On Sri Aurobindo's Savitri (Part One: Essays)

— Writings by Amal Kiran (K. D. Sethna)


Price: Rs 425

Pages: 368
Dimensions (in cms): 14x22
ISBN: 978-81-87916-10-9
Soft Cover
Publisher: Clear Ray Trust, Pondicherry

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About On Sri Aurobindo's Savitri (Part One: Essays)

This is the first volume of a two-part compilation of Amal Kiran's writings on Savitri and consists of complete essays which have appeared as chapters or sections of books or as independent journal articles. Essays include "Letters on Savitri", which recounts how in 1936, years before its publication, Sri Aurobindo sent the author selected lines and passages from the poem, and the 1946 article "Sri Aurobindo—A New Age of Mystical Poetry", in which Savitri was introduced to the public for the first time. Other essays cover glimpses, reflections, and notes on the epic, discussions on Savitri in the larger context of English poetry, and studies on earlier versions of the poem. All reveal the author's deep study of Savitri and an understanding shaped and illuminated by the insights found in Sri Aurobindo's many letters to him on the subject.

Excerpt from the book, from the chapter "Savitri: Some Glimpses and Reflections":

Hedged in though she [Savitri] is by mortality, her life's movement keeps the measure of the Gods. Painting her being and its human-divine beauty Sri Aurobindo achieves some of his supreme effects. Perhaps his grandest capture of the mantra are the nine verses which form the centre of a long passage, variously mantric, in which Savitri's avatarhood is characterised:

As in a mystic and dynamic dance
A priestess of immaculate ecstasies
Inspired and ruled from Truth's revealing vault
Moves in some prophet cavern of the gods,
A heart of silence in the hands of joy
Inhabited with rich creative beats
A body like a parable of dawn
That seemed a niche for veiled divinity
Or golden temple door to things beyond. [p.15]

A hieratic poetry, demanding a keen sense of the occult and spiritual to compass both its subjective and objective values, is in this audacious and multi-dimensioned picture of a highly Yogic state of embodied being. Not all might respond to it and Sri Aurobindo knew that such moments in Savitri would have to wait long for general appreciation. But he could not be loyal to his mission without giving wide scope to the occult and spiritual and seeking to poetise them as much as possible with the vision and rhythm proper to the summits of reality. Of course, that vision and that rhythm are not restricted to the posture and contour of the summits, either the domains of divine dynamism or

The superconscient realms of motionless peace
Where judgment ceases and the word is mute
And the Unconceived lies pathless and alone

or the mid-worlds, obscure or luminous, fearsome or marvellous, of which Savitri's father, King Aswapathy, carries out a long exploration which is one of the finest and most fascinating parts of the poem. They extend to the earth-drama too and set living amongst us the mysteries and travails of cosmic evolution, like that dreadful commerce of Savitri with one to whom Sri Aurobindo gives no name:

One dealt with her who meets the burdened great.
Assigner of the ordeal and the path
Who chooses in this holocaust of the soul
Death, fall and sorrow as the spirit's goads,
The dubious godhead with his torch of pain
Lit up the chasm of the unfinished world
And called her to fill with her vast self the abyss.


This is a long-awaited compilation of interesting and significant letters, observations, explanations, and discussions by Amal Kiran on Sri Aurobindo's Savitri and the nature of poetry. Being himself a poet of high calibre and a sadhak of the Integral Yoga, Amal was able to comprehend and appreciate Sri Aurobindo's new approach to mystical poetry. It was crucial and essential for someone of his capability to deal with and to comment upon the subject in a language suitable for this profound poetic creation, building a bridge, so to say, between the supreme perception of the Master and the ordinary interpretations of our human understanding.

This book, therefore, can become a most helpful guide for all sincere seekers who want to study Sri Aurobindo and his poetic genius in depth, especially in his revelatory epic Savitri. It deals with all major aspects of poetry: poetic inspiration, style, metre, content, and even grammar and the difficulties related to the usage of the English language (such as double adjectives). It introduces and gives an overview of many fundamental elements in poetry from different times and cultures, starting from the Vedic poetry and the epics of the ancient Greeks to the modern poetry of the 20th century. The Vedic and the Upanishadic seers, Vyasa, Valmiki, Homer,Virgil, Kalidasa, Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe are mentioned throughout this study. The great poets of English literature such as Milton, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Thompson, and Yeats are often used for comparative analysis in these essays and articles. All this rich poetic creation over the ages is looked at in a subtle and distinguished manner by an intuitive poet and yogi who loves Sri Aurobindo, his poetic genius, and his spiritual vision.

Amal writes about Sri Aurobindo's poetry in an elevated style, almost in a poetic language, the highest possible in prose. Such a style almost becomes a part of the poetry it seeks to admire. Having read some of his explanations, one's understanding of poetry for its own sake ceases to exist; it is no more satisfactory for our awakened inner perception, and the understanding of poetry as an elevation of consciousness finally emerges from the depth of our being.

Sri Aurobindo makes poetry a means for spiritual experience and growth. He liberates it from the domain of the merely mental and aesthetic, giving it finally a new birth in its real purpose. In this view Sri Aurobindo follows the ancient tradition of the Veda where poetry was used for spiritual progress and conquest. It was a weapon in the hands of the Aryan to fight against the forces of darkness in his spiritual journey towards the Light. Therefore, to free the Word for its highest spiritual destiny was the great work of the Master when he composed his Savitri. This understanding also helps to shed some light on the future utility of the Vedic hymns and how they should be used and approached in this new light.

Moreover, the imagery which Sri Aurobindo developed for the description of his spiritual journey in Savitri is based on the imagery of the ancient tradition of the Veda. It would be interesting to expand research in this direction and to try to liberate the Vedic tradition from the loss of its meaning, giving it a new life and inner significance. It is a direction which remains a desideratum for Savitri studies. In the first essay Amal only acknowledges the similarity in poetic character and spiritual directness between the Vedas and Upanishads and Sri Aurobindo's Savitri and points out that Sri Aurobindo went even farther in his spiritual development. In the article on Agni in the Rig-veda and Aswapathy in Savitri Amal compares Sri Aurobindo's translation of several hymns to Agni in the Rig-veda (Hymns to the Mystic Fire) with the imagery developed in his Savitri. It is a most rewarding exercise, for it sheds some light on the nature and the profundity of spiritual experience and widens the scope of our inner vision, giving us access to a deeper understanding of the Veda and Savitri.

The main contribution of Amal's poetic analysis remains in the direction of English literary tradition. Being a master of the English language he could deeply feel the shades and subtleties of the poetic inspiration and its expression in metre and composition. It is on this ground that the book can be used by scholars and universities in the study of the fundamentals of poetics.

As Amal says in the final pages of this book:

What is specially notable about Sri Aurobindo's epic is that it attempts to open a new dimension of poetic expression. In English literature we have the Shakespearian accent of the thrilled rapid life-force, the Miltonic tone of the majestically thinking mind, the deep or colourful cry of the idealistic imagination as in Wordsworth and Shelley and, recently, Yeats and A.E. Savitri, while taking into itself the whole past of English poetry, adds not only the Indian spirit: it adds also in ample measure the typical intonation, at once intense and immense in its rhythmic significance, which the Rigveda, the Upanishads and the Gita bring. Sri Aurobindo calls it "overhead poetry".…This poetry may be generally characterised, in Sri Aurobindo's own words from Savitri, as consisting of
The lines that tear the veil from Deity's face. [p.677]

It is a wonderful occasion for all of us to be able to dive into the depths of the spiritual vision of the Master and to start an exploration of our consciousness with the help of his Word. Amal sharpens this perception for us, helping us to take this journey.

—Vladimir Latsenko

Vladimir is a graduate of St. Petersburg University in Russia, in Sanskrit Language and Theoretical Linguistics, and studied Sanskrit Grammar at Pune University. He is a Sanskrit teacher and researcher in the Indian scriptures at Savitri Bhavan, and also teaches at ICIS in Delhi, at SACAR and IPI in Pondicherry, and at the University of Human Unity in Auroville.

July 2011