A Doorway into Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri — ‘Tome 2 Apropos of the Divine Body: Savitri the Incarnate Word’
I reproduce here a Foreword to a new book Tome Two Apropos of the Divine Body: Savitri the Incarnate Word by Dr. R.Y. Deshpande, which I was recently invited to write.
‘When viewing current events, it is easy to look at them in some habitual way. The Dot-Com bust of the early 2000s may be interpreted as an instance of gross mismanagement of funds. 9–11 may be viewed as a breakdown in national security. The Arab Spring may be viewed as just another phase in the on-going dynamics between the ruler and ruled. COVID may be viewed as an inability to manage the spread of viruses. The Ukraine-Russian war may be viewed as the claim of one country over another in an endless game of Realpolitik.
Slightly shift this point of view, and the same events may be seen differently. The Dot-Com bust of the early 2000s then becomes a push for democratization through the birthing of the Digital Age. 9–11 becomes a spur toward the questioning of a more equitable global economy. The Arab Spring becomes an important step in national self-determinism and subsequent world peace. COVID becomes a push toward greater sensitivity in global ecosystem and environmental management, along with spurring a united humanity through a coordinated global response. The Ukraine-Russian war becomes necessary in creating a more stable multi-polar world.
Shift one’s point of view again, and all these events can be seen as outcries and adjustments of one single earth pushing itself toward a greater harmony. Shift again and perhaps one can see and feel the arms of one Mother, now cradling, now coaxing, now pushing, now urging, now shaping varying collectivity and budding individuality, that more of what She is may come forward.
But the seeing differently is not a magical act that arises from nowhere. It is the result of successive dawns brought about by the efforts of beings deeply concerned with the earth. These are not just any beings, and we begin to get some insight into their ways and action through following the lives of key personalities — Aswapati, Savitri, Satyavan — in the revelatory poetry of Savitri.
Over thirty years ago, when I first met Dr. Deshpande, he presented me with two books. The first was Savitri, and the second a collection of his poems. I remember saying “Greater now by two books,” and he immediately replied pointing to Savitri: “Certainly by one.”
That is true.
Reading Savitri, The Mother says, is yoga. And as numerous readers have continued to report, the dawning of sudden insight, some flash of inspiration, even the need to change the basis of one’s life to live more in the atmosphere of Savitri, are common results of reading Savitri.
How deep and how vast is Savitri? In his introductory note to Savitri, the Author states:
The tale of Satyavan and Savitri is recited in the Mahabharata as a story of conjugal love conquering death. But this legend is, as shown by many features of the human tale, one of the many symbolic myths of the Vedic cycle. Satyavan is the soul carrying the divine truth of being within itself but descended into the grip of death and ignorance; Savitri is the Divine Word, daughter of the Sun, goddess of the supreme Truth who comes down and is born to save; Aswapati, the Lord of the Horse, her human father, is the Lord of Tapasya, the concentrated energy of spiritual endeavour that helps us to rise from the mortal to the immortal planes; Dyumatsena, Lord of the Shining Hosts, father of Satyavan, is the Divine Mind here fallen blind, losing its celestial kingdom of vision, and through that loss its kingdom of glory. Still this is not a mere allegory, the characters are not personified qualities, but incarnations or emanations of living and conscious Forces with whom we can enter into concrete touch and they take human bodies in order to help man and show him the way from his mortal state to a divine consciousness and immortal life.
The incarnations or emanations show the way from a mortal state to a divine consciousness and immortal life. There are many other dawns implied — beyond the ones alluded to earlier — that have occurred as made evident in Savitri, and Light has established itself far more concretely than one can imagine. The soul of the world, of earth, has been reborn in Savitri. The fundamental allegiance to Inconscience has been forever forgone. The basis of mortality has been removed so that death is now optional. Divine consciousness and the immortal life are within grasp.
These are broad statements and to enter into the truth of them one has to see first that Savitri is autobiographical of the lives of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. The poem, the Savitri-mantra, may enter deeply into one and reveal that. But also, it is useful to see where such insight may have already been revealed, and perhaps to open to that revelation also. There can be value in that, and this is where Deshpande’s writings on Savitri, and this particular volume proves especially valuable. For this book becomes also, a doorway into the depth of Savitri.
Note that this book is part two of an extensive three part work, called a trilogy, presenting Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri and the Mother’s Agenda. Part 1 of the book ‘A Divine Body for a Divine Life’ is arranged in 15 sections anchored by extracts from Savitri that essentially highlight important parts related to Their yogic-occult work of physical transformation leading to a divine life in a divine body. Deshpande has masterfully synthesized these series of extracts from Savitri with corresponding quotes from the Mother’s Agenda that highlight the work she was doing on the body. This synthesis is strengthened by insightful commentary that occurs in abundance in the book.
I highlight three types of insights.
The first has to do with drawing out the deliberateness and power of Sri Aurobindo’s choice of words. Consider the line “O Satyavan, O luminous Savitri”. In the Book of Everlasting Day, why is Savitri referred to as luminous, but not Satyavan? As Deshpande explains:
“Savitri is luminous but Satyavan has yet to become luminous. For him to be so that day has arrived now. The moment the grip of Death has gone from the soul of Satyavan he becomes luminous. In this creation, we may say, it is Savitri who makes him operationally wonderfully luminous.
He is the divine soul that, through life and mind, climbs from nescient Night to supernature’s Vast. This last transformation comes when in the lap of Savitri he dies to the past, of Inconscience, and becomes his original self. He climbs to the greatness he had kept behind. He is luminous now.”
The second has to do with elucidating the rhythm of the pentametric verse in Savitri. Here is one example from the book:
“And moved| in her| as in| his na+t|ur+al home|”
And here is Deshpande’s explanation: “a line which has remained unchanged in the final version, iamb-iamb-pyrrhic-amphibrach-anapæst, the pyrrhic in the middle giving a swing to the movement in the act of confidently reaching trisyllabically the home.”
Numerous such examples clarifying the form that delivers the message shed insight into the extraordinary completeness with which the Poet penned this work.
The third has to do with making more accessible the occult meaning packed in the lines. Consider the line “In a moment shorter than Death, longer than Time.” For years the meaning of this has continued to elude me, until it clearly dropped in, when reading the following explanation:
“The Yoga of Spirit’s Freedom from the ignorant Nature is taking a decisive turn with the descent of the divine Power in various physical parts of the Yogi, of Aswapati. No more there is now the vesture of humanity wrapping him anywhere.
To meet him a strong Descent leaps down, a sudden thunder sweep. It is a Might, it is a Flame, it is a Beauty with deathless eyes, an impetuous-passionate Ecstasy. A dire Sweetness has entered into his amazing limbs, into his nerves and heart and brain. It is so swift and convincing that there is no time left for Death to cut in and cause harm to anything. Mortality has died in its rushing invasion. Not immortality but there is now only deathlessness. There is freedom to change form without dying.”
Through an abundance of these types of insights the focal points, the futuristic context of Savitri, aspects of the work that Sri Aurobindo and The Mother have done becomes clearer and allows one to read and enter into Savitri in another way. To know that such reading is an entry point into luminous bodies of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, into their living presence, into a relationship alive with the pulse of all they have done and all that they are, is freeing. To see with greater clarity the marvelous symmetry of Their work, the One Consciousness in two bodies, the play that can only reach fruition when both the Supreme Master and the Supreme Executrix participate, is empowering.
The very architecture of Savitri, where Book 1 introduces them, Books 2 and 3 — running to a mid-point at about page 350 — focus on Aswapati, and Books 4 to 11 focus on Savitri, again reveals that symmetry. But even the structure of their individual yoga is such that his culminates in a meeting with The Divine Mother, and hers in a meeting with the Supreme Lord, where again they are both duly, so to say, tested and made to when they make a choice to indeed set into motion the extraordinary terrestrial dawns that are to come.
So, it should not be surprising, following a discussion in the book to do with Sri Aurobindo’s comment in November 1950: “We shall see about that later on,” referring to the revisions to the Book of Death and Epilogue, that Deshpande suggests that Savitri is carried forward in the Mother’s Agenda. “It is after all the Mother who is going to complete Savitri, its proclamations, its experiences and its realisations. Savitri and Essential Agenda move onward to complete the work.”
The present book is entitled Savitri the incarnate Word. ‘The Incarnate Word’ is important in this book. For Savitri, the Divine Word, daughter of the Sun, goddess of the supreme Truth who comes down and is born to save — the incarnation — not only takes care of the current situation and the issues associated with it but also develops and brings into effect the future potentialities and possibilities: physical transformation leading to a divine life in a divine body.
With Tome 2 Apropos of the Divine Body: Savitri the Incarnate Word, a rare doorway has been opened that will prove invaluable for many wishing to enter more deeply into the body of Savitri.’
I also reproduce here an extract from the book that again reinforces the insight that runs through its pages. This is ’01: Summons of body’s voiceless call’ from Part One — A Divine Body for a Divine Life, which draws attention to the style and focus of this book:
“It is absolutely for the first time in the spiritual history that there is the blazing focus on the physical body in Sri Aurobindo’s quest and accomplishments. What could not have been claimed for it throughout the defying past is examined and the basis of earlier disappointments tackled, confronted to win victory.
If Inconscience is God’s creation, and the body is irremediably subject to its law under the sway of Death and Falsehood, there must also be a power of the transcendent Supreme to take care of it. That confident secure omnipotence is the creative truth-consciousness in the world dynamics and it must become operative where is present the deep refusal, even the hostile opposition and antagonism.
This stern refusal is standing across the path of the divine Event, that is, across the path of the spirit’s manifestation in the dim death-governed world, this mortal earth. The removal of this forbidding obstacle is the task only of the supreme Might, Shakti, who must take mortal birth and deal with it. She comes as Savitri. She comes, and at once recognises the difficulty she must meet. She awakes to it with her “body’s voiceless call”:
At the summons of her body’s voiceless call
Her strong far-winging spirit travelled back,
Back to the yoke of ignorance and fate,
Back to the labour and stress of mortal days,
Lighting a pathway through strange symbol dreams
Across the ebbing of the seas of sleep. ||2.33||
The significant phrase is “body’s voiceless call”; it is not the call of Savitri’s mind, it is not the call of her life’s instincts; it is the very call of the body, body itself. It is in that that Savitri’s
… house of Nature felt an unseen sway,
Illumined swiftly were life’s darkened rooms,
And memory’s casements opened on the hours
And the tired feet of thought approached her doors. ||2.34||
All came back to her: Earth and Love and Doom,
The ancient disputants, encircled her
Like giant figures wrestling in the night:
The godheads from the dim Inconscient born
Awoke to struggle and the pang divine,
And in the shadow of her flaming heart,
At the sombre centre of the dire debate,
A guardian of the unconsoled abyss
Inheriting the long agony of the globe,
A stone-still figure of high and godlike Pain
Stared into space with fixed regardless eyes
That saw grief’s timeless depths but not life’s goal. ||2.35||
What were the “memory’s casements” that had opened out suddenly for her to answer the body’s call? to awake to the mission of her work in the earth’s process? to recognise the “long agony of the globe”?
This is the memory she had been carrying since her birth, the memory of the entire Past, the stone-still godlike Pain, the primal Ache since Man lifted up the burden of his fate.
In that recognition comes the truest cognisance. There is the consciousness of that in which exist not evil and falsehood and error and pain and suffering. There is a way of seeing and perceiving things, the way the Divine himself sees the creation, all in the Oneness of Existence. In it Pain itself becomes godlike.
Savitri has that realisation.
‘Then a slow faint remembrance shadowlike moved,
And sighing she laid her hand upon her bosom
And recognised the close and lingering ache,
Deep, quiet, old, made natural to its place,
But knew not why it was there nor whence it came. ||2.29||’
‘The Power that kindles mind was still withdrawn:
Heavy, unwilling were life’s servitors
Like workers with no wages of delight;
Sullen, the torch of sense refused to burn;
The unassisted brain found not its past. ||2.30||’
‘Only a vague earth-nature held the frame. ||2.31||’
‘But now she stirred, her life shared the cosmic load. ||2.32||’
It is her body’s voiceless call, and not that of the mind or of the vital but of the body, and it is that which has done the great occult-yogic marvel. Millennia had been insensitive to that ache of the body, to that silent urge, even as there is the difficult if not insurmountable need to attend to it. The physical is the touchstone for the strength and the merit of any spiritualty.
We may possibly look into some of the corresponding entries in the Mother’s Agenda. In the following these are randomly and freely abstracted from it:
I am nearly sure that death is something that belongs exclusively to earth life — death as we FEEL it, understand it. …
Oh, yes, my body remembered an earlier death: it happened at Tlemçen while I was working with Théon. I had gone out in a wholly material way, the body was in a cataleptic state, and something came, something occurred that cut the link.
So the link was cut. The experience was that … impossible to get back in there! But Théon was there, and there was the knowledge of the occult, knowledge as well as the will to re-enter the body, and also an inner faith, and a concentration.
I came back in as a result of the power and the will, simply because I still had something to do on earth.
[14 June 1967]
The cells were wondering, “But what is death?” They kept wondering like that. And just yesterday or the day before, because there came a certain state, the Knowledge that constantly comes from above seemed to be saying to them, “But why do you wonder? You had the experience, you know how it is.”
Then, to the small central consciousness (the mind of the cells, which is now gradually growing and taking shape), this Knowledge said, “Don’t you remember? You know how it was.”
Ah, then all the memory of the experience in all its details came back — they did know.
[24 June 1967]
I remember a time when the memory of past lives, the memory of night activities was so very concrete; the so-called invisible world was totally concrete — now everything is like a dream veiling a Reality … an unknown Reality, and yet appreciable.
Then curiously enough: at the same time not one in the other or one with the other, but one AND the other, it’s marvellous and dreadful. Life as it is, as we feel it in our ordinary consciousness seems something but so dreadful that one wonders how it can be lived even a single minute; and the other, AT THE SAME TIME: a marvel, a marvel of light, consciousness, power — wondrous.
And a power! And not the power of a particular person, it’s something which is everything.
[28 August 1971]
The body can bear far more, a great deal. Once the body has decided to bear pain, the acuteness, the acute sensation in the pain vanishes. And if you have inner calm, the pain turns into a pleasant sensation, an almost comfortable impression.
When the cells have faith in the divine Presence and the divine sovereign Will and trust that all is for the good, then ecstasy comes — the cells open up, become luminous and ecstatic.
[10 August 1963]
There was a rather serious attack, which found expression in a rather unpleasant pain; it came with unusual brutality. Then, immediately, the body remembered and said, “Peace, peace …” and it relaxed in Peace. And in an objectively perceptible way, the pain went away. The body is learning.
[30 October 1964]
I had the impression that I was all the pain of the world felt together. When it came, I was as if crushed by the thing; whereas from the moment I understood that way, I was able to be above pain. And I am much better.
I felt something like an extraordinary Protection.
It was a VERY concrete experience for several hours: the protection of a Consciousness … and a sort of power dominating the thing. But the body is very affected.
I had the consciousness of all that Sri Aurobindo suffered physically. And that was one of the things the hardest to bear, as if physically. It’s this suffocation, and it’s still there. There is one spot, such a dreadful anguish.
[9 September 1970]
I am experiencing physical pain, which becomes insurmountable and suddenly… the offering of oneself … the sense that the Divine alone exists. Well, the pain disappears. But it can return.
It’s not yet … .
My body is in the middle of living the process.
[15 January 1972]
There’s a new kind of malaise. I live in a constant contradiction with all sorts of suggestions: “This way, you could die; that way, you could die.” So I simply reply, “I don’t care!”
Then it calms down. My consolation was that once I had done it, it would be done.
To comfort me, there is an assurance from above, that if I reach my centenary, I will start going uphill again. But it’s still far off. I am aware of the divine forces going through the body.
The possibility, the capacity for suffering must disappear. Not that I don’t want to suffer, but … it isn’t a nice gift to be given!
All of a sudden, for two or three minutes, my body was seized by the horror of death. That was a horrible experience. But I was conscious. The body was conscious.
[10 January 1973]
I seem to be gathering all the world’s resistances. They come to me one after another, and if I weren’t calling the Divine the pain is unbearable! To such a point that I now hesitate to speak of “transformation”.
Yet it looks to me that there is something VERY simple to be done to make it all right.
I have a solution for the transformation of the body, but it’s never been done before, so it’s extremely hard to believe. The body has a wish to go to sleep and awake only after it is transformed … The task is a herculean task. The consciousness assents: “Yes, that’s it.”
[7 April 1973]
It’s as if the Force wanted to go, deeper and deeper into the subconscient. There are incredible things in the subconscient.
And the human subconscient cries out, “Oh, not yet!” Naturally, the resistance brings about catastrophes. You simply keep clinging to the Divine, and it surpasses everything. Then all is well. The subconscient contains the memory of all the previous pralayas, and this memory is what always gives us the impression that everything is going to dissolve, to collapse. But if you look at things in the true light, there can only be a more beautiful manifestation!
[12 April 1972]”