On her recent visit to Auroville, Governing Board member Ameeta Mehra gave a talk about her experiences of exploring Sri Aurobindo's epic poem ‘Savitri'
Ameeta Mehra with Shraddhavan at the new exhibition hall at Savitri Bhavan
In 1988, when I was just out of college on my second visit to the Ashram, Nirod-da (Nirodbaran) asked me, ‘Do you want to learn poetry?' to which I said ‘Yes'. He said I should begin with Savitri , but that I must first learn about the iambic pentameter and scansion. He showed me how and then said, “Now go and scan these lines, and bring them back to me.” He would correct it later and this went on for about a month. All I was doing was this scanning – I didn't understand a word of Savitri – perhaps imbibing a little of its rhythm in the process. Since then, there have been others who have introduced me to Savitri, but the one I would like to mention is Sri Aurobindo himself.
I had this deep inner aspiration to hear Sri Aurobindo read Savitri. I had asked around in the Ashram if anyone had got a recording of Sri Aurobindo himself reading Savitri. They all said no. Many months later, when I was in Delhi , I saw a vision involving Sri Aurobindo. We were sitting at a table, and he asked me “So what would you like me to read – Essays or Savitri?” And I replied, Savitri. He began reading Savitri in the most musical, soft, clear voice I've ever heard. After the dream, I remembered the canto he read, but was unable to find those lines, not knowing Savitri in those days. That experience remains with me to this day – what struck me was his clear, soft, beautiful voice, un-dramatic and quiet.
The first thing about Savitri that caught my attention is that it is an invocation of the human soul to the Supreme – an awakening of the human aspiration for the divine consciousness, and it has the power to resonate that seeking and experience in the reader.
That hour had fallen now on Savitri.
A point she had reached where life must be in vain
Or, in her unborn element awake,
Her will must cancel her body's destiny.
This is especially relevant to those in the Ashram and Auroville, as they certainly have reached this point in their development, the point when we feel that life itself is vain unless there is something greater than this human ego and human existence as we see it today.
A second aspect of Savitri is that its stanzas can be experienced as mantras of healing. Just listening to Savitri can heal and invoke energies that are far beyond our normal reach. This is my personal experience. In 2007, I had a terrible pain in my back and wasn't able to get up and do my work. I decided to do something useful. I had Nirod-da's CDs of Savitri with me, and spent the next eight hours listening to his recitations.
I must have gone into a very deep slumber. Then, suddenly, I felt there was a golden light on my back. I don't know what it did, but I got up from my bed and felt perfectly well. There had been no pain killers, no medicines whatsoever. This showed to me the power of Savitri. When one listens to Savitri or reads it, the key thing is aspiration. If there is an aspiration to understand, to go deeper, to call the divine, to call the Supreme, to ask Her help to transform our lives and our nature, to ask Her help to get rid of oneself from oneself so to speak, then there is a help. Like all mantras, Savitri has to be invoked; the power of the mantra has to be invoked.
A third aspect of Savitri is its help towards the growth of consciousness. Savitri creates the conditions for receiving spiritual experiences and developing capacities. If one reads with invocation, the power of that invocation creates a vibration in the body, in the mind, and in the consciousness that brings forward something new. It brings to the seeker new capacities – for example of poetry – and an intensification of consciousness. That is a great gift of Savitri.
Reading Savitri keeps the consciousness at its highest point. Whenever one feels that one has come down to the ordinary level, one word or one passage of Savitri is sufficient to uplift one from the ordinary consciousness. I believe that is because Savitri has been written from the overmind consciousness. There is nothing mental in it. And that explains the impact it has on the human consciousness. Yet, it also makes it very difficult to explain Savitri. At the Gnostic Centre in New Delhi , we read Savitri once a week, without much explanation, as the intrusion of the mental consciousness causes a lowering of the vibration, perhaps because the mind cannot explain what has come from a much higher level of consciousness.
I discovered a fourth aspect of Savitri that is personal to me: Savitri creates a new prototype of the woman. The main protagonists of all our great epics so far have been men: Sri Ram, Sri Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Mohammed. But Sri Aurobindo creates a woman as the main protagonist. Why? I think it has something to do with fact that Savitri is the first epic poem written for the new species. There is the coming to the fore of the Mahashakti in a human body of the woman, Savitri, who conquers death with the supreme power of Love. Savitri is a mantra of love, of human love turning divine and the Supreme Love changing the laws of life and death, and transforming it into a Life Divine.
Fifthly, Savitri contains some of the greatest passages, describing the human condition. I have not read a better exposition on the nature of the human being and the problem of pain and suffering, and more importantly the way towards equality and bliss here on Earth. Savitri not only states the problem but also gives the solution. This exploration into man's consciousness, into the nature of human beings, is something unparalleled.
A sixth aspect of Savitri are the passages revealing the supramental world. In one of my favourite passages, Sri Aurobindo writes:
I saw the Omnipotent's flaming pioneers
Over the heavenly verge which turns towards life
Come crowding down the amber stairs of birth;
Forerunners of a divine multitude,
Out of the paths of the morning star they came
Into the little room of mortal life.
I saw them cross the twilight of an age,
The sun-eyed children of a marvellous dawn,
The great creators with wide brows of calm,
The massive barrier-breakers of the world
And wrestlers with destiny in her lists of will,
The labourers in the quarries of the gods,
The messengers of the Incommunicable,
The architects of immortality.
Note that He has not written in the past or future tense. He uses the present tense. This aspect of Savitri, where Savitri, reveals a new world, the birth of a new species, of a new consciousness in human form descending down the stairs of birth, is fabulous. Nothing can give you more confidence, a greater sense of the future that lies before humanity, than reading these lines. You feel almost that Sri Aurobindo says here ‘tatasthu'– That is done. Now we have to wait for this new world that is already present to manifest fully.
Mother has said that everything is in Savitri. The answer to every problem can be found in Savitri. All the issues of human existence are in Savitri. All the secrets of a Divine existence are in Savitri. The future is in Savitri. She said to concentrate for a moment and if you do it in sincerity, if you have a real problem, if there is a real question, open Savitri. You will come straight to the page that gives you the answer. This is the power of Savitri. Every page, every word, has in it the new consciousness. And it evokes that in us.
Another power contained in Savitri is the material certitude of a physical immortality, not in a hereafter but here on earth. It is this supreme revelation and experience that Savitri has the power to transmit to those who seek Her.
Finally there is the aspect of Savitri as the autobiographical epic of the combined yoga of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. We know of many instances when Sri Aurobindo read passages from Savitri to The Mother, and she would say “Ah! Voila this is what I went through last night!” He wrote what She was experiencing. Similarly, Sri Aurobindo's Record of Yoga shows that Sri Aurobindo's own sadhana has been at the basis of his description of the yoga of King Aswapati in Savitri. At the Gnostic Centre after studying the ‘sapta chathusta' in the Record of Yoga with Richard Hartz of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives, we began to appreciate the extent to which the ‘sapta chathusthya' is reflected in the yoga of Aswapati, and the yoga that preceded Sri Aurobindo's writing of Savitri. ‘He drank the Infinite, like a giant's wine' is truly a testimony of his own sadhana in the Record. As one begins to go deeper and deeper into Savitri one gets a glimpse of the experiences He had.
Photo courtesy Savitri Bhavan