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Some rambling thoughts on Sri Aurobindo's Savitri

-Tehmi
" Savitri " -"The mystic volume of the Book of Bliss, And the message of the superconscient Fire ."

 

Sri Aurobindo's own words: how beautifully they describe his poem! "The mystic volume": Sri Aurobindo says: "Savitri ...is spiritual poetry cast in a symbolic form." (Letters on Savitri, p.952 U.E.), he calls it  "A Legend and a Symbol", and indeed the whole poem unfolds a continuous symbol, from the opening "Symbol Dawn" to "The Return to Earth" and the proclamation of "a greater dawn" in its last line. Behind the "legend", the story, there is another meaning, another story, and it is this ever unfolding significance, the multi-layered meaning which gives us perhaps a first true glimpse of the stupendous depths and the magnificence of the poet's mind; for it is the nature of the mystic mind to see simultaneously the many strata of significance within every thing. Blake for one, speaks of this clearly:
                                                                    

"Now I a fourfold vision see,
And a fourfold vision is given to me.
It's fourfold in my supreme delight...."


The poet's moments of intense ecstasy open to and see levels of' meaning simultaneously and embody them in multi-tonal words. All through Savitri this happens.

There are actually only two characters in the story, two "protagonists" , "wrestlers with destiny" :


1) Aswapathy, "the protagonist of' the mysterious play" (I,3, line 3 ) , the avatar, " colonist from eternity", "Eternity's delegate", "one in front of the immemorial quest", who calls down "to earth's dumb need" the radiant power of the Divine Mother;
and

2) Savitri, the embodied Truth-Consciousness, the Divine Mother, the Supramental Dawn, "ambassadress twixt Eternity and Change", who descends and becomes one with "the soul of the earth", Satyavan, her  body the body of the earth, her body the earth. We may recall her being spoken about frequently from Book IX onwards as "the woman", the "mortal woman" (651), and consider the indication given about her mother, the Queen, in Book VI Canto I : in rather unusual terms the latter is described as "the human mother of Savitri", an adjective which no ordinary man  needs to add when speaking of his mother, a special differentiation and pointer to Savitri's "humanity", her earth-body.


And the two protagonists are in a sense also one : they have the same fundamental spiritual, yogic experiences and they make the same descent into the Night for the conquest of the Inconscient, the victory  over Death.
Mother describes "Savitri" as "the epic of the Victory over death" (Ag. 1966) and perhaps the key-lines of the poem are


"I am stronger than death and greater than my fate" (490 )
and
 " Her will must cancel her body's destiny" (15).


What is the destiny of the body?.. So far in the world's history the "destiny" of all physical things here upon earth has been to finally deteriorate and "die". In Death then the law of deterioration ("the iron law") of all physical things? What then is or would be the process of the conquest over this deterioration?.. The Divine's question comes to Aswapathy in the course of his yoga:

"How shall thy mighty spirit brook repose
While Death is still unconquered on the earth
And Time a field of suffering and pain?"(III,4, 380)


And along with the question comes also the clear realisation that  "vain are human power and human love/To break earth's seal of' ignorance and death"(III,2, 357), "A Power that lives upon the heights must act" (357), a greater power must come, a larger light. This supramental power, then,
 is invoked, called down, to change the very texture of earth, of man's nature-being, finally of the very cell of the body which filled with this new light, will not decompose. Many of the "Notes on the Way" describe Mother's experiences in the process 0f this work -a work both ecstatic and agonising alternately. The whole problem 0f the transformation 0f the earth, the transformation 0f Matter, is focused in the body, one human body, here we would recollect Sri Aurobindo's passing hint in "A God's Labour" 0f a part of this process.

He "plunged through the body's alleys blind
To the nether mysteries".


Mother says Sri Aurobindo used to tell her that her body had been chosen and prepared for "the Work". It is interesting to recall here what is said in Bk. IV,C.1, about the fashioning 0f the child Savitri's body before her birth:

 "And instruments were sovereignly designed
To express divinity in terrestrial signs.
Outlined by the presence 0f this new descent
A lovelier body formed than earth had known."

And Mother herself confirms the purpose. "After all, that's what I am here for; ... it (the Work) must be done. it has to be done". (1961, p.226-7)

But the path is new, it has to be found, it is like " hewing one's way through a virgin forest", as Sri Aurobindo puts it in "The Synthesis", and both He and the Mother repeat that there is no path. "No one has ever followed this path", Mother says, "Sri Aurobindo was the first...*.. (1961, p. 258?) For the upward way "the whole yoga has been done"- a path blazed... the landmarks are there and one follows them... But here (for the passage down below) nothing has been done... no one has ever done it." (1961, p.186-8). Sri Aurobindo in "A God's Labour" affirms this.


 "A voice cried, 'Go where none has gone,
Dig, deeper, deeper yet..."

and he has to "trample a road through mire and waste" to find a new path.


In "Savitri" he speaks. with clear emphasis of the struggle in the Inconscient depths:


"There was no course, no path, no end or goal" (659)
 and "... in a blind stress of woods she moved...
journeying as if upon an uneven road" (652)


"... that unreal journey through blind nought (660), "A walk to nowhere in a land of Nought" (673). And we wonder whether the question Savitri asks Satyavan when they first meet is casual or indeed meaningful as all the rest in the poem "Why is thy dwelling in the pathless wood?"...

 * * * * * * *


To come back now to the central point. "Her body's destiny..." the earth's destiny? Throughout the poem this identification is visible: her body, the earth; she "bearing the burden of universal love", " carryings in herself the world"(11). "The world unknowing, for the world she stood"(17), "as if the whole destiny of mankind was here"(428). for "sometimes
one life is charge with earth's destiny" (21). Mother tells us how often in her experiences she felt "the weight of a whole world of darkness, unconsciousness, universal bad will, total incomprehension... a frightful weight" and she thought this was "what Christ must have experienced when he felt the weight of the cross"(1960, 410-11). When her "battle", the issue, the struggle are poised on a "dangerous verge", it is "a decisive hour in the world's fate". (521) In the First World War Mother had the following experience. "Every part of my body... represented a battlefield", she says "-(1963, p. 271), and during the later year of her work, when the struggle in the Inconscient had grown more acute, she exclaimed. "My God. there's always farther down to go..." going down into the most incredible dark dregs of mud". She speaks also of Sri Aurobindo's experience "of all the tortures", and again we would recall his own words:

 

 "I have been digging deep and long
Mid a horror of filth and mire.."
"I am full 0f wounds and the fight merciless"
"I plunged through the body's alleys blind..."

In this work the body has become the focus, the representative focus of the entire world. Discussing the symbolism of "Savitri", Mother points out  that Savitri has "chosen" Satyavan for her work, Satyavan, "the soul of the earth", the "earth", the body, Matter, "Thou art he my spirit has sought" (460), "the one for whom her soul had come so far " (445). Savitri weds her self to Matter in order to divinise it, "save it for it is in the  grip 0f Death and Ignorance. Only by the Divine's descent into matter can it be fully redeemed. This is the culmination or the final part of the Avatar's work on earth, for earth -"establishing the empire of the soul On Matter..." (Bk. III, C.4)

 As an individual being in the story Satyavan stands apart only in Book five. In Book XI, the Divine Voice explains clearly what he represents ;


 "He is the soul of man climbing to God
In Nature's surge out of earth's ignorance".


the soul"that climbs from nescient Night" back ,'to the greatness it has left behind/And the beauty and joy from which it fell..."; the gropes out of the beast / To reach humanity's heights 0f lucent thought" ; "He is the godhead growing in human lives/And in the body of earth-being's forms." (789) After Book VIII he vanishes almost completely from the story (being "dead"), becomes a passive entity, moving only, as it is put, "in her (Savitri's) soul-scene" (654), "as if in herself he move" (536). If we study the symbolism, the meaning that moves parallel to or behind the story, Satyavan clearly appears as Savitri's adhar into whom She, the Divine Mother and her Consciousness, descends. The two are really one being. Right through Book v canto 3 this is very evident.

The Divine Mother is invoked to incarnate, first by Aswapathy:


"0 Wisdom-Splendour, Mother 0f the Universe...
Incarnate the white passion of thy force,
Mission to earth some living f0rm of thee..." (390-91)


    and again, in a doubling of the significance, Savitri is called twice Satyavan, "the soul of the world" (748) to "descend" from the chariot,
 her chariot of light, "disdaining not our soil" ( 462) :


 "Descend, Let thy journey cease, come down to us." (455)


   and a second time, "Descend, 0 Happiness, with thy moon-gold feet, II "


Enrich earth's floors upon whose sleep we lie. " (463)


How significant are the words ! He opens his being to her and specifically asks her "enter my life, thy chamber and thy shrine". She is invited to go and live under "the thatch that covered the life of Satyavan" (466),  the human body, her "future home", "the hermit thatch... Preferred to heaven her soul's temple and home."(467)


It is the complete human being, soul and body, calling down the descent. Satyavan, son 0f Dyumatsena, son of fallen man, looks upon "the meaning of   myself": "a soul made ready on earth 's soil for thee..." (460) and else- where we are told that


"... a soul made ready through a thousand years
Is the living mould of a supreme Descent" (451)


a fit adhar, a cup "fit for Love's nectar wine", "the vessel that can hold God's birth" (451), "his perfect shrine" (I, 1). When the Descent takes place, in "the moment of (his) heart's rebirth" (462), the two become one being. They "joined together and grew one". Most significant becomes this small phrase "grew one", when we think 0f how once again Sri Aurobindo has used it, repeated it (surely not for want 0f words !), deliberately, perhaps or through the Truth-inspiration's spontaneity, when describing the merging 0f the "secret deity and its human part" in Book VII, Canto 5, where Savitri finds her soul:

"Here in this chamber 0f flame and light they met,
They looked upon each other, knew themselves,
The secret deity and its human part,
The calm immortal and the struggling soul.
Then with a magic transformation's speed
They rushed into each other and grew one." (598)

There are several passages in Book V, Canto3 which build up towards this "merging" of the spirit and the body, the Divine and the human, the "descent" of the Divine into the adhar :


"He... let her penetrate his very soul.
As is a world by the world's spirit filled,
As the mortal wakes into Eternity,
As the finite opens to the Infinite". (465)

How the fact and the analogy also become one ! So too in another passage :


"In a wide moment 0f two souls that meet
She felt her being flow into him...
As when a soul is merging into God
To live in Him for ever and know His joy,
Her consciousness was a wave of his alone
And all her separate self was lost in his." (464-5)


This identification is vividly brought out much later also in Book IX, Canto 1, when Savitri is in the "Black Void, in a deep trance- like state :


Her trance knew not of sun or earth or world;...
She knew not self ...


Yet here she "possessed in a supreme identity...


 Satyavan... herself but different still." (654)


If we miss this identification, the whole meaning 0f the later half of the poem, Part Three, is lost. But we shall come to this again later.

 Let us go back and see this also from what Satyavan says in Book V, Canto 3 when he first meets Savitri. Satyavan realises that in his development he has arrived at only a certain point of perfection and need's  to go further :

"I looked upon the world and missed the Self.
And when I found the Self, I lost the world,
My other selves I lost and the body of God,...
The mystic aim for which the world was made..." (462)


He says he cannot yet"clasp the body of my God" (454) and knows that "Matter still slept empty 0f its Lord" (459). But now he also knows with Savitri's coming "the gold link" comes to him and


"My Matter shall evade the Inconscient's trance,
My body like my spirit shall be free :
It shall escape from Death and Ignorance." (460)


The body is the earth, represents the earth, and all the problems of life on earth, in the subconscient and inconscient- specially the problem 0f "death". The battle is therefore in the body, for the body, all the rest is"redeemable". The focus of the fight is the body (Mother says . again and again in her "notes",my body has become the battlefield"), with all its "burdensome heirship", the atavism it carries, the load of the subconscient with all its negations : defeats, pessimism, wrong habits, even the age long habit of death -for, as Mother says, "Death is a bad habit". The body, the earth, is in the grip 0f Death, 0f the Inconscient. Savitri's battle is to rescue it from this. Death has "taken" the earth, the body, (Satyavan, "the soul 0f the world"), it is the law 0f physical things. "the iron law", "the iron rampart of established things". She must break that law, the law 0 Karma too, the law of Fate :


"Acquittance she must win from her past's bond:
An old account of suffering exhaust,
Strike out... the heavy servitudes of the Karmic Gods,
The slow revenge 0f unforgiving Law..." (16)


She must " disown the legacy 0f our buried selves", disrupt "the fixity of the cosmic sequences Fastened with hidden inevitable links", "dislodge by her soul's force her past", and "shape anew her fate". (15) The struggle  is to put light and consciousness in the mud and mire of the
dark (we recall Sri Aurobindo's words in "A God's Labour": "I have been digging deep and long/Mid a horror of filth and mire" ) , to awake it to the Truth-Light, to inner harmony -"This mire must harbour the orchid and the rose." When changed with this new Power the body need not, cannot "die". This "atheist body" has to be made to believe, has to be "convinced' (conquered), has to feel the Presence, become divine, immortal.


                                                      "He must call light into its dark abysms,
                                                        Else never can Truth conquer Matter's sleep
                                                       And all earth look into the eyes of God". (510)


What then is "death"? What is Savitri really fighting? -"Annihilation's mystery" which puts on"a sensible form" because the "wrestler" (the protagonist) calls it "to wrestle with her soul", it takes on "a face, a form, a voice". It is "the huge Denial", total negation, it is "embodied nothingness , "nothingness made real". A reality then or illusion? Like all "negations" "negative in essence, positive in practical effect" ( Life Divine Ch.7, p.1.). Mother experience. the unreality 0f Death, the illusoriness of  Death !" There is really nothing which is death", she says (1967, pp.25-6). A border line is there, a "brink", an "edge", A "verge", "extinction's verge", "a dangerous brink", an edge between dissolution and glory, " between Timelessness and Time": Matter can fall to pieces or can become immortal.


On which side of the "border" is the Consciousness? '. . .when one is "alive" and when one is "dead"? To the true Consciousness, Mother says, it makes no difference" (1967, p.25-6). Mother, in her "Notes" has a beautiful observation :"That Divine Presence within you, stronger than everything,.. It could revive all the dead if' it wanted To that Presence it doesn't make any difference" (1972, p.252). Then to what does it make a difference - To the consciousness that is not seated in or one with that Divine
Presence? Only to this separative body-consciousness, perhaps, "death" has a meaning? Again and again the human being, though ready to undertake the fight, voices this consciousness, calls and complains, pleads and protests:

"How long shall our spirits battle with the Night
And bear defeat and the brute yoke 0f Death...?
Where in the greyness is thy coming's ray?
Where is the thunder 0f thy victory's wings?" (386-7)


This is Aswapathy working and yearning for the change, aspiring fervently to the Divine Mother. And again Savitri: "Are there not still a million fights to wage?" (771) And Mother in her talks echoing so closely the  same image: "There are still too many battles to wage on earth" (1969, p.85). Also elsewhere Sri Aurobindo: "Each battle for ever is to be fought and refought" and "I am full 0f wounds and the fight merciless./ Is it not yet thy hour 0f victory?"


Indeed, how can the mighty spirit, the heroic spirit "brook repose

While Death is still unconquered on the earth..."? (380)


So, truly, "Savitri", as the Mother says, "is the epic 0f the victory over death" (1966), a powerful mantric poem whose very vibrations create and realise the Truth they speak of and embody.


* * * * * *

The culmination 0f "Savitri" is the battle with and conquest 0f Death "Her will must cancel her body's destiny." The whole 0f Part Three, Books IX, X, XI and the Epilogue, is given to this. Already the "Issue" was announced in Book I, Canto 2:


"Whether to bear with Ignorance and Death
Or hew the ways 0f Immortality,...
Was her soul's issue..."
"To wrestle with the Shadow she had come..." (21)
"For this she had accepted mortal breath..." (21)

Indeed, Book I, Canto 2 shows the very heart of the struggle :

"On the bare peak where Self is alone with Nought...
She must plead her case Upon extinction's verge,
In the world's death-cave Uphold life's helpless claim... (16)


And again, "A heart stood in the way 0f the driving wheels..." (24), the Wheels of Karma, the Wheels of Law, the Wheels 0f Doom, which she must break, so to prove "stronger than death and greater than (her) fate" (490). The victory too is announced at the end of this very canto:


  "A flaming warrior from the eternal peaks
 Empowered to force the door denied and closed
Smote from Death's visage its dumb absolute
And burst the bounds of consciousness and Time." (25)


The whole of Part Three is the story or "the day when Satyavan must die", of a single "day", for it moves really in other dimensions of Time. But this story begins actually in Book VIII, "The Book of Death", at the end 0f which we find "Annihilation's mystery" taking "a sensible form" and  standing above Savitri or confronting her, ready "to wrestle with (her) soul". The day Narad spoke of has arrived:" A day may come when she must stand unhelped"; it is the "decisive hour in the world's fate". She finds herself on extinction's verge", on "a dangerous brink of the world's doom and hers". For she is fighting the battle of the world, for the world, for Satyavan "the soul of the earth. "


The struggle with Death passes through three stages :


1) in the depths 0f the Inconscient with the very constitution 0f Matter, the swallowing forces 0f dissolution ("the jaws 0f Night"), the "law" of disintegration, of the decomposition 0f Matter, till at last the "light prevails" and "grows". and Savitri awakes from her "trance" to her lost self" (661). This Descent into the Inconscient in Book IX is the experience 0f "death". Mother says she went through it, "was dead" and came back to life. This was in 1962, she referred to it in a talk of' 1963.
"The iron law" Savitri must break, win "freedom from the heart-strings' clutch". Her "mortal sheaths drop down", but "she lived in spite of death, she conquered still" (660) "Her mortal members fell back from her soul",  she was swallowed up in the "jaws " of death, in a "monstrous cavernous throat", she endured "the fierce spiritual agony of a dream";

"In the smothering stress of this stupendous Nought
Mind could not think, breath could not breathe,
the soul Could not remember or fool itself..." (659)


On all the true values or existence "there fell the immense refusal of the eternal No". (659) The battle here is in the body, in the sheer physical, in Matter.


2) The second phase is the struggle in the "Dream Twilight" of the subconscient mind and life and physical, the terrible, persistent "negations" of the physical consciousness, the "material mind", the unreality, the illusoriness or both the mental ideals (Book X, Canto 2) and the physical "realities" (X, 4). In Book X the battle shifts to another "plane", another part of the being : the material, physical consciousness and the subconscient mind. All the agelong habits, the s0-called "law." ("habits shaping laws"), the pessimism, defeatism or the material mind and consciousness, the inertia, the tamas, the doubts and constant denials, the breaking of all ideals, questioning of the values of life, of the "huge revolutions of Time's fruitless gyre", the cycles of Time, "the sad enigma and "riddle 0f man's birth", all this Savitri must confront, resolve or destroy. The assailing negations from the materialistic environment, from man's negative habitual thoughts and their pressures, all this she must face. Mother in her Talks speaks constantly of this inner battle.


3) The third stage is the temptation of Nirvanic Peace in "worlds of deathless bliss". the lure 0f personal salvation, the lure to give up the struggle, forget "the earth". The Voice invites Savitri to "Renounce the tie that joins thee to earth-kind... "


Leaving thy borrowed body on the sod,
Ascend, 0 Soul, into thy blissful home...
O Immortal, into felicity arise. (769)


This is at the beginning 0f Book XI. Savitri refuses the offer: "I sacrifice not earth to happier worlds". (777) "Everything she must refuse", says Mother, "to continue her terrestrial labour". Mother explains this very clearly in her Talks: "She has chosen the soul 0f the earth for her work, saying, 'Here is where I shall do my work'... 'The thing is  worked out Here. the place 0f work is Here". How strongly is this affirmed in the poem:


"Earth is the heroic spirit's battlefield...
There where the gods and demons battle in night...
To dare the impossible with these pangs 0f search,
In me the spirit 0f immortal love
Stretches its arms out to embrace mankind." (770-71)

So she will not forsake the earth: "Too far thy heavens for me from suffering men" (771). Only on earth "can the great choice be made..." (779). "I choose to work Here. Savitri says". (1961, 282-3)


"The Return to Earth" celebrates the transformation 0f the Earth. Savitri "descends" bringing in her arms the transformed earth. Mother says  in her Talks: "Satyavan is the soul 0f the Earth, the Earth's jiva. When the Lord speaks to her 0f the 'one whom you love and whom you have chosen'. it means the earth." Mother continues to explain that when Death has yielded at last the Lord tells her to go down with the one she has chosen ("Descend to life with him thy heart desires..." (788) and this Sri Aurobindo describes beautifully: "He says that very carefully she takes the soul 0f Satyavan in her arms, like a little child, to pass through all the realms and come back down to earth." (1961)

"Amidst the headlong rapture 0f her fall
Held like a bird in a child's satisfied hands...
She kept within her strong embosoming soul
Like a flower hidden in the heart 0f spring
The soul 0f Satyavan drawn down by her
Inextricably in that mighty lapse." (799)


This is "the fruit" 0f her great labour " for earth and men": the  transformed earth, "the Spirit's manifest home", where life at last  becomes "the life divine".