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Savitri: Overview and Background

"Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol" is Sri Aurobindo's master work, an epic poem in which can be found his entire Integral Yoga, as well as the deepest aspects of life and the world. Over a period of many decades, he wrote and rewrote Savitri, seeking to embody in the words themselves the highest spiritual Consciousness. As a result the words themselves, beyond the lofty ideas they express, have a mantric power to bring the experience of which they speak. This is why we encourage reading aloud when possible: We have found that the experience reaches into deeper levels of the being, and the effect on the consciousness is greater.

Sri Aurobindo calls Savitri "a legend and a symbol." The legend of Savitri is taken from the Mahabharata, India's ancient epic. The original is very short; Sri Aurobindo has expanded it immensely in creating his mystical epic.

Although in Sri Aurobindo's rendition there are unfathomable heights and depths of experience, the story itself is fairly simple. Savitri, the daughter of a king, chooses as her husband a man who is fated to die in one year. At the end of that year Yama, the god of death, comes and takes her husband Satyavan. Savitri refuses to accept this fate, and follows Yama to the underworld, where she wins Satyavan's release back to the world of the living.

Savitri first meets Satyavan in a forest, living the life of a hermit. He is the son of a deposed king, Dyumasthena, who has gone blind and lost his kingdom, and retired with his wife and son to a simple existence in the forest.

When Savitri returns home to tell her parents of Satyavan, the divine sage Narad warns that

"Twelve swift-winged months are given to him and her;
This day returning, Satyavan must die".

Despite this news, Savitri is steadfast in her choice, and returns to marry her beloved Satyavan and live in the forest hermitage.

One year later Yama comes for Satyavan, and takes his soul. Despite all the efforts of Yama to leave her behind, Savitri follows them into the land of Death. In the original version, he grants her any wish she wants, if she will only go back, and she asks for sight for her father-in-law, his kingdom returned, and many sons for herself. Yama grants these, but Savitri points out that she can only have sons if her husband is returned to her, and so the God relents, and Satyavan is saved.

In Sri Aurobindo's adaptation of this classic tale, the main elements are retained, but heightened and expanded into spiritual symbols. As Sri Aurobindo's says:

"Satyavan is the soul carrying the divine truth of being within itself but descended into the grip of death and ignorance; Savitri is the Divine Word, Daughter of the Sun, Goddess of the supreme Truth who comes down and is born to save; Aswapati, the Lord of the Horse, her human father, is the Lord of Tapasya, the concentrated energy of spiritual endeavour that helps us rise from the mortal to the immortal planes; Dyumatsena, Lord of the Shining Hosts, father of Satyavan, is the Divine Mind here fallen blind, losing its celestial kingdom of glory. Still this is not a mere allegory, the characters are not personified qualities, but incarnations or emanations of living and conscious Forces with whom we can enter into concrete touch and they take human bodies in order to help man and show him the way from his mortal state to a divine consciousness and immortal life."

Sri Aurobindo's epic of 700+ pages is divided into three Parts and twelve "books." Book One, the Book of Beginnings, sets the stage in many ways. In the second, "The Book of the Traveller of the Worlds," Aswapathy becomes a master Yogi who explores and masters all of the planes of existence and eventually arrives at the Transcendent Divine. In "The Book of the Divine Mother" Aswapathy pleads with the Divine for deliverance of our fallen race.

The first book of Part Two, "The Book of Birth and Quest," depicts Savitri's birth and childhood. In "The Book of Love" she meets Satyavan in the forest, and in "The Book of Fate" she brings the news of her choice back home and engages in a debate with her mother and father on fate. In "The Book of Yoga" Savitri, under the pressure of Satyavan's impending death and responding to a call from her divine Self, enters into the inner countries. In book eight Death comes for Satyavan, and he dies.

Part Three is the engagement between Savitri and Death, which occurs on other planes. In the last book, the Epilogue, Savitri and Satyavan return transformed and victorious to Earth.

This short intoduction to the mailing list and the story of Savitri cannot do justice to the epic; we put it here merely as a guide to those who are unfamiliar with the poem. The experience of Savitri can only come from Sri Aurobindo's original.

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Last modified on Mar 12, 1996