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Four Aspects of Savitri
About Four Aspects of Savitri
Based on talks given in 2006, this book is organised around two written notes. First, it takes a deeper look into the symbolism expressed in the “Author’s Note” by Sri Aurobindo which precedes the beginning of the epic Savitri. Then there are a series of chapters examining the significance of a note written by the Mother to a disciple listing the four important aspects which form the essence of the epic—that it is the daily record of the spiritual experiences of Sri Aurobindo, a complete system of yoga that can be used as a guide to sadhana, the yoga of the Earth in its ascension towards the Divine, and the experiences of the Divine Mother in her effort to adapt herself to the body she has taken and the ignorance and the falsity of the earth upon which she has incarnated.
Ananda Reddy’s new book, Four Aspects of Savitri, is a commendable study of Sri Aurobindo’s magnum opus, the epic poem Savitri. Originally presented as a series of talks, they have been revised with certain portions “rewritten to bring greater clarity,” but purposely retain a tone “kept simple and colloquial.” The studies presented, which examine the poem from different angles, are replete with important quotes from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother pertaining to the poem and to various issues addressed in the poem, as well as crucial excerpts from the poem itself. In general, one finds solid, well-researched and documented perspectives on the poem, many original insights, and occasional personal reflections and anecdotes.
The book consists of six chapters, one for each of the four aspects of Savitri noted by the title, and two introductory chapters: the first discussing the nature of the poem and its originating consciousness and intent, and the second discussing Sri Aurobindo’s prefatory Author’s Note about the poem, which describes the main symbols underlying the poem’s theme and its primary characters. The four perspectives on Savitri addressed in chapters 3–6 examine it from the viewpoints of the four aspects of the poem that the Mother herself identified:
1. The daily record of the spiritual experiences of the individual who has written.
2. A complete system of yoga which can serve as a guide for those who want to follow the integral sadhana.
3. The yoga of the Earth in its ascension towards the Divine.
4. The experiences of the Divine Mother in her effort to adapt herself to the body she has taken and the ignorance and the falsity of the earth upon which she has incarnated.
The four chapters elaborate on these four aspects, and draw insights and parallels from various sources such as Record of Yoga, The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, Collected Works of the Mother, the Mother’s Agenda, and numerous other primary and secondary sources.
The first chapter discusses the deep spiritual context and mantric nature of the poem. In the opening pages, the author makes clear the stupendous character of the poem: a revelation of the truths underlying existence and human life on earth, as well as the destiny of earth and man. Even more than a revelation, the author asserts the transformative power of the poem. He cites the well-known quotation from the Mother, “Savitri is a mantra for the transformation of the world,” and while noting how the poem depicts the “truth from the Superconscient to the Inconscient and all the levels that lie in between,” he explains that “[w]ith Sri Aurobindo, to describe a level of consciousness is to lend the words the power to manifest.” Expanding on this idea and relating it to the central theme of the poem, the author suggests the enormous power and significance of Savitri: “a penetration of the Divine Grace and Love coupled with the Supramental force could alone transform Death, and give earth the possibility of coming out of its inconscience, untruth, death and suffering once and for all.” Quoting various passages from the poem, the first chapter introduces the reader to some of the fundamental characteristics of the overmind consciousness and aesthesis which are woven together in Savitri to create an unparalleled marvel of truth, power, beauty, and delight.
The second chapter provides a detailed analysis of the Author’s Note that appears before the beginning of the poem. Here Sri Aurobindo describes the tale of Savitri as “one of the many symbolic myths of the Vedic cycle,” and goes on to elaborate a few of its most significant symbols. Without reiterating the symbolism behind the main theme and characters in the poem described by Sri Aurobindo in this note, we may simply comment that the analysis presented does help to clarify the deep symbolism of the poem, while also providing a context for understanding the story. Reddy draws on various passages in the poem to elaborate the symbolic significances, as well as on other writings of Sri Aurobindo, the Mother, and other authors.
Chapter Three discusses several examples of siddhis, yogic powers, that Sri Aurobindo had developed during the early years of his sadhana in Pondicherry and recorded in his personal diary, later published in two volumes as Record of Yoga, and how these powers have been incorporated into Savitri. The three main siddhis discussed are aishwarya, “effectiveness of Will;” trikaladrishti, knowledge of the past, present, and future; and dasya, the highest form of surrender in which one becomes a “slave of God.” The nature of these powers and their development as noted in the Record are discussed in this chapter, and we are shown various passages in which they are described in the poem.
While these several examples of passages and extraordinary experiences described in Savitri, deriving from personal experiences discussed in the Record, are revealing, it would seem that there was much more that could have been written about this interesting aspect of this poem. While the author acknowledges that “all of Savitri is undoubtedly the direct poetic expression of Sri Aurobindo’s experiences,” and that “one can go on endlessly describing the multiple experiences of Sri Aurobindo which have been crystallised into jewel-images or inspiring phrases,” the chapter presents to us only a few of these jewels that have been documented in the Record. Except for the introductory first chapter, this particular chapter is the shortest in the book, but its subject matter could alone probably fill a complete volume.
Chapter Four examines Savitri from the standpoint of it laying out a complete system of yoga, which again is based on the Mother’s statement. This chapter, the longest in the book, is nicely developed. Here the author first takes us through some of the primary aspects of the Integral Yoga, including the basic requisites of sadhana, the meaning and need of transformation, the three types of transformation—psychic, spiritual and supramental, the various layers of the consciousness, ego and egolessness, desire and desirelessness, and equality. Following this introduction to the yoga, based in part on excerpts from various texts by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the author takes us through landmarks of Savitri’s yoga as described in the poem, focusing on the finding of her soul but also discussing the spiritual and supramental transformations. He then compares her yoga with Aswapati’s and notes some of their similarities and differences:
Between the two of them Savitri and Aswapathy complement and complete integral yoga: one goes through the opening of the heart centre and the other through the opening of the mind centres—the two most important ways of the sadhana of integral yoga. (p. 98)
This analysis is followed by a series of questions and answers between the author and his audience covering a wide range of subjects related to sadhana and Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s teaching.
Chapter Five is titled “The Yoga of the Earth”, and is primarily philosophical in that it describes the spiritual evolution taking place on earth and the role of the Avatar in that evolution, both through the symbolism of Savitri and Satyavan, and through the work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. It thus deals with the broader, universal, and terrestrial significance of the poem, especially its protagonists Savitri and Satyavan, and with the destiny of the world and the process of its transformation. It begins with a consideration of the earth as a symbolic centre of the evolution of consciousness, of the unfolding objectivisation of the Supreme. The process of evolution is traced out from matter to mind to supermind. Then the goal and destiny of earth’s evolution, a divine life, is described.
But by what process or miracle can the present earth life arrive at this luminous goal? Here we are introduced to the deeper significance of Satyavan and Savitri, and their parallels in our time, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. And by what power shall they transform this earth? Love! The author quotes the Mother: “[O]f all powers Love is obviously the mightiest, the most integral… Love is like a flame changing the hard into the malleable, then sublimating even the malleable into a kind of purified vapour. It doesn’t destroy, it transforms.” (p. 150) And then he explains the secret of this transformation in another quote from the Mother:
[I]t corresponds to a state where you are so perfectly identified with all that is, that you concretely become all that is anti-divine, and so you can offer it up, it can be offered up and really transformed through this offering. (p. 151)
Chapter Six deals with the Mother’s statement that Savitri depicts “the experiences of the Divine Mother in the effort to adapt herself to the body she has taken and to the falsity and ignorance of the earth upon which she has incarnated.” It focuses much more on the Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram than on Savitri, but nevertheless a number of relevant themes and passages from the epic are discussed; in particular, the ordeals that the Avatar takes upon himself or herself when taking a physical body, together with the purpose of that undertaking. But the chapter focuses much more intently on the Mother’s work of transforming her body, and the often excruciating process that that entailed. There is extensive discussion of the period in 1961 when the Mother was seriously ill as she fought a fierce inner battle—“It was as if Death was staring at me.” Here relevant passages in Savitri are cited corresponding to this experience. There is discussion of her work in transforming the cells and organs of her body. Of course, all this is directly relevant to the issue of Savitri facing and overcoming Death. The chapter and book concludes with some more questions and answers, bringing back a lighter, more personal tone, and help us relate the high and difficult work of the Mother to our own everyday life and sadhana.
Because the poem is so all-encompassing, one can approach and investigate it from many different angles. Here the author has selected several important aspects suggested by the Mother herself, with the result that the reader is led to some of the poem’s enormous implications for the destiny of mankind. The book covers issues that are fundamental to the underlying spiritual philosophy, to yogic practice in general, and to the personal yogic practice of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The introductory chapters provide a useful and deeply spiritual basis for approaching the poem. Adding another layer to its appeal, the book is peppered with personal reflections and anecdotes which characterise the author’s endearing writing style.
Larry was formerly a research psychologist in the USA. He now edits and writes for publications related to the work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and is the author of Transforming Lives and Integral Yoga at Work.