “You will find in the drawers long exercise books with coloured covers. Bring them.” I think I went wrong in the first attempt, the second one met with his smiling approval. What he actually did with them, I cannot say, for he was working all alone, and we were sitting behind. I guess that he must have been giving a first reading to all the versions, for there were quite a number. He had already written to us before his accident that he had recast the first Book about ten times. Perhaps he was going through these and making a selection of the lines and passages for the final version. Then a few months after — and at this time he was sitting in the morning in a chair — he told me that he needed some exercise books. Without informing the Mother about it, I at once ran to the market and bought two or three exercise books from Manikachetty. He accepted them with a smile and I was happy to find that he used them for copying Savitri. At the end of one of the books he has written: “Last draft of Savitri, Sep.6, 1942.” In another exercise book, containing matter up to the end of The Book of the Divine Mother, only at the end of Canto V of Book I, the date written is: April 24, 1944. (This, as you see, was the morning of the Darshan day). From these two dates we can surmise that from 1940, the year in which we presume he took up the work on Savitri, to 1944, he continued working on the first three Books. Now, how much new material did he add to them? We know from his letter to Amal that Book II at any rate, The Book of the Traveller of the Worlds, was just a small passage. Here now we find the fully lengthened and developed Book running into 15 Cantos. The third Book, The Book of the Divine Mother, was also written probably for the first time, for he wrote to Amal in 1946: “…there is also a third sufficiently long Book, The Book of the Divine Mother.”

The next step in the development was his re-copying the entire three Books on big white sheets of paper, in two columns in fine handwriting. There is one date at the end of The Book of the Divine Mother: May 7, 1944, which suggests that the copying of the entire three Books had taken about a year. When this was completed I was called in. Perhaps because his eye-sight was getting dim, I was asked to read to him this final copy. Now began alterations and additions in my hand on the manuscript itself. I regret to say that they marred the clean beauty of the original, and I realise now that it was a brutal act of sacrilege on my part, tantamount to desecration of the carved images on the temple wall. But I cannot imagine either how else I could have inserted so many corrections and additions, one line, one word here, two there, more elsewhere, throughout the entire length. We know how prodigious were the corrections and revisions in so far as Savitri was concerned. One is simply amazed at the enormous pains he has taken to raise Savitri to his ideal of perfection. I wonder if any other poet can be compared with him in this respect. He gave me the example of Virgil who, it seems, wrote six lines in the morning, and went on correcting them during the rest of the day. Even so, his Aeneid runs not even half the length of the first three Books of Savitri. Along with all these revisions, Sri Aurobindo added, on separate small sheets of paper, long passages written in his own hand up to the Canto, The Kingdom of the Greater Mind, Book II. All this work was completed, I believe, by the end of 1944.

The next step was to make a fair copy of the entire revised work. I don’t know why it was not given straightaway for typing. There was a talk between the Mother and Sri Aurobindo about it; Sri Aurobindo might have said that because of copious additions, typing by another person would not be possible. He himself could not make a fair copy. Then the Mother suggested my name and brought a thick blue ledgerlike book for the purpose. I needed two or three reminders from the Mother before I took up the work in right earnest. Every morning I used to sit on the floor behind the head of the bed, and leaning against the wall, start copying like a student of our old Sanskrit tols. Sri Aurobindo’s footstool would serve as my table. The Mother would not fail to cast a glance at my good studentship. Though much of the poetry passed over my head, quite often the solar plexus would thrill at the sheer beauty of the images and expressions. The very first line made me gape with wonder. I don’t remember if the copying and revision with Sri Aurobindo proceeded at the same time, or revision followed the entire copying. The Mother would make inquiries from time to time either, I thought, to make me abandon my jog-trot manner or because the newly started Press was clamouring for some publication from Sri Aurobindo. Especially now that people had come to know that after The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo was busy with Savitri, they were eagerly waiting for it. But they had to wait quite a long time, for after the revision, when the whole book was handed to the Mother, it was passed on to Nolini for being typed out. Then another revision of the typescript before it was ready for the Press! Again, I cannot swear if the typing was completed first before its revision or both went on at the same time. At any rate, the whole process went very slowly, since Sri Aurobindo would not be satisfied with Savitri done less than perfectly. Neither could we give much time to it, not, I think, more than an hour a day, sometimes even less. The Press began to bring it out in fascicules by Cantos from 1946. At all stages of revision, even on Press proofs, alterations, additions never stopped. It may be mentioned that the very first appearance of anything from Savitri in public was in the form of passages quoted in the essay “Sri Aurobindo: A New Age of Mystical Poetry” by Amal, published in the Bombay Circle and later included as Part III in Amal’s book: The Poetic Genius of Sri Aurobindo.

So far the account of the procedure which was followed for working on the three Books seems approximately correct. We have been considerably helped by some dates mentioned before in the account. But in what follows about the rest of the epic, I am afraid that the report cannot claim as much exactness owing to my lapse of memory. I can sum up the position obtained at this stage by quoting Sri Aurobindo’s letter to Amal in 1946. After investigating all the documents available, we have come to the following conclusions about the rest of the Books. Book IV, The Book of Birth and Quest, is fairly revised by Sri Aurobindo. Several versions before the end of 1938 have been worked upon — these versions are expansions of much older drafts, one of them possibly dating back to Baroda. The revised version was later corrected and amplified with my help as scribe and has been divided into four Cantos. In re-doing Book V, The Book of Love, Sri Aurobindo took up, at a certain point, an earlier version than that of 1936. There are quite a number of versions with various titles before 1936. Here too, originally there were no different Cantos. There are three old versions of The Book of Fate of equal length. They were called Canto II, and fairly short. One of these versions was expanded into enormous length and developed into two Cantos, the very last touches given almost during the final month of Sri Aurobindo’s life. An instance of the expansion is the passage “O singer of the ultimate ecstasy… will is Fate.” There was no Book of Yoga in the original scheme of the poem. One old version called Book III, Death, has been changed into The Book of Yoga. It was enormously expanded and named Canto I. All the rest of the six Cantos were totally new and dictated. They were all at first divided into Cantos with different titles. Apparently all these Cantos except the first one are entirely new. I could get no trace of any old versions from which they could have been developed. I am now amazed to see that so many lines could have been dictated day after day, like The Book of Everlasting Day. The Book of Death contains three old versions — all called Canto III; the final version is constructed from one of these and from another version some lines are taken to be inserted into The Book of Eternal Night, Canto IV, Night, of the early version served as the basis of The Book of Eternal Night. It was revised, lines were added and split into two Cantos. Then in the typescript further revisions took place. Canto I, first called The Passage into the Void of Night, was changed into Towards the Black Void. Book X, The Book of the Double Twilight, called only Twilight, Canto V in the earlier versions of which there are four or five, had no division into Cantos. From these early versions a fair number of lines have been taken and woven into a larger version. The old lines are now not always in their original form. Book XI had three old drafts. One which was larger than the other two has been used for the final version and was enormously expanded; even whole passages running into hundreds of lines have been added, as I have mentioned before. About The Epilogue, except for a few additions, it almost reproduces the single old version.

Now we can go into the detailed working procedure of all these later Books. I had to take now a more and more prominent part as scribe, for after the completion of the fourth Book, The Book of Birth and Quest, from 1944 or so, Sri Aurobindo’s eyesight began to grow dim and he didn’t want to strain his eyes by going through all the old manuscripts with their faint, small handwriting. So I was asked to bring out these old versions from the drawer; I now had access to all the manuscripts. Most of them were in loose sheets of notebook size written on one side. Unfortunately no dates were given to suggest when they were written. I was asked to read aloud Book by Book before him, but I don’t remember by what method we proceeded. Did we give a general reading to all the Books before we started with the actual working on them individually? Or did we go about systematically finishing one Book after another? Perhaps the latter. Taking this procedure to be probable, I was asked when there were more than one version of a Book, to read them, sometimes all, sometimes one or two and selecting out of them the best one, he indicated the lines to be marked in the margin for inclusion; sometimes lines or passages were taken from other versions too. As I have shown, and as Sri Aurobindo’s dictated letter has already hinted, all these Books were either thoroughly revised or almost entirely rewritten.

As far as I remember, we worked on these drafts in the evening for an hour or so after all the correspondence work was over. He would sit in a small straight-backed armchair where the big armchair now stands, and listen to my reading. The work proceeded very slowly to start with, and for a long time, either because he didn’t seem to be in a hurry or because there was not much time left after attending to the miscellaneous correspondence I have mentioned elsewhere. Later on, the time was changed to the morning. After the selections had been made from one or two versions of a Book, let us say The Book of Fate, we were occupied with it. Never was any Book, except The Book of Death and The Epilogue, taken intact. He would dictate line after line, and ask me to add selected lines and passages in their proper places, but which were not always kept in their old order. I wonder how he could go on dictating lines of poetry in this way, as if a tap had been turned on and the water flowed, not in a jet, of course, but slowly, very slowly indeed. Passages sometimes had to be reread in order to get the link or sequence, but when the turn came of The Book of Yoga and The Book of Everlasting Day, line after line began to flow from his lips like a smooth and gentle stream and it was on the next day that a revision was done to get the link for further continuation. In the morning he himself would write out new lines on small notebooks called ‘bloc’ notes which were incorporated in the text. This was more true as regards The Book of Fate. Sometimes there were two or even three versions of a passage. As his sight began to fail, the letters also became gradually indistinct, and I had to decipher and read them all before him. I had a good sight and, more than that, the gift of deciphering his “hieroglyphics”, thanks to the preparatory training I had received during my voluminous correspondence with him before the accident. At times when I got stuck he would help me out, but there were occasions when both of us failed. Then he would say, “Give it to me, let me try.” Taking a big magnifying glass, he would focus his eyes but only to exclaim, “No, can’t make out!”

When a Book was completed and copied out, it went to Nolini for typing. On the typescript again, fresh lines were added or the order changed. In this respect The Book of Fate gave us a great deal of trouble. Though Sri Aurobindo says in his letter to Amal in 1946 that the Book was almost finished, it was again taken up at the end, and many changes were introduced which contained prophetic hints of his leaving the body very probably after he had taken his decision to do so.

As I have already recorded, one day after his bath Champaklal observed that Sri Aurobindo was moving his lips. Suspecting that he was probably murmuring lines of poetry, he told him that if he wanted to dictate them, I could take them down. He caught up the suggestion and started dictating. Had there been no suggestion he would have retained them in his memory and dictated them next day.

But our routine changed after the Mother started going out in the afternoon. Though the hour of work appointed for Savitri and correspondence was shifted to the morning, we could get very little time for Savitri. Many interruptions came in the way. The preliminary work of reading old versions, selections etc., took up much time before we could actually start writing. We find from the letters to Amal even at the end of 1946 the second part of the Book had not begun. After that too, the work rolled on in a jog-trot fashion till one day in 1950 he exclaimed: “My main work is being delayed.” From about the middle of that year the time was fixed from 11 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. without any break or interruption. Only once in between he would ask for a peppermint pastille and Champaklal was always at hand to serve it. As soon as the clock struck 11 a.m. I was ready with the usual small heap of manuscripts and notebooks; would sit on the floor by his left side, and he would sit on the bed in an expectant attitude, give a glance of welcome and we would start from where we had stopped. Sometimes sitting upright, sometimes leaning on the left side cushion, keeping his gaze in front, he would dictate in a quiet, subdued voice slowly and distinctly, with an English accent. There was no rise or fall or any other dramatic quality in the intonation; it was in the manner of simple prose dictation with end stops, of course.

My initiation by him into English poetry rendered the scribe’s work congenial as well as convenient. If I missed some words, I would ask again, but sometimes I put down what I thought I heard correct. Later on, after his passing away, experts found the meaning of some words to be dubious, ambiguous, or even wrong. There was faulty punctuation in abundance. Sometimes Sri Aurobindo did not dictate the punctuation and I didn’t ask. One couldn’t always remind the poet while he was dictating, of the necessity of punctuation, and thus put a curb on his flow. People asked whether I used shorthand for transcribing. There was no need for it at all, for the dictation was very slow and at times halted, waiting for inspiration, I suppose. I don’t know what the nature was of Milton’s dictation, but one thing was certain: Sri Aurobindo had not Milton’s temper, and I didn’t suffer his daughter’s fate!

The tempo of the work was subsequently speeded up and it proceeded smoothly without break till the seal of incomplete completion was put about two weeks before the November Darshan of 1950. Very probably he had taken the decision to withdraw from this world of the sad music of humanity and leave in compensation his divine music of Savitri. A curious incident has stuck in my memory. One day he continued working even beyond 1.30 p.m. — a rare occurrence — and that was the day I was invited for lunch at a friend’s place. I thought I would certainly be free by 2 p.m. but no, he seemed to be unusually inspired! I believe I was showing some signs of restlessness at which he remarked, “What’s the matter?” I don’t remember whether I kept quiet or told him the truth. He, however, shut shop soon after. This incident reminds me strongly of Champaklal’s valuable admonition that those who want to serve the Divine must have no personal ties or strings.

During this period a long communication that had passed between Amal and a critical friend of his on Savitri as well as on some shorter mystical poems of Sri Aurobindo, was sent to Sri Aurobindo for his opinion or reaction. Amal had also put some questions on beauty and greatness in poetry and whether spiritual poetry could be considered greater than any other. His long illuminating commentary on his own poetry and the detailed answers on the various other topics raised, which were dictated at this time, consumed much of our time, but we could see from the replies how Sri Aurobindo welcomed such discussion from Amal whom he had prepared in the art of poetry. No one except Amal, or perhaps Arjava had he been alive, could have discussed with Sri Aurobindo almost as equals on English poetry and drawn out many intricate expositions on rhythm, overhead poetry, etc., which are now a permanent treasure in English literature.

Sri Aurobindo’s quotations from memory from Homer, Shakespeare, Milton and others which he said should be verified were, in most cases, correct. When I read Homer’s lines trying to imitate Sri Aurobindo’s intonation, but forgetting the quantitative length, he corrected me. That reminds me also of how he encouraged me indirectly to learn the Sanskrit alphabet. I didn’t know it, as I learnt Pali in my school. So whenever I met with a Sanskrit word while reading correspondences to Sri Aurobindo, I had either to show it to him or get somebody’s help. I thought this wouldn’t do, I must learn at least the alphabet. I put my mind to it and, getting some smattering of it, began to show my learning before him. He started taking interest. When I tried to articulate a word in part, he helped me with the rest as one does with a child. Fortunately I managed, after getting the Mother’s approval, to learn French also during the break from my work. She said it would be very useful, and so it was, for when some French communications came, I could read them to him.

This is roughly the story of the grand epic Savitri traced from the earliest conception to its final consummation. Undoubtedly the first three Books were of a much higher level of inspiration and nearer perfection than the rest, for with ample leisure, and working by himself he could devote more time and care to that end, which unfortunately could not be said about the rest of the Books. Apart from the different versions I have mentioned, there is a huge mass of manuscripts which we have left unclassified since they are in fragments((( Since then the Ashram’s department of Archives and Research has done the needed classification.))) — all of which testifies to the immense labour of a god that has gone into the building of the magnificent epic. For a future research scholar, when Savitri earns as wide a recognition as, for instance, Dante’s or Homer’s epic, if not more, a very interesting work remains to be done; going into the minutest detail, he would show where new lines or passages have been added, or where one line slightly changed becomes an overhead line, or how another line after various changes comes back to its original version, etc., etc. I was chosen as a scribe probably because I didn’t have all these gifts, so that I could, like a passive instrument, jot down faithfully whatever was dictated while Amal would have raised doubts, argued with him or been lost in sheer admiration of the beauty and the grandeur! Dilip would have started quoting line after line in rapturous ecstasy before the poem had come out! I submit no apology, nor am I conscience-stricken for my failures, for he knew what was the worth of his instrument. I am only grateful to him for being able to serve him with the very faculty which he had evolved and developed in me.

We can at last see how from among scattered seeds a single huge banyan tree has grown and spread itself to the transcendent and the cosmic infinite and excites our perpetual wonder. I wish I could provide a more faithful and vivid picture of its daily growth, a branch here, an offshoot there, trimming the old twigs, reviving the dying ones, discarding the outworn crowding branches till there soared up into the sky a majestic vision under whose perennial shade the world can repose awhile, in its long journey to the Eternal. To show how he expanded the poem I may quote one long new passage which he appended to the end of Book II, Canto VI, The Kingdoms and the Godheads of the Greater Life:

“In a high state where ignorance is no more,
Each movement is a wave of peace and bliss,
Repose God’s motionless creative force,
Action a ripple in the Infinite
And birth a gesture of Eternity.
A sun of transfiguration still can shine
And Night can bare its core of mystic light;
The self-cancelling, self-afflicting paradox
Into a self-luminous mystery might change,
The imbroglio into a joyful miracle.
Then God could be visible here, here take a shape;
Disclosed would be the spirit’s identity;
Life would reveal her true immortal face.
But now a termless labour is her fate:
In its recurrent decimal of events
Birth, death appear as its vibrating points;
The old question-mark margins each finished page,
Each volume of her effort’s history.
A limping Yes through the aeons journeys still
Accompanied by an eternal No.
All seems in vain, yet endless is the game.
Impassive turns the ever-circling wheel,
Life has no issue, death brings no release.
A prisoner of itself the being lives
And keeps its futile immortality;
Extinction is denied, its sole escape.
An error of the gods has made the world.
Or indifferent the Eternal watches Time.”

I desist from giving my own impression of the incomparable epic. I have no such competence and though I have been made a poet by the Master I leave it to more efficient authorities. One fact alone makes me dumb with a reverent awe and exalted admiration: the colossal labour Sri Aurobindo put forth to build this unique structure. It reminds me of one of those majestic ancient temples like Konarak or of a Gothic cathedral like Notre Dame before which you stand and stare in speechless ecstasy, your soul takes a flight beyond time and space. Before I knew much about Sri Aurobindo, I asked him in my foolish way, why, himself being the master of inspiration and having all higher planes at his command, sending inspiration to others, should he still have to work so hard? With his consciousness entirely silent, he had only to hitch to the right source and words, images, ideas would tumble down in a Brahmaputra of inspiration! To which he answered in his habitual indulgent tone, perhaps a bit piqued by my facile observation: “The highest planes are not so accommodating as all that. If they were so, why should it be so difficult to bring down and organise the supermind in the physical consciousness? What happy-go-lucky fancy-web-spinning ignoramuses you all are. You speak of silence, consciousness, overmental, supramental, etc. as if they were so many electric buttons you have only to press and there you are. It may be one day, but meanwhile I have to discover everything about the working of all possible modes of electricity, all the laws, possibilities, perils, etc., construct roads of connection and communication, make the whole far-wiring system, try to find out how it can be made foolproof and all that in the course of a single lifetime. And I have to do it while my blessed disciples are firing off their gay or gloomy a priori reasonings at me from a position of entire irresponsibility and expecting me to divulge everything to them not in hints but at length. Lord God in omnibus!”

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

All this was written to me in 1936. Since then the work proceeded slowly and gradually until between 1939 and 1950 he succeeded to a great extent in achieving what he aimed at, as stated in the letter above. I am sure if he had more time at his disposal and could work by himself, he would have raised it to his ideal of perfect perfection. As it is, Savitri is, I suppose, the example par excellence of the Future Poetry he speaks of in his book The Future Poetry. Founder of the New Age, pioneer in the field of poetry, as in many others, he has left us an inexhaustible heritage of words, images, ideas, suggestions and hints about which we can only say — here is God’s plenty. Rameshwar Gupta very aptly calls it Eternity in Words.((( Eternity in Words (Chetna Prakashan, Bombay).))) Generation after generation will drink in its soul’s nectar from this perennial source. The life span of the English language itself has increased a thousandfold. Shakespeare, it is said, increased the life span of the English language by centuries. Sri Aurobindo said about Shakespeare, “That kind of spear does not shake everywhere.” Now we find another far greater that will shake the world to its very roots. If for no other reason, the English speaking races ought to be eternally grateful to the supreme poet of the grand epic for this miracle.

Sri Aurobindo quoting in The Future Poetry these lines of an Elizabethan poet,

Or who can tell for what great work in hand
The greatness of our style is now ordained?
What powers it shall bring in, what spirits command?

writes: “It has since brought in many powers, commanded many spirits; but it may be that the richest powers, the highest and greatest spirit yet remain to be found and commanded.” I believe that Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri fulfils the sovereign potentiality he has foreseen.

Dr. Piper of Syracuse University says about Savitri that it already has inaugurated the New Age of Illumination and is probably the greatest epic in the English language… the most comprehensive, integrated, beautiful and perfect cosmic poem ever composed…. It ranges symbolically from primordial cosmic void, through earth’s darkness and struggles, to the highest realms of supramental spiritual existence and illumines every important concern of man, through verse of unparalleled massiveness, magnificence and metaphorical brilliance. Savitri is perhaps the most powerful artistic work in the world for expanding man’s mind towards the Absolute.

The Mother has pronounced the last word on Savitri. I quote some extracts from a long talk on it to a young aspirant:

“He has crammed the whole universe in a single book. It is a marvellous work, magnificent and of an incomparable perfection.

“You know, before writing Savitri Sri Aurobindo said to me, ‘I am impelled to launch on a new adventure; I was hesitant in the beginning, but now I am decided.’… And the day He actually began it, He told me, ‘I have launched myself in a rudderless boat upon the vastness of the Infinite.’ And once having started, He wrote page after page without intermission, as though it were a thing already complete, up there and He had only to transcribe it in ink down here on these pages….

“It may then be said that Savitri is a revelation, it is a meditation, it is a quest of the Infinite, the Eternal…. Each verse of Savitri is like a revealed Mantra which surpasses all that man possessed by way of knowledge and, I repeat this, the words are expressed and arranged in such a way that the sonority of the rhythm leads you to the origin of sound, which is OM.

“…yes, everything is there: mysticism, occultism, philosophy, the history of evolution, the history of man, of the gods, of creation, of Nature….

“These are experiences lived by Him, realities, supracosmic truths. He experienced all these as one experiences joy or sorrow, physically. He walked in the darkness of inconscience, even in the neighbourhood of death, endured the sufferings of perdition, and emerged from the mud, the world-misery to breathe the sovereign plenitude and enter the supreme Ananda. He crossed all these realms, went through the consequences, suffered and endured physically what one cannot imagine. Nobody till today has suffered like Him; He accepted suffering to transform suffering into the joy of union with the Supreme….

“It is the spiritual path, it is Yoga, Tapasya, Sadhana, everything, in its single body….

“It is incomparable; it is truth in its plenitude, the Truth Sri Aurobindo brought down on the earth.”