Savitri: A Study in Style and Symbolism

— Madhumita Dutta


Price: Rs 200

Pages: 232
Dimensions (in cms): 14x22
ISBN: 978-93-80761-38-1
Soft Cover
Publisher: Avenel Press, Burdwan

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About Savitri: A Study in Style and Symbolism

Centred on Sri Aurobindo's vision of the gnostic being as the next stage in the evolutionary journey of man, and the poetry of the Spirit as the future poetry, this book deals primarily with the symbolic significance and stylistic features of his epic poem Savitri. Chapters explore in depth the symbolism of the yogas of Aswapati and Savitri, man's eternal quest for immortality symbolised by the transformation of Death, and the poetic style of Sri Aurobindo. The author also attempts to answer various criticisms of the poem, discusses the relevance of Sri Aurobindo's language and style to his subject matter, and concludes with her thoughts on the poem's message for the world today.


Savitri, the poem, the word of Sri Aurobindo is the cosmic Answer to the cosmic Question,” said Nolini Kanta Gupta. This epic poem of Sri Aurobindo has invited the attention of many scholars. Savitri is that Word of the seer-poet which inspires scholars and devotees alike. Sri Aurobindo calls it “A Legend and a Symbol”, which gives us a stronger ground to delve into its symbolism. It is a modern epic, written for present-day humanity, and as “future poetry” it presents the possibilities of writing mantric poetry.

Savitri: A Study in Style and Symbolism by Dr. Madhumita Dutta is a scholarly exploration of the symbolism and style of this magnum opus of Sri Aurobindo. The themes in the book are well researched. All the proofs and arguments amply support the thesis put forth by the author. It is commendable that the author has taken pains to unveil as many levels and shades of symbolic meaning as may be found in the epic and would be relevant to our understanding.

This book provides a comprehensive overview of the epic and then delves deeper into its symbolic and stylistic nuances. It is divided into seven systematic chapters which though suitably connected can be read independently as well. For a new reader, the elaborate introduction to Savitri given in this book is of considerable help. At once we get the source, the genesis, and a history of the development of the poem.

The author humbly submits in the very opening sentence that the wide range of its subject matter and the complexity of its themes, added to the poet’s own yogic experience and spiritual vision, perhaps place the poem beyond the grasp of any of the usual rules of poetic appreciation. She writes: “Of all the works of Sri Aurobindo, his epic Savitri is perhaps the most difficult to comprehend and virtually impossible to assess on general principles of criticism,” but, she adds, “It is rewarding to read Savitri and get into the spirit of its mantric poetry.”(p. 11)

Although the book carries the subtitle “A Study in Style and Symbolism”, the major part of the work is devoted to symbolism. The two chapters “Symbol of the Two Voyages” and “Love and Death: Symbolism of Transformation” cover the whole range of symbolism on various levels in Savitri. In the first of these chapters, Dr. Dutta specifies the nature of the two voyages and then sets out to explore their symbolic significance: “In fact, these are two stages of a single yogic journey; one is the preparation, and the other, the completion of the Yoga, through which all the depths and heights of consciousness are explored”(48). The author has established, with quotations and instances from the text, Aswapati’s symbolism as representative of the aspiration of the whole of humanity and also of the individual. “Aswapati represents mankind, carrying in his heart the desire of the entire human race for ultimate liberty”(52). He is a prototype of the intermediary race envisioned by Sri Aurobindo. While explaining the symbolism of Aswapati, the author has discussed all the stages of his yoga and simultaneously established it as Sri Aurobindo’s own experience and experiments in yoga and poetry. The book establishes philosophically how Aswapati’s is a quest for immortality and his yoga is the fulfillment of all the ancient yogas.

Dr. Dutta keeps a wonderful link all through the different chapters of how Savitri’s and Aswapati’s yogas are complementary to each other. His yoga is “‘a precursor and also a pre-requisite for the appearance of the supramental race’, of which Savitri is the symbol”(53). While discussing Savitri’s yoga and its symbolism, she writes: “Savitri’s Yoga is the culmination of the Yoga begun by Aswapati”. Savitri stands for the “Divine illuminator, creator and sustainer of the universe”; hers is “a ‘divine birth’, an answer to Earth’s prayer”(88–9).

The entire journey of Savitri from her foreknowledge of the impending doom to her tapasya to conquer and transform death is well charted out by the author and leads us to the next chapter “Love and Death”. When Nolini Kanta Gupta commented that Savitri is the cosmic Answer to the cosmic Question, it is not only in the aspiration of Aswapati and the descent of Savitri that it is cosmic. It presents the age-old search of mankind for immortality. In Savitri Sri Aurobindo establishes that Divine Love is the only answer to this question of the search for immortality. In this chapter, the symbolism of Satyavan has been explored: “Satyavan symbolizes man in his present state of evolution—subject to the laws of mortality, in the grip of ignorance and death”(111). We find a telling analysis of the relation between Savitri and Satyavan:

Her mission is to retrieve the soul of Satyavan, for it is only with him that the task of Transformation can be accomplished, together with him can she bear the ‘ancient Mother’s load’. Savitri and Satyavan symbolize the divine principles of the universe in their feminine and masculine aspects, they are the ‘twin-souls’ who are essentially one.” (117)

The author has established the complementarity of the yogas of Aswapati and Savitri and the symbolic significance of the purusha and prakriti principles joining together as Satyavan and Savitri to accomplish the work of transformation. In almost a hundred pages the reader gets the gist, the symbolism, the story of Savitri, supported with lines from the epic.

In the chapter dedicated to stylistic analysis, Dr. Dutta has taken pains to analyze all the stylistic devices employed by Sri Aurobindo in the epic. “Sri Aurobindo himself alludes to four different kinds of style (in The Future Poetry)—the adequate style, the rhetorical, the illuminative and the revelatory or intuitive style. Almost all these varieties of styles are employed in Savitri.”(152). It is quite interesting to see the impact of repetition and alliteration, and the use of metaphors and similes, rhetoric and lyrics, mystic and symbolic devices, and, at places, a simple, unadorned style of writing. Many thanks to the author for including this chapter and giving us a glimpse of Sri Aurobindo’s adept use of stylistic devices. A student of literature, linguistics and stylistics will appreciate how the book brings out the symbolic and structural beauty of the epic.

The last two chapters deal with the criticism aimed at Savitri and at its relevance today. Dr. Dutta has tried to prove how such criticism is based on an incomplete understanding of the poem. She explains that “Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri appears at a critical phase in man’s evolutionary journey of which it is a profound exposition” (210). And she concludes: “In Savitri, the poet is the seer, who lived out the philosophy of the Scriptures, confirmed their truths and made them accessible and applicable to modern times. It is in these perspectives that we may assert both the need and possibility of an epic like Savitri today.”

Surely, the value of well-researched books like this one is that they can help us move a little closer to the spirit of Savitri. With such help we can perhaps come to more fully understand the truth of what the Mother said of Savitri—that it is “the Supreme revelation of Sri Aurobindo’s vision”.

— Shruti Bidwaikar

Shruti is a faculty member at the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research. She did her doctorate on Sri Aurobindo’s aesthetics and is actively involved in reading, researching, and editing study material related to the thought of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.