Guiding Light of The Month

Grant, O Divine Teacher, that we may know and accomplish our mission upon earth better and better, more and more, that we may make full use of all the energies that are in us, and Thy sovereign Presence become manifest ever more perfectly in the silent depths of our soul, in all our thoughts, all our feelings, all our actions. - The Mother

She knew that visible Death was standing there


On the great day when the issue is to be joined, the dawn finds Savitri awake earlier than Satyavan, recapitulating the events of the year just about to end:

The whole year in a swift and eddying race
Of memories swept through her and fled away
Into the irrecoverable past.

This is clearly an earlier draft of the poem, not fully brought in tune with the new inspiration. The opening canto itself, after describing 'The Symbol Dawn, refers to Savitri awaking among the forest tribes and hastening "to join the brilliant Summoner's chant", and the second canto states that "twelve passionate months led in a day of fate"; thus Book VIII almost harks back to Book I, mentions the same details though from a rather lesser height of poetic inspiration, before continuing the story. In the present version we have the bare bones of the Mahabharata story transformed into the flesh and blood of a spacious narrative poem like Urvasie and Love and Death of Sri Aurobindo's Baroda period; what is lacking in Book VIII is the epic amplitude, the luminous extravagant richness, the cosmic overtones and the more or less consistent overhead inspiration behind the rest of the poem.

After a moment of silent prayer before the image of the Goddess Durga, Savitri approaches 'the pale queen mother', asks her permission to accompany her son, Satyavan, to the forest. During her year's life with Satyavan, Savitri hasn't once explored the silences of the great forest with him, and might she not this day go with him and satisfy her longing? The queen-mother readily consents, and so "the doomed husband and the woman" go out with linked hands "into that solemn world". Satyavan shows her,

.. .all the forest's riches, flowers
Innumerable of every odour and hue
And soft thick clinging creepers red and green
And strange rich-plumaged birds,...

As he points out the things he has loved, his dumb forest play-fellows and companions of many a livelong day, she listens deeply, but inly she has other thoughts, love despairing, anguish attentive at every step, thinking that this might prove to be Satyavan's last spoken word:

Her life was now in seconds, not in hours,
And every moment she economised
Like a pale merchant leaned above his store,
The miser of his poor remaining gold.

Now Satyavan wields his axe, felling branches, and singing, "high snatches of a sage's chant/That pealed of conquered death and demon slain"; these and his interspersed words of endearment are manna to Savitri who seizes them "like a pantheress.../And carried them into her cavern heart." But this day Satyavan quickly tires, he wields the axe with diminishing force, and soon "the great Woodsman hewed at him and his labour ceased"; Satyavan sways a little and cries out to Savitri:

Such agony rends me as the tree must feel
When it is sundered and must lose its life.

Awhile let me lay my head upon thy lap
And guard me with thy hands from evil fate:
Perhaps because thou touchest, death may pass.

They sit beneath a kingly trunk, and Satyavan stretches himself with his head on her lap:

All grief and fear were dead within her now
And a great calm had fallen.

As she intently observes his face, "his sweet familiar hue" changes into "a tarnished greyness", his eyes grow dim, and after one last poignant clinging cry, his eyes close, his head falls limp in the very act of a despairing final kiss. And already she smells the presence there of something "vast and dire",

...a silent shade immense
Chilling the noon with darkness for its back.
An awful hush had fallen upon the place:
There was no cry of birds, no voice of beasts.

A terror and an anguish filled the world,
As if annihilation's mystery
Had taken a sensible form...
She knew that visible Death was standing there
And Satyavan had passed from her embrace.



(An excerpt from “Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri – A study of the cosmic epic”, Dr. Premanandakumar, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Puducherry)

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