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School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal University, , 11067. A prolific writer, critic, poet and scholar his latest books include Altered Destinations: Self, Society and Nation in New Delhi and Another Canon: Indian Texts and Traditions in English. India
On Savitri— A talk to a Young Disciple Mother 7
Savitri Sri Krishnaprem 11
To Savitri, the Wonderful Epic Ranajit Sarkar 14
Savitri : The Song of the Infinite Alok Pandey 17
Veda Vyasa’s Mahabharata in Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri Prema Nandakumar 39
Aswapati’s Yoga Srimat Anirvan 47
Love and Death Debashish Banerjee 53
Savitri—Book VI, Canto II: The Way of Fate and The Problem of Pain Makarand R. Paranjape 73
The Descent of Knowledge in Savitri Sonia Dyne 87
The Mother’s Savitri Translations Shraddhavan 105
Onward She Passed… Rejection As Described in Savitri Matthijs Cornelissen 118
An Analytical assessment of Death-Savitri Debate Usharanjan Chakraborty 131
Newness of Savitri: an Interpretation Asoka K Ganguli 139
Savitri – Book VI, Canto II: The Way of Fate and The Problem of Pain
Makarand R. Paranjape
Savitri, Sri Aurobindo’s magnum opus, a modern epic of nearly 24,000 lines, is akin to an ocean. It is difficult to fathom all at once, but every part of it shares its intrinsic nature. In that sense, where and how we plunge into it is of little consequence. We will glimpse its magnificence no matter what method we adopt. Provided, of course, we open ourselves to its magic. Though the whole of Savitri may be regarded as a sacred text, a contemporary Veda, it is a very long and complex composition. Therefore, we might actually single out some Cantos, perhaps half a dozen, which are so important that they encapsulate the whole structure, the whole methodology and also, if we might use that word, the whole “theology” of the epic. And this, Book VI, Canto II, is one of those crucial Cantos – “The Way of Fate and The problem of Pain.” What follows could be seen as a part of the age-old Indian tradition of commenting on major texts. Master texts had multiple commentaries over generations. Savitri is a poem that invites such treatment.
This Canto is important because it asks fundamental questions, the kind of questions, in fact, which all of us ask. Why do we suffer? Why is there so much pain in human life? Are we fated to suffer in this manner? Is there no cure, no solution? Because all of us have suffered at some point or the other as human beings, these questions go to the very heart of what it means to be embodied, what it means to be human. No doubt, many have also found great solace in this Canto, answers to these questions. As one person responded after this talk, “I went through an extremely difficult phase in my life. During that time, I must have read this Canto literally a hundred times. Each time I read it, it revealed something new about not just my problem but also about life.” Thus, not only does the Canto ask fundamental questions, it even answers them to the satisfaction of many readers and sadhaks.
Some 2500 years ago, the great Sakya Muni, Gautama Buddha, himself reflected on such questions, making them the bedrock of his teaching. He said there are four noble truths – cattari ariyasacca - ni in Pali or catvari arya satyani in Sanskrit. These are suffering, its cause, its elimination, and, finally, the way to this elimination. According to the Buddha, suffering is universal, its cause is craving; but it is also possible to end suffering, and suffering can be ended by the cessation of craving or tanha. This great teaching was offered in the very first sermon that the Buddha gave – Dharma chakra pravartana sermon – in Sarnath when he started preaching after becoming the Awakened One. Ultimately, the way to end suffering is to lead a right, or one might prefer to say, the righteous life. This is based on the eight-fold path – right view, right intention (prajña or wisdom), right speech, right action, right livelihood (´ila s or conduct), and right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration (samadhi or concentration). In a way, Sri Aurobindo also covers similar ground here, in this important Canto.
The Vadantic approach to suffering, in contrast, focuses not so much on the causes of the suffering but on the nature and identity of the sufferer.  The end of suffering is effected by the end of false indentification, which is the prelude to liberation or mukti. According to some schools, such liberation is available while being embodied, in which case it is called jivanmukti. For Sri Aurobindo, suffering becomes the aid, in fact the goad, to spiritual evolution. In a way, Sri Aurobindo also covers similar ground here, in this important Canto. We shall look at Sri Aurobindo’s approach in greater detail later.
In this first part of this exposition, let us look briefly at the action of the Canto. In the previous Canto, Narad, the heavenly singer, has descended into the marble halls of King Aswapati’s palace. Savitri, the Madra princess, the Divine Flame and Aswapati’s daughter, has just returned after finding her soul-mate in Satyavan. But Narad tells the shocked royal couple that if Savitri marries Satyavan, he will die in a year’s time. Having heard this dread sentence, Savitri instead of retracting, reaffirms her choice. This Canto records, to begin with, Queen
’s, that is Savitri’s mother’s reaction to this shocking pronouncement. The queen, Sri Aurobindo tells us, is also a very evolved person, quite in control of her mind and sense, but when she hears this awful news she is disturbed. She loses her calm, her poise, her equanimity and plunges into a questioning which is somewhat angry. She is hurt, upset, and therefore asks, how and why is it that we who live on this earth, we enjoy some moments of joy, then we suffer, and we go through the same cycle again and again. Is this the law? If so, then why did God make this world? Why did he make us for this meaningless cycle of pain? Indeed, is something wrong with the creation itself, did all go wrong somewhere? Malawi
Narad then gives his reply at some length, which is a very important explanation about why it is so, why we suffer, and whether we are bound by law or Fate to this chain of causality. Again, we might briefly remember the Buddha when he saw those sights of suffering humanity which had been shielded from his eyes. He saw death, old age, sickness and things that his father, Prince Suddhodana, had wanted him never to see. The father wanted his son to be raised in the palace in happiness, shielded from all sorrow and suffering. But Gautama saw these things and realised that he was also going to grow old and die, that he would also know suffering and perhaps illness. That is why he determined to find the cause for suffering so that he could, once and for all, cure it and free all other sentient beings from it. What a noble resolve, how grand his ideal.
Onward She Passed… Rejection As Described in Savitri
One of the many marvellous things in Savitri is the completely uninterrupted progress in the sadhana of Aswapati and later of Savitri. Aswapati and Savitri always move on; they never stop; they never go back. Partly this may be due to the symbolic nature of the story. Aswapati and Savitri are, after all, at least to some extent typal figures. Their lives miss the many diluting and confusing side-plots that mar and delay our spiritual development. But this is only part of the explanation; there is also a more technical aspect to it. It appears to me that the secret of their quick progress rests in the perfect application of a specific yogic skill, the skill of rejection. Rejection is one of the three main skills or “inner gestures” that have to be used in Sadhana. The most powerful description of these three skills can be found in Sri Aurobindo’s collection of letters called The Mother.
Notes on Authors
( Beginning with this issue we shall include names of only those writers who have not figured previously in this section )
Asoka K Ganguli is a retired Reader of English,
. His field of specialisation was the poetry of Milton and Walt Whitman and on the latter poet he was awarded Ph.D. in 1968. He taught English poetry to postgraduate students of the University of Delhi University of Agra for a decade and to students of the for almost three decades. A voracious reader of Sri Aurobindo’s poetry, specially Savitri since early fifties, his first publication Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri which was published by Sri Aurobindo Society in 2002 and his second book Sri Aurobindo: Poet of Nature and other writings on Savitri are the outcome of his labour and research in the field of Aurobindean literature. University of Delhi
Krishnaprem, Sri, known as Ronald Nixon in his early life, was a brilliant product of the
. In his early twenties he received an offer of appointment as a lecturer in English at the University of Cambridge University of Lucknow and sailed for , where he spent the rest of his life. One special contact was Dilip Kumar Roy, a musician par excellence, a great devotee of Lord Krishna and also a favourite disciple of Sri Aurobindo. Young Professor Nixon was a frequent guest in the house of the Vice-Chancellor, India where Nixon, on the insistence of Mrs. Chakravarty, the wife of the ViceChancellor, had taken up residence. As time passed, a close friendship grew up between the three of them— Nixon, Roy and Mrs. Chakravarty, a well-known and sophisticated socialite and a deeply devoted University of Lucknow Krishna bhakta. Her relationship with Nixon developed into that of preceptor or guru, the latter being both a son and a disciple. It was at Uttar Vrindavana, that they established a beautiful ashram and a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and Radha. Mrs. Chakravarty, now a full fledged sannyasini, adopted the name Yashoda Ma, and Ronald Nixon came to be known as Krishnaprem.
Through Dilip Sri Aurobindo developed a high regard for Krishnaprem, and always commended his views to Dilip. Krishnaprem gave the world two important books, ‘The Yoga of the Kathopanishad’ and ‘Yoga for the Westerner’. All of his writing displayed his impressive knowledge and grasp of highly spiritual and metaphysical subjects. He passed away in 1965. Ramana Maharshi commended Krishnaprem to his devotees with the words, ‘A wonderful blend of jñyani (knowledge) and bhakti (devotion) in one person.’
Makarand R Paranjape is a Professor of English at the Centre for English Studies,
Usharanjan Chakraborty (born 1931) did his MA in English, History and Philosophy and also PhD in Philosophy from
. After serving in different colleges, he joined Calcutta University in 1982 and retired from there in 2000 as Reader in Philosophy. In addition to presenting papers at various seminars, his writings have appeared in several journals notably Calcutta University Philosophy Journal, The Advent, Mother India, World Union and Rtam North Bengal University