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At the Feet of The Mother

Prof. Mangesh Nadkarni: Invitation to Savitri | 18. Book 5 Canto 3

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

We are now ready to look at Satyavan and Savitri together, which starts on page 400. We have already seen how very delicately Sri Aurobindo develops the first scene, the events leading to the meeting between Satyavan and Savitri, as described in Canto 2. In Canto 3, the God of Love has played his role: Satyavan and Savitri have already felt this instinctive attraction towards each other, and Satyavan is chivalrous enough to initiate the conversation. So he says on page 400:

“O thou who com’st to me out of Time’s silences,
Yet thy voice has wakened my heart to an unknown bliss,
Immortal or mortal only in thy frame,
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 400]

He says, I’m confused; I don’t know whether you are a mortal or an immortal. I don’t know if you are creature of this earth, or a being of some other plane.

For more than earth speaks to me from thy soul
And more than earth surrounds me in thy gaze,

Your look is not just an earthly look. When you look at me, I feel I’m surrounded by more than earth.

How art thou named among the sons of men?
Whence hast thou dawned filling my spirit’s days,
Brighter than summer, brighter than my flowers,
Into the lonely borders of my life,
O sunlight moulded like a golden maid?

The rest of this whole speech is at the same elevated level. You should read it at your leisure and enjoy it. So he is now asking, What is your name? And then, on page 401, from the last line:

If our time-vexed affections thou canst feel,
Earth’s ease of simple things can satisfy,
If thy glance can dwell content on earthly soil,
And this celestial summary of delight,
Thy golden body, dally with fatigue
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 401-402]

Satyavan says, I don’t know whether you belong to this earth, and therefore like other human beings, whether your body can feel fatigue, or like the gods, you have no fatigue, you never sleep. If you belong to this earth, you should feel fatigue, because you have travelled the whole day. Therefore, he says,

Oppressing with its grace our terrain, while
The frail sweet passing taste of earthly food
Delays thee and the torrent’s leaping wine,
Descend. Let thy journey cease, come down to us.
Close is my father’s creepered hermitage
Screened by the tall ranks of these silent kings,
Sung to by voices of the hue-robed choirs
Whose chants repeat transcribed in music’s notes
The passionate coloured lettering of the boughs
And fill the hours with their melodious cry.
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 402]

This is just the beginning, and at the end Savitri replies, on the same page about three lines from the bottom:

Awhile she paused as if hearing still his voice,

It looked as if even after Satyavan stopped speaking, Savitri was inwardly listening to his voice, so she didn’t immediately respond.

Unwilling to break the charm, then slowly spoke.
Musing she answered, “I am Savitri,
Princess of Madra. Who art thou? What name
Musical on earth expresses thee to men?
What trunk of kings watered by fortunate streams
Has flowered at last upon one happy branch?
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 402-403]

You must be a prince, what fortunate lineage or royalty do you belong to?

Why is thy dwelling in the pathless wood
Far from the deeds thy glorious youth demands,
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 403]

Look at you, you have a heroic figure. Why is it you have made your home in the forest?

Haunt of the anchorites and earth’s wilder broods,
Where only with thy witness self thou roamst
In Nature’s green unhuman loneliness
Surrounded by enormous silences
And the blind murmur of primaeval calms?”
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 403]

Why are you here? Why are you not in the thick of action where human beings try to excel one another trying to conquer kingdoms? You seem to be a hero, but why are you in the forest? Satyavan explains,

“In days when yet his sight looked clear on life,
King Dyumatsena once, the Shalwa, reigned

He says, I am the son of Dyumatsena who once upon a time was the king of Shalwa.

Through all the tract which from behind these tops
Passing its days of emerald delight
In trusting converse with the traveller winds
Turns, looking back towards the southern heavens,
And leans its flank upon the musing hills.

He is describing the boundary of the kingdom of Shalwa. He says: Do you see those hills, from where the hills begin―he gives description of a very huge kingdom―and my father was a king of this kingdom.

Outcast from empire of the outer light,

He was outcast from his empire by outer light; first he lost his sight, so he became blind.

Lost to the comradeship of seeing men,
He sojourns in two solitudes, within
And in the solemn rustle of the woods.
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 403]

Because he lost his eyesight, he lost his kingdom, and he has now chosen to live in two solitudes: one is the solitude within, and the other is the solitude that you find in a forest hermitage.

Son of that king, I, Satyavan, have lived
Contented, for not yet of thee aware,
In my high-peopled loneliness of spirit
And this huge vital murmur kin to me,
Nursed by the vastness, pupil of solitude.

I am the son of this king, and until the moment I met you, I have lived in absolute contentment in the forest. The trees have spoken to me, the clouds, the rains, the rainbow, the birds and the beasts. I have learnt many things from nature and until now lived in great contentment, but now that you have come all my contentment has disappeared. It’s a beautiful poem of how one can learn from nature. It’s a big description, right from end of page 403 up to end of page 405. It is a detailed description of how nature can be your teacher and how Satyavan has benefited immensely by being in the midst of nature. On page 405, about five lines from the bottom:

I sat with the forest sages in their trance:
There poured awakening streams of diamond light,
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 405]

Not only have I benefited from nature, but I also have benefited from being in the vicinity of great saints and rishis. I have sat by their side when they sit for mediation.

There poured awakening streams of diamond light,
I glimpsed the presence of the One in all. 

Because of the influence of these great souls, I also from time to time felt the presence of the Divine in everything, in trees, in bees, in men.

But still there lacked the last transcendent power
And Matter still slept empty of its Lord.

It’s very interesting. Satyavan is now saying, I also have shared some of the spiritual treasures these great rishis have gained, but I still felt there is one more siddhi, one more victory which is yet to be won. That is why he says,

And Matter still slept empty of its Lord.

I somehow felt matter’s journey, matter’s progress has not yet reached its destination, its culmination. Matter was still empty of its Lord. The Spirit was saved, everything else is lost. These rishis, these munis here sit in meditation, find oneness in everything, their spirit is saved, but everything else is lost. Matter doesn’t fulfil itself in this kind of enterprise.

The Spirit was saved, the body lost and mute
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 406]

Here body stands for everything else other than the spirit. What may be called the instruments of the spirit―the mind, the vital energies of man and body―it seemed to me these are born, live here, awaiting their end in death. They don’t seem to have any other destination but finding their extinction in death. So while the spirit finds its freedom and merges with the Divine, with the Oneness, ultimate Reality, the body that sheltered the spirit, the mind that enabled the spirit to grow, and the life energies―man uses the body, life energies and the mind like a ladder―and after climbing up this ladder, you find the ladder has no more use and you kick this ladder. Therefore, he says:

And Matter still slept empty of its Lord.
The Spirit was saved, the body lost and mute
Lived still with Death and ancient Ignorance;
The Inconscient was its base, the Void its fate.
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 405-406]

So body, mind and life have come from the Inconscience, and death seems to be their fate. For some reason here, Satyavan has the intuition. He says,

But thou hast come and all will surely change:

Now that you have come, this also will change. I have the confidence now that even this imperfection will be transcended.

I shall feel the World-Mother in thy golden limbs
And hear her wisdom in thy sacred voice.
The child of the Void shall be reborn in God,
My Matter shall evade the Inconscient’s trance.
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 406]

My matter, my body, everything else that goes with the body and the instruments of the spirit: I have a belief, faith, intuition in me that because of your presence

My Matter shall evade the Inconscient’s trance.

I shall somehow escape the trance of death.

My body like my spirit shall be free.

So the spirit’s freedom is what I can get from my companionship with the rishis who live in the forest, but I think that freedom is only a partial freedom. There is another freedom, a more glorious freedom, and that is freedom of matter, of body, of mind, of the life energies. And so he says:

My body like my spirit shall be free.
It shall escape from Death and Ignorance.”

He is already suggesting that because Savitri has come, he hopes to achieve this one last triumph over ignorance and death. And Savitri, still musing, replies to him. I guess most of the time when we talk to people … we go on talking, not listening. Very few of us are good listeners, we just going on talking. I guess only when you are in love you want the other person to speak and you want to keep just listening. So Savitri therefore says,

Speak more to me, speak more, O Satyavan,

Why did you stop? Go on. When you speak, it is heavenly music to my ears. And you speak such wonderful, elevating sense.

Speak more to me, speak more, O Satyavan,
Speak of thyself and all thou art within;

Satyavan expresses his intimate aspirations, his ambitions in life. He talks about his inner life, his outer life. He describes his inner aspirations and the kind of rich life he lived in the midst of the forest and what he gained from the companionship of the various rishis and munis, and as we just saw, why he finds even this life incomplete. Savitri says:

Speak of thyself and all thou art within;
I would know thee as if we had ever lived
Together in the chamber of our souls.
Speak till a light shall come into my heart
And my moved mortal mind shall understand
What all the deathless being in me feels.
It knows that thou art he my spirit has sought
Amidst earth’s thronging visages and forms
Across the golden spaces of my life.”
And Satyavan like a replying harp
To the insistent calling of a flute
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 406]

The poet describes them as a kind of a jugal-bandi between a harp and a flute.

Answered her questioning and let stream to her
His heart in many-coloured waves of speech:
“O golden princess, perfect Savitri,
More I would tell than failing words can speak,
I feel I could just go on and on talking to you endlessly.

Of all that thou hast meant to me, unknown,
All that the lightning-flash of love reveals
In one great hour of the unveiling gods.
Even a brief nearness has reshaped my life.
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 406]

Even this brief nearness, the few movements I have spent in your company have changed my life.

For now I know that all I lived and was
Moved towards this moment of my heart’s rebirth;

Now I know. Until I met you I did not know why I was born. I did not know what I was supposed to do. Now that I have met you, I know exactly why I was born and what I’m supposed to do. So meeting you has all of a sudden revealed to me the significance of my life. My life now for the first time becomes to me very, very meaningful.

For now I know that all I lived and was
Moved towards this moment of my heart’s rebirth;
I look back on the meaning of myself,
A soul made ready on earth’s soil for thee.

I am a soul made ready for you. I have come here for you. I was born for you. Savitri also responds in a very grand manner. You can read it for yourself, towards the end of page 407. This is Satyavan speaking:

I looked upon the world and missed the Self,
And when I found the Self, I lost the world,
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 407]

He says that until now I had to make a choice: Either I had the soul―but if I got the soul, the inner truth, I had to lose the world―or if I went after the world, I lost track of my soul. So it has been an either/or: you either choose matter or you choose spirit; you can’t have both. That’s why he says:

I looked upon the world and missed the Self,
And when I found the Self, I lost the world,
My other selves I lost and the body of God,
The link of the finite with the Infinite,
The bridge between the appearance and the Truth,
The mystic aim for which the world was made,
The human sense of Immortality.
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 407-408]

This is what I missed until now.

But now the gold link comes to me with thy feet

Now that you have come, you have brought this golden link between the world and the soul. So I don’t have to make a choice: either choose the world, or choose the soul. I can have both because you have made that link possible.

But now the gold link comes to me with thy feet
And His gold sun has shone on me from thy face.
For now another realm draws near with thee
And now diviner voices fill my ear,
A strange new world swims to me in thy gaze
Approaching like a star from unknown heavens;
A cry of spheres comes with thee and a song
Of flaming gods. I draw a wealthier breath
And in a fierier march of moments move.
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 408]

It goes on and finally he requests her:

Descend, O happiness, with thy moon-gold feet
Savitri still is talking to him from the chariot.
Descend, O happiness, with thy moon-gold feet
Enrich earth’s floors upon whose sleep we lie.
O my bright beauty’s princess Savitri,
By my delight and thy own joy compelled
Enter my life, thy chamber and thy shrine.
In the great quietness where spirits meet,
Led by my hushed desire into my woods
Let the dim rustling arches over thee lean;
One with the breath of things eternal live,
Thy heart-beats near to mine, till there shall leap
Enchanted from the fragrance of the flowers
A moment which all murmurs shall recall
And every bird remember in its cry.”
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 408-409]

Savitri is not the one given to words; it’s Satyavan who speaks a lot. Savitri occasionally speaks, but she is very brief. She says:

“O Satyavan, I have heard thee and I know;
I know that thou and only thou art he.”
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 409]

That’s all she says. I know thou and only thou art he. Who is this ‘he’? The ‘he’ for whom my father wanted me to come out and look for: “Thou art he.” Then comes a very beautiful description of Savitri descending from the chariot and then bending down to pick up some flowers, weave a little garland and put it around the neck of Satyavan. This is the scene:

Then down she came from her high carven car
Descending with a soft and faltering haste;
Her many-hued raiment glistening in the light
Hovered a moment over the wind-stirred grass,
Mixed with a glimmer of her body’s ray
Like lovely plumage of a settling bird.
Her gleaming feet upon the green-gold sward
Scattered a memory of wandering beams
And lightly pressed the unspoken desire of earth
Cherished in her too brief passing by the soil.
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 409]

Then, she picks up the flowers:

Then flitting like pale-brilliant moths her hands
It looks like moths: her hands flitting from one to another, picking up these flowers.
Then flitting like pale-brilliant moths her hands
Took from the sylvan verge’s sunlit arms
A load of their jewel-faces’ clustering swarms,
Companions of the spring-time and the breeze.
A candid garland set with simple forms
Her rapid fingers taught a flower song,

It’s as if she was singing a flower song with her rapid fingers, the way she was making the garland.

The stanzaed movement of a marriage hymn.
Profound in perfume and immersed in hue
They mixed their yearning’s coloured signs and made
The bloom of their purity and passion one.
A sacrament of joy in treasuring palms
She brought, flower-symbol of her offered life,
Then with raised hands that trembled a little now
At the very closeness that her soul desired,
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 409]

The poet is very factual: he says her hands have now come very close to the soul that she desired. Soul is supposed to dwell in the heart, so her hands are very close to the soul.

At the very closeness that her soul desired,
This bond of sweetness, their bright union’s sign,
She laid on the bosom coveted by her love.
As if inclined before some gracious god
Who has out of his mist of greatness shone
To fill with beauty his adorer’s hours,
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 409-410]

What is Satyavan’s response? What does Satyavan do? Four, five lines down the page:

He bent to her and took into his own
Their married yearning joined like folded hopes;

He took her into his arms:

As if a whole rich world suddenly possessed,
Wedded to all he had been, became himself,
An inexhaustible joy made his alone,
He gathered all Savitri into his clasp.
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 410]

Four, five lines down the page:

In a wide moment of two souls that meet
She felt her being flow into him as in waves
A river pours into a mighty sea.

Savitri felt when Satyavan embraced her as if her entire being was pouring into an ocean, as a river feels when it is pouring itself into the ocean.

As when a soul is merging into God

Sri Aurobindo describes it in another way: a river pouring itself into the ocean, or if you like, you can also think of it as when a soul is merging into god.

To live in Him for ever and know His joy,
Her consciousness grew aware of him alone
And all her separate self was lost in his.

Savitri felt she didn’t exist any more, she had become a part of Satyavan.

As a starry heaven encircles happy earth,
He shut her into himself in a circle of bliss
And shut the world into himself and her.

The very first line on the next page:

Each now was a part of the other’s unity,
The world was but their twin self-finding’s scene
Or their own wedded being’s vaster frame.
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 411]

Suddenly, Sri Aurobindo lifts the whole scene in the coming lines:

On the high glowing cupola of the day
Fate tied a knot with morning’s halo threads
While by the ministry of an auspice-hour
Heart-bound before the sun, their marriage fire,
The wedding of the eternal Lord and Spouse
Took place again on earth in human forms:
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 411]

He says, once again this is the eternal wedding of the eternal lord, of Shiva with Uma, Shiva with Parvati; in the same manner, this wedding was once again being re-enacted.

In a new act of the drama of the world
The united Two began a greater age.
In the silence and murmur of that emerald world
And the mutter of the priest-wind’s sacred verse,
Amid the choral whispering of the leaves
Love’s twain had joined together and grew one.
The natural miracle was wrought once more:
In the immutable ideal world
One human moment was eternal made.

It’s very difficult to write love poetry like this. Sri Aurobindo writes about human love, but the way he handles it, it’s unbelievable. Sometimes when I go out and give talks on Savitri and I find a cluster of young people once in a while in the audience, I want to assure them that Savitri is not only a poem for tired old souls who are thinking of moksha, nirvana and so on, but that there is plenty here, there is the whole of life here. He writes about love so much. It is primarily a love poem, but love at all levels; that’s what Savitri is. Sometimes I make an announcement: tomorrow I’ll look upon Savitri as a poem of love. Very often, I get a note from the audience: please talk to us only about the spiritual aspects of Savitri. If this is not a spiritual aspect, what is this? We have funny ideas of what is spiritual. Spiritual is making the whole life sacred, that’s all. I feel this entire business of separating life into two parts, one is a dirty part and one is a sacred part: that is not Indian at all; that is a foreign borrowed notion. All life is a sacred thing. The Divine’s touch can be found in all aspects of life, that’s the way life has to be lived―so Sri Aurobindo tells us.

It’s difficult to write love poetry where you talk about fulfilled love. There is great love poetry, particularly in the West, but it’s basically love frustrated. When the poet finds that the beloved is gone, then his highest poetry comes out. Love fulfilled for most people is sheer domesticity, there is no poetry left. But here you see how he lifts the whole thing. He’s made an adoration of the body, an adoration of the heart, an adoration of the mind. This is the way Sri Aurobindo handles this.

And finally, Savitri says, on same page, the very last line:

“My heart will stay here on this forest verge
And close to this thatched roof while I am far:
[Bk 5, Canto 3, pp. 411-412]

I have some very important business to attend to so I’ll be gone for a short while, but even when I’m gone

“My heart will stay here on this forest verge
And close to this thatched roof while I am far:
Now of more wandering it has no need.

I have done with all my pilgrimage, my pujas, everything is over, and now I have arrived. But what is this unfinished business?

But I must haste back to my father’s house
Which soon will lose one loved accustomed tread
And listen in vain for a once cherished voice.
For soon I shall return nor ever again
Oneness must sever its recovered bliss
[Bk 5, Canto 3, p. 412]

I assure you once I come back, I shall never be separated from you.

Or fate sunder our lives while life is ours.

As long as there is life in us, nothing shall separate us, not even fate. So saying, Savitri mounts her chariot, asks her charioteer to drive back post haste to her father’s palace so that she can report to him and catch the next flight back to the forest!

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