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The Birth of Savitr: A Poetic Composition based on Sri Aurobindo's Savitri Contains 49 compositions one each for the 49 cantos of Sri Aurobindo's Savitri. It is followed by 10-12 line paragraphs providing the resume of each canto. The story of Savitri as we have in the Mahabharata and its symbolic significance in Sri Aurobindo's epic are also provided as background material. Author's Apologia and Debashish Banerji's Foreword give the background of the composition. ISBN # 0-930736-04-4 Price:Rs 100.00 (India) US$ 7.00 (Overseas) Published on 21 February 2003

Debashish Banerji

A long poem called The Birth of Savitr, which seems in some way, an attempt to encapsulate Sri Aurobindo's cosmic epic Savitri - is this not an irrelevant if not sacrosanct gesture? Since Savitri is already couched in the suggestive translucencies of overmental poetry, what utility is there in diminishing, quantitatively and qualitatively the supreme original? Is it not to render more obscure the already obscure? And considering the gathering religiosity around the epic, is it not impolitic, a dangerous heresy?

In his extended apologia, R.Y. Deshpande tries to answer, from the author's vantage, some of these questions which may arise naturally in the mind of the prospective reader of this book. He goes to some length to express his awareness of the futility of trying to encompass the infinite epic, reproduce its poetic zenith, rewrite the avatars' double autobiography or shape a word vessel for the divine consciousness and clearly disavows these as his intentions. He then proceeds to indicate what he considers to be a true and bountiful relation which any reader may have with the extraordinary epic, word embodiment of the supramental grace-light, not only in consciousness but in expression. In his words: What is necessary is that we should just contemplatively live in her gleaming ambiance. This also means that there are as many ways of living in her glad presence as are the individuals who approach her with an urge to find the true spirit of divinity in every thing, material as well as heavenly. One could do meditative paintings, or compose new musical opuses, or present her in operatic magnificence, or sculpt her moods of love and laughter, or speak of her in participative discourses, or write hymns and poems in praise of her, or in deep choreographic gestures bring her movements to the world of men and matter. And if it is a creative effort then each composition will carry in it the soul of the particular artist himself. Each one will then have his own Savitri, each sculptor a bust of his own goddess, each doer of yogic tapasya a characteristic aura of hers. In this light, he clarifies what he sees as the just character of his poem: We may call these cantos as brief meditations on Savitri. Therefore they are entirely subjective in character. Elsewhere, in his introduction to the second collection of essays on Savitri, Perspectives of Savitri II, which he has recently edited - adapting an image from the Maharashtran saint-poet Jnaneshwar, he has expressed it more imaginatively: we are like a bird that can hardly hold in its beak any quantity of the water of a vast sunlit lake by whose side it builds its tiny nest. Yet whatever is there in that little bird's bill is that lake's own wonderment. Such only can be the glad merit of a collection of works being presented in two volumes with some fifty and odd articles in it.[1] Relative to the form of expression, I may add that to live saturated with the music of the spheres at the originary source of its fountain of inspiration, what could be more natural, if one has the capacity, than to open to the divine Muse and bear in oneself the passage of her poetic word?

But are all such expressions worthy? Justifications we may provide for all manner of personal expression based on authentic relationship with the resplendent epic-goddess, but are we not accountable to some standards; and if so, what may these be? Cultural relativism has today hazed the issue of aesthetic standards, so that to some it seems politically incorrect even to mention the existence of any such thing. But to the followers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the Sun of Beauty is among the absolutes of the supramental existence and draws our expressions magnetically towards its height. The circumstances from which these rise, the stylistic precedents they draw from or the raw materials or technologies which they command may be vastly different, but the development of an increasing intuition of and receptivity to spiritual sublimity in its varied forms is a necessary consequence of an integral growth into the spirit and dictates its own standards. Moreover, the legacy of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo is a rich body of pointers opening the way to the cultural standards of the future, not rigid commandments but recognizable in consciousness; and it remains for us to embody the states in our lives and work which would make these standards living and manifest. To aspire sincerely to reach the aesthetic heights described and revealed by Them, to recognize future expectations and exceed the present in manifesting them, is as necessary for us in expression as it is in consciousness, if we are to be integrally true to the Mother's creative shakti. In this, the form of art which has received, undoubtedly, the clearest elucidation is Poetry (specifically English), where Sri Aurobindo has given us both a theory of the mantra in The Future Poetry and ample heuristic leads to its practice in his letters on the subject. However, this theory and these leads are hardly obvious to those who have not aspired to make them realities in intuition and experience. (And as a corollary, the absence or paucity of such elaboration in other art forms is no excuse for the disregard of comparable standards in these cases.) Sri Aurobindo himself saw Savitri less as a poem to be finished than an attempt to sustain the unalloyed expression of the overmental mantra in the English language. To this effect, he recast innumerably, particularly the first canto so that there may be in it no mixture, all in it may come from the same and highest mint. To be thus impersonal to one’s expression and to be conscious of some peak intuition of spiritual quality in one’s striving can be identified as key elements in doing the works of creativity in the Integral Yoga. Deshpande is amply conscious of this, though he states his expectations with modesty: its tendency to become inner mental, though perhaps at times touched by the overhead, will dominate. The overhead touch is achieved far more frequently in the present work than “perhaps at times”, according to me, justifying not merely the right to sing, but the worthiness, in terms of a rare contemporary advance towards the future poetry. It stands as an example of those shining standards set by the Master, which few today have had the courage or conviction to attempt, much less to realize.

The tendency to become inner mental, which the author cautiously announces as a probable property of his poem, is seen by him as consequence of the constrained discipline he has imposed on himself. This discipline, which determines the poem’s form, is a deliberate restriction of each canto of his poem to a twelve line subjective condensation of the corresponding canto from Savitri. Recently, a similar radical compression has been attempted of that other magnum opus of Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine. I am referring to G.R. Sarma’s The Life Divine – A Brief Outline[2], which I have reviewed for the SABDA newsletter and for Jyoti (Volume IV, Issue 1), the online journal of the Sri Aurobindo Center of Los Angeles. Each sentence (or line) from these two works lends itself to extensive elaboration and several have been the attempts made in the past by considerable stalwarts, such as A.B. Purani, Madhav Pandit and others, to introduce the densities of these works to a lay public through elaboration. The attempt is necessary and continues. But I must admit the sense of disappointment that has inevitably accompanied my readings of such attempts, and for no want of understanding, inspiration or eloquence in their authors. On analysis, I realize that this disappointment has been based not merely on the yawning chasm dividing human descriptions, however great, from the power of Sri Aurobindo’s writing – such a comparison would be unjust in the extreme – but due exactly to what the authors have attempted, the banality of simplification. The necessary drop of consciousness to the “common light of earthly day” robs Sri Aurobindo’s lines of their holographic multi-dimensionality and renders them flat. The sense of pacing, like Aswapati, through the vast cathedral of Sri Aurobindo’s Thought, “under its arches dim with infinity”[3], is replaced by the glinting clarities of rational understanding. By choosing a direction the opposite of elaboration, Sarma and Deshpande initiate a new trend, one of attempting to concentrate in their work the tapas-shakti of the original instead of dissipating it. Whether this renders the original more accessible, in what ways and to whom are moot questions, resting for their answers on the specifics of method. In both cases, a graspable silhouette is sought, a linked unity, a glimpse of essential form and proportion. In Deshpande’s case, by using poetry to address the poetic body of Savitri, a refreshing gain is the greater preservation of suggestive ambiguity, a sense of the infinite reservoir that not only the epic but each line in it is. Deshpande is, in fact, very conscious of the overwhelming cosmic quality of Savitri’s lines and the diminution of amplitude that is likely to result from his self-imposed constraint. This in fact is what draws from him his already quoted comment regarding his personal expectation of quality in his poem: its tendency to become inner mental, though perhaps at times touched by the overhead, will dominate. However, he is also well aware of the promise contained in his approach and this is what draws him to the venture. About this reward he says: Yet possibly it could secure in its deep hushful seed-state everything.

What could he mean by this? In my review of Sarma’s outline of the Life Divine, I tried to enumerate the forms of miniaturization in art and place Sarma’s work within this classification. The four varieties of miniature representation I identified there can be summarized as (1) photographic reduction; (2) impressionism; (3) expressionism; and (4) minimalism. Neither Sarma’s work nor Deshpande’s claims to be photographic reduction. In Sarma’s case, I identified his outline as aspiring to a condition of pure minimalism – an attempt to arrive at what he considers the bare bones of each chapter of the Life Divine, its logical skeleton. While this may be attempted for philosophy, Savitri can hardly be seen as primarily an edifice of structured ideas. Yet there is a structure, a plot, an inexorable progression to it and in compressing each canto into twelve lines, Deshpande certainly has his eye on bringing this into bolder relief. In this respect, his work is minimalistic. But what of its evocations? Poetry, after all, cannot but fill outline with suggestion and ornamentation, plot with episodic density. Impressionistic miniaturization brings to a clear focus selected elements of the original that stand out, detailing these, while hazing the rest into background washes. Expressionistic reduction on the other hand, exaggerates and distorts elements and emphases of the original under powerful personal affect. In Far Eastern art, where landscape painting has been taken for centuries as creative representation of nature, many a master has sought a balance between the impressionistic and the expressionistic, between personal expression and impersonal intuitive discovery of essential line, colour and texture. Deshpande’s attempt is such a balance – it attempts an accurate subjective impression of each canto but through a personal retelling, using a focused mystic style. Bringing to this the aspiration for the overhead word, his poem becomes a seeking for the mantra – a mantra that will capture the heart of the grand mantra that is Savitri, in other words, Savitri’s bija. This is what he means by secure[ing] in its…seed-state everything. In this he succeeds eminently, I believe. Here is no claim for an absolute bija, but an authentic personal bija of Savitri nevertheless, which the author is gifting to us in this poem, and I am grateful to him and to Savitri, the goddess of his inspiration, for it.

- Debashish Banerji, 11/6/02


[1] Ed. R.Y. Deshpande, Perspectives of Savitri II, Pondicherry, 2002, lxiv.

[2] G.N. Sarma, Sri Aurobindo - The Life Divine : A Brief Outline, Bangalore, 2001.

[3] Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, Pondicherry, 1993, p 79.

All extracts and quotations from the written works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and the Photographs of
the Mother and Sri Aurobindo are copyright Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry -605002 India