Savitri: A Summary of Sri Aurobindo’s Epic Poem


       The poet is Sri Aurobirdo, the great son  and seer of India. His other major contributions are,The Life Divine, Essays on the Gita, Foundations of Indian culture, The Human  Cycle, Synthesis on yoga, Bases of yoga, The Upanishads, Secrets of the Veda, Letters on yoga  and more. 

        The story of Savitri and Satyavan is unique  amorg  Legends and history and it is well  known in India. Sri Aurobindo  has not created this ; he has taken it from Mahabharata and developed it  in to a symbol. The tale is  recited in the Mahabharata in about seven hundred Lines in the original Sanskrit, Sir Aurobindo has expanded and transformed  into a modern English epic in twelve books, of forty – nine cantos, spread over nearly twenty- four thousand lines. He has not add any  extra  character or events into it, the story remains exactly the same – the only thing he has done is , he has given a significance to the story. It  will  be seen that although  the modern epic in English is about  thirty – five times as long as the ancient Upakhyana  in Sanskrit, although they are separated by two or three millennia of historic  time, yet they are grounded on  more or less that same base and seem to rise and stand in the same solitary grandeur  against the  contemporary literary Landscape. The main lines of the human story remain unaltered, in spite of the successive revisions or recasts of the epic in Sri Aurobindo’s  hand. There are, however, elaborations, psychological exploration, which are grafted on the original so  as to give the epic impressive new dimensions  quite beyond the new scope of  the Upakhyana. On the  other hand , it  will be seen mighty though the overreaching Banyan that is the epic, its seed – no bigger  than  an atom – is still in the old bardic poem. The bare bones of the original are Aswapati’s eighteen – year long austerities followed  by the birth of Savitri , the challenge of fate when Savitri  marries  Satyavan , Savitri’s  three nights fasting and austerities, and Savitri triumphing over Yama and fate and reclaiming ‘lost’ Satyavan and redeeming her  parents and parents – in law’s family fortune. Sri Aurobindo’s epic retains  their cardinal features but packs them with enormous  fresh  significance. 

        Sri Aurobindo spent almost  forty to fifty long years to write and complete Savitri . A disciple once asked him “ why have you chosen Savitri as the heroine of   your epic?”  he continued “ why not Radha, why  not Sita, why not Dranpadi, why not Maitreyi, why not Ahalya?  They were all equally great mythic heroines of ancient time. What is the reason for choosing Savitri?   In response,  Sri Aurobindo said “Savitri  is the only heroine who never cried in her life – all  others have cried when tragedy fell upon them”. 

        It is characteristic of Savitri that she never  weeps, Satyavan  weeps aloud  thinking of his parents, Dynmatsena weeps thinking of his son; Savitri does not weep – not when Narad speaks the cruel words, not when Satyavan dies, nor  when after  coming back  to life. Neither it is callousness  indifference,  or want of feeling ; rather it is the measure of her stern  purpose,  her poised  preparedness  to face any eventuality whatsoever by  her tranquil consciousness of her own strength. There is a quality  in Savitri – her flaming love for Satyavan – that gathers up and gives edge to her other  qualities, her beauty, truthfulness, goodness  and power. If Savitri never weeps, neither does she ever beg as play the pathetic, suppliant. When Narad’s  terrible  warring  is uttered, Aswapati asks her to choose again,  she does not plead  with them to be permitted to marry  Satyavan; she merely says that once only can her heart be  given away. It is Narad who changes his mind and  persuades Aswapati to give her in marriage to Satyavan. Neither Divine sage nor  terrestrial  king is able to resist her steely resolution. She takes the decision  to undertake  tri-ratra vow herself ; her father-in-law later  merely acquiesces  in her  decision. Hers is the decision  not  to touch food even on the fourth day till  nightfall ;  hers too is the decision to  accompany her  husband on the fatal  day to the woods. “I am determined to go with you please  do not forbid  me’’  she tells to  Satyavan : even her  request to her parents- in- law  is couched in such terms that  there can be only one answer. When the anticipated blow comes at last and life is extinct in Satyavan and  Yama stands in front of her,  her self – possession does not leave her, she is Savitri still. There is just a hint of defiance in her question (not meant as such, thought) in her question : who are you , and what is it  you want to do ? when  carries away Satyavans life  (prana), she follows her husband,  and every time speaks only when spoken to by Yama; there is no pleading or entreaty in her voice  or aspect ; she speaks  fairly and truly and wisely, and increasingly Yama is put in the defensive. Yama  is also dharma; the lord of Death is also – should  be also – the lord of Righteousness. This is the whole point of her gentle, seemingly sententious, speeches. She does not ask, it is Yama who offers one boon after another, and she takes them as they come , thinks first of her parents-in-law, then of her own parents, and last only of herself and Satyavan Yama almost feels instructed  more and more feels  awakened to his own role as Dharma , and so it is with relief  that he releases  Satyavan’s  life and takes leave of Savitri. 

       Savitri is thus throughout  digrified, masterful and dependent without for a second lacking in real  womanliness or  respect for elders or reverence  for tradition. Savitri is an example of a woman who is not ‘ inadequate in love’ who is not ‘ uncertain in resolve’ and  who is not ‘ incapable in the presence of death’. She bravely faces the ‘existential  problem’ and master it; she is the redeemer of the world . There is, indeed no heroine in the world’s literature who  is quite as adorably human and at the same time as lovably divine as Savitri.

        Whatever Sri Aurobindo has seen and experienced, he has written in Savitri. In some sense it is an autobiography of Sri Aurobindo, in some sense it is a biography of the mother, her spiritual  collaborator and in some sense it is a biography of all kinds of human binges located in different  planes. It is an association of associations; he has created a large spiritual flood in Savitri. There must be a new extension of consciousness and aesthesis to appreciate a new kind of mystic poetry.  

By Ramkrushna Mohanta


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