Guiding Light of The Month

WHY all this noise, all this movement, this vain and futile agitation; why this whirlwind carrying men away like a swarm of flies caught in a storm? How sad is the sight of all that wasted energy, all those useless efforts! When will they stop dancing like puppets on a string, pulled they know not by whom or what? When will they find time to sit quietly and go within, to recollect themselves and open that inner door which screens from them Thy priceless treasures, Thy infinite boons? - The Mother

One felt the silent nearness of the soul.


Savitri's problem is to penetrate appearance and reach the reality about herself. This is a spiritual quest leading to a spiritual end. The nature of the quest, the stages in the progress, and the configuration of the goal, all must defy description in everyday language, which is no more than one of the functions or manifestations of the appearance.

Hence the poet is obliged to resort to a parable and to the language of symbols. The 'parable' of Savitri's search for her soul spans across several cantos, and symbol regions with their contours, laws and inhabitants are passed in review, and Savitri is shown as making her progress through the 'inner countries', even as, in Book II, Aswapati is shown as careering through the occult worlds in the cosmos.

      Right at the commencement of her quest, a voice tells Savitri that her aim should be to "help man to grow into the God", not to achieve her own salvation alone; in other words, the sorrow and darkness threatening her life with Satyavan, being symptomatic of the present human destiny, should be tracked to their source, struggled with and mastered finally.

      As Savitri approaches the 'inner countries', she is confronted by an ebony gate barring her passage. From within comes the porter's "formidable voice" of forthright warning to Savitri. Although this serpent-guardian and its attendant hounds, trolls, gnomes and goblins raise hideous rout, Savitri forces the gate open and enters, unconcerned and unaffected, the inner worlds. Who is this forbidding portress? Who are her attendants? Always, when one starts on a new adventure, a nameless fear and its progeny of hesitations and vague premonitions seem to bar the way.

One needs courage and resolution to withstand these sullen initial impediments that try to prevent the first step being taken. However, they have no effective power to throw back; they can frighten, and if their bluff is called, they are really powerless.

      The occult inner continents follow one after another; these are the new fields of Savitri's cognitive experience. There is, first, the world of 'subtle matter', analogous to the world Aswapati (as described in Book II, canto 2) passes through—analogous but not identical, for no two spiritual quests are exactly the same. This dense region "of subtle Matter packed"—a sort of no-man's land between the dusk of subconscience and the first streaks of life—leads presently to,

      ...a form of things,
      A start of finiteness, a world of sense:

This sense-driven life is without order, without direction, without meaning; as with ignorant masses clashing in the dark, there is motion without aim, or striving without positive result. Such must be the fate of all endeavours when "the sense's instinct (is) void of soul/Or when the soul sleeps hidden void of power".

      Savitri, guided by "the saviour Name", edges round this chaotic world of "disordered impulses", the kingdom of little life, and enters the kingdom of greater life, "a giant head of Life ungoverned by mind or soul". The Life-Force itself rages here in its elemental vastness; it is no tenuous trickle, but verily "a spate, a torrent of the speed of Life" breaking "like a wind-lashed driven mob of waves/Racing on a pale floor of summer sand". Blind but fierce, aimless but irresistible, the heady current of this unleashed force achieves marvellous results through inadvertence:

Out of the nether unseen deeps it tore
Its lure and magic of disordered bliss,
Into earth-light poured its maze of tangled charm
And heady draught of Nature's primitive joy
And the fire and mystery of forbidden delight
Drunk from the world-libido's bottomless well,
And the honey-sweet poison-wine of lust and death,
But dreamed a vintage of glory of life's gods,

And felt as celestial rapture's golden sting.

This is the world of primitive heroism, compact of great striving and impressive results; fighters, daring explorers, uncalculating hedonists, restless dreamers, magicians, lovers, haters, fill this world. There is the clash of violent opposing furies, there are alternations between fear and joy, ecstasy and despair. But, whatever its particular tinge, life in this region is everywhere intense; and speech has a downrightness, and song "its ictus of infallibility". Yet all this marvel and splendour has no sure base on Truth, but are reared on shifting sands compounded of half-truths and gross-errors. Total perversion is possible and sometimes reigns unabashed:

Here in Life's nether realms all contraries meet;
Truth stares and does her works with bandaged eyes
And Ignorance is Wisdom's patron here:
Those galloping hooves in their enthusiast speed
Could bear to a dangerous intermediate zone
Where Death walks wearing a robe of deathless Life.

Here too lies "the valley of the wandering Gleam", a self-created self-perpetuating nightmare death-in-life. Savitri withstands the terror and the lure, the passion and the pain, and steadily journeys forward to 'fresh woods and pastures new'.

      The next region is "a brilliant ordered Space", fed and fostered by reason. The impetuous Life-Force is held in leash by reason. The passage has thus been from a Dionysian to an Apollonian world. Yet control too can be carried too far. Fleeing from the riot of exuberance, one can canter into the utter formality of death:

The ages' wisdom, shrivelled to scholiast lines,
Shrank patterned into a copy-book device.

It is, no doubt, a balanced reign, but also a cabinned reign; there is no room or scope for the play of imagination, for daring leaps of thought, for the unrestrained climb of the spirit. It is like the cloistered virtue of "a highbred maiden with chaste eyes/Forbidden to walk unveiled the public ways". There is a mean self-sufficiency, a petty perfection here that effectively rules out "rhythms too high or vast", the play of high ideas, and the sovereign richness and variety of life in the Spirit. In this "quiet country of fixed mind", an authoritative spokesman accosts Savitri and assures her that this is truly "the home of cosmic certainty" where all is "docketed and tied"; thoughts apotheosis has fashioned this realm; here reign order and safety, clarity and peace. But Savitri is ill at ease in this cold small world, "this ordered knowledge of apparent things"; she cannot abide here, she must seek her soul elsewhere. Her decision surprises, and even offends, some of the self satisfied inhabitants of this place, while one, wiser and sadder than the rest, murmurs:

      Is there one left who seeks for a Beyond?
      Can still the path be found, opened the gate?

Undaunted, unwearied, Savitri passes on till she arrives at a place thronged by a crowd of, "brilliant, fire-footed, sunlight-eyed... messengers from our subliminal greatnesses/Guests from the cavern of the secret soul".

Savitri is attracted by these "strange goddesses with deep-pooled magical eyes", and she would like to live with them and share the light of their life, but first she will pursue her quest for the discovery of her secret innermost soul. Surely, these bright creatures will help her in her quest. How may I, she asks,

      .. .find the birthplace of the occult Fire

      And the deep mansion of my secret soul...

The amazing answer comes:


      O Savitri, from thy hidden soul we come...
      O human copy and disguise of God
      Who seekst the deity thou keepest hid
      And livest by the Truth thou hast not known,
      Follow the world's winding highway to its source.
      There in the silence few have ever reached,
      Thou shalt see the Fire burning on the bare stone
      And the deep cavern of thy secret soul.

Inaccessible to—not negotiable by—any but "rare wounded pilgrim-feet", the great winding road now bears the tread of Savitri's feet, and "a few bright forms" emerge from unknown depths and look at her "with calm immortal eyes":

      There was no sound to break the brooding hush;
      One felt the silent nearness of the soul.
                 
 (An excerpt from “Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri – A study of the cosmic epic”, Dr. Premanandakumar, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Puducherry)
                                                             

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