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At the Feet of The Mother

Prof. Mangesh Nadkarni: Invitation to Savitri | 17. Book 5 Canto 2

A series of talks by Prof. Mangesh V. Nadkarni on Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri in Pondicherry in 1995.

Savitri has come to the destined place. On page 393, the very first line:

Here first she met on the uncertain earth
The one for whom her heart had come so far.
As might a soul on Nature’s background limned
Stand out for a moment in a house of dream
Created by the ardent breath of life,
So he appeared against the forest verge
Inset twixt green relief and golden ray.
[Bk 5, Canto 2, p. 393]

So Satyavan has appeared. We don’t know that he’s Satyavan yet, but this person appeared against a background of green relief: the forest, trees, leaves. And what did he look like?

As if a weapon of the living Light,
Erect and lofty like a spear of God
His figure led the splendour of the morn.
[Bk 5, Canto 2, p. 393]

It looked as if he was the leader of the glory of that morning.

Noble and clear as the broad peaceful heavens
A tablet of young wisdom was his brow;
Freedom’s imperious beauty curved his limbs,
The joy of life was on his open face.
His look was a wide daybreak of the gods,
His head was a youthful Rishi’s touched with light,
His body was a lover’s and a king’s.
In the magnificent dawning of his force
Built like a moving statue of delight
He illumined the border of the forest page.
Out of the ignorant eager toil of the years
Abandoning man’s loud drama he had come
Led by the wisdom of an adverse Fate
To meet the ancient Mother in her groves.
[Bk 5, Canto 2, p. 393]

Now, Sri Aurobindo leaves very many hints to suggest that this meeting of Savitri and Satyavan was a conspiracy, as it were, of fate. On page 394, he says what would have happened if Satyavan, instead of taking this way in the forest, had taken some other way? He could have gone in that direction and Savitri’s chariot would have come this way and she would not have seen him. This is an accidental meeting. What are the changes of your meeting x? The population at that time was not so dense as it is now. And still, on a random chariot journey, what are the chances of your meeting x or y or z? So on that morning too, Savitri would have missed him. But the poet says, on page 394, middle of the page:

That day he had turned from his accustomed paths;
[Bk 5, Canto 2, p. 394]

This was a path he never usually took, he always went and came by some other forest path.

That day he had turned from his accustomed paths;
For One who, knowing every moment’s load,
Can move in all our studied or careless steps,
Had laid the spell of destiny on his feet
[Bk 5, Canto 2, p. 394]

His feet were guided, were driven by destiny along that particular forest path which he hardly ever took. Why?

And drawn him to the forest’s flowering verge.

So that he would meet Savitri. There is no need for the poet to bring this in, but he emphasises this point, that Satyavan’s coming there was not a casual happening. Although it looked casual, if you really study it, you’ll find that this was not the path—there are many other pathways in the forest—this was not the pathway Satyavan ever took, but that day, that morning, for some reason, fate compelled him to take that path and that was where he was.
But even then, Savitri had been travelling for a whole year and she must have met so many young people, some of them grand looking, handsome, noble, some very brave. You don’t fall in love with every handsome face you see. Savitri saw him, and she would have just passed on, but somehow destiny again intervened.

On page 395, near the bottom:

So might she have passed by on chance ignorant roads
Missing the call of Heaven, losing life’s aim,
But the god touched in time her conscious soul.
[Bk 5, Canto 2, p. 395]

Aswapati had said: Your soul will have the wisdom, the knowledge which will guide you to this man. So, the God of Love, at that particular point, touched Savitri’s soul, her conscious soul:

Her vision settled, caught and all was changed.

Satyavan would have been just another person in her memory bank, but the God of Love, at that particular point, touched her soul, and once that happened she looked at Satyavan and that was the end of her journey. The poet describes this:

All in a moment was surprised and seized,
All in inconscient ecstasy lain wrapped
Or under imagination’s coloured lids
Held up in a large mirror-air of dream,
Broke forth in flame to recreate the world,
And in that flame to new things she was born.
A mystic tumult from her depths arose;
[Bk 5, Canto 2, p. 395]

Sri Aurobindo doesn’t only describe philosophic moods, great ideas, but when these elemental passions and emotions come, he takes equal delight in describing those too. For God, there is nothing secular, everything is sacred in this world. It’s a mistake to call certain things secular and certain other things sacred. Everything in this world is sacred, even human love is sacred. So, when Sri Aurobindo describes it, he uses the same care, the same love. In The Life Divine and in many of his poems, Sri Aurobindo describes that the Creator invests the same skill in fabricating the curl of a young girl’s hair as he does in fabricating the stars, the planets and the moon. For the Creator, there is no distance, no difference of quality and quantity. In every act, there is the same Divine’s perfection, the same Divine’s delight. Here too he now describes how Savitri’s heart is filled up:

A mystic tumult from her depths arose;
Haled, smitten erect like one who dreamed at ease,

And now, because of this, this beautiful idea:

Life ran to gaze from every gate of sense:

Now, life in Savitri wanted to see Satyavan, so it rushed to every gate of sense. You can see a person, you can hear a person, you can touch a person, these are all various senses. So life now ran, as you would run when a procession comes, and you want to see it from every window. Similarly, Savitri’s senses, imagine them as so many windows, and every window now focused its attention on Satyavan. So the poet says,

Life ran to gaze from every gate of sense:
Thoughts indistinct and glad in moon-mist heavens,
Feelings as when a universe takes birth,
Swept through the turmoil of her bosom’s space
Invaded by a swarm of golden gods:

She felt her heart was invaded, not by one god but by a swarm of gods.

Arising to a hymn of wonder’s priests
Her soul flung wide its doors to this new sun.

The door of her soul was flung wide open to receive this new sun.

An alchemy worked, the transmutation came;
The missioned face had wrought the Master’s spell.
In the nameless light of two approaching eyes
A swift and fated turning of her days
Appeared and stretched to a gleam of unknown worlds.
Then trembling with the mystic shock her heart
Moved in her breast and cried out like a bird
Who hears his mate upon a neighbouring bough.
Hooves trampling fast, wheels largely stumbling ceased;
The chariot stood like an arrested wind.
[Bk 5, Canto 2, p. 395-396]

Suddenly Savitri’s chariot stood there like a wind arrested, a wind that was flowing and is arrested. This is what Savitri felt. What about Satyavan, what did he feel? The poet obliges you; he says,

And Satyavan looked out from his soul’s doors
And felt the enchantment of her liquid voice
Fill his youth’s purple ambience and endured
The haunting miracle of a perfect face.
[Bk 5, Canto 2, p. 396]

Savitri’s face haunted him like a miracle.

Mastered by the honey of a strange flower-mouth,
Drawn to soul-spaces opening round a brow,
He turned to the vision like a sea to the moon

It is the moon who determines high tide and low tide. When the sea sees the moon, there is high tide. So Satyavan’s heart was like the sea attracted by the moon.

Drawn to soul-spaces opening round a brow,
He turned to the vision like a sea to the moon
And suffered a dream of beauty and of change,
Discovered the aureole round a mortal’s head,
Adored a new divinity in things.
His self-bound nature foundered as in fire;
His life was taken into another’s life.
The splendid lonely idols of his brain
Fell prostrate from their bright sufficiencies,
As at the touch of a new infinite,
To worship a godhead greater than their own.
An unknown imperious force drew him to her.

Now, on page 397:

This golden figure given to his grasp
Hid in its breast the key of all his aims,
A spell to bring the Immortal’s bliss on earth,
To mate with heaven’s truth our mortal thought,
To lift earth-hearts nearer the Eternal’s sun.
In these great spirits now incarnate here
Love brought down power out of eternity
To make of life his new undying base.
Bk 5, Canto 2, p. 397

Sri Aurobindo has written beautifully on meditation, on mantra and various other things. He has also written a beautiful lyric on falling in love. I always felt that if Sri Aurobindo had written nothing else but just this Book V of Savitri―leave alone Aswapati’s yoga, Savitri’s yoga, the dialog between god of Death, even if he had not written any of these, but just had written this small book which is now called Book V―he would have been remembered for all time to come, because nowhere else do we find love treated with such tender hands, with such purity. Now you have a little poem on love, why and how do people fall in love. On page 397:

On the dumb bosom of this oblivious globe
Although as unknown beings we seem to meet,
Our lives are not aliens nor as strangers join,
Moved to each other by a causeless force.
The soul can recognise its answering soul
Across dividing Time and, on life’s roads
Absorbed wrapped traveller, turning it recovers
Familiar splendours in an unknown face
Bk 5, Canto 2, p. 397

You are walking along your own path in life, suddenly you see a face, you had not planned to see that face. What do you see in that face? “Familiar splendours in an unknown face.” The face is unknown, but something in you says: I have seen this face somewhere, I have met this person somewhere before; I don’t know where it was. That kind of feeling. Is it a stranger or do I know this person?

And touched by the warning finger of swift love
It thrills again to an immortal joy
Wearing a moral body for delight.
There is a Power within that knows beyond
Our knowings; we are greater than our thoughts,
And sometimes earth unveils that vision here.
To live, to love are signs of infinite things,
Love is a glory from eternity’s spheres.
Abased, disfigured, mocked by baser mights
That steal his name and shape and ecstasy,
He is still the godhead by which all can change.
[Bk 5, Canto 2, p. 397]

He says, “To live, to love are signs of infinite things.” It’s not a small thing to live and to love, because love is a glory that comes from eternity’s spheres. But, very often, most often, when it manifests itself here on our earth, in what form does it come? “Abased, disfigured.” It comes perverted, disfigured, made ugly by baser mights: “mocked by baser mights / That steal his name…”

They still call this thing love. In whatever form it comes, it still has this ecstasy. However much we might have spoiled love in our human lives, he says:

He is still the godhead by which all can change.

It is the only godhead in human lives, the help of which can change everything, the world can be changed. That is love: It is a glory that comes from the highest spheres. And when that love comes,

A mystery wakes in our inconscient stuff,
A bliss is born that can remake our life.
Love dwells in us like an unopened flower
Awaiting a rapid moment of the soul,
Or he roams in his charmed sleep mid thoughts and things;
The child-god is at play, he seeks himself
In many hearts and minds and living forms:
He lingers for a sign that he can know
And, when it comes, wakes blindly to a voice,
A look, a touch, the meaning of a face.
[Bk 5, Canto 2, p. 397-398]

This love is kindled very often by one look, sometimes by a touch, sometimes when you wonder about the meaning of a face.

His instrument the dim corporeal mind,
Of celestial insight now forgetful grown,
He seizes on some sign of outward charm
[Bk 5, Canto 2, p. 398]

A few lines down:

Love’s adoration like a mystic seer
Through vision looks at the invisible,
In earth’s alphabet finds a godlike sense;
But the mind only thinks, “Behold the one
For whom my life has waited long unfilled,
Behold the sudden sovereign of my days.”
Heart feels for heart, limb cries for answering limb;
All strives to enforce the unity all is.
Too far from the Divine, Love seeks his truth
And Life is blind and the instruments deceive
And Powers are there that labour to debase.
Still can the vision come, the joy arrive.

So he talks about this glorious love, but the poet also says in the last four lines:

Rare is the cup fit for love’s nectar wine.

Rare is that cup; only rare hearts can hold this nectar wine.

As rare the vessel that can hold God’s birth;
A soul made ready through a thousand years
Is the living mould of a supreme Descent.

Just as for the God to descend in any human being, that human being has to have exceptional tapasya, so only those who are capable of exceptional tapasya can receive this God’s gift called love. Love is a glorious thing, true, but it doesn’t come to man easily. It can only come, as he says:

Rare is the cup fit for love’s nectar wine,
As rare the vessel that can hold God’s birth;

In this long passage that we read, Sri Aurobindo talks about how strangers meet, and for no reason, in no time at all, they fall in love and their life is changed. These things can happen. And then he says, love is that tremendous thing; love is not only love between man and woman, but love in all forms, is a direct gift from the Divine, and only those who have exceptional purity in heart can receive love. Earlier on in Canto 2, when he was describing Savitri, he describes her as a rare vessel to hold the God of Love. The God of Love wants to occupy human hearts, but he finds no place because the human heart is already occupied by the ego. It is only the ego-less heart that can love. So if you want real love to be born, it can’t co-exist with ego. Love dies of suffocation when your heart is dominated by ego. That’s why he is saying,

Rare is the cup fit for love’s nectar wine,
As rare the vessel that can hold God’s birth;

Well, Savitri yet hasn’t spoken to Satyavan. Satyavan hasn’t spoken to Savitri. They have only looked at each other, and a sea change has come over them. Satyavan has changed, Savitri has changed. Now, in the next canto we have a dialogue between Satyavan and Savitri as they get introduced to each other. This is a wonderful passage. We’ll stop here, the nectar wine of love has been too heady.

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