by Sonia Dyne
poem like Savitri is not a collection of "thoughts"
however lofty; not an expression of emotion, however
profound. Savitri is a living body built of sound and sense by a power
secret knowledge seizing on words and forcing them to bear a charge
meaning that cannot be apprehended by the intellect alone. How then
to study Savitri? What method do we follow in order to open our
to its manifold secrets and our hearts to its spiritual truth?
In conversation with a young sadhak of Sri Aurobindo's yoga, the Mother
is reported to have said: "Indeed, Savitri is something concrete, living:
it is all replete, packed with consciousness. It is supreme knowledge
all human philosophies and religions. It is the spiritual path, it
Yoga...everything, in its single body."
When some members of our center in Singapore resolved to meet once a
to begin a systematic study of Sri Aurobindo's Savitri we wanted to
out a new approach based on what the Mother had done in the Ashram.
chosen a few short passages from each canto to read aloud on tape.
tapes were sent to Sunil, who set himself the task of translating their
content into the language of music. The Mother and Huta, a painter
gift had been nurtured by the Mother herself, used to meditate together
the chosen verses and Huta would try to express what had come during
meditation in terms of color and line. We liked the idea of this
"multi-media" approach and wondered if it could be adapted to our own
circumstances, especially as we were lucky enough to have an almost
complete set of tapes recording the Mother's readings and Sunil's music.
My own experience over many years as a teacher had convinced me that
people approach poetry in the wrong way. This is because they have
vague idea of what real poetry is, or what the poet is trying to do.
is not prose in fancy dress or a cryptic message needing to be decoded
the help of a dictionary. It is true that Sri Aurobindo's vast knowledge
the English language can be daunting, but it is still a mistake to
that translation into simpler language will enable us to understand
better. We may indeed understand something-however the "something"
be what Sri Aurobindo is trying to tell us. It will be different, for
are no redundancies, no interchangeable words in Savitri.
I have not anywhere in Savitri written anything for the sake of
mere picturesqueness or merely to produce a rhetorical effect:
what I am trying to do everywhere in the poem is to express
Savitri is the record of Sri Aurobindo's yoga and the
something seen, something felt or experienced; if for instance I indulge
a wealth-burdened line or passage, it is not merely for the pleasure
indulgence, but because there is that burden, or at least what I conceive
to be that, in the vision or the experience. -Sri Aurobindo
transcription as far as human language will permit of
supra-physical realities and states of consciousness rarely if ever
attained. The Mother has rightly pointed out that not even one word
changed without changing the meaning. Reading or listening to Sri
Aurobindo's poetry and trying mentally to turn it into a series of
prose statements is a self-defeating exercise. Far better to take the
Mother's advice and read "with a blank mind" than to worry over the
interpretation of every line, thereby depriving oneself of everything
is most valuable, profound and significant! Much of Savitri is a mystery
needed to find an approach that would get away from the traditional
search for "explanations." Once again, we took our cue from the Mother:
Read properly, with the right attitude, concentrating
"The direct road is by the heart." These words became our inspiration and
before opening the pages and trying to keep the mind as empty as possible,
absolutely without a thought. The direct road is by the heart. I tell
if you try to concentrate really with this aspiration you can light
flame, the psychic flame, the flame of purification in a very short
perhaps in a few days. What you cannot do normally, you can do with
help of Savitri. Try and you will see how very different it is, how
you read with this attitude, with this something at the back of your
consciousness: as though it were an offering to Sri Aurobindo.
guiding light. No longer would we rack our brains for meanings, or
for a dictionary at the first sight of an unfamiliar expression. We
begin every session with a meditation to Sunil's music and the Mother's
voice on tape. And then we would read and let the ever-changing images
created by Sri Aurobindo impose their own message, "stirring the blind
brain," as he says, until it is ready to receive "the embodied Truth":
Its message enters stirring the blind brain
Sri Aurobindo is speaking of the Mantra, the utterance charged with
The hearer understands a form of words
And musing on the index thought it holds
Perceives bright hints - not the embodied Truth.
spiritual power. The mind cannot comprehend the Mantra, perceiving
"bright hints," but still the power works on hidden levels of being,
preparing for the moment when the greater revelation will come, when
ordinary mentality is overpassed and understanding merges with a vision
that transcends anything language can express. Savitri is all mantra.
We try to see each line of Savitri as an embodied Truth. So we do not
to analyze the language in search of "meanings." We do not take a living
body apart-that kills it. Analysis of the "form of words" will leave
with a lifeless corpse; for the soul of the poetry will have escaped
Wherever possible, we try to read as if watching a video: trying to
what is suggested or described, recreating in imagination the images
they follow one upon the other, ever changing and evolving. Savitri
of images, some elaborated in detail, others deeply embedded in the
Someone has said: "There is a picture in every line"-and it is true.
When Savitri is not understood-it is because the truths it
language of images is older and more powerful than
expresses are unfamiliar to the ordinary mind or belong to an untrodden
domain or enter into a field of occult experience: it is not because
is any attempt at a dark or vague profundity or an escape from thought.
thinking is not intellectual but intuitive or more than intuitive,
expressing a vision, a spiritual contact or a knowledge which has come
entering into the thing itself, by identity. -Sri Aurobindo
the language of words. But when words are borne on the carrier
of meter and rhythm used by a master poet, depth upon depth of meaning
unfolds. We are precipitated into that highly creative and synthesizing
consciousness which may have been lost in our long love affair with
analytical reasoning. The final aim must be to transcend this too,
towards the intuitive insight that alone can fully reveal the glory
Savitri: "Out of our thoughts we must leap up to sight..." (Book Two,
It has been claimed that multi-sensory experience, which at best should
include mental insight, leads to an intuitive grasp of reality that
profound (because wider in scope) and less articulate, in the intellectual
sense. We have been trying to bring imagination rather than intellect
the study of Savitri by an enhanced awareness of the pictorial quality
Sri Aurobindo's poetry. We do this by asking: What is he showing us?
picture emerges from these lines? What does this image suggest? rather
the more traditional question: What does it mean? We have used paintings
stimulate discussion and as a focus for meditation and, of course,
music specially composed by Sunil.
Such an approach is not easy at first. "Seeing" creates a richness of
association pointing to a meaning that is not fixed and static like
dictionary definition but complex and evolving and ultimately touching
Truth-Vision that encompasses in itself all possible meanings. The
word, as used by Sri Aurobindo, acquires a limitless extension of
significance for the receptive reader. That is why the Mother can say:
tell you, whoever, wishing to practice Yoga, tries sincerely and feels
necessity for it, will be able to climb with the help of Savitri to
highest step of the ladder of yoga, will be able to find the secret
is needed, a willingness to wait for answers. The structure of
Savitri is cyclic: a theme is introduced and a question arises. The
will recur again and again, and each time the theme will receive a
complex treatment and the question a more complete answer. Really and
truly, Savitri can be understood only in the context of our own life
experience; for it demands of the reader not just a mental understanding
but a recognition , the first small step towards that "knowledge by
identity" referred to by Sri Aurobindo in the passage quoted above.
A few years ago I had the good fortune to be sitting near to Nirodbaran,
the "scribe" to whom Sri Aurobindo dictated so much of the final version
Savitri. I told him very briefly about our plan to try a new approach.
commented: "Do you want everyone to learn Savitri by heart?" Since
how many others have asked the same question! The answer is "Regretfully,
no, we have something else in mind".....regretfully, because learning
favourite passages by heart, enjoying them, meditating upon them, making
them part of our lives, allowing them to inspire and guide us, is the
approach of all. Then, as the Mother said, "all that we need we will
Sonia Dyne is the president of the Sri Aurobindo Society chapter
of Singapore. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org