The English of Savitri
This is the Ninth Volume of the English of Savitri series. Like the previous books in this series, this one too is based on transcripts of classes held by the author at Savitri Bhavan, in this case from March to September 2020. The transcripts have been carefully revised and edited for conciseness and clarity, while aiming to preserve the informal atmosphere of the course. This Ninth Volume covers Cantos Ten and Eleven of Book Two of Sri Aurobindo’s epic, Savitri – A Legend and a Symbol. Each sentence of these cantos is examined closely and explanations are given about vocabulary, sentence-structure and imagery. The aim is to assist understanding of the poem which the Mother has characterised as ‘the supreme revelation of Sri Aurobindo’s vision.’
Print Length: 244 pages
Publisher: Savitri Bhavan
Book format: PDF, ePub, Kindle
Table of Contents
Canto Ten. The Kingdoms and Godheads of the Little Mind
- Section 1: lines 1-192
- Section 2: lines 193-258
- Section 3: lines 259-734
- Section 4: lines 735-766
Canto Eleven. The Kingdoms and Godheads of the Greater Mind
- Section 1: lines 1-165
- Section 2: lines 166-498
- Section 3: lines 499-595
The English of Savitri
Sri Aurobindo’s mantric epic, which he entitled Savitri – A Legend and a Symbol, was inspired by a well-known tale recounted in the Mahabharata. Once upon a time there lived a king named Aswapati, who was childless. Wishing for offspring to succeed him, the king offered worship to the goddess Savitri, one of the consorts of Lord Brahma. To gain her favour and the boon of a hundred strong sons, Aswapati offered sacrifice and tapasya to the Goddess for eighteen years. At the end of that time, the Goddess appeared before him and told him that she has been instructed by Lord Brahma to grant him a single daughter, who, she told him, would be worth more than a hundred sons to him. The king accepted the gift, and when his daughter was born, he gave her the name ‘Savitri’ in honour of the goddess. As Savitri matured she became an outstandingly beautiful maiden, so exceptional in fact that no suitable prince came forward to ask for her hand in marriage: all the possible suitors were unnerved by her powerful radiance, so her father gave her an escort and instructed her to go out into the world in search of her destined life-partner. Her journey took her far and wide and finally into a beautiful forest where she met a handsome prince named Satyavan. He was the son of King Dyumatsena, who was living in the forest with his family after he had lost his kingdom and his eyesight. On their first meeting itself Savitri knew that Satyavan was the man she was going to marry. She went back to her parents to announce her decision. Sage Narad who happened to be visiting King Aswapati’s palace on that day observed that even though Satyavan was suitable for Savitri in all respects, he only had one more year of life left on the earth. Hearing this, Savitri’s mother tried to dissuade her from the marriage, but Savitri stood firm in her decision. Finally her parents, deciding to leave her to her fate, reluctantly gave their consent for her marriage to Satyavan.
Exactly after one year of married life, filled with happiness and contentment for Savtri and Satyavan, Death arrived, as predicted by Narad, to take Satyavan away. While chopping wood Satyavan suffered unbearable pain in his body and lay down on the ground resting his head on Savitri’s lap, who had accompanied him to the forest that day. Death took his soul away, leaving his lifeless body on earth. Savitri summoned all the yogic powers she had acquired through her tapasya and followed Death to his kingdom, the Yamaloka. What followed was a long and spiritually revealing dialogue between Savitri and Death. Savitri argued and pleaded with Death to allow her to return to earth with her beloved husband Satyavan; but Death did not relent and insisted that satyavan’s death was predestined and there was no way he could revert it. However, impressed by Savitri’s wisdom and chastity, Death sanctioned her some boons saying that she could ask for anything except Satyavan’s life. Immediately she responded that she wanted a hundred sons from her marriage to Satyavan, which indirectly implied that Satyavan had to return to earth with her. Death had no option but to grant her wish. This is how the legend goes.
As he has told us in his Author’s Note to the poem, Sri Aurobindo saw in this legend ‘one of the many symbolic myths of the Vedic cycle’, and in elucidating the symbolism of the tale, he has described Aswapati, whose name means ‘the Lord of the Horse’, as ‘the Lord of Tapasya, the concentrated energy of spiritual endeavour that helps us to rise from the mortal to the immortal planes’.
Sri Aurobindo has divided his Epic into three Parts, containing twelve Books arranged in forty-nine Cantos. Part One, by far the largest of the three parts, after opening with two introductory cantos introducing us to his heroine Savitri, focusses almost entirely on Aswapati and his yoga or tapasya. In a letter, Sri Aurobindo has said that Aswapati’s yoga falls into three parts or stages:
First, he is achieving his own spiritual self-fulfilment as the individual and this is described as the Yoga of the King [in Cantos Three and Five of Book One]. Next, he makes the ascent as a typical representative of the race to win the possibility of discovery and possession of all the planes of consciousness and this is described in the Second Book [The Book of The Traveller of the Worlds]: but this too is only an individual victory. Finally, he aspires no longer for himself but for all, for a universal realisation and new creation. That is described in The Book of the Divine Mother.
In the final canto of Book Three Aswapati is at last able to meet the supreme Divine Mother face to face, hear her speak, and to win the boon of the birth of Savitri as her embodiment, to save Earth and Men from the grip of Ignorance and Death. His return to Earth with her promise and assurance marks the close of Part One of Savitri, and the end of Aswapati’s quest, which will be fulfilled in Parts Two and Three by Savitri herself.
In earlier volumes of this English of Savitri series we have followed Aswapati’s quest through the five cantos of Book One, ‘The Book of Beginnings’ as well as through Cantos One and Two of Book Two, ‘The Book of the Traveller of the Worlds’, which deal with Aswapati’s entry into the worlds of subtle Matter; then Cantos Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight and Nine show his journey through different levels of the realms of Life. This ninth volume of the series tells of his entry into the realms of Mind, described in two long cantos entitled respectively ‘The Kingdoms and Godheads of the Little Mind’ and ‘The Kingdoms and Godheads of the Greater Mind’. It is planned to cover the remaining cantos of Book Two, (Cantos Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen and Fifteen) in the next volume of this series, which should complete coverage of ‘The Book of the Traveller of the Worlds’, but not Aswapati’s quest, which will continue through the four cantos of Book Three, ‘The Book of the Divine Mother’, which is already in print as Volume 2 of the ‘English of Savitri’ series.