Savitri | a Legend and a Symbol    


Letter to the Editor from Dr. Raja Marathe with responses from Shraddhavan (in italics)
(Reprinted from Invocation, Savitri Study Notes Vol 38 13th April 2014)

Dear Shraddhavan,

I really want to thank you for the immense work you have done for all the people like myself for whom English is the second language, by reciting the whole of Savitri in a beautiful, chaste English accent (possibly the kind that Sri Aurobindo had) changing your tone, stress, pace and accentuation in line of the meaning of the phrase, sentence, passage or for that matter the whole canto.

For example, you have recited Book One, Canto 1 at a very slow pace, for a night and a dawn to emerge. A few other lines that I immediately recall are : ‘Muttered incessantly their muffled spell’ (p. 13) (in your almost muffled voice); ‘An arrow leaping through eternity’ (p. 77) where one really feels an arrow shooting from a bow with high speed; and there are many, many such instances.

I am glad that my recorded reading of the whole of Savitri is fulfilling its aim of helping people to appreciate the music and something of the meaning of Sri Aurobindo’s mantric epic. We are told that Sri Aurobindo had ‘a perfect Cambridge accent’ – which is likely to mean something more like the accent of Winston Churchill or David Attenborough than my own version of ‘Standard English’, dating from the 1950s. But although the pronunciation of the vowel sounds of English has changed over time – from Shakespeare’s day to our own – and is still changing, the rhythms seems to have remained more constant. And Sri Aurobindo has mentioned (in his essay On Quantitative Metre) that the natural rhythms of spoken English form the correct basis for effective poetic metre. This is certainly true for Savitri – nowhere in the epic are the natural rhythms of the words and phrases violated – I mean of course the rhythms that are natural to an educated native speaker.

I read several cantos and passages while listening to the recording in November and December 2012, and now that is helping me also to read Savitri independently as I am understanding the iambic pentameter (with or without enjambment!). I recently looked this up on Google and was amazed to discover that this is the most popular metre in English language including Shakespeare’s plays and Milton’s epic Paradise Lost.

Yes – iambic pentameter is the most natural metre in English. But it is also interesting that it allows so many different ‘voices’ – Shakespeare’s plays are so varied, and all of them completely different from Milton’s writings (whose earlier writings are very different from his epics too); then all the great English poets have stamped their own voices on the language while using this metre. Of course other metres have been used too. Sri Aurobindo has used many different metres, and has been praised for showing that the classical hexameter can be successfully used at length in English – in his poems Ahana (2 versions) and his mini-epic Ilion. He has written in alexandrines (the metre typical of French classical poetry) and adapted many metres from classical and Indian languages, just to show that it can be done – all with great success. He was indeed a ‘born poet’. And in Savitri he has used the familiar iambic pentameter in a completely unique way – this poem has a rhythm that has never been matched before, one that in its effect resembles only the great Indian scriptures, the Vedas and Upanishads.

I also want to share an intuitive insight which was revealed to me after listening to your recording of almost the whole of Savitri (except Book Two) in a short period of 2 months in Pune. While listening to Savitri, certain questions were arising in my mind:

Who were these characters Savitri, Aswapati, Satyavan, Death, Narad, Dyumatsena, the Queen ?
Were they based on any real human beings?
What was their significance ?
Why is there so much importance given to Aswapati and Savitri but hardly any reference or development of the characters of Satyavan, the Queen, Dhyumatsena?
Is Savitri in the epic some human being who has been born in the past, or a living human being, or someone to be born in some distant future ?
Why did Sri Aurobindo spend such enormous amount of time and energy on the writing and rewriting of this epic?
What was his purpose and aim in writing Savitri?
What is the meaning of the ‘Author’s Note’?

The intuitive insight which came to me is as follows:

Sri Aurobindo is Aswapati, the Lord of the horse, the human father of Savitri, the Lord of Tapasya who has brought down Savitri (the book) that is the Divine Word, daughter of the Sun, goddess of the supreme Truth who has come down and is born to save. Satyavan (humanity at large, including people like myself) is the soul carrying the divine truth of being within itself but descended into the grip of death and ignorance

Sri Aurobindo is the ‘human father’ (as in Mahatma Gandhi being called the ‘father of the nation’) of the book Savitri. The characters are not personified qualities, but incarnations or emanations of living and conscious Forces ...and they take human bodies [as characters in the book Savitri] with whom we can enter into concrete touch.

This intuitive insight occurred while I was reading Book Four, ‘The Book of Birth and Quest. I found that Cantos 1 and 2 can be easily and consistently interpreted as Sri Aurobindo’s composition, writing and development of the book Savitri. Cantos 3 and 4 can be consistently interpreted as Sri Aurobindo releasing and sending forth the book Savitri on the quest to find suitable Satyavans in humanity in order to help Man (the evolved and developed aspiring souls) and show them the way from their mortal state to a divine consciousness and immortal life.

Sri Aurobindo by revealing Savitri has in a way given us the tantra of our own transformation through listening to, reading and studying Savitri and thus given us a path to realize the Upanishadic mantra ‘Asato ma Sat gamaya; Tamaso ma Jotir gamaya, Mrutyor ma Amritam gamaya’.

In my humble opinion, this insight alone can justify his herculean efforts spanning 30 odd years on this work, since he need not have spent so much effort if the Mother were to be equated with Savitri – for the Mother was very much present and living beside him; and so what was the need to write Savitri? – although the Mother certainly personified the qualities of the character Savitri.

It is unlikely that Sri Aurobindo would have spent so much effort to write a biography of a living, mythological or forthcoming incarnation of the Divine Mother, as some people imagine Savitri to be – for that leaves the Yoga of Aswapati in a meaningless void.

It is also unlikely that Sri Aurobindo wrote Savitri as a means of ‘his own ascension’ as some people misinterpret that one letter of his. For as The Record of Yoga and his evening talks (A B Purani’s book) show, he was already aware of and had ascended to the Supramental and the planes above, and he would have no need to work for 30 odd years by writing Savitri to ascend to such planes. he has at several places said that he has no such need and all the work he was doing was for humanity.

As Sri Aurobindo says in that letter later, "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. The book Savitri has the power to create in us states of consciousness and is creative to transform our consciousness."

My insight stands by itself on intuition, and I am giving this reasoning on the mental plane to share my understanding with a rationale consistent with Sri Aurobindo’s words and lifework. I have no desire or need to convince anyone about it but am sharing it in the hope that it might open some more doors as it has done in my case. I will appreciate if you can publish this in a coming issue of Invocation as a letter to the Editor.

Sri Aurobindo has mentioned in the letter you refer to that he used the writing of Savitri ‘as a means of ascension’ – but you are right in saying that he cannot have meant by this that it was necessary for him to ascend to the higher planes. Amal Kiran has explained this very clearly somewhere, telling us that each time Sri Aurobindo realised a new higher level of consciousness, he used the writing of the poem as a field of experimentation to see how far – as he says – poetry could be written from his own yogic consciousness, and how far that new level of yogic consciousness could be made creative. This is the justification of all the writing and rewriting and expansion: he wanted the whole poem to be as far as possible at the same height of expression, so every time he was able to reach a new higher level of creative expression, he wanted to bring all the rest of the already written material up to that same level. And of course that is how it has become ‘mantric’ – in the sense of being able to evoke higher states of consciousness in us and help in transforming our consciousness. And you yourself have now experienced how this contact with the creative force of Sri Aurobindo’s consciousness has sparked a new previously untapped vein of poetic creativity in yourself – Congratulations!